Pope Francis continues a long line of anti-capitalist Catholic popes. And he may be one of the most outspoken of them all. He has certainly been garnering attention with his anti-capitalist rhetoric.
Pro-capitalist pundits usually proclaim that Pope Francis is mistaken or misinformed about capitalism, accompanied by lengthy factual demonstrations about how free market capitalism enables people to not only rise from poverty, but to prosper. If only Francis will observe the facts.
An example of this is a piece by Kyle Smith. In a New York Post article titled Pope Francis should take a vow of silence on capitalism, Smith correctly lauds, for example, even partially initiated capitalism’s success at lifting “hundreds of millions out of abject poverty and into relative comfort” in China and India in recent decades. Yet, referring to Francis’s incessant harping against “the idolatry of money,” Smith concludes:
No one is arguing that capital should become an idol, but free markets produce wealth that puts food in people’s mouths and clothes on their backs. The Church has a historic commitment to battling poverty, and yet its earthly leader is profoundly ignorant of how history tells us to accomplish this. He shouldn’t flaunt his lack of understanding.
But does Pope Francis really not understand capitalism? After all, most people don’t fully understand it, which is why philosopher Ayn Rand called capitalism an “unknown ideal.”
But the pope is not just anybody. He is the leader of an institution, the venerable Catholic Church, with deep roots in history and scholarly study. Can the leader of an institution that reigned through the Dark and Middle Ages, witnessed the Renaissance, the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution—which culminated in the transformation of the freest places of the Earth, over the past couple of centuries, into a much better place to live—truly not understand the cause of that explosion of wealth? I don’t think so.
Over the past 250 years, the Church had a front row seat to observe the rising prosperity, improving health, dramatically increased life longevity, and growing safety from environmental hazards achieved by human beings; a progress far beyond anything ancient people could have dreamed. And the Church could observe that all of it was enabled by free market capitalism, the only social system that liberates the individual to live his life for his own sake; to selfishly pursue personal economic gain and life sustaining values without coercive interference from his fellow man; to be protected from human predators who wish to deal with him in ways other than mutually beneficial, non-sacrificial voluntary association and trade; which protects his earned property—a system based on justice and facilitated by money.
No, it is not possible, in my view, that the pope doesn’t get capitalism. The Catholic Church and its popes have long been ideologically opposed to capitalism because it is a social organization based in ethical egoism. For a good examination of this observation, check out Craig Biddle’s post for The Objective Standard blog, Pope Francis, Religion, Capitalism, and Ayn Rand.
Francis knows full well what capitalism is. But he will never acknowledge capitalism’s virtue because it conflicts diametrically with Christian ethics. Francis fully endorses the totalitarian view of Pope Paul VI as laid out in the 1967 Encyclical Populorum Progressio. As I summarized for The Objective Standard:
In the world of Paul’s vision, the primary purpose of governments would be to carry out the principle that “created goods should flow fairly to all”. To ensure that “right,” the “public authorities” would be endowed with powers “to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used.” Paul was brutally clear: “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle.”
It may also be that capitalism erodes the Catholic Church’s power base, the poor. Pope Francis is a self-described “pope of the poor.” Where does capitalism’s ability to shrink the ranks of the poor leave the Catholic Church?
But for definitive proof of Francis’s fundamental anti-capitalism, consider this from his address to Congress:
“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”
Government has a unique monopoly on physical force, which manifests in its laws. Politics is the field that determines the use, or abuse, of the government’s law-making power. The “particular interests” to be sacrificed obviously pertain to the private individual. The goods, interests, and social life obviously pertains to the collective, which owns those factors. When Francis calls on politics to be “an expression of our compelling need to live as one,” he calls on the state to abuse its powers to bring on forced collectivization; the antipode of capitalism’s government that protects our rights to live peaceably as sovereign individuals. The state is to be the final arbiter and enforcer of the individuals’ sacrificial offerings to the community.
In Francis’s statement, is there any stronger explication of his collectivism and statism? Is there a more explicit anti-capitalist statement? This, from a pope who claims to be anti-communist. This, from a pope that has the gall to speak of the “dignity” of the individual.
Is it any wonder that the self-described socialist, the Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, opens his gushing approval of the Pope’s speech to Congress with those words? Both Sanders and Francis embrace the same goals. Rather than the state being the protector of our political rights and economic freedom—which the pope claims makes the government “a slave to the economy and finance”—we as individuals should be slaves to the collective and thus to the state, which Francis calls putting politics “at the service of the human person.”
There is no misunderstanding.
The Pope condemns selfishness, money, the profit motive, private property, and proclaims the individual’s subordination to the will of the collective and the dictates of the collective’s representative, the state. The pope can not be ignorant of the fact that he is condemning the very essence of capitalism. The condemnation of the essence of capitalism is anti-capitalist just as surely as cutting out a man’s heart kills the man.
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