Friday, June 23, 2017

Pope Francis’ Critics Fail to Appreciate the Fundamental Motives Behind His Anti-Individualism

In a Message to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Pope Francis reaffirmed his hatred of human freedom and flourishing.

In true socialistic fashion, Francis again speaks of the “evils” of the “unequal distributions of goods,” and condemns “inequality” by conflating two opposing theories of rights—political (“the theoretical attribution of equal rights for all”) with the economic (“the unequal and iniquitous distribution of fundamental goods”). Political freedom, the right to act, is in fact incompatible with the “right” to goods and services that others must be forced to provide. A long line of popes, including Francis, have continually upheld the Church's position that forced redistribution trumps political freedom, including property and trade rights (which are derived from political rights).

But Francis doesn’t stop at forced redistribution. He makes plain the scope of the authority that must be exerted over the individual:

A first point I want to bring to your attention is the extension necessary today of the traditional notion of justice, which cannot be restricted to judgment on the distributive moment of wealth, but must be pushed until the moment of its production. [emphasis added]

This is another way of calling for government control, not only of our wealth, but of our productive actions—the means of production. Sound familiar? Does Marxism come to mind? The pope doesn’t seem to care if the socialistic control takes the form of outright ownership (communism) or regulatory quasi-ownership (fascism)—although he seems to favor the fascist approach, which national socialist Adolf Hitler described as “Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.” The Hitlerian notion of socializing—i.e., enslaving—human beings is what Francis seems to have in mind, based on this and other writings. (See “related reading” below for my other comments on Francis.)

There’s a lot of other stuff along these lines. At times, Francis seems to pay lip service to freedom, but always vaguely and always with a “but.” Francis’ fundamental principles make clear that references to human freedom, dignity, and the like are window dressing. Toward the end of his Message to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Francis makes clear where he stands:

Finally, I cannot fail to speak of the grave risks connected with the invasion, in the high levels of culture and of instruction — be it of the university or school –, of the positions of libertarian individualism. A common characteristic of this fallacious paradigm is that it minimizes the common good, namely, the “living well,” the “good life,” in the communal framework, and exalts that egoistic ideal,  which deceitfully affirms that it is only the individual that gives value to things and to inter-personal relations and, therefore, it is only the individual that decides what thing is good and what thing is bad; libertarianism, very fashionable today, preaches that to found individual freedom and responsibility one must recur to the idea of self-causation. Thus libertarian individualism denies the validity of the common good, because on one hand it implies that the idea itself of “common” implies the constriction of at least some individuals, and on the other hand that the notion of “good” deprives freedom of its essence.

The radicalization of individualism in libertarian terms and, therefore, antisocial, leads to conclude that each one has the ‘right”  to expand himself to where his power consents him even at the price of the exclusion and marginalization of the most vulnerable majority. Because it would limit freedom, the bonds must be what must be loosened. Erroneously equating the concept of bond with that of link, one ends up by confusing the conditionings of freedom – the links – with the essence of the freedom realized, namely the bonds or relations with the precise goods, from those of the family or the inter-personal, from those of the excluded and the marginalized to those of the common good, and finally to God.

With fundamental beliefs such as these, one cannot be remotely considered a champion of a free society. Freedom is the individual right to to think and ack on one’s own judgement. Freedom is individualism! Notice the straw man that Francis relies on—the false equation of individualism with antisocial—the aggressive lone wolf who achieves his ends without regard to any other human being.

Earlier in the speech, Francis speaks a lot about “fraternity.” Merriam-Webster defines fraternity as “a group of people associated or formally organized for a common purpose, interest, or pleasure.” There is nothing about individualism that forbids fraternity. In fact, a true individualist values fraternity. Individualism, properly understood, is the concept of each human thinking and acting on his own judgement while respecting the same freedom of others, dealing with others only on voluntary, mutually agreed terms. So, what is Francis implying? Francis condemns the “deceit” that “only the individual . . . gives value to things and to inter-personal relations and, therefore, it is only the individual that decides what thing is good and what thing is bad.” Since only individuals exist, and the mind is strictly an individual facet, how else would these things be decided?

Here is the connection between collectivism and religion. If the individual, working either alone or in voluntary association with others, cannot decide for himself, then who decides? Collectivists and religionists both answer, anyone who claims to speak for “the common good” or God, respectively. Francis’ idea of fraternity is not each individual deciding for himself who to fraternize with. His idea forbids voluntary association. His idea of “fraternity” is the fraternity of a chain gang governed by an authority endowed with unconstrained coercive powers.

As Francis makes clear, to him and the Church's position, there is no real distinction between collectivism and religion—which makes sense, since both collectivism and supernaturalism are both forms of mysticism. Collectivists simply replace God with society as the ultimate authority, with the state as the authority’s enforcer. Francis dispenses with that superficial distinction, saying essentially that the common good is God’s will. Socialism and Catholicism—and by logical extension monotheistic religion generally—are thus bridged.

And how is the common good or God’s will to be enforced? At the point of a governmental gun, whether wielded by a dictator, cleric, or king operating by “divine right” of the collective or God, whichever suits the tyrant. What is the enemy of this point of view? Individualism—and thus individual rights—and its social/political expression, capitalism, which by definition limits government to rights-protecting functions.

Some apologists, such as Reason’s Stephanie Slade, ascribe Francis’ collectivist tirade against the “radicalization of individualism” to ignorance of economics and free markets. I find that argument to be utterly incredible. Can it be that a scholar of the stature of a pope, speaking on behalf of an institution with roots dating back centuries, can actually be so ignorant? No. The Pope’s message is far deeper than economics.

Closer to the mark is Andrew Napolitano, who flat out describes Francis as a “communist, lower case ‘c’, and a Marxist, upper case ‘M’.” Interestingly, both Slade and Napolitano reference Ayn Rand—Slade rather derogatorily, and Napolitana supportively. But neither goes to the fundamental heart of the matter that Rand identified as crucial to defending capitalism, the moral case. Francis is attacking capitalism and peddling collectivism on fundamental moral grounds.

Napolitano seems to comes close, declaring himself a believer in “Ayn Rand economics,” saying that “the only moral commercial transactions are those that are truly and wholly voluntary.” But he fails to establish what’s really moral about voluntary commercial transactions—that they are moral because they are mutually selfish. He later affirms his belief in the Church’s position that “I am my brother’s keeper and that I should help my brother out.” The “am” and the “should” are the leitmotifs of altruism—the moral commandment to live for others. This contradicts the moral case for voluntary free trade. Rational egoism, altruism’s antipode, rejects the “am” and the “should,” instead upholding the morality of living (and trading) for one’s own sake.

On the issue of “helping my brother out,” Ayn Rand succinctly nails down the fundamental issue:

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime.

My emphasis is in blue. Napolitano declares, on the Church’s morality, “I accept that and I embrace it, as long as I am free to accept it and embrace it; as long as I am not forced to do it through the mechanism of government.” But it’s not just a matter of whether you should or should not be forced. It’s a matter of whether you are morally obligated. Government policy is a reflection of the dominant morals of a culture. Capitalism says, “Yes, you do have the right to exist.” Socialism says, “no, you do not.” If you are morally obligated, then socialism wins where it counts most—on the battleground of moral principles.

Here we see where Napolitano is much more damaging than Slade. He grants the pope the position of final authority on ethics. “The pope is the vicar of Christ on Earth. He is infallible on faith and morals. Thank God it is limited to faith and morals.” But is it? He argues that the pope should not use the “imprimatur” of the Church to wade into economics and government’s role in it, as he is now doing.

I do not believe you can separate morals from economics or politics. Think of what Napolitano is essentially saying: The pope is infallible on morals. If that is so, then when Francis rails against egoism, materialism, economic inequality, and individualism; in favor of global redistribution of wealth and the coercive reorganization of the production process along statist lines; that need supersedes rights; and rails against “a global economic dictatorship [free markets]” and the“international imperialism of money [free trade]”—when, in other words, he attacks capitalism and promotes communism and Marxism—the aura of the moral high ground attaches, by definition and by the very fact of his moral infallibility. This means Marxian communism, the social/political expressions of the mandatory “brothers’ keeper” morality, are the right—the moral—social systems. He who controls the moral direction of cultures controls the economic/political direction. When capitalism’s defenders grant capitalism’s enemies the moral high ground, the enemy wins, even in defiance of sound economics. Ayn Rand understood this. The pope understands this. Bernie Sanders understands this. It’s time capitalism’s defenders understood this.

The Pope is right that capitalism is not altruistic. Napolitano's position amounts to a manifestation of the failed argument that capitalism isn’t moral, but it works; socialism is moral but it doesn’t work; so we should embrace capitalism—Individualistic capitalism, in other words, is the best means to achieve the collectivist moral goals of socialism. It makes no sense. This is the very argument that has never worked to stem the socialist/collectivist tide now overwhelming capitalism/individualism. If capitalism is the system of living for one’s own sake, and socialism is the system of living for others—and if the former is wrong and the latter is right—which system can be logically expected to win, and keep on winning until capitalism is completely destroyed? The pope knows the answer to this question. Neither Slade nor Napolitano knows it, or perhaps has the courage to acknowledge it.

Both Slade and Napolitano are right to invoke Any Rand in the context of Francis’ message. Who else but Rand can the Pope have in mind? Indeed, Pope Francis’ phraseology, the “invasion” of the “radicalization of individualism in libertarian terms,” strongly indicates that he has Ayn Rand in mind as the enemy that poses “grave risks” to the altruist/collectivist paradigm. Neither will acknowledge that what Ayn Rand called “The Virtue of Selfishness” is the moral foundation of capitalism and that that is what makes capitalism right, and that the notion of “our brothers’ keeper” as the standard of morality is the antithesis of capitalism.

Francis is not economically illiterate. He is a moral crusader. He is defending the morality of altruism from the inroads of rational egoism—and thus collectivism and statism from individualism and capitalism. Francis’ convoluted message is just another attack on capitalism and another call for authoritarianism, if not totalitarianism—the only end that can be achieved by the morality of “my brothers’ keeper.”

Despite the depressing spectacle of such a highly influential a figure as Pope Francis taking aim at the core of a free society, I take heart from Francis’ direct assault on radical libertarian individualism. That such a prominent leader of statism like the Pope feels compelled to explicitly and publicly throw the weight of the Catholic Church against individualism is, I believe, an indication of the anti-capitalists’ growing alarm about a movement they now believe has reached a point of cultural influence that must be taken very seriously. The Pope and other statist leaders understand the logical political/social/economic implications of morality, and must deal with an opposing intellectual force that understands it, too—an intellectual force that started with Ayn Rand. That, not economic ignorance, is why this prominent communist and Marxist has effectively declared war on individualism.

Related Reading:

How the Catholic Church Paved the Way for the Birth Control Mandate.

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