This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Marxists in the Vatican

American Magazine's blog repeats a report from the Times of London that Marxian economic theory is surfacing in the Vatican. Approving remarks of Marx's theory of alienation have appeared in l'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. Here is part of the quote from the Times article, as stated on America's blog.

Georg Sans, a German-born professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in an article that Marx's work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking "a new harmony" between its needs and the natural environment. He also said that Marx's theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.

"We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system," Professor Sans wrote. "If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?"

Given how the Holy Father despairs of the loss of Social Security systems in his new encyclical Caritas in Veritate, we should not be surprised by the shift. Indeed, there is a marked difference between Marxian economic theory and the Marxist-Leninist tenants on revolution. All the Catholic social encyclicals are a reaction to Marx, not only to condemn, but also to compete. They are hardly a glowing endorsement of Capitalism.

Will this automatically lead to statist systems? No, indeed it should not. Distributists have based their ideology on opposing capitalism and socialism - both of which are statist, although the latest encyclical does not endorse a "third way" or any particular solution. The new encyclical argues for "the gift" which brings to mind the Focolare movement. It is up to us to design systems which meet the requirements set out in Church teaching - however it does not seem that resisting health care reform for its own sake is one of them (resisting funding of abortion is a separate issue).

My own take on this problem is expanding employee-ownership of the workplace, which can be brought about by the Employee Stock Ownership Plan movement, the possible conversion of union pension funds into more direct ownership (which would require a change in law allowing them to do so) and the establishment of personal accounts as part of Social Security containing shares in the company one works for, rather than shares in an index fund. The latter should be backed by a mutual insurance fund of all such companies and should include mechanisms of not just ownership, but also control. Such firms could also provide medical services, housing services, mortgage services and line of credit services rather than having their owner-members seek these services in the private market. They could also extend their ownership structure to their overseas workers and suppliers - which would both stop the movement of jobs offshore and raise the standard of living in those countries, leading to greater democratization as well. Such a scheme would be disastrous to the military-industrial complex and the financial sector, but would be good for everyone else.

Of course, getting there requires the courage to embrace new ideas. Anyone for a hug?


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