Sunday, September 27, 2015

Does the Pope share Obama's antipathy toward the developed world?

Maureen Mullarkey, in "Che Guevara's Pope" (The Federalist, September 24, 2015), does not make the comparison with Obama; but it's a natural one when one considers her ruminations about the Pope's Mass in Cuba. Her's is an unusually harsh piece; and I do not like that. The question that it raises for me coincides, however, with questions I've had about the international conference on global warming hosted by the Vatican recently, as well as the Pope's recent climate encyclical, Laudato si: does he share Mr. Obama's antipathy towards the developed world, as described so well, for example, in Dinesh D'souza's recent film 2016: Obama's America (2012)?

Che Guevara's Pope?

Here's what Mullarkey wrote:
Something in me gave way at the sight of an exultant image of Che Guevara overseeing the altar in Plaza de la Revolución, the approved site of the recent papal Mass in Havana. A sadistic, murderous thug looked down on attendees in an obscene burlesque of Christ Pantocrator. Under the gaze of a butcher and amid symbols of the regime, Jorge Bergolio joined his fellow Argentine in service to the calamitous Cuban revolution. The entire spectacle played like a farcical inversion of John Paul II’s presence in Warsaw’s Victory Square, in 1979, and in stark contrast to the message he brought to Cuba in 1998.

What collapsed was any lingering sense of obligatory constraint. Gone is the time for courtesy extended to an occupant of the papacy despite his hubris and ruinous impulses. Out the window is dutiful tolerance for this man’s accusatory or incendiary language. Politesse has run its course. Historian Roberto de Mattei, writing on the wound to marriage delivered by Francis’ recent motu proprio (a personal mandate) ends his analysis with this: “Silence is no longer possible.”

... It takes little sophistication to realize that the intentions by which people understand themselves to be motivated are often not the ones that really drive them to speak and act as they do. However incoherent Francis’ logic on issues from economics to munitions, his stridency makes clear his antipathy toward the developed world. In this, he is a commonplace Leftist ideologue intent on finding ever-new sources of incrimination in the works of the West.
[Disclaimer: Rules 7-9]


Anonymous said...

As a teacher at a Historically Black College/University, I will suggest that these observations are hardly secondary. The questions addressed or ignored are the questions driven all the current conversations. All the NeoCaths, Cathoic cheerleaders, and seminary profs so studiously plugging Pope Francis... Sorry, but either you get it and are disingenuous, or you don't get it and are naive Ultramontanists. Neither is intended as flattering. All the pundits see not what is there, quite obviously, but what they want to see, Mullarkey is shrill, but her outrage is warranted. This is all sham Catholicism. You have to take "Development of Doctrine," turn it inside out and apply a flourish to even begin to believe that what Francis proposes is, propositional speaking, the Gospel. Of course we all know we have already done away with propositions, so I await the convenient spin of the Next Generation. Francis loves people and has a grandfatherly smile.... That clinches it, right. We all *feel* good... Meanwhile we shred any intellectual credibility with continuity. Francis' authority is valid. His understanding of Tradition: it's deformed to the point of terminality. We have a Chauncy Garndiner meets Che G as Pope. OK, now all the Catholics with Latin-sounding names can beat their nationalistic pom poms and take umbrage. Oscar Romero, pray for us.

Robert Allen said...

She's way off base on this one. Capitalism is evil; end of story. The prosperity that capitalists enjoy is an ill-gotten gain, coming at the expense of the poor and workers. So, when we hear the Holy Father decrying their thievery, we should say 'Go get 'em':

'Well now, you rich! Lament, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is rotting, your clothes are all moth-eaten. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be a witness against you and eat into your body. It is like a fire which you have stored up for the final days. Can you hear crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the laborers mowing your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabbath. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart's content. It was you who condemned the upright and killed them; they offered you no resistance.' James, 6

Bluto said...

There are some of us who find her tone far less harsh than this pope deserves. There are even some us who would assert that this pope should be placed in stocks and humiliated in the public square, for that would be fair payback for what he intends to do to our Church.

Sheldon said...

"Capitalism is evil; end of story."

I beg to differ sir. This is much too facile. If "the trouble with capitalism," as Chesterton declared, is "not enough capitalists," then capitalism, as such, is not the problem, but capitalism of a particular type.

While it's true that ample biblical support may be found for the "preferential option for the poor" (from the Prophets to the Gospels and Epistles), similar support can be found for a qualified understanding of wealth as an expression of God's blessing. Think of all those parables of those who invest their talents and get more, those who are punished for failing to do so, etc.; of Job losing everything and having his lost wealth restored multiple-fold, etc., etc. even to the streets of heaven paved, not with dirt, but gold. Why?

Mullarkey's affiliation with the usual suspects at The Federalist may be problematic. Laissez-faire capitalism, which by definition is seen in completely a-moral terms, may be problematic. Ludwig von Mises' idea of the "free market" may be problematic. The particular capitalist ideas of the Acton Institute may be problematic. The idea that "whatever the market will bear" determines a "fair wage" or "fair price" may be problematic. But there is NOTHING intrinsically wrong with trying to get the best quality for the cheapest price when shopping or trying to turn a profit on the product of one's own labor -- as long as one doesn't suspend his morals in the market place. This fits in entirely with Leo XIII's third way between morally untethered capitalism and morally untethered socialism in Rerum Novarum.

Have you read Dale Vree's book, From Berkeley to East Berlin and Back by the original editor of New Oxford Review? As a young Marxist, he left "sick" America to find a more healthy and just society in East Berlin, and discovered instead an illuminating spiritual and social vision on his journey ... into the Catholic Church. You might like it, if you haven't read it.

Ronald Sevenster said...

If this Pope goes on with his leftist agenda, he risks the ire of social conservatives. It would be very foolish of him to think that these conservatives will remain supportive of the current diplomatic status of the Pope and Vatican City.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Sheldon. ABS has to side with Dr. Allen even while acknowledging your response has some legitimate points.

Instead of writing about capitalism qua capitalism (State-sponsored usury and state-sponsored theft of labor) consider just your mortgage. Think about what it cost you over, say, thirty years on a loan that the bank structured on other people's money- not its own and even that (if it were its own money)it would be usury.

There is simply no way to justify that theft of money and which theft is multiplied and intensified when one considers property taxes - how can the state justify such a mafia-style theft? Imagine you bought a house for $100,000.00 and then, in your mind, do the sums you have to pay to the State (mafia-style protection racket, "You like your house, pay us this % every damn year of we will take it") to keep it for, say, 30 years.

And that is not to even begin to address the insurance industry which is a complete and total immoral joke and which just robs men blind.

The ONLY good thing to come out of an insurance company is when one of them denied Trent Lott's claim for wind damage during Katrina. It was just the libertarian chickens returning to crap all over what remained of his house for it was men like him that lets the insurance companies go unregulated.

O, speaking of Katrina; it was during that storm and its aftermath that the insurance companies realised historically high profits.."That helps explain why 2005, despite the fact that it was blindsided by Katrina, one of the biggest natural disasters in American history, the property/casualty industry made an after-tax profit of $48.8 billion - a new record, beating out the previous year's record of $40.5 billion."

Quote from the very informative, eye-opening and LOL funny book, "Griftopia" by Matt Taibbi.

And these examples, can easily be multiplied.....

Marcel Ghost said...

The portion that troubles me is when she states definitively that there is malice in the Pope. That's dangerous ground, isn't it, given that Christ told us not to judge lest we be judged.

Robert Allen said...


1st off, Belloc and Chesterton did not call their alternative to Capitalism, 'Capitalism,' which would hardly be a fit moniker. Their alternative was called 'Distributism,' because its purpose was not the INCREASE of capital, but its widest possible distribution, as your quote indicates. So I ask you, why are YOU unwilling to shed that label? Why does it matter so much to you to be considered pro-Capitalism? FYI, I AM a distributist (via Belloc, not Chesterton but still ...). That means I feel morally and philosophically obliged to decry Capitalism and obviously have no qualms about doing so. I am not saying 'Well if those misguided capitalist would only do Capitalism right, it would be just,' as you are implying. Nor was that Belloc's position. No, I am saying, along with my distributist brethren, that it is rotten at it core, being based on usury and exploitation as well as being part and parcel with the Protestant heresy. Again, if your position as Chestertonian why are you unwilling to do the same?

Secondly there is a HUGE moral difference between 'trying to turn a profit on the product of one's own labor' and trying to turn a profit on the labor of others. The latter simply means selling goods for more than it took to produce them. Everyone understood that the artisan, for example, was making a living off his labor. The latter, I'm sure you know, means making sure 'labor costs' are FAR LESS than revenue, that is, paying workers far less than the value of their labor (measured in terms of the revenue it yields on the so-called open market) which is theft, plain and simple. That is precisely why Chesterton thought it desirable to produce as many 'capitalists' as possible: more 'capitalists' = fewer workers being exploited by CAPITALISTS. RFGA, Ph.D.

Sheldon said...

Mr. Allan and Mr. Brain Surgeon,

You're barking up the wrong tree. I, too, classify myself as a distibutist and fan of Fr. Vincent McNabb, Chesterton, Belloc, and, more recently, E.F. Schumacher and Thomas Storck.

I don't know that I disagree with you except in what appears to me a much too facile use of the terms "capitalism" in contrast to "distributism," without adequate care to distinguish the latter from "socialism." Pope Leo XIII struck the needed balance. To simply rail against "capitalism" without defining what one means isn't particularly helpful. What does one mean? Free enterprise? Well, that's a good thing, within moral limits, as Leo also acknowledges. Does one mean "free markets" and the notorious "invisible hand" nonsense? That's a problem in a fallen world. Economics originated as a branch of moral philosophy, something the Austro-Libertarians at the Acton Institute (like Fr. Sirico) seem to forget. Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises were christophobic Jewish anti-Catholics. They saw economics as a "science" completely divorced from ethics and religion. That's obviously insane. But socialism is no less a problem, and, as historically borne out, a far worse enemy of humane and Christian values in many ways (again, as Leo points out).

"Distributism," as the contributors to Tobias J. Lanz's Beyond Capitalism and Socialism: A New Statement of an Old Ideal acknowledge, is an unfortunate name, precisely for the reason that it suggests socialist "re-distribution" of wealth, which is precisely what it's not. It's about the distribution of the means of production that would enable those at the local level (families, community groups) to become producers of the goods needed for livelihood, a very different thing.

My use of the term capitalism was straight out of Chesterton: "The problem with capitalism is not enough capitalists." Which also illustrates the very problem I'm addressing here: the use of undefined terms. Obviously to anyone knowledgeable of distributism and Chesterton's role in the movement, he didn't mean a-morally conceived laissez-faire corporate capitalism. That's precisely what he opposed, and what I oppose.

You're mistaken if you view me as the enemy here. I'm neither a "damn capitalist" nor a "damn socialist." I'm a Catholic, dammit.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Sheldon. You are right that we ought define what we mean by capitalism but wrong ABS thinks you are a damn capitalist :)

For a definition of Capitalism, here is the greatest Catholic economist ever - according to an economic professor Rupert Ederer who translated Pesch's work -

Robert Allen said...


1st I'm a smooth-talker then I yelp- make up your mind.

I'm using 'Capitalism' just the way Belloc did: to designate that economic system standing in contrast to both Socialism AND Distributism and rejected in favor of the latter. The term, as used by him, thus, designates something intrinsically unjust/evil, as I said. So you shouldn't have a problem with my terminology or vituperation.

Belloc did not have a problem with a society re-distributing wealth, his only question was how to justly do so. He could see that it was necessary, but wanted to effect it, so as to have capital more widely distributed, without using force- a REAL conundrum. Moreover, to re-distribute the means of production IS to redistribute wealth, the most important form of it there is. (The poor do not need the capitalists' mansions and yachts, just a large enough share of the productive assets they control to make a decent living.)

Chesterton's remark was a quip, it is, thus, no guide as to how to use a technical term. Again, he was not proposing that we just do Capitalism a little differently, so that there are (even) more Donald Trumps running around this world; Distributism is meant to be a genuine alternative to it and Socialism, a 3rd Way, as it was called, thus, requiring its own designation.

I'd like in the worst way to believe that our dispute is merely semantic, but I can't get over you being so keen on retaining the term 'Capitalism' as anything but a pejorative. But, as for being my enemy, you'd have to say something nice about turncoat Sirico before I'd even consider it.


p.s. Thanks ARB for the support and the mortgage example, which I will make sure to use in my lectures.

Sheldon said...


Belloc? You mean the Catholic who thought the French Revolution was a good thing?! There's a lot I like about Belloc, particularly his historical character studies, which are remarkably insightful; but I'm not really acquainted with his theories of political economy. I do know some of his generalizations I've seen in other books. He paints with too broad a brush sometimes to get the details right, it seems to me.

So: whatever Belloc's particular understandings of capitalism, socialism, and distrubitism, I'm not sure they resolve the issue. As an Englishman from the land where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, Belloc was familiar with the working conditions Marx taught his readers to loathe in Manchester and Liverpool, where there were no child labor laws, and women and children often worked 16-hour days under conditions few animals would have found hospitable. That's a far cry from the varieties of capitalism one finds in the U.S. or, say, Germany, since WWII.

On the other hand, the socialism one finds in Sweden or Finland is a far cry from the socialism one had in Stalinist Russia with the notoriously unsuccessful 5-year-plans following the slaughter of the Russian and Ukrainian “Kulaks.”

So, paraphrasing Alasdair MacIntyre's magnum opus, I would ask: “Whose Capitalism? Whose Socialism?” I simply don't think the matter is as facile as you make it. Making a profit is praised by our Lord (the “good and faithful steward”), and the good and faithful wife of Proverbs 31 is not only one who “opens her hand to the poor,” but one involved in investment and trade to provide the wealth needed to offer charity.

I'll give you this: I agree that “capitalism” and “socialism” in the popular mind are generally understood to be contrasting systems of political economy. The “capitalists” are thought by “leftists” to be “selfish pigs” fleecing everyone in pursuit of “filthy lucre.” The “socialists” are thought by “rightists” to be promoters of “free handouts” who end up “destroying economies” and “incentives to work.” Those are caricatures; and like all caricatures, there may be a degree of truth in them; but they're hardly the fine-tuned understandings of someone acquainted with mixed economies. Fair enough?


Heinrich Pesch makes my case: first, that “capitalism” of the sort we oppose has to be carefully defined, and, second, it's not of the kind that simply what he calls “technical capitalism,” or one that stresses private-enterprise, or private ownership of the means of production, or even the quest for profit as such. Exactly. What we oppose, instead, is “the unbounded dominion by those who own capital … along with the unrestrained pursuit of profit.” Exactly again. Those are two different things, the what we oppose in capitalism, as well as socialism, is what stems from our fallen nature: that's all.

Mortgage interest, PMI, and all those excuses for fleecing the public? Sure. I agree. Why wouldn't I. They are everything Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas would spurn, and why wouldn't I? Go find an enemy worth your time and energy. I'm not he.

Sheldon said...

The enemy, in short, is big government, big business, and big finance; and by that I mean those institutions as inhabited by fallen sons of Adam and animated by untethered greed.

Robert Allen said...


A fair-mined person who had not read Belloc's The Servile State would not dismiss an argument based upon it by citing his dissatisfaction with some other work.

My use of the term 'Capitalism' as I have shown you, is anything but facile: I actually defined it along with its contraries. Moreover, I have given you a perfectly good dialectical reason for preferring the label 'Distributism': so as to make it abundantly clear that my philosophy is not be confused with anything bearing the former name. And here is another one: a Catholic thinker should be loathe to appropriate for his own ideas a term designating an economic system foisted on Christendom by Protestants. The fact is, Belloc and Chesterton were advocating precisely the sort of economic system, with families and guilds in control of the means of production, that had been unjustly supplanted by Capitalism based upon usurious investments and trade violating the principle of subsidiarity. Make up your mind, Sheldon, you can't be both a Distributist and a Capitalist: once you start decrying 'untethered greed' you are, as I indicated in my previous post, no longer a Capitalist. Reagan and Gordon Gecko are going to show you the door.


William C. said...

Dear Doctor RFGA, Ph.D.,

If I may offer my observations as, I think, a relatively fair-minded observer: (1) I would agree that Sheldon has not been entirely fair-minded in rejecting Belloc's argument in The Servile State based on Belloc's praise of the French Revolution in another work, even though it's clear from what he says that he's fairly well-acquainted with distributist authors and, indeed, calls himself a distributist. (2) I would DIS-agree that you have adequately distinguished what you mean by "capitalism" based on Belloc's The Servile State from what, say, Rush Limbaugh or Barack Obama mean by it, since your discussion largely appears to simply assume a general understanding of what the differences between "capitalism," "socialism," and "distributism" are, which is something short of a safe assumption these days. (3) Neither do I think it fair to criticizing any Catholic thinker (like Sheldon) for "appropriating for his own ideas a term designating an economic system foisted on Christendom by Protestants," when the term is (a) an unavoidable term in contemporary economic theory, (b) you employ it yourself, and, (c) like yourself (eventually, though not initially), Sheldon was careful to distinguish between what he meant by "capitalism" in different contexts (as Heinrich Pesch, in his book linked by ABS, does in intricate detail). Language is fluid and flexible; and if someone makes an effort to define what he means in different contexts, one shouldn't force another's intended meanings into the Procrustean Bed of his own preconceptions, it seems to me. Rather than tossing around the 'authority' your academic credentials, why don't you accept that HE means at face value and accept him as a brother standing at your side rather than rube to be dumped on. Did he dump on YOU anywhere? Peace.

Dr. William C., M.A., Ph.D., J.D., and Honorary Big Mac Daddy of the Internet Cock Fights

Thomas Storck said...

Concerning the Chesterton quote about too few capitalists, see

This was originally published on The Distributist Review.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Thanks to Thomas Storck for the linked a propos article.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Thanks to Thomas Storck for the linked a propos article.

JM said...

Belloc... brilliant and also severely flawed. Frank Sheed admired him immensely. His wife, who grew up with him, had a very different assessment. Shared simply because it is interesting. I remain convinced that while there is a Catholic social teaching, it is far less definable than the Church's teaching on Scripture, a teaching all four of the last Popes have deserted. Which makes the whole picture kind of... I don't know... fuzzed out in terms of insisting we all come on board with Pope Francis. It's easy to criticize the waste, and also easy to accept the money that Capitalism seems to have generated. To my mind, we ought to thank the Lord for the increase in the global standard of living across the board free markets have wrought. Greed? Sure, but what other nation comes close to pouring money into charities and world relief than the US? It's a strange tension, but Americans are generous as well as selfish.

JM said...

No to mention Belloc reminds me of the evangelical R.C. Sprout. Opinionated, articulate, and living the Very Good Life, for his era. An aristocrat, very much so. I would more readily listen to Dorothy Day with all her overkill. Or even Francis, if he could make up his mind, which seems to want to be all things to all people.

Robert Allen said...

So that's what it's come to: I'm wrong in stating that a Distributist should call himself one and speak only critically of Capitalism (to which his philosophy is diametrically opposed, in allowing for the concentration of a society's wealth in a tiny group of people) because I'm proud of my academic title and cite in support of my thesis the work of an author who may have had a character flaw or 2. Got it.