On his recent visit to South America, Pope Francis once again sounded contradictory notes about capitalism, warning the world about “unfettered capitalism”, saying it was a “subtle dictatorship.” This was in all the papers, over several media outlets, so you can go read it for yourself.
Being a third world cleric, from Argentina, I’ve always given a “naivete pass” to the Pope when it applies to American capitalism, which is totally different than from say, German capitalism, which gave rise to Marx and communism, or Italian capitalism, which gave the world fascism, and certainly South American capitalism, which is a blend of both, and has given the word the archetypal “unfettered authoritarian”. It was the Pope’s use of the word “unfettered” that annoys me here, for that term is not naively applied. Nor is America excepted. While he is actually half right, even about modern American corporate capitalism (which I’ll get to in a moment), Il Papa did not make any corresponding derogation about “unfettered socialism”, which is communism, and anathema to the Church since it is, by definition, godless, advocating a type of government in which the Church (remember, in Rome’s view, there is only one) has no place, harkening all the way back to the bad old days of the Roman Empire, when they crucified Christians…for worshipping the wrong god(s).
But this is not to say the Church is against all thing unfettered. It just wants to have a say in the unfettering process; a seat around the boardroom table, as it were. You see, the Church had a long and profitable partnership with “unfettered totalitarianism”, from the 9th Century (some say 5th) onward, when it had an exclusive license to annoint and crown the 2% of Europe who would rule over the other 98%. The Church and Royals had an arrangement; the crowns of Europe would gather up the sheep, then deliver them over to the Church to be shriven, then later to be shaven by the pursers of Crown. This was a power-sharing arrangement.of sorts, in which, I personally believe, Satan played a much larger role than Christ.
But because of unscripted events (to Satan at least) occurring in the Americas in the late 18th Century, which trickled over into France, with disastrous results, this merger arrangement in Europe began to fade, their royal houses finally falling after World War I, leaving the Church in Europe a mere shadow of its former self.
I don’t know how much of European history or (norte) American history this Argentinian Pope knows, or if he is a dot-connector in logical equation, but he should know that the demise of all the churches in Europe, Catholic and Protestant alike, corresponds with the rise of “fettered socialism” which he curiously seems to be supporting in Latin America, where the Church has continued to work hand-in-glove with a long line of “el Supremos” of various stripes ever since the fall of the Bastille.
While in Paraguay the Pope visited a slum, one of South America’s worst…and that is saying a lot… but the Pope did not admonish the Paraguayan government for its unfettered authoritarianism, saying nothing about the overt tyranny in the way their state apparatus first acquired its revenues, then spent it, but that only the state should try harder to be kinder to the poor.
As they might say in Baltimore, “The Pope is down with unfettered authoritarianism”. It seems he reserves his hatred for the sort of market mechanisms in which men can grow wealth without the Church sitting in the boardroom or taking some cut from the state’s till, and having some say how money is acquired by the people, then reacquired by the state, then redistributed to the people with the Church’s imprimatur.
The sadness of this Pope’s attempt to retrench the Church into the world politics of authoritarianism, which the American Catholic Church has not yet embraced, in part because their American parishioners have not yet embraced it…is that American business schools have been working assiduously for over thirty years now, in bringing the godless amorality of the rest of the world to American business now.
I was lucky enough to be able to sit in the councils of the last generation of America’s ethical giants in the boardroom, where rightness and wrongness were still a part of the discussion, and law was a secondary consideration. It was like, in “The Godfather”, when Don Corleone refused to get into the drug business “because it was wrong’. End of discussion. Remember that scene? It used to be that way in American business, Il Papa.
Sadly, and slowly, at first, with no ethical or moral code allowed into modern business schools, American business has been directed (driven) to making business decisions solely on the basis of the laws of Man (regulations, codes), disregarding the higher rightness and wrongness of things. The Ivy League schools, e.g, Wharton and Harvard, and west coast schools at Stanford and Cal, have banished any notion of a Higher Morality, a Higher Good, and placed all power in man-made law, which we’re all beginning to acknowledge, is pretty low-down and common, even puerile, espeially. Under this ethical regimen the only business question in the board room is whether the laws could be circumvented, broken or ignored. Finally, it comes down to just getting caught, and then, “who can we scapegoat if we do get caught.” This has been the fundamental difference between the pagan and the Christian for over 2000 years..
What Fr Frank misses is the role of the small private capitalist, who, in America, can still become quite wealthy, despite all the fettering from the state, yet still clings to the Church(es). God’s law still rules, and right and wrong still come first in the order of business among this class of capitalist. I see it every day.
And these capitalists can save the world, Il Papa. They can liberate the poor, even your poor, and will pay fair tribute to your Church…but not to you through the state, Holy Fodder,, since in America, the two are not conjoined.
For this reason alone, it seems your Church will have none of American capitalism, for this is not the South American way.
Still, Pope Francis is half right, I fear, for unfettered capitalism has wormed its way into our corporate boardrooms, and I fear the Church is betting on an outcome which in the end, will not include its participation, shooting itself in the foot as it has in Europe.
When America was the master of moral and ethical capitalism, until that generation of giants finally died out in 1n the 1990s, it was a shining light for the whole world to observe and study. It provided the private sector business world an additional dot to connect, that made available to all men the benefits of the economy, “without permission of state”..or their church.
This is a phenomenon about which Pope Francis appears to know nothing.