Hard to misunderstand
Matthew Boudway July 7, 2009 - 5:43pm
Encyclicals, especially social encyclicals, often function as Rorschach tests. The generalities and translationese produce whatever image an observer wants to see, or wants others to see. Whatever can be misconstrued will be misconstrued. But there are several passages about political economy in Caritas in veritate that are impossible to mistake or misrepresent. One is the beginning of paragraph 36:
Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution. [The italics are in the encyclical.]
So: Justice through redistribution is a properly political concern. The common good is not a natural, inevitable by-product of capitalism's "commercial logic"; it does not take care of itself but requires collective deliberation and collective effort—in other words, politics. The market "needs to be directed."The pope could hardly be more direct. Such stuff will be hard for Catholic champions of laissez-faire capitalism to swallow, and, predictably, some of them are already spitting it out as if it were the disposable shell of Benedict's more explicitly theological message.
About the Author
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.