Neoliberalism and Catholic Social Teaching
Jim Pawels remarks:
Unagidon I dont believe youve pegged Rick Santorum exactly right......I find Santorums embrace of Catholic social teaching, and his serious application of it to real world problems, to be intriguing and exciting. It seems hes a very long shot to win the nomination. But Id think we can all be glad to see Catholic teaching being injected into a presidential race.
He includes several links including one to an op-ed by Michael Gerson titled Rick Santorum and the return of compassionate conservatism. In it, Gerson says:
The Catholic (and increasingly Protestant) approach to social ethics asserts that liberty is made possible by strong social institutions families, communities, congregations that prepare human beings for the exercise of liberty by teaching self-restraint, compassion and concern for the public good. Oppressive, overreaching government undermines these value-shaping institutions. Responsible government can empower them say, with a child tax credit or a deduction for charitable giving as well as defend them against the aggressions of extreme poverty or against free markets in drugs or obscenity.
I believe that this can be inserted easily into Neoliberalism as defined (here) by David Harvey in A Brief History of Neoliberalism:
Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposed that human well being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skill within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate for such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defense, police, and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices) and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions (particularly in democracies) for their own benefit.
It seems to me that Gerson's account of Catholic social teaching is substituting the "family" for the individual in a neoliberal economic framework. This is not a simple substitution; the family is a moral order and it does need to be defended as such. But neoliberal economic policies are not and cannot be designed to support communities and congregations (not to mention families). The commoditization of all things, which is the thrust of neoliberalism is the thing that is radically individualizing people and Gerson (and I believe Santorum) wants to somehow offset this proletarianization of the world by focusing on families that, through force of moral will, can somehow not be ground down by this and can still leave the neoliberal utopia standing.I will counter with this. Neoliberalism is a moral order and it contradicts Catholic social teaching. It cannot be reconciled with it, no matter how much people talk about the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. Inserting "strong families" into this seems to me to be more about using the family to maintain some sort of social order in an economy geared to breaking down social orders. Catholic social teaching is about thriving, not obedience to laws in the pursuit of profits first. Families and other kinds of social institutions cannot thrive in a neoliberal order.