Is Pope Francis A Socialist?

Last Thursday Pope Francis condemned the "cult of money" as a form of idolatry in the Western world which is increasing poverty in the third world, while simultaneously creating spiritual poverty in the industrialised world.  "We have created new idols," the Holy Father said. He continued: "The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."  He concluded by calling for more state control of economies and reminded world leaders that: "Money has to serve, not to rule!"

Of course this led the political Left to laud the pope's words.  Self described socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent - Vermont) immediately praised the pope (read here), while the capitalist publication "Investor's Business Daily" had quite a lot to say in criticism of the pope's words (see article here), even going so far as to openly suggest that the pope has been influenced by Liberation Theology and the socialist policies of his native country Argentina.  The article even goes on to correct the Vicar of Christ, by pointing out that libertarian capitalism prevents poverty and the pope should take a lesson from his native country's neighbour Chile.  Of course the problem here is that socialists like Senator Sanders, and capitalists publications like the "Investor's Business Daily," really have no clue as to what the pope is talking about, namely because neither one apparently understands Catholic social teaching.

Pope Francis was critical of capitalism because you see, Pope Francis is not a capitalist.  Of course, in the narrow-minded world of Left verses Right politics, that leads people to immediately assume that if he's not a capitalist, then he must be a socialist -- right?  After all, that's all there is - right?  You're either a capitalist, a socialist, or something in between -- right?

WRONG!  While it is true the pope is not a capitalist, it is equally true that he is not a socialist either, nor is he some kind of freakish hybrid (fascist) in between capitalism and socialism.  The problem here is that when the pope calls for more government control of the economy, it is not state-run socialism that he's calling for.  Rather, the kind of state control the pope is calling for has more in common with Teddy Roosevelt than Barack Obama.  It has to do with breaking up monopolies, oligopolies and money cartels.  You see, the pope is not a capitalist, nor is he a socialist, and he's certainly not a fascist.  The pope is Catholic, and if he's Catholic then that can only mean one thing economically.  The pope is a distributist.

Now distributism is the opposite of both capitalism and socialism.  It's on the opposite end of the spectrum entirely, which is why neither capitalists nor socialists can recognise it.  Frequently, capitalists will accuse distributists of being "socialists," while socialists will do the same in reverse, calling distributists "capitalists."  This is because both sides lack imagination.  The capitalist is stuck in his libertarian rut, thinking that unregulated markets produce economic stability, when it fact, what they really do is create more wealth for the rich, all the while increasing the gap between the rich and poor.  Stability has nothing to do with it either, as unregulated capitalism produces wild swings in the economy, shifting between market booms and busts, that hurt the poor and middle class more than anyone else.  Meanwhile, the socialist throws his hands up in the air, says there is no solution to the problem, and advocates a complete government takeover of various industries as well as wealth redistribution in the name of "mercy" and "compassion," in the hope of producing more "stability."  Of course what this really causes is market stagnation, massive government debt and ultimately rationing of goods and services.  The problem here is that both sides are ideologues, and both sides are advocating the exact same "solution" -- just two variations of it.

You see the problem with socialism is that it concentrates productive property (industry) into the hands of a few government bureaucrats. While the natural tendency of unregulated libertarian capitalism is that, over time, it naturally concentrates productive property (industry) into the hands of a few corporate plutocrats. No matter which system you choose, a small handful of people end up sharing most (or all) the productive property (industry). Under a hybrid system (fascism) the government bureaucrats and corporate plutocrats share this ownership. Under both systems, or under a hybrid system, the common man ends up working for somebody else -- either the state or else a large corporation. Under both systems, the common man becomes little more than a cog in a machine which is easily replaced once it gets used and worn. Both systems are an affront to human dignity.

Now many American neoconservatives, which are often socially conservative but economically libertarian, will object to my description of capitalism above. This is mainly because the vision of capitalism they were sold doesn't completely jive with reality. They envision a world wherein any common man can go start a business and turn it into an empire eventually, with good ol' fashion hard work and grit. Sorry, but it doesn't work that way any more. The truth is, it never really worked that way to begin with. In the beginning, there were many manufacturers of automobiles in America. Now there are just a handful. In the beginning, any "mom & pop" grocery store could support a family and supply a town. These are gone now, replaced by big-box megastores and super-markets. The transformation of the American economy has always been rather rapid, and if you think that's fast, you should have seen how quickly capitalism transformed the third-world into virtual slave labour. No, capitalism doesn't produce freedom. It never has. What it has produced however is a wealthy class of people who benefit from the slave labour of everyone else. Large corporations control everything. All productive property eventually belongs to them. In time, a man just can't make a living unless he works for somebody else.

Socialism is not much better, even through many of America's neoprogressives are enamoured with it. The exact same problem exists, albeit there is one difference. When the government runs things it doesn't always do it according to the "bottom line." Often times government employee benefits are better than corporate benefits, which is why so many people are attracted to government jobs, but let us not forget, the same problem exists. It isn't long before a man cannot make a living unless he's working for somebody else.

Distributism is the opposite of all this. It's based on property ownership, and the basic principle is that productive property (industry) should be spread far and wide, among the masses of common people. This is done both through small family-run businesses, and large cooperatively-owned corporations. The government regulates this by making sure no one person (or persons) gets too much control of any given market. Yes, that does require government to determine how much is too much, but the purpose of this is to make sure the market remains open enough for other worker-owners to jump in, either as private businessmen or else cooperative workers. Distributism is about an "ownership society," wherein the rich and powerful are prohibited by law from blocking access to the market to poorer competition, whether they want to start their own business, or else gain cooperative ownership of another. This creates a more stable economy, with less market swings and wider distribution of property, based on supporting people rather than using them. If there was ever a Christian form of economics -- this is it!

So both the socialists and the capitalists got it wrong on Pope Frances. The pope is neither a capitalist nor a socialist. He's a distributist, just like all popes before him, who wrote about the principles (solidarity and subsidiarity) upon which distributism is based. There is a difference. (To learn more about distributism click here.)

So the socialists can settle down now.  The pope has not given his blanket approval of Liberation Theology. Likewise, the capitalists can stop lecturing the Vicar of Christ as well, because "more government control" does not always mean socialist takeover of industry and wealth redistribution.  Sometimes "government control" simply means making everyone play by the same rules, and making sure those rules don't favour one class of people over another.  In a distributist economy, everyone has a right to own productive property (some form of industry), but at the same time, this right to ownership is not absolute.  People (whether as individuals or acting through corporations) do not have the absolute right to acquire most (or all) productive property over a certain industry, to the point of driving most (or all) competitors out of business.  There is a limit to how big a business can get, and that limit should apply equally to all businesses.  Likewise, larger businesses should have more employee control through cooperative ownership, so as to prevent a vast amount of productive property being controlled by a tiny handful of individuals.  All of this puts productive property (industry) back into the hands of common individuals and families.  It gives everyone a shot at "owning a stake" in the market, and that gives the most people the greatest chance to improve their lot in life based on their own efforts.  In effect, the empty promise made by capitalism can only be fulfilled in a distrbutist economy.  This reduces poverty of all types.  This is what the pope means when he condemns the "cult of money" and talks about more government control.  How do I know?  It's simple really.  All you have to do is read the social encyclicals of previous popes going back over a hundred years to Pope Leo XIII.  Put this current pope's words into that context and there you go!  These papal encyclicals on economics are:
  1. Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Workers, Pope Leo XIII, 1891
  2. Quadragesimo Anno: On the Reconstruction of the Social Order, Pope Pius XI, 1931
  3. Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher, Pope John XIII, 1961
  4. Populorum Progressio: On the Development of People, Pope Paul VI, 1961
  5. Laborem Exercens: On Human Work, Pope John Paul II, 1981
  6. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  7. Centesimus Annus: The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  8. Caritas in Veritatae: Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI, 2009
Everyone would be wise to consider papal context when commenting on papal statements.  The mainstream news press seems to be completely oblivious to this.  Likewise, ideologues like socialists and capitalists seem to be clueless as well.  They are so clueless in fact, that it causes socialists to salivate at the latest words of the current pontiff, and capitalists to write embarrassing essays lecturing the pope on economic morality.  Both parties are so completely "out to lunch" that they don't even realise how silly they look.


    Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today


    Pair O' Dimes said…
    Hear, hear! I'm not quite sure how putting it in the hands of the government would work in a distributist system (doesn't that pave the way for government consolidation of industry?), but other than that, I'm in agreement with you.

    I wanted to comment on one thing you said, though: "Under both systems, the common man becomes little more than a cog in a machine which is easily replaced once it gets used and worn."

    I like to say that "If you know and accept your place in society, you never have to worry about being re-placed." Hence I prefer a hierarchical society where everyone has a clear place: a patriarchal monarchy.

    I think that would be the best defense against monopolies since if everyone accepts their place they'll be less likely to hoard, and anyone making the attempt (as via usury) would be stigmatized for doing so.

    Of course, that's the ideal (something like what they had in the Middle Ages), and I have no idea how to accomplish that pragmatically based on what we already have right now....
    MarijaD said…
    Interesting and thought-provoking commentary. I wonder what Pope Francis thinks of USURY in connection with the "cult of money." Usury used to be a mortal sin in Catholic teaching until about the mid-1500's. Then it was no longer a mortal sin. The Catholic Church began to ease its teaching on usury and today it might be a venial sin if you charge too much interest. Would like to see someone wiser and smarter than I to comment on what would happen if the Catholic Church returned to its teaching/belief that usury is a mortal sin. What would happen to the Vatican Bank?
    JBQ said…
    Nice words and good logic but not true. Malachi Martin, a Jesuit advisor at Vatican II, wrote his books of faction about the Vatican move toward world socialism. The effort is not religious but economic. The pope stated in Gaudium Evangelii that "all violence is caused by economic disparity" and not by defects of character.
    Shane Schaetzel said…
    Malachi Martin is hardly a source of reliable information. The two groups who love him the most are rabid conspiracy theorists and Protestants -- particularly Evangelical Fundamentalist Protestants of the most anti-Catholic sort.

    Martin made all sorts of claims, and rarely backed up a single one with verifiable information. He was originally a liberal -- a modernists -- and many stories abound about how much he liked the ladies prior to him being dismissed as a priest. He was also a sensationalist, who made a fortune on book sales.

    The one thing I learned as a Protestant, coming into the Catholic Church, is you never trust information that cannot in some way be verified. This is because 90% of all anti-Catholic propaganda comes from unverified sources. Malachi Martin is probably the best example of the sort of author I would never trust for reliable information regarding the Catholic Church.