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June 17, 2011

Catholicism and political categorization

Thanks to Rob for his interesting post about Archbishop Nienstedt's coming under attack from some folks on the right edge of the political spectrum for advocating "socialist" policies.  It has long seemed to me that being a Catholic means that certain positions at the extremes of the spectrum are off the table.  One cannot be a socialist, strictly speaking.  The Church's strong endorsement of private property eliminates the option of supporting state ownership of the means of production and also rules out (in most circumstances) radically redistributive policies.  At the same time, being a Catholic is incompatible with being a radical individualist or "libertarian" of the Ayn Randian sort.  (To her credit, I suppose, Rand herself understood this, though some of her disciples, including some Catholics who seem to have fallen under her influence, don't seem to have noticed it.)  The Church's teaching on the preferential option for the poor is only one of many principles placing Catholicism radically at odds with Randianism.

So whether it is a union rally in Madison, Wisconsin or a tea party in Doylestown, Pennsyvania, Catholics in attendance ought not to be wearing Che Guevara tee-shirts or waving Ayn Rand placards.

But, to get back to Archbishop Nienstedt, he would be the first to affirm (just ask him) that his own views on budgetary matters, the provision of social services, and the like necessarily include prudential judgments that are not themselves dictated by definitive teachings of the Church.  He would not maintain that his fellow Catholic citizens of goodwill who have, on reflection, arrived at different judgments (while affirming core moral principles, such as the obligation to design and maintain a system in which the welfare of the poor is attended to in a way consistent with their full humanity and equal dignity) have broken communion with the Church or placed themselves in opposition to its teachings.

At the same time, I'm sure the Archbishop would say that Catholic legislators, for example, or citizens voting in a referendum or engaging in public advocacy, who seek to deny to any class of human beings (the unborn, let us say, or the severely cognitively disabled) the law's fundamental protections against killing, have broken communion with the Church. They differ with the Archbishop not merely in respect of judgments he has made on which his fellow Catholics and other men and women of goodwill can reasonably disagree while maintaining fidelity to the principles of justice solemnly proclaimed by the Church; they have placed themselves in opposition to those principles of justice.  They have broken faith on the Church's fundamental teaching that every member of the human family, irrespective not only of race, sex, and ethnicity, but also irrespective of age, size, stage of development, cognitive capacity, and condition of dependency, possesses inherent dignity and an equal right to the law's protection against lethal violence.

Posted by Robert George on June 17, 2011 at 05:37 PM | Permalink

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