Thursday, April 28, 2005
Meet the Press had a very interesting discussion last Sunday on the new Pope and the future of the Church (transcript here). Thomas Cahill (author of The Gifts of the Irish and other popular books) made the familiar complaints about the Church's opposition "to masturbation, premarital sex, birth control (including condoms used to prevent the spread of AIDS), abortion, divorce, homosexual relations, married priests, female priests and any hint of Marxism." Jody Bottum of the Weekly Standard responded as follows:
You know, one of the great problems here is that in that litany, for instance, that Mr. Cahill gave, of things that he wants, only the very last item and that understated a hint of Marxism had anything to do with economics. The great narrowing of the liberal tradition has come down to almost all having to do with sex and gender. One of the great underreported facts about the new pope is that he actually stands to the left of his predecessor on economic issues. He came out of Germany where they always thought they were going to split the difference between Marxism and capitalism anyway...
MR. RUSSERT: A social democratic tradition.
MR. BOTTUM: Right. And he is to the left of him. If the 1991 encyclical from John Paul I [sic], Centesimus annus, might be described as three cheers for democracy, two cheers for capitalism. Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, would have gave only one cheer, but you wouldn't know that from all of the coverage that describes him as hard-liner, conservative, authoritarian because the great liberal tradition even within the church, even Mr. Cahill speaks for, has been narrowed down until it's all just about sex.
Two comments: First, Bottum seems dead right about the increasingly narrowed focus of the "progressive" tradition and the Democratic Party on matters of sexual autonomy. Notice, for example, that what seems to get so many liberal pundits the most upset is not persisting poverty or world hunger, but rather the Christian right "imposing its morality on others." And to to be a "moderate" or "new" Democrat these days mostly means that you (a) keep the commitment to unrestricted abortion and (b) become more like the Republicans on economic issues such as upper-bracket tax cuts. The missing perspective in American politics is the one that is "traditionalist" on sex and family issues but "progressive" on economic issues. Whatever you ultimately think of that perspective on its merits, its relative absence has left a noticeable, and I think very unfortunate, hole in American political discourse.
Second, I'm interested to learn more about Pope Benedict's past writings on economic issues. Bottum is certainly right that there's been almost no reporting of this angle; is he right in his characterization of the Benedict's past positions ("to the left of" John Paul II)? I'm going to go looking for the information; but in the meantime, readers' input welcome.