Pope Francis is a Christian, but he is also a conservative. These truths are so obvious that the fact that they must be said says much about the degenerate nature of both American Christianity and American conservatism.
To be a Christian means that Caesar can never be Lord. Our first loyalty is always to King Jesus not to any political power.
To be a conservative Christian means that we wish no Caesar, public or private, to gain sufficient to power rob, steal, or destroy. We know that the Satanic temptation is within our hearts and trust neither ourselves or anyone else with supreme power.
Pope Francis affirms all the historic teachings of the Faith that are being attacked in the West, but he is a global Christian and knows that Western foibles and decadence are not the story for most of the world’s Christians. He refuses to allow Western media elites to set the agenda for the papacy. He denies dying Western parishes the right to dictate the agenda or discussions of the Church simply because they still give most of the money.
Having said, “no” to Western decadence, Pope Francis does not see the need to keep repeating himself. A Christian does not anticipate the Faith once delivered to the Apostles to change with opinion polls and does not worry about any given papal statement. A conservative allows the Holy Spirit to set the agenda for the Church and not the worries of American Christians.
A conservative is not a reactionary: he has a progressive vision based on the deep, unchanging truths of Christianity. Christians are not “progressive” on the great truths of revelation, but we are perfectly willing to change with the times in the detail.
A reactionary looks backwards, a conservative looks forward while cherishing the best of the past. A reactionary sees a lost golden age, usually in his youth, while a conservative knows there was no Utopia in the past, there is no Utopia in the present, and there will be a Utopia in the future only when King Jesus rules personally on the Earth.
Humans, even popes, will not bring this Utopia to pass with all their announcements and schemes.
When the Pope speaks on economics, he speaks conservative words, not libertarian fantasies. A conservative trusts big business no more than big government. He does not think perfect liberty will produce a Utopia anymore than an all powerful state. A Christian rejects Rand, Marx, and Mussolini. A libertarian thinks my grandfather must die for the libertarian Paradise to come, the Marxist thinks grandparents must die to bring on the new Soviet Man, the corporate statist thinks the weak must go to the wall so that the powerful can govern.
The Christian knows everyone cannot be saved, but wishes it were so. The conservative wishes no unit of humans to have enough power (even the Church) to do as that unit wishes.
A Christian conservative prefers free markets, because they protect the right to private property, but from Burke to Tolkien the English speaking conservative knows that in bad hands free markets can be abused. Conservatives favor social safety nets (as Reagan did) and the police power of the state ending the worst of corporate abuses.
Christians who are conservative favor a small government to avoid state abuse of power, but recognize that in many areas from conservation to pure food laws to protection of labor that the state has a role to play. Of course, social forces, the Church, and the market will also check abuse, but these forces can be overwhelmed by big business.
As Carbide was killing my grandfather with asbestos, he had neither the education, the power, or the ability to know, choose, or protect himself. The police power of the state should have acted against the abuse, because by the time the market acted (as it always will) my grandfather (and many others like him) was dead.
It is true that the state’s power to police big business is abused, but it is equally true that all power is abused. The Christian only hopes for competing powers, Church, state, family, society, to check and balance each other. We hope for the best, pray against the worst, and limit our expectations.
Pope Francis understands this. He understands that labor sometimes needs powerful allies against the monied interests, but does not fall into the deception of socialism or communism. He does not pretend to know “how much” of any power is best, but does argue that all human beings have rights and that the abuse of any human being is wrong.
Pope Francis, like all Christians, understands that an actions legality does not equal its morality. Scrooge may be able to be Scrooge, but he should not be. The Church condemns him. Scrooge misuses his freedom. How much regulation would check his abuses? How much should the state supplant private charity? Christians, conservatives, can argue about this balance, but we (mostly) concede that the balance must be achieved.
There is nothing in Pope Francis writings to date to concern a Christian who favors small government, liberty used morally, and a social safety net for those who fall and cannot help themselves. There is much to concern the atheistic Rand follower who believes in social Darwinism: winners win and losers must die. There is much in Francis to worry Utopians who would destroy all private property and give power to the state. There is much in Francis to worry those that think if they just can keep the Pope talking about their pet issues, then the Church will tire and retreat.
I am not a Catholic, and the Pope need not always be “right,” but the gist of the Francis message is the message of John Paul II and Benedict in different times. Blessed John Paul faced statism, Benedict focussed on the decadent West, but both cannot be reduced to those focal points. Francis, a foe of communism and of decadence, is concerned with the rest of the world where clean drinking water, basic human dignity, and a real job are the major worries.
Dickens was right: if conservatives wish to avoid revolution boiling out most of the world, spoiled by ignorance and want, then we must act to end both. It is our duty as Christians, it is prudent as conservatives, because in a revolution morality and the good of the old order are the chief cultural victims.