Catholics Moving Right and Left

Catholics Moving Right and Left December 11, 2014

Reading social movements is hard, since the evidence is diverse and can be read in several ways. In response to my description of leftward-moving conservative Catholics, one commenter on the article itself objected that

We must be reading different Catholic commentary, because I disagree completely. . . . Most people I know, including myself, are far more receptive to libertarian ideas. This does not mean that we are all anarcho-capitalists, but that we recognize that nearly everything that the state touches, it corrupts. And even where the state is well-meaning, it is inefficient and diverts resources from more productive ventures and from those who rightfully acquired the property in the first place.

In a helpful explanation of his quibbles, “Modestinus” writes that I left out the opposite group:

A second quibble I have concerns Mills’s statement that Catholics and Evangelicals who are now taking a skeptical position with regard to capitalism aren’t “becom[ing] old-fashioned socialists or even social democrats.” It seems to me, however, that a good number of these folks, which include plenty of young Catholics, are quite ready to accept the tenets of socialism and, more distressingly, argue that those tenets find support in CST [Catholic Social Teaching].

Granted, the term “socialist” is often open-ended and certainly overused, but there is nothing in CST which calls for mass expropriation (either through regulatory or taxing mechanisms) in the hopes of establishing an economically egalitarian society. That cure is worse than the disease. However, those I have called “socialist Catholics” do have their instincts in the right place. It’s just too bad that their main critics are economic liberals whose own utopian visions warrant condemnation.

The commenter describes one movement, though it’s not the one I was writing about. My guess — which in these things is all one can offer — is that the libertarian swing among young people is growing weaker and for many the pendulum of their views is swinging towards a higher view of the state, one more in keeping with Catholic Social Teaching than mainstream libertarianism. For this view see, among many examples, sections 32, 34, and 35 in Pope St. Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. These young people recognize the dangerous simplicity of “nearly everything the state touches, it corrupts,” something the older Catholics among those I was describing already saw.

Modestinus is also writing about people other than I was writing about, though that’s my fault. I should have included them as part of the broader movement I was trying to discern and describe. I don’t know how many of them there are and how significant a movement they represent. Whatever one thinks of their social analysis, they have, as he says, “their instincts in the right place,” and that’s something. And as he adds: “It’s just too bad that their main critics are economic liberals whose own utopian visions warrant condemnation.”

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