Quote of the Week

Quote of the Week June 26, 2007

The moral superiority of the liberal [capitalist] system in politics and the economy that thus emerged arouses no enthusiasm, even so. The number of those who have no share in the fruits of this freedom is too great–those, indeed, who lose every kind of freedom: being out of work has once more become a mass phenomenon; the feeling of not being needed, of being superfluous, torments people no less than material poverty. Unscrupulous exploitation is becoming widespread; organized crime is making use of the opportunities of the free world; and in the midst of it all the ghost of meaninglessness is wandering around. At the Salzburg Further Education sessions in 1995, the Polish philosopher Andrej Szczypiorski described in pitiless clarity the dilemma of freedom that came into being after the fall of the wall; it is worthwhile listening to him at some length:

No doubt can remain that capitalism was a great step forward. And equally, no doubt can remain that it failed to fulfill expectations. In capitalism, the cry of the great masses is always to be heard, the masses whose cravings are unfulfilled. . . . The decline of the Soviet conception of the world and of man embodied in its political and social practice meant the liberation of millions of human lives out of serfdom. But in terms of the heritage of European thought, in the light of the tradition of the last two hundred years, the anti-Communist revolution also means the end of the illusions of the Enlightenment, that is, the destruction of the intellectual concept that formed the basis of the development of early Europe. . . . A remarkable age of growing uniformity in development, hitherto unknown anywhere, has begun. And suddenly it has appeared–probably for the first time in history–as if there were only a single recipe, a single way forward, one single model, and just one way of shaping the future. And people lost their belief in the sense of the transformations that were taking place. They lost hope in the possibility of changing the world at all and in its being worth the effort to change the world. . . . Yet the current lack of any alternative induces people to ask entirely new questions. The first question is: Perhaps the West was not right, after all? The second question: If the West was not right, then who was right? Because no doubt remains, for everyone in Europe, that Communism was not right, then the third question arises: Perhaps there is no such thing as being right? But if that is the case, then the entire intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment is worthless. . . . Perhaps the veteran Enlightenment steam engine, after two hundred years of useful and undisturbed work, has stopped before our eyes and with our cooperation. And the steam is just going up in the air. If that is in fact so, then the outlook is indeed dark.

Joseph Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 234-35


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