Monday, October 19, 2020

Is Pope Francis’s new encyclical an attack on capitalism? — Philip Booth

Peter Booth explains the key features of the pope's recent encyclical. 

It is not an attack on "capitalism" as such but rather an attack on neoliberalism as a political theory based on economic liberalism ("bourgeois" liberalism). There are many varieties of "capitalism" and "socialism," and also a combination thereof. 

I would say that it is an approach to "left" liberalism intended as an antidote to the excesses of "right" liberalism. Right liberalism focuses on individuality and freedom, whereas left liberalism is about harmonizing freedom, equality and community, e.g, through distributivism with respect to Catholic social teaching. Right liberalism is the predominant variety in the US and UK, whereas left liberalism is predominant in Europe, or at least was until the rise of neoliberalism.

This encyclical is also an attempt to harmonize liberalism and traditionalism. Implicit is the view that this century is about the historical dialectic involving liberalism as championing individuality and individual freedom and traditionalism as championing wisdom as the integration of values in a culture or civilization. There have been many varieties of each on the table historically. 

It is essentially a document on the foundations of politics and economics in a values system underlying a socio-economic system — local, national, regional, and global. The pope views the "golden rule" as the common basis and unitary principle, some version of which is found in all traditions. 

This has been called "enlightened self-interest," which is different from "altruism." Altruism requires a highly developed cognitive-affective level of awareness, whereas enlightened self-interest applies to all rational beings. It's beginnings are found in sub-rational and less than fully rational creatures, too, as the dawning of reciprocity. Reciprocity also underlies market behavior.

Is Pope Francis’s new encyclical an attack on capitalism?
Philip Booth | Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He also holds the position of Dean of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences at St. Mary's having previously been Director of Research and Public Engagement
Originally published in The Tablet (Catholic newspaper)

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