Well, folks, its the day before Thanksgiving and I am prepping for a houseful, yet here I sit writing a blog post. (Something I haven’t done in a while because well, life gets in the way.) So why am I sitting here pounding the keys instead of baking and cleaning? Because I need to set something straight. Over the past few days as parts of Evengelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) are being passed around press and social media, I have had more than one debate over the accusation of Pope Francis being a Marxist. Today Rush Limbaugh took it upon himself to become another voice in that small, loud, misinformed chorus. Where are they getting this idea? Quotes like this: “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies” and (gasp) this one: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Oh yes, Karl Mark is clapping his hands in his grave. Not. Seriously, Pope Francis uses the phrase “common good” and people go ape.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I generally like Rush. I enjoy hearing his take on things, mostly political things, and I am intrigued by his foray into children’s historical literature. But I have to say, this is one of the the 0.04 times he is wrong. (You know, he monitors his correctness and is right “99.6 percent of the time…”)
So because I can’t bear an accusation against our Holy Father and feel it is my duty and privilege as a daughter of the Church to defend him, here it goes.
Mr. Limbaugh: (My kids used to call you Uncle Rush and knew that the sound of your intro music meant lunch time here on the East Coast), and those who accuse Pope Francis of being a Marxist:
He is not. Eloquent of me, no?
Let me expand on that.
Pope Francis spent has spent much of his life fighting many of the scary “isms” that he is accused of ascribing to. He has a history of personally saving people from the government in Argentina. He has never been a Marxist, Communist, or Socialist. And he never will be. American Catholics tend to forget that Catholicism is not an ideology. We in America think in terms of politics and ideologies. Are you a Conservative? Are you a Democrat? Are you a capitalist? For a Catholic the answer to all would be “no, I am a Catholic.” Catholicism isn’t an ideology. Its not a economic principle, and its not political party. Its bigger than that. Its also a lot more simple and a lot more complex. What do I mean? I mean its simple because everything in Catholicism is going to spiral towards one end: Christ. And within that spiral, within that move towards Christ is another very simple end: the dignity of the Human Person. Therefore, as the Church proclaims the Truth, she keeps two things in mind: that all leads to Christ and that the dignity of each person is paramount, because after all, each person is made in the image of God, and each person, as Mother Teresa so famously pointed out, is a Christ in disguise. Recognizing that my fellow humans are created in God’s image, however imperfect they are, is what should motivate my political leanings, my economic decisions etc. This is where it gets complex. Catholics (Practicing Catholics) don’t fit neatly into a ideological box. Just ask Sean Hannity.
Catholics are pro-life, and anti-death penalty. This means they don’t fit into the Conservative and Liberal boxes. They are not isolationist when it comes to immigration, and they don’t think massive deportation is the end-all-be-all of illegal immigration but they believe each country has a right to determine its own immigration policy and enforce those laws. There go the hard lines differentiating between Republican and Democrat. Catholics believe in the principle of subsidiarity – returning decisions to the lowest level of Government involvement possible – but they also believe that it is the right of the Government to uphold Natural Law, which means sometimes taking a hard line and saying that some things are wrong all the time. That crosses off Socialism and Libertarianism. See what I mean?
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a Pope who has a duty and feels it it necessary to remind the world that no “ism” is perfect and that money – even money that is exchanged in a capitalist system – can and often does become an idol. This isn’t Marxist. Its the Gospel. Seriously, its in there… more than once even.
If I had to assign an “ism” to Pope Francis, because lets face it, us Americans aren’t happy unless we can put someone into a box that labels them as something, well then I’d say Pope Francis is most likely a Distributist. Now hold your horses. Not a “spread the wealth around” type. Far from it. Distrubitism is about as far from Marxist or Communist thought as Capitalism is. In fact, that’s the ONLY thing it has on common with it. For a brief explanation of Distrubitism, I defer to Mark Shea:
Distributism is the wild idea that property, power, and wealth should not be concentrated in the hands of a few tyrants running the State, nor in the hands of a few oligarchs running a corporation, but should instead be owned by all human beings, who have a natural right to private property, work and the fruit of the labors supplying their needs and the needs of their families. It is hostile to both communism (the concentration of wealth, power and property in the hands of the State) and capitalism (the concentration of wealth, power and property in the hands of a few oligarchs). It is in favor of the ordinary person being able to use his gifts and talent to create goods and exploit resources for human flourishing. It favors private property, freedom, and human dignity that puts the person before Mammon. It prefers the small over the ginormous, the local over the multinational corporation, the family over the economic machine.
Now, that doesn’t sound Marxist to me. It sound like quite the opposite. In fact the only thing that Distributism and Marxism agree on is a critique of capitalism, but even those critiques are vastly different. According to the Distributist Review:
Distributism argues that the ownership of the means of production by the few makes economic independence and political influence by the many non-owners impossible, or at least unreasonably difficult; the solution to this is to encourage the wider distribution of productive property among the people. As G. K. Chesterton famously noted in The Uses of Diversity, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” Marx, on the other hand, held that even the few private owners of productive property in capitalism are too many; the means of production should not be owned by anyone, but should rather be owned only by the state, making not only most but all of the people non-owning workers. In other words, Distributism’s complaint against capitalism is that the means of production are owned by too few; Marx’s is that they are owned by too many.
To put it very simply: Marxism wants the means of production within a society to be controlled by the government, or by a very few corporations that are in the pocket of the Government. Distributism wants it to be controlled by the people themselves. On an extremely local level. The more the merrier – and the wealthier.
Distributism and Marxism further diverge on a philosophicaal basis. Marxism being purely materialistic and Distributism being the exact opposite. Marxism and Capitalism actually have a commonality that is opposed Distributism; that of class and caste. Marxism needs to have social classes in order to work. The Proletariat; the workers being the focus, and the owners of the means of production being the powerful others. Capitalism is no different. Just look at America. We have arrived at what Hillaire Belloc called the “Servile State.” We have classes of “haves” and “have-nots” and the disparity is growing. Has that been exacerbated by a creeping socialism? Yes. But Capitalism, in its materialistic purest form, also leads to this same result. It can’t not. By its very nature, there will eventually be those who push Capitalism to the brink, acquiring for themselves great masses of wealth and power, leaving those who work for them nothing else to do but reach toward some unattainable dream of one day owning their own means of production while never being able to attain it because Corporations and the Government are in each other’s beds.
Distributism is focused on the good of the society. “Common good” refers to what is best for the people of society as a whole. It says that individuals have a right to self-determination. It places the Government in the position of being a Guardian of the Good of the People – but not in a materialistic sense- in a sense that Natural Law, and the “Freedom to do as we ought” need to be protected. It says that massive Federal Bureaucracies are the antithesis of Freedom. Now, does that sound even remotely Marxist? No. It does not.
If you want an example of Distributist thought in action, look no further than the Solidarity Movement in Poland following the Second World War. It was this movement that threw off the chains of Socialism in a peaceful, cultural, people-driven way. This was not a Marxist “Rise of the Proletariat.” Far from it. It was Marxist-Socialist thought that caused the peaceful Solidarnosc “Revolution.” This was Distributism in action in the 20th Century.
So my friends, please stop referring to the Holy Father as a Marxist. Caring for the Common Good of all people is hardly something that Karl Marx had a corner on. (I’m laughing because I hardly think he cared for the good of anyone except himself). Referring to money and greed as idols of the 21st century is not a Marxist thought. It is a Christian thought. It was Christ Himself who said, “You cannon serve two masters, God and mammon.”
Perhaps before making sweeping accusations against Peter’s Apostolic Successor, a little self-education is in order. Of course, what do I know, I’m just a Catholic…