Some Thoughts on Pope Francis’ Recent Condemnation of Capitalism
The story can be found here:
I actually think it is a good thing that the pope came out and made this position of his explicitly clear. The usual M.O. for authoritarians is to obscure their true colors in a cloud of euphemisms, feel-good slogans, apologetic platitudes and contentless bromides which are designed to engender sympathetic sentiments. Coming out and stating openly that one believes that money is a form of “tyranny” is far too candid to be misconstrued. So while I do not applaud anything the pope has stated, it is good that he comes out and shows the world what he’s all about in such unmistakable terms.
According to the pope, “money should be made to ‘serve’ people, not to ‘rule’ them.” I can only wonder what the good pope thinks of a federal government which uses its tax-collecting agency as a means of punishing its citizens. The pope has called “for a more ethical financial system and curbs on financial speculation.” And while the article does not provide any indication of what this “more ethical financial system” might look like (we already know that individual freedom is targeted as the real culprit), this means that “countries should impose more control over their economies and not allow ‘absolute autonomy’, in order to provide ‘for the common good’.” So the pope is surely no friend of capitalism, which means he is no friend of the concept of individual property rights, which means he is no friend of individual liberty. Not by a long shot!
According to the pope’s admonition, in each country, the state is to exercise even more control over individuals’ lives than it already does. The pope is clearly a statist, and this is only consistent with his religious worldview. If someone gets “too wealthy,” this is not a result of successful investment, of rational planning, of producing values that others are willing to trade for, of earning wealth through productive effort. Rather, it can only be the result of some base viciousness that needs to be rooted out and stopped, even if this means the use of force, preferably by some group of men who are exempt from the rule of law (like many government agencies in the United States, and elsewhere in the world, today).
I do notice that the pope himself is living with abundant means at his disposal – far more than I’ll ever enjoy, I’m sure. What kind of productive work has he done over his life in order to earn such resources? What values has he produced? Did he earn his way to his present station? If so, his doing so performatively contradicts the underlying determinism of his view of the world. If not, then he is just another part of the problem he complains about.
Perhaps what folks like the pope resent is the fact that people earn the wealth they enjoy. Whether he wants to acknowledge this or not, many “wealthy” people in the world do indeed fall into this category. Often many people who are wealthy today did not start out wealthy, but worked hard and worked smart, and devoted their lives to their productive goals and earned the values that they eventually acquired. It can only be on the basis of stolen concepts (cf. “all property is theft”) that one can characterizes such individuals as “tyrants.” Such individuals did not acquire their wealth by means of force, fraud or coercion. They earned it. And yet, according to folks like the pope, they have some mysterious “duty” to sacrifice some measure of their wealth to anonymous people labeled as “poor.”
On the other hand, there are those who seek the unearned, some of whom actually attempt to implement ways of disenfranchising others of the wealth that rightly belongs to them. Such persons essentially do not recognize the concept of individual rights and typically think of money as some sort of “necessary evil,” but definitely a form of evil. The “rich” are “filthy” (cf. “filthy lucre,” I Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11; I Pet. 5:2), so they should be parted from their wealth somehow, either by means of some psychological sanction (e.g., religious guilt motivating “charitable” contributions, tithing, etc.), or by some institutionalized form of confiscation (e.g., the IRS). While the former ensures the breaking of man’s spirit (reducing him to a sniveling, guilt-ridden shmoo anxious to garner approval from authority figures), the latter ensures a greater degree of compliance and provides a systematic means of distributing rewards and punishments.
Like any statist, the pope (whether intentionally or by accident) endorses a view of humanity that is essentially collectivistic in nature. Statists can hardly have a chance at rising in power without resorting to some sort of class-warfare tactics. Here the pope is trading on the age-old “rich vs. poor” paradigm which not only divides all of humanity into two opposing collectives, it also erroneously treats the level of one’s wealth, whether he is rich or poor, as a deterministic state of affairs that is fixed for all eternity. (This is one of the premises of statism that has its roots in the primacy of consciousness metaphysics.) The poor are poor for no fault of their own, and those who happened to have won the lottery of life and own wealth should “help” the poor out of their miserable state, over which they are powerless. Given what is stated in the article, there are no words from the pope encouraging those who are “poor” to become more productive and forge lives for themselves that are not dependent on the handouts of others. On the contrary, the message to the poor here is: ‘You are all victims of other people’s greed, but don’t worry, we will tell those who [allegedly] defrauded you to rescue you from your hardships.’ So any “poor” person taking the pope’s message seriously will find no motivation encouraged in that message to do something about his situation.
The pope’s message brazenly overlooks the moral meaning of money. What is the moral meaning of money? Ayn Rand spelled this out very clearly in her novel Atlas Shrugged:
So you think that money is the root of all evil? . . . Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?
When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor—your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil?
Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions—and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.
But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made—before it can be looted or mooched—made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.
Ayn Rand gave us the best definition of ‘capitalism’ in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:
Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. (p. 19)
It is this social system, the social system which recognizes “individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned,” that the pope wants to condemn as the source of the world’s problems. His alternative? Clearly any alternative to capitalism is going to be some form of social system which denies individual rights, including property rights, and rejects the premise that property should be privately owned. Does the pope realize that this has been tried before, and it never resulted in happiness for anyone (even those at the top who could not trust anyone and who could not have relations with others as equal in any moral context)?
By referencing the “joy of life,” the pope draws attention to individual happiness. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy, which entails logical consistency between one’s stated purposes and his psychological premises. The presence of psychological conflict will only impede one’s ability to achieve a state of non-contradictory joy. The pope seems to think that mere possession of money is the source of an individual’s joy, when in fact the source of an individual’s joy is progress in achieving his own purposes. But if one adopts a worldview which insists that his own purposes are sin-ridden and wicked, that they are borne of iniquity and bound to “the flesh,” which is next to evil if not evil outright, then his capacity for non-contradictory joy has been systemically sabotaged by the worldview which he is expected to adopt as his driving conviction. If one’s worldview teaches an individual that his greatest moral destiny is to sacrifice himself, either to others or to some imaginary non-entity which is supposed to worship, he will only jettison his source of non-contradictory joy along with everything he is expected to sacrifice. Moreover, the degree to which he retains that source can only mean that he is not conforming to his worldview’s teaching, for he would not be sacrificing according to what his worldview teaches. A worldview which teaches along with this that there is “joy in suffering,” will only encourage men to seek their happiness where it cannot be found.
Christianity thus sabotages man’s very capacity for happiness. (If you're still not sure on this, see here.) If Pope Francis were truly concerned about increasing the level of happiness in human life around the world, he should renounce Christianity and adopt a genuinely pro-man worldview, namely Objectivism. But this will never happen. Given Christianity’s repudiation of selfishness, its teachings can never lead men to happiness and its leaders could never allow men the psychological freedom necessary for happiness. Thus we should consider the importance of the nature of one’s philosophical outlook to the efficacy of his efforts in achieving happiness. If the worldview which one adopts undermines the preconditions necessary for achieving happiness, he will not be able to achieve a state of non-contradictory joy. A worldview which teaches that there is “joy in suffering,” for instance, will only lead to the miseries which Pope Francis complains about when that worldview is adopted on a mass scale throughout a community.
Pope Francis complains that “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling.” But if money is so evil, this state of affairs should imply that evil is being eradicated from among the majority. But something tells me that the pope is not comforted by this. He urges greater control over individuals and thus less freedom for individual human beings.
“Unchecked capitalism” is, according to the pope, what is responsible for creating “a new, invisible, and at times virtual, tyranny.” But what is capitalism? As we saw above, capitalism is the social system which is founded on the concept of individual rights. However, thanks to such cultural forces as Hollywood, socialist professors and the Age of Envy, many seem to think “capitalism” is primarily an economic system, namely one founded on the pursuit of wealth with no concern for the moral implications of the means by which it is achieved. But this is a straw man and in fact is precisely what the alternative to capitalism inevitably amounts to. What socialistic system consistently recognizes the individual’s right to his own property? Blank out.
According to the article, the pope “loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.” So the pope’s “duty” is simply to remind everyone else that they should (or “have the duty to”) “help the poor” and “promote them”? So once the pope has finished reminding everyone to do this, his “duty” is fulfilled, and yet everyone else needs to start working on fulfilling the “duty” that the pope has dispatched to them? Who gives the pope or any other person the right to issue “duties” to others? If the pope does not think everyone has a “duty” to “help the poor” and “promote them,” why should anyone do these things?
Under capitalism, every individual is free to help others or refrain from helping others. But those who think man is a duty-bound herd animal resent the very notion of such freedom and seek ways of divesting men of such freedom to one extent or another. Thus they can only find themselves in league, philosophically speaking, with any state that institutionally subjugates its citizens according to rights-suppressing policies and programs. At the end of the day, this means that any consistent religionist is philosophically joined at the hip with the statist. Both view the free individual as an enemy and a rogue who needs to be constrained and forced to comply with whatever program they seek to implement.
by Dawson Bethrick