The Roman Catholic Church is probably the most popular Christian denomination in the Western world and the Americas. It certainly is in South America, but even so, I was surprised that Pope Francis’ recent visit to Colombia from September 6 to 10 dominated the news as much as it did.
The power structure of the Roman Catholic Church places a tremendous amount of influence and attention on a single figurehead. Growing up Russian Orthodox, I’m used to religious leaders who adhere to a strict guideline of avoiding political rhetoric that may unfairly influence people’s opinions about non-religious topics, so it is astonishing to me to see such explicitly political rhetoric from a clergyman.
I underestimated how politically involved a Roman Catholic Pope could be. In a document issued to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in April entitled “Towards a Participatory Society: New Roads to Social and Cultural Integration,” Pope Francis made many bold political statements, some of which were difficult to unravel and at times confusing, especially with regards to his comments on libertarianism.
He lashed out at what he calls “Libertarian Individualism,” calling it a “fallacious paradigm” that “exalts a selfish ideal that deceptively promotes a beautiful life, all the while eroding the community framework.” It’s an assessment that would be more accurate of all-out anarchy than true libertarianism.
Pope Francis seems to be claiming that within a libertarian framework, everyone simply acts in their own interests, casting aside any sense of community in favor of personal power. He paints a picture of a world where might makes right and “…everyone has the “right” to expand as far as his power allows, even at the expense of excluding and marginalizing of the most vulnerable majority.” He further claims that Libertarian Individualism confuses bonds between fellow humans as constraints on freedom, which in turn severs those bonds. He claims these ideas are a serious risk that have invaded our society “at high levels of culture and education in both universities and in schools…” suggesting that these fantasy barbarians are not only at the gate, but that they are already knocking down our doors.
He emphasizes the importance of “fraternity,” which is also, presumably, the solution to his imaginary concerns. He describes “the governing principle of the economic order” and naively suggests that people abandon self-interest for some amorphous concept of a greater good. That philosophy sounds – to me at least — a lot like socialism. I don’t know if Pope Francis is sympathetic to socialist ideologies, but he does seem to be turning a blind eye to the practicing Roman Catholic organization called The Women in White in Cuba for example. They have repeatedly reached out to him for help fighting arbitrary government oppression.
- Read More: Cuban Activist Group Ladies in White Asks the Pope to Intervene on Government Repression
- Read More: The Pope’s Four Big Mistakes About Libertarianism
I do not want to speculate, so I will focus instead on his own words in this address. His description of what a society should strive for and attempt to avoid was what alarmed me the most, and seemed the most reminiscent of Marxist rhetoric. He warns against “a society in which ‘giving in order to have’ or the ‘giving out of duty’ are needed for making progress.” I can’t speak to what he means by “progress” but I will say that his attitude indicates a lack of understanding about how incentive propels progress, the basic principle that explains the failure of every Marxist experiment.
What Pope Francis describes when he criticizes “libertarian individualism” sounds more like an anarchistic apocalypse than libertarianism. The principle that individuals must be kept in check and under strict authority structures lest they become unbridled monsters is nothing new in catholic instruction, though there is no evidence to support that idea, since civilized human interactions exist even for the non-religious.
People are inherently social, and they do not need absolute authority — be it religious or political — in order to abide by universally accepted laws, and to coexist with their fellow men, and they certainly have nothing to fear from libertarianism.