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January 02, 2014 3:54 PM Pope Francis and Argentine Exceptionalism

By Ed Kilgore

I’ve already commented pretty clearly on why I think Pope Francis is a significant if not revolutionary pontiff. But I have to tout Andrew Sullivan’s succinct takedown of the condescending argument conservatives (particularly Catholic conservatives) in this country have been making about the Pope’s Argentine background explaining his “misunderstanding” of capitalism:

The new line, deployed against Pope Francis’ dismay at the materialism and ideological fixity of global market capitalism, is that the Pope was only referring to Argentina. Global capitalism in Argentina, according to the theocons and neocons, is so different than in the United States that Pope Francis’s critique is simply a regional one. In Argentina, he’s only referring to crony capitalism, entwined with government, combined with an entrenched lack of social mobility. If the Pope were to understand American capitalism better, he’d realize it was a truly free market, empowering social mobility, creating wealth and disseminating it on a massive scale. On CNN last week, that was essentially Newt Gingrich’s argument against the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation….
The trouble with this assessment is that the Pope clearly was not restricting himself to Argentina in his Exhortation. His remit was much wider. Here’s a critical passage and it’s quite clear that the Pope is referring not to a single country but to the ideology of a global system, rooted in the economy of the United States and its unipolar power since the end of the Cold War:
“The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”

Now there’s nothing terribly novel about the insight that it’s very hard to reconcile Catholicism with the world-view of Ayn Rand (though Paul Ryan has certainly tried). And there’s nothing at all new about Vatican hostility towards laissez-faire capitalism; it’s Francis’ tone and emphasis on the subject that are so noteworthy. But it’s interesting that Catholic conservatives don’t even seem to be struggling with their consciences in light of this pretty clear tongue-lashing from the Holy See. It’s all just a product of the Pope’s benighted upbringing, and his lamentable lack of instruction in the works of Hayek and—er—Rand. So his words can be dismissed as an example of Argentine Exceptionalism.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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