Catholics have a Pope. Should the rest of us care?
Published on: March 20, 2013
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  • Anthony

    Catholics have a Pope, should the rest of us care? In my opinion, yes as tied to two signal reasons: “the enormous size and global expanse of the Roman Catholic Church and Roman Catholicism is not only a religion but a civilization….” Social and political philosophy as one of its tenets aims to harmonize the development of each individual with the maintenance of a social state; Roman Catholicism has operated within that sphere for hundreds of millions so the rest of us global denizens should care.

  • Gary Novak

    Will Francis buy into the spurious distinction between the (good) market economy and (bad) capitalism? Or will he recognize that a true preferential option for the poor comes down to a preferential option for capitalism? As an elderly, theologically conservative pontiff, he is not likely to change much on the doctrinal front, so Berger sees the Franciscan response to the poor as where the action will be. It’s a convincing analysis.

    Let’s hope Francis’s preparation for the job includes more than washing the feet of the sick and taking a bus. He has the courage to kiss lepers; will he have the courage to kiss capitalists?

  • Tom

    If I may (and I say this with some degree of trepidation and ignorance), might the difference between market economy and capitalism (at least for those who make the distinction, of which I’m not one) be that the former is about free exchange of goods and services, while the latter is about the steady agglomeration of larger amounts of money into fewer and fewer hands?

  • Peter

    A great analysis from Mr Berger. Always interesting, he excels this time. The views of thoughtful non-Catholics are of great help to those of us in the faith.

    The distinction between capitalism and the free market is apt, and I hope Mr Berger will not be alone in developing the discussion. It is long overdue.

  • Gary Novak

    Lots of folks like Tom are concerned about what Marx called the concentration and centralization of capital: successful firms getting bigger and taking over the firms that don’t immiserate their proletarians fast enough. The natural outcome of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is monopoly capitalism and the effective end of democracy. Here’s how Albert Einstein put it in his 1949 essay entitled “Why Socialism?”:

    “Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. [The fat cats bribe the politicians and control the media and education.]”

    Like Marx, Einstein made no distinction between a free market economy and capitalism. It would dig its own grave by creating a mass of impoverished and alienated workers who, brought together in factories, would organize, raise their consciousness, and smash the bosses. The capitalist system would then be replaced by the social ownership and control of the means of production (socialism).

    Here’s Einstein again (sounding a lot like Obama):

    “It is ‘society’ which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word ‘society.’” (Or, in other words, “You didn’t build that.”) Marx and Einstein would say that the desire to have a free market economy without the evils of capitalism cannot be realized. The bad stuff is caused by the free market system itself. But although he bought the main Marxist storyline, Einstein wrote when Stalin was still in power. So he ended his piece with a warning: “A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual.” He recognized that socialist bureaucracy can be worse than capitalism. Leftists, of course, claim (like Herbert Marcuse) that “Soviet Marxism” isn’t real Marxism.

    But it is less frequently pointed out that “crony capitalism” isn’t real capitalism. Fat cat capitalists do, indeed, seek “corporate welfare,” but in so doing they are subverting competitive (real) capitalism. The motto of the Wall Street Journal is “free markets and free people,” and you will not find sharper criticism of crony capitalism than on its editorial pages. But those who believe that “society” produces wealth are perfectly happy, in the name of the social control of the means of production, to dictate bailouts for “systemically important” banks or brokerage firms, to invest public money in solar energy and bullet trains, to punish bondholders to benefit unionized proletarians, etc. And when the government-picked winners turn out to be losers—well, we live in a capitalist system, so it’s the fault of greedy capitalists. I’m not suggesting (nor is Berger) that laissez faire capitalism (turbo-capitalism, if you prefer) will produce the best of all possible worlds. And when a capitalist economy begins to fail the central test of a Christian social ethic—how it treats its poor and marginal members—it is time to legislate and regulate. Berger’s point, however, is that as a matter of empirical fact, capitalism passes that central test far better than socialism, which he describes as a “precondition for making poverty permanent.”

    So, let’s not hunt around for an anti-capitalist free market system or a “market socialism.” Let’s recognize that ideal-typical capitalism beats ideal-typical socialism (and unicorn market socialism) on that criterion readers of this post often mention: Berger’s calculus of pain.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Peter Berger has made an all-important distinction about Capitalism in his other writings: Capitalism is the only economic system that has left the indigenous social culture in place instead of having to eradicate it to accomplish its economic ends. This might be the defining distinction between Capitalism and a market economy that is sought by above commenters.

    In his book Pyramids of Sacrifice (1974) Berger proposed the following two theses:

    Thesis One: “Capitalist ideology, as based on the myth of growth, must be debunked.” By this I believe Berger meant to refer to where capitalism imposes severe human costs, such as when crony capitalism of the U.S. mortgage meltdown wiped out many low and working class families by foreclosures and over-mortgaged properties in order to further government goals for affordable housing. What Berger apparently may have meant by “growth” is where government manufactures economic bubbles that wipe out families and cultures.

    Thesis Two: “Socialist ideology, as based on the myth of revolution, must be debunked.” Berger here is referring to socialist revolutions that were based on terrorism, genocide, and murder. But it can also mean the “soft” socialist revolutions in the U.S. where the costs have greatly exceeded the benefits; to wit the U.S. Mortgage Bubble crafted by politicians in order to cover a massive loss of jobs over a decade. The Mortgage Bubble not only wiped out families it decimated municipal, state and school district budgets, gave false confidence to public pension funds that they could generate unrealistic returns, and inflated health care costs beyond reach of the poor.

    This leads to Berger’s “Postulate of Ignorance” — Most political decisions must be made on the basis of inadequate knowledge. Put differently: most politicians and social engineers don’t know what they are doing.

    For an excellent updated version of Berger’s Ignorance Postulate, I would refer readers to Charles F. Manski’s “Public Policy in an Uncertain World” (2013) where he discusses the “incredible certitude” of politicians and planners that their policies and programs will work as planned (although Manski doesn’t mention or cite Berger).

  • Tom

    @Gary Novak: I should have been clearer on why I do not make the distinction–I am a fan of both, and think that the one cannot be divorced from the other. Going further, I think that most inequalities come from government, well or ill-intentioned, mucking around with the system.
    However, what I am saying is that those who seek to make the distinction have legitimate concerns, as you have said–and that the way to allay their fears is what you have said.

  • Gary Novak

    In “The Capitalist Revolution” (1986), Berger notes that “there is a built-in ‘contradiction’ between the market and bureaucracy as sociopolitical forces, and no socialist society appears capable of resolving this contradiction” (188). And he adds, “Early in this book the decision was made to define capitalism (and, conversely, socialism) in terms of the dominance of market forces rather than of the private ownership of the means of production” (189). But that turns out not to have been a particularly critical decision because: “There can be no effective market economy without private ownership of the means of production” (190).

    Berger is not discovering an elective affinity between free markets and capitalism; he is defining capitalism in terms of free markets. And his criticism of the third encyclical is not based on his supporting both free markets and capitalism while the church only supports the former but on the church’s spurious distinction between the two—a distinction which is “not helpful in thinking about economic policies.”

    So, while I’m glad to hear that Tom is not tempted to embrace political intervention in free markets, I do find it odd that he would he would say that he is a fan of “both” markets and capitalism. And I’m not sure what to make of Lusvardi’s speculation that Berger’s appreciation of capitalism’s leaving indigenous culture in place “might be the defining distinction between Capitalism and a market economy that is sought by above commenters.” This commenter is trying to dissuade other commenters from seeking such a spurious distinction. And why does the Peter of post #4 say that the distinction between capitalism and the free market is apt? It’s not apt; it’s spurious.

    I don’t mean to quibble over terminology. Lusvardi’s understanding of the Mortgage Bubble clearly indicates an immunity to any “soft” socialist modifications of capitalism. Even when he (mistakenly, I think) suggests that in “Pyramids of Sacrifice” (1974) Berger may have meant by “growth” the government manufacture of economic bubbles (instead of real capitalist growth which doesn’t trickle down), Lusvardi is embracing (and giving Berger credit for embracing in 1974) the virtues of capitalism. In “The Capitalist Revolution,” Berger notes that when he wrote “Pyramids of Sacrifice” he “tried very hard to be evenhanded as between capitalist and socialist models of development” (12). But since then, “The experience of East Asia makes it difficult to remain evenhanded as between capitalist and socialist development models” (12). Capitalism wins, and Berger changed. In 1974 he took seriously the hypothesis that real capitalist growth, not just phony crony capitalist growth, might flunk the calculus of pain test. He now regards that hypothesis as falsified.

    Setting aside matters of chronology and terminology, I think Berger and his readers here are pretty much on the same wavelength. No one here is defending “market socialism.” But it’s not clear that Francis is as enlightened as we are! A spurious distinction might lead him to kiss a liberation theologian.

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  • R.C.

    One complaint only, re: scholarship on Matthew: A bit out-of-date.

    I think it’s fair to say that the consensus did on this topic as the consensus usually does on such topics: It finds a new (and excitingly contra-traditional) spin on authorship or reliability; the scholarly world swoons and all other views are briefly scorned for failing to be cutting-edge…and then, after those proposing the hypothesis have published and gotten tenure and things settle down a bit, the consensus begins to look more like a fad and breaks apart in embarrassment.

    Matthew 16 is strongly Semitic in character. It obviously references the same presuppositions about the governance structures of the Davidic dynasty as the passage in Isaiah 22 regarding Eliakim son of Hilkiah…and of course Jesus’ title to that dynasty is a major concern of the author of Matthew. That chapter 16 parallels chapter 18 — a fact some used as an argument against it — is actually an observation which argues equally well for its authenticity. (Otherwise one is arguing…what? That the same author never repeats himself? Never uses similar phrasing twice?)

    And the use of “petros”/”petra” makes sense as an unfortunately clumsy (but grammatically required) Greek translation of the word kepha in Aramaic. In Aramaic, it would make sense for Jesus to say, “You are Rock, and on this rock I will build My Church.” The pun is lost, or at least looks rather less clever, in Greek: “You are Rock, and on this Rockina I will build My Church.” For of course in Greek the word “petra” is feminine, but one isn’t allowed to use a feminine word as a name for a big burly fisherman (if you want said fisherman for a friend).

    At any rate, that’s only one reason to think the saying was originally in Aramaic. Another is the parallelism: Peter calls Jesus “the Christ” and also “son of the Living God.” A title, and a sonship. Jesus’s response is a mirror-image: “You are the Rock, Simon bar-Jonah (Simon, son of Jonah).” This is probably the sly language use of a man who grew up hearing the Psalms, with their constant use of parallelism. Are we detecting here the real “voice” of Jesus the Nazarene, peeking at us through the layers of translation and redaction?

    Now, there are other bits in Matthew which may show the work of a later redactor who was more familiar with Greek than with Hebrew/Aramaic. But in the case of Matthew 16, we would have to suppose…what? A still-later redactor who was more familiar with Hebrew/Aramaic than Greek? Not likely.

    There are many possible explanations for any given textual analysis of an ancient document, of course. But if some contemporary explanation of composition exists which fits the textual evidence perfectly well, and no alternative rumour exists, then why not adopt the contemporary explanation? And here, we have one:

    In the case of Matthew’s gospel, the contemporary explanation was that it was originally composed in Aramaic (“in the tongue of the Jews”) but not widely disseminated, that it was later translated into the Greek form we’re familiar with today.

    Now scholars in our day are comfortable stating that, if this is so, the later translation into Greek probably added verbiage, and perhaps even details, which were not originally included in the lost Aramaic MS. Why? Because of the near word-for-word sharing of some passages between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, of course.

    That there was some form of cross-pollination is agreed on all sides. And in that era, “translators” were not primarily concerned with trying to preserve the “voice of the original author” as authentically as possible. No, they were trying to get the same events adequately described in the target language. (Those bastards! Didn’t they think ahead to the confusion this would produce for 21st century textual scholars?! I kid, I kid.)

    So if the translator (obviously a Christian) was already familiar (as a Christian would be) with the wording of one or more of the other synoptic gospels, or perhaps with the verbal preaching upon which the other synoptics were based, then he’d see no reason to do the work of translating Matthew in a clumsy word-for-word way — Aramaic-to-Greek dictionary in hand, so-to-speak — when he already was familiar with a nicely-worded Greek description of the same event. Once he knew what Matthew was saying, why not render it in Greek in the same way that he was already accustomed to hearing the story conveyed in Greek, whenever he met with other Christians?

    All this is to say that there’s no real reason to regard Matthew 16 as a spurious late addition by some over-zealous apologist for viewing Peter as the Messianic Kingdom’s chief steward. That was a fad, that fad has receded for perfectly good reasons; it may come back again in a few decades after the fashion of “skinny jeans” and broom-skirts, or it may not; but the sounder long-term view is that Matthew 16’s content came from an earlier and Aramaic-speaking “voice” compared to some of the passages that are direct-copied to/from Mark or Luke…and as such it produces an awkward Greek translation which reveals the underlying Semitic voice.

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  • Shootist

    I was raised a Methodist. I went to Catholic high school. I do not practice any religion or mythology. But I’ve always thought of the Catholic Pope, as the World’s Pope.

    But that’s just me.

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