Beware of Idolatry of the State — and the Market, Too
Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal has published “The False God of Capitalist Liberalism in Catholic Social Thought,” by Dr. Richard Coronado of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
Coronado first gave the paper at the Benedictine’s Symposium on Transforming Culture in 2021 when the theme was “Destroyer of the Gods: Christianity vs. the Idols of Secularism.” It targets two kinds of idolatry: To the market and to the state.
“Catholic social doctrine has identified the ideologies of socialism and capitalism, respectively, as major obstacles to societies where human dignity is more fully acknowledged, the state is more rightly ordered to supporting the person’s natural rights, and society is more ordered to social justice and the common good in a more harmonious way,” the paper says in its introduction.
“Indeed, John Paul II, following Pius XI who critiqued the idols of nineteenth century liberalism (Quadragesimo Anno, §14), explicitly referred to the current forms of idolatry ‘of money, ideology, class, technology,’ (Centesimus Annus §37,3) as well as of ‘an idolatry of the market’”(CA §40,2).
Coronado begins by pointing out that “It is a settled issue in Catholic social doctrine that the Church has dismissed the primary tenets of socialism. Pope Leo XIII strongly denounced socialism’s condemnation of private property, including productive property, in Rerum Novarum, as a violation of natural justice and a theft of the hopes of working men, who wished to improve their station by ownership of a home and land to support the family (RN §5). The popes have condemned outright the belief of socialism that an unremitting class struggle is inherent within capitalism” (RN §19, 55; CA §19,2).
Since “The condemnation of socialism and of its Marxist ideology is now a fixture in the social encyclicals and does not appear to need any further elaboration,” Coronado focuses on the Church’s critique of capitalist excesses.
“An active ideology most associated with capitalism continues to be that of nineteenth century liberalism. Rerum Novarum takes strong exception to the liberalism of its day, especially in its implications bearing on the condition of workers,” he writes.
Coronado doesn’t reference the “Great Resignation” or the phenomenon of “Quiet Quitting,” but his explanation of Pope Leo’s remarks on labor and employers gives the context needed to understand it.
Coronado uses Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom as an articulation of the case for liberalism. Friedman sees “freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in the society” and Friedman says “the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them.”
Coronado begs to differ — and points out that Pope Leo (with his predecessors) does, too. After describing the magisterium’s decades-long critique of liberalism, he concludes, in part:
“Following the critique of liberalism by the popes has brought us to the point where liberalism’s freedom is revealed as a false freedom, posing as a person’s true end. True freedom, however, is fully in service to our true end, a loving spiritual union with God, other persons and all of creation. To acquire true freedom requires, we have learned, the true gift of self to God and others, a sacrifice by which we share in the sacrifice of the Cross. This ongoing sacrifice, accomplished by the grace of the Holy Spirit, must be at the center of our spiritual lives. The message of Catholic social doctrine is that our spiritual life and pilgrimage in Christ must guide us in all the human dimensions of our lives, personal, familial, cultural, social, economic, and political.”
He provides a run-down of what freedom means to the Church and what Catholic social teaching says about living the truth in our times.