A real conservative vision
Economic quagmire seen due to moral decline
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Conservatives are searching for a leader. Move over Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Pope Benedict XVI has emerged as the great conservative champion.
In his recently issued and much anticipated third encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Love in Truth”), the pope lays out a brilliant blueprint for addressing the seminal problems of our age.
Contrary to headlines, the encyclical is not an anti-capitalist tract. The pope is not a red Tory who puts “social justice” and statist economics above free markets. He does not call for big-government liberalism. Instead, he upholds free markets while also addressing the moral and theological roots of culture.
The pope rightly argues that the current economic crisis was caused by rampant greed, irresponsible financial speculation and the failure of government regulation. In other words, it has occurred within a moral vacuum, where Christian love and truth have been abandoned in favor of crude materialism.
The crisis has become “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.” The economic debacle is simply a symptom of a deeper and more dangerous moral crisis. The only solution, he says, is to restore Christendom — what used to be the essence of Western civilization.
He puts forth a vision conservatives should embrace. The pope is articulating a conservative humanism characterized by individual freedom, responsible capitalism, the importance of national sovereignty and distinct cultural identity, voluntary trade unionism, decentralization of political power and moral traditionalism.
The pope does not blame capitalism for the world’s current economic problems. On the contrary, he states unequivocally, “Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations.” Instead, he stresses that a market economy is shaped and driven by cultural underpinnings. If the culture is rotten, gangster capitalism inevitably flourishes. If it is morally healthy, a socially responsible free market takes root.
The pope is pro-globalization, pro-trade and pro-scientific innovation — even demanding that wealthier countries lower protectionist trade barriers to products from poorer nations. This will lower consumer prices and help boost exports for developing economies.
Yet the pope believes in a redistributive capitalism in which wealth is distributed more equally to the poor and disadvantaged. The state has some role to play — unemployment insurance and local charity, for example. But much of the redistribution should be voluntary and part of a mutually beneficial exchange. In other words, he is calling us to follow Christ’s injunction to take care of the weakest among us.
The pope rightly argues that the “values of Christianity” are “not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.” The West, however, is embarked upon a radical secular experiment. We are rejecting our Judeo-Christian heritage. We are suffering from profound spiritual malaise fostered by the loss of moral absolutes. The result is hedonism, consumerism sexual permissiveness and individual gratification. As in ancient Rome, this leads to gradual social disintegration.
Although the pope never explicitly says it, the West is dying – literally. Fertility rates in every European country are below replacement levels. A total fertility rate of 2.1 babies per woman is needed if the population is to sustain itself. In the European Union as a whole, the birthrate is just 1.5. In Germany and Austria, it is 1.4. In Italy, Spain and Greece, it is a meager 1.3. The only nation that is close to replacement levels is France at 2.0 — and that is mainly because of the soaring birthrates of its large Muslim community.
In America, the fertility rate is slightly above 2.1, but much of that is because of Hispanics and their offspring, who still have numerous children. Cradle-to-grave welfare states require young workers to support the costly pension and health care programs for aging citizens. Hence, every Western country has embarked upon a policy of massive Third World immigration. The result is multiculturalism and a direct assault on the West’s historic and cultural core. Demography is destiny – and the future is not with the West.
The pope thinks the key to the West’s revival is to return to the faith of its ancestors: the Roman Catholic Church. He states clearly that any good society begins by defending the right to life from conception until natural death. The traditional family based on the marriage of one man and one woman is the seminal institution of any viable social order.
Pope Benedict’s conservatism is a bulwark against the evils of modern liberalism. The left’s main project has been to construct a society without God; to create a new man — one who is the center of all things. In the 20th century, leftists embraced communism and fascism. They failed. Today, it is socialist multiculturalism and radical environmentalism. They will fail as well.
In essence, the pope believes the economic crisis is a result of a moral crisis: Its ultimate solution will therefore not be found in tinkering with the material — as in simple policy reforms — but in renewing our spiritual underpinnings.
The pope understands this eternal truth: Societies cannot endure for long without a belief in God and a submission to His will. We are ignoring him at our peril.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington-based think tank.