Dear Dominic K.,
Thank you for your thought provoking email. I am happy that you are doing well in the course you have taken – Majoring in Economics and Sociology. I am sure the kind of a person you are from High School days you will enjoy your study and make lot of reflection on our society, especially the situations of poverty in a country like Uganda.
You mentioned that you are active in the Catholic Student Centre and you happen to attend a lecture given by your chaplain on “Recent Catholic Literature on Social Justice”. I was pleasantly surprised to note that you mentioned in your letter names like Rerum Novarum, Populorum Progressio, Centesimus Annus, etc. You are smart! Now you know that, Church does not only preach “spiritual” sermons on Sundays, but it has a whole body of official teaching on social ethics at least for the last 120 years. You asked me if the Church really supports Capitalism and if it supports what kind of ethics it can follow, etc, etc. Let me not repeat your letter…
Before I explain your question I want to tell you that the Catholic social teaching is not an exercise in economics, politics, or sociology. It only seeks to set forth principles required to be faithful to the accepted moral law and to the gospel. It emphasizes human solidarity, concern for peace, and care for the poor human dignity and personal freedom. Church is not trying to teach social sciences or even tries to give any technical advice on economic, political or even social matters…that you can do it in your university. As Jesus invited his disciples… Church tries to be “leaven in the society” that is, “being light and salt”. Don’t you think through these words the Church tries to influence people’s life in the public square? We can “Christianize” and put sense into public morals by our faith.
OK, I hope in few lines I will make some sense to you on your question – “Church and Capitalism”. I guess by now through your study you have some good idea about socialism, free market, international trade, end of cold war and the situation in the world having a single “super-power”. A good knowledge of these matters in the back of your mind is very important to understand the capitalism of today.
As you are familiar with Rerum Novarum, please note that the Church has committed itself to be on the side of the poor and oppressed. Through this document and those that followed, Church has tried to oppose everything at this oppressive of the poor people. By doing that it tries to share the hopes and anxieties of its people (GS 1). Some of the major topics seen are in the major documents are: conditions of workers (Rerum Novarum), on global justice (Mater et Magistra), on world peace (Pacem in Terris), and the remarkable document of Vatican Council II “Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes) brings out well the concern of the Church being a pilgrim among her Faithful with all the challenges of today’s world. Even the very titles explain what they mean and what they try to achieve and instruct. Encyclicals even spoke on practical problems of the world such as proper use of private property (RN 35), family wage (RN 34), technological advances (MM), gap between rich and poor (PP), greediness for material things (Centesimus Annus), etc.
Dear Dominic, don’t you see that they are in support of the poor and sections of humanity who are oppressed in one way or another. Now in this background it is interesting to analyze Church’s proposal – the use of “Capitalism” for the development of people.
I am sure you have realized that Socialism, Marxism and Communism promised heaven on earth but they have failed to implement or give what they promised. Pope John Paul gives three reasons for its failure. Having born and brought up in a communist country Poland, he is the right person to talk about it. Firstly, the violation of the rights of workers; secondly the inefficiency of the economic system which prevented human initiative, private ownership and economic freedom; and thirdly, the spiritual void of atheism, which had denied the purpose and meaning in life for younger generations (CA 13, 22–24). In this context capitalism seems to have survived or even call it succeeded. Please understand that Church does not propose or blindly support capitalism as practiced/advocated by few wealthy nations of the First World. They are in no way become a model or example to us in poor nations like our Uganda.
As we saw earlier Church always supported ownership of private property (ironically, in Uganda Catholic Church is the largest owner of properties next only to the government). Church proposes a “new” kind of a capitalism called “democratic capitalism” (CA). In simple words, it is a dynamic complex of economic, political, moral-cultural, ideological, and institutional forces. (From the essay, “The Conceptual Foundations of Democratic Capitalism” by Dr. Edward Younkins. http://www.quebecoislibre.org/younkins16.htm). It is marked by a keen appreciation of the need to maintain a vibrant and critical interaction between economics, culture, ethics and politics.
Church positively poses itself a proponent or advocate of culture. According to its teaching culture maintains morality and morality is the heart of religion. So, culture, morality and religion are inseparable. They support and lean on each other. I think this is a kind of Christian anthropology or Church’s social thought. Capitalism grown in this context can be termed as Democratic Capitalism. It has the human being at the centre and pays attention to man’s integral development and not merely economic progress only. Church knows well that economic progress devoid of moral, cultural and spiritual development is neo-atheism and a blind materialism. After giving many guidelines on practice of capitalism the pope concluded, “…prior to the law of supply and demand, there is something owed to the human person because of his or her human dignity – ‘the possibility to survive and, at the same time, to make an active contribution to the common good of humanity’ (CA 34).
Pope John Paul in CA (# 42) he makes a very astute separation between political, economic, and moral/cultural components of the free society. He offers a unified vision of how the three relate to one another. He then proceeds to make a cultural critique of the existing order, and reveals an ecology of the free society–a moral ecology.
Once in an interview talking about this idea from CA the late Cardinal Avery Dulles rightly said, “the political and economic orders, important though they obviously are, do not exhaust the reality of human life and human society. They deal only with particular aspects of life in community. More fundamental than either is the order of culture, which deals with the meaning and goal of human existence in its full range. Culture shapes and expresses our ideas and attitudes regarding all the typical human experiences, and in so doing touches on the transcendent mystery that engulfs us and draws us to itself. In our century, the order of culture has often been subjugated either to political or to economic interests.” I recommend you to read the entire encyclical in http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/ encyclicals/documents/ hf_jp-ii_enc_01051991_centesimus-annus_en.html.
An educated and a thoughtful person like you, living in Uganda knows very many ways how developed world exploits the poor in underdeveloped countries. We are not able to compete with them in the globalised free-market. Foreign aid is rarely effective in uplifting the poor. Often foreign aids and grants create among the poor a receiving mentality and lethargy. It does not promote dignity or identity. It kills traditional skills of labor and cultural practices. Besides, institutionalized corruption among politicians and Non-Governmental Organizations thrive through foreign aid. In this context democratic capitalism makes sense for the development of poor people and poor economies.
The encyclical further advocates the following for the proper practice of “democratic capitalism”: a well formulated property law, laws of contracts, a reliable taxation system and a reasonable non-corrupt government office will ensure a workable market economy.
Dear Dominic, I think I have made some sense to your question and we shall discuss this question further in our next mail.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB.