Centesimus Annus and the free market

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George Weigel's recent syndicated article ("The Enduring Importance of Centesimus Annus," June 22, 2011) attempts to reconcile Catholic Social Teaching with his free-market opinions by praising Centesimus Annus as a departure from the social patrimony of the Church, which began with Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum.

But Mr Weigel's conclusions clearly contradict the very encyclical he lauds.

Weigel's insistence that Pope John Paul II's encyclical embraces, "[the] free market of the liberal democracies" is nowhere to be found in the text. The "free market," a self-regulating system determining prices, wages, interest rates, and so forth, with little or no interference by government, is the same economy described as shooting from "a polluted spring" by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno and "radical capitalistic ideology" by Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus:

"... there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces." (Centesimus Annus, no. 42.)

Another thing Centesimus does not do, is discard those "third way fantasies" Mr. Weigel is so excited to dismiss. Weigel claims Centesimus is a "... sign of contradiction to those who had long insisted that Catholic social doctrine proposed some 'third way' that was neither communism's state ownership of the means of production nor the 'free market of the liberal democracies.'" The implications are that we either have the concentration of property in the hands of the State or in the hands of the few. But the very document he adamantly defends as embracing the "free market" debunks this position.

"[I]t is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called 'Real Socialism' leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization." (CA, no. 35, emphasis mine.)

Indeed, there are alternative models. One of them is called Distributism, an economic theory born in response to the social justice principles of the Church's majestic social teachings.

- Richard Aleman

FULL ARTICLE

The Continuity of Centesimus Annus

(Distributist Review)