The release of a papal encyclical may get lost in the news deluge of 2020, but Pope Francis’ latest is clearly a referendum on global politics, a message to an America embroiled in a hightened election process, and a shocking repudiation of conservative thinking.
Just the lede of this AP summary alone is pretty remarkable:
ROME (AP) — Pope Francis says the coronavirus pandemic has proven that the “magic theories” of market capitalism have failed and that the world needs a new type of politics that promotes dialogue and solidarity and rejects war at all costs.Associated Press
That’s the language of a revolution, not of the figurehead of a traditionally conservative institution. This language is fully revolutionary:
“Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality,”trans. Crux
The critique of global capitalism is clear. In its place, he promotes “fraternity.” It is a poor translation of an idea he’s borrowing from his namesake St. Francis of Assisi, which is also the title of the encyclical. Besides the flawed nature of the term being gendered, in American English it conjures up images of rowdy college parties more than unity and friendship.
Francis seems pretty clear that the United Nations provides a model for global fraternity, and between this and his excoriation of capitalism it seems like we would do better to translate “fraternity” with a term that more appropriately focuses on his communal and social inclinations.
I mean, he even goes so far as to deny private property as a right:
Francis rejected the concept of an absolute right to property for individuals, stressing instead the “social purpose” and common good that must come from sharing the Earth’s resources. He repeated his criticism of the “perverse” global economic system, which he said consistently keeps the poor on the margins while enriching the few.Associated Press
This is remarkable insight from the Pope, and a further evolution and radicalization of the Chair even from previous statements we’ve heard. Although it is at odds with, for instance, conservative evangelical Christian teaching, it is absolutely defensible by almost any interpretation of the Bible. This attention to community and friendship was a cornerstone of Jesus’ teachings and continues to define the Vatican’s statements in this papacy.
How are we to view this in light of the American presidential election? Which candidate more closely embodies the principles outlined by the Pope? Clearly, one candidate prefers expanded social programs and reducing wage inequality, while the other believes in laissez-faire capitalism and the (erroneous) trickle-down effect of tax cuts. Yet neither candidate actually would agree with Francis’ call to replace the system en masse. Both candidates are capitalists who are attempting to refine or reform the existing system; both are “denying reality” according to the Pope’s worldview, where the systems need to be changed entirely. In this election, remarkably, both candidates are way more conservative than the Pope!