The Corner

The Pope and His Politics

Kathryn, I was interested to read this passage from that new interview with the pope:

Personally I think so-called unrestrained liberalism only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker and excludes the most excluded. We need great freedom, no discrimination, no demagoguery and a lot of love. We need rules of conduct and also, if necessary, direct intervention from the state to correct the more intolerable inequalities.

Reading the first sentence, I (perhaps mistakenly) was left with the clear impression that the pope believes that he has seen “unrestrained [economic] liberalism” at work. I am curious to know where.

Looking at the pope’s second sentence, fair enough, but when it comes to the avoidance of demagoguery, I wonder how, on reflection, the pope would classify certain sections of the speech he made on a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, sections analyzed by Theodore Dalrymple in an analysis (previously posted on the Corner here), of which this is a key extract:

In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’

The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’

With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife? . . .

The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words.

Then we turn to the pope’s final sentence. Its contents were perfectly reasonable in one sense. Few would deny that the marketplace needs rules of conduct. The real question is what those rules should be. And so it is with the Pope’s observation that it is at times “necessary” for the state to “correct the more intolerable inequalities.” Yes, sure, but the real question is when, and how.

And when it comes to answering those questions, I somehow doubt that this pope is on the side, metaphorically (if not theologically), of the angels.

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