Capitalism as class warfare


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Capitalism as class warfare

  1. 1. Class Warfare? Posted by Fr. Richard Rohr on December 12, 2011Why would the language of “class warfare” gain any traction or credibility today? Icannot understand it except among those who are used to being on the winning sideof most “wars”? If you are poor–or marginalized by almost any definition–you havealways been the victim of class warfare. Class warfare is also called capitalism: Thosewho have the most capital win. Those who have less invariably lose. What Pope JohnPaul II called “rigid capitalism”, as clearly exemplified by the United States ofAmerica, has always been a de facto class warfare against the powerless and the poor.That is its very definition. John Paul, from a communist country said that suchcapitalism was just as evil, and the moral equivalent of socialist communism! If youdoubt me, read his encyclical Laborem Exercens, or several others of his and otherPopes–which make the same point. Conservative Catholics conveniently ignorealmost all social encyclicals, while pretending to love and obey the Pope.I am not impressed when the Republicans accuse President Obama of inciting classwarfare. Class warfare is structural and agreed upon in most Western countries, andit is the powerful against the powerlessness. The only change, the only thing new, isthat the argument is now both ways! Power has always taken advantage ofpowerlessness, and powerlessness has the total Christian right to take back thatpower. Show me one time when Jesus did not take the side of the poor andpowerless!Fr. Rohrs musing evoked the following responses from Johnboy:Here in New Orleans, the monks at our local abbey make and sell wooden casketsand bake and give away bread loaves to the poor. At Gethsemani in Kentucky, themonks make and sell fruitcakes, fudge and cheese. Wouldn’t we find it ratherperverted if, in those monasteries, those monks that produced the goods hoarded theincoming capital allocating only a nominal entitlement sum to the others who weresick, elderly, eremitic or choirmasters for the schola cantorum?I’m among the defenders of capitalism (highly regulated in a mixed economy) andcan occasionally even defend a war. But in both cases, I cannot make a case for eitherthat they are anything but necessary evils or, as we comfort ourselves in saying, justwars. And just wars have collateral damage that must be avoided and mitigated. Andthey have victims. Capitalism is too often an American Idol and it gets especiallyidolized by those who are born on third base who like to imagine that they hit atriple. Sure, it has some measure of meritocracy, if you were lucky enough to be givena bat, ball and glove. I just cannot see where Fr Richard is wrong on this one. 1
  2. 2. I place this particular blog post in the overall context of decades of teaching by Fr.Richard. Often, like other legitimate authorities in the church, he has offered trans-partisan, meta-political critiques. This is to say that he offers us the language,categories and norms for use in doing politics and not, rather, political strategies andpositions, themselves. This is a church discipline imposed on our clergy but it doesnot mean that the rest of us are to dualistically compartmentalize our religious andpolitical lives. Our catholic, both-and, nondual approach sees the opportunity for usto cooperate with the Spirit in every realm of our existence, helping eternal values tobreak-out always and everywhere in our temporal reality!Indeed, how blessed are those who practice the Gospel as hermits, pacifists andanarchists! I am deeply grateful to them for their wholehearted response to the GoodNews and, contrastingly, I realize that I am existentially hedging to some extent byavailing myself of the benefits of government. It is they who provide the world themost unambiguous and prophetic witness to Gospel ideals and who most keep greenthe desire for the Kingdom within my heart.Only a cynical lawyering of Scripture can justify any measure of violence as Christ-like. In my view, then, when the Church articulates just war principles or sanctionscivil government, this does not at all suggest a theoretical capitulation to worldlynorms but, instead, entails its practical accommodation to our radical humanfinitude and sinfulness born out of a compassionate pastoral response to ourweakness. By forming, reforming and transforming our desires, the church thushelps us navigate away from greater evils through lesser evils even as She helps usmove more swiftly and with less hindrance from lesser goods through greater goodsto even the Highest Good!The hermit, pacifist and anarchist have found a Treasure in life’s field. I have found atreasure in you, the church, who’ll compassionately help me even though I cannotwholeheartedly find my way to that field, myself.1) point of info: US is a mixed economy2) opinion: which sometimes exemplifies the worst side of its capitalistic element3) as with government in general, we employ it precisely b/c we are not angels4) so, it can always be easily critiqued over against idealist notions but less easilyfrom a practical perspective, in my viewWhat we mustnt lose sight of, however, is the relationship between love and 2
  3. 3. freedom, of choice and not using force. So, we should not be “too rough” on our“imperfect system” precisely because it does well nurture freedom. And this is whythere is certainly some truth in saying that God and politics do not mix because, evenwhen our political and religious goals coincide, political and religious meansotherwise differ insofar as the former is inherently coercive and the latter ismanifestly not.So, we could say that religion and politics do not mix “methodologically” vis a vis themeans or methods they employ. On the other hand, because we also recognize thattheir goals can very much coincide, they very much do mix “axiologically” (values-related) vis a vis the goals or values to which they aspire. So, I like to say that they are“methodologically autonomous” but “axiologically integral.”The nonestablishment and free exercise clauses of our 1st Amendment were intendedto and actually do strengthen the influence of religion in the Public Square. In apluralistic society, religions will inescapably face the challenge of translating theirmoral and practical arguments into a language that is transparent to all humanreason by employing a logic that can be understood even by nonbelievers andwithout appeals to explicitly religious apologetics or authorities. This secularizationprocess was one of the fruits of the Enlightenment, which, to some extent, went awryon the Continent and turned into an insidious secularISM that marginalized religionin the Public Square.All that said, to me, it is sad that so many seem to view this particular aspect ofreligion — its moral and practical role — as its most important contribution, whenthis problem-solving, dualistic aspect, while not unimportant, is not at all whatdifferentiates Christianity’s brand in the marketplace of human ideas. Rather, it isChristianity’s nondual approach that sets it apart vis a vis the value-added GoodNews that God is longing for an intimate relationship with each of us — as Abba,Daddy, Mother, Spouse, Lover, Emmanuel and so on!I believe that because of resource scarcity we must prudently avail ourselves ofeconomies & efficiencies of scale while avoiding both waste & moral hazards best wecan. Which level of service delivery will optimally meet subsidiarity criteria is adynamic question that must be visited over and over. Institutions tend to take onlives of their own (get self-perpetuating) & suffer mission creep so the answer toquestions of subsidiarity can change thru time. After Katrina, thank God for what thechurches did for us that government could not! At the same time, the largest amountof goverment waste & largesse has often been in the Pentagon, but that’s noargument for reverting to state militias rather than the army, navy, air force &marines to defend the country. Irony is that some national guardsmen did serve 7 3
  4. 4. tours of duty in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Subsidiarity offers good questions with noeasy answers. My bias is libertarian but too many modern libertarians are tooabsolutist and, not to be mean with ad hominems, a tad kooky?Our world suffered somewhere around $60 trillion dollars in global wealthdestruction in 2008 when the housing and credit bubbles burst. This resulted, inpart, from laissez faire capitalism run amok via a lack of transparency (regulations –Wash DC & its lobbyists or K Street) in the credit default swap and derivativesmarkets (Wall Street). In our usual scapegoating, we blame K Street and Wall Streetbut absolve those on Main Street, who bought the size homes they didn’t need withmoney they didn’t have and could not afford to repay. And we’re talking FtLauderdale, Las Vegas and California, not inner city Community Reinvestment Actinitiatives, as some have so cynically speculated.The loss in governmental tax receipts resulting from this financial collapse and theensuing economic malaise, combined with unpaid-for wars, a prescription drugprogram and simultaneous tax cuts, dwarf in significance the money spent on thebipartisan troubled asset relief program [TARP] and economic stimuli of 2009-2010.The TARP was not so much a Wall Street Bailout as it was a necessary intervention toprevent our indispensable financial infrastructure from collapse. This is to recognizethat, analogous to oil pipelines, these credit pipelines are the circulatory system forour economy and had to be preserved. The Dodd-Frank legislation addressed someof the lack of transparency; ideologues who advocate rolling these new laws back arebeing penny-wise and pound-foolish with their short memories because that $60trillion in wealth destruction could have funded our entire 2010 budget 17 times!None of this is to argue that our entitlement programs are now on a sustainable path.They are clearly not and we presently have Southern Europe acting as the canary-in-the-coalmine for any who would whistle past the fiscal responsibility graveyard,imagining that budget deficits do not matter.The taxpayers of the US have always supported a progressive tax structure wherethose of increasing means pay higher rates and we have not cynically called this ClassWarfare. We have also recognized that small businesses are the primary engine thatdrive our economy toward fuller employment and that they should be regulated onlyas much as absolutely needed and taxed in a way that will not destroy theircompetitiveness and we have not cynically called this Class Warfare either.Government can nurture an environment that supports the engines of wealth andeven provide catalysts for the fuel (capital) that keeps them running, but it is alsoneeded to provide road signs (regulations) and speed bumps (money supply) to keepthese vehicles out of those ditches that can swallow up 17 years worth of wealth 4
  5. 5. creation in one bad accident.Most of the strategies we employ and solutions we devise are crafted, legislatively,between the 40 yard lines, this despite the hyperbole that demagogues engage in onthe extreme sides of our partisan isles, throwing around terms like socialism, classwarfare, appeasement, greedy capitalists and so on. Thoughtful people will get thejob done, eventually, even if the process is suboptimal and some of the charactersunsavory. Our system is flawed but remains the best the world has ever known.Conversations like this can make it even better.Fr. Richard has often observed that our political dysfunctions (they are manifold &varied) are rooted in the same dualistic dynamics as our religious shortcomings. Iagree with this observation and would like to explicate it from my own perspective.The optimal nondual (contemplative) approach to reality is multifaceted in that itaspires to 1) intersubjective intimacy via our unitive strivings whereby differentsubjects/persons celebrate coming together 2) intraobjective identity via ourrealization of unitary being whereby all realities present as somehow intricatelyinterconnected as objects/functions within a divine matrix 3) intrasubjectiveintegrity via each subject/person’s growth in human authenticity or true-selfrealization and 4) interobjective indeterminacy whereby created and Uncreatedsubjects/persons and objects/functions present as also somehow distinct. Thenondual approach is profoundly relational as it seamlessly, hence optimally, realizesthe truth, beauty and goodness that ensues from these different eternal relationships.The dualistic (empirical, logical, aesthetical, practical & moral) approaches to realityrepresent our imbibing of eternity from a temporal eyedropper that our finiteexistence might not be drowned in God’s ocean of truth, beauty and goodness, aheavenly tsunami that no earthly finite reality could withstand or contain! Ourdualistic approach does not represent a theoretical capitulation or departure fromour nondual aspirations, only a compassionate and practical accommodation of ourradical finitude, while we take the transformative journey.Dysfunctional religion presents in many ways, primarily from an overemphasis of thedualistic and underemphasis of the nondual. For example, on the journey tointrasubjective integrity, we recognize it as our clinging to the false-self. In moraltheology, some have overemphasized the procreative and under-emphasized theunitive dimension of conjugal love. In spiritual theology, some have overemphasized 5
  6. 6. the moral and ascetical at the expense of the mystical and contemplative.How does all of this apply to the political life?Most political dysfunction is rooted in the either-or/all or nothing thinking of ourdualistic approach. Further, this insidious dualism gets way overemphasized at theexpense of our nondual vision of temporal reality. If we look through a Lukan prism,we might see a fivefold Christology, which recognizes that Christ came to orient,sanctify, empower, heal and save us. As Luke’s narrative continues in Acts, we see theSpirit continuing this divine work. A nondual approach inspired, indeed inspirited,by a pneumatological (Spirit-related) imagination sees the Holy Spirit infusing eachrealm of our temporal reality, always and everywhere, historically orientinghumankind, culturally sanctifying us, socially empowering us, economically healingus and politically saving us. This is not to deny that, from time to time, place to place,people to people and person to person, the Spirit’s work has been variously amplifiedor frustrated in matters of degree; it is to affirm, however, that all good gifts haveOne Source, Who has coaxed all of humankind along on the journey!An overly dualistic approach, again, in an all or nothing/either-or way, contrastingly,always sees the Spirit – then but not now, there but not here, in this position but notthat or vice versa. Worse, yet, it will see the Spirit in him but not her, us but notthem, and not as a matter of degree but to the extent one gets thoroughly demonizedand another absolutely deified! This is at the very root of the extremely polarizingrhetorical back and forth between our political parties.The wisdom of the catholic subsidiarity principle is rooted in the gift of Third Eyeseeing, which affirms our eternal nondual aspirations and their proleptic realizationseven while compassionately accommodating our temporal dualistic situations withintheir historical, cultural, social, economic and political contexts. It celebrates thefruits of our prayer that the Kingdom will come, indeed, on earth as it is in heaven.There is nothing intrinsically wrong with an approach that takes from each accordingto one’s ability and gives to each according to one’s need; at least, it’s worked inconvents, monasteries and families for millennia! Because of our radical finitude,however, without theoretically abandoning our ideals, we compassionatelyaccommodate our radical finitude and, precisely because we are not angels, weinstitute government in the place of anarchy and regulated free markets in the placeof any rigid capitalism or socialistic communism. 6
  7. 7. To the extent the ideals of our nondual, relational approach are being realized,governmental, regulatory and socialization processes must recede to optimize thatfreedom which best fosters authentic love. However, to the extent they are frustrated,then coercive government, regulatory and socialized means must be instituted tomaintain order and advance the common good. The classical liberal or libertarianimpulse (modern conservatism), then, is but a pragmatic critique of anarchism; iterrs (and becomes indistinguishable from anarchism) when it treats the ideals oflimited government as absolute values and ignores the practical realities that resultfrom our radical finitude. The modern liberal or progressive impulse, then, is but apragmatic critique of libertarianism; it errs when it treats governmental, regulatoryand socialization processes as the default bias, when, in fact, limited government,whenever and wherever practicable, is the proper bias. What both libertarian andprogressive approaches have in common, then, is that they are grounded inpragmatic critiques and practical accommodations and not so-called eternalprinciples; so, all of the pious talk about so-called consistent principles is actuallymisplaced!Finally, when it comes to strategic approaches, the subsidiarity principle sometimessees the virtue in flipping, at other times in flopping. It is only in moral approachesthat consistency is fully warranted. But political systems are already grounded, forthe most part, in a broad moral consensus (e.g Constitution, Declaration ofIndependence, Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and political differences aremostly rooted in practical and strategic differences toward goals that are otherwisealready shared, like establishing world peace and eliminating poverty. To alwaysrecast our practical and strategic differences in terms of moral reality is just a sinisterway to emotionally charge (they say energize) a political base. A nondual approach,via subsidiarity principles and relational ideals, however, transcends all of thesedifferences and nurtures their creative tensions with a peace that surpasses allearthly understanding. 7