No Pope has gone that far in condemning capitalism
Michael Löwy is a Franco-Brasilian sociologist and philosopher who knows well Latin-American Christian thinking. It is good to hear his voice in this interview he gave to the «Correio da Cidadania» on June 21, 2016. Here is part of that interview:
The encyclical letter «Laudato Si’» directly attacks the capitalist system. What does that mean coming from a Pope?
Bergoglio is not a Marxist and the word «capitalism» does not appear in his Encyclical. But it is clear that to him, the dramatic ecological problems of our times result from the «interactions of the present globalized economy», interactions that create a global system, «a structurally perverse system of commercial relations and property». What for Francis are these «structurally perverse» characteristics? First, it means a system where «the unlimited interests of business» and «a questionable economic rationality» predominate, an instrumental rationality whose sole objective is to increase profit. To Francis, this perversity is not unique to this or that country, but to «a world system, where speculation and the principles of the maximization of profits, and search for financial profitability predominate, one that tends to ignore all context and impact on human dignity and the environment. Through this, the intimate relationship between environmental, and human and ethical degradation, is manifested» Other perverse characteristics of the system are its obsession with unlimited growth, consumerism, technocracy, the absolute dominion of money and deification of the market. In its destructive logic, everything is reduced to the market and the «financial calculus of cost/ benefit». But we know that «the environment is one of those things that market mechanisms are incapable of defending or adequately promoting». The market is incapable of considering the qualitative, ethical, social, human or natural values, namely, the «values that exceed calculation». The “absolute” power of speculative financial capital is an essential aspect of this system, as was revealed by the recent financial crisis. The commentary of the Encyclical is forceful: «saving the banks at all cost, and making the people pay the price, confirms the absolute dominion of the financial sector, with no future, and that can only generate new crises after a long, costly, and seeming cure». Always relating the ecological and social questions, Francis shows that: «the same logic that makes drastic measures to reverse the trend towards global warming difficult precludes attaining the objective of eradicating poverty». There is in the Catholic Church a long tradition of criticism of liberal capitalism, or of the “excesses” of capital, but no Pope has gone as far in condemning capitalism as Pope Francis.
What can the Theology of Liberation teach the leftists of the world, considering its different currents of thought?
In the first place, the Theology of Liberation teaches us that religion can be something other than a simple “opiate of the people”. Moreover, Marx and Engels already foresaw the possibility of religious movements with an anti-capitalist dynamic. The left must treat religious convictions with respect, and consider leftist Christian militants as an essential part of the movement to emancipate the oppressed. The Theology of Liberation also teaches us the importance of ethics in the process of concientization, and of the prioritization of work with the bases, together with the popular classes, in their neighborhoods, their churches, their rural communities, and in their schools.
Is the Catholic Church in Brazil aligned with Pope Francis?
A large part of the Bishops of Brazil’s National Conference of Bishops, CNBB, is aligned with Francis. Some wish that he would go even farther. Others think that, to the contrary, Francis is endangering the doctrine of the faith, and they try to obstruct his proposals. But the Brazilian Church, despite her limitations, particularly with respect to the rights of women over their own bodies -divorce, contraception, abortion- is one of the most progressive in the Catholic world.
If put into practice, the «Preferential Option for the Poor», a framework of ideas and practical actions contrary to the logic of the present political and economic system towards accumulation and retention of capital, clearly would result in violent confrontation. What, in your opinion, would be the position of the Pope towards this?
The Church traditionally seeks to «avoid» violent confrontation. But in the 1968 Conference of the Latin American Catholic Bishops in Medellin, an important resolution was adopted that recognizes the right of insurrection of the people against tyrannies and oppressive structures. As we know, some members of the clergy took their libertarian option and commitment to the struggles of the poor to its logical conclusion, participating in the armed struggles for liberation. That was the case of Camilo Torres, in Colombia, who joined the Army of National Liberation, (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional), and died in combat in 1966. A few years later, a group of Dominican youth gave their support to the National Liberation Action, ALN, led by Carlos Marighella, in the struggle against the military dictatorship. And in the1970s, the Cardenal brothers and several other religious participated in Nicaragua’s National Liberation Front, (Frente de Liberacion Nacional). It is difficult to foresee, at present, what type of «violent confrontations» will occur against the capitalist system, and it is even harder to know, what would be the Church’s position.
Leonardo Boff is Philosopher-Teologian, Earth Comission.