Book Review: Papal Economics

Papal Economics:  The Catholic Church On Democratic Capitalism, by Maciej Zieba

Determining the papal views of anything political or economical is frequently a task that brings out the views of the writer more than the views of the pope.  When it comes to interpreting any sort of authoritative text, it is hard for us not to interpret the text in such a way that it corresponds to our own views.  To be sure, the author does find much approval in what the popes say about democratic capitalism, but it is by no means a straightforward equation of the author’s own views with those of the popes.  Indeed, the author himself finds a great deal of nuance and complexity in the way that popes have viewed political economy over the past century or so, and in exploring that complexity the author comes to a sensible and honest view and points out the concerns that popes have had about the sin and corruption that were in the world and the sort of solutions that made the best possible result for humanity so as to avoid both grinding poverty and exploitation but also to avoid the sins of envy upon which socialism of any kind is based.  This is by no means a simple task.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages long.  It begins with a foreword by Michael Novak that discusses the friendship between the author and how it was that the author’s work began to attract attention in the West.  After that the author introduces the book by talking about the relationship between capitalism, freedom, and truth.  This leads to a discussion of a brief history of democratic capitalism in Catholic social teaching (1).  After that the author spends some time on chapters dealing with subjects like political community (2), economic life (3), and the primacy of culture (4) that set the context in which capitalism has been viewed by popes throughout the late 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries.  It goes without saying that this approach is of the greatest interest to those readers who care what the popes have to say about a given subject and who have an interest in Catholic social teaching and the best possible fate of a world that has fallen to great amounts of sin.  The book then ends with a conclusion that discusses the trail of Catholic teaching in papal encylopedials from Centesimus Annus to Caritas in Veritate, as well as an afterword that talks about Pope Francis and the crisis of the modern economy as well as the failures of liberation theology.

This particular book was an enjoyable one to read for several reasons.  The author himself did a great job at discussing the papal economic writings that have occurred periodically since the late 19th century and showing the way that they differed from each other in the subject matter that they discussed or the approach that they took or the global context or even the personality of the pope himself that affected the way that he dealt with the subjects of economics and politics.  What is also noteworthy is the way that this book ends up celebrating the economics of Wilhelm Ropke, who I have recently become much more familiar with [1].  It is always nice to be able to appreciate a love of economics being placed in its proper context as being subservient to a larger view of charity and generosity for society as a whole rather than seeing economics viewed as the central activity for all humanity as it is by Marxists.  As is frequently the case in life, having the proper context makes a big difference in coming to sensible conclusions, as this book does.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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