00 7/7/2009 5:15 AM



Eve of an encyclical:
A German Catholic jurist advocates
repudiating catpitalism
and getting back to Marx!
What will Benedict XVI say?






ROME, June 5, 2009 – The socio-seconomic encyclical that has been in development for some time is known to begin with the Latin words 'Caritas in veritate' (Love in truth).

It is expected to be signed by the Pope on June 29, and released at the beginning of summer. It underwent various revisions, all of which left Benedict XVI dissatisfied until recently.

Unlike the encyclical on hope, written by the Pope himself from the first line to the last, and unlike the encyclical on charity, the first half of which was also written entirely by the Pope, many minds and many hands have worked on Caritas in Veritate.

In any case, Benedict XVI will leave his mark on it, already visible in the words of the title, which indissolubly link charity and truth.

There is a great deal of curiosity about what kind of mark this will be. Because little is known about Joseph Ratzinger's thought in matters of economics. Out of his vast body of writings, there is only one dedicated expressly to this topic - a lecture given in English in 1985, entitled "Market economy and ethics."

In that lecture, Ratzinger maintained that an economy without any ethical or religious foundation is destined for collapse. Now that there actually has been a collapse, more detailed analyses and proposals are expected from Benedict XVI.

A few months ago, responding to a question from a priest of Rome, the Pope said:

It is the Church's duty to denounce the fundamental errors that have now been revealed in the collapse of the major American banks. Human greed is a form of idolatry that is against the true God, and is a falsification of the image of God with another god, Mammon.

We must denounce this courageously, but also concretely, because grand moralizations are not helpful if they are not supported by a familiarity with reality, which helps us to understand what can be done concretely.

The Church has never simply denounced evils, it also shows the paths that lead to justice, to charity, to the conversion of hearts. In the economy as well, justice is established only if there are just persons. And these persons are assembled through the conversion of hearts.


It was February 26, 2009, and the encyclical [the post-crisis revision of it] was being re-drafted. The Pope's words only serve to heighten the curiosity.

It has become even more pressing since the publication in May
of a bombshell article by a German scholar whom Ratzinger has always read with interest and esteem.

The scholar is Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, of the same generation as the pope, a Catholic philosopher and a preeminent political scientist.

In a pivotal 1967 essay, he presented what was later called the "Böckenförde paradox": the thesis according to which "the secularized liberal state lives by presuppositions that it cannot guarantee."

On January 19, 2004, then-cardinal Raztinger and philosopher Jürgen Habermas used this thesis as the starting point for a debate in Munich on the theme "Ethics, religion, and the liberal state."

So, in an article for Süddeutsche Zeitung, also published in Italy in May by the journal of the Sacred Heart fathers in Bologna, Il Regno – and presented in its entirety here -
chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1338746?eng=y
Böckenförde applied his "paradox" to capitalism as well, but in much more devastating terms.

In his judgment, the principles on which the capitalist economic system is founded can no longer stand. Its current collapse is definitive, and has revealed the inhuman foundations of this system. The economy must therefore be rebuilt from the ground up, not on principles of egoism, but of solidarity.

It is up to the states, and European countries in the first place, to take control of the economy. And it is up to the Church, with its social doctrine, to accept the testimony of Marx, who saw correctly.

Böckenförde's anti-capitalist "manifesto" brought reaction, in Italy, from the Catholic economists most trusted by the Church, when interviewed by Il Foglio: Luigi Campiglio, vice president of the Catholic University of Milan; Dario Antiseri, a philosopher and follower of the liberal economic school of Vienna; Flavio Felice, a professor at the Pontifical Lateran University and president of the Tocqueville-Acton study center; Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, a banker and economic commentator for L'Osservatore Romano.

In particular, Antiseri objects that "restoring Marx today is like continuing to be Ptolemaic after Copernicus and Newton"; that "individualism is the opposite of collectivism, not of solidarism, and this is possible only if there is the creation of wealth to be shared, as takes place in capitalist societies"; and finally that Benedict XVI cannot be expected to distance himself from Centesimus Annus by John Paul II and from Rerum Novarum by Leo XII, with its "lucid and impassioned defense of private property."

Flavio Felice contests Böckenförde's unrealistic vision of an "angelic economy" as an alternative to a capitalism that is identified with pure lust for gain. And regarding the salvific control of the state over the economy, he points out that the encyclical Centesimus Annus by John Paul II, in paragraph 25, warns against precisely this danger:

When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organization into being. Politics then becomes a 'secular religion' which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world.


Ettore Gotti Tedeschi observes that Böckenförde lashes out against a capitalism of Protestant origin, dominated by man's egoism and inability to do good. But he does not realize that there is a capitalism in keeping with Catholic doctrine, which the popes from Leo XIII to John Paul II have denounced for its errors while appreciating its basic validity, linked to private property and freedom of investment and commerce.

In an article in Il Sole 24 Ore – Europe's most widely circulated financial newspaper – Gotti Tedeschi maintained that the current global turbulence does not arise from excessive greed or the lack of rules.

These have aggravated the crisis, but did not cause it. The real cause was the reduction of the birth rate, and therefore of the human capital that alone was capable of ensuring the necessary growth in production.

The frontal attack that Böckenförde brings against capitalism must in any case come to terms with the answer that Centesimus Annus, in paragraph 42, gives to the question of whether capitalism is a system that corresponds to "true economic and civil progress."

The answer of the encyclical is the following:

If by 'capitalism' is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a business economy, market economy or simply free economy.


In his article, the German scholar asks the social doctrine of the Church to awaken from its "Sleeping Beauty slumber" and apply itself to a "radical refutation" of capitalism, made obligatory by its current "evident collapse."

After the publication of Caritas in Veritate, it will therefore be interesting how Böckenförde comments on it.