In an open letter to Republican Catholics (to be followed next week by a letter to Democratic Catholics), Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter describes his sympathy for and his disagreements with American conservatism. As a member of his intended audience, I think he offers a prescient warning:
The heresy of libertarianism has taken root within the Republican Party, and it has done so in the area of our culture where it is most dangerous because most pervasive: economics. I say heresy for two reasons. First, because libertarianism fits with the definition of heresy attributed to Lord Acton, it is a truth run amok, that is, it takes sound ideas about human freedom and responsibility and runs too far with them . . . Secondly, and more dangerously, this libertarianism raises issues of theological anthropology of the first order . . . .
Nowhere is the inability to grasp the social nature of man more obvious than in the reluctance of todays Republican Party to come to terms with the fact of rising income inequality. Over at Vox Nova, Mornings Minion has a great article about Catholic teaching on the sin of income inequality, with quotes going back to Pope Pius XI. The willingness of Republicans to trash the very idea that government has an obligation to ensure that its citizens have adequate health care and other basic human needs places them squarely at odds with a different, but equally long, catalogue of explicit papal teachings . . . . Above all else, Catholic Social Teaching stands for the proposition that all human activities and organizations, including the economy, must be judged in terms of their moral worth . . . . The Master, of course, was clear on this: We will be judged not on the basis of our material success but on how we treat the least of these our brethren.
Of course, as Winters would doubtless agree, the way we treat “the least of these” is expressed not merely through the government but also through society’s “little platoons,” through families, churches, charities, and voluntary associations. Still, the government plays a crucial role in the creation of a just society. Republicans should not forget that in their efforts to shrink the state and grow the economy.