Catholics and Politics: The Dynamic Tension between Faith and Power

By Kristin E. Heyer; Mark J. Rozell et al. | Go to book overview

11
THE UNITED STATES-
VATICAN RELATIONSHIP
“Parallel Endeavors for Peace,”
Competing Visions of Justice

PAUL CHRISTOPHER MANUEL

DURING HIS MAY 2007 VISIT to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI denounced the opposing economic systems of Marxism and capitalism. Benedict bemoaned “the painful destruction of the human spirit” done in the former communist countries, and he was equally harsh regarding contemporary capitalism and globalization, warning people against its “deceptive illusions of happiness.”1 North American observers were clearly pleased with his remarks on Marxism and its implied criticisms of the economic policies of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, but they were considerably less sanguine concerning his views on capitalism. To be sure, Benedict's warning statements on capitalism confront several key assumptions of American economic liberalism and are at the center of a deep philosophical cleavage between the Vatican and the United States in the contemporary world.

Strongly influenced by John Locke, mainstream American economic thinkers have long maintained that social justice is primarily a question of individual rights and freedom—the idea that a just society is one in which there are free and unfettered markets and a limited government. Locke tends to minimize the concept of community obligations and, in its stead, to elevate individual rights and freedom as the barometer of social justice. In this view, according to the classic formulation, the only legitimate function of government is the protection of each citizen's life, liberty, and property.2

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