Hyperindividualism, Populist Nationalism, and the Growing Imperialism of Market Mechanisms Threaten the Common Good

At OSV, Millennial editor Robert Christian writes:

“The Church must work in the coming months with unions, workers, the elderly, and the poor to counter the growing imperialism of market mechanisms within American public life,” said Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego at the third “Erroneous Autonomy” conference hosted Jan. 10 by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.

Bishop McElroy outlined a series of imminent threats he believes the nation is facing: deregulation of the financial sector, the elimination of regulations that protect the environment and public health, the undermining of the social safety net, and the rolling back of rights and fair compensation for workers. Bishop McElroy’s critique of an increasingly unfettered free market, however, is fundamentally a critique from within capitalism, as he affirmed “that free markets have a vital role to play in the creation of wealth, the generation of jobs, and the advancement of human dignity.” But the moral worth of markets is purely instrumental, he said. From the perspective of Catholic social teaching, markets are only moral when they are placed within a broader framework that promotes the dignity of the human person and the common good. When disconnected from such a framework, grave threats to the dignity of the human person emerge.

But distorted notions of autonomy and the hyper-individualism present in American life are not confined to a misunderstanding of the role of the market. Bishop McElroy also warned of what Pope Francis calls the “technocratic paradigm” — the temptation for those with power and wealth to use technology only for their own advantage, turning a blind eye to the consequences — and its impact on God’s creation, as well as of certain Obama administration policies that have affected religious communities, cultural traditions and familial patterns.

Finally, Bishop McElroy contrasted “true patriotism” that aims at justice and freedom with the merger of populism and nationalism that can result in pride, isolationism and discrimination. He expressed concern about the exclusionary and nativist populist nationalism that has gained strength recently and that was present in the presidential campaign.

Here are some other reports from the event:

Readying for Trump, Catholic Leaders Express Worry over Regulatory Rollbacks by Michael O’Loughlin: “Fearing rollbacks of economic, health care and environmental regulations under President Donald J. Trump that they say could harm vulnerable communities, several high-profile Catholic leaders gathered in the nation’s capital on Tuesday to urge the faithful to stand up for the rights of workers, the poor and immigrants.”

Trump’s rise and GOP economics may shift Catholic Church’s priorities by David Gibson: “For much of its long history in the U.S., the Catholic Church was known as the champion of the working class, a community of immigrants whose leaders were steadfast in support of organized labor and economic justice – a faith-based agenda that helped provide a path to success for its largely working-class flock. In recent decades, as those ethnic European Catholics assimilated and grew wealthier, and as the concerns of the American hierarchy shifted to battles over moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, traditional pocketbook issues took a back seat. Now, however, with the surprise election of Donald Trump and the Republican sweep of Congress signaling a new era of free-market and anti-immigration policies, the U.S. church and its bishops may be set to recalibrate their priorities.”

Conference examines clash between US culture, Catholic social teaching by Julie Bourbon: “In this time of transition — Barack Obama saying farewell to the presidency as Donald Trump moves into that job, Republicans flexing their muscles as the dominant political party — Catholic leaders, including an advisor to the pope, gathered with academics and labor leaders in mid-January to step back from that flurry of activity to think about economics and workers’ rights from the perspective of Catholic social teaching. On Jan. 10, a lineup of speakers addressed libertarianism and the dominant American culture of runaway consumerism at “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work,” the third in a series of conferences sponsored by the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University in Washington, in partnership with the AFL-CIO.”

You can also read Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s full speech here, and Bishop Robert McElroy’s full speech is available here.