MSW on Libertarianism and Publishing Sophomoric Distortions of Catholic Teaching

Michael Sean Winters writes:

I do not think 10 minutes passed after America magazine’s publication of Stephanie Slade’s essay “A Libertarian Case for the Common Good” before my inbox filled with emails asking when I would respond. Pointing out the incompatibility of libertarianism and Catholic social thought has been one of the principal focuses of my writing here at NCR and of my work with Professor Stephen Schneck organizing the three “Erroneous Autonomy” conferences, all of which furthered the argument that libertarianism cannot be baptized….

Catholic social teaching begins with the community, not the individual. We believe that government is a positive good in social life and, while all human activity is stained by original sin, government springs from pre-lapsarian yearnings of the human heart to live in community. Since Rerum Novarum was issued in 1891, the church has taught that government must step in when private charities are insufficient to meet basic human needs and that the market does not always yield the best solutions and should be subject to regulation by the state. To characterize state involvement in the life of society as “interference in people’s lives” is to fundamentally misunderstand how Catholic teaching views the state, society and the individual. Slade wrestles with none of this.

Her ignorance of Catholic teaching is matched by ignorance of how capitalism actually works….

Which leads to a larger question I had as I read it: Why was this published? Apparently, I was not the only person to ask that question because editor-in-chief, Jesuit Fr. Matt Malone published a comment that, while referring to a different libertarian essay published last year at America, and written by Arthur Brooks, came out now, in the wake of Ms. Slade’s libertarian essay….

Malone claims America is decidedly “nonideological” and, instead, that their outlook is “Catholic and Jesuit, in that order.” But that is the problem. Libertarianism is not Catholic. It is not even close to Catholic. In its premises, in its arguments, and in the real world consequences that it engenders, libertarianism is the enemy of Catholic social thought. Malone may have been wowed by the admittedly charming Mr. Brooks at some fancy event for “public intellectuals” at Aspen or on the Upper West Side, but his failure to recognize that libertarianism is not an option for Catholics who actually believe what the church teaches about social justice is astonishing. Publishing Slade’s sophomoric essay in entirely inexplicable.

It breaks my heart to see what has happened to America. At a time when Donald Trump is president and Francis is pope, they are publishing Arthur Brooks and Stephanie Slade? It just doesn’t make any sense. Malone should do penance at the tomb of Pope Pius XI and decide what it means for America to be a Catholic and a Jesuit journal at a time when the insights of Catholic social doctrine are so obviously needed in our body politic.