Should Catholics “Feel the Bern”?

Should Catholics “Feel the Bern”?

FEBRUARY 22, 2016

Can a Catholic support Bernie Sanders for president? In recent weeks, several noteworthy [neo-Catholic] figures (including Mark Shea, Charles Camosy and Fr. Dwight Longenecker) have tentatively suggested it might be possible to do this in good conscience. It’s an interesting discussion insofar as it raises important questions about how we should view our relationship to the modern state.

Sanders is a staunch supporter of legalized abortion. NARAL, America’s leading abortion activist group, has given Sanders a squeaky-clean bill of health, which is clearly a dis-recommendation in the eyes of a faithful Catholic. Recognizing this, the above commentators focus their attention on whether or not Sanders’ support for abortion could potentially be outweighed by other positives in his agenda.

Shea focuses his remarks on the disastrous scenario in which we are forced to choose between two terrible candidates, both of whom have an obvious taste for authoritarian rule and a decades-long history of supporting abortion. Although this is becoming an alarmingly realistic possibility, I will defer the question for the time being. (I personally would warmly recommend a Trump/Sanders Democratic candidacy as a happy solution to this problem.)

A more interesting and revealing line of argument is explored by the other two authors (somewhat tentatively by Longenecker, and more enthusiastically by Camosy). These authors suggest that the evil of a pro-abortion candidate might in some instances be outweighed by the good of a candidate who is willing to use state resources to support “the little guys.” As Camosy points out, there may be destitute women for whom state support might mean the difference between choosing abortion and choosing life. We saw various versions of this argument in 2008, as numerous Catholics attempted to justify their support for then-ascendant Barack Obama.

Longenecker makes clear that in his own view, Sanders’ strong support for abortion rules him out as an acceptable candidate. Nevertheless, Longenecker cautions Catholics against rejecting Sanders’ “socialism,” which in his view might even be a good. Pulling a page from Pope Benedict, he argues that “socialism” is not always and necessarily anti-Catholic. Democratic Socialism, such as appeared in Europe in the nineteenth century, can be consonant with our faith, which is why European Catholics have in the past regarded it as an acceptable alternative to the more rigidly materialistic socialism of Bolsheviks or Maoists. Longenecker suggests that Sanders may be the right kind of socialist, and that his candidacy might in that sense be seen as a healthy check on capitalist excess.

Intuitively, this idea has an obvious appeal. Socialism is bad insofar as the state uses our resources for bad ends. What if the state appropriated resources to use for good ends? Mightn’t that be an eligible alternative to unfettered capitalism or materialistic socialism? America has in recent decades witnessed a growing wealth gap, along with increasing economic instability in the middle class. This has obviously contributed to the popularity of populists like Sanders and Trump, who promise to improve middle-class prospects while taking corrupt elites to task.

“Unfettered capitalism” is a myth; it does not exist anywhere on earth. Instead of railing against money-makers, we ought to focus our outrage on those who distort the market through cronyism (politicians and businessmen making private deals that are good for themselves but bad for the public), and through “too big to fail” bailouts that enable some (like Trump) to collect on their entrepreneurial successes while passing the failures on to taxpayers. This, however, is not the kind of problem that can be fixed with any form of “socialism.” If we agree that our elite classes are frequently misusing their resources, how can it be sensible to give them even more? Any form of socialism will involve submitting to a higher level of bureaucratic control than what we presently have, and it should be painfully obvious at this point that that cannot be good news for Catholics.

On an academic level, it is interesting to speculate on the extent to which aggressive state control can, in principle, be compatible with our faith. The European labor parties of the nineteenth century sought to address the concerns of working people (poor workplace conditions and economic instability) in a way that was respectful of life and the natural family. It’s understandable that Catholics were attracted to these movements.

What figure in today’s Democratic party is even pretending to be respectful of life, natural family, or the freedom of the Church? Who among ranking Democrats even claims that he would use our resources in ways that are consistent with the natural law? An expansion of state power might be positive in a scenario in which a prudent and well-regulated government sought to check the excesses of a lawless private sector. The world today does not even begin to resemble that scenario. Our government is neither prudent nor well regulated, and its aggression towards the Church has grown more and more overt in recent years.

If the nation were to elect a President Sanders, we can predict with confidence that he would seek to replace Antonin Scalia (and any other Supreme Court vacancies that might open) with staunchly pro-abortion justices who almost certainly would not respect either the Church or the natural family. He would raise taxes on the middle class in hopes of funding massive new programs that harmonize with his progressive agenda.

Even if some of these (for instance, free college education) seem initially agreeable to Catholics, does it seem at all likely that the Sanders Administration would design them in a way that Catholics would approve? Many Catholics spent years calling for nationalized health care, and realized only too late that secular liberals cannot be trusted to manage our resources in responsible and ethical ways. It’s distressing to see that so many have failed to learn from this experience, even as the Little Sisters of the Poor are bravely fighting the contraception mandate.

Given the turbulent state of our politics, it’s easy to understand why some Catholics are desperately searching for new voting options. They don’t trust the Republican Party to protect their interests, but they cannot stomach the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton. Sanders (somewhat ironically, given his age) seems fresh, simply because he is neither Republican nor Clintonian. This is all very understandable, but Catholics need to realize that authoritarian state solutions cannot be the answer to our problems. The modern state’s hostility to their faith runs deep. Our government simply cannot be trusted to exercise high-level control over daily life in a way that respects our beliefs. Subsidiarity and restraint are our best chance at a better future for American Catholics.

Time to extinguish the flame, Sanders supporters. The options may seem grim, but Bernie is not our man.

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4 comments on “Should Catholics “Feel the Bern”?

  1. The fix is in to deliver the Catholic vote to Sanders. Maybe our bishops, priests, and professional Catholic apologists realize that Hilary’s prospects are toast! Of course, I’ve been informed by members of the clergy that a “good Catholic” cannot vote for Trump since he is “like Hitler.” Furthermore, when I stated that I might just sit this election out I was informed by a religious sister that it is a “grave sin” to refuse to vote in a national election. That would be neglecting the “common good” and “love” for my neighbor!

  2. [Vatican bigwig and Canadian “Catholic” TV mogul Fr. Tom Rosica is advancing Jewish socialist Sanders’ candidacy]

    In Catholic TV interview, Bernie Sanders praises FrankenPope’s [Peronist/Castroite-style]’socialism’

    Joshua J. McElwee | Feb. 22, 2016 National un-Catholic Reporter

    U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praises Pope Francis in a new video interview with the Canadian Catholic television network Salt + Light, calling the pontiff a socialist like himself and lauding his critique of the global market system.

    Sanders, who spoke to the network back in September during the pope’s visit to the U.S., also says Francis is having a “profound impact” on people all over the world.

    “I think what the pope has done, in a very bold way … is raise the issue of the worship of money, the idolatry of money, and to say maybe that’s not what human life should be about,” says the Democrat. “That is a very, very radical critique of the hyper-capitalist system, world system, that we’re living in today.”

    “I think that the pope is playing an historical role coming at exactly the right moment in human history, where his voice is having a profound impact, not only on our country, but all over the world,” he states.

    Sanders speaks in an interview with Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, who heads the Canadian network and also assists the Vatican press office with English-language press inquiries. The interview will air for the first time Tuesday evening, and will then be made available on the network’s YouTube channel.

    Asked by Rosica if he considers the pope a socialist, Sanders replies: “Yes.”

    “What the pope is saying is that human life, our existence, should be more than just the accumulation of more wealth,” says the Democratic candidate. “And everybody knows that right now we have the wealth, we have the technology to provide at least a decent standard of living for all of our people.”

    “So few should not have so much, and I think that’s what the pope is talking about,” he states.

    Asked about his support for continuing to legalize abortion, Sanders tells Rosica: “I think this is an area we just have to disagree.”

    “We will have to simply respect each other, in the sincerity of our beliefs, and I have no doubt about the sincerity of many of the people in my own state, who hold a different point of view than I do,” he states.

    “What we have tried to do is say, okay, on that issue, and on other issues, we will disagree, but let us work together on those issues where we can agree,” he continues.

    The Democratic candidate also speaks briefly about his own Jewish faith, saying that knowing he has family members who died in the Holocaust in Poland and Russia has profoundly impacted him.

    “I think what I learned as a child … before I understood politics is what many African-Americans in this country understand is that politics has a huge impact on your lives,” states Sanders.

    “My family, members of my family, died because of politics, they were killed, in the most horrible way imaginable,” he continues. “So that, at a very early age, made me think about the broader issues. And that’s one of the clearly strong influences on my life.”

  3. So, Longnecker is a commie-symp. A pinko. No surprise. One only need to read Leo XIII and Pius XI to know what balderdash Longneck is touting. The popes declared socialism to be incompatible with Christian society. Period.

    I have reports from inlaws about a group of otherwise traditional-minded Catholics who praise The Bern and Granny Warren for their “Catholic” social teaching. Needless to say, these Catholics are distributist culties. On the good side, their cult won’t go anywhere because none of them has enough gumption to run a (capitalistic) campaign to raise money and recruits, e.g., like the Opus Dei and Maciel cults.

    Serv, it might be a good time to repost your Econ 101 article by Tom Woods.

  4. The author gives a great many reasons why vaguely socialist reforms won’t work in capitalist America, but leaves out the supernatural one articulated so well by Pius XI, that Justice to God is the principle from which all subsequent justice flows. Do we know what that means? That no secular state can survive. There is no reform of it. But the article does not conclude, the secular system must change, here is how; rather it concludes that Bernie is not the candidate for us in it. As if some other candidate were, could be, within the democratic or republican circus tent. But, not. Yes, we can have candidates which are against abortion–these will appear, because secular demographics is proving more strongly every day in the market place that the world cannot afford abortion, forget the murder part, the world needs those buyers. And we can have candidates which promise to roll back Obamacare, or homosexual marriage, or Common Core. Etc. None of that challenges the sick heart of America. We have to work it out, conceive a comprehensive platform, and quit continually ragging on the peripherals, as if we could tweak this or that and secularism would work, the program endorsed by our Foundering Fathers would suddenly work again. But no. Where we are now is the inevitable result of what they planned. If we reset it a hundred years, we’d just end up right here again but faster, in another twenty. Because the FF were wrong. Religious freedom is no different from sexual freedom and ends up just as exhausted. We don’t need more freedom. What we need is the old Catholic society, the old economics but updated, the one with guilds and regulation up the ying yang and broadly distributed ownership kept that way by law, no land speculation allowed, no usury allowed. But along with that , essential to that, we need God in our constitution and the Church at the center of our nation. That’s not going to happen in either of our two liberal parties. We have to form a third party like Fidesz in Hungary. It has to include winning converts to the Church at the same time it wins votes. But what a wonderful initiative! You could sell this in America from shore to shore! It’s better than socialism! An update to distributism as it was practiced in medieval times would include a way to use new wealth, as that created by technology and presently monopolized by a few madmen, for the common good, as well as ways to get people self-sufficient again, with appropriate social help to do so, like distribution of arable land and tools, and technical help. They are doing this for purely secular reasons in South Korea, but they will find there that a people who will support themselves are also people who require virtue, require the Faith. The natural fact is, no Justice to God? Then no justice for anyone else. No justice, no peace. And so this article falls short. They all fall short. They refuse to say the magic words. What Vatican II did, is it shut us up. It closed the door on any real resistance to secularism, it endorsed this game we are now stuck in, the game of which candidate will do the very least harm, the very little bit of good we can expect, instead of presenting the old political alternative, the Faith and Christendom. The answer to predatory capitalism, the answer to ISIS as well. At a practical level, isn’t the next step that we must stop accepting this kind of article, this kind of approach, from those spokesmen who presently make their living rolling out the tale of devastation? We must demand a platform from our spokesmen, an alternative for candidates to live up to, not just an expose. We have to find our American Viktor Orban and we’ll have to grow him alone.

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