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Where is Pope Pius XI When You Need Him?

February 9, 2010

I am a long time admirer of the British Distributists, notably Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton (who is, incidentally, my hero). Recently, I decided to slog through the encyclicals that inspired the Distributist movement — Rerum novarum (published in 1891) and Quadragesimo anno (published in 1931). The latter reiterates and refines the former within a depression-era context.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, it is remarkable how strongly Pius XI’s remarks on free market individualism resonate today (though in other respects, the encyclical seems worlds apart):

109. The ultimate consequences of the individualist spirit in economic life are those which you yourselves, Venerable Brethren and Beloved Children, see and deplore: Free competition has destroyed itself; economic dictatorship has supplanted the free market; unbridled ambition for power has likewise succeeded greed for gain; all economic life has become tragically hard, inexorable, and cruel. To these are to be added the grave evils that have resulted from an intermingling and shameful confusion of the functions and duties of public authority with those of the economic sphere—such as, one of the worst, the virtual degradation of the majesty of the State, which although it ought to sit on high like a queen and supreme arbitress, free from all partiality and intent upon the one common good and justice, is become a slave, surrendered and delivered to the passions and greed of men. And as to international relations, two different streams have issued from the one fountain-head: On the one hand, economic nationalism or even economic imperialism; on the other, a no less deadly and accursed internationalism of finance or international imperialism whose country is where profit is.

Some things never change, I guess.

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