Das Kapital selling well in Germany....

Except, it's Archbishop Reinhard Marx's cheeky book on the need for catholic moral underpinnings to the mixed economy. This one has fooled quite a lot of leftists and commentators, but fits into a very old Catholic tradition.

The Church has long believed that capitalism without humanity, solidarity and justice has no future, and, frankly, its been around long enough and surrounded by enough sin in its time to be listened to. All you Americans pigeonholing me as a socialist should take note of that.

In the 1990s, communitarians and followers of Amitai Etzioni in general convinced themselves that they had distilled a 'third way' between capitalism and socialism. I thought at the time that any secular thory purporting to derive community duties in coexistence with liberalism was going to hit the buffers of human nature fairly hard. It also seemed to me that basing claims on either social democratic meliorism or some dirigiste-inspired idea of market failure was a hiding to nothing. But what was communitarianism? well, the answer is straightforward--catholic social thinking without the fairly important religion bit.

I don't blame Etzioni for the effort, by the way. As a Jewish person who fled the Nazis, and an American intellectual, he would have had to embrace a secular distillation. Once, at a meeting in London, an Opus Dei man asked me why Ernst Gombrich had never been a catholic. He had such an understanding of the renaissance papacy, he noted. I stumbled out some words about Oxford anticatholicism; but what I really should have said, though I didn't want to disrespect my kind and generous hosts, was, 'well, if you'd been a Jew in Vienna, with all that antisemitic catholic populism, and then really knew what the renaissance papacy was like, why would you?'. I think Etzioni was probably as fascinated, and appalled, and smart enough to see the gold in the dust, just like Gombrich.

Capitalism, and Jacksonian populism, aren't new. In the eighteen forties, calls for exactly what centrists seeking social justice and a degree of political independence wanted in the nineteen nineties could be found in Catholic New York. It's important that they are re-heard now, and I may just put some of them up on here in the next few weeks. You've been warned.

The New York calls tended to be suffocated in historical memory by ethnic and Democratic party voices, but they were there. I remember wading through no end of anti-capitalist but anti-liberal speeches by John Hughes, the first Archbishop of New York, for my doctorate, for instance. They're not that different from what Archbishop Marx is writing about now.

Given the scale of the economic crisis approaching, you may wish to familiarise yourself with catholic social thought in old and new form. Compared to idealised secular republicanism, which is attractive but maybe unobtainable, I think it offers the only real 'third way' that proved durable in the urbanised west.


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