Pope Benedict and the Old Labour Party

Just as a note for myself, as much as anything else, I wanted to link to this article based substantially on extracts from the Pope's book 'Without Roots', which is one of his many works engaging with secularism. It ought to warm the cockles of an old Labour heart, and make people reflect on what was lost when Labour was sold to a bunch of vulgar middle class philistines and neoliberals with second-rate educations pickled in social science fads and the ruins of humanism;
Let us return to the situation in Europe. In the nineteenth century, the two models that I described above were joined by a third, socialism, which quickly split into two different branches, one totalitarian and the other democratic. Democratic socialism managed to fit within the two existing models as a welcome counterweight to the radical liberal positions, which it developed and corrected. It also managed to appeal to various religious denominations. In England it became the political party of the Catholics, who had never felt at home among either the Protestant conservatives or the liberals. In Wilhelmine Germany, too, Catholic groups felt closer to democratic socialism than to the rigidly Prussian and Protestant conservative forces. In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine, and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.

The totalitarian model, by contrast, was associated with a rigidly materialistic, atheistic philosophy of history: it saw history deterministically, as a road of progress that passes first through a religious and then through a liberal phase to arrive at an absolute, ultimate society in which religion is surpassed as a relic of the past and collective happiness is guaranteed by the workings of material conditions.

This scientific fa├žade hides a dogmatic intolerance that views the spirit as produced by matter, and morals as produced by circumstances. According to its dictates, morals should be defined and practiced on the basis of society's purposes, and everything is deemed moral that helps to usher in the final state of happiness. This dogmatism completely subverts the values that built Europe. It also breaks with the entire moral tradition of humankind by rejecting the existence of values independent of the goals of material progress. Depending on circumstance, anything can become legitimate and even necessary; anything can become moral in the new sense of the term. Even humankind itself can be treated as an instrument, since the individual does not matter, only the future, the cruel deity adjudicating over one and all.

The communist systems collapsed under the weight of their own fallacious economic dogmatism. Commentators have nevertheless ignored all too readily the role in this demise played by the communists' contempt for human rights and their subjugation of morals to the demands of the system and the promises of the future. The greatest catastrophe encountered by such systems was not economic. It was the starvation of souls and the destruction of the moral conscience.

The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the communist economy has been recognized — so much so that former communists have unhesitatingly become economic liberals — the moral and religious question that it used to address has been almost totally repressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man's original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem today. Left untreated, it could lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger — above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler....

Joseph Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI & Marcello Pera. "The Universalization of European Culture and the Ensuing Crisis." In Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam. (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 64-74.

In Ireland that social consiousness was once expressed by Fianna Fail; odd that both have been so sold and soiled for such a debtor's mess of pottage.


Martin.....the time is ripe for a new synthesis to emerge from the past 60 years. The model is always in front of us - the social teachings of the Church. I believe that any economic, social or cultural system not based upon a foundation of Judeo-Christian morality and ethics is doomed for failure no matter how logical its quantitative reasoning. Belloc and Chesterton were on the right track a century ago......
Martin Meenagh said…
I certainly think that something is needed, Patrick. The political air here is fetid, and there is a real sense of exhaustion and decay in the professions. I think that the causes of that are very much related to the way the economic cake has crumbled, and to the depletion of basic resources. How people adjust to a less selfish, less delusional society is going to be interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, the moral and intellectual capital just isn't there in the media or the political class to show the way--and, meanwhile, all sorts of menaces await.

That's an odd message to write on such a beautiful morning. I have to run off to work, but hope that all is well and that you get a chance to enjoy some good weather too!

Popular Posts