Pope Francis's Distorted Vision
By David Henderson
“I cannot fail to speak of the grave risks associated with the invasion of the positions of libertarian individualism at high strata of culture and in school and university education,” the Pope said in an message sent to members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences meeting in the Vatican and subsequently shared with Breitbart News.
This is from Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D., “Pope Francis Warns Against ‘Invasion’ of Libertarianism,” Brietbart, April 28, 2017.
I’m assuming throughout that Williams is quoting the Pope correctly because I can’t find the original source. If not, then much of what I say may not follow.
Which universities is he referring to? Yale? Berkeley? Middlebury? I think the Pope and I are perceiving the world very differently. I don’t mean our values are different, although that’s probably true too. I mean that what we think is factually true is different. He perceives a university system in which libertarians are becoming important. I perceive one in which the left, with whom he seems often to agree, is dominant. At least one of us is wrong.
Francis said that libertarianism, “which is so fashionable today,” is a more radical form of the individualism that asserts that “only the individual gives value to things and to interpersonal relations and therefore only the individual decides what is good and what is evil.”
He kind of gets the first part right. We do believe (or, at least, I do) that “only the individual gives value to things and to interpersonal relations.” It seems to me that the only alternative is for God to give value to things. That’s probably his view. But his “therefore” is a non sequitur. Yes, it’s true that each of us needs to decide what is good and what is evil, and maybe some of us will decide by consulting the Bible or the Pope. But I think he’s implicitly saying something more. I think he’s saying that once we decide good or evil, that’s it, and we can do what we want with impunity. That doesn’t follow. If I decide that it’s right to murder, it doesn’t follow that it is right to murder or that I shouldn’t be punished for murdering. I think the Pope is coming dangerously close to equating individualism and solipsism.
According to this mentality, all relationships that create ties must be eliminated, the Pope suggested, “since they would limit freedom.” In this way, only by living independently of others, of the common good, and even God himself, can a person be free, he said.
I confess, pun intended, that I don’t know any libertarian whom this describes.
Here’s what I wonder: does the Pope actually know any libertarians at all?
Update: As Luca Mille points out below, Russ Roberts did an EconTalk with economist Robert Whaples on an earlier set of pronouncements from the Pope.