Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Way Out of "Third Way"

A Catholic Alternative to Europe's 'Third Way' sayz Acton Institute PowerBlog Catch the essence:
Even a cursory examination of European and American life reveals that the social democratic models have not achieved their goals. Europe is disintegrating more and more into a collection of individuals who rely on the state as their primary caregiver, and the effects on the family, society, and cultural output are insidious.

Acton Senior Fellow, Jennifer Roback Morse, addressed several of these issues in a lecture with titled “Catholic Social Teaching on the Economy and the Family: an alternative to the modern welfare-state.” The lecture was part of the Centesimus Annus Lecture Series, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the John Paul II’s encyclical. The second of the series, The Family in New Economy, was held on January 21st at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and Professor Manfred Spieker, one of Germany’s leading experts on Catholic social thought, also spoke. To listen to a Vatican Radio report on the conference go here.

She writes:
Today everyone understands that communism is not a viable strategy for achieving either economic growth or solidarity with the poor.

The more urgent task now is to see that Western European socialism has also failed. Although some aspects of the Western European model originally claimed Christian inspiration and objective, it is now clear that the modern Western European welfare-state is collapsing. And while many modern countries share some of the problems I shall loosely call the “European social model,” it is Europe that most desperately needs a genuinely Catholic alternative.
Morse continues:
The simplest way to see the failure of the extended welfare-state is to look at the demography of Western Europe. The demographic implosion of Europe has both economic and spiritual causes. And the demographic problem illustrates the most basic flaw of the system: it is not sustainable. The modern welfare-state or social assistance state can not replenish itself because it has marginalized the family. Rather than strengthen the family, as some originally intended it to do, the social assistance state has weakened and almost replaced the family.

The welfare state has also contributed to the marginalization of marriage… The life-time assistance of the state displaces the economic function of the family. The elderly don’t need adult children to support them in their old age. Women don’t need a husband to support them if they do have a child. Husbands become a nuisance, because the government will provide financial benefits without the inevitable difficulties of dealing with a flawed human being as a partner. In this environment, children become consumption goods, an optional life-style appendage to acquire only if one happens to enjoys children.

I need not say that a genuinely Christian social model would not have allowed itself to become so muddled about the meaning of something so basic as marriage. The combination of secularism, which discourages people from seeking meanings deeper than the material, and socialism, which attempts to satisfy the merely material needs, has led to this wide-spread social confusion.
Defenders of the conventional interpretation of CST will cry foul. Ms. Morse refuses to blind herself to the facts with a convenient ideology. The fact is that welfare statist policies often erode the very free associations that allow society to exist independent of the State. Taken to their logical conclusion, such policies give rise to totalitarian systems. Europe's precarious economic life teeters on the very edge of such an abyss. Arguing that such policies honor Catholic Social Teaching is to politicize and idealize CST. This will not help any struggling society.

Ms. Morse makes some excellent--and challenging--points. She's doesn't shill for Darwinian economic libertarians that would throw all society into a survival-of-the-fittest jungle. She does offer serious thinkers some serious ideas about how to apply CST to compelling problems. Check it out!