Discover more from Pope Francis Generation
The virus of individualism
Conservatives and Liberals in the United States aren't that different. The former advances an economic libertarianism and the latter a social libertarianism.
The political-economic position that the market should be free from regulation and that government should have little to no influence in the economy is simply an extension of the belief, "my body, my choice."
The market is the buying and selling of goods and commodities. Goods and commodities that are ultimately the product of human work. So if I say that there should be no regulation of the market I'm ultimately saying that there should be no restraint on my ability to use my body however I want.
Both Republicans and Democrats share this belief in individual autonomy, that human beings are islands, that our private decisions don't necessarily impact others, and that the "self made man" is actually possible.
But this belief is ultimately false. It doesn’t match the reality of human experience. (And it’s explicitly opposed by the Church's teaching.)
Human beings are radically dependent. I didn't bring myself into existence. I didn't nurture myself. I didn't educate myself. And, as the pandemic has made clear, human beings cannot truly thrive in isolation.
Further, living in a modern society means I'm benefiting from the work of others, past and present. Things like roads and utilities funded by taxpayers or the innovations of past inventors and entrepreneurs.
From this it's clear that simply by existing and living I owe debts to the community that I cannot pay back. I am not an island. I am responsible for so much more than my own happiness and well being. And if you extrapolate that out to everyone then it's clear that everyone is responsible for everyone.
So it's not even just that human beings are radically dependent, but we are radically interdependent. Simply by existing I owe a debt to the human community and simply by existing the human community owes a debt to me.
In other words, the right to private property and the right to bodily autonomy both come with social responsibilities, responsibilities Americans are all too willing to dismiss.
From the pope's social encyclical, Fratelli Tutti:
87. Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfilment except “in the sincere gift of self to others”. Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons: “I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others”. No one can experience the true beauty of life without relating to others, without having real faces to love. This is part of the mystery of authentic human existence. “Life exists where there is bonding, communion, fraternity; and life is stronger than death when it is built on true relationships and bonds of fidelity. On the contrary, there is no life when we claim to be self-sufficient and live as islands: in these attitudes, death prevails”.
105. Individualism does not make us more free, more equal, more fraternal. The mere sum of individual interests is not capable of generating a better world for the whole human family. Nor can it save us from the many ills that are now increasingly globalized. Radical individualism is a virus that is extremely difficult to eliminate, for it is clever. It makes us believe that everything consists in giving free rein to our own ambitions, as if by pursuing ever greater ambitions and creating safety nets we would somehow be serving the common good.
122. Development must not aim at the amassing of wealth by a few, but must ensure “human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples”. The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment, for “if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all”.
123. Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”. God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development, and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities. The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.