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Do Rob Kall and other OEN readers want to support Pope Francis' critique of capitalism and social Darwinism?

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 29, 2015: Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the United States in September. It is 100% predictable that he will repeat certain points of his critique of capitalism and social Darwinism.

No doubt the pope's critique of capitalism is rooted in the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as officially advanced in earlier papal encyclicals. (Only a pope can issue and encyclical. An encyclical is a paper setting forth some teaching that the pope issuing it wishes to advance.)

However, if Pope Francis is drawing on his church's social teaching, his critique of capitalism thus far is a heartfelt cry questioning the social Darwinism connected with capitalism.

Thus far, the pope's heartfelt cry stops well short of being a proposal for an economic system to replace capitalism. In other words, he is calling attention to the problems as he sees them.

Now, in the past, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), a Catholic convert, and Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) advanced so-called distributism based supposedly on earlier papal encyclicals. As Chesterton and Belloc saw it, their distributism was supposed to be an alternative economic system to replace both capitalism and socialism.

But Pope Francis has not yet advanced their brand of distributism as an alternative economic system to replace capitalism. Whew! We should be thankful that Pope Francis is not (yet) advancing their brand of distributism as an alternative economic system to replace capitalism.

More recently, the Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984), who taught theology at the Jesuit-sponsored Gregorian University in Rome for a number of years, advanced his thoughts about an economic system. His two volumes have been published in the ongoing publication of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, being published by the University of Toronto Press.

But Paul Krugman and other economists have not yet subscribed to Lonergan's economic theory.

Nor has Pope Francis. Whew! We should be thankful the he is not (yet) advancing Lonergan's economic theory.

So Pope Francis' critique of capitalism, thus far, is primarily directed to decrying certain aspects of social Darwinism, not to proposing an alternative economic system.

Historically in American culture, we have had no shortage of people who engage publicly in criticizing our American values. Such American critics have been so numerous that there is even a well-established name for such public criticisms -- the American jeremiad. See Sacvan Bercovitch's book The American Jeremiad, 2nd ed. (2012).

So if Pope Francis voices his critique of capitalism during his visit to the U.S. in September, he will be aligning himself with the American tradition of the jeremiad.

Now, it is instructive to note that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), helped advance the cause of black civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s through his pulpit oratory and through his public oratory in the American jeremiad tradition.

Dr. King's public oratory in the American jeremiad tradition helped galvanize widespread support for the black civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result of his public oratory and his activism in the civil rights movement, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. No doubt that contributed to attracting further support for the black civil rights movement.

Sadly, Dr. King was assassinated. Nevertheless, President Lyndon B. Johnson stepped up and helped guide certain civil rights legislation through Congress and into law. As a result, today we Americans no longer live with the infamous old Jim Crow laws and customs.

Now, Pope Francis' public oratory criticizing capitalism and its social Darwinism might qualify him to be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize -- provided that his critique of capitalism and its social Darwinism moves enough people.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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