A primary message of the Acton Institute has been the essential complementarity of freedom and virtue, each depending on the other and each reinforcing the other. It was thrilling to see these themes at the core of the new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, by Pope Benedict XVI.
After many months of rumors about how this document would amount to a devastating attack on “neoliberal economics,” the socialist left ended up less than thrilled by its contents. It is not a political document. There is a school of thought that believes the answer to all moral problems is institutional change. In some ways, this is the core belief of liberation theology: collectivizing ownership will lead to the perfection of humans. Caritas specifically rejects this view. The pope’s answer to the modern moral crisis is not the overthrow of the market in favor of socialism. The answer is in spiritual conversion which puts the Gospel and the concern for the common good at the center of the culture.
The pope makes it clear that the market is not something against which society must protect itself. On the contrary, the free market has lifted billions of people out of poverty, and continued economic development is essential for promoting an ethic of life.
“The pope speaks eloquently about the world and responsibilities of business, and underscores the immense challenges facing business in a globalizing world. “Business activity,” he writes, “has a human significance, prior to its professional one.”
He writes that the market “is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. It is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.”
This document will bear fruit both in scholarship and in cultural and economic development. Stay tuned to our work in this area, and please continue your support of our vital work.