PopeWatch has long believed that the key to understanding the Pope is the way in which his native Argentina impacted his thought. Over the weekend PopeWatch was reading a fascinating article published in 2015 that looked at the Pope’s intellectual background based on the dominant intellectual trends in Argentina during his formative years. The author, Claudio I. Remeseira, summarizes the main aspects of his thought that explains much of his papacy:
Francis’ mindset straddles this divide. One Anti-Modern trait of his thinking is his mistrust of Liberalism. Despite his constant appeals to political tolerance, Francis’ political thought is rooted in a pre-modern, organicist view of the community as foundation of social and political life. Liberal democracy and the modern doctrine of human rights are the antithesis of that view. In Evangelii gaudium, the word “people” appears 164 times; the word “democracy”, not once.
Another trait is his hostility toward capitalism. Far for being inspired in any left-wing or Marxist philosophy, Francis’ anti-capitalism comes down from the European right-wing writers of the early 20th century, who in turn found their source of inspiration in the Middle Ages. At the final stage of the Cold War, John Paul II made a timid move towards accepting the market as an autonomous social force. In the age of the anti-globalization movement, Francis would have none of it. His critique of capitalism seems to go even further than the objections traditionally made by Catholic Social Teaching since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. It is when indicting the world’s economic woes that Francis strikes his most prophetic tone (which, by the way, is another characteristic of Argentinian theology). The encyclical Laudato si, his great jeremiad against the evils of capitalism, has established Francis as one of the world’s foremost critics of Neoliberalism.
But, did the old adversary of Liberation Theology really turn into a radical leftist, as some critics on the right say? A quarter of a century after the demise of the Soviet Union and when the other world-Communist power, China, has morphed into its own kind of State-steered Capitalism, there is more room for the Pope to openly condemn social injustice without raising the suspicion of being a revolutionary. In any case, what Francis probably has in mind is not a socialist but some sort of populist economic system — something, perhaps, closer to a 21st-century update of the Peronist social-welfare state. Some of his initiatives, such as the World Encounter of Popular Movements, seemed to have been conceived with the intention of becoming the Solidarność of a post-Industrial era.
That era, already unfolding before us, has in Francis’ view one preeminent protagonist: the masses of the poor and the excluded, the disenfranchised of the world. They are the Peoples of God, the pilgrims of the Trinitarian God’s journey on this planet. To Francis, the mission of the Church is indistinguishable from them — it must be a Church of poverty and for the poor. Herein lies his true radicalism: an uncompromising identification between the suffering of the poor and Christ, and his determination to persuade the world to join in that mission.
Go here to read the entire article, and it should be read in its entirety. The Pope comes out of an intellectual milieu strange to most Americans, and this article sheds light on some aspects of this pontificate that have been opaque.