Loading
May 10, 2011
The new culture war — social democrats vs. democratic capitalists
By Russell Shaw *

By Russell Shaw *

For a long time I supposed that social issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, and the rest — were the great dividing line in American politics, with the collapse of natural law thinking at the root of the problem.

While I still see the culture war resulting from this as a large part of what ails us, I’ve come belatedly to understand that something else also is at work: conflict between two fundamentally different visions of government’s role in bringing about a good and just society — and perhaps even what that society should look like.
    
Wishing to be fair to them both (a nicety their partisans generally ignore), I’m hesitant even to give them names. But since to speak of them it’s necessary to call them something, I suggest “social democracy” and “democratic capitalism.”
   
At bottom, social democracy sees government as a provider and democratic capitalism sees it as an enabler. As we are now being reminded, many large conflicts in contemporary America find their origin in that difference. It needs exploring.
   
Many years ago, George Santayana, the erstwhile Harvard philosopher who lived in this country for most of four decades, concluded that individualism and good will coexist at the heart of the American character.

How can that be? As he explained it, the instinct of an American was “to think well of everybody, and to wish everybody well, but in a spirit of rough comradeship.”

“When he has given his neighbor a chance,” Santayana said, “he thinks he has done enough….It will take some hammering to drive a coddling socialism into America.”
   
Not long after, the hammering began via the Great Depression and the New Deal. Much that’s happened since then has served to continue it.

Government in America has moved beyond simply providing a safety net, to meeting a vast range of people’s needs and wants, from day care and prescription drugs to arts subsidies and public broadcasting.

Call it coddling, as Santayana did, or call it enlightened social policy, that’s where we are now.
   
But now, too, we have a lagging economy in combination with a soaring deficit, with threats of national bankruptcy looming in the background.

Hence the debate that will dominate the run-up to next year’s election, essentially driven by the clashing visions here called democratic capitalism and social democracy.
   
Does Catholic social doctrine have anything to contribute to the debate? Certainly it does. But it remains to be seen whether those officially responsible for articulating that body of teaching will rise to the occasion.
   
A recent statement on federal budget policy from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops highlighted concern for the poor as a criterion of budgetary decisions. Quite so.

But the official representatives of Catholic social doctrine ought also to be taking the further step of pointing out that for many of America’s poor, poverty has not only economic causes but also cultural — in other words, moral — ones that entitlements alone can’t solve.

To pass over the roles that family breakdown, illegitimacy, no-fault divorce, single parenthood, toxic schooling, drugs, and early dropping out have in creating the culture of poverty vastly oversimplifies the problem. And to say that isn’t blaming the poor for poverty but simply recognizing inconvenient facts.
   
Facing up to social issues is no substitute for economic policy, but ignoring the link between the two spheres is also a mistake. Helping people see the link and respond appropriately could be Catholic social doctrine’s biggest contribution to bridging the gap between social democracy and democratic capitalism in today’s America.

Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books, including three novels and volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism, the abuse of secrecy in the Church, and other topics. He has also published thousands of articles in periodicals, among them The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, L’Osservatore Romano, America, Crisis, Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Reporter, and many others. From 1967-1987 he served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops and from 1987-1997 was information director for the Knights of Columbus. He lives in Washington, D.C.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus

RESOURCES »

Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google

Featured Videos

Little Sisters of the Poor press conference in Denver
Little Sisters of the Poor press conference in Denver
Family thrilled to see Pope Francis in Istanbul
Syrian Refugee, Sara, 14, Before Meeting Pope
Ebola orphans thousands of children in West Africa
One year after Haiyan: Philippines rebuilds homes, lives
An Indian contribution to the Vatican's Synod on the Family
Christ Cathedral CNA video Sept 2014
Alejandro Bermudez of CNA accepts ice bucket challenge
'The Real Albania,' remembering those who fled
Pope Francis in Albania, "one of the most important visits of the post-communist era in Albania"
Pope Francis greets paralyzed man who risked all to see him
Franciscans on the banks of the Tiber in Rome, working for the New Evangelization
Pilgrimage from Czech Republic to Assisi and Rome for intentions
Testimony of young Indian who met Pope in Korea
Preparations of the Closing Mass of 6th Asian Youth Day
Missionary of Charity, Korea
Testimony of Christian Love during Pope's Visit to Korea
Religious Sisters in South Korea react to Pope Francis kissing a baby
Warm atmosphere during Holy Mass at Daejeon World Cup Stadium
Images inside Pope Francis flight to South Korea
Dec
18

Liturgical Calendar

December 18, 2014

Advent Weekday

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 21:23-27

Gospel
Date
12/15/14
12/14/14
12/13/14

Daily Readings


First Reading:: Jer 23: 5-8
Gospel:: Mt 1: 18-25

Saint of the Day

St. Romuald »

Saint
Date
12/15/14

Homily of the Day

Mt 21:23-27

Homily
Date
12/15/14
12/14/14
12/13/14
     HTML
Text only
Headlines
  

Follow us: