Latin America needs a revolution: a liberal and Catholic revolution

Liberation Theology is having a bit of a revival.  Is this good?  I am skeptical.  The problem with the Left is that they talk and talk with all sorts of grand words but they don’t explain how to create wealth and lift people out of the poverty they lament.  Liberation Theology is fraught with problems, and most of them, it seems, are not to be resolved with Christianity.

I saw this morning a piece at Acton’s blog which tackles this problem.  It is longish, but I hope you, dear readers, will take two moments to read it through.

Check out The Economics of Liberation Theology by Carroll Ríos De Rodríguez

Here is a sample:


Leading proponents of liberation theology were not simply looking to curb external domination or implement piecemeal types of reforms. They called for a more-or-less socialist revolution. Indeed, as Novak demonstrates, theirs was not a lukewarm socialism or mild social democracy capable of coexisting with private property, markets, and democratic institutions. It was, to use Gutiérrez’s language, the radical doing-away with “private appropriation of the wealth created by human toil” and the abolition of the “culture of the oppressors.

How did dependency theory [explained earlier] with its socialist-like proposals to solve poverty and the Marxist influence on liberation theology fuse together? One often hears disclaimers to the fact that not all dependency and liberationist writings were Marxist. This is of course true. Novak himself argued that “liberation theology forms a tapestry much broader than its Marxist part and is woven of many colors.” It is worth stating that the work of carefully distinguishing between the various theoretical foundations suited to liberation theology, as Novak and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) did at the time, is not the same as trivializing the broader Marxist influences. There are some subtle differences between the Ratzinger-Novak caveat and other claims concerning the impact of Marxism. Some of these other assertions were that (1) classic Marxism had been revised or distilled by the seventies, (2) Marxism as an academic tool did not contradict Catholic dogma and doctrines, (3) the first Christian communities were proto-marxian, and (4) a “Christian socialism” that eschewed Marxist atheism and materialism was possible. In a scholarly analysis published in 1988, H. Mark Roelofs maintained that the differences between liberation theology and old-style Marxism could be explained in the following manner:

Liberation theology is not a Marxism in Christian disguise. It is the recovery of a biblical radicalism that has been harbored in the Judeo-Christian tradition virtually from its founding … [Do you buy that?] Liberation theologians turn to modern Marxism chiefly to gain a comprehensive understanding of contemporary class conflict and poverty.
In the face of such obvious equivocation – most notably, concerning whether it was possible to separate Marxist analysis from Marxism’s operating assumptions of atheism and materialism – Novak complained: “What no one clarifies is what is meant by ‘Marxist analysis.’” Novak went on to list seven elements in liberation theology that were present in much of the literature and decidedly Marxist in tone and content. These were (1) the effort of liberation theology seeks to create a new man and a new earth, (2) the espousal of a utopian sensibility, (3) the benign view of the state, (4) the failure to say anything about how wealth is created, (5) the advocacy of the abolition of private property, (6) the treatment of class struggle as a fact, and (7) the denouncement of capitalism. In Novak’s opinion, this worldview was not only theologically and morally wrong. It would result in Latin America paying a high economic and political price that would hurt the poor. [Again and again and again…]

A ‘Liberal’ and Catholic Proposal

When he looked ahead to how Latin America ought to be transformed, Novak was categorical: “Liberation theology says that Latin America is capitalist and needs a socialist revolution. Latin America does need a revolution. But its present system is mercantilist and quasi-feudal, not capitalist, and the revolution it needs is both liberal and Catholic.”


I would also like to remind you all of something that Sam Gregg wrote recently for First Things… alas, behind a paywall, but worth the (less-than a) cupp’o coffee price to get the mind working. HERE

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Austin Catholics says:

    There’s no question free markets are the more efficient and effective economic system.
    Free markets with appropriate limits and social safety nets are the way to go.

    The libertarian idealists take it too far. They want us to abandon concerns about income and wealth inequality.

    One rhetorical trick they use it to direct focus on “lifting people out of poverty”. What does it matter, they ask, if some people get rich and if the middle class is beat down, so long as
    others are “lifted out of poverty”? The middle class, once richer than the poor in Third World countries, becomes equal with them, a blow to the human ego. Yet the libertarians want us to be happy about this. They have little understanding of human psychology and the desire for status. They seem to think we shouldn’t care if a few Americans get very wealthy and the American middle class goes downhill. Just focus on “lifting people out of poverty.”

  2. Austin Catholics says:
  3. Magash says:

    Alas the United States is becoming more of a morally bankrupt socialist leaning crony-capitalist state rather than a free-market capitalistic state to its detriment. At the present time almost half of our citizens are on the public teat, in some manner, and rising dependency rather than increased wealth are the trends.
    We had the opportunity to bring in the adults to fix things and decided as a country to continue on this destructive path.
    Oh well, the United States won’t be the first great empire the the Catholic Church has seen enter the dust bin of history, nor is it likely to be the last.

  4. excalibur says:

    …. mercantilist and quasi-feudal ….

    As is the economy of the USA becoming ever more. Thus the never ending low wage, third world immigration, legal and illegal. Thus the H-1B visa’s undercutting Americans, etc.

    We have met the enemy, and it is us.

  5. Random Friar says:

    Fr. Gutierrez’ professors were pretty much European marxist-socialists. His contribution was to put a Latin American face on it.

  6. Polycarpio says:

    Revival? One swallow does not a spring make, and the recent reconsideration of Liberation Theology is not so much a revival as a reassessment of the movement that was. Liberation Theology has not been revived. Pope Francis’ criticisms of the world market are a far cry from Liberation Theology, and the old fires are basically embers.

    In reading the piece, which was not half bad as far as it goes, I could not shake off the main problem, which Card. Ratzinger identified straight on, which is that you cannot talk about “Liberation Theology” as if it were a thing. It is many things–or was many things. A post by Father Zuhlsdorf here some months back distinguished the Brazilian strands of the movement from the Argentine “popular piety” variety. They are dramatically different things. There are some strands that gravitate all the way to the threshold of Marxism, yet there are bits that are honestly and earnestly Christocentric.

    “None of the prominent liberation theologians influential in Latin America had significant training in or exposure to the discipline of economics,” Mr. Rodriguez begins. To me, that is a good thing. Because, at its best, the Social Doctrine of the Church is a subset of thought in our faith about how to practice our Faith, not a competing market theory to offer the world for how to materially improve the lives of the poor. I know that some of the Liberationist authors stray off to policy arguments, but that’s what the CDF corrections were about–how to get them back on track, because, as Card. Ratzinger wrote, some of the strands within the current of Liberation Theology were “valid.”

    And that’s what the reassessment has been all about: to recognize that there was validity in the movement, and that part of it will endure, like Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, and Pius XII’s Ad Ecclesiam Christi, which foreshadowed the advent of Liberation Theology when it called for the Latin American Church to develop her own formula, “with sound doctrine and incessant and proactive action, in the social arena” to ward off the advance of true Communism.

  7. rockymountains says:

    Latin America and the Spanish speaking Carribean countries need A LOT. To begin with, they need solidly Catholic leaders that know their faith and are well equipped to pass it on to the laity. There is much richness in the Catholic Church by saints, doctors, mistics, poes, councils, etc, but the Spanish translations done in the US really stink. They are succumbing quickly to the tidal wave of opinion based denominations.

  8. Reconverted Idiot says:

    Excellent post.

    I recall seeing on the news St John Paul II’s finger wagging rebuke (away from microphones but in full view of cameras) of certain priests caught up in liberation theology, after he alighted at a South American airport. At the time I was disappointed because, as a good little Marxist, I believed that liberation theology was an attempt to recapture some kind of original spirit of Christianity which had been corrupted over the centuries. I also believed at that time, and still do, that the corrupt, clientist regimes of South America were in dire need of being swept away, and I decry the degree to which certain clerics were in hoc to those regimes.

    It is worth mentioning that ‘the communist hypothesis’ from its very genesis in the 1800s reinterprets the story of Christ as a proto-Marxian revolution of sorts, that essentially Christ was a revolutionary leader, not divine in any sense: more like a Socratic critic of the ideology practiced and expounded by the scribes and pharisees. Much is made, for example, of the apostles at Jerusalem holding “all things in common” (common… commonism… communism, geddit?)

    But it remains the case that without its materialist basis and dialectical methods of interpretation (e.g. seeing agape-love as merely a ‘negation of the negation’ of Judeo-pharisaic legalism), Marxism becomes impossible to sustain as a theoretical edifice. Which is not to say that its content is necessarily sustainable otherwise, but it is certainly impossible to sustain on the basis of a sound theologically understood Christianity, as I myself have since discovered.

    But still, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking there is therefore something “right” about capitalism. It too is merely the teachings of men, theoretically founded on ideals and practices which are no less materialist, just as ‘free-standing’ (there is no great capitalist “truth of the world”), and as such is equally as corruptible and potentially abusive as any other political, social or economic theory. It may well produce incredible results, better than any other system invented: even Marx marveled at its power, and at some level he appears to accept it as the ‘fact of the world’ until such time as ‘historical necessity’ brought about capital’s own ‘eating of itself’ as it were (this is why he was never a revolutionary himself, he was too Hegelian). But capitalism also produces — by its own integral logic and not by virtue of some ‘corruption of true/pure capitalist doctrine’ — inequality, oppression and many other social ills. Communism may well be wrong — it is — but the problems it sought to address are real problems; they were in Marx’s day and they are today outcomes which capitalism produces directly. The problems of today’s capitalist world are indeed problems which capitalism causes, it makes no sense to deny these problems and it may well be dishonest of us to try to do so, whatever the wrongs of socialism and communism by comparison.

  9. Priam1184 says:

    I am fairly certain that all of the ‘classical liberals,’ the intellectual founders of the movement in the 18th century, Adam Smith and John Locke, etc., were all very anti-Catholic Father. If one wanted the kind of revolution the author speaks of then they would be running two horses in double harness who would be constantly at war with each other.

    In any case both of the ideologies capitalism and marxism, liberalism and liberation theology; both of them place way too much emphasis on the goods of this world and in turn create societies that are so obsessed with goods and problems that are solely related to material things while completely ignoring (in the case of capitalism) or actively combating (socialism) the supreme need of fallen man for the salvation of his soul. This grates on Catholic ears and hearts and has for 300 years now. There must be a better way.


  11. marcelus says:

    with this piece I must disagree, if I’m allowed. Live in Argentina and can tell you, there’s no lib theology nor has there ever been, influencing anything here at least. Chapter aside goes to the continent in the 70´s when LAmerica was on fire, a boiling keetle, when the rest of the countries ecuador line above, had a hot cup of tea in their hands.

    Fr Jorge Bergoglio had a tough time ‘piloting’ his priests back then, being himself a man of 34 if I’m not mistaken.

    Back then the socialist fantasy was extremely tempting for the youth and priest of course, do not forget helping the poor was a Church mission, not the only one., and i mean real poverty, the kind Michael Voris mentiones in one of his ‘Vortex’: ?people eating out of garbage bags, not food stamps and poeple living in carboard boxes, not low income housing’

    If you wish to look for an example, then I’m, sure you may find some, something in the line of :’how come this priest did or said that? why then did this bishop state that or not do this? I supponse you will, as you will do in your own countries.

    THe only place I suspect this may have an influence could be Brazil where it sprung up like mushrooms, I met priests from there who are ‘soaked’ in lib theology. Curiously, these same priests, in one homily, speaking of abortion, called it ‘ the most abominable crime’. But It goes to show some things are firmly laid.

    what Polycarpio mentions on Argentina’s Popular piety hits the nail right on the head, closely knit with the Social Doctrine of the Church :

    ‘A post by Father Zuhlsdorf here some months back distinguished the Brazilian strands of the movement from the Argentine “popular piety” variety. They are dramatically different things. There are some strands that gravitate all the way to the threshold of Marxism, yet there are bits that are honestly and earnestly Christocentric’

    I remember the story of a priest, a jesuit, Lib theology priest all around, kidnapped by the military in the 70’s in Argentina when Francis was Provincial. This man was meant to wind up at the botton of the River Plate, as did many.These guys did not fool around, they even killed a Bishop and 5 Pallotines. Francis when he finally could find out where the man was, racing against time, which was the difficult thing because in the meantime they usually killed him, he questioned the officer in charge and said to him ‘ do you believe in hell? the officer, a ‘catholic’ replied ‘yes’, Francis said to him:’if you don’t release the Fr. that’s where you are going, straight to hell!’ The story was told by the rescued Fr. stating as I recalll that evethough he was a lib theology follower and Francis was not, he still steppped in and saved his life.

    And recovered I. said:

    ‘I recall seeing on the news St John Paul II’s finger wagging rebuke (away from microphones but in full view of cameras) of certain priests caught up in liberation theology, after he alighted at a South American airport’

    I remeber that too,that was Nicaragua’s Ernesto Cardenal, a priest…. He became a minister without resigning his priest’s appointment as he was demanded to do , reason why St. JP2 waved the finger at him.

    So, in short,with a few exceptions,capitalism reigns in LA, but do not forget the scars that ‘our’ capitalism left on society are still hurting. It’s hard to see this with american eyes, because you may tend to think and apply the same set of rules and laws that ‘limit’ capitalist excess’ if such thing exists, but some things that take place down here are quite different.

    these are some interesting comments from both St. JP2 and BXVI on the capitalism issue, taken from an old interesting article..

    “Benedict:Both capitalism and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures,” he said in 2007. “And this ideological promise has proven false.
    Capitalism, Benedict continued, left a “distance between rich and poor” and is “giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity.”
    Pope John Paul II showed perhaps the most enthusiasm for capitalism of any pope, yet even he said, “There are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied.” He warned against a “radical capitalistic ideology” that lacks an “ethical and religious” core.”

  12. robtbrown says:

    It is problematic just how much early Christian communities renounced ownership of goods. The letters of Paul, however, mention efforts to raise money for the church in Jerusalem. And so it’s easy to infer that whatever renunciation of goods existed in the Jerusalem community, there weren’t adequate goods for self support

    There have been in the church poverty movements that were so radical that the foundation was the notion that matter is evil. These seem to end in bunga bunga parties.

    It must be noted that Marxism, despite any social justice concern or romance with Christian renunciation of goods, is based on denial of Natural Law, including the natural right to property.

    GK Chesterton’s comment that too much capitalism means too few capitalists is telling. Historically, big time capitalists have tended to try to control the market rather than keep it free.

    Nb: the natural right to property is relative rather than absolute.

    There are many other erroneous concepts in Marxism, including the priority given to economic forces in social organization, the mutually exclusive concepts of capital and labor, and class conflict (taken up by certain dissenters in the church, e.g., women’s ordination).

    Liberation theology often includes these errors, but adds one that is Hegelian: It attributes political movements that are by definition natural to the supernatural, ie the Holy Spirit. I was surprised to have read this in Gutierriez- – a Dominican should know better

    Another issue found in some liberation theology is the fusion of the concept of the base community with New Testament criticism hostile to the supernatural. Thus early Christian communities are considered to have lacked not only the Eucharist but any notion of Christ the Redeemer. Instead, they are thought of as communities sharing goods, loving each other, blah blah blah

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