I don’t know how quickly this reply will show up; my last reply to Leo seems to be caught in the spam filter for whatever reason.
You say, “Conservatives ceded the language of social justice because they ceded social justice itself.”
Then, as an example to prove this statement, you offer: “Pope John Paul II and the majority of the world’s bishops opposed the Iraq war.”
...which is not a “social justice” topic, as the term is popularly understood, but is rather a “Just War Doctrine” matter.
As your second example, you offer: “Pope John Paul II and the majority of the world’s bishops oppose the death penalty.”
...which is not a “social justice” topic, as the term is popularly understood, but is rather a topic unto itself.
You then say, “The Popes and the bishops have given devastating critiques of capitalism.” Not so. They have given devastating critiques of unrestrained capitalism, otherwise known as lawless capitalism or unbridled capitalism. This modified term is understood to refer to economic systems wherein even transactions which violate rights and injure human dignity are permitted by law if a willing buyer and seller can be found.
But it is noteworthy that the popular defenders of capitalism do not in fact regard unrestrained capitalism to be a species of capitalism because they assert that a stable rule of law sufficient to protect the rights of individuals is a prerequisite for capitalism as they understand it. Without the prerequisites of capitalism, the thing which exists is not capitalism, but simply “lawlessness with a currency.” The Church condemns that and calls it “unrestrained capitalism”; the capitalists condemn it, too, and call it “not capitalism, but what happens after capitalism loses one of the things it needs to sustain itself and decays into something else.”
Whatever terminology one uses—and just as I allow Catholics to define Catholicism, I think it prudent to allow capitalists to define what they mean by the terms they use for the system they advocate—the important point to make is that if a capitalist disapproves of the same thing the Catholic Church disapproves of, he is not in disagreement with the Church, even if the Church calls the thing they disapprove of a form of capitalism.
You say, “American Catholic conservatives, in contrast, have been supporters of war,”
Hmm. Of war? Generally? I mean it’s not as if they were invading Ottawa for the sake of having a war. Let’s be precise: They supported two particular wars: The war to oust Saddam Hussein and replace him with something better in Iraq, and the war to oust the Taliban and replace them with something better in Afghanistan. They claimed justification for the former on the basis of, oh, sixteen or so different things, ranging from ceasefire violations to WMD proliferation. They claimed justification for the latter on the basis of the Taliban offering safe haven to Al Qaeda generally and Bin Laden particularly, and on the basis of the Taliban being generally icky and nobody’s friend.
Now the problem is not that these offered justifications weren’t true. (Oh, I know in hindsight that the WMD thing was false, but one can’t view the situation anachronistically. At the time, every intelligence outfit in the world (and every Democrat in the Congress with the exception, I think, of Kucinich) was persuaded that Saddam still had a cache or two of chemicals or anthrax or uranium or something hidden somewhere because he’d always had them previously and had used them more than once and was always not-too-subtly bullying his neighbors with them. Big bluffer!)
The problem is that, even if true, these don’t constitute sufficient justification according to most formulations of the Just War Doctrine.
I say, “formulations” because, remember: The Just War Doctrine is not something that is defined in a de fide, “here are the rules in black and white with no room for gray” kind of way.
So, yeah. Conservatives ought not have been provoked by the deaths of several thousand of their countrymen on 9/11 into thinking that a land war in Asia was a good idea, let alone a simultaneous land war in the Middle East. Pretty much with you on that one.
“...the death penalty…”
I sort of agree. The difficulty is that, while we ought not execute so freely in our country as we do, we also ought not punish so lightly as we do. The plain fact is that so many things are not considered sin any more that when people say, “Hey, the punishment ought to be proportionate to the crime,” they go on to say, “therefore, an armed rape of a stranger ought to be punished with a three-year sentence which ends up being one-and-a-half years and probation.” I think that conservatives’ support for capital punishment is an emotional reaction: A sort of rah-rah opposition to the silly left-liberal approach that, “Since crime is down, why are we filling our jails with so many people?” It never seems to occur to left-liberals that it is because our jails contain so many people, that crime is down.
I offer that by way of explanation, not of excuse. I think that the death penalty ought to be exercised, in a nation of 350 million persons, perhaps once or twice a year, when the crime is JUST THAT BAD. But it’s hard for me to say that it should be “outlawed.” For, in that case, one would have to grant that a pair of men who brutally rape and torture-kill a couple of dozen children whom they abduct over an extended period, and who are caught dead-to-rights with 100% certainty of guilt, ought not be executed. What are we to say about the punishment fitting the crime in such a case? It is crazy to say that such a crime does not objectively merit the death penalty. If we were to conclude that, we’d be required in the end to make the God of the Old Testament an evil God who later changed His mind. That will not do.
So I trust the popes. I say that it should be vanishingly rare. And I wish other conservatives would join me in that view. But I think a person who holds that it ought to never happen is going beyond Magisterial teaching in a fashion which, if pursued to its logical conclusions, would falsify the Christian faith…and I also think they are not taking sufficiently seriously the gravity of the most heinous crimes.
“...and unrestrained capitalism.”
Not a single reputable U.S. conservative has ever supported unrestrained capitalism. They have verbally supported law and order capitalism which is very nearly the opposite thing.
Now, many Republican elected officials have been too-easily swayed by campaign contributors when it came to actual policy-making, thus introducing a degree of crony-capitalism that violates their supposed loyalty to law-and-order capitalism. (The Goldman Sachs Administr…oh, excuse me, I meant to say, the Obama Administration has been even worse about the crony capitalism thing, but that’s understandable since most Wall Street Money was backing the Democrats in the last two presidential elections, and boy, does Obama luvv him some corporate cash!)
But if you want to growl at someone taking steps to institute capitalism without benefit of individual rights and legal protections, then Vladmir Putin is the man to growl at. (Enjoy the polonium poisoning, though, if you do it loudly enough!) The U.S., even with Obama and all his Wall Street buds at the helm, comes nowhere close to that level of unrestrained “capitalism.”
You say, “If conservatives want to take back the language of social justice, they are going to first walk then talk.[sic]”
Well, on social justice (which is to say: taking care of the needy out of their own means) they already do twice as much as left-liberals do. But I’ll grant that it isn’t enough to qualify as truly obedient to the historical norms of Christianity until their mean contribution constitutes more than 10% of their pre-tax income. Since conservatives’ mean contribution hovers a little over 7% at the present time, they have a ways to go. (I’m doing my part, though.) Left-liberals’ average is, if I remember correctly, somewhere around 2.2%.
So I agree with you that in many ways conservatives are at fault, and that if they were faultless they’d be better positioned to criticize the left-liberals for their faults.
But I think you’re incorrect to label their faults as, specifically, being related to “social justice” as the term is popularly understood (i.e., relating to our obligations to the needy). Just War and Capital Punishment are topics to themselves, and normally not grouped under that heading. Certainly, they all constitute forms of justice, and they all involve society. But I was trying to use terms in a more regular way.