Anyone who actually reads Evangelii Gaudium would agree that it’s an idealistic proposal that only presents us a tried and failed way of structural revolution (against neo-liberalism), but few from the Catholic circle has been able to comment on this in a more pithy manner than R. R. Reno.
In Our Populist Pope, a December 2013 article appeared on the First Things, he wrote,
Pope Francis expresses a fundamental trust in the ability of ordinary Christians to be effective missionaries. He speaks of “the people’s mysticism.”
We are by now familiar with his views of free market capitalism: idolatry of money, rejections of “the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation,” and so forth. [H]is intuitions are sound. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union global realities were framed by the conflict between the two super-powers. [But] today, world politics is being shaped by global capitalism. It’s China’s rapidly rising GDP that is the game changer, not its ideology.
The powerful forces of capitalism are transforming societies, including our own. (It is always destroying as it creates.) Some of these transformations bring great benefits. Life expectancies rise in the developing world. But it’s foolish to imagine they don’t bring all sorts of evils.
Because global capitalism often destroys traditional forms of social organization, it tends to make people more vulnerable, especially the poor, even when they’re less poor than they used to be. It’s foolish to imagine that ready availability of TVs in the slums of Buenos Aires makes up for the loss of the finely woven social safety net of a traditional village, however impoverished. Yes, people move there because they rightly see the modern market economy as the source for greater material well-being. But they also rightly want to be an integral part of a larger society in which their voices are heard and needs addressed.
By my reckoning, it’s this vulnerability—the danger of becoming an anonymous, throw-away person in a global economic machine—that Pope Francis wants us to see. More germane to the social problem is his call for “small daily acts of solidarity.” We may not be able to win a war on poverty. But we can share our lives—and our society—with the poor.
Evangelii Gaudium suffers from the usual dangers of populism. Pope Francis tends to overestimate the latent power of the people. Yes, we’re all called to be missionaries for Christ. But for the most part we’re ineffective without the inspiration and leadership of faithful nuns, priests, and brothers.
The same goes for social problems. The framers of the Constitution recognized the need for virtue. Only a self-governing people can govern themselves. But they accounted for human weakness and designed a system of checks and balances to neutralize as much as possible vice’s bad consequences. We need the Church to exhort us to overcome our bondage to self-interest, but it’s unwise to build a political philosophy on the assumption that we will.
(all bold emphasis mine)