After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama, borrowing a phrase from Hegel, wrote a book entitled The End of History? The work became a cause célèbre among those who are often described in the popular media as "neo-conservatives."
Fukuyama postulated that the emergence of Western liberal democracy, with its emphasis upon individual rights, limited government and market capitalism, potentially represented the apogee in the evolution of Western political philosophy: "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
In his enthusiasm for the liberal project, of course, Fukuyama overlooked that fact that, although Soviet style socialism might have been properly discredited, the democratic socialist tradition in Western democracy would continue to invite the disaffected to reconsider its brief given the excesses of market capitalism and surging economic inequality. As Marx observed in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, liberal political philosophy has reduced man to an inanimate object: "Man is a machine for consuming and producing, human life is capital. For Ricardo, men are nothing, the product is everything."
The Polish philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, before he renounced Marxism and embraced the Catholic faith, was one of the twentieth century's more influential Marxist-Humanists. For Kolakowski, a truly just socialist society could only be achieved by a community of individuals who, individually and collectively, accept their responsibility to act of moral agents: "Thus we profess the doctrine of total responsibility of the individual for his deeds and the amorality of the historical process. In the latter we avail ourselves of Hegel; in the former of Descartes...."
Fukuyama's myopia with respect to the breadth and depth of Western political thought also left him oblivious to the third vibrant school of Western political discourse - the conservative tradition, as exemplified in Catholic social teaching. That tradition, harkening back to the Greeks and Romans, continues to insist that individuals realize their potential and humanity to the extent to which they participate as full members of a political society - as citizens. The notion of citizenship, based upon mutual obligations and reciprocal rights, remains central to that political philosophy.
Equally emphatic is the Catholic Church's rejection of those economic doctrines that have elevated the primacy of the markets and capitalism over basic human need. In his encyclical, Mater et Magister, Pope John XXIII emphasized the central role of the state in promoting social justice: "As for the State, its whole raison d'etre is the realization of the common good in the temporal order. It cannot, therefore, hold aloof from economic matters. On the contrary, it must do all in its power to promote the production of a sufficient supply of material goods, 'the use of which is necessary for the practice of virtue.' It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the workingman."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, long before Jorge Mario Bergoglio became pope, issued a guide entitled Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions. The bishops insisted that "The economy must serve people, not the other way around. All workers have a right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, and to safe working conditions. They also have a fundamental right to organize and join unions. People have a right to economic initiative and private property, but these rights have limits. No one is allowed to amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life."
Historically, Catholic social thought has insisted that the state exists to serve the needs of civil society; not as libertarians and classical liberals would have it, to serve only the needs of the individual. As such, the state should not be viewed as a passive instrument, designed merely to protect private property or to protect rights, but that it imposes reciprocal obligations upon each citizen as a member of a political community.
Consistent with the teaching of St. Thomas of Aquinas, the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain reminds us that "...the primary reason for which men, united in political society, need the State, is the order of justice. On the other hand, social justice is the crucial need of modern societies. As a result, the primary duty of the modern state is the enforcement of social justice."
Because the conservative and socialist tradition share somewhat similar critiques about the limitations and deficiencies of liberal political ideology, the hysteria and discomfit of Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, Human Events, Forbes, a legion of right-wing Catholic thinkers who defend market capitalism such as Michael Novak, and professedly Catholic politicians such as Congressmen Paul Ryan and John Boehner to Pope Francis' comments are understandable.
Their reaction shows that, as is also true of Fukuyama, they have very title understanding of the world around them, and they do not understand the purpose of political thought which, to paraphrase Leo Strauss, is to discover the Truth of the human condition.
Pope Francis' call for social justice is profoundly conservative, but to the tone deaf, it sounds far too radical. He has reminded all of us that the status quo is no longer acceptable because it is incompatible with human dignity. Those who seek to know the truth of the human condition will acknowledge this basic proposition. By contrast, the clamor and indignation on the right is solely calculated to vindicate the status-quo irrespective of the suffering and misery it has spawned.