They don’t make up a self-conscious movement and their affirmation of the state is often inconsistent and tentative, but the people I’m thinking of have broken with the conservative economic orthodoxy of the last few decades. Catholics emphasize the positive understanding of the state found in Catholic Social Teaching, an aspect of the teaching recently ignored, the way families don’t mention the nephew in jail for robbing liquor stores.
I make this observation from conversations and wide reading in Catholic magazines and websites, and from talks like Archbishop Charles Chaput’s affirming exposition of Francis’s thinking on economics, given at the Napa Conference last July.
Indeed I’ve been surprised at several conservative Catholics I know who’ve strongly defended Francis for his views on politics and economics, people I’d have thought would have criticized him for his failure to support the market more unhesitatingly. You see this attitude especially clearly among the young Catholic writers writing for major Catholic websites, where libertarian voices are rare and where Alasdair MacIntyre is invoked far more often than Michael Novak.
Conservative Christians are changing on racial matters, as I wrote on my weblog last week. Many leading Christian conservatives no longer automatically defer to the police in any conflict and growing numbers are beginning instinctively to take the side of the marginalized and to question the agents of the state. As I wrote, they are now the kind of people whose support for racial minorities and the civil rights movement in the sixties National Review made fun of. The same is true for allegations about rape and the rape culture, as seen in the first responses to the Rolling Stone story on the University of Virginia.
They are moving left on economic matters as well, though not as consistently or quickly as on race. There’s still the problem of the poor panicked dog on the streets of Brooklyn and a city agency arranged to avoid dealing with the problem from Friday evening to Monday morning. But among the Catholics I’m writing about, that kind of problem is no longer dispositive, as the lawyers put it.
What it all means, I’m not sure, though I do think it is part of a growing disengagement of politically conservative Christians from the Republican party — a decisive disengagement that puts their movement into play when, as seems likely, the Republican candidate in a particular election is as pro-choice and pro-homosexual marriage as the Democrat. In the past, economics would have sent them to check off the Republican name. Now, that’s no longer so certain a choice.