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The Egalitarian Pope Francis

So, if we achieve maximum redistribution of resources, we will have eliminated “social evil,” whatever that is? Yes, and that’s why the Soviet Union was the Garden of Eden.

Seriously, what does this even mean? What is “social evil”? How does it differ from evil evil? I’m going to take a guess and say that “social evil” is sinfulness that primarily affects the common good — an artificial distinction, I think, but let’s go with it.

I know Dante was not the pope, but he was deeply interested in sin and the common good. He saw the injustice and discord of his day as rooted in private sin. In Dante’s conception, selfishness is the root of what I think Francis means when he talks about social evil (and, for Dante, all evil). In Dante’s scheme, you can be damned if you hoard money and deny resources and help to those who are in need — but you can also be damned if you hate those who have more than you, because they have more than you. The root of sin in both cases is egotism. As Dante points out, egalitarianism is impossible, even in Paradise, because egalitarianism is not true to nature. The more natural model is harmony. In the Purgatorio, I believe it is, but maybe it’s Paradiso, Dante says that so much of the discord in the world comes from people being forced by customs or circumstances into taking on a role that doesn’t suit their natures. Men who ought to have been priests are made to be princes; priests who ought to have been merchants were instead forced into holy orders. Et cetera.

I was talking over the weekend with two different friends, both of whom are having trouble in their jobs, and trying to figure out what they should do in terms of staying there and gutting it out, or moving either to a new job in the same profession, or into jobs in a different profession — especially jobs that pay more. One friend is a teacher; the other is a writer. I told them, based on what I know about them and on my personal experience, that neither would be happy unless they could be, respectively, a teacher and a writer. Given your natures, I told them (separately), you could be receiving twice the salary you are now, and you would be unhappy if you couldn’t teach, or write.

Nobody gets rich teaching, and virtually nobody gets rich writing. But knowing both of these men, and knowing myself, I know that they would rather be struggling financially and doing what God made them to do than to be rich but in jobs that force them to distort their own natures so badly. Some jobs pay a lot more than others. Had I a gift for the law, I would have become a lawyer, and would probably be making a lot more money now. I don’t envy my lawyer friends their superior incomes. Had my late sister had a gift for medicine, she would have been a doctor or a researcher, and definitely made a lot more money than she did teaching middle-school math. But she was a great teacher; she did what God made her to do.

I think Twitter pronouncements like the Pope’s are simplistic and confusing, and make it sound like there is a political and economic solution to sin. Inequality is not the root of social evil. Greed is. Envy is. Injustice is — and unbounded egalitarianism can bring on just as many social evils as unbounded elitism.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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