Tradinistas: A Weird Rewrite of The Lord of the Flies
This essay is part of a series examining how American religious, economic, and political freedom are compatible with Christian views of a good society. It was provoked by the publication of the Tradinista Manifesto, which called for “Christian socialism” and an established national Church.
When I first read Ross Douthat’s October 8 New York Times essay that treated the Tradinista Manifesto with grave respect, I thought that he must be kidding. I still hope that he was.
He starts off soundly enough. Today’s degenerate form of liberal capitalism has indeed
attenuated pre-liberal forces – tribal, familial, religious — that speak more deeply than consumer capitalism to basic human needs: the craving for honor, the yearning for community, the desire for metaphysical hope.
But Douthat quickly goes off the rails, asserting that “Western Christianity” has “abandoned throne-and-altar dreams.” Does Douthat really confuse classical Christian teachings on church and state with the Divine Right of Kings theory that was popular between the 15th and 18th centuries? A long list of clerics and lay faithful denounced that notion as heretical — from Robert Bellarmine and Martin Luther to Thomas More, who died resisting it.
You Will Be Made to Care About Holiness
Douthat points us to “religious dissenters … in my own church,” who are drawn “either to a revived Catholic integralism or a ‘Tradinista’ Catholic socialism — both of which affirm the “social kingship” of Jesus Christ, a phrase that attacks the modern liberal order at the root.”
“Tradinista” rhymes with “Sandinista,” pretending to amalgamate Tradition with Marxist revolution. Beginning sonorously, “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,” the Manifesto states its intention to “render to every person what they [sic] are due.” Xenophon tells us that when Aristotle heard young Alexander voice such a definition of justice he asked him what he would do were he to see a small boy with a big coat and a big boy with a small coat. When Alexander said that he would switch the boys’ coats, Aristotle beat him — to remind him that the small boy owned the big coat, and that no one had the right to take it from him.
So much for the traditional Western understanding of justice. If the Tradinistas knew what it is, which they don’t, they wouldn’t care. The Manifesto also pledges to deliver “aid on [everyone’s] quest for holiness” — in whatever form the deliverers decide, and whether recipients want it or not. One might call it “Catholic sharia.” But wait, it gets better.
“Political authority,” says the Manifesto, “must be decentralized as far as possible.” So far so good. But then: “Since the modern nation-state is an instrument of the capitalist class, a radical decentralization of political authority is possible only with the abolition of capitalism” as well as of “the nation-state” and the establishment of “a genuine international authority.” So: In order to decentralize the vast powers of nation states, we’ll have to centralize even more power in supranational ones. Try to stay with me here.
Young Men Who Dream of Administering a Gulag
“Capitalism must be abolished … the capitalist class … will also be done away with.” From whom comes the authority to abolish classes of people one does not like? The Manifesto does not say. But it reassures us that “the means of class struggle … must respect basic moral norms and fundamental human dignity” and that these must be “peaceful if possible.” What did these children learn in school and in Douthat’s church that leads them to take upon themselves the right to mess with millions of human lives, if necessary violently?
The Manifesto tells us, presumably still in the Holy Trinity’s Name: “Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and similar forms of oppression must be eradicated.” But these words are wholly alien to the Christian tradition, even as as they are to Marx and orthodox Marxists. They draw their meaning, such as there is, from the faculty lounge of an overpriced university.
Having anathematized “homophobia,” the Tradinistas vow support for “the indissoluble marriage of one man and one woman … ordered towards the generation of offspring, which is the foundation of society” and oppose “any … attempt to sever marriage from procreation.” Which makes them, by today’s standards, homophobes.
We Can Command the Tides
Perhaps the Manifesto’s funniest section talks about the weather:
Anthropogenic climate change threatens the common good of all mankind, and must be fought. It is indisputable that climate change has man-made causes. Given its increasingly manifest and obviously dangerous consequences, especially for the indigenous peoples and the poor, it must be halted.
But the contemporary campaign to raise taxes on energy under pretense of controlling the planet’s climate has precisely zero to do with Christ or Marx. The Manifesto’s statement about its relation to “the common good” is gratuitous. “[F]ighting Climate Change” by making energy more expensive does not serve the interests of the poor. The impetus for this “fight” is exclusively from the rich, who manage the take from the taxes, and who get rich on the ensuing contracts. The Tradinistas, fronting innocently for these interests, stupidly declare that their cause is “indisputable.” Forgive them, for they know not what they do.
All We Want is Absolute Power
Finally, though the Tradinista writings on political economy are not nearly so funny, they are clear testimony to these children’s dangerous innocence. The Manifesto deems private property to be a human right, but “only if it serves the common good.” Tradinista economic writings restrict private property to what immediately serves personal needs. The state determines what that might be. It matters greatly — and so these authors never mention it — who constitutes the state, and how their interests and friends might diverge from the interests and friends of others.
Consider the raw power that Tradinistas would place in the hands of some, to lord it over others. Here is the Manifesto’s account of economics:
Many of the “needs” of modern life require high degrees of technology and skill, as well as many workers assembled together … to achieve such a livelihood, our Catholic socialist society will need to include the direct provision of basic goods and services by the state. These could include healthcare, education, (some types of) food, water, housing, and the like, leaving it to particular societies to determine for themselves precisely which goods and services should be state-provided … the state should nevertheless allow individuals to produce those goods and services for themselves … as long as their production does not involve the exploitation of labor or violate the common good in some way.
They might as well be describing the Soviet Union under Stalin or China under Mao. Of course no individuals owned the means of production, or the products, or houses, or luxuries of all sorts. But some individuals surely controlled the use of all these things. What is “public property” in theory becomes in practice the property of those who control who gets what, when, and why. Do the Tradinistas who hunger for such discretionary power imagine that they or anyone would or could abstain from enjoying its natural fruits: privileged use, obsequies, sexual favors, vengeance?
Note how blithely they presume to tinker with others’ lives:
What happens if a large number of people opt out of work will have to be determined on a society-by-society basis. If enough opt out, the basic goods and services provided will have to be cut back. This may encourage people to return to state-run industries. If they do not, perhaps the state could provide incentives – e.g. certain “luxury” items available to those who work.
The Tradinistas remind me of the violent choir boys who play the villains in The Lord of the Flies, marching around bestowing favors and inflicting miseries while chanting, “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”