Tradinistas: Angry, Churchy Millennials Who Scorn Freedom and Demand a Guaranteed Income for Breathing
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.
For years, I have been warning of a rising movement among younger, self-styled “orthodox” Catholics (and some other Christians) which rejects important moral truths and embraces crude economic errors. Put simply, these people want to impose a top-down, elitist and paternalist government that quashes economic and intellectual liberty in the name of what they assure us is really the “common good.” They want a guaranteed lifelong paycheck, without the indignity of actually having to work. They also want a pony.
To gain these ends, they’re willing to swallow rotted chunks of Marx, to agree with Justice Kennedy that our “liberal” Constitution protects abortion and homosexual marriage, and to align themselves politically with today’s intolerant left. Through it all, they claim to be the true voice of “traditional” Catholicism or Christianity, as opposed to the rest of us who sold out to capitalism or “Americanism.” By Americanism, of course, they mean something like the Ten Principles carefully laid out here at The Stream.
The last chapter of my new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism, is devoted to exposing this movement and its efforts to infiltrate conservative and Catholic institutions, but I was hard-put to find the right name to describe this hungry political sect.
Now it has one: “Tradinista,” which mashes up “traditionalist” and “Sandinista,” in an attempt, I guess, to be “edgy.” It also has a manifesto. Since high-profile writers are now referencing it (such as Matthew Schmitz of First Things and Ross Douthat of the New York Times), I suppose there’s little risk in giving them more oxygen simply by naming them.
To generalize, Tradinistas are mostly liberal arts grads that soaked in the political theories of pre-Christian philosophers who accepted slavery and scorned honest commerce. Tradinistas have only the crudest understanding of economics. It’s a discipline they sneer at, because the truths it uncovers expose the hopelessness of utopia.
Instead, they quaff a few economically confused essays by writer and poet G.K. Chesterton, activist Dorothy Day, or theologian David Bentley Hart. They pretend that past papal reflections are infallible divine revelations. Then they act as if this dilettante’s hodgepodge makes up for their willful ignorance of the science of human cooperation — economics. Outside of a self-selecting tribe, of course, it doesn’t. But then isn’t that what social media are for — to gather the tribes, like the street gangs in The Warriors?
Tradinistas scoff at the 800-year-old freedom movement from which they benefit, which began with the Magna Carta (see Brexit leader Daniel Hannan’s brilliant account, Inventing Freedom) that champions political and economic liberty for citizens as precious images of God, with inalienable rights, and the duty wherever possible to earn their bread in the sweat of their brows. This dogged historical fight for the rights of man, which St. John Paul II praised in Memory and Identity as the political program of Christianity, they dismiss as “Liberalism,” in the hope that incautious readers (and perhaps their organizations’ donors) will think they are criticizing Hillary Clinton.
Tradinistas sneer at the astonishing achievements of free market capitalism, the system by which free people choose how to work together and what to buy. Those include raising a billion people from perennial desperate poverty in just the past 20 years. And, for that matter, vastly expanding the lifespan, numbers, health, and well-being of the population of earth in the years since 1780 or so. Perhaps they yearn for the simpler times when guilds restricted commerce, serfs tugged their forelocks and paid their feudal rent, and one in three children died shortly after being born. (No temptation to contracept!)
More likely, they want some form of socialism — a “genuine polity animated by Christian socialist principles.” Not the old kind, which murdered millions in famines and gulags, destroyed Christian cultures, imposed forced abortions, wrecked the family, and most recently left Venezuela as the land without toilet paper. No they want a new kind which … well, in fact they make no attempt to describe how it would actually work. Perhaps the vulgar work of sweating the details should be left to the happy serfs.
In fact, the Tradinista Manifesto makes no attempt even to resolve the howling contradictions within its own list of demands — which reads like a paste-up ransom note to Santa. (“If you want to see Rudolph again. …”) The Tradinistas want:
- “Decentralization”… and a world government that ensures that every land “generously” welcomes migrants, and halts “dangerous” “anthropogenic climate change”;
- An officially Catholic state that promotes the “social reign of Christ the King” …. which also “eradicate[s]” homophobia and transphobia — just like Obama’s solicitor general who wants to yank Christian churches’ tax exemptions;
- To give everyone “private” property … which the government stops them from using “exploitatively” (that is, privately);
- To order economic life to the “common good,” and “abolish” capitalism.
One could go on and on listing the items on this sophomoric, contradictory and intemperate wishlist. But that would be missing the point. The heart of the Tradinista program lies elsewhere, and it is exquisitely crafted to appeal to disappointed Millennials with liberal arts degrees, large student loans, and a mysterious sense of entitlement. It reads as follows:
The foundational relation of capitalist society is between those who are compelled to sell their labor-power on pain of destitution and those who, by their ownership of capital, are enabled to exploit the former. Since it is premised on workers’ lack of economic freedom, this structurally-unjust relation must be eliminated; and in doing so, the capitalist class – which serves its own ends, detrimental to the common good of society – will also be done away with.
Markets are not unjust in themselves, but they become vehicles of exploitation when people must sell their labor-power on the market in order to survive. So, while citizens should be free to engage in market exchange, the polity should ensure that no basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. – go unmet, guaranteeing a livelihood independent of the market.
In other words, It really sucks that we have to go out and get jobs serving other people’s needs — such as “fries with that” — instead of pursuing our hobbies and academic interests. Someone should change the government and redistribute other people’s wealth, so we don’t have to do that anymore.
No, I’m not surprised that there is a market for what the Tradinistas are selling. “I will not serve” has appealed to every generation, since our first.
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John Zmirak is a Senior Editor at The Stream and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism.