Rocco Buttiglione believes that homosexuality is a sin, that the EU risks being swamped by asylum seekers, and that supporters of free markets should not form alliances with libertines.
Activists like to portray Australia as a uniquely racist nation. They tell us that the civilized world looks on in horror at our government’s policies on asylum seekers and our disregard for basic human rights. In their cartoon version of the world we have to choose between the ignorant rednecked conservatism of Bush’s America and the civilized social democracies of Europe.
Rocco Buttiglione’s nomination as commissioner for justice, freedom, and security in the European Commission shows that things are a little more complicated. Buttiglione is a devout Catholic and friend of Pope Jean Paul II. He believes that homosexuality is a sin and that “the family exists to allow women to have children and be protected by their husbands.” He has also argued that the EU risks being "swamped" and that "People seeking asylum for economic reasons is a growing problem. It’s a time-bomb." (See notes on his testimony to the European Parliament here.)
And rather than opposing capitalism as a threat to civilization Buttiglione embraces it. In his essay on Pope John Paul II encyclical Centesimus Annus Buttiglione argues for a combination of markets and Catholic morality:
In our societies there is a certain alliance between markets and libertinism. This alliance is called in the encyclical consumerism: market values are the only values which are socially considered and everything is considered as a commodity, even things (like sex, the human body, human dignity, truth, culture, and religion) which according to their very essence are not and may not become merchandise.
In criticizing consumerism the encyclical makes it clear that this connection between market and libertinism is not essential. It does not arise necessarily out of the nature of the market: it is rather a consequence of a certain historical development. For this reason it is possible to work to substitute this alliance with another one: between free markets and an adequate philosophy of man.
The encyclical even goes so far as to suggest that the alliance between the market and libertinism cannot, in the long run, work. Free market society needs not only consumers but also responsible individuals, capable of hard work and creative action. It does not need consumers who are willing to consume without working. Strong, responsible, and reliable individuals are not produced, for example, by sexual revolution, but rather are born and educated in morally healthy families. It seems, then, that the alliance between an adequate philosophy of man and a free market economy corresponds more to the true essence of a market economy than does an alliance with libertinism.
Buttiglione isn’t some ignorant Mediterranean populist (pdf). He has been a member of parliament, a university professor, and is fluent in several European languages. He has ties with the Acton Institute and the American Enterprise Institute in the US (both prominent right wing think tanks) as well as sitting on the Senate of the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein.
In Australia it is easy to fall into the habit of dismissing social conservatives as populist bigots or religious nutters. Australia has few intellectually serious conservatives. But in Europe and the United States conservatives often back their positions with well developed philosophical arguments. Australian leftists need to learn how to take these arguments seriously.