Thomas Woods and His Critics, The Austrian vs. Distributist Debate Among Catholics
As a young convert I was very much intrigued by the ongoing discussion between Richard J. Neuhaus, George Weigel, Michael Novak and Fr. Robert Sirico — and their critics, ranging from David Schindler (editor of Communio) to Tracey Rowland and Alisdair MacIntyre. This has sometimes been described as a debate between ‘Catholic neocons’ and ‘Catholic paleocons’; ‘Whig-Thomists’ vs. ‘Augustinian Thomists’ (the latter by Tracey Roland in a famous two-part interview with Zenit).
The discussion was centered on such questions as:
One of my chief sparring partners online was David Jones, founder of the blog la nouvelle theologie. While my time of late has been preoccupied with readings in other subjects (and other pursuits), David has kept up with new developments in this ongoing discussion. Among them, the recent exchanges between Catholic-traditionalist-turned-libertarian Dr. Thomas Woods and his chief critics, Thomas Storck and Christopher Ferrara (of The Remnant)– about which David would like to offer the following remarks in a guest post:
I would like to thank The American Catholic and all the contributors to it for hosting such a great website! I really admire and respect what you’re doing here and I deeply appreciate the opportunity to post here.
In the past several years, a growing feud or debate has broke out between two Catholic camps. Both sides have well known Catholic scholars and thinkers. The first can be classified as “Traditional Catholics” or Distributists. The second camp, the opposing side, are the Austrian Economists. I am absolutely fascinated by this discussion. I hope some others are as well.
Allow me to give a little bit of background on myself. As both Blosser and Burgwald will tell you I consider myself an Augustinian Thomist, really a Hillbilly Thomist if truth is being told, and a Distributist.
A funny thing happened several months ago though. Dr. Woods actually commented on a post on the Storck vs. Woods debate. I was vaguely familiar with Ron Paul, but I had never studied Austrian Economics before. I asked him for some online references and books, which he graciously provided in the comments. I am deeply grateful to him for doing so.
Since then I have spent hundreds of hours to reading articles, books, and listening to podcasts on Austrian Economics. It simply is fascinating. Even though I was a Poli. Sci. undergrad student I have never had a deep understanding of economics in general nor on how the market really works, etc. By no means am I an economist now, but I do have a deeper understanding. I do not consider myself a Libertarian nor can I say I’m an Austrian, but I do enjoy the writings and audios of men like Lew Rockwell (Catholic), Dr. Tom Woods (Catholic), Ron Paul, and many others in this camp. If you want to understand the current economic troubles and boom/bust cycles of the market there is no better place to go. Check out the Ludwig von Mises Institute and their free resources at iTunes University and LewRockwell.com.
To be sure studying Austrian Economics has totally changed my perspective on investing. It has changed my life for the good. (I am sure Christopher Blosser is having a stroke about right now, or at least has a smile on his face. I doubt he has a Ron Paul sticker on his car though — If he does, I will have a stroke!)
I would like to make a critical judgment of both camps. The Austrians err when they claim that the Distributists are a bunch of ignoramuses who simply don’t understand economics. Refer to the academic qualifications of men in the Distributist camp, like John Médaille, Thomas Storck, Race Mathews, Richard Aleman, etc. I would remind folks that Lew Rockwell’s degree is in English and Tom Wood’s degree is in history. The Distributists err when they claim the Austrians are a bunch of heretics. In Catholic Social Doctrine there is the principle of the “Autonomy of the Temporal Order”. The Church does not mandate we embrace a specific economic (or political) model. The Church has been critical of both Socialism and Capitalism in the past, but also recognizes that we live in a global economy today. The prudential application of moral principles can be applied in both a Distributist and Capitalist economic model.
For me and what I feel is the appropriate Catholic response is the following. It’s not an either/or solution, it’s a both/and solution. Test everything, hold fast to what is good in both camps. Both camps should refrain from making this personal. It’s doesn’t need to go there, and this can remain a polite and professional conversation. There are good Catholics on both sides of this debate. We have much to learn from both camps.
[David Jones blogs at la nouvelle theologie).
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Recent Discussions between “Catholic Libertarian” Thomas Woods and his Distributist Critics
The Seattle Catholic Exchange
Prompted by an article, “Distributism as Economic Theory,” by John Clark (Latin Mass Spring 2002).
- Capitalism and Catholic Economics, by John Sharpe. Seattle Catholic September 6, 2002.
- The Capitalist Response, by John Clark. Seattle Catholic September 26, 2002.
- Three Catholic Cheers for Capitalism, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (LewRockwell.com. October 7, 2002).
- What Does It Profit a Man…?, by Br. Alexis Bugnolo. Seattle Catholic October 11, 2002.
- Economics and Profit: A Final Word, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Seattle Catholic October 17, 2002.
- Liberal Economics vs. Catholic Truth, by John Sharpe. Seattle Catholic November 3, 2002.
The Woods-Storck Debate
- Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Law: An Unresolved Tension, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (LewRockwell.com March 22, 2002). Delivered a the 8th Austrian Scholars Conference at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ala. From the author:
What follows is a discussion of Catholic social thought and the question of the just wage. I have nothing but the most profound respect for the nineteenth- and twentieth-century popes, who led the Church with courage and principle. As for the concept of the just wage, however, the time has come to acknowledge, with the late Scholastics, that the just wage is the market wage. As Fr. James Sadowsky of Fordham University has argued, if a business can “afford” to pay a just wage, market competition for labor will yield one. If it cannot, then it won’t. In advocating socially desirable outcomes, it is essential to study how best they can be brought about.
- Morality and Economic Law: Toward a Reconciliation, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (LewRockwell.com March 20, 2004) The Lou Church Memorial Lecture in Religion and Economics, Austrian Scholars Conference, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, March 20, 2004. | Audio
- Economic Science and Catholic Social Teaching, by Thomas Storck. (Chronicles Magazine June 17, 2004)
- On the Actual Progress of Peoples, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (LewRockwell.com June 22, 2004)
- The Difficulties of Thomas Woods, by Thomas Storck. (Chronicles Magazine July 11, 2004)
- Catholics and Capitalism, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (LewRockwell.com November 12, 2004)
- Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy Revisited: A Reply to Thomas Storck, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (LewRockwell.com January 12, 20010). This paper appears in the current issue of the Catholic Social Science Review (vol. 14, 2009), under the heading “Symposium: The Implications of Catholic Social Teaching for Economic Science: An Exchange between Thomas Storck and Thomas E. Woods, Jr., with Responses.”  The Thomas Storck paper to which this one is a reply may be found here | Based on a panel discussion 03-14-09 at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama (Audio). Responses to the exchange:
- Is Thomas Woods A Dissenter? A Further Reply, Pt. 1 (01-18-10) | Part 2 (01-20-10) | Part 3 (01-22-10) | Part 4 (01-25-10). By Thomas Storck. (Chronicles Magazine)
- Is Thomas Woods a Dissenter? (Response from Thomas Woods) ThomasEWoods.com. Friday February 5, 2010.
On Thomas Woods’ The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy
- Capitalism and Catholicism, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (LewRockwell.com February 14, 2005)
- Economics As Science: A Catholic Defense of the Free Market, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (InsideCatholic.com April 29, 2008). Based on remarks delivered during the author’s December lecture tour of Poland.
On the Woods-Ferrara Debate
- Ludwig von Mises versus Christ, the Gospel and the Church (An Open Letter to Tom Woods). February 15, 2010.
- On Chris Ferrara
- Ground Control to Major Tom Remnant Press Release. July 17, 2010.
- Michael Matt’s interview with Christopher Ferrara (Part I) | Part II The Remnant August 30 / September 2, 2010.
- Two Catholic authors at odds over economics, while another grieves loss in sense of sin, by Matt C. Abbott. Renew America February 16, 2010.
- John Médaille’s forward to The Church and the Libertarian. The Distributist Review July 6, 2010.
- A Resolved Tension, by Jeremiah Bannister. The Distributist Review August 3, 2010. “The question, then, becomes whether the position held by Woods and those like him hold up in light of what the Church has said regarding her own competency in these matters. In brief, do Catholic libertarians of this kind speak of the Church as the Church speaks of herself?”
- Exposing Catholic Austro-Libertarian Dissent Jeremiah Bannister’s second half to “A Resolved Tension” in audio format. The Distributist Review August 24, 2010.
- An Interview with Christopher Ferrara Distributist Review August 2010. Jeremiah Bannister interviews author and attorney Christopher A. Ferrara about his new book The Church and the Libertarian. They discuss the Austro-libertarian movement, Catholic Social Teaching, and Distributism.
About the Authors
Distributist Review and Inside Catholic
- Why Catholics Don’t Understand Economics, by Jeffrey Tucker. InsideCatholic.com August 25, 2010.
- The Chips Begin to Fall Where They May The Distributist Review August 27, 2010. Ryan Grant makes the allegation: “Inside Catholic has banned anyone from making an informed comment against the Austrian position. Particularly, every member of this Review commenting on the site has had their IP addresses banned.” (Accompanying audio: “Outing InsideCatholic”).
Thomas Storck and Fr. Robert Sirico (Acton Institute)
- Can Economic Justice Be Achieved Without Law?, by Thomas Storck. New Oxford Review October 2000.
- Fr. Sirico Replies (Response to Thomas Storck) New Oxford Review January 2001.
- Is the Acton Institute a Genuine Expression of Catholic Social Thought?, by Thomas Storck. Social Justice Review, vol. 93, no. 5-6, May-June 2002.
- Middle Ground Between Storck and Sirico?, by Joe Hargrave. The Distributist Review January 27, 2010.