57 Responses to The Catholic Left: The Real Home of Calvinism

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Calvin’s Geneva has always struck me as a nasty authoritarian state with an academic veneer. Citizens would be punished severely for criticizing the sermons of Calvin or not calling him “master”. The use of speech codes and the crushing of dissenting groups on many campuses today, all for the noblest of reasons, according to the academic Left, of course, is very much in the footsteps of “Master” John Calvin.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Calvinist political theory isn’t really totalitarian like Hobbes’. In some respects it is, in others it isn’t. So I wouldn’t make a direct comparison of their political ideas. I do think they are similar in the way Don describes, though.

  • Blackadder says:

    GKC would have preferred Robespierre over Obama.

    He probably would have, though honestly it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could prefer Robespierre (and I’m no fan of Obama).

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    In that essay, it seems to me not as if Chesterton were defending the Revolution, but as if he were defining the actors of it. Which is neither the same thing, nor as prone to error.

    What Chesterton had against Burke is that Burke was closer to Montesquieu than to St Thomas Aquinas. I can say that even before reading your comment, because I have read Chesterton.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    Seeing that Chesterton was no contemporary of Burke, he can hardly have ignored the reign of terror.

    What he did do was say the man everyone knows to have made that reign of terror – Robespierre – was no atheist. He was a deist and a believer in universal rights.

    Chesterton’s contention is that :

    a) atheists believing in no creator, can believe in no universal rights, only in particular habits
    b) on this ruling it was the case with Burke
    c) that may well, along with evolutionism, lead to something crueller than the terror (which I have written about on Resist Meta man)

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “What Chesterton had against Burke is that Burke was closer to Montesquieu than to St Thomas Aquinas. I can say that even before reading your comment, because I have read Chesterton.”

    Oh, I have read quite a bit of Chesterton, as well as Burke, Montesquieu and the Angelic Doctor. Chesterton was a very great writer but often factually challenged, as was the case with his analysis of both the French Revolution and Edmund Burke.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    And what Burke actually thought about natural rights taken from Reflections on the Revolution in France:

    “Far am I from denying in theory, full as far is my heart from withholding in practice, (if I were of power to give or to withhold,) the real rights of men. In denying their false claims of right, I do not mean to injure those which are real, and are such as their pretended rights would totally destroy. If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficience; and law itself is only beneficience acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to do justice, as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in public function or in ordinary occupation. They have a right to the fruits of their industry, and to the means of making their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring; to instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favor. In this partnership all men have equal rights; but not to equal things. He that has but five shillings in the partnership, has as good a right to it, as he that has five hundred pounds has to his larger proportion. But he has not a right to an equal dividend in the product of the joint stock; and as to the share of power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil society; for I have in my contemplation the civil social man, and no other. It is a thing to be settled by convention.”

  • T. Shaw says:

    I’m not so bright. I habitually “write off” “calvinism” as a liberal swear word (like “racist” or “Bush”) that they throw around when they can’t concoct some “truth” to argue a point.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Interesting points about Chesterton. One more reason for me to be glad that I’m not a part of the cult surrounding him today. I tell you, the only place I saw a bigger cult devoted to a single man was among the Trotskyists.

  • HGL says:

    @ Donald R. McClarey says:
    Saturday, September 18, 2010 A.D. at 10:54 am

    It is not at all clear that the rights Burke regards as real he derives from natural right, rather he starts his argument by deriving it from the state:

    If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficience; and law itself is only beneficience acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to do justice, as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in public function or in ordinary occupation.

    You made Chesterton’s point, by that quote, sir!

  • HGL says:

    I recently saw Joe Hargrave confuse Locke, who derived property rights from the state, with Leo XIII who, as well as Aquinas or – I suppose Robespierre even? – derive them from nature even before the state.

    There is a very great amount of oligarchy or plutocracy in Burke, if he supposes that the different privileges in a traditional monarchy correspond to different shares in a company, though so much is not made clear by the quote.

  • HGL says:

    Aquinas makes quite other reasons for privileges.

    The King is privileged because he is acting vice multitudinis in the place of the multitude.

    He is one, rather than the multitude acting vice itself, for practical reasons. And if Chesterton was not wrong, Danton realised as much and was against the then monarchy for purely historical or religious reasons.

  • HGL says:

    The priest is of course privileged as sacerdos alter Christus: if the King stands for the multitude, the priest stands for God.

    And Robespierre’s one quarrel with priests and Kings is that, as a meta-protestant, he thought that standing for God an usurpation.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    HGL,

    You are confused, sir.

    “I recently saw Joe Hargrave confuse Locke, who derived property rights from the state, with Leo XIII who, as well as Aquinas or – I suppose Robespierre even? – derive them from nature even before the state.”

    Locke did not “derive property rights from the state.” Property is acquired through labor – through mixing one’s labor with the fruits of nature.

    Property exists prior to the state, and the state is founded to protect it. Read Chapter 5 of the Second Treatise.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “You made Chesterton’s point, by that quote, sir!”

    Not at all. Chesterton knew little about Burke and rather less about the French Revolution. These are names that he tosses about to springboard off arguments he wishes to make. He does this all the time in his writings where he simply makes factual error after factual error in order to make the argument that really concerns him. Chesterton had little desire to write factual history and a great deal of desire to convince people of the point he was making.

    For example in his The French Revolution and the Irish, Chesterton makes this absurd statement:

    “Tell him that Robespierre threw the red cap in the dirt in disgust, while the king had worn it with a broad grin, so to speak;”

    Chesterton of course in his essay was not at all interested in either the French Revolution or the Irish.

    His point was “Now these things are repeating themselves with an enormous reality in the Irish Revolution. You will not be able to make a Party System out of the matter. Everybody is in revolt; therefore everybody is telling the truth. The Nationalists will go on caring most for the nation, as Danton and the defenders of the frontier went on caring most for the nation. The priests will go on caring most for religion, as Robespierre went on caring most for religion. The Socialists will go on caring most for the cure of physical suffering, as Marat went on caring most for it. It is out of these real differences that real things can be made, such as the modern French democracy.” Of course nothing in the actual history of the French Revolution supports this point, but that did not bother GK. According to John Adams “facts are stubborn things” but not to Chesterton. Facts are totally malleable things to him which he manipulates like putty to build what he wishes. I have read Chesterton with a great deal of enjoyment for decades, but unless you understand his casual way with facts, you really don’t understand him.

  • Eric Brown says:

    I’m not wholly convinced.

    To be sure, the denial of the total depravity of man as as an assertion incompatible with the sacred deposit of the Catholic faith does not mean that human kind experiences no privation at all, that being, the other extreme.

    It is not obvious that the “Catholic Left,” which is only generally defined, is promoting policies wholly and categorically inconsistent with Church teaching. Political prudence — that is, right reason in action concerning matters of politics — demands that the State only regulate properly for the dual purpose of preserving authentic human freedom, allowing the human spirit to flourish in all its creativity in economic liberty, as well as achieve the common good. This takes into account a true human anthropology — that is, it understands the reality of Original Sin.

    The problem with collectivist ideologies, e.g. communism and socialism in the abstract sense, is that they view man primarily in Calvinistic terms of total depravity. Capitalism, again in the abstract, defined a certain way, is too, based on an anthropological error in that it presumes no inherent defect in the nature of mean (i.e. original sin). Therefore, in setting up an amoral economic system, the economic system exempts itself from the natural law — a reality that no human activity is exempt from.

    So even in conceding that some of these criticisms may be true, Morning Minion’s point, I think, still bears at least some legitimacy — his criticism of Calvinism on the political right is primarily a criticism regarding social worldview — one of constant outrage, shock, discontent, arguably unconstructive criticism, judgment, etc, that really emphasizes the depravity and sinfulness (perceptively to the point of total depravity) of the world, and quite arguably, it is difficult to work any sort of reasonable optimism or Christian hope in such a worldview. This in turn lends itself to a Manichean perception of the world, in dualistic terms, though, to the Christian mind, there is no equal to God, there is not always clarification that the ones that one “opposes” are not the true enemy — it is “us” and “them,” the “elite” saved versus the confused, sinful damned. To some extent, we are exiting the discussion among Catholics, to the degree, that Catholics do not hold this view. But I think there is something to this view, even if I wouldn’t concur wholesale.

    Finally, I find it disconcerting (at least, though, we’re no longer pretending) for it to be said that The American Catholic is a blog for “conservative” Catholics, juxtaposed to the blog of the “Catholic Left,” which is not really Catholic at all.

    I don’t assume for a second, Joe, that you meant it that way. Though it’s how it reads.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Eric,

    I didn’t really mean it that way – but you have to admit that Vox Nova sees this as a right-wing conservative blog. On other occasions I assure you I have actually defended TAC from that narrow categorization. So perhpas that was ill-worded.

    I think a good portion of the Catholic left isn’t really Catholic at all, though – not when they negotiate on non-negotiables.

    As for the rest, though, how are we to accurately assess politics and political debates without placing people in categories? When a group of people consistently and routinely promotes ideas that are evil, it is not “Calvinist” to point that out. Being too scrupulous in this regard would lead to a failure to condemn evil and those who promote it.

  • I’m not sure that depravity of man necessarily follows. Let’s take healthcare for example.

    I would agree with Joe that most on the left hold that government healthcare is necessary b/c it is impossible for individual charity/decisions to work, and in that mindset is a negative view man. However, I think it is possible for one to hold that while man could take care of the healthcare of himself & neighborhood at a local level, man is not doing so now, and so a higher level (government, either state or federal) ought to take care of it. This could have two ends: help reorient people towards the good by establishing a principle in society that one ought to use charity to make sure people have medical care while saving people’s lives while society learns to handle it at a local level. The goal of course would be eventually for the state to back off, allowing the local entities (individuals, families, neighborhoods, etc.) to resume the duties they never should have abandoned.

    I think it is possible for those of the left to have the latter view, though I don’t find any such considerations in Obamacare or in the Left at large. Whether or not some on the left hold that opinion or the former, I have no idea.

  • Dave Hartline says:

    Joe of your many fine posts, this might be your finest. Amidst all of the left wing nonsense I was required to read in Graduate School during the 1990s, something like this would have been most helpful. I dare say today’s college students might be at a loss after reading it. David Horowitz recently said that today’s college professors represent the largest group of Marxists in America. Not that they are all Marxists, but amidst all of the professional groups in the US, there is none greater. Horowitz should know, for many years he was a Marxist and personally knew the likes of Bill Ayres, Bernardine Dohrn and the rest of the trust fund brat back who literally tried to blow off the hand that fed them.

    Your point about Puritanical thinking is spot on. One might be surprised to find that the Puritans DNA (literally) can be traced to today’s Unitarians. Their ancestors once spoke of man’s depravity and not only banned Christmas, dancing and comfortable clothing of any kind, they even banned mincemeat pies! How ironic that their modern descendants are sexual libertines (and that is putting it mildly.) In addition, they believe that Government can never be big enough. To top it all off, most don’t believe in the Virgin Birth, the miracles of Jesus, as well as His resurrection. By their own accout (Unitarian members David Burton and Dean Fisher who researched the matter,) half of their flock are agnostic!

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    Joe, if I am confused, it was you who confused me. By the quote from or resumé of Locke which you put beside Leo XIII.

    A Catholic would say that the right to private property exists prior to the state, only some particular claims are founded on procedures of property divisions and property transfer within the state.

    The Lockean you gave quote made me think he let the state found every particular claim and thus the right itself after a hypothetic community of goods in a hypothetic state of nature getting cumbersome.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    Donald, instead of defending Burke by a better analysis of the quote than mine, you chose to attack Chesterton, as if the important thing were his person rather than his point.

    Your point of attack is unfortunately ill chosen.

    Chesterton knew little about Burke and rather less about the French Revolution.

    Alegation and broad generalisation.

    These are names that he tosses about to springboard off arguments he wishes to make.

    He does cite his facts to make a point rather than make a more thorough but less pointed enumeration of them.

    He does this all the time in his writings where he simply makes factual error after factual error in order to make the argument that really concerns him.

    I nearly concur – except on the word “factual error” which I propose to exchange for “little shared factual knowledge”.

    Chesterton had little desire to write factual history and a great deal of desire to convince people of the point he was making.

    Repetition. Also beside the point.

    For example in his The French Revolution and the Irish, Chesterton makes this absurd statement:

    “Tell him that Robespierre threw the red cap in the dirt in disgust, while the king had worn it with a broad grin, so to speak;”

    Absurd enough to convince a highbrow Chesterton got his facts wrong. Also absurd enough to be true.

    That about Robespierre I did not know prior to your quoting it, that about the King is a fact. It was when he was taken into the Tuileries.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    Let us see about your other quote:

    Everybody is in revolt; therefore everybody is telling the truth.

    When people are excited, they are sometimes too excited to be hypocrites. Chesterton may have meant this applies to that particular situation. If you know it was so calm that people had the leasure to be hypocrites, please extend that knowledge to me. I had that same feeling about the period that Chesterton had: it was a very excited and a very exciting environment.

    The Nationalists will go on caring most for the nation, as Danton and the defenders of the frontier went on caring most for the nation.

    Seems plausible. His hate of the Austrian may be thus explained.

    The priests will go on caring most for religion, as Robespierre went on caring most for religion.

    Seems plausible. He made one of the experiments in substitute religions after the oathbound constitutional clergy.

    The Socialists will go on caring most for the cure of physical suffering, as Marat went on caring most for it.

    Was he not one of the people who voted to replace the sword with the guillotine? Chesterton’s point seems plausible enough.

    It is out of these real differences that real things can be made, such as the modern French democracy.”

    Well, there are enough zealots, patriots and docors around today in France. It seems his point is supported by subsequent history.

    Of course nothing in the actual history of the French Revolution supports this point, but that did not bother GK.

    Nothing in the resumé you read, or nothing except the particular biographies of the particular revolutionaries. But that does not seem to bother you.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    Joe, on the side issue:

    What was going on at the Council of Trent? Calvinism? Being too scrupulous in this regard would lead to a failure to condemn evil and those who promote it.

    I was just reflecting that the Gk Orthodox opposition to the dogma about St Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not really a difference about the marilogy, but about the anthropology from Trent, they would typically be accusing Trent for having gone to far to meet Calvinism half-way by defining Original Sin in Augustinean terms. Not sayiing they are right – after all they also exorcise babies before baptising them -, just that someone might take you on your word.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    William, is it?

    However, I think it is possible for one to hold that while man could take care of the healthcare of himself & neighborhood at a local level, man is not doing so now, and so a higher level (government, either state or federal) ought to take care of it.

    Healthcare is being taken care of in Mid West. It is in NY City that you get ambulance drivers driving someone to the poshest hospital, hoping to give the best care and that same hospital refusing, on seeing that lack of a private medical insurance. Says more about NY City than about US, really.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    Dave?

    Your point about Puritanical thinking is spot on. One might be surprised to find that the Puritans DNA (literally) can be traced to today’s Unitarians. Their ancestors once spoke of man’s depravity and not only banned Christmas, dancing and comfortable clothing of any kind, they even banned mincemeat pies! How ironic that their modern descendants are sexual libertines (and that is putting it mildly.)

    Are they not still banning mincemeat by being vegetarians?

    And were not their Puritan ancestors already sexual libertines as compared with Catholics (no abstinence for Lent, no celibate clergy, I almost think they were the most into accepting marital ages below twelve – which is the traditional Catholic limit for a girl)?

  • HGL says:

    I seem to remember some distributarian FAQ.

    You put Locke along Leo XIII. Now in those quotes Leo XIII very clearly states that private property is a right predating state. Locke was rather into saying state was created to create the right to private property, unless I misremember quote.

  • Dave Hartline says:

    HGL, sorry I didn’t get to your question earlier, I am just now seeing it. First of all, I think perhaps you are confused by the terms abstinence and banned; one involves a conscious choice and the other, no choice is allowed. In addition, I think many ancient Catholics and Puritans, for that matter, would find it amusing that you think the two are similar. Futhermore, I am rather surprised that you don’t see the irony of the mincemenat pie notation, as well as the average Unitarian who feels government can never be big enough, and the Puritans who didn’t believe in government at all.

  • HGL says:

    Joe, indeed it was not Locke, but you resuming both him and Leo XIII who said:

    Prior to the state, no person has an exclusive claim to the fruits of the Earth, but the imperative to satisfy basic and higher needs compels him to discover a way to make such an exclusive claim.

    That is what I meant.

    Dave, if vegetarians are more choice open (I was nearly saying “pro-choice” but that has another connotation) now that does not bar out that once they used to be very doctrinaire – and banning.

    as well as the average Unitarian who feels government can never be big enough, and the Puritans who didn’t believe in government at all.

    They did not? Indeed they did, as long as it was very firmly identical to a strong local church government.

  • HGL says:

    Yep, now I saw:

    Locke: “Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.”

  • Pinky says:

    Brown and Denton raised a good objection to this article. (At least, they each said some things similar to my objection to it.) It may be that a person takes the VN political position due to a belief in the total depravity of man. It doesn’t follow that the VN political position can only be arrived at through that Calvinist belief.

    I imagine that a lot of people who vote similarly to the VN regulars have that streak of Calvinism in their thinking. Joe’s article does a great job explaining that, and if I have to pay him a dime every time I crib from this article, I’ll owe him at least $8 by Christmas. But a person could have a skewed understanding of Thomas’s health organic society and come to the VN position through sloppy, non-heretical thinking.

  • Dave Hartline says:

    HGL, I think history will record that the Puritans left England because they were pretty insufferable and couldn’t get along with anyone, especially the government. Unlike the Catholic Church, which they hated they had no leader or hierarchy. A hundred or so years later they were deists and now many (who have been assumed into the Unitarian Church) would proudly say thay they are liberal activists. Because of their various incarnations, the Puritans may be the true historical definition of Pope Benedict’s term; The Dictatorship of Relativism.

  • HGL says:

    Them having no hierarchy is quite right, they had no bishops.

    Them having no leaders is absolutely wrong. In each Puritan parish life of everyone was pretty heavily governed by a set of elders. Very much in detail. A small set of elders with wives and children were quite capable of making a much bigger government in each parish than celibate clergy. And they did. That is why they hated other kinds of government that differred from their type of it. And there are people now who are very much big government, but also very anti-military, am I right?

  • Dave Hartline says:

    HGL, yes you are right about that point but I don’t think we ever disagreed on that point. However, the Puritans and the Unitarians are very far apart on many other issues, especially social isseues.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    They are. Sexual mores in Puritans were roughly speaking Christian, though less than with Catholics.

    Nowadays you find these people with very great latitude in sexual morality. Which – that was my point – is also less Christian than with Catholics.

  • Gabriel Austin says:

    Donald R. McClarey wrote :Saturday, September 18, 2010
    “When it came to the French Revolution Chesterton was hopelessly confused and hopelessly wrong as this essay by him demonstrates”.

    Will you say exactly what you find confused and wrong in GKC’s essay?

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Everything. He clearly has no understanding of the basic facts of the French Revolution. Trying to paint King Louis as somehow more in sympathy with the Jacobins than Robespierre is ludicrous for example. He was simply using names drawn from the French Revolution in order to make the points he wished to make, and the points he wished to make could not be drawn from the actual history of the French Revolution. So much the worse for the actual history of the French Revolution as far as GK was concerned.

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