On Distributism and the Futility of Third Ways

The search for an economic and political “third way” has haunted intellectuals for over a hundred years in the Western nations. Many forget that fascism was at one time considered a viable “third way” between liberal capitalism and communism, preserving for the most part private ownership of the means of production for profit but subjecting it to near total control and regulation by the state. Many other models would follow, from the local and anarchistic to the national and statist, appearing under many different names.

I too was caught up in the desperate search for a “third way”, as are many Catholics who eventually find their way to Distributism. But it became quite obvious to me that what people who actually defined themselves as libertarians and capitalists were promoting and defending really wasn’t what I had always thought it was, nor was it anything I could possibly find objectionable.

To explain why, we might consider four possible ways that economic activity could take place: through voluntary individualism, voluntary collectivism, coerced individualism, or coerced collectivism. Here is a diagram to make it simpler.


Yes, yes, I know, I’ve put your favorite ideology in the wrong box, or left it out altogether, and you’re already skipping ahead to the comment box to give me a piece of your mind. This is an admittedly crude diagram that I’ve come up with on the spot in MS Paint to illustrate what I want to talk about though. I’m not arguing that the individualist vs. collectivist or the voluntarist vs. coercive dichotomies are the only possible or relevant ones in political theory either.

For the coercive individualist societies, fascism is such because there is private property + heavy regulation and control by the state, whereas in some right-wing dictatorships there is both private property and totally free markets with authoritarian control over most other areas of society.

As for social democracy, it is coercive individualist because it combines economic fascism (and now eco-fascism) with cultural Marxism: abortion, pornography, gay marriage, sex changes, and all of the rest of it are defended as individual and inalienable moral and political rights.  These are the societies we all live in for the most part. Coercive police states co-exist with an atomized society in perfect artificial harmony. Divide and conquer, down to the last social unit, the individual.

For those who won’t see the connection in abstract terms, just take a look at China, which is for all intents and purposes a fascist state. In the old days there was an international communist movement, total nationalization of the means of production, and central economic planning; all of that warranted the communist label. Toady the Comintern is long gone, private property has made a roaring comeback, and markets are allowed to work within a highly-regulated framework. On top of it all sits a highly oppressive and authoritarian regime that isn’t shy about using mass murder to quell dissent.

We of course need little explanation for coercive collectivism, i.e. communism. It didn’t work, doesn’t work, and will never work – hence China’s transformation. It continues to survive, however, in pockets throughout the coercive individualist society: on college campuses and in labor unions especially.

Voluntary individualism is really systematized and consciously chosen sociopathy. These are the people who believe they are their own Gods, failing to realize that God is entirely self-sufficient, whereas they depend on things like, sunlight, oxygen, water, and other human beings for their lives. Ayn Rand, Anton LaVey, and a lot of rock stars are good examples.

Finally there is voluntary collectivism, which exists in pockets throughout coercive individualist societies. It exists in small towns, in Amish country and Catholic monasteries. It exists wherever parents are raising children, wherever people are worshiping God together, it is the basis of any volunteer army. It is the primitive tribe, the ancient household (at least the ones that didn’t have slaves), the medieval village, the modern cooperative. And for most of history it was the basis of all civilization. All businesses are really voluntary collectives, assuming they don’t employ slave labor, though cooperatives are more consistently collectivist than the typical capitalist enterprise.

The problem is that most people identify capitalism as voluntary individualism instead of voluntary collectivism. They do this because they see profit as the sole motivation for the existence of the capitalist and his enterprise. But the capitalist can’t make a profit in a free and competitive market unless he meets someone’s needs. If people are forced to buy his products, or if his losses are covered by the state, or if subsides allow him to compete with inferior products, or any number of scenarios, then he is partaking in coercive individualism. If he is taking all of his profits and squandering them on gold-plated toilet seats instead of saving and investing wisely, then he is partaking in voluntary individualism. But if he is meeting the needs of consumers by innovating and reducing costs and prices, if he is hiring workers and paying them wages that they agreed to, if production is being carried out according to a plan in which everyone plays a necessary part, then he is partaking in voluntary collectivism.

Which of these would Distributism fall under? I think it is obviously voluntary collectivism. The differences between a “traditional” capitalist enterprise and a Distributist one are of degree, not kind; they differ in their internal structures but not in how they are formed (by voluntary participants) nor how they operate (with voluntary consumers). Like any business, they can become tangled up with the state and participate in the coercive structure, in which individuals are, by policy decisions, more or less forced into accepting more expensive goods and services to appease a group (unions, lawyers, certain corporations) that contributes heavily to one of the ruling parties. No one ought to deny that most capitalists are as tempted to take advantage of the state as any poor person looking for a free ride. It’s the same principle at work in different ways.

The failure to identify Distributism in particular as voluntary collectivism is that this temptation can give way to full blown desire among those who view it as a “system” that is an “alternative” to capitalism and socialism, i.e. a third way. Though I doubt many Distributists would argue that it must be implemented by the state, to rail against “capitalism” without distinction while rejecting communism at the same time is to almost become an economic fascist by default. The only distinction Distributists appear to be willing to make is between “really existing capitalism” and “abstract” capitalism. The former is the world of regulated markets and corporatism, of coercive individualism, while the latter only exists in the heads of Austrian economists.

But this is also manifestly untrue. Though one can argue that most businesses participate in the coercive structure, it isn’t logically necessary that they do so. Many people are willing to accept the argument that one of the drawbacks of welfare programs is that they discourage work. What is true of the individual poor person who has to choose between a job or welfare is true of the the individual business that has to choose between fair competition and government favors, from subsidies to regulations that punish competitors foreign and domestic. If part of the lasting solution to poverty is likewise understood as getting people off the welfare rolls, preferably by reducing the size of the welfare-state, then it follows that part of the solution to corporatism is reducing the size of the state in general. Few will willingly give up free stuff from the government; whether you’re dirt poor or filthy rich, it’s hard to stay clean when they keep shoveling it right at you.

So there’s nothing abstract about wanting to reduce the size of government. It is a tangible policy goal that is hard but not impossible to achieve. This is what the Tea Party is about, and it is what Distributism ought to be about as well. It is time to stop thinking in terms of third ways, and to start thinking about how to create the best conditions for voluntary collectivism to thrive.

56 Responses to On Distributism and the Futility of Third Ways

  • Yes, yes, I know, I’ve put your favorite ideology in the wrong box, or left it out altogether, and you’re already skipping ahead to the comment box to give me a piece of your mind. This is an admittedly crude diagram that I’ve come up with on the spot in MS Paint to illustrate what I want to talk about though.

    But I like the diagram!

    Good piece. Thank you for sharing it.

    -Theo

  • Voluntarism-Coercion is one of those obviously false dichotomies that most people stop believing in after college. There is always a mixture of authority and freedom in every human economic activity.

    Individualism-collectivism really isn’t any better: it is sort of a reflection of the same false dichotomy along a different axis.

  • I’m not a Randian, and I know her attempts to posit atheism as a necessary component of economic and social freedom were crude and distracting, but I don’t know if it’s fair to lump her together with Satanists and rock stars. One of Rand’s heroes in Atlas is a judge, who at the end of the book is writing up a new constitution for the state they expect to build from the ashes. Hardly an anarchist.

    A consistent theme of Rand’s is that her characters want to be free to trade their work with other people. She loved cities, which require constant cooperation between people. Roark wants to build a building that provides more affordable housing for other people. Taggart runs trains so other people can go places and ship things. Galt starts Galt’s Gulch so like-minded people can move there and live and work together. Granted, they do these things for profit rather than altruism (though Rand’s insistence on drawing a sharp distinction between the two is overdone), but it still sounds an awful lot like the voluntary collectivism you describe.

    I know Amish people, and Galt’s Gulch is an awful lot like an Amish community, except that Galt’s people insist on paying each other cash on the barrel for everything, while the Amish (and other real-life people) tend to keep track of favors owed and due in their heads. But it’s basically the same thing: people voluntarily living in a community and trading with each other to their mutual benefit.

    I don’t mean this to be a quibble about which box Rand should be in. But I often see Catholics lumping together Rand and atheism and anarchism and then discarding all libertarian ideas as tainted, thus leaving them with no way to create their “third way” except by government mandate, which leaves them trying to find it in a sweet spot between the two boxes on the right side of your chart. If we’re going to encourage “voluntary collectivism,” which appears to include a fair bit of libertarianism, it might help if we don’t beat up too much on one popular book that expresses that idea pretty well. (At least until someone writes the Catholic version. Anyone?)

  • With respect, this piece provides both a simplistic view of economic systems and just plain misses the boat in how it categorizes different economic systems.

    As Bob has pointed out, for the most part, these dichotomies don’t exist. To take American Liberalism as an example. You claim it is coercive… but it is coercive by common consent. Laws and regulatory agencies in America are set up by a popularly elected government (which ironically never seems to be popular :)). If you compare it to an Abbey, which you list as being under volunteerism, you will find that in theory (and sometimes in practice), the abbot wields more direct and absolute authority over the lives of the monks in his care than any western democracy wields over the lives of its ordinary citizens (i.e., not counting soldiers or convicted criminals). In either case, however, whether in a democracy or an abbey, those who govern do so with the consent of the governed — even if a sizable fraction of the governed may not agree with the current administration, by joining the abbey or by voting they have consented to abide by the results.

    Further, whether a system can be categorized under volunteerism or coercion often is a matter of perspective. To parents, a family may look like volunteerism, to a child who is being forced to do their chores or to go to bed before they want, it might well seem (and be!) coercion. Likewise, the employer/employee relationship often looks a lot more like a voluntary relationship to the employer than the employee. Yes, in theory either side can terminate the relationship at any point that either of them finds the relationship unsuitable, but depending on a whole host of factors (like say the job market), the employee might have little choice but to accept what would be otherwise unacceptable conditions because they have no viable alternatives.

    To my mind, the single biggest critique of unregulated capitalism is that often there is an element of coercion in everything a company does — and it is not necessarily the company doing the coercion. For the most part capitalist enterprises build themselves either by finding new markets, or finding ways of exploiting old ones. When a company decides to compete in an established market, they often do so in a way that forces their competitors to cut costs — often by reducing their labor budget in any of a variety of ways.

    Finally of course, any economic system is going to need at least a basic amount of regulation. Even if those regulations extend to enforcing contract law. Further, I don’t think we would really want a country where companies were free to absolutely do what they wanted to (no more than we would want individuals to have such broad freedom).

  • One thing missing from the article, is this: nowhere does it define what “distributionism” is. I’ve heard many stories about what it is, but no real definition.

    What exactly is “distributionism”?

    -Theo

  • I don’t mean this to be a quibble about which box Rand should be in. But I often see Catholics lumping together Rand and atheism and anarchism and then discarding all libertarian ideas as tainted…

    It doesn’t help either that most Objectivists I’ve met are jerks, pompous asses who define good and evil in terms of productivity and utility.

    -Theo

  • Aaron,
    With respect, I think lumping the Objectivists with the Satanists is right on the money. Both groups essentially worship the self above all else (Most Satanists claim that Satan is not real, but rather an expression of the will to power within themselves). Yes, Objectivists want to trade with others, but that is because any economic system, will involve some exchange of goods or services; in Rand’s world such exchanges must always be profitable.

    I think you comparison to the Amish and other faith communities might be skewed a bit. I don’t know if the Amish keep track of the favors owed them by others, perhaps some do, and some don’t. That being said, I think the crucial difference between the Amish and the Objectivists is that the Amish will help someone in need when they need the help, not when they have the cash to pay for it.

    Selfishness if the primary virtue of Objectivism which makes it fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. If Rand’s works are an accurate summary of Libertarianism, then Libertarianism would also be incompatible with Christianity. That being said, I don’t believe that it is. Libertarianism is neither an economic system, nor a comprehensive view about how life should be lived. It is simply a political philosophy that holds that the least government possible is best. While I might disagree with Ron Paul on a number of issues, I know for a fact that when he worked as a Doctor, he often treated patients who had no ability to pay (he didn’t accept medicare or medicaid).

  • @ Theo:

    As I understand it–

    Distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life.
    Social and economic structures should promote the widest ownership of corporations.
    Has been described as a third way of economic order, opposing both socialism and capitalism (both socialism and capitalism are modernizing and anti-traditional forces).
    Can be seen as the basis for anti-trust laws and economic cooperatives, including credit unions.
    Distinguished by its aim of maximizing the distribution of productive property (not to be confused with redistribution of capital that would be carried out by most socialist plans of governance).
    While socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (it all being under state, community, or workers’ control), and capitalism allows only a few to own it, distributism itself seeks as its goal to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property.
    The state which has implemented distributism contains “an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production.”
    This does not extend to all property, but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive, including land, tools, etc.

    Some have seen it more as an aspiration, which has been successfully realized (in the short term) by commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity — these being built into financially independent local co-operatives and family owned, small businesses.
    Proponents also cite such periods as the Middle Ages as examples of the historical long-term viability of distributism.

    Longer than I wanted, but I hope that helps.

  • Joe- there is something else to note here- when you mention:

    “But if he is meeting the needs of consumers by innovating and reducing costs and prices, if he is hiring workers and paying them wages that they agreed to, if production is being carried out according to a plan in which everyone plays a necessary part, then he is partaking in voluntary collectivism.”

    The Compendium talks about “the Rights of Workers” and includes mention : “..The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a ‘just wage,’ because a just wage ‘must not be below the level of subsistence’ of the worker: natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract.” from #302

    So “voluntary” is not always such- when one is not free to leave an area or is raised in such a way that cripples his abilities to work in meaningful ways beyond the local offering of say- below subsistence labor. What are the correctives to these human situations?

  • Just a bit more:

    Distributism is a system based on virtue – economic activity supporting family and community life – not vice (greed) – family and community life supporting economic activity.

    G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were both advocates of Distributism, and both are much more eloquent in explaining it than I am.

  • It does no good to distinguish capitalism, socialism, and distributism without speaking of agency. Distributism to the largest extent possible attempts to preserve agency and ownership. In other words, distributism attempts to insure that those who use or need capital or the ones to own it. Capitalism explicitly splits agency and ownership between shareholders and officers. Socialism does similarly except the commons replace shareholders. Much of the rest is just hot air and base stealing.

    By the way, it is increasingly silly to talk about private property when the top 1% control 35% of it and the top 20% control 85% of it.

  • Well, at least I generated some discussion. I will address my critics.

    Bob,

    “Voluntarism-Coercion is one of those obviously false dichotomies that most people stop believing in after college. There is always a mixture of authority and freedom in every human economic activity.”

    I don’t think anyone would deny this, from the most pimply-faced campus libertarian to, well, someone such as myself who has been out of college for a while now.

    But surely one can make a relevant distinction between free enterprise and command economies. And surely one can note that the former is mostly voluntary why the later is mostly coercive. I mean, there is very little freedom in a gulag, and there was very little authority in the Wild West.

    If I were a little more creative and a little less lazy, I would have shown these as spectrums, not rigid categories between which there is no space and within which no room for variation. Of course there is. As I said, it is a crude and simple diagram.

    “Individualism-collectivism really isn’t any better: it is sort of a reflection of the same false dichotomy along a different axis.”

    I really don’t see how it is “false.” If it’s “false” just because nothing is “purely” collectivist or individualist, then no categorization, no conceptualization, no dichotomy is ever true or valid.

    These are just useful diagnostic tools, in the end. They’re not meant to be hard and absolute definitions of objective reality.

    I have some things to attend to, but I want to address others later. Thanks for all the comments!

  • Perhaps it would be better if we didn’t get wrapped up too much in definitions here? The key to Distributism, in my view, is that people should have their own – and this means that we have to stop people from taking what isn’t theirs. In my view, all the problems of the world today are based upon someone trying to get something they didn’t earn – stop the stealing, and we’ll have Distributism by default.

    People, on the whole, will tend to work for what they need, if left alone to do so. When we start trying to “fix” things, all we’ve done is allowed various con artists to come in and take over the “fixing”; always with a hefty rake off for themselves. This might sound like a clarion call for Libertarianism, but one must remember that money isn’t the only thing which can be stolen…property, honor, morality; all of these can be stolen, as well. A properly run society is one in which no one is ever troubled over what one has, nor is anyone prevented from working as hard as they like and reaping whatever reward hard, personal, honorable work accrues.

  • Maryland Bill,

    Your comment provides ample opportunities for clarification of many important matters, so I thank you for it :)

    “To take American Liberalism as an example. You claim it is coercive… but it is coercive by common consent.”

    I would argue that it isn’t. When you have fiat legislation from the judicial bench, when you have more and more decision-making power concentrated in largely unaccountable agencies and bureaucracies, and when you have a considerable faction that would gladly implement laws and regulations formulated by international organizations – in a clear violation of American sovereignty – the argument that we have government by consent looks less realistic.

    To be clear, I accept the need for some coercion. The question is when quantity passes over into quality, when a society that is in its essence voluntary with some coercive restraints for the public good becomes a society that is in it’s essence coercive that happens to tolerate some voluntary activity. Perhaps I ought to have made that point in the post. But that’s what these discussions are for!

    “Laws and regulatory agencies in America are set up by a popularly elected government”

    Yes, and in the Soviet Union, the people regularly “elected” people to the local Soviet. There was theoretically a “constitution” that theoretically outlined the limits of government power. The mere presence of elections is no guarantee of democracy, as we all know. Without real accountability, consent is a fiction, because accountability is the only way that consent remains in place from one generation to the next. These agencies may have been established by Congress but they aren’t so easily disestablished, are they? The Tea Party movement, if it remains true to political libertarianism, will be the test of how much consent our system really has left.

    “If you compare it to an Abbey, which you list as being under volunteerism, you will find that in theory (and sometimes in practice), the abbot wields more direct and absolute authority over the lives of the monks in his care than any western democracy wields over the lives of its ordinary citizens”

    Yes, but everyone in the abbey is there of his own free will. We’re not in the Middle Ages, in which a family might ship a son or daughter off to a religious community under protest or duress. Pretty much everyone enters these does so of their own free will. That’s what makes it an essentially voluntary institution, even if once entered, they are subject to authority. I hope you can see the coherency of that.

    ” by joining the abbey or by voting they have consented to abide by the results.”

    You can’t compare the two, because of the very act of joining. No one joins the state. They’re born into it. This is the problem Locke faced with tacit consent. As I said above, though, consent is only really present if there is accountability – if what is made, can be unmade by a dissatisfied electorate. The Tea Party is the test as to whether or not this can happen. If it continues to promote and elect representatives, and they in turn work to undo some of the laws and agencies that they no longer consent to, then we will have proven that we are still a society based upon consent. If they are somehow denied or blocked in their efforts by force, well, there you have it.

    “Further, whether a system can be categorized under volunteerism or coercion often is a matter of perspective.”

    I don’t deny that subjective experiences will influence how one decides to make use of these categories. But I maintain that there is still an objective criteria to which one can refer.

    “To parents, a family may look like volunteerism, to a child who is being forced to do their chores or to go to bed before they want, it might well seem (and be!) coercion.”

    Perhaps. But a child is in practice free to leave his family. Parents don’t own their children. The bonds of love, which are natural, organic, and divinely-authored, often make submission more of a voluntary than a coercive matter in families. But in the case of an abuse of authority, physical or sexual or in some other harmful way, a child can and probably ought to run away.

    ” Yes, in theory either side can terminate the relationship at any point that either of them finds the relationship unsuitable,”

    In theory and in practice. Unless we are speaking of slavery, it is always an option.

    “the employee might have little choice but to accept what would be otherwise unacceptable conditions because they have no viable alternatives.”

    I will grant that this is sometimes the case, but it doesn’t rise to the level of coercion, even if it is an unjust situation. Though there are undoubtedly greedy employers, especially in the third world, who prey upon people’s misery, the answer is rarely more coercion, i.e. forcing employers to take measures that will make them uncompetitive, which ends up harming more workers and consumers. The answer is to loosen the grip of authoritarian regimes and promote private property and free enterprise, which will in the long-run create many more employment opportunities for workers. The more opportunities there are, the less one is bound to any one employer. Finally Distributism ought to be promoted as a means by which workers obtain more of a say in the workplace.

    “When a company decides to compete in an established market, they often do so in a way that forces their competitors to cut costs — often by reducing their labor budget in any of a variety of ways.”

    That’s not coercion. That’s efficiency, and it benefits everyone – it is for the common good, though it may harm a particular group in the short-run. If we’re really all about the common good, then the interests of the few can’t be elevated above those of the many, especially when most people are poor or struggling not to become poor.

    “Finally of course, any economic system is going to need at least a basic amount of regulation.”

    Sure. It’s about essences, as I said above.

    ” I don’t think we would really want a country where companies were free to absolutely do what they wanted to”

    If you’re free to do what you want, then it shouldn’t be a problem that they’re free to do what they want. Sometimes people mistake coercion for a lack of imagination. Find like-minded people, create a viable business model, acquire capital, and do it how you want to do it. One day I hope I can participate in such projects.

    I’m all for ordered liberty. I accept the necessity of limited government. What I don’t accept is social and economic engineering for some ideological purpose. It isn’t necessary and it does more harm than good.

  • Tim,

    It WAS virtually impossible for any company that isn’t based upon outright slavery to pay anything less than the “just wage” defined by Leo XIII: enough to support a man who is WELL-BEHAVED and frugal (meaning he doesn’t waste his money on frivolous crap), and his family.

    I think its largely the case today as well. Only 2% of the workforce is on minimum wage, and over half of them are young people on their way to better things presumably. So the idea that we need a massive regulatory regime to secure the interests of the remaining 1% is just absurd. The key has never been just wages, but increasing productivity, lowering prices, and increasing the purchasing power of the dollar. That’s why I support the Austrian view of inflation/deflation. Deflation would cause short-term pain to the indebted, but provide long-term relief for the consumer.

    Please no accusations of casting CST aside. The aim of the just wage is the same as the aim of everything else I stated – to improve the lot of the common working family. It is this moral end that we cannot cast aside, but the methods have to remain open to debate and alteration.

  • Aaron B,

    I think Rand’s extreme individualism will always be in contradiction with any society. Wasn’t her fundamental axiom that man should live entirely for himself, and never for any other man? Well this is just impossible in practice. We must all serve one another in some way.

    Voluntary individualism is impossible in practice. Only God is entirely self-sufficient. But it is held up as an ideal towards which some thing we ought to come as close as possible, especially by those who believe that the goal of man is to become himself a God. It rends and tears at all social bonds, which only leads right back to coercion and statism.

    A voluntary collectivist has to recognize the value and importance of all voluntarily collective institutions. A voluntary individualist sees family, religion, and other associations as restraints on their liberty instead of its safeguards. They would live without them if they could, and do their best to minimize and undermine them to the greatest possible extent.

  • M.Z.,

    “By the way, it is increasingly silly to talk about private property when the top 1% control 35% of it and the top 20% control 85% of it.”

    Everyone has private property in their own persons, and in what they earn as the result of their labor. So in that sense it is misleading to present these figures as an accurate picture of private property.

    That said, the distribution of productive property along these lines is largely because it is easier to be a consumer than it is to be a producer.

    But nothing is actually preventing people of like-mind and similar values from coming together and creating businesses based upon a Distributist model. I predict they will become more popular as time goes on and old ways of doing things are more discredited. There are more employees with ESOPs now than there are in unions.

  • Joe,
    Your answers suggest you have bought the hype of true-believers in free-market capitalism. So I am not sure if this will do much good, but, I like tilting at windmills :).

    Before I go further, I want to stress, I am not a believer in socialism or facism.

    Ok, lets address a couple of your points now.

    1. Your point regarding coercion versus efficiency. Its not an either/or proposition (i.e., these are not mutually exclusive terms). The coercion may not be forced by individuals or market forces, but that does not mean they are not forced.

    2. That the harm caused by the increase of efficiency is short term. The basic fact of the matter is that most people who loose their jobs in manufacturing because of competition never make up the lost income.

    As an example my Dad, who worked on a loading dock into his 60s (And continued working as a security guard until his late 1970s) was a victim of the impact of competition back in the early 1980s. It was close to 20 years before his salary approached what he made in the 1980 and that is without taking inflation into account. In other words, this was not a short term harm, it has negatively impacted his financial position ever since.

    Further, as Catholics, we cannot be taken in by the “common good argument”. That is simply another way of saying the ends justify the means. Catholics can never justify directly doing harm to group A to help group B.

    3. Your comparison of Soviet elections to elections in the United States is deeply flawed, and I think you know it. While I would hardly argue that the current system we have is perfect, we do actually have a choice at the ballot box. The Soviet Elections never even approached being free or fair. Yes, the judicial branch, and the Federal Agencies are not elected by the people, but the reason they are hard to disestablish is that many of them are very Popular. Accountability comes when the electorate forces it on the Politicians. Yes the Tea Party might be a step in that direction, but before it or any other movement (regardless of political agenda) forces that accountability on the Democrats and Republicans, they need actually represent the majority of Americans (Which I am not convinced the Tea Party does yet).

    4. Regarding coercion in families. Yes, bonds of love might hold the child there, but short of abuse, they are not actually free to leave. Legally they under their parent’s authority until they reach the age of majority unless the Courts decide it is in their best interest to liberate them.

    5. All economic, social and government systems, are at their root based in ideological purposes. Libertarian Free-Market Capitalists are just as ideological as any Marxist. In fact, in my experience they are also just as blinded to the realities of the world as any Marxist ever was.

    Finally, my basic problem with Capitalism (besides the fact that at root it essentially is a materialist philosophy) is that it essentially celebrates greed. Sure the term usually bandied about is “Enlightened Self Interest” but in practice, that is just a fancy word for Greed. Whats worse is that historically, time and time again, we have been given examples of greed being short sighted — regardless of the level of regulation that is placed on the situation. Capitalism will ultimately doom us to the boom and bust cycles that we are experiencing even now.


    Bill

  • Bill,

    “Your point regarding coercion versus efficiency. Its not an either/or proposition (i.e., these are not mutually exclusive terms)”

    Is that what I said? Because I don’t think I did. I was simply pointing out that what you described as coercion wasn’t really coercion. I didn’t mean to suggest that because it was efficiency it COULDN’T be coercion, though I would say that the two usually don’t go together.

    “The coercion may not be forced by individuals or market forces, but that does not mean they are not forced.”

    Well what does it mean to not be forced? If it means total and absolute freedom, then God is the only non-coerced being in the universe. If it means always being able to choose an option that is your first preference, then you’ll likely never be free. It usually means choosing between bad and worse, or acceptable and unacceptable. But the absence of good options isn’t a denial of freedom. That’s just true by definition.

    It’s coercion when you are threatened with some harm by another human being(s) if you choose one option or another. Coercion is an act of the will, in other words. It is an attempt to bend one person’s will to another. Circumstances, even bad ones, aren’t.

    “The basic fact of the matter is that most people who loose their jobs in manufacturing because of competition never make up the lost income.”

    Well, if it weren’t for inflationary policies, the long-term effects of competition would be reduced prices and higher living standards for everyone. Even as it is, we’ve seen a continual uptick in living standards across the board. As my co-blogger BA pointed out to me when I was more like you, and this is just a fact, women and minorities have made all sorts of gains while white males have suffered some losses. But median incomes, adjusted for inflation, have continued to rise.

    It isn’t competition that creates the long-term problem. It’s the manipulation of the money supply. Inflation passes on massive benefits to those closest to the printing presses and imposes burdens on those furthest away.

    “as Catholics, we cannot be taken in by the “common good argument””

    Ha! All I’ve been hearing from anti-capitalist Catholics is that we must oppose capitalism because it is contrary to the common good! Now you tell me that the common good isn’t the goal! It’s whatever has to be said to get at capitalism I guess.

    I think it is most certainly wrong for the government to bestow and preserve benefits and privileges to select constituencies for the sake of votes, and at the expense of the consumers, who are often poor or of average means. You can’t justify that.

    “Your comparison of Soviet elections to elections in the United States is deeply flawed, and I think you know it”

    I wasn’t comparing them. I was simply using the Soviets to illustrate the point that the mere presence of voting doesn’t = government by consent, which is what could have been implied from your previous post.

    “Legally they under their parent’s authority until they reach the age of majority unless the Courts decide it is in their best interest to liberate them.”

    Yes, and children can contact police/courts, or they can just run away and never be seen from again. By “can” I mean it is possible, even if it isn’t legal, though it is also possible legally as well.

    “In fact, in my experience they are also just as blinded to the realities of the world as any Marxist ever was.”

    Ideology itself doesn’t make people blind. It is when the ideology is not seen as a useful tool for making observations and is elevated to the status of a religious faith. Marxists actually have some true insights, and the non-dogmatic ones can make plausible arguments.

    “besides the fact that at root it essentially is a materialist philosophy”

    It really isn’t. It’s just something people do. There’s no reason any capitalist has to be a materialist.

    “Capitalism will ultimately doom us to the boom and bust cycles that we are experiencing even now.”

    Those are caused by the Federal Reserve. Read Ron Paul’s book.

  • If [the individualist-collectivist economic dichotomy] is “false” just because nothing is “purely” collectivist or individualist, then no categorization, no conceptualization, no dichotomy is ever true or valid.

    Oh, I don’t think it is a false dichotomy for that reason.

    I think it is false dichotomy because it is just flat-out false: the most individualist of individual rights are not “individual” at all, because a “right” is simply a way of expressing, in speech, an obligation of others – a collective obligation. The most collected of collective economic actions are, ‘atomically’, the actions of individuals making choices as individuals. Saying that one favors (say) individualism over collectivism in economics is like saying that one favors the body over the soul in living creatures: the metaphysic informing the assertion is a non-starter, right from the get-go, assuming a dualism which is just false.

    Similar comments apply to the “voluntarism-coercion” false dichotomy in economics.

  • Joe:

    “I think Rand’s extreme individualism will always be in contradiction with any society. Wasn’t her fundamental axiom that man should live entirely for himself, and never for any other man? Well this is just impossible in practice. We must all serve one another in some way.”

    Yes, that’s what she said, but it’s not how her characters acted. Several times they even risked their lives for each other — without negotiating a price first or sending a bill afterwards. Of course, she would try to redefine that as selfishness, by saying that Galt valued Dagny’s life so much that when he risked his life to save her, he was actually doing it for himself and not for her. But that’s just sophistry; you could twist any altruistic act that way to put a selfish spin on it. (I always thought her stuff on selfishness was more of an interesting thought experiment than a serious philosophy.) When I give money to my church, is it really altruistic, or am I doing it because I want the church to be there for my benefit? And as Catholics, don’t we believe that all our sacrifices here are storing up riches in heaven? Rand would have no problem with giving something up now for greater future gain — Readen gives Taggart a deal on rails because he knows it will bring him more future business, for instance — she just didn’t think there was a heaven to save up for.

    I guess I’m arguing more with Rand’s portrayal of her books than I am with you. She may have pushed extreme individualism in theory, but her characters practice something a lot more collective and interdependent than that.

  • Everyone has private property in their own persons, and in what they earn as the result of their labor. So in that sense it is misleading to present these figures as an accurate picture of private property.

    How would one distinguish between slave and free man under that? Slaves of course were able to refuse their labor. To put it in your parlance, aren’t we simply speaking of degrees of coercion? I don’t think you really wish to defend as a proposition that the wealth of the richest 1% or 20% rests in their labor as your last sentence implies.

    That said, the distribution of productive property along these lines is largely because it is easier to be a consumer than it is to be a producer.
    I would tend to agree with this. It however seems to concede that the nature of our American free man is largely abstract and not real in a practical sense.

    But nothing is actually preventing people of like-mind and similar values from coming together and creating businesses based upon a Distributist model. I predict they will become more popular as time goes on and old ways of doing things are more discredited. There are more employees with ESOPs now than there are in unions.
    That depends on the context. The limitations of starting cooperatives are pretty much the same limitations of starting a small corporation. The most notable issue is start up capital. There are very few businesses that can get off the ground for under $1 mil and stay running, especially when you exclude captive sales and professional services.

  • as Catholics, we cannot be taken in by the “common good argument”. That is simply another way of saying the ends justify the means. Catholics can never justify directly doing harm to group A to help group B.

    I don’t think this is tenable. Either you allow free markets, which will help group B but harm group A, or you don’t allow them, which will help group A but harm group B. So you’re stuck. You can either say that you should do what will help the most and hurt the least (in which case you go with free markets) or you say that you should do nothing (in which case you go with really free markets).

  • I don’t think you really wish to defend as a proposition that the wealth of the richest 1% or 20% rests in their labor as your last sentence implies.

    I don’t think you really wish to defend as a proposition that 20% of the population are rentiers with large stockpiles of inherited wealth.

  • Joe,
    I please do not lump me in with other people! I am not an anti-capitalist per say, I am anti-materialist. Capitalism, socialism, communism are all at their root materialist philosophies. You can claim all you want that capitalism is not an aspect of materialism, but that leaves us one of two possible conclusions; you either don’t understand what capitalism as a philosophy is, or you are lying to yourself.

    I am not saying that every businessman is evil, or that every businessman goes into business simply to be greedy. But ultimately, the system is based on self interest. If businesses do not put their own interests first, they won’t stay in business very long!

    Further, capitalism (And socialism, communism, facism, etc.) is materialistic because it equates wealth with the most good! “If it increases wealth for the most people it must be good…”. Since when is that a Christian definition of good?

    Now, I want to make this clear, pretty much any economic system fails the test in some way. Why? They are of the world. Only systems that make continuous efforts to root themselves in the Gospel have any chance of breaking this cycle. I doubt this will ever work except in the relatively small scale of monasteries and other faith based communities.

    We live in a fallen world. As Catholics and Christians we have to live in the world; we need to live in whatever economic and political system our nation has chosen for itself. We should work to improve those systems. But we should never fall for the trap of convincing ourselves that there is nothing objectionable about the system.

  • Capitalism is not a philosophy. It is simply a method of allocating resources based on voluntary exchange instead of coercion. While some say that such a method promotes greed, history indicates that greed is no less present in any other system of allocating resources. Distributism is completely compatible with capitalism to the extent it is a voluntary expression of the desire to make such market exchanges by reference to appropriate moral values and not just profit. Distributism is most difficult to apply in the context of enterprises that need large amounts of capital to compete successfully. Such businesses tend to organize as public companies whose ownership is distinct from management. Such companies have a very difficult time voluntarily expressing values that are inimical to profit maximization. It is not impossible, since corporations can be organized expressing other goals which would be disclosed to investors, but thus far such efforts have not proven all that successful. Instead, non-pecuniary values are imposed via government regulation, which plainly can be blunt and political instruments. It is also important to realize that non-investor corporate constituencies, especially consumers, do alter behavior by imposing their values thereby affecting corporate profits. Imperfect information and imperfect consumers limit the efficacy of such forces, but truly there is nothing about a free market system that renders it inherently incompatable with Catholic values.

  • …voluntary exchange instead of coercion…

    The myth of this thing called “voluntary exchange” – that is, property ownership and exchange absent authority – just doesn’t want to die. I don’t understand why it won’t die though. Authority, discrimination, and coercion are necessary, essential elements of ownership; built into the very nature of ownership.

    That isn’t a bad thing, BTW. In fact it is a very good thing: property is an indispensible and venerable institution, absolutely necessary for the common good. What is bad is the false libertarian mythology of “voluntary exchange”, as if authoritative, coercive discrimination could be extracted from property without destroying the very essence of property. It can’t be.

    …there is nothing about a free market system that renders it inherently incompatable with Catholic values…

    As always, the truth of a proposition depends on what one means by the proposition. If what one means by “free market system” is a concept of property and exchange which is voluntary, somehow separated from authority, then what one means is a falsehood. And falsehood is incompatible with Catholic values.

  • Maryland Bill,

    “You can claim all you want that capitalism is not an aspect of materialism, but that leaves us one of two possible conclusions; you either don’t understand what capitalism as a philosophy is, or you are lying to yourself.”

    I think it’s you who doesn’t understand what materialism is. Philosophical materialism is the view that only matter exists. It is almost always combined with physicalism in the West. Matter is all that exists; matter is physical; only physical material exists to the exclusion of any other substance or thing (such as spirit, which is immaterial).

    No one has to believe this to be a capitalist.

    If you mean materialism in the sense of being preoccupied with the acquisition of material things, then all possible economies are materialist. So materialism in this sense has a proper place in the hierarchy of values. It is when it is elevated above, or below, its proper position in the hierarchy of values that it becomes a problem.

    Can an individual capitalist do this? Sure. But it is almost never in the interest of a capitalist who competes in a free market to become reckless and greedy. To remain a capitalist he MUST satisfy the needs of others in some way; he must find a way to sell his product at the lowest price to the most people. In a free market this happens through innovation, through increasing the productivity of labor by investing in technology that will make him more efficient than his competitors.

    Anyone who becomes wealthy in that way has done nothing morally wrong.

    It is only when a business is artificially shielded from the effects of competition by governments that they can begin to more systematically disregard the needs of others and become solely focused on amassing private wealth, because the consequences for this behavior will be lessened or even removed. If the threat of failure or the threat of competition is taken away, so is the incentive to continually find better ways to meet the needs of others. This is why protectionism and subsidies and bailouts are so economically harmful. They sustain failing enterprises.

    But they do benefit the particular companies involved, as well as the politicians who can now count on their support. The argument of the free-marketeer is that government must be reduced to a size so that this collusion becomes impossible or at least more difficult.

    That said, I’m all for a safety net to help the temporarily displaced, as well as those unable to care for themselves. However I think this can and should eventually be done privately. And so did Leo XIII.

  • Bob,
    Are you suggesting that authority is the same as coercion?

  • Not “is the same as”; but “is inseparable from”, certainly. You can’t have property rights without authority to compel others to act in accordance with those property rights.

    There is of course such a thing as illegitimate coercion, etc — authority, property, etc are a nontrivially large subject matter.

    Libertarian attempts to simultaneously disavow coercion and affirm property rights are nonsense (as are, more generally, liberal attempts to affirm rights while disavowing substantive discriminating authority). You can’t have one without the other.

  • Bob,

    I think you’re mistaking theoretical placeholders for deep philosophical assertions.

    As I explained to Bill,

    “To be clear, I accept the need for some coercion. The question is when quantity passes over into quality, when a society that is in its essence voluntary with some coercive restraints for the public good becomes a society that is in it’s essence coercive that happens to tolerate some voluntary activity.”

    It is never a question of totally abolishing one or the other. We don’t have a choice between coercion and no coercion; we have a choice between constitutionally-limited authority and arbitrary power.

    So it would be just as nonsensical to assert that we can’t reach an optimal minimum of coercion as it would be to assert that we can abolish all coercion from human affairs.

    I don’t think there’s a libertarian alive who has ever attempted to “disavow coercion and affirm property rights.” Most libertarians are minarchists who accept the need for some state. And even anarchists don’t abolish coercion, they just think it should be carried out by institutions other than the state as we know it.

    If their rhetoric gives a different impression, that is a problem.

    As for individualism/collectivism,

    “a “right” is simply a way of expressing, in speech, an obligation of others – a collective obligation”

    That’s just wrong. A right is something we are entitled to, by divine, natural or human law. It is a way of expressing HOW an individual is to meet the obligations of divine, natural and human laws; the obligation to preserve yourself necessitates a right to private property, as does the obligation to provide for your family.

    But that has nothing to do with what I see as the main difference between individualism and collectivism in economic affairs, and that is the difference between whether or not our institutions promote cooperation or or destroy it. Coercive collectivism, i.e. communism, seeks to force people to cooperate against their interests and against their will.

    Voluntary collectivism is what exists by default when no one forces people to cooperate, and when people see that cooperation better serves their interests than isolation, separation and selfishness.

  • I’ll stick to just this one specific interchange, since whenever libertarianism becomes definite enough to talk about libertarians always seem to claim that it is being misrepresented:

    “a “right” is simply a way of expressing, in speech, an obligation of others – a collective obligation”

    That’s just wrong. A right is something we are entitled to, by divine, natural or human law.

    More specifically, a right represents a set of behaviors of others which we are entitled to in justice. That is what makes a trespasser a trespasser: that his behavior has transgressed our rights. It makes no sense to speak of rights as something purely individual, as if the last man on earth would have “rights”: they only exist in a social, collective context as social, collective obligations.

  • Bob,

    That again is simply false. Rights are ultimately derived from God, and belong to each individual man regardless of the context he finds himself in. Simply because he could find himself in isolation and apart from other men does not necessitate that we consider him to have lost his natural, inalienable rights.

    There’s no reason to make that leap. You can say that a right doesn’t MATTER if there’s no one around to violate or contest it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t EXIST. I treat rights as existing things created and supported by God almighty, not by convention.

    So yes, the last man on Earth would have rights. He wouldn’t need to invoke them or defend them, but he would have them as surely as he had the shirt on his back or the food in his bag or whatever. Rights are things we possess, and natural rights are inalienable.

  • Simply because he could find himself in isolation and apart from other men does not necessitate that we consider him to have lost his natural, inalienable rights.

    It isn’t that he has “lost” them; it is that they have no applicability. Rights are, by their very nature, demands placed on the behavior others (legitimate rights are legitimate demands, in justice, placed on the behavior of others). That is to say, rights are always and necessarily communitarian by nature, wherever they have any applicability whatsoever.

    This, again, is as obvious as the fact that water is wet.

  • If I have a right to property, it doesn’t depend on anyone else. It comes directly from God to me. In that sense, it is an individual right that I hold, that no other person can take away. And this, by the way, is the language used by Leo XIII – the rights he speaks of belong to each individual man.

    This would be contrasted to rights that are contingent upon my membership in some specific group – a race, a class, a gender, etc. These would be called group rights, or collective rights.

    That’s the only distinction that concerns me and I think most libertarians. The actual existence in reality of a natural right depends upon no one but God. Natural rights are individual rights because individual men exist prior to any political community. This again is the clear and unambiguous teaching of Leo XIII.

    So I’m not sure what it is you’re arguing with here, or what it is you really want to take issue with. As with so many disputes, I sense things becoming more complicated than they need or ought to be. Perhaps I’m too dull to really understand the significance of your argument. I’m not sure what is I’m saying that you find objectionable, or why you find it objectionable. I think I’m going to need it spelled out a bit differently. Tell me what you think I’m saying that’s wrong, why it matters, what its implications are, and what you think the correct view is. I’ll do my best to try and comprehend.

  • I agree with you, Joe. To the extent prudentially permissable, and inevitably imperfectly, it is the duty of governments to *secure* natural rights via the promulgation and enforcement of positive law. While it may be true that the practical efficacy of property rights depends on such the legitimate authority of government to impose and enforce such positive law, it seems to me that the ontological existence of such rights transcends such authority.

    Finally Bob, I am hardly a libertarian, and the fact that some libertarians may agree with some of these assertions does not render any such assertions invalid even if libertarianism may represent a flawed understanding of the human condition.

  • While it may be true that the practical efficacy of property rights depends on such the legitimate authority of government to impose and enforce such positive law, it seems to me that the ontological existence of such rights transcends such authority.

    It doesn’t transcend the authority of the property owner to coerce others, e.g. trespassers. The idea that rights transcend authority rests on the presumption that a right itself is something distinct from authority. It isn’t. Rights don’t transcend authority because rights just are particular, concrete authorities.

    Joe seems to be arguing against a bunch of things I haven’t said. To say that rights come from God is to say that particular legitimate coercive authorities come from God, when legitimate, which is true.

    The other point was that rights (e.g. property rights) are only pertinent in a social context. (Lets set aside their existence or modes of existence — I agree that talking about, say, the existence of numbers or rights or whatever can become philosophically complex, but the point I am making here is not complex). That is because authority is only pertinent in a social context. The right to force trespassers to leave is only pertinent (whether it “exists” like the number 5 being irrelevant to the particular point here) when persons who might trespass exist: that is, in a social context.

  • Look at this very simply: a property right to a piece of land represents a social obligation – an obligation on the part of the society of non-owners – not to trespass on that land under ordinary (as opposed to extraordinary) conditions. Take away the society which is being legitimately coerced off of that land, or take away the ordinary conditions under which the right obtains, and the “right” is not pertinent: its authority does not obtain.

    Rights are always and necessarily (1) discriminatory, (2) authoritative/coercive, and (3) social, by nature. Attempts to extract discrimination (e.g. between owner and trespasser), authority, or community from rights – which is what libertarians attempt to do as the foundational maneuvers in their political philosophy, thereby introducing the antinomy at the heart of all forms of liberalism – are non-starters.

  • “It doesn’t transcend the authority of the property owner to coerce others, e.g. trespassers.”

    It’s the trespasser that is attempting to coerce the property owner, not vice-versa. Self-defense is not coercion.

    “The idea that rights transcend authority rests on the presumption that a right itself is something distinct from authority. It isn’t.”

    Only in the sense that God, the ultimate authority, exists eternally. But God endows ALL men with rights and only particular men in particular situations with authority. So they are distinct. Authority can be acquired and lost; natural rights cannot.

    “Joe seems to be arguing against a bunch of things I haven’t said.”

    I’m not really sure what you’re saying, so the feeling is sort of mutual. I’m doing my best to make sense of it this time around.

    “The right to force trespassers to leave is only pertinent (whether it “exists” like the number 5 being irrelevant to the particular point here) when persons who might trespass exist: that is, in a social context.”

    Yeah, no one ever disagreed with this. The point is simply that the right to self-defense (it is not coercion, again) does not depend upon membership in a particular group. It belongs to all individuals regardless of the group they belong to, hence, it is an individual right.

  • It’s the trespasser that is attempting to coerce the property owner, not vice-versa. Self-defense is not coercion.

    Tell that to my attacker as I am pounding his head into the pavement, and then handing him over to the police. I am indeed coercing him, and quite legitimately.

    Obviously I’m not going to convince you, Joe, so I’ll bow out of the discussion. As I mentioned at the beginning, I have no idea why libertarians don’t immediately see the base-stealing involved in the foundations of their own philosophy. Politics is ultimately about what social authorities are and are not legitimate, and “rights” are one way of expressing (an over-used way, I would suggest) in language where the authority coerce legitimately obtains.

  • Again, there’s this linguistic/conceptual issue that you want to make the root of the difference.

    “a property right to a piece of land represents a social obligation ”

    No, it doesn’t “represent” that. It is a corollary to that. This is a subtle but necessary distinction.

    “Rights are always and necessarily (1) discriminatory, (2) authoritative/coercive, and (3) social, by nature.”

    1. Perhaps you can explain more what you mean by that, and why you think I have neglected the point. Forgive my ignorance.

    2. Some rights depend upon human authority. Natural rights do not. I do not claim all possible rights are natural rights.

    3. Not “by nature”, but in practice. 1+1 = 2 even if no one is around to do addition.

  • Can we agree that “right” is a word?

    It is a word which refers to something. The thing it refers to is a particular authority which some human being has over others.

    It isn’t that rights -derive- from (other) human authorities. Though some do. A right -is- a human, social, discriminating, authority, e.g. the authority of a property owner to decide who is and is not allowed on his land in ordinary circumstances. You can’t take human, social, discriminating authority out of the thing we refer to with the word “right”, because the thing we refer to with the word “right” -just is- a human, social, discriminating authority.

  • Ok. I’m fine with calling it authority, but natural rights are individual, universal, and inalienable. They aren’t contingent upon groups, they belong to every person, and they cannot be stripped away by anyone else’s authority.

    Do we at least agree on that?

  • Joe and Mike,
    First Point: given the context of the discussion we are having, I thought it was clear that I was referring to economic materialism. At the root of economic materialism is the notion that material good can make us happy. Again, not something a good Catholic should be arguing.

    Second Point: Yes Capitalism is an economic system, but it is also a philosophy. For it contains a world view that is quite pervasive amongst those who uncritically endorse the system. Contained in that world view is many of the beliefs that have been expressed by supporters of Capitalism despite many of them have never been observed to be true over the long haul in reality; chief amongst them that the system will somehow be great if we simply had less government involvement (despite the fact that most government regulations on business are the direct result of past abuses).

    Third Point: I disagree that a business man makes money by meeting the needs of his customer. A business man makes money by appearing the meet his customer’s desires… even better by convincing his customer that he has desires he didn’t even know he had. A retailer needs to convince customers to buy shoes, clothes, TV’s, computers, etc. that their customers don’t need if they are going to be successful. A seller of financial securities is going to try to sell financial instrument (like say mortgage backed securities) to their customers that will make the seller the most money, not necessarily best meet the needs of the customer.

    Forth Point: Yes, any economic system that is rooted in the world is going to be concerned with the acquisition of goods and money. That is why all of them are ultimately going to be objectionable, unless instead they are rooted in the Gospel.

    Lets consider a few of the following thought.

    Prior to one particular intervention of the government in business, the standard work week during the industrial revolution was 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Thus an industrial worker would have had little chance to go to church or spend time with his family. Charles Dickens, in A Christmas Carol documents this where Scrouge resents giving Bob Crachet the day off for Christmas. Prior to the 1970s and 80s, many states had restrictions on stores being open on Sundays. Businesses successfully had these “Blue Laws” repealed in most states. The result is that most retail workers have less time to spend with their families or go to Church; in addition of course, the customers now can spend hours at the Mall on Sunday rather than with their family or God.

    In any case, Capitalism may well be the least objectionable of a bad lot. But if you claim you find nothing objectionable in Capitalism, then you simply are not paying attention to the potentials for abuse that are built into the system and the inevitability of people who are going to take advantage of those abuses for personal gain.

    One last thing… Kind of interesting that this article praises Capitalism, and article also highlighted on this site gives a rather different critique of Capitalism.

  • “One last thing… Kind of interesting that this article praises Capitalism, and article also highlighted on this site gives a rather different critique of Capitalism.”

    We’re a diverse lot.

  • they belong to every person

    Not in a univocal sense. In fact the coercive authorities we refer to with the term “rights” tend to be quite exclusive: e.g. it is the nature of Fred’s authority over his property that others do not have that authority. That is, a particular property right divides society into the person or persons who exercise the ownership rights over property X and the persons who do not. That is to say, it is the nature of a right to discriminate.

    Where liberals differ from non liberals is in accepting that this is a good and natural thing: that is, non liberals believe that it is a good, necessary, and natural thing for certain persons to possess coercive authority over other persons.

  • Every person has a right to acquire private, exclusive property, and to defend it. That is what is meant when we say that this right belongs to every person – to each individual man, as Leo puts it.

    What you’re doing seems unnecessary and needlessly confusing. Moreover, classical liberals most certainly do not reject the goodness or naturalness of self-defense, or distinctions between property owners. The right to property begins, after all, with self-ownership, and the legitimate acquisition of external things is only possible through it.

    Perhaps you are confusing anarchist pacifists with classical liberals. No Whig ever believed the opposite of what you say non-liberals believe.

  • Every person has a right to acquire private, exclusive property, and to defend it. That is what is meant when we say that this right belongs to every person …

    As I said, property rights don’t belong to every person in a univocal sense.

    On the one hand we have this potential to possibly acquire a concrete and specific right over some specific domain/property if conditions happen to obtain to allow it; on the other, we have private exclusivity of actual authority over actual persons with respect to some actual thing(s).

    The former is “universal” in an abstract sense, kind of like saying “everyone universally has the right to do math”. That is all well and good, but it doesn’t put dinner on the table. Sometimes this abstract potential is referred to as “potential rights”.

    When it comes to actual social authority over actual persons and things the authorities we call “property rights” are the opposite of universal: by their nature they discriminate between persons with the particular authority (ownership) and persons without, treating each class unequally. These are actual rights: actual rights always substantively discriminate, are always social/communitarian in nature, and always represent coercive authority.

    And that is a good and necessary thing.

  • Bob,

    Here’s where the confusion seems to lie. What you are calling a potential is also a right. We have a right to seek out and lay claim to property as much as we have a right to actually possess the property – that is all subsumed under property rights.

    This is because, in Locke/Leo’s view, man as such has a right to private property specifically because he is endowed with reason. The right exists before even the property exists, by virtue of who and what man is. It would be as wrong to prevent him seeking out property of his own as would be to take it away from him once he had it. The right to private property is nothing more than a corollary of the binding moral obligation of self-preservation, and preservation of one’s family.

    So with due respect it isn’t the same as saying everyone has the right to do math, since that indeed doesn’t put dinner on the table. But a man unhindered by any coercive authority from acquiring private property is in a much better position than a man so hindered, but with the right to do math.

    So a right is as much a freedom as it is an authority. It is that which we entitled to have AND do in order to fulfill our natural/moral obligations.

    Replace “actual rights” with “the actual use of rights”, and I will agree. It’s clearing up a basic identity error that I can’t abide by for many reasons.

  • We have a right to seek out and lay claim to property …

    … to the extent permitted by circumstances, law, existing arrangements, conventions, etc — in other words, a purely potential right the “exercise” of which depends entirely on circumstances and which for many people amounts to zero potential. In other words, this is a potential right. As soon as one acquires an actual right to an actual piece of property, that actual right is necessarily authoritative, discriminatory, and social in nature.

    An honest discourse would, I think, use entirely different words to describe these potentials versus describing actual rights.

    In any event though, any time any “right” is actually exercised, including these ‘potential’ rights to acquire property, the result is an assertion of hereditary (that is, dependent upon particular histories), exclusive, social, discriminating authority: the very thing that the various liberalisms, including libertarianism, exist to struggle against.

  • And by the way, you really should stop trying to coopt Pope Leo, of all people, into a support for any kind of libertarianism, including paleo-libertarianism. One day you’ll no doubt be taken to task for it by Leo himself, but in the meantime it is embarrassing to the rest of us.

  • You really should speak for yourself, Bob. Even when I disagree with Joe, he has never embarrassed me.

  • I suppose what really matters is what Pope Leo thinks of Joe’s attempts to put him and Locke in the same box. One day we’ll all find out.

  • Bob,

    I’d stand before Pope Leo with full confidence in my interpretation of his encyclicals.

    “There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.”

    And he explains how this is done through labor and private property.

    It is all astonishingly simple, and at the same time, astonishingly over-complicated by people who simply cannot shake themselves of the authoritarian itch, the impulse to declare all things as dependent upon a political community and to recognize no individual, independent rights of men. There is just no question in my mind, nor should there be in anyone’s mind who can read and understanding the simple meaning of words, that Leo held the opposite view.

  • Not only -would- you stand before Leo etc, you actually -will-. And you are no better at characterizing my view than his, btw.

  • Ok. Well, I said what I have to say, and people can decide for themselves.

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