53 Responses to From “Third Ways” to the First Way

  • kyle kanos says:

    You were attracted to what you thought was Distributism, but it really was something entirely different. Distributism does not distribute property to the populace, as if it were government, it is purely an economic system in which profits are shared among all the workers and each worker owns his own equipment.

    I stopped reading after your statement I was once attracted to the idea of Distributism, until I came to the vital question of who would be doing the “distributing” of the private property that everyone was supposed to own, but I assume that whatever your conclusions are, they are probably wrong because it was based on a false premise.

  • Patrick says:

    Good post. Yes, you hit on the dilemma of Distributism. The only example that I can think of is the Homestead Act of 1862 which ‘distributed’ land if people were willing to work the land. Unfortunately, much of that land was taken from the Indian tribes and a century later consolidated by oligopolistic corporations. In my reading of Christopher Dawson, culture and economic systems evolve over time. There was in the late medieval period a sort of distributism economy at work but this was destroyed during the Reformation. The introduction of usury at that time, rise of the nation state and confiscation of church lands effectively killed the evolution of a more distributive economy by the 17th century and the industrial revolution in the 19th century killed the small agrarian ‘lifestyle’ for good. Chesterton and Belloc were looking backwards towards that ‘lost’ model but you can’t impose distributism….it must evolve over time based upon agreed upon societal and cultural principles.

  • T. Shaw says:

    Third Way? Not even close.

    We shall have four more years of wrecking the evil, unjust private sector.

    I think we want to avoid starting out with “how we want ‘things’ to be” or “how we think ‘things’ should be” and analyze what/how things are. When you have a handle on what/how things are, you can form and suggest improvements. I try to make money from knowledge

    At the moment, a gang of unaudited, unelected PhD’s, and their crackpot monetary theories, run the World.

    KK: What does that mean? Is it that each worker is born with his own equipment, or is given it by God?

  • kyle kanos says:

    @T.Shaw: Obviously the worker would be given the gift of being able to work from God, but the materials he uses (such as his hammer, or a computer, or whatever) would be purchased from a retailer and not gifted to him by the company or government.

  • Robert A. Rowland says:

    let us try to recover the Republic that out founders originally intended and the God our nation once trusted. Neither of your two choices is truly viable. There can be no compromise between good and evil. The Democrat Party should be anathema.

  • kyle kanos says:

    @Mike Petrik: In the Distributist model of the economy, banks are replaced with Credit Unions. Last I checked, CU’s do offer savings accounts with interest.

    If you have seen It’s a Wonderful Life, you have seen Distributist banking in theory. Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, is the model of Distributist banking while Lionel Barrymore’s Mr Henry Potter is the model of Capitalist banking. Bailey is invested in the people and their welfare, Potter is invested in making more money.

  • Aren’t entrepeneur’s workers who actually work for the wealth they create while they hire other workers at a salary those workers agree to in order to create that wealth? And is not an agree-to amount of the wealth shared from (or paid by) the entrepeneur who works to his subsidiary workers? And is that not the distributionism to which we ought to aspire? You want wealth? Work for it!

    “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat.” 2nd Thessalonians 3:10

    You don’t get to have what isn’t yours.

  • JL says:

    @Paul. I think the difference is the underlying assumptions regarding human nature that inform the different approaches. Distributism would purport that humans are naturally relational, an approach of course originally proposed by Aristotle, interpreted by Aquinas through the lens of the New Testament, and, as far as I know, the current understanding of the Church. Therefore, society is not merely an aggregation of individuals. Indeed, the dichotomy of individual vs. society would be incoherent. From this perspective, a business owner should be just as motivated by contributing to the community (promoting the livelihood of others, producing an actual worthwhile product instead of something that plays off of human weakness) as they are by turning a profit.

    The other approach is derived from the Lockesian concept of radical individualism. Hiring employees is not seen as a “good” in and of itself, but merely a means toward the generation of wealth. Obviously many entrepreneurs do choose to hire people for less than self-motivated reasons (my brother makes a point of hiring people with mental handicaps to work at his restaurant), but that’s out of their own volition, not a product of the capitalist/classical liberal hybrid society we live in. As Tocqueville says, “Americans are better than their philosophy.” But once those other influences begin to wane, as we’re seeing with the replacement of authentic religion with a flimsy sort of humanism, I think we’ll see just how ugly and incompatible with Catholicism classical liberalism really is. If you have a First Things subscription, I’d encourage you to read Patrick Deneen’s recent essay on the unsustainability of liberalism. Good stuff.

  • Phillip says:

    “Indeed, the dichotomy of individual vs. society would be incoherent.”

    Though the concept of person and society isn’t and Paul’ comment does not contradict that.

    Perfect relation of unity and distinction is present in God in the Trinity. In human nature, especially fallen nature, there will always be some separation if not dichotomy.

  • JL says:

    @Phillip.
    Sure. We are individuals while also simultaneously part of a larger community. Lockesian philosophy seeks to separate the two, presenting the individual as a self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, the Church, and the family. We are not and we cannot.

  • Phillip says:

    “Lockesian philosophy seeks to separate the two, presenting the individual as a self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, the Church, and the family. We are not and we cannot.”

    I will agree with that to the extent I have read Locke. I don’t know if other Lockean scholars will agree.

    But its not clear that Capitalism (or the American experiment) is an effort at Lockean philosophy.

  • c matt says:

    But as a societal or political regime, it will either rest upon consent or it will rest upon force.

    What societal or political regime, in the end, does NOT rest upon consent or force. In fact, what regime does not rest ultimately upon force? If not for the threat of incarceration or other penalties, which of us would pay taxes to subsidize government programs the ruling class decides we need?

    Even the right to private property has to be protected, in the end, by force. The use of force by the government is not ipso facto wrong. The problem is that the government is run by those with various levels of ability (or desire) to seek the common good. Some mistake their policies as consistent with the common good when in fact they are not. Now whether or not distributism is in fact consistent with the common good, I do not know.

  • Bonchamps says:

    Kyle,

    Distributists like John Medaille, Thomas Storck and Chris Ferrara don’t talk about Distributism as a “purely economic” model of a firm. They talk about it as a complete vision of society. If it really were just about employee ownership, well, a) we wouldn’t need a special theory called “Distributism” because its already a widely practiced thing (there are more workers in employee stock plans now than there are in unions) and b) they wouldn’t be talking about guild systems, the elimination of usury, financial regulations and a whole host of ideas that go far beyond the mere advocacy of worker ownership.

    JL,

    No one believes – not Locke, not anyone – by the way, that anyone is a “self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, etc.” This is complete nonsense. That people form families and societies is a given in Locke’s state of nature.

  • JL,

    You wrote, “From this perspective, a business owner should be just as motivated by contributing to the community (promoting the livelihood of others, producing an actual worthwhile product instead of something that plays off of human weakness) as they are by turning a profit.”

    I agree and maintain that this must never be mandated by secular law but be taught by the Church. Secular law should (1) ensure a level regulatory playing field that protects public health and safety from industrial / medical / transportational / energy production / aviation activities with a potential for adverse impact on life or limb, and (2) prevent (or punish the doers thereof as appropriate) the initiation of force by one company, entrepeneur or worker over another company, entrepeneur or worker. Fossil fuel accidents like Deep Water Horizons and the Exxon Valdez are cases in point, as well as the Union Carbide toxic gas release in Bhopal, India in 1984.

    It “ain’t” the Federal Govt’s job to enforce distributionism except in those cases where taxes are required for public health, safety and the common defense. That said, local communities may elect to have local laws that provide services for the poor in their communities based on taxing the wealth-producing residents (entrepeneurial or laborer) of such communities. If a particular resident doesn’t like the vote of the majority, then he can move to a community without such mandated distributionism. This is called subsidiarity and freedom.

    I probably would agree to extra local taxes for the poor. But I object to extra Federal govt taxes for the poor. I am all for distributionism at the local level. I oppose it at the Federal level. The only exception are massive accidents like the Deep Water Horizon oil well blowout that killed 5 more people in 2010 than the 6 who who killed by the event at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, and devasted the eco-system in the Gulf of Mexico with toxic sludge that will never ever decay away (unlike Cs-137 that has a half life of 30.17 years). And yes, BP should be subject the “re-distribution” necessary to pay for damages. It’s called “responsibility”.

  • Bonchamps says:

    C Matt,

    “What societal or political regime, in the end, does NOT rest upon consent or force.”

    Regimes established by cliques and cadres such as Jacobins and Bolsheviks, for starters – regimes that can only cement their rule through mass murder, ethnic cleansing and the extermination of millions. Those would be the most clear-cut examples. A regime in which all of the productive workers are expropriated by the government to support a horde of unproductive voters in exchange for political power, which is what we have in the United States right now, comes pretty close as well.

    “Even the right to private property has to be protected, in the end, by force.”

    I disagree with that. When you defend your rights, you certainly aren’t engaging in an illegitimate use of force. You’re repelling someone else’s attempt to use force in a completely illegitimate way. Yes, we can play semantic word games and call defensive violence “force”, but really what I am rejecting is the aggressive invasion of other people’s natural rights.

  • Bonchamps says:

    “The other approach is derived from the Lockesian concept of radical individualism. Hiring employees is not seen as a “good” in and of itself, but merely a means toward the generation of wealth”

    The generation of wealth benefits everyone. It benefits the poor more than everyone else. When producers are efficient, consumers are rewarded, and most consumers are poor. How is that not a social good? I reject the whole silly notion that production for profit is “selfish.” There isn’t a legitimate profit that is made that doesn’t involve the mutual benefit of at least two parties. In a society in which property rights are respected, you can’t make a dime unless you make the effort to correctly ascertain and provide what people express a desire for. That seems to be a necessary, indispensable requisite for “society.”

  • JL says:

    Bonchamps

    “No one believes – not Locke, not anyone – by the way, that anyone is a “self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, etc.” This is complete nonsense. That people form families and societies is a given in Locke’s state of nature.”

    You misunderstand me. Locke argues that these relationships are completely voluntary, not a de facto, organic, intrinsic product of human nature. Individuals form societies simply to protect “natural rights.” They are not necessarily “social” in essence. There is no obligation to the common good. Locke’s views of child-rearing are especially troubling, as its essentially boiled down to a contract that terminates once the child becomes self-sufficient. Additionally, one of the compelling reasons Locke cites that serves as incentive for a child not to severe filial connections is the matter of his inheritance. This is certainly anything but the Catholic concept of the family, which is something we are born into, not to which we voluntarily consent.

  • Bonchamps says:

    JL,

    ” Locke argues that these relationships are completely voluntary, not a de facto, organic, intrinsic product of human nature.”

    They are completely voluntary, in the sense that – at least in a stateless society – no one is compelled to enter them by force. No matter how “organic” or “intrinsic” certain arrangements might be, whether or not they are voluntary depends solely on whether or not one is, or is not, forced to enter into them regardless of their will. Through the exercise of free will alone, you could decide not to have a wife, or children. Surely you won’t dispute that.

    “Individuals form societies simply to protect “natural rights.”

    No. They form governments to protect natural rights. “Society” and “government” are very clearly not the same thing, and a certain level of society must be reached before there can ever be a common agreement to a social contract establishing a government.

    “They are not necessarily “social” in essence.”

    Of course they are, if “social” means voluntary cooperation as opposed to forced participation.

    “There is no obligation to the common good.”

    Well, that’s false, since Locke identifies an obligation not only to care for one’s self, but for one’s family and in fact, insofar as possible, every other member of society. The common good is served in the pursuit of legitimate self-interest, moreover, which can only be satisfied by meeting other people’s needs.

    ” Locke’s views of child-rearing are especially troubling, as its essentially boiled down to a contract that terminates once the child becomes self-sufficient.”

    There is an implicit “contract” in any voluntary relationship.

    A truly self-sufficient being would be degraded if it were forced to stay in a dependent relationship against its will, especially one that has become abusive.

    “This is certainly anything but the Catholic concept of the family, which is something we are born into, not to which we voluntarily consent.”

    The capacity to consent begins with the use of reason. We aren’t born with that either, but if we were, family would hardly be necessary. The primary duty of parents towards children is their physical upkeep and their education. Once these tasks are complete, a family will either remain together out of love or disintegrate. We live in a world in which adults coddle children until they are 18 and in many cases for years and years beyond that. In different times and places, self-sufficiency is theoretically possible far sooner than that. The sooner the better, I say.

  • I think Bonchamps point that “everything rests on consent or force” is a very important one. No one has the right to initiate force against anyone else. That said, some will say (for example – there are plenty of other ones, but I will use one familiar to me) that they are being forced to breathe in the toxic refuse of coal fired power plants (which per the CDC kill 33,000 people annually in the US from lung disease due to particulate pollution). But these same people pay for electricity with nary a complaint about where that electricity comes from (because we all know that no electricity kills far more people than electricity from coal). So, are they being forced, or have they consented by virtue of the fact that they have paid for their electric bills? Now there is an alternative, but that alternative, instead of having a 90+ % capacity factor, has a 30- % capacity factor, and here it is:

    http://otherpower.com/

    People consent when they pay. Don’t want it? Don’t pay for it and erect your own wind mill that won’t give electricity 70% of the time. It’s that simple. If I really don’t consent to fossil fuel pollution, then why do I drive a fossil fueled vehicle? Answer: I make a risk trade off between cancer from fossil fuel pollution versus the luxury of getting where I want to go no matter when. Besides, fast transportation to the hospital in case I get sick or injured beats any day of the week not being able to get there.

    Govt has no right to force people to do anything except in the case where public health, safety and the common defense are adversely impacted. Rather, govt’s responsibilty is to level the legal and regulatory playing field. In the example above, if all things were equal and coal fired power plants were held to the same radiation emissions standards as nuclear power plants, then not a single coal plant would be operating (it’s all that uranium, thorium and radium in coal). But if I agree to buy electicity without specifying where the utility provides that electricity from, then I do not get to complain because I have consented – no one forced me. Besides, electricity is better than no electricity. Common good outweighs individual preference.

    It’s called responsibility. Most people want the other guy to pay, and when he refuses, then they cry that they are coerced. Horse manure!

  • Mike Petrik says:

    kyle: Thanks for your response. What if I had an idea for a new product, but I needed serveral million dollars to get it launched? What should I do? Assume I tried to convince people to work on it in exchange for an ownership interest in the venture, but failed. Would Distributism preclude me from offering ownership interests to cash investors (to pay for the workers)? After all some people may believe in my idea and be willing to accept risk for reward. Is everyone limited to 1% credit union interest? Am I out of luck if I cannot find workers willing to trade work for ownership and the related risk?

  • T. Shaw says:

    This distributism of which you people refer has never existed and can never exist.

    It is all too beautiful and too good; and would fall apart before the first sunset. Something that we evil, worldly/work-a-day mules have been dealing with since the day of creation would crop up and knock over the whole thing. [I'll be amazed if any know from whence I lifted that.]

    Same same with socialism. Except that mass travesty was perpetuated by impatient humanitarians with kalashnikov assault rifles and guard dogs; and jackboots perpetually stomping on human faces.

    The Pilgrims were as virtuous as you can imagine. In 1620, they landed on Plymouth Rock and attempted Christian socialism. It didn’t work, and virtuous people died that didn’t need to starve. They quickly reverted to individual initiative, private property and hard work.

    I’ve owned a home since 1979. I have been meeting mortgage payments since 1979. Truth: George Bailey loaned money at a spread over his cost of funds/what interest he paid on deposits/shares. Now, Capital One is making approximately 230 basis points on my monthly payments. Some may think that unfair, or [gasp] usury. But, without those loans, I woud not have owned my homes wherein I sheltered and raised my three sons. Also, a home equity loan helped me pay for three university educations.

    For my sins, I have worked at high levels (36 years) in financial services. I know mortgage banking and servicing, financial intermediation, financial derivatives and hedges, real estate appraisals, syndicated commercial lending, you name it.

  • Mercier says:

    I find it rather odd to put it mildly that Locke is here placed in the tradition of Catholic natural law theorists. Locke clearly reject the metaphysics and natural philosophy which underlie natural law theory. His views on faith and reason as expressed in his Essay On Human Understanding should offend any serious Christian. Lastly, the emphasis the author has on the voluntary nature of things in the article and comments clearly places him within the tradition of liberal political thought as opposed to the Christian or classical traditions. Pierre Manent’s book, A World Beyond Politics, quite clearly shows this is one of the fundamental contrasts between modern and pre-modern conceptions of politics, society, etc.

    further reading: http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2007/10/are-we-all-lockeans-now.html

  • Bonchamps says:

    Mercier,

    Allow me to explain myself.

    “I find it rather odd to put it mildly that Locke is here placed in the tradition of Catholic natural law theorists. Locke clearly reject the metaphysics and natural philosophy which underlie natural law theory.”

    I’ve had this debate before. There are different interpretations of Locke floating around out there, and it is recognized that his corpus contains significant contradictions. I would maintain that the Second Treatise, as a stand-alone text, is a work of traditional natural law theory. I am not convinced that his views espoused in other works mean that the very clear natural law arguments put forward in the ST must necessarily be read as somehow not in or opposed to the natural law tradition. Nor do I find useful or compelling the Straussian method of reading hidden messages in works of political philosophy. It’s possible that the real and final John Locke rejected all of the metaphysical underpinnings of natural law, but they are all present in the Second Treatise.

    ” Lastly, the emphasis the author has on the voluntary nature of things in the article and comments clearly places him within the tradition of liberal political thought as opposed to the Christian or classical traditions.”

    I don’t mind that at all. There is plenty of good in the tradition of liberal political thought, though to be absolutely clear, I reject much of what issued forth from the “Enlightenment.” In fact I find a society based upon the respect of individual rights and liberties to be utterly incompatible with the atheism and materialism that became so fashionable at that time, since both lead (at least the Western mind) to determinism, to a negation of free will, and therefore the total loss of human dignity. Libertarian views are more compatible with the Christian view of the soul and moral responsibility than they are with the stupid beasts produced by atheistic/materialistic evolution.

    “Pierre Manent’s book, A World Beyond Politics, quite clearly shows this is one of the fundamental contrasts between modern and pre-modern conceptions of politics, society, etc.”

    Modern society is a fact of life, not a choice. New technological and social arrangements require an updating in thought. How one does it is the problem. Many are radical extremists who want to tear everything down. The paleo-libertarian tradition of the Austrian school builds upon the very best of our historical inheritance and the Enlightenment. So there are different reactions to the modern world, one a stubborn reactionism that irrationally refuses to deal with changing realities, another an extreme radicalism that hates the past simply because it is the past, and still another that recognizes the inevitability of change but seeks to understand it through the accumulated wisdom of mankind.

  • Bonchamps says:

    FYI,

    I find it grotesque to suggest that the neoconservative imperialism of the Bushes is in any way a continuation of the “Lockean project.” The idea that people can be liberated at the point of foreign bayonets is a Jacobin and Bolshevik one, not a Lockean one. The founding fathers influenced by Locke, as the author notes, were non-interventionists who did not believe that it was their mission to secure natural rights around the globe. I’ll say more about the rest of the article later.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    I haven’t done a lot of in-depth study of Chesterton’s Distributist ideas, but the impression I have is that he defines “Distributism” as an economy driven by lots of small- and medium-size businesses, and individuals/families working for themselves as craftspeople, rather than by a few big corporations. He never, as far as I know, advocated forcible re-distribution of capital (that would be communism) but simply a more level playing field for the “little guy”.

    One way I can think of to put distributism into action would be for states and local governments to stop playing the “massive taxpayer-funded economic incentives to big businesses” game and implement a fair tax and regulatory environment for everyone. (See my post “The Economic War Between the States” from several years ago). Another way is to insure that all your laws and rules regulating the private sector are 1) really necessary, 2) not excessively burdensome, especially to small businesses, small municipalities and non-profits, 3) explain clearly what affected entities have to do (or not do), and 4) provide some kind of appeal or due process for those adversely affected. Rules per se are not evil; rules that are badly constructed, allow agencies too much discretion to do whatever they feel like and don’t provide any recourse for people who suffer because of them are evil.

    Distributism is an ideal, of course, never to be realized perfectly in this world, but achieving 50 percent or 20 percent or even 10 percent of an ideal goal is better than achieving 0 percent or not even bothering to try attaining it.

  • WK Aiken says:

    Such an energetic melange of human thought. What strikes me is how many times we see “perhaps you misuderstood . . .” or “what I really meant was . . .” Would that all the terms and concepts be objectively and identically understood and employed.

    Unfortunately, human ideas, obviously being of human origin, are always incomplete and subject to the mold of the mind that holds them. Vigorous debate is a lovely exercise, and God forbid the day we are “compelled” to refrain from it, but in the end I find I sleep better when I hold on to this first:

    “For it is written:

    ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’

    Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” – 1 Corinthians 1:19-20

    Peace+

  • Bonchamps says:

    Elaine,

    ” He never, as far as I know, advocated forcible re-distribution of capital (that would be communism) but simply a more level playing field for the “little guy”.”

    How is the playing field leveled? This is my problem. There is no clarity on this. It just happens. It’s “just an economic theory” that “proposes” that more people become owners. I’m only interested in the means by which it happens. No one who believes in capitalism from a libertarian point of view opposes people voluntarily doing whatever they like to create a more egalitarian economic arrangement. It would inconsistent and absurd for them to do so.

    And yet Distributism is always opposed to capitalism, as if it would replace it. If all they mean is that they believe that worker ownership would prove to be more happily and widely embraced than the traditional model of ownership once its benefits become manifest to all, then there is absolutely no opposition at all. There’s no need to set them up as antagonistic. It’s just a competition of models that people are free to try out for themselves.

    And yet I get the sense that it means something quite more than that, though what, exactly, is never made clear.

  • Bonchamps says:

    Of course, I should add that it seems that there are different versions of this idea floating around. Your (Elaine’s) post seems to highlight the “small is best” view, whereas in my understanding, very large firms could fit into a “Distributist” model provided they were structured in certain ways.

    I don’t see any reason to glorify small business, or for that matter, skilled labor, as many Distributists do. When you really consider how narrow these interests are compared to the interests of consumers, it becomes more difficult to justify – in the name of the “common” good – a regime that exists to bolster them at the expense of alternatives. |

  • Mercier says:

    Thank you for the reply. I am pressed for time so I will limit my reply. I am unconvinced that you can limit/compartmentalize Locke’s thought in the way you are doing. However, looking at the Second Treatise alone I am totally unconvinced of its natural law credentials. A good essay that deals with this indirectly through an examination of Maritain’s political theory is “Maritain and Natural Rights” by Frederick J. Crosson in the Review of Metaphysics 36 (June 1983). He draws out some of the contradictions between Lockean natural rights theory and scholastic political theory.

    A small remark on the far bigger issue of the common good. The focus on individual self-interest seems necessarily at odds with the primacy of the common good (see Charles de Koninck The Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists).

    two posts by Pater Waldstein are worth reflecting on that touch on these matters among others: http://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/against-the-american-revolution/
    http://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/political-order/

    Also an article from a site I am sure you are familiar with: http://distributistreview.com/mag/2010/11/locke-and-inside-catholic/

    Lastly MacIntyre’s famous closing of After Virtue gives at least a partial answer to what the Catholic should be doing in the face of the modern order:

    It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the Epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless, certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman Imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of the Imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead- often not recognizing fully what they were doing- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If this account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another-doubtless very different- St. Benedict.

  • Bonchamps says:

    “He draws out some of the contradictions between Lockean natural rights theory and scholastic political theory.”

    Can you spell those out?

    I don’t doubt that there are some points of divergence. I think Locke was doing something new, but I also think it was something necessary given the changing social and intellectual order. Some see Locke as a destroyer. I see him as a preserver.

    “The focus on individual self-interest seems necessarily at odds with the primacy of the common good”

    Well, it might “seem” that way, but I don’t think it is that way. Even the scholastics had a conception of the legitimate pursuit of profit, which necessarily involves meeting the needs of many consumers, dozens, hundreds, thousands or even millions. Locke develops it a bit further by highlighting the social usefulness of productive labor, which does not simply benefit the laborer but also everyone whom he exchanges his product with.

    Of course there is greed. Anything can be taken to excess. But the supposed antagonism between self-interest as such and the common good is just a fallacy in my opinion. Properly understood, they are in fact inseparable. In fact people who are forced to toil for reasons other than self-interest have never been the most productive workers, meaning they have never been the most socially useful and beneficial workers. If “the common good” were really something that people pursued at the expense of self-interest, communism would have a better track record. I think Rerum Novarum makes this all abundantly clear too. The right of individuals to private property is supplemented with assertions that they also have the right to a decent standard of living befitting of their human dignity, and only when that has been attained does the moral obligation (which is never to be a legal obligation, by the way) to give from one’s surplus labor go into effect. Self-interest is not selfishness. A neglected self will probably be of less use and benefit to others than one that attends to its needs and legitimate desires.

    Whatever Catholics ought to be doing is a separate question from whether or not people in general should be forced to participate in social schemes, or whether such schemes derive their legitimacy from the consent of the participants. That’s really what I’m interested in here.

    As for the modern world, as far as governance goes, Locke had the right idea. I don’t have to agree with his metaphysic, frankly, to simply understand the political implications of religious pluralism. You either use force to suppress all the heretics, or you learn to live with them. When the heretics are few, they can easily be suppressed. When they make up a significant minority, enough to resist suppression with substantial force, you have no choice but to negotiate. Eventually some will make a virtue out of necessity, and like Locke (or Hobbes or others) they may even spin a whole philosophy out of it. But the necessity is there no matter what you do with it. I think Leo XIII grappled with this necessity as best anyone possibly could. And I think anyone grappling with it is going to find something worthwhile in Locke.

  • JL says:

    @Bonchamps

    Just a few points, because this discussion has died down and you clearly have bigger, fresher fish to fry (for what it’s worth, I’m squarely in your corner when it comes the ideas put forward in your recent article connecting the CT shooting with US-perpetuated violence at large.)

    “The generation of wealth benefits everyone.”

    I’m convinced that the generation of wealth is a neutral. It does not automatically benefit anyone. In fact, it can lead to as many ills as goods, especially if generated in societies predisposed towards excess and self-centered hedonism.

    “I reject the whole silly notion that production for profit is “selfish.” ”

    How we do things matters. In saying this, I’m reminded of a strand of thought from Chesterton. He makes the observation that a young man could be moved to chastity both by thinking abhorrently of the consequences of a sexually transmitted disease, or, conversely, by reflecting on the Virign Mary. Now it’s true that both methods could be effective means of chaste compellance. In fact, the former might even be more effective. But there is no question, at least in my mind, which is to be preferred.

    The same can be said of one’s approach towards business and economics. One can certainly view their own enterprise in a completely self-centered manner, ie “what’s in it for me, how does this benefit me,” without any concern for the common good AND STILL benefit the common good through the economic properties of capitalism you cited. But such an approach is, in fact, wrong and, dare say it, sinful. It’s all a matter of mindset, and I think it is a distinction worth making. Again, what we think matters.

    “They are completely voluntary, in the sense that – at least in a stateless society – no one is compelled to enter them by force. No matter how “organic” or “intrinsic” certain arrangements might be, whether or not they are voluntary depends solely on whether or not one is, or is not, forced to enter into them regardless of their will.”

    We are not taking about “voluntary” in the same sense. Either that or you are fundamentally at odds with Church teaching regarding human nature. One is born with certain obligations to their community and the common good. It is a condition of being a human being. There is nothing voluntary about this relationship. To be sure, someone can decide to voluntarily fulfill this obligation or not, but this says nothing of the existence of the actual obligation. To deny that this obligation exists, that we are naturally relational and not autonomous, is to disregard a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.

    “Through the exercise of free will alone, you could decide not to have a wife, or children. Surely you won’t dispute that.”

    I won’t, but I don’t think that has anything to do with what we’ve been talking about. You’re referring to a hypothetical obligation that doesn’t exist becausethe conditions for such a relationship were never established. When talking about Locke and the family, I’ve focused specifically on the relationship between parents and children, two parties who already exist and from the moment of their existence (in their respective roles) shared a certain set of responsibilities to the other. That is not a hypothetical, it already exists.

    I said: “Individuals form societies simply to protect “natural rights.”

    You said: “No. They form governments to protect natural rights. “Society” and “government” are very clearly not the same thing, and a certain level of society must be reached before there can ever be a common agreement to a social contract establishing a government.”

    Locke says: “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property, and the end why they choose and authorize a legislative is that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power and moderate the dominion of every part and member of the society.”

    Emphasis on that first bit. Society and government seem to be different sides of the same coin. One’s the structure and one’s the enforcing mechanism. I don’t disagree with you that it’s basically impossible not to be part of society here and now, but that’s not what Locke is talking about. He’s talking about “the state of nature,” and it is extremely revealing that he believes man begins completely independent and apart from society, and only enters on his own volition to secure his own interests. I’ve said it repeatedly, but it’s impossible to reconcile this premise with anything remotely Aristotelian or Thomistic.

    I said: “They are not necessarily “social” in essence.”

    You said: “Of course they are, if “social” means voluntary cooperation as opposed to forced participation.”

    It doesn’t mean either. It means you are born with responsibilities to society and the common good. Again, whether you choose to carry those out is your own decision to make. But not believing that such a social component of human nature exists doesn’t change the fact that it does, just as denying objective morality does not somehow frees you from committing grave acts of immorality.

    “Well, that’s false, since Locke identifies an obligation not only to care for one’s self, but for one’s family and in fact, insofar as possible, every other member of society. The common good is served in the pursuit of legitimate self-interest, moreover, which can only be satisfied by meeting other people’s needs.”

    Locke contradicts himself, plain and simple. One may, as you point out, serve the common good as some sort of secondary byproduct of his pursuit of self-interest, but this certainly does not mean this is a hard and fast rule. Today’s business practice are rife with examples of individuals serving their own interests at the expense of thousands of others. Locke wanted his cake and to eat it, too.

    “There is an implicit “contract” in any voluntary relationship.”

    Such thinking would explain the appallingly high divorce rates in America. Marriage is not a contract, but a sacramental covenant. Filial relations are far closer to the former than the latter.

  • Bonchamps says:

    JL,

    Thanks for the comment. Its nice to have a discussion like this. I’m convinced that much of our dispute is purely semantic, though some of it may actually be over values. We’ll see.

    “I’m convinced that the generation of wealth is a neutral. It does not automatically benefit anyone. In fact, it can lead to as many ills as goods, especially if generated in societies predisposed towards excess and self-centered hedonism.”

    This all depends on what you mean by “wealth” and what you mean by “benefit.” In a free market – and markets are free at least to some extent in this country, in spite of various regulations – production of goods and services for profit, which is the basis of capitalism, does benefit everyone. It makes the necessities of life easier to obtain for masses of poor and average people through competition and innovation, it provides incentives for people to work their hardest, it rewards people for using their money as capital and taking a major risk in doing so as opposed to simply squandering it on themselves. If a man with a thousand dollars uses it to start a business, he is surely doing more for society than if he uses that thousand dollars at the craps table or even if he simply gives it away to people who will just spend it on whatever.

    The Church has always been correct to point out that there are many needs that a market economy cannot satisfy. But a market economy does better what all other economies also try to do. And no libertarian worth a damn opposes the existence of organizations such as the Church to provide many of those non-economic needs. Perhaps it is the decline of the Church and not the rise of capitalism that some people ought to be most concerned with.

    “How we do things matters”

    For our souls, yes. But here I am concerned with the law, with the use of force and coercion. Do you think force and coercion ought to be employed against people who do things that have good effects for morally unsound reasons? I don’t even think it should be employed against many bad choices that have bad effects, and certainly not “bad” choices that have good effects.

    I don’t think it is the role of the state to ensure that we do the right thing for the right reason. It is the task of religion to shape and mold the conscience that informs behavior. It is the task of the state to protect individual human rights. THAT sort of dualism has always been accepted by the Church, in fact, which has always marked out the clear lines of distinction between itself and the civil authorities.

    “We are not taking about “voluntary” in the same sense”

    There is only one sense in which I understand the word. That which is voluntary, is that which is undertaken with sufficient knowledge and consent, that which is undertaken freely, without restraint or coercion.

    “One is born with certain obligations to their community and the common good.”

    This is not disputed, by Locke or myself. If we have a dispute here, it is over what “the common good” is, which I maintain is not harmed, and is served, by self-interested economic behavior.

    “There is nothing voluntary about this relationship.”

    No, there is “something” voluntary about it. We can’t choose whether it exists or not, but we can choose whether or not to carry out our duties inherent in it. In that sense it is absolutely voluntary.

    “To deny that this obligation exists, that we are naturally relational and not autonomous, is to disregard a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.”

    I have problems with the word “obligation” in general, to be honest with you. I would certainly agree that failing in one’s duty carries with it consequences that most rational people would want to avoid. But the existence of freedom ultimately means that no one is bound, in the strictest sense of the word, to do anything. All obligations are conditional. If you would avoid pain, suffering, or even eternal damnation, you must do x, y and z. But you are always free not to do them.

    That is why I ultimately agree that you cannot derive “oughts” from what “is.” You can only derive “oughts” from “ifs”, and this because of the fact of our total freedom as spiritual beings. I don’t think this is heretical either, if that is where you want to go next (some do, so I apologize if I jump the gun). I’ve at least read enough on the Catholic Encyclopedia to know that certain theologians have argued more or less the same thing.

    “I won’t, but I don’t think that has anything to do with what we’ve been talking about.”

    Of course it does. That’s what I mean by voluntary. You can choose not to do it.

    “When talking about Locke and the family, I’ve focused specifically on the relationship between parents and children, two parties who already exist and from the moment of their existence (in their respective roles) shared a certain set of responsibilities to the other. ”

    Well, shift it a bit. You can choose to leave your already-existing spouse and children, as men sometimes do. The point remains. It is still a choice.

    Now, as for your Locke quote –

    Yes, I have seen that very passage, and I admit that his use of the word “society” there, taken out of context, can seem awful. But the fact remains is that much earlier in the same work, Locke totally acknowledges the existence of society before the government. This is clear to me, for instance, in Chapter 7 of the Second Treatise. The family exists first, “falling short” of a political society as Locke says. Then there is the household in which there are masters and servants, and this too falls short of political society.

    So be careful with the word “society.” Locke speaks of many different kinds of “societies”. As he says:

    ” But how a family, or any other society of men, differ from that which is properly political society, we shall best see, by considering wherein political society itself consists.” (Ch. VII, 86)

    So the family, the household, and the polity – these are all different kinds of “societies” for Locke, and it seems clear to me that it is the political society to which he is referring to in that much later passage you cited in the ST.

    “Again, whether you choose to carry those out is your own decision to make. ”

    That’s all that makes them voluntary. Nothing more or less.

    ” Today’s business practice are rife with examples of individuals serving their own interests at the expense of thousands of others. ”

    When they do so by force (i.e. by relying on government subsidies, prohibitive regulations that destroy competition, tariffs and quotas, and things of that nature) or by fraud (as in the case of some of these big banks and other corporations that are always tied up with the state and its interests), then yes. But on a free market, it is almost impossible to serve your own interests at the expense of others. As soon as “others” see that you’re bilking them, they take their business elsewhere, and if you bilk them badly enough, they will sue you into oblivion. In a free system it is in your interests to make other people happy or at least satisfied. That’s what leftists, socialists, and Distributists simply cannot conceptualize, and its a damned shame.

    “Such thinking would explain the appallingly high divorce rates in America.”

    No, what explains high divorce rates in America is quite simply a radical restructuring of the meaning of marriage in an industrial and now post-industrial information age. It would be foolish to deny the purely secular, social and historical components of marriage, especially in a country that was never a part of Medieval Christendom or an Islamic caliphate. Marriage has been mostly about the convenience of multiple parties, sometimes not even the people getting married. It has been for the parents, for the larger families to be joined, for the communities they lived in, and often economic and political motives have underlined them throughout history. Marriage was almost NOT voluntary in those times, either because people were forced into marriage by their parents or pure economic necessity made it completely irrational and foolish to go at life alone.

    Things are different now. The immaterial and spiritual benefits of marriage less obvious to the masses of materialistic and secular people. That’s the truth of it, and I have no idea what to do about it. I certainly don’t think it is “good” that the family is in such disrepair because we see what devastation that wreaks as well. But understanding why things happen is separate from endorsing them, and they will never be changed unless we can make that distinction.

  • Bonchamps says:

    And I realize, by the way, that my view of freedom and obligation takes me out of the traditional natural law camp. But I identify with it because I believe that the negative consequences of disregarding nature’s clear order are almost conceptually the same as the existence of these things called “obligations” that just “exist” independently of our wills. I think “law” can describe both things. We can dispute that in more detail if you like.

  • Phillip says:

    “How we do things matters”

    Yes, the Church teaches the three componenets of an act are its object, circumstances and intention. If any are evil then the whole act is evil.

    Of course the motivator for all these acts is Love. Capitalized deliberately in that it is those acts motivated the the Theological Virtue of Love that are truly good. This Love in turn presupposes the Truth. For without Truth, there can be no Love. That may even require us to change our positions where faced with the truth.

    Now, few acts, by businessmen, economists or other proponents of their varied positions are so purely motivated. Thus the role of govt. to set limits where appropriate.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    No one was more insistent on the distinction between the state and civil society than Hegel, a proponent of the organic notion of the state, ““If the state is confused with civil society, and if its specific end is laid down as the security and protection of property and personal freedom, then the interest of the individuals as such becomes the ultimate end of their association, and it follows that membership of the state is something optional. But the state’s relation to the individual is quite different from this. Since the state is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life. Unification pure and simple is the true content and aim of the individual, and the individual’s destiny is the living of a universal life. His further particular satisfaction, activity and mode of conduct have this substantive and universally valid life as their starting point and their result.” G W Hegel, “Philosophy of Right” 258

    The notion of “mind objectified” is also found in Yves Simon, when he says “The highest activity/being in the natural order is free arrangement of men about what is good brought together in an actual polity where it is no longer a mere abstraction.” It is in the polity that the abstract or notional good is made concrete.

  • Bonchamps says:

    Phillip,

    “Now, few acts, by businessmen, economists or other proponents of their varied positions are so purely motivated. Thus the role of govt. to set limits where appropriate.”

    I reject your “thus.” Motivations behind activities that do not violate anyone’s rights are completely irrelevant to the legitimate duties of the state. If someone uses force or fraud in the marketplace, then yes, this should be punished. If someone simply makes a profit because they want a new boat as opposed to really wanting to meet the needs of customers, this is not something for the law to be concerned with.

    Also, who is going to restrain and set limits on the government? Whenever you create a group of “regulators”, you create an agency with coercive authority that can be and almost always is staffed and purchased by the very people supposedly being “regulated.” It is the small business and the fresh entrepreneur who is “regulated” out of the competition, faced with completely prohibitive and unnecessary burdens usually concocted by the already-established players in the market.

    The best limits on the businessman are those set by the wrath of the consumer, who can and will solicit his competitors or take him before a judge the moment he violates their trust or their rights, respectively.

  • Bonchamps says:

    MPS,

    Hegel’s political philosophy is totalitarian gibberish, as far as I am concerned. First of all, it is a matter of fact – scientific, philosophic, theological – that we are free to choose. Because we are free to choose, all associations are voluntary. That being said, there are serious consequences that would follow from any individual’s choice to remain apart from society. Thus it is hardly “optional” for most people.

    Moreover, both as a matter of historical fact and morality, man precedes the state. Leo XIII affirms this in Rerum Novarum. Individual men, spouses, families, communities – all of these things exist before there is this coercive authority we call “the state” or “the government”, and that is why it can be said to be a rational creation of man. It exists because, and only because, without it that which men require for their life, liberty and happiness would be insecure. It does not exist to bring us into some totalitarian nightmare of collectivist “unification.” We have seen the Hegelian monster. We saw it under the name of Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, Stalinism in the Soviet Union, Maoism in China. We saw it in the mountains of skulls lining the killing fields in Cambodia, and we see it here with the worship of Barack Obama by sections of the American left.

    Against this horror I will stand with Locke and Jefferson, or Hayek and Rothbard any day of the week.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    I would suggest that membership of the nation cannot reasonably be described as voluntary, inasmuch as nationality is defined by descent and birth, and it is neither revocable nor is it attainable at will.

    A man may lose his citizenship but not his nationality. This follows from the fact that the nation is a unit of common descent and blood and not of voluntary adherence and association – “They speak the same language, they bear about them the impress of consanguinity, they kneel beside the same tombs, they glory in the same tradition.”

  • Phillip says:

    “Motivations behind activities that do not violate anyone’s rights are completely irrelevant to the legitimate duties of the state. If someone uses force or fraud in the marketplace, then yes, this should be punished. If someone simply makes a profit because they want a new boat as opposed to really wanting to meet the needs of customers, this is not something for the law to be concerned with.”

    Thus, the reason I said “where appropriate.” Not all motivations are to be regulated. The ultimate point is that few act with a pure love of God.

    “Also, who is going to restrain and set limits on the government? ”

    I agree here also, thus my point of noting “proponents of their varied positions.” Govt. is frequently acting without proper motivations.

  • Bonchamps says:

    MPS,

    “I would suggest that membership of the nation cannot reasonably be described as voluntary”

    Sure, if you live in North Korea.

    ” This follows from the fact that the nation is a unit of common descent and blood and not of voluntary adherence and association ”

    If it makes you feel better to believe that, ok. It has no bearing on anything I would ever do with my life, though, unless you propose to use force to keep me within the physical parameters of this “nation” of yours. Whether or not an association is voluntary is simply a matter of whether or not you propose to use violence to keep me in it. If you do, you’re a tyrant and a slavemaster and you’ll be treated as such. If you don’t, then you’re holding on to a quaint mythology that does me no real harm and will be happy to leave to you.

    Of course you are well aware that this is not some European “nation” founded by the strongest tribe of roving savages thousands of years ago. This is a nation formed by already-existing polities which were in turn formed by people who fled the very blood bondage you speak of out of their own volition and through their own values.

    Phillip,

    No, the ultimate point is that you aren’t being clear on what you want to regulate and who you want to punish. Elaborate if you like, or don’t. Ambiguity on these topics is what I expect.

  • Phillip says:

    But that would require the specifics of each case. Regulation itself is a blunt instrument. But even the blunt instrument requires knowledge of the specifics of cases to form a proper choice.

    That is as exact as I can prudently get.

  • Bonchamps says:

    So there are no principles or general aims behind your regulatory proposals? The arbitrary wills and values of the individual regulators dictate all?

    And I’m supposed to think this is a fabulous idea why, exactly?

  • Phillip says:

    No. Most principles are those of Catholic Social Teaching, Though those don[‘t exhaust all political thought. Thus to learn from those and see where there is value.

    Locke has a measure of value. Maritain and Strauss. None exhaust God.

    Like Socrates though, my first claim is that I don’t know the answer to all, but that prudence will demand specifics be known. So perhaps ultimately, I am Socratic. And Aristotelian. And Thomistic.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    “It has no bearing on anything I would ever do with my life…”

    But the individual’s nationality is what constitutes him; it pervades his nature and expresses itself in his actions

  • Art Deco says:

    A man may lose his citizenship but not his nationality. This follows from the fact that the nation is a unit of common descent and blood and not of voluntary adherence and association – “They speak the same language, they bear about them the impress of consanguinity, they kneel beside the same tombs, they glory in the same tradition.”

    That is characteristic of Europe, but not of societies of migrants (the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, &c).

  • PM says:

    Nationality was and is an essence of experience as a U.S. resident in this city where I’ve lived my life.

    The post is debating force and consent, which is over my head, but the nationality part …
    The city had Catholic and Protestant churches, Catholic and public high schools, Synagogues, bakeries, markets, church dinners, ethnic celebrations, cemeteries and even neighborhoods where people held to their nationality and customs, and welcomed others to events. We were able to learn one another’s customs, and parts of languages or menues. Life and politics weren’t always peaches and cream due to nationality and ethnic things to do with history and religion. My city was dominantly Irish, French, Polish, and some German and English. Next city over was dominantly Irish and Italian and so on. Catholics, Protestants, and Hebrews. Being a child of two different nationalities from neighboring towns was at first (in the 50′s) a novelty to teachers and those at church. The strongest ethnic, nationalistic group I’ve seen is the Puerto Rican migrant community, which began to grow in the 1980′s.

    Anyway, I think nationality is a rich characteristic that makes society interesting.

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