Shea & I: A Follow-Up

The-Pope-and-the-Inquisitor

I have a new piece up at Crisis regarding libertarianism and heresy inspired by a post on Mark Shea’s blog. Since I post there under my actual name, and since the reasons I had for writing under a pen name have largely vanished, I suppose my pen name is no longer needed here, though I will keep it because the Marquis de Bonchamps is still my hero. Anyway, I wanted to post some additional thoughts here for those interested, and since there are (as of 5/3, 11 am Pacific Time) 320 comments between my article and Shea’s reply, there might be a few. So here they are:

1) I didn’t choose the name of the piece – or the picture (above). Shea and I am sure others know that writers don’t often get this privilege when they submit something for publication. It’s not that I wholly object to the title and I like the painting, but I might have chosen something else. It wasn’t my intention to provoke the man.

2) Speaking of which, I haven’t followed Shea’s writings enough to know whether or not he deserves the almost unprecedented levels of animosity directed at him through the com-boxes. I’ve found some of his writing to be agreeable in the past and I have nothing personal against him. It was his claim, not his character, I was seeking to critique. I don’t approve of or condone the savaging of the man on a personal level.

3) Shea, through the com-boxes in his reply (though oddly not in the actual reply), thinks my argument is “silly” because if libertarianism is heretical, it can’t possibly be worth anything (thus rendering my probing questions in the opening of the piece superfluous). And yet in his original post (the second link above), he makes a practical argument against libertarianism and I am still not sure if it is the reason why he thinks it is heretical or if it is just some unrelated tangent. If libertarianism is heresy – end of story, end of debate – why proceed to make a rather half-hearted point against it, in this case, that it is somehow “utopian”? Or is that the reason he thinks it is heretical? He didn’t make that clear, hence the questions I pose in the piece. I also make clear that since I believe that a) libertarian arguments against confiscatory taxation are rooted in true and morally good principles and b) the Church does not reject what is true or good that c) it is very likely that at least what I call libertarianism is not “heretical.” I thought that was rather obvious.

One last thing: another publication will be posting a reply to my piece on Tuesday. I won’t give anymore details for now, but I expect a lively exchange to result.

24 Responses to Shea & I: A Follow-Up

  • I predict at least 100 comments before midnight! Mark’s strong point has never been political analysis. His calling Libertarianism heretical is rather like me giving an opinion on Bulgarian basket weaving.

  • Where there is truth we should magnify it whether it be from a democrat, republican, or a libertarian. Not shout heresy!
    And I do realize your definition of libertarianism is not necessarily equal to that of the political party.
    Even communists espouse solidarity while ignoring human dignity, common good, and subsidiarity.

  • Mr. Hargrave, you do have a curious attraction to Libertarianism, personally I associate with Tea Party fiscal conservatism while rejecting the Ayn Rand wing of this group. Since there is no Catholic Party how are we to associate ourselves politically?
    I say we have two choices, do what St John Paul II said, or be like JFK.

    Evangelium Vitae
    90. The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount an effective legal defence of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in the defence and promotion of the value of life.

    JFK renounced his faith in his 1960 political speech, “Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”
    Verses john Paul’s Evangelium Vitae
    90. . But no one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her own conscience and to the whole of society for choices which may be contrary to the common good

  • Best Wishes, Bonchamps.

  • Mr. Hargrove, if I may and respectfully of your many comtributoins, you are far too talented and able to be wasting your time responding to the nonsense and invective spewed from the pen of Mark Shea. But for your link to your Crisis article I would not have otherwise ever read that to which you felt necessitated a response. Mr. Shea, to be kind, is not worthy of the credibility of your effort. Lend him not any platform.

  • Carl,

    I think that the basic premises of libertarianism are compatible with CST. I don’t think CST demands a regime of confiscatory taxation, and in fact such a regime in conflict with the labor theory of property shared by Locke and Pope Leo XIII. The Church thrived in the supposedly bad old days of laissez-faire capitalism in the United States, it grew by leaps and bounds because the rights of individuals to associate and practice their religion were respected.

    I’m not an anarchist, and I don’t think libertarianism mandates anarchism. I find anarchist arguments to make a certain amount of sense but I do believe CST is incompatible with a categorical and absolute rejection of the state. These are prudential matters, in other words.

    I would diverge sharply from the Rothbard wing of libertarianism on the question of abortion, but his critique of egalitarianism is one that the Church can and should appreciate. We ought to have a common anti-egalitarian front, since radical egalitarianism is the menace of our time, threatening private property and the Church alike.

  • I second Cthemfly’s request.

    The ratio of heat to light, emanating from and around Mr.Shea, means nothing good can come of it.

  • I don’t know… Shea’s ego is growing almost out of control and he could use a good thumping.

    At the very least, as much as he puts himself on the “front” of Catholic evangelism then replies like yours are needed otherwise many will assume they have no place in the Church because of Shea’s words and turn away.

  • Cthemfly25,

    I appreciate the kind words. My piece really isn’t about Shea – its about everyone who shares his view, and there are more than a few who do. I think the general charge that libertarianism – without qualification – is “heresy” deserves a response, regardless of who makes it.

    Like I said, I don’t follow Shea closely enough to really vibe with all of the really negative things people say about the man. I just happened upon his brief blog post in my daily reading and thought it made a point that deserved critique.

  • Joe, while I admire you for manning up to answer Mark Shea, IMO, it’s a waste of time to respond to him. His mind is already made up, he doesn’t want to be confused with the facts. His theme song ought to be the song sang by Groucho Marx in Horsefeathers, “I’m Against It!”

  • Shea vs. Joe is the intellectual equivalent of the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters. I’ve had many disagreements with Joe over the years, but at least he clearly demonstrates that he has done his homework and always puts forward strong, well-articulated arguments. For Mark freaking Shea of all people to call his article “silly” is not as much laughable as sad. Frankly I feel embarrassed for Shea when he delves into political theory, because the man is simply out of his depth.

    I know that Joe’s main focus is not on Shea, so I look forward to future pieces where hopefully someone with a little bit more ability to articulate nuance thoughts can rebut him, and then we can all sit back and bask in the glow of spirited, healthy debate. Sadly Mark Shea is not the man for such a task.

  • Government can’t solve income inequality, but it surely can fix it.

  • Bonchamps wrote “the labor theory of property shared by Locke and Pope Leo XIII…”

    I find it hard to credit that Leo XIII shared the property theory of Locke. It would be difficult to reconcile with the teaching of the Catholic Church that If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.“

    Historically, the theory of property embraced by every canonist and moral theologian has been that of the Civil Law of Justinian, which defines the origin of property very well. “By the law of nations, those things which we take from an enemy become ours at once.” [ea quae ex hostibus capimus iure gentium statim nostra fiunt – [Lib 2 tit 1] In other words, the land was acquired by the arms of the legions and every acre of it belonged to the senate and the Roman people or their assignees.

    Locke’ s labour theory of property is plainly nonsense, for it would make the acquisitions of a wife, a slave, a son in power, or (in later times) a vassal theirs, rather than belonging to the paterfamilias, or the superior. It is based on a failure to distinguish use and possession (which are physical facts) from ownership, which is a legal right. As the great classical scholar, Charles Rollin (1661-1741), reminds us, “Theft was permitted in Sparta. It was severely punished among the Scythians. The reason for this difference is obvious: the law, which alone determines the right to property and the use of goods, granted a private individual no right, among the Scythians, to the goods of another person, whereas in Sparta the contrary was the case.”

    You can see this principle everywhere enunciated in the French Revolution. Take Mirabeau (a moderate) “Property is a social creation. The laws not only protect and maintain property; they bring it into being; they determine its scope and the extent that it occupies in the rights of the citizens” So, too, Robespierre (not a moderate) “In defining liberty, the first of man’s needs, the most sacred of his natural rights, we have said, quite correctly, that its limit is to be found in the rights of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is a social institution, as if natural laws were less inviolable than human conventions?”

  • “I find it hard to credit that Leo XIII shared the property theory of Locke.”
    .
    Then you have some homework to do. Read paragraph 27 of the Second Treatise. Read paragraph 9 of Rerum Novarum. It’s almost plagiarism. And it affirms the individual, inviolable and natural right to the fruits of one’s labor as their property.
    .
    “It would be difficult to reconcile with…”
    .
    If you really want to square the circle, I’ll put it this way: I have a suspicion that the “teaching” to which you refer about landed estates was written with places such as Latin America in mind, in which a hereditary aristocracy swallowed up large areas of land and claimed it as their own regardless of what they did with it. Locke’s homesteading principle is not a theory of land acquisition, though – it is a labor theory of property. It is labor that makes property. So how could labor be, to use the terms from the “teaching” you so often reference, “impede general prosperity”, be “extensive”, be “unused or poorly used”, “bring hardship”, etc? Rerum Novarum doesn’t just quote Locke on the LTP, after all; it also makes use of his paean to the benefits of labor, which takes the sort of unused land that you are talking about and makes into something beneficial for everyone. One might even argue that the “teaching” to which you refer could be reconciled with Locke’s condition that one can only acquire property insofar as they leave enough for others. If one takes land and uses it productively, they necessarily serves others and improves society; if one takes land and simply fences it off without cultivating it, they aren’t improving anyone’s life and it isn’t clear that Locke would consider such an act to be a natural/moral acquisition of property. So I don’t see a real conflict here.
    .
    “In other words, the land was acquired by the arms of the legions and every acre of it belonged to the senate and the Roman people or their assignees.”
    .
    So this is your answer? Let’s get rid of that whole idea of acquiring labor peacefully through hard work, which benefits everyone else as well – let’s bring back might makes right as the foundation of ownership. This isn’t “the law of nations.” It is the law of the jungle. And this is supposed to be morally superior to peaceful economic competition? Locke did the world a favor and so did Pope Leo XIII when he baptized the labor theory of property.
    .
    “Locke’ s labour theory of property is plainly nonsense, for it would make the acquisitions of a wife, a slave, a son in power, or (in later times) a vassal theirs, rather than belonging to the paterfamilias, or the superior.”
    .
    Actually I find that Locke’s assumption in the ST is that it is male heads of households who will be doing the labor, and that the labor performed by servants employed by them, belongs to them. I see no contradiction here; its the basis of the modern economy. What the worker earns through labor is a wage; what they create belongs to the employer to sell.
    .
    In any case, the whole idea of social “superiors” with an absolute claim over inferiors is gone – and rightfully so. I’m not a radical social egalitarian, but I do believe in equality of individuals before the law, and that includes the right to work, acquire property, and enter into contracts independently and autonomously.
    .
    “As the great classical scholar, Charles Rollin (1661-1741), reminds us…”
    .
    Might makes right, all morals are relative, there is no law of nature. Got it.
    .
    As for Robespierre, did he come up with that before or after, or sometime during his violent persecution of Catholics and other enemies of the state? At this point I don’t care if Europe wants to ignore the natural moral foundations of property. You want to follow Robespierre, fine, have at it. But stop insisting that this is the official teaching of the Church. It isn’t. I’ve proven that it isn’t.

  • I have a suspicion that the “teaching” to which you refer about landed estates was written with places such as Latin America in mind, in which a hereditary aristocracy swallowed up large areas of land and claimed it as their own regardless of what they did with it.

    If I am not mistaken, the order of nobility was to be found in Latin America after 1822 only in Brazil, and was formally discontinued there in 1889. There has definitely been a class of latifundiaries in Latin America, but they are a class in society, not an order of society. Land tenure, security of tenure, seizure of common lands, &c. have all been issues throughout Latin American history to the present day, of course.

  • if libertarianism is heretical, it can’t possibly be worth anything

    Is there an actual theological basis for this notion? Last time I checked, even pagan religions were recognized to have worthy things in them.

  • Bonchamps

    Like Rollin, St Thomas is quite explicit that ownership belongs to positive law: ““Community of goods is ascribed to the natural law, not that the natural law dictates that all things should be possessed in common and that nothing should be possessed as one’s own: but because the division of possessions is not according to the natural law, but rather arose from human agreement which belongs to positive law, as stated above (57, 2,3). Hence the ownership of possessions is not contrary to the natural law, but an addition thereto devised by human reason.” ST IIa IIae Q66, II,obj 1 That is the reason that conquest destroys all titles, for it removes the legal system on which they rest.

    Rollin also refers to the gleaning laws (Lev 19:9-10, Lev 23:22 and Deut 24:19-21) as examples of how rights of ownership can be modified by positive law, for these precepts formed part of the civil law of the Jewish commonwealth.

  • Bonchamps asks, “So how could labor be, to use the terms from the “teaching” you so often reference, “impede general prosperity”, be “extensive”, be “unused or poorly used”, “bring hardship”, etc?”

    A shooting estate that could be used for pasture, open grazing that is suitable for arable cultivation, agricultural use that prevented exploration and extraction of minerals, agricultural land suitable for building development could all be examples.

    Of course, it would depend on the development plan the public authorities wished to pursue, for we know that “It is for the public authorities to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used in fulfilling them; and it is also their task to stimulate the efforts of those involved in this common activity.” (Populorum Progressio 33)

  • “That is the reason that conquest destroys all titles, for it removes the legal system on which they rest.”
    .
    No conquest destroys the right of any individual man to the fruits of his labor. There is no moral basis upon which non-combatants can be expropriated by the marauding soldiers of an invading army. So I have no idea what it is you are trying to prove here.
    .
    “as examples of how rights of ownership can be modified by positive law”
    .
    I really think you are seriously and tragically conflating a whole host of issues here. The labor theory of property, i.e., the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church, holds that labor gives a man exclusive right to a portion of the Earth and that no one is justified in violating that right. It never says that human laws can have no say in the various mundane details of day-to-day matters arising from conflicts between property owners or what have you. There is still room for your precious positive law to operate. The point is that there is a natural law as well with respect to private property, and you absolutely cannot deny it.
    .
    You’ve sure done your best to evade it, though.
    .
    “Of course, it would depend on the development plan the public authorities wished to pursue”
    .
    What WOULDN’T come under the purview of your centralized “development plan”? How many centrally-planned economies have to expropriate their capitalists, lower the standard of living of hundreds of millions of people, commit unspeakable atrocities against them and finally collapse into a rubbish heap before you and Francis stop insisting on directing human behavior with “development plans”?

  • How many centrally-planned economies have to expropriate their capitalists, lower the standard of living of hundreds of millions of people, commit unspeakable atrocities against them and finally collapse into a rubbish heap before you and Francis stop insisting on directing human behavior with “development plans”?

    Oh, oh I know the answer!

    “Until it works!”

  • Genesis 4: 17-19: “Cursed be the ground because of you; in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, since out of it you were taken; for dust you are and unto dust you shall return.”
    .
    Our Creator gave the land to man so that man could work out his redemption. To take the man’s land would prevent the man from working out his redemption as prescribed by God. Man would be brought to the brink of hell without hope of salvation. Until the day man returns to dust, it is his property, the land which God handed to Adam to toil and sweat over to redeem himself.
    “or prohibit the free exercise thereof.”. Taking a man’s land is a violation of man freedom to respond to God’s word, in thought, word and deed. Peaceable assembly cannot be violated.
    .
    He, who violates God’s word is possessed by the devil.

  • Best comment above:

    “Government can’t solve income inequality, but it surely can fix it.”

    Many another would have expended 500 words to say it.

    Brevity is tne soul of satire.

  • Bonchamps asks, “What WOULDN’T come under the purview of your centralized “development plan”? “

    That is why Pope Paul VI insists that “they must also see to it that private initiative and intermediary organizations are involved in this work. In this way they will avoid total collectivization and the dangers of a planned economy which might threaten human liberty and obstruct the exercise of man’s basic human rights.” (Populorum Progressio ibid) That is an important safeguard, but does not undermine the fundamental obligation of the public authorities to oversee development.

    Again, in his Letter to the 52nd Social Week at Brest, in L’homme et la révolution urbaine, Lyon: Chronique sociale (1965), 8-9, Pope Paul VI wrote, “as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” When “private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,” it is for the public authorities “to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.”
    No one is suggesting that there is not a balance to be struck.

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