Libertarianism & CST: The Debate Continues
Note: the following is NOT authored by myself. Gabriel Sanchez asked if I would post his reply to my reply to his reply to my Crisis article. My reply will be in the comment boxes below, and I think that will be it. So without further ado, here is Mr. Sanchez:
I want to thank Joe Hargrave for giving me the space to write a surrebuttal to his response to my article on Ethika Politka where, among other things, I drew out into the open that Hargrave, like almost all libertarian Catholics, reads the Church’s social magisterium through a hermeneutic of selectivity: everything that coheres with the libertarian worldview is in; everything which opposes it is out. Nothing in Hargrave’s reply has given me a single reason to rethink that claim. In fact, he has only strengthened it insofar as he now admits that he rejects (“critiques”) those aspects of the social magisterium that do not align with his doctrinaire libertarianism. He offers an example of this rejection with respect to Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno; I suspect he would carry that rejection onward with regard to the three encyclicals I mentioned at the end of my article: Pope St. Pius X’s Notre Charge Apostolique, Pius XI’s Quas Primas, or Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate. These are not “libertarian encyclicals,” nor for that matter is the recently canonized John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, which neatly summarizes and endorses a central teaching—the teaching Hargrave and I are, in part, quarreling over—of Rerum Novarum: “Leo XIII is repeating an elementary principle of sound political organization, namely, the more that individuals are defenceless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others, and in particular the intervention of governmental authority.”
Now, with further respect to my reading of Rerum Novarum, particularly paragraphs 22 and 36, it would be redundant to repeat in detail what I set forth in the comments section of my Ethika Politka piece. As a matter of interpretive principles, I reject Hargrave’s narrow textualist approach which would create a tensions in the encyclical’s text and also put Leo XIII’s instruction out of continuity with post-Leonine developments of Catholic social teaching (CST). Hargrave, oddly, seems to forget that Rerum Novarum launched, not capped, the Church’s modern social magisterium.
Turning away from interpretive matters, I want to reject wholeheartedly Hargrave (and others’) blatant mischaracterization of my views with respect to the social magisterium, specifically the series of insinuations that I believe CST not only allows, but calls for, egalitarian social engineering; a leviathan administrative state; and a labyrinthine tax code. Nothing could be further from the truth. To hold fast to the principles of CST which allows, and sometimes requires, the state to intervene on behalf of certain classes of citizens in certain limited circumstances to address certain discrete evils—interventions which will undoubtedly result in wealth transfers—is not tantamount to claiming, for instance, that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is supported by CST or that the state has the right to impose onerous taxes on the wealthy to redistribute whimsically. It is well established, both in Rerum Novarum and the subsequent magisterium, that private acts of charity and fraternal associations are favored over state intervention; where those private actions fail, the state may intervene. It is, however, impossible to know a priori when and where those failures will occur. In the American political context, localized intervention at the municipal and state level will no doubt always be preferable, less burdensome, and more efficient than federal efforts.
In another forum, Hargrave challenged me to draw out what sort of interventions and/or regulatory protections I envisioned being necessary under CST. Without wanting to dodge his query, at this point the most I can say is, “I am working on it.” (Thankfully others are as well!) For those interested, my earlier piece on Ethika Politica, “Toward Law & Distributism,” offers some opening thoughts on a third-way approach toward a concrete legal ordo which internalizes the tenets of CST. This is a complicated, but necessary, project since the background private-law rules governing property, contracts, and harms can and ought to do the heavy lifting of securing a just economic system which functions without recourse to heavy handed, and often costly, regulatory measures. The point here is to ensure that the principles of CST, and its prioritization of labor over capital, are at the heart of a state’s legal-economic makeup rather than the tenets of Enlightenment-style liberalism—tenets which, even up to the present day, inform significant portions of the common law.
As for the rest of Hargrave’s comments, I am going to let them be for the time being. To engage in some of his rather vague references to economic theory would require more elucidation on his part and at least a couple of responses on mine. Moreover, I do not think it is necessary to quibble with all of his rhetorical flourishes, though I would ask Hargrave, in charity as a fellow Catholic, to drop libertarianism’s Manichaean outlook which would have all the world divided into “freedom lovers” and “statists.” That type of approach can, and often does, quickly devolve into its own form of heresy hunting—the sort which Hargrave and I both agree is out of place with respect to the ongoing debate over the compatibility of libertarianism with CST.