I want to be excited about the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and against the blatantly illegal and unjust HHS contraception mandate. But as I said back in March, writing for Crisis:
[In the event of a Hobby Lobby win] my celebration will be muted and limited, however, because a legal victory will not address the underlying philosophical and cultural divide that brought this case before the court to begin with. Contrary to what some may believe, law is not the foundation upon which society rests; it is rather the adhesive we use to patch up broken pieces of society. The more laws, precedents, mandates, rulings and decisions we require to defend our basic interests and assert our rights, the greater indication we have of a society that is almost literally tearing itself apart.
I’m not alone in this. James C. Capretta writes in The National Review:
But even in victory, it is hard to avoid the sinking feeling that having to fight at all over this issue is something of a defeat.
That’s because the HHS mandate was always a politically contrived issue without real legitimacy…
What’s most discouraging is that millions of American voters really seemed to buy it. The absurdity of the “war on women” claim has not undermined its potency. Unfortunately, the Hobby Lobby decision, welcome and necessary as it is, ensures that the “war on women” flag will be waved incessantly in the run-up to the 2014 midterm election. The GOP will need to do a far better job this time around in framing the issue and making it clear that what the Obama administration wants is not access to contraceptives but victory in a pointless ideological crusade.
And Ross Kaminsky at The American Spectator writes:
Although the Court got it right, conservatives and libertarians alike — namely any American who understands the primacy of our Founding principles over the utilitarian approach of statists — have an uphill battle on our hands when it comes to the population overall…
Until “hearts and minds” are changed so that Court decisions such as Hobby Lobby are heralded not only as correct, but as obviously so, these small victories mean little in the longer war against a determined and patient foe.
I was fairly certain from the beginning that the Court would rule in favor of Hobby Lobby. But the reason Hobby Lobby prevailed was because the administration failed to consider the possibility of simply paying for these contraceptives itself, i.e. with our tax dollars. Though I understand that in the context of case law and precedents, there is a significant distinction between compelling direct payment/participation and simply collecting taxes, in practice it amounts to the same thing. One way or another, we will all have our pockets picked to serve the federal government’s ideological agenda.
I was prepared for the hysteria and mass psychosis of the left and the radical feminists as well. From the moment it was announced and conservatives pointed out the slam-dunk case against it, proponents of the mandate have engaged in one of the most dishonest and demented propaganda campaigns in modern history. That they would now threaten violence with impunity is not surprising either. We live in two different philosophical, moral, and semantic universes. Between them exists a chasm which rational argument cannot cross. To even engage the mindless arguments against the ruling would be beneath any of us. Ginsberg’s dissent may be worth deconstructing, but I will leave that to people with more time (besides, I think Alito and, I never thought I’d say this, Kennedy did a fine job addressing her directly in their opinions).
The enemies of the Constitution, the 1st amendment and Christianity in this country have been handed a victory even in defeat, a banner around which to rally and reinforce their collective delusions. Against this insanity, which will be used against the tottering remnants of our republic and our churches like a battering ram, sober and reasoned discourse will not stand. Our enemies are not interested in it. They do not want it, any more than the Jacobins or the Bolsheviks wanted it. They want our heads on pikes and our hearts on platters, they want to write our epitaphs in blood and erase our memory from the Earth. If you don’t believe me, check out some of the reactions for yourself.
You’re on the Internet, reading a politically-themed religious blog. You’ve heard about the shooting in Santa Barbara. I almost feel as if I’d be wasting my time and insulting your intelligence by providing a link. Long story short: a rich kid went nuts because no girls would sleep with him and killed a whole bunch of people. Then everyone immediately projected their ideological loves, fears, and hatreds onto the situation and into the Interwebs in a massive deluge. Only three things get people this worked up in the Twitterverse: race, gender, and sexual preferences. This time the wheel stopped at gender.
Ethika Politika strikes again: at me, that is, and my recent Crisis piece defending libertarianism from the charge of heresy contra Mark Shea. This time it is not my friend Gabriel Sanchez on the attack, but Gregory J. Guest. It is really quite something to read the sort of things that people assume you believe. The point of my Crisis piece was rather straightforward, I thought: the libertarian rejection of confiscatory taxation is not some kind of heretical argument, but finds justification in Pope Leo XIII’s defense of private property as inviolable and his explicit teaching that charity – the pretext upon which some would confiscate wealth at gunpoint – is not a duty of human justice (except in extreme cases).
According to Guest, however, I am defending an “ideology of license” and thereby our “materialist culture”; that I – and he wrongly shares this view with Sanchez – “discard all “ that doesn’t align with “preconceived notions” about business, government, etc.; that, once again, contrary to much of what I’ve written I do not “afford man a social nature” and that individual contracts are everything (stock anti-libertarian canards); and this is only for starters. Of course none of it is true: the defense of private property rights against the pretense of those advocating violent confiscation has nothing at all to do with an “ideology of license” or materialism. Moreover I’m quite open to as many radical alternatives to the traditional business model as people want to suggest, provided that they can actually persuade people to participate in them instead of forcing them. I do not deny, and no one in the classical liberal tradition has ever denied, the social nature of man; it is our belief in his social nature that justifies our rejection of the modern state, as many of its activities at least imply that we are somehow unable – i.e. that it is not in our nature – to organize our affairs and take care of each other without the threat of violence hanging over our heads. Coercive violence is anti-social; peaceful cooperation, which all libertarians advocate, is practically the definition of society.
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.”
Gabriel Sanchez, a Catholic author I know and respect, has written a critique of my – as he calls it – selective “hermeneutic” of libertarian Catholicism at Ethika Politica. Specifically he is critiquing my critique of Mark Shea’s indictment of libertarianism as heresy at Crisis magazine. It seems he at least agrees with my point that libertarianism is not heresy, but that may be where the agreement ends There are some broad points of his critique I want to address.
First there is Sanchez’s claim that my argument regarding the limits Leo places on the state with respect to taxation and charity is “strange.” The part of paragraph 22 that Sanchez says I “overlook” is irrelevant; in context, it is clear that Leo does not believe that the state has a duty to expropriate and confiscate wealth in the name of charity. I could have quoted more of that paragraph to support my point, such as “[n]o one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, “for no one ought to live other than becomingly.”” After this, the part I did quote:
“But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. “Of that which remaineth, give alms.”(14) It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity – a duty not enforced by human law.”
Maybe we live in two different semantic universes, but in mine, when someone says “no one is commanded”, “not of justice”, “not enforced by human law”, the meaning is clear: the state has no obligation to confiscate the private property of citizens and distribute it to whomever it deems worthy. Whether to give and how much to give is a matter for each individual to decide. I suppose it is arguable that the state could do these things with the consent of the people, but it is not required to do so and the libertarian argument against them would remain quite valid.
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.
Note: once again, this is a guest post by Stephen Herreid, not Bonchamps.
“Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.” – President Barack Obama
“…America was never well-founded, so either needs to be differently re-founded or at least endured, even survived.” – Patrick Deneen
Faced with the historic government overreach that is the HHS mandate, it ought to be easier than ever for Christians to know who their enemies are. One would hope that in this desperate time conservatives and Christians would unite against the enemies of the Church, and defend the religious liberty that has already been half-robbed from us. Unlike in many other countries, where Christians are already third class citizens and some are killed and violated by the thousands, America is the home of a long-standing Constitutional Republic, a Rule of Law tradition that explicitly protects and honors our religious liberty. The army of the Left is united in its effort to topple that grand tradition and the Church that it protects. Appallingly, the army of the Right is not so united in their defense.
Joseph Shaw over at LMS Chairman has posted a four part-critique of the conservative response to the Eich affair (and related incidents) titled “Why Conservatives Are Wrong.” Whereas Jeffery Tucker attacked conservative libertarians from the left, complaining about their “brutalism” in their assertion of their rights to live according to traditional and natural values, Shaw attacks from the right, following the general outline of the illiberal critique of the foundations of American political thought. A serious critique deserves a serious response, which is what I hope to provide here from a classical liberal perspective.
At the outset it is worth highlighting that Shaw, myself, and I imagine many of us on both sides of the “America is good/America sucks” divide share many common concerns and basic moral values. This is not a battle between left-wing “liberal” Catholics and orthodox “conservative” Catholics; it is a strategic and perhaps philosophical dispute between two groups that share a set of values and commitments to authentic Church doctrine and the natural moral law. Our most important point of agreement is that neither of us are “progressives”; we do not view history as a linear ascent to some utopian future in which fallen man has been redeemed by his own self-righteous awakening. We, political traditionalists and classical liberals both, ground ourselves in “self-evident truths” that do not change with the direction of the winds and in our belief in the superiority of reason to the irrational and fickle demands of the mob.
Short answer: no! I explore the issue in my latest piece for Crisis.
Acton’s Power Blog covered yet another piece on Pope Francis’ salvo against the free market today in the run-up to his meeting with President Obama, and the theme is quite familiar: “Pope Francis is not an economist or technocrat laying out policy…”
It seems as though this is now a magic incantation by which anything and everything a person says about economics becomes acceptable and perhaps even praiseworthy. I could be grateful for the fact that there is a subtle implication here: if an actual economist were to say the things about free markets that Francis said, he wouldn’t have much credibility left as an economist.
The plain truth here is that whether or not a person is an economist has nothing to do with the actual nature of the statements they make. Let’s take a look at what Francis himself said in a follow-up interview to Evangelii Guadium:
I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view…
With all due respect, these are testable claims about empirical reality. “But what happens instead, is…” Yes, that is an empirical statement. An attempt to “give a picture of what is going on” is an attempt to explain reality. There’s no way out of it: these are “technical” statements, their lack of details or any evidence of systematic economic training notwithstanding. (I’m familiar with the translation controversies too – none of them help his case) Moreover, they are simply false. The world’s poor have benefited immensely from the globalization and liberalization of economies; according to the World Bank, in spite of a 59% increase in population in the developing world, the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day) has fallen from 50% to 21% in the last 30 years.
If you haven’t heard, the libertarian Catholic Jeffrey Tucker has launched a salvo against libertarians he classifies as “brutalist.” What does he mean by this? In his words:
In the libertarian world, however, brutalism is rooted in the pure theory of the rights of individuals to live their values whatever they may be. The core truth is there and indisputable, but the application is made raw to push a point. Thus do the brutalists assert the right to be racist, the right to be a misogynist, the right to hate Jews or foreigners, the right to ignore civil standards of social engagement, the right to be uncivilized, to be rude and crude…
This, in contrast to the libertarian “humanitarians” among whom Tucker counts himself, who believe that:
Liberty allows peaceful human cooperation. It inspires the creative service of others. It keeps violence at bay. It allows for capital formation and prosperity. It protects human rights of all against invasion. It allows human associations of all sorts to flourish on their own terms. It socializes people with rewards toward getting along rather than tearing each other apart, and leads to a world in which people are valued as ends in themselves rather than fodder in the central plan.
It would be difficult to deny that there are libertarians who enjoy crudeness its own sake. But it appears that Tucker doesn’t really know what he wants. How can one favor the flourishing of “human associations of all sorts” and then complain about the ones that aren’t sufficiently polite? Take this muddle of contradictions from the same piece:
So let’s say you have a town that is taken over by a fundamentalist sect that excludes all peoples not of the faith, forces women into burka-like clothing, imposes a theocratic legal code, and ostracizes gays and lesbians. You might say that everyone is there voluntarily, but, even so, there is no liberalism present in this social arrangement at all. The brutalists will be on the front lines to defend such a microtyranny on grounds of decentralization, rights of property, and the right to discriminate and exclude—completely dismissing the larger picture here that, after all, people’s core aspirations to live a full and free life are being denied on a daily basis.
Is this town not a “sort” of “human association” that is operating “on its own terms”?
After winning two CPAC polls and a spat with Ted Cruz in recent days, it is arguable that Rand Paul is the current GOP front-runner for the 2016 presidential election. Of course it is absurdly early to really make the call, but many of us have been expecting this trajectory since Paul was elected to the Senate in 2010. Some of us, myself included, have welcomed it.
On the non-negotiable issues for Catholics who even bother to vote in accordance with the natural moral law, Rand Paul is solid. He is 100% pro-life, supports the 10th amendment right of states to determine their own marriage laws, and has declared school choice “the civil rights issue of our day.” (Remember, the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit is a non-negotiable.)
On economics, he has proposed the establishment of free-enterprise zones for cities such as Detroit that have been devastated by decades of bureaucratic mismanagement, union thuggery and bloated government. The “social justice” crowd will never accept human freedom as a means by which the common good can be served, but the rest of us are under no obligation to ignore empirical reality. It is the creation of wealth that lifts masses of people out of poverty, and it is the unleashing of creative human potential from the pretensions of would-be social engineers and demagogues that allows the most wealth to be created and shared.
My only problem with Rand Paul is foreign policy. I imagine that some of my respected co-bloggers also have this problem, though for a much different reason than myself; they may see him as too much like his father, while I am disappointed that he is not overtly enough like him. Yes, I am a Ron Paul non-interventionist (I can’t stop you from calling me an “isolationist” in spite of my preference for free trade, the free flow of information and cultural exchange, but you should know that I’ll think you a moron if you do).
I was proud of Paul, and for the first time, much of the GOP, when it rejected Obama’s ambition to attack the Syrian government and send aid to Al-Qaeda (to switch our enemy from Eastasia to Eurasia). Since the Ukrainan crisis, Paul has been doing his best to straddle the fence and appease the interventionist hardliners as well as the loyal support base his father built up and which he needs to win his campaign for him. I am encouraged, however, that in spite of the obligatory denunciations of Putin that all US politicians must offer, Paul has spoken of the dire need to protect the world’s persecuted Christians. As Putin has also often spoken of this need, perhaps this could form the basis of peace and cooperation between our nations. Nothing in my view is more dangerous, tragic, stupid and unnecessary than the antagonism currently brewing between the West and Russia over Ukraine – a situation that was deliberately inflamed by Western support and encouragement for the Ukrainian opposition. Rand Paul will only have my support if he can prove himself to be above this irrational nonsense.
[Please note: I, Bonchamps, am not the author of this piece. This is a guest post authored by Stephen Herreid that I believe is worth your time as it takes up a topic that has been of great interest to me as of late. Please address your comments to him.]
I’ve written elsewhere of Patrick Deneen’s coming-out as a “radical Catholic.” In his article “A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching,” Deneen issues a clarion call for other radicals to join in his contempt for the “deeply flawed” American project. Deneen essentially makes an argument that conservative Catholics ought to see themselves as having more in common with the coercive left than with the Catholic struggle for religious freedom in America. Why? Because his brand of Catholicism is anti-American and anti-liberty first, Christian and pro-life second.
Following the publication of Deneen’s article at the American Conservative, the pro-American Catholic scholar Peter Lawler was quick to call out Deneen as “repulsively lacking in gratitude” toward an America which has treated Catholics so well. “His article should have been published in The Anti-American Conservative,” he quipped. Indeed, I wonder how we can include Deneen’s anti-American agenda among us while maintaining the moral objectives of Catholicism in America.
Deneen is the most respectable representative of a movement among Catholic “conservatives” that has been justly called illiberal Catholicism, a recently cobbled-together Frankenstein monster whose sewn-up pieces include reactionary European thought and modern American leftism. Those who adhere to this movement differ on many points, but what holds them together is their hostility to religious liberty, the market economy, American Protestants, conservative activism, the Republican party, and the pro-life movement as currently constituted. At a moment when the Church is in very real danger of losing her liberty, when Catholic institutions only retain what fragile protection they have through legal appeals to American ideals of liberty, Deneen’s camp has decided to lend their rhetorical aid to the left’s attack on those ideals. Yes, the current administration is attacking the foundational American principles and laws that protect the Church from persecution. But “America was never well-founded” anyway, writes Deneen, “so either needs to be differently re-founded or at least endured, even survived.” Sure, the federal government is robbing us of our religious liberty precisely by way of an unconstitutional attack on the economic liberty of Christian employers. But after all, Deneen believes that Catholics should be “deeply critical” of the free market. It is fair to ask: What on earth does he hope to achieve?
Not long ago I examined an article by Patrick J. Deneen concerning the intellectual divide between American Catholics. If you will recall, Deenen divides American Catholics into a pro-America/liberal camp and an anti-America/illiberal or “radical” camp. At the heart of this divide, so they say (I will challenge this below) is an alleged conflict of “anthropologies”; it appears to be common currency on the illiberal side of the debate. Liberals – and to be clear, we’re talking about classical liberals for the most part – supposedly hold to an anthropological view that is self-centered and individualistic. Worse yet, in this view, human beings are allegedly driven primarily by fear and greed (when they aren’t gratifying their basest urges). All of this contemporary classical liberals are alleged to hold as demonstrated irrevocably by the laws of microeconomics and the sophisticated and often indecipherable mathematical models of neoclassical economists. Dig a bit deeper and the whole rotten anti-Christian edifice can be traced back to John Locke, whose “possessive individualism” birthed the demon-spawns of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson and gave us the American commercial republic.
The reality, of course, is quite different. The fundamental value of classical liberalism is not “individualism”, but liberty. But the nature of liberty is such that only individuals can exercise it, for the human race is not a hive mind; each human being possesses his or her own intellect and will and is, barring some defect, responsible for the decisions they make. Metaphysical libertarianism, which is the position that human beings have free will, is a foundational assumption of Christianity (and indeed of any ethical system that presupposes human beings can make moral choices). It is also the foundational moral and methodological assumption of classical liberal sociology, political theory and economics. People are free by nature, and cannot be studied as if they were not free. And because we are free by nature, we are gravely harmed if we are unnecessarily restricted in our liberty by other men, including and especially governments.