A False Anthropological Dichotomy

Monday, March 10, AD 2014

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.

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28 Responses to A False Anthropological Dichotomy

  • For some reason I cannot share this on Facebook . . . no button.

  • “But the nature of liberty is such that only individuals can exercise it…”

    That is just what Lord Acton denied. Of the liberal parliamentary democracy of his own day, he argues that “It condemns, as a State within the State, every inner group and community, class or corporation, administering its own affairs; and, by proclaiming the abolition of privileges, it emancipates the subjects of every such authority in order to transfer them exclusively to its own. It recognises liberty only in the individual, because it is only in the individual that liberty can be separated from authority, and the right of conditional obedience deprived of the security of a limited command.” Thus, “Under its sway, therefore, every man may profess his own religion more or less freely; but his religion is not free to administer its own laws. In other words, religious profession is free, but Church government is controlled. And where ecclesiastical authority is restricted, religious liberty is virtually denied.”

    In the temporal sphere, too, the Tudor despotism was made possible by the destruction of the old territorial nobility in the Wars of the Roses; Henry VIII could send More and Fisher to the scaffold. Charles V could not send John of Saxony or the Margrave of Hesse or the burghers of the Free Cities to the scaffold. Their “conditional obedience” was secured by “a limited command,” the authority they exercised in their own domains and in the loyalty of their dependants. A state that can neither protect nor punish cannot oppress.

  • This is the reason so-called social sciences are not sciences.

    In a real science, the hypothesis is defined. Experiments and/or tests are run to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If the tests fail, scientists recognize it. They don’t resort to hysterics.

    Quoted at Cafe Hayek: From page 168 of the 5th edition (1966) of Karl Popper’s 1945 study, “The Open Society and Its Enemies”:

    “Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude which springs from intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism. It may seek its heavenly city in the past or in the future; it may preach ‘back to nature’ or ‘forward to a world of love and beauty’; but its appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow-men.”

    Liberals/progressives substitute emotions for data, facts, meaning, truth. They have no decency and will viciously attack you. The lying dung beetles lack the smallest iota of moral or intellectual authority. Just tell it to them. Then, ask, “What evidence do you have?” “Compared to what?” And ask ”How much will it cost? They find it all highly traumatic.

    Central planning by credentialed geniuses who know better than we the people.

    Collectivists

    Command economy

    Group think

    Hive mentality

    The Borg

    Resistance is futile!

  • We did not invent the Federal Reserve System, which is directly responsible for the reckless behavior of the large banks and corporations.

    [rolls eyes]

    All of the talk about “false anthropology” is really a smokescreen for an alternative economic system that, when taken to its logical implications, is authoritarian, irrational and undesirable.

    Shuffling through his bibliography, I will wager that Deneen’s mind shuffles through verbiage derived from intellectual history and philosophy and ‘social theory’ and the man would not know an ‘alternative economic system’ from tiddlywinks. A great deal of this sort of talk (on the part of practitioners august and scruffy) seems to default either to efforts to distinguish the speaker from people he fancies vulgar or to distinguish the speaker from agents (e.g. insurance companies) he has elected to scapegoat.

  • Bonchamps,

    While I am broadly sympathetic to your position, I don’t think you are being fair or treating Dennen’s concerns carefully. For example, you say:

    “Classical liberals on the other hand do not desire to let people alone out of sheer indifference, but rather because it is in our view, and in the light of free will, an affront to human dignity to force someone to become something that they don’t wish to be no matter how good it might be for them objectively. Persuasion is as far as we are willing to go, and only for so long as we will be heard. As a slightly secondary matter, force rarely works in the manner intended. People do not fall into line like so many rows of virtuous toy soldiers; instead they turn to black markets run by criminal elements or simply leave for greener, freer pastures.”

    The problem with this is that there are certain goods and services that are not ethically and morally neutral — it is positively evil for society to allow pornography and prostitution (to use two classic examples) to flourish because providing these good and services are evil acts in and of themselves. Yes, I know I’m now bringing in the dreaded “anti-capitalist deontology” — but as Catholics we have to — we cannot do evil so that good may come of it, period. We must oppose evil whenever and wherever we find it. So the State should never be ‘neutral’ about the selling of certain goods and services and therefore some market regulation will always be necessary.

    I think pointing to liberty as a guide can be helpful, but the Church’s notion of the common good is probably better — this makes our work more difficult because we are then left with case by case prudential decisions and for some communities it might serve the common good to ban Walmart (e.g. a place that wants to retain a certain ‘small-town character’ including little shops that can’t compete with a big Walmart), in others it will only limit consumer options and economic growth and people value those goods more than the small-town character. But ignoring the common good for individual liberty is not always wise and doesn’t always give us a government that knows how to govern well.

  • The problem with this is that there are certain goods and services that are not ethically and morally neutral — it is positively evil for society to allow pornography and prostitution

    So, Deneen is arguing with the Libertarian Party and the Reason Foundation. What’s that got to do with the rest of us?

  • Jeffrey S.,

    No one told St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas that legal prostitution was a positive evil that cannot be done for some greater good. Both men advocated exactly that, for exactly that reason.

    “We must oppose evil whenever and wherever we find it.”

    If by “we” you mean us, as individuals, choosing to oppose evil with virtue, yes, I agree. If by “we” you mean the state, then you are arguing for totalitarian government, because men are fallen and evil is everywhere. I prefer the classical approach, which ironically enough developed in the pre-capitalist world. Men will always seek out illicit sex, and there is nothing we can do about it.

    “But ignoring the common good for individual liberty is not always wise and doesn’t always give us a government that knows how to govern well.”

    We can govern ourselves, by and large, because we are free beings with the use of reason. I’m not an anarchist, but I would shrink government down to Grover Norquist levels.

  • here’s a reminder: Pope John Paull II on the US Constitution and Freedom

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/09/17/pope-john-paull-ii-on-the-us-constitution-and-freedom/

    freedom gives us the opportunity to do good–

  • Pingback: Catholicism Growing in Heart of Muslim World - BigPulpit.com
  • Thank you, Anzlyne: “freedom gives us the opportunity to do good–”
    .
    Need I say more?

  • The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history, as Tocqueville notes in his speech of 12 September 1848 to the National Assembly: “And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing which strikes me above all. It is that the Ancien Régime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we had believed. It is far closer to that system than we. The The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history, as Tocqueville notes in his speech of 12 September 1848 to the National Assembly: “And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing which strikes me above all. It is that the Ancien Régime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we had believed. It is far closer to that system than we. The Ancien Régime, in fact, held that wisdom lay only in the State and that the citizens were weak and feeble beings who must forever be guided by the hand, for fear they harm themselves. It held that it was necessary to obstruct, thwart, restrain individual freedom, that to secure an abundance of material goods it was imperative to regiment industry and impede free competition. The Ancien Régime believed, on this point, exactly as the socialists of today do. It was the French Revolution which denied this.”
    In France, in Austria, In Russia, in Prussia, in Spain, the “Throne and Altar” Conservatives were all notably dirigiste in their economic views.

  • MPS,

    1. Concision is a virtue.

    2. Early modern economic regulations in France were what they were. What precise bearing does that have on latter-day conflicts over political economy in the United States?

  • The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history[.]
    That would be why Bonchamps used the term “classical liberal.”

  • Bonchamps,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. While it might seem the height of folly to disagree with two of the finest minds in all of Western thought, with all due respect, Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution. Utilitarian ethics are always going to lead you to hell (e.g. abortion — “but the woman isn’t ready to have a baby at 18 and her life will be so much better if she can just abort”). But putting that argument aside, I notice you ignored my comment about pornography, which is a tendency of defenders of “liberty”, tout court. Obviously, even in wild and crazy free-market America it is possible to envision state regulations that govern restrictions on the market that support a more virtuous culture (think back on the 50s).

    Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market. As I said before, I’m actually sympathetic to small, limited government of the Grover Norquist style — I just think that philosophically we need to be careful when we defend small, limited government using the concept of “liberty”. The older American (Puritan) tradition was “ordered liberty”, which had the sense that liberty always entailed social responsibilities (and limits) because “man is not an island” and we are part of families and communities and owe duties to each. This is all part and parcel of Catholic social thought, so I’m sure you agree — just as the idea of subsidiarity (I think) can support a robust federalism and limited, small government in the U.S.

  • “What precise bearing does that have on latter-day conflicts over political economy in the United States?”

    Conservatives, starting with Plautus in 195 BC have always recognised the maxim, “Homo homini lupus” – Man is a wolf to his fellow man. The mass of the people may, indeed, be “weak and feeble beings,” but some few are not and they will form packs to prey on the rest.

    As Turgot saw, “If the supreme power is needlessly limited, the secondary powers will run riot and oppress. Its supremacy will bear no check.” Moreover, “Men who seek only the general good must wound every distinct and separate interest of class,” so no effective government can be the creature of the many. “The problem is to enlighten the ruler, not to restrain him; and one man is more easily enlightened than many.”

    I fancy “Illiberal Catholics,” like their Continental Throne & Altar counterparts, recognise this.

  • Jeffrey S. wrote, “Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution”
    They may have been wrong on the particular issue, but they recognised an important distinction.
    Similarly, Portalis, one of the commissioners that drew up the Code Napoléon and a Catholic, who had suffered for his faith during the Revolution says, “Christianity, which speaks only to the conscience, guides by grace the little number of the elect to salvation; the law restrains by force the unruly passions of wicked men, in the interests of l’ordre public [public order/public policy]” By way of illustration, he points out that Christianity forbids divorce, whilst the Mosaic law (which was the civil law of the Jewish commonwealth) permitted it.
    Likewise, the new Penal Code, proposed by Louis Michel le Peletier, Marquis de Saint-Fargeau (promulgated September 26 – October 6, 1791) abolished, without a debate, the crimes of blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft [le blasphème, la sodomie et la sorcellerie] along with other “offences against religion.” They had a good precedent in the Roman jurisprudence: “deorum injuriae diis curae” – Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.

  • “The problem is to enlighten the ruler, not to restrain him; and one man is more easily enlightened than many.”
    I fancy “Illiberal Catholics,” like their Continental Throne & Altar counterparts, recognise this.

    Can any earthly prince be so enlightened as to command and control the market?

  • Ernst Schreiber asks, “Can any earthly prince be so enlightened as to command and control the market?”

    No, but he can intervene in it, as he deems appropriate.

  • ” [H]e can intervene in it, as he deems appropriate.”

    That’s the rub now, is it not? Deeming when it’s appropriate to intervene, and when it’s best to stay hands-off?

    And I’m not speaking about easy distinctions, like prostitution, I mean hard ones, like minimum wage laws.

  • Conservatives, starting with Plautus in 195 BC have always recognised the maxim,

    You’re already off the rails here.

    Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market.

    I do not think you can carry on economic activity more sophisticated than what you see at a farmers’ market without a body of corporation law, debtor and creditor law, commercial law, and contract law. You need to delineate property ownership and adjudicate disputes concerning ownership and tenure, hence a body of estate law, real property law, and personal property law. Any society needs answers to the question of the degree to which and the circumstances under which a magistrate can coerce a person; answers to those questions inform both the penal code and labor law.

  • Jeffrey,
    .
    “with all due respect, Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution.”
    .
    I’m not one of these rad-trads who thinks that Aquinas is infallible. I do think that their view on the matter demonstrates that we are not morally obliged to outlaw every immoral act. I think their view was realistic and rational. Look at the way it played out historically; prostitution was more or less legal in certain medieval cities but confined to designated areas of town. I don’t mind the interference of local zoning laws for the sake of public order. Families and children have rights too.
    .
    “Utilitarian ethics are always going to lead you to hell (e.g. abortion — “but the woman isn’t ready to have a baby at 18 and her life will be so much better if she can just abort”).”
    .
    I don’t advocate utilitarian ethics. I think utilitarian considerations have an important place in moral calculations, though. In the case of abortion, we are dealing with the fundamental natural right to life. Utilitarian considerations should not enter the picture; rights are fundamental, personal utility is not. Utility is something properly considered within the broad parameters of fundamental rights, not something that ought to override them.
    .
    “But putting that argument aside, I notice you ignored my comment about pornography, which is a tendency of defenders of “liberty”, tout court. Obviously, even in wild and crazy free-market America it is possible to envision state regulations that govern restrictions on the market that support a more virtuous culture (think back on the 50s).”
    .
    Even our amoral Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutionally acceptable to censor hardcore pornography. It’s an issue I would be happy to leave to the 10th amendment, just like prostitution, and advocate for its ban within my state. The problem we face now is the Internet. It’s barely worth discussing; there is next to nothing we can do about it. You can get all of the magazines off the store shelves, you can close down strip clubs, adult shops and disreputable theaters, but there’s a massive world of filth and degeneracy just a few clicks away. This means we have to confront vice the old fashioned way – by converting people.
    .
    “Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market.”
    .
    I do agree with his last post. Corporate law, contract law, etc. are all necessary, there have to be ways to settle disputes, etc. I don’t really consider these “regulations”, though. They don’t impose burdens on the free market for the sake of some do-gooder’s subjective idea of what is best for other people; they help the market function.
    .
    “As I said before, I’m actually sympathetic to small, limited government of the Grover Norquist style — I just think that philosophically we need to be careful when we defend small, limited government using the concept of “liberty”. The older American (Puritan) tradition was “ordered liberty”, which had the sense that liberty always entailed social responsibilities (and limits) because “man is not an island” and we are part of families and communities and owe duties to each. This is all part and parcel of Catholic social thought, so I’m sure you agree — just as the idea of subsidiarity (I think) can support a robust federalism and limited, small government in the U.S.”
    .
    Sure, nothing disagreeable there. I just don’t believe that people can be saved from themselves, or that it is moral to even attempt such a thing.

  • Any society needs answers to the question of the degree to which and the circumstances under which a magistrate can coerce a person; answers to those questions inform both the penal code and labor law.

    Quite right — which is why invoking “liberty” to settle such questions isn’t good enough. We need to look to other sources of wisdom, including Catholic morality/social teaching and/or the natural moral law to help us guide decisions about how best to serve the common good. We must weigh competing claims on the body politic (personal property rights versus other moral goods, like defending the weak or protecting public morals). As I’ve said before (this makes three times), I often think many of these goals can be achieved via local, private civic institutions and when the government needs to step in I prefer local, smaller units of government as outlined in our original Constitution. I’m a State’s rights, 10th Amendment guy who generally favors small government — but again, the question is always how we defend these institutions.

  • They don’t impose burdens on the free market for the sake of some do-gooder’s subjective idea of what is best for other people; they help the market function.

    I will let the lawyers’ here offer their piece. I suspect you can find moral and ethical notions incorporated within commercial law, bankruptcy law, and contract law.

  • I agree that prostitution should be illegal, but do regard the decision as requiring a prudential analysis even though prostitution is intrinsically evil always. It is folly to place in the hands of the state the putative ideal that all evils should be criminalized. The evil accomplished by any attempted execution of such a principle would be appalling. Indeed, this is the only rational defense of the pro-choice position — that the wrong of abortion is compounded by state intrusions upon personal privacy — a view that simply cannot withstand honest scrutiny. That said, I am of the view that all laws are essentially prudential in nature, meaning that it requires judgment and discernment to determine which evils should be criminalized and implicate state enforcement. Some are easy calls, such as abortion and other murders; others are more difficult such as pornography; and still others are easy for different reasons, such as remarriage after divorce. Of course, laws reflect culture and vice versa, and sometimes laws can be prescriptive for a culture rather than just describing its embedded norms. Presumably the healthier the culture the greater its ability enact and enforce laws in complete alignment with natural law, but we will always be assessing degrees given man’s fallen nature. I do think prostitution should be illegal, but that does not mean Aquinas and Augustine were wrong. Much depends on the era and its culture, and that even includes enforcement ability and tactics. Those who advocate a system of laws that is coextensive with morality, as opposed to being simply informed by morality, will lead us to a Hell on earth.

  • AD,

    I’m not suggesting that business law is devoid of ethics. A system that protects against force and fraud is an ethical system. A system designed to save people from themselves at the expense of others – what Sumner decried as A and B taking from C to give to X – claims to be ethical but is really a tyranny.

  • “Utility is something properly considered within the broad parameters of fundamental rights, not something that ought to override them.”

    Well said.

    “The problem we face now is the Internet. It’s barely worth discussing; there is next to nothing we can do about it.”

    I’m going to agree to disagree. Technology provides problems and solutions. Take filtering software — seems reasonable to install in public places like libraries. But libraries object because of ‘First Amendment’ worries. Nonsense — public morality should take precedence.

    “It is folly to place in the hands of the state the putative ideal that all evils should be criminalized.” [this was Mike’s comment]

    I agree — I suspect that ultimately I only disagree with Bonchamps (and maybe others on this comment thread) over the use of some rhetoric and over some prudential considerations about where to draw the line over state action. Unlike Bonchamps, I do believe that at times the state can help people “save them from themselves”, or at least make it easier for parents and communities to create an environment in which the human person can flourish. I’m basically talking about a return to the public morality of the 1950s — not the Middle-Ages.

  • “Likewise, the new Penal Code, proposed by Louis Michel le Peletier, Marquis de Saint-Fargeau (promulgated September 26 – October 6, 1791) abolished, without a debate, the crimes of blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft [le blasphème, la sodomie et la sorcellerie] along with other “offences against religion.” They had a good precedent in the Roman jurisprudence: “deorum injuriae diis curae” – Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.” Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.”
    .
    “Injuries against the gods are scandals and seduction of infant, un-emancipated and minor citizens, and contrary to the general welfare and the common good; public policy. If the children learn to blaspheme God, what will they do to their parents? If the children learn to cast evil spells or deny the human soul through sodomy, how will they come to recognize their immortal soul? How will they come to see beauty and know the truth when all they have seen is ugly? How will they come to realize their innocence and Justice after it has been erased from their memory? It is contrary to human nature and human rights.
    .
    Is that why there are so many zombie films on TV?

  • Art Deco wrote, “I will let the lawyers’ here offer their piece. I suspect you can find moral and ethical notions incorporated within commercial law, bankruptcy law, and contract law…”

    Iuris praecepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere, says Ulpian in the Digest { Dig.1.1.10.1 Ulpianus 1 reg] – These are the precepts of the law: to live uprightly, not to harm another, to give to each his own.

    Contract law is replete with the notion of good faith and there are remedies aplenty for fraud, accident, mistake and breach of confidence. Bankruptcy is all about a fair sharing of limited resources between creditors and, in Europe at least, protection of the vulnerable, by giving priority for arrears of wages.

    The law of delict is based on the obligation of the wrongdoer to make reparation. Property law, too, often has to adjudicate between the owner deprived of possession by some rogue and the bona fide possessor.

Liberalism, Capitalism & Pluralism: The Catholic Wars Continue

Monday, February 10, AD 2014

On February 6, The American Conservative published a piece by Patrick J. Deneen titled “A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching.” In it, Deneen outlines the positions of two hostile political camps within American Catholicism: the “liberal” camp and what he calls a more “radical”/illiberal camp. The liberal camp is characterized by its support for free-market capitalism, liberal democracy, a vigorous interventionist foreign policy, and the basic compatibility of the American republic with Catholicism. The radical illiberal camp is virtually the opposite in every respect; it is skeptical of and in my experience quite hostile towards free-market capitalism, contemptuous of liberal democracy, anti-interventionist and views the entire American project as a failed enterprise incompatible with Catholicism.

In my view there ought to be recognition of a third camp: Catholic libertarianism. Of course this immediately lends itself to semantic confusion. After all, some of what Deneen’s “liberals” hold would align with what libertarians hold, and both might lay claim to the descriptor of “classical liberalism.” The important point of dispute between this peculiar lot of liberals and libertarians proper, at least given the specific points raised by Deneen, would be the matter of foreign policy. Catholic libertarians such as Tom Woods and Judge Andrew Napolitano are resolutely opposed not only to American interventionism, but also to the growing domestic security apparatus that poses a threat to individual liberties. Deneen’s liberals, or at least the contemporary names such as Wiegel, Neuhaus, and Novak, may better be described as neo-conservatives. Insofar as the Catholic neo-conservatives share economic views with the libertarians, I will include them as “classical liberals” in the analysis to follow. It may also be argued that Catholic libertarians aligned with the Austrian school of economics and political theory are also quite critical of liberal democracy. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an Austrian intellectual, has led the way in the libertarian critique of democracy and there is no reason to assume that a classical liberal is necessarily a democratic liberal.

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61 Responses to Liberalism, Capitalism & Pluralism: The Catholic Wars Continue

  • One point of clarification: the Deneen article doesn’t use the term “liberal” to describe those who see compatibility between Catholicism and liberal democracy. He seems to go out of his way to avoid that label. In that I think he’s correct; the term is just too confusing.

  • Pinky,

    You’re right of course, but he doesn’t use ANY term to describe them as far as I can tell. They’re de facto liberals, then, given what they’re said to believe.

  • Best wishes, Bonchamps. I like your defense of the American project, within which Distributists can form their voluntary collectives. I read Deneen’s recent article, Corporatism and Gay Marriage: Natural Bedfellows. (note that is Corporatism, not Capitalism.) Before the Distributists retreat to their collectives, I hope they understand that it’s going to be really, really hard to make a living when the ruling regime seeks to punish those who do not profess the beliefs of the regime. In other words, I’m not sure we can all move to a particular location within these fifty (or was it fifty-seven?) states, and live out our lives. Hmm. Time to review the specific examples of the people who came to America seeking religious freedom for the low, low price of carving settlements out of the wilderness. 🙂 Where is our wilderness?

  • As a matter of history, classical liberalism was at great pains to remove precisely the means that had been traditionally used to curb the free market.

    Jefferson, for example, was a great opponent of entails and perpetuities and secured the passage of a bill abolishing them in Virginia. “Entails” or “Tailzies” as we call them in Scotland, were settlements of property to people in succession, with irritant and resolutive clauses, preventing that property being alienated or made subject to the debts of the holder from time to time. In that way, property could be left to A and the heirs male of his body, whom failing to B and the heirs of his body &c

    Like the French Jacobins, Jefferson considered each generation was entitled to redistribute property over which no individual (or group of individuals) had the right of disposal – “whether they may change the appropriation of lands given anciently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity; whether they may abolish the charges and privileges attached on lands, including the whole catalogue, ecclesiastical and feudal; it goes to hereditary offices, authorities and jurisdictions, to hereditary orders, distinctions and appellations, to perpetual monopolies in commerce, the arts or sciences, with a long train of et ceteras.”

    Likewise, the activities of trade and craft guilds (and later trades unions) were regularly subject to legal curbs, as being “in restraint of trade.”

  • “As a matter of history, classical liberalism was at great pains to remove precisely the means that had been traditionally used to curb the free market.”

    Yes… which is why I am an economic classical liberal.

    “Likewise, the activities of trade and craft guilds (and later trades unions) were regularly subject to legal curbs, as being “in restraint of trade.”

    Which they are. It is hardly fair to harm the interests of consumers, who are greater in number and include all of the poor, for the sake of a narrow set of specialized workers. The common good is served by lower prices, which effect everyone, and not higher wages, from which far fewer will benefit.

  • Bonchamps, thanks for this and your other recent post…I’ve not had the time to fully digest them and the ensuing discussion in “Brace Yourselves: The Dark Enlightenment is Upon Us”, but I’ve been on a similar (I think) line. There are some, following apparently in the Thomist tradition, who posit that Catholic identity is ultimately incompatible with the American experiment. Some others, perhaps not so much Thomist but every bit as much aiming to be orthodox, disagree.

    The folk debating this study it for a living while I’m just arm-chairing here, but I wonder if the answer is related to a discussion by Benjamin Wiker on the founding of America (http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/catholicism-and-the-american-founding), wherein he discusses the different between natural law and natural rights.
    Put simply: the more we focus on natural rights in American politics, the greater the division from a political infrastructure at odds with Catholic thought and social teaching (and hence, incurring the criticism of the Thomists)….the more the focus is on natural law, the less the criticism of the Thomists (who claim to champion natural law) and the closer to Catholic thought and social teaching.

    Prior to this, my only substantive rebuttal was: “What else do you propose? My limited survey of the modern world and the highlights of history produces, as a database programmer might say: ‘Query returned zero rows.'”

    It’s entirely possible that the Thomists are misinterpreting the difference…in another realm, with which I’m slightly more familiar, Albert Einstein famously (and quite incorrectly) rebutted the notion of the Big Bang as presented by Georges Lemaître (a Catholic priest) by saying, “Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious” (For MPS: Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable). Einstein was wrong on the “Steady State” model of the universe as well as quantum mechanics…maybe the error of the professional Thomists is a similar one…but then again, I’m certainly no Lemaître in philosophy or theology.

  • It may also be argued that Catholic libertarians aligned with the Austrian school of economics

    You don’t want to go there.

  • John,

    I would take exception to the idea that natural rights simply mean that one can do as they please within the boundaries of other people’s rights.

    John Locke’s version of natural rights are rooted in natural law. Natural rights are in fact corollaries to natural laws. We have a right to life, liberty and estate because we have a moral duty to preserve our own lives, those of our families, and even those of our communities.

    The idea of natural rights as a license to do whatever we want within the bounds of other people’s rights is a later idea that I don’t think either Locke or Jefferson subscribed to. Maybe later classical liberals such as Spencer or libertarians such as Rothbard would see it this way, once they’d detached natural rights from Christianity. Spencer’s “law of equal liberty” or Rothbard’s “non-aggression principle” are detached from the Christian version of natural law to be sure.

    I’d close by saying that the doctrine of individual natural rights had less to do with establishing an individual right to do as one pleases than they did with limiting governments. That’s what the classical liberal project was all about – limiting the power of the state. One can argue that this naturally or logically leads to a state of moral degeneracy of sexual license, but I don’t think that is true. The state, after all, continued to expand regardless of the wishes of classical liberals, whose ideal societies only existed on the frontier.

  • Art, briefly what are your objections to Hayek? Any links/references for further consideration would be nice. Thanks!

  • tamsin: “Where is our wilderness?” In the wilderness. The Homestead Act has not been repealed. Indwellers have gotten a court order that they can live where they live…in the national parks and forests. All free lands and waterways belong to each and every citizen in joint and common tenancy In recent years, Clinton tried to put all free lands and waterways under the jurisdiction of the Executive in Chief. The Department of the Interior was ordered to evacuate all indwellers from parks and forests.That failed.

  • “John Locke’s version of natural rights are rooted in natural law. Natural rights are in fact corollaries to natural laws. We have a right to life, liberty and estate because we have a moral duty to preserve our own lives, those of our families, and even those of our communities.”
    .
    Those who would take license with vice against virtue give scandal to the community and must be ostracized. It is the duty of the state to deliver equal Justice, not equality. Man is created equal. Justice must be preserved.

  • Bonchamps,
    .
    You have written an excellent and timely piece on Liberalism in its many manifestations and re-inventions which undoubtedly will inform and educate many.
    .
    As I reflected on your most recent piece together with your other riveting article, “Brace Yourselves: The Dark Enlightenment is Upon Us”, I have come to realize that I would decline to classify myself in any category of Catholicism because to do so might give rise to an appearance of division among the Catholic faithful.
    .
    I recall an article by the respected late prelate Father John A. Hardon, S.J entitled “Conservative or Liberal Catholic” which is instructive. Fr. Hardon cautioned Catholics against describing themselves and the Catholic faith in social or political terms. He recounted a story of a priest who provided the truly “Catholic” response when queried whether he was conservative or liberal:
    .
    “… “I’m a Roman Catholic. I follow the guidelines of the Vatican.” The holder of the Petrine Office is the direct descendent of Peter to whom were handed the keys of the kingdom. His mandate is clear; our duty as Roman Catholics is to adhere to both the letter and the Spirit as the Holy Father delineates them for us, not pick and choose those aspects of Catholicism more to our liking. As 2 John 9 reminds us, anyone who “does not remain rooted in the teaching of Christ does not possess God, while anyone who remains rooted in the teaching possesses both Father and the Son.” http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Church_Dogma/Church_Dogma_003.htm.
    .
    Politics, within the Church or in secular society, must not become an entree for division among Catholics because we are the children of a God who is Love and Unity; there should be no division among the children of Our Heavenly Father.
    .
    I believe that as Catholics, we must meet this great trial which confronts us …this assault against our faith by the secular forces of the world… with a united front. Each of us as individuals must therefore intentionally and bravely exercise our free will to stand firm in defense of Catholicism and our fellow Catholics…even if it causes discomfort or brings mockery upon us. And we must pray for the intervention of the Holy Spirit that those Catholics who are blinded by secularlism will wake up in time and turn away from their error.
    .
    Chuck Colson, a protestant, made a videotape shortly before he died, pleading with all Christians (Catholics and Protestants) to align and stand together in unity against what he knew to be coming against us.
    .
    Mr. Colson reminded us “We are all one in Christ”; his video is worth watching.
    .
    See, link for Chuck Colson video, http://youtu.be/Kuyv-XzHueM

  • Bonchamps: I’m by no means (as I’ve stated) a scholar on the topics like you and many others here are. But here’s the “proof in the pudding” as it were: if there was no difference between the classic understanding of natural law and, as you put it, the corollary of natural rights from Locke / Jefferson, then from where did the “modern natural rights” come?

    Specifically, I have a particular libertarian friend who subscribes to the “modern natural rights” notion…and I hear modern Christian libertarian talk-show hosts espouse the following:

    The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Notes_on_the_State_of_Virginia

    To be sure, I agree more than I disagree with such sentiments…but my level of disagreement is non-zero. I could go to Cardinal Ottaviani and his reaffirmation that “error has no rights” (http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/05/the-last-laugh-of-alfredo-ottaviani) and the modern explications of Dignitatis Humanae that have put forth the notion that there isn’t an absolute right of the state to argue against the practice of religion, only when the state is acting in accordance with justice (see this article on whether all religions can deserve equal respect: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/do-all-religions-deserve-respect). Those discussions are probably helpful to my argument, but I use instead another (to lean on the well at Crisis, http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/those-intolerable-catholics-in-lockes-time-and-ours … and I note that some good TAC’ers were there in the comments early on), and I wonder if Locke’s view of government could conceive of someone putting God before Country. In other words, if the State had declared X and a religious view held Y, which trumps? Locke had a rather dismal (if arguably misinformed?) view of “papists” such as us, beholden to the keys on the Pope’s belt over the common good of our neighbors…so how does this sit with an orthodox Catholic understanding?

    Please note: I question not because I disagree with libertarian/natural rights prima facie, but rather, I see the consequences of some of these decisions that modern “natural rights” proponents might favor compared to advocates in favor of natural law. If the “natural rights” advanced by modern types is substantively different from that proposed by Locke and Jefferson, I ask : where, that a layman might understand, is the difference? If there is no difference, then what about the criticism afforded, for example, by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on his dissent on the decision striking down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act. Citing the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/08/the-supreme-court-and-the-future-of-marriage), Justice Alito affirms a natural law definition against the tide of natural rights that triumphed in U.S. vs Windsor. Where did Justice Kennedy and the rest “get it wrong” in presumably applying the fruits of Jefferson and Locke?

    I’m generally inclined toward libertarian notions but with caveats. I can find enough evidence in Hayek’s Road to Serfdom that settles, for me, that there’s no real difference between Hayek and general Catholic economic sentiment…it’s the rhetoric from those who haven’t read much of either that appears to create the difference. But where it comes to natural rights and natural law, it’s not as clear to me and the consequences are as big as the gulf between my friend and I on the definition of marriage. And I ask as one who seeks to defend the ground I’m on better than what the archetypical parent might say: “Because I said so.”

  • Slainte,

    I’m glad the piece was of some use to you.

    I share your disdain for political labels. I would describe what I hold to be sympathies, not identifications. I call myself a “fellow traveler” of classical liberalism, but I can’t be a die-hard adherent. Liberalism’s critics aren’t wrong to point out its relativist tendencies and the dangers these pose to Catholics. As an ideology that seeks to limit and even oppose the pretensions of the state for the sake of individual liberty and dignity, it is quite useful though. I think it is also indisputable that free-market capitalism is the system that best serves the common good and the needs of the poor – mostly by eliminating poverty through a competitive process that forces innovation, which in turn leads to technology that lowers the costs of production and the prices of everyday goods for average people.

  • Bonchamps: we may be passing comments past the time-delay to post, but I want to also affirm something. I wholeheartedly agree with you here:

    I think it is also indisputable that free-market capitalism is the system that best serves the common good and the needs of the poor – mostly by eliminating poverty through a competitive process that forces innovation, which in turn leads to technology that lowers the costs of production and the prices of everyday goods for average people.

    That’s a more elegant way of saying what I was trying to:

    Prior to this, my only substantive rebuttal was: “What else do you propose? My limited survey of the modern world and the highlights of history produces, as a database programmer might say: ‘Query returned zero rows.’”

    What other system is there that does what a properly-implemented free-market system does (ie, without cronyism and corruption)? There’s nothing yet proposed that’s better. One needs only look at the percent of GDP that the US gives in charity (or any of another statistics) to confirm this. So please read my above comments in the same spirit, that I question not to attack to but understand…especially in light of social concerns, such as marriage and defense of life. My libertarian friend might agree with me economically…but not socially.

  • John,
    .
    “then from where did the “modern natural rights” come?”
    .
    It was a subtle shift of thought, I think, from Locke to Jefferson. The reason that I wouldn’t put Jefferson in with later classical liberals, though, is that he still held that natural rights came from God, and in fact that they could only be “secure” if the people believed they came from God. Non-Christian liberals are often content to invoke reason as sufficient for recognition of these rights, and Ayn Rand takes it to absurd levels. Spencer on the other hand really tries hard to establish that men have a sort of natural “sense” of having universal, equal rights.
    .
    “and I hear modern Christian libertarian talk-show hosts espouse the following”
    .
    Yes, that Jefferson quote. That is an articulation of the “modern” view of rights, yes. But your right to that sort of liberty, even though he doesn’t mention natural laws/duties, still comes from God in Jefferson’s view. So he’s somewhere between Locke and the others I think.
    .
    As for Locke’s attitude towards Catholicism, yes, this too is a big problem. This is where we get into John Courtney Murray territory. Some of these classical liberals were continuing a natural law tradition that the Church had developed, but only in parts, and not in the whole, and they ended up attacking Catholicism. It’s a shame, really. After all, Locke is mostly arguing against absolute monarchy, a repugnant political doctrine that the Church never endorsed. Then Cardinal Bellarmine argued against James I’s claim to “divine kingship” and held that the people had a right to overthrow despotic rulers and establish new governments. The real absolutism came when Henry VIII declared himself the head of a new sect, the Church of England.
    .
    I’d say that Locke’s attitude toward Catholicism has little to do with his arguments in the Second Treatise, though. The proof, I think, lies in the fact that the men who advised Pope Leo XIII in the drafting of Rerum Novarum were drawing upon that very work when formulating the Church’s modern position on private property rights, and, I think, the limitations that reason and justice demand be placed on the state.
    .
    “Where did Justice Kennedy and the rest “get it wrong” in presumably applying the fruits of Jefferson and Locke?”
    .
    They definitely got it wrong with Locke because Locke clearly and strongly reaffirmed natural laws and obligations. Jefferson is a different story. I couldn’t confidently say that they totally botched his views of individual natural rights, but they certainly made a complete mockery of his belief in pluralism, state’s rights, popular sovereignty, and the dangers of an unelected body of judges invested with the (self-appointed) power to decide what the law is on the basis of their own philosophical pretensions and biases. The thing to remember about Jefferson is this: while he may have wanted the maximum liberal demands when it came to individual rights and separation of church and state in his own state of Virginia, he completely respected the right of the other states to maintain their own rules and establishments. His reply to the complaint of the Danbury Baptists didn’t end with a promise to send troops to shut down the established church in Connecticut. It made no promises at all. It was along the lines of, “yeah, I hear you… but…” So while Jefferson the personal liberal may lend some support to the arguments of homosexual radicals (repugnant as they would have been to Jefferson himself), Jefferson the statesman, who held the 10th amendment and NOT the 1st to be the foundation of the Constitution, wouldn’t have supported this federal/judicial theocracy in the least.

  • There is no doubt that the growth of commerce tended to destroy those intermediate authorities that opposed an effective obstacle to the powers of government and what Lord Acton calls conditional obedience guaranteed by the power of a limited command

    Dr Johnson has described this process: “Where there is no commerce nor manufacture, he that is born poor can scarcely become rich; and if none are able to buy estates, he that is born to land cannot annihilate his family by selling it. This was once the state of these countries. Perhaps there is no example, till within a century and half, of any family whose estate was alienated otherwise than by violence or forfeiture. Since money has been brought amongst them, they have found, like others, the art of spending more than they receive; and I saw with grief the chief of a very ancient clan, whose Island was condemned by law to be sold for the satisfaction of his creditors.”

    Again, “The Laird is the original owner of the land, whose natural power must be very great, where no man lives but by agriculture; and where the produce of the land is not conveyed through the labyrinths of traffick [sic], but passes directly from the hand that gathers it to the mouth that eats it. The Laird has all those in his power that live upon his farms. Kings can, for the most part, only exalt or degrade. The Laird at pleasure can feed or starve, can give bread, or withhold [sic] it. This inherent power was yet strengthened by the kindness of consanguinity, and the reverence of patriarchal authority. The Laird was the father of the Clan, and his tenants commonly bore his name. And to these principles of original command was added, for many ages, an exclusive right of legal jurisdiction.”

    That is why, until 1745, no people enjoyed greater freedom from government interference than the Highland clans, its security being their loyalty to their chieftains.

    The rise of the Tudor despotism was made possible by the mutual destruction of the old landed nobility in the Wars of the Roses and was supported by the towns, which had the liquid wealth to purchase charters of privileges. We see a similar process in the rise of Absolutism in France, in the wake of the Wars of Religion and the Frondes; again with the support of the commercial classes, the bourgeoisie or townspeople, characterised, since the time of Augustus by the love of equality, the hatred of nobility, and the tolerance of despotism.

  • “Locke does characterize conjugal unions as “voluntary” compacts between men and women.”

    F P Walton, an eminent authority on the marriage law of Scotland wrote that “The question has often been debated by lawyers, if it is correct to describe marriage as a contract. Some writers prefer to call it a status or an institution.

    The difficulty in calling it a mere contract is this—two people may agree to marry each other, but they cannot agree what sort of marriage it shall be. If they take each other it is “for better, for worse.” They must accept all the consequences and incidents of marriage as it is fixed and determined by law. They could not, for example, agree to be married for ten years, or that the wife should be head of the house, or that the children should not have any rights of succession. All that they can do is to agree to marry. It is the law which lays down what are the rights of the husband, the rights of the wife, the rights of the children; whereas as a general rule in the making of contracts the parties may come to any terms they like. The discussion is not a particularly fruitful one and I only mention it to introduce the elementary proposition so often lost sight of — that there must be matrimonial consent. Whether marriage is a contract or something more, there is no doubt at all that it is entered into by a contract—an agreement to marry.”

    Walton adds that, by the law of Scotland, “when it is proved that the two people agreed to marry {i.e., to marry then and there, not at some future time, which would only be promise of marriage), then they are married, provided, of course, there was no legal impediment.” That is taken from the Canon Law and was the rule of the Catholic Church, too, until the Tametsi decree of the Council of Trent in 1563.

  • “he growth of commerce tended to destroy those intermediate authorities that opposed an effective obstacle to the powers of government”

    The growth of commerce inspired people to fight for their lives, liberties and property in ways they had scarcely done throughout human history.

    “That is why, until 1745, no people enjoyed greater freedom from government interference than the Highland clans”

    I’m quite sure that very few if any peoples enjoyed greater privation, hunger and general want. It is easy to romanticize the clan system, far moreso than it would be to live in such a place. One of my life-long dreams is to visit the Hebrides. Living there the way 18th century cotters did isn’t a part of that, though.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour: “”The difficulty in calling it a mere contract is this—two people may agree to marry each other, but they cannot agree what sort of marriage it shall be.””
    .
    God brought the woman, Eve, to Adam and Adam said: “She now is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
    Ejecting God, our Creator, from His creation is nothing short of stealing.
    The Sacrament of Matrimony is the epitome of sovereignty, consent for a woman to become a wife, for a man to become a husband, each to his office to fulfill his and her vocation. The office of wife for a woman and the office of husband for a man is no less than the office of priesthood of the laity with Jesus Christ as head Priest.

  • Bonchamps

    Life on a Hebridian croft, typically 4 acres of arable land and sixteen of pasture tends not to be one of Sybaritic luxury even today.

    The chieftain would have shared the same hardships of life as his clansmen. His rents were paid in victual or cattle, for which there was no ready market. He spent them on the only form of conspicuous consumption available to him, that is, hospitality. The number of retainers is astonishing and we read of minor chieftains visiting Edinburgh with three or four score horsemen. Their loyalty to their chief and their keen sense of honour, quick to detect and punish any want of respect shown him, led to many famous tulzies, like that in in 1520 between the Hamiltons and the Douglases, known as “Cleanse the Causeway,” when the latter, as Pitscottie records, ” keiped both the gaitt and their honouris”; and
    that in 1551 between the Kerrs and the Scotts,

    When the streets of High Dunedin
    Saw lances gleam and falchions redden,
    And heard the slogan’s deadly yell—
    Then the Chief of Branxholm fell.

    Such men were unlikely tamely to submit to oppression by government.

    If you do visit the Hebrides, on no account miss Islay, which boasts nine distilleries and whose peaty malts, such as Bowmore, Laphroaig and Kilchoman, which all have their own malting floors, are beyond description. I would especially recommend Lagavulin.

  • Mary de Voe

    Yes, as a great judge, Lord Stowell said, “Marriage in its origin is a contract of natural law; it may exist between two individuals of different sexes although no third person existed in the world, as happened in the case of the common ancestors of mankind. It is the parent not the child of civil society. In civil society, it becomes a civil contract regulated and prescribed by law and endowed with civil consequences. In most civilized countries, acting under a sense of the force of sacred obligations, it has had the sanctions of religion superadded; it then becomes a religious, as well a natural and civil, contract; for it is a great mistake to suppose that because it is the one, therefore it may not likewise be the other. Heaven itself is made a party to the contract and the consent of the individuals pledged to each other is ratified and consecrated by a vow to God.”

    I do not think Locke would have disagreed.

  • Bonchamps,
    .
    When MPS states, “…If you do visit the Hebrides, on no account miss Islay, which boasts nine distilleries and whose peaty malts, such as Bowmore, Laphroaig and Kilchoman, which all have their own malting floors, are beyond description…”
    .
    When MPS uses the term “peaty malt” he really means it….keep all lit matches at bay. : )

  • Art, briefly what are your objections to Hayek? Any links/references for further consideration would be nice. Thanks!

    Not to Hayek, but to contemporary Austrian economics as developed by Peter Boettke, Robert Higgs, and others. The theoretical aspect has led to (I am quoting a libertarian more inclined to the Chicago school) “a great deal of meta-economics, but not much economics”. They are dubious about (if not rejecting of) statistical analysis as a tool and tend toward policy prescriptions (e.g. replacing central banking with updated versions of the gold standard) which would have been indubitably disastrous during the most recent unpleasantness (and were disastrous during the period running from 1929 to 1933).

  • The truth is out there.

    The unpleasantness of the Great Depression was not exacerbated by lack of government action or monetary strictures of the dreaded gold standard.

    Here are the government policies/culprits:
    • The Federal Reserve reduced the amount of credit outstanding, and therefore the stock of money, in 1931 and again in 1933;
    • Congress passed and President Hoover approved a major tax increase in June 1932;
    • Rumors that President-elect Roosevelt would devalue the dollar (which he later did) caused the final banking panic; and
    • The national banking holiday declared by Roosevelt on March 6, 1933, undermined public confidence so greatly that 5,000 banks didn’t reopen after the holiday expired, and 2,000 closed permanently.
    • In the 1930s, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act caused a collapse in global trade.

    In January 1934, FDR increased the dollar price of gold from $20.67 to $35, devaluing the dollar by 70 percent and increasing the value of gold that the government now owned.

    Up to 1934, the $20 (I own one) Federal Reserve Note (you call it “dollars”) had imprinted on it “WILL PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND TWENTY DOLLARS.” Today, it says “Twenty Dollars.”

    PS: The central planners and collectivists dread the giold standard because they cannot control us if money is backed by something real.

  • The monetary base was stable, declining slightly during the period running from 1929 to 1933. What changed was a rapid increase in the demand for real balances, which was not met by the monetary authorities (because of the gold standard, in part).

    It is doubtful Smoot-Hawley caused a ‘collapse’ in global trade. The United States relied on its domestic market and only about 5% of our domestic production was exported. We had a similar abrupt implosion in foreign trade in 2008-09 (and manifest in several countries) absent any sort of protectionist legislation.

    ==

    The ratio of federal income tax collections to domestic product in 1932 was quite low. The tax increase was injurious to the economy, but only a small fraction of the economic implosion registered over 3.5 years is attributable to that tax increase. (The economy had actually stabilized by the 3d quarter of 1932 after three years of rapid implosion).

    ==

    One purpose of the bank holiday was to arrest panic withdrawals and identify insolvent banks. Of course the banks did not reopen. They were bust.

  • You think Sir Alan Walters qualifies as a ‘central planner’ and ‘collectivist’??? (His description of advocates of the gold standard in 1984 was thus: “crackers”).

  • Thomas Jefferson once said:

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies . . . If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] . . . will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered . . . The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” — Thomas Jefferson — The Debate Over The Recharter Of The Bank Bill, (1809)

  • Michael Peterson-Seymour.
    “”it (civil marriage) has had the sanctions of religion superadded;”” The sanctions of religion superadded may be removed by civil society.
    .
    The Defense of Marriage Act posits that marriage consists of one man and one woman. Marriage consists of one husband and one wife. The informed consent of one man to become a husband and the informed consent of one woman to become a wife is required. The essence of marriage then is the offices of husband and wife to which a man and a woman attain, an attainment that continues “until death do us part.”
    .
    Some people wish to have civil society normalize sodomy by demanding equality and pretending that sodomy is theirs by “natural right” because they suffer same-sex attraction. This amounts to Abraham Lincoln’s query about counting a dog’s tail as a fifth foot. If one counts the dog’s tail as his foot, one will still have a dog with four feet and one tail.
    .
    If religion is superadded or subtracted, one fully informed husband and one fully informed wife constitute marriage, a marriage between one man and one woman.
    .
    It is a miscarriage of Justice and a crime against civil society that same-sex oriented individuals are being used by militant sodomites to thwart the truth.

  • “Heaven itself is made a party to the contract and the consent of the individuals pledged to each other is ratified and consecrated by a vow to God.””
    .
    All, I say all, contracts, civil and vows as religious, are ratified and consecrated to God and by God. One does not enter into a civil contract to be swindled or lied to. “In God We Trust”

  • Bonchamps: “It was a subtle shift of thought, I think, from Locke to Jefferson. The reason that I wouldn’t put Jefferson in with later classical liberals, though, is that he still held that natural rights came from God, and in fact that they could only be “secure” if the people believed they came from God.”
    .
    This excerpt from Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Church states the First Amendment with its freedom of Religion, then, the “wall of separation of Church and State” after, but only after “…or prohibit the free exercise thereof.” Giving atheism priority over the “free exercise thereof” is establishment of atheism.
    .
    “Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience” Any reference to the HHS Mandate?
    .
    “I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
    .
    Natural rights exclude the unnatural rights of the sodomites’ agenda.
    .
    excerpt from Jefferson:
    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

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  • Mary,

    Yes, I’m aware of the content of the letter. What actually became of the Danbury Baptists, though? Connecticut kept its established church during the Jefferson presidency. Why?

    “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.” — TJ

    The separation of church and state applied to the federal government, not the state governments. In the early American mind, before the days of “incorporation”, the difference between these two was actually significant.

  • “The reason that I wouldn’t put Jefferson in with later classical liberals, though, is that he still held that natural rights came from God, and in fact that they could only be “secure” if the people believed they came from God”

    That belief was all but universal. In the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 26 August 1789, “the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being [« en présence et sous les auspices de l’Etre Suprême »], the following rights of man and of the citizen…”

    Indeed, religion was held to be essential to the social bond and that society was dependent on its sanctions. Rousseau had been intolerant in his theism – “While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If anyone, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.” Robespierre, who described himself as “a pretty bad Catholic” [un assez mauvais Catholique] – something few would dispute – famously declared “Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is altogether popular.”

    An established church, from which dissent was tolerated, remained the European norm throughout the 19th century.

  • Professor Deco:

    Dr. Friedman and I bow to your superior analysis and firmer grasp of the factual record.

  • Shaw:

    Dr. Friedman was not an adherent of ‘Austrian’ economics, nor of any policy prescription that contemporary ‘Austrians’ are promoting at this time.

  • Dr. Deco:

    Nor am I.

    I had my “ass in the grass/boots on the ground” in the past 37 years of serial banking/financial crises. I lived the causes and effects. The Congress, Fed and Treasury made them worse.

    “They” don’t listen to guys like me. And, I am not one of them guys that habitually predicts 50 of the past five busts.

  • What’s your point, T. Shaw?

    First you endorse a gold standard (including a kvetch that gold and silver certificates are no longer in circulation), then you eschew Austrian policy prescriptions, which include a ‘currency board’, which is meant to function similarly to a metallic standard.

    You make like I contradict Milton Friedman. Trouble is, my 1st point above is the nut of Dr. Friedman’s thesis about the Depression (seconded by Sir Alan Walters, another monetarist). The rest is (some interpretive statements aside) factual and would not be denied by Dr. Friedman or anyone else who had looked through the statistical manuals.

  • Everyone acknowledges that Peel’s Bank Act of 1844, restricting the note issue failed to address the real problem. Even then, currency notes were the small change of commerce and the Act did nothing to restrict bank deposits and, therefore, bank advances. Accordingly, the Act had no effect on price inflation.

    Neither then, nor subsequently, could any bank have paid its depositors in gold or Bank of England notes, had they all demanded repayment.

  • I so adore these on-topic conversations.

  • Professor Deco,

    I stifled myself. Mr. Bonchamps would have so adored it.

  • Neither then, nor subsequently, could any bank have paid its depositors in gold or Bank of England notes, had they all demanded repayment.

    I think that’s pretty much been true since the early modern period. When people decry ‘fractional reserve banking’, what they are objecting to is what is known more concisely as ‘banking’.

  • Art, thank you for your reply. I was not aware that when the Austrian school is referenced, that there is a “contemporary” school.
    .
    I read both The Road to Serfdom and The Fatal Conceit in recent years. I find Hayek’s argument to be compelling. To put it in moral terms, he shows how we create a Hell on Earth when we try to create Heaven on Earth through the machinery of State planning… and there’s a lot of data from the 20th century to back that up. I’m curious to know if there is a theological? doctrinal? natural law? reason that Hayek’s reasoning should be rejected.
    .
    Bonchamps, this is on-topic insofar as I’m asking about man’s relationship to the State, specifically what choices the State should make for men in the light of our Catholic faith.
    .
    I read your whole Scribd essay before making my first comment.

  • Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were aligned in their concern that the establishment and continuation of a “Central Bank” now known as “The Federal Reserve” would jeopardize the well being of the new republic, the integrity of its Constitution and its concept of federalism, along with the rights and liberties of its citizens. This “bank” issue is a fundamental concern to Liberalism on many levels.
    .
    In 1832, President Jackson rejected a Bill seeking to continue the existence of a Central Bank. In his veto of the bill, he stated:
    .
    “…It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.
    .
    “….Is there no danger to our liberty and independence in a bank that in its nature has so little to bind it to our country? The president of the bank has told us that most of the State banks exist by its forbearance. Should its influence become concentered, as it may under the operation of such an act as this, in the hands of a self-elected directory whose interests are identified with those of the foreign stockholders, will there not be cause to tremble for the purity of our elections in peace and for the independence of our country in war? Their power would be great whenever they might choose to exert it; but if this monopoly were regularly renewed every fifteen or twenty years on terms proposed by themselves, they might seldom in peace put forth their strength to influence elections or control the affairs of the nation. But if any private citizen or public functionary should interpose to curtail its powers or prevent a renewal of its privileges, it can not be doubted that he would be made to feel its influence.”
    .
    “Should the stock of the bank principally pass into the hands of the subjects of a foreign country, and we should unfortunately become involved in a war with that country, what would be our condition? Of the course which would be pursued by a bank almost wholly owned by the subjects of a foreign power, and managed by those whose interests, if not affections, would run in the same direction there can be no doubt. All its operations within would be in aid of the hostile fleets and armies without. Controlling our currency, receiving our public moneys, and holding thousands of our citizens in dependence, it would be more formidable and dangerous than the naval and military power of the enemy….”
    .
    “…..It is maintained by some that the bank is a means of executing the constitutional power “to coin money and regulate the value thereof.” Congress have established a mint to coin money and passed laws to regulate the value thereof. The money so coined, with its value so regulated, and such foreign coins as Congress may adopt are the only currency known to the Constitution. But if they have other power to regulate the currency, it was conferred to be exercised by themselves, and not to be transferred to a corporation. If the bank be established for that purpose, with a charter unalterable without its consent, Congress have parted with their power for a term of years, during which the Constitution is a dead letter. It is neither necessary nor proper to transfer its legislative power to such a bank, and therefore unconstitutional…”
    .
    “…Nor is our Government to be maintained or our Union preserved by invasions of the rights and powers of the several States. In thus attempting to make our General Government strong we make it weak. Its true strength consists in leaving individuals and States as much as possible to themselves-in making itself felt, not in its power, but in its beneficence; not in its control, but in its protection; not in binding the States more closely to the center, but leaving each to move unobstructed in its proper orbit….”
    .
    “….It can not be necessary to the character of the bank as a fiscal agent of the Government that its private business should be exempted from that taxation to which all the State banks are liable, nor can I conceive it “proper” that the substantive and most essential powers reserved by the States shall be thus attacked and annihilated as a means of executing the powers delegated to the General Government. It may be safely assumed that none of those sages who had an agency in forming or adopting our Constitution ever imagined that any portion of the taxing power of the States not prohibited to them nor delegated to Congress was to be swept away and annihilated as a means of executing certain powers delegated to Congress….”
    .
    “….Experience should teach us wisdom. Most of the difficulties our Government now encounters and most of the dangers which impend over our Union have sprung from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of Government by our national legislation, and the adoption of such principles as are embodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires we have in the results of our legislation arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career to review our principles, and if possible revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished the sages of the Revolution and the fathers of our Union. If we can not at once, in justice to interests vested under improvident legislation, make our Government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our code of laws and system of political economy….”
    .
    Source: “President Jackson’s Veto Message Regarding the Bank of the United States” of July 10, 1832;
    See, link: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/ajveto01.asp.

  • From page 168 of the 5th edition (1966) of Karl Popper’s 1945 study, The Open Society and Its Enemies:

    “Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude which springs from intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism. It may seek its heavenly city in the past or in the future; it may preach ‘back to nature’ or ‘forward to a world of love and beauty’; but its appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow-men.”

  • When MPS uses the term “peaty malt” he really means it….keep all lit matches at bay. : )

    I had a friend in college that loved Laphroaig…at the time (maybe they still do it), they had a certificate for a square inch claim to the peat bogs of the surrounding area. I still only partake in Scotch with friends to humor them…but the image of a burning square inch of peat will now assist me when I tilt one back with them.
    .
    Back on topic…Thanks for the replies Bonchamps, MPS and others. So if I understand it correctly, Jefferson would have supported each state’s determination to be as religiously tolerant or not, per an application of the the 10th Amendment.
    .
    Now, from the perspective of Dignitatis Humanae, as presented at Crisis (http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/do-all-religions-deserve-respect), absolute religious tolerance of every religion (ie, the entire spectrum of religious practice) isn’t good. Further, religious freedom can be, under justice, restricted…obvious example: human sacrifice. But then I pose this (from the link):

    The Council fathers also have this to say: “Civil society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order.” For our purposes the first and the last lines are the most important. The first possibly signals again an awareness of the problems that might be caused by false religion. The last tells us that government should be guided in its actions by the “objective moral order.”

    Take the above quote, mix in Jefferson and Locke for a moment…and then superimpose this mixture upon the HHS contraception mandate oppression. If the Gub’ment, through the actions of Sebellius and Holder, is acting in accordance with the “objective moral order” (please note the sarcasm), then aren’t they able to legally and within the realm of justice oppress Little Sisters of the Poor? Of course we reject that interpretation, but what would stop Jefferson from arguing that, or at least remaining silent on the dispute?

  • John,
    .
    Answer 1: http://the-american-catholic.com/2014/01/09/ursuline-nuns-thomas-jefferson-and-synchronicity/
    .
    Answer 2: http://www.thomasmore.org/blog/2012/02/thomas-jefferson-president-obama-hhs-mandate
    .
    The HHS mandate has absolutely nothing to do with moral order. The government doesn’t even make that claim when challenged in court. It is about achieving “gender equality”, a purely political goal. I suppose anyone can say that anything they propose is in the interests of “objective moral order”, though, should they want to.
    .
    Jefferson had zero interest – none, nada, zilch – in forcing people to behave contrary to their consciences and beliefs when there was no compelling, overriding issue at stake, which is precisely the case with the HHS mandate. He was not an ideological sociopath who believed it was his mission to force everyone to contribute to some grand political vision.

  • “It does reject the old Aristotelian idea that the state precedes man…”

    To quote something I wrote on a previous thread, “Aristotle famously called Man a ζῷον πολιτικόν – a political animal, For him, it is as blindingly obvious that people everywhere live in communities as that bees live in hives or wolves in packs.” It is in this sense that the polis logically precedes the individual.

    Now, the good of a human community must be a specifically human good and the Catholic political philosopher, Yves Simon identifies this: “the highest activity/being in the natural order is the free arrangement of men about what is good, brought together in an actual polity, where it is no longer a mere abstraction.”

    It is an old saying that the people make the laws and then the laws make the people. Recall the famous epitaph to Leonidas and his immortal 300 that “they died in obedience to the laws.” For the Spartan, the laws of Lycurgus were no mere constraint imposed from without; they pervaded his nature and expressed themselves in his actions. That is what Montaigne meant, when he says that “to obey is the proper office of a rational soul.” No wonder Sparta has been called “a lightening-flash of freedom, in the dark night of tyranny and crime.”

  • MPS,

    “Communities” are not “the state.” It was blindingly obvious to Locke too that men lived with women, had children, and established households and even communities before there ever was a state, which as a matter of historical fact, I believe is the truth.
    .
    Sparta was as close to a fascist regime in the ancient world as could be imagined, which is why it was adored by totalitarian fanatics such as Rousseau. I don’t say that it had no admirable and formidable qualities, but one wonders how the helots felt about those.
    .
    But none of this is really about history. It is about moral precedence. Man doesn’t simply precede the state in time, but in moral importance. The state exists to serve man and to protect what he has a right to acquire by nature. Men have a right to limit its power over their lives because it is their servant. If man exists to serve the state, well, what can I say – look at the bloody Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy. There’s your state preceding man.

  • “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State” – Mussolini
    .
    Sign me up for some of that.

  • Bonchamps

    The individual does not exist to serve the state – that is the fascist distortion of what Plato taught – rather the state is necessary to his perfection, to the fulfilment of his nature.

    As Hegel says, “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.”

    This is why Yves Simon says that, in this state [of abstraction], man is “no longer unequivocally real.” To clarify, Simon then adds: “Human communities are the highest attainment of nature for they are virtually unlimited with regard to diversity of perfections, and are virtually immortal.” He is talking not about what God has in mind for us in eternal life but what, in this world, is the purpose of the “highest of the practical sciences,” as Aristotle called politics.

  • MPS, did the German Third Reich understand itself to be the sort of Hegelian state you describe which represents a kind of perfection?

  • “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.” — TJ ”

    ” or to the people”
    .
    “We, the people… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the united States of America.” The Connecticut Baptist Church’s fears have become our daily living nightmare.”
    Some people think that “Church” means the body of people. “Church” means one living human person and he is free to have his Faith and his Conscience.
    Freedom and Justice are predicated on virtue. Those who take license exile themselves to a gulag of their own making.
    The Church of Connecticut was a church that happened to be in Connecticut. If it was supported by taxes, then, unless all churchs and denominations were supported by taxes, it would have been discrimination and taxation without representation. All education ought to be supported as education not as public or private school because all taxes are collected from all people.

  • Being overrun by immoral despots is not American.
    The atheist and the secular humanist are to be tolerated. Atheism and secular humanism are to be exposed as the fraud, the perjury, the lie, that they are. Atheism refuses to acknowledge the existence of God. The Supreme Sovereign Being, our Creator, endows all unalienable human, civil rights. Unalienable rights are endowed by the infinite God. The state, constituted by man, is finite and all rights endowed by the state are finite. Finite human rights have an expiration date, and unless constantly renewed and ratified, they may expire or lose their efficacy. Finite human right, unacknowledged, puts man at the mercy of the state.
    Infinite human rights come from the infinite God. Unending and unalienable human rights comes an unending and unalienable Creator.
    It is the desire of God that all men be free. Our Creator has created man in freedom, freedom from enslavement to every vice and every addiction to every sort of evil. Man is created to be especially free to choose good over the deceit of the devil.
    It is the will of God that man might live in peace with his neighbor. God inspires man to constitute the state that all unalienable rights of man might be shared to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” all future generations, persons still in the mind of God, our Creator.
    It is the duty of the state constituted by man’s free will to deliver equal Justice. Equal Justice may only be established through virtue, through the innocence and virginity of the newly begotten human soul created in legal and moral innocence. Manmade Justice will always bear the mark of finite, imperfect man.
    Freedom of Religion must remain constant so that when the atheist and secular humanist freely choose Truth, the unalienable right to freedom of religion may be theirs to embrace. This is evident in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Church.
    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
    Citing the whole First Amendment, including the phrase, ”or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” Jefferson then comments about “a wall of separation of church and state.” The wall of separation of church and state has been abused by the atheist and the secular humanist to remove any free expression of religion, to impose atheism, their own agenda, to bamboozle and tyrannize and obliterate the unalienable human rights endowed by our Creator, God, the Supreme Sovereign Being in Whose image and likeness man is created with a rational, immortal human soul, endowed with free will, intellect and sovereign personhood. Enough of the half-truths of atheism and the skullduggery of secular humanism, if the atheist and secular humanist wish to impose finite civil rights on the souls of men, equal Justice dictates that they are the first to have their finite civil rights enforced by the state and by the state removed, finished. The atheist and the secular humanist want unalienable human rights while imposing their finite and removable human rights on the souls of men. This injustice must be rectified and the whole truth be re-established and re-ratified.
    Jefferson also cites “ the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience.” “ Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties”
    This statement alone is the response to the Obamacare’s HHS Mandate.

  • “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State” – Mussolini . Sign me up for some of that.”

    Believe me, Bonchamps, you do not want to go there.
    .
    If the individuals all practice virtue and brotherly love, they may constitute the state. The criminal, by virtue of his exiling himself through his crime, ceases to constitute the state. Persona non grata.

  • MPS,
    .
    “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.”
    .
    There’s quite a miscommunication here, isn’t there? In the minds of classical liberals, “the state” is specifically a body of armed men with a monopoly of violence over a given geographical territory. The way that popes and maybe Hegel too used “the state” was akin to the way that classical liberals may speak of communities or societies. “The state” as organized violence IS optional, DOES exist almost entirely to preserve private property (life, liberty, estate). “The state” as a community of human beings sharing values, culture, technology is society. It too is optional – anyone can go live in the wilderness alone. But I agree that no one will develop in isolation. No classical liberal believes that men can develop or ought to seek to develop as isolate individuals outside of society. What Hegel calls “civil society”, we call the state. What he calls “the state”, we call society. This is semantic confusion at its finest, without a doubt.

  • ““The state” as organized violence IS optional, DOES exist almost entirely to preserve private property (life, liberty, estate).”
    .
    This so called “violence” is called armed forces. Violence is used in the commission of a crime. Armed forces are used in the protection of the community or self.
    .
    But I agree that no one will develop in isolation. No classical liberal believes that men can develop or ought to seek to develop as isolate individuals outside of society .”
    Hermit monks and the desert Fathers grew in holiness in isolation, not without of the state but for the state.

  • Thanks for the comments and clarifications. I would tend to agree that the terms that each philosopher and commenter use are critical for understanding…I can’t help but wonder if much of what many of us have said is the same but with different words. MacIntyre’s After Virtue discussed the fact that when no one properly understands the language of moral philosophy, it’s terribly hard to come to any agreement on anything.
    .
    If I may synthesize and put this into my own language (contributing to the dilemma I just mentioned…O Irony!) and see if I’ve understood properly, the individual man and society exist in an interdependent relationship. Drawing on the notions of how subsidiarity (which tends to focus downward) and solidarity (which tends to focus across the entirety of humanity) need to be a “Both And” and not an “Either Or”, man and society are similiarly (though not identically) positioned.
    .
    An individual (and this is where my limited knowledge of Thomism and the greater Catholic application to theology / philosophy might fail me) is ordered toward the objective goods of worshiping his Creator, pursuit of virtues (Cardinal and Spiritual), and the Great Commission with respect to his fellow man. That inevitably aims work toward a just and good society (I’m using “just” more as I understand Aquinas to mean it, not your average progressive). A just society, in turn, tries to foster an environment in which individuals can achieve their own objective good.
    .
    I think it’s important that MPS discussed the way in which Plato had been twisted…In that same line, C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, the simple premise of which entity, the man or the state, is more important is, among other things, related to the belief in the lifespan of each.

    Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. . . . And immortality makes this other difference, which, by the by, has a connection with the difference between totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of the state or civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

    http://merciarising.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/cs-lewis-state-and-individual/

    I think that this certainly explains why collectivist governments (I find Hayek’s generalization to be quite appropriate, as there’s little net difference between fascists, communists, and any other type of socialist) invariably will make determinations that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or one” and then, in turn, lead to the Culture of Death. In light of that, the Christian alternative would look to Christ’s example, where He would leave the 99 sheep to look for the one which was lost. So, I think it’s fair to say (unless I’ve botched an understanding) that the individual is more important than the state (bad connotation) and probably the society (good connotation). So I think this would find agreement with Bonchamps point in the primacy of the individual. But to MPS’ point, it’s a “chicken and the egg” question; you necessarily must have man and society, even if the “egg came first” (in this situation, the man). Maybe more appropriate to use a plant seed…the seed is essential, but without growing into a mature plant and flowering, it hasn’t reached its proper end (MPS’ comment about assisting to man’s proper end). But this is the break with my comparison to subsidiarity and solidarity…those I regard as “co-equal” compared to the individual and the polis.
    .
    Further, if I’m understanding and translating between Bonchamps accent from a classical liberal and Michael’s of a Catholic theologian/philosopher, an individual who is aligned properly with an objective morality won’t come into conflict with a society aligned the same. To Mary’s point, we have a situation in present times where the societystate is not aligned properly.
    .
    It’s when either the individual or the society stray from the proper moral code that they become unjust, and therefore either the criminal or the oppressive state. A just war undertaken by the state is a proper exercise of its capacity, insofar as it is protecting the good and defending against the bad. When it is turning firehoses on some people, intentionally starving other people, or subsidizing infanticide, it has divorced itself from justice.
    .
    Hopefully that makes sense, as I’m trying to make sure I’m understanding properly…I think I’m still around the “first level of understanding”…I heard it once said that there are three levels of understanding, depending upon your ability to explain a topic or thought to first yourself, second to a friend (who will grant you some leeway) and finally to an enemy (who will find any holes in your presentation and challenge you on it). If, of course, I’m still at the “zeroth level of understanding”, I welcome any nudges, hints or sledgehammers anyone might provide.

  • Mary,
    “Hermit monks and the desert Fathers grew in holiness in isolation, not without of the state but for the state.”
    .
    I think there’s a distinction here, and I’m probably the least best to articulate it given the rambling I just went through. I believe the difference is that in the case of a hermit monk, there’s a relationship to the greater society, but a supernatural one. Whereas in the context of politics / philosophy, the question is more discussing what authority the state has over the individual. An anarcho-individualist, who would reject any state authority, would be supporting a notion of isolation completely different than what a monk might be doing.

  • John by any other name: You said it correctly. Thank you for the clarification.
    .
    “It’s when either the individual or the society stray from the proper moral code that they become unjust, and therefore either the criminal or the oppressive state. A just war undertaken by the state is a proper exercise of its capacity, insofar as it is protecting the good and defending against the bad. When it is turning firehoses on some people, intentionally starving other people, or subsidizing infanticide, it has divorced itself from justice.”

  • Bonchamps

    Thank you for your clarification.

    Certainly, for the ancients, the polis or respublica (the “public thing”) was distinguished from other communities by the fact that it was independent and not subject to any external authority.

    A polity cannot exist without laws, enacted or customary. That is what Simon means, when he says that it is a “free arrangement of men about what is good brought together in an actual polity where it is no longer a mere abstraction.” That is also what Hegel means, when he says that “the state is mind objectified.”

    As a matter of history, many societies have had very limited means of law enforcement, but there was always a clearly recognized difference between self-help in enforcing a legal claim and mere aggression; a creditor would call up witnesses and pronounce a particular formula, when seizing his debtor’s goods or person; magistrates did not adjudicate claims themselves (an invidious task), but appointed an arbitrator, with the consent of both parties and so on.

    For a Catholic, like Simon, ““Beyond the satisfaction of individual needs, the association of men serves a good unique in plenitude and duration, the common good of the human community.” This “common good” is not a separate “being” into which individual persons are somehow subsumed. Rather it is a “good” that recognizes that each citizen also has a transcendent destiny that is not merely political. Moreover, the polity itself exists as a relation of order among men, whose being, whose substance, grounds the polity’s reality, which cannot exist without them. That is where it differs from Fascist and Socialist concepts of the collective.

Dorothy Day: Anarcho-Capitalist, Perhaps

Sunday, February 17, AD 2013

A Facebook friend brought my attention to the tug of war taking place over the legacy of Dorothy Day in recent months between pro and anti-capitalists. The Catholic Worker has criticized both the NY Times and Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute on Day-related matters. Liberals can’t claim her, so it is said, because she was anti-abortion and loyal to Church teaching, obviously never having gone the way of radical disobedient feminism. But conservatives and libertarians can’t claim her either because she rejected capitalism.

Or did she? As best I can tell, she neither practiced it or preached it as a way of life. And yet she did say the following:

We believe that social security legislation, now balled as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity. It is an acceptance of the Idea of force and compulsion…

Of course, Pope Pius XI said that, when such a crisis came about, in unemployment, fire, flood, earthquake, etc., the state had to enter in and help.

But we in our generation have more and more come to consider the state as bountiful Uncle Sam.

If you don’t believe in “force and compulsion”, you believe – by logical necessity – that capitalism is at least permissible. At least capitalism as Fr. Sirico, Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard would define it, which is nothing more than private property + free exchange of goods and services. No capitalist along these lines, moreover, could or likely would raise any objection to voluntary collectivist projects such as workers cooperatives or agricultural communes. Voluntary Distributism, which Day supported in her writings, is capitalism.

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126 Responses to Dorothy Day: Anarcho-Capitalist, Perhaps

  • Thanks for writing this, Bonchamps. I have a growing interest in Ms. Day and her cause for canonization. When I was younger and heard mention of her, I think I dismissed her as some “peace and justice” hippy, but that just shows the limitations that impeded my understanding of comprehensive Catholicism at the time.

    I do think she was as equally derisive of capitalism as she was of government-enforced socialism. I just read Merton’s “Seven-Storey Mountain,” and his ideas seem very similar. Day talks about “creating a new society within the shell of the old one.” Her ideas seem to be very communitarian and compatible with distributism.

    http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/daytext.cfm?TextID=175

    That is to say, there should be equity and moderation in society, but it is not the government’s role to enforce such things. It must come from the community. This also is probably what CS Lewis meant when he said in Mere Christianity that the ideal Christian community would probably be “more socialist” than we are now, not meaning that the government would redistribute wealth, but that people (or rather, civic, religious, and social institutions) would moderate themselves. This is what Deneen means when he says that liberty is “the cultivated ability to engage in self-governance.” That is, the community recognizes that their is one telos for humanity and that the virtues required to move individuals and the community toward that telos must be inculcated and grown, virtues that necessarily moderate and temper self-interest. I think this is supportive of MacIntyre’s assertion that a community where human flourishing can occur to the highest degree possible must be founded on “moral consensus,” as opposed to legally enshrined pluralism, which I would argue is the case in America. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Founders planned this to happen…it was probably inconceivable back in 1780 when basically everyone was a Christian of some stripe…still, I think they knew better than they built).

    I also hesitate to support so absolutely the idea that capitalism has uplifted humanity. Capitalism is responsible for incredible things, like longevity, increased literacy rates, prosperity, etc. But focusing on these metrics is in many ways the same mistake the “bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth” crowd in favor of government redistribution of wealth are wont to make. Human flourishing is about far more than material advancements. I would argue that it’s about more souls getting to Heaven. Can we say with certainty that capitalism has contributed positively to this end?

    Finally, I think that analyzing Day (and Merton and Chesterton, etc) in the context of the American political spectrum is too confining. She was neither a “conservative” nor a “liberal,” because she more or less rejected the philosophical underpinnings that America was built upon.

    http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/1860/dorothy_day_a_saint_to_transcend_partisan_politics.aspx#.USE4caU3uSo

    Have you (or has anyone else) read Orestes Brownson?

  • “It has never really been about the poor, except perhaps to make sure that they stay pacified. It has been about the aggrandizement of the state – the padding of government salaries and department budgets, the purchase of demographic voting blocs, social engineering, and of course, the war machine.”

    you seem to think anything that “expands the state” is automatically bad/sinister. obviously plenty of people have criticized the stimulus but generally even critics haven’t ascribed these basely cynical motives to it. i don’t see any reason to think Obama doesn’t legitimately believe in what he’s doing, whatever we may think of it. the fact that his version of trying to jump-start the economy involves government expansion is a consequence, sure, but that doesn’t make it the point, as though he would’ve acted the exact same if the economy’d been humming along in 2009.

    as far as “war machine” we’re winding down in Afghanistan, so unless some drone strikes on al Qaeda operatives makes us a nefarious Empire i dunno what this means

  • As to Day, I think JL has it more right than Bonchamps. I’m not sure I would agree his description of Sirico’s capitalism as merely “nothing more than private property + free exchange of goods and services.” He is much further from Day than that (and for that matter, from JPII and Benedict XVI.)

    Day was more akin to Chesterton who said something to the effect that capitalism is to private property what a harem is to the sacrament of marriage.

    There is a tendency to equate respecting the right to economic initiative – which Day, Sirico, and Paul support(ed) – with support of the free market and then with capitalism. I’ve never read anything to support the claim that Day went that far. In fact, her writings appear to reject that conclusion.

  • Re: “jump-starting the economy”: The recovery began in June 2009 (most economists say) and yet, three-and-a-half years later the Fed persists in printing $900 billion a year and keeping real interest rates negative, and the US gov still is spending $1.3 trillion more than it receives in taxes.

    Zero Hedge quotes Mort Zuckerman, “Jobs! President Obama has set a record. In his speech to Congress on Tuesday, he uttered the word ‘jobs’ more than in any of his previous four State of the Union addresses. His 45 mentions were more than double the references to any of the other policy ambitions encapsulated in his speech by such words as health, education, immigration, guns, deficit, debt, energy, climate, economy, Afghanistan, wage, spend or tax (the runner-up). If only the president’s record on unemployment were as good. After four years America remains in a jobs depression as great as the Great Depression.”

    Worse, the prices of food and fuel have skyrocketed. So, Obama wants to give a couple hundred billions to boondoggles like Solyndra.

    None of it (unprecedented amounts of fiscal and monetary stimulus) is working (Obama’s is the weakest post-war recovery: compared to Reagan and all the others) because everything Obama does is ideological not economical. Obamacare will take over health; will further retard economic growth; and worsen care for all of us. Legalizing 11 to 35 million will quicken the bankruptcies of medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Dodd-Frank did not correct the causes of the banking crisis but, at best, papered over them, at worst, expanded them.

    Obama is not about econmic growth and development. He is about changing society and enriching his Wall Street backers.

    And, capitalism may not be uplifting (look to Jesus) of society, but it is the only economic system, along with freedom, that maximizes a nation’s and a people’s wealth. It’s not as if the alternatives have not been tested and found wanting, causing not only poverty (misallocation of resources by central planning and/or command economies), but mass misery in all aspects of human life.

    In my travels, I have shopped at a “Giant Food” store which states in its signage that it is “100% employee-owned.” That sounds good to me.

    Obama and his gang are either idiots or they are out to ruin America. I will not judge.

  • “And, capitalism may not be uplifting (look to Jesus) of society, but it is the only economic system, along with freedom, that maximizes a nation’s and a people’s wealth. It’s not as if the alternatives have not been tested and found wanting, causing not only poverty (misallocation of resources by central planning and/or command economies), but mass misery in all aspects of human life.”

    I’m going to alter the original quote, but i don’t think GK would mind:

    “Distributism has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

    I think capitalism is a system, and a system that can work (provided it’s grounded in a pervasive ethical system which is not merely “voluntarily” adhered to, an impossibility in America). That doesn’t mean that other approaches don’t exist or shouldn’t be explored.

  • T. Shaw:

    i wasn’t commenting on how well said policies have worked. i just don’t share the cynicism that Obama is expanding government for purposely malignant purposes. attributing mala fides (and talking about “enriching Wall Street buddies” as though that’s the ultimate aim here) might be a nice way to avoid engaging separate views but it is lazy.

  • JL,

    “I do think she was as equally derisive of capitalism as she was of government-enforced socialism.”

    I haven’t seen it. But then, I haven’t read every word she ever wrote. I’ve browsed her writings at the Catholic Worker archive.

    “Her ideas seem to be very communitarian and compatible with distributism.”

    As far as I know, she identified as a Distributist. But her brand of Distributism is entirely compatible with free-market capitalism.

    “That is, the community recognizes that their is one telos for humanity and that the virtues required to move individuals and the community toward that telos must be inculcated and grown, virtues that necessarily moderate and temper self-interest.”

    Self-interest, properly understood, benefits the community. Selfishness benefits neither the selfish individual or the community. As for a community telos, that only exists in the Church. Unfortunately the two are no longer one. The community wanted a divorce.

    ” I think this is supportive of MacIntyre’s assertion that a community where human flourishing can occur to the highest degree possible must be founded on “moral consensus,” as opposed to legally enshrined pluralism, which I would argue is the case in America.”

    Yes, I’ve heard of him and his assertion. It may be true but it is also irrelevant. It’s not like we have a choice between these two things. Legally enshrined pluralism was and remains the only political alternative to non-stop sectarian warfare. You can’t just create a moral consensus. It grows organically out of a culture. Christianity fought for its place in society amidst a kind of pluralism as well in the Roman Empire.

    “(For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Founders planned this to happen…it was probably inconceivable back in 1780 when basically everyone was a Christian of some stripe…still, I think they knew better than they built).”

    The founders did want a pluralistic society. They basically embraced subsidiarity, as far as I can tell – moral instruction was the responsibility of parents and religious authorities at the local level. It certainly wasn’t the job of the government to create or enforce a “moral consensus.” I don’t know if MacIntyre thinks that it is, but some people I have seen quoting this view of his seem to think so. I think Obama thinks so too.

    “I also hesitate to support so absolutely the idea that capitalism has uplifted humanity.”

    It has materially. That really is indisputable. I didn’t say anything about other aspects of humanity, though. Technology is mostly morally neutral, to be used by human beings for good or evil. It also amplifies both the good and evil we are capable of.

    “I would argue that it’s about more souls getting to Heaven. Can we say with certainty that capitalism has contributed positively to this end?”

    I don’t think it has been a net positive or negative. Capitalism has enabled a lot of filth to be spread. It has also enabled the word of God to reach billions. Roman roads were responsible for the spread of the Gospel in the ancient world. Fiber-optic cables fulfill a similar role today.

    “Finally, I think that analyzing Day (and Merton and Chesterton, etc) in the context of the American political spectrum is too confining.”

    I don’t think I did or would. I do feel obligated to use the words that are in common circulation though, so people understand where I am coming from. Hopefully from there it becomes clear that I’m not talking about Rush Limbaugh vs. Chris Matthews.

  • JDP,

    “you seem to think anything that “expands the state” is automatically bad/sinister.”

    Guilty as charged. The state is an engine of compulsion and violence. I do believe a minimal state is necessary. But with Jefferson, I want to see it shackled by the chains of the Constitution. I want to see it limited to its necessary and legitimate functions. I do think that many evils are involved when the state expands beyond that, especially as it must put guns to our heads and confiscate our labor in order to do so.

    “obviously plenty of people have criticized the stimulus but generally even critics haven’t ascribed these basely cynical motives to it.”

    Ah. Well, let me be clear. I don’t ascribe these motives to this particular stimulus. I think those are the motives of all governments at all times. Is that cynical enough for you?

    If you follow the link I provide, though, you’ll see that it really has nothing to do with speculation about motives. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in economic failures and have subsidized the free-time of unproductive workers. This is a massive injustice on top of being clear evidence of the complete and total incompetence of Obama and his cronies.

    I wasn’t a Mitt Romney fan, but I voted for him largely because of his private sector experience, precisely so this sort of criminal stupidity would be minimized. He at least might have been dependable when it came to investing taxpayer money. If it is going to be taken and spent regardless of what I do, I’d at least like it spent wisely.

    “i don’t see any reason to think Obama doesn’t legitimately believe in what he’s doing, whatever we may think of it. ”

    I think he legitimately believes in expanding the power of the state, that government employees deserve more money, that government agencies deserve bigger budgets, that social engineering is morally justifiable, and that his military policies are as well. No argument from me there.

    “as far as “war machine” we’re winding down in Afghanistan, so unless some drone strikes on al Qaeda operatives makes us a nefarious Empire i dunno what this means”

    I’m not even going to discuss imperialism with someone who seems to think that it is the equivalent of military occupation. You dunno much about it.

  • ctd,

    “I’m not sure I would agree his description of Sirico’s capitalism as merely “nothing more than private property + free exchange of goods and services.” He is much further from Day than that (and for that matter, from JPII and Benedict XVI.)”

    How would you describe it then?

    I’d like to know exactly what he believes that Day would find repugnant. Maybe some quotations to support it.

    “Day was more akin to Chesterton who said something to the effect that capitalism is to private property what a harem is to the sacrament of marriage.”

    You know, this is the second time here someone has said something like “Day’s views were like so-and-so’s views and so-and-so didn’t like capitalism.” Even the descriptions of her articles on the Catholic Worker website try to make her more hostile to capitalism than I ever actually read in her own words.

    As for Chesterton, I’m sorry, but you can’t dismiss everything with a clever quip. We wouldn’t even be aware of his writings if it weren’t for the communications infrastructure built up through saving and investment over the last century and a half. Is that like a “harem” too?

    “There is a tendency to equate respecting the right to economic initiative – which Day, Sirico, and Paul support(ed) – with support of the free market and then with capitalism. I’ve never read anything to support the claim that Day went that far. In fact, her writings appear to reject that conclusion.”

    I don’t see it as “going far.” What does “right to economic initiative” mean? How is this substantially different with the right to own private property and exchange the products of your labor with others without government interference?

    Show me some of the writings. I’ve been looking myself, and I haven’t seen any evidence of this. I’ve seen some statements that might be construed that way, but I haven’t seen anything to the effect of “capitalism is evil and should be rejected.” But like I said, I’ve only really started reading.

  • JL,

    “I think capitalism is a system, and a system that can work (provided it’s grounded in a pervasive ethical system which is not merely “voluntarily” adhered to, an impossibility in America). That doesn’t mean that other approaches don’t exist or shouldn’t be explored.”

    Why “voluntary” in scare quotes? What is it you want to force people to do? I’m not trying to be sarcastic here, I really want to know – if not “voluntary”, then what and why?

    As for other approaches, capitalism has room for a very wide spectrum. The only prohibition is on force and fraud. Don’t use violence and don’t steal, and you can try any approach you like.

  • Now we’re having fun, aren’t we? I look forward to replies.

  • Hi Bonchamps,

    “I haven’t seen it. But then, I haven’t read every word she ever wrote. I’ve browsed her writings at the Catholic Worker archive.”

    I’m no expert on Ms. Day, but it’s out there. Her constant mis-representation as a Communist is largely in response to her critique of capitalism.

    “As far as I know, she identified as a Distributist. But her brand of Distributism is entirely compatible with free-market capitalism.”

    But what about distributism’s central claim that wealth-producing capital and property should be as widely distributed as possible (of course, not necessarily by government mechanizing)? Dorothy Day hated welfare and capitalism because she believed the poor should learn to be self-sufficient, neither beholden to the state nor corporations.

    “Self-interest, properly understood, benefits the community. Selfishness benefits neither the selfish individual or the community.”

    Do you have a good definitional distinction between the two? Were Goldman-Sachs execs not acting in their self-interest when they engaged in dubious lending practices and then bet against the market? They made off quite nicely. I expect the counter is that if the market had been allowed to operate successfully, they would have been punished accordingly.

    “As for a community telos, that only exists in the Church. Unfortunately the two are no longer one. The community wanted a divorce.”

    I’m optimistic that it can exist in intentional communities (recently spent a week at the Abbey of Gethsemani) and someday perhaps in some sort of confessional state.

    Yes, I’ve heard of him and his assertion. It may be true but it is also irrelevant. It’s not like we have a choice between these two things. Legally enshrined pluralism was and remains the only political alternative to non-stop sectarian warfare. You can’t just create a moral consensus. It grows organically out of a culture. Christianity fought for its place in society amidst a kind of pluralism as well in the Roman Empire.

    I would highly recommend reading After Virtue. His argument is serious and not easy to dismiss. Well, I think we do have a choice, but as you point out, one seems associated with the high possibility of sectarian strife. The other, though, is not convincingly better in my opinion. MacIntyre holds up the Greek polis as his model. The limitations are there, but his entire argument is that this type of society is where virtues flourish and humans fulfill their telos. I like to think we could have something like that without the sexism and racism and slavery of Aristotle’s day. Who knows, maybe it’s a pipe dream.

    “The founders did want a pluralistic society. They basically embraced subsidiarity, as far as I can tell – moral instruction was the responsibility of parents and religious authorities at the local level. It certainly wasn’t the job of the government to create or enforce a “moral consensus.” I don’t know if MacIntyre thinks that it is, but some people I have seen quoting this view of his seem to think so. I think Obama thinks so too.”

    I don’t think the founders thought it would be as pluralistic to the extent it is today. They all recognized the need for authentic religion and morality to moderate, as Adams put it, “avarice, ambition, lust, and licentiousness.” As Tocqueville predicted, society is now dominated by formless spiritualities that bend and move to adapt to peoples’ own base wants and desires. It’s not that America is unreligious, it’s that the religions people adhere to are their own personal concoctions, moral therapeutic deism or heresies posing as orthodoxy. Bad Religion by Douthat is an excellent examination of this phenomenon.

    “It has materially. That really is indisputable. I didn’t say anything about other aspects of humanity, though. Technology is mostly morally neutral, to be used by human beings for good or evil. It also amplifies both the good and evil we are capable of.”

    I agree that this is indisputable, but I wonder what the correlation is between material well-being and spiritual well-being.

    “I don’t think it has been a net positive or negative. Capitalism has enabled a lot of filth to be spread. It has also enabled the word of God to reach billions. Roman roads were responsible for the spread of the Gospel in the ancient world. Fiber-optic cables fulfill a similar role today.”

    True, true. I guess it’s easy to romanticize the past and hate the present. And vice versa.

    You and I are both Ron Paul fans, but perhaps for slightly different reasons. I am no libertarian, but I recognize that with someone like Paul as president, we have a real chance of returning to authentic federalism (or at least as good as we’ve ever had), where states can be allowed to operate as mini-republics and the type of religiously oriented communities we saw in the colonial days would be realistic. Plausibly. What do you think of that theory?

  • I’m not sure I’ll find the time to find all the quotes from Day or Sirico, but I think that the basic problem here is that everyone is working with different definitions. Day, like her mentor Maurin, criticized a system where ownership and operation was controlled by those with capital rather than the workers. To them, that was capitalism. Sirico, and it appears like you as well, equate capitalism with economic liberty and the free market.

    The other problem is that too much talk is about the results of these systems rather than the philosophical and theological bases for supporting, opposing, or criticizing them. Libertarians like Paul, and I would submit that Sirico does this as well, start by putting the freedom of the individual contra government as the fundamental principle. Day would never have done that. She put the person, in the context of community, first, and she criticized both government and corporations for failing to respect that.

  • “Why “voluntary” in scare quotes? What is it you want to force people to do? I’m not trying to be sarcastic here, I really want to know – if not “voluntary”, then what and why?”

    My thoughts can be found here: http://abovethespectrum.com/2013/02/15/the-merits-and-limitations-of-conscious-capitalism/

    In a nutshell, if the ethical foundation that everyone from Smith to Adams to Strauss to Tocqeville recognized as necessary to the vitality of capitalism is completely voluntary, people will simply escape it in a liberal society where their right to will always be favored. Eventually, you’ll get to where we are today, where organized religion is pushed out of public life and into the private realm. It’s only capable of doing anything so long as people consent to it, and, as we can see, fewer and fewer people are. Their is no ethical foundation for capitalism to stand upon.

    Have you read much of Patrick Deneen?

  • “I’ve seen some statements that might be construed that way, but I haven’t seen anything to the effect of “capitalism is evil and should be rejected.””

    I don’t think any of us are saying that she said or would have said such a thing. What we are questioning is the jump in saying that her rejection of force and compulsion by government means she accepted capitalism.

    If you haven’t done so, take a look at the publications of the Houston Catholic Worker (http://cjd.org/). They are probably the organization most remains true to Day’s actual views. And yes, there are some articles comparing Sirico with Day.

  • JL,

    “But what about distributism’s central claim that wealth-producing capital and property should be as widely distributed as possible (of course, not necessarily by government mechanizing)?”

    What about it? If it isn’t done by force, then capitalism has no objection. Distribute away. Recombine in any way. I don’t see how any of it conflicts with capitalism.

    “Dorothy Day hated welfare and capitalism because she believed the poor should learn to be self-sufficient, neither beholden to the state nor corporations.”

    How does one become and remain self-sufficient? By working, producing, and exchanging, and also, if one has the willingness and ability, saving and investing. Private property + free exchange. Capitalism.

    No one is beholden to a corporation. We’re talking about voluntary employment, not enslavement or handouts. You provide a service – your labor. In exchange, you get an agreed-upon wage. If this arrangement proves unsatisfactory, it can be terminated at any time. And if alternatives are lacking, that’s where Day and others step in. Create the alternatives. Create the kind of businesses you think should exist. No one in the free market opposes it. But you have to be able to provide people with things that they want.

    That’s what self-sufficiency really consists of, you see. It consists of being able to contribute something useful to society, something that others in society will be willing to exchange for. That’s what capitalism is. That’s all it ever was. Something for nothing – that is social democracy, Keyensianism, Obamunism.

    “Do you have a good definitional distinction between the two?”

    I think so. Self-interest seeking one’s own good, but not at the expense of others, and often in cooperation with them. There may also be competition for scarce resources, but this is actually reduced and minimized by capitalism, not inflated by it. We no longer have tribe wars every month for water and food because we are able to produce enough to feed almost everyone consistently – thanks to technology, innovation, capitalism. THAT was dangerous competition. Two companies slugging it out seems rather tame and acceptable by comparison.

    When you save and invest, you create wealth for others as well. Jobs are created for workers; products are created for consumers; if you do your part well, the jobs become more plentiful and valuable, and the products become cheaper. Everyone wins.

    “Were Goldman-Sachs execs not acting in their self-interest when they engaged in dubious lending practices and then bet against the market? They made off quite nicely.”

    Did they? I read reports that they started carrying handguns to the office every day because of the massive volume of threats they were receiving. They know too that if the system were to malfunction tomorrow, they and their families would be the first to be brutally massacred by an enraged populace, or, if they are lucky, arrested by a provisional government and given a quick execution for their crimes. I don’t think they sleep too soundly.

    There is also the matter of what will happen to their souls when they die. Evil, especially of that magnitude, is never in anyone’s self-interest if we – as you rightly suggest – look beyond the material and the physical.

    ” I expect the counter is that if the market had been allowed to operate successfully, they would have been punished accordingly.”

    There’s that too. But really in a free market they wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. They wouldn’t have had access to cheap and easy credit in the quantities they became accustom to. They would have been bound by a tighter money supply along with everyone else. So there would likely have been nothing to punish.

    Likewise, they’re only still around because of the bailouts. It seems rather insane to me to blame the free market when the government is guaranteeing bailouts to the tune of hundreds of billions – and in fact, if you look at some reports following the secret money – trillions!

    Free markets create incentives to save and invest, to be prudent with one’s wealth and resources. It is government intervention that creates incentives to the sort of horrific recklessness that has characterized the financial class (distinct, in my mind from the industrial class) in recent years. This should be clear. But so many people have the opposite assumption – they think the abuse of freedom led to this mess, and that more rules would have prevented it. It is completely wrong, but it kinda sounds right to people who are completely ignorant of the facts.

    “Well, I think we do have a choice, but as you point out, one seems associated with the high possibility of sectarian strife. The other, though, is not convincingly better in my opinion.”

    How many people, and again I ask in all seriousness, are you willing to kill for a “moral consensus” to emerge? That’s what sectarian strife entails.

    Christianity did not require a moral consensus to reach a critical mass; it established a moral consensus once it had reached a critical mass on its own merits. But there are many, many reasons why I believe that this will not repeat itself. Eschatological reasons, if you want to really get down to it.

    I like what the old Joseph Ratzinger said, before he started talking about global financial regulations and the like as B16. We will never defeat evil, but we can minimize it and keep it at bay until God intervenes decisively and finally.

    “MacIntyre holds up the Greek polis as his model. ”

    I like the Greek polis. I like today’s city-states, i.e. Hong Kong. But we would have a plurality of polities. I’m all for local fascism, as long as I can leave.

    ” It’s not that America is unreligious, it’s that the religions people adhere to are their own personal concoctions, moral therapeutic deism or heresies posing as orthodoxy. ”

    This is true, and deplorable. But I don’t know what can be done about it, other than witnessing for the true faith. Or acknowledging that there is a true faith. Or acknowledging that truth exists. We have to start there, really. That’s how far we are from a moral consensus, and one of the reasons I don’t ever see it happening.

    “I agree that this is indisputable, but I wonder what the correlation is between material well-being and spiritual well-being.”

    I’d say it is obvious that one needs both. There is a minimum beneath which no person should fall materially. But there is no maximum for spiritual well-being. God is infinite. We can never have enough.

    “What do you think of that theory?”

    I like it. If we just respected the 10th amendment and maybe allowed some of the states to split up into smaller states, we could get there (but that would cause all kinds of messy electoral problems, so I dunno).

    We still have Rand. Sigh.

  • ctd,

    “Day, like her mentor Maurin, criticized a system where ownership and operation was controlled by those with capital rather than the workers. To them, that was capitalism. Sirico, and it appears like you as well, equate capitalism with economic liberty and the free market.”

    It isn’t quite so simple. I mentioned private property as well, which capital usually is. But what else is capital? It is usually savings. So unless there is something immoral about accumulation through saving and then investing the savings, there can’t be anything immoral about capitalism as such. Capitalists take enormous risks with their investments. This merits nothing?

    More importantly, though, absolutely nothing prevents “the workers” from saving and investing but their own will. Most workers don’t want the responsibilities or, more importantly, the risks of business ownership and management. If they did, we would see more workers cooperatives. It isn’t like there is a law against them, or as if evil capitalists are conspiring against them. But some workers evidently do want the responsibility, and so we do have some cooperatives and other forms of employee participation in profits. There are also plenty of organizations out there that spread information about these kinds of arrangements.

    So a whole distributist economy is there waiting to be carved out of our “individualist” economy if and when a critical mass of people decide they want it.

    “The other problem is that too much talk is about the results of these systems rather than the philosophical and theological bases for supporting, opposing, or criticizing them.”

    Not when you’re talking to Austrians. For Rothbard and Paul, capitalism is an ethical system. It is based on the non-aggression principle. It is what naturally results when basic individual and natural rights are respected by society and the state.

    “Libertarians like Paul, and I would submit that Sirico does this as well, start by putting the freedom of the individual contra government as the fundamental principle.”

    The freedom of the individual from aggression, period, of which government aggression is a particular and widespread type.

    “Day would never have done that. She put the person, in the context of community, first, and she criticized both government and corporations for failing to respect that.”

    Corporations could respect it more, I have to agree. But corporations are mostly reactive. That’s another thing leftists often fail to comprehend. They exist to meet a demand. Whatever they’re supplying is what they’ve discerned as the popular demand. You can say this is immoral, but really it is the purpose, the function, of a business. The immorality lies elsewhere, i.e. with the demanders.

    I can understand being a critic of American corporate culture. But it is just factually wrong to set it up as an active opponent of distributism/whatever else you want to promote. That would be my main point. The way things are isn’t the “fault” of the corporations.

  • “I like what the old Joseph Ratzinger said, before he started talking about global financial regulations and the like as B16.”

    But Catholics are not free to merely disregard Catholic social doctrine, which is what Caritas in Veritate is, just because they don’t like it.

    “How does one become and remain self-sufficient? By working, producing, and exchanging, and also, if one has the willingness and ability, saving and investing. Private property + free exchange. Capitalism.”

    As noted before, many would question this definition of capitalism, but besides that you seem to assume that a free exchange is just. Check the Catechism. “Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.” (2434). That chapter also makes clear that the state has an obligation to interfere in that agreement if necessary because it has an obligation to prevent theft and ensure justice.

  • ctd,

    “But Catholics are not free to merely disregard Catholic social doctrine, which is what Caritas in Veritate is, just because they don’t like it.”

    I’m not disregarding it. If it says what I think it says, though, I will criticize it. With plenty of regard.

    “As noted before, many would question this definition of capitalism, but besides that you seem to assume that a free exchange is just.”

    Not every conceivable free exchange is just. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the use of force is required or justifiable to obtain a just outcome.

    “Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.” (2434).”

    I know exactly what this is based upon. Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum. And the good news is that what he said is also quite compatible with the typical operation of capitalism. Employers have to pay workers enough to live. With regards to support of family, which was the other provision of Leo’s, we have a stickier problem. This is not because of capitalism as such, however – most employers were able and willing to pay family wages and many still are. What problems we have encountered in this area have to do with the pervasive influence of radical feminism and the massive flood of women into the workplace. The assumption on the part of many employers now is that both the husband and the wife work. There is less of a reason, then, for them to pay out family wages. This isn’t something you can blame on the market. This situation resulted from a cultural revolution.

    We also have the issue of global competition, of course. But there the costs of a protectionist regime have to be weighed against the benefits of globalized production and trade.

    Finally, and most importantly, it is a critical and serious error to measure economic justice in terms of WAGES alone. It is worth asking whether or not there are other means by which the basic human needs of the worker can be met. Why, for instance, isn’t inflation as thoroughly addressed by ANY pope? Inflation arguably inflicts far more harm than low wages on people of poor and average means. If inflation were seriously addressed, the material situation of the vast majority of the workers could and would improve without any change in the dollar amount received in wages. The same dollars would be able to purchase more. So why the silence on this alternative?

    It is because one economic paradigm, and not another, has influenced the Papacy. It is because one economic paradigm, and not another, swept Europe by storm. This can happen in areas not related to faith and morals – the Papacy can become influenced by frankly bad ideas.

    “That chapter also makes clear that the state has an obligation to interfere in that agreement if necessary because it has an obligation to prevent theft and ensure justice.”

    The state doesn’t have a magic calculator that can determine the market value of someone’s labor. Justice would be ensured if the state stopped printing trillions of dollars and destroying the value of the dollars held by ordinary people. But no one talks about this.

  • I also have to add that there are many things that you can do to arbitrarily increase wages that would harm all workers and consumers in the long run. When seriously considering the common good, how can one just call for wage increases and ignore all potential negative consequences?

    Is the common good ever served by just blindly promoting a single policy?

  • I wasn’t arguing for responding to injustices by wages alone or anything like that. I was just pointing out one instance in thousands of pages of social doctrine where the Church clearly states (1) that economic freedom between individuals is not itself sufficient and (2) it is entirely proper for the state to intervene in economic matters. Those two principles do not mean that the Church has rejected capitalism, but they do indicate that it rejects the notion that ownership of property and free exchange are sufficient for the protection and fostering of the life and dignity of the human person.

    I am troubled by your claim that the Church’s social doctrine has been shaped by a particular economic paradigm and the area itself is not a matter of faith and morals. There wasn’t much serious debate on the matter before John Paul II, but he nevertheless made it very clear that this was not the case. The Church’s social doctrine, including those related to economics, is an integral part of the Church’s teaching and part of the magisterium. It is not just the opinions of various pope’s responding only to particular issues relevant only to their time and experience.

  • “I’m not even going to discuss imperialism with someone who seems to think that it is the equivalent of military occupation. You dunno much about it.”

    well that’s what it is. or is that too technical? i’m not a fan of conflating liberalism with socialism either for that matter.

    by your metric the only way the U.S. can be non-“imperial” is if it stops caring about the outcome of certain conflicts/does not kill terrorist associates who are a direct threat, for fear of blowback. that’s rigging the argument.

  • Ctd,

    “I was just pointing out one instance in thousands of pages of social doctrine where the Church clearly states (1) that economic freedom between individuals is not itself sufficient and (2) it is entirely proper for the state to intervene in economic matters. ”

    And this is the problem with deductive reasoning. You can start with principles that sound fine in theory and lead to disaster in practice.

    It isn’t possible to separate means from ends either, because these principles are all proposed with ends in mind. WHY is it ok for the state to intervene in economic matters, according to the recent social teachings? For some supposed benefit, for the common good, etc. And yet the facts demonstrate that state intervention in the economy almost always causes more problems than it solves and ends up perpetuating injustices instead of eliminating them. So if you have a principle that doesn’t accomplish what its stated purpose is, this is a problem.

    Leo XIII, who initiated modern CST, was much more restrained in his approach than his successors. He was much more clear about the purpose and the limitations of the state. An almost laissez-faire model could be derived from Rerum Novarum.

    ” Those two principles do not mean that the Church has rejected capitalism, but they do indicate that it rejects the notion that ownership of property and free exchange are sufficient for the protection and fostering of the life and dignity of the human person.”

    There are two different ideas here.

    I don’t believe that ownership + exchange = sufficient for the dignity of humanity, etc. I believe they are necessary. Necessary is not = to sufficient.

    The reality is that much of what the Church has proposed for the MATERIAL well-being of humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries has been rooted in flawed economic theories. This is distinct from spiritual well-being, though frankly, as a traditionalist I would point to quite a few problems there as well.

    “I am troubled by your claim that the Church’s social doctrine has been shaped by a particular economic paradigm and the area itself is not a matter of faith and morals. ”

    Well, it has, and it isn’t. It doesn’t trouble me though. Research how Papal encyclicals come together. Rerum Novarum, for instance, was written under the influence of philosophers and economists who were themselves influenced by Lockean liberalism. Quadragesimo Anno was written when fascist corporatism was at the zenith of its respectability. They are, consequently, two different encyclicals.

    Finally, when you advance policies that you claim will have certain effects, and they don’t have those effects – as is demonstrable in the case of Pius XI and Paul VI, just off the top of my head – we are clearly not dealing with infallibility. We’re dealing with an area in which it is possible for error to creep in, and it has.

  • JDP,

    That’s not all that it is. But I seriously have to stop posting now. We can debate imperialism later. If you still really want to.

  • JDP,

    Y’all either type fast or what.

    Good job: take a phrase and disregard the facts/truth of the comment.

    I don’t believe that Obama thinks he’s doing evil or a sin.

    I think Obama believes he’s doing “good” destroying the evil, unjust free market system.

    Similarly, Lenin thought he was doing good for Russia by killing hundreds of thousands of uncooperative peasants.

    Or else, Obama and his gang simply are morons.

    Get it, Bub?

  • do you really think Obama wants to destroy the free market, or is he someone who believes in a large social safety existing with capitalism, a la certain European countries?

    i realize some people think making this distinction is going soft on someone, but i think it’s important. it’s not like the latter situation can’t be argued against.

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  • Catholic social teaching would appear to assign a greater rôle to the public authorities than either you or Dorothy Day allow:

    As Pope Paul VI said in Populorum Progressio:

    “33. Individual initiative alone and the interplay of competition will not ensure satisfactory development. We cannot proceed to increase the wealth and power of the rich while we entrench the needy in their poverty and add to the woes of the oppressed. Organized programs are necessary for “directing, stimulating, coordinating, supplying and integrating” [John XXIII, Encyc.letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 414] the work of individuals and intermediary organizations.

    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. But 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.”

  • MPS,

    How many times are you going to post the same quote?

    “Individual initiative alone and the interplay of competition will not ensure satisfactory development.”

    I don’t even know what this means. What is development and why is it important? I’m sure there’s a definition in there, but you haven’t provided it.

    “We cannot proceed to increase the wealth and power of the rich while we entrench the needy in their poverty and add to the woes of the oppressed.”

    That isn’t what individual initiative and competition do. This argument is factually false. Competition increases everyone’s wealth. It doesn’t add to anyone’s woes except for the businessmen who lose in the competition, a class of people I’d hardly classify as “oppressed.”

    If a pope said that 1 + 1 = 3, I’d tell him he was wrong, with all due respect. I’ll say the same in this case as well. Paul VI and Pius XI were both completely wrong about the cause and effect relationship between competition and the wealth of the masses. The Papacy does not guarantee that they have to be right about it, nor does Church teaching insist that we submit to demonstrably false statements about empirical reality.

  • i Really Think That Obama’s Intent Is To Destroy america.

    Keynes (I am not a Keynesian) said something to the effect: future historians/economists will wonder in amazement that such a dull and illogical “regime” as (marxian) socialism could have exercised such influence (and caused such damage) over so many. Keynes also saw that economic “social justice” could morph to class envy/hate.

    And, the Pope is infallible in matters of Faith and Morals, not in matters of fiscal (taxes and expenditures); monetary (bank reserve requirements, interest rates, money supply) policy; nor price, income, and employment theory.

    Generally, I don’t put any stock in CSJT. It’s used by evil people to promote evil. its cousin, socialism, plays on people’s envy and wrath (the seven deadly sins), as does Obama with his constant divisive, eliminationist rhetoric of “us” vs. “them”, e.g., 4,000,000 NRA members are mass murderers, and tax the rich.

    It borders on tragic that the geniuses that dreamt up CSJT didn’t see that it could become the ally of, and aid and abet, evil, e.g., 47 million abortions. I know that was not the intent. It’s just how it plays out.

  • Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

    “The Church’s social doctrine “belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology”. It cannot be defined according to socio-economic parameters. It is not an ideological or pragmatic system intended to define and generate economic, political and social relationships, but is a category unto itself.” (No. 72)

    “This doctrine has its own profound unity, which flows from Faith in a whole and complete salvation, from Hope in a fullness of justice, and from Love which makes all mankind truly brothers and sisters in Christ: it is the expression of God’s love for the world, which he so loved “that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). (No. 3)”

    Caritas in Veritate:

    “In this sense, clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church’s social doctrine, which apply categories to Papal social teaching that are extraneous to it. It is not a case of two typologies of social doctrine . . . differing from one another: on the contrary, there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new. It is one thing to draw attention to the particular characteristics of one Encyclical or another, of the teaching of one Pope or another, but quite another to lose sight of the coherence of the overall doctrinal corpus. (No. 12)”

  • Capitalism and individual freedom is obviously the only solution that has worked in raising a nations standard of living. This along with a limited government that supports distributism combined with a people that demands subsidiarity and seeks after God is what really works and is sustainable. This is no longer the case in the USA and we are now declining. Obama’s initiatives with new and massive debt spending, unprecedented in our history, are sealing our fate. With nostalgia we refer to the generation that fought in WW-II as the greatest generation. What followed should be called the worst generation. The ignorance and willingness to hand over freedom for another government program is appalling.

  • To take two examples for Populorum Progressio, where “”Individual initiative alone and the interplay of competition will not ensure satisfactory development.”:

    “22. Now if the earth truly was created to provide man with the necessities of life and the tools for his own progress, it follows that every man has the right to glean what he needs from the earth. The recent Council reiterated this truth: “God intended the earth and everything in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should flow fairly to all.” ) [Church in the World of Today, no. 69: AAS 58 (1966), 1090 [cf. TPS XI, 306].]

    All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle. They should in no way hinder it; in fact, they should actively facilitate its implementation. Redirecting these rights back to their original purpose must be regarded as an important and urgent social duty.”

    And

    “24. 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.”

    I would suggest hat only the public authorities can judge when “the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated” or landed estates (and, presumably other kinds of property) are to be expropriated.

  • Contrary to what is held by the anti-property anti-market left, in the absence of the state, the natural tendency is toward equality of opportunity. While there will continue to be a wide disparity of wealth – due to the fact that humans are not equal by nature (some are more ambitious and intelligent than others), the super rich will no longer have politicians from whom they can purchase or legislate immunity. The misguided left – including those who claim to be “anarchists” – are comfortable with the intrusive state because of their hatred of property.

  • The main problem with trying to discuss Dorothy Day is that there is very little objective knowledge about her, as most of what is believed comes from the pen of her most ardent supporters who happen to share one or more of her political positions. The only independent in-depth study of Day and the Catholic Worker is my book, ‘The Catholic Worker (1930-1988): a Critical Analysis’ (2010) which is based on documentary evidence from archival and other authentic sources. The research contained in the book shows that Day espoused a Socialist agenda for economic and social reform which she tried to disguise under the term “Christian Communism” so as to make it acceptable in the Catholic Church.
    Day was imbued with Marxist ideology, which was the basis for her rejection of Capitalism.

    As for the question of ownership, family rights, subsidiarity, distributism etc., it can be easily shown that Day’s position on each of them does not accord with Catholic principles. In her newspaper, ‘The Catholic Worker’ (CW) which she editied for almost 50 years, she favored many varieties of Socialism merging the ideals of Marxist, anarchist, utopian and religious groups which advocate the application of Communist policies in social life. Here are some examples of the Socialist solutions which she recommended in addition to her own Catholic Worker communes:
    • the Koinonia community based on “the firm foundation of non-ownership” (CW May 1957)
    • collectivized farming and living arrangements e.g. in China, the USSR and Cuba (CW February 1965), in Tanzania (CW December 1970), among the Hutterites (CW July-August 1969) or on a farming commune in California. (CW January 1972)
    • the 19th-century North American pioneering settlements (CW April 1956) which were based on communal ownership of property
    • the Israeli Kibbutz system, essentially a Socialist society based on, egalitarianism, non-ownership and communal child rearing (CW March 1968)

    We can deduce that Day’s idea of Distributism which did not defend the right to private property was simply a form of Socialism in disguise. It is simply an illusion to imagine that communal ownership of property and the means of production could be achieved without state enforcement – in other words a totalitarian state.

  • Here is a question for your favorite theologian: “Can God create a degree so useless that even He could not get a real job?”

    Theologians and vatican bureaucracy, or whoever writes econocyclicals, know as much about economic growth and development as they do about fornication. With apologiies to General Patton.

    Wherever they tried that stuff, people went broke. The contemporary US experience is that it increases the ranks of the poor and, even worse, aids and abets evil: abortion, class envy and mass wrath.

  • Yesterday a commenter told me:

    “attributing mala fides (and talking about “enriching Wall Street buddies” as though that’s the ultimate aim here) might be a nice way to avoid engaging separate views but it is lazy.”

    I am lazy, but that’s okay: it’s the truth:

    Joel Kotkin quoted at Instapundit, “To many presidential idolaters, this era will be known as the Age of Obama. But, in reality, we live in what may best be called the Age of Bernanke. Essentially, Obamaism increasingly serves as a front for the big-money interests who benefit from the Federal Reserve’s largesse and interest rate policies; progressive rhetoric serves as the beard for royalist results.”

    “Many of the biggest losers in the Bernanke era are key Democratic constituencies, such as minorities and the young, who have seen their opportunities dim under the Bernanke regime. The cruelest cuts have been to the poor, whose numbers have surged by more than 2.6 million under a president who has promised relentlessly to reduce poverty.

    “Things, of course, have not [been] too great for the middle-age and middle-class – more of them now supporting both aging parents and underemployed children. Median income in America is down 8 percent from 2007, and dropping. Things, in reality, are not getting better for anyone but the most affluent.

    “A particular loser has been small business. As we enter the sixth year since the onset of the Great Recession, and nearly four years after the ‘recovery’ officially began, small business remains in a largely defensive mode. Critically, start-up rates are well below those than following previous downturns in 1976 and 1983. The number of startup jobs per 1000 – a key source of job growth in the past – over the past four years is down a full 30 percent from the Bush and Clinton eras. New firms – those five years or younger – now account for less than 8 percent of all companies, down from 12 percent to 13 percent in the early 1980s, another period following a deep recession.”

  • Well, now we’re getting somewhere.

    First, to MPS, then to Dr. Byrne.

    MPS,

    Pope Leo also quoted the same principle about “the Earth belonging to all”, but it is clear that he did so in the same manner as Locke, for he goes on to justify the appropriation of a portion of it through individual labor.

    Goods flow fairly to all when free competition enables the most efficient production and distribution of goods. This, again, is a testable, verifiable statement.

    “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle. ”

    On the contrary, this principle – of the fair flow of goods – can’t even work unless the rights of property and free trade are considered fundamental and respected as such. It is the fair flow of goods and services that depends upon private property and free trade (capitalism).

    You see? We want the same things. We want as many people as possible to get the things they need as efficiently as possible. This is what pure, unfettered capitalism delivers. It is what Keyensianism, social democracy, communism, fascism and Obamunism (a strange sort of neo-fascism if you ask me) obstruct.

    “I would suggest hat only the public authorities can judge when “the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated” or landed estates (and, presumably other kinds of property) are to be expropriated.”

    If “the public authorities” expropriate lawful and legitimate landowners, they are aggressors. They are violating the principles articulated by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. So, I will resist, with my life if necessary, any attempt by your or your fellow statists to expropriate lawful property owners, and I will do so with a clean conscience as a Catholic.

  • Dr. Byrne,

    Thanks for your post. I have a lot to say about it, so I hope you stick around and reply.

    “The main problem with trying to discuss Dorothy Day is that there is very little objective knowledge about her, as most of what is believed comes from the pen of her most ardent supporters who happen to share one or more of her political positions.”

    I agree with you on this point. This is what I have found as well. However, there is a massive online archive of her writings at the Catholic Worker website, so it seems that this kind of ignorance is no longer excusable. I spent some time browsing it myself before writing this post.

    On the very general point about Day espousing a socialist agenda:

    I have to say that by MY understanding of the words “capitalism” and “socialism”, she could not be credibly called a socialist. Socialism ultimately relies upon widespread coercion. Day explicitly rejected “the idea of force and compulsion” to achieve any kind of social or economic justice.

    Voluntary collectivism, on the other hand, is more or less what the early Christians practiced. I don’t see how one can morally object to it.

    As for the examples you cite:

    I looked up the Feb. 1965 interview you cited. It’s pretty bad, to be sure. You’re absolutely right – she mentions collective communist farming in passing and then later on specifically praises Cuba and is rather blase about Castro’s confiscation of Church property. Its pretty appalling stuff, really. But.

    Even the best of political thinkers can have a lapse in consistency. Doesn’t it seem strange to you that someone would oppose Social Security on the grounds that it relied upon force and then praise a violent revolution that expropriated people by force?

    It tells me that we don’t really have a consistent thinker here. I think the reality is that she wanted an outcome, a certain kind of society, and was sympathetic to whomever she believed had obtained it or was on the way to obtaining it. If I had the opportunity, I would point out the massive inconsistency in rejecting “force and compulsion” when it comes to something relatively mild like Social Security while remaining ethically uncritical of something like the Cuban Revolution.

    I would hope that she would see that social justice is meaningless without justice due to individuals, justice which is denied through totalitarian collectivism.

    Finally,

    “It is simply an illusion to imagine that communal ownership of property and the means of production could be achieved without state enforcement – in other words a totalitarian state.”

    Not really. Ever hear of the Mondragon? Workers cooperatives do exist. All kinds of cooperatives exist, in fact, from agricultural and industrial to commercial and financial. Whatever people decide is in their best interests will ultimately work.

    Will EVERYONE be a part of them? No. THAT could only be obtained by a totalitarian state.

  • P.S. – I read your article on Distributism for TIA. I agree with much if not all of it. I was dismayed when the Distributists I knew reacted with such horror to my suggestion that Distributism was a form of capitalism. It shocked me because they constantly talk about the Mondragon as an example of Distributism. And yet the Mondragon was not established by force, it is privately owned, and it competes in the open market.

    I don’t know where the ignorance ends and the malice begins with these people. The two basic ideas of Distributism and capitalism are not at odds. What’s at odds are how most of the Distributists would implement Distributism and capitalism.

  • I’ve read Dr. Byrne’s book and studied Dorothy Day’s work in some detail–I have most of the books by her, even The 11th Virgin, and most of those about her–but Dr. Byrne’s book was a real eye-opener, and answered many questions.

    I had been a fan of Dorothy Day, but was always somewhat curious why she never really came out strong against Communism after her Catholic conversion, especially as this was during a period when Communism was corrupting many people.

    After reading Dr. Byrne’s book, I understood why.

  • Bonchamps

    The Cuban episode is one of too many to write her off as merely having “a lapse in consistency”. She was much too intelligent for that, and her lapses all seemed to fall along the same general line.

    Really, anyone who wishes to have a full picture of Dorothy Day, and American Catholics should as she is on her way to canonization, needs to read Dr. Byrne’s book.

  • Fair enough.

    Still, she said what she said in the piece I quoted. So what’s up with that?

  • Wow. Things have certainly gotten interesting in here.

    I really only want to respond to this:

    “The only independent in-depth study of Day and the Catholic Worker is my book, ‘The Catholic Worker (1930-1988): a Critical Analysis’ (2010) which is based on documentary evidence from archival and other authentic sources.”

    I don’t. This seems unlikely. Not saying it isn’t true. But just highly unlikely that there is only one “independent in-depth study of Day and the Catholic Worker.”

  • JL Liedl et al,

    I met Dorothy Day when I was an undergraduate, wet behind the ears, in the mid-1960s. I felt a certain unease, especially after witnessing the lax morality at the Tivoli Catholic Worker (CW) farm, which I naively–and erroneously–thought Day did not know about. Many years later, after an arduous search on the Internet, I found Carol Byrne’s book, which helped me to see that my unease was realistic.

    It may seem unlikely, but Byrne’s “The Catholic Worker Movement (1930-1988): A Critical Analysis” is still the only book I have been able to find that is an “independent in-depth study of Day and the Catholic Worker.” Day has been rightly called “the mother of the Catholic left.”

    Jim Forest, author of three biographies of Day–all without footnotes–was a CW editor as well as a founder of the CW spinoff, the Catholic Peace Fellowship. He left the Catholic Church for the Orthodox but continues to advocate for Day’s “sanctity” as he heads the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and resides in the Netherlands.

    Daniel Ellsberg’s son Robert spent 5 years at the CW, from 1970-1975, under Day’s tutelage. Robert Ellsberg is now the Publisher of Maryknoll’s Orbis Books as well as the editor of Day’s Selected Writings (“By LIttle and by Little”), Selected Letters (“All Is Grace”), and her published Diaries (“The Duty of Delight”), in addition to being on the Steering Committee for the Guild for Dorothy Day.

    Patrick Jordan is a former CW and now a member of Day’s Guild’s Executive Committee. While he was Editor of “Commonweal,” Jordan edited a volume of Day’s writings from the magazine.

    James H. Martin, SJ, is an editor of “America” and an advocate for Day. In “America,”he endorses her “Duty of Delight” as “one of the most powerful works of Christian spirituality I have ever read.” On the back cover of her Selected Letters, he enthuses: “Read these remarkable letters and come to know a saint.” So much for waiting for the decision of the Church!

    Similarly, Robert Coles, prominent Harvard psychiatrist, advisor and friend to Ethel Kennedy, and author of two books about Day and the CW was–who’d a thunk it–a CW volunteer in the 1950s when he was attending medical school at Columbia; and as a professor he sent his students to the CW and also visited the CW with them.

    Tom Cornell, also a co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, a draft-card burner in the 1960s with Day providing public encouragement, and head of the Marlboro, NY CW farm today, does his bit too on behalf of Day in interviews–with no mention of his being on the Executive Committee of Day”s Guild.

    Earlier academic authors Nancy L. Roberts and Mel Piehl did studies of the CW that endorsed many of Day’s beliefs. Professor William D. Miller, who wrote the 1982 biography “Dorothy Day,” became Day’s friend and does not provide notes in his work. Rosalie Riegle Troester (now Rosalie G. Riegle post-divorce) is a college professor emerita who has also–surprise–been involved with the CW since the 1960s and is the editor/compiler of two volumes of “oral history” on the CW.

    Paul Elie’s “The LIfe You Save May Be Your Own” deals with Dorothy Day’s influence as a Catholic writer and actually analyzes what she wrote–which may be why his work is not listed as a resource at the CW website. However, Elie does not question Day’s “significance,” and declares that her “influence … has spread far and wide” and notes uncritically that “Day is being considered for canonization as a saint in Rome.”

    FYI, Dr. Byrne’s complete Supplementary Notes for “The Catholic Worker Movement 1933-1980: A Critical Analysis” are available at the blog “Dorothy Day Another Way” and are well worth reading.

  • Min, David, Dr. B,

    Thanks for all the information. You’ve certainly given us all some pause for consideration. However, I still can’t shake the feeling that this seems like the internet combox version of an infomercial!

  • Yes, I plan on withholding judgment until I’ve had a chance to acquire more information. Not that I doubt the truthfulness or reliability of anyone who has posted here, of course.

    I don’t have a problem with advocacy of voluntary collectivism. I do have a big problem with apologia for violent communist revolutions.

  • Hilaire Belloc often gave France as an example of distributism, pointing out that some ten million landless peasants were turned into heritable proprietors, largely through the transfer of state and municipal property to private individuals – the royal domain, the common lands, the village lands, the forest lands. the lendowments of dissolved corporations, like the guilds, colleges, hospitals, as well as the confiscated estates of emigrants and malignants – the very reverse of socialism or communism.

  • Bonchamps, it might seem logical to believe that “unlike a lot of left-anarchists I have known, she was unambiguous in her rejection of the use of force and compulsion to obtain ‘social justice’, I don’t think it can be said that she opposed capitalism either.”

    However, this view is contradicted by Day’s writings. The aim of the Catholic Worker according to Day and Peter Maurin is “to make a society in which it is easier for people to be good” by working “to make the rich poor and the poor holy”; Maurin’s favorite mottoes included “Work, not wages” and “Fire the bosses!” (Day, “The Long Loneliness,” 1952, 2006 reprint, pp. 195, 226-227). Throughout her life Day opposed capitalism, and favored the “social advances” of such governments as Castro’s Cuba, Red China, and Ho Chi Minh–which eliminated the advantages of the wealthy–as Carol Byrne documents.

    Here are some relevant quotes, with sources, so that readers can confirm Day wrote them:

    “Let us be honest and confess that it is the social order which we wish to change.” (“C.W. States Stand on Strikes,” Catholic Worker [CW], July 1936)

    “The bourgeois, the material[ist], fights for abstractions like freedom, democracy, because he has the material things of this life (which he is most fearful of being deprived of).” ( “The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day,” 2011, p. 83)

    “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” (from a public speech; “Women on War,” Daniela Gioseffi, ed., 1988, pp. 103, 371)

    “When people are standing up for our present rotten system, they are being worse than Communists, it seems to me.” (“Duty of Delight,” p. 98)

    “We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists ‘of conspiring to teach [us] to do,’ but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.” (“On Pilgrimage,” CW, September 1956)

    The CW in Day’s time participated in demonstrations opposing Wall Street in the 1970s, and has supported and participated in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement of the present. As for Day’s opposition to force, she frequently stated she could not “condone” it, but she was able to overlook it when it was used by Communists and achieved “social reforms” (e.g., see CW articles on Cuba, 1962). She also wrote approvingly about the virtues of her old Communist friends Mike Gold, Anna Louise Strong, Rayna Prohme, and Communist Party Chair Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her CW readers. No wonder President Obama declared her one of “the great social reformers” at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2012.

    In the “Long Loneliness” Day declares, “There is so much more to the Catholic Worker Movement than labor and capital. It is people who are important, not the masses” (p. 221). Here are three samples of Day’s view of “people”:

    [1] “To see only the good, the Christ, in others! Perhaps if we thought of how Karl Marx was called ‘Papa Marx’ by all the children on the street, if we knew and remembered how he told fairy stories to his children, how he suffered hunger and poverty and pain, how he sat by the body of his dead child and had no money for coffin or funeral, perhaps such thoughts as these would make us love him and his followers. Dear God, for the memory of that dead child, of that faithful wife, grant his stormy spirit ‘a place of refreshment, light and peace.’

    And there was Lenin. He hungered and thirsted and at times he had no fixed abode. Mme. Krupskaya, his widow, said that he loved to go into the peace of the pine woods and hunt mushrooms like old Mrs. Dew down at Easton did, and we with her one October. He lived one time in the slums of Paris, and he lived on horse meat when he had meat, and he started schools for the poor and the workers. ‘He went about doing good.’ Is this blasphemy?” (“On Pilgrimage,” CW, April 1948)

    [2] The head of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Charles Schwab “had defrauded the worker of a just wage. His sins cried to heaven for vengeance. He had ground the faces of the poor. “Let not the oil of the sinner fatten my head” (Ps. 140:5)….”He that sheddeth blood, and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire, are brothers” (Ecclus. 34:24-27). (From Union Square to Rome, 1938; 2006 reprint, p. 137).

    [3] “Marx . . . Lenin . . . Mao Tse-Tung. . . . These men were animated by the love of brother and this we must believe though their ends meant the seizure of power, and the building of mighty armies, the compulsion of concentration camps, the forced labor and torture and killing of tens of thousands, even millions.” (“The Incompatibility of Love and Violence,” CW, May 1951)

    JL, please read Day’s writings and see if your judgment changes. When I did this, my initial reaction was shock and disbelief at the difference between Day’s “popular” image and what her writings reveal.

  • She also says in the same article ((“The Incompatibility of Love and Violence,” CW, May 1951)

    “Peter Maurin was constantly restating our position, and finding authorities from all faiths, and races, all authorities. He used to embarrass us sometimes by dragging in Marshal Pétain and Fr. Coughlin and citing something good they had said, even when we were combating the point of view they were representing. Just as we shock people by quoting Marx, Lenin, Mao-Tse-Tung, or Ramakrishna to restate the case for our common humanity, the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God.”

    I can admire the patriotism and courage of Charlotte Corday, without endorsing assassination as a political weapon; I can admire the public spirit and integrity of Robespierre, without approving of the Terror.

  • Min,

    Let’s take a look at some of these quotations.

    “Let us be honest and confess that it is the social order which we wish to change.”

    There is nothing wrong with this, provided it is attempted peacefully. This isn’t a strike against her in my view. There are many aspects of our society that I too would wish to change, and I would imagine, all sincere Christians would want to change.

    “The bourgeois, the material[ist], fights for abstractions like freedom, democracy, because he has the material things of this life (which he is most fearful of being deprived of).”

    There is some truth here. It is true that those of the middle class, because they are materially secure, have more time and wherewithal to contemplate and defend higher values. The parenthetical addition is uncharitable but hardly subversive. I’d like to see the context of the quote.

    “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”

    Which system? This is too vague. There is a lot of filth and rot to rightfully and justly oppose.

    “When people are standing up for our present rotten system, they are being worse than Communists, it seems to me.”

    Again, I need the context.

    ““We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists ‘of conspiring to teach [us] to do,’ but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.”

    Well, here I would point to the perennial and ceaseless semantic dispute that libertarians and socialists have. What she and many on the left think is capitalism, is really corporatism/plutocracy, a system that is impossible without government. Libertarians are opposed to this also.

    To really know what she thought, I would have to present “capitalism” to her without using the word to discover her opinion on it.

    Re. the “Long Loneliness” quotes:

    1 – yes, I know. “Papa Marx”, from what I have read, cheated on his wife with his housekeeper and treated their bastard offspring like a piece of garbage. Maybe Day didn’t know. I didn’t know as young admirer of Marx. Also, it looks as if she might be saying, “lets try to find the good in Marx.” And I believe there was some good there. I don’t think anyone is purely evil, like a cartoon super villain. I’ve actually read Marx – a great deal of Marx. I see the putrid evil and I see a humanism that could have been Christianized.

    Praising Lenin, though, is a different matter. If there was good in him, I never read it. Day asks rhetorically if it is blasphemy to say that Lenin “went about doing good” as if he were Christ. Um, yes. Yes it is. It’s really unjustifiable, especially when considering the persecution of the Church and his ceaseless hatred of Christianity. This is some pretty wildly ignorant and stupid stuff, no argument from me here.

    2 – Maybe Schwab did defraud his workers. How should I know? If he did Day was right to condemn him.

    3 – again, profound stupidity. To assert that someone could be motivated by “love of brother” who uses these methods is really astounding.

    But what precisely am I to conclude from all of this?

    If you want me to agree that Day should not be made a saint, well, I agree. To praise these mass murderers and oppressors of the Church demonstrates a spiritual and moral blindness that is not worthy of the Church’s highest honor.

    As for her political views, well, again – if she rejected force, and was uncompromising on this principle, then I would have considered her a natural ally. I might so bold as to say that she might have been persuaded to a vision of social justice that is far more respectful of individual rights, since this follows logically from a rejection of violence as a political method.

  • Michael PS, your quotation shows how both Maurin and Day would lie down with dogs–regardless of fleas–if it furthered their own objectives. Despite her claim of using Communists for their “shock” value, Day often writes with admiration of Lenin, Marx and company, and serves as an apologist for their economic views and moral uprightness.

    It is difficult to accept that one “can admire the public spirit and integrity of Robespierre, without approving of the Terror.” Warren H. Carroll in “1917: Red Flags, White Mantle” recounts how Lenin admired Robespierre and asked, “Who will be my Fouquier de Tinville?” The latter was Robespierre’s overseer of guillotine executions. Vivid descriptions of the Reign of Terror are given in Gertrud von Le Fort’s “Song at the Scaffold” and a more recent book published by the Institute for Carmelite Studies–H. Bush’s “To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiegne Guillotined July 17, 1794.” Navis Pictures has produced “The War of the Vendee,” which imaginatively depicts Robespierre sitting at his desk and writing orders of execution which “Death” with his hood and sickle hovers in the shadows behind. That’s who Robespierre became–all “public spirit and integrity” gone.

  • Certainly there must be somebody from Ms. Day’s era that is more worthy of canonization than her, and less controversial.

  • I also think society would be more ‘socialistic’ from the ground up if it were comprised of far more Christians. One problem we have today is that many people don’t wish to contribute to others through generosity, which gives government an excuse to spread wealth through higher taxes.

  • Jon,

    It could be the other way around. It could be that because people are already taxed to support the welfare state, they feel their charitable obligations have been met. It could be that if there were no welfare state, there would be more private charity. And in fact there was.

    Our society is wealthy enough that private charity could suffice for those truly in need.

  • Bonchamps:

    It could be you’re right. It could also be that we’re not the kind of people we once were. Look at the way people do business these days. No generosity. No compassion. Very greedy. If not taxed, we might not give at all.

  • The Church relied on compulsion, rather than charitable giving for a very long time.

    In an assembly of the Estates in 778-779, Charlemagne, as King of the Franks, issued an ordinance, “Concerning tithes, it is ordained that every man give his tithe, and that they be dispensed according to the bishop’s commandment.” A Capitular of 800 made the payment of tithes universal within the fiscal domain of the whole Frankish kingdom.

    From this time onwards, therefore, we may say the civil law superseded any merely spiritual admonitions as to the payment of tithes. Their payment was no longer a religious duty alone; it was a legal obligation, enforceable by the laws of the civil head of Christendom.

    Such obligatory payment became universal throughout the West.

    In France, the dime was abolished in 1789, 1,010 years after Charlemagne’s ordinance made its payment compulsory. The Concordat of 1801 provided direct government funding, in lieu of the Church’s former fiscal rights, a system that, for rather curious historical reasons, survives in Alsace-Moselle.

  • The kind of society that Day was advocating had nothing to do with voluntary giving or freely chosen living arrangements. The message that Day distilled from her Socialist mentors went further than this. There is a lot of evidence in my book which shows that Day had a grim fascination for a Communist way of life that could only be imposed by force and central control. To set the world to rights, “commune-ism” was a model she thought should be the norm for society. She stated that “in this country too the final solution will be the commune” (CW, March 1959), but the political and economic ramifications of this hardly bear serious reflection.

    In Socialist countries, the fact that this sort of regime had to be imposed by State control operated by a one-party dictator casts serious doubts on Day’s alleged belief in voluntary social reform. The fact that Communism has been proved historically to turn into a totalitarian State and has invariably resulted in millions of deaths and widespread suffering for those who were subjected to them, is a matter of serious consideration for anyone contemplating adopting Day’s theories as a blueprint for social reform.

    But the main point about all of these communes that Day promoted as models for Christian living is that the principles on which they were founded – common ownership, egalitarianism, communal childcare, rejection of the State – are not Catholic principles and are antagonistic to the Catholic way of life for lay people in society.

  • Dr Carol Byrne

    The Slavonic Mir or Commune is of immemorial antiquity. Such communes, as forms both of economic production and local government were predominant in Imperial Russia until 1861 and existed throughout the Slav lands, as far west a Bohemia. The 19th century jurist, Sir Herbert Maine draws interesting comparisons between these and the village communities of Northern India

    In Britain, the commune seems to have been an English thing. It was in the south and west of the country, where the English settlement was most intensive, that we find people living together in villages and farming strips in the common fields. Move North and the pattern was one of isolated homesteads and ownership in severalty.

    In Northern and Western France, there is every reason to believe the Manor was simply superimposed on such communes, during the Barbarian Invasions. There was a great deal of village property in France, right down to the Revolution.

    So far from being imposed by central government, they seem to have thrived in its absence.

    The Church never seems to have expressed the least disapproval of these arrangements.

  • Dr. Byrne,

    Perhaps you’re right. I’ll get your book and give it a thorough read. Perhaps I will review it here as well.

    For once, and who knows if it will happen again, I have to agree with MPS. The Church has sanctioned collectivism in the past. But voluntary collectivism. It has never, to my knowledge, justified the expropriation of lawful and legitimate property owners until the vague phraseology of the post Vatican II encyclicals suggested it.

  • Dr. Byrne,
    It seems to me that the following two assertions can be rendered compatable:

    1. Day advocated for a voluntary communal system
    2. Day’s vision of a communal system is not achievable without force.

    The can be rendered compatable assuming Day did not agree with the second assertion, which of course is a matter of opinion, though an opinion I happen to agree with. Is it possible that Day simply had an ambitious (we would say naive) understanding of what might be achievable voluntarily?

  • It is inconceivable that Day had a naïve view of voluntary social change. To begin with, she was no ingénue. She often stated that the rich would not voluntarily give up their possessions. She was well read in Marxist authors who advocated violent revolution. She must have been aware that the Popes had repeatedly condemned Communism not only for its materialism but also because of its focus on class struggle and violence. In spite of this she supported Socialist dictators and also many individuals working for the American Communist Party in the pay of the Soviet Union.

    In CW March 1959 she talked about the possibility of a “bloody revolution” to bring about the change she desired in the political scene i.e. the establishment of communes to replace the social order of capitalism.

    In May 1970, Day expressed support for the young people who were “committing themselves to violent revolution” as “the only way” to combat the American government and what she denounced as its imperialism, Capitalism and exploitation. This was precisely the attitude imbued into the young Americans who had been coached in Marxist-Leninist techniques at the feet of Castro. Thus she effectively made herself once again a propagandist for a Marxist revolution.

    Day also supported named priests who had been expelled from the Maryknoll Order for their involvement in armed violence in Guatemala. (CW June 1970)

    Day fully supported Angela Davis (CW February 1971) of the Black Panthers who, when she was in the California State Prison in 1972, talked about the inevitability of violent revolution.

  • A word of caution to Bonchamps and MPS: it’s all very well to talk about individuals coming together in voluntary groups, but the Church cannot condone communes that subordinate the family (the basic unit of society) to a larger community which would trump parental rights and responsibilities.

    This is exemplified in the Kibbutzim, the Hutterite communes, the Brethren, the CW etc., where the family is no more than a subsidiary member of a greater social unit which holds authority in all matters of work, education and economic matters. Such collectivist concepts of the family have always been opposed by the Catholic Church because they endanger human liberty by leaving the family open to the incursions of the “all-encroaching State”. Therefore, Day’s attempts to submerge the family in the collective community is not only irresponsible but also a cynical attempt to reorder society so that it is Socialism – not mothers and fathers – which would play an executive role and have the upper hand in bringing up children.

  • Dr. Bryne, to lump the Hutterites and the Brethren together with secular communes like the Kibbutzim is to ignore vital distinctions. Significant differences exist in the aims of these various groups and their views on the family are quite divergent.

  • Not only is marxian socialism a “dull and illogical” economic theory (see J. M. Keynes), it is unadulterated evil.

    Marxian socialism relies on poor people’s (proletariat) envy and wrath to organize and radicalize them not to education, training and economic growth/development (virtue), but to violence and destruction (sin) of upper classes and to take what they need/want.

  • Dr Carol Byrne

    Many of the traditional forms of commune that I mentioned earlier were, in fact, family groups – communities of common descent, or were believed to be so by their members. Certainly the Slavonic Mir, the Septs of the Scottish Highlands were of this type. It is probably true wherever we find the headship of the community is hereditary, as representing the elder line of the family.

    As recently as 2006, the Pécresse Commission on the Family in France could say, “in this country, the model has long been the peasant family, structured around a patriarch and expanding from hearth to hearth. Children were raised within an expanded group and not by two parents.”

  • MPS,

    We’re talking about America. Day was an American, we’re Americans, there is no history or tradition of these things here.

  • I would be very sceptical of government-sponsored commissions that issue statements on the family at a time when marriage and the family itself are under attack as an institution. Valerie Pecresse’s report contains recommendations that would undermine Christian family values because it pushes for increased childcare provision for as a “right” to enable and encourage women to return to work faster after childbirth.

    Whatever communal arrangements may have existed in various places, the fact remains that parental authority – especially the headship of the father – was always considered by the Church as a foundation stone of the social order. It was considered as one of the indispensable elements of a Christian society that reflects God’s authority.

    Especially from the time of Rousseau and later the rise of Socialism, there was a tendency to see the individual, not the family, as the basic element of society. It is this tendency that is displayed in the Catholic Worker and explains Day’s readiness to leave her daughter to the care of the community while she devoted her time and energy to revolutionary activism.

  • “Whatever communal arrangements may have existed in various places, the fact remains that parental authority – especially the headship of the father – was always considered by the Church as a foundation stone of the social order.”

    Which is pretty much what the Pécresse Commission was describing as the traditional family – “the model has long been…”

    Bonchamps

    The kind of traditional communes may not have an established history in America, but they are both ancient and enduring in the Indo-European civilisation from which much of its culture derives.

    One could suggest that bonds of kinship and a measure of co-ownership, such as exists in all peasant communities, provides the only kind of solidarity that can provide an alternative to government by mere force. The connexion between “kindness” and “kinship” is more than mere etymology.

  • I think that most people would conclude from MPS’s interpretation of the Pécresse report that the two-parent family is not important for the upbringing of children and that communal childrearing is an adequate alternative. (That would have pleased Dorothy Day!)

    But this has never been the Christian tradition, including in extended families which live by Christian principles. The Church teaches that God has given the responsibility of raising children to the parents; it’s not primarily the responsibility of other relatives, schools, youth leaders or friends. If any village leader, municipal mayor or national sovereign took away that inalienable right, his actions could not be considered to be in line with Catholic teaching.

    We have the example of the Holy Family in Nazareth where Christ as a child lived with and was subject to His Mother and St Joseph. That is the divinely approved model of the Christian family.

  • MPS and Bonchamps,
    In the traditional family, a mother takes care of her children, and grandma or other relatives may help. Dad is out working to provide for and to protect his family–a challenge with affirmative action and feminism now enshrined. Mom is not forced to go to work and abandon her children to the vagaries of day care; she feeds the hungry and clothes the naked every day she cares for her small children. Pope John Paul II, when stating that women’s work opportunities have increased, said that women’s right to be at-home mothers should be recognized as primary.

    As Dr. Byrne notes, Day frequently left her daughter with relatives or CW co-workers such as Mary and Steven Johnson, of whom Day wrote: ” The Johnsons so often took care of Tamar when she was a little girl that they think of her children somewhat as their grand children” (CW, September 1954). I suspect that while Day was living on weekends with Forster Batterham and their infant daughter, he supported her and their child. Thus, Day’s article “Having a Baby” was written in spring 1926 and not published in the Communist “Daily Worker” until June 1928, after Day’s breakup with Forster. Once Day became a single parent, she put Tamar in day care and then in boarding school in Staten Island. Day records in “The Long Loneliness” how a jealous member of the CW would destroy Tamar’s collections and engage in other acts of spite and jealousy.

    A minority of people may be able to live in peace in voluntary communities—although the more I read Dorothy Day’s diaries the more it is clear that was not the case at the Catholic Worker. Let’s recall the model of the Holy Family–it was not the Holy Commune.

    Day complained in “The Duty of Delight” when a promising couple in the CW marry that they are “lost” to the movement. She praised Ammon Hennacy publicly for his fasting and war tax resistance. She wrote of his “hurt” when his wife left him and took their two daughters. While Ammon was doing such jobs as digging ditches to avoid having tax withheld from his pay check, his first wife and daughters were left to live on oatmeal, as his second wife, Joan Thomas, records in “The Years of Grief and Laughter: A ‘Biography’ of Ammon Hennacy.”

    Day repeatedly criticized the wealthy Church in the US for not allowing the land in seminaries and retreats and religious houses to be cultivated to feed the poor. She declared “Cardinal Mindszenty and Archbishop Stepinac are lying in jail suffering at the hands of the masses” (CW, April 1949) because of such economic inequities; and she crowed over the loss of the papal states:

    “Fortunately, the Papal States were wrested from the Church in the last century, but there is still the problem of investment of papal funds. It is always a cheering thought to me that if we have good will and are still unable to find remedies for the economic abuses of our time, in our family, our parish, and the mighty church as a whole, God will take matters in hand and do the job for us.
    When I saw the Garibaldi mountains in British Columbia . . . I said a prayer for his soul and blessed him for being the instrument of so mighty a work of God. May God use us!” (“Hutterite Communities,” CW, July-August 1969)

    As Dr. Byrne points out, Day did not shy away from “violence” when it advanced her political and economic aims. In a letter to Ammon Hennacy, Day declared publicly: ” ‘Thou art neither cold nor hot … because thou art lukewarm … I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth,’ our Lord says. Far better to revolt violently than to do nothing about the poor destitute” (“Letter to an Imprisoned Editor,” CW, January 1960). This is how Day wrote of a saint and a murderous tyrant as equals: “In 1954 I had written an article for the Catholic Worker entitled ‘Ho Chi Minh and Theophane Venard, the hero and the saint.’ . . . If we had had the privilege of giving hospitality to a Ho Chi Minh, with what respect and interest we would have served him, as a man of vision, as a patriot, a rebel against foreign invaders.” (CW, January 1970)

  • “And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need.” — Acts 2:44-45

    There is clearly a Scriptural precedent for communal living. Whatever else we say about it, that much is clear. As for communISM, that is a different matter altogether. But the distinction is relevant.

  • Thank you, Bonchamps, for your scriptural quote. I thought of that, too, which was why I felt a distinction needed to be made between the Christian communities and the secular ones. In Christian communities, normally, family is honoured even as allegience to the group is maintained. I think of the Amish, some Mennonites, the Brethren and Hutterite communities which Dr. Byrne mentioned, among others. Some communities have sought to abolish family ties, such as the Shakers, etc, but many others haven’t. Another thing worth mentioning is that the definition of the family changes across culture. In some cases it’s very extended to where the mother and father may not feature as prominently. We’ve come to think of the family in nuclear terms or in terms of the extended family that includes grandparents and perhaps a couple of other relatives, but with parents playing a very central role.

  • The New Testament accounts, however, do not support the idea that the first Christians lived in a community based solely on common ownership. St Luke, the author of the Acts, nowhere advocates that they should renounce private property.

    It is a common misconception among the proponents of the “Social Gospel” that the first Christians eschewed private property or were pooling all their resources and redistributing their wealth from a common kitty. To begin with, from both a legal and a moral standpoint, they had ownership of their goods and could dispose of them as they saw fit. No one was forced to turn their property over to the community as a requirement of being a Christian. We read in Acts 12:12 that the mother of John Mark, for instance, still had a house of her own in Jerusalem where the faithful assembled to pray and where St Peter called, after his delivery from prison by the ministry of an angel. It was evidently an important centre for the local Church and large enough to be a common meeting-place for the disciples there.

    The case of Ananias (Acts 5:3-4) is often cited as proof that the early Christians were obliged to hand over their property and/or money to the Apostles. But this is a misunderstanding of the biblical passage. It was not for holding back the money for the land and refusing to share it with the brethren that Ananias was rebuked by Peter, but for the deception he perpetrated in his relationship with God. Peter clearly acknowledges Ananias’s right to have kept his land privately, or to have kept all or part of the money made from selling the land. Ananias’s sin was his pretence to be giving the full price, thus appearing to be more virtuous and self-sacrificing than he really was.

    While it is true that they sold their land so that the proceeds could be shared among those of their brethren in need, we have to keep in mind that the early Christians were living in unusual conditions – first as a persecuted minority then as victims of a famine in Jerusalem which required St Paul to take up a collection from Christians in Asia Minor. (Acts 11:30) St Thomas Aquinas pointed out that this was a temporary arrangement to suit emergency conditions (the first Christians being convinced that Jerusalem would be destroyed within their lifetime) and lacked the stability on which to build a future society:

    therefore we do not read of the Apostles instituting this mode of living when they passed to the nations among whom the Church was to take root and endure.

    St Thomas did not interpret the situation as an example of “Christian Communism” or hold it up as a pattern for future generations.

    From the beginning of the CWM, Day tried to make a convincing case for “Christian Communism” in modern-day America based on the “Social Gospel” theory:

    “THE CATHOLIC WORKER is for Christian communism, as practised in Catholic monasteries and by the early Christians.” (CW December 1936)

    “We believe in the communal aspect of property as stressed by the early Christians”, she wrote in the November 1949 issue of CW, and later outlined her aim:

    “to build up Houses of Hospitality and farming communes and be weaned away from the wage system by a restoration of the communal principles of Christianity as applied to the laity and to families.” (CW October 1950)

    But there was no activity recognizable as Socialized communal living in the modern sense of the word, Christian or otherwise, practised among the members of the early Church.

  • Dr. Byrne, I believe you are correct. The early church was not communal, though they certainly shared a lot more in that particular instance in Acts than at most other times and places. Christian communities that practice communalism–and it’s never total–are usually of the Anabaptist variety. They’re somewhat communal because they’re separatist and quite a bit of ownership actually exists. I would argue that the situation in Acts provides the church with a precedent for a communal approach at times of need. That’s probably all we can take away from that.

  • Dr. B,

    ” St Luke, the author of the Acts, nowhere advocates that they should renounce private property.”

    Nor would I claim that this actually was advocated. Not calling for a renunciation of private property is obviously not the equivalent of renouncing communal property either.

    “No one was forced to turn their property over to the community as a requirement of being a Christian.”

    Of course not. But they were certainly free to do so if they so desired.

    “St Thomas Aquinas pointed out that this was a temporary arrangement to suit emergency conditions (the first Christians being convinced that Jerusalem would be destroyed within their lifetime) and lacked the stability on which to build a future society:”

    It may be so. You don’t have to convince me that private property is superior to communal property. But I’m willing to let people discover their errors on their own. I have no desire to force people to be private property owners, only to respect the individual right to private property possessed by all of us.

    So, I must say, Day’s advocacy of voluntary communism is not an issue for me. I would call it imprudent, but not intrinsically evil.

    Her praise for communist dictatorships is what bothers me the most. It is inconsistent with her clear rejection of coercive wealth redistribution in the United States.

  • MPS,

    “The kind of traditional communes may not have an established history in America, but they are both ancient and enduring in the Indo-European civilisation from which much of its culture derives.”

    Maybe so, but without a traditional practice of it, you are talking about imposing an alien ideology on a people. This will not have good results.

    Individual ownership of property and economic competition create wealth and prosperity for all, moreso than any other arrangement in human history. They serve the common good more greatly than communalism in any form does. However, they also bring a lot of risks and instabilities as well. No system devised by man is perfect.

  • I find Day exceptionally naive. What really caught my attention was her statement that Mao Zhe Tung was motivated by love. I wanted to laugh. I often wonder whether social activists like Day believe in the doctrine of original sin. I seriously question their assessment of the human condition.

  • “Mao Zhe Tung was motivated by love.” That is not comedic. It’s symptomatic of error in proponents of social justice stuff.

    Try this on a liberal: “Hitler was motivated by love.” The leftist I (sadly) know don’t excoriate Hitlerism because of the Holocaust, but because it almost killed Bolshevism.

  • T. Shaw, no one has difficulty seeing Hitler was monstrous. Stalin is considered a mere screw-up! Yes, part of it was that Hitler was a fascist and consequently anti-communist. Ironically, both ideologies resulted in states that were total.

  • Hitler is hated by the left mostly because he wasn’t an egalitarian. It has nothing to do with the body count.

    Apparently if you kill tens of millions people in the pursuit of egalitarian ideals, you get a pass.

  • Yes, Hitler killed fewer people than Stalin yet is disliked far more. I suppose egalitarians see fascism as rather aristocratic. And then there was that awful business about the races.

  • Jon and Bonchamps, Day sometimes may appear naive in her writings, but they also reveal her shrewdness. My point in sandwiching her condemnation of Charles Schwab, US industrialist and philanthropist, between her remarks on Marx, Lenin, et al is that she applied a double standard to capitalists and Communists.

    For example, in her self-labeled role as a “professional agitator” (CW, January 1970), she opposed Social Security as “an acceptance of the Idea of force and compulsion” by the federal government. She believed in-and hoped for–a revolution in the US. She “hoped” the US revolution would not be bloody. The “filthy rotten system” Day opposed was “capitalism,” and she would not say anything good about it–valid distinctions about the free market, etc, were not recognized by her. Social Security bolstered the US at a time when it was teetering on the brink of disaster–delaying Day’s wished-for revolution and undermining her efforts to further it. How disappointed she must have been by the New Deal’s rescue of the US economy!

    While she claimed to love her country, her writing reveals estrangement instead. On the personal level, she does not describe her daughter’s father as an American, but as “of English descent” and writes that he and Tamar shared the traits of the English. In fact, Forster Batterham–the man in question–“was no Englishman, merely of English descent, and had [been born] and had grown up in North Carolina and gone to Georgia Tech,” as Paul Elie notes in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” (2003, p. 45).

    On a public level, she did not favor the New Deal, but a different kind of “new social order”: “I was always much impressed, in reading prison memoirs of revolutionists, such as Lenin and Trotsky . . . by the amount of reading they did, the languages they studied, the range of their plans for a better social order. (Or rather, for a new social order.) In the Acts of the Apostles there are constant references to the Way and the New Man.” (CW, December 1968). As usual, she bolsters Communist doctrines with cross-references to Christian Scripture.

    The following letter she published in the CW seems anything but naive:

    We are taught that it is a sin to keep silent when we should speak out in defense of the right, thus consenting to wrong . . . that God turns even malice and wrong doing to His own ends . . . that we must be ready to uphold truth at whatever cost to ourselves . . . that it is only the truth that can imbue men’s hearts with true freedom. So with all these things in mind we sent the following message to the editors of The Daily Worker:

    We at the Catholic Worker express our sympathy to The Daily Worker in the eviction they have suffered even though their beliefs are contrary to our own. Freedom of the press is a concept fundamental to Jeffersonians and libertarians and freedom in general is essentially a religious concept. The Smith Act itself shows that our country is so superficially religious that it is not willing to take the risk and consequences of a faith in freedom and man’s use of it. (In a lighter vein), if we only had the space and could be truly charitable and hospitable we would offer the use of our offices and even of our mailing list, since the bureaucrats have confiscated yours, and we are sure that we would risk nothing in such a gesture but achieve a healthful clarification of thought. Yours for a green and peaceful revolution.

    The editors The Catholic Worker. D.D.

    P.S. Seriously speaking, since it has been called to our attention that the faithful are forbidden to read Marxist writings, we withdraw our facetious offer of our mailing list.” (“The Daily Worker Case,” CW, April 1956)

  • Did she acknowledge a full distinction between the Christian order, the Kingdom of God, and the various economic and political arrangements worked out in the city of man? From your quotes, it seems she believed in the Hegelian sense of the spirit working through history.

  • Jon: Did she acknowledge a full distinction between the Christian order, the Kingdom of God, and the various economic and political arrangements worked out in the city of man?
    Good question. Day tried to convince people that Christianity and Communism were the same. She believed that Christ was a Revolutionary whose message of salvation consisted in liberation from oppression and social inequalities caused by political and social structures which must therefore be overthrown. So in the name of the Gospel she set out to rid society of “imperialism” of all kinds.

    To justify her stance, Day quoted Marx’s famous adage about each working according to his ability and receiving according to his need and equated it with St Paul’s exhortation to the more wealthy Christians (2 Cor : 8) to “supply the needs” of their less fortunate brethren. This proves beyond all possible doubt that Day believed Marx was saying essentially the same thing as St Paul. (If that were the case, there would have been no need for all the papal condemnations of Communism.) No two situations could have been more diverse: St Paul was taking up a collection for famine relief in Jerusalem whereas Communist leaders created famines through their application of Marx’s theories.

    Both Day and arx wanted to achieve the same objectives – a workers’ united revolution to overthrow Capitalism as the only means to achieve “Social Justice”.

    Far from being formed in the sprit of traditional Catholicism, Day was very much the product of the “Social Gospel” movement which preached that Communism is the authentic social legacy of the early Christian era. The notion that the theories of Marx and Lenin found their origin in the New Testament is also implied in Day’s advocacy of “Christian Communism”.

  • Thank you, Dr. Byrne, for the explanation. Yes, I got the impression she imbibed ‘baptized’ political theory. That it was through the Social Gospel is believable since this was circulating at the lay level throughout the first half of the twentieth cenutry. I didn’t know the extent of it within Roman Catholicism, nor whether it found acceptance among church leaders there. I know a few Protestant denominations were heavily influenced by it, with the leaders taking the initiative. It sounds like it was confined to the laity within Roman Catholicism.

  • Jon,

    The Catholic equivalent is liberation theology.

  • Thank you, Bonchamps. I remember that now. I’ve read in a few places that the Jesuit order has had quite a bit to do with its propogation. It seems a writer by the name of Malachi Martin wrote extensively about their political teachings in Latin America.

  • An earlier version of the Social Gospel movement in Catholicism was Marc Sangier’s Le Sillon [the furrow], which flourished in France from 1894 to 1910. Its aim was to reconcile the French labour movement with Christianity. Despite its republicanism, it was initially supported by Pope Pius X and the French episcopate, only to be condemned by the pope in 1910 in « Notre Charge Apostolique » which accused the Sillonists of accepting a doctrine of popular sovereignty, rather than the Catholic teaching that authority descends from God down to the authorized leaders and from there to the people.

    Sangier accepted the condemnation, dissolved Le Sillon and went on to found the “ Ligue de la jeune république » [Yoing Republic League]. This was heavily influenced by the Personalism of Emmanuel Mounier, a favourite author of Peter Maurin, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933. Here one can trace a direct influence from Mounier, to Sangier, to Maurin, to Dorothy Day.

    Mounier had been deeply influenced by the Catholic philosopher, Maurice Blondel and the poet and essayist, Charles Péguy. In turn, his “Personalist Manifesto” had a profound influence on Jacques Maritain, the Orthodox theologian, Nicholas Berdyaev and Cardinal Jean Danielou, SJ. Cardinal Henri de Lubac SJ belonged to the same intellectual milieu, as did Cardinal Yves Congar OP.

    A later exponent of the Personalist philosophy was Pope John Paul II, notably in his 1960 book, “Love and Responsibility.” An echo can be found, in Gaudium et Spes, “”man….cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

  • It is interesting to note the direct link between the Sillon and the Catholic Worker via Mounier. The Sillon was condemned for evading ecclesiastical authority and giving primacy to politics over Catholic doctrine. Autonomy from hierarchical authority was still the position of Dorothy Day throughout her life as a Catholic. It was also true of Peter Maurin who had been a member of the Sillon but left in 1908 when rumours of its condemnation began to circulate. However, as my book documents, he took his Sillonists principles with him and continued to practise them in the Catholic Worker.

    A curious paradox arises when we consider how eager Catholic Worker supporters are to acknowledge the movement’s roots in Mounier’s Personalist revolution and Maurin’s role in bringing it to the United States. They strenuously deny that Maurin was a Marxist, but a more damning indictment of his Marxist thinking could not be imagined. Mounier admitted that Personalism derived from humanist Socialism and from organizations of the Catholic Left such as the Sillon. Mounier also revealed that his brand of Personalism had “a great deal to learn from Marxism.” Certainly, an examination of his writings throughout his career shows that he accepted Marxist interpretations of the causes and remedies of social problems.

    According to Day, Maurin used to tell people wherever he went, “There is a man in France called Emmanuel Mounier. He wrote a book called The Personalist Manifesto. You should read that book.” (CW April 1950) But why? The reason for Maurin’s enthusiastic endorsement becomes clear when we examine the contents of the Manifesto which was first published by Mounier in 1936 in French under the title, “Manifeste au Service du Personalisme”. Maurin took steps to disseminate Mounier’s book by getting the Benedictine monks at St. John’s Abbey, Minnesota, to translate it into English and publish it in 1938 with a Foreword by Dom Virgil Michel who is widely regarded as the founder of the Liturgical Movement in the US.

    The most striking feature of the Personalist Manifesto was Mounier’s obsession with a key Marxist doctrine – total revolution of social institutions for the elimination of Capitalism. That Mounier’s brand of anti-capitalism was inspired by Marx is clear from his explanation that Personalism was in his estimation a means “for the attainment of Socialism…through movements of peasants and workers organized with the more enlightened portions of the bourgeoisie.” Let us be clear on this issue: Personalism, in Mounier’s eyes, meant revolutionary anti-capitalism. For Mounier, the enemy was Capitalism which in turn became identified with America. He was a man with a mission, and saw himself as the instrument of history through which Capitalism would be wiped out root and branch, lest new growth should be generated from the “bases of the system”. This is the first and most obvious point about the Manifesto that prompted Maurin to disseminate it as widely as possible.

    It is illuminating to find that in the Personalist Manifesto Mounier provided a comprehensive statement of his political theory of Personalism (which he equated with virtue) while advocating the use of coercion in its defence. He was in favour of using violence, if necessary, to destroy the capitalist system:

    if, when the new forms are sufficiently mature to replace those of the diseased order, it becomes evident that the change can be brought about only by violence, as will be probable, then there can be no valid reason for refusing to use violence. (p. 283)

    But whom did he have principally in mind to spearhead his anti-capitalist revolution? Two categories of society are singled out. First, the young people to whom he dedicated the Personalist Manifesto who would “read it as a call to creative activity”, and secondly the Communists and their fellow travellers whom he considered to be “the only ones…with sufficient force…to put an end to the despotic reign of money.” The reference to the nature of money was, of course, a Marxist gibe, for it was central to Marx’s thesis that the capitalists were the despotic ruling class which should be abolished. There could hardly be a clearer rallying call to class warfare.

    However, it was the despotic reign of Personalism that Mounier wished to advance. This is clear from the April 1934 issue of Esprit in which he published his own essay, ‘De la Propriété’ (On Property). In his essay he envisaged a social system in which Capitalism would be abolished and each individual would be allowed what Mounier termed the “nécessaire vital”, that is to say enough means to cover their pre-assessed needs for family and public life and for cultural pursuits. But this is a recipe for totalitarianism. When all the wealth is controlled by one entity (albeit for the high ideal of “the people”) and allocated on the basis of pre-determined “needs”, a dictatorship is set up. Mounier’s idea of freedom was that coercion should be employed to force citizens to choose rightly; only by obeying the dictates of the new regime could they be said to be “acting freely”. There is an analogy between Mounier’s Personalism and Maurin’s “Green Revolution” insofar as people would find it “easier to be good”, but only because they would have no choice. Applied to the whole of society (which was the objective in mind), both Mounier’s Personalism and Maurin’s “Green Revolution” would result in nothing less than State Socialism.

  • What was central to the otherwise disparate French Catholic left was the rejection of the Neo-Thomists’ theory of Natural Law, based on Suarez’s interpretation, or rather, travesty of St Thomas. They had talked of a “natural order,” governed by Natural Law, consisting of truths accessible to unaided human reason, as something that can be kept separate from the supernatural truths revealed in the Gospel. This “two-tier” account of nature and grace saw the addition of “grace” was something super-added to a human nature that was already complete and sufficient in itself and apart from any intrinsic human need

    In the memorable exchange in 1910, in Blondel’s publication, L’Annales de philosophie chrétienne, between Descoqs, the Jesuit defender of Charle Maurras and his Action Française and the Oratorian Lucien Laberthonnière, Descoqs, a follower of Suarez’s interpretation of St Thomas had allowed the political sphere a wide degree of autonomy and he was prepared to detach “political society” from “religious society.” Laberthonnière had retaliated by accusing Descoqs of being influenced by “a false theological notion of some state of pure nature and therefore imagined the state could be self-sufficient in the sense that it could be properly independent of any specifically Christian sense of justice.”

    Thus, Maurice Blondel, insisted that we must never forget “that one cannot think or act anywhere as if we do not all have a supernatural destiny. Because, since it concerns the human being such as he is, in concreto, in his living and total reality, not in a simple state of hypothetical nature, nothing is truly complete (boucle), even in the sheerly natural order”

    Jacques Maritain, too, declared that “the knowledge of human actions and of the good conduct of the human State in particular can exist as an integral science, as a complete body of doctrine, only if related to the ultimate end of the human being . . . the rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account”

    Finally, Cardinal Henri de Lubac spent his whole life combating the notion that the natural and the supernatural have utterly separate ends in and of themselves.

  • “What was central to the otherwise disparate French Catholic left was the rejection of the Neo-Thomists’ theory of Natural Law, based on Suarez’s interpretation, or rather, travesty of St Thomas. ”

    Why is it a “travesty”? For some demonstrable objective reason, or because it serves as a clear rebuke to the designs of statist control-freaks?

    I couldn’t care less what a bunch of European modernists thought about politics.

  • Dr. B,

    “Day tried to convince people that Christianity and Communism were the same. She believed that Christ was a Revolutionary whose message of salvation consisted in liberation from oppression and social inequalities caused by political and social structures which must therefore be overthrown. So in the name of the Gospel she set out to rid society of “imperialism” of all kinds.”

    Did she actually say this? Because I know this is what liberation theologists teach, but I wasn’t aware she taught it. She has always been presented as a somewhat orthodox believer who assented to the basic dogmas of the faith, opposed abortion and other violations of the natural law, etc.

  • Why is it a travesty? For the “demonstrable objective reason” that it is not faithful to the teaching of St Thomas, but is based on a maxim, nowhere found in his works that “the end of nature must be proportionate to nature.”

    But St Thomas says, “the beatitude of any rational creature whatsoever consists in seeing God by his essence” [In IV Sent, d. 49, q. 2, a. 7:] and that “one has not attained to one’s last end until the natural desire is at rest. Therefore the knowledge of any intelligible object is not enough for man’s happiness, which is his last end, unless he know God also, which knowledge terminates his natural desire, as his last end. Therefore this very knowledge of God is man’s last end.” {SCG III, c. 50.]

    This is also the teaching of St Augustine, when he says, in the first line of the Confessions, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

    In order to maintain their maxim, the Neo-Thomists therefore had to argue that St Thomas, and St Augustine, too, were referring to nature elevated by grace, although this is nowhere in the text. Hence their talk about “natura pura” and a natural end of man, natural beatitude and the rest of it. This is the “pure nature” that Laberthonnière called a “false theological notion.”

    In fact, St Thomas actually rejects their notion that natural desire cannot extend beyond natural capacity, when he says, ““The nature that can attain perfect good, although it needs help from without in order to attain it, is of more noble condition than a nature which cannot attain perfect good, but attains some imperfect good, although it need no help from without in order to attain it.” [ST I-II, q. 5, a. 5 ad 2] and he quotes Aristotle as saying “that which we are able to do through friends we can in a certain way do on our own.”

  • I should have added the clincher from St Thomas ““even though by his nature man is inclined to his ultimate end, he cannot reach it by nature but only by grace, and this owing to the loftiness of that end.[In Boethius de Trinitate, q. 6, a. 4 ad 5.]

  • Day was convinced that her work was “a continuation of the mission of Christ the Worker” (CW September 1946), thus implying that the revolutionary activities she engaged in would have been espoused by Christ. But then she also advocated social and political change in line with Marxist theories, that is, a class struggle to free the workers from the “oppression” of the rich and powerful –capitalists, employers, private landowners, the “ruling class” and wealthy clergy. Her model of a Christ-like revolution was none other than the Marxist-inspired violence of Fidel Castro:

    “When I was in Cuba in September 1962, I witnessed what a Franciscan priest, Hervé Chaigne, has called an “exemplary” revolution. I felt that it was an example to us in zeal, in idealism and in self-sacrifice and that unless we began to approach in our profession of Christianity some of this zeal of the Communists, we weren’t going to get anywhere.” (CW April 1968)

    By what contorted reasoning did she justify this anti-clerical revolution which led to the persecution of many Catholics, both religious and lay? Simply by applying her own personal interpretation of Scripture and coming to the conclusion that Christ would have been as Marxist and anti-capitalist as she was:

    “The justification for a Christ who urges militant action is the story in the New Testament of how he drove the money changers out of the temple. Over and over again, when I am speaking in colleges and universities, this incident is brought up. There are many strong denunciations of the oppressor, the hypocrites, the whited sepulchers the lawyers, of all those who put heavy burdens on men’s shoulders and do nothing to share them or lighten them.” (CW May 1970)

    There are a good many instances like this scattered through Day’s writings where she implies that Christ the Worker, like Karl Marx, was opposed to capitalism and the division of labour and would have taken measures to rid society of them. These can be found particularly in her treatment of Liberation Theology priests fighting in Guatemala and also in her treatment of the Worker Priest movement. She had no hesitation in drawing her readers’ attention to David Dellinger’s book, More Power than we know, (CW July-August 1975) in which he describes Christ as, among other blasphemous things, a “political revolutionary.”

  • MPS,

    And from all of this, you mystically derive the need for a parental welfare state? I don’t see it.

  • It sounds like Day was theologically unorthodox all around.

  • Yeah. Pretty hard to deny the facts here. Ah well. There are plenty of real saints to be inspired by.

  • Jon, you can say that again! In one of my chapters I provide an overall view of Day’s spirituality which reveals that there was nothing either specifically or necessarily Catholic about her beliefs. The basic problem was Day’s belief in the “primacy of conscience” which gave rise to her propensity for interpreting certain passages of the Bible in an attempt to justify her own personal opinions and initiatives. She used Catholicism, or at least her understanding of it, as a weapon of ideological reaction in her struggle against all established systems such as ecclesiastical hierarchy, the State and capitalist businesses and to enlist support in the political struggle against the “bourgeoisie”.

    It has been remarked that Catholic truth did not figure high on her agenda:

    when Dorothy Day became a Catholic in 1927, she was not attracted by the church’s orthodoxy, but by the fact that it was the religion of the masses. (Dan McKanan, The Catholic Worker after Dorothy Day: Practising the Works of Mercy in a New Generation, Liturgical Press, 2008, p. 182)

    In fact she promoted a confused form of religious humanism, a blend of different religious faiths and secular ideologies.

    Examples of Day’s unorthodox beliefs abound. Here are a few examples. She had a false conception of the Mystical Body of Christ believing, against the explicit teaching of Pope Pius XII in ‘Mystici Corporis’, that all mankind were members. She was so confused about the “Mystical Body” that she went so far as to present Gandhi, a Hindu, as the epitome of Christianity.

    Another egregious departure from Catholic teaching was Day’s concept of the “divinized poor”, a notion drawn from Liberation Theology. Also in line with Liberation Theology was Day’s belief that anyone working and especially living with the poor encounters the divine and achieves salvation. It is illuminating to consider that well before Liberation Theology surfaced as an organized movement in the 1960s, Day was already preaching that salvation comes through the Works of Mercy alone (even if these are performed by communists) and that the poor are identified with Christ to the point of actually becoming Christ.

    One other example of Day’s unorthodoxy among many is her belief in women priests. Testimony to this was given by Fr Richard McSorley, a priest from Washington DC who had befriended Day from the early days of the CW. In Rosalie Riegle Troester’s Voices from the Catholic Worker, pp. 523-4, (a series of interviews containing memories of people who had been closely associated with Day), Fr McSorley stated that he went to see Day in the company of another priest and a nun about a year before she died, and added:

    “She had been on record as saying that she wasn’t in favour of women priests. But this time she said, ‘I don’t think it will go on [the same way] forever. We will have women priests. Probably the first step will be married priests. And then when women are closer to the altar by being associated with priests, married to them, then the culture will be ready for women priests.’”

    Let us not forget that this is the woman who is being pushed for canonization by Cardinal Dolan and the US Bishops.

  • “Examples of Day’s unorthodox beliefs abound. Here are a few examples. She had a false conception of the Mystical Body of Christ believing, against the explicit teaching of Pope Pius XII in ‘Mystici Corporis’, that all mankind were members. She was so confused about the “Mystical Body” that she went so far as to present Gandhi, a Hindu, as the epitome of Christianity.”

    Yikes. So she was a universal salvationist too. It just gets worse and worse. I had no idea.

  • “And from all of this, you mystically derive the need for a parental welfare state? I don’t see it”

    No, I do not. To take one historical example, the Revolution did not establish a system of public relief. No, It turned ten million landless peasants into heritable proprietors, independent and self-sufficient. As De Tocqueville said in his speech of 12 September 1848 to the National Assembly, “Not only did it consecrate private property, it universalized it. It saw that a still greater number of citizens participated in it.”

    He added, “The Old Regime, in fact, held that wisdom lay only in the State and that the citizens were weak and feeble beings who must forever be guided by the hand, for fear they harm themselves. It held that it was necessary to obstruct, thwart, restrain individual freedom, that to secure an abundance of material goods it was imperative to regiment industry and impede free competition. The Old Regime believed, on this point, exactly as the socialists of today do. It was the French Revolution which denied this… If it had been but to create such a system, the Revolution was a horrible waste. A perfected Old Regime would have served adequately.”

    No, it was Hilaire Belloc who pointed out that the principles of distributism and the principles of 1789 are one and the same.

  • “No, it was Hilaire Belloc who pointed out that the principles of distributism and the principles of 1789 are one and the same.”

    As always with “Old Thunder”, when history and one of his pet theories collided, so much the worse for history.

  • Jon and Bonchamps,

    If you want it straight from the horse’s mouth, here is what Day said:
    “We think of all men as our brothers then, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.” (CW January 1936)

    Later, with reference to people of all religions, Christian and non-Christian, she reinforced this with another whopper: “we are all temples of the Holy Ghost”. (CW April 1952)
    It is no coincidence that Peter Maurin and other Catholic Workers believed this too, for the novel idea of the Mystical Body as embracing all mankind had been implanted in the CWM in the 1930s by visiting Benedictines such as Frs Virgil Michel and Benedict Bradley.

    But there was more to the theory than mere “brotherhood”. The sting in the tail was that Fr Michel gave the doctrine of the Mystical Body a distinctly political focus, and Day, who followed closely in his footsteps, echoed his sentiments when she wrote:

    “We believe that all people are brothers and sisters in the Fatherhood of God. This teaching, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, involves today the issue of unions (where people call each other brothers and sisters); it involves the racial question; it involves cooperatives, credit unions, crafts; it involves Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes. It is with all these means that we can live as though we believed indeed that we are all members one of another, knowing that when “the health of one member suffers, the health of the whole body is lowered.” (CW February 1940)

    The last sentence is supposed to refer to St Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, but Day was more interested in the slogan of the Industrial Workers of the World (of which she was once a member) which states that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” Politics before religion was the name of the game.

  • Matthew 25 presents the Last Judgment.

    Secular humanists (subverting the Faith and politicizing the Gospels) take “Whatsover you do for the least of my brothers . . . :” and run amok.

    In Matthew 12:46-48; Mark 3:31-33, and Luke 8:19-21, Our Lord tells us exactly who are His brothers: “whoever does what My Father in Heaven wants him to do . . .”

    Kumbaya!

    The Gospels teach us we are judged not by how much we are loved but by how we love. And, we are judged by how much we do for others; and how much we give to others; and by having forgiven all injuries (it’s in the Pater Noster and it’s one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy).

  • “it was Hilaire Belloc who pointed out that the principles of distributism and the principles of 1789 are one and the same.” In that case, that’s an admission that distributism cannot be approved by the Catholic Church. Successive Popes have condemned the principles of the French Revolution and by the same token they must condemn distributism.

    I know that’s not the conclusion Belloc meant us to draw, but he was an admirer of Robespierre and he tried to justify the Terror on the spurious grounds that it was a “just and honest” action to prevent anarchy. But that was the anarchy that the revolutionaries themselves created by destroying the previous order and sending to the guillotine the clergy, the nobility, and all Catholics who were opposed to their ideas.

    But let us not get too diverted from the original point of this debate which is about Dorothy Day.

  • I agree with T. Shaw that secular humanists (and I would include many Catholic Leftists in this category) run amok with Matthew 25 by interpreting it in too literal and narrow a sense. Dorothy Day took this view: “In the 25th chapter of St. Matthew there is a description of those who are the saved. It is those who feed the hungry, shelter the harborless, visit the prisoner, bury the dead, and perform the works of mercy.” (CW September 1954)

    We must put Day’s “Works of Mercy” into a Catholic perspective. The corporal works of mercy may not interfere with the duty of state of the person doing them. In Day’s case, she clearly neglected to give her daughter the home and personal care that duty demanded she provide. Instead, she set aside her maternal duties to be “free” for the social work that she considered more important than God’s will for her. Such actions are directly opposed to Catholic order, and clearly show that Day’s intention was not to fulfill the will of God, but her own.

    Let us look at what St Augustine had to say on this issue.

    “they suppose that Christ will discriminate between those on the right hand and those on the left, and will send the one party into His kingdom, the other into eternal punishment, on the sole ground of their attention to or neglect of works of charity.

    The reason, therefore, of our predicting that He will impute to those on His right hand the alms-deeds they have done, and charge those on His left with omitting the same, is that He may thus show the efficacy of charity for the deletion of past sins, not for impunity in their perpetual commission. And such persons, indeed, as decline to abandon their evil habits of life for a better course cannot be said to do charitable deeds. For this is the purport of the saying, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” He shows them that they do not perform charitable actions even when they think they are doing so. (St Augustine The City of God, Chapter 27—’Against the Belief of Those Who Think that the Sins Which Have Been Accompanied with Almsgiving Will Do Them No Harm’.)

  • Lumen Gentium, II.13, when it says, “All men are called to be part of this catholic unity of the people of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation,” would appear to allow for an extended meaning of the Mystical Body, a theme explored by De Lubac in his “The Church: Paradox and Mystery.”

  • But Lumen Gentium, like Gaudium et Spes, is full of vague language which has no precise meaning, such as the expression “People of God” which is meant to include “all who believe” (in what?) and all who supposedly work for peace. There is no support for this in traditional Catholic teaching.
    For a precise and intelligible meaning of the doctrine of the Mystical Body, we have the teaching of previous Popes. Drawing on St Paul’s metaphor of the Christian community united in one faith, the Pope identified the Mystical Body of Christ with the Catholic Church and made it clear that “only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith.” (Mystici Corporis (On the Mystical Body of Christ), 1943 # 22). Day seemed not to have been aware that the Pope was referring exclusively to the Catholic Church, and that he had made it unmistakably clear that “those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.” (Mystici Corporis, # 22)

    Had Day really been as loyal to the papal encyclicals as her supporters claim, she would have taken seriously Pope Pius XI’s statement that it is “foolish and out of place to say that the Mystical Body is made up of members which are disunited and scattered abroad,” and his teaching, taken from St Paul, that “whosoever therefore is not united with the body is no member of it, neither is he in communion with Christ its head.” (Mortalium Animos # 10)

  • Dr B,

    I couldn’t agree more. This issue is more important than politics.

  • I particularly appreciate the reference to Mortalium Animos, one of the strongest statements against false ecumenism of the 20th century. I don’t believe in a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ and you will find me on the side of Pius X, Pius XI and many before them who fought against – rather than succumbing to – the spirit of modernism and universalism.

  • Bravo and well said, Bonchamps. Trying to prove the “hermeneutic of continuity” is like trying to square the circle. Best not to bother. More and more people are realizing the wisdom of keeping to traditional doctrine and are prepared to speak out about it.

  • Bonchamps, T. Shaw, Dr. Byrne,

    May I add just a few more relevant quotes from Dorothy Day?

    “It is only through religion that communism can be achieved, and has been achieved over and over.” (From Union Square to Rome, 1938, 2006 reprint, p. 154)

    “[I]t seems to me that anything that threatens money or property, anything that aims at a more equitable distribution of this world’s goods, has always been called communism. I like the word myself; it makes me think of the communism of the religious orders. In fact, the success and prosperity of religious orders shows how beneficial communism could be if it were practiced for all, rather than for only those professed religious who give up family, marriage and personal belongings to devote themselves to the problems of poverty.” (“Red Roses for Her,” CW, November 1964; By Little and By Little, 1983, p. 145)

    “He said that salvation is through the poor, when he told us, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ ” (“Hospices Needed,” CW, July-August 1949)

    “[My Communist associates] helped me to find God in His poor, in His abandoned ones, as I had not found Him in Christian churches. I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor.” (“Beyond Politics,” CW, November 1949)

    “God did not forgive the sin of ignorance, as Father Paul Hanley Furfey pointed out once, calling [on] the 25th chapter of St. Matthew.
    Lord, when did we see you burned with napalm? Inasmuch as ye did it to one of these my littlest ones you did it unto me.
    My only comfort sometimes is that saying of Our Lord’s: ‘God wills that all men be saved.’ ‘Ask and ye shall receive.’ May His will be done.” (“On Pilgrimage,” CW, June 1966)

    “Father Paul Hanley Furfey once said to us in a conference that it is obvious from the 25th chapter of St. Matthew that God does not forgive ignorance. ‘When did we see you naked and not cover you, a stranger and never made you welcome? And the Lord will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.’ ” (“On Pilgrimage, CW, September 1967)

    “My understanding of the teaching of the Church is that we must follow our conscience, even an erroneous conscience.” (“On Pilgrimage,” CW, May 1973)

    “We had our communion procession and even the altar facing the people, as far back as 1937–summer. Fr. Joseph Woods, O.S.B. came to spend his vacation with us. . . . I myself got into trouble over that move, because the activists who were working on the farm that summer, when asked by Father Joseph to help rearrange the farm chapel for the Mass, passed the buck by saying ‘Let’s wait till Miss Day gets back,’ whereupon he informed them it was his business, and he informed me on my return from the city that I must be a tyrant indeed if they had to await my permission before they could assist at rearranging the altar. He was not very observant, living at the Catholic Worker where the motto was, ‘Love God and do as you will.’ St. Augustine said that.” (“On Pilgrimage,” CW, March 1966)

    “I am a member of an unincorporated association of the Catholic Worker, made up of a very active group of young people who so ardently esteem the ideas of Peter Maurin that right now they are adding a few of his Easy Essays at the end of our evening recitation of Vespers in the basement of our New York house of hospitality.” (“On Pilgrimage,” CW, May 1973)

  • “God did not forgive the sin of ignorance, as Father Paul Hanley Furfey pointed out once, calling [on] the 25th chapter of St. Matthew…”

    If this is taken to mean that sins of ignorance are sins nonetheless, she is merely echoing St Paul, who calls himself “the chief of sinners,” for a sin which he committed “ignorantly, and with zeal” St Augustine, too, says in the Retractations, “’Those who sin through ignorance, though they sin without meaning to sin, commit the deed only because they will commit it. And, therefore, even this sin of ignorance cannot be committed except by the will of him who commits it, though by a will which incites him to the action merely, and not to the sin; and yet the action itself is nevertheless sinful, for it is enough to constitute it such that he has done what he was bound not to do.”

    “My understanding of the teaching of the Church is that we must follow our conscience, even an erroneous conscience.”

    Cardinal Newman says in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, “I have already quoted the words which Cardinal Gousset has adduced from the Fourth Lateran ; that ” He who acts against his conscience loses his soul.” This dictum is brought out with singular fullness and force in the moral treatises of theologians. The celebrated school, known as the Salmanticenses, or Carmelites of Salamanca, lays down the broad proposition, that conscience is ever to be obeyed whether it tells truly or erroneously, and that, whether the error is the fault of the person thus erring or not.* They say that this opinion is certain, and refer, as agreeing with them, to St. Thomas, St. Bonaventura, Caietan, Vasquez, Durandus, Navarrus, Corduba, Layman, Escobar, and fourteen others. Two of them even say this opinion is de fide. Of course, if he is culpable in being in error, which he would have escaped, had he been more in earnest, for that error he is answerable to God, but still he must act according to that error, while he is in it, because he in full sincerity thinks the error to be truth. “

    So, in these two cases, she would appear to be in good company

  • MPS, you miss the point made by several others–including Dr. Byrne, Bonchamps, and T. Shaw–that Day uses Matthew 25 as a cudgel against those who do not share her belief that salvation lies in performing the corporal works of mercy–regardless of belief in Christ. Similarly, Day defends following an erroneous conscience–without stating that people have an obligation to form their consciences correctly–as even one of your sources notes.

    When it suits Day, she berates her readers for not following the Pope and the teachings of the Church. Meanwhile, she reserved to herself the right to pick and choose what she would follow.

    t
    Barack Obama’s mentor the Communist Frank Marshall Davis also bent Scripture to his own aims, as in the following statement quoted by Paul Kengor in his book “Dupes” (2010):

    “In “Challenge to the Church,” published on September 29, 1949, he quoted extensively from a letter by “Benjamin D. Shaw, noted New York churchman.”
    He was so impressed with Shaw’s letter that he wrote, “I wish every minister, every churchman, every Christian could read the entire statement.” In one section that Davis cited, Shaw imagined Judgment Day, where anti-Communist Christians would be called to account for their attacks on Christ-loving Communists: “On your Judgment Day, when the Lord will ask you for an account of your stewardship, will you have to say, ‘Lord, they were a pack of wolves’? If God will then ask you, ‘My son, did you do all you could to humanize these wolves, to Christianize them, to teach them My Way?’ will your answer be, ‘Lord, I was too busy Redbaiting’?”

  • Min

    “Day defends following an erroneous conscience–without stating that people have an obligation to form their consciences correctly–as even one of your sources notes.”

    But did she not do precisely that in saying that ““God did not forgive the sin of ignorance…”?

  • MPS, No, she did not point out that we must strive to correctly inform our consciences. To state (or more accurately, to quote someone else stating) that God does not forgive “ignorance” in relation to the works of the war and the works of mercy–causes close to her heart–is not the same as stating that we must follow an informed conscience. Indeed, she frequently and stridently castigated those whose views “on social issues” did not agree with hers.

  • Min

    But the doctrine of the Church is not that “we must follow an informed conscience” ; the doctrine of the Church is that “conscience is ever to be obeyed whether it tells truly or erroneously, and that, whether the error is the fault of the person thus erring or not”

  • MPS, When I point out our responsibility to inform our consciences to avoid–not embrace–error, you first assert that Day has made that point by quoting “God does not forgive ignorance.” After I clarify that Day’s quotation does not indicate that people have a responsibility to inform their consciences, you now backtrack and support Day’s error by quoting the statement of the “Carmelites of Salamanca” and calling their theological formulation “the doctrine of the Church.” I don’t think so.

    Your own quotation from Father of the Church St. Augustine states that “even this sin of ignorance cannot be committed except by the will of him who commits it … and yet the action itself is nevertheless sinful, for it is enough to constitute it such that he has done what he was bound not to do.”

    The distinction between vincible and invincible ignorance is crucial. The Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas, explains that vincible ignorance does not excuse a person from sin. He observes that

    “An erring conscience does bind, so that a person would sin by refusing to follow it–and this is true even when the error is voluntary and vincible [St. Thomas Aquinas, S.T. I-II, Q. 19, Art. 5]. But an erring conscience does not excuse (except in case of invincible ignorance), so that a person would also sin by deciding to follow it when the person really ought to know better [ibid., Art. 6]. A person who sincerely believed it was right to do the wrong thing, but only because of vincible ignorance, would sin in either event. The only way out of this self-imposed dilemma is to relinquish the error and do what is objectively right [ibid.]. ”

    As the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1783, states: “Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.”

    Day deliberately ignored the Church’s teaching on many issues that did not conform to her political opinions, and she interpreted the Scriptures to suit her own preconceived ideas. Such an ill-informed conscience does not bind or compel her to act in accordance with it because her ignorance was self-chosen and voluntary. As Dr. Carol Byrne aptly states in “The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis,” Day sat like a spider, weaving a tangled web of confused ideas intertwined in such a way as to tie the Catholic faith to the ideology of [her own] partisan movement” (p. 294). No wonder Day was the champion of the erroneous conscience.

  • Min

    I find your reasoning difficult to follow.

    You cite St Thomas, who says, “An erring conscience does bind, so that a person would sin by refusing to follow it–and this is true even when the error is voluntary and vincible.” That is precisely my point.

    You then say, “Such an ill-informed conscience does not bind or compel her to act in accordance with it because her ignorance was self-chosen and voluntary,” which is the reverse of what St Thomas says.

    Which is it?

  • MPS, I find your misunderstanding difficult to credit.

    There is no contradiction with the teaching of St Thomas in my reasoning. There is sin in doing wrong by following a conscience that is erroneous due to vincible ignorance. Thus, St. Thomas declares: “A person who sincerely believed it was right to do the wrong thing, but only because of vincible ignorance, would sin in either event. The only way out of this self-imposed dilemma is to relinquish the error and do what is objectively right.” My statement “Such an ill-informed conscience does not bind or compel her to act in accordance with it because her ignorance was self-chosen and voluntary” is a paraphrase of St. Thomas’s statement, NOT the reverse of what he says.

    St. Thomas was referring to those who genuinely believe that wrong actions are right. Day, on the other hand, wove a tangled web of mistruths about the faith in order to justify herself. As Dr. Byrne documents in her 2010 book, there is ample evidence to show that Day’s actions and beliefs were dictated by her adherence to the ideology of Marxism, so that she deliberately ignored Church teaching and discipline when it suited her purpose. She was therefore not bound to follow that sort of “conscience,” if we can call it that.

    For example, Day gave support to and appeared on a public platform with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, her old Communist friend in 1957. (Four years later Gurley Flynn became Chair of the Communist Party USA.) Day’s fellow Socialist and Catholic Worker Michael Harrington stated:

    “Dorothy came to me and said, ‘Michael, why did I do it?’… I read the papal text … and came up with some theory. But Dorothy really didn’t care. She didn’t have a theoretical mind. Dorothy did it because this was a radical friend from the past who was being persecuted. Dorothy reacted as a human being.” (Michael Harrington, in R. R. Troester, ed., “Voices from the Catholic Worker,” 1993, p. 76)

    Harrington shows that Day’s action was not a judgment in conformity with the Church’s teaching against Catholics giving support to Communists, but a decision she made in defiance of the “papal text”–Pope Pius XII’s 1949 ban issued under pain of excommunication.

  • I have been following (though not reading every word) of this dialogue about Dorothy Day and various ideological and social systems. If I may be permitted, I would like to point out a couple of examples of where ideology and reality do not coincide.

    First, all the discussion so far has stressed the Marxist/Communist goal of the abolition of private property and its replacement by “communal property.” However, our current President (a disciple of both Alinsky and Day) and indeed the entire Leftist movement in the United States has not at any time during my lifetime advocated anything other than the consolidation of all resources as state property (one might as well say, “the private property of the state”). Certainly the current administration is not, so far as I know, taking any steps to abolish property or to create communes. Instead more and more centralization of power in the hands of the federal government in Washington is taking place.

    I must confess to confusion here. In theory, Marxism advocates abolition of property and the state whereas in practice it makes the State the sole legal owner of productive property. So which is it? If Day is right and Marxism consists of abolition of the State and the institution of communes, then there is no Left in the United States. Even the Communist Party USA supports Obama’s centralizing and statist actions (including the confiscation of all private firearms, which would make “violent revolution” impossible). Where is the anarchism in any of this? Where is the commune? The abolition of “property?” I don’t see it. If this is Marxism, then Day and co. were not Marxists. If, however, what Day and Co. advocate was Marxism, then the extreme statism and centralization which the current administration is implementing is not Marxism. I am neither an intellectual nor an economist and I do not make these observations to argue with anyone, but simply to ask for help in how to interpret all this.

    As all of you probably know, there is a sector of the American Right that is descended the Populists of the late 19th century which actually teaches that the entire Left is merely a “front” for the old American establishment (the Rockefellers, Morgans, Carnegies, Fords, etc.) and that its goal consists of nothing other than the centralization of all productive property in the hands of the US government–the ultimate “capitalist monopoly.” And indeed one must ask why a wealthy class that had the government in its pocket would oppose such a state monopoly, since in a state controlled by them they would be the de-facto owners.

    This means that it is often the American Right that is anti-state (and indeed, often anarchist). The so-called “Old Right” in America considered the United States government as a much greater threat than the Communist party or any radical organization, and this position has experienced a renaissance since the end of the Cold War. The same Right that formerly defended the military draft as an all-American answer to the threat of Communism now (as did the Old Right during World War II) opposes both the draft and even the military. I can certainly see the Old Right (and certain sectors of the contemporary Right) being horrified by, for example, the alleged suggestion by J. Edgar Hoover that habeas corpus be suspended in the event of war or national emergency (they certainly cut Abraham Lincoln no slack).

    While there is definitely a difference between the American (largely low-church Protestant) Right and the Catholic Right of Europe, the two do sometimes converge in their denunciations of “the money power,” “finance capitalism,” “plutocracy,” etc. One strain of Rightist philosophy would nationalize the entire financial sector and run it like the post office–I believe this is held in common by distrubutists, social credit advocates, and even Coughlinites.

    For that matter, I am puzzled by the fact that Dorothy Day is regarded as a hero while Father Charles Coughlin is considered a villain when they were both on the “Left.” Coughlin advocated nationalization of vital industries, minimum wage legislation, and minimum wage legislation as well as legislation to curb “individualism.” Perhaps the difference in the two is that Coughlin was a “statist” Leftist while Day was an “anarchist” and “communalist” Leftist. All I can say is that if Marxism is defined as some on the Right define it (a plot of the wealthy to enhance state control), then Coughlin was more of a Marxist than Day appears to have ever been.

    This is the heart of my confusion. On the one hand, the Left is said to be an anti-authoritarian, grassroots movement of “the masses” against their rulers. On the other hand, in practice, it behaves like an elitist, statist movement of the highest segments of society and a few intellectuals to subject the “masses” to the totalitarian rule of the state. And whereas in Russia and China there was a revolution first which destroyed the old government, apparently in America the government of 1789 is considered quite competent to be the totalitarian ruling authority (hence the Leftist opposition to private firearms ownership and “anti-government rhetoric”).

    I said at the outset I had two points to make, and here is the second one: according to the Left (and some on the Right) the Establishment/elite/ruling class/nobility/whatever encourage “mysticism” as a way to dupe and exploit “the common people,” who are held to be by nature a sort of coterie of anti-mystical materialists and freethinkers (a whole group of Voltaires). This is something that is directly contradictory to all my experience. All my life I have observed that the common “masses” are by nature religious while the elite/ruling class/what-have-you ridicules religion at every turn and exalts modernity and scientism–with the curious exception of the religions of the “indigenous peoples,” who apparently have always known what Darwin had to “rediscover” for Europeans. If the Left really, truly does enlist “the grassroots masses,” then why isn’t the Left more explicitly religious and “mystical?” It seems that either their enlistment of common people is a total sham, or that common people once enlisted magically transform into modernist materialists. The political behavior of American Blacks (traditionally Fundamentalist Protestant by belief but ultra-radical in their leadership and their politics) is an example that has always puzzled me.

    As I said, I am asking these questions because I do not know the answer to them. Can anyone provide any light?

  • AWT,

    Thanks for the comment. As for your questions…

    “In theory, Marxism advocates abolition of property and the state whereas in practice it makes the State the sole legal owner of productive property. So which is it?”

    Marxist theory posits two stages of communism. The first Marx called the “lower stage”, socialism, the stage that immediately follows the proletarian revolution. During this time the means of production are consolidated by the proletarian “state”, the political apparatus that is used to eliminate the vestiges of bourgeois society and any holdouts who resist. Marx believed that the final stage, true communism, required a degree of technological advancement that would take time to build up, so the “workers state” guards all of the gains of the revolution until such time as “true communism” is achieved. Then, having outlived its purpose, the worker’s state fades away.

    Saul Alinsky descends from one of the many theoretical splits in Marxism. I believe he was a disciple of Antonio Gramsci. Grasmci believed, contrary to Lenin, that a proletarian revolution as envisioned by Marx would not occur in the West. He was the first to advocate the alternative course of the “culture war” – to capture institutions such as the media, the schools, even the churches (especially the churches) and steer society towards socialism in this way.

    I don’t think Obama is a Marxist, by the way. I believe he sympathizes with Marxism culturally, but I think as a matter of policy he is basically a fascist. He does not propose to confiscate all private property and concentrate it in the hands of the state. Instead he collaborates with Wall Street and major international financial institutions to push forward his social agenda.

    “If Day is right and Marxism consists of abolition of the State and the institution of communes, then there is no Left in the United States. Even the Communist Party USA supports Obama’s centralizing and statist actions (including the confiscation of all private firearms, which would make “violent revolution” impossible).”

    Oh, there’s a “left.” The Trotskyites and Maoists and perhaps some other tendencies, who all reject the CPUSA precisely because it is squarely in the Obama camp.

    I don’t think Day was a Marxist either. She was all over the place. She rejected the state here, she looked upon it favorably there. She said things that no serious Marxist would ever say and looked favorably upon Marxist goals. She is what Trotskyists would call a “fellow traveler”, sympathetic to Marxism but really alien to the struggle for proletarian power and therefore, ultimately, an enemy.

    “For that matter, I am puzzled by the fact that Dorothy Day is regarded as a hero while Father Charles Coughlin is considered a villain when they were both on the “Left.”

    I don’t consider Coughlin a villain myself.

    But the simple answer is that Day was, more or less, an egalitarian, while Coughlin had less than polite things to say about the Jews. It is the same basic reason that Stalin obtains a free pass in leftist history (his Trotskyist opponents notwithstanding) while Hitler is the embodiment of all evil. The powers that be value egalitarianism and hate anything that smacks of a hierarchical order. So communism = good, fascism = bad, for this reason alone. Obama has masterfully pursued a fascist agenda while appearing to be a radical egalitarian.

    “This is something that is directly contradictory to all my experience.”

    Of course it is. It is because what you describe as the left’s view is how they view history until THEY seized power in the Gramscian/Alinskian fashion.

  • Thank you for your reply to my questions.

  • Couglin is considered a villain because he got caught up in the anti-semitism of his day. He was very provincial.

  • AWT, Protestant fundamentalism doesn’t necessarily go with conservative politics. We’ve grown used to seeing those two elements together since the 70’s with mainstream Evangelicalism (which by the way was largely a caucasian movement). But Protestant fundamentalists have shifted their political allegience depending on the times and the agendas. Trace fundamentalism to its inception and the proto-fundamentalists going back the late 1800’s. Various causes and political alliances have existed throughout the fundamentalist history.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • @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.

  • 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,
    In Distributism what happens if a worker chooses not to spend all his profits? May he seek a return from his savings? If so, how?

  • @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.

  • @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.

  • “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.

  • @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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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”.

  • 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.

  • “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.”

  • C Matt,

    I misread your question. My apologies. Everything rests on either consent or force. That was my whole point. People should be clear about which they are advocating for.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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+

  • Distributism might benefit from a name change. Suggestions…

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  • 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.

  • 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. |

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • Bonchaps:

    Are you saying that the U.S. led invasion of Iraq was Bolshevistic?

  • @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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • “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

  • 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).

  • 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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22 Responses to Paul Ryan and Catholic Social Teaching (Roundup)

  • It’s been a while since you’ve posted here Chris.

  • While not perfect, Ryan offers a vision that is not contrary to CST. He does seem to get it wrong when he equates subsidiarity with Federalism. However, Federalism does not seem contrary to the concept of solidarity or subsidiarity and so seems a reasonable position to hold. In fact his error seems less eggregious than the one of equating solidarity with increased state involvement, increased taxes etc. So perhaps a B+ in his understanding. (Perhaps a good a grade as most clerics unfortunately would receive.)

    A solid A however, for offering a position which is consistent with CST and challenges those who believe CST is merely a theological formulation of leftist programs or fringe, quasi-economic theories.

  • In Ayn Rand more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and this to me is what matters most.

    Yeah, because those are two points that are really popular to defend outside of the libertarian circles and the standard Crazy Old Uncle….

    If folks have an issue with Ryan’s claim, please– explain who does it better? Not like ‘capitalism’ as a label is all that old; it’s not like the religious calls to groups over individuals haven’t been co-opted for political aims.

    I’m not going to hold my breath for a Bishop to defend the dignity of the poor when it comes to not being treated like house pets.

  • The best defense of the Ryan budget is this quote from Adam Smith:

    “When national debts have once been accumulated to a certain degree, there is scarce, I believe, a single instance of their having been fairly and completely paid. The liberation of the public revenue,if it has ever been brought about at all, has always been brought about by bankruptcy; sometimes by an avowed one, but always by a real one, though frequently by a pretend payment.”

    We reduce expenditures radically, or ultimately our economy will take a blow that we will be decades recovering from. I guarantee that in such a circumstance the poor will suffer more than any of us.

  • “We reduce expenditures radically, or ultimately our economy will take a blow that we will be decades recovering from. I guarantee that in such a circumstance the poor will suffer more than any of us.”

    This is one way to state the obvious. There is saying I used to hear all the time during my Navy days was that” S@#t rolls down hill.” I would have to say that principle applies here.

  • Note that it is possible to be guided by Catholic social teaching (which, as far as I can tell, is all that Ryan actually claimed) yet arrive at a conclusion the bishops find unsatisfactory.
    This is Ryan’s job – he undoubtably knows more about the facts and constraints of the problems than do the bishops. Many would like a solution that continues to fund entitlements as they are, but actual facts and constraints dictate that it is not possible to do that.
    The comments about ‘failing to protect the dignity of the poor’ sounds like a reflexive response. Many government programs erode that dignity; we are long overdue for an examination of the harmful effects that result. For example, school-lunch programs have expanded so much that they now cover multiple meals per day and almost everyone is eligible. Doesn’t this erode the dignity of parenthood, by removing the responsibility of feeding your own children?
    Many objected to welfare reform, too, decades ago…

  • Well, they didn’t exactly say Ryan is starving little children.

    The bishops don’t understand. The government is the problem.

    Case in point: in the first quarter 2012, the national debt expanded to $15.6 trillion. That is higher than the US gross domestic product for that date; and 1.5-times the percentage growth rate growth rate of the evil, unjust private sector GDP for which the Obama regime needs four more years to compete its destruction. Add to that unfunded commitments at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels and it’s HUGE.

    The national debt and local requirements will impoverish our children and grandchildren.

    Additionally, Re: Matthew 25 (it’s only in Matthew) doesn’t read: “I was hungry and you voted for Obama (fed me), I was thirsty and you attacked a Catholic Congressman (gave me to drink), . . . You get it.

    At the Final Judgment (Matt. 25): if you did it with other people’s money, it was not Charity.

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  • It’s precisely the way he has handled the Ayn Rand story that gives me pause on defending him. It appears to me that he wants to pretend that he never held her up as a model, but the record shows otherwise. When I see Paul Ryan defending life and marriage with as much passion as he defends the dollar, I’ll be more apt to be convinced.

  • [Foxfier] “If folks have an issue with Ryan’s claim, please– explain who does it better?”

    The problem for me is that there’s too much baggage attached to ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to see a Catholic politician promoting it to the extent that Ryan has. Recalling my tortured reading, I found it to be thinly-veiled propaganda piece in which Rand’s own Objectivism is piled on pretty heavily. Egoism reigns supreme. For me, it’s difficult to extract from Rand’s book a “morality of capitalism” that isn’t already tainted by her own philosophy and anthropology. It wasn’t just the left that opposed Rand’s philosophy, but mainstream conservatism as well

    As far as individuals who Ryan might have praised as having articulated an ethic of democratic capitalism, Ryan would have made a better impression if he mentioned F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, or better yet, Michael Novak (The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism) and John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus.

    For Ryan to consistently wax evangelical about Ayn Rand’s and Atlas Shrugged through the past decade, only to suddenly in the past week have an about-face and disclaim that her philosophy is wholly “anti-thetical to his own” strikes me as a bit … “opportune”. Why now? — well, if genuine I’m happy about his sudden revelation.

    That said, with respect to Paul Ryan’s work in Washingon — his budget proposals, his spearheading the critique of Obamacare at the health care summit, et al., I’m supportive. Clearly, he’s one of the few who actually gives a damn about where this country is headed and wants to do something about it. To those who criticize his efforts on the budget, I agree with Professor Garnet: the onus is on them to respond to the challenges that he identifies.

    [Greg] “It’s been a while since you’ve posted here Chris.”

    Thanks. Work has been crazy, but I’m appreciative to still have the opportunity. =)

  • Fully agreed, Don (on Ryan’s pro-life record).

  • Agreed with Lisa and Christopher on their qualms re: Ryan and Atlas Shrugged. I’ve written about the book before, and there is little redeeming about the tome. As Christopher said above, there are plenty of other great works that defend capitalism much more concisely and thoroughly without being morally objectionable. That said, Ryan’s record demonstrates a solid commitment to social issues as well.

  • All I know is that letting capitalism work and a free market system seemed to create enough income for our fairly large family with enough to share with those less fortunate, the pro-life cause, Native American needs. Now since the sewage of government intervention continually seeps into every aspect of our operation we have less money, therefore less time as we have to work more off the farm jobs, longer hours for much less and are so tired we are having a hard time keeping up with any of it.
    surely you cannot think that Paul Ryan’s plan would not take care of those truly in need. That’s what the goal should be. It might be hard for people at first but if the country could get back to work and real earned income came back into the system we might be able to pull out of this. As long as we continue to be socially engineered we haven’t got a chance. I still don’t understand how BO got elected in the first place. Gotta go, have to change light bulbs in the barn, and put soap in the milkhouse sink or we’ll get kicked off Grade A. “rules” ya better not break or the “inspectors” will make your life miserable.

  • Christopher B-
    I didn’t say “articulated an ethic of democratic capitalism,” I specifically quoted the explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.

    Others may do a better job in covering the technicalities and whys and all the things that are important once you have the idea, but Rand is accessible to those who don’t already agree.
    Terry Pratchett has a running joke about “That is a very graphic analogy which aids understanding wonderfully while being, strictly speaking, wrong in every possible way”. The more I teach folks, the more that makes perfect sense.

    Incidentally? Searching on Bing for “The Spirit of Democratic Populism” brings up zero results.

    The other examples that come to mind are Animal Farm and the various movies that have clones as main characters who are going to be killed for their organs. Inaccurate. Drama over accuracy, and world view taints them…but they humanize a view enough for people to consider the reality.

  • Yes, Rep. Ryan’s about-face is peculiar (to put it gently), but here’s hoping.

    It’s probably giving Rand entirely too much credit to call her “philosophy” a philosophy, though her enthusiasts certainly wax flatulent in their praise of her “insights.” One called her the “corrector of Aristotle,” which makes me profusely thank God that I did not have a beverage making its way to my innards at the time.

    In fact, it’s best to think of Rand as the distaff half of the coin to L. Ron Hubbard, as I said to the misguided Rand groupie. The parallels are interesting:

    both were moderately talented (if woefully unedited) writers. Each wrote science fiction, or at least future-oriented fiction, and each enjoyed considerable success in the 50s. Both developed grandiose notions about their competence outside of the field of fiction writing, and each developed what they regarded as systematic wholistic philosophies for living and interacting with fellow humans. Both still have significant, if decidedly minority, followings today, and have followers who make unsupportable claims about their intellectual legacies and the applicability of their legacies to the problems of today.

    That said (and there was more than the simple motivation to zing Rand), I think it’s a little overblown to worry about someone getting ensnared into an objectivist worldview. It’s idiosyncratic, and only seems to have worked for an egotistical horny Russian emigre’ pulp writer of the female persuasion. Most will cull from it a few bits regarding the dangers of collectivism and move on. The rest can be ignored as they toil away in their cubicles.

  • Christopher B-
    found it, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism;” a political conversion story probably won’t change minds unless they’ve already been prepped to at least consider the idea that they could be wrong, and the emotional impact of a story tends to do that. (Side note: haven’t read any of Rand’s stuff, I can’t stand stories that are sermons before they’re stories, and folks whose taste I trust have told me that’s what she wrote. I just know that’s a strange turn of taste, and I know a large number of formerly unthinkingly leftist folks who are now slightly less unthinking libertarians because of Rand, and some who already went through that stage and are now fairly conservative, or at least think about why they think what they think.)

  • “a political conversion story probably won’t change minds unless they’ve already been prepped to at least consider the idea that they could be wrong”

    Perhaps. (Sorry for the ‘populism’ typo earlier, corrected). But to give some credit to Novak’s work — despite it being non-fiction, it has gone through a number of underground printings and being an inin then-socialist nations in the 80’s (Communist Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc.) and changed a few minds.

    I agree with your point — giving credit where it’s due, Atlas Shrugged has probably change quite a few minds from the left-wing socialist persuasion. Even so, Rand’s “capitalist ethic” insofar as it manifests itself in her fiction seems to me too irretrievably tainted by her pure egoism and materialism, leaving no room for altruisim (or even religion). There’s a reason why mainstream conservativism sought to distance itself from it upon publication (ex. Big sister is Watching You, Whittaker Chambers National Review 1957; or more recently, Paul’s own review).

    In the end, Ayn Rand’s fiction puts forth the worst kind of stereotype of “capitalism” (and the nature of the capitalist) that you could ask for — and insofar as we do Randian’s ethic is lauded as an ideal to be pursued, liberals couldn’t ask for anything better as a target.

    Hence not the kind of work I’d envision a professed Catholic peddling to the degree that Ryan has done over the years, so I’m relieved at hearing of his “repudiation” and hope for the best.

  • (Sorry for the ‘populism’ typo earlier, corrected).

    I insert totally different words related to a topic all the time, especially when I’m talking. Part of why I love typing instead– I can go back over and re-read in hopes of catching really bad examples. Probably some kind of diagnosable thingie, if I wasn’t just fine calling it me being all flutter-brains.

    In the end, Ayn Rand’s fiction puts forth the worst kind of stereotype of “capitalism” (and the nature of the capitalist) that you could ask for — and insofar as we do Randian’s ethic is lauded as an ideal to be pursued, liberals couldn’t ask for anything better as a target.

    Agreed– but it does so in a sympathetic way. I really wish that most folks my age were objective enough to not believe the worst stereotype of “the other side” was accurate, but that isn’t so; having a book that appeals to their existing tendencies while being Kabuki Heartless Capitalism is pretty effective. College libertarians aren’t great to be around, but they beat college anarchists.

  • The World cannot embrace the truth. If it could, capitalism would need no defense.

    Capitalism may be the worst economic system, except for all the others.

    Go to the historical record. Capitalism stands apart from other so-called economic systems. Anti-capitalist nations devolved into hell holes of universal envy and mass brigandage. They had one common denominator: command economy/socialism.

    Capitalism is the cure for poverty.

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  • I believe the criticisms of Paul Ryan and his admiration for Ayn Rand are examples of jumping to false conclusions or at least jumping to “false concerns.”

    Ryan is not inconsistent when he states being influenced by Rand’s economics, yet does not accept her philosophy in toto. Moreover, based upon what Ryan proposes, it should be obvious to even the casual reader that he goes way beyond anything that Rand would approve. How about letting these actions speak for themselves instead of lamenting over Ryan’s appreciation of Randian economic principles?

    As Aquinas was said to have “baptized” Aristotle, if you take all of what Ryan proposes, plus his pro-life and other Catholic stances, etc., you don’t have to conclude that he “baptizes” Rand, but he does find ways to take what Rand teaches (as well as others) and incorporate some of those insights into an approach consistent with Catholic teaching.

    But similar to the fallacy known as Reductio ad Hitlerum, some are jumping all over Paul Ryan in what might be called Reductio ad Ayn Rand despite the fact that Paul Ryan has distanced himself from many aspects of Randian philosophy that does not square with Catholic teaching. Ryan has made the distinctions clear, his actions illustrate this, and yet some people see his admiration for Ayn Rand economics as his defining characteristic, or it is considered to be very troubling.

    Here’s a logic-type question for all those who do not believe Ryan is “Catholic enough” in his economic philosophy because of his admiration for Randian economic libertarianism, and he “should” distance himself more from Rand:

    If Ryan’s appreciation for Ayn Rand is problematic because of some Randian views that do not square with Catholic teaching, then why is it not equally problematic to accept and even praise government involvement in various programs that help the poor to some extent, since the government champions many views that don’t square with Catholic teaching?

    Double Standard?

    DB
    Omnia Vincit Veritas

    P.S. I set forth a series of questions regarding “Moralnomics and the US Bishops” at my blog. If interested, you can check it out at:

    http://vlogicusinsight.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/moralnomics-what-the-us-bishops-fail-to-realize/

What Is This Wicked Capitalism?

Thursday, October 21, AD 2010

One of the difficulties that comes in discussing the many “isms” that populate the landscape of political discussion is that very often people use the same words without mean the same things, or indeed without having any clearly defined idea of what they do mean. While this is the case with nearly any ism (socialism, liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, etc.) I’d like to address in this case the way in which opponents (particularly Christian opponents) of “capitalism” tend to address the object of their condemnation. This is in some ways a beautifully typical example of a Christian opponent of capitalism attempting to describe what it is he is condemning:

We must remember the capitalistic system we live in also is a materialistic ideology which runs contrary to the Christian faith, and it is a system which is used to create rival, and equally erroneous, forms of liberation theology. It is as atheistic as Marxism. It is founded upon a sin, greed. It promises utopia, telling us that if we allow capitalist systems to exist without regulation, everyone, including the poor, will end up being saved. The whole “if we allow the rich to be rich, they will give jobs to the poor” is just as much a failed ideology as Marxist collectivism.

Admittedly, this is a somewhat muddled set of statements, but I think we can draw out of it the following statements which the author, and many other self described critics of capitalism (in particular from a religious perspective) believe to be true:
-Capitalism is a system or ideology much as Communism is.
-Capitalism is based on greed or takes greed to be a virtue.
-Capitalism is a materialistic or atheistic philosophy/system.
-Capitalism could be summed up as the idea that “if we allow the rich to be rich, they will give jobs to the poor”
-Capitalism promises utopia if “capitalist systems” are allowed to exist without regulation.

While one approach to this is simply to throw out the term “capitalism” entirely, what I’d like to do is accept that claim that we live in a “capitalist” system and that this system is roughly what libertarians/conservatives advocate, and proceed to address the claims made about “capitalism” in that context.

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31 Responses to What Is This Wicked Capitalism?

  • “If anything, capitalism is based very much on the assumption that human nature will remain the same as it has been in the past.”

    And that is one of the safest predictions about the human condition that anyone can ever make.

  • I think the only people who might be labeled as capitalist utopians are Randians. Even that might be stretching it.

  • Both capitalism and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves… And this ideological promise has proven false.

  • True, Paul, though Randians seem to want more than just the private ownership of the means of production in order to produce their utopia.

  • Henry,

    Where did capitalism “promise to point out the path for the creation of just structures”? Was that in the Capitalist Manifesto written by Mr. Capital?

  • The closest thing one might find to a “Capitalist Manifesto” would be Wealth of Nations. Although Smith argues that free market economies are more productive and more beneficial for society, I don’t recall anything that “promise[d] to point out the path for the creation of just structures”.

    Of course, it’s been 20+ years since I read it, so my memory may be faulty.

  • “Was that in the Capitalist Manifesto written by Mr. Capital?”

    ROFL

    It’s individualism that is condemned by the Church – not capitalism. You can have collective or cooperative forms of capitalism.

  • The closest thing one might find to a “Capitalist Manifesto” would be Wealth of Nations. Although Smith argues that free market economies are more productive and more beneficial for society, I don’t recall anything that “promise[d] to point out the path for the creation of just structures”.

    To be honest, I haven’t read Wealth Of Nations since college, though I did read Theory Of Moral Sentiments fairly recently. I’m not sure I’d say Smith really seems to talk about “just structures” one way or the other. He thinks that freer trade will tend to result in better outcomes, and that’s about as far as he goes. Morally he’s a very psycholical/emperical kind of fellow, and as such it seems to me that while he’s very solid on how people tend to relate to each other and to experiences, he’s not the sort you’d turn to for any kind of sweeping moral vision.

    It we take Smith as the “Mr. Capital” of capitalism, it seems to me that capitalism is the very opposite of utopian.

  • Excerpted from a WSJ Letter to the Editor, today:

    FDR got by because almost no one understood how bad government policy distorts the economy by misallocating resources. Today many understand that the current recession is rooted in the massive distortions caused by the (bipartisan) political crusade for making home ownership affordable to nearly everyone.

    In the 1930s very few people understood that government policies meant to stimulate the economy are counterproductive. Today, in contrast, we have abundant evidence that further government interventions can only prolong and increase our economic distress. Many knew that the “stimulus” spending would fail to lower unemployment even before the bills were passed. Now only deep idealogs believe more government action will be our salvation.
    Better economic comprehension today is creating very choppy waters for President Obama and his party.

    Before my lib genius brothers get your knickers in a bunch, here’s a pithy quote from Congressional Research Service; 2/1/2010; “Government Interventions in Response to Financial Turmoil” – Summary:

    “ . . . an unprecedented housing boom turned to a housing bust.”

    And, you can thank Andrew Cuomo and Christine Gillibrand for it.

    I am not current with on the books. I’ve been working in this financial services whirlwind for 33 years, and his is the fourth or fifth (and direst, is tha a word?) financial crisis I’ve experienced.

    What is just about mass brigandage? – Whether I do it or the government, it’s theft.

  • Funny to see the great Catholics mocking Pope Benedict here.

  • For those mocking Pope Benedict, you might want a longer quote:

    The problems of Latin America and the Caribbean, like those of today’s world, are multifaceted and complex, and they cannot be dealt with through generic programmes. Undoubtedly, the fundamental question about the way that the Church, illuminated by faith in Christ, should react to these challenges, is one that concerns us all. In this context, we inevitably speak of the problem of structures, especially those which create injustice. In truth, just structures are a condition without which a just order in society is not possible. But how do they arise? How do they function? Both capitalism and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves; they declared that not only would they have no need of any prior individual morality, but that they would promote a communal morality. And this ideological promise has been proved false. The facts have clearly demonstrated it. The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful oppression of souls. And we can also see the same thing happening in the West, where the distance between rich and poor is growing constantly, and giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness.

    Ask Blosser if you need help finding what Pope Benedict has said. He has it on his Ratzinger blog. Oh, and btw, you just proved my point. Thank you. Good bye.

  • Henry,

    Your attempt to quote Benedict completely out of context, and then accuse others of mocking him, does not say much for your ability to engage the topic at hand, or indeed comprehend it.

    Proof-testing is not argumentation, nor a valid path to knowledge, as you should well know.

    Benedict is not addressing the relative merits and differences of Marxism and capitalism as systems in that passage, nor their origins or natures. Rather, he is relating historically how attempts to treat either Marxism or capitalism as if they would, in and of themselves, create just systems, failed in the Latin America.

    The key difference between capitalism and Marxism in this respect, as I pointed out and you have failed or refused to understand, is that is that capitalism is not in the first place a utopian system that claims to have such an ability.

  • Funny to see the great Catholics mocking Pope Benedict here.

    This post mocks Pope Benedict in the same way that jokes about grown men living in their parents’ basement mocks the traditional family.

  • I don’t even think he wrote that as pope.

    But some people love blindly following authorities more than they do thinking. A lot of popes have said a lot of things about a lot of economic issues. But there have been no decrees forbidding anyone from starting a business and making a profit.

  • “This post mocks Pope Benedict in the same way that jokes about grown men living in their parents’ basement mocks the traditional family.”

    Best comment of the week BA!

  • Actually, I would agree with the more full Benedict quote (though perhaps Henry would not) and indeed would go further and say that no economic system will create just structures by itself and without prior individual morality by promoting communal morality. It is not in the capacity fo an economic system to do such thing.

  • “This post mocks Pope Benedict in the same way that jokes about grown men living in their parents’ basement mocks the traditional family.”

    😉

    Awesome!!!

  • “I don’t even think he wrote that as pope.”

    He did: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2007/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20070513_conference-aparecida_en.html

    Funny to see the great Catholics mocking Pope Benedict here

    Mocking, no, as BA humorously pointed out. Disagreement? You have a better case, though you could use more evidence/argumentation.

  • Ah. I stand corrected. Still, I’ll wait for the statement that says we can’t start businesses or make profits.

    On the other hand, we do have pretty clear denunciations of socialism, such as I referenced in my last post.

    The neo-Calvinists at Vox Nova, though, holding to their view of the depravity of man, believe that a large managerial state is the necessary requisite of charity and justice.

    If only they could see how it destroys and mocks both.

  • Maybe a better way to “sum up” capitalism in one little sound bite would be “if you let people control their own resources, they’ll make better choices”? Or maybe “Each person is best suited to watching his own interests”? Still a bit broad for an economic system…. Maybe “Let people spend their own money, and they won’t waste as much”?

  • Henry,

    Where did capitalism “promise to point out the path for the creation of just structures”? Was that in the Capitalist Manifesto written by Mr. Capital?

    “Was that in the Capitalist Manifesto written by Mr. Capital?”

    ROFL

    —-

    The comments were mocking a quote of Pope Benedict. It is clear how clueless the people who comment here really are. I just quoted that text. You can’t say I said anything out of context– I just quoted the text. And the text you mocked. And you can’t get away from “the bigger quote is fine.” You mocked what the quote says.

    People can see. You have been shown for what you are. Spin as you want, the words of the Pope were ridiculed.

  • “Actually, I would agree with the more full Benedict quote (though perhaps Henry would not) and indeed would go further and say that no economic system will create just structures by itself and without prior individual morality by promoting communal morality.”

    Then why did you attack a post which said just that?

  • Henry,

    You quoted one line of Benedict’s out of context in a way that suggested:

    – They were your own words written specifically to respond to the post
    – That you were attempting to argue by assertion that capitalism did, in and of itself, as a system, make the promise that it would create just structures

    Given that you had provided no back-up for this assertion, this was rather mockable. and the whole gambit becomes more so when you fall into this whole “you mock Benedict” line. Now, if you want to say any thing in response to the actual post, that would be most welcome. Conversations are best when they are two way. For instance, perhaps you have an importanit source or thinker you would like to cite which you believe demonstrates that capitalism is widely believed or represented to create just structures on it’s own and irrespective of individual morality.

    However if your going to continue this silly “you mock the pope” line without bothering to address the topic at hand, I’ll simply leave your comments inthe moderation queue, as further travel down that road would go well past silly and into pathetic.

  • Actually we already passed pathetic in the Political Miscellania thread where mocking the selfish, gravely slothful and exploitive was turned into mocking the tradional family.

    Plagiarizing is a new low. It doesn’t matter if the intent was to decieve the readers into thinking the plagiarist was more insightful than he actually is or if it was a shallow and immature attempt to win a self-serving gotcha point. It’s just a shameful new low. I’ve seen a lot of silliness on the internet and regretably contributed to it, but I have never witnessed a thing such as this.

  • Henry apparently has gotten into one of his fits where he alone discerns that his opponent has betrayed their true wickedness, and will spend the rest of the thread denouncing the opponent as revealing their darkness, while every other onlooker is bewildered at what he’s talking about. It won’t matter if you explicitly tell him you don’t think what he ascribes to you, for he has secret knowledge about your views that not even you know. Quite sad, really.

  • The neo-Calvinists at Vox Nova, though, holding to their view of the depravity of man, believe that a large managerial state is the necessary requisite of charity and justice.

    But even a large managerial state is made up of depraved men, so it does not seem to be a solution to the depravity of man.

  • “Capitalism is based on greed or takes greed to be a virtue.”

    This is asserted by people on the right and left who lack an understanding of virtue as the golden mean. A proportionate interest in profit isn’t greed. It’s appropriate. Profit is a means to an end; the goal is freedom from want. Greed is an excess; animosity towards the flesh is the corresponding absence.

    The Randers get a kick out of saying that greed or selfishness is a virtue. It’s kind of sad, because they’re doing it to “shock the squares”, even though no one’s been shocked by a Rander in decades. As ideologues, they are attracted to extremes, so they err toward an excess of desire for wealth.

    The left sees the capitalist embrace of wealth and assumes it’s an excess. They point to the Trumps of the world and believe that the capitalist sees him as a role model. It’s possible to see the profit motive as virtuous and still recognize Trump as the embodiment of every embarrassing vice.

  • I believe the Pope is infallible in matters of Faith and Morals. I do not think that quote infers that a person who kept himself sane and sober and worked hard for a livin to support his wife and children as best he could AND does not believe that the overnment is a solution, but a problem is an evil person.

    If so, I imaine the vatican has unli9mited funds.

  • And then, Henry was silent.

    You write with clarity and truth Darwin. It would be nice if your critics responded to the actual words and ideas written in these excellent posts.

  • Well, I think Spengler had already caught on to the idea that capitalism and socialism/marxism/communism are but two sides to the same coin. Of course in practice it’s a continuum. But what I’m trying to say is that it’s all people’s attempts to cope and hopefully thrive in a post-Fall context–and they aren’t aware that a fall occured. Economic and political systems have a tendency to dispense with God and to rival his kingdom’s claims.

  • “Labeling this tendency to respond better to perceivable benefits as “greed” seems rather harsh — one might as well say that cooking is motivated entirely by gluttony.”

    Or that marriage is motivated entirely by lust, or that asking for days off from work is motivated entirely by sloth. Or that the invention/discovery of fire was motivated by a desire to commit serial arson. ANY human desire or tendency can become sinful if indulged to excess; that doesn’t negate the fact that there is usually a legitimate and beneficial way to exercise that desire.

48 Responses to Thomas Woods and His Critics, The Austrian vs. Distributist Debate Among Catholics

  • Good post, David. Off-topic, but are you in CL?

  • Great post – I agree this discussion is fascinating. IT it is very much improved by the frank admission and acceptance of the principle of the autonomy of the temporal order, and the civility of the contributors to the discussion. I hope to see more posts like this here.

  • I hate this post. I don’t like things that remind me of how poorly read I am. 😉

    In seriousness, thank you very much for writing this; I think it will give people like me a basis for understanding this debate. Now if only you could out enough time to go with the many links!

  • Great roundup. Thanks.

    Let us generalize about right-liberals and libertarians of various stripes (I might be described as paleo-libertarian, but the concept still seems to me to be in development, and I dislike all liberalism):

    Insofar as they are fine with a determinism of the “free market” economic conduct, they are wrong:
    by this I mean a view that the market is incompatible with ethics. “Efficiency” is NEVER to be valued above morality. The “market” has NO “inner logic.”

    Thus a good society is built upon the morality of its people, and culture is more important than politics and the construction of economic structures.

    Market-Determinism, it might be called, is anti-human, just as collectivism is anti-human (Ayn Rand was right about the Soviet Union and wrong about herself).

    Markets come from society. They are social institutions, flowing from law and custom. A market mechanism punishes inefficiency – great. But morality and family (and from family, tribe, and from tribe, nation, if a nation is not to have large-scale internal conflict) must be the foundational basis of organizing influence upon a polis.

  • Chris,

    Absolutely.

  • I have one issue with this debate – it seems too narrowly framed. Although I admire distributism, I don’t really regard myself as one. It’s a little narrow in its focus. And the Austrians are a little kooky and fringe. The real argument is between Catholics who support the postwar experiment in Christian democracy (which, as the pope says, is very close to social democracy in its economic aspects), and the resurgent laissez-faire liberalism that held sway long before Hayek started worrying about welfare states and dictators.

  • I’m curious about something and would like to it throw something out here. I am not very well read on economics, but I’m under the impression there are no major true laissez-faire capitalist voices out there. My impression is that most everyone acknowledges a role of the government in the economy, and that the debate is really one of degree and type of involvement. Is that a fair assessment?

  • resurgent laissez-faire liberalism

    The Libertarian Party is good for 0.7% of the national vote. Dr. Paul won about 5 1/2% of the Republican primary and caucus ballots two years ago; Alan Keyes once did about as well.

  • MM,

    If you really want to talk about real, current alternatives in the current political and economic landscape, I’m not clear that Christian Democracy or even Social Democracy are much on the table either.

    If I were to venture a guess though, I think that the appeal of Distributism for many Catholic readers/writers is that:

    a) It is a specifically Catholic phenomenon, which Social Democracy is not and Christian Democracy only partly is and

    b) For many Catholics, I think that the European example of Christian Democracy and Social Democracy in the post-war years is seen as tainted by what seems to have followed naturally from it: a breakdown of the communal in favor of the individual, and a relationship between individual and state replacing other more subsidiary relationships.

    Distributism, in it more communitarian forms, appeals to those who might be more receptive to ideas of Christian Democracy if they hadn’t seen how it worked out in reality. In that Distributism has (or can have) communitarian elements, yet lacks the centralizing and statist impulses of Christian Democracy, its fans hope that it would fair better.

  • Regarding a supposedly resurgent laissez-faire liberalism….since when exactly? Maybe in the time of McKinley and Taft, but certainly not since the first large-scale American centralizations, which began with Wilson (who could make W. Bush look like the head of the ACLU) and continued with the New Deal and the Great Society and continues right on up to the corporatist spirit and value transferrence of….well, today’s Republicans and Democrats (although, hey, maybe the big banks and companies and major foundations and Wall Street crowds will give a lot less to leftist parties and causes this year, given the economy – typically they fill up those coffers).

    The real argument is, increasinly, between our elites (government, media, big business, big public sector labor unions, ethnic activists, those that transfer instead of create value) and the folks really getting hammered – small business owners, family farms, manufacturers, ect (ie people that make our economy hum and don’t want to think too much about politics as they raise their families). Douthat hinted at this yesterday: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/opinion/06douthat.html?_r=1&ref=rossdouthat

  • My impression is that most everyone acknowledges a role of the government in the economy, and that the debate is really one of degree and type of involvement. Is that a fair assessment?

    I’d say so. These days even anarchists acknowledge a role for government.

  • Chris,

    Thanks for this excellent overview!

    Many of you know that I am intimately involved in this dispute. I was a contributor to the Distributist Review, and was unceremoniously dumped when I began to take more libertarian positions.

    Indeed I have been characterized as a “Distributarian” for my attempt to reconcile the two positions (and I thank you for including my old article, my first attempt at that).

    I have been fascinated with the work of Hayek and Ropke, and I have come to believe ever-more strongly in the positive goodness of economic liberty. I think my evolution is quite similar to David Jones’, in that it is impossible for me not to acknowledge what the Austrians get right.

    Those who want to learn more about my perspective are also invited to read:

    http://joeahargrave.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/markets-and-morality-ron-paul-and-wilhelm-ropke/

    http://joeahargrave.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/the-distributist-manifesto/

  • Blackadder,

    Yes I am in CL. Drop me an email if you desire.

  • The Distributists err when they claim the Austrians are a bunch of heretics. In Catholic Social Doctrine there is the principle of the “Autonomy of the Temporal Order”. The Church does not mandate we embrace a specific economic (or political) model. The Church has been critical of both Socialism and Capitalism in the past, but also recognizes that we live in a global economy today. The prudential application of moral principles can be applied in both a Distributist and Capitalist economic model.

    Actually, the charge is that the Austrians deny that the Church has any sort of teaching role in economic matters (and the concomitant claim that economics is completely separate from ethics). The Church does not mandate any particular order for all polities, but it does provide general principles.

  • (and *affirm* the concomitant claim that economics is completely separate from ethics).

  • Let me also say that I agree with Johnathan Jones about the importance of culture. We cannot have Locke without Burke. We cannot have freedom without values. We cannot have liberty without Christ!

    But having said all that, I believe many of the critics of economic liberalism undermine the free-will that is inherent in human nature, that is a property of the souls God gave us. It is free-will that bestows a dignity upon man above all of the animals; it is free-will that makes us moral beings. To undermine free-will by attempting to micromanage the economy is to degrade humanity, in my opinion. There should certainly be a framework, but within it, there should be as much freedom as possible.

    I think we are voluntary collectivists by nature. So I reject involuntary collectivism as well as voluntary individualism. And I think Christianity is ultimately voluntary collectivism, and what we ought to be working towards.

  • Excellent. Thanks for taking the time to put all that together – I hope to get through it all someday.

    I think a great point made, that deserves to be mentioned again, is that the issue is morality, virtue and character.

    Austrians maybe right about the market (I happen to agree); however, men are not angels. Although the market is the preferred method for ferreting out problems, it fails without Church (conscience) and government (fair broker). The problems we face are that we do not have a church in this country, we have churches and although there is really only One Church in truth, we are not there yet. We also have to deal with the fact that centralized statist power necessarily attracts men of low character and questionable morality, if any. Therefore, the government is not a fair broker.

    The government and the corporatists look out for each other at the expense of everyone else. This is what caused Jesus to flip tables in the Temple.

    We need to have this debate; however, in order for it to be something more than an academic and theoretical one, we need to restore the US Constitution, apply subsidiarity (federalism) and restore the moral order – first within ourselves, our Church, our communities and then elect men of character as our representatives. Then this discussion can have practical results.

    In the current corporatist-statist paradigm neither Austrian theory, nor Distributism have any place. We are given the option of Socialism leading to Communism leading to an evil oligarchy and reducing us to serfs (slaves), or Capitalism leading to corporate usurers being in control leading to an oligarchy and reducing us to employees (slaves). The result is the same either way.

    Me thinks the majority of people given the latter two choices, would prefer either of the former choices as an economic system for this country.

  • In meaning that culture is more important than politics, and that the family is the very foundation of a good society, it should also be noted that the strands of activist statism and liberalism (because even right-liberalism is an invitation to statism, as “freedom” is isolating and people become open to state-sponsored communion, and so I use liberalism to mean “equal freedom”, as enforced equality is left-liberalism) invite hubris. Protection against this is the genius of Madison in Federalist 10, writing that a dim view of human nature is most reasonable for the conduct of public affairs. “The good life of man” he traced to the Greeks, who asked not what kind of society can we mold but how can we mold ouselves to a concept of the good. Such (proper!) questions are why literary insight matters so much to governmental organization – as governmental organization should be concerned with following the good order of souls, which will always gravitate towards communion (hopefully in the Eucharist), no matter their stated desires (and so I agree about humans being “voluntary collectivists).”

  • Actually, the charge is that the Austrians deny that the Church has any sort of teaching role in economic matters (and the concomitant claim that economics is completely separate from ethics).

    The Austrian position is more limited than this. Here, for example, is Woods:

    My position, therefore, in no way involves the claim that the sciences per se, including economics, are exempt from moral evaluation. They are, however, exempt from technical critiques on the part of the Church, since churchmen may speak only as individuals on such questions and not for the Church as a whole. Thus if a certain medicine could be produced only by ripping the hearts out of living human beings, the Church should condemn such a thing, no matter how many doctors were in favor of producing the medicine. But if two kinds of medicines are suggested to treat a particular ailment, and no moral objection can be raised to either one, then in such an area the Church must defer to those who are schooled in that specialized science.

    The confusion arises, I think, from the fact that Catholics often make moral claims which presuppose certain factual assumptions. These assumptions can seem so obvious that a person doesn’t even realize they are there. It just seems like straight morality. So when an Austrian denies the conclusion and says it goes beyond the Church’s competence, it sounds like he is denying a moral teaching.

  • Blackadder: Do the Austrians claim that economics is purely descriptive? If so, then on what basis do they make normative claims?

    Medicine or pharmaceuticals is a product of art subordinate to biology — it’s not exactly a good analogy since all human transactions are moral in nature and cannot be studied in abstraction of their morality. One cannot say that these are just our observations about how operate work in the “marketplace” and they are morally neutral. If economics were just like physics or biology, one could claim the Church has no competence to criticize. But it’s not.

  • “We cannot have Locke without Burke.”

    That’s a good argument for getting rid of Burke.

  • Joe H. Says, “We cannot have Locke without Burke.”

    Why would we want Locke at all?

  • In America, we’re stuck with Locke, and I don’t think he was all bad.

  • @ John C.M.

    LOL

    …Locke, Stocke, and Two Smoking Barrels!

    (Couldn’t resist)

  • It’s not longer a matter of will, intention, rationality, etc.? We’re just stuck with him?

  • Well, I think Locke is a part of the American political tradition via the founding fathers and particularly Jefferson.

    So no, I don’t think you can just will the legacy of Locke’s ideas out of the American political consciousness.

  • Locke’s influence on the Founding is overrated. Locke was but one of many writers that were quoted and cited in the literature of the time, but if you look at the philosophy of the men who truly formed our republic – Madison, Hamilton, Adams, etc – he was not a formative influence in any meaningful way.

  • And how did we even get onto this discussion in the first place? We make some funny detours around here.

  • David & BA,

    CL as in Communion and Liberation?

  • One thing that strikes me as peculiar about the point of origin of this discussion is your identification of ‘Austrian’ economics as the counterpoint to certain trends in Catholic social thought. ‘Austrian’ economics is an odd and controversial set of conceptions and not accepted by aught but a small minority of macroeconomists with an affinity for libertarian notions of justice.

  • jonathanjones02 & DarwinCatholic – All brilliant comments and observations. I agree with them, I think.

    Joe – Blosser referred me over to your blog. Wow, great stuff. You and I will be talking I am sure. I will definitely read the links you provided above. I am especially interested in learning more about Ropke’s thought. If memory serves me correctly ISI publishes some of his works or at least book(s) about his thought. At this moment I am reading the foundational texts of Distributism. I also what to read the newer books of Distributism that the Distributist Review Press is putting out. I also desire to read more Robert Nisbet, Russell Kirk, & Karl Polanyi. Maybe I can find time for Ropke as well. You might find this article of interest.

    http://www.mmisi.org/ir/41_01/carlson.pdf

    PB – I agree with you.

    American Knight – Brilliant comments as well. I would slightly differ with you on that it is possible to find small ways to live the Distributist lifestyle in our time. Refer to the works and thought of Wendell Berry, Eric Brende, Rod Dreher, Caleb Stegall, etc. The work and thought of John Médaille and Richard Aleman are especially helpful in this regard. Refer to the Aleman’s recent talk at the Chesterton conference. I am not sure it’s available yet though.

    http://chesterton.org/2010conference.htm

    Maybe he will be kind enough to provide the text of the talk to us. Refer to his podcast interview though on Uncommon Sense #17.

    http://uncommonsense.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=573724

    John Médaille – As a 2001 IRPS grad (last class under Bushman) from UD I salute you. Thank you for all your years of work advocating Distributist thought. What you and others have done with the Distributist Review is simply beautiful. I am really excited about where DR is going.

    WJ, John & Joe – I prefer Burke over Locke… I wonder what Russell Kirk has to say about Locke? I would also remind folks of Masonic influence on Locke’s thought. Blosser is now beating his head on the table. hehe

    http://ressourcement.blogspot.com/2005/09/freemasonry-and-america-part-iii.html

    Tito – yes CL means Communion and Liberation in my case.

  • What concerns me about the Austrians or anarcho capitalists, especially Rothbard’s and even Lew Rockwell’s thought as far as I have read or heard them, is this… They never it seems to me distinguish between the local, state and federal governments. All government is bad, all the time. This is simply not reasonable. This is not in line with Catholic Social Ethics either. Things should be handled at the lowest level possible (subsidiarity) – individual, family, neighborhood, parish, community, state, nation, etc. Government is not evil though, which is the presupposition of the Austrians. I reject that. Government is necessary for the common good in a fallen world.

  • In addition to the above link that I provided here are some others. Here are just some of the historic conversations I have had with Blosser and others on the influence Masonic thought on our Founding Fathers refer below.

    http://ressourcement.blogspot.com/2007/09/george-washington-and-freemasonry.html

    http://ressourcement.blogspot.com/2005/11/how-charles-carroll-influenced-us.html

    Locke and others are talked about in the comments of this last link.

    One could argue the liberalism (classical?) that they Austrians argue for is related to this topic as well.

  • As an attempt to gently guide us back to the topic of the main post. If you had to put me in a box politically I would state I am a traditional conservative, or to use Rod Dreher’s term – a crunchy conservative. Refer to his book, Crunch Cons. Libertarianism for me is like a shoe one size too small. I am very attracted to it at times, but the shoe just doesn’t fit. I like what the Austrians have to say about the monetary policy (i.e. fiat currency & the Federal Reserve), but I can’t swallow their promotion of anarchy, either in the economic or political spheres. I agree with the comments above about the importance of morality and values. A government can enact moral and just laws. A government can regulate the market for the common good. I would just argue this needs to be done at the lowest level possible. I share the same concerns of many above about collectivism.

  • I hear you David. I think matters would be helped if we considered that there is a difference between:

    1) “government” and “the state”, and

    2) “the state” and “the State”

    Re. 1, I think it is arguable that “the state” – the modern state as we know it – is a relatively recent invention. It is a permanent set of coercive institutions operated by professional bureaucrats. Governments, I think, are the sum of administrative institutions. At least that’s how some people would draw the distinction. There are anarchists who say they are “anti-state” but not “anti-government”, and that’s how they do it (crudely, roughly). Personally, I don’t see how you have a government without at least a minimal state – the “minarchist” position.

    I’m closer to minarchism these days, but I do see a positive role for government in providing benefits and incentives to inherently good and socially beneficial activity. Really I’d just like to go back to city-states, in my fantasy land 🙂 Catholic city-states… like medieval Venice… I think those accord much better with CST than say, the reign of the Sun King.

    Re. 2, here much confusion arises, especially among Catholics. I think when the pre-councilar popes, especially Leo XIII, are speaking of “the State” with a capital S, they are speaking about something somewhat different than say, our federal bureaucracy. When I read Aristotle’s Politics, for instance, it seems rather clear to me that in many places in which “State” appears, we might use the word “society” or even “civil society” – as a sphere distinct from coercive authority. And I see a similarity in Leo’s encyclicals. It could mean both, it could mean either.

    So “State” capital S seems to suggest a great deal more, and at the same time, a great deal less from the coercive power.

    I could be wrong I suppose. But if I’m right, then it puts some of the social teaching in a new light.

  • Joe – I am curious to get your judgment of Carlson’s article on Karl Polanyi when you get a free moment.

  • David,

    I have the tab open. That means it will be read today 🙂

    It looks fascinating, and so yes I will comment!

  • David,

    I read the article. Polanyi’s arguments are very familiar to me, and indeed I used to share many of them. At the root I still share them, but I think many of the individual ideas are based in a selective and incomplete historical narrative.

    “Laissez-faire” is a slippery term. But the argument that production for exchange isn’t “natural”, i.e. Aristotle’s argument, is just not obviously true. It makes sense in Aristotle’s world, but then, so did slavery and the total subjugation of women. At the same time, Aristotle recognized the implications of technological progress in a very poetic and perhaps unintentional way when he wrote in Book I of the Politics, justifying the reduction of a man to an instrument of production:

    “For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet,

    of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods;

    if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.”

    Arguably our modern technology has brought us far closer to this fantastic ideal than Aristotle could have ever imagined. So those who use Aristotle to try and justify reactionary economic arrangements today would do well to realize that Aristotle was something of a technological determinist himself.

    Next, the idea that there was this marvelous social order on the eve of the 19th century that laissez-faire broke apart forcibly is only partially true. These processes had been taking place for centuries, and it is arguable that it began with the massive labor shortages caused by the Black Death.

    It also ignores the rise of commercial capitalism in the Middle Ages, and particularly in the Italian city-states, in which there were limited-liability contracts, profitable lending (some would call it usury), and other financial instruments to encourage economic growth. The maritime trading empires of Venice and Genoa especially were built on the “unnatural” form of wealth-getting.

    Alongside commerce and trade existed the Church, whose morality was the foundation upon which all was built. Leo XIII recognized this as a great example of the Church’s positive contribution to civilization in Libertas:

    ” Neither does the Church condemn those who, if it can be done without violation of justice, wish to make their country independent of any foreign or despotic power. Nor does she blame those who wish to assign to the State the power of self-government, and to its citizens the greatest possible measure of prosperity. The Church has always most faithfully fostered civil liberty, and this was seen especially in Italy, in the municipal prosperity, and wealth, and glory which were obtained at a time when the salutary power of the Church has spread, without opposition, to all parts of the State.” (46)

    Here, btw, is another example of Leo’s use of the word “State” meaning something different than our use of the word “state”. Clearly here “State” means more than the coercive power and its bureaucratic appendages.

    This brings me to the last critique I would make of Polanyi: his belief that the artificial, bureaucratic interventions of the welfare-regulatory regime somehow “restored balance” to a social order upset by laissez-faire. I can see how at the time these institutions and interventions were seen as necessary; I believe a century of historical experience has shown that they make the problem worse. The state cannot replace local, organic, spontaneous institutions created through a shared culture and values. Instead it becomes something like a powerful magnet that, through sheer force, draws all of the atomized individuals to it in an undifferentiated mass.

    And the labor unions have proven to be a reactionary force as well. I think they actually prevent the Distributist goal of widespread ownership by bolstering illusions in wage labor. Nisbet mentions “unions and cooperatives” as if they are part and parcel of the same process; I say that the latter will really only begin to thrive as the former finally disappear. I see them as rival visions for improving the lot of the common man.

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  • the Daily Bell
    Let’s Talk About Natural Rights by Dr. Tibor Machan

    When various skeptics question the soundness of the American political system, one of their targets is the idea of human nature. After all, the founders took their political philosophy mainly from John Locke who thought human nature does exist and, based on what we know of it and a few other evident matters, we can reach the conclusion that all human beings have certain rights. This is what is meant by holding that there are natural rights and that they are pre-legal, not a creation of government…

    http://www.thedailybell.com/1357/Let-Us-Talk-About-Natural-Rights.html

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  • “It’s not an either/or solution, it’s a both/and solution. Test everything, hold fast to what is good in both camps.”

    I have been saying this very thing for a couple of years. Both “camps” seem to me to be excessively doctrinal (and academic) in their writings and debates; so much so that I felt the need to withdraw and take a “time out” to digest it all.

    It’s hard enough for non-academics to absorb this stuff without the the exchange of missiles between the two sides.

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Science and Technology in World History

Monday, July 5, AD 2010

Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye.  David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre.  Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:

Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization.  Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years.  The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration.  The Romans were also great engineers and builders.  They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today.  But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology.  As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.

Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology.  Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.”  Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.”  The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.

Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery.  Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day.  With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.

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2 Responses to Science and Technology in World History

  • The Europeans developed the stirrup which made possible heavy cavalry of armored knights. Before that cavalry rode in on the flanks of infantry and either fired arrows or threw javelins. Then retired. With the stirrup, the knight would remain on his war horse even waffter he skewered his foe.

    In my wasted youth (I was drinking more tha I was thinking) I had to take a course in European history in the Middle Ages. One of the books assigned was on technological developments in the Age. That was Spring 1970.

  • Could this be why BHO has just made ‘reaching out to the Muslim world’ foremost mission for NASA?

    That’s a great idea, they are killing us with low tech, so we should help them acquire high-tech so they can kill us better. Liberals are so smart.

Is the Means of Production an Obsolete Idea?

Sunday, May 9, AD 2010

The “means of production” (which may be defined, roughly, as consisting of capital goods minus human and financial capital), is a central concept in Marxism, as well as in other ideologies such as Distributism. The problems of capitalism, according to both Marxists and Distributists, arise from the fact that ownership of the means of production is concentrated in the hands of the few. Marxists propose to remedy these problems by having the means of production be collectively owned. Distributists want to retain private ownership, but to break the means of production up (where practicable) into smaller parts so that everyone will have a piece (if you wanted to describe the difference between the Marxist and Distributist solutions here, it would be that Distributists want everyone to own part of the means of production, whereas Marxists want everyone to be part owner of all of it).

Where a society’s economy is based primarily on agriculture or manufacture, thinking in terms of the means of production makes some sense. In an agricultural economy wealth is based primarily on ownership of land, and in a manufacturing economy ownership of things like factories and machinery plays an analogous role. In a modern service-based economy, by contrast, wealth is based largely on human capital (the possession of knowledge and skills). As Pope John Paul II notes in Centesimus Annus, “[i]n our time, in particular, there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources.”

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0 Responses to Is the Means of Production an Obsolete Idea?

  • As long as people combine to form economic enterprises that can be quantified in terms of share ownership, discussions of the “means of production” will continue to have relevance.

    I’ll also add that Distributism, and Catholic social teaching in general, does not merely apply to America or other developed economies – though both still engage in agriculture and industry.

    “if you wanted to describe the difference between the Marxist and Distributist solutions here, it would be that Distributists want everyone to own part of the means of production, whereas Marxists want everyone to be part owner of all of it”

    Some Marxists. Others advocate total nationalization of the means of production, in which the state owns all of it. Though technically, I suppose, the theory is that a “workers state”, by representing the working class, owns and distributes revenues on behalf of the working class, and by that logic they may say that “the workers own the means of production.”

    In reality, the people who argued for actual, direct worker ownership of the means of production in Russia, the “Workers Opposition”, were suppressed by the Bolsheviks.

  • As long as people combine to form economic enterprises that can be quantified in terms of share ownership, discussions of the “means of production” will continue to have relevance.

    A law firm might have share ownership, but I’m not sure how useful the means of production would be in analyzing it.

  • Btw, you make a good point that much of the world hasn’t yet moved to a service based economy.

  • I’m not so sure it is an obsolete idea, although I am neither a Marxist nor a Distributist. I have a particular set of skills and knowledge that makes me useful to an insurance company. That knowledge and skill cannot be put to use except within a corporate environment. I could potentially quit and hang out a shingle and try to obtain consulting work, but there is no market for it. It is impossible for most individuals to be able to capitalize an insurance company, and it is also not desireable that this be done due to the risk of policyholders would face that the company would collapse and their claims go unpaid.

    In a certain sense, the modern corporation is in itself the means of production in a modern service economy. It brings efficiencies through organization, time management, concentration of money, and market share that cannot be matched on an individual or small business level. Small businesses have to find small niches in which to compete. In effect, we have migrated from “things” to organizations in a service economy. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just the way things are.

    Now, there are niches in which small businesses can thrive, which larger organizations will fail in. It is crucial that individuals be allowed the freedom to pursue happiness and livelihoods in the manner of their choice, whether in a modern corporation or in a self-owned business. This is why I’m neither a Marxist nor a Distributist. I don’t want the government to try to force a particular “ideal” on everyone, as this is not conducive to human happiness. Government should simply step in when people’s liberty is being infringed upon.

  • “This is why I’m neither a Marxist nor a Distributist. I don’t want the government to try to force a particular “ideal” on everyone, as this is not conducive to human happiness.”

    Doug,

    Distributism is not about the government “forc[ing] a particular “ideal” on everyone.”

    Anyone can argue that any idea ought to be forced upon everyone. This isn’t exclusive to Distributism or Marxism.

    On the other hand, anyone can argue that individuals ought to embrace an idea freely because it is good. And this is one way to approach Distributism, and it is how I approach it.

    The role the government plays is a variable, not a fixed measure. It can be a little or a lot. It could even be none at all.

    If you want to learn more about Distributism from my point of view, I invite you to read this:

    http://joeahargrave.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/the-distributist-manifesto/

  • Doug,

    I think your example of the insurance company is more an issue of financial capital than of the means of production as such.

  • Yes! I think this is certainly true of intellectual workers, who are persons who are not interchangable and are themselves assets to the company.

    As you suggest, the idea of “the means of production” is not totally obsolete but is of less analytical value in modern industrial economies.

  • Even though I work for a company which is, in a sense, a manufacturer (of consumer electronics and IT infrastructure) it strikes me that in many ways most large modern corporations run more on organizational capital, information, financial and brand equity than on actually owning “means of production”.

    Thus, while many of us who work there would have a hard time making as much without working for some sort of large company, it’s also the case that employees are not interchangeable for the employer. With fairly specialized human capital, the employer doesn’t exercise nearly as much power as an 1880s era landholder or a turn of the century factory owner. (As demonstrated by the dramatic increase in wages.)

    I certainly think there’s been some sort of major shift in what the “means of production” are, and that this shift has implications for the economy and society, but I’ve got the feeling it’s a bit more complicated than simply “now human capital is the means of production.”

    Interesting train of thought…

  • The distributists never thought highly of intellectual property rights. Much of the modern economy is a discussion of IP rents. A cursory search on my part suggests Marx wasn’t all that cool with IP rights. While human capital could merely mean the training of works, it has tended to be code for IP.

    human capital cannot be easily alienated from the individual, either to another individual or to the collective as a whole.

    The movie and music industries would be counterexamples.

  • The movie and music industries would be counterexamples.

    I’m not sure I’m following your point — could you expand?

  • It is not unusual for a band that has gone on tour to owe the recording company money for doing the tour, leaving them no net. In the odd universe of music, performers sign away all their rights and the music companies give them permission to perform their works. This is most apparent if you read the complaint lists of American Idol winners. Likewise in the movie industry, a large portion of the gross does not go towards the actors. The amount that goes to the actors is actually quite insignificant once the headliners’s earnings are taken out of consideration.

    Of course this is in the end an argument of what is actually property. And despite BA’s protestations, worker ability and knowledge has been folded into working capital and been considered a part of it for a long time.

  • In the odd universe of music, performers sign away all their rights and the music companies give them permission to perform their works. This is most apparent if you read the complaint lists of American Idol winners.

    That does certainly suggest an odd state of affairs, though it sounds to me more like a case of people signing a contract based on an expectation of larger ticket sales than actually materialized. Or at least, it’s hard to imagine why it would be a standard business practice that people sign up to work for free.

    Though with American Idol winners, perhaps the key is that most of the skill leading to revenues is actually on the part of the marketers, producers, promoters, etc., while the “talent” is interchangeable.

    Likewise in the movie industry, a large portion of the gross does not go towards the actors. The amount that goes to the actors is actually quite insignificant once the headliners’s earnings are taken out of consideration.

    Isn’t that assuming that the only skilled “workers” involved in producing a movie are the actors? They are in fact a minority of those who work in a movie crew, and at a supply and demand level there are an incredible number of people eager to take minor film roles in hope of being “discovered”, or just for the fun of it.

    If anything, I would imagine that movies and music would be a good example of how technology has leveled things in the last 10-20 years, as independent musicians and independent film makers have become increasingly successful at working outside the studio system.

  • Joe, thanks for the link. It was informative.

  • An interesting article. Have you considered the possibility that the important thing now is that the government is trying to control the means of *re*production?

5 Responses to Fr. Robert Barron reviews Michael Moores Capitalism: A Love Story

  • He says the same thing I’ve been saying for some time. Moore is good at identifying the problems – it’s just his Socialist (thus materialist) solutions where he departs Church teaching.

  • The idea that everyone should keep just enough to cover essentials and give the rest away is intriguing, and probably aspirationally correct, but using government to do this will not work. Pretty much everyone will stop working soon after covering the essentials. Very little will be produced that can be given away. This fact can be illustrated by tax rates. At a 0% tax rate the government gets essentially the same revenue generated by a 100% tax rate. It is why the Soviet Union economic motto was “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

  • Our modern world had become intentionally complex leading to much confusion about what is meant by words. Capitalism and socialsim/communism are such words and we’ve had another thread on here addressing that.

    What Moore fails to do is be honest. He is a Marxist and his attack on ‘capitalism’ isn’t designed to point out the perceived excess in capitalism but seeks to promote the virtues of socialism. Fr. Barron already killed that argument.

    Furthermore, the excess in capitalism is not inherent in the system of a natural free market; rather it is in the disordered appetites of fallen humanity. The solution is not a better capitalism, but a more virtuous human. That cannot be accomplished by any materialist system. It requires a massive cultural shift away from the vices of modernism and an upward view of life.

  • That Priest is a great teacher.

  • Moore against capitalism? Not according to the IRS and Fleet Financial, a high-end brokerage firm out of Boston.
    Check out the PF990 forms for his one-man operated non-profit: Center for Alternative Media and Culture. The year he made Stupid White Men, and claimed not to won any stocks, he told the IRS his foundation owned $280,000 in corporate stock and $100,00 in corporate bonds.
    His foundation has owned Pfizer, Merck, Genzyme, Elan PLC, Eli Lilly, Boston Scientific, Pharmacial Corporation, and Tenet Healthcare. . Not what you’d
    expect from a man who made Sicko. Hates big oil and Haliburton – then why did he own stocks in them?
    The above and more is from Peter Schweizer’s Do As I Say (Not as I do). Check our enviornmentalists Ted Kenneday and Nancy Pelosi. What hypocrites!
    Bottom line, the guy is a multi-millionaire who has treated the Catholic Church contemptimbly over issues such as marriage, contraception/abortion, homosexuality and now tries to get “approval” from the Church when it suits him.
    Rerum Novarum specifically condems socialism and is adamant about the principle of subsidiarity. Centisimus Annus confirms it. I’m not sure where Fr. Barron get the idea that big government interference is warranted to correct injustice. Lest we forget – big government in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is part of the problem.
    The Acton Institure and the Distributist League disagree with each other but the traditional New Deal as nostalgia school of economics that Fr. Barron subscribes is one thing both groups disagree with!
    Anyone familiar with the 2004 Nobel Prize in Economics? It went two two Americans who documented that government spending during the Depression actually prolonged it by five years.

Exclusive Sneak Peek of Caritas in Veritate

Wednesday, July 1, AD 2009

Caritas in Veritate

[Updates at the bottom of this posting.]

The much anticipated new encyclical that Pope Benedict XVI recently signed, his third, on June 29th titled Caritas in Veritate, or Charity in Truth, will be released soon by Ignatius Press (the English version) on July  6th or 7th of 2009 A.D.  In searching for information regarding this encyclical I found bits and pieces here and there but nothing exhaustive or concise that came close to satisfying my curiosity.  So I’ve gathered all of my information and have presented it the best way possible in this posting.  With tongue in cheek I labeled this preview of Caritas in Veritate as an ‘Exclusive Sneak Peek’*.

Caritas in Veritate will be a social encyclical examining some of the social changes that have occurred since Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio, particularly globalization.  The encyclical will have Pope Benedict XVI articulating the need to bolster humanism that brings together the social and economic development of humans and to reduce the disproportionate gap between poor and rich.  One other major theme of this encyclical will be that of global justice.

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8 Responses to Exclusive Sneak Peek of Caritas in Veritate

  • I thank you for this- it does whet my appetite for the actual Encyclical- I found some interesting social commentary in then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s Truth and Tolerance book- I suspect he’ll bring those insights into clearer focus with this encyclical. Thanks again for your labors.