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.
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.
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.
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.
The search for an economic and political “third way” between socialism and capitalism has been underway since the early 20th century, if not sooner. In Catholic circles, Distributism is a third way that many are eager to discuss. I suspect many of the people reading this blog have heard of Distributism by now.
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 and how it would be done. To be vague or silent on this question is completely unacceptable. And yet there are really only two possible answers. Either people will be persuaded via reasonable argument and successful example to get together with like-minded people and distribute property in various ways, or people will be forced to do it at gunpoint.
It didn’t take me long to realize that there was really no “middle ground” between these two options, just as there is really no middle ground between free will and determinism (even if various factors can influence person’s will). If you haven’t persuaded someone to do what you want, the only other way is force. So the question becomes: is it legitimate to use force to impose an ideology on society? Is it legitimate for a band of political visionaries to come together and either use the power of the existing state or establish a new state to drag the unwilling or apathetic masses along? And does a system which is supposedly in man’s best interests need to be established at gunpoint, as if it weren’t?
In an April 10 interview with CBN News, Ryan responded:
To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.
Those principles are very very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. , Chairman of the House Budget Committee speaks to a meeting of the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Coalition. 3/31/12. Source: AP
Bishops Blaire [chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development] and Pates reaffirmed the “moral criteria to guide these difficult budget decisions” outlined in their March 6 budget letter:
1.Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
2.A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
3.Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times…
Just solutions, however, must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs.
In April 16 and April 17 letters to the House Agriculture Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee addressing cuts required by the budget resolution, Bishop Blaire said “The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”
Marc Thiessen defended the congressman from “a bishop’s unjust attack” (Washington Post, 4/23/12) along with (Fr. Robert Sirico (of the Acton Institute) — the latter, however, disagreeting with Ryan’s equasion of subsidiarity with federalism.
As a congressman and Catholic layman, I am persuaded that Catholic social truths are in accord with the “self-evident truths” our Founders bequeathed to us in the founding ideas of America: independence, limited government and the dignity and freedom of every human person. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, I am tasked with applying these enduring principles to the urgent social problems of our time: an economy that is not providing enough opportunities for our citizens, a safety net that is failing our most vulnerable populations, and a crushing burden of debt that is threatening our children and grandchildren with a diminished future. … [read more]
On April 26th, Paul Ryan gave a lecture at Georgetown University, entitled “America’s Enduring Promise”, in which he once again addressed the challenge of America’s exploding federal debt, which he characterized as “the overarching threat to our society today”:
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are “living at the expense of future generations” and “living in untruth.”
We in this country still have a window of time before a debt-fueled economic crisis becomes inevitable. We can still take control before our own needy suffer the fate of Greece. How we do this is a question for prudential judgment, about which people of good will can differ.
If there was ever a time for serious but respectful discussion, among Catholics as well as those who don’t share our faith, that time is now.
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.
As a young convert I was very much intrigued by the ongoing discussion between Richard J. Neuhaus, George Weigel, Michael Novak and Fr. Robert Sirico — and their critics, ranging from David Schindler (editor of Communio) to Tracey Rowland and Alisdair MacIntyre. This has sometimes been described as a debate between ‘Catholic neocons’ and ‘Catholic paleocons’; ‘Whig-Thomists’ vs. ‘Augustinian Thomists’ (the latter by Tracey Roland in a famous two-part interview with Zenit).
The discussion was centered on such questions as:
What are the religious and philosophical foundations of the ‘The American Experiment’?
Is the liberal tradition (understood in the sense of democracy, human rights and the free market) a help or a hindrance to the life of the Church and evangelization?
Is capitalism and the free market compatible with Christian morality and the social teachings of the Catholic Church?
What is the proper role of religion in the public life of America today and how ought we to interpret the ‘separation of Church and State’?
What is the proper understanding of freedom, conscience and religious liberty in Catholic tradition?. . . in other words, the kinds of questions that we at American Catholic are largely preoccupied. To aid in my readings and research on this topic I started a website, “The Church and the Liberal Tradition” and a blog, “Religion and Liberty” which was largely active from 2003-2006.
One of my chief sparring partners online was David Jones, founder of the blog la nouvelle theologie. While my time of late has been preoccupied with readings in other subjects (and other pursuits), David has kept up with new developments in this ongoing discussion. Among them, the recent exchanges between Catholic-traditionalist-turned-libertarian Dr. Thomas Woods and his chief critics, Thomas Storck and Christopher Ferrara (of The Remnant)– about which David would like to offer the following remarks in a guest post:
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.
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).
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.