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/

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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7 Responses to Stealing From The Poor

  • Poverty comes in many forms. Some of us are in dire “poverty” yet are given even less by many who should know better, thus causing immense suffering.

    There is not sufficient reflection on this reality. As such, it is an occasion of grace for those afflicted………but a yolk upon those who chose to ignore how their actions, in word and deed, injure another, already almost unable to bear their cross.

    Nice post. Thanks.

  • Does the Church teach that you will be judged by your personal charitable/corporal works; that is what YOU DO with YOUR money and your time/talents?

  • Really good article.

  • “However, the investment of superfluous income in secureing favorable opportunities for employment […] is to be considered […] an act of real liberality, particularly appropriate to the needs of our time.”

    In other words, one way (though certainly not the only way) that rich people can help the poor is by starting up businesses that provide jobs for them! Score at least one for the economic conservatives 🙂

    “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”

    Very true; however, that raises the question of whether the growth of high-tax nanny-state liberalism hasn’t done a lot to contribute to the perception of the poor as “irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”

  • Elaine, I agree about the rich starting up a business, but we have to admit that there are many other rich who start up business ventures with not a care for those being employed thereby. I am thinking, especially, of all the CEOs and vice presidents of corporations who think nothing of taking a 1Million or 3M salary, while at the same time causing the company to need to downsize to maximize profits. Truly, a real board of directors should say to such money-grubbing CEO wannabes: “You say that your requested 3M salary is the ‘going rate’ for truly qualified executives. We say that no executive who would ask for such a salary could possibly be morally qualified for the job. We’ll look elsewhere.”

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  • The mega corporations and the excessively compensated executives cannot exist without the incestuous relationship of Big Government and Big Business. Mutual funds are a trick to get people to fund corporations without having any voting rights. The wealth of all is controlled by a very few. This is a problem that must be dealt with or everyone will become a slave, begging the government/corporations for a handout and charity (caritas, love) is not something that corporations or governments can engage in.

    As for our excess wealth, this is a relative area for us to discern. What may constitute excessive wealth in sub-Saharan Africa is not the case in the USA. We have tax obligations that they do not, we have transportation costs that they do not, we have many costs that they do not have and what we have in excess has to be looked at from that perspective. Additionally, money is not wealth. Having a few dollars in money market, CD, etc. is not wealth, it is merely a temporary store of currency that is losing value faster than it can be earned or profited from. a 10,000 sq. ft. home with only two children, that could be excessive – but, a 10,000 sq.ft. home with a dozen children, maybe not.

    This article is excellent because it summarizes Church teaching and, at least to me, it seems to stress the necessity of a free market, restrained government, strong Church and men who desire to lead a life of virtue. Sadly, our culture of duo-opolies intentionally clouds our thinking about such matters. Big Government vs. Big Business, Democrats vs. Republicans, Capitalism vs. Socialism, Thesis vs. Antithesis – all are two paths to the same perdition. We need to break free of this dualistic thinking, making us think we have choices. There is really only one choice: God or man. Hard as it is sometimes, especially with vestiges of ideology trapping my thinking, your’s too I suspect, we need to be more Catholic – we are so far short of the mark following years and years of minimalism.

    It is time for Maximum Catholicity and this article appears to summarize exactly that sentiment. Thanks for the reminder. Can you do it again tomorrow? 🙂

25 Responses to Why I am Filing for Separation from the Democratic Party

  • Welcome to the world of independent idealism. Good to have you on board. It’s still (maybe especially) possible to be a good citizen being off the party rolls. I encourage the strategy.

  • I know exactly how you feel. I live in Washington DC, where it’s all politics, all the time. For a few years now I’ve answered the question “Are you a Republican (Democrat)?” with “I’m a Catholic.”

  • I simply must repeat what I said when you mentioned this to me privately — this is a great loss for pro-life Democrats, but God as you seem to have discerned may need your gifts and talents elsewhere for the sake of His Kingdom and, temporally speaking, for the common good.

    I need not ask to know whether I still have your support and you need not ask if you have mine. Have faith, there are sincere pro-life Catholics in the trenches my friend. You have simply chosen a new battlefield; there is only one Enemy.

  • Congratulations to you, and welcome aboard, Tim! But one question: am I completely imagining this, or didn’t you announce/decide this a couple of months ago? I thought I remembered reading a post you had written to that effect, but without all of the outlines for an independent party based on Catholic moral teaching and the Natural Law.

  • What’s wrong with the US Constitution Party?

    It’s platform is the closest to Chrcuh teaching:

    http://www.constitutionparty.com/party_platform.php

    I understand, however, that it doesn’t fit the false gospel of the common good, social justice and peace at any price.

    It seems like the writer just wants a socialist party that can call itself pro-life and be Christian in name instead of advocating for a return to the truly Christian Constitutional Republic we once were.

    Why not read and study what this country was founded at insteda of trying to invent some socialist utopia. The common good didn’t work for the Church in the time of Ananias and Sapphira. It won’t work now. And I (along with many, many other Constitutionalists) shall never, ever support it.

  • Paul, it is quite arrogant to assert that people whose views are different than yours and do not think that the U.S. Constitution Party is the closest reflection of Catholic social teaching in the U.S. are merely socialists who want a “socialist party.”

    I think it is an unfair judgment of our Catholicism and our commitment to the teachings of the Church, which requires on some issues much prudential judgment that naturally creates a discussion — and not clear-cut policy positions or views we must embrace.

    Moreover the idea that the United States was ever “truly” an explicitly “Christian” constitutional republic is quite arguable. I find it hard to believe that an authentically Christian society had legal slavery rooted in irrational hate of ethnicity; other points could be made, but I think you are romanticizing history and my argument need not be taken as saying the current situation of America is better or superior but simply that the U.S. was never a “truly Christian constitutional republic” in the sense that you seem to suggest.

    Lastly the idea that people who fail to subscribe to what you have suggested have neglected to “read and study what this country” was founded on “instead of trying to invent some socialist utopia” is nonsense.

    I was not even aware that any sort of disagreement (at least it seems that way in the way you frame your argument, there appear to be only two options) with the position you offer logically implies subscription to socialism. Moreover, it is nonsensical for you to appeal to Catholic social teaching — from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI — and say that the “common good” does not work.

    It would be more credible to argue that what the political left, by and large, presents as the common good is (in your view) a pseudo-common good and the actual common good is something much different — and you could detail it with what you think would work better. But to say the common good “did not work” and will not “work now” while appealing to Catholic social teaching where that very concept is integral to the whole body of the Church’s social doctrine is unbelievably dubious. Honestly, I am not saying this to be harsh; it simply is the case.

    I suppose it is a way to look at things but it is a perspective that I would never, ever support. The political left often gets attacked for claiming to have the correct political translation of Christian values in action and I, to a considerably large degree, can concur that in the current political situation criticism is very warranted. But the political right in the GOP and in my view in conservative third parties, at present, in my view, cannot lay claim to Christian values in their entirety. Many questions are again prudential and need not be dogmaticized — perhaps it is time that we Catholics, particularly those of who choose a specific political avenue or entity, whether it be a party or some other organization, stop trying to box the Church’s teaching into acceptable political language and contrived concepts that derive primarily from secular schools of thought. It is telling when what we call “Catholic social teaching” begins to look conveniently like our party’s platform. Indeed, the Gospel easily transcends all these things.

  • Eric- thanks for your eloquent defense and support- Kevin in Texas- I have been hinting at such a move but I retained my position as vp of florida dems for life until this week- my good friend at the organization- a Catholic- had asked me to take some more time before I made a formal decision- out of respect for this great friend, I decided to wait, pray and see if the Spirit would reveal more- at this point, I really feel that being a non-partisan will be advantageous as a Catholic teacher and in trying to open channels of dialogue working on specific issues rather than risk being written off as a Democratic Party operative or Republican mole inside the Dem party. This decision just feels like a spiritual breath of fresh air- something rare in the political trenches:)

  • Tim,
    Blessings… I too left the party of my youth, however, I came from the opposite side and have landed at Independent as well.
    Eric,
    Wonderful defense.
    Peace

  • Tim,

    Interesting post. It reads to me like you are not rejecting the Democratic party so much as you are rejecting politics per se. I think this is OK; not every Catholic is meant to act in the political sphere. But I do not think such a position can be normative. It is part of the lay vocation to transform our politics from within, and to the extent that you did this as a pro-life Democrat it was a good thing.

    I think generally speaking it is good for Catholics to consider themselves unwedded to any political party. Catholics are wedded to the truth and must understand themselves as Catholics first and then Republicans or Democrats. A Catholic can be a Republican or a Democrat, but they must be a Catholic first.

    Although I’m not thrilled that there is yet another good person giving up on American politics, I am happy to hear that someone is leaving the Democratic party, which in my opinion is virtually unsalvagable. The Democratic party is in principle the party of death.

  • Eric,

    “I find it hard to believe that an authentically Christian society had legal slavery rooted in irrational hate of ethnicity;”

    Slavery had nothing to do with “hate” as we think of it today. It was certainly based in an erroneous view of race, but it was no more hateful in 1788 than it was in 300 B.C. or so when Aristotle was justifying slavery. It was seen as a part of the natural order.

    A lot of the founding fathers, like Thomas Jefferson, struggled with the issue. So, avoid blanket condemnations in the other direction. The northern states abolished slavery right from the beginning. The southern states had “rational” economic reasons for wanting to keep it – but “rational” does not = morally right.

  • The democrat and republican parties are not the same.

    If more people voted for McCain, we’d have a chance overturning Roe v Wade with the nomimation of more good supreme court justices like Roberts and Alito, but no, we get Sotomaer and Kagan.

    Thanks alot 54% Catholics who voted for Obama or Indepedants! Like you really care about the unborn…rightttt.

    A Catholic with a well formed conscience can not in any way vote for the party of death.

  • Zach- I don’t think you are reading me correctly- I’m not giving up on American politics- I am just backing out of the Democratic party since I could not find any traction for pro-life Dems in my geographic area- I tried through offering a viable candidacy and having a presence in the local media and making contact attempts- but it didn’t happen. I decided it was best for me to purify my own end of things and come clean as an Independent who will work with partisans on the various issues of importance- but will be a non-partisan about it. In a way I am following the lead of Archbishop Chaput who was once one who identified more closely with the philosophy of governance represented by the Democratic Party, but because of the emergence of social liberalism and hardcore secularism in the heart of Democratic Party activism- he has chosen the Independent political path- and since I am a Catholic teacher myself, I think it is prudent to stake out non-partisan territory myself- not to avoid the political fight over the important issues of our times, but to be taken more seriously and to be seen as more consistent than those who seem to allow their Party loyalties to determine their political consciences. We’ll see if this decision makes sense over the longer haul- I am a Catholic first- that is my core message in all this.

  • I pray a lot and the Holy Spirit reveals a lot to me.

    When he talks to me, he starts with “Shaw, love humility, live the Gospels, obey the Ten Commandments, and adhere to the teachings of Holy Mother Church handed down from The Apostles and today from the Pope.”

    He revealed to me “Shaw, you can’t be both a democrat and be pro-life.” And, “You won’t be getting into Heaven if you vote democratic.”

    Early in 2008, this Pope gave four non-negotiables. Despicable dems are 180 degrees, and violently (47,000,000 exterminated unborn), opposed to each and every one.

  • I agree with Jasper and I’m ashamed of being a (cradle) Catholic these days, when 54% of them voted for Barack Obama, a pro-abortion and pro-infanticide politician. As a matter of fact, the Democratic Party has become the party where the Culture of Death has taken hold, and I’m glad I abandoned them over 10 years ago.

    Jasper is correct in that with the GOP, at least we got two solid, pro life, conservative Supreme Court Justices, but with Obama, we’re getting rabidly pro-abortion ones. Way to go, my brothers and sisters in the Church. Next time, please use the God-give reason you were born with and LEARN the candidates’ record on abortion!

  • Paul – Pope Benedict doesn’t agree with you

    Pope calls for ethics in world economy

    “Benedict said the search for common good must inform globalization and be the goal of progress and development, which would otherwise merely serve to produce material goods.”

    http://tinyurl.com/29d528y

  • Non-partisan? Transpartisan?

    I think there’s room for a Christian-Democratic political and social presence in the United States, and it can grow if it plays by the populist playbook, particularly the experience of the Non-Partisan League.

    Perhaps you can take the whole matter up with Oscar De Rojas? I have a hunch he has an interesting perspective on this whole thing.

  • Putting one’s faith in a political party will inevitably lead a sincere Catholic to a sense of disillusionment with politics in general. However, as a means to an end, parties may be used as an imprecise apparatus and like an imprecise apparatus they more often than not accomplish the task with less success than we would like.

    I have yet to see a practical way out of the 2 party system we have in the US that does not, as a by-product, result in one party dominance, after the other party fractures it’s base.

  • Dear Mr. Shipe,
    I was very touched by, and sympathized with, your declaration. I would like you to know that a group of citizens are forming a new centrist political party: The Christian Democratic Union of the United States (CDUSA). We are in the process of redesigning our webpage, but please use my address for any additional communication or request for information. We invite you to please advise us and be in touch with us.

    Our basic political philosophy is quite straight-forward: we are “center-left” (i.e., agree with many Democratic party positions) on most economic and political issues, while we are “center-right (i.e., agree with many Republican party positions)on most social and cultural issues. We are, essentially, the OPPOSITE of what libertarians and Tea-Party groups stand for. Indeed, we reject the labels of “liberal” or “conservative”, because these can have different meanings, depending on what standpoint you look from.
    We do hope to hear from you and your friends, and, in the meantime, remain, sincerely yours,
    Oscar de Rojas
    Executive Director
    Christian Democratic Union of the United States

  • “We are, essentially, the OPPOSITE of what libertarians and Tea-Party groups stand for.”

    That’s unfortunate. Are you sure you know what they stand for?

  • we are “center-left” (i.e., agree with many Democratic party positions) on most economic and political issues, while we are “center-right (i.e., agree with many Republican party positions)on most social and cultural issues.

    That sounds agreeable as stated. The difficulty is that ‘center-left’ on economic matters (at this time and in this country) means the continuous multiplication of patron-client relations between politicians and lobbies, in which the politician is a broker who supplies constituency groups with the fruits of the state’s extractive capacity in return for the fruits of the constituencies’ fundraising, labor, and brand-loyalty. You could call it crony capitalism, but the beneficiaries are not merely favored business sectors but also the social work industry and the public sector unions and provincial and municipal politicians. Call it crony capitalism, crony philanthropy, crony syndicalism, and patronage.

    That’s unfortunate. Are you sure you know what they stand for?

    Joe, it is somewhat disconcerting that ‘TEA’ is an acronym for ‘Taxed Enough Already’. The focus should be on the ways in which the public sector might be circumscribed. Once you have come to an understanding of the appropriate boundary of the public sector, the tax rate is implicit. Complaints about taxation per se enhance the stupidity of the political culture. One can address complaints about tax rates by reducing them, but without a willingness to circumscribe the public sector, you just get deficits. The federal government’s statement of income was in far more parlous shape when Mr. Obama took office than was the case when Mr. Reagan took office, so we no longer have the margin for an extended game of let’s pretend.

  • Thank you for the interesting comments.

    What I mean by center-left in the economic area is that we do believe in a necessary and appropriate level of government regulation of the “free market” to avoid situations of abuse such, as for example, the financial disaster that we still have not gotten out of. And, yes, we are for more progressive taxation — meaning taxing the really reach -not the middle class, certainly not the poor- to further the common good.

    The fact that there is so much cronyism, lobbying, corruption etc. in the political system is somehting that we clearly have to tackle with, but hopefully, with a more just society, these things might also become more repugnant and begin to change.

  • Art,

    Give the people a break.

    “The focus should be on the ways in which the public sector might be circumscribed.”

    There is plenty of focus on that. If you don’t know it, you haven’t interacted with the people in the movement.

    “Complaints about taxation per se enhance the stupidity of the political culture.”

    No they don’t. Statements like this just reveal the extent to which you aren’t affected by taxes. You realize that over half of the tea party is made up of one of the most unjustly-taxed brackets of income earners in America, right? We’re talking people who make somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand or so a year. They pay through the nose.

    “One can address complaints about tax rates by reducing them, but without a willingness to circumscribe the public sector, you just get deficits.”

    Why would you assume this willingness isn’t there? It is.

    “The federal government’s statement of income was in far more parlous shape when Mr. Obama took office than was the case when Mr. Reagan took office, so we no longer have the margin for an extended game of let’s pretend.”

    Again, if you don’t think the tea party acknowledges and address this, you’re really quite out of the loop. Fiscal responsibility, dealing with the debt, stopping the spending and related issues are probably more important to it than the tax rates, I would say.

  • And, yes, we are for more progressive taxation — meaning taxing the really reach -not the middle class, certainly not the poor- to further the common good.

    Um, if, by ‘the rich’, you mean a class of rentiers or latent rentiers (along with senior corporation executives), I think you will find on inspection that you are speaking of around 2.5% of the population who corral about 15% of the nation’s personal income.

    If, by the poor, you mean individuals whose wage and private pension income (w/ salaries or proprietor’s income or annuities in some few cases) is below the cost of a basket of staple commodities as calculated by federal statistical agencies, that would be perhaps 20-25% of the population who corral about 4% or so of personal income.

    The ‘middle class’ (salaried employees and small proprietors) corral north of 45% of personal income and the more prosperous wage earners corral the balance of roughly 35%. You are not going to tax any of these people? Do you plan to finance the state with lotteries?

  • My comments were not derived from my personal fiscal situation (which does include considerable tax liability, though that is none of your business).

    Federal and state income tax codes are so rococo that it is simply impossible (with any degree of thoroughness) to say from descriptive statistics which strata are being ‘unjustly taxed’ and which are not.

    I did not name the ‘Tea Party’. I am not sure to whom the moniker is attributable. It does make me anxious, however.

    I am pleased if you can find a generous slice from among the miscellany of people who are protesting who are thinking seriously about the ways in which the public sector can and should be circumscribed. Any movement has quite a mix as regards its degree of sophistication and seriousness.

    I was a witness to the political discourse engaged in by Mr. Reagan and his acolytes during the period running from about 1978 to 1989. It is not a happy precedent and is one I hope the Republic can avoid. In general, it has not been my observation that an understanding of the relative size of the public sector and the distribution of expenditures between various categories thereof is (in schematic outline) well understood even among the quarter or so of the population who follow public affairs. If there are many counter-examples in the Tea Party, that is all to the good.

  • Tim –

    I’ve also thought about a party based on Catholic Social Teaching principles that could go by the name “The Common Good Party” – which has the great benefit of being shortened simply to the Good Party, with a membership of Good People.

    I’m not nearly as politically astute or experienced as you (or Oscar) though, and very much look forward to your thoughts on how practically to develop such a political force.

    If you want/need any help from the Pacific Northwest, do let me know, and I’ll do what I can!

35 Responses to Catholic Worker View of NAFTA/Immigration

  • Thank you for posting this. God help us.

  • EXCELLENT post! When NAFTA was passed, there were Americans who warned against this very possibility–but they were denounced as alarmists. Supposedly industry migrating to Mexico would provide jobs for all the displaced agricultural laborers. As it turned out, the only opportunities available in adequate numbers were across the border, and Americans at the time were definitely hiring. (Quite a different picture from the one the nativists paint: the one that features hordes of swarthy drug-dealer types bent on satisfying their greed by infiltrating our cities.)

  • NAFTA and Bush destroyed the rural economy in Mexico and points south.

    We daily read and see horrific reports of famine, mass starvation, and pestilence. It’s the Irish Potato Famine being re-played (in HD) in front of our eyes!

    Their cultures, economies and nations are ruined. Let’s wreck the US and our way of life in expiation of our sins!

    Peace and justice! The common good!!!

  • If you want to see how agribusiness has driven them off their land with GM corn, see the last 10 minutes of “The World According to Monsanto”:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6262083407501596844#

    Move the player slider to 1:25:00

  • The proportion of the labor force engaged in agriculture declines as a matter of course in the process of economic development

  • This certainly does a good job of putting human faces on the process of modernization.

    A couple point, though, at the risk of seeming heartlessly capitalist:

    – Although the constitutional reform which allowed ejido privatization was put through around the same time as NAFTA, it wasn’t actually a part of NAFTA, so much at it was part of a broader effort at economic development on the part of Mexico of which NAFTA was also a part.

    – Perverse as it may seem, one of the points of the ejido reform was precisely what is described here: reducing the number of workers employed in agriculture in Mexico. (see this brief piece from 1992 about ejido reform, written by the San Francisco Federal Reserve) Prior to the reform, as the Catholic Worker article also states, 26% of Mexican workers were agricultural workers. However, as the SF Fed article points out, agriculture was responsible for less than 10% of the Mexican GDP. In other words, farmers were among Mexico’s poorer and less productive workers. The belief was that this was that the small plots on communal land of the ejidos caused low productivity and lack of capital investment in improving the land. Mexican authorities believed that allowing privatization and selling or leasing of ejido land would allow larger farms to be established, productivity to increase, and large numbers of former farm workers to go into more productive industries. Usually, having a small percentage of your population engaged in agriculture (while having a large agricultural output) is actually a good thing for your country. For instance, the US has seen steadily increasing agricultural output from 1945 to the present, but has seen the percentage of the population working an agriculture drop from 16% to 2%.

    – Although, as the Catholic Worker article points out, the percentage of Mexican workers employed in agriculture has dropped from 26% to 16% in 20 years, the total agricultural output of Mexico has actually increased steadily throughout that period. That actually means more food, less hunger, and overall improved conditions for Mexicans overall.

    – This kind of drastic societal change always comes at a significant personal cost for those affected. The US went through this same period of increasing agricultural output, but rapidly dropping rural population. We did the 26% to 16% change between 1925 and 1945 — a period which isn’t really remembered fondly. My dad’s mother and her family were directly effected by the US version of this dislocation. They lost their farm in Ryan, Iowa, piled everyone into the Ford, and drove out to California in search of work in the early 30s. Given that Ryan now has a population of only 400, and an average income well under the national average, that may have worked out well in the end. But it was far from fun for the first decade.

  • We did the 26% to 16% change between 1925 and 1945 — a period which isn’t really remembered fondly.

    The banking crises and associated contraction in output during the period running from the fall of 1929 through the spring of 1933 and the aftereffects thereof are why the period is not remembered fondly. These were not a necessary component of the shift from agricultural to non-agricultural employment. (One of the previous generation in my household quit farming in 1949; I cannot recall he ever said it was a wrenching experience).

  • Certainly, the rapid shift from agricultural to city labor wasn’t the only thing going on during the depression, but for a lot of families that “lost the farm” that dislocation was a major part of the story. We even got Grapes of Wrath out of it, for all that’s worth.

    It was also the motive behind some of FDR’s more idiotic policies — like destroying large quantities of food in order to keep prices up.

    After all, for rural banks, one of the main sources of bank failures was when heavily leveraged farmers got hit with falling prices and the dust bowl at the same time, and so starting defaulting on their mortgages and heading out for the coasts. (What made it a lot easier on them than Mexican peasants, however, is that they mostly had at least an 8th grade education, which amounts to rather more than a high school education these days. And they spoke the language.)

  • Darwin,

    You make excellent points. Part of the limits of human understanding is the consequences our actions will produce. Often the consequences are not what we expected and can frequently be for the worse (I think Health Care Reform will be an excellent example.) But one also has to look at what NAFTA has accomplished. There has been a human cost but also a human gain. The whole truth needs to be looked at so that it can be objectively assessed and good maintained and the bad corrected.
    I think such an approach is consistent with Catholic Social teaching. As Benedict XVI noted in Caritas in Veritate, charity must be in accord with the truth. Otherwise it becomes mere sentimentalism. So a detailed, economic analysis of NAFTA along with the personal stories is required by CST so that the truth can lead charity.

  • Yes, and if it wasn’t clear from what I wrote above: I am in favor of NAFTA (and the changes to the Mexican constitution allowing for the privitization of the ejidos) because I think that it will, in the end, be to the common good of Mexicans.

    A demand that people be allowed to remain subsistance farmers has a certain romance for moral tourists, but it’s notable that none of us choose to go be subsistance farmers. The intermediate stages may be misable, and the suffering of people who find themselves displaced against their will is real, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not in fact a road to a better situation. My grandmother’s family, for instance, was much better off as a result of losing the family farm and having to move to California. It took a good ten years or more for them to be better off, but in the end they were — and certainly their descendants are.

  • Three of my four grandparents came here from Mexico. It was very rough in the beginning. My maternal grandparents raised 13 children through the depression. All my aunts and uncles are doing exceptionally well in America. Much better than relatives who stayed in Mexico. Disruptions is sometimes painful, but in the long-term helpful.

  • “Usually, having a small percentage of your population engaged in agriculture (while having a large agricultural output) is actually a good thing for your country.”

    As Peter Maurin put so well, a child is an asset on the land, but a liability in the city. It would be far better if most of us lived on the land, farming and making crafts, engaged in a distributist economy that put people before profits.

  • A child is a gift anywhere.

  • Like most people I’m perfectly willing to go along with Nate’s vision as long as I’m not one of the “most” engaged in farming and craft-making.

  • Not so much into basket weaving, eh? 🙂

  • Well, yeah. I don’t mean to sound like a jerk by putting this so bluntly, but if Maurin was right, why is it that even the vast majority of those involved in the Catholic Worker movement do not in fact live on the land farming and making crafts? I would assume that if this was clearly preferable at a human level, more people would be doing it.

  • Darwin,
    It is, of course, because “other people” should be doing it. It always is. People with advanced degrees in social work, philosophy, etc have more refined vocations, such as organizing and leading a society that successfully requires “most people” to engage in land farming and craft-making, for their own good of course.

  • As Peter Maurin put so well, a child is an asset on the land, but a liability in the city. It would be far better if most of us lived on the land, farming and making crafts, engaged in a distributist economy that put people before profits.

    A child is an asset when there are no child labor laws or Social Security, and a liability when there is (which is not to say that we should do away with Social Security or laws against child labor; it’s just to note that it is those laws, rather than the geographical location in which a child grows up, that are responsible for children being an economic liability vs. an economic asset).

  • I reject what my fiancee and I affectionately call “Shire” Distributism – this reactionary view that we’re all going to go back to the land and till the soil for the good of our souls.

    I support anyone who wants to do that but realistically it is never going to become the dominant economy ever again.

    There’s a reason why the Papacy never advocated such a return to the land either. The Papal view of Distributism is much more realistic, it talks about how the idea can be applied in modern society, in modern businesses and modern economies.

  • @Mike,

    lol, yeah – I think Pol Pot was one of those people.

  • I reject what my fiancee and I affectionately call “Shire” Distributism – this reactionary view that we’re all going to go back to the land and till the soil for the good of our souls.

    Shire Distributism. I may have to steal that.

  • To be fair, Maurin did in fact live on the agricultural Catholic Worker communes, so at least he followed his own advice. But though I’m not deeply read in Catholic Worker history, it doesn’t seem to have been an overall good for many families. I recall reading an interview a while back where Dorothy Day’s daughter talked about how intense trying to live up to that rural ideal was, and said that it was one of the reasons why she’s no longer practicing her faith.

  • Well, friends, there are many Catholic Worker farms, and the Catholic Worker movement is still in its infancy – barely 75 years since its founding. Most Catholic Workers that I know do not have advanced degrees, and try to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. Of course, there are elements of every movement that do not adhere to its founding vision, but those elements will not last.

    Shire Distributism! I will have to use that phrase. But Joe, have you considered that the dominant economy, that of capitalistic industrialism, will collapse one day? I am convinced that it will. And what then?

  • Peter Maurin used a great phrase too – Agronomic Universities – a place where scholars could be workers, and workers could be scholars. Like living in the Shire, but with a great many books and a great many vocations! Love it! Someone want to donate me some land in Missouri?

  • Actually, I think the brilliant thing about “Shire Distributism” is that both proponents and opponents would like the term.

    To me, I think the thing it points out is that Tolkien’s shire was knowingly an idealized place — one which Tolkien wasn’t trying to write about as a realistic society. Tolkien was evoking an image of the English countryside which even to him was just a distant childhood memory. And so he’s not worrying about topics like: If a farmer has four sons, and just the right amount of land to support the family well, which of his sons gets to marry and have a family and inherit the farm, and which three need to work as unmarried laborer or else go find non-family land somewhere else?

    And indeed, I think the disagreement over Shire Distributism is very much one between idealism and practicality.

  • “I reject what my fiancee and I affectionately call “Shire” Distributism – this reactionary view that we’re all going to go back to the land and till the soil for the good of our souls.”

    Having done a fair amount of agricultural labor in my pre-lawyer incarnation I can guarantee that most people would truly hate earning their living by “working the land”. Additionally there simply wouldn’t be enough land for “city-folk” to make a living doing it, even if they adopted an Amish life style.

    I am pretty familiar with the Amish here in Illinois.

    http://www.amishillinois.com/towns/arcola.htm

    I admire their way of life, but it is definitely only a way of life for a highly disciplined, extremely hardworking and tightly knit group.

  • “Someone what to donate me some land in Missouri?”

    Work hard for many years. Then buy it yourself. 😉

  • Peter Maurin used a great phrase too – Agronomic Universities – a place where scholars could be workers, and workers could be scholars. Like living in the Shire, but with a great many books and a great many vocations!

    Whenever I hear ideas like this I can’t help but be reminded of Mao’s line about how “knowledgable youth should go to the country, to be educated from living in rural poverty.” Of course Maurin was a fundamentally decent man, and never would have used the methods Mao used to bring his vision about (which may partly explain why Maurin’s views were never put into practice on a large scale).

  • I like the article linked below on shire economics:

    “Take the idea of the Shire as an ideal community. When I first read the book, I thought the Shire was the most realistic part, and that Minas Tirith, a sort of cross between Camelot and Rome on its seven hills, was artificial. But the Shire is a complete fantasy; no subsistence farming community (and as the hobbits don’t manufacture or trade much, they have to be classed as subsistence) have among their ranks people like Frodo or Bilbo. The Shire is a farming community without farmers. Frodo, Bilbo, Pippin, Merry and even the Sackville-Bagginses are all middle class, and middle classes don’t occur in close-knit farming communities. The middle class is a result of trade, surplus, commerce and an administration that needs well-educated people to run it. Middle classes are an urban phenomena.

    Even Sam is not a farmer, he is a gardener; there is a big difference, farmers grow crops, gardeners grow flowers.

    To cite the Shire, therefore, as a model community to counter the ills of modernism is very unwise. Even in the book, Frodo is regarded by the hobbits are eccentric. In a real Shire, he might be driven out as a witch for knowing Elvish. And without Frodo, would we really want to be like the Daddy Two-foots and Ted Sandymans? A community that is close-knit and anti-authoritarian can also be claustrophic and backward.

    The greatest casualty of modernity is the environment, and Tolkien and his writing appeal strongly to people who wish desperately to preserve the natural world. As Tony Shell says, Tolkien can ‘provide an extraordinarily sublime feeling of immanence and essential vitality to the natural world..’

    But would we all want to do without the trappings of modernity, even to save the natural world? I would do without a car, gladly. Even the washing machine, although beating out clothes on the river bank while exchanging gossip with the other village maidens is not really my thing.

    But doing without medicine, basic healthcare, street lighting, accessible education, juries, pcs, cinemas, freedom of speech, that is another. But these, as well as the destruction of the enviroment, are trappings of modernity. My own grandfather was a ploughman in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. But he died within 24 hours of pneumonia from sleeping in a damp, if picturesque, cottage. People who advocate such a return to traditional communities and ways of life are often city folk who forget that such an existence was described as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. because it was.”

    http://lotrscrapbook.bookloaf.net/essay/varda/contents/varda_paradise.html

  • The Shire isn’t exactly a rural society — it’s more an idealized English country village. Think the Highbury of Jane Austen’s Emma. But even more so than in Emma, we only see the members of the essentially idle class. Bilbo (and Frodo later) never had a Baggins estate so far as we can tell, where actual tennant farmers raise crops to produce income. Nor does one get the impression that one can make all one’s money off investments in the Shire (as the Mr. Woodhouse in Emma apparently does) — it’s a country village, with a country village’s upper class, but not London to provide more complex investment for those not actively running an estate or business.

    I’d say that’s probably because Tolkien isn’t attempting to be realistic in his portrayal of the Shire. Minas Tirith and Rohan are portrayed (in the book — unlike in the movie where these cities sit in the middle of totally empty plains) as fairly realistic pre-industrial cities with outlying farmlands and villages. But the Shire (perhaps in part because it very much dates back to The Hobbit, which is more a children’s book in its atmospher; partly because it is an intentional evocation of Tolkien’s childhood memories) isn’t thought out in traditional social structures so much as it draws on traditional characters and institutions without giving much thought to how they’d fit together.

  • Wow look what I started!

    “I’d say that’s probably because Tolkien isn’t attempting to be realistic in his portrayal of the Shire.”

    And neither are some Distributists in their view of politics and economics.

    Nate,

    “But Joe, have you considered that the dominant economy, that of capitalistic industrialism, will collapse one day? I am convinced that it will. And what then?”

    Well, I’m not so sure industry itself will collapse.

    The civilization we have now may very well collapse, though.

    And so I fully support people who want to learn basic survival skills, basic farming skills. I think we should all have some knowledge of these things because we may need them in the future.

    But we should also try to preserve the civilization we have and not give in totally to fatalism. Of course everyone has to make calculations based on what they think the future will hold.

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3 Responses to Set Me Free (From Ideologies) Part 1

  • Just a word of caution on the authority of the Compendium. Even the Compendium itself recognizes that some of what is in it does not partake of infallibility:

    “In studying this Compendium, it is good to keep in mind that the citations of Magisterial texts are taken from documents of differing authority. Alongside council documents and encyclicals there are also papal addresses and documents drafted by offices of the Holy See. As one knows, but it seems to bear repeating, the reader should be aware that different levels of teaching authority are involved.”

    Also Catholic Social teaching as you point out, does not fit any particular political position. Fortunately, CST also notes that it does not propose any particular political solutions. That is in fact left to the prudential judgment of the laity (yes it is up to the use of prudence – the practical application of moral norm to a specific problems.) Thus CST also notes that Catholics in good faith can disagree on particular solutions. To say otherwise is in fact to act contrary to Catholic Social Teaching itself.
    Now it seems you are not doing so but you do head near the shoals of Ultramontanism (as some other Catholic blogs do) by thinking that by reading the Compendium you will come up with a specific solutions. You won’t. Specific moral principles to apply – yes. Particular solutions that all are called to adhere to as good Catholics – no.
    I agree that one has to avoid ideologies that reduce the truth to sound bites. But there is a distinction between ideologies and ideas. Long, hard, cold thought out ideas that have internal coherence and which can provide specific political solutions. These ideas which form from the understanding of history, politics etc. have internal validity as expressions of human reason and if solidly based are a valid means of approaching problems of the world today. Even you admit to some with your FDR approach. This is okay.
    Its okay to have internally consistent ideas that propose solutions to political problems as long as one is open to new understanding as the study of history, politics, etc. develop. Even the Church (in one of JPII’s social encyclicals which is lost on me now) admits this much. That some of what is in CST is based on current understanding of history, economics etc. and can develop as these disciplines and as human understanding itself develops (see my first admonition above about differing degrees of authority.)
    So the bottom line is, I don’t have a problems with Conservative/Liberal etc. But let all come forth with solid, reasoned arguments and not the raw emotionalism that Charity in Truty decries. Let the best current understanding of social problems be presented with solid economic, historical etc. understanding. Then let Catholic laypersons with solid ideas (and not ideologies) make solid, prudential decisions.

  • Appreciate the insights Phillip- I suppose my goal is not to replace a brother/sister’s ideology with another one- but to get every serious Catholic who makes a big show of being a out and proud “conservative” or “liberal” and so forth- to think again- not to convert to another ideology, but to just leave off the self-labeling when saying you are Catholic- a Christian disciple- should suffice. I recall cringing at Sen. Brownback after receiving Father Pavone’s personal endorsement for President, going around saying that he was the “true Conservative”. Is that a good public witness for Christ, given that Christ is giving us a social doctrine that doesn’t lend itself easily to ideological adherences? Personally, I don’t see how an honest reading of all the social doctrine materials can lead me to voluntarily accept the imprisonment of any merely political ideology. I have tendencies toward the FDR Democratic party mold, but I recognize the fallibility of such to address all issues for all time- I won’t suggest that it wasn’t surprising that so much of the Catholic Church faithful were inclined to the FDR-Dem party – even in the Hierarchy- given the connections people were seeing between the social teachings and the political visions offered at the time. Of course times change, and appeals to FDR are not what I am much concerned with.

    I believe we are living in a bit of a new Barbarian Age- more subtle than before, very high-tech, but also very deadly to bodies and souls- I see the Barbarian movement in the establishment Left and Right- with abortion killing millions and a serious lack of global solidarity leading to unnecessary military conflicts and unjust economic situations. America is part of the problem and part of the solution- I’m focused on getting my nation to get out of the business of being part of the problem.

    As for the Compendium- I realize that differing levels of teaching authority are in play- but the fact that they are now given new circulation in the Compendium which is a concise rendering of the entire corpus of our social doctrine should be cause for new appreciation for all of it’s contents. At minimum what is in there must be taken deeply into our developing consciences- to say that only the most explicit detail of a particular principle of social teaching is worth reading would be a major error in prudential judgment. I figure if the Magisterium or Church leader puts something down on paper for our consumption, we should attempt to take time to consume it, let it work through our minds and imaginations, so that when we set about proposing specifics on major issues, or vision statements- we will have the benefit of all of the Church’s vast wisdom. I think that too many Catholics abuse the notion of prudential judgment to simply short-circuit the papal words that don’t mix well with their chosen ideological adherences- I’m not making a personal accusation to you Phillip or anyone in particular- but I am suspicious of everyone who clings too closely to something like what Brownback said “I am the true Conservative” I’m very suspicious of true believers in political ideologies.

  • Thanks for your reply. Will respond more fully after Easter. Quick reply is that I appreciate and look forward to your insights also.