Catholic Social Teaching
Inside Catholic has been kind enough to publish a reworked and hopefully more coherent account of my thoughts on Locke and Catholic political thought. For those who didn’t want to wade through my verbose musings, this ought to be more readable.
In the previous part of this series, I gave a detailed comparison of the views of John Locke and Pope Leo XIII on the state of nature, the origin of private property, and the proper use of private property. In this final part, I want to make a few more points regarding what I think can be called “Lockean” thought, at least as it exists in contemporary America, explore the relationship between the Catholic Church and the United States, and explain why I think all that has been considered thus far is relevant for our political situation today.
by Joe Hargrave
In the previous part I showed how Locke’s argument for government by consent was similar to, and may have even been influenced by, that of St. Robert Bellarmine. I also showed how some of the more well-known early-modern political theorists who dreamed of powerful authoritarian regimes also dreamed of obliterating the Church as an obstacle to their fruition. Now I will argue that there is a clear overlap between the political theory of John Locke, and that of Pope Leo XIII, the pope who is responsible for Catholic social teaching as we know it today. In the final part of this series I will address why these overlaps are important, and what they mean in our contemporary political situation.
by Joe Hargrave
With the political storm clouds gathering over the horizon for November, I want to take this opportunity to explain why I will be voting for GOP candidates (specifically Tea Party candidates when possible) at the midterm elections. It is not because I “believe in” the Republicans, or because I think that a Republican Congress is going to lead America into a new golden age. It is because the Obama/Democrat agenda must be slowed down, and more importantly, because I do not share the hierarchy of priorities or values of the left.
Today is my birthday, which means that while I get cake, ice cream, and annoyance for having to study on my birthday, you get to realize that the November elections are merely a month and a week away. In the Catholic blogosphere, this means that the “republicath” & “Catholyc” labels are getting dusted off for use in the political war.
For example, MM has launched an
humorless satirical website a mini-crusade against Thomas Peters & CatholicVote. Specifically, he’s angry about the very high rating they gave to Sharron Angle, a Republican running against Harry Reid. While I disagree with some of the exaggerations (if he thinks that’s a racist ad, he doesn’t watch much TV during October), I think his question is a good one: when ought a Catholic group be offering endorsements? Continue reading
We here at The American Catholic, along with conservative Catholics in general, have been accused many times of “Calvinism” by certain writers at Vox Nova. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that this accusation is nothing more than a massive projection made by people who harbor Calvinist theological assumptions themselves, of which they may or may not be fully aware. Particularly, I think in their constant shilling for big government programs, for slavishness before all forms of authority, for the unlimited extension of “rights” (i.e. entitlements), and the rest of the statist agenda, the leftists at Vox Nova and throughout American political landscape have absorbed a perverse Calvinist doctrine of their own, namely that of the total depravity of man.
I have actually written about this before: the process by which radical leftism transformed from a project rooted in optimism, in a fanatical belief in man’s goodness and reason (apart from God of course), to one of utter pessimism and misanthropy. The first communists, and particularly Marx – for all of their deep flaws, errors, and hatreds – retained a belief in man’s goodness that they had mistakenly come to believe Christianity had rejected through the heresies of the Protestant rebellion.
I’ll begin by stating that part of the blame or praise for this post ought to go to Christopher Blosser and David Jones for their excellent overview and commentary on the ongoing political/economic dispute between Catholic Distributists and Catholic libertarians.
I wish I could easily come up with a logical, smooth flow to all of these points. But really I just want to get them out there, no matter how disjointed in appearance.
Finally, I really mean it this time: we will have a respectful discussion on this topic, or none at all. That means certain people and their comments will likely be banned from the discussion. It will not be possible to avoid charges of “being afraid” to debate with such indestructible champions of the one true political philosophy, given their amazing ability to rule out all other possible reasons, including their coarse and offensive personal behavior, as to why no one wishes to engage in discussions with them. C’est la vie.
The best way to contribute here, though, is to ask questions that I can answer for this FAQ!
Where does the word “Distributarian” come from?
The word “Distributarian” was pejoratively applied to me and a few others who have attempted to blend libertarian and Distributist ideas by those not so enamored with the project. Since I see it as a good thing, I don’t mind wearing the label as a badge of honor.
What is a Distributarian?
It is one who does not see a necessary conflict between the basic propositions of Distributism and libertarianism, and insofar as possible, seeks to incorporate both of them into their social vision.
What are these propositions?
The following propositions are both necessary and sufficient for each ideology:
Of Distributism: property should be as widely distributed as possible.
Of libertarianism: social relationships should be as voluntary as possible.
Naturally some doctrinaires will dislike the wording “as ___ as possible”; why should we care about what is possible when great ideas are at stake? Either they exist full-fledged without imperfection in the world or they may as well not exist at all! If we move past this childish expectation and begin with the possible, I think we will find that there is no contradiction between these propositions.
Distributism and libertarianism challenge each other in a good way. Distributism challenges libertarianism to move beyond individual autonomy and articulate a vision of the common good; libertarianism challenges Distributism to clearly articulate how property distribution ought to come about – through force, or through consent?
Not only do they challenge each other; they compliment each other. Property owners will thrive in an environment of economic freedom; genuine liberty will thrive as it is rooted in solid social institutions based upon private property. As property ownership will increase the self-sufficiency of individuals, families, and communities, it will decrease dependency upon the state.
And please note that this is a work in progress!
Former Bush speechwriter, Mike Gerson, and David Brooks have been working to show why the Tea Party is at odds with some key aspects of conservatism, as Gerson comments, “It is at odds with Abraham Lincoln’s inclusive tone and his conviction that government policies could empower individuals. It is inconsistent with religious teaching on government’s responsibility to seek the common good and to care for the weak. It does not reflect a Burkean suspicion of radical social change.”
My suspicion of the Tea Party stems from the fact that I grew up on conservative thinkers like Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and Irving Babbitt. As a Catholic, the nativist rhetoric of the Tea Party echoes back to a time when a time that many believed you couldn’t be Catholic and American, just like today many think you can’t be Muslim and American. What we see reflected in the Tea Party is an ethnocentrism that chooses to selfishly horde the American dream.
In his column (linked to above), Gerson has raised some key questions about problematic Tea Party thinking: 1. They tend to think anything not written in the Constitution is unconstitutional, especially government programs like Medicare and Social Security. 2. As I mentioned above, they have a nasty nativist streak when it comes to immigration. 3. The have a problematic approach to the 2nd Amendment.
The relationship between markets and morality has been the subject of analysis and sometimes intense debate for centuries, since Aristotle wrote chapter 1 of The Politics and possibly sooner. I myself have participated in many of these debates, and the position I would typically take is that markets were either amoral at best, or a cause of vice at worst. There are many Catholics and many Distributists who probably share the same view. They will concede and even embrace the fact that the Papacy has not categorically condemned market activity, but they will spend the majority of their time highlighting why markets ought to be regulated and taxed, why we need welfare programs, labor unions, and all of the rest.
I have written extensively against a phenomenon called consumerism, which is also heavily critiqued in the Papal encyclicals. But it would be wrong to associate consumerism, which is a byproduct of mass production and communications technology, with market activity as such, since it pre-dates industrial society by thousands of years.
A recent post over at Vox Nova by Henry Karlson gives me an opportunity to address an issue that has been on my mind as of late: the state of evangelical-Catholic relations in the United States. It will likely surprise no one that my views on this matter are diametrically opposed to his. I believe this is the case, quite frankly, because Karlson – and he is far from alone in this, among his comrades – has a disordered hierarchy of values. He writes:
Vox Nova has for years pointed out the negative influence Evangelical Protestantism have had on American Catholics, where such Catholics have engaged Protestant sensibilities, turning their back on authentic Catholic teaching. It is easy to see how many American political ideologies have become a part of the religious faith of Catholics, so that when discussing religion, they end up echoing American political screeds.
So much for ecumenicism! Somehow Catholic dissent on torture is to be blamed on the influence of high-profile conservative evangelical converts, i.e.:
[T]hose who mock Catholic social doctrine in Papal Encyclicals and those who think intrinsic evils, such as torture, is [sic] fine…
I wonder to which conservative evangelicals Karlson might point to explain left-wing dissident Catholic acceptance of intrinsic evils such as abortion and the perversion of marriage.
In order to understand this matter at all, we have to understand that while they overlap and intersect in many places, religion and politics are not one, nor should they be. Aside from non-negotiable issues, and I agree with Karlson at least on the point that torture is one of them, Catholics are under no obligation to categorically reject “American political ideologies” as if they were the graven images of Baal.
The reference to “American political ideologies” is all the more absurd when one considers a) that the “ideology” most publicly supportive of torture, neo-conservatism, is deeply rooted in Leo Strauss’s views of European philosophy as well as disillusionment with Trotskyism, and b) that the ideologies, at least on the right, most opposed to torture – libertarianism and paleo-conservatism – pride themselves on a much more solid foundation in Anglo-American political thought. Has he never heard of Ron Paul’s position on torture?
It is arguable at any rate that many of the policy positions held by Karlson and some of his co-bloggers violate the principle of subsidarity, though this is neither tantamount to theological dissent or a lapse of personal piety.
Despite their obvious potential advantages, employee owned businesses tend to be rare. In 2004, there were an estimated 300 worker owned cooperatives in the United States. If that sounds impressive, consider that in 2001, there were over 18.3 million nonfarm proprietorships in the U.S. Nor is the situation much different overseas. The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is typically cited as an example of a successful worker cooperative, and it is indeed quite successful . . . for a co-op. Compared to other types of businesses, however, Mondragon performs well, but not stellar. It is the seventh largest corporation in Spain, and despite being a conglomeration of more than a 100 different companies, it accounts for less than 4% of the GDP of the Basque region of Spain where it is located. When one considers that Mondragon is in all likelihood the most successful worker cooperative on the planet, the idea that the co-op’s success proves the viability of worker cooperatives generally begins to seem doubtful.
There’s nothing legally preventing people from choosing to start a workers-owned cooperative rather than some other form of business, and in fact cooperatives receive more favorable tax treatment than do standard business corporations. Why then, aren’t they more common? The question has actually inspired a fair amount of research, which has identified at least four obstacles to the success of worker owned businesses.