Catholic Social Teaching
The entire country, including and especially the blogosphere, is ablaze with commentary, debate, and verbal warfare over the merits and potential consequences of Obamacare’s passage into law on Tuesday. Among us Catholics debate has been particularly intense, since the American Church played a key role in opposing Obamacare due to its anti-life provisions, though I can’t say that I agree at all with the bishops when they suggest that the bill was otherwise acceptable.
I opposed, and continue to oppose Obamacare for many reasons, abortion funding being only one of them. Indeed, while the absence of the Hyde language from the bill is certainly troubling, the truth is that Catholic taxpayers have been funding “medically necessary” or “exceptional” abortions at the state level through Medicaid for decades – abortions which are still offenses against life according to the teaching of the Church. Some Catholics have also been doing so through their participation in private health care plans that cover abortion. In modern America, we may as well forget about any kind of meaningful “conscience protection.”
It occurs to me that there are – among several others – two major problems that I have not seen adequate coverage of in the news that will result from Obamacare, though I admit, I can’t read everything, so if someone can direct me to analysis of these issues, I would be grateful.
The recent controversy at our blog over the appropriate relationship between Catholics and the nation-state gives us an opportunity to clear the air, and, hopefully, rebuke the provocative and absurd charges of “Christo-fascism” leveled against some of the contributors to this blog. Such a phrase could have any number of meanings, or be applied (or misapplied) in an arbitrary way.
I do wonder, for instance, whether or not our friend the Catholic Anarchist approves of the Church’s support of Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and the role it played in the Spanish state thereafter. One sometimes gets the impression that, in the view of some people, it would have been better if the Church offered herself up, and all of her flock, to martyrdom at the hands of the communist and anarchist marauders instead of acting in accordance with the most basic instincts of self-preservation. The Franco dictatorship was, of course, practically a democratic utopia compared to the horrors of Bolshevik Russia or Maoist China, especially for Christians.
What about the United States, or shall we say, “the American nation-state”? As in all matters, there are two extremes to avoid.
This essay I wrote today is a much more developed treatment of the libertarian-distributist alliance I proposed not long ago. It was inspired by a critique of the Acton Institute and it’s Fr. Sirico by distributist Thomas Storck, linked through the essay.
My hope is that it can be an opening move in a real dialogue between libertarians and distributists. Comments are welcome.
Brace yourselves, everyone. I am about to announce one of those major shifts in thinking that causes everyone I know to recoil in shock and horror, or, if they’ve been paying attention to what I say and write, simply shrug because they saw it coming. Most people do not change their thinking as drastically in a lifetime as many times as I do in a decade. I am hoping that I will eventually reach an equilibrium. I can’t help it that new facts require a reexamination of old logic.
For the last few years, I have been a pretty consistent advocate for a particular interpretation of Catholic social teaching. The central argument was that, contra all forms of libertarianism, the state had a right and a duty to intervene in the economy in particular, and social life in general, short of establishing a command economy, in order to promote the common good.
Before continuing, I should make clear that I still believe this ought to be the case in principle. Should the right conditions arise, I would be the first in line to support everything that follows from this political and moral premise. But I have come to understand that the conditions for this project do not exist. For the premise that a just socio-economic order will arise from the intervention of the state presupposes that the people who are in charge of the state are themselves just.
This presupposition, in the United States of America, in 2010 Anno Domini, is entirely false.
The so-called American conservative movement is not conservative in the sense that many of its proponents would suggest. In reality, American conservatism, in many ways seeks to preserve and reassert classical liberalism. In fact, the entirety of the American political spectrum is liberal in different ways and varying degrees—but it is unmistakably and manifestly liberal.
This should come as no surprise since many of the Founding Fathers were men of the Enlightenment and there is no more obvious case than that of Thomas Jefferson, the author of that quintessential Enlightenment masterpiece The Declaration of Independence. The philosophical paradigm by 1776 had already shifted—anthropology was evolving toward an increasingly false view of man and the natural law (because the philosophical concept of “nature” was changing) was something different than that articulated by classical philosophers, which had been incorporated into the Christian tradition.
The American legal tradition seeking to adhere to the letter of the social contract, i.e. The Constitution of the United States of America, seems to have individual liberty at issue in every question of law. This, to be sure, is not something to be regarded as a problem in and of itself, insofar as the operative definition of liberty is not philosophically false and the norms of justice, in the classical sense, are not contradicted.
To the learned mind, it is patently clear that the predominant philosophical paradigm, anthropological assumptions on human nature, concept of the nation-state, view of society, of freedom, of responsibility, and so forth found in the Western world is undoubtedly borne of Enlightenment thinking. The United States is most certainly no exception. In America, across the political spectrum, there is a dubious philosophical premise, that of an abstract ideal of autonomy, which, no matter how admirable or attractive it may seem, is radically incomplete. Indeed, man does possess a free will, but the form of freedom requires content. Continue reading
At times looking at an example of someone getting an idea wrong is actually the most helpful thing in formulating a better understanding of the topic. That’s how I felt, some while back, when I ran into this post descriptively entitled, “Love Never Ends, So How Could A Just Society Bring An End To Charity?” which argues:
I have heard it said by many people that if the government provides for the needs of society through its social services, there will no longer be any need for charity. Yet, we are called to charity, and therefore, we must not allow governments to interfere in our acts of charity. There is something very mixed up with this notion. It is perverting the very nature of charity, twisting it in a way to make sure there will be people who are suffering, so that they can be the objects of our good will. We are being told we cannot wish for a more just society because if such a society exists, charity will vanish.
But this cannot be the case, can it?
What exactly is the aim of charity but love? Love can be manifest in many ways; when someone is in dire straights, love seeks to help them out of it. But that is not all love seeks for them. Indeed, does a husband or wife love their family less after they have provided for their family’s needs? Certainly not! If we would not look at our family relationship in this way, why do we look at the world in this fashion?
Charity is caritas, love; to act in charity is to follow the dictates of love. Charity seeks for the betterment of others; in doing so, it recognizes that the most immediate need should be taken care of first (food, shelter, clothing, health, quality of life, etc). If these are taken care of, this does not diminish the need for charity: it provides room for greater forms of charity, for greater forms of love.
Now, I don’t think that, “Where will that leave charity,” is a universally good answer to suggestions of instituting social services. In a society which is already weak and uncohesive, there’s clearly a need for some minimal level of social services. The legitimate question to be argued between political factions is what the appropriate extent and form of social services should be — not whether there should be any at all. (If you’re unsure of this, ask yourself if you’d really support closing government homeless shelters and food assistance, abolishing unemployment, or eliminating the federal deposit insurance that assures that if your bank runs into problems your saving account doesn’t vanish over night. The sight of people literally dying in the street was not uncommon 150 years ago in many parts of what is now the developed world, and the fact that we’ve largely eliminated that — though social programs as well as through charity — is certainly not a bad thing.)
One of the many unfortunate aspects of “cafeteria Catholicism” in our country today is that the Church’s social teaching has become virtually synonymous with liberal, quasi- or outright-heterodox forms of our faith. This should not be. The social doctrine of the Church is part and parcel of the deposit of faith, and those of us who embrace the truth of Catholicism must stop ourselves from assigning guilt by association with regard to social doctrine merely because its loudest proponents are very picky in the cafeteria line.
What strikes me as a fair critique of Moore’s documentary, which draws, howbeit with some misrepresentation, from Catholic social teaching in addressing the current financial crisis. (Via Carl Olson).
As you can clearly see, I have been bitten by the writing bug. This will be my last post for a little while, so I wanted to make it a good one. Starting Monday my contributions to the discussion will be sporadic at best for at least a week.
Consider it yet another fulfillment of my promise to certain commentators here to get back to economic issues so we can continue our disagreements after so much agreement on life issues and the liturgy
Having at times been a bit critical of my co-contributor Joe’s enthusiasm for Employee Owned Companies (EOCs) and “economic democracy” in general, it seems only fair that I spend a moment looking at the good sides — and there do definitely seem to be good sides to the employee owned company model.
Being entrepreneurially-minded, employee ownership is certainly not something that I’m in principle opposed to, it’s more that I think it probably works well in certain situations, but is not a panacea.
Where It Doesn’t Work
It seems to me that certain business characteristics will make it particularly hard for EOCs to prosper. This does not mean that employees at such companies should not have company issued stock, but the amount of stock distributed to employees by the company should probably be limited to the traditional 10-20% maximum.
Companies which require large amounts of capital investment (early stage startups which are trying to grow very fast, research-intensive companies) are generally not going to be good candidates. The traditional return for investment is stock — either by the general investing public through a public stock offering, or through specific investors in a privately held company. Such companies often reserve a portion of stock for issue to employees as an incentive (or sell to them at a discount via stock options) and have company performance based compensation, but their need for capital makes it impossible for them to reserve 50%+ of company stock for employees.
I have not seen Michael Moore’s latest film Capitalism: A Love Story. Therefore this is certainly not a movie review, for those who might have been expecting one. After what I have read recently, however, about the content of the movie – particularly it’s Catholic content, it is something I think I am going to have to see for myself. An article in The Guardian (for which I tip my hat to Facebook friend Brennan Hartley for) explores the presence of Catholic social teaching in Moore’s latest film, and in what may be a shock to at least some folks, Moore’s professed Catholicism.
Many of the readers here at TAC, however, will probably not be so surprised; we are all familiar enough with the specter of the liberal Catholic. There is a good aspect, a bad aspect, and a downright ugly aspect to what I typically encounter on the Catholic left, and Moore is the epitome of this trend.