Catholic Social Thought
The search for an economic and political “third way” between socialism and capitalism has been underway since the early 20th century, if not sooner. In Catholic circles, Distributism is a third way that many are eager to discuss. I suspect many of the people reading this blog have heard of Distributism by now.
I was once attracted to the idea of Distributism, until I came to the vital question of who would be doing the “distributing” of the private property that everyone was supposed to own and how it would be done. To be vague or silent on this question is completely unacceptable. And yet there are really only two possible answers. Either people will be persuaded via reasonable argument and successful example to get together with like-minded people and distribute property in various ways, or people will be forced to do it at gunpoint.
It didn’t take me long to realize that there was really no “middle ground” between these two options, just as there is really no middle ground between free will and determinism (even if various factors can influence person’s will). If you haven’t persuaded someone to do what you want, the only other way is force. So the question becomes: is it legitimate to use force to impose an ideology on society? Is it legitimate for a band of political visionaries to come together and either use the power of the existing state or establish a new state to drag the unwilling or apathetic masses along? And does a system which is supposedly in man’s best interests need to be established at gunpoint, as if it weren’t?
My compatriot Paul Zummo posts: Assertion Without Evidence.
Here find my reply.
Mr. Zummo writes:
“Show, don’t tell” is an admonition often given to writers. Usually it applies to fiction, but it works with non-fiction as well. If you make an assertion about someone’s beliefs, it is generally good form to provide evidence supporting your argument, at least if you want to be taken seriously. It is true that the blogopshere doesn’t necessarily allow for extended treatises, yet it’s still possible within the confines of a few hundred words or more to demonstrate credible evidence of your assertions.
When it comes to Paul Ryan and his evil Randian ways, however, such worries are cast aside.
The claim is that there is no evidence to support the assertion that Paul Ryan is “Randian.” That is, that he ascribes to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
First, it is very clear that, in recent years, Paul Ryan was an avid supporter of what he called the “morality of capitalism” as defined specifically by Ayn Rand. (Video here.)
Secondly, when political blowback was clear, Ryan stated that the claims that he supports Ayn Rand are “urban legend.” The term “urban legend” is commonly understood to describe a myth. In other words, his reply was that the claims are “not true,” but we have the video, don’t we? Robert Costa added undue credibility to Ryan’s assertion:
These Rand-related slams, Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist.
It is ironic that Ryan will not acknowledge that the poor are “due” assistance, even as he is given undue credibility by Costa and National Review. More troubling indeed is Costa’s assertion that the source of this “lie” is political opponents on the Left. This gives the impression that Ryan is a person of privilege who will be defended by National Review, which is heavily-staffed with Catholic columnists, even against true claims against him. In this way, the credibility of Catholic conservatives is eroded. That is something I certainly do not want to see.
Let it be noted that I have never claimed that Ryan is an Objectivist, per Costa’s article, but only that he is opposed to the preferential option for the poor. I would love to see any quote from Ryan claiming that the poor are “due” economic assistance from those who have more. Certainly, Rick Santorum would tell you that the poor are “due” assistance by virtue of the fact that they are poor. He would say it a thousand times without flinching, though he may disagree with some on the structures it takes to make that happen effectively. Ryan appears to have no belief that the poor are “due” assistance.
Finally, on the main point about whether Ryan is “Randian,” if we assume that he’s had a “conversion” from Rand, then a couple of things would be required to make it an actual conversion. First, you would have to convert “to” something else. Secondly, you would have to demonstrate somehow that you actually believe that philosophy that you’ve converted to.
Ryan claims that he follows St. Thomas Aquinas, not Ayn Rand.
“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.
If he follows Aquinas, as claimed, this would make him a proponent of Distributism. Try quoting Aquinas’ remarks on Distributism to any conservatives who have not read them before and ask them what it sounds like to them. I’ll be shocked if they don’t call it “socialism.”
As stated above (Article 1), in distributive justice something is given to a private individual, in so far as what belongs to the whole is due to the part, and in a quantity that is proportionate to the importance of the position of that part in respect of the whole. Consequently in distributive justice a person receives all the more of the common goods, according as he holds a more prominent position in the community. This prominence in an aristocratic community is gauged according to virtue, in an oligarchy according to wealth, in a democracy according to liberty, and in various ways according to various forms of community. Hence in distributive justice the mean is observed, not according to equality between thing and thing, but according to proportion between things and persons: in such a way that even as one person surpasses another, so that which is given to one person surpasses that which is allotted to another.
Aquinas goes on to say that it is the poor, as Jesus said, who are to be considered to have the more prominent position in the community. G.K. Chesterton was a proponent of Distributism. No heretic, he.
Several times today alone, I have shared the above quote from Aquinas with conservatives and have been told it is “redistribution of wealth,” the term frequently employed by conservatives to describe socialism. I would argue that most people would say the quote above describes Obama policy better than it describes Ryan policy. Herein lies the conundrum of ignorance which plagues us and foments division in the Church through political confusion. Not one among us who call ourselves conservative would let Barack Obama get away with saying that he follows Aquinas, but if Paul Ryan says it, no one bats an eyelash? Well, not me. Not me. And so, here I am before you asking you not to let any man get away with claiming he follows Aquinas when he does not, least of all a candidate for high office, and especially so when it is a candidate for high office who identifies as Catholic on the national stage.
Certainly, Ryan’s philosophy continues to more closely resemble the philosophy of Ayn Rand than of Aquinas. CLICK HERE to see why that is so dangerous to the Church in America, and yes, even to Western Civilization itself.
As for Mr. Zummo’s attempt to compare Paul Ryan to Rick Santorum, there is no comparison. They are vastly different, as stated above, but also considering the fact that Paul Ryan endorsed Mitt Romney, who is running on a solely economic platform, over his fellow Catholic Rick Santorum in Wisconsin. This action effectively knocked Rick Santorum out of the GOP presidential primary for good and certainly indicates strongly that the two are not at all on the same page economically. At the very least, it’s clear that Paul Ryan prefers Romney economics to Santorum economics. Mitt Romney believes those who work are “due” what they work for. Fine, fine, but Rick Santorum believes, in addition to that, that the poor are “due” assistance in some form. It’s a philosophy that is consistent with our Catholic Faith, whereas Ryan’s philosophy is not.
There was no “assertion without evidence.” To the contrary, there is a great deal of evidence, and we ignore it at our peril.
I would like to join Michael Denton in his critique of Catholic Vote’s endorsements (here and here). For the record, I am still technically a guest blogger for Catholic Vote, although I rarely find the time to blog there these days (the life of a Theology grad student isn’t always conducive to the 24-hour news cycle). I also would like to state that I very much support the work of Catholic Vote and I have the utmost respect for Thomas Peters and Josh Mercer (CV’s Communications Director). I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Burch, but I am sure we would get along quite well.
First, I agree with Mr. Denton’s critique of Catholic Vote’s endorsement criteria, but I also think their very practice of making endorsements hurts their overall credibility. By engaging in elections they sully the wonderfully non-partisan creditability they gained via their Life: Imagine the Potential Campaign. What attracted me to their mission initially is their advancement of Catholic beliefs in the public square in a way that was educational rather than political. Perhaps, my fears will be proven wrong (I hope they are). Kudos to CV though for endorsing a Democrat, at a time when endorsing Democrats is almost an anathema in the social conservative world this is downright courageous.
Secondly, as a theologian-in-training, I feel I need to speak out against two common misunderstandings of Catholic Social Teaching, which Catholic Vote and countless others seem to be making. Before I go into this, I would like to say that I am trying to “think with the Church” on this. I ask that anyone responding to this post, likewise, try to think with the Church and not impose your political biases onto our attempt to better understand the teachings of the Church.
Catholic Social Thought has long recognized the right to a “just wage” (sometimes called a “living wage”), which is defined as a wage “sufficient to enable [a man] to support himself, his wife and his children.” CA 8. One common objection to the idea of the just wage is what might be called the calculation problem. Sure, the criticism goes, everyone would agree in the abstract that wages should be sufficient to support oneself and one’s family, but how are we to decide what is sufficient? What, specifically, is the minimum wage that a man may be paid without violating his right to a just wage?
For answers, I went to Father John Ryan’s A Living Wage, which is the classic American text in defense of the right to a just wage. Chapter five of the book, A Concrete Estimate of A Living Wage, tackles the calculation problem head on, and Father Ryan offers a specific estimate of the amount of wages a man must be paid as his due in justice (in what follows all figures appear to assume a five person family of husband, wife, and three children).
In the first edition of A Living Wage (published in 1906), Father Ryan gave $600 a year (or $14,143.39 in 2009 dollars*) as the minimum wage necessary to qualify as a just wage in the United States. Father Ryan opined that this wage was “probably” sufficient in certain parts of the country (such as the South) where the cost of living was lower, and was possibly sufficient elsewhere, though he noted that there were “certainly” parts of the country where it was insufficient.
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.
This essay is also on my blog, and I hope it will spark some constructive and respectful discussion.
I tend to think I am doing something right if people from both ends of the political spectrum are rabidly attacking me. The notion that one ideological camp has a monopoly on truth and justice is repugnant to me, even if I lean one way or another at times. At the same time, I never enjoy seeing civil discussion degenerate into uncharitable attacks.
Attachment to labels is part of the problem I encounter when putting forth alternative economic ideas. People on the political right are as agitated by the mere word “socialism” as people on the left are by the word “capitalism”. It doesn’t help that both sides hold radically different definitions of each word.