Liberalism, Capitalism & Pluralism: The Catholic Wars Continue

Monday, February 10, AD 2014

On February 6, The American Conservative published a piece by Patrick J. Deneen titled “A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching.” In it, Deneen outlines the positions of two hostile political camps within American Catholicism: the “liberal” camp and what he calls a more “radical”/illiberal camp. The liberal camp is characterized by its support for free-market capitalism, liberal democracy, a vigorous interventionist foreign policy, and the basic compatibility of the American republic with Catholicism. The radical illiberal camp is virtually the opposite in every respect; it is skeptical of and in my experience quite hostile towards free-market capitalism, contemptuous of liberal democracy, anti-interventionist and views the entire American project as a failed enterprise incompatible with Catholicism.

In my view there ought to be recognition of a third camp: Catholic libertarianism. Of course this immediately lends itself to semantic confusion. After all, some of what Deneen’s “liberals” hold would align with what libertarians hold, and both might lay claim to the descriptor of “classical liberalism.” The important point of dispute between this peculiar lot of liberals and libertarians proper, at least given the specific points raised by Deneen, would be the matter of foreign policy. Catholic libertarians such as Tom Woods and Judge Andrew Napolitano are resolutely opposed not only to American interventionism, but also to the growing domestic security apparatus that poses a threat to individual liberties. Deneen’s liberals, or at least the contemporary names such as Wiegel, Neuhaus, and Novak, may better be described as neo-conservatives. Insofar as the Catholic neo-conservatives share economic views with the libertarians, I will include them as “classical liberals” in the analysis to follow. It may also be argued that Catholic libertarians aligned with the Austrian school of economics and political theory are also quite critical of liberal democracy. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an Austrian intellectual, has led the way in the libertarian critique of democracy and there is no reason to assume that a classical liberal is necessarily a democratic liberal.

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61 Responses to Liberalism, Capitalism & Pluralism: The Catholic Wars Continue

  • One point of clarification: the Deneen article doesn’t use the term “liberal” to describe those who see compatibility between Catholicism and liberal democracy. He seems to go out of his way to avoid that label. In that I think he’s correct; the term is just too confusing.

  • Pinky,

    You’re right of course, but he doesn’t use ANY term to describe them as far as I can tell. They’re de facto liberals, then, given what they’re said to believe.

  • Best wishes, Bonchamps. I like your defense of the American project, within which Distributists can form their voluntary collectives. I read Deneen’s recent article, Corporatism and Gay Marriage: Natural Bedfellows. (note that is Corporatism, not Capitalism.) Before the Distributists retreat to their collectives, I hope they understand that it’s going to be really, really hard to make a living when the ruling regime seeks to punish those who do not profess the beliefs of the regime. In other words, I’m not sure we can all move to a particular location within these fifty (or was it fifty-seven?) states, and live out our lives. Hmm. Time to review the specific examples of the people who came to America seeking religious freedom for the low, low price of carving settlements out of the wilderness. 🙂 Where is our wilderness?

  • As a matter of history, classical liberalism was at great pains to remove precisely the means that had been traditionally used to curb the free market.

    Jefferson, for example, was a great opponent of entails and perpetuities and secured the passage of a bill abolishing them in Virginia. “Entails” or “Tailzies” as we call them in Scotland, were settlements of property to people in succession, with irritant and resolutive clauses, preventing that property being alienated or made subject to the debts of the holder from time to time. In that way, property could be left to A and the heirs male of his body, whom failing to B and the heirs of his body &c

    Like the French Jacobins, Jefferson considered each generation was entitled to redistribute property over which no individual (or group of individuals) had the right of disposal – “whether they may change the appropriation of lands given anciently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity; whether they may abolish the charges and privileges attached on lands, including the whole catalogue, ecclesiastical and feudal; it goes to hereditary offices, authorities and jurisdictions, to hereditary orders, distinctions and appellations, to perpetual monopolies in commerce, the arts or sciences, with a long train of et ceteras.”

    Likewise, the activities of trade and craft guilds (and later trades unions) were regularly subject to legal curbs, as being “in restraint of trade.”

  • “As a matter of history, classical liberalism was at great pains to remove precisely the means that had been traditionally used to curb the free market.”

    Yes… which is why I am an economic classical liberal.

    “Likewise, the activities of trade and craft guilds (and later trades unions) were regularly subject to legal curbs, as being “in restraint of trade.”

    Which they are. It is hardly fair to harm the interests of consumers, who are greater in number and include all of the poor, for the sake of a narrow set of specialized workers. The common good is served by lower prices, which effect everyone, and not higher wages, from which far fewer will benefit.

  • Bonchamps, thanks for this and your other recent post…I’ve not had the time to fully digest them and the ensuing discussion in “Brace Yourselves: The Dark Enlightenment is Upon Us”, but I’ve been on a similar (I think) line. There are some, following apparently in the Thomist tradition, who posit that Catholic identity is ultimately incompatible with the American experiment. Some others, perhaps not so much Thomist but every bit as much aiming to be orthodox, disagree.

    The folk debating this study it for a living while I’m just arm-chairing here, but I wonder if the answer is related to a discussion by Benjamin Wiker on the founding of America (http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/catholicism-and-the-american-founding), wherein he discusses the different between natural law and natural rights.
    Put simply: the more we focus on natural rights in American politics, the greater the division from a political infrastructure at odds with Catholic thought and social teaching (and hence, incurring the criticism of the Thomists)….the more the focus is on natural law, the less the criticism of the Thomists (who claim to champion natural law) and the closer to Catholic thought and social teaching.

    Prior to this, my only substantive rebuttal was: “What else do you propose? My limited survey of the modern world and the highlights of history produces, as a database programmer might say: ‘Query returned zero rows.'”

    It’s entirely possible that the Thomists are misinterpreting the difference…in another realm, with which I’m slightly more familiar, Albert Einstein famously (and quite incorrectly) rebutted the notion of the Big Bang as presented by Georges Lemaître (a Catholic priest) by saying, “Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious” (For MPS: Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable). Einstein was wrong on the “Steady State” model of the universe as well as quantum mechanics…maybe the error of the professional Thomists is a similar one…but then again, I’m certainly no Lemaître in philosophy or theology.

  • It may also be argued that Catholic libertarians aligned with the Austrian school of economics

    You don’t want to go there.

  • John,

    I would take exception to the idea that natural rights simply mean that one can do as they please within the boundaries of other people’s rights.

    John Locke’s version of natural rights are rooted in natural law. Natural rights are in fact corollaries to natural laws. We have a right to life, liberty and estate because we have a moral duty to preserve our own lives, those of our families, and even those of our communities.

    The idea of natural rights as a license to do whatever we want within the bounds of other people’s rights is a later idea that I don’t think either Locke or Jefferson subscribed to. Maybe later classical liberals such as Spencer or libertarians such as Rothbard would see it this way, once they’d detached natural rights from Christianity. Spencer’s “law of equal liberty” or Rothbard’s “non-aggression principle” are detached from the Christian version of natural law to be sure.

    I’d close by saying that the doctrine of individual natural rights had less to do with establishing an individual right to do as one pleases than they did with limiting governments. That’s what the classical liberal project was all about – limiting the power of the state. One can argue that this naturally or logically leads to a state of moral degeneracy of sexual license, but I don’t think that is true. The state, after all, continued to expand regardless of the wishes of classical liberals, whose ideal societies only existed on the frontier.

  • Art, briefly what are your objections to Hayek? Any links/references for further consideration would be nice. Thanks!

  • tamsin: “Where is our wilderness?” In the wilderness. The Homestead Act has not been repealed. Indwellers have gotten a court order that they can live where they live…in the national parks and forests. All free lands and waterways belong to each and every citizen in joint and common tenancy In recent years, Clinton tried to put all free lands and waterways under the jurisdiction of the Executive in Chief. The Department of the Interior was ordered to evacuate all indwellers from parks and forests.That failed.

  • “John Locke’s version of natural rights are rooted in natural law. Natural rights are in fact corollaries to natural laws. We have a right to life, liberty and estate because we have a moral duty to preserve our own lives, those of our families, and even those of our communities.”
    .
    Those who would take license with vice against virtue give scandal to the community and must be ostracized. It is the duty of the state to deliver equal Justice, not equality. Man is created equal. Justice must be preserved.

  • Bonchamps,
    .
    You have written an excellent and timely piece on Liberalism in its many manifestations and re-inventions which undoubtedly will inform and educate many.
    .
    As I reflected on your most recent piece together with your other riveting article, “Brace Yourselves: The Dark Enlightenment is Upon Us”, I have come to realize that I would decline to classify myself in any category of Catholicism because to do so might give rise to an appearance of division among the Catholic faithful.
    .
    I recall an article by the respected late prelate Father John A. Hardon, S.J entitled “Conservative or Liberal Catholic” which is instructive. Fr. Hardon cautioned Catholics against describing themselves and the Catholic faith in social or political terms. He recounted a story of a priest who provided the truly “Catholic” response when queried whether he was conservative or liberal:
    .
    “… “I’m a Roman Catholic. I follow the guidelines of the Vatican.” The holder of the Petrine Office is the direct descendent of Peter to whom were handed the keys of the kingdom. His mandate is clear; our duty as Roman Catholics is to adhere to both the letter and the Spirit as the Holy Father delineates them for us, not pick and choose those aspects of Catholicism more to our liking. As 2 John 9 reminds us, anyone who “does not remain rooted in the teaching of Christ does not possess God, while anyone who remains rooted in the teaching possesses both Father and the Son.” http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Church_Dogma/Church_Dogma_003.htm.
    .
    Politics, within the Church or in secular society, must not become an entree for division among Catholics because we are the children of a God who is Love and Unity; there should be no division among the children of Our Heavenly Father.
    .
    I believe that as Catholics, we must meet this great trial which confronts us …this assault against our faith by the secular forces of the world… with a united front. Each of us as individuals must therefore intentionally and bravely exercise our free will to stand firm in defense of Catholicism and our fellow Catholics…even if it causes discomfort or brings mockery upon us. And we must pray for the intervention of the Holy Spirit that those Catholics who are blinded by secularlism will wake up in time and turn away from their error.
    .
    Chuck Colson, a protestant, made a videotape shortly before he died, pleading with all Christians (Catholics and Protestants) to align and stand together in unity against what he knew to be coming against us.
    .
    Mr. Colson reminded us “We are all one in Christ”; his video is worth watching.
    .
    See, link for Chuck Colson video, http://youtu.be/Kuyv-XzHueM

  • Bonchamps: I’m by no means (as I’ve stated) a scholar on the topics like you and many others here are. But here’s the “proof in the pudding” as it were: if there was no difference between the classic understanding of natural law and, as you put it, the corollary of natural rights from Locke / Jefferson, then from where did the “modern natural rights” come?

    Specifically, I have a particular libertarian friend who subscribes to the “modern natural rights” notion…and I hear modern Christian libertarian talk-show hosts espouse the following:

    The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Notes_on_the_State_of_Virginia

    To be sure, I agree more than I disagree with such sentiments…but my level of disagreement is non-zero. I could go to Cardinal Ottaviani and his reaffirmation that “error has no rights” (http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/05/the-last-laugh-of-alfredo-ottaviani) and the modern explications of Dignitatis Humanae that have put forth the notion that there isn’t an absolute right of the state to argue against the practice of religion, only when the state is acting in accordance with justice (see this article on whether all religions can deserve equal respect: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/do-all-religions-deserve-respect). Those discussions are probably helpful to my argument, but I use instead another (to lean on the well at Crisis, http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/those-intolerable-catholics-in-lockes-time-and-ours … and I note that some good TAC’ers were there in the comments early on), and I wonder if Locke’s view of government could conceive of someone putting God before Country. In other words, if the State had declared X and a religious view held Y, which trumps? Locke had a rather dismal (if arguably misinformed?) view of “papists” such as us, beholden to the keys on the Pope’s belt over the common good of our neighbors…so how does this sit with an orthodox Catholic understanding?

    Please note: I question not because I disagree with libertarian/natural rights prima facie, but rather, I see the consequences of some of these decisions that modern “natural rights” proponents might favor compared to advocates in favor of natural law. If the “natural rights” advanced by modern types is substantively different from that proposed by Locke and Jefferson, I ask : where, that a layman might understand, is the difference? If there is no difference, then what about the criticism afforded, for example, by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on his dissent on the decision striking down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act. Citing the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/08/the-supreme-court-and-the-future-of-marriage), Justice Alito affirms a natural law definition against the tide of natural rights that triumphed in U.S. vs Windsor. Where did Justice Kennedy and the rest “get it wrong” in presumably applying the fruits of Jefferson and Locke?

    I’m generally inclined toward libertarian notions but with caveats. I can find enough evidence in Hayek’s Road to Serfdom that settles, for me, that there’s no real difference between Hayek and general Catholic economic sentiment…it’s the rhetoric from those who haven’t read much of either that appears to create the difference. But where it comes to natural rights and natural law, it’s not as clear to me and the consequences are as big as the gulf between my friend and I on the definition of marriage. And I ask as one who seeks to defend the ground I’m on better than what the archetypical parent might say: “Because I said so.”

  • Slainte,

    I’m glad the piece was of some use to you.

    I share your disdain for political labels. I would describe what I hold to be sympathies, not identifications. I call myself a “fellow traveler” of classical liberalism, but I can’t be a die-hard adherent. Liberalism’s critics aren’t wrong to point out its relativist tendencies and the dangers these pose to Catholics. As an ideology that seeks to limit and even oppose the pretensions of the state for the sake of individual liberty and dignity, it is quite useful though. I think it is also indisputable that free-market capitalism is the system that best serves the common good and the needs of the poor – mostly by eliminating poverty through a competitive process that forces innovation, which in turn leads to technology that lowers the costs of production and the prices of everyday goods for average people.

  • Bonchamps: we may be passing comments past the time-delay to post, but I want to also affirm something. I wholeheartedly agree with you here:

    I think it is also indisputable that free-market capitalism is the system that best serves the common good and the needs of the poor – mostly by eliminating poverty through a competitive process that forces innovation, which in turn leads to technology that lowers the costs of production and the prices of everyday goods for average people.

    That’s a more elegant way of saying what I was trying to:

    Prior to this, my only substantive rebuttal was: “What else do you propose? My limited survey of the modern world and the highlights of history produces, as a database programmer might say: ‘Query returned zero rows.’”

    What other system is there that does what a properly-implemented free-market system does (ie, without cronyism and corruption)? There’s nothing yet proposed that’s better. One needs only look at the percent of GDP that the US gives in charity (or any of another statistics) to confirm this. So please read my above comments in the same spirit, that I question not to attack to but understand…especially in light of social concerns, such as marriage and defense of life. My libertarian friend might agree with me economically…but not socially.

  • John,
    .
    “then from where did the “modern natural rights” come?”
    .
    It was a subtle shift of thought, I think, from Locke to Jefferson. The reason that I wouldn’t put Jefferson in with later classical liberals, though, is that he still held that natural rights came from God, and in fact that they could only be “secure” if the people believed they came from God. Non-Christian liberals are often content to invoke reason as sufficient for recognition of these rights, and Ayn Rand takes it to absurd levels. Spencer on the other hand really tries hard to establish that men have a sort of natural “sense” of having universal, equal rights.
    .
    “and I hear modern Christian libertarian talk-show hosts espouse the following”
    .
    Yes, that Jefferson quote. That is an articulation of the “modern” view of rights, yes. But your right to that sort of liberty, even though he doesn’t mention natural laws/duties, still comes from God in Jefferson’s view. So he’s somewhere between Locke and the others I think.
    .
    As for Locke’s attitude towards Catholicism, yes, this too is a big problem. This is where we get into John Courtney Murray territory. Some of these classical liberals were continuing a natural law tradition that the Church had developed, but only in parts, and not in the whole, and they ended up attacking Catholicism. It’s a shame, really. After all, Locke is mostly arguing against absolute monarchy, a repugnant political doctrine that the Church never endorsed. Then Cardinal Bellarmine argued against James I’s claim to “divine kingship” and held that the people had a right to overthrow despotic rulers and establish new governments. The real absolutism came when Henry VIII declared himself the head of a new sect, the Church of England.
    .
    I’d say that Locke’s attitude toward Catholicism has little to do with his arguments in the Second Treatise, though. The proof, I think, lies in the fact that the men who advised Pope Leo XIII in the drafting of Rerum Novarum were drawing upon that very work when formulating the Church’s modern position on private property rights, and, I think, the limitations that reason and justice demand be placed on the state.
    .
    “Where did Justice Kennedy and the rest “get it wrong” in presumably applying the fruits of Jefferson and Locke?”
    .
    They definitely got it wrong with Locke because Locke clearly and strongly reaffirmed natural laws and obligations. Jefferson is a different story. I couldn’t confidently say that they totally botched his views of individual natural rights, but they certainly made a complete mockery of his belief in pluralism, state’s rights, popular sovereignty, and the dangers of an unelected body of judges invested with the (self-appointed) power to decide what the law is on the basis of their own philosophical pretensions and biases. The thing to remember about Jefferson is this: while he may have wanted the maximum liberal demands when it came to individual rights and separation of church and state in his own state of Virginia, he completely respected the right of the other states to maintain their own rules and establishments. His reply to the complaint of the Danbury Baptists didn’t end with a promise to send troops to shut down the established church in Connecticut. It made no promises at all. It was along the lines of, “yeah, I hear you… but…” So while Jefferson the personal liberal may lend some support to the arguments of homosexual radicals (repugnant as they would have been to Jefferson himself), Jefferson the statesman, who held the 10th amendment and NOT the 1st to be the foundation of the Constitution, wouldn’t have supported this federal/judicial theocracy in the least.

  • There is no doubt that the growth of commerce tended to destroy those intermediate authorities that opposed an effective obstacle to the powers of government and what Lord Acton calls conditional obedience guaranteed by the power of a limited command

    Dr Johnson has described this process: “Where there is no commerce nor manufacture, he that is born poor can scarcely become rich; and if none are able to buy estates, he that is born to land cannot annihilate his family by selling it. This was once the state of these countries. Perhaps there is no example, till within a century and half, of any family whose estate was alienated otherwise than by violence or forfeiture. Since money has been brought amongst them, they have found, like others, the art of spending more than they receive; and I saw with grief the chief of a very ancient clan, whose Island was condemned by law to be sold for the satisfaction of his creditors.”

    Again, “The Laird is the original owner of the land, whose natural power must be very great, where no man lives but by agriculture; and where the produce of the land is not conveyed through the labyrinths of traffick [sic], but passes directly from the hand that gathers it to the mouth that eats it. The Laird has all those in his power that live upon his farms. Kings can, for the most part, only exalt or degrade. The Laird at pleasure can feed or starve, can give bread, or withhold [sic] it. This inherent power was yet strengthened by the kindness of consanguinity, and the reverence of patriarchal authority. The Laird was the father of the Clan, and his tenants commonly bore his name. And to these principles of original command was added, for many ages, an exclusive right of legal jurisdiction.”

    That is why, until 1745, no people enjoyed greater freedom from government interference than the Highland clans, its security being their loyalty to their chieftains.

    The rise of the Tudor despotism was made possible by the mutual destruction of the old landed nobility in the Wars of the Roses and was supported by the towns, which had the liquid wealth to purchase charters of privileges. We see a similar process in the rise of Absolutism in France, in the wake of the Wars of Religion and the Frondes; again with the support of the commercial classes, the bourgeoisie or townspeople, characterised, since the time of Augustus by the love of equality, the hatred of nobility, and the tolerance of despotism.

  • “Locke does characterize conjugal unions as “voluntary” compacts between men and women.”

    F P Walton, an eminent authority on the marriage law of Scotland wrote that “The question has often been debated by lawyers, if it is correct to describe marriage as a contract. Some writers prefer to call it a status or an institution.

    The difficulty in calling it a mere contract is this—two people may agree to marry each other, but they cannot agree what sort of marriage it shall be. If they take each other it is “for better, for worse.” They must accept all the consequences and incidents of marriage as it is fixed and determined by law. They could not, for example, agree to be married for ten years, or that the wife should be head of the house, or that the children should not have any rights of succession. All that they can do is to agree to marry. It is the law which lays down what are the rights of the husband, the rights of the wife, the rights of the children; whereas as a general rule in the making of contracts the parties may come to any terms they like. The discussion is not a particularly fruitful one and I only mention it to introduce the elementary proposition so often lost sight of — that there must be matrimonial consent. Whether marriage is a contract or something more, there is no doubt at all that it is entered into by a contract—an agreement to marry.”

    Walton adds that, by the law of Scotland, “when it is proved that the two people agreed to marry {i.e., to marry then and there, not at some future time, which would only be promise of marriage), then they are married, provided, of course, there was no legal impediment.” That is taken from the Canon Law and was the rule of the Catholic Church, too, until the Tametsi decree of the Council of Trent in 1563.

  • “he growth of commerce tended to destroy those intermediate authorities that opposed an effective obstacle to the powers of government”

    The growth of commerce inspired people to fight for their lives, liberties and property in ways they had scarcely done throughout human history.

    “That is why, until 1745, no people enjoyed greater freedom from government interference than the Highland clans”

    I’m quite sure that very few if any peoples enjoyed greater privation, hunger and general want. It is easy to romanticize the clan system, far moreso than it would be to live in such a place. One of my life-long dreams is to visit the Hebrides. Living there the way 18th century cotters did isn’t a part of that, though.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour: “”The difficulty in calling it a mere contract is this—two people may agree to marry each other, but they cannot agree what sort of marriage it shall be.””
    .
    God brought the woman, Eve, to Adam and Adam said: “She now is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
    Ejecting God, our Creator, from His creation is nothing short of stealing.
    The Sacrament of Matrimony is the epitome of sovereignty, consent for a woman to become a wife, for a man to become a husband, each to his office to fulfill his and her vocation. The office of wife for a woman and the office of husband for a man is no less than the office of priesthood of the laity with Jesus Christ as head Priest.

  • Bonchamps

    Life on a Hebridian croft, typically 4 acres of arable land and sixteen of pasture tends not to be one of Sybaritic luxury even today.

    The chieftain would have shared the same hardships of life as his clansmen. His rents were paid in victual or cattle, for which there was no ready market. He spent them on the only form of conspicuous consumption available to him, that is, hospitality. The number of retainers is astonishing and we read of minor chieftains visiting Edinburgh with three or four score horsemen. Their loyalty to their chief and their keen sense of honour, quick to detect and punish any want of respect shown him, led to many famous tulzies, like that in in 1520 between the Hamiltons and the Douglases, known as “Cleanse the Causeway,” when the latter, as Pitscottie records, ” keiped both the gaitt and their honouris”; and
    that in 1551 between the Kerrs and the Scotts,

    When the streets of High Dunedin
    Saw lances gleam and falchions redden,
    And heard the slogan’s deadly yell—
    Then the Chief of Branxholm fell.

    Such men were unlikely tamely to submit to oppression by government.

    If you do visit the Hebrides, on no account miss Islay, which boasts nine distilleries and whose peaty malts, such as Bowmore, Laphroaig and Kilchoman, which all have their own malting floors, are beyond description. I would especially recommend Lagavulin.

  • Mary de Voe

    Yes, as a great judge, Lord Stowell said, “Marriage in its origin is a contract of natural law; it may exist between two individuals of different sexes although no third person existed in the world, as happened in the case of the common ancestors of mankind. It is the parent not the child of civil society. In civil society, it becomes a civil contract regulated and prescribed by law and endowed with civil consequences. In most civilized countries, acting under a sense of the force of sacred obligations, it has had the sanctions of religion superadded; it then becomes a religious, as well a natural and civil, contract; for it is a great mistake to suppose that because it is the one, therefore it may not likewise be the other. Heaven itself is made a party to the contract and the consent of the individuals pledged to each other is ratified and consecrated by a vow to God.”

    I do not think Locke would have disagreed.

  • Bonchamps,
    .
    When MPS states, “…If you do visit the Hebrides, on no account miss Islay, which boasts nine distilleries and whose peaty malts, such as Bowmore, Laphroaig and Kilchoman, which all have their own malting floors, are beyond description…”
    .
    When MPS uses the term “peaty malt” he really means it….keep all lit matches at bay. : )

  • Art, briefly what are your objections to Hayek? Any links/references for further consideration would be nice. Thanks!

    Not to Hayek, but to contemporary Austrian economics as developed by Peter Boettke, Robert Higgs, and others. The theoretical aspect has led to (I am quoting a libertarian more inclined to the Chicago school) “a great deal of meta-economics, but not much economics”. They are dubious about (if not rejecting of) statistical analysis as a tool and tend toward policy prescriptions (e.g. replacing central banking with updated versions of the gold standard) which would have been indubitably disastrous during the most recent unpleasantness (and were disastrous during the period running from 1929 to 1933).

  • The truth is out there.

    The unpleasantness of the Great Depression was not exacerbated by lack of government action or monetary strictures of the dreaded gold standard.

    Here are the government policies/culprits:
    • The Federal Reserve reduced the amount of credit outstanding, and therefore the stock of money, in 1931 and again in 1933;
    • Congress passed and President Hoover approved a major tax increase in June 1932;
    • Rumors that President-elect Roosevelt would devalue the dollar (which he later did) caused the final banking panic; and
    • The national banking holiday declared by Roosevelt on March 6, 1933, undermined public confidence so greatly that 5,000 banks didn’t reopen after the holiday expired, and 2,000 closed permanently.
    • In the 1930s, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act caused a collapse in global trade.

    In January 1934, FDR increased the dollar price of gold from $20.67 to $35, devaluing the dollar by 70 percent and increasing the value of gold that the government now owned.

    Up to 1934, the $20 (I own one) Federal Reserve Note (you call it “dollars”) had imprinted on it “WILL PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND TWENTY DOLLARS.” Today, it says “Twenty Dollars.”

    PS: The central planners and collectivists dread the giold standard because they cannot control us if money is backed by something real.

  • The monetary base was stable, declining slightly during the period running from 1929 to 1933. What changed was a rapid increase in the demand for real balances, which was not met by the monetary authorities (because of the gold standard, in part).

    It is doubtful Smoot-Hawley caused a ‘collapse’ in global trade. The United States relied on its domestic market and only about 5% of our domestic production was exported. We had a similar abrupt implosion in foreign trade in 2008-09 (and manifest in several countries) absent any sort of protectionist legislation.

    ==

    The ratio of federal income tax collections to domestic product in 1932 was quite low. The tax increase was injurious to the economy, but only a small fraction of the economic implosion registered over 3.5 years is attributable to that tax increase. (The economy had actually stabilized by the 3d quarter of 1932 after three years of rapid implosion).

    ==

    One purpose of the bank holiday was to arrest panic withdrawals and identify insolvent banks. Of course the banks did not reopen. They were bust.

  • You think Sir Alan Walters qualifies as a ‘central planner’ and ‘collectivist’??? (His description of advocates of the gold standard in 1984 was thus: “crackers”).

  • Thomas Jefferson once said:

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies . . . If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] . . . will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered . . . The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” — Thomas Jefferson — The Debate Over The Recharter Of The Bank Bill, (1809)

  • Michael Peterson-Seymour.
    “”it (civil marriage) has had the sanctions of religion superadded;”” The sanctions of religion superadded may be removed by civil society.
    .
    The Defense of Marriage Act posits that marriage consists of one man and one woman. Marriage consists of one husband and one wife. The informed consent of one man to become a husband and the informed consent of one woman to become a wife is required. The essence of marriage then is the offices of husband and wife to which a man and a woman attain, an attainment that continues “until death do us part.”
    .
    Some people wish to have civil society normalize sodomy by demanding equality and pretending that sodomy is theirs by “natural right” because they suffer same-sex attraction. This amounts to Abraham Lincoln’s query about counting a dog’s tail as a fifth foot. If one counts the dog’s tail as his foot, one will still have a dog with four feet and one tail.
    .
    If religion is superadded or subtracted, one fully informed husband and one fully informed wife constitute marriage, a marriage between one man and one woman.
    .
    It is a miscarriage of Justice and a crime against civil society that same-sex oriented individuals are being used by militant sodomites to thwart the truth.

  • “Heaven itself is made a party to the contract and the consent of the individuals pledged to each other is ratified and consecrated by a vow to God.””
    .
    All, I say all, contracts, civil and vows as religious, are ratified and consecrated to God and by God. One does not enter into a civil contract to be swindled or lied to. “In God We Trust”

  • Bonchamps: “It was a subtle shift of thought, I think, from Locke to Jefferson. The reason that I wouldn’t put Jefferson in with later classical liberals, though, is that he still held that natural rights came from God, and in fact that they could only be “secure” if the people believed they came from God.”
    .
    This excerpt from Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Church states the First Amendment with its freedom of Religion, then, the “wall of separation of Church and State” after, but only after “…or prohibit the free exercise thereof.” Giving atheism priority over the “free exercise thereof” is establishment of atheism.
    .
    “Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience” Any reference to the HHS Mandate?
    .
    “I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
    .
    Natural rights exclude the unnatural rights of the sodomites’ agenda.
    .
    excerpt from Jefferson:
    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

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  • Mary,

    Yes, I’m aware of the content of the letter. What actually became of the Danbury Baptists, though? Connecticut kept its established church during the Jefferson presidency. Why?

    “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.” — TJ

    The separation of church and state applied to the federal government, not the state governments. In the early American mind, before the days of “incorporation”, the difference between these two was actually significant.

  • “The reason that I wouldn’t put Jefferson in with later classical liberals, though, is that he still held that natural rights came from God, and in fact that they could only be “secure” if the people believed they came from God”

    That belief was all but universal. In the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 26 August 1789, “the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being [« en présence et sous les auspices de l’Etre Suprême »], the following rights of man and of the citizen…”

    Indeed, religion was held to be essential to the social bond and that society was dependent on its sanctions. Rousseau had been intolerant in his theism – “While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If anyone, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.” Robespierre, who described himself as “a pretty bad Catholic” [un assez mauvais Catholique] – something few would dispute – famously declared “Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is altogether popular.”

    An established church, from which dissent was tolerated, remained the European norm throughout the 19th century.

  • Professor Deco:

    Dr. Friedman and I bow to your superior analysis and firmer grasp of the factual record.

  • Shaw:

    Dr. Friedman was not an adherent of ‘Austrian’ economics, nor of any policy prescription that contemporary ‘Austrians’ are promoting at this time.

  • Dr. Deco:

    Nor am I.

    I had my “ass in the grass/boots on the ground” in the past 37 years of serial banking/financial crises. I lived the causes and effects. The Congress, Fed and Treasury made them worse.

    “They” don’t listen to guys like me. And, I am not one of them guys that habitually predicts 50 of the past five busts.

  • What’s your point, T. Shaw?

    First you endorse a gold standard (including a kvetch that gold and silver certificates are no longer in circulation), then you eschew Austrian policy prescriptions, which include a ‘currency board’, which is meant to function similarly to a metallic standard.

    You make like I contradict Milton Friedman. Trouble is, my 1st point above is the nut of Dr. Friedman’s thesis about the Depression (seconded by Sir Alan Walters, another monetarist). The rest is (some interpretive statements aside) factual and would not be denied by Dr. Friedman or anyone else who had looked through the statistical manuals.

  • Everyone acknowledges that Peel’s Bank Act of 1844, restricting the note issue failed to address the real problem. Even then, currency notes were the small change of commerce and the Act did nothing to restrict bank deposits and, therefore, bank advances. Accordingly, the Act had no effect on price inflation.

    Neither then, nor subsequently, could any bank have paid its depositors in gold or Bank of England notes, had they all demanded repayment.

  • I so adore these on-topic conversations.

  • Professor Deco,

    I stifled myself. Mr. Bonchamps would have so adored it.

  • Neither then, nor subsequently, could any bank have paid its depositors in gold or Bank of England notes, had they all demanded repayment.

    I think that’s pretty much been true since the early modern period. When people decry ‘fractional reserve banking’, what they are objecting to is what is known more concisely as ‘banking’.

  • Art, thank you for your reply. I was not aware that when the Austrian school is referenced, that there is a “contemporary” school.
    .
    I read both The Road to Serfdom and The Fatal Conceit in recent years. I find Hayek’s argument to be compelling. To put it in moral terms, he shows how we create a Hell on Earth when we try to create Heaven on Earth through the machinery of State planning… and there’s a lot of data from the 20th century to back that up. I’m curious to know if there is a theological? doctrinal? natural law? reason that Hayek’s reasoning should be rejected.
    .
    Bonchamps, this is on-topic insofar as I’m asking about man’s relationship to the State, specifically what choices the State should make for men in the light of our Catholic faith.
    .
    I read your whole Scribd essay before making my first comment.

  • Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were aligned in their concern that the establishment and continuation of a “Central Bank” now known as “The Federal Reserve” would jeopardize the well being of the new republic, the integrity of its Constitution and its concept of federalism, along with the rights and liberties of its citizens. This “bank” issue is a fundamental concern to Liberalism on many levels.
    .
    In 1832, President Jackson rejected a Bill seeking to continue the existence of a Central Bank. In his veto of the bill, he stated:
    .
    “…It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.
    .
    “….Is there no danger to our liberty and independence in a bank that in its nature has so little to bind it to our country? The president of the bank has told us that most of the State banks exist by its forbearance. Should its influence become concentered, as it may under the operation of such an act as this, in the hands of a self-elected directory whose interests are identified with those of the foreign stockholders, will there not be cause to tremble for the purity of our elections in peace and for the independence of our country in war? Their power would be great whenever they might choose to exert it; but if this monopoly were regularly renewed every fifteen or twenty years on terms proposed by themselves, they might seldom in peace put forth their strength to influence elections or control the affairs of the nation. But if any private citizen or public functionary should interpose to curtail its powers or prevent a renewal of its privileges, it can not be doubted that he would be made to feel its influence.”
    .
    “Should the stock of the bank principally pass into the hands of the subjects of a foreign country, and we should unfortunately become involved in a war with that country, what would be our condition? Of the course which would be pursued by a bank almost wholly owned by the subjects of a foreign power, and managed by those whose interests, if not affections, would run in the same direction there can be no doubt. All its operations within would be in aid of the hostile fleets and armies without. Controlling our currency, receiving our public moneys, and holding thousands of our citizens in dependence, it would be more formidable and dangerous than the naval and military power of the enemy….”
    .
    “…..It is maintained by some that the bank is a means of executing the constitutional power “to coin money and regulate the value thereof.” Congress have established a mint to coin money and passed laws to regulate the value thereof. The money so coined, with its value so regulated, and such foreign coins as Congress may adopt are the only currency known to the Constitution. But if they have other power to regulate the currency, it was conferred to be exercised by themselves, and not to be transferred to a corporation. If the bank be established for that purpose, with a charter unalterable without its consent, Congress have parted with their power for a term of years, during which the Constitution is a dead letter. It is neither necessary nor proper to transfer its legislative power to such a bank, and therefore unconstitutional…”
    .
    “…Nor is our Government to be maintained or our Union preserved by invasions of the rights and powers of the several States. In thus attempting to make our General Government strong we make it weak. Its true strength consists in leaving individuals and States as much as possible to themselves-in making itself felt, not in its power, but in its beneficence; not in its control, but in its protection; not in binding the States more closely to the center, but leaving each to move unobstructed in its proper orbit….”
    .
    “….It can not be necessary to the character of the bank as a fiscal agent of the Government that its private business should be exempted from that taxation to which all the State banks are liable, nor can I conceive it “proper” that the substantive and most essential powers reserved by the States shall be thus attacked and annihilated as a means of executing the powers delegated to the General Government. It may be safely assumed that none of those sages who had an agency in forming or adopting our Constitution ever imagined that any portion of the taxing power of the States not prohibited to them nor delegated to Congress was to be swept away and annihilated as a means of executing certain powers delegated to Congress….”
    .
    “….Experience should teach us wisdom. Most of the difficulties our Government now encounters and most of the dangers which impend over our Union have sprung from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of Government by our national legislation, and the adoption of such principles as are embodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires we have in the results of our legislation arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career to review our principles, and if possible revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished the sages of the Revolution and the fathers of our Union. If we can not at once, in justice to interests vested under improvident legislation, make our Government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our code of laws and system of political economy….”
    .
    Source: “President Jackson’s Veto Message Regarding the Bank of the United States” of July 10, 1832;
    See, link: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/ajveto01.asp.

  • From page 168 of the 5th edition (1966) of Karl Popper’s 1945 study, The Open Society and Its Enemies:

    “Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude which springs from intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism. It may seek its heavenly city in the past or in the future; it may preach ‘back to nature’ or ‘forward to a world of love and beauty’; but its appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow-men.”

  • When MPS uses the term “peaty malt” he really means it….keep all lit matches at bay. : )

    I had a friend in college that loved Laphroaig…at the time (maybe they still do it), they had a certificate for a square inch claim to the peat bogs of the surrounding area. I still only partake in Scotch with friends to humor them…but the image of a burning square inch of peat will now assist me when I tilt one back with them.
    .
    Back on topic…Thanks for the replies Bonchamps, MPS and others. So if I understand it correctly, Jefferson would have supported each state’s determination to be as religiously tolerant or not, per an application of the the 10th Amendment.
    .
    Now, from the perspective of Dignitatis Humanae, as presented at Crisis (http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/do-all-religions-deserve-respect), absolute religious tolerance of every religion (ie, the entire spectrum of religious practice) isn’t good. Further, religious freedom can be, under justice, restricted…obvious example: human sacrifice. But then I pose this (from the link):

    The Council fathers also have this to say: “Civil society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order.” For our purposes the first and the last lines are the most important. The first possibly signals again an awareness of the problems that might be caused by false religion. The last tells us that government should be guided in its actions by the “objective moral order.”

    Take the above quote, mix in Jefferson and Locke for a moment…and then superimpose this mixture upon the HHS contraception mandate oppression. If the Gub’ment, through the actions of Sebellius and Holder, is acting in accordance with the “objective moral order” (please note the sarcasm), then aren’t they able to legally and within the realm of justice oppress Little Sisters of the Poor? Of course we reject that interpretation, but what would stop Jefferson from arguing that, or at least remaining silent on the dispute?

  • John,
    .
    Answer 1: http://the-american-catholic.com/2014/01/09/ursuline-nuns-thomas-jefferson-and-synchronicity/
    .
    Answer 2: http://www.thomasmore.org/blog/2012/02/thomas-jefferson-president-obama-hhs-mandate
    .
    The HHS mandate has absolutely nothing to do with moral order. The government doesn’t even make that claim when challenged in court. It is about achieving “gender equality”, a purely political goal. I suppose anyone can say that anything they propose is in the interests of “objective moral order”, though, should they want to.
    .
    Jefferson had zero interest – none, nada, zilch – in forcing people to behave contrary to their consciences and beliefs when there was no compelling, overriding issue at stake, which is precisely the case with the HHS mandate. He was not an ideological sociopath who believed it was his mission to force everyone to contribute to some grand political vision.

  • “It does reject the old Aristotelian idea that the state precedes man…”

    To quote something I wrote on a previous thread, “Aristotle famously called Man a ζῷον πολιτικόν – a political animal, For him, it is as blindingly obvious that people everywhere live in communities as that bees live in hives or wolves in packs.” It is in this sense that the polis logically precedes the individual.

    Now, the good of a human community must be a specifically human good and the Catholic political philosopher, Yves Simon identifies this: “the highest activity/being in the natural order is the free arrangement of men about what is good, brought together in an actual polity, where it is no longer a mere abstraction.”

    It is an old saying that the people make the laws and then the laws make the people. Recall the famous epitaph to Leonidas and his immortal 300 that “they died in obedience to the laws.” For the Spartan, the laws of Lycurgus were no mere constraint imposed from without; they pervaded his nature and expressed themselves in his actions. That is what Montaigne meant, when he says that “to obey is the proper office of a rational soul.” No wonder Sparta has been called “a lightening-flash of freedom, in the dark night of tyranny and crime.”

  • MPS,

    “Communities” are not “the state.” It was blindingly obvious to Locke too that men lived with women, had children, and established households and even communities before there ever was a state, which as a matter of historical fact, I believe is the truth.
    .
    Sparta was as close to a fascist regime in the ancient world as could be imagined, which is why it was adored by totalitarian fanatics such as Rousseau. I don’t say that it had no admirable and formidable qualities, but one wonders how the helots felt about those.
    .
    But none of this is really about history. It is about moral precedence. Man doesn’t simply precede the state in time, but in moral importance. The state exists to serve man and to protect what he has a right to acquire by nature. Men have a right to limit its power over their lives because it is their servant. If man exists to serve the state, well, what can I say – look at the bloody Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy. There’s your state preceding man.

  • “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State” – Mussolini
    .
    Sign me up for some of that.

  • Bonchamps

    The individual does not exist to serve the state – that is the fascist distortion of what Plato taught – rather the state is necessary to his perfection, to the fulfilment of his nature.

    As Hegel says, “If the state is confused with civil society, and if its specific end is laid down as the security and protection of property and personal freedom, then the interest of the individuals as such becomes the ultimate end of their association, and it follows that membership of the state is something optional. But the state’s relation to the individual is quite different from this. Since the state is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life. Unification pure and simple is the true content and aim of the individual, and the individual’s destiny is the living of a universal life. His further particular satisfaction, activity and mode of conduct have this substantive and universally valid life as their starting point and their result.”

    This is why Yves Simon says that, in this state [of abstraction], man is “no longer unequivocally real.” To clarify, Simon then adds: “Human communities are the highest attainment of nature for they are virtually unlimited with regard to diversity of perfections, and are virtually immortal.” He is talking not about what God has in mind for us in eternal life but what, in this world, is the purpose of the “highest of the practical sciences,” as Aristotle called politics.

  • MPS, did the German Third Reich understand itself to be the sort of Hegelian state you describe which represents a kind of perfection?

  • “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.” — TJ ”

    ” or to the people”
    .
    “We, the people… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the united States of America.” The Connecticut Baptist Church’s fears have become our daily living nightmare.”
    Some people think that “Church” means the body of people. “Church” means one living human person and he is free to have his Faith and his Conscience.
    Freedom and Justice are predicated on virtue. Those who take license exile themselves to a gulag of their own making.
    The Church of Connecticut was a church that happened to be in Connecticut. If it was supported by taxes, then, unless all churchs and denominations were supported by taxes, it would have been discrimination and taxation without representation. All education ought to be supported as education not as public or private school because all taxes are collected from all people.

  • Being overrun by immoral despots is not American.
    The atheist and the secular humanist are to be tolerated. Atheism and secular humanism are to be exposed as the fraud, the perjury, the lie, that they are. Atheism refuses to acknowledge the existence of God. The Supreme Sovereign Being, our Creator, endows all unalienable human, civil rights. Unalienable rights are endowed by the infinite God. The state, constituted by man, is finite and all rights endowed by the state are finite. Finite human rights have an expiration date, and unless constantly renewed and ratified, they may expire or lose their efficacy. Finite human right, unacknowledged, puts man at the mercy of the state.
    Infinite human rights come from the infinite God. Unending and unalienable human rights comes an unending and unalienable Creator.
    It is the desire of God that all men be free. Our Creator has created man in freedom, freedom from enslavement to every vice and every addiction to every sort of evil. Man is created to be especially free to choose good over the deceit of the devil.
    It is the will of God that man might live in peace with his neighbor. God inspires man to constitute the state that all unalienable rights of man might be shared to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” all future generations, persons still in the mind of God, our Creator.
    It is the duty of the state constituted by man’s free will to deliver equal Justice. Equal Justice may only be established through virtue, through the innocence and virginity of the newly begotten human soul created in legal and moral innocence. Manmade Justice will always bear the mark of finite, imperfect man.
    Freedom of Religion must remain constant so that when the atheist and secular humanist freely choose Truth, the unalienable right to freedom of religion may be theirs to embrace. This is evident in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Church.
    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
    Citing the whole First Amendment, including the phrase, ”or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” Jefferson then comments about “a wall of separation of church and state.” The wall of separation of church and state has been abused by the atheist and the secular humanist to remove any free expression of religion, to impose atheism, their own agenda, to bamboozle and tyrannize and obliterate the unalienable human rights endowed by our Creator, God, the Supreme Sovereign Being in Whose image and likeness man is created with a rational, immortal human soul, endowed with free will, intellect and sovereign personhood. Enough of the half-truths of atheism and the skullduggery of secular humanism, if the atheist and secular humanist wish to impose finite civil rights on the souls of men, equal Justice dictates that they are the first to have their finite civil rights enforced by the state and by the state removed, finished. The atheist and the secular humanist want unalienable human rights while imposing their finite and removable human rights on the souls of men. This injustice must be rectified and the whole truth be re-established and re-ratified.
    Jefferson also cites “ the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience.” “ Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties”
    This statement alone is the response to the Obamacare’s HHS Mandate.

  • “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State” – Mussolini . Sign me up for some of that.”

    Believe me, Bonchamps, you do not want to go there.
    .
    If the individuals all practice virtue and brotherly love, they may constitute the state. The criminal, by virtue of his exiling himself through his crime, ceases to constitute the state. Persona non grata.

  • MPS,
    .
    “But the state’s relation to the individual is quite different from this. Since the state is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life.”
    .
    There’s quite a miscommunication here, isn’t there? In the minds of classical liberals, “the state” is specifically a body of armed men with a monopoly of violence over a given geographical territory. The way that popes and maybe Hegel too used “the state” was akin to the way that classical liberals may speak of communities or societies. “The state” as organized violence IS optional, DOES exist almost entirely to preserve private property (life, liberty, estate). “The state” as a community of human beings sharing values, culture, technology is society. It too is optional – anyone can go live in the wilderness alone. But I agree that no one will develop in isolation. No classical liberal believes that men can develop or ought to seek to develop as isolate individuals outside of society. What Hegel calls “civil society”, we call the state. What he calls “the state”, we call society. This is semantic confusion at its finest, without a doubt.

  • ““The state” as organized violence IS optional, DOES exist almost entirely to preserve private property (life, liberty, estate).”
    .
    This so called “violence” is called armed forces. Violence is used in the commission of a crime. Armed forces are used in the protection of the community or self.
    .
    But I agree that no one will develop in isolation. No classical liberal believes that men can develop or ought to seek to develop as isolate individuals outside of society .”
    Hermit monks and the desert Fathers grew in holiness in isolation, not without of the state but for the state.

  • Thanks for the comments and clarifications. I would tend to agree that the terms that each philosopher and commenter use are critical for understanding…I can’t help but wonder if much of what many of us have said is the same but with different words. MacIntyre’s After Virtue discussed the fact that when no one properly understands the language of moral philosophy, it’s terribly hard to come to any agreement on anything.
    .
    If I may synthesize and put this into my own language (contributing to the dilemma I just mentioned…O Irony!) and see if I’ve understood properly, the individual man and society exist in an interdependent relationship. Drawing on the notions of how subsidiarity (which tends to focus downward) and solidarity (which tends to focus across the entirety of humanity) need to be a “Both And” and not an “Either Or”, man and society are similiarly (though not identically) positioned.
    .
    An individual (and this is where my limited knowledge of Thomism and the greater Catholic application to theology / philosophy might fail me) is ordered toward the objective goods of worshiping his Creator, pursuit of virtues (Cardinal and Spiritual), and the Great Commission with respect to his fellow man. That inevitably aims work toward a just and good society (I’m using “just” more as I understand Aquinas to mean it, not your average progressive). A just society, in turn, tries to foster an environment in which individuals can achieve their own objective good.
    .
    I think it’s important that MPS discussed the way in which Plato had been twisted…In that same line, C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, the simple premise of which entity, the man or the state, is more important is, among other things, related to the belief in the lifespan of each.

    Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. . . . And immortality makes this other difference, which, by the by, has a connection with the difference between totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of the state or civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

    http://merciarising.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/cs-lewis-state-and-individual/

    I think that this certainly explains why collectivist governments (I find Hayek’s generalization to be quite appropriate, as there’s little net difference between fascists, communists, and any other type of socialist) invariably will make determinations that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or one” and then, in turn, lead to the Culture of Death. In light of that, the Christian alternative would look to Christ’s example, where He would leave the 99 sheep to look for the one which was lost. So, I think it’s fair to say (unless I’ve botched an understanding) that the individual is more important than the state (bad connotation) and probably the society (good connotation). So I think this would find agreement with Bonchamps point in the primacy of the individual. But to MPS’ point, it’s a “chicken and the egg” question; you necessarily must have man and society, even if the “egg came first” (in this situation, the man). Maybe more appropriate to use a plant seed…the seed is essential, but without growing into a mature plant and flowering, it hasn’t reached its proper end (MPS’ comment about assisting to man’s proper end). But this is the break with my comparison to subsidiarity and solidarity…those I regard as “co-equal” compared to the individual and the polis.
    .
    Further, if I’m understanding and translating between Bonchamps accent from a classical liberal and Michael’s of a Catholic theologian/philosopher, an individual who is aligned properly with an objective morality won’t come into conflict with a society aligned the same. To Mary’s point, we have a situation in present times where the societystate is not aligned properly.
    .
    It’s when either the individual or the society stray from the proper moral code that they become unjust, and therefore either the criminal or the oppressive state. A just war undertaken by the state is a proper exercise of its capacity, insofar as it is protecting the good and defending against the bad. When it is turning firehoses on some people, intentionally starving other people, or subsidizing infanticide, it has divorced itself from justice.
    .
    Hopefully that makes sense, as I’m trying to make sure I’m understanding properly…I think I’m still around the “first level of understanding”…I heard it once said that there are three levels of understanding, depending upon your ability to explain a topic or thought to first yourself, second to a friend (who will grant you some leeway) and finally to an enemy (who will find any holes in your presentation and challenge you on it). If, of course, I’m still at the “zeroth level of understanding”, I welcome any nudges, hints or sledgehammers anyone might provide.

  • Mary,
    “Hermit monks and the desert Fathers grew in holiness in isolation, not without of the state but for the state.”
    .
    I think there’s a distinction here, and I’m probably the least best to articulate it given the rambling I just went through. I believe the difference is that in the case of a hermit monk, there’s a relationship to the greater society, but a supernatural one. Whereas in the context of politics / philosophy, the question is more discussing what authority the state has over the individual. An anarcho-individualist, who would reject any state authority, would be supporting a notion of isolation completely different than what a monk might be doing.

  • John by any other name: You said it correctly. Thank you for the clarification.
    .
    “It’s when either the individual or the society stray from the proper moral code that they become unjust, and therefore either the criminal or the oppressive state. A just war undertaken by the state is a proper exercise of its capacity, insofar as it is protecting the good and defending against the bad. When it is turning firehoses on some people, intentionally starving other people, or subsidizing infanticide, it has divorced itself from justice.”

  • Bonchamps

    Thank you for your clarification.

    Certainly, for the ancients, the polis or respublica (the “public thing”) was distinguished from other communities by the fact that it was independent and not subject to any external authority.

    A polity cannot exist without laws, enacted or customary. That is what Simon means, when he says that it is a “free arrangement of men about what is good brought together in an actual polity where it is no longer a mere abstraction.” That is also what Hegel means, when he says that “the state is mind objectified.”

    As a matter of history, many societies have had very limited means of law enforcement, but there was always a clearly recognized difference between self-help in enforcing a legal claim and mere aggression; a creditor would call up witnesses and pronounce a particular formula, when seizing his debtor’s goods or person; magistrates did not adjudicate claims themselves (an invidious task), but appointed an arbitrator, with the consent of both parties and so on.

    For a Catholic, like Simon, ““Beyond the satisfaction of individual needs, the association of men serves a good unique in plenitude and duration, the common good of the human community.” This “common good” is not a separate “being” into which individual persons are somehow subsumed. Rather it is a “good” that recognizes that each citizen also has a transcendent destiny that is not merely political. Moreover, the polity itself exists as a relation of order among men, whose being, whose substance, grounds the polity’s reality, which cannot exist without them. That is where it differs from Fascist and Socialist concepts of the collective.

The Origins and Role of Government

Sunday, December 2, AD 2012

So we’ve been discussing the proper role of the state on this blog recently, particularly as it relates to the legalization of marijuana. This discussion, in all of its unfortunate snarkiness and nastiness (to which I freely admit having contributed, not that I’m proud of it) is really a discussion on the proper role of the state.

I think it is rather uncontroversial to assert that America was basically founded upon the Lockean social contract theory. We begin with the proposition that everyone has basic natural rights: to life, liberty, and property. In a hypothetical scenario in which there is no coercive authority (the state/government), we must also act as our own judge, jury and executioner. In this anarchic situation, our rights to life, liberty and property are unsecured. In order to secure them, we collectively renounce our right to be our own personal government and transfer that right to a government we establish by contract. Our property – life, liberty and estate – is more valuable and necessary for life than our “right” to do as we please, when we please, to whomever we please.

The terms of the contract are rather simple. They are stated very simply in the Declaration of Independence. Governments exist to protect our natural rights. They don’t exist to make us “better people” – that’s what the Church is for. They don’t exist in order to achieve “social justice” – that is what private charity and free markets are for. The individual American states were founded by people of like-minds who wanted to establish communities that reflected their religious values – Pennsylvania for Quakers, Maryland for Catholics, and so on. The Constitution was created by the states mostly for the purposes of common security.

Government is not a positive good. It is an evil necessary to prevent the greater evils that would result from total anarchy. As such, it must be kept on the tightest of all possible leashes, which is why so many Americans demanded a Bill of Rights as a condition for the ratification of the Constitution. If men in a state of anarchy would be evil, they don’t suddenly become angels because we give them titles, badges, and offices. The evil in our hearts is the evil in their hearts, and the greater the scope and depth of the powers we give to governments, the greater potential for evil we establish.

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60 Responses to The Origins and Role of Government

  • As I understand it, the terms of the social contract are simply that “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

    From this it follows that the people are sovereign and law is an expression of the general will. The laws are made by those who are to obey them, not by the government, which is to enforce them.

    Thus, by the social contract, each individual gives up only so much of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control, but, then, the people is the sole judge of what is important. This must be so, for the people have no master and no judge and decide all questions finally and alone.

    It also follows that the government is the appointee and agent of the people, holding power under an imperative and revocable mandate and accountable to the people for its acts. No one may exercise any power over another that does not proceed from the people.

  • “I think it is rather uncontroversial to assert that America was basically founded upon the Lockean social contract theory. ”

    I am not sure that Lockean social contract theory was the basis of America’s founding. Russell Kirk, among others, makes the convincing case that the Founders were more influenced by Burke, Blackstone, Montesquieu, Hume, and Hooker than by Locke in their design of the Constitution and government. Essays such as this – http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=176&Itemid=259 – while not explicitly agreeing with Kirk’s thesis, at least provide that the Founders read and were influenced by a much wider selection of thinkers than Locke.

  • I think it is rather uncontroversial to assert that America was basically founded upon the Lockean social contract theory.

    Agreed with Jonathan above. Read Kirk, Bailyn, and others who rebut the notion that our founding was all about putting in place Locke’s Second Treatise. If anything, historians of all ideological stripes overrate the importance of political theory at the time of the creation of the new government and overlook how much of it was based simply upon pragmatic principles.

  • “and overlook how much of it was based simply upon pragmatic principles.”

    Agreed. This was the saving grace of the American Revolution as opposed to the disastrous attempt by the French revolutionaries to make the most hare-brained theories a reality. The Founding Fathers were veterans of the political systems of their colonies and were not about to confuse theory and reality.

  • “Saving people from themselves (and punishing moderate users indiscriminately), bringing ‘democracy’ to people who never asked for it (with drones and depleted uranium), and achieving ‘social justice’ (i.e. radical egalitarianism) are not good reasons.”

    I agree. However, it is important to note that lead ammunition is as deadly as depleted uranium ammunition. When one wants to know about the hazards of rocket fuel, one asks a rocket scientist. When one wants to know the hazards of the chemicals used in the petro-chemical industry, one asks a chemist. And when one wants to know the hazards of depleted uranium, one asks a nuclear engineer / scientist. Anti-nuclear energy groups like WISE or NIRS, having a devout interest in smashing all things nuclear, are not repositories of the facts. But the US NRC, NEI, etc., are.

    Now what is depleted uranium? Natural uranium is 99.3% U-238 and 0.7% U-235 (the number of neutrons is different between the isotopes, but the number of protons – 92 which determines chemistry – stays the same). U-235 is fissile with thermal neutrons. U-238 is not, but can be used in fast neutron fission or can be used to produced thermal fissile Pu-239 by resonance absorption of neutrons. To get uranium to the point when it can be used in thermal neutron, light water reactors such as what the US uses, it is enriched slightly to about 3 to 5 % U-235. You can’t use natural uranium in a light water reactor because the macroscopic absorption cross-section in hydrgen in the water coolant over-rides the low concentration of U-235, so the fission chain reaction is not self-sustaining. (Candu reactors in our neighbor to the north use heavy water and natural uranium – same physics and math, just different results – the deuterium in heavy water doesn’t absorb neutrons as well as the hydrogen in light water, but heavy water is way more expensive). Thus, in US reactors uranium has to be enriched by gas centrifuges (which is what iran is doing to get a bomb) or other means. (NOTE: a bomb requires 93+ % U-235; nuclear reactors require 3 to 5%. We know Iran is going for a bomb because they are enriching way beyond 3 to 5%). Now what is left over from the enrichment process is uranium whose U-235 is basically gone (because it has been concentrated elsewhere) and only the U-238 is left. We say this is depleted because the thermal fissile material is depleted. But U-238 could still be used in fast neutron reactors. Furthermore, it has even less radioctivity than U-235. In fact, it has less radioactivity than the bananas you ate this morning which has radioactive potassium in them, and you would get less radiation exposure from being next to a depleted uranium artillery piece than you would from the radium in the concrete and brick that make up Grand Central Station in NYC. Of course uranium dust is a hazard – it’s a heavy metal just like lead. The hazard comes not from its radiation which is miniscule but from its chemistry.

    Now more facts on depleted uranium can be obtained here – please go to the nuclear engineers and scientists for the facts, NOT WISE and NIRS:

    http://www.nrc.gov/materials/fuel-cycle-fac/ur-deconversion/faq-depleted-ur-decon.html

    Please remember that more radioactivity is emitted into the environment by coal-fired power plants in the form of naturally occurring uranium, thorium and radium in the coal (that is burned and becomes ash dumped in ash ponds or released willy-nilly into the air) than by the use of any depleted uranium artillery.

    Now the reason why depleted uranium is used in artillery is because it is very, very dense, more so than lead. So that old KE = (1/2) M V^2 law takes effect: more mass, more kinetic energy. Personally, I think that when we are fighting the enemy, we should use the best materials available and that includes depleted uranium. Now should we have wars of foreign adventurism in lands of Islamic fascism for oil when the depleted uranium can be better used as fuel in fast neutron nuclear reactors to generate low cost, cheap, pollution-free electricity? Of course not.

    I hope this clarification helps.

  • I think it is rather uncontroversial to assert that America was basically founded upon the Lockean social contract theory.

    The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut antedated the Two Treatises on Government by fifty years.

  • Jonathan

    In 1984, Donald S Lutz published his findings that, in American polemical writings, published between 1760 and 1805, Montesquieu accounts for 8.3%. He is followed closely by Blackstone, with 7.9%. Locke comes in at 2.9%, closely followed by David Hume with 2.7. No one else achieves more than 1.5%.

    Moreover, Locke was scarcely cited at all, before 1780, Blackstone seldom before 1770 and Hume very little before 1790. Montesquieu leads in every decade from 1760 and 1800.

    Now, Montesquieu’s leading idea, in contrast to Locke, is that different laws and institutions suit different societies; he also attached great importance to situation, race and, especially, climate. In this, he was a far less prescriptive than Locke; the difference, perhaps, between a jurist and a philosopher.

    This accords with Paul Zummo’s and Donald M McClarey’s assessment of the Founders’ pragmatism.

  • Michael,

    If I understand you, that is not to say that those writers with later dates couldn’t impact the Constitution (of 1787), but only to say that Montesquieu was more influential?

    I have used a list based upon Lutz’s writings, which is here – http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?Itemid=259&id=438&option=com_content&task=view.

    I also think that Kirk argues correctly that the Founders had in their minds the rights of Englishmen, combined with a governmental form based upon Montesquieu and ideas he used from the Roman republic.

  • Jonathan

    I imagine the big idea from Montesquieu was the separation of powers

  • The specific influences of the Framers is an interesting topic but it is on the margins of Bonchamps’ thesis and of marginal value in answering the question posed.

    It is my view that Chief Justic John Marshall significntly altered the Constitution, defining it in exclusively Federalist terms rather than acknowledging the widespread and honest disagreement on form and substance of the debate. That is as it may be. We live under a Constitution defined as much by successive Statist courts from FDR’s administration through the first Clinton Administration.

    Bonchamps’ post digs deeper to ask what the role of government SHOULD be, not what it has become, and I am in general agreement with his central thesis. Of course, one challenge of the thesis is that it is disconnected from reality by a giant chasm.

    Man is generally unwilling to accept collateral damage in the exercise of liberty. This opens a hole through which Statism seeps.

    I am willing to accept the proposition that men live with the consequences of their bad behavior. If a child is harmed by it, even without intention, we want laws to prevent the cause. This is a natural reaction and comes from a good impulse. Unfortunately, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

    Our system of government, in reality rather than theory, is a dance between Statism and Libertarianism; between those who refuse to accept collateral damage and those who believe that collateral damage is inevitable and choose only to alleviate or mitigate he harm caused by their own behavior.

  • G-Veg

    I believe there is a further question.

    A society that values equality as well as liberty will be on its guard against the growth of privilege inimical to liberty.

    Jefferson was certainly alive to this; it was his motive in introducing into the Virginia legislature his law against entails and primogeniture, which he feared would create a landed aristocracy. He warned against “perpetual monopolies in commerce, the arts or sciences, with a long train of et ceteras,” such as the trade guilds of Europe enjoyed and he was suspicious of corporations with perpetual endowments. Hence, his insistence that the earth belongs always to the living, who cannot be restrained by the actions of the dead and he supported the French in their desire “to change the appropriation of lands given anciently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity.”

    Such concerns will lead men to support a strong central government. As Lord Acton says, “Government must not be arbitrary, but it must be powerful enough to repress arbitrary action in others. If the supreme power is needlessly limited, the secondary powers will run riot and oppress. Its supremacy will bear no check.” The power of the state is necessary to guard the individual from oppression by privileged groups; that is from regulation in an interest not his own.

  • You articulate your point well MPS and I concede that there may be other justifications for Statism. Are these shared by Americans though? I’m not sure that they are.

    Jefferson had an affection for the theoretical underpinnings of the French Revolution that seem fairly unique for his time. I don’t recall reading anywhere that Rousseau’s writings had much currency with the Framers, Federalist or Anti-Federalist. Nor do I recall mention of French revolutionary ideas at the Ratification Debates.

    So, while I think you articulate a point we shoul seriously consider in answering Bonchamps’ query, I don’t think it accurate to ascribe it much currency among the founders of our republic.

  • G-Veg

    Franklin, writing in 1736, 26 years before Rousseau’s Social Contract and 53 years before the French Revolution, voices very similar ideas to Rousseau’s on popular sovereignty: “The judgment of a whole people, especially of a free people, is looked upon to be infallible. And this is universally true, while they remain in their proper sphere, unbiassed by faction, undeluded by the tricks of designing men. A body of people thus circumstanced cannot be supposed to judge amiss on any essential points; for if they decide in favour of themselves, which is extremely natural, their decision is just, inasmuch as whatever contributes to their benefit is a general benefit, and advances the real public good.”

    Such ideas were the common currency of the age.

  • “I am not sure that Lockean social contract theory was the basis of America’s founding. ”

    I consider the Declaration of Independence to be America’s first document, and it is a Lockean document. I don’t discount the influence of other sources on many other parts and aspects of the United States, but when it came time to philosophically justify what the American rebels were about to do, it was to Lockean principles that they turned.

    Of course, there is a difference between who influenced the Declaration and who influenced the Constitution. I never claimed, or would claim, that the Constitution was primarily Lockean. So this isn’t mutually exclusive with the “practical” or “pragmatic” considerations mentioned by Paul and Don.

    As for this,

    “As I understand it, the terms of the social contract are simply that “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.””

    Those are the terms of social contract theory in general. But the American social contract is very specific in its articulation of the purpose of government, the reason for which the contract exists. We established the government in order to secure our natural rights. We crafted a Bill of Rights later on to reinforce this contract.

  • “The specific influences of the Framers is an interesting topic but it is on the margins of Bonchamps’ thesis and of marginal value in answering the question posed.”

    Thanks for being the one person in probably 5 million who noticed or would even care to say it as if it mattered 🙂

  • “Our system of government, in reality rather than theory, is a dance between Statism and Libertarianism; between those who refuse to accept collateral damage and those who believe that collateral damage is inevitable and choose only to alleviate or mitigate he harm caused by their own behavior.”

    I think you’re correct, G-Veg. The only distinction which I would draw is that the choice to alleviate or mitigate will almost always be the one which impinges least upon the ability to exercise the behavior as freely as possible. If one examines carefully the laws surrounding Religion and Sexuality (a.k.a. Family Law), one sees your idea borne out. It is without doubt that quick and easy divorce is ruinous to our country, yet we choose to employ armies of counselors, lawyers, judges, etc. to pick up the pieces rather than enact laws that make it more difficult to become divorced.

  • That is fascinating. I am embarrassed to say that I have not read any of Franklin’s writing. Perhaps there is a proviso though? The quote states something that I would not hold to be true. Take Sparta’ norms or Western culture’s abortion on demand theories, for example: how does the principle apply to the dastardly, self serving norms of fallen peoples? Perhaps there is more to the argument.

    Perhaps i can coax you into exploing these ideas more fully. Whether the Framers of our constitution accepted Statisn ideas such as were proposed in France in the 1780s or not, the ideas are relevnt o this discussion since Bonchamps is exploing idels, not merely pragmatic realities.

    I am curious, for example, how these ideas can be reconciled with the predominant wories of the Framers: tyranny of the few or the many.

  • G-Veg,

    You constantly make excellent “points.”

    I recently re-read my freshman Ancient History text chapters on Greece to refresh on the Persian Wars. An interesting factor in Sparta’s political development was that the polis’ council usurped the Spartan/Greek fathers’ traditional discretion to slay, or not slay, infant children. Interesting that we have government sponsordd abortion and soon Obamacare euthanasia/death panels.

    Your most recent comment raises the issue of “tyranny of the few or the many.”

    Over the years (I have a six in front of my age), I have seen the liberals (perennial bed-wetters and eternal whiners), call it “dictatorship of the majority” whenever their plots were legislatively dismissed.

    Whenever I heard/read that pabululm, these words: “consent of the governed” would fly around inside my cranium.

    Two thing: The Framers specifically denied the government the authority to impose taxes on citizens’ income or property; and they never intended the government to have power to take property from some citizens and transfer it to other citizens to buy political power.

    “Consent of the governed” and as St. Augustine wrote, “Government without justice is organized brigandage.” We have duly elected “organized brigandage.”

  • The Framers specifically denied the government the authority to impose taxes on citizens’ income or property; and they never intended the government to have power to take property from some citizens and transfer it to other citizens to buy political power.

    The federal government was debarred from levying direct taxes unless such taxes were apportioned among the states. State governments retained a power to tax as specified in each state constitution. The 16th Amendment extended the power to levy taxes on the income of individual households.

  • G-Veg

    Franklin, writing in 1736, was not considering a Federal constitution, but the government of a state.

    Under any system of government, sovereignty must be lodged somewhere, by which I mean the power to make and unmake all laws whatsoever.

    In an interview with the Catholic News Service (June 14, 1996) Scalia J explained, “The whole theory of democracy, my dear fellow, is that the majority rules, that is the whole theory of it. You protect minorities only because the majority determines that there are certain minorities or certain minority positions that deserve protection. Thus in the United States Constitution we have removed from the majoritarian system of democracy the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and a few other freedoms that are named in the Bill of Rights. The whole purpose of that is that the people themselves, that is to say the majority, agree to the rights of the minority on those subjects — but not on other subjects. If you want minority rights on other subjects, you must persuade the majority that you desire those minority rights. Or else you take up arms and conquer the majority. I mean you may always do that, of course.”

    The ultimate guarantee of freedom is that the laws are made by those who are to obey them; that they are the same for all, whether they protect of punish and, thus, no one can restrict the freedom ofothers, without restricting his own to the same degree. This was well known to the Greeks, who spoke of ???????? [Isonomia = Equal law]

  • I think I better understand your point. How do we reconcile it with Natural Law?

    Abortion on Demand is a good vehicle for exploring this point, to my mind, because, in much of Europe, it is generally accepted as rightly and properly an individual concern, beyond the powers of the State to regulate; hence my Spartan reference eariier. Now, as a Christian, I know, with absolute certainty, that murdering children is inherently evil. In order for a law to be morally and ethically valid, it cannot directly contradict Natural Law.

    So, is your point merely a practical one: that a minority, however righteous, has no power to make the majority do the Good? If so, it is an obvious point and I concede it unequivocally. However, if you are tying ethical and moral laws to majoritarianism, I am afraid you will have to explain yourself more fully since I am do not see the connection.

  • You have it wrong. Drugs are illegal because the people, through their governmental representatives, have said that they need to prevent those who use drugs from , in many ways, harming themselves and others. Now..some doper may ruin his life and never cost society anything (like whenTHE USER needs help in government-provided services like rehab and counselling-which cost you and me!). But often he hurts his family or co-workers or the public, and causes certian problems for which certain action is needed. You talk about this problem in a way that totally misconstruees the REASON drugs are illegal. It is NOT about what the user does to himself. I don’t want druggies free to use in public or without some criminal sanction.
    How much government do you want to eliminate? Should we eliminate the following?
    1. laws prohibiting prostitution?
    2. any governmental agency that examines and protects the manufacture and distribution of food we eat and legal drugs ? Should ANYONE be able to make and package meat and then sell it without inspection?
    3. laws that require testing of people before they get a license to drive?
    4. allow doctors to practice medicine without a license?
    5. legalize heroin?….meth??..
    6. should I be able to demand,” I want 3 oxycontin a day and not the amount that the doctor says he can legally give me?” I mean…my” freedom” to reduce my pain should allow me to do that??
    I love “liberty,””freedom,” and I like to use those words to make whatever I am discussing more palatable, but Mr Catholic, people who don’t use drugs, it has been proven, need some civil protection, from many, many dopers who decide to violate the laws and do things known by everyone from publicized stories from the last 40 years. Dopers do things that harm NOT ONLY themdelves, but others….just like the person who is not tested and licensed to drive. Why shouldn’t I be able to mary without a governmentally-required marriage license??
    I would never vote for Rand Paul….unless he ran against this Catholic-hating doofus we have as President now….

  • G-Veg

    The contradiction at the heart of liberalism lies in its simultaneous assertion of popular sovereignty and universal human rights. In the brief interlude between the absolutist state of the Ancien Régime and modern mass democracies, this was achieved by the separation of the public sphere of state activity and the private sphere of civil society. The state provided a legally codified order within which social customs, economic competition, religious beliefs, and so on, could be pursued without interference.

    But, when the social consensus on which the distinction rested breaks down, as it did with the rise of organised labour and of mass political parties, liberalism has no way of defining or defending the boundaries of this sphere; everything becomes potentially political.

    Rousseau saw this very well. “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is important,” for “ if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.”

    His solution is well known: “whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; [« ce qui ne signifie autre chose sinon qu’on le forcera d’être libre »] for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence.”

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  • Don Curry,

    “Drugs are illegal because the people, through their governmental representatives, have said that they need to prevent those who use drugs from , in many ways, harming themselves and others.”

    I don’t remember voting on a federal law prohibiting marijuana. I do recall two states, just recently in the last electing, voting to legalize it directly through ballot initiatives.

    Anyone who votes for the use for force to save me from my own decisions is a moral fraud and my enemy. Protecting society is a different matter. On THAT point alcohol and pot are on the same level. Oh yes, the “long term effects” may differ, but to consider those isn’t to protect society, but rather to engage in social engineering, which is not a legitimate role of the state. Protecting society really means protecting the lives, liberties and property of its members, to which marijuana poses no greater threat (and considerably less of a threat in my experience) than alcohol.

    “Now..some doper may ruin his life and never cost society anything (like whenTHE USER needs help in government-provided services like rehab and counselling-which cost you and me!)”

    This isn’t a compelling argument, since I oppose those government-provided services as well. That’s what private charity is for. I’m all for you and I never paying another cent into such programs and letting churches and other groups deal with it. AA is pretty much a private religious group, as far as I can tell.

    “But often he hurts his family or co-workers or the public, and causes certian problems for which certain action is needed. ”

    So let his family and co-workers deal with him. The family can kick him out on his behind. His boss can fire him. As for the public, then yes, “certain action” is needed. There are plenty of people who use marijuana (and other drugs, I might add), in such ways that they never pose a threat to the public, and therefore they shouldn’t be punished at all for what they do in private.

    I don’t believe in pre-crime. I don’t believe in punishing people because they ingest a substance that MIGHT make them a threat to the public. If I believed that, I would have to be for the total prohibition of alcohol, because it has destroyed far more lives, cost far more jobs, and caused far more public damage and violence than marijuana ever has.

    The punishments of a free society – the loss of family, income, home, friends, respect – are severe enough for people who abuse drugs.

    “You talk about this problem in a way that totally misconstruees the REASON drugs are illegal. It is NOT about what the user does to himself. ”

    Really? Because you JUST mentioned people who are “harming themselves” in this very comment. Why did you do that? In any case, I have clearly addressed and acknowledged the other reasons as well. I don’t find them compelling, except in the case of drugs that have no other purpose than addiction, such as crack and meth. Those drugs we can and should eliminate as a public menace though I don’t think the users should be thrown in prison for possession (just destroy the dealers and their unholy laboratories).

    Now, this will be fun. How much gov’t should we eliminate? Let’s see.

    “1. laws prohibiting prostitution?”

    Yes. All of them. Just like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas advised. Nature and organic society punish sexual abusers enough already. Human law doesn’t need to add to it.

    However, and I’ll repeat this for almost every point on the list, this is under our Constitution a state and local issue, and that I don’t object to states and cities prohibiting it if that’s what they want, as long as people are free to live in a state or a city that decides to allow it.

    “2. any governmental agency that examines and protects the manufacture and distribution of food we eat and legal drugs ? Should ANYONE be able to make and package meat and then sell it without inspection?”

    Get rid of them all. People who sell bad drugs and bad meats will find themselves without customers. Consumers are capable of making their own choices and establishing their own rating agencies to spread information about products. Companies that avoid this voluntary process will find themselves with fewer customers than those that voluntarily submit to it.

    No producer who wants to be successful sells poison and packages it as something healthy unless he’s getting government subsidies. If you sell bad drugs and bad meat on the streets, there are much more efficient ways of meeting out justice. Without governments to force people to buy your products or subsidize your loses, you have no choice but to compete for profits the old fashioned way – by actually giving people what they want on a consistent basis.

    Finally, in spite of all of our wonderful and efficient regulations, tens of thousands of people still manage to die each year due to drug and food complications. It couldn’t have ANYTHING to do with the fact that there is a revolving door between the FDA and the corporate world, though right? The fact is that every time you establish some regulatory agency, all you are really doing is establishing an entity that the largest players in those markets can purchase and staff with their own people to crush the competition, keep new competitors from entering the market, and give legal sanction to defective goods and services. That is exactly what has happened with the US regulatory apparatus. We would all be better off without it.

    “3. laws that require testing of people before they get a license to drive?”

    That’s a state issue. I would oppose federal meddling in the issue, and I don’t rule out the possibility of private/free alternatives, but its really not very high on my priority list. Stopping midnight SWAT raids that resemble the tactics of the NKVD or Gestapo, drone strikes on innocent families across the ocean, and the destruction of religious liberty in the United States rate a little higher.

    “4. allow doctors to practice medicine without a license?”

    I don’t think governments need to be involved here either.A doctor whose practices cause harm to people won’t be in business very long. If the harm is unintentional, he can be sued in court, and if it is intentional, then he can and should be arrested and prosecuted for whatever harm he did. I don’t see why we need an army of bureaucrats who inspect things to be involved in this process.

    On the other hand, there are people who want to practice alternative medicine whom the official licensing establishment would never grant a license to, for whatever reasons. People ought to be free to explore alternatives at their own risk, though. That’s what being a grown up is all about.

    “5. legalize heroin?….meth??..”

    Decriminalize possession in amounts clearly intended for personal use. Perhaps some kind of rehab can be mandated for repeat offenders. I’m all for aggressively going after meth labs and drug cartels, though.

    “6. should I be able to demand,” I want 3 oxycontin a day and not the amount that the doctor says he can legally give me?” I mean…my” freedom” to reduce my pain should allow me to do that??”

    Well, you are free to hurt yourself if that is what you are asking. But the doctor is also free to say “no.” So no, I don’t think we need a bureaucrat deciding how many pills a person can take.

    “do things known by everyone from publicized stories from the last 40 years”

    What sort of things did they do when all these drugs were perfectly legal? And why haven’t all of these laws stopped all of these people from doing all of these terrible things?

    I’m for the protection of people’s rights from would-be violators, including drug users. I am opposed to laws that serve virtually no other purpose but to punish people for indulging in a substance that may or may not cause them to do something else. Moderate users who don’t violate other people’s rights should not be punished along with violent addicts. That’s not justice, it’s coercive Puritanism.

  • Anyone who votes for the use for force to save me from my own decisions is a moral fraud and my enemy.

    Curious as to how you’d vote if abortion were ever on the ballot.

    For that matter, what about legislation regarding rape, murder, arson and all other “decisions” you may make?

    Now I know that you will retort that these are all actions that are much more serious than marijuana use, and you would be correct. Of course then you would be making a distinction – almost saying something akin to “No, that’s different,” which as we learned the other day would be hypocritical.

  • “I am opposed to laws that serve virtually no other purpose but to punish people for indulging in a substance that may or may not cause them to do something else.”

    Has the writer used drugs, and if yes, then is he being being honest about the effect that the use of mind-altering substances has on his behavior? The question is rhetorical. I have the answer for myself. I did, and I became a lying, thieving, conniving reprobate deserving of incarceration, or worse. I have known of no exceptions, though I suppose there may be a few here and there.

    I have often wondered how one can be so very brilliant in some areas, so miss the mark in other areas, and be completely (some would say even pridefully) unwilling to countenance a possible error in judgement. No offense intended. I simply know from first hand experience what drugs do.

  • “But what if the consumers are mistaken with regard to their own interests? Obviously, they sometimes are. But several more points must be made. In the first place, every individual knows the data of his own inner self best—by the very fact that each has a separate mind and ego. Secondly, the individual, if in doubt about what his own true interests are, is free to hire and consult experts to give him advice based on their superior knowledge. The individual hires these experts and, on the market, can continuously test their helpfulness. Individuals on the market, in short, tend to patronize those experts whose advice proves most successful. Good doctors or lawyers reap rewards on the free market, while poor ones fail. But when government intervenes, the government expert acquires his revenue by compulsory levy. There is no market test of his success in teaching people their true interests. The only test is his success in acquiring the political support of the State’s machinery of coercion.” — Murray Rothbard

  • Paul,

    I’m really surprised that you would ask me such questions. Have you never read my posts? Is this the first thing of mine you’ve read?

    “Curious as to how you’d vote if abortion were ever on the ballot.”

    Against it, every time, because it is legalized murder. My guidepost isn’t “freedom to do as I please”, but rather natural rights to life, liberty and property. Abortion violates the right to life.

    “For that matter, what about legislation regarding rape, murder, arson and all other “decisions” you may make?”

    Seeing as how I clearly specified laws that would save me from my own decisions, I’m not sure how much sense laws against raping, murdering and setting myself on fire would make, but I would probably end up opposing them.

    Laws that protect people’s natural rights from the decisions made by others to violate those rights, I’m fine with, and have never suggested otherwise.

    “Now I know that you will retort that these are all actions that are much more serious than marijuana use, and you would be correct.”

    More serious? No. All of those actions involve one person doing harm to another person. What I specifically mentioned were laws that would protect me from myself. Apples and oranges.

    “Of course then you would be making a distinction – almost saying something akin to “No, that’s different,” which as we learned the other day would be hypocritical.”

    And now you’re going to hold me to what someone ELSE alleged?

    Really?

  • Unrealistic expectations about how the individual is going to be responsible. When the individual screws up, it is the victim of his drug use who suffers and the govermnent who pays…since the family has kicked the doper out, and he has no more money because he has sucked it into his nose.Yes freedom!!…liberty !! womnan’s freedom…woman’s liberty.. and so I guess you are for abortion rights. As a Catholic, you must have alot to explain. ..and by the way…why do you think they call it “dope?”

  • Bonchamps,

    Just trying to follow the logic of your absolutism, is all. I am not sure that your explanation really distinguishes drug laws from the other matters sufficiently, but unfortunately I’m not going to have time to pursue the matter for now. But your pro-life bona fides are unquestioned – again, I was just pointing out the difficulties with that statement.

  • Paul P,

    I’ve often wondered how someone who claims to be a Christian and usually displays Christian behavior can, in some instances, be so uncharitable and unreasonable.

    “Has the writer used drugs, and if yes, then is he being being honest about the effect that the use of mind-altering substances has on his behavior?”

    Not that it matters, but yes I have, and yes I am. I did far more damage to myself, others, and society when I was drunk than I ever did when I was stoned. I would say the same without hesitation regarding everyone I knew who used in both substances.

    But who cares? Why do you relate everything back to the way YOU were? Why in heaven’s name would you conflate justice with whatever would have served to stop YOU from being an anti-social marauder? There are plenty of people who use marijuana in moderation. It is wrong to punish them for doing so.

  • The only thing they half-rght (for the wrong reasons) is opposition to the Fed. Bank of England’s Andy Haldane, “. . . the crisis started by the banks was as damaging as a “world war.” It will be central bank policies’ fault that the world will long-term suffer in abysmal economic growth and raging unemployment.

    And, becuz on the list of evils that are destroying America weed is just above “Don’t shoot bigfoot or the aliens will become enraged!”

  • Paul Z,

    “Just trying to follow the logic of your absolutism, is all.”

    Having principles is now “absolutism”? Are you going to look at my defense of natural rights the way secularists look at your acceptance of Catholic dogmas?

    “I am not sure that your explanation really distinguishes drug laws from the other matters sufficiently,”

    The distinction is simply between what I said – laws that would save me from my own decisions – and what you proposed, laws against things that people do to each other.

  • When talking about legalizing marijuana, we need to get the facts from reputable medical sources (e.g., the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, or the US Surgeon General) just as when we are talking about new nuclear power plants or Fukushima Daiichi we need to get the facts from reputable engineering sources (e.g., the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Nuclear Energy Institute, or the International Atomic Energy Agency). The following web sites provide information that indicates that the use of marijuana is hardly harmless or relegated to impacting only the user (which of course confirms my own personal experience):

    http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001143.htm

    https://www.ncjrs.gov/ondcppubs/publications/pdf/marijuana_myths_facts.pdf

  • Don C,

    “Unrealistic expectations about how the individual is going to be responsible.”

    I don’t know what you mean. One way or another, a free society imposes costs upon people who abuse themselves and others. If an individual doesn’t take responsibility, society will deprive him of more and more things until he either straightens up or dies in a gutter.

    “When the individual screws up, it is the victim of his drug use who suffers and the govermnent who pays…”

    How many times do I have to say it? I don’t want the government to pay for anything in this regard. It isn’t like that is necessary. It is a policy. It doesn’t have to exist.

    “since the family has kicked the doper out, and he has no more money because he has sucked it into his nose.Yes freedom!!…liberty !!”

    Yes, that’s what it means. That’s where you can end up. That’s what it means to have a soul – the possibility of choosing evil and spending eternity in hell. Do you curse God for your free will as well?

    “womnan’s freedom…woman’s liberty.. and so I guess you are for abortion rights.”

    You guess wrong. Abortion is murder.

    I don’t believe in libertinism. I believe in natural law. And I believe nature and free society impose sufficient penalties for most bad behavior, and that the involvement of the state is morally unjustifiable and practically unnecessary.

    “As a Catholic, you must have alot to explain. ..and by the way…why do you think they call it “dope?””

    I never said it was good. I just don’t think the state should be involved. But I guess that’s just beyond some of you.

  • “Not that it matters, but yes I have, and yes I am.”

    Someone who is using marijuana should stop driving or otherwise using heavy machinery until one month after ceasing the use of marijuana since the THC molecule remains in the myelin sheath of the neurons for up to a month after the last use of marijuana and can precipitate out, resulting in an unintentional state of intoxication at any time. People who are currently using it are a danger to themselves and otehrs.

  • Paul P,

    “The following web sites provide information that indicates that the use of marijuana is hardly harmless or relegated to impacting only the user (which of course confirms my own personal experience)”

    I never said it was harmless. I believe people should be free to harm themselves, within the limits of other people’s rights. That’s why we are free to smoke cigarettes, eat triple cheeseburgers, and consume alcohol by the gallons. I maintain that marijuana does not pose a greater immediate risk to the lives, liberties and property of others than these substances, and in many cases, considerably less of a threat.

    There’s a lot of hypocrisy here, and a lot of absurdity. Rail against marijuana all day. I don’t like the stuff and I don’t smoke it. I don’t even like being around people who smoke it. But I will always oppose state involvement in what is clearly a private matter.

  • Paul P,

    To be clear – I smoked it back in high school. That was over a decade ago.

  • I mean, heck, I only drink alcohol a few times a year.

    I told you before, I’m addicted to stimulants. Starbucks is my drug dealer. Triple lattes.

  • Bonchamps, thanks for the clarification. In my line of work, I would be relieved of duty immediately if marijuana were detected in my blood, however minute the quantity. And you would want me relieved of duty.

    I am glad you stopped using, as did I. Sadly, I required the baseball bat of the Lord’s grace aisde the head to get me to stop. As for alcohol, it’s not like marijuana and in moderation is harmless while for me it is a poison. But that’s different.

    No, I don’t like the war on drugs and I think the solution is the 12 Steps. But society has to protect itself from the scourge of drug use. So I disagree with your supposition that private use of marijuana harms no one except the user. That’s not true because the behavior it causes almost always harms others. And comparing that to alcohol is like comparing apples and oranges.

  • ” That’s not true because the behavior it causes almost always harms others.”

    No it doesn’t. The behavior it causes is usually sitting around talking about nonsense, watching nonsense on the television and stuffing your face.

    Alcohol, on the other hand, causes people to get loud, obnoxious, sexually promiscuous and physically violent.

  • Darn, I am not going to win this argument. Oh well! As long as there are no reactor operators at the panel using marijuana, or airplane pilots, or surgeons, or train engineers, or navigators of LNG or petroleum tankers, or any of a host of other occupations affecting public health and safety.

  • Having principles is now “absolutism”?

    Sigh. Just forget it.

  • “Alcohol, on the other hand, causes people to get loud, obnoxious, sexually promiscuous and physically violent.”

    That may be (in part) a societal reaction – see here, for instance: http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/Controversies/1048596839.html or here: http://www.sirc.org/publik/drinking4.html.

    At any rate, congratulations, Bonchamps – this blog post has produced the most diverse (verbose) reactions I have seen to any post on this site in a great while.

  • Paul Z,

    You’re sighing at me – after using the word “absolutism” to describe my positions?

    Was it supposed to be a perfectly neutral and objective description? If so, I’m really sorry for having assumed the negative connotation that almost is almost always associated with the word in modern political and philosophical discussions.

  • Of course, you’re just heaping insult on top of insult by sighing, rolling your eyes like a bored teenager, and assuming I’m just so hard-headed and fanatical that I can’t possibly be reasonably engaged. I’d love nothing more, absolutely nothing more, than to have a frank, open, honest and deep debate about all of these issues and I apologize if I unfairly or unnecessarily associated your word choice with ill-intent.

  • Alcohol, on the other hand, causes people to get loud, obnoxious, sexually promiscuous and physically violent.

    No, people are inclined to be loud, obnoxious, sexually promiscuous, or physically violent; alcohol lowers inhibitions. It is quite unremarkable to imbibe quite a bit over one’s lifetime and imbibe to intoxication and be none of these things.

  • Bonchamps, With respect to all, you aren’t tinkering at the edge of government an everyone else is. Therein lies the problem.

    Unless I am greatly mistaken, you aren’t asking how to change the existing laws and government to allow particular principles to operate. You are proposing a Libertarian answer to the question “what is the origin and role of government?” and inviting us to offer an alternative view. If I have that right, MPS is the only one to have done so and his championing of Statism as the indispensible instrument of freedom through majoritarianism seems to me to be the polar opposite of your proposition.

    I have nothing so clever to say as either of you and, so, am egging you on from the outside of the ring. I should very much like to see a back and forth between ye.

  • Bonchamps…Terrific, just terrific. Your clear, concise, direct responses to the “arguments” of Paul P., Paul Z., Don C. in this comments section have been a real pleasure to read.

    Your defense of the natural law and the principle of non-aggression is heartening and sorely needed among my fellow Catholics. I check this blog for your posts often and then look forward to the comments following them.

    I have to think that your response to Don C. @ 3:57pm would cause any thinking person to sit back and at least begin to question their position on these issues.

    Well done! Please keep it up.

  • Well, I’m not quite sure where you would like us to begin. I accept the terms of the Lockean social contract, but not that of Rousseau. I accept the American Revolution, which was justified on Lockean grounds (again, this is distinct and separate from the crafting of the U.S. Constitution, which owes more to other sources), and I reject the French Revolution, which was the product of Rousseau’s thought. I think Locke was a continuation of the natural law tradition dating back to Aristotle, furthered by Jefferson and others like Sumner and Murray Rothbard while Rousseau was a continuation of Hobbes’ apologetic for tyranny, who was furthered by Hegel, Marx and Lenin. These are different historical trajectories.

    I can’t imagine anything more absurd than the notion of “championing of Statism as the indespensible instrument of freedom.” The state and all of its functions are maintained by the violent confiscation of private property. And even if it is, for a time, run by people who hold the right moral values (as it arguably was during certain times and places during Christendom), it can too easily be placed in the hands of people who hold values that are ungodly and inhuman, as I believe it is now. How can the state guarantee freedom when it is run by people who don’t even appear to believe in the concept of free will? The HHS mandate, for instance, is being forced upon us because – and this is the government’s argument to the federal judiciary – it is in the government interest to promote “gender equality”, and this consideration overrides all others. This is clearly not an instrument for freedom, but rather one of enslavement, robbery and violence for the sake of immoral and untenable ideas.

    Freedom does require certain conditions. Private property rights must be respected and protected. An overarching power is needed to punish those who violate these rights. The Constitution was ratified by the states because individually they would not have the defensive powers they would have combined. But the states forced upon the proponents of the Constitution the Bill of Rights, which is now being fired upon by the Obama administration (as it was under Bush Jr., without a doubt, and as it would have been under John McCain or Mitt Romney or John Kerry or any of the other would-be presidents). Both sides believe in unlimited spending to finance their ideological visions – the Democrats want unlimited domestic welfare and entitlement spending to bring about an egalitarian utopia, while the Republicans want unlimited military spending to bring about global democracy. And yet libertarians are accused of sacrificing everything to “ideology” and not being “pragmatic” enough. No, I’m plenty pragmatic – neither egalitarianism in the United States nor democracy in in the Middle East have a thing to do with my interests or can be supported with means I find morally justifiable or fiscally sustainable. I say the same about the state harassing and punishing people engaged in moderate levels of vice.

    I’ll leave it there.

  • For an alternative to the Social Contract theory, Yves Simon, the Catholic political philosopher and very much in the Thomist tradition, argues for the “ethical state.” “The highest activity/being in the natural order is free arrangement of men about what is good, brought together in an actual polity where it is no longer a mere abstraction.” This is not dissimilar to Hegel’s view of the state as “mind objectified” where the moral order finds its concrete embodiment.

    Since, “Human communities are the highest attainment of nature for they are virtually unlimited with regard to diversity of perfections, and are virtually immortal” and, hence, “Beyond the satisfaction of individual needs, the association of men serves a good unique in plenitude and duration, the common good of the human community.”

    It differs from the classical Social Contract theory in insisting on the essentially social nature of man and that the individual is an abstraction. Indeed, Simon argues that “in this state [of abstraction], man is “no longer unequivocally real.””

    Similarly, Simon’s teacher, Jacques Maritain argues that Integral political science . . . is superior in kind to philosophy; to be truly complete it must have a reference to the domain of theology, and it is precisely as a theologian that St. Thomas wrote De regimine principum . . . the knowledge of human actions and of the good conduct of the human State in particular can exist as an integral science, as a complete body of doctrine, only if related to the ultimate end of the human being. . . the rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account (The Things that are not Caesar’s, p. 128)

    Of course, these are the principles underlying “Throne and Altar” Conservatism.

  • As far as I am concerned, the contenders for political power in the United States are natural law libertarianism and social democracy. This isn’t Europe. There’s no ancien regime to reestablish and no cultural support even in the remotest for such thing.

    “It differs from the classical Social Contract theory in insisting on the essentially social nature of man and that the individual is an abstraction. Indeed, Simon argues that “in this state [of abstraction], man is “no longer unequivocally real.”””

    I completely reject this as nothing but a recipe for totalitarianism. Are individual souls “abstractions” as well?

    I accept that man has a “social nature”, which finds its expression in the free market of mutual beneficial exchange and voluntary cooperation.

    “the rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account”

    When there is no cultural consensus on the supernatural order, the governing of social life can’t possibly take into account any particular supernatural order, even the right one. That’s just a fact, whether I like it or not.

  • small voice from over in the corner It seems like the essence of the contention is whether “people” can be trusted to still do “the right thing” if nobody’s standing over them, making them pursue or eschew whatever actions inform it.

    Liberty assumes they/we can. Statism assumes they/we won’t. Is it possible to stand on one and proclaim the other?

    Is either concept workable given that man is fallen and the evils of his heart will corrupt the authority or freedom anyone pursues?

    I wish I knew. I know which side I prefer, though; taken ad absurdam, The State will shove The Church out like a catbird chick and take millions to perdition with it. Liberty, even in imperfect man, makes room for The Church or dies alone.

    “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

    This, we can trust.

  • WK Aitken

    Well said.

    The great 19th century Catholic historian, Lord Acton said of liberty that “In every age its progress has been beset by its natural enemies, by ignorance and superstition, by lust of conquest and by love of ease, by the strong man’s craving for power, and the poor man’s craving for food.”

    He adds that “If hostile interests have wrought much injury, false ideas have wrought still more; and its advance is recorded in the increase of knowledge, as much as in the improvement of laws.”

  • “Liberty assumes they/we can.”

    Not really. Liberty assumes that “doing the right thing” is only actually right when it is done freely, and that forcing people to do the right thing is not only immoral in the means, but doesn’t even produce a moral end. You can’t be forced to act morally. If you aren’t choosing freely, you aren’t behaving morally. You’re just fulfilling someone else’s desires. You’re a slave.

  • Bonchamps wrote

    “You can’t be forced to act morally. If you aren’t choosing freely, you aren’t behaving morally. You’re just fulfilling someone else’s desires. You’re a slave.”

    This is clearly right. Liberty means self-government, or it means nothing.

    G K Chesterton said, “The citizens not only make up the state, but make the State; not only make it, but remake it… “The idea of the Citizen is that his individual human nature shall be constantly and creatively active in altering the State… Every Citizen is a revolution. That is, he destroys, devours and adapts his environment to the extent of his own thought and conscience. This is what separates the human social effort from the non-human; the bee creates the honey-comb, but he does not criticise it… No state of social good that does not mean the Citizen choosing good, as well as getting it, has the idea of the Citizen at all.”

  • Bonchamps – I see what you mean and it’s why I enclosed the phrase in quotes. It wasn’t necessarily an allusion to charitable or otherwise moral works as much as day-to-day options and civil behavior (overlap notwithstanding,) but your elucidation is spot on. Thanks.

    MPS – would that Dr. Chesterton’s words still rang true in government circles here. Perhaps again, someday.

  • To maintain that there is a “natural order,” governed by Natural Law, consisting of truths accessible to unaided human reason; something that can be kept separate from the supernatural truths revealed in the Gospel is, in practice, to acquiesce in the liberal privatisation of religion and to hold that the state can be self-sufficient, in the sense that it can be properly independent of any specifically Christian sense of justice.

    But there is no such thing as a state of pure nature. “We cannot,” says Blondel, “think or act anywhere as if we do not all have a supernatural destiny. Because, since it concerns the human being such as he is, in concreto, in his living and total reality, not in a simple state of hypothetical nature, nothing is truly self-contained (boucle), even in the sheerly natural order.” This is why Maritain insists, “The rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account.”

    Thus, in “Immortal Dei,” Pope Lo XIII says, “So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, should hold in honour the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favour religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety. This is the bounden duty of rulers to the people over whom they rule.”