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.
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.
Inside Catholic has been kind enough to publish a reworked and hopefully more coherent account of my thoughts on Locke and Catholic political thought. For those who didn’t want to wade through my verbose musings, this ought to be more readable.
Some questions have been raised in the discussion on my posts on Locke & Catholic political thought about the extent to which Locke’s political theory conforms to or detracts from natural law. This follow-up post, which will be relatively brief, should serve to answer such questions at least in part.
In the previous part of this series, I gave a detailed comparison of the views of John Locke and Pope Leo XIII on the state of nature, the origin of private property, and the proper use of private property. In this final part, I want to make a few more points regarding what I think can be called “Lockean” thought, at least as it exists in contemporary America, explore the relationship between the Catholic Church and the United States, and explain why I think all that has been considered thus far is relevant for our political situation today.
by Joe Hargrave
In the previous part I showed how Locke’s argument for government by consent was similar to, and may have even been influenced by, that of St. Robert Bellarmine. I also showed how some of the more well-known early-modern political theorists who dreamed of powerful authoritarian regimes also dreamed of obliterating the Church as an obstacle to their fruition. Now I will argue that there is a clear overlap between the political theory of John Locke, and that of Pope Leo XIII, the pope who is responsible for Catholic social teaching as we know it today. In the final part of this series I will address why these overlaps are important, and what they mean in our contemporary political situation.
by Joe Hargrave
It is becoming fashionable in the now and unfortunately familiar leftist-traditionalist alliance to gang up on the political ideas of John Locke as the source and origin of all that is anti-Catholic in Anglo-American politics. Articles in the Distributist Review, books by certain prolific authors, and blog posts appearing on certain sites, all have produced the equivalent of a picture of Locke with devil horns and perhaps a long, thin moustache to twirl while he’s tying hapless girls to the railroad tracks. There’s certainly no denying that Locke was himself opposed to what he thought Catholicism was. But sometimes, even the enemies of the Church are sharing her premises in spite of themselves.
I’ll begin by stating that part of the blame or praise for this post ought to go to Christopher Blosser and David Jones for their excellent overview and commentary on the ongoing political/economic dispute between Catholic Distributists and Catholic libertarians.
I wish I could easily come up with a logical, smooth flow to all of these points. But really I just want to get them out there, no matter how disjointed in appearance.
Finally, I really mean it this time: we will have a respectful discussion on this topic, or none at all. That means certain people and their comments will likely be banned from the discussion. It will not be possible to avoid charges of “being afraid” to debate with such indestructible champions of the one true political philosophy, given their amazing ability to rule out all other possible reasons, including their coarse and offensive personal behavior, as to why no one wishes to engage in discussions with them. C’est la vie.
The best way to contribute here, though, is to ask questions that I can answer for this FAQ!
Where does the word “Distributarian” come from?
The word “Distributarian” was pejoratively applied to me and a few others who have attempted to blend libertarian and Distributist ideas by those not so enamored with the project. Since I see it as a good thing, I don’t mind wearing the label as a badge of honor.
What is a Distributarian?
It is one who does not see a necessary conflict between the basic propositions of Distributism and libertarianism, and insofar as possible, seeks to incorporate both of them into their social vision.
What are these propositions?
The following propositions are both necessary and sufficient for each ideology:
Of Distributism: property should be as widely distributed as possible.
Of libertarianism: social relationships should be as voluntary as possible.
Naturally some doctrinaires will dislike the wording “as ___ as possible”; why should we care about what is possible when great ideas are at stake? Either they exist full-fledged without imperfection in the world or they may as well not exist at all! If we move past this childish expectation and begin with the possible, I think we will find that there is no contradiction between these propositions.
Distributism and libertarianism challenge each other in a good way. Distributism challenges libertarianism to move beyond individual autonomy and articulate a vision of the common good; libertarianism challenges Distributism to clearly articulate how property distribution ought to come about – through force, or through consent?
Not only do they challenge each other; they compliment each other. Property owners will thrive in an environment of economic freedom; genuine liberty will thrive as it is rooted in solid social institutions based upon private property. As property ownership will increase the self-sufficiency of individuals, families, and communities, it will decrease dependency upon the state.
And please note that this is a work in progress!
I read a lot of bad news every day, but this really tears it. A 78 year-old man named Rosco O’Neil has been charged with operating an illegal taxi service, has had his car impounded and a $2000 fine imposed upon him for offering to give a woman a ride home from a grocery store. The woman, you see, was an undercover police officer, part of a sting operation to rid society of the menace of cheap transportation for people who need it the most. Aside from the fact that this was a case of blatant entrapment, since O’Neil hadn’t even mentioned money and told the woman upon her inquiry that she could give him whatever she liked, this is also a case of the inhumanity that statism breeds.
I wasn’t going to do this, but now I am. A contributor (Morning’s Minion) to a certain blog (Vox Nova), whose views on gun control I previously challenged, took it upon himself to let it all out about “conservatism” – partially, I believe, in response to our exchange. The same themes are there at least, though he does go on (and on) about slavish right-wing support for Israel, an issue on which I am not so enthusiastic. I’ve also made my opposition to America’s interventionist foreign policy known. In doing so I respectfully digress from many of my co-bloggers at The American Catholic.
But there are a number of very broad points made by Morning Minions that are more or less directed at me, and my co-bloggers, and of course conservatives and libertarians in general, and I will answer them here.