53 Responses to From “Third Ways” to the First Way

  • You were attracted to what you thought was Distributism, but it really was something entirely different. Distributism does not distribute property to the populace, as if it were government, it is purely an economic system in which profits are shared among all the workers and each worker owns his own equipment.

    I stopped reading after your statement I was once attracted to the idea of Distributism, until I came to the vital question of who would be doing the “distributing” of the private property that everyone was supposed to own, but I assume that whatever your conclusions are, they are probably wrong because it was based on a false premise.

  • Good post. Yes, you hit on the dilemma of Distributism. The only example that I can think of is the Homestead Act of 1862 which ‘distributed’ land if people were willing to work the land. Unfortunately, much of that land was taken from the Indian tribes and a century later consolidated by oligopolistic corporations. In my reading of Christopher Dawson, culture and economic systems evolve over time. There was in the late medieval period a sort of distributism economy at work but this was destroyed during the Reformation. The introduction of usury at that time, rise of the nation state and confiscation of church lands effectively killed the evolution of a more distributive economy by the 17th century and the industrial revolution in the 19th century killed the small agrarian ‘lifestyle’ for good. Chesterton and Belloc were looking backwards towards that ‘lost’ model but you can’t impose distributism….it must evolve over time based upon agreed upon societal and cultural principles.

  • Third Way? Not even close.

    We shall have four more years of wrecking the evil, unjust private sector.

    I think we want to avoid starting out with “how we want ‘things’ to be” or “how we think ‘things’ should be” and analyze what/how things are. When you have a handle on what/how things are, you can form and suggest improvements. I try to make money from knowledge

    At the moment, a gang of unaudited, unelected PhD’s, and their crackpot monetary theories, run the World.

    KK: What does that mean? Is it that each worker is born with his own equipment, or is given it by God?

  • @T.Shaw: Obviously the worker would be given the gift of being able to work from God, but the materials he uses (such as his hammer, or a computer, or whatever) would be purchased from a retailer and not gifted to him by the company or government.

  • let us try to recover the Republic that out founders originally intended and the God our nation once trusted. Neither of your two choices is truly viable. There can be no compromise between good and evil. The Democrat Party should be anathema.

  • kyle,
    In Distributism what happens if a worker chooses not to spend all his profits? May he seek a return from his savings? If so, how?

  • @Mike Petrik: In the Distributist model of the economy, banks are replaced with Credit Unions. Last I checked, CU’s do offer savings accounts with interest.

    If you have seen It’s a Wonderful Life, you have seen Distributist banking in theory. Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, is the model of Distributist banking while Lionel Barrymore’s Mr Henry Potter is the model of Capitalist banking. Bailey is invested in the people and their welfare, Potter is invested in making more money.

  • Aren’t entrepeneur’s workers who actually work for the wealth they create while they hire other workers at a salary those workers agree to in order to create that wealth? And is not an agree-to amount of the wealth shared from (or paid by) the entrepeneur who works to his subsidiary workers? And is that not the distributionism to which we ought to aspire? You want wealth? Work for it!

    “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat.” 2nd Thessalonians 3:10

    You don’t get to have what isn’t yours.

  • @Paul. I think the difference is the underlying assumptions regarding human nature that inform the different approaches. Distributism would purport that humans are naturally relational, an approach of course originally proposed by Aristotle, interpreted by Aquinas through the lens of the New Testament, and, as far as I know, the current understanding of the Church. Therefore, society is not merely an aggregation of individuals. Indeed, the dichotomy of individual vs. society would be incoherent. From this perspective, a business owner should be just as motivated by contributing to the community (promoting the livelihood of others, producing an actual worthwhile product instead of something that plays off of human weakness) as they are by turning a profit.

    The other approach is derived from the Lockesian concept of radical individualism. Hiring employees is not seen as a “good” in and of itself, but merely a means toward the generation of wealth. Obviously many entrepreneurs do choose to hire people for less than self-motivated reasons (my brother makes a point of hiring people with mental handicaps to work at his restaurant), but that’s out of their own volition, not a product of the capitalist/classical liberal hybrid society we live in. As Tocqueville says, “Americans are better than their philosophy.” But once those other influences begin to wane, as we’re seeing with the replacement of authentic religion with a flimsy sort of humanism, I think we’ll see just how ugly and incompatible with Catholicism classical liberalism really is. If you have a First Things subscription, I’d encourage you to read Patrick Deneen’s recent essay on the unsustainability of liberalism. Good stuff.

  • “Indeed, the dichotomy of individual vs. society would be incoherent.”

    Though the concept of person and society isn’t and Paul’ comment does not contradict that.

    Perfect relation of unity and distinction is present in God in the Trinity. In human nature, especially fallen nature, there will always be some separation if not dichotomy.

  • @Phillip.
    Sure. We are individuals while also simultaneously part of a larger community. Lockesian philosophy seeks to separate the two, presenting the individual as a self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, the Church, and the family. We are not and we cannot.

  • “Lockesian philosophy seeks to separate the two, presenting the individual as a self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, the Church, and the family. We are not and we cannot.”

    I will agree with that to the extent I have read Locke. I don’t know if other Lockean scholars will agree.

    But its not clear that Capitalism (or the American experiment) is an effort at Lockean philosophy.

  • But as a societal or political regime, it will either rest upon consent or it will rest upon force.

    What societal or political regime, in the end, does NOT rest upon consent or force. In fact, what regime does not rest ultimately upon force? If not for the threat of incarceration or other penalties, which of us would pay taxes to subsidize government programs the ruling class decides we need?

    Even the right to private property has to be protected, in the end, by force. The use of force by the government is not ipso facto wrong. The problem is that the government is run by those with various levels of ability (or desire) to seek the common good. Some mistake their policies as consistent with the common good when in fact they are not. Now whether or not distributism is in fact consistent with the common good, I do not know.

  • Kyle,

    Distributists like John Medaille, Thomas Storck and Chris Ferrara don’t talk about Distributism as a “purely economic” model of a firm. They talk about it as a complete vision of society. If it really were just about employee ownership, well, a) we wouldn’t need a special theory called “Distributism” because its already a widely practiced thing (there are more workers in employee stock plans now than there are in unions) and b) they wouldn’t be talking about guild systems, the elimination of usury, financial regulations and a whole host of ideas that go far beyond the mere advocacy of worker ownership.

    JL,

    No one believes – not Locke, not anyone – by the way, that anyone is a “self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, etc.” This is complete nonsense. That people form families and societies is a given in Locke’s state of nature.

  • JL,

    You wrote, “From this perspective, a business owner should be just as motivated by contributing to the community (promoting the livelihood of others, producing an actual worthwhile product instead of something that plays off of human weakness) as they are by turning a profit.”

    I agree and maintain that this must never be mandated by secular law but be taught by the Church. Secular law should (1) ensure a level regulatory playing field that protects public health and safety from industrial / medical / transportational / energy production / aviation activities with a potential for adverse impact on life or limb, and (2) prevent (or punish the doers thereof as appropriate) the initiation of force by one company, entrepeneur or worker over another company, entrepeneur or worker. Fossil fuel accidents like Deep Water Horizons and the Exxon Valdez are cases in point, as well as the Union Carbide toxic gas release in Bhopal, India in 1984.

    It “ain’t” the Federal Govt’s job to enforce distributionism except in those cases where taxes are required for public health, safety and the common defense. That said, local communities may elect to have local laws that provide services for the poor in their communities based on taxing the wealth-producing residents (entrepeneurial or laborer) of such communities. If a particular resident doesn’t like the vote of the majority, then he can move to a community without such mandated distributionism. This is called subsidiarity and freedom.

    I probably would agree to extra local taxes for the poor. But I object to extra Federal govt taxes for the poor. I am all for distributionism at the local level. I oppose it at the Federal level. The only exception are massive accidents like the Deep Water Horizon oil well blowout that killed 5 more people in 2010 than the 6 who who killed by the event at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, and devasted the eco-system in the Gulf of Mexico with toxic sludge that will never ever decay away (unlike Cs-137 that has a half life of 30.17 years). And yes, BP should be subject the “re-distribution” necessary to pay for damages. It’s called “responsibility”.

  • C Matt,

    “What societal or political regime, in the end, does NOT rest upon consent or force.”

    Regimes established by cliques and cadres such as Jacobins and Bolsheviks, for starters – regimes that can only cement their rule through mass murder, ethnic cleansing and the extermination of millions. Those would be the most clear-cut examples. A regime in which all of the productive workers are expropriated by the government to support a horde of unproductive voters in exchange for political power, which is what we have in the United States right now, comes pretty close as well.

    “Even the right to private property has to be protected, in the end, by force.”

    I disagree with that. When you defend your rights, you certainly aren’t engaging in an illegitimate use of force. You’re repelling someone else’s attempt to use force in a completely illegitimate way. Yes, we can play semantic word games and call defensive violence “force”, but really what I am rejecting is the aggressive invasion of other people’s natural rights.

  • “The other approach is derived from the Lockesian concept of radical individualism. Hiring employees is not seen as a “good” in and of itself, but merely a means toward the generation of wealth”

    The generation of wealth benefits everyone. It benefits the poor more than everyone else. When producers are efficient, consumers are rewarded, and most consumers are poor. How is that not a social good? I reject the whole silly notion that production for profit is “selfish.” There isn’t a legitimate profit that is made that doesn’t involve the mutual benefit of at least two parties. In a society in which property rights are respected, you can’t make a dime unless you make the effort to correctly ascertain and provide what people express a desire for. That seems to be a necessary, indispensable requisite for “society.”

  • C Matt,

    I misread your question. My apologies. Everything rests on either consent or force. That was my whole point. People should be clear about which they are advocating for.

  • Bonchamps

    “No one believes – not Locke, not anyone – by the way, that anyone is a “self-sufficient entity that can stand on its own, free of society, etc.” This is complete nonsense. That people form families and societies is a given in Locke’s state of nature.”

    You misunderstand me. Locke argues that these relationships are completely voluntary, not a de facto, organic, intrinsic product of human nature. Individuals form societies simply to protect “natural rights.” They are not necessarily “social” in essence. There is no obligation to the common good. Locke’s views of child-rearing are especially troubling, as its essentially boiled down to a contract that terminates once the child becomes self-sufficient. Additionally, one of the compelling reasons Locke cites that serves as incentive for a child not to severe filial connections is the matter of his inheritance. This is certainly anything but the Catholic concept of the family, which is something we are born into, not to which we voluntarily consent.

  • JL,

    ” Locke argues that these relationships are completely voluntary, not a de facto, organic, intrinsic product of human nature.”

    They are completely voluntary, in the sense that – at least in a stateless society – no one is compelled to enter them by force. No matter how “organic” or “intrinsic” certain arrangements might be, whether or not they are voluntary depends solely on whether or not one is, or is not, forced to enter into them regardless of their will. Through the exercise of free will alone, you could decide not to have a wife, or children. Surely you won’t dispute that.

    “Individuals form societies simply to protect “natural rights.”

    No. They form governments to protect natural rights. “Society” and “government” are very clearly not the same thing, and a certain level of society must be reached before there can ever be a common agreement to a social contract establishing a government.

    “They are not necessarily “social” in essence.”

    Of course they are, if “social” means voluntary cooperation as opposed to forced participation.

    “There is no obligation to the common good.”

    Well, that’s false, since Locke identifies an obligation not only to care for one’s self, but for one’s family and in fact, insofar as possible, every other member of society. The common good is served in the pursuit of legitimate self-interest, moreover, which can only be satisfied by meeting other people’s needs.

    ” Locke’s views of child-rearing are especially troubling, as its essentially boiled down to a contract that terminates once the child becomes self-sufficient.”

    There is an implicit “contract” in any voluntary relationship.

    A truly self-sufficient being would be degraded if it were forced to stay in a dependent relationship against its will, especially one that has become abusive.

    “This is certainly anything but the Catholic concept of the family, which is something we are born into, not to which we voluntarily consent.”

    The capacity to consent begins with the use of reason. We aren’t born with that either, but if we were, family would hardly be necessary. The primary duty of parents towards children is their physical upkeep and their education. Once these tasks are complete, a family will either remain together out of love or disintegrate. We live in a world in which adults coddle children until they are 18 and in many cases for years and years beyond that. In different times and places, self-sufficiency is theoretically possible far sooner than that. The sooner the better, I say.

  • I think Bonchamps point that “everything rests on consent or force” is a very important one. No one has the right to initiate force against anyone else. That said, some will say (for example – there are plenty of other ones, but I will use one familiar to me) that they are being forced to breathe in the toxic refuse of coal fired power plants (which per the CDC kill 33,000 people annually in the US from lung disease due to particulate pollution). But these same people pay for electricity with nary a complaint about where that electricity comes from (because we all know that no electricity kills far more people than electricity from coal). So, are they being forced, or have they consented by virtue of the fact that they have paid for their electric bills? Now there is an alternative, but that alternative, instead of having a 90+ % capacity factor, has a 30- % capacity factor, and here it is:

    http://otherpower.com/

    People consent when they pay. Don’t want it? Don’t pay for it and erect your own wind mill that won’t give electricity 70% of the time. It’s that simple. If I really don’t consent to fossil fuel pollution, then why do I drive a fossil fueled vehicle? Answer: I make a risk trade off between cancer from fossil fuel pollution versus the luxury of getting where I want to go no matter when. Besides, fast transportation to the hospital in case I get sick or injured beats any day of the week not being able to get there.

    Govt has no right to force people to do anything except in the case where public health, safety and the common defense are adversely impacted. Rather, govt’s responsibilty is to level the legal and regulatory playing field. In the example above, if all things were equal and coal fired power plants were held to the same radiation emissions standards as nuclear power plants, then not a single coal plant would be operating (it’s all that uranium, thorium and radium in coal). But if I agree to buy electicity without specifying where the utility provides that electricity from, then I do not get to complain because I have consented – no one forced me. Besides, electricity is better than no electricity. Common good outweighs individual preference.

    It’s called responsibility. Most people want the other guy to pay, and when he refuses, then they cry that they are coerced. Horse manure!

  • kyle: Thanks for your response. What if I had an idea for a new product, but I needed serveral million dollars to get it launched? What should I do? Assume I tried to convince people to work on it in exchange for an ownership interest in the venture, but failed. Would Distributism preclude me from offering ownership interests to cash investors (to pay for the workers)? After all some people may believe in my idea and be willing to accept risk for reward. Is everyone limited to 1% credit union interest? Am I out of luck if I cannot find workers willing to trade work for ownership and the related risk?

  • This distributism of which you people refer has never existed and can never exist.

    It is all too beautiful and too good; and would fall apart before the first sunset. Something that we evil, worldly/work-a-day mules have been dealing with since the day of creation would crop up and knock over the whole thing. [I’ll be amazed if any know from whence I lifted that.]

    Same same with socialism. Except that mass travesty was perpetuated by impatient humanitarians with kalashnikov assault rifles and guard dogs; and jackboots perpetually stomping on human faces.

    The Pilgrims were as virtuous as you can imagine. In 1620, they landed on Plymouth Rock and attempted Christian socialism. It didn’t work, and virtuous people died that didn’t need to starve. They quickly reverted to individual initiative, private property and hard work.

    I’ve owned a home since 1979. I have been meeting mortgage payments since 1979. Truth: George Bailey loaned money at a spread over his cost of funds/what interest he paid on deposits/shares. Now, Capital One is making approximately 230 basis points on my monthly payments. Some may think that unfair, or [gasp] usury. But, without those loans, I woud not have owned my homes wherein I sheltered and raised my three sons. Also, a home equity loan helped me pay for three university educations.

    For my sins, I have worked at high levels (36 years) in financial services. I know mortgage banking and servicing, financial intermediation, financial derivatives and hedges, real estate appraisals, syndicated commercial lending, you name it.

  • I find it rather odd to put it mildly that Locke is here placed in the tradition of Catholic natural law theorists. Locke clearly reject the metaphysics and natural philosophy which underlie natural law theory. His views on faith and reason as expressed in his Essay On Human Understanding should offend any serious Christian. Lastly, the emphasis the author has on the voluntary nature of things in the article and comments clearly places him within the tradition of liberal political thought as opposed to the Christian or classical traditions. Pierre Manent’s book, A World Beyond Politics, quite clearly shows this is one of the fundamental contrasts between modern and pre-modern conceptions of politics, society, etc.

    further reading: http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2007/10/are-we-all-lockeans-now.html

  • Mercier,

    Allow me to explain myself.

    “I find it rather odd to put it mildly that Locke is here placed in the tradition of Catholic natural law theorists. Locke clearly reject the metaphysics and natural philosophy which underlie natural law theory.”

    I’ve had this debate before. There are different interpretations of Locke floating around out there, and it is recognized that his corpus contains significant contradictions. I would maintain that the Second Treatise, as a stand-alone text, is a work of traditional natural law theory. I am not convinced that his views espoused in other works mean that the very clear natural law arguments put forward in the ST must necessarily be read as somehow not in or opposed to the natural law tradition. Nor do I find useful or compelling the Straussian method of reading hidden messages in works of political philosophy. It’s possible that the real and final John Locke rejected all of the metaphysical underpinnings of natural law, but they are all present in the Second Treatise.

    ” Lastly, the emphasis the author has on the voluntary nature of things in the article and comments clearly places him within the tradition of liberal political thought as opposed to the Christian or classical traditions.”

    I don’t mind that at all. There is plenty of good in the tradition of liberal political thought, though to be absolutely clear, I reject much of what issued forth from the “Enlightenment.” In fact I find a society based upon the respect of individual rights and liberties to be utterly incompatible with the atheism and materialism that became so fashionable at that time, since both lead (at least the Western mind) to determinism, to a negation of free will, and therefore the total loss of human dignity. Libertarian views are more compatible with the Christian view of the soul and moral responsibility than they are with the stupid beasts produced by atheistic/materialistic evolution.

    “Pierre Manent’s book, A World Beyond Politics, quite clearly shows this is one of the fundamental contrasts between modern and pre-modern conceptions of politics, society, etc.”

    Modern society is a fact of life, not a choice. New technological and social arrangements require an updating in thought. How one does it is the problem. Many are radical extremists who want to tear everything down. The paleo-libertarian tradition of the Austrian school builds upon the very best of our historical inheritance and the Enlightenment. So there are different reactions to the modern world, one a stubborn reactionism that irrationally refuses to deal with changing realities, another an extreme radicalism that hates the past simply because it is the past, and still another that recognizes the inevitability of change but seeks to understand it through the accumulated wisdom of mankind.

  • FYI,

    I find it grotesque to suggest that the neoconservative imperialism of the Bushes is in any way a continuation of the “Lockean project.” The idea that people can be liberated at the point of foreign bayonets is a Jacobin and Bolshevik one, not a Lockean one. The founding fathers influenced by Locke, as the author notes, were non-interventionists who did not believe that it was their mission to secure natural rights around the globe. I’ll say more about the rest of the article later.

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  • I haven’t done a lot of in-depth study of Chesterton’s Distributist ideas, but the impression I have is that he defines “Distributism” as an economy driven by lots of small- and medium-size businesses, and individuals/families working for themselves as craftspeople, rather than by a few big corporations. He never, as far as I know, advocated forcible re-distribution of capital (that would be communism) but simply a more level playing field for the “little guy”.

    One way I can think of to put distributism into action would be for states and local governments to stop playing the “massive taxpayer-funded economic incentives to big businesses” game and implement a fair tax and regulatory environment for everyone. (See my post “The Economic War Between the States” from several years ago). Another way is to insure that all your laws and rules regulating the private sector are 1) really necessary, 2) not excessively burdensome, especially to small businesses, small municipalities and non-profits, 3) explain clearly what affected entities have to do (or not do), and 4) provide some kind of appeal or due process for those adversely affected. Rules per se are not evil; rules that are badly constructed, allow agencies too much discretion to do whatever they feel like and don’t provide any recourse for people who suffer because of them are evil.

    Distributism is an ideal, of course, never to be realized perfectly in this world, but achieving 50 percent or 20 percent or even 10 percent of an ideal goal is better than achieving 0 percent or not even bothering to try attaining it.

  • Such an energetic melange of human thought. What strikes me is how many times we see “perhaps you misuderstood . . .” or “what I really meant was . . .” Would that all the terms and concepts be objectively and identically understood and employed.

    Unfortunately, human ideas, obviously being of human origin, are always incomplete and subject to the mold of the mind that holds them. Vigorous debate is a lovely exercise, and God forbid the day we are “compelled” to refrain from it, but in the end I find I sleep better when I hold on to this first:

    “For it is written:

    ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’

    Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” – 1 Corinthians 1:19-20

    Peace+

  • Distributism might benefit from a name change. Suggestions…

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  • Elaine,

    ” He never, as far as I know, advocated forcible re-distribution of capital (that would be communism) but simply a more level playing field for the “little guy”.”

    How is the playing field leveled? This is my problem. There is no clarity on this. It just happens. It’s “just an economic theory” that “proposes” that more people become owners. I’m only interested in the means by which it happens. No one who believes in capitalism from a libertarian point of view opposes people voluntarily doing whatever they like to create a more egalitarian economic arrangement. It would inconsistent and absurd for them to do so.

    And yet Distributism is always opposed to capitalism, as if it would replace it. If all they mean is that they believe that worker ownership would prove to be more happily and widely embraced than the traditional model of ownership once its benefits become manifest to all, then there is absolutely no opposition at all. There’s no need to set them up as antagonistic. It’s just a competition of models that people are free to try out for themselves.

    And yet I get the sense that it means something quite more than that, though what, exactly, is never made clear.

  • Of course, I should add that it seems that there are different versions of this idea floating around. Your (Elaine’s) post seems to highlight the “small is best” view, whereas in my understanding, very large firms could fit into a “Distributist” model provided they were structured in certain ways.

    I don’t see any reason to glorify small business, or for that matter, skilled labor, as many Distributists do. When you really consider how narrow these interests are compared to the interests of consumers, it becomes more difficult to justify – in the name of the “common” good – a regime that exists to bolster them at the expense of alternatives. |

  • Thank you for the reply. I am pressed for time so I will limit my reply. I am unconvinced that you can limit/compartmentalize Locke’s thought in the way you are doing. However, looking at the Second Treatise alone I am totally unconvinced of its natural law credentials. A good essay that deals with this indirectly through an examination of Maritain’s political theory is “Maritain and Natural Rights” by Frederick J. Crosson in the Review of Metaphysics 36 (June 1983). He draws out some of the contradictions between Lockean natural rights theory and scholastic political theory.

    A small remark on the far bigger issue of the common good. The focus on individual self-interest seems necessarily at odds with the primacy of the common good (see Charles de Koninck The Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists).

    two posts by Pater Waldstein are worth reflecting on that touch on these matters among others: http://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/against-the-american-revolution/
    http://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/political-order/

    Also an article from a site I am sure you are familiar with: http://distributistreview.com/mag/2010/11/locke-and-inside-catholic/

    Lastly MacIntyre’s famous closing of After Virtue gives at least a partial answer to what the Catholic should be doing in the face of the modern order:

    It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the Epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless, certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman Imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of the Imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead- often not recognizing fully what they were doing- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If this account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another-doubtless very different- St. Benedict.

  • “He draws out some of the contradictions between Lockean natural rights theory and scholastic political theory.”

    Can you spell those out?

    I don’t doubt that there are some points of divergence. I think Locke was doing something new, but I also think it was something necessary given the changing social and intellectual order. Some see Locke as a destroyer. I see him as a preserver.

    “The focus on individual self-interest seems necessarily at odds with the primacy of the common good”

    Well, it might “seem” that way, but I don’t think it is that way. Even the scholastics had a conception of the legitimate pursuit of profit, which necessarily involves meeting the needs of many consumers, dozens, hundreds, thousands or even millions. Locke develops it a bit further by highlighting the social usefulness of productive labor, which does not simply benefit the laborer but also everyone whom he exchanges his product with.

    Of course there is greed. Anything can be taken to excess. But the supposed antagonism between self-interest as such and the common good is just a fallacy in my opinion. Properly understood, they are in fact inseparable. In fact people who are forced to toil for reasons other than self-interest have never been the most productive workers, meaning they have never been the most socially useful and beneficial workers. If “the common good” were really something that people pursued at the expense of self-interest, communism would have a better track record. I think Rerum Novarum makes this all abundantly clear too. The right of individuals to private property is supplemented with assertions that they also have the right to a decent standard of living befitting of their human dignity, and only when that has been attained does the moral obligation (which is never to be a legal obligation, by the way) to give from one’s surplus labor go into effect. Self-interest is not selfishness. A neglected self will probably be of less use and benefit to others than one that attends to its needs and legitimate desires.

    Whatever Catholics ought to be doing is a separate question from whether or not people in general should be forced to participate in social schemes, or whether such schemes derive their legitimacy from the consent of the participants. That’s really what I’m interested in here.

    As for the modern world, as far as governance goes, Locke had the right idea. I don’t have to agree with his metaphysic, frankly, to simply understand the political implications of religious pluralism. You either use force to suppress all the heretics, or you learn to live with them. When the heretics are few, they can easily be suppressed. When they make up a significant minority, enough to resist suppression with substantial force, you have no choice but to negotiate. Eventually some will make a virtue out of necessity, and like Locke (or Hobbes or others) they may even spin a whole philosophy out of it. But the necessity is there no matter what you do with it. I think Leo XIII grappled with this necessity as best anyone possibly could. And I think anyone grappling with it is going to find something worthwhile in Locke.

  • Bonchaps:

    Are you saying that the U.S. led invasion of Iraq was Bolshevistic?

  • @Bonchamps

    Just a few points, because this discussion has died down and you clearly have bigger, fresher fish to fry (for what it’s worth, I’m squarely in your corner when it comes the ideas put forward in your recent article connecting the CT shooting with US-perpetuated violence at large.)

    “The generation of wealth benefits everyone.”

    I’m convinced that the generation of wealth is a neutral. It does not automatically benefit anyone. In fact, it can lead to as many ills as goods, especially if generated in societies predisposed towards excess and self-centered hedonism.

    “I reject the whole silly notion that production for profit is “selfish.” ”

    How we do things matters. In saying this, I’m reminded of a strand of thought from Chesterton. He makes the observation that a young man could be moved to chastity both by thinking abhorrently of the consequences of a sexually transmitted disease, or, conversely, by reflecting on the Virign Mary. Now it’s true that both methods could be effective means of chaste compellance. In fact, the former might even be more effective. But there is no question, at least in my mind, which is to be preferred.

    The same can be said of one’s approach towards business and economics. One can certainly view their own enterprise in a completely self-centered manner, ie “what’s in it for me, how does this benefit me,” without any concern for the common good AND STILL benefit the common good through the economic properties of capitalism you cited. But such an approach is, in fact, wrong and, dare say it, sinful. It’s all a matter of mindset, and I think it is a distinction worth making. Again, what we think matters.

    “They are completely voluntary, in the sense that – at least in a stateless society – no one is compelled to enter them by force. No matter how “organic” or “intrinsic” certain arrangements might be, whether or not they are voluntary depends solely on whether or not one is, or is not, forced to enter into them regardless of their will.”

    We are not taking about “voluntary” in the same sense. Either that or you are fundamentally at odds with Church teaching regarding human nature. One is born with certain obligations to their community and the common good. It is a condition of being a human being. There is nothing voluntary about this relationship. To be sure, someone can decide to voluntarily fulfill this obligation or not, but this says nothing of the existence of the actual obligation. To deny that this obligation exists, that we are naturally relational and not autonomous, is to disregard a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.

    “Through the exercise of free will alone, you could decide not to have a wife, or children. Surely you won’t dispute that.”

    I won’t, but I don’t think that has anything to do with what we’ve been talking about. You’re referring to a hypothetical obligation that doesn’t exist becausethe conditions for such a relationship were never established. When talking about Locke and the family, I’ve focused specifically on the relationship between parents and children, two parties who already exist and from the moment of their existence (in their respective roles) shared a certain set of responsibilities to the other. That is not a hypothetical, it already exists.

    I said: “Individuals form societies simply to protect “natural rights.”

    You said: “No. They form governments to protect natural rights. “Society” and “government” are very clearly not the same thing, and a certain level of society must be reached before there can ever be a common agreement to a social contract establishing a government.”

    Locke says: “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property, and the end why they choose and authorize a legislative is that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power and moderate the dominion of every part and member of the society.”

    Emphasis on that first bit. Society and government seem to be different sides of the same coin. One’s the structure and one’s the enforcing mechanism. I don’t disagree with you that it’s basically impossible not to be part of society here and now, but that’s not what Locke is talking about. He’s talking about “the state of nature,” and it is extremely revealing that he believes man begins completely independent and apart from society, and only enters on his own volition to secure his own interests. I’ve said it repeatedly, but it’s impossible to reconcile this premise with anything remotely Aristotelian or Thomistic.

    I said: “They are not necessarily “social” in essence.”

    You said: “Of course they are, if “social” means voluntary cooperation as opposed to forced participation.”

    It doesn’t mean either. It means you are born with responsibilities to society and the common good. Again, whether you choose to carry those out is your own decision to make. But not believing that such a social component of human nature exists doesn’t change the fact that it does, just as denying objective morality does not somehow frees you from committing grave acts of immorality.

    “Well, that’s false, since Locke identifies an obligation not only to care for one’s self, but for one’s family and in fact, insofar as possible, every other member of society. The common good is served in the pursuit of legitimate self-interest, moreover, which can only be satisfied by meeting other people’s needs.”

    Locke contradicts himself, plain and simple. One may, as you point out, serve the common good as some sort of secondary byproduct of his pursuit of self-interest, but this certainly does not mean this is a hard and fast rule. Today’s business practice are rife with examples of individuals serving their own interests at the expense of thousands of others. Locke wanted his cake and to eat it, too.

    “There is an implicit “contract” in any voluntary relationship.”

    Such thinking would explain the appallingly high divorce rates in America. Marriage is not a contract, but a sacramental covenant. Filial relations are far closer to the former than the latter.

  • JL,

    Thanks for the comment. Its nice to have a discussion like this. I’m convinced that much of our dispute is purely semantic, though some of it may actually be over values. We’ll see.

    “I’m convinced that the generation of wealth is a neutral. It does not automatically benefit anyone. In fact, it can lead to as many ills as goods, especially if generated in societies predisposed towards excess and self-centered hedonism.”

    This all depends on what you mean by “wealth” and what you mean by “benefit.” In a free market – and markets are free at least to some extent in this country, in spite of various regulations – production of goods and services for profit, which is the basis of capitalism, does benefit everyone. It makes the necessities of life easier to obtain for masses of poor and average people through competition and innovation, it provides incentives for people to work their hardest, it rewards people for using their money as capital and taking a major risk in doing so as opposed to simply squandering it on themselves. If a man with a thousand dollars uses it to start a business, he is surely doing more for society than if he uses that thousand dollars at the craps table or even if he simply gives it away to people who will just spend it on whatever.

    The Church has always been correct to point out that there are many needs that a market economy cannot satisfy. But a market economy does better what all other economies also try to do. And no libertarian worth a damn opposes the existence of organizations such as the Church to provide many of those non-economic needs. Perhaps it is the decline of the Church and not the rise of capitalism that some people ought to be most concerned with.

    “How we do things matters”

    For our souls, yes. But here I am concerned with the law, with the use of force and coercion. Do you think force and coercion ought to be employed against people who do things that have good effects for morally unsound reasons? I don’t even think it should be employed against many bad choices that have bad effects, and certainly not “bad” choices that have good effects.

    I don’t think it is the role of the state to ensure that we do the right thing for the right reason. It is the task of religion to shape and mold the conscience that informs behavior. It is the task of the state to protect individual human rights. THAT sort of dualism has always been accepted by the Church, in fact, which has always marked out the clear lines of distinction between itself and the civil authorities.

    “We are not taking about “voluntary” in the same sense”

    There is only one sense in which I understand the word. That which is voluntary, is that which is undertaken with sufficient knowledge and consent, that which is undertaken freely, without restraint or coercion.

    “One is born with certain obligations to their community and the common good.”

    This is not disputed, by Locke or myself. If we have a dispute here, it is over what “the common good” is, which I maintain is not harmed, and is served, by self-interested economic behavior.

    “There is nothing voluntary about this relationship.”

    No, there is “something” voluntary about it. We can’t choose whether it exists or not, but we can choose whether or not to carry out our duties inherent in it. In that sense it is absolutely voluntary.

    “To deny that this obligation exists, that we are naturally relational and not autonomous, is to disregard a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.”

    I have problems with the word “obligation” in general, to be honest with you. I would certainly agree that failing in one’s duty carries with it consequences that most rational people would want to avoid. But the existence of freedom ultimately means that no one is bound, in the strictest sense of the word, to do anything. All obligations are conditional. If you would avoid pain, suffering, or even eternal damnation, you must do x, y and z. But you are always free not to do them.

    That is why I ultimately agree that you cannot derive “oughts” from what “is.” You can only derive “oughts” from “ifs”, and this because of the fact of our total freedom as spiritual beings. I don’t think this is heretical either, if that is where you want to go next (some do, so I apologize if I jump the gun). I’ve at least read enough on the Catholic Encyclopedia to know that certain theologians have argued more or less the same thing.

    “I won’t, but I don’t think that has anything to do with what we’ve been talking about.”

    Of course it does. That’s what I mean by voluntary. You can choose not to do it.

    “When talking about Locke and the family, I’ve focused specifically on the relationship between parents and children, two parties who already exist and from the moment of their existence (in their respective roles) shared a certain set of responsibilities to the other. ”

    Well, shift it a bit. You can choose to leave your already-existing spouse and children, as men sometimes do. The point remains. It is still a choice.

    Now, as for your Locke quote –

    Yes, I have seen that very passage, and I admit that his use of the word “society” there, taken out of context, can seem awful. But the fact remains is that much earlier in the same work, Locke totally acknowledges the existence of society before the government. This is clear to me, for instance, in Chapter 7 of the Second Treatise. The family exists first, “falling short” of a political society as Locke says. Then there is the household in which there are masters and servants, and this too falls short of political society.

    So be careful with the word “society.” Locke speaks of many different kinds of “societies”. As he says:

    ” But how a family, or any other society of men, differ from that which is properly political society, we shall best see, by considering wherein political society itself consists.” (Ch. VII, 86)

    So the family, the household, and the polity – these are all different kinds of “societies” for Locke, and it seems clear to me that it is the political society to which he is referring to in that much later passage you cited in the ST.

    “Again, whether you choose to carry those out is your own decision to make. ”

    That’s all that makes them voluntary. Nothing more or less.

    ” Today’s business practice are rife with examples of individuals serving their own interests at the expense of thousands of others. ”

    When they do so by force (i.e. by relying on government subsidies, prohibitive regulations that destroy competition, tariffs and quotas, and things of that nature) or by fraud (as in the case of some of these big banks and other corporations that are always tied up with the state and its interests), then yes. But on a free market, it is almost impossible to serve your own interests at the expense of others. As soon as “others” see that you’re bilking them, they take their business elsewhere, and if you bilk them badly enough, they will sue you into oblivion. In a free system it is in your interests to make other people happy or at least satisfied. That’s what leftists, socialists, and Distributists simply cannot conceptualize, and its a damned shame.

    “Such thinking would explain the appallingly high divorce rates in America.”

    No, what explains high divorce rates in America is quite simply a radical restructuring of the meaning of marriage in an industrial and now post-industrial information age. It would be foolish to deny the purely secular, social and historical components of marriage, especially in a country that was never a part of Medieval Christendom or an Islamic caliphate. Marriage has been mostly about the convenience of multiple parties, sometimes not even the people getting married. It has been for the parents, for the larger families to be joined, for the communities they lived in, and often economic and political motives have underlined them throughout history. Marriage was almost NOT voluntary in those times, either because people were forced into marriage by their parents or pure economic necessity made it completely irrational and foolish to go at life alone.

    Things are different now. The immaterial and spiritual benefits of marriage less obvious to the masses of materialistic and secular people. That’s the truth of it, and I have no idea what to do about it. I certainly don’t think it is “good” that the family is in such disrepair because we see what devastation that wreaks as well. But understanding why things happen is separate from endorsing them, and they will never be changed unless we can make that distinction.

  • And I realize, by the way, that my view of freedom and obligation takes me out of the traditional natural law camp. But I identify with it because I believe that the negative consequences of disregarding nature’s clear order are almost conceptually the same as the existence of these things called “obligations” that just “exist” independently of our wills. I think “law” can describe both things. We can dispute that in more detail if you like.

  • “How we do things matters”

    Yes, the Church teaches the three componenets of an act are its object, circumstances and intention. If any are evil then the whole act is evil.

    Of course the motivator for all these acts is Love. Capitalized deliberately in that it is those acts motivated the the Theological Virtue of Love that are truly good. This Love in turn presupposes the Truth. For without Truth, there can be no Love. That may even require us to change our positions where faced with the truth.

    Now, few acts, by businessmen, economists or other proponents of their varied positions are so purely motivated. Thus the role of govt. to set limits where appropriate.

  • No one was more insistent on the distinction between the state and civil society than Hegel, a proponent of the organic notion of the state, ““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.” G W Hegel, “Philosophy of Right” 258

    The notion of “mind objectified” is also found in Yves Simon, when he says “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.” It is in the polity that the abstract or notional good is made concrete.

  • Phillip,

    “Now, few acts, by businessmen, economists or other proponents of their varied positions are so purely motivated. Thus the role of govt. to set limits where appropriate.”

    I reject your “thus.” Motivations behind activities that do not violate anyone’s rights are completely irrelevant to the legitimate duties of the state. If someone uses force or fraud in the marketplace, then yes, this should be punished. If someone simply makes a profit because they want a new boat as opposed to really wanting to meet the needs of customers, this is not something for the law to be concerned with.

    Also, who is going to restrain and set limits on the government? Whenever you create a group of “regulators”, you create an agency with coercive authority that can be and almost always is staffed and purchased by the very people supposedly being “regulated.” It is the small business and the fresh entrepreneur who is “regulated” out of the competition, faced with completely prohibitive and unnecessary burdens usually concocted by the already-established players in the market.

    The best limits on the businessman are those set by the wrath of the consumer, who can and will solicit his competitors or take him before a judge the moment he violates their trust or their rights, respectively.

  • MPS,

    Hegel’s political philosophy is totalitarian gibberish, as far as I am concerned. First of all, it is a matter of fact – scientific, philosophic, theological – that we are free to choose. Because we are free to choose, all associations are voluntary. That being said, there are serious consequences that would follow from any individual’s choice to remain apart from society. Thus it is hardly “optional” for most people.

    Moreover, both as a matter of historical fact and morality, man precedes the state. Leo XIII affirms this in Rerum Novarum. Individual men, spouses, families, communities – all of these things exist before there is this coercive authority we call “the state” or “the government”, and that is why it can be said to be a rational creation of man. It exists because, and only because, without it that which men require for their life, liberty and happiness would be insecure. It does not exist to bring us into some totalitarian nightmare of collectivist “unification.” We have seen the Hegelian monster. We saw it under the name of Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, Stalinism in the Soviet Union, Maoism in China. We saw it in the mountains of skulls lining the killing fields in Cambodia, and we see it here with the worship of Barack Obama by sections of the American left.

    Against this horror I will stand with Locke and Jefferson, or Hayek and Rothbard any day of the week.

  • I would suggest that membership of the nation cannot reasonably be described as voluntary, inasmuch as nationality is defined by descent and birth, and it is neither revocable nor is it attainable at will.

    A man may lose his citizenship but not his nationality. This follows from the fact that the nation is a unit of common descent and blood and not of voluntary adherence and association – “They speak the same language, they bear about them the impress of consanguinity, they kneel beside the same tombs, they glory in the same tradition.”

  • “Motivations behind activities that do not violate anyone’s rights are completely irrelevant to the legitimate duties of the state. If someone uses force or fraud in the marketplace, then yes, this should be punished. If someone simply makes a profit because they want a new boat as opposed to really wanting to meet the needs of customers, this is not something for the law to be concerned with.”

    Thus, the reason I said “where appropriate.” Not all motivations are to be regulated. The ultimate point is that few act with a pure love of God.

    “Also, who is going to restrain and set limits on the government? ”

    I agree here also, thus my point of noting “proponents of their varied positions.” Govt. is frequently acting without proper motivations.

  • MPS,

    “I would suggest that membership of the nation cannot reasonably be described as voluntary”

    Sure, if you live in North Korea.

    ” This follows from the fact that the nation is a unit of common descent and blood and not of voluntary adherence and association ”

    If it makes you feel better to believe that, ok. It has no bearing on anything I would ever do with my life, though, unless you propose to use force to keep me within the physical parameters of this “nation” of yours. Whether or not an association is voluntary is simply a matter of whether or not you propose to use violence to keep me in it. If you do, you’re a tyrant and a slavemaster and you’ll be treated as such. If you don’t, then you’re holding on to a quaint mythology that does me no real harm and will be happy to leave to you.

    Of course you are well aware that this is not some European “nation” founded by the strongest tribe of roving savages thousands of years ago. This is a nation formed by already-existing polities which were in turn formed by people who fled the very blood bondage you speak of out of their own volition and through their own values.

    Phillip,

    No, the ultimate point is that you aren’t being clear on what you want to regulate and who you want to punish. Elaborate if you like, or don’t. Ambiguity on these topics is what I expect.

  • But that would require the specifics of each case. Regulation itself is a blunt instrument. But even the blunt instrument requires knowledge of the specifics of cases to form a proper choice.

    That is as exact as I can prudently get.

  • So there are no principles or general aims behind your regulatory proposals? The arbitrary wills and values of the individual regulators dictate all?

    And I’m supposed to think this is a fabulous idea why, exactly?

  • No. Most principles are those of Catholic Social Teaching, Though those don[‘t exhaust all political thought. Thus to learn from those and see where there is value.

    Locke has a measure of value. Maritain and Strauss. None exhaust God.

    Like Socrates though, my first claim is that I don’t know the answer to all, but that prudence will demand specifics be known. So perhaps ultimately, I am Socratic. And Aristotelian. And Thomistic.

  • “It has no bearing on anything I would ever do with my life…”

    But the individual’s nationality is what constitutes him; it pervades his nature and expresses itself in his actions

  • A man may lose his citizenship but not his nationality. This follows from the fact that the nation is a unit of common descent and blood and not of voluntary adherence and association – “They speak the same language, they bear about them the impress of consanguinity, they kneel beside the same tombs, they glory in the same tradition.”

    That is characteristic of Europe, but not of societies of migrants (the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, &c).

  • Nationality was and is an essence of experience as a U.S. resident in this city where I’ve lived my life.

    The post is debating force and consent, which is over my head, but the nationality part …
    The city had Catholic and Protestant churches, Catholic and public high schools, Synagogues, bakeries, markets, church dinners, ethnic celebrations, cemeteries and even neighborhoods where people held to their nationality and customs, and welcomed others to events. We were able to learn one another’s customs, and parts of languages or menues. Life and politics weren’t always peaches and cream due to nationality and ethnic things to do with history and religion. My city was dominantly Irish, French, Polish, and some German and English. Next city over was dominantly Irish and Italian and so on. Catholics, Protestants, and Hebrews. Being a child of two different nationalities from neighboring towns was at first (in the 50’s) a novelty to teachers and those at church. The strongest ethnic, nationalistic group I’ve seen is the Puerto Rican migrant community, which began to grow in the 1980’s.

    Anyway, I think nationality is a rich characteristic that makes society interesting.

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Traditionalism vs. Classical Liberalism on Liberties

Friday, March 5, AD 2010

One of the continuing trends of agrument, in the insular intellectual cage match which is the political Catholic blogsphere, is whether classical liberalism (of the sort seen in the Scottish Enlightenment and among the founders of the US) is an individualist ideology which is unacceptable from a Catholic point of view.

Something which it strikes me as reasonable to consider in this regard is that classical liberalism, with it’s definition of individual rights, was in many ways a reaction to new trends in Monarchy. The 1600s and 1700s had seen the restraints which tradition, the Church and simple lack of communication and resources had traditionally placed monarchies fade away. Through much of Europe, monarchies became more centralized and absolute, less traditional. In Britain, this (combined with economic and religious tensions) let to the English Civil War, and by the early 1700s English monarchy had been successfully limited and existed essentially at the sufference of Parliament and the liberties of the unwritten English constitution. On the continent, however, the drive towards absolutism continued.

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6 Responses to Traditionalism vs. Classical Liberalism on Liberties

  • Good post Darwin, and you are right.

    The rights of Englishmen that were asserted by the American colonists dated back to the Magna Carta, if not further, before even the Norman Conquest. And Jefferson did not “copy” John Locke in writing the Declaration, as so many seem to think. He may well have been influenced by Catholic political thought!

  • Diane Moczar’s summary of the medieval political order:

    “Authority from above, democracy from below”.

    You had the communal governance of open-field villages, chartered boroughs, merchant republics, provincial estates & estates-general and a considerable body of customary law. Within the Church, you had the general chapters of religious orders. Conciliar, deliberative, and elective institutions were not a modern innovation, and the Church co-existed with them for centuries.

  • It is interesting to note how much the civic republicanism of the Romans impacted the American founding. We don’t discuss this much by comparison to the French enlightenment and the British thinkers.

    Razib Khan recently had an enlightening post related to this in the context of the American founding:

    http://secularright.org/wordpress/culture/you-need-to-know-history-to-talk-about-history

    I’ve always thought American colonists could be generalized by three strands: Enlightenment thought, moralistic therapeutic diesm (the South used to be paganistic by comparison to the Protestant orthodox North!), and Roman civic republicanism.

  • That is a pretty interesting take on it, Darwin.

  • Johnathan,

    Have you been reading and stealing my ideas!?

    🙂

    I’ve been saying pretty much the exact same thing, only I’ve put it down as liberalism, classical republicanism, and Christianity – so as not to weigh down the terms too much. But essentially we agree.

  • I agree that “classical liberalism, with it’s definition of individual rights, was in many ways a reaction to new trends in Monarchy.”

    But I don’t think that’s so much the issue. Rather, it’s that the overarching conceptual framework of the natural law was lost in liberalism’s project. Even in the case of those scholars who take issue with classical liberalism’s philosophy of rights tout courte (e.g. Rowland), the broader issue remains the either absent or denuded concept of natural law.

Why Non-Profit Workers Lean Left

Saturday, February 6, AD 2010

The recent series of posts expressing indignation that many people who work for the USCCB lean left reminds me of a pet theory of mine: All other things being equal, people working for non-profits will tend to lean farther left than the general population.

This fits pretty well with my experience, both seeing most of my more progressive friends seek work at non-profits (in the cases of religious ones, often parish or diocesan work.) But I think there are some general reasons why we’d see this be the case.

1) Selection bias: It’s one of the major themes of modern progressivism to be suspicious of the profit motive in general and of for-profit corporations in particular. If you see an organization making a profit as being particularly corrupting, it makes sense you’d gravitate towards organizations which are committed to provide a service to society without making a profit. You can see a reflection of this attitude in President Obama’s proposal to forgive college debt for people who go into non-profit or government work — behind which lies an implicit assumption that people working for non-profits and for the government are participating in work that is more virtuous or more valuable to society than people who work for mere businesses. (My impression is that conservatives tend more towards a “job is a job” attitude, seeing non-profit jobs as not being all that different from business jobs.)

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4 Responses to Why Non-Profit Workers Lean Left

  • I’m not trying to be unpleasant, but there’s another way it may be inherent to the work:

    For-profit groups have to be self supporting; they feel entitled, in the course of Right and Good, to being paid by those who ask for services to be rendered.

    Non-profit groups depend on the support of others; they feel entitled, in the course of Right and Good, to being paid so that services can be rendered.

    This division wouldn’t be there, or wouldn’t be there so much, if they were small enough that you’re dealing with people instead of supply and demand….

    Like you pointed out, NFPs tend to compare themselves against FP business… I imagine looking at the gross income to a business would really trigger something in one’s gut, especially if you ignore that the net is so much smaller.

  • In my limited experience, philanthropic concerns are typically deficient in operational measures of competence and in well-defined goals. Division of labor, wages and salaries, and promotions are thus based on marks of status, intramural politics, and (perhaps) seniority. There are some sorts of people who put up with this more readily than others, and that sort views their social world through a different prism than the rest of the population, hence different voting preferences, &c.

  • Interesting. I work for a nonprofit, but it is a professional association, and the professionals we serve are extremely practical people who have to meet budgets and make payroll. There are some dolts, particularly in upper levels, but overall it’s the best place I’ve ever worked.

  • I would add that in the five years I have been working for a for-profit company, I have observed the ways in which corporate taxes and government regulations shape business decisions, often for the worse. It has made me more skeptical of government-driven solutions.

A Republic of Masters

Wednesday, January 6, AD 2010

Over the last few months, I’ve been gradually working my way through a set of lectures on the history of the United States by professors Staloff and Masur of the City College of New York — emphasis on the gradually as several months and 22 lectures in I’m around at around 1800.

One of the things that has been striking me is the discussion on the ideas about how a republic ought to function current among the colonists and the Founders’ generation. In early America, it was generally only male property owners who could vote — sometimes with an additional limitation on how much property you had to own. This was not, however, out of a desire to exclude the poor and empower the rich. (Though one could certainly see it that way, and I’m sure that some people did.) Rather, it’s purpose was to assure that only “masters” had a voice in the running of the republic(s). I use the term “master” not in reference to slavery, but in an almost feudal sense. A master was a man who owned property in the sense of owning some means of support: an estate, a farm, a business, etc. But this wasn’t just a position of power, it was also one of responsibility. A master was expected to assure the well-being of all those who worked for him or lived in his household/estate. Sometimes, these were one and the same. A master craftsman might well have one or two apprentices living in his house, with his family. Journeyman laborers might live in the shop, or also in his house. Even if his workers lived under another roof, a master was not merely an employer, he was also a patron and head of household to all who depended on him.

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3 Responses to A Republic of Masters

  • Recently some folks on another blog got into a discussion about whether property ownership requirements for voting ought to be reinstated.

    At least one respondent thought they should, because he did not want people being able to “vote themselves entitlements” without also being subject to paying the taxes involved.

    I didn’t agree with that idea completely — for one thing, I took offense to his seeming assumption that anyone who doesn’t own a home or land doesn’t have enough of a stake in the community to be worthy of voting; that would disenfranchise me (because I live in an apartment) and my mom (who lives in a nursing home) and many, many others. Moreover, I still pay income and sales taxes, my daughter attends the local public schools, and if property taxes go up significantly, my rent will go up too, so it’s not as if I have no stake whatsoever in the community.

    However, I CAN see where perhaps residency requirements for voting in state and local elections ought to be tightened up. Keep the 30 or 28 day limit for NATIONAL elections when people are moving within the U.S. (they are still American citizens after all with a stake in the outcome), but for state/local elections, make it at least 1 year, with an automatic waiver of the waiting period granted to anyone who 1) purchases a primary residence in that community, 2) opens a business in the community they live in, or 3) enrolls at least one of their children in a local school (public or private). Exceptions could also be granted on a case by case basis to cover other situations (e.g. a homeschooling family).

    Of course this is never gonna happen because various courts have ruled that long waiting periods interfere with people’s right to vote; but perhaps a system like this would revive the idea of people building up genuine connections to the community and gaining a sense of the common good before they make voting decisions.

  • More harmful to the proper functioning of the republic than a broad popular electorate was the Seventeenth Amendment. The Senate was the stop-gap to volatile and ill-conceived legislation. Now it’s just another body of shortsighted vote whores.

  • Funny thing is though, Rick, that the 17th Amendment was prompted by a number of scandals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries involving Senators who bribed or otherwise manipulated their state legislatures into appointing them. If that isn’t being “vote whores,” I don’t know what is.

There's No Such Thing as a Monarchist

Friday, September 11, AD 2009

I’ve been on an early modern French history kick lately, reading The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, Alstair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon, and now Paul Johnson’s Napoleon: A Life, and Alistair Horne’s La Belle France. All this has led me towards a contention — though I suppose one on a quirky enough topic few will be interest.

It seems to me that there can be no such thing as a “monarchist”. An -ist indicates some sort of intentional form of government which one may support establishing or working towards. Yet looking at the various attempts to bring back the ancein regime or something like it, it strikes me that monarchy is not something which can be intentionally established, except as a cultural and political figurehead of sorts. Monarchy must necessarily be an unintentional form of government, and so while one may admire it where one finds it in history, it doesn’t seem like something one can be a supporter of establishing. An intentionally established monarchy would not be a monarchy in any sense worth valuing.

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24 Responses to There's No Such Thing as a Monarchist

  • Edmund Burke made very similiar arguments. The bonds of civil society should be derived from the necessities of humanity’s organic development in community, beginning with the associations of family and tribe and extending later into the wider polis. Then, political obligation follows the purposes of civil society, which is the protection and advancement of the aforementioned associations. And so I think any intentionally established “monarchy” (what an invitation to hubristic tyranny!) is a violation of “rights of men”, rooted for Burke ultimately in the nature of man in dignity and inherent worth following from the creative acts of God.

    The reason he could support the monarchy of Britain was because of its long (and he thought properly) developed concepts of natural right and associational protection.

  • Darwin,

    As there are many ways to be intending for the creation of a monarchy, and many kinds of monarchies, what you have only shown is that 19th century France didn’t do a good job after the Revolution. If you want a fascinating piece of history to study, look to the Time of Troubles in Russia (and the period immediately before it), and you will see one example of an established, intentional monarchy. What you need to do is show why past failures present absolute examples of the impossibility of a monarchy being established in the future. In my own reading of history, we will see such, and it does not have to be tyranny as Jonathan indicates. It should be an interesting point of fact that monarchies produce saintly rulers — democratic forms of government, well… maybe a couple, but far less conducive of it, because of what it takes to get in charge.

  • As there are many ways to be intending for the creation of a monarchy, and many kinds of monarchies, what you have only shown is that 19th century France didn’t do a good job after the Revolution.

    It was the French example that reminded me of it, but I think it’s a more general principle than that. Which is not to say that you couldn’t get to a monarchy over time, obviously, monarchies developed. But I think one could make a good case (while recognizing that here I made only a brief assertion) that in the modern era it is essentially impossible to have a chosen monarchy. One would need to have a total breakdown of all governing institutions followed by a gradual build up from more regional rulers.

    It should be an interesting point of fact that monarchies produce saintly rulers — democratic forms of government, well… maybe a couple, but far less conducive of it, because of what it takes to get in charge.

    I think I would contest that that’s a fact. There have been a few saintly monarchs, but I’m not clear that they’re any more common among monarchs than figures like George Washington are among leaders of democratic republics.

  • George Washington is now a saint on the level of St Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles?!

  • King Saul was an intentionally established monarchy.

  • I’m not sure what you mean by an “unintentional form of government”. Do you mean, one not established by explicit constitution?

    There are certainly those in history who find themselves leading a people without having sought such leadership; but when the title “king” or “queen” or “emperor” is ascribed to some leader, then someone is intentional about the ascription.

  • “George Washington is now a saint on the level of St Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles?!”

    George Washington was a much better ruler than any crowned saint I can think of. I also have little doubt that if the 13 colonies had been Catholic that there may have been a push to have had the Church declare him a saint after his death. Certainly his example of refusing a crown, and retiring from power was rare enough up to his time to be considered a minor miracle!

  • George Washington is now a saint on the level of St Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles?!

    He was certainly an unusually good leader. I don’t know that I would consider St. Vladimir to be the equal of the apostles, but even if I did, you must admit that he’s not exactly an average example among monarchs. Indeed, bad or middling monarchs were far more common than saintly ones. As among any other sort of people.

    St. Louis and Edward the Confessor were both good men, but at best middling rulers. And again, it’s notable that among the English and French lines of kinds, they are only saints. (Though of course there was the popular acclaim for Charlemagne, who had a feast day on the calendar in many areas for a number of centuries.) Did the Hapsburgs even have a saint among them?

    King Saul was an intentionally established monarchy.

    True, and the kings of Israel (or at least, the earlier ones, as portrayed in the bible) seem in some ways almost more like constitutional monarchs than traditional ones — perhaps in part because it was so clear that they served at the sufferance of God, not out of any virtue or right of their own.

    I’m not sure what you mean by an “unintentional form of government”. Do you mean, one not established by explicit constitution?

    What I’m trying to say with that is a consciously established government, not in the sense that a leader becomes leader by acclaim, but in the sense of people thinking “what sort of government should we have”.

    Actually, I should clarify. I’m sure you can have a real monarchy through intentional establishment if your coming out of an aristocracy/feudal environment, or from a tribal society or virtual anarchy or a pure (non-constitutional) democracy. But once the idea of constitutional government and “the consent of the governed” has been had, I’m not sure you can get back to a real monarchy. You could have a single administrator, but so long as the idea of “the consent of the people” or of a constitution exists, I’m not sure you could have a true monarchy.

  • Concerning George Washington, it would be good for those here to recall how, in spite of the colonies having been predominantly anti-Catholic, Washington was the one who forbade the celebration of such anti-Catholic festivities like Guy Fawkes Day:

    Order in Quarters issued by General George Washington, November 5, 1775:

    As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

  • Good point e. Washington was ever a friend to American Catholics.

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2008/11/25/our-oldest-ally/

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2008/11/05/remember-remember/

    We should also recall that Pope Leo XIII had a great deal of respect for George Washington:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/02/22/pope-leo-xiii-on-america-and-george-washington/

  • I think Charles of Austria was beatified and he was a Hapsburg… and there is Saint Stephen of Hungary who was a monarch and a saint. And there is Elizabeth of Hungary too.

  • “[The Monarchy] doesn’t seem like something one can be a supporter of establishing.”

    I can assure you: I am a Monarchist and want to establish this form of state. There are successful implantations of the a monarchical form of state – from Belgium (1931) to Bhutan (1907) to Jordan (1922).

    The only German Emperor who was declared a saint (Heinrich II + 1024) is unforgotten and his burial place in Bamberg is still attracting pilgrims.
    http://www.heinrichii.de/

  • I should add: It’s not that I particularly dislike monarchy. If I lived in one, I would not necessarily be agitating to end it. But It’s just that I’m not sure one can get there from here — I think the transition from true monarchy to some form of constitutional government (even a constitutional monarchy) is a one way transition, and it’s probably only possible to get back to a real monarchy in the same region after a total civic break down of some duration and then a gradual building back up through local feudalism.

    Well, and yes, I’m skeptical of the idea that monarchy makes monarchs virtuous while representative government makes representatives wicked — but that’s not so much a claim that monarchy is bad and should be avoided as that there’s nothing magical about it which makes people more proof against the temptations of great power than other forms of government.

  • Royalist,

    I can assure you: I am a Monarchist and want to establish this form of state. There are successful implantations of the a monarchical form of state – from Belgium (1931) to Bhutan (1907) to Jordan (1922).

    And to that we can add a massive list of monarchies which were completely unsuccessful, generally leading to massive and devastating misery on the part of their people.

    There’s no advantage to adding monarchy to the mix in places which are not in complete social breakdown. On the other hand, monarchy may be a better model for Islam states with a tendency to sectarian violence and Islamic-fascism. It worked well in Jordan and was working well in Iran until the election of Jimmy Carter.

  • I’d be alright with a constitutional monarchy.

    There is a difference, after all, between that and absolutist tyranny.

    I like the idea of a ruler who is raised from birth for only one purpose – to rule.

    But I do believe that an educated and virtuous citizenry deserves democracy in some form. That is more or less what the American founders believed as well. It is hard for me to imagine them as defenders of this modern abstract, absolute right to vote and to representation given what I have read. I may well be wrong.

  • Indeed, I think most of the founders would clearly have been horrified by the idea of anyone over 18 you could drag to a polling station having a vote.

  • I’m not sure I follow Darwin’s line of argument here. The idea seems to be that what is established via the will of the people can always be disestablished by the will of the people. So if the people tried to set up a monarchy it wouldn’t work because the people would still be ultimately in charge, and that’s not monarchy. But the premise here is incorrect. From the fact that the people establish a certain form of government, it doesn’t follow that they are able to abolish it. There are numerous cases, for example, of dictatorships that have started via democratic means. If it could happen with a dictatorship, I see no reason why it couldn’t happen with a monarchy.

  • The composition of the populace, voting or otherwise, matters a lot more than those in the public sphere will ever discuss openly (often for good career-protecting reasons).

    In the place of the idea of monarchy, constitutional or otherwise, I would prefer to see strict limits placed on the voting franchise – no students, no public employees, no felons, those that are net taxpayers….

  • I see your point about the people not necessarily being able to dis-establish a government simply because it established it.

    I guess what I’m trying to hash out, though, is that it seems to me that “monarchy” in the sense that some people find it attractive (and in the sense that distinguishes it from an enlightened despot or just plain dictator) involves among other things a belief that it is some sort of necessity that one man wield power, and do so in a way constrained by well understood but often unwritten ties of mutual obligation between ruler and ruled. And while I see how that’s something you can admire from our modern point in time, I’m not sure it’s something you could establish in a post enlightenment society without a fairly complete social/political breakdown to allow political memories to reset.

    Maybe I’m wrong. I think right now I’ve got more an aesthetic sense about it an a fleshed out argument.

  • Darwin,

    I don’t think monarchy requires belief that monarchy is necessary. People under European monarchies back in the day knew about the Roman Republic, and other such systems of government, so it’s not like they didn’t realize it was possible not to have one man rule. They would have thought this an inferior way of governing, but not an impossible one.

  • That’s certainly true.

    Though there’s a great weight to tradition so long as it remains unbroken, which is hard to ever put back together again after it’s been broken off for a significant period of time.

    Maybe it’s that I’m strongly associating monarchy with the sense of tradition (rather than constitution or unfettered autocracy) which seems to me to go with it — and obviously tradition is something which can’t really be created so much as developed.

    I’ll have to think on it some more if I’m to come up with something fully coherent it seems.

  • If there was a tension between monarchy and the modern world, I would think it would be in the idea that certain people are of royal blood, and deserve to rule based solely on account of their ancestry, etc. That’s something that would seem hard to sustain in the age of DNA. Not sure to what extent this is required for monarchy or not (obviously there are sophisticated ways of being a monarchist without believing there’s anything special about the King’s blood, but for most people legitimacy has to be internalized).

  • I believe that with a Monarchy, all other things being equal, you have a basic 50% chance of the Monarch doing well and/or being saintly. Whereas, in a Republic, such as the US, with so many 100s involved in every decision, no good can come of it unless a majority can resist the lures of greed and power. While agreeing that it would be hard to get back to, or create from whole cloth, a Monarchy, I’m inclined to believe that you have a better chance of enlightened rulership under the Monarchy.

  • Absolute Enlightened Monarchies are the best type of government ever invented. If you just do the research you all will find that out. I am even a Catholic and I am a monarchist. It does not really matter what type of government you have, it is who’s in charge is what matters, and a monarchy is the easiest one to run.

What Is Conservatism

Sunday, June 21, AD 2009

Seeing a fair amount of discussion as to what “conservatism” is or is not cropping up on various threads — and not having time to write a massive treatise on the topic — I’d like to put forward a few basic thoughts on the topic and then turn it loose for conversation with our readership, which clearly has a number of opinions as to the matter.

I would argue that conservatism is, to a great extent, a relative term. Conservatives seek to preserve the ways and institutions of the past. In the ancient Greek and Roman world, there was a worldview present among conservatives that there had been, in the past, a literal golden age — in the age of the great heroes. Among modern conservatives, resistance to change is rooted more in a suspicion of programs of change based upon ideologies that seek to remake the human person or society into new forms. In this sense, conservatives do not necessarily hold that the way things have been in the past are necessarily good, but they lean towards the fear that drastic change will make things worse.

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30 Responses to What Is Conservatism

  • There has to be something more to conservatism than a simple defense of the status quo, whenever, wherever.

    I believe the Church’s social doctrine is essentially conservative. I also think Aristotle was essentially conservative. I think the conservative view of society, at least up until this thing called American conservatism, is that of a hierarchical social organism.

    It is a travesty that in this day and age only leftists are regarded as opposing great social inequality, while those on the right – often, not always, but often – justify it or at least accept it as a necessary outcome of economic freedom.

    For in Aristotelian and Catholic political thought, which I think anyone would be hard-pressed to dismiss as ‘leftist’ (seeing as how both pre-date the concept), wealth and property can and must be regulated with an eye to preserving a social balance. It isn’t about leveling or envy; it is about preserving the peace and ensuring that each member of society is rightfully recognized for the contribution they make.

    A conservative, then, has the goal of preserving or conserving society as a social organism. Whether it is ancient Greece or America in the Great Depression, you have those who insist that economic freedom is good only within limits, that the role of government may extend beyond mere prevention of force and fraud.

  • American conservatism is, in large part, the political ideals of the Founding Fathers. These ideals of course did not spring newborn to Earth in 1776. The largest ingredient was the experience of the American colonists from the time of settlement up to the Revolution. The colonies were largely left to their own devices by England throughout most of the colonial period. They grew used to running their own affairs. The American colonists were lightly taxed by the governments they set up, probably the most lightly taxed people in the history of the world. Self-reliance was a must in a new country with virtually zero in government services, and not much in the way of government at all, especially outside of the few towns. This was a great laboratory for a grand experiment in a new way of looking at government, and this experiment is still underway.

  • There has to be something more to conservatism than a simple defense of the status quo, whenever, wherever.

    Well, I would say that at any given time and place, conservatives have an ideology which is rather more than this, but that the conservative tendency is one towards preservation of whatever is seen as the good of the past.

    It is a travesty that in this day and age only leftists are regarded as opposing great social inequality, while those on the right – often, not always, but often – justify it or at least accept it as a necessary outcome of economic freedom.

    In a sense, though, wasn’t this the case in many earlier cases as well? Around 1800, conservatives (and the Church very much among them) were defending, at least in essentials, a system in which the vast majority of the population were effectively bound to the land and living at a level barely above subsistence, while a small minority owned the land and enjoyed a level of wealth and comfort unimaginable to peasants. The liberalism of the French Revolution and the other political and cultural revolutions which swept Europe were imagined to be a leveling force, though in many ways they opened the door to a devolution of social structures which allowed even greater social inequality.

    Not only were conservatives (and the Church) defending a system of inequality, but of ingrained and inflexible inequality. Modern inequality is, at least, porous and meritocratic in nature by comparison.

  • Darwin,

    You have hit on my favorite topic!!! A few points:

    Conservatism begins with Burke.

    A plausible case, depending upon definition, can be made for “pre-Burke conservative figures” (limiting to the the West and obviously depending upon defintion). I believe a good case can be made for Cicero and Hume.

    The Enlightenment changed everything. And I mean everything. We cannot escape this umbrella. Rights-infused liberalism is in the very air we breathe. Thus conservatism in any definition will contain some aspect of liberalism.

    Here is my definition of conservatism. In one phrase, the negation of ideology. In longer form over several considerations here:

    http://vox-nova.com/2009/02/06/what-is-conservatism-part-v/

    Now, in sum, I would say it is this – in effect, a sentiment…. :

    the negation of ideology, the political secularization of the doctrine of original sin, the cautious sentiment tempered by prudence, the product of organic, local human organization observing and reforming its customs, the distaste for a priori principle disassociated from historical experience, the partaking of the mysteries of free will, divine guidance, and human agency by existing in but not of the confusions of modern society, no framework of action, no tenet, no theory, and no article of faith.

  • Jonathan,

    Shoot me an email at tito[.]benedictus[at]gmail[dot]com.

    Thanks!

  • Such definitions, of course, beg the question of how political and social practice could follow. Essentially, a “conservative” reaction to a policy problem would be : 1) against systematic and large-scale application (the coercive) 2) against both the individual and the synthetic collective as the foundational unit of society.

    So – applied to “gay marrige”, for example, Patrick Deenan spells this out here:
    http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=3636

    Here, culture and community are more important than politics, and group morality is more important than individual right and justice. (And in my conjecture, culture and community, the foundations of conservative sentiment, require homogeneity and.or assimilation.)

    The problem for U.S. conservatives is not only that their political goals are often infused with liberalism and rights, but that there was not much terribly conservative about its founding. One may still wish to preserve and value founding principles, however, seeking cautious change following Burke and so on, and thus lay claim to the title (although the case might well fall apart philosophically).

  • Burke of course was quite sympathetic to the American Revolution, so sympathetic that during the Revolutionary War his political opponents denounced him as an “American” and a near traitor to the Crown. I have always thought that Burke’s sympathy for the American Revolution, and his condemnation of the French Revolution, is one of the keys to understanding American conservatism.

  • Donald, that is certainly true, but remember that Burke was very much in the liberal tradition and remained a loyal Whig his entire political life, which was rather long.

    The reason that conservative sentiment (not ideology, and conservatism can certainly have an ideology…in fact, several intellectuals like W. Kendall and Kuehnelt-Leddihin wanted to make it an ideology) begins with Burke is that he wrote in reaction against an earth-shattering event, a culmination of liberalism. By this I mean that conservatism is a reaction to liberalism, its partial parent.

    And thus a style, a sentiment, a bias against efforts of utopianism, ideology, and against the promise of a bright new future casting aside considerations of human nature. This is all over the Reflections – natural rights must be in accord with prior practice and convention (my reason of association with Hume and Cicero). This is a received, accumulated, generational wisdom worthy of commitment against movements that would seek to alter them so as to pursue ideological aims.

    The Rockingham Whigs hated arbitrary monarchical power, most of England’s overseas colonial adventures, and wanted very badly internal governmental reform. When Burke spoke of the Glorious Revolution as a “revolution not made, but prevented,” he meant that James II, the last Stuart king overthrown in 1688, was trying to increase royal prerogatives and was thus the true revolutionary. This was against Britain in its development of natural right. The American revolution was positive by his lights in the same manner, due to prudence and prescription in its pursuit of natural right (from God, not usually the right of liberalism). The colonists sought to preserve and continue the English institutions of representative government and private rights founded in the transcendent first and foremost.

    This takes us to the case that “conservative” requires the transcendent, which strikes me as plausible yet is at the very least another fault-line of argument, similar to Russell Kirk v. Frank Meyer and W. Kendall.

  • I don’t have a whole lot to contribute here, perhaps because of my own ignorance on shifting definitions over time.

    The Catholic Church is “conservative” by nature because its mission is to preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ. Politically however, she might find herself aligned with either political liberals or political conservatives in any given time or place.

    In the United States “conservative” ought to be defined by adherence to the Constitution of the United States, even when inconvenient. Events and culture have manipulated and warped that definition beyond recognition, to the point where genuine fidelity to the founding documents is shattered across the political spectrum. One party might be better on civil liberties, while the other better on economic matters.

    I suppose anything else would qualify as additional, no matter how valuable.

  • (I apologize in advance for my comments; I do not mean to be disrespectful. I follow your inspired blog with real affection.)

    “I would argue that conservatism is, to a great extent, a relative term. Conservatives seek to preserve the ways and institutions of the past.
    Because conservatism is a suspicion of change, we see conservatives embrace very different causes in different places and times.”

    While the historical context is interesting for understanding Conservatism it may be the wrong premise for a “positive” definition (when President Reagan said “tear down this wall” he wasn’t looking back !). If Conservatism is being “suspicious of change” then you have to twist the definition and make the definition “relative” because there is no fixed point in the past to which Conservatives are clinging (wink). The same argument can be advanced regarding our beloved Catholic Church –would you say that we are trying to preserve the ways of the Borgia Popes or the Avignon Popes? -. There are some unchangeable Catholic Values, rather than institutions or ways, we seek to preserve. So I would argue that to define Conservatism we need to define Conservative Values, rather than look at some mythical past.

    If you define modern liberalism as an attempt to establish in our society a set of different values; and you define Conservatism as an attempt to stop the spread of those “foreign”-in the sense of different- values you get to your definition of “Conservative seek to preserve”. The problem with that definition is that we become defined by them, Conservatism is opposition to change, and then they define change as good and opposition to change as bad; so we end up as “bitter clingers”.

    “In the American context, conservatives hold to the ideals of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers . . . limited government, constitutionalism, division of powers and local/regional rights. Because free markets were rejected by adherents of socialism and communism, American conservatives tend to be pro-business.”

    Here you attempt to define Conservative Values, good ! Maybe this is a useful discussion, and we can make some progress. Conservatism is not just pro business/free markets (again you are letting them define us: business is bad; conservatives are pro business; conservatives are bad). Conservatism is about Capitalism and Capitalism only works with a market system and strong property rights The reason Conservative Economist like free –competitive- markets is that with increased competition prices are lowered, to the benefit of consumers. Note that increased competition reduces profits to companies. That is why companies spend so much money lobbying the government seeking to limit competition. Companies do not like free markets. So again, we cannot define Conservatism as pro business; we are pro competitive markets and therefore pro consumers.

    I feel that we need to rescue Capitalism as a bedrock value. At the end of the day we are in an ideological struggle with the Marxist/Communist/Socialist/Liberals/Leftist –notice how they mask themselves to make inroads into a gullible population, does this attitude remind you of the forces of darkness- Wow ! now I’m really sounding like a paranoid kook LOL

  • Pingback: Diagnosing contemporary conservatism’s ills. « The American Catholic
  • The website ‘First Principles’ (from the ever-resourceful Intercollegiate Studies Institute) has a helpful overview of American conservatism and its contributors.

  • I wish someone could coin a new word to describe what we call “conservatism” because at its root it means attempting to conserve already-existing or well-established ideas. In the area of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, that is exactly what conservatives are attempting to do. However, some economic and other policies favored by conservatives, such as school choice/vouchers and privatization of Social Security, would actually represent radical change from the status quo.

    Right now I am in the middle of reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography “The Long Loneliness.” Day was an active socialist/communist prior to her conversion to the Catholic faith, and continues to be thought of to this day as very left-leaning because of her pacifism and labor activism. Yet, some of her ideas would be considered extremely “conservative” today. For one thing, she and many of her followers like Peter Maurin did NOT approve of Social Security or most of the New Deal social programs. They believed that making the needy dependent upon government for help was another way of enslaving them. To this day many Catholic Worker houses do not apply for tax exempt status because Day believed works of charity should be done for their own sake and the government should neither encourage nor discourage them.

    Some ideas are, IMO, kind of hard to classify as either liberal or conservative. Take Chesterton and Belloc’s ideal of distributism. My understanding of it, based on what I’ve read about it so far (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) is that it means every individual or family owning enough property or other means of supporting themselves to make a decent living without having to be dependent upon an employer or the government.

    So, is distributism a conservative or liberal idea? Chesterton himself said that the problem with capitalism was not that there were too many capitalists, but too few. However, he was very opposed to the notion of “big business” and distributist ideas are said to have heavily influenced the creation of American anti-trust laws. I don’t think that would go down well with some of the hard-core economic conservatives who think ANY government regulation of business is evil.

  • As a student, I am really learning a lot about conservatism and other agendas from your article. Thanks!

  • “So, is distributism a conservative or liberal idea?”

    It is neither, really, though if I had to choose one, I would say conservative.

    The Church’s view on private property is that it is a right attendant with social obligations and duties. You may not do whatever you please with your property. Your right to own it is conditioned on your duty to use it morally.

  • There are 2 dimensions to this debate. The first is definitional. The dominant strand of American “conservatism” is in no way conservative — it is pure, undiluted, liberalism. Darwin defines conservatism as an evolution vs. revolution concept, and there is some validity to this hermeneutic. But it falls short. For the economic order of the New Deal is firmly embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet the so-called “conservatives” oppose it. I think Sam Tanenhaus puts it best — this group defines itself by what they oppose (often using cartoonish generalization) and thus employs tactics that border on Marxist (and I mean Marx’s followers, not what he said himself).

    I think a more pertinent approach would be to say that conservatism values the stability of the social order, and the community over the rights of the individual. Obviously, opposition to abortion and gay marriage would count, but the rest of American “conservatism” is a hymn to individual rights (guns being the most egregious example). And on guns, I think Darwin is being a little deceptive — the American right does not oppose gun control because no such controls existed historically, but because they have totally ingested a liberal ideology of protection of the individual from outside coercion.

    The second question is the relationship to Catholic social teaching. In a sense, these debates over the definition of conservatism are academically interesting, but not that relevant. For Christianity does not call us to be “conservative” in all senses. Yes, we are called upon to protect the common good, but we are also called upon to change the social order if it is faulty. We share conservatisms suspicion of utopia, and yet we are called to build God’s kingdom on earth. There is a tension here, for sure, a tension which probably underlies all the divisions within the Church.

    Final point: the American definition of conservatism is nothing more that old liberal enemy condemned by the modern Church — from Pius XI’s twin rocks of shipweck (capitalism and socialism) to John Paul’s idolatry of the free market. Call it what you like, but we should oppose this ideolgy just as much as we should oppose socialism.

  • Elaine,

    The Church in its social teaching also insists that government programs not make people dependent on such programs in that they will be enslaved.

  • For the economic order of the New Deal is firmly embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet the so-called “conservatives” oppose it.

    Yeah, not so much. Do conservatives want to abolish the FDIC, Social Security, or the SEC? They do not. There are exceptions, but generally speaking conservatives are fine with the post-New Deal economic and constitutional order. At most they seek to restrain its growth a bit.

    this group defines itself by what they oppose (often using cartoonish generalization)

    I think this is true of most every political group. Recall Henry Adams statement that politics was the organization of our hatreds. There’s a lot of truth in that.

  • For the economic order of the New Deal is firmly embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet the so-called “conservatives” oppose it.

    I think this assertion would require a lot more teasing out to see if it’s true and to what extent. Clearly, a lot of the New Deal was not well embedded in the economic and constitutional order, since much of it was rejected as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and overturned. Kosher butchers are no longer being jailed for the sin of allowing their customers to select which chicken they want to buy. But what I assume you mean at this point is that those elements of the New Deal which have survived are now embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet you perceive American conservatives to be against them. The obvious question in regard to this is which elements of the New Deal you have in mind, and who among conservatives are actually calling for the repeal of those elements.

    I think a more pertinent approach would be to say that conservatism values the stability of the social order, and the community over the rights of the individual. Obviously, opposition to abortion and gay marriage would count, but the rest of American “conservatism” is a hymn to individual rights (guns being the most egregious example).

    Why do you think this would necessarily be “conservative”? Certainly, there are certain cases where progressives might assert a new individual “right” which is detrimental to the social order and conservatives oppose it, but there might be a fair amount of disagreement as to whether a “right” is individual, and whether it is in fact detrimental to the social order. It seems to me that the definition you’ve chosen here may be more suited as a framework for expressing approval and disapproval of specific political positions than for articulating a philosophy. Though perhaps you just need to expand on it a bit further. What would you see as the things that should be major “conservative” concerns at this time and place in history?

    Keep in mind, especially, that thing which some see as aiding the social order will be seen as others as destructive to it. It’s widely held that social safety net programs aid the social order, while radical individualists oppose these programs. But in a sense, programs which make it more economically feasible for individuals to remain economically provided for without the aid of a community enable individualism. It’s perhaps instructive that medicare and social security (which I assume are programs you are very much in favor of) are both rejected by the Amish and (if the several mentions I’ve run into are correct) by many members of the Catholic Worker movement, because they replace the works of a local community with a direct relationship between state and individual.

    And on guns, I think Darwin is being a little deceptive — the American right does not oppose gun control because no such controls existed historically, but because they have totally ingested a liberal ideology of protection of the individual from outside coercion.

    I’m not sure how exactly you discern the motivation of conservatives in this regard, but I’ll admit that there is a liberal egalitarianism involved. As you’ve pointed out on occasion, gun violence is a phenomenon which afflicts primarily the urban poor, and support for gun ownership comes primarily from the rural and suburban middle class. If we truly had not attachment to liberal egalitarian ideals, everyone would support the idea of banning gun ownership by people who live in cities but are not property owners. (Or perhaps even more reprehensible from a modern liberal point of view, simply ban ownership by poor minorities.) However, although that kind of class and property-based distinction would have been perfectly acceptable in most times and places in Christian history, we all have too many enlightenment liberal ideals at this point to accept such a resolution, and so conservatives end up supporting the same rights for everyone else as they support for themselves. Personally, I think that’s rather a good thing, but I’ll freely admit to being formed by the Enlightenment on that point.

  • So “conservatism” is bad because it’s really just “liberalism”? And “liberalism” is bad because . . . ?

    I think Sam Tanenhaus puts it best — this group defines itself by what they oppose (often using cartoonish generalization)

    Well, anyone’s beliefs can be recharacterized in that way. You, for example, could be described as defining yourself in cartoonish opposition to SUVs, guns, for-profit health care, Calvinists, Israel, Republicans, Karl Rove, and pro-lifers who do anything besides make excuses for their beliefs.

  • I find it interesting that with any discussion of “Conservatism,” more often than not, the conclusion is that conservatives are afraid of change. Conservatives can be agents of change, as in our revolution. The signers of our Declaration of Independence, justified the need for change, in other words conservatives do not like change for the sake of change. Given the right justification, change is not only desirable, but necessary. The human rights enumerated in our Declaration included the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of “Happiness.” These words are the contribution of John Locke, who as an enlighten philosopher provided us with the notion that individuals precede governments, he also stated that ownership of property is created by the application of the individual’s labor. Locke also stated a preference for limited government, “Property precedes government and government cannot dispose of the estates of the subjects arbitrarily.” Locke’s contributions are central to the Federalist papers, our founding fathers, and they remain true to today’s conservatives (Treatment of Chrysler bond holders). As a conservative I can tell you that I am for:

    – Limited Government: Check and balances is critical to limit government abuse. We are in favor for a Federal Republic; as opposed to a Unitarian Republic were the capital city dictates to the rest of the nation, i.e., national entrance exams administered by the Ministry of Education in Paris, France. We believe in limited and government as our founding fathers. We oppose Federal encroachment on State rights i.e., Department of Education.
    – Home rule: Most conservatives support parochial schools because of the participation of students, parents and the community at large. Today home rule is eroding before our eyes with the temptations of federal moneys and mandates with strings attached. – Individual rights: We tend to support life and opposed abortion in many levels, but the first and foremost is the concept of the individual life. Today, the political correct response is that “privacy,” trumps the life of the child. However, where is the privacy when you consider that most abortions are performed as a method of contraception and at tax-payers expense? Where is my privacy when the School district decides to take the role of parenting a six grader about contraceptives? Lastly, most abortions are performed on minorities. In the not so distant future someone is going to accuse the proponents of abortion of genocide. This is a Civil Rights issue waiting to happen.
    – Limited Taxes: Essential to the well being of the nation/state/local.

    Conservatives are environmentalist too. However, our support for the environment or any other effort is proportional. Ask yourself at what expense are we to support any government effort (Mussolini kept the trains on time)? We oppose most changes that are open ended. Conservatives are not willing to sacrifice our individual freedoms for an imposed fuzzy greater good. Conservatives are tolerant, and are unlikely to impose behavior on others. An example of this behavioral enforcement is the manner in which we regulate smoking. I do not smoke, but why the persecution, or societal ostracizing of smokers? Are you really exposed to cigarette smoke (what is the frequency of smoke inhalation)? Who do we go after next; fat people? Or perhaps we go to Plato’s Republic to find a formula for discussing the individuals that will make-up our City-State. Do we want beautiful people, young, old, academics, and pious people? I can guarantee you that Conservatives are not social engineers; we are suspicious of initiatives that prescribe individual behavioral changes.

    Conservatives want change but only when well justified. We embrace most issues/arguments facing this great nation of ours. But what we hold dear is our God given “free will,” and the freedoms to exercise it. We also, accept the many choices/responsibilities that come with having made any of life’s choices. We the people empower our government, and that is a great one way street.

  • As you’ve pointed out on occasion, gun violence is a phenomenon which afflicts primarily the urban poor, and support for gun ownership comes primarily from the rural and suburban middle class.

    Perhaps we could locate some social research on the question. If what is true in my social circle is true generally, sport hunting is characteristic of small towns and rural areas and, while found in all social strata, is most likely practiced by wage-earners, not the bourgeoisie. Shooting clay pigeons is more upscale, but, again, has a diverse clientele.

  • In rural Illinois, almost every one has a firearm of some sort: rich, poor and middle class. I am an odd man out since the last time I shot a firearm was the last time I did target practice with an M-16 in the Army.

  • in a sense, though, wasn’t this the case in many earlier cases as well? Around 1800, conservatives (and the Church very much among them) were defending, at least in essentials, a system in which the vast majority of the population were effectively bound to the land and living at a level barely above subsistence, while a small minority owned the land and enjoyed a level of wealth and comfort unimaginable to peasants.

    Hereditary subjection was, by 1789, characteristic of Eastern Europe, not Western Europe. There were some residual feudal dues in France; serfdom was gone in England and in uplands generally.

    The historian Jerome Blum did some back of the envelope calculations some years back and concluded that the exactions on Eastern European peasantry were generally severe. However, one needs be careful not to confound the manifestation of a generally low standard of living with the manifestation of a maldistribution of wealth or income. IIRC, the income from about 30% of the land area of France repaired to the clergy and nobility, who together constituted about 4% of the population. Asset ownership in occidental countries in our own time is likely at least as skewed.

    In Eastern Europe at that time, the crown was commonly an advocate of extensive reforms in the agrarian system, including the abolition of hereditary subjection (for reasons of economic efficiency). A faction of the nobility favored a like course of action.

  • If what is true in my social circle is true generally, sport hunting is characteristic of small towns and rural areas and, while found in all social strata, is most likely practiced by wage-earners, not the bourgeoisie. Shooting clay pigeons is more upscale, but, again, has a diverse clientele.

    Well, given that (due to personal and regional background) I can’t help seeing “middle class” as starting at or below 30k/yr in most parts of the country — we’re not necessarily picturing different things here. 🙂

    It’s one of the peculiarities of America that we all like to think of ourselves as middle class.

  • Hereditary subjection was, by 1789, characteristic of Eastern Europe, not Western Europe. There were some residual feudal dues in France; serfdom was gone in England and in uplands generally.

    I’m probably heavily handicapped here in that 18th and 19th century political history is very late for me (classicist and medievalist by training) which means that I mostly know what I’ve exerted myself to study: Britain, Ireland and Russia, but only general outlines in between for that period.

    That said, I was leaning more heavily on “effectively bound to the land” in that the degree of industrialization in much of Europe in 1750 to 1850 was not necessarily enough to allow most peasantry (in the broad sense, not legally surfs in the West) many options when coming in to the cities — and the options when they did so were often rather poor.

    Given that as late as the cold snap following the eruption of Krakatoa in the 1880s there were serious regional food shortages in parts of Europe as a result of poor crops due to bad weather, I think its accurate to see the inequalities between hereditary nobility (and “gentle” classes in the wider sense) and those on the land as being much wider than today’s inequalities, in that it was a gap between near subsistence agriculture and a level of plenty which would look fairly upper class even today.

    That said, I may well be letting my impressions run away with me here and am subject to correction.

  • While I think discussions of political terminology are sterile, I think one might repair to Thomas Sowell’s dialectic between the ‘vision of the anointed’ and the extant practices of ‘the benighted’, who are distinguished by the respect they accord the contrivances of the chatterati over and above the intelligence encoded in institutions as they have evolved over time. The folk in our own time who wish to replace the magisterium of the Church with the pronouncements of he board of the American Psychological Association and replace family relations with user-defined entities whose continuance is dependent upon consumer taste have their analogue in the folk who contrived the Cult of the Supreme Being and the French Revolutionary calendar.

    Since Mr. McClarey has brought up the American Revolution, one ought to note some contrasts between that and the French Revolution. The political order delineated in the Constitution of 1789 here was an elaboration upon the extant colonial forms; in France, each of the constitutions adopted between 1790 and 1813 took no cognizance of the political forms existing prior to 1789. The abolition here of legally-delineated orders of clergy, nobility, and burgesses can be seen as a consequence of the limited presence of the British nobility in the colonies to begin with as well as the confessional variegation between the colonies and sometimes within them; there it incorporated a violent rebellion upending existing social arrangements. Here the disestablishment of one or another protestant sect over the course of the last quarter of the 18th century a consequence of the demographic loss of position by the pre-eminent confession (in the South) and the loss of institutional verve (in New England); there it incorporated first a legislated attempt to render the Church a department of the French government and later an attempt to replace the Catholic faith with a deistic cult.

  • The French Revolution and the American Revolution share little in common except for the term Revolution. It is instructive to read the varying reactions of the Founding Fathers to the French Revolution, from the puerile enthusiasm for it by Mr. Jefferson, to the adamant repugnance towards it shown by Mr. Adams. A good book is waiting to be written on the subject. Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote a first rate book on Jefferson’s infatuation with the French Revolution, but little has been done as to the other Founding Fathers, except for Adams.

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Krugman's Foundation

Tuesday, April 21, AD 2009

This Newsweek article about Nobel Prize-winning economist and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman contained an interesting biographical detail:

Krugman says he found himself in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, especially the “Foundation” series—”It was nerds saving civilization, quants who had a theory of society, people writing equations on a blackboard, saying, ‘See, unless you follow this formula, the empire will fail and be followed by a thousand years of barbarism’.”

His Yale was “not George Bush’s Yale,” he says—no boola-boola, no frats or secret societies, rather “drinking coffee in the Economics Department lounge.” Social science, he says, offered the promise of what he dreamed of in science fiction—”the beauty of pushing a button to solve problems. Sometimes there really are simple solutions: you really can have a grand idea.”

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6 Responses to Krugman's Foundation

  • I remember finding this aspect of the Foundation series ridiculous as well (in fact, it was one of the main reasons I didn’t read beyond the first book).

    It’s probably not a coincidence that the first Foundation stories were written just as the Socialist Calculation Debate was winding down. A lot of economists back then really did believe that they could do something kind of like what Seldon did, if only they had enough computing power.

  • I read the Foundation series, the original trilogy, in High School back in the seventies. I enjoyed the broad sweep of History in the books, but I found prediction of History via math preposterous in the extreme. Purportedly Asimov was inspired by Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, a book I have devoured footnotes, the best part, and all. Gibbon is the best bad historian of all time in my opionion. His style is a take it or leave it affair: I take it and love it. His erudition for his time was immense. His history however was his biases against religion and “barbarism” writ into a fairly mechanistic formula that does injustice to the actual facts.

  • I also read the Foundation trilogy and the two that followed after a long hiatus and I enjoyed them all (thought the original 3 were the best).

    Reading about the Mule and how Hari Seldon mathematically calculated the demise of the Galactic Empire with the fall of Trantor mesmerized me as a high school student.

    As far as Gibbon, I just started reading the Rise and Fall recently and it’s good so far. Though I’m biased towards Warren Carroll (just finished reading the Last Crusade… magnificent)!

  • Tito, if you like The Last Crusade, you should try reading Jose Maria Gironella’s trilogy on the Spanish Civil War: Cypresses Believe in God; One Million Dead and Peace After War. Gironella fought on the side of the Nationalist’s in the Spanish Civil War, but his novels are remarkably even-handed and give a view from the inside of the war on the ground level among ordinary people. His books are suffused with a strong love of Catholicism and of Spain.

  • Donald,

    Thanks! I am simply enthralled with the Spanish Civil War and I’m wary of getting anti-Christian leftist authored history books.

    You have just made my next book purchasing decision on Amazon!

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Why Have Democracy?

Saturday, February 28, AD 2009

I was somewhat fascinated the other day, when participating in a discussion of school vouchers on another blog, to hear someone make the assertion that public schools are “more democratic” than vouchers because everyone must use the curriculum which is decided via “the democratic process” in public schools, whereas with vouchers someone might attend a religious (or otherwise flaky school) teaching things you do not believe to be true.

This strikes me as interesting because it suggests to me a view of democracy rather different from my own. Thinking on it further, I think there are basically three reasons why one would consider deciding things democratically (defining that broadly here as “by majority vote, either directly or via elected officials”) to be a good thing:

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3 Responses to Why Have Democracy?

  • Whether public schools are more democratic or not is certainly a question. When a small group of despots (judges, the head of the NEA, etc) control the curriculum of practically every student in the country, that’s not really democratic.

    In any event, being more or less democratic is not the key principle, a leaderless rabble is democratic isn’t it, but I prefer an organized authoritarian style army myself.

    The point is that when it comes to educating children the natural law principle is not what is most democratic, it is what the parents want their children to be taught. It is not for the state to infringe on this right in any case without good reason. The good reasons may not be general, but only in specific instances where the parents have seriously neglected their obligations. School choice very precisely follows this natural law requirement, and I don’t see how a Catholic could stand against it.

    Even aside from the Catholic sensibility, there is an American principle of self-determination which may be exercised not solely at the collective level, when we vote, but in individual freedoms, such as the right to educate your children as you see fit.

  • “then it seems to me that our respect for individual determination naturally should stretch to enabling people to make decisions themselves wherever possible rather than being served by centralized institutions.”

    Especially when one considers the track record of big government bureaucracies. The fact that so many people still have faith in government to solve problems across a broad spectrum of human activity is the triumph of hope over experience.

  • Vouchers.

    Just like the old Soviet Union where everybody had a “say” in their local village communist party committee, just as long as they agreed on the party line.

    It’s a joke to think that the public school system is the better form of a democracy than a voucher.

    ‘Nuff sed.

Rescue Packages & the Automobile Industry

Thursday, November 13, AD 2008

Smart takes from Manzi and McArdle. A question: I understand the political argument for an automobile industry bail-out. Unions are a valued Democratic constituency, and many of the potentially affected employees and suppliers live in swing states.

But is there a good argument for the bail-out on policy grounds? If GM can’t convince investors to buy additional equity or debt in the corporation, why should the U.S. government tax other companies (struggling in the same economy) to make an investment the market is unwilling to make? Is Congress better at spotting good investments?

Update I: See also Ryan’s comment on the National Money Hole” thread.

Update II: Blackadder has a good post up about the administration of the bailout.

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23 Responses to Rescue Packages & the Automobile Industry

  • Try national security/strategic: we can’t afford to lose that part of the manufacturing base.

  • Where the September Financial Sector Meltdown has gone. If certain banks are too important to fail, what about this company what about that company what about GM. Trading around 3 bucks as we speak. But what about those jobs the economy of Michigan the American way cue Stars & Stripes Forever. What lingering bad feelings about the 08 election were removed by laffs. At the sight of two distinguished figures on the Obama Economic Team- 1. our VP-elect- how nice Joe was let out of the attic for a few hours; 2. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. We will temporarily restrain our feelings about this Catholic pro-abort sellout. Only that she has been as incompetent as one in her position can get. In a state that fosters old-skool New Deal answers to 21st century positions. So now We Are All Michiganders. Bellying up to the public trough when our bank/auto company/lemonade stand suffers from largely self-inflicted wounds. They might want to chat up Philly Mayor Michael Nutter- libraries and pools to close, city employees laid off, no more cash for Mummers Parade awards, taking 10 percent pay cut. Chitown Mayor Rich Daley did similar presentation- more vague, but strongly warned of similar fiscal surgery. In spite of this, neither gent- good Dems both- are terribly willing to cry Mr. President Elect Save Us. Philly and Chi-Town are too big to fail. But they got- so soon after the elevation of the Dollar Store Messiah- that around their way, The Era of Big Gummint is over. Done. History. During my recent visit to SoCal, I saw loads o’ Toyotas, Infinitis, a Beemer or two. Very few manufactured by the Big 3 Welfare Cli- uh…. Detroit Auto Makers. GM makes great vehicles- Chevy Silverado, Caddy Espilade, anything with GMC logo. But way too little and way too late. Two Words for them- Chapter. Eleven.

  • “Try national security/strategic: we can’t afford to lose that part of the manufacturing base.”

    That is a good point, but it raises the question: would that base necessarily go away without a bail-out? Companies frequently use Chapter 11 to restructure their contractual obligations, create a more sustainable business model, or to maximize the value of the company in a sale. If GM is sick enough that bankruptcy wouldn’t help, then it may not be much of a strategic national resource.

  • I am opposed to bailouts under any circumstances.

  • Would they really be shut down? Wouldn’t successful carmakers (the ones that didn’t keep making tremendous gas-guzzlers even with the rise in gas prices) buy up a lot of the factories and use them eventually? It seems like we should allow smart companies, even if they are Japanese or German, to profit at the stupidity of our own carmakers. Anyway, I don’t beelive anything is really “American-made” anymore. Everything is from everywhere anymore.

  • Try national security/strategic: we can’t afford to lose that part of the manufacturing base.

    That’s silly.

  • That’s silly.

    That’s a Pythonesque response.

    More to the point, no, it’s not. The United States could not have geared up for WW2 without the Big 3. Nor could the Allies in general. Case in point: the Russians wouldn’t have reached Berlin without Chrysler’s 2 and a half ton Dodge trucks. I grant that an epochal, nation-shattering struggle along those lines is not currently on the menu, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.

    History happens in ways we don’t expect. I’d rather have mass-vehicular production capacity to hand if it does.

  • The United States could not have geared up for WW2 without the Big 3.

    The U.S. isn’t going to be gearing up for another WW2 any time soon. One might as well suggest that we need to keep GM around in case of a Martian attack.

  • -The United States could not have geared up for WW2 without the Big 3.-

    We will never have another war in which heavy vehicles will be that crucial. Important, yes, but not as critical as they were in WWII. The Second World War will not happen again. WWIII will be fought along entirely different lines (cybernetic, aerospace, guerrilla). There will be no tank dashes into the heart of Asia or anywhere. Did a blitzkrieg win the war in Iraq? Nope.

    If your goal is to win WWIII, saving big carmakers is waste of time. If there was such a need for them, they wouldn’t be suffering, would they?

  • I’d also note that, given the current size and capability of the U.S. military, the number of jeeps, tanks, fighter planes, etc. that are currently being produced and maintained (mainly by companies other than the Big 3), and the sheer volume of U.S. military spending, which dwarfs that of any other country, the idea that the U.S. would be somehow defenseless or unable to cope if the Big 3 weren’t around to utilize their 250k employees in the case of an emergency is, as I so Pythonesquely put it before, just silly.

  • Being an anapologetic free market capitalist, I’m all for no bailout. Let the market correct itself. If the Big-3 can’t remove the outdated UAW, let them fail. Besides we have Toyota and Nissan car plants in the U.S. that can be converted to war time use.

    IF, and I hope it’s a big IF, the UAW needs to be disbanded, removed, put out of mind and out of sight. In my humble opinion it is they (along with poor management) that is the root cause of why the Big-3 is where they’re at.

  • The U.S. isn’t going to be gearing up for another WW2 any time soon. One might as well suggest that we need to keep GM around in case of a Martian attack.

    The difference being we’ve had two global wars and four regional wars involving deployment of American troops in excess of 180,000 men in less than 100 years. As opposed to zero conflicts with doggedly Red Mars….

    Throw in a Cold War that involved static deployments of additional tens of thousands, along with the necessary logistical support for these.

    The one thing we know about this sunny unipolar moment is that it will end. Holidays from history always do. Nobody foresaw American involvement in WW2 in November 1939, either. I’d like to have a national manufacturing base handy when history starts up again. Who knows? It also might keep Tars Tarkas and his legions quiet, too.

  • I see Dale’s point, but we already have a pretty huge manufacturing base of “non-US” car factories in the US — which in the event of a WW2 scale conflict would doubtless be severed from any foreign entanglements and told to act as US companies.

    I would assume that given the tarrif and shipping costs involved, we’ll continue to have roughly the same number of auto worker jobs in the US whether some or all of the Big 3 go belly-up or not — it’s just a question of who will own the plants and whether they’ll be union shops or not.

  • …don’t forget the threat from Xenu.

  • “…we’ll continue to have roughly the same number of auto worker jobs in the US whether some or all of the Big 3 go belly-up or not — it’s just a question of who will own the plants and whether they’ll be union shops or not.”

    Agreed. Bankruptcy offers a lot of flexibility for restructuring union contracts and debt obligations to prepare a business for sale or for continued operation. My inclination would be to allow people who have a vested interest in these matters, rather than Congress, sort out the company’s strategy going forward.

  • Dale has a valid point, but I would prefer straight defense outlays to bailouts. I also agree with him that holidays from history always do end. I think ours has ended, but unfortunately a majority of the American people do not agree. Our military was stretched fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add in another conflict or two and our military could be on the receiving end of some unpleasant outcomes. Meanwhile many Democrats in Congress are calling for substantial defense cuts. One more costly lesson I think we will learn in the next four years is what happens when a nation weakens its military in turbulent times.

  • For folks that get up tight about a 2 point increase in the marginal rate for income over $250K, you seem rather nonchallant about the impact to the economy losing annual allocators of $170B (F), $190B (GM), and whatever Chrysler does. Sure, maybe someone out there would buy the assets out of bankruptcy and in an optimistic scenario eak out 80% when all is said and done. That would only be annual cost to the econony of $70B, or if we do it how Congress does it, $700B over 10 years. That of course is an optimistic scenario. Take GM’s plant in Janesville. There are only so many things that can be produced there, and my guess is that even if that plant gets occupied relatively quickly, there will be nothing approaching the equivalent of a $40,000 SUV leaving there every minute. The worst case scenarios involve losses of 80%-90%. When you start talking about ripping $300,000,000,000 from the economy with no immediate prospects of recovery, you start having cascading effects. By itself, it would be a 2% decline in GDP. The whole Great Lakes region could start looking like Michigan real quick. Once that happens, other states will be affected. After 30 years, the steel belt has still only partially recovered from the collapse of that industry.

  • M.Z.,

    The problem I have with this approach, apart from a natural aversion to any parade of horribles argument, is that I think the U.S. automobile industry is structurally unsound. The steel industry provides a useful comparison; if we had propped up and rescued every major steel company in the U.S., I doubt the industry would have been that much better off in the long term. But, even if it was marginally better, this would have hurt a lot of other companies because the capital allocated to the steel industry by the government could have been put to a thousand better uses (preferably by investors rather than whoever has the most influence in Congress). The steel industry circa thirty years ago was not a good investment; that’s why it was failing. The same seems to be true of the automobile industry today.

    I am not opposed to programs that provide additional unemployment benefits and/or money for education and re-training that may help to mitigate the direct impact on affected individuals. But indirect effects matter, and, if the industry has an unsustainable cost structure, it is bad policy to devote scarce resources to bad investments.

  • Mr. Forrest,

    I think your “optimistic” scenario is unduly pessimistic. Even if not all of the assets sold during a bankruptcy are valuable, those that are will tend to be used more productively than in there current capacity. In any event, paying the Big 3 around $200,000 for every single employee in order to stave off the inevitable for who knows how long does not strike me as sensible.

  • M.Z.,

    More likely what you’ll find if the government does not bail out the Big 3 and the Big 3 fail, is that someone will come along, buy out those companies, reorganize the whole structure to be more efficient, and in a couple of years, Ford will no longer stand for “Found On Road Dead”. (I don’t know any witticisms for GM or Chrysler.)

    The result? A number of people lose their pensions, but hopefully will have been bought out at a reasonable price. A number of people will lose their jobs, but once the companies are up and running more efficiently and hopefully recapturing a share of the market, then that will balance itself out. I’m not saying that it will be easy for those who no longer have pensions or jobs, but here’s a couple of ways to look at it.

    A) The Big 3 are bought out and people lose pensions and jobs. B) The Big 3 just go under anyway, and then people are still out of their pensions and even more people are out of jobs.

    I’m not throwing in any condition of C) Government bails out the Big 3, and the Big 3 don’t go under, because I don’t see that happening. The problem is that the Big 3 simply aren’t conducting good business. A bailout won’t fix that; at best, it would delay the inevitable.

  • Amendment to previous post way above this one- Philly Mayor Michael Nutter got on Amtrak Express this morning to DC. Brought tin cup. Joining Mayors Shirley Franklin of Atlanta and Phil Gordon of Phoenix to get into Begging Line. Hope the wait is short and bottled water available before reaching the Anointed One’s chosen apostles.

  • Based on what expertise are you claiming that the big three will be reorganized even stronger. Cerberus attempted it with Chrysler, and as of a month ago, Daimler wrote off the rest of its investment that it hadn’t sold to Cerberus. BA, the problems go deeper than than the OEMs. Some first tier suppliers have been bailed out or went through bankruptcy already once in the past couple years. (Delphi and Visteon.) More importantly, many of these first tier suppliers don’t have markets for their goods outside vehicles.

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12 Responses to Tom Cruise, First-Rate Philosopher

  • Excellent post!

  • Thanks!

  • Unfortunately consistency is not one of the things that the American people (or indeed any people) is good at. On life issues in particular, we select for politicians with totally incoherant views on abortion — because people feel uncomfortable actually saying that abortion is right, and yet also uncomfortable saying it should be fully banned. The problem is, the middle ground is the one position which absolutely cannot be true.

  • Agreed, DC… critical thinking skills in general are somewhat lacking these days.

  • We tend to hold fast to premises, but shy away from the conclusions where those premises lead.

  • “For good or evil, Europe since the Reformation, and most especially England since the Reformation, has been in a peculiar sense the home of paradox…The most familiar is the English boasting that they are practical because they are not logical. To an ancient Greek or a Chinamen this would seem exactly like saying that London clerks excel in adding up their ledgers, because they are not accurate in their arithmetic…Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody’s system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody’s sense of reality.”

    Chesterton, Biography of St. Thomas Aquinas.

    I’m not sure if it’s entirely fair to trace the divorce of philosophy from lived experience to the Reformation, but Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is probably the greatest of the modern heresies.

  • Europe is the canary in the mine and you can see that bird losing consciousness. With moral relativism running rampant, they are incapable of dealing with disasters. From the collapse of Yugoslavia to the institution of Sharia law. They don’t believe in God, hence they don’t believe in anything except themselves.

  • That was a great post.

    But I would like to add two things.

    1) I think it is easier to be consistent when you have no rules to follow. We Catholics get accused of being hypocritical when we do live by Jesus’ standards. But is it fair when those who accuse you do not have a standard? Who is truly being hypocritical. I believe Chesterton said something to this effect. “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

    2) I also understand that a lot of us in America do separate our personal faith from our public life. And I think there are a lot of reasons for that but I just name a few…. our false understanding of separation of church and state (not allowing God in schools as an example … everson v. board of education…) the idea that our personal life does not affect our public life (aka the Clinton affair)… the brainwashing of our media who repeats the drum beat of this idea… through shows, movies, music… and finally, lack of courage… being afraid to preach the Gospel in season or out of season.

  • Alasdair MacIntyre has a pithy line to describe the religious belief of the British: “God does not exist, and it is good to pray to Him on occasion.” 🙂

  • Chris,

    I love the quote…

    I would also like to add that in my second point that this division goes much deeper…. you can see it the development of the modern mind and how it divorces faith and reason.

  • I concur regarding the deeper origins of this division, Bret… I agree with those scholars who see its origins predating even the Reformation, going back to Ockham and even to Scotus before him.

    When in doubt, stick with the Dominicans. 🙂

  • “Smith — himself an evangelical — led an exhaustive study of the religious & spiritual lives of American teenagers, and his findings…found that whatever the religious beliefs professed by American teens (and, I’d argue, by adults as well), the vast majority of them ‘practiced’ what he terms ‘Moralistic Therapuetic Deism’, a worldview in which God acts as divine butler or cosmic therapist: there when I need Him, but out of the way otherwise and most of the time.”

    Oh, boy, is this a familiar scenario…

Catholics and the Intentional State

Monday, October 6, AD 2008

It is election season in the United States, and so there is even more than the usual amount of fuss in Catholic intellectual circles in this country about the place of Catholics within our republic.

Can a Catholic vote for a politician who is “pro-choice”? Can a Catholic vote for a politician who supports the Iraq War? Can a Catholic support capital punishment? What is a “Catholic response” to the economy? What is a “preferential option for the poor”? Is it true that “universal health care” is a “life issue”?

Some, who claim to be more in touch with that illusive entity “the rest of the world”, inform me that it is uniquely American for people to engage in these sort of knock-down, drag-out fights about how it is that our faith tells us we must vote. This may be, though I must admit that I find it a little hard to accept, since it seems nonsensical to me to claim that people in other countries vote on the basis of something other than what they believe to be right — and that they determine what is right by some means other than consulting their moral and theological/philosophical understanding of the world.

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8 Responses to Catholics and the Intentional State

  • I personally sympathize with honest-to-goodness, practicing, conscientious Catholics who may vote for a “pro-choice” candidate for other reasons. I know their reasoning and I trust that they are doing what they believe to be best. Yes, there are other Catholics who hide behind “pro-choice” rhetoric deceiving themselves and others. They’re playing with fire and they will receive just retribution for their actions in this life or in the next.

    I think U.S. foreign policy has been reckless and belligerent in the last 8 years. The two wars we’re fighting have not been carried out in the most responsible way, particularly Iraq. I find it displeasing that the Republican Party after the Hillary Clinton vs. the healthcare system match-up, spent millions and millions of tax payer dollars going after Bill Clinton turning American politics into a circus instead of finding some sort more conservative free-market solution to the healthcare system while they had a majority in Congress from 1994 to 2006. In the same way, the cost of education is skyrocketing, while public funding to education is consistently being cut every fiscal year. Why is this not a higher priority? All these things in some way get put on the back-burner for four years and they spiral into very complex problems. Is there a link between poverty, healthcare, education, and abortion? I think there is. I’m African American. I’ve seen it happen with a number of women in my life.

    But…

    As a Catholic Democrat, I personally cannot overlook the collection of hyper-liberal special interest groups that have taken over my party. They advocate abortion on demand without any restrictions, the re-definition of marriage, and are on the move to entirely secularize everything. Their philosophical view of the world—of the human person, of marriage, of family, and of society—is deeply shaped by Enlightenment thinking. They see society as something artificial and arbitrary. Combine this view with moral relativism and you have a recipe for disaster. I support universal healthcare. But the current presidential candidate, Barack Obama—clearly in the hyper-liberal, continuation of the sexual revolution movement—would infest such direly needed reform with public funding of abortion, euthanasia, and wanton distribution of abortifacents and contraceptives.

    Abortion, in particular, is no small matter. I once looked up some interesting statistics. Consider capital punishment and let’s assume that it is in fact intrinsically evil. Is it as pressing as abortion? Hardly. The number of capital punishments executed in this country since our founding days are at best, 4 days of abortion. The war in Iraq? 15 days of abortion. Are there morally grave “proportionate” reasons that may qualify a vote for a “pro-choice” candidate? Perhaps. But it requires more than word gymnastics and rhetoric (cf. the Democratic Platform on abortion). In the Lincoln v. Douglas election, no one cared about taxes or the economy. Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery and Douglas wanted to keep it and on that single issue, everyone voted. People who were abolitionists did not settle for reducing the number of slaves or simply better the quality of life for slaves. They realized the very existence of slavery contradicted fundamental moral principles and they could not get around it.

    Do I have a solution to all our political problems? No. We need to change the political landscape, somehow. And I think it is evident that we need to remember that our civic duties extend beyond voting—creating a “Culture of Life” cannot be something we talk about every 4 years.

    There are 30 days to Election. Mary Immaculate, pray for us.

  • Eric, you give me hope that the Democratic Party may have a future after all.

  • I agree with Paul. Let’s pray for a day when the Democratic Party wakes up from its nightmare association with the culture of death and its flawed and highly secularized view of human nature. Because if it comes down to mere differences in health care plans and tax policies, Catholics will have less angst when it comes to election time.

  • There are many Democrats who feel the same way. I too have hope, slim, but enough hope that someday that pro-abortion platform will be abandoned eventually.

  • Darwin,

    The connection you make between the US being an intentional country and US voters bringing a religious mindset to political questions is very intriguing. I hope to see you develop the idea in future posts.

  • It will happen. I don’t know how or when, but it will. I would love to run for office. God and I are still working out that plan. If He wills it, I’ll do it. It would be a glorious day in America to see a Democrat say “refuse to choose because women deserve better than abortion.”

  • I have been a registered Independent for around 30 years. “Conservatives” used to be environmentalists and in favor of preserving communities, including their economic base, like small farms. Liberals used to wan to be generous with their own money. Feminists, believe it or not, were originally one of the biggest opponents of abortion.

    Aristotle pointed out that people in democracies had a bad habit of voting for what they wanted rather than what was good for democracy. This was over 2,500 years ago.

    Some things never change.

    I don’t want to be discouraging. But if we want the situation to really change, we have to be realistic. We have to look candidly about how far we have wandered off on the wrong track and what it will cost to drag ourselves back on the right one.

    In this context, I am especially grateful for Eric Brown’s comments; being willing to recognize fully the faults his beloved Democratic party has fallen into without being disloyal.

    Loyalty does not mean pretending the object of your loyalty has not gone wrong, nor defending its ongoing wrong conduct.

    Jay Maupin

  • Jay Maupin,

    The founders of the feminist movement were ardently against abortion and were adamently pro-life.

    Conservatives used to be for small government.

    Archbishop Chaput stated in his book, Render Unto Caesar, there is no poloitical party that satisfies all the teachings of Catholic Social Doctrine.

    What we can do is observe the hierarchy of values and go from there.