U.S. Involvement in The Great Game Realpolitiks in Gaza

Friday, June 4, AD 2010

With the news of Israel’s blockade of Gaza still hot all around the world because of the Israeli attack on the activist boats- I think it is important to look back and assess how we have got to this point of chaos, confusion and rage.

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46 Responses to U.S. Involvement in The Great Game Realpolitiks in Gaza

  • Excellent analysis, especially on the historical tie between the Christian’s moral responsibility with the Roman Empire and our own responsibility with the American experiment. In this article you call to mind the sad obligation of the prophet. Amos, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah had the unhappy responsibility to call the Hebrew community to moral accountability and unfortunately their words went unheeded and Israel had to learn through hardship and suffering. Jesus Christ also spoke the moral truth to a corrupt social power and within a generation Jerusalem was destroyed. What will be are lot.

    We seem to have such an unreflective society and this in the end will make us morally bankrupt as well. But hope in God we have and struggle we must to awaken the American population to the great values that once guided this nation and to the post war principles that it helped to create in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • Frankly the fact that Hamas was elected in a quasi-Democratic election in Gaza is of no more moral significance to me than the fact that the Nazis came to power in 1933 in German in a legal fashion. Of course the article you cite is completely wrong-headed. Hamas has always had a stronger following in Gaza than Fatah, because Hamas is regarded, rightly, as being much more wedded to the idea of waging war ceaselessly against Israel, which is what most Gazans want. The policies followed by the Hamas government are completely in accord with what a majority of the Gazan population want. Their war against Israel, unfortunately for them, simply, and predictably, is not going well.

  • It seems that what you’re saying is that Hitler should have been supported because he was legally elected. We should not have stopped his rampage throughout Europe or his extermination plans? Or perhaps the world should have waited until Germany’s next election to vote Hitler out of office? No matter the millions of lives which would have been terminated by then? It is legal in our country to perform abortions…should we cease fighting against the extermination of life in the wombs of mothers because, after all, it is the law of the land? I don’t understand you…

  • wow- so Hamas equals Hitler? In essence the Palestinians are Nazis who are just crazy to kill every Israeli they meet? I can’t argue with such fantasies- and I won’t because it is such a worn out rhetorical device used by the Left and Right to cover their own inadequacies in presenting the facts on the ground. I’m looking for more thoughtful comments- anybody out there?

  • wow- so Hamas equals Hitler? In essence the Palestinians are Nazis who are just crazy to kill every Israeli they meet?

    Considering that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians don’t believe that Israel has a right to exist, and that many if not most have little moral problem with strapping bombs to people in order to murder scores of innocent Jews, I’d say the comparison is a little less fantastical than that.

    I’m looking for more thoughtful comments-

    You first.

  • “wow- so Hamas equals Hitler?”

    Not quite Tim. Hamas lacks the power to kill every Jew in Israel. If they had the power, based upon prior statements made by Hamas leaders, I have no doubt they would kill every Jew until Palestine was Judenfrei.

  • I think the analogy holds up fairly well if you consider that the extermination of Jews was an objective of the Nazis, but not necessarily of the German people. A good number of Germans were apathetic over what the Nazis were doing, those who would have strongly objected remained silent and inactive out of fear.

    Similarly, a distinction should be made between the Islamic Palestinian people and Hamas and other groups. Thing is the extermination of Jews has a religious character here and it seems the average Islamic Palestinian is far more likely to be inclined to support Hamas’ rhetoric and objectives than the average German was to the Final Solution. I’m distinguishing between Islamic Palestinians and Christian Palestinians because I think the Christians have have suffered at the hands of Israel and would certainly want things differently, but they don’t necessarily hate Jews and want them cast into the sea.

  • Tim,

    I agree with Donald that the Vanity Fair article is completely wrong-headed (Vanity Fair? Really?). IT starts, it seems to me, from an assumption that Israel = wrong/support of Israel = wrong.

    I also disagree with your analysis of what you describe as our Realpolitik, and I disagree that our Yes should mean Yes and our No should mean No as a practical guide to international relations. While it is an ideal to be pursued, it can’t and won’t work in our international community until *everyone* approaches international relationships this way.

    Our government’s first concern should be the preservation of the state. Our country has a right to exist (as does Israel, as does Iran, as does Turkey, etc.). One could argue that the Palestinian people have a right to a homeland too; of course, they’ve never had one (and that isn’t the fault of the US), so it’s hard to say where that should be.

    As to the way events unfolded in the West Bank and Gaza Strip…well, I for one cannot blame the Bush administration for trying. Was it a correct move to try to force Hamas out? Uh…Yeah it was. Hamas is bad. Fatah is to, but the enemy of my enemy being my friend, Fatah had to look like a pretty good compromise. Are there bad people in Fatah? Of course there are. Apparently, there were some pretty bad people among the “peace activists” on that Turkish-flagged vessel, too (good people don’t beat downed soldiers with pipes).

    Governments sanction actions that harm people all the time in order to pursue their national interests. In the case of a war, a government would sanction the killing of other people (objectively evil) in order to protect its country; cities sanction the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers against evil-doers in order to protect its citizens. Your outlook about America’s support for Israel and work against Hamas in the Gaze Strip is simplistic at best.

    THanks.

  • – I’m a bit unclear what the author of the article thinks should have been done. He blames the US for supporting elections when Fatah was not in a position to win them, but he also blames the US for not accepting the results of the elections when Hamas won. He seems to think that Fatah was a better group to remain in charge — yet he blames the US for backing them and he emphasizes their torture and killing of members of Hamas much more than he emphasizes the (at least equally prevalent) torture and killing of members of Fatah by Hamas. He blames the “quartet” for cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority, but he also blames them for trying to direct and influence Palestinian affairs. I suppose he could think that we should fund them, but not try to influence them in any way, but even then we’re left with having them in a near constant state of war with Israel, and that doesn’t seem great either.

    – Regarding the comment discussion that has developed: I’m not actually clear why comparisons of Hamas to the National Socialists are necessarily that far off. Both are militiant political parties which gained support through street fighting and popular support for their promise to restore national/ethnic dignity. Both endorse a genocidal racial policy towards a designated enemy group which is seen as at fault for the people’s sufferings — a policy which many of their supporters may not enthusiastically share, but which they are willing to overlook. Both came to power in the wake of poverty, military defeat, occupation and perceived loss of standing in the world. And both promise to reverse all of those misfortunes through greater world prestige and military adventures. It’s not a bad comparison, and unless one has particularly grotesque stereotypes about the nature of ordinary German people in the 30s and 40s, I’m not clear why it’s less flattering to the Gazan population than accuracy would demand.

  • I love it. If people discuss the way Israel seems to follow Nazi policy, we are told about “Godwin’s Law.” And that ends all conversation, like usual. But it is perfectly fine to suggest the Palestinians are like Nazis. Of course, I am sure we will also hear how Native Americans were the Nazis, too…

  • Henry,

    One of the main things people have pointed out in regards to your repeated claims that Israelis are “like Nazis” is that it’s incredibly historically insensitive. Which is true.

    In the comment thread above, the logical sequence was as follows:

    Several people pointed out that if it was necessary to support a political faction merely because they won an election, it would have been necessary to grant recognition to the Nazis after 1933.

    In return, Tim questioned whether people were accusing the Palestinians of being “crazy Nazis”.

    RL and I then both pointed out that the sense in which such a comparison might be apt would be that most Palestinians are not “crazy Nazis”, but have ended up supporting a militaristic and radically anti-Jewish faction for fairly understandable reasons — kind of like many non-Nazi-fanatic Germans did in the ’30s.

    You then show up and accuse everyone of saying that “Palestinians are like Nazis” and then go on to suggest that people will say that Native Americans “were the Nazis” too.

    How about this one: Why is it that you are convinced that Hamas is as admirable as Chief Joseph or Sitting Bull? Has Hamas ever behaved as honorably, or sought the good of their people above their own power? Hamas is an organization that routinely kills and tortures its own people, while seeking to kill Israeli civilians in order to relieve their desire for revenge. Their existence has done nothing but hurt the Palestinian people. Why do you see the need to defend them?

    Defending Hamas is not the same as defending the Palestinian people — one may care about the latter while despising the former.

  • All comparisons of present politics to Nazis and Communists that are devoid of direct connections are a stretch and should be avoided.

    With that said, Henry, there are in fact direct connections between the Nazis and Islamist Palestinians. You can begin with Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, continue to the many efforts to kill Jews for being Jews, and head right on up to the present and beyond with the Hamas charter, a document and an ideology that enjoys very strong support. All of this information is readily available, quite twisted, and beyond historical dispute.

  • Why is it necessary even to compare anyone to anyone here? Granted, there are arguably strong parallels between National Socialism and Islamic militancy as practiced by Hamas; that being said, can’t we just deal with history?

    Israel became a state in 1948, whereupon it was immediately attacked by its Arab neighbors. They one that war. Israel was again attacked in the 50’s, the 60’s (which resulted in the destruction of three countries’ military apparatus and the annexation of the Sinai, the West Bank and Gaza, and the Golan Heights. They were attacked again in 73, again in the 80’s, the 90’s and the 00’s (how do you say that in a word?). Each time, its attackers suffered military defeat at the hands of a much smaller (but better trained, equipped and motivated) IDF.

    Ya can’t blame the 48 war on Israel
    s treatment of Palestinian Arabs. Nor can one blame the ’67 or the ’73 war on that. And it is axiomatic that Israel has a right to protect its existence by any proportionate means necessary; we may argue about the definition of “proportionate”, but it is up to the National Command Authority in Israel to determine what is proportionate, and to be liable for the judgment before God.

    The Palestinians are pawns in a game whose goal is the elimination of the state of Israel. If Hamas would do as it’s been asked, this would all be over. They won’t; it’s not. Why do we beat them up so?

  • I love it. If people discuss the way Israel seems to follow Nazi policy, we are told about “Godwin’s Law.” And that ends all conversation, like usual.

    The ‘conversation’ is unnecessary because the analogy is stupid and malicious and not worth discussing. The most militant sector of public opinion in Israel (KACH, Moledet, &c) has advocating expelling the Arab population and forcing them to take up residence in neighboring states. The most precise analogy might be the post-war Czech government’s dealings with Sudeten Germans or the Croatian government’s dealings with Krajina Serbs during the recent unpleasantness in the Balkans. Neither Gen. Tudjman or Eduard Benes had a political programme that resembled that of the Nazis in the least.

    But it is perfectly fine to suggest the Palestinians are like Nazis.

    Repair to the YouTube Mr. McClarey posted a while back. There is a sector of public opinion in the Arab world which has aspirations very like that. For a majority party to advocate liquidating a neighboring state is highly unsual – nay unique – in the world today. Even absent a considered programme of extermination, such a project would comprehend a great deal of killing. The precedent in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-18 is sadly relevant here.

  • Regarding the premise that an elected Hamas government is akin to Hitler’s Nazis being elected- so this scores points for the side that says the U.S. should feel free to use any means to upend the Gazan government- be it pouring money into political alternatives or funding armed resistance or perhaps even overt or covert plans of assassination. This is the slippery slope we are on here at American Catholic blogosphere.

    Here’s a little analogical monkeywrench to loosen up the pro-Israel crowd- and I do mean crowd around these parts.

    Let’s say that there was a “quasi-election” in a large nation and a regime that openly supported the termination of unborn children in the wombs of mothers was “elected” by a majority of the citizens. It is determined that in fact 3-4000 children are murdered each day in this hate-filled society. It is also determined that many of these mothers are profoundly disturbed enough to actually volunteer to take their unborn children into a medical clinic to have the personnel there dispose of these children God entrusted to them. This is the consequence of a mass insanity inculturated by a political and economic order that propagandizes that this is no big deal, that this is an expression of women’s rights and so forth. And the mainstream opposition to this situation is a major political party that claims only that this right to kill unborn children should be an issue decided by individual states- not at the federal level.

    Now suppose you live in another nation that universally recognizes the rights of unborn children to live and be born without fear of termination at the hands of their mothers/fathers/society. Should you use your ample resources to undermine the sovereignty of that evil nation of baby killers? Should you stop at public scoldings or should you send monies secretly to agents of influence who would use those foreign monies in ways illegal to their own nation’s electoral laws? And what about organizing a coup with some handpicked military men, or even stage an invasion if you have a superior military yourself?

    Surely, a nation that kills 3000 children a day in a genocide of unborn, unwanted persons is akin to a democratically-elected Adolf Hitler led Nazi Germany? For even as Hitler attempted to export his brand of Nazi ideology and invade other countries with his military- this modern nation exports the propaganda in many varying forms to the rest of the world encouraging the practice of murdering the unwanted unborn. And it is noted that millions of dollars of private monies are coming from the demented citizenry of this nation to actually fund the killing places on an international level. This is all occuring with an apparent majority of these citizen’s support- these people must for the most part be hideous anti-child, anti-decency- whatever comes of them can only be seen as justified by any truly decent citizen of the world. Why should the good people of the world allow for such Hitler/Nazi-like tendencies to continue without doing something now?? I’m sure there are a few decent members of that society who don’t see the killing of their own little ones as a human right, or as a state’s right to choose- but they are so few and have no powerful position in the mainstream political and economic order- they should be overjoyed for a foreign power such as ours to take control of their situation and nation- and save the children!

  • Tim Shipe:

    The most salient characteristic of the Nazi regime in Germany was its revanchism and the consequent impossibility of developing a stable political equilibrium in Europe absent submission to or destruction of the regime. It presented a much more acute problem for foreign governments than would the incorporation of gross injustices in the mundane social practice of a foreign state.

  • “Surely, a nation that kills 3000 children a day in a genocide of unborn, unwanted persons is akin to a democratically-elected Adolf Hitler led Nazi Germany?”

    The analogy only works Tim if they are engaged in forced abortions, a la China. Legalized abortion is an abomination, but our primary problem is with people utilizing the law to slay their own offspring. Neither Hitler, nor Hamas, would rely on private actors to kill the Jews. All the killing would be by actions of the State. When a regime is dedicated to that type of genocide, I weep no tears over efforts to remove it.

  • Let me get this straight:
    Claim: if it is morally acceptable for the US to intervene against NAZI policy to exterminate Jews, it should be morally acceptable for the US to intervene against Hamas policy to exterminate Jews.
    Counterclaim: If it is not morally acceptable for a hypothetical pro-life nation to intervene against US policy to not prohibit private abortions, then it is not morally acceptable for the US to intervene against Hamas policy to exterminate Jews.
    Is that really the level of argument here?

  • Tim,

    I don’t think anyone here is disputing that it’s fairly natural for those in Gaza to resent the idea of the US messing with their elections or providing support to Fatah in relation to a coup.

    The thing I don’t get about the article, though, (and perhaps you don’t support this aspect of it) is that it seems to be taking both sides and no side. The author blames the US for pushing for elections because Hamas won, but it also blames the US for seeking to leverage Hamas out of power again after the election.

    Yet if the US has simply not encouraged elections in the first place, then Hamas would not have come into power since Fatah wasn’t scheduling open elections.

    Then the author both blames the US for cutting off aid money to the PA because Hamas was elected, and also blames the US for giving aid money to Fatah to fight Hamas. But if the US had not encouraged elections, and had not stopped giving aid money in the first place, than Fatah would have been free to use the money to buy weapons and keep Hamas out of power via kidnapping, assassination, torture and street fighting — which is pretty much how Fatah and Hamas were mixing it up in the first place during the time when Fatah wasn’t holding elections because they weren’t “ready”.

    Now, if the answer is simply that the Palestinians would rather be left alone to have elections or coups or civil wars or whatever occurs, but without the US having a hand in it — which I would certainly understand that. On the other hand, cynical though this may sound, there are some benefits to being a region that the major first world powers are constantly sticking their noses into. The Palestinians have been in a state of recurring strife with the Israelis for sixty years now, and in that struggle they’re massively out-gunned. If the Middle East was an area that no one paid much attention to (like Chechnya or Congo or Sudan or Somalia) would the situation of the Palestinians be better or worse?

    Because there’s so much scrutiny on the area, if the Palestinians are able, somehow, to get some leaders who care more about them than about greed and violence, there are a lot of people who would very much like to see them become a peaceful and state. Israel and Ireland are both good examples of countries which made the transition very quickly from being terrorist states fighting much stronger regional powers to accepted members of the international community.

  • Well, guys, let’s not give the Allies too much credit, either. If the Nazis had never attacked any of their neighbors, but had simply pursued the Final Solution quietly within their borders, it strikes me as doubtful that anyone would have fought a war simply to end the holocaust — at least not till it was far too late.

    It’s the fact that Germany attacked their neighbors that ended in their being fought and defeated.

    The beef people have with Hamas is not that they include many anti-Jewist fanatics among their ranks — it that they tend to launch rockets at the country next door. If they kept things within their borders, the “land for peace” thing would have worked.

  • Perhaps Darwin, although I would note that Sir Winston Churchill was tireless in raising the persecution of the Jews throughout the 1930s in his indictment of Nazi Germany, as he sounded the alarm to a Britain still shell-shocked from World War I. He was joined in this, interestingly enough, by two Englishmen sometimes accused of anti-Semitism: G.K. Chesterton, until his death in 36, and Hilaire Belloc. There were others speaking out in England and elsewhere. Pius XII of course had some involvement in an anti-Hitler plot in January of 1940. If WW2 taught us nothing else, I suspect it is the folly of regarding the type of persecution that Hitler unleashed upon the Jews as ever being simply an internal matter. That, and that when a government has a long record of calling for the extermination of a group, do not be surprised that they will act upon it when they have the power to do so.

  • That, and that when a government has a long record of calling for the extermination of a group, do not be surprised that they will act upon it when they have the power to do so.

    So very very true Don.

  • I certainly agree that some people saw what the Nazis were up to, Don. But it wasn’t till the war started and the Germans were almost to the Channel that Churchill was actually called on to form a government. I fear he would have remained a voice in the wilderness if the Nazis had not actually invaded a British ally.

    That said: As I think about it, Tim, I should apologize for pushing the Nazi analogy further. The 30s being a period that particularly fascinates me (and rejecting the theories that are along the lines of: Ordinary Germans supported the National Socialists because they were eeeeeviiiiil) I’m particularly interested in the question of what pushes people to support extremist/militarist political factions which end up driving them into situations that only hurt them more — but as the “Goodwin’s law” point underscores, usually when Nazi’s are brought up in a conversation it’s because someone is trying to claim that a group of people are so lost to hate that one doesn’t need to think of them as human.

    And I recognize that by bringing up your views on this topic here, it’s already enough like facing a firing squad without terms like “Nazi” being discussed.

  • Darwin,

    I think there were about 800,000 Jews in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland ca. 1930. Per William Rubenstein, around 360,000 Jews emigrated from Germany during the years running from 1933 to 1939. Absent the war, < 5% of the Jewish population of Europe would have accessible to the SS, so no 'final solution'.

  • When a country faces economic and social stressors, you can have spikes of transient atavism in the political sphere. David Duke’s career in Louisiana during the years running from 1989-93 would be a minor example. The 2d incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan, which had 4,000,000 members in 1924, a quarter that in 1930, and was formally dissolved in 1944, would be another. The Nazi Party was inconsequential in Germany in 1928 and nostalgic parties even more so in the post-war period; their Austrian counterparts were a modest minority readily contained by the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg ministries. One can readily imagine a counter-factual history which would have certain contingencies breaking the other way and the Nazi Party rapidly imploding. They lost support in the last parliamentary election held before Hitler was appointed Chancellor.

    What is disconcerting in comparison is that the — uh – ambitions of Arab particularists of various strains have abided for many decades now.

  • But it is perfectly fine to suggest the Palestinians are like Nazis.

    When you consider that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was Hitler’s guest in Berlin during WWII, that there were Palestinian SS troops, and that “Mein Kampf” is a permanent best-seller on the West Bank (and indeed, throughout the Arab world), I don’t see why Henry considers this some sort of outlandish comparison.

    Godwin’s Law is in effect when you compare people who really aren’t Nazis to Nazis. When you compare people who enthusiastically embrace the goal of making the world Juden-frei to people who enthusiastically embrace the goal of making the world Juden-frei, I call that – an apples-to-apples comparison.

  • I think there were about 800,000 Jews in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland ca. 1930. Per William Rubenstein, around 360,000 Jews emigrated from Germany during the years running from 1933 to 1939. Absent the war, < 5% of the Jewish population of Europe would have accessible to the SS, so no 'final solution'.

    I suppose, to the extent it would have been easy to simply drive all the Jews out of Germany and Austria, that’s so. (Actually, as I recall, it wasn’t until part way into the war that it was decided for sure to exterminate the Jews. Prior to that, deporting them somewhere suitably out of the way, I believe Madagascar was considered, was considered by the Nazis.)

    On the other hand, I imagine that if all Jews left the Middle East, the anti-Jewish feeling in Hamas would die off pretty soon there after. It’s hard to hate someone who’s not around.

  • It’s hard to hate someone who’s not around.

    I wouldn’t bet on it. Anti-semitism is still alive and kicking in Europe, which now has very few Jews. One of the truly noxious anti-Semites I “met” on the Internet a few years back was from Wyoming. Are there enough Jews in Wyoming to form a synagogue? Yet he knew all about them, without ever having met one in the flesh.

    Just as there sure seems to be a fair number of fundamentalists living in notably non-Catholic areas who know all about the evils of the Pope and Catholicism although they meet Catholics seldom or never.

  • Well guys my impression taken from first hand observation and from the opinions of the Catholics who are actually living in the Holy Land- overwhelmingly the impression I take away is one that is radically different from the positions you hold- it makes me feel ashamed because the Catholic Church is supposed to be a universal, global brotherhood- what I find here is that most of the American Catholics here and elsewhere are so enamored with the propaganda that comes from non-Catholic sources. It seems that no one here wants to take the Palestinian Catholic viewpoint on the subject of Israel-Palestine- I’m not sure what to make of this- some sense of superiority on the part of Americans in general- you really feel a kinship with secular Jews more than Catholic Arabs? I don’t know what else it is because when facts are presented from a Palestinian viewpoint- even from the Latin Patriarch in the Holy Land- these facts and views are immediately dismissed by this crowd-

  • I’m going to move on to other issues because I feel a sick sense of being an alien in alien territory like being on a pro-abortion site and trying to present a case for the unborn- I’m kicking the dirt off my sandals on this issue on this blog in search of another front where there is at least a chance of finding common ground- there is always the easy pro-life zone- it seems to be the one place I can converse with loud and proud conservatives and not experience that sense of dread knowing what is around the next corner- a huge disconnect of mind and heart. These issues may be prudential issues but real people are being killed over them so I am deadly serious about the differences of opinion but I don’t have the time to give these things the necessary documentation to refute the overwhelming number of naysayers- I wasn hoping to attract more of my like-minded brothers and sisters to help make the case while I take care of my 3 little ones and my very pregnant wife- but alas the debate never got off the ground so I’m checking out- do few things but do them well- I can’t do this debate on my own right now- I would suggest maybe taking in Deal Hudson’s reporting- he is a devout conservative and has had lot’s of contact with Holy Land Catholics in the past few years- I have found him to be very informative- you may want to check out his reports at insidecatholic.com or email him about the Palestinians- part of the problem I do find is that the Palestinians for the most part have not defending themselves very vigorously here in the U.S.- some times it seems like I am pulling more weight on this issue than many American Catholic Palestinians- maybe they are afraid to speak out publicly? I know they have strong views when I speak to them privately- so this is a bit of a mystery- I admire the fight in those Jews who support the Israeli position here in the U.S.. I like to model my own activism on their example- even as I disagree with their position.

  • For the stray open-mind that may be reading this- for more on Middle East issues from an Arab Catholic witness- check out Monsignor Labib Kobti’s excellent web site http://www.al-bushra.org God Bless, God please bring justice to the peoples of the Middle East and the Holy Land in particular- this scandal of violence, injustice and indifference must conclude- God Willing

  • Tim,

    I recognize that this is a tough topic in a tough venue for you, so feel free not to respond to this, but I’m trying to bridge some understanding here if possible. (Grabbing a moment while my own pregnant wife is keeping the four kids under control.)

    – Do your Palestinian Christian friends agree that Hamas (and the fact that they managed to get 56% of the vote) is part of the problem, with their rocket attacks on Israel? For instance, with Northern Ireland my first instinct was always to blame the Brits for the impact their actions were having on the Catholic population — but at the same time I loathed the IRA and considered them the instigators.

    – I certainly think that living with and talking with your Palestinian friends, you probably have a better understanding than most of us as to what the impact of Israeli actions are on ordinary, non-militant Palestinians. However, do you think it’s possible that, especially given that travel is pretty locked down and news media is all controlled by one side or the other, ordinary Palestinians may often rather less appreciation for the attacks inflicted on Israel which motivate Israeli actions? For instance, on the flip side, I used to work closely with several Jews who’d grown up in Israel, and could tell stories about taking shelter during rocket attacks and seeing the carnage left by suicide bombings. Obviously, formed by this, they tended to be in favor of very militant responses to Palestinian attacks — since they were familiar with the Israeli side of the picture, which the reprisals were in “the other guy’s” territory. Might this same effect not actually make Palestinian opinion rather biased?

  • Good post, DC. I don’t doubt Tim’s sincerity or his attachment to his Palestinian Catholic friends, but it frankly, disturbs me that he appears to see it as a matter of “rooting for our tribe.”

    Rachel Corrie has gotten a tremendous amount of publicity. But she’s very far from being the only Rachel who has been killed in Israel. Here are some Rachels who had no plays written about them or ships named after them:

    RACHEL Thaler, aged 16, was blown up at a pizzeria in an Israeli shopping mall. She died after an 11-day struggle for life following a suicide bomb attack on a crowd of teenagers on 16 February 2002.

    Even though Thaler was a British citizen, born in London, where her grandparents still live, her death has never been mentioned in a British newspaper.

    Rachel Levy, 17, blown up
    in a Jerusalem grocery store

    Rachel Charhi, 36, blown up
    while sitting in a café

    Rachel Gavish, 50, killed with her
    husband and son while at home

    Rachel Kol, 53, who worked for
    20 years in the neurology lab at
    Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital,
    murdered with her husband in a
    drive-by shooting by the Fatah
    al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, in
    July 2005 (in the midst of a
    supposed Palestinian truce)

    Rachel Ben Abu, 16, killed with
    her teenage friends by a suicide
    bomber at the Netanya shopping
    mall, in July 2005 (in the midst
    of a supposed Palestinian truce)

    Rachel Shabo, 40, murdered with
    her three sons aged 5, 13 and 6,
    while sitting at home

    Should we not care or sympathize with those deaths because those women were Jews and not Catholics?

    http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/TheForgottenRachels.html

    Of course, the link is from a non-Catholic source and so, I suppose, can be dismissed as Zionist propaganda.

    Yes, I realize innocents have, tragically, been killed on the other side too. And the Arab Christians there are in a very difficult bind. If the Arabs laid down their arms tomorrow, there would be peace. If the Israelis did so, they would be slaughtered pitilessly, right down to the last infant. I firmly believe that, and that thought really does kinda bother me, even though they’re not my tribe.

  • Darwin- I really appreciate your effort to understand- I do think that American Palestinians as well Americans here now from Israel will have some obvious points-of-view- it helped me in formulating my own view to spend time with both Palestinians in a village 1/3 muslim, 1/3 Catholic, 1/3 Orthodox, and then a few weeks in West Jerusalem living with an American with a Russian Emigree wife. This was in the early 90’s during a lull after the first intifada which was truly serious overkill by the Israelis- and I went into the West Bank and saw what occupation looked like in Hebron- the Israeli military was there to police the Palestinians- something like 100,000 of them so that a couple of hundred of extremist settlers could set up shop and take over some Arab homes and establishments- this was rubbed in the Palestinian faces every day- I was supposed to take a U.S. AID job teaching English there and I turned it down because I really thought that it would be tough for some Palestinians not to respond to me with violence in their frustration.

    The facts as I saw then and have read more extensively about ever since- is that no matter if Palestinians respond collectively without violence- they do not get rewarded with a true statehood on the 1967 border lines- it seems obvious to me that Israel’s leadership has simply been buying time to move more settlers into West Bank and East Jerusalem- and when they provoke violent responses like when they assassinate some Palestinian or build up some settlement- then they respond with overwhelming and extreme force- look at the numbers of Palestinians killed over the years and especially during intifada times- how many suicide bombers were there back during the first intifada in 1987? If Israel were to give to the Palestinians what has been set forth by the UN resolutions and then continued to receive the suicide attacks of rocket attacks- then I would say- yes- this is self-defense time- I would even agree that the US should make their defense of Israel a part of the peace agreement that gives the Palestinians their WEst Bank/East Jerusalem/Gaza State and gives monetary repayment to those Palestinians forced out during the 48 War- recall that as part of geneva conventions you cannot permanently settle on lands taken during war.

    Now here is Pat Buchanan on the Gaza situation: http://www.lewrockwell.com/buchanan/buchanan138.html

  • Donna- I did not see your response when I was writing one to Darwin- I am in agreement that civilian deaths all around are horrible- that is where my deepest concern begins and ends- we differ as to who is primarily to blame for the root causes of all the violence, and also what steps should we take with our American resources and clout to do everything we can to bring an end to these tragic circumstances.

    If you look back to the First uprising by the Palestinians from 1987-1993 the First Intifada- and here is a link to Wikipedia on that- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Intifada

    You find that the Palestinians were responding to Israel’s dominance and some extreme examples of violence, and that in the beginning the Palestinian citizens responded on their own with many acts of non-violent protests, and with youths mostly throwing rocks and such- the Israeli response was not to stop and listen to the just complaints for the need to allow the Palestinian people a homeland of their own to address the situation of the post 1967 borders whereupon the Palestinians of Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem were placed under Israeli occupation- instead of taking the clue that the long term peace depended upon granting autonomy to the Palestinians- Israel instead decided to try to break down the Palestinians at every level- brutal tactics, and increasing Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories just heaped gasoline on the fire and was also illegal by international legal standards- you cannot permanently settle your folks on land taken during a war- and this is exactly what Israel did and actually has continued to do for reasons that appear to indicate that they hope to one day create a duplication of the American experience with the Native Americans- squeeze them out or put them into little tribal land reservations- this strategy is what I believe is the leading cause of the violence putting the Israeli and Palestinians into a quagmire of repeated violent cycles. This has not historically been a Muslim Jihad thing if you just look at the history of the Palestinian people and their leadership- it threatens to become such with the emergence of Hamas as a new model of extreme Palestinian response to the extreme position of Israel’s establishment. If you choose to see all of this as a Hamas-Jihad problem I would suggest that you have come late to the game- I was in the area in the early 90’s and the Palestinians at that time were a mix of secularists, Christians, and Muslims, Hamas had been initially a group supported by Israel to drive a wedge between palestinians who were led by mostly secularists along the PLO model- so don’t give me the storyline that the Palestinians are just a bunch of Islamists who only know about killing infidels- that fiction is one that will only serve the cause of more and perpetual killing of future civilians.

  • Tim, DC and Donna: I was dimayed by the orginal discussion attempting which attempted to paint the issue by tossing around the “nazi” label. Louis Black’s recent contribution at the Daily show to critique this type of politically bantaring hit it home for me to dismiss this type of political arguement.

    But the conversation has thankfully moved on to address the real issues of suffering and our need to create policies of compassion. Our Catholic religious community, the Passionist, has a house in Bethany and in 2005 “The Wall” was built through our property. Priority must be given for the population that is in the midst of suffering must be listened to. Scripture reminds us that the cries of the suffering goes up to heaven. If we do not tend to these systemic forms of violence then God will tend to us for the role we did or did play in tending to our brothers and sisters in the holy land.

    Both sides of the wall have faced great pain and violence. The Palestinian community suffer from a brutal occupation. The Israeli community suffer acts of terrorism to their communities. What makes the situation difficult is that neither side wants to budge. Groups have tried to bridge this ethnic divide and the Jewish voice for Peace stands out for their great work in attempting to reconcile this ethnic violence.

    Our community has a vested interest for peace. Many of our Catholic community comes from Palestine and violence againts the Palestinians makes no distinguishing difference between Muslim and Catholic Arabs. Not that a policy for peace should but of course it is only human to be concerned primarily with ones own family member. To address this concern our UN NGO, Passionist International, has taken to work with other Catholic NGO’s to go back to the legal international framework that started this entire issue. The violence that both sides face is systemic and that system is particularly rooted in the international organization called the UN. It behooves the United States to return the international body where this situation originated and to again work at empowering this body to force both sides to come to the table by applying real international pressure (primarilly through economic pressure) If Israel knew that their military financial subsidy (which is enormous) is about to be touched don’t you think their tone would change. Likewise if the Palestinian people thought for one second that they would get an actual chance to have a real and secure state that their own political tone would not change. I am not a betting man, but I would money on that possibility. A possibility that no one has wanted to really approach because the self interest of so many players have gotten in the way. Below I will share the position for Passionist International.

  • Freedom Flotilla and Israel’s Attack:
    The attack by Israeli forces on a flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza might have left more than 10 activists dead. The survivors, mostly Turkish, have been taken to Ahshod, where dozens have been hospitalized.

    As Christians, we tend to naturally sympathize with the Jewish people because of the connection of Christian origins with Judaism, and because of the suffering the Jewish people endured with the Holocaust. Post September 11, we also tend to view terrorist organizations will little sympathy and therefore can identify with Israel, feeling it is justified in its actions of blockading Gaza. So perhaps some important clarifications are needed to gain some perspective on what is happening.

    It is true that innocents, including children, have been killed on and by both sides in the conflict that has raged between Palestinians and Israelis, and both sides have violated international law in doing so. But the violence by Israelis and Palestinians does not have the same roots, nor are the 2 sides culpable in the same way.

    Palestine has been under military occupation for some time, and this in itself is illegal. All Israeli violence in the occupied territories stands in violation of international law – specifically the Geneva Conventions that identify the obligations of an occupying power to protect the occupied population.

    The blockade is a de facto occupation of the territory, asserting control over the land and halting vital aid. The amount of material and food provided is inadequate, precipitating a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Building materials such as cement are disallowed. Occasionally, Israel will dispense with strictness and show a tempered quality of mercy, but given the destruction of homes in Gaza and the need for building materials, that quality is thin.

    Palestinian violence is the violence of resistance, and has escalated as conditions of life and loss of hope breed greater desperation. It is carried out primarily by individual Palestinians and those linked to armed factions, and is aimed mostly at soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories. The rocket attacks in recent years have targeted civilians and are themselves a violation of international law. But the overall right of an occupied population to resist a foreign military occupation, including through use of arms against military targets, is recognized as lawful under international law.

    Israel has every right to arrest and try anyone attempting to attack civilians inside the country. But it does not have the right to occupy a neighboring country, not block aid to the civilian population. And, if it is serious about ending attacks on its own civilians, it must be serious about ending that occupation.

    It is an important fact to remember that Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1948 was conditioned on its willingness to abide by General Assembly resolution 194, which states, “Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return,” something Israel has never complied with.

    Also, Security Council Resolution 242, passed after the 1967 war, identifies “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” That is understood to mean that the territory Israel captured by war must be returned; that to keep it is inadmissible.

    Unfortunately the combination of the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” and the vast superiority of Israel’s power in the region, with the 5th most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world and one of the most powerful conventional militaries anywhere, means that other countries in the region and around the world will tend to limit their diplomatic imagination to what they think Israel will accept. That means acquiescence to continued U.S. control of any negotiations. And here in lies the danger, for the U.S. position has never placed international law and U.N. resolutions at its centre.

    Branding activists as terrorists and denying the human situation in Gaza will not help an Israeli cause that is proving more alienating the longer it persists. If there is an inquiry into this incident, it will have to be wide ranging and international.

  • Thanks John for your extensive comments- we will see if anyone who spoke out earlier will take up your challenging perspective.

    As for my own use of the “Nazi” comparables- I did so only to show that such linkages can be cover almost any political situation where there is a conflict with Jewish involvement if one wants to play the Holocaust card in the Israel-Palestine Conflict- but it could also be applied to any situation where there are mass killings taking place with seeming public indifference of support- like the Germans who mostly accepted Hitler’s plans, or much closer to home- Americans who don’t see or don’t want to see the humanity of human lives being terminated in abortion clinics- some 50 million lives according to reports I’ve heard- so when I see the Palestinians- Hamas in particular called out as Hitler Wanna-Be’s- I think that is more than a bit much- it is way to tough to separate out how much of Hamas’ rage against the Jews is really just rage against the Machine of Israeli occupation and assassinations et al. And we have to make clear that our own society is full of contradictions such as our stated ideals of democratic self-determination and aversion to foreign influences- and then taking on the right to intervene in all kinds of ways in places all over the world without really defining how our interests are coinciding with the interests befitting a majority Christian nation.

    Finally- to Donna et al- it is important to place special interest on Catholic Palestine and take care to help with special concern the Catholic Palestinian community- this is something that the Church has always upheld- one of the defenses of the Pope during WWII was that he was compelled to attempt to defend his flock wherever they may be- the reason being is that for the Church to fulfill her evangelical mission She must spread and inculturate everywhere- The Church implanted first by foreign missionaries, is to become impregnated with indigenous priests and bishops- this is what has happened in the Palestinian community- as evidenced by the Latin Patriarchs in the Holy Land- we need to take special interest in listening to their cries, their perspectives must be taken deep, deep into our consciences especially when they are calling out their American Catholic brothers and sisters- I am and I have been listening very intently- I don’t believe that many of the commentators here at American Catholic are quite getting the significanse of this necessary point of contact between Catholic communities. If we are indeed concerned over the possibility of a global radical Islamist movement- then we should do everything in our power to assist the smaller Catholic communities in the Middle East- they are the seeds of hope for the future- to be peacemakers, to be the bridge between peoples- Middle Eastern and Western. Now according to Fr. Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, he estimates that in Israel upwards to 80% of the citizens of Israel who are “Jewish” are actually atheistic or agnostic- so “Jewish” has come to indicate something cultural/biological for some and not really connected to a belief in the Torah/Judaism. This is relevant since we are always debating the Israel-Palestine conflict along the lines of how being on the side of Israel is to be on the side of those closest to us and our way of living and believing- this would be true only if by “we” we are referring to the secular liberal American society- which I don’t think most conservative Catholic commentators are suggesting. So this is just more food for thought for those who have taken a hard position in favor of “Israel- good guy- yesterday and today- Palestinians- violent- not appreciative of Israel’s good faith offers- Islamic radicals bent on wiping out all Jews- just like Hitler”. I will continue to challenge those who pen such beliefs at every turn- they may feel like they and Israel are receiving so much unfair criticism all the time- but just follow the money and the military hardware- Israel has received billions of American public and private dollars every single year for decades- Israel has received American political support in international bodies at every turn as well- American Catholic Israel supporters are hardly the “Davids” in this debate- they are the all-time, big-time, winners if one judges by the facts of where all the American establishment clout has been directed- short answer- it hasn’t been to support the Palestinian Catholics and their leadership’s views on how Americans should act in the Holy Land. I stand with my brother and sister Catholics in the Holy Land- if you wish as Catholics to stand with the mostly secularized Israelis- that is your call- I’m just here to challenge your stated positions and check your influence as Catholic witnesses who are actually harming the Catholic peoples of the Holy Land- contradictions abound here at American Catholic.

  • No sooner did I post the above – then I read that the Vatican shares the perspective that religious freedom is vital in our relationships with Muslim countries- as I wrote a blog entry about a couple of weeks ago about- and also blame is attached to Israel for undermining the Catholic community in the Holy Land- read the article for yourself at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100606/ap_on_re_eu/eu_cyprus_pope

  • Tim,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, I hope that you’ll feel that I live up to the tone in responding to it.

    I must admit, if I’m understanding your description of when Palestinians would see as a suitable point to consider attacks against Israel unacceptable:

    If Israel were to give to the Palestinians what has been set forth by the UN resolutions and then continued to receive the suicide attacks of rocket attacks- then I would say- yes- this is self-defense time- I would even agree that the US should make their defense of Israel a part of the peace agreement that gives the Palestinians their WEst Bank/East Jerusalem/Gaza State and gives monetary repayment to those Palestinians forced out during the 48 War

    it gives me very little hope that there will ever be peace in the region. It represents pretty much a best-case demand, and I can’t think of any situation in history where insurgent nationalists have received that. (Also, a few elements are notably one-sided: I don’t imagine anyone is stepping forward to compensate the equal number of Jews expelled from surrounding Arab countries in the ’48 war.)

    Consider, by comparison, the way the Irish won independence:

    During the Irish War of Independence of 1919-1921 (which was only the most recent of centuries of Irish rebellion against British rule), the Irish civilian population suffered frequent reprisals from British military/police organizations such as the Black and Tans. One egregious example was the football massacre on Bloody Sunday, when in reprisal for the targeted assassination of 13 British intelligence officers and military personnel, British auxiliaries sent to look for IRA gunmen at a soccer match ended up firing randomly into the crowd with rifles, pistols, and a machine gun mounted on an armoured car.

    In the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, the Irish delegation led by Michael Collins got far less than they had hoped for. They sought a united and independent Irish republic — they got an Irish Free State, which had to acknowledge the British crown, and they didn’t get Ulster.

    In many ways, perhaps, it was the same as the situation that Arafat found himself in the Camp David Summit. Fortunately, however, Collins was a much greater man than Arafat. The treaty was put up for a public referendum, and Collins (who had won popularity through his leadership of the IRA during the war) supported it publicly.

    When the treaty was in fact passed, a significant minority of the revolutionaries refused to accept it, and the Irish Civil War began. Irish Free State leaders who until months ago had seen their comrades tortured or put before firing squads by the British, had to turn to the British for arms and supplies and fight their own former comrades in order to secure the imperfect free state.

    That was the price for freedom and peace. Once the Irish had shown themselves as a peaceful and responsible neighbor, and once the wounds felt on both sides had healed, there was no violence when Ireland declared full sovereignty in 1937, or left the commonwealth in 1949.

    Keenly though the Palestinians feel their injustices, it’s important to understand that the Israelis also believe themselves in the right — and given the amount of blood spilled at this point there will never be peace if the condition for stopping the violence is that the Palestinians get everything they want. One can only pray that there will someday be a Palestinian leader with the moral and personal courage of a Collins (who was himself killed in the Civil War).

    recall that as part of geneva conventions you cannot permanently settle on lands taken during war.

    I probably shouldn’t bring this up, since it’s a tangential point, but this strikes me as an example of how the UN and modern international agreements are sometimes more an obstacle to peace than a move towards it. The fact is, wars have, throughout history, resulted in the acquisition of territory. And indeed, there’s a certain irony that it was enacted in 1949, as from 1945 to 1950, the Allied powers had set new boundaries in Europe as a result of being the victors in the war, and engaged in the largest act of ethnic cleansing in recorded history: deporting around 14 million ethnic Germans from Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Netherlands in order to make the ethnic makeup of Europe match the newly drawn borders and assure that a resurgent Germany would never again justify aggression by claiming they were only “liberating” the German-speaking populations in neighboring countries.

    By holding out the promise that property loss 60+ years ago will somehow be made right at some point in the future, if only people will hang around in refugee status indefinitely, I think our international community probably makes nasty conflicts of ethnic nationalism (such as that in the Middle East) even worse than they would otherwise be.

  • Tim Shipe,

    The Arab leadership passed on three clear opportunities to obtain an Arab state on portions of the former mandatory Palestine demographically dominated by Arabs. That, without a lot of deal-breaking paraphenalia, is simply not a political goal of theirs.

  • The highest ranking Catholic in the Holy Land (just recently retired), has been the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah (lpj.org). The Patriarch has been pleading for years that American Catholics need to work to change the American policy of financing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. He has stated that: “ The State of Israel encompasses 78% of historical Palestine…the remaining 22% was occupied by Israel in 1967, and this is all Palestinians want- a small part of what they had before 1947. They want that 22% to be free of occupation, all of it. Israel cannot have both things- security and occupation. They must give up occupation for security.” (As quoted in the St. Anthony Messenger). The Church has stood behind the Geneva Conventions regarding the right of people displaced by war to return to their homes, and the UN Resolutions 194, 224, and 478, as well as Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of human rights.

    I’ll stand by the Holy Land Catholics- if American Catholic commentators want to deny them and write off their view of their own immediate situation then that’s your deal- I can only urge you do some Deal Hudson type of research instead of relying on whatever dubious sources you have been up to this point- has anyone commenting here actually spent any time in a Palestinian city, town, or village?

  • By holding out the promise that property loss 60+ years ago will somehow be made right at some point in the future, if only people will hang around in refugee status indefinitely, I think our international community probably makes nasty conflicts of ethnic nationalism (such as that in the Middle East) even worse than they would otherwise be.

    Exactly so. Since 1948, the Palis have lived as human title deeds on the West Bank and Gaza. That was not done out of concern for the Palestinians’ well-being (I believe their fellow Arabs could care less) but solely out of a desire to hurt the Israelis.

    Tim, again, you might discount this source because it’s not Catholic, but the renowned Israeli novelist Amos Oz wrote back in 2002 that he recalled his parents telling him that in the Poland of the 1930’s, graffiti abounded saying “Jews to Palestine.” Now graffiti writers in Europe scrawl (and American journalists say): “Jews out of Palestine.”

    Amos said “We are not supposed to be in Europe. We are not supposed to be in Palestine. The message is: don’t be.

    Where, Tim, do you think the Jews should be?

  • This article appeared in the Asian Times:

    It may seem odd to blame the Jews for the misery of Middle East Christians, but many Christian Arabs do so – less because they are Christians than because they are Arabs. The Christian religion is flourishing inside the Jewish side. Only 50,000 Christian Arabs
    remain in the West Bank territories, and their numbers continue to erode. Hebrew-speaking Christians, mainly immigrants from Eastern Europe or the Philippines, make up a prospective Christian congregation of perhaps 300,000 in the State of Israel, double the number of a decade ago.

    The brief flourishing and slow decline of Christian Arab life is one of the last century’s stranger stories. Until the Turks killed the Armenians and expelled the Greeks, Orthodoxy dominated Levantine. The victorious allies carved out Lebanon in 1926 with a Christian majority, mostly Maronites in communion with Rome. Under the Ottomans, Levantine commerce had been Greek or Jewish, but with the ruin of the Ottomans and the founding of Lebanon, Arab Christians had their moment in the sun. Beirut became the banking center and playground for Arab oil states.

    The French designed Lebanon’s constitution on the strength of a 1932 census showing a Christian majority, guaranteeing a slight Christian advantage in political representation. With the Christian population at barely 30% of the total and 23% of the population under 20 – Lebanon’s government refuses to take a census – Lebanon long since has lost its viability. The closing of the Christian womb has ensured eventual Muslim dominance.

    Precise data are unobtainable, for demographics is politics in Lebanon, but Lebanon’s Christians became as infertile as their European counterparts. Muslims, particularly the impoverished and marginalized Shi’ites, had more babies. In 1971, the Shi’ite fertility rate was 3.8 babies per female, against only 2 for Maronite Christians, or just below replacement. Precise data are not available, but Christian fertility is well below replacement today.

    Lebanon was a Catholic project from the outset, and the Vatican’s thinking about the region is colored nostalgia for a dying Christian community and a searing sense of regret for what might have been. If only the State of Israel hadn’t spoiled everything, many Arab Christians think, the Christian minority would have wielded enormous influence in the Arab world. It is true that in many Arab countries, Christians comprised a disproportionate share of merchants and intellectuals. But the same was true of the 130,000 Jews of Iraq before 1947, who owned half the businesses in Baghdad.

    Contrary to the Arab narrative, the peak of Arab Christian influence occurred a generation after the founding of the State of Israel, when Boutros Boutros-Ghali became Egypt’s foreign minister in 1977, and Tariq Aziz became Foreign Minister of Iraq in 1983. In fact, the founding of the State of Israel propelled Christian Arabs into leadership positions in Arab governments. The Arab monarchies installed by the British in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq failed miserably in their efforts to crush the new Jewish State in the 1947-1948 War of Independence. Young military officers replaced the old colonial regimes with nationalist governments, starting with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1952 coup in Egypt.

    Nationalism opened the door of political leadership to Arab Christians. The Syrian Christian Michel Aflaq founded the Ba’ath party which later took power in Syria and Iraq. The rise of secular Arab movements with strong Christian influence was a response to the Arab failure to prevent the founding of the State of Israel. After the Turkish destruction of Orthodox Christian populations in the Levant, the Arab Christian elite – for centuries graced by not a single name the world remembers – saw its chance to shine. Lebanon, previously a backwater, and the pugnacious Maronite population, a marginal group except for their ties to France, improbably emerged as the focal point of Levantine Christianity.

    But Arab nationalism failed just as miserably as did the monarchies invented by the British after the Turks were thrown out. Having rolled the dice with Arab nationalism, Arab Christians were left with diminished leverage and declining numbers on the ground in the advent of political Islam. Both in politics and demographics, the Arab Christians largely had themselves to blame. Understandably, they find it more palatable to blame the Jews.

    A case in point is Father Samir Khalid Samir, a Jesuit of Egyptian Arab origin who prominently advises Pope Benedict XVI on Islam. I reviewed his fine book 111 Questions on Islam last March [1]. Samir is circulating what he calls a “Decalogue for Peace”, leaked August 9 on the website of veteran Vatican analyst Sandro Magister [2].

    According to Samir:
    The problem goes back to the creation of the state of Israel and the partition of Palestine in 1948 decided by the superpowers without taking into account the population already present in the (Holy) Land. There resides the real root of all the wars that followed. To repair a serious injustice committed in Europe against a third of the world Jewish population, Europe (supported by the superpowers) decided to commit a new injustice against the Palestinian population, who are innocent of the martyrdom of the Jews. The original decision-making was shaped largely as reparation by the superpowers for doing little or nothing to end a systematically organized persecution against the European Jews as a ‘race’.
    Samir’s plan includes international troops on Israel’s borders, recognition of the Palestinian right of return, an international commission to decide the future of Jerusalem – in short, what the Israelis would consider the end of their sovereignty and the liquidation of the Jewish State. That a prominent Vatican Islam expert would take such a stance speaks volumes about the power of nostalgia.

    There is not a single fact in place in Samir’s presentation.

    Leave aside the fact that the League of Nations in 1922 confirmed the object of the British mandate to establish a homeland for Jewish people in Palestine, and that preparations for the Jewish State were complete before World War II. Leave aside also the pope’s Biblical belief that the Jews are in the Land of Israel because God has commanded them to be there. The fact is that most Israelis, contrary to Samir, descend not from the Jews driven out of Europe by the Holocaust, but rather from Jews driven out of Arab countries after 1947.

    There were 600,000 Jews in Israel on the day of its founding; an additional 700,000 were expelled from Arab lands, including Iraq, where the Jews had lived for 1,000 years prior to the arrival of the Arabs. By expelling the Jews, the Arab countries created a population concentration in Israel that made possible the country’s emergence as a regional superpower. The results were an exchange of populations of roughly equal numbers, Palestinians leaving the new State of Israel and Jewish refugees arriving from Arab countries.

    No, Tim, I haven’t lived in or visited any Palestinian Christian communities. I haven’t lived in or visited any Israeli Jewish ones either. Have you ever considered that your closeness to Palestinian Catholics might be distorting your views a bit?

    Palestinian Christians might think they’ll get a better shake under Muslim Arab rule than under Israeli rule. The facts seem to point in a different direction.

  • Tim, your recommendation makes sense only under the assumption that American aid to Israel in an impediment to some sort of settlement. That aid gives the Jewish population the wherewithal for greater resistance, but that is not a problem for the United States and would not be much of a problem for the Arab population either if the Arab leadership and populace maintained a set of political goals which could be incorporated into a stable political equilibrium. They do not, and no amount of ‘research’ by Deal Hudson or gas from the Latin Patriarch are going to change that one bit.

    Why do the Jews have a state? Because they built one. What problem do you have in the Fertile Crescent? The entrepreneurial sector have other things to do with their lives than cope with the environment created by that region’s wretched political elite and emigrate – to the Gulf emirates, to the United States, to France. The process is most advanced on the West Bank and Gaza where the field has been left to capos, gangbangers, and ululating hags.

  • I have to say that I spent only two weeks in Israel and the West Bank. Went there with a Franciscan priest who lived there for 19 years. Met with both Israelis and Palestinians. Found both prejudiced in their own way. Felt hate towards the other by both. Israelis can be biased. Like American Catholics, so can Palestinian Catholics also be biased.

0 Responses to Why Aren't There More Worker Co-Ops?

  • The principles of neoclassical economics are a flashpoint in some Catholic circles, where the mainstream economist is derided for his “science” and unwavering belief that economic phenomena are defined by something akin to scientific laws. But what are we to make of this:

    An increasing percentage of Mondragon employees, for example, do not have an ownership stake in the company, but work for it much as they would for an ordinary business. But while this may be a solution for a particular co-operative business, it is not really a solution for the co-operative business model so much as a gradual abandonment of it.

    The Catholic criticism of mainstream economics is fair enough — get the anthropology in the correct order before positing homo economicus, we’re told. I sympathize, but if there’s an incentive against expansion because of share dilution even at Mondragon, how do we square this apparent inevitability with the insistence that politcal economy and economic institutions are not deterministic?

    (This is a bit off topic and might make a good topic for a separate post.)

  • I don’t know that it’s necessarily that far off-topic. My issue with most discussions of economic “justice” is that they inevitably drift over toward equality of outcome at the expense of equality of opportunity. That is precisely the issue, it seems to me, with Mondragon and other worker co-ops.

    SOmeone has to set a relative value for the stuff being co-op’d. Whoever does that will be required to make value judgments as to the relative worth if various inputs to the system, and then to relate those values to outcomes. If we’re all OK with me being paid less than Blackadder because I only input potatoes while he inputs truffles (does anyone not-French really eat those things?), then we’re good. But when Blackadder becomes richer than me because his inputs are more valuable than mine, many Catholic sociologists will cry foul and seek to level the playing field. THAT’S when we get into trouble.

    Concentration of wealth, or resources, or whatever, into the hands of less than the entire society is inevitable, unless we desire to take everyone to the lowest comoon denominator. And remember: when everyone is at a subsistence level…the poor will STILL be with us, except that none of us will be able to afford largesse to aid them!

  • “If employers and employees find, for the reasons given above, that worker co-ops are less preferable than other forms in many circumstances, there is nothing wrong with that.”

    I really hope the assumption here isn’t that anyone ever said there WAS something wrong with it.

  • Deacon Chip,

    ” But when Blackadder becomes richer than me because his inputs are more valuable than mine, many Catholic sociologists will cry foul and seek to level the playing field. THAT’S when we get into trouble.”

    I agree. And Catholic social teaching is clear – men have a right to make a profit from their labor, to enrich themselves. They also have a MORAL obligation to use their wealth charitably (which is NOT the same as saying that the state should force them to; unfortunately we live in a world in which people can ONLY imagine obligations coming from the state, since they no longer believe in God).

    “Concentration of wealth, or resources, or whatever, into the hands of less than the entire society is inevitable, unless we desire to take everyone to the lowest comoon denominator.”

    I completely agree. But “less than the entire society” is very broad. It could mean almost everyone, or it could mean almost no one. What Catholic social teaching makes clear is this: in so far as POSSIBLE (the exact words of Pius XI and a paraphrase of JP II), we should look for ways to make more people full participants in the economic process – through degrees of ownership and control of the means of production.

    This doesn’t mean “do it, even if it will ruin the company or the economy.” It means, “examine each situation to discover how far this general principle can be applied, if it all.” And even BA is forced to admit that in some sectors of the economy it DOES work.

    In any case, we also have to remember that the aim of CST is to prevent or mitigate class warfare. The Church has always recognized a polarizing tendency in what we call “capitalism” and has suggested Distributism as ONE way of addressing it.

    The other ways – labor unions, and state assistance, have mutated into corrupt bureaucratic enterprises. In fact I would argue that it is because of a false hope that men in all classes put in these institutions that the real solution, Distributism, was never really tried on a mass scale.

    Now that the bankruptcy of organized labor and welfare-statism is evident, I believe the already empirically demonstrated upward trend in employee ownership (which I pointed out in this post:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/06/25/worker-ownership-%E2%80%93-the-untold-stories/)

    will continue. Though some people make a career out of denying it, the dog-eat-dog individualism of the unfettered market does not and will not serve as the foundation of a stable or a just or a moral society. We are social beings, we are meant to live, to work, and to worship as a community (without negating our individual dignity or rights, of course).

    As a final thought, even Ronald Reagan supported employee ownership.

  • Pingback: Round Up – May 11, 2010 « Restrained Radical
  • Though some people make a career out of denying it, the dog-eat-dog individualism of the unfettered market does not and will not serve as the foundation of a stable or a just or a moral society.,-Joe Hargrave

    Dogs don’t eat dogs – despite the claims of those who make a career asserting it. However the 20th century experience with unfettered collectivism demonstrates that socialists do eat other socialists.

    I am pleased to see Blackadder’s article explaining that worker co-ops are rare not because they are wilfully suppressed by Secret Masters of Political Economy (SMOPEs) but because they are naturally selected against by people’s own individual choices. I am amused by advocates of distributism who use mass-produced computers and a ubiquitous Internet to stump for distributism without regard to the fact that such tools subsist in an economy where large capital formations are commonplace. As Blackadder put it, “worker co-ops tend to be disproportionately concentrated in labor intensive, capital light industries.” These haven’t been the commanding heights of a Western economy since the Industrial Revolution, maybe not even since the days medieval Benedictine monks built water wheels, windmills, and forges adjacent to their monasteries.

  • Micha,

    The extent to which you go to misrepresent arguments is well known, and unworthy of a response. I’ll pray for you.

Edward Feser on Stupak, the USCCB and Subsidiarity

Wednesday, March 31, AD 2010

Pertinent to recent discussions of Stupak and the role of the USCCB in advancing the health care bill, Edward Feser offers his reflections on Bart Stupak, the USCCB and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity:

… before the health care bill vote, the USCCB urged Congress either to alter the bill to prevent federal funding of abortion or to vote the bill down. (The USCCB also objected to the bill’s failure to extend coverage to illegal immigrants.) But the letter in which this request was made also emphasized that “for decades, the United States Catholic bishops have supported universal health care,” that “the Catholic Church teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential for human life and dignity,” and that it is only “with deep regret” that the bishops must oppose passage of the bill “unless these fundamental flaws are remedied” (emphasis added).

Needless to say, the impression these words leave the reader with – whether the bishops intended this or not – is that, were abortion (and coverage of illegal immigrants) not at issue, the moral teaching of the Catholic Church would require the passage of the health care bill in question, or something like it. In fact the teaching of the Church requires no such thing. Indeed, I would argue (see below) that while the Church’s teaching does not rule out in principle a significant federal role in providing health care, a bill like the one that has just passed would be very hard to justify in light of Catholic doctrine, even aside from the abortion question. Nevertheless, as I say, the bishops’ language would surely leave the average reader with the opposite impression. And as the bishops themselves remind us, they have “supported universal health care” for “decades,” in statements that also would leave the unwary average reader with the impression that Catholic moral teaching strictly requires as a matter of justice the passage some sort of federal health care legislation. On the day Obama signed the bill into law, Cardinal Francis George, a bishop with a reputation for orthodoxy, urged vigilance on the matter of abortion while declaring that “we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.”

Read the rest!

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9 Responses to Edward Feser on Stupak, the USCCB and Subsidiarity

  • I thought I was a voice in the wilderness. Very well written. Much better than I–a simpleton could have written.

    I often wonder, when I pray for my Bishop, Do I ask God to give me the strength to be obedient or do I pray, “Lord save me from my Bishop when he basically flaunts his own personal views as Catholic teaching.”

  • “The government must also see to the provision of insurance facilities, to obviate any likelihood of a citizen’s being unable to maintain a decent standard of living in the event of some misfortune, or greatly increased family responsibilities.” Pacem in Terris 64.

    Federal health care reform ensuring universal coverage was necessary. I too am disappointed with the implementation but I’m still not convinced it necessarily violates subsidiarity (though I personally believe it does in some relatively minor ways).

    The “overreach” may be justified as consumer protection measures which prevent anticipated problems. Few people would consider government health inspections a violation of subsidiarity. It would be possible to write a law that allows individuals to personally inspect sausage factories but that’s impractical. Likewise, some of the supposedly overreaching regulations of ObamaCare restrain individual choice but for a good reason: government is better positioned to make those choices.

    I think maybe a good test of whether something violates subsidiarity is whether it actually harms communities of a lower order. Like I said, I believe ObamaCare does though in relatively minor ways.

    A second question is whether minor infractions against subsidiarity render the entire bill immoral. For example, I think the cap on HSA contributions is too low. It actually harms those who use HSA’s. Would that alone warrant opposition to an otherwise good (for sake of argument) bill?

  • Likewise, some of the supposedly overreaching regulations of ObamaCare restrain individual choice but for a good reason: government is better positioned to make those choices.

    That *could* possibly be the case, but I would argue that a government that considers abortion to be health care, a right, and a HC cost savings measure is patently disqualified to make those choices. Ditto for considering the intentional killing of the disabled as a “family matter”.

  • I wouldn’t consider the government disqualified to make decisions on all matters just because it makes the wrong decision on one matter. Besides, except for when voters want to kill non-voters (abortion and euthanasia), government has a bias in favor of providing more, not less. I find it odd that those who claim the government loves spending too much money also believe the government would like to kill grandma to save money.

  • A wrong decision is one thing, a wrong decision(s) on fundamental matters are another. When most people talk about the government loving to spend money, I think they’re referring to spending as a means of acquiring power and building dependencies to maintain power, coupled with the typical inefficiency and bureaucracies that accompany it.

    As far as killing people or allowing people to be killed to save money. Why not? It gives them power over lives, and as you pointed out, we’re talking about non-voters. Pelosi said abortion coverage would be a cost savings to Obamacare, and I just saw this:

    http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2010/03/krugman-death-panels-will-save-money.html

  • There’s nothing odd about it. Few claim that the government likes to spend money arbitrarily. It spends too much on things it shouldn’t and not enough on things it should, because of its distorted and often perverse hierarchy of values.

  • The thing is that Pelosi and Krugman and the rest of these guys are right. Like I brought up in my column, if you make healthcare the responsibility of the government, then you make a thousand other things the responsibility of the government as well.

  • Interesting that Cardinal George is applauding the expansion of health care to all but the unborn.

    But that’s what happens when you put your Democratic Party loyalties before your faith.

  • The precedent is very bad, very bad.

Principle of Subsidiarity Violated by ObamaCare

Monday, March 22, AD 2010

Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made a determined effort for universal health coverage, without abortion, in the run-up to the vote on ObamaCare.  In the end, due to the abortion language in this bill, they condemned it in its entirety.

Now I believe that our bishops had the best intentions of wanting universal health coverage, but this violates the principle of subsidiarity.

The Principle of Subsidiarity is the handling of affairs by small-scale, bottommost, or minutest government.

In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which said that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function.

Private insurance agencies cover over 84% of all Americans, with an overwhelming 93% saying they are satisfied with their coverage.

And those that are uninsured, can get readily available treatment for a serious illness.  Including illegal aliens.

So why the bishops haste and aggressive posturing in pushing for something everybody already has and are satisfied with?

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89 Responses to Principle of Subsidiarity Violated by ObamaCare

  • Tito,

    I think you’re absolutely right.

  • I have yet to find a bishop that can explain why they have been pushing for universal health coverage for these many years.

  • I really have to take issue with this. The FACT is that there are people who cannot afford adequate health care.

  • Private insurance agencies cover over 84% of all Americans

    I think the number is more like 68% (you’re forgetting the people covered under government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) In terms of funding it’s more like 50/50 government/nongovernment.

  • RR,

    There will always be people that cannot afford adequate health care.

    It also depends on what you mean by adequate.

    Pope Leo XIII states, “preferential option for the poor”, in Rerum Novarum, but doesn’t say “universal” option for the poor.

    Besides, the poor are covered under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act(EMTALA) and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act(COBRA).

    The EMTALA states that It requires hospitals and ambulance services to provide care to anyone needing emergency healthcare treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay. There are no reimbursement provisions. As a result of the act, patients needing emergency treatment can be discharged only under their own informed consent or when their condition requires transfer to a hospital better equipped to administer the treatment..

  • BA,

    It depends on what statistics you are looking at.

    The 93% I am quoting shows studies “that most Americans are overwhelmingly happy with their own health care”.

  • Neither did Pope Leo XIII say “preferential option for some of the poor.”

    The poor aren’t “covered.” They’re thrown deeper into poverty because of the hospital bills. That is acceptable to you?

    I was planning on writing about this very topic over the weekend. Hopefully, I can get to it tonight. Bottom line is I think you’re wrong and the bishops are right.

  • Why does a massive government takeover of health care have to be the only way to help the poor?

    There were other measures proposed that would have helped lower the cost of health care, which is abysmally high in the US – allowing people to buy insurance across state lines would have been a start.

    And, I have no problem if individual states want to go the Massachusetts way.

    But this federal monster could end up bankrupting dozens of states, causing the loss of millions of more jobs, and further crippling the country with massive debt. How does any of that help the poor? It hurts them.

  • “They’re thrown deeper into poverty because of the hospital bills. That is acceptable to you?”

    There’s no Catholic mandate to create a socialist utopia in which poverty becomes impossible. Sorry.

  • RR,

    Option does not mean absolutely necessary.

    You can’t change the meaning of the word option.

    I was quoting Pope Leo XIII.

    You are making stuff up, like many liberals do. So stop reading into Rerum Novarum what isn’t there, ie, forcing people to pay. This violates the Principle of Subsidiarity, not to mention you can’t force people against their will.

    Maybe you would learn this concept if you lived in the old Soviet Union.

    Over there you’ll learn really fast.

  • Absofreakinlutely right it violates the principle of subsidiarity. If only the USCCB would start talking about this aspect of the matter. But to expect them to do that is wishful thinking I know.

  • Long time reader, first time commenter.

    All EMTALA does is prevent emergency departments from refusing treatment to patients who cannot pay, and keeps EDs from transferring them to other institutions (AKA “dumping”)on the basis of their ability to pay. It does not preclude them from billing the patient for services rendered, which can be considerable. It also does not cover the cost of any prescriptions given as a result of the ED visit, nor does it have anything to do with maintenance care, which can help prevent the need for ED care in the first place.

    I’m not saying I am a proponent of the bill passed yeaterday, nor am I commenting on whether or not the bill passed violates subsidiarity. But EMTALA does not provide for anything more than immedate, acute care- it does not address most of the health care needs of people without insurance.

  • Because subsidiarity does not deny the need for solidarity nor that there are needs for structures to deal with needs which are not met at the local level, this is another poor argument by someone who does not understand subsidiarity. The fact that on the local level, the needs are not met, are not being met, and being left to as they are, people are dying, this demonstrates the need for action beyond the local level. And having an overarching structure also does not deny the local access: indeed, the bill is about _getting insurance_ and making sure insurance _doesn’t act like a ponzi scheme_. Oh well.

  • This post conveys a flawed understanding of subsidiarity. Worse, it violates the principle that all Catholic teaching, including social teaching, must be read as a whole. Subsidiarity does not exist without solidarity, preferential option for the poor, etc.

    Secondly, the post misrepresents the facts. Subsidiarity and solidarity obligate the higher level to step in when the lower order cannot provide. There is plenty of evidence that that situation exists. Also, there is, in some respects, more subsidiarity in the health care bill in that it provides more choices in payers than the present system. In some states, there is no competition in the insurance market and only large, dehumanizing insurers exists – which is itself contrary to the principle of subsidiarity.

  • For Catholic supporters of this bill, make your argument. I do not question your motives. But neither should those, such as myself, that hoped this bill would go down in flames have their motives questioned.

    I admire and adhere to (from the abstract plain of my disicpline, public affairs/political philosophy) the Catholic notion of subsidiarity. This bill is a violation, in my view, of both that of solidarity. I don’t particularly care to argue this point, but the Paul Ryan/Ross Douthat line of thinking is much better: private catastrophic insurance for young and old, some public subsidies but no government control, and finally a more controlled spending curve.

    Our entitlements are about to eat us alive (and yes that includes Wilsonian adventures). Our “culture wars” are about to get a lot worse (“why should I subsidize that sort of lifestyle”?)

    This bill deserved to fail. Now we live with consequences. I hope that its supporters in the Catholic blogosphere respond charitably, and keep their moral preening and motive questioning in check.

  • It’s disingenuous to claim that needs were not being met at the local level when options that might have addressed local problems were never given a chance.

    This was nothing but a power grab, plain and simple.

    The voters of Massachusetts were able to make the decision in their state – why weren’t voters in other states allowed the same opportunity? They’ll make their voices heard in the months to come, that’s to be sure, as this bill is nullified by state legislatures and voters, or possibly overturned by the courts.

  • Henry K & Charles,

    this is another poor argument by someone who does not understand subsidiarity.

    Can’t argue with my post so you attack the poster.

    Typical liberal strategies.

  • Tito, as others have pointed out, we aren’t making anything up. You are simply misunderstanding the principle of subsidiarity.

    jonathonjones, I would love to have seen what you call the “Paul Ryan/Ross Douthat line of thinking.” But some here are arguing that even that would violate subsidiarity. They mistakenly believe that any federal meddling is unCatholic.

  • Ever More Out-of-Balance

    The correct balance between subsidiarity and solidarity would, of course, fall somewhere in the middle between “every man for himself” and “universal nationally-regulated health insurance system.” And prudential concerns would indicate the need for incremental adjustments.

    But Democrats opted to start from scratch and envision a plan which would transform the existing system into their ideal vision. That was unattainable, so they instead moved as sharply in the direction of that centralized, uniform, and mandatory system as they could possibly go given the political climate.

    Thus we have moved from somewhere in the middle between the extremes, to a spot hugely in the direction of one extreme. It requires only a cursory examination to realize that we’ve both neglected prudence and moved farther away from the balance-point between subsidiarity and solidarity than we started out.

    That’s reason enough to pray for repeal.

    Upheaval In Pursuit Of The Anointed Vision

    But if Democrats, in typical progressive fashion, decided to throw caution to the winds and envision their ideal system, how I do wish they’d have envisioned something compatible with not only the narrow “social justice” concerns of the Church, but more broadly with reality in general as the Church, pillar and bulwark of truth, recognizes it.

    For just as she is not ignorant of science, and so does not ask for impossible physics and medicine merely because social justice champions are prone to wishful thinking; so too she is not ignorant of the frictions which make human social systems imperfect, and so she does not ask for impossible economics and bass-ackward systems of incentives when social justice champions put more stress on the noble motives of their “reforms” than the outcomes likely to occur.

    Thomas Sowell correctly dissects this progressive habit of mind in his classic The Vision Of The Annointed. The plans Obama and Company originally pursued showed all the usual hubris of this group; the plan enacted was less so only because it wasn’t all they originally wanted.

    If they couldn’t resist the unwise urge for grandiosity, why oh why couldn’t it have been something wisely designed around the correct priorities and the need for helpful, rather than perverse, incentives?

    The Right Kind of Incentives

    In envisioning a health care system, we should always have had in mind the system of incentives we wished to create.

    First and foremost, human dignity obligates us to incentivize whatever self-provision the bulk of responsible adults can manage: Thus the Medical Savings Account should be the chief electronic wallet from which health care is purchased. This also puts the major emphasis where subsidiarity suggests it should go, at the individual level.

    Second, we want to get the most out of the pricing system generated by the free market: Thus medical care should be purchased directly by the consumer, directly from the provider, without middlemen (governments, HMOs) serving as pre-paid arbitrageurs who both distort prices by preventing consumer decisions from being transmitted as price-signals.

    Third, we want to provide an escape valve for those who encounter surprise catastrophic health care costs for which it was impossible that they could adequately save, even over a lifetime. Thus catastrophic care insurance — not pre-pay, but “if it happens” insurance — should be a part of the plan. The threshold for “catastrophic,” however, should be sufficiently high as to disincentivize risk-taking lifestyles from promiscuous sex to drunk driving to chain-smoking to radical obesity: It is a feature, not a bug, when a health care system makes such behaviors progressively impoverishing.

    Fourth, we want the poor to have assistance in building up their Health Savings. Vouchers and government-matching inversely proportional to income should keep them saving into their accounts and thus building up a “rainy day” fund.

    Fifth, we want children to be assisted outright. Health care costs for children could be reimbursed by the government at very high percentage rates for very young children, gradually tapering down to 0% by the time the child turns eighteen. Here, incentives are a lesser matter because children are not responsible for paying their own way.

    Sixth, we want voluntary almsgiving at the individual, community, state, and national levels to be incentivized, not displaced (as is usually the case in welfare state systems). A system which reports health care needs similar to the “Modest Needs” website could serve this function.

    The Right Balance of Subsidiarity and Solidarity

    In addition to envisioning the right kinds of incentives, we should also have had a vision in mind for how a system which recognized the complimentary (not always competing) claims of subsidiarity and solidarity would look.

    It’s primary mode of provision would be based on private purchase; its secondary mode of provision would be based on voluntary charity; its tertiary mode of provision would be through government compulsion via taxation.

    Its primary decision-making and governance would be on the level of individuals as they made purchase choices in the health care market; secondary on the level of communities, tertiary on the level of states, and last of all on the federal level.

    Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

    That’s what we ought to have gone for, once we decided to do something grandiose.

    Instead, we have this dog’s breakfast — or will have, for as long as it takes to shove it back inside the dog, God willing.

  • RR,

    You’ve made no points yet you use Henry’s and Charle’s infantile attacks on me as a “reason”.

    Don’t be a slacker and do your own thinking for once instead of getting your marching orders from the Democratic Party.

  • R.C.,

    Well thought out points on balancing solidarity and subsidiarity.

    Sadly Henry K. and Charles weren’t arguing that, they were only mudslinging to smear me. Not debate the substance.

  • Can’t argue with my post so you attack the poster.

    You are the one who attacked the poster with the typical liberal comment. Because I pointed out the problem of your use of subsidiarity. In ecclesiology, it would mean the Pope shouldn’t be able do anything with any canon laws, if one followed your lead.

  • Now you’re offended for being a liberal?

    😉

  • Federal “meddling” may or may not violate subsidiarity – I won’t say that it does in every single case.

    But we also have a Constitution. Why don’t we just get rid of that, so that Obama can single-handedly legislate us into a utopia. And we can print another 50 trillion dollars without any economic consequences to pay for it. Or we can shift all of the burden onto the states, almost all of which are facing severe budget crises. Or we can beg the Chinese and Japanese to keep buying our securities. The US is the greatest debtor nation in the world, but hey, lets not let that stop us from establishing programs with a price tag only a little short of the entire GDP.

    Catholic social teaching isn’t magic, and the Papacy has never insisted on this Fantasia style of government, where the executive waves a magic wand and creates resources ex nihilo for unlimited consumption. To suggest that solidarity or subsidiarity are bankruptcy pacts, or that they allow any politician at any time to ride roughshod over the laws of a particular nation, is a falsification of Catholic social thought, as immoral as it is absurd.

  • I agree with Joe that there is a role for the Federal government, with respect to Restrained Radical, Henry K., and Charles, but like Mr. Hargrave says, not in every single case.

    Where is the line drawn?

  • I have always said, Tito, I am not a liberal. It is wrong to claim I am. It is also an ad homimen.

  • You still don’t know what an ad hominem is. It isn’t a synonym for insult. If Tito were to argue, “because (I think) you are a liberal, your argument is wrong”, THAT would be an ad hominem.

    Identifying an argument one doesn’t like with a label one doesn’t like isn’t the same as rejecting an argument simply because of a label attached to the person making it. I’ll let Tito decide which one of these he’s doing.

  • Henry K.,

    Must have escaped me when you said it in the past.

    I won’t do it again buddy.

    And I was being cute, not nasty.

    (Thanks Joe)

  • The voters of Massachusetts were able to make the decision in their state – why weren’t voters in other states allowed the same opportunity?

    They were. Nobody was stopping them. That’s why Massachusetts was able to do it. Without this federal bill, a handful of other states would’ve followed suit. But too many states would not have. The federal government had to step in.

    There seems to be a lot of confusion of the issues here. I agree with jonathan, Henry, Charles, and RC. We are all saying that the federal government CAN bypass the state and impose health care reform. Tito believes that violates subsidiarity.

  • RR,

    When you say bypass, are speaking in the context of a Catholic or as a U.S. citizen.

    As a Catholic the federal government can step in, if local governments and/or non-governmental organizations are unable to fill that gap.

    And only if it is done in solidarity (since that wasn’t my argument, but I’m throwing it in there to avoid getting this thread hijacked

    From the perspective of a U.S. citizen, I’m all for representative republic, but not at the expense of the minorities, ie, such as the minority party in congress, the GOP. But that’s for another thread, not this thread.

  • Joe

    I very much know what an ad homimen is. You are right, it is not to insult. But it is to use some aspect of the person making the message (claiming they are liberal) to dismiss their argument. He didn’t respond to the argument. He just said “liberals” as if that answered it all. Classical ad homimen. But you know, Joe, your response here is quite typical.

  • Henry,

    It wasn’t an ad hominem.

    Though it’s quite telling that you take it as such.

  • “But you know, Joe, your response here is quite typical.”

    By your standards, THAT’S an ad hominem. Run along now, you’ve failed to make any impression or change anyone’s mind for the 50th time here.

  • As a Scalian, I think the bill is unconstitutional, as is the federal partial birth abortion ban. But I’m neither a judge nor a Constitution worshiper so you won’t ever hear me arguing for or against a policy on constitutional grounds. I’m speaking as a Catholic.

    Most of us here seem to believe that the federal government could impose some form of universal health care without violating subsidiarity, even though we may disagree with this particular bill.

  • RR,

    We agree in theory.

    I think most, if not all of us here, agree with your statement.

    What’s a “Scalian”?

    As in Antonin Scalia and skepticism in the 6th Amendment?

    As for…

    But I’m neither a judge nor a Constitution worshiper so you won’t ever hear me arguing for or against a policy on constitutional grounds.

    We aren’t Ba’al worshipers if that is your point.

  • The Principle of Subsidiarity is the handling of affairs by small-scale, bottommost, or minutest government.

    You are free to think that “Obamacare” violates the principle of subsidiarity. That is a matter of debate. But this definition of subsidiarity is simply incorrect. Subsidiarity means the handling of affairs at the lowest appropriate level. Consider, for example, why putting “national defense” at the level of city government might be a problem. Something tells me that you would not be in favor of that. I point this out as someone who definitely agrees with the impulse to keep things as local as possible.

  • I used “Scalian” as an admittedly imprecise shorthand for a Meaning Originalist (as opposed to an Intent Originalist).

    I think there are too many Americans who think man should serve the Constitution, not the other way around.

  • Tito,

    “Universal” is not a synonym for “socialized” or “federally managed.” There is no contradiction between a goal of universal health coverage and a goal of subsidiarity.

    R.C.’s description is one approach to universal health care. It’s probably not the only one, but it does show that subsidiarity and solidarity work together to promote the common (which can be taken to mean “universal” among other things) good.

    I would only add that subsidiarity is not simply The Principle of Subsidiarity is the handling of affairs by small-scale, bottommost, or minutest government, as you put it. Subsidiarity is the ordering of appropriate functions to appropriate aspects of society. For example, some decisions appear to affect only an individual, but are best made by a family.

  • To clarify, the health care bill may indeed violate subsidiarity, but it does not do so simply because it seeks universal availability of health care. (I don’t know the details of the bill well enough to critique it on that basis; but most federal legislation seems to violate subsidiarity in at least minor ways.)

    Nor are the bishops hypocrites for seeking universal access to health care. That’s all.

  • Most of the time, I find that those who say that the principle of subsidiarity is not violated by the recent health care bill have simply defined the object as “universal health care.” Therefore, since no state can provide universal health care for the United States, or even for all the poor in the United States, subsidiarity is not violated by federal action.

    However, aside from my guess as to how the proponents of such a massive bill excuse its existence, there are the following points from Rerum to consider:

    “The limits must be determined by the nature of the occasion which calls for the law’s interference – the principle being that the law must not undertake more, nor proceed further, than is required for the remedy of the evil or the removal of the mischief.”

    This indicates that reform of the costliness plus programs to remedy the state of the poor who cannot otherwise afford it are to be desired here. The “Obamacare” bill then violates subsidiarity insofar as it goes beyond these measures. And indeed, though in a different context, we find in RN the statement, “But every precaution should be taken not to violate the rights of individuals and not to impose unreasonable regulations under pretense of public benefit.”

    But, then, I think it is also worthwhile to turn to Quadragesimo Anno, which states that although “[w]hen we speak of the reform of institutions, the State comes chiefly to mind,” still:

    “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.”

    Mutual health organizations, currently heavily regulated, could do such things, and indeed have been proposed. Under this legislation, they are absorbed. Moreover, “Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands.” Necessity did not demand that the government replace the present system with something much different – it likely demanded reform of the present system and care of the most poor – which was clearly violated.

    Turning also to Mater et Magistra, we see that although “[t]he present advance in scientific knowledge and productive technology clearly puts it within the power of the public authority to a much greater degree than ever before to reduce imbalances which may exist between different branches of the economy,” still and yet, “it must never be exerted to the extent of depriving the individual citizen of his freedom of action. It must rather augment his freedom while effectively guaranteeing the protection of his essential personal rights. Among these is a man’s right and duty to be primarily responsible for his own upkeep and that of his family.”

    I do not think that “Obamacare” leaves the latter to the man. I think it, in fact, does far more than is necessary, and eradicates part of the primary responsibility of the man. Part of the problem of this is that “experience has shown that where personal initiative is lacking, political tyranny ensues and, in addition, economic stagnation in the production of a wide range of consumer goods and of services of the material and spiritual order—those, namely, which are in a great measure dependent upon the exercise and stimulus of individual creative talent.”

    And indeed, the importance and role of the state is reiterated as reinforcing groups and associations, not in replacing them: “As these mutual ties binding the men of our age one to the other grow and develop, governments will the more easily achieve a right order the more they succeed in striking a balance between the autonomous and active collaboration of individuals and groups, and the timely coordination and encouragement by the State of these private undertakings.”

    In many other places in Magister, the Pope discusses the dangers and the need of safeguards against the concentration of power in too few people. Those who see in Obamacare a great good for many people will also find support in that encyclical (as in others), but if they do not find a heavy warning and desire for temperance of state power (which does not exist in Obamacare), then they do not read carefully.

    Finally, turning to Centesimus Annus, we again find the same idea of subsidiarity as a limitation on state power:

    “The State must contribute to the achievement of these goals both directly and indirectly. Indirectly and according to the principle of subsidiarity, by creating favorable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth. Directly and according to the principle of solidarity, by defending the weakest, by placing certain limits on the autonomy of the parties who determine working conditions, and by ensuring in every case the necessary minimum support for the unemployed worker.”

    The phrase “necessary minimum support for the unemployed worked” aligns very nicely with the idea of a minimum provision bill combined with a careful reform of existing institutions. It does not align with Obamacare.

    And again:

    “Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”

    And in fact, “One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.”

    Obamacare may indeed appear to assist, or even actually assist, with some overarching goals of Catholic social justice. But it is well to remember that the Church is concerned not only with ends, but with means, and with motivations. Making common cause with those who would uphold this sort of legisation as supportable in a Catholic sense would be as dangerous as allying with those who would deny any state actor any role at all in regulation of health care.

  • Michael I,

    You’ve finally made a post around here that I don’t find objectionable in the slightest.

    If I had champagne on hand, I’d drink a toast.

  • 10th amendment period.

  • I think someone misunderstood me, if they interpreted my words to mean that I think this Federal bill, or even one which implemented my perfect plan purely through Federal authority, would be Constitutional.

    The Tenth Amendment clearly states the relevant principles:

    1. The Federal government has just authority only because it is a group of employees hired by (a.) the states, to exercise partially a specific subset of state authority (which the states only have because it was delegated to them by the people); and, (b.) the people, to exercise partially a specific subset of the just authority of individuals (which the people only have because it is delegated to them by God, or to say the same thing another way, because it is intrinsic to their God-given dignity as human beings);

    2. Any authority not delegated to the Federal government by its employers (the states and the people), it does not have;

    3. The Constitution is a sort of employment contract or job description for the Federal government, inasmuch as it is the sole vehicle for specifying the particular enumerated powers delegated to the Federal government by the states and/or the people.

    I’m more prone to verbosity than the Founding Fathers, so their text sums up the above quite succinctly: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

    Now as a matter of fact, the Federal government has no just authority to enact this health insurance bill. I can say this with utter confidence, because the relevant authority was never delegated to them. In fact, in many (perhaps most? I haven’t read enough of their constitutions to say) states, the relevant authority does not even reside in the states, from a textual standpoint. And there’s some question whether, as a matter of Natural Law, parts of the relevant authority resides in individuals at all.

    If individuals lack the relevant authority, they cannot delegate it to their employees, the states; even if they have the authority, they cannot be said to have delegated it unless they actually did so by mutual consent in their adopted constitutions; if the states and the people happen to have the relevant authority, they cannot be said to have delegated it to the federal government unless they actually did so by mutual consent in the Constitution adopted and ratified by the several states; and the relevant authority is, in absolute fact, not listed. It is not among the enumerated powers of the Federal government.

    And this all goes without saying for anyone who has studied the text and the opinions of the Founding Fathers about the meaning of what they wrote. Someone who argues that a national health insurance bill of this type, adopted through procedures of this type, fell within the intended authority granted to Congress by the Constitution as the framers intended, is utterly ignorant of the topic. It is a ridiculous anachronism easily refuted by all commentary on the Constitution, from the Federalist papers to the personal correspondence of the Founding Fathers. It is like saying that, when the Apostle John referred to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved” in his gospel, he intended to convey that he and Our Lord were gay lovers. It is jackassery of the first degree.

    BUT…

    The plain fact is that from the court-packing scheme of FDR onward, where the path of Supreme Court jurisprudence was, through outright extortion, ripped away from anything approaching respect for the text, our Constitutional jurisprudence is chock-full of first-degree jackassery.

    It is also plain fact that Congress doesn’t much give a frog’s fat fanny any more whether they have just authority under the Constitution or not to do, well, much of anything. Since the Senators became directly elected by the people, the state legislatures lost their voice in national governance and the states no longer have any obvious voice by which to prevent federal usurpation of their powers.

    And the people? They watch American Idol, or Jerry Springer, or whatever; it’s hard to keep up.

    So it is in the context of our execrable situation, which is unlikely to change soon, that I am willing to countenance Federal legislation which I hope will be helpful, even though I believe it utterly unconstitutional and would gladly see the constitutional (and subsidiarist) balance restored in the U.S. if it could be.

    I could stick to my principles and say nothing but “Hell, no” to any bill which I thought unconstitutional according to Framer’s Intent; and I would do just that were I in Congress. But as a voter, I know that this message, once uttered, is drowned almost instantaneously in the far louder debate about the merits of the bill, legality be damned.

    And so I wrote the post above, dealing with the lack of merit of the bill, and envisioning what would be the attributes of a truly meritorious bill, if one were ever to be introduced…and if it were wise to jump to a radically revamped system in one fell swoop, which it absolutely isn’t…and if the Federal government had just authority to enact it all by it’s lonesome, which I think it doesn’t and shouldn’t.

    I hope that clarifies my position.

  • To Michael Iafrate (and Joe Hargrave):

    You can count me in with Joe, Michael, about agreeing with what you said in defining subsidiarity. It was precisely correct: an apple of gold in a silver setting.

    So, champagne all around. (Since it’s not like we’re likely to have anything else to celebrate in the near future…!)

  • Bookmarking this page for Jonathan’s comment. It raises a question about when it’s acceptable to support an imperfect bill. Is overreach a nonnegotiable evil? What if ObamaCare also outlawed abortion (ignore the constitutionality for argument’s sake)?

  • R.C. nice post. All except the BUT.

    I posted, “10th amendment, period.”

    Compromise, despite how far we may have fallen is unacceptable.

    When you commit a venial sin do you have an excuse to commit a mortal sin, or an obligation to resist the downward pull and repent?

    If we are to truly live the Catholic faith, we are to be uncompromising. The 10th amendment is right and just and despite the fact that it has been trodden under foot, it it still law.

  • RC,

    It clarifies it, I suppose, but I don’t understand the point.

    We can say “hell no” — we can try and nullify this thing. Legal challenges are already being issued, invoking the interstate commerce clause.

    Here’s the issue for me, at least with regard to this discussion: the Constitution is the law of the land in the US. Now I happen to think that the Constitution, faithfully interpreted, is a subsidiarist document.

    But lets say this healthcare bill was truly subsidiarist – I don’t think it is but for the sake of argument. In that case I still don’t think we have any moral obligation to support it, as some left Catholics appear to be insisting.

    As I said before – fidelity to subsidiarity was never intended by the Papacy to be a bankruptcy pact. I am not going to argue that deficit spending is always and inherently immoral; but I do believe it can become so given the circumstances and the consequences.

    In these circumstances and with the likely economic consequences, not only do I think opposing this bill is NOT immoral or somehow out of step with Catholic teaching; I think promoting it with the full knowledge that it will cost nearly 1 trillion dollars that we don’t have, after Obama bailed out Wall Street, passed a stimulus bill that has failed to create jobs, and expanded the American empire – and with the knowledge that it will place a crushing financial burden on states that are teetering on the edge of fiscal meltdown – could very well be morally questionable.

    There is no mandate in CST to spend money you don’t have, whether you are an individual or a government. You can’t ram the concept of “solidarity” as an abstract ideal down the throat of a real society and body politic that can’t digest it.

    I do believe in solidarity. But I believe in real local solutions – distributism, worker and community ownership of businesses, common good banking, and other means of raising capital to fund the projects and programs that will embody our values as Christians and Catholics.

    This federal program is a nightmare. In my opinion, as a student of Catholic social teaching and the many Papal encyclicals on these questions, I say no Catholic is obliged to support it.

  • Deficit spending of money borrowed from one single entity that makes the money out of thin air at usurious rates is always and everywhere immoral, wrong, stupid and dangerous.

    I agree that no Catholic is obliged to support this debacle; however, we are obligated to oppose it. I am not condemning any one’s soul because some people are ignorant – ignorance may reduce murder to man slaughter, but an innocent is still dead and you did it – I know you didn’t mean to, but they are still dead and you are still guilty, only slightly less so.

  • As someone who has been to an emergency room with no health care (as a live-in volunteer for HIV+ homeless men with substance abuse addictions), I think I can speak from experience about whether this experience was ‘adequate’.

    I am still paying bills, still have poor credit, and am now a janitor working full time, but forced to live with my in-laws and forgo health care for my young son and wife.

    God will judge this nation, I promise you.

  • No doubt Nate, and I think He will find immense good as well as bad. Sounds like you are a bit sour about your present situation. The remedy is in your hands as it is with all able bodied people with no mental handicap. As the father of an autistic young man who will never have the opportunity to make his way in the world unaided, assistance his mother and I happily give him, I have limited patience for people who have sound minds and bodies and then gripe about lack of opportunity. Opportunities for honest employment and advancement are endless in this society for those willing to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

  • Nate,

    I’m not exactly driving around in a Cadillac myself.

    Like I said before: if we didn’t have trillion dollar banker bailouts, failed stimulus packages, and imperial wars, it would be different.

    In fact, I think it would be cheaper for the government to simply pay the tab of anyone with a treatable life-threatening illness than it would be for this monstrosity.

    There is no doubt that we live in a broken society worthy of judgment and possibly condemnation. The federal takeover of healthcare is not going to change that – that, I can promise you.

  • This is the boldest claim to this end on the conundrum with our Catholic principle of Subsidiarity and the USCCB supporting the bill save for the absence of the abortion language.

    If this bill had passed with the Stupak Language, it still would have done a lot of damage to the dignity and sanctity of life.

    People wrongly say that Rerum Novarum does not address Health Care, but it does!

    An excerpt-parenthesis are mine:

    “To cure this evil (of injustice), the Socialists, exciting the envy of the poor toward the rich, contend that it is necessary to do away with private possession of goods (my paycheck and yours) and in its place to make the goods of individuals (through redistribution of monies) common to all, and that the men who preside over a municipality or who direct the entire State should act as administrators of these goods. They hold that, by such a transfer of private goods from private individuals to the community, they can cure the present evil through dividing wealth and benefits equally among the citizens. But their program is so unsuited for terminating the conflict that it actually injures the workers themselves. Moreover, it is highly unjust, because it violates the rights of lawful owners, perverts the function of the State, and throws governments into utter confusion.”

  • RN doesn’t condemn taxation. Some people have to think through their condemnations more thoroughly.

  • As someone who has been to an emergency room with no health care (as a live-in volunteer for HIV+ homeless men with substance abuse addictions), I think I can speak from experience about whether this experience was ‘adequate’.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t such a person be eligible for Medicaid already?

  • RN absolutely DOES condemn what Leo called excessive taxation. Summarizing his list of the positive benefits of worker ownership of productive property, Leo concludes:

    “These three important benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.”

    Now what constitutes “excessive” or “more than [what] is fair” might be open for debate, but Phillipus’ quote is not limited to taxation.

    It has to do with the FUNCTION of government as well.

    “it violates the rights of lawful owners, perverts the function of the State, and throws governments into utter confusion”

    Sounds like an accurate description of Obamacare to me.

  • Not entirely OT, from Chicago Breaking News:

    While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

    Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

    The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

    But of course, nothing like this could ever happen under the Obama healthcare plan. These liberal pols, who care so much about the poor, would never use their power and influence to jump ahead on government waiting lists for transplants or expensive treatment. Only heartless conservatives would do such things…

  • Well, I don’t condemn taxation; government has legitimate functions that must be funded. How the tax burden should be shared is mostly a question of prudence, though certainly it would be immoral to tax families at the expense of true necessities. I disagree with the proposition that CST somehow endorses low taxes and small government any more than it endorses high taxes and large government. I prefer the former for all manner of prudential reasons, including some grounded in my own life experiences; but many smart good Catholics prefer the latter. It is very difficult to secure confident truths about public policy options because it is so hard to sort out why people do what they do.

    The UCCB is wrong to weigh in in support of this health care bill because it is beyond its charism, which is to speak out against intrinsically immoral things, such as government funding of abortion. They would be wrong to oppose it as well.

    Reminds me of the time the managing partner of my law firm wrote an op-ed piece in favor of gay marriage. He is free to do this of course, but many of us took great umbrage at his being introduced as our managing partner. That office carries with it no special wisdom on the issue, and he should have been more careful to avoid any suggestion that he was speaking on behalf of our firm or that his opinion somehow carries greater weight because of the office we gave him.

  • Donna, isn’t that news report just filthy Chicago political corruption all over? News flash for everyone who doesn’t live in Illinois: this is exactly the political atmosphere in which Obama learned the trade of a politician. Chicago politics have been a sewer forever, as accurately portrayed in this clip from the Untouchables.

    Ness was brought in because Chicago law enforcement was just as corrupt as portrayed in the film.

  • Mike,

    I think the extent to which our Constitution does not conflict with CST is the extent to which we ought to follow it.

    I’m not bringing this up because I think you claimed it, but throwing it out there as relevant to the topic:

    I’ve never seen a Papal document insisting that Americans scrap their Constitution and replace it with the Compendium of the social teaching, or a European-style welfare state. In fact, JP II condemned welfare bureaucracies in Centesimus Annus.

    “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (48)

    I think this is precisely why so many people opposed Obamacare, and why Catholics are well within the boundaries of CST if they oppose it.

  • Joe, I agree completely on all counts. Surprisingly (perhaps) I do not at all take issue with those Catholics who support ObamaCare (assuming the abortion issue has been satisfactorily addressed — its own issue of course). I give Catholics a wide berth. That said, I do believe it is arrogant for the bishops to weigh in (as bishops) on something they really don’t know any more than you, me or any other AC commentator.

  • Yeah, I agree Mike… its not “unCatholic” necessarily to support it, though I would remind everyone of those warnings about the welfare state from JP II.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the Catholics who DO support it are insisting that you’re basically an anti-Christ who hates poor people if you don’t support it.

    On a final note, I don’t mind the bishops “weighing in”, in theory: in practice, they only listen to left-leaning researchers. I never hear them talk about fiscal responsibility. Why is that out of the realm of moral teaching? Why is it OK to propose and enact grandiose schemes that could bankrupt a society?

    On a related note:

    People who think this is “consequentialism” are – to put it mildly – incredibly naive (or dishonestly abusing rhetoric, as some people who drop in here from time to time enjoy doing). It is perfectly legitimate and I would argue morally obligatory to consider the consequences of ANY action or policy.

    “Consequentialism” is only when one proposes doing evil to achieve a good end – not taking into account the great evils that could occur from the pursuit of good intentions.

  • Again, Joe, agreed. I pay no mind to those who claim that a Catholic must support ObamaCare for the simple reason that the assertion is stupid and I’m far too busy to deal with such nonsense. I also agree that it is possible for bishops to exercise a prudential opinion as bishops but only if the prudential component is not subject to reasonable debate (one can at least argue that the Iraq War satisfied this standard — though such an argument is not air tight). ObamaCare does not come close. Hence, my accusation of arrogance.

  • Joe:

    Well, of course I want the bill nullified, in the court system or by nearly any other means short of violence.

    You say you don’t understand the point of my second post. I think, from your reaction and “American Knight’s” reaction, that I used the wrong word when I said I would “countenance” a bill despite being opposed to it because it was unconstitutional. A better phrasing would have been to say that, while I would still vote against it and work for its defeat, I was willing to debate its merits, measured against the standards of Catholic teaching, apart from the question of constitutionality.

    Even though its unconstitutionality made me oppose it, I was willing to oppose it on other grounds also; namely, that it wasn’t a good fit with Catholic principles. (And, as I indicated, I fear the mere fact of something being unconstitutional often doesn’t prevent it being enacted these days.)

    With Obamacare, obviously the abortion thing made it not a good fit with Catholic principles. But I thought there were other things, as well, which made it not a good fit. It seemed to me that when a correct balance of subsidiarity and solidarity was taken into account, the result would be nothing like this bill.

    So I laid out what I thought were the relevant guidelines for a bill which would follow Catholic principles and showed how Obamacare didn’t fit. In the process of doing so, I gave a hypothetical example of an approach which would match Catholic principles far more closely.

    That was all in my first post.

    Sometime thereafter, RestrainedRadical came in and, referring to my hypothetical example, said that I thought federal programs like this were constitutional.

    Since that wasn’t what I meant at all, I wrote my second post to make it clear that I didn’t. The sole purpose of my hypothetical example was to show by comparison how much more Catholic (and generally wise) a bill could be, compared to the Obamacare bill. I would not want even my hypothetical example to be implemented by the kind of federal overreach used for the Obamacare bill.

    I hope that helps make sense of what I was saying.

    On another, but related, topic: Joe, can you help me out on something?

    In discussing the government-provided health insurance issue in another forum, I recently had occasion to quote St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3, the “if a man refuses to work, he ought not eat” bit.

    I took St. Paul to mean, reasonably enough I think, that Christians are under no moral obligation to subsidize a moocher who is entirely able to pay his own way but chooses to remain dependent on others despite having no disability or hardship to prevent him from gainful employment. I did not apply the verse to folk who’re in need through no fault of their own.

    The fellow replied that this was a “republican interpretation” of St. Paul, and one which he did not accept.

    I was flabbergasted by this. Are there really Catholics who believe that the Church teaches that one is obligated to give alms even when one knows one is not helping the needy, but only enabling a moocher? What could justify that? Is there some passage in an encyclical which can be construed that way?

    I don’t mean to talk behind the fellow’s back; and indeed if he sees this note and chooses to reply, that’s fine.

    But I thought that you, Joe, could perhaps give me insight into this point-of-view. To me it seemed pretty wacky but I’m trying not to dismiss the possibility that there’s some logic to it. Any ideas?

  • RC,

    “Even though its unconstitutionality made me oppose it, I was willing to oppose it on other grounds also; namely, that it wasn’t a good fit with Catholic principles.”

    Same here. I should have read your first post more carefully.

    Now, as for your questions:

    “Are there really Catholics who believe that the Church teaches that one is obligated to give alms even when one knows one is not helping the needy, but only enabling a moocher?”

    Unfortunately, yes.

    This passage is easy, however to misinterpret, if it is meant to apply to public policy. The CCC, 2427, states:

    “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another.Hence work is a duty: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.”

    So there is your passage, right there in the Catechism. Work is a duty. However, I would add the following considerations:

    Jesus does say that we are to give freely to all who ask (Matthew 5:42). In my view, this means the following: if a person on the street asks for money, we don’t make a federal case out of it, we don’t attempt to do an impromptu background check and grill them with a bunch of questions, and we don’t assume that they’ll spend the money on booze or drugs if they say they’re using it for food or gas.

    I’ve parted with the money in my wallet with a suspicion that the money might not be used well, but without knowing for certain, I erred on the side of charity. I believe this is what we are called to do as Christians.

    However, if we are talking about a situation in which a known liar and moocher asks for money or something else, then I believe we are fully within our rights to deny them, or, if we can, place conditions on our assistance. We will help them, in other words, on the condition that they make a serious effort to improve their position, to the best of their ability.

    In none of these scenarios do we find prescription for public policy. The Gospels are very thin on political theory, probably for a good reason: virtue is only meaningful if it is the result of a free choice. Jesus says “render unto Caesar”, and Paul says to obey the lawful authorities. The Apostles say to obey them only insofar as they do not conflict with God’s laws.

    Of course, Caesar Obama is not authorized by the Constitution to force us to buy health insurance, or to plunder the treasury to finance universal health care, so in resisting Obamacare we aren’t violating any Christian teaching that I know of.

    “Is there some passage in an encyclical which can be construed that way?”

    Absolutely not. The encyclicals do not contradict the Catechism. When they speak of economic issues, the presuppose a desire to work for a living on the part of the poor, as well as various problems that prevent full employment.

    The Church teaches that societies are obligated to find ways to provide employment for all. But the obligation to actually do the work rests upon us as individuals.

    John Paul II condemned the “Social Assistance State”, which at its absolute worst subsidizes idleness and laziness. So I would say Catholics have no grounds for insisting that the state do any such thing.

  • Donald and Joe – I don’t have much of a position on this health care debate. In the face of reality, it all seems like smoke.

  • This so-called health care reform bill and the Bishop’s position on the bill praising the increase access for the poor has caused me to research the Church’s positon on Social Justice. I wasn’t aware what a leftest organization that the US Catholic Bishops are.

    Social Justice is in many ways is a less offensive word for Socialism / Marxism.

    Subsidiarity is lost in current Catholic teachings.

    It is not charity when one is forced by the threat of imprisonment to pay for anothers’s health care through taxes.

    I use to feel good about charity to the Church. I’m less inclined to support the Bishop’s from this point forward.

  • Dan,

    That makes two of us.

    I’m less inclined to support the bishops in anything they push in “our” name.

  • We are obligated to be obedient to our bishops – they are the successors of the Apostles. Of course, that obligation is limited to their authority as Apostles – primarily in matters of faith and morals.

    The Bishops financial charity is not an obligation. I strongly suggest that we do it; however, I have been struggling with this all through Lent. Not because of the bishop – I actually have an excellent, faithful son of the Church, pro-life, loving shepherd as my bishop. I assisted at a Mass he celebrated yesterday and had a chance to speak to his excellency during dinner after. He is a wonderful and loving man and a good bishop. He also told me his schedule is already booked for two years. It is not easy being a bishop, especially these days when administration and litigation takes up so much of his time.

    The Enemy is using our twisted culture to force our bishops to be so busy with ancillary things that they are fatigued when it comes to their apostolic mission. We must pray for them.

    The problem with the bishops’ financial charity is that it is administered by bureaucrats and they are overwhelmingly leftists and barely qualify as Catholic, if at all.

    I fear that my money ends up being used to support the enemies of the Church. I am strongly considering directing those funds to our seminary in the name of my pastor and my bishop, rather than to the diocese. This is a difficult choice. Prayer is helping, but I am such a sinner that I haven’t been inspired one way or the other yet. It is so much easier to make decisions as a secularist – they all lead to hell so it doesn’t really matter.

    I am also considering what to do about being a Knight of Columbus, since I just found out that Bart Stupak is too!

    Pray much my friends our government is quickly working to become the enemy of the Church. We must be prepared, like St. Thomas More, I am my country’s servant, but God’s first.

    Pray also for the poor Catholics who chose to seek (not achieve) good ends by the means of the enemy. Socialism, big government, collectivism are never compatible with our beliefs. We may have to live under tyranny, but we cannot cooperate with it. I know I will be chided for equating tyranny with this so-called health care reform bill – but the facts are the facts – this bill is merely one step toward total government (perhaps global) and marginalization of the Church and then out right persecution. It has happened before, it can happen again. Of course, Judgment could come any time before it happens too.

    Engage all the mental gymnastics you want – this law is not only illicit because it does not subordinate itself to the law of the land – the Constitution, but it also opposes our beliefs while couching itself in the tenets of our faith. The devil is smarter than we are. Don’t be fooled by him – we are children of God and heirs of His Kingdom.

  • Dan, then why don’t you take Glenn Beck’s advice and join another church since you’re obviously taking your cues from him?

    The fellow replied that this was a “republican interpretation” of St. Paul, and one which he did not accept.

    I was flabbergasted by this. Are there really Catholics who believe that the Church teaches that one is obligated to give alms even when one knows one is not helping the needy, but only enabling a moocher? What could justify that? Is there some passage in an encyclical which can be construed that way?

    R.C. – In our conversation I said nothing about having an obligation “to give alms even when one knows one is not helping the needy, but only enabling a moocher.” Those were not the terms of the discussion at all. In fact that way of framing it is so incredibly vague that it’s unhelpful. We were talking specifically about health care. When it comes to health care, the church insists that health care is a human right. Yes, “moochers,” even known “moochers,” deserve health care. Whether or not you should flip a quarter to a person you “know” to be a “moocher” is probably up for debate. Sorry, but health care is not. People that you, based on republican assumptions, deem to be the “undeserving poor” still possess basic human rights whether you like it or not.

  • Michael is correct – the right to life includes the right to adequate care of their health. This is true regardless of what human being we are talking about. Jesus demonstrated that when he healed the ear of the sinner who came to arrest him.

  • Don’t forget about the 10th commandment, Thou Shalt Not Steal.

    By taking money away from people against their will is not Catholic social teaching.

  • ‘But whom do I treat unjustly,’ you say, ‘by keeping what is my own?’ Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From what did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all in common — this is what the rich do. They seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need.

  • Henry, individuals and households do manage to produce salable goods and services. We are not all just drawing from some endowment left to us.

  • Oh, and when you say you have a ‘need’, you have an implicit purpose in mind.

  • Tito, my friend,

    I believe “thou shalt not steal” is the 7th commandment… 8th if you read a heretic Bible 🙂

    Nate, my other friend,

    The right to health care does not = the right to federally subsidized health care. I agree that the government has a duty to take some action to make health care accessible – it could do so in any number of ways short of this monstrous and unconstitutional power grab.

    I maintain that Catholics are well within the bounds of Church teaching in rejecting Obamacare, and reitirate John Paul II’s and the Compendium’s condemnation of the expansion of bloated welfare bureaucracies, Pope Leo XIII’s condemnation of excessive and unfair taxation, the principle of subsidiarity, AND the fact that CST does NOT require us to dismantle the rule of law in this country – which is the Constitution – in pursuit of utopian ideals we cannot afford.

  • Joe,

    You are correct.

    I had two commandments in mind, but only one came out.

    The 10th is Though Shalt Not Covet.

    Darn N.A.B. Bible. I need to stop reading USCCB propaganda.

    😉

  • Who are the greedy. Those who are not satisfied with what suffices for their own needs. Who are the robbers? Those who take for themselves what rightfully belong to everyone. And you, are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? The things you received in trust as stewardship, have you not appropriated them for yourself? IS not the person who strips another of clothing called a thief? And those who do not clothe the naked when they have the power to do so, should they not be called the same? The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked, the shoes that are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none, the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy. You are thus guilty of injustice toward man as you might have aided, and did not

  • The redistribution of wealth can never be condoned by breaking 1/5th of the Commandments.

  • Therefore let us use our goods sparingly, as belong to others, so that they may become our own. How shall we use them sparingly, as belonging to others? When we do not spend them beyond our needs, and do not spend them for our needs only, but give equal shares into the hands of the poor. If you are affluent, but spend more than you need, you will give an account of the funds which were entrusted to you.

  • Henry, get to the big “reveal” already.

  • Henry is quoting St. Basil the Great, a Doctor of the Church. I suppose he’s putting chunks up slowly hoping that someone will protest against something so that he can then pounce with an “Aha!”

  • John:

    Yeah, I knew he was quoting someone, and engaged in some kind of point-scoring exercise. I had just reached my “Monty Python chorus” moment: “GET ON WITH IT!”

  • Tito is right again.

    St. Basil is absolutely right to condemn selfish people as robbers and thieves. We should give freely and generously – freely being the operative word.

    What exactly does St. Basil have to say about the role of the state? Oh wait… nothing. At least that I know of. If he did say something, I would be interested in seeing it.

    In any case, we have the political philosophy of the Catholic Church to guide us. And what it says is clear.

  • Listen and groan, all of you who overlook your suffering brethren, or rather, Christ’s brethren, and do not give the poor a share of your abundant food, shelter, clothing and care as appropriate, nor offer your surplus to meet their need.

  • ::wonders if sanctimonious lecturing ever changed anyone’s mind on anything, ever::

  • I dunno, Joe. Maybe you could go post “Liber Gomorrhianus” by St. Peter Damien in its entirety in the gay marriage thread over at Vox Nova and see how long it stays.

  • Health care is certainly a right when the means to provide it are available to a degree – there are circumstances that render it untenable some are natural, we don’t know how to cure cancer, a cure for HIV-AIDS is also elusive. Others are our responsibility. Saddling physicians with so much regulation, litigation and insurance costs not to mention the ridiculous cost of their education is dwindling the numbers of physicians we have. Additionally you cannot secure a right for everyone by destroying the means and the capacity to provide that same to anyone.

    Does Jesus want us to take care of the sick? Of course, to the best of our capacity; however, His primary task is for us to pray for the health of their souls and not simply their bodies. The healing miracles Jesus performed where visible signs of his healing message – primarily healing our souls. Furthermore, most of the sick need comfort more than they need medical treatment. Some of us have chronic illnesses, it sucks, but that is just another cross to bear – frankly, I’d rather bear the cross of diabetes than vanity by seeking to be the one who forces others to ‘charitable’. Judas always comes to mind – he always championed the plight of the poor, while he was pilfering the purse.

    I won’t judge anyone’s interior intentions, not my place, but all y’all who are constantly whining about the poor are usually liars and self-seeking vain, prideful ones at that. Charity must be love, it cannot be force, government cannot love. Government does have a responsibility to ensure that the natural free market, the charitable intent of her citizens and the settlement of disputes are not hampered so as to provide access to medical care, when it is possible. Medical care, for acute physical ailments – not health care per se.

    Health care is broader than medical care it includes food, shelter, exercise, education, etc. government cannot provide that, the only ones that come close to even promising that are socialist at best and totalitarian ultimately. As Catholics, we cannot support that kind of a state.

    Furthermore, what kind of contortion do you have to do in order to categorize killing babies and elderly, giving sexual stimulants to perverts, sex changes to poor twisted souls, etc. as health care and then consider that a right according to CST? Y’all who propose and support this twisted logic should get on your knees and thank God for His Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance.

    Again, I will make the bold statement that Catholics not only cannot support this ‘law’, we must oppose it. It is anti-life, anti-Christian and anti-American. We are commanded to be pro-life, pro-Christ and patriotic.

  • In a free society many people do not understand the differnece between a human right a a human need.

    Health care and food are essential to life and are human needs. But needs do not give one a right to property of others. If I’m hungry I do not have the right to steal from you.

    Charity is when you freely give to someone in need. Non-voluntary redistribution of wealth is not charity, but theivery.

    I’ve encounter the moocher that Micheal talked about and have given him money for food. The moocher turned around and told me he was buying beer with the money I gave.

    I’ve not stopped giving to street people, but now walk the person to the nearest store and buy a sandwich. Sometimes the person looses interst and this weeds out people looking for beer.

    I’m afraid this health care reform bill with it’s affordablity credits will discourgage people from doing what they can do for themselves. With a big goverment program there is no opportunity to weed out the moochers and give to the people with true needs. Moochers will multiply without close managment of resources. If the resources are not mananged correctly there will not be enough for those with true needs. This health care bill will certainly provide more beer for the moochers.

    In a society that is not free, there are no human rights, and plenty of unmet human needs. If we continue down the road to socialism, our rights like freedom of speech and religion will be in jeopordy.

  • Dan,

    Freedom of religion will not be curtailed in the USA. All will be free to practice all manner of religion, well, except those pesky Catholics with all that doctrine and dogma – we can’t have that.

    I refrain from giving money to beggars because I will not enable them in doing harm to themselves, but I will always buy them food and drink (not alcohol) or even a blanket or a jacket. I know they can turn around and sell it for drugs, but I can only exercise the prudence that is possible with the charity that is required.

    Social welfare programs invite a self-perpetuating bureaucracy and like any other system it needs clients. Helping poor people improve their situation will render them no longer poor and so you’ve lost a client. It is far better to waste wealth to increase the quantity of poor. Notice how many more poor people (if you can truly call the poor in America poor compared to the poor elsewhere) since the Great Society.

    Is it really justice to incentivize and perpetuate the less fortunate in a state of dependency while increasing the numbers of those who are dependent?

    I don’t think that is quite what Christ or Holy Mother Church means.

    I think He taught something about not giving a man a fish, but teaching him how to fish.

    Me thinks leftists of all stripes confuse true Charity (Love) with mere sentimentalism.

Healthcare & Subsidiarity: Two Interpretations

Thursday, October 29, AD 2009

I’ve been thinking a bit about the principle of subsidiarity recently as it relates to health care reform. To provide some context, here is the Catechism on subsidiarity:

1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”7

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

Despite the rancor which sometimes surrounds the health care debate in the Catholic blogosphere, it seems to me that the basic issue is different prudential judgments regarding the application of the principle of subsidiarity. I’m a bit torn between two ways to apply subsidiarity in this particular circumstance, and so I thought it might be worthwhile to explore the different positions as I understand them. 

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15 Responses to Healthcare & Subsidiarity: Two Interpretations

  • If we’re going to have to have some sort of socialized health care, why not offer vouchers to state governments. There the state legislators can deal with socialized medicine better and more effectively than the federal government.

    Granted it’s still the government, but at least each state will have different levels of socialized health care that they wish.

    For example, Massachusetts and Hawaii have something similar to what House Speaker Pelosi want to offer. Why not instead of creating one huge bureaucracy, just offer vouchers for state governments that have some sort of statewide health care system.

  • John Henry,

    Your division of the two positions are well taken and are roughly on the mark. But I think they are a bit oversimplified — or rather, I think the ‘Position 2’ is not as accurate as ‘Position 1’. The former is precisely on point; I hold Position 2 and that is not how I would describe it (or how I think most people who hold that position would describe it).

    Now I’m not saying that Catholics or anyone else must hold my view (and I hope they would extend me the same charity).

    This is how I put it when I discussed it previously:

    The principle of subsidiarity requires that social goods be met by the most local and most efficient means. This means, hypothetically speaking, if the government and private sector can both do the same task with equal efficiency in regard to one matter, it is most prudent to allow the private sector to do it and allocate government resources and energy elsewhere. But if the most local medium cannot accomplish this task, then a higher authority is obligated to offer assistance. It is a morally preferable that given the availability of health care in contemporary society, everyone should be able to both afford and receive quality health care. The private sector alone has not been able to meet this task. The cost of caring for the sick (which includes pregnant women) are so much greater than for those who are less sickly that insurance companies have strong incentives to find ways to insure only the healthy—basically, pricing the sick out of the market. As a result, it is arguably valid for the government to seek to carefully de-incentivize this.

    So far from being a rejection of subsidiarity, it is applying it appropriately to the situation. Subsidiarity is a hard principle to reconcile with solidarity and I think at times we end up with one at the expense of the others.

    So the natural question becomes this: what is ‘socialization’ and ‘collectivism’?

    I think the lack of a clear, concrete definition makes this subject to debate — no matter how tempted we are to impose a definition for the Magisterium.

    One might run into a problem with other guidelines laid out in the Catechism:

    “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men,” (2402).

    “Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good,” (2406).

    My basic point here — and this is not a blanket endorsement of mainstream Democratic proposals to health care, on the contrary — is that solidary and subsidiarity seem to be at war in contemporary political discourse.

    Now if ‘collectivism’ and ‘socialization’ means a movement toward statist socio-economic policies then most certainly the principle of subsidiarity opposes this tendency firmly.

    But…

    I have become weary of appeals to subsidiarity because I find some Catholics’ understanding of the principle to be problematic in that it evolves into a totally libertarian, social Darwinistic perspective. Historically not far removed from the rise of communism and socialism, government intervention (perhaps rightly) is regarded with suspicion.

    The turning point, which I think is not at all Catholic, is when any social interest or collective good that is not totally privatized is suspicious. In some ways (and I cannot go into much detail here), but I find this thinking to be deeply rooted in legal positivist absolutism and social contract theory. In other words, it is the abandonment of ‘ought’ — I have no duties or obligations with my money unless I (as a free and autonomous person) say so. Taxation is hardly legitimate; it is “government theft” — using my money without my permission or explicit sanction from the social contract, which I must agree to.

    This tendency, from this perspective, travels into the question of collective responsibilities and interests (as well as personal ones) in regard to health care.

    I’m not sure if all of this thinking can be reconciled with the Church’s teaching. Certainly an argument can be made by what the mainstream of Democrats proposals being put forth.

    Good post Henry.

  • Tito,

    Yours is a good question. I’ll write the legislation and you go began to lobby other Congressmen to vote with us.

  • I tend toward position 1; however, I think if we are confining this to subsidiarity then the current proposals are in clear violation. Government has a history of and a tendency to ruin the things it states to do. Far too often the results are practically opposite of the stated intentions. Why should we think this would be different?

    Additionally, we already have socialized health care and it is a disaster so how can we think that growing it and centralizing it more will result in anything other than an increase in the magnitude and quantity of the problems.

    Subsidiarity as federalism allows 50 sovereign jurisdictions to compete with one another, copy the positive, and eliminate the negative. One single decision maker leaves nothing with which to compare the benefits and the pitfalls.

    This does not rule out government’s role even at the federal level because it may have to negotiate concerns between the states, provided they cannot work them out themselves.

    For example, Maryland allows abortion in the state provided health plans and mandates that private carriers offer abortion in their plans. Virginia forbids abortion. What is to stop Virginians from crossing the border to procure abortions? If Maryland and Virginia cannot resolve this problem then it would fall to the federal government. Of course, that does not mean that the VA/MD decision should apply to Illinois and Wisconsin. [This can be any other issue, abortion came to mind because John Henry said don’t think about pink elephants so all I can think about is pink elephants]

    As for position number two: The fact that medical care is a right because it can acutely address the health of the human person does not mean that ALL medical or ALL health care is a right. Nevertheless, a minimum level should be provided to everyone who CANNOT provide it for themselves. This does not mean that the medical care, health care, medical insurance, etc. of those who CAN provide for themselves should be interfered with. If the free market is at the disposal of those individuals, which will be the majority, is working well, then it must be left alone. General tax revenue, not necessarily income tax, will be adequate for providing the care for the truly indigent who are not cared for by charities. This is reserved for the truly poor (through no fault of their own) and the uninsurable (through no fault of their own). This will be a small minority of the citizenry of the USA.

    It is a far greater mistake to provide care for all at the expense of some because that is unsustainable and eventually no one will have any medical care whatsoever. As for doing something as opposed to doing nothing: Agreed. However, that something should be to remove the restrictions on the truly enterprising medical, health and insurance providers and to stop rewarding the rent-seeking corporations that used the government to impose these restrictions in the first place. Additionally without addressing the monopoly of the Federal Reserve and their perpetual inflation of the money supply as well as the trial lawyers, all other efforts to ‘fix’ health care are irrelevant.

  • I want to add that Tito directly points out an overlooked distinction that I think could have been the real compromise on this issue — in America, there is not just a federal government, there are 50 state governments that are indeed more local.

    We use the term ‘government’ but I sense we’re often alluding to the federal government.

  • Eric,

    I’d be more than happy to work with you on this. Shoot, I’ll even register as a Democrat, so you and I can both be marginalized for our fervent faith together!

  • Tito and Eric,

    Good points. It is equally important to note that we also have county and local governments. The governing authority closest to the indigent that need to be served is going to be more personal and less beaurcratic, therefore more effective.

    Additionally, local charities and charitable individuals would have more opportunity to fill the gap and probably even leave the governments out of it.

    At the federal level government is far more prone to end up serving itself with little to no recourse for the people at large. Centralization tends to oligarchy.

  • American Knight,

    And then states can decide to pass the money down to county governments or issue refunds to their state citizens.

    On another note, AK, time for you to put up a pic. Those modernist-abstract gravatars do you no justice.

  • Isn’t it important to note here the word “cannot”? Not “will not” or “are not,” but “cannot” is important to subsidiarity. Most states offer some sort of insurance to the unemployed / underemployed (I know this…my children are on it…).

    Of course, this question seems to turn on a matter of semantics. If one insists that the issue is “everyone has federal insurance” than ipso facto, no state can possibly meet the demands. On the other hand, many states do insure the needy, and many uninsured could afford their own health care, which seems to meet the demands of subsidiarity nicely.

  • Why stop at the state level? Give the vouchers to the individuals.

  • Jonathan,

    Excellent point. Like my earlier comment, Massachusetts and Hawaii already offer something like this to some degree.

    RestrainedRadical,

    That would be my favorite, send the vouchers directly to the individuals.

  • John/Tito

    Reading a little deeper nay help this discussion.

    The section on Subsidiarity runs from 1881 to 1885 and the COMPENDIUM
    OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH, chapter IV section four has a more detailed discussion.

    185. Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical. It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations, local territorial realities; in short, for that aggregate of economic, social, cultural, sports-oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth.

    Snip

    186. The necessity of defending and promoting the original expressions of social life is emphasized by the Church in the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, in which the principle of subsidiarity is indicated as Nb>a most important principle of “social philosophy”.

    Snip

    On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help (“subsidium”) — therefore of support, promotion, development — with respect to lower-order societies.

    Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.

    Bold text emphasis is mine.

    I think the principle of subsidiarity says a little more than saying if the lower unit can do it better it should be done at the lower level and the reverse for the higher level. Intermediate social institutions often have the right to their own decision making and operation. The fact that the higher level of society may not agree with the decisions is irrelevant, unless the problems caused rise to the level of harming the common good.

    The principle of subsidiary is rooted in the need to protect human dignity, an institution that is to large, and with out effective intermediate levels makes the individual to an anonymous cog that has no dignity. The larger unit may in an economic sense be more efficient, but if locating a funciton there tends to harm human dignity the less efficient lower level would be preferred. A good example is that while the Pope is the head of the church the bishops have authority in their own right and the Pope should not intervene in the internal operations of their diocese under normal circumstances no matter how much he disagrees. I think we all know of seveal dioceses where the ocal bishops prunential decisions scream of stupidity, but in fact the bishop, was acting in good faith with in the confines of the faith.

    When considering the common good the Churches Social teaching is that the common good protects the individual, even the least individual. Many secular people using the term see it as meaning abanding the least individual for the more efficient operation of society. Thus some secualar persons see abortion as promoting the common good by getting rid of marginal individuals. But their language is often reminiscent of Catholic teaching if one is not listening carefully, though they are often (unknowingly) promoting the opposite.

    I think that the principle of subsidiarity requires a substantial level of evidece that, not mearly health care can be run on a national level, and run more economic efficientcy at the national level but than othe levels but that it provides for individuls and their doctors to make good health care decions on the indivudual basis. I find the case lacking.

    It seems to me, that even in the doubtful case that all the claims for National Health care could be met, it would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society to effectivly provide healt care to individuals.

  • There are several important prudential arguments as to why National Health Care is not a good choice from a Subsidiarity position.

    Economy of scale. Consolidating operations of any type can produce an economy of scale that allows for more efficient and effective operation. But sooner or later you reach a point of diminishing returns where the additional consolidation starts reducing efficiency and effectiveness. It seems to that part of the problem with health care is that the current organizations providing it are long past the point of diminishing returns. Further consolidation would only increase the inefficiency and effectiveness of heath care delivery.

    Predatory pricing. Monopolies engage in predatory pricing unless there something to stop them. This is often because the normal pressures on an organization push the monopoly in that direction, rather than a premeditated sense of greed. Part of the high cost of heath care that parts of the health care system are limited or quasi monopolies. Moving heath care into a monopoly can only increase this effect. Government regulation can often restrict monopolies but when the government is the operator of the monopoly the regulator and the operator are the same and the regulator function loses. No necessarily greed, just the effect of thousands of decisions responding to normal operatons.

    Living wage. The proposal will move about 20% of the economy into the governmental sector. The government gets money by taxes, even if they are called something else. Yes paying taxes is a duty, but those who levy the taxes have duties to insure they are just and do not cause harm, certainly they should not be so high as to reduce wages to the point that they are no longer a living wage. How this is to be prevented does not seem to be a major item of discussion or consideration by supporters. But a shift of this size could easily do this or cause other distortions not consistent with Catholic social teaching.

    Human dignity. R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of the University of Hawaii, is one of the worlds experts on mass murder (not just genocide) by governments. His conclusion of alife time of study is that the single predictor of government committed mass is the unchallenged ability to do it. This has nothing to do with ideology, if the ability is there sooner or later it will happen. A national health care system will give that kind of unchallenged authority to the government. Not that people set out to do that, or the establishment of “death panels,” but dening care, providing poorer care of even providing fatal drugs will be an easy solution to many day to day problems. Any one who could challenge these decisions is appointed by the same people making the decisions and under the same pressures. Even if things to not rise to the level that Dr. Rommel’s theory would predict, decisions contary to the human dignity of the patients will become more and more common.
    See his power Kills website and his book Death by Government

  • Hank, excellent comments. I was especially struck by the last part of your post.

    Earlier this week, I came across this post at Belmont Club. Now, that is a secular (albeit conservative) blog and I have no idea if the author, Richard Fernandez, is a believing Christian or not. And the blog post was about the rise of the BNP in the UK, not healthcare. Nonetheless, I think this comment connects to the points you have made:

    For as long as man imagined himself to be sacred and accountable to the Creator he stood at the center of polity. The state was there to serve him and not the reverse. Today he has lost that central place and is no more or less than a collection of curiously animated chemical substances with a market value of less then fifty dollars which the state has deigned to keep alive until some bureaucratic panel decides it is too expensive to do so. Just as Global Warming can be understood at one level as an attempt to bring nature into the purview of politics, it is impossible to understand the Left’s fixation with abortion except as a sacramental affirmation of the state’s power over man. The strident insistence on abortion on demand goes way beyond any conceivable need to prevent backroom abortions, or even an affirmation of a woman’s right to choose. It is really an absolute display of the power of politics over life. Abortion’s principal utility is as a stake driven through the heart of the notion of human sacredness, which once performed, ought to prevent its revival entirely.

    That is why I wonder about left-leaning Catholics who seem to assume that a large nanny state will happily co-exist with religion. The larger the state gets, the more it will view religious groups not as valuable co-partners, but as threats to the state’s authority. Forget the Bible and the Pope – the government will tell you what is right and wrong.

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Subsidiarity at Work

Monday, September 7, AD 2009

dilbert subsidiarity

Everyone here at the American Catholic hoped that you all have had a happy Labor Day weekend.

The principle of Subsidiarity states that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.

Pope Leo XIII developed the principle in his AD 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum.  The principle was further developed by Pope Pius XI in his AD 1931 encyclial Quadragesimo Anno.

_._

To learn more about Subsidiarity click here.

To read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum click here.

To read Pope Pius XI‘s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno click here.

For more Dilbert funnies click here.

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6 Responses to Subsidiarity at Work

  • I think the author of the first link oversimplifies the application of the principle — which is prudential in the first place — and makes something appear to be “obvious”.

    I’m actually very skeptical of the whole project of the Acton institute.

    If someone were a Catholic and told me they were a committed “liberal feminist Democrat” — I would inquire about their definitions of “liberal” and “feminist” before proceeding to make a judgment. If they were using authentically Catholic definitions for these relative terms, I’d have nothing else to say.

    If someone were a Catholic and told me they were an ardent laissez-faire free market capitalist, I’d ask as well what do those terms imply because while the philosophy is not in and of itself evil and it is certainly far from perfect — I would be interested as to how the Catholic reconciled their faith entirely with a philosophy largely born of the Enlightenment if there is no difference between the Catholic free market capitalist and other free market capitalists — it’d seem the philosophy transformed the Catholic not the other way around.

    While I think the Acton Institute does make extraordinary points at times, I find other things quite dubious. This is one of those points.

    I will go further into it, if time permits it later.

  • Eric,

    Thank you for the input.

    I don’t know much about subsidiarity so these postings are part of my path towards a deeper understanding of the principle.

  • I hope to learn more as well and look forward to your next post, Eric.

    The Welfare State is not one I want to live in, but I also would not want to have been an African American in Alabama waiting for my local community to let me in the front of the city bus.

    My own experience has been mixed, where sometimes the fed. government has gotten in the way of people taking on the socially responsible and moral challenges of the day, but more often the fed. govt. has had to come in when local authorities and communities for that matter have failed. And it is every so often a wonderful thing to feel a national sense of community when the federal government does something that we as a people want it to do: preserve Gettysburg and Yellowstone, develop the Apollo Program, help hurricane victims and give veterans health care benefits that are not dependent upon just local resources because they didn’t fight for their town, they fought for their country.

    Fr. Bosnich’s article makes some good points, but it also makes some surprising overstatements in my opinion:

    “The Bishops have not learned the key lessons of the 1980s: the success of free market economics and the failure of collectivism. The top-down, centralized planning of the Soviet system could not succeed because it contradicted the subsidiarity principle.”

    Yes, the Soviet system did not succeed, it was dehumanizing and it was cruel, but not because it was “collective” it failed because it was authoritarian and draconian and oppressed freedom of speech, thought, travel and of course the democratizing influence of market forces and personal wealth creation. But it is hard to claim that things like national reforms of health care are equivalent to the Soviet Union.

    Fr. Bosnich also wrote, “Consolidation is the weapon of tyranny, but the friend of liberty is particularism.” True, but the consolidation of money into 5 big banks and the consolidation of information into 5 big media companies and the consolidation of health care into a couple of insurance companies for each state and the consolidation of … well you get it. These all breed economic tyranny and yet these are the direct result of the laissez faire economic policies that I assume he would encourage. This begins to smack of Ayn Rand’s objectivism in which helping others or voting to help others leads directly to living for others and this destroys society.

    In another paragraph Fr. Bosnich say “Baum defines subsidiarity as “de-centralization” and socialization as “centralization”. In other words, in this view, Catholicism teaches the principle of de-centralization and the principle of centralization simultaneously!” I haven’t read Baum or anyone else that he quotes, except for de Tocqueville, so I don’t know. But it also seems apparent to me that Catholicism does teach individualism and collectivism simultaneously. I don’t see that as bad, I see it as realistic, natural and moral. The monastic tradition is the very embodiment of wrapping the two together in the most purposeful way possible. The Catholic Church is a rather singular example of a centralized hierarchy and I have to say with some sadness that the federalist and staunchly individualist tendencies of the Founding Fathers came more from the ancient Saxon, Iroquois and Protestant tradition (and Deism) than from Catholic tradition.

    It was during the Progressive Era in American history that began the last resurgence of the type of voluntary associations that de Tocqueville and the author would have praised. The Progressive Era was a time of strengthening communities, hundreds of clubs and the strengthening of labor unions and women’s suffrage. These traditions, some might say collectivistic tendencies, formed a particularly strong sense of rights and responsibilities.

    I think Fr. Bosnich gets caught up in the idea of statism and ignores even bigger issues – the we do not live in the 19th century anymore; that globalization is redefining what “local” and “national” really mean; that kids growing up today are thinking of themselves not as Idahoans or Atlantans, but as Americans or even world citizens; that we are not merely economic beings who only need protection from government price controls for aspirin; that humans are also ecologically tied to every other life form on Earth and that this bond has a spiritual nature as well.

    The principle of subsidiarity has at its heart the age-old conflicts of the individual vs. the group and rights vs. responsibility. Each is a balancing act and societies (especially American society) tend to teeter toter between each extreme rather than stay long at an equilibrium. As someone who most closely admires Jefferson and being from a relatively rural state, I certainly believe in that self reliance is a virtue and the least government being the best government. However I also believe that globalization and urbanization (not liberalism) have overwhelmingly placed most people in a position of compromised dependency – lots of people in big cities working service jobs and changing homes several times in their lives. We can pretend that smaller, simpler organizations will be able to take care of most of our needs, and in someways the internet and new urbanism is trying to do just that, but when large corporations drive the economy and when environmental degradation starts to cross borders and affect oceans, not just nearby valleys, then it is necessary for larger levels of governments to take a more active role and sometimes that role will be morally necessary, in my opinion.

  • Oh I forgot to add to Fr. Bosnich’s view on the lesson of the 1980’s … Another lesson of the 1980’s is that top-down economics (trickle down, deregulated industries) also encourage unrestrained mergers, economic bubbles and the decoupling of Wall Street capital from Main street workers which lead to an economy that eventually collapsed in 2008. Maybe each local Elks Club in the country could have a bake sale and replace everyone’s 401k.

  • MacGregor,

    Have you received the email I sent you?

  • From your first post, you make some very good points, Macgregor, although I think you may be erring slightly in your 6th paragraph by conflating two separate issues in the Soviet Union, politics and economics.

    In no way do I disagree with your analysis of the draconian, authoritarian aspects of Soviet political rule, but that is not what Fr. Bosnich was referring to, if I’m reading him correctly, in describing purely the economic aspects of collectivism, i.e., the top-down government control of every aspect of the economy. In and of itself such a system can never work because it is the antithesis of subsidiarity and there is no way for the bureaucrats running central planning to respond quickly to changes in supply and demand at the local levels, so they end up simply imposing a “one size fits all” solution on a vast economy, leading to massive inefficiency, shortages, etc.

    It happens to be true that in many real-life governments the two systems often go hand in hand, political authoritarian regimes and collectivist, state-controlled economies (e.g., Cuba, Venezuela under Chavez, North Korea, etc.), but I think it’s important to be clear that collectivist economies, even in the absence of political authoritarianism, cannot function efficiently.

    Sorry for the minor quibble, but I think it’s (political vs. economic government control) a vital distinction to make in relation to the Catholic notion of subsidiarity, or at least my very limited understanding of the concept! 😉

One Response to Virtue Isn't Quick and Easy

  • Very interesting.

    The Amish seem to be a nice prototype of a level of subsidiarity that we Catholics continue to debate and theorize about.

    Something that many Catholic economists should study further on.

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.

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Monday, February 23, AD 2009

One of the great principles that tends to be ignored in our debates about economics, social justice, and governmental involvement in the lives of the people is solidarity.  We argue about how involved the government should be in our lives, what kinds of safety nets it should provide, and to what extent it should mandate and appropriate in order to provide for the most needy of society.  We argue about how well certain economic theories–capitalism, Keynesian economics, socialism, etc.–work in providing justice, or even providing just shelter and food.  We argue about subsidiarity, and how it should be practiced, and while that touches on solidarity, it doesn’t fully overlap.

One of the arguments about governmental involvement is how the aid provided is cold and distant.  By the time  the welfare check is spat out of the massive, convulsing, bureaucratic mess that is the government, any principle of charity has been rendered flat.  The recipient is a name on the list, judged worthy to receive a handout based upon an entry in a database.  At first this seems like an argument of aesthetics.  If a man receives a welfare check from the government rather than from friends in the community or local charities, he still receives the money he needs to survive.  Yet there is a deeper problem here than merely looking at from whom the money comes, or how much charity exists in the entity delivering assistance.  The continual reliance on the federal government to solve our problems aids in the breakdown of solidarity.

Is it any wonder that we have become so polarized, so factious, so estranged?

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5 Responses to Am I My Brother's Keeper?

  • Great post and I agree with much of it.

    Let me offer this thought though. Often because of the political emotion of the topics there is perhaps a tenedency to think things were better in the good ole days before the big ole Federal Govt came on the scene.

    This is of course is not exactly true. There are still a few people in my state that are alive that were kids in the days of Huey and Earl Long. I am at times floored by the real poverty and devastation so many people were facing. Were there good times ?yes but there are reasons while Huey and Earl were so loved with their massive govt assistance to the poor. For that matter there is a reason in the deep South and the nation FDR was viewed as a patron Saint by many common people for decades.

    So there were real serious flaws

    That being said I think you are on to something. THis country just economic wise is different than it was in 1800. However for many of the problems we face a heatlhy dose of Federalism can still be applied.

    THe communial bonds that you talk about must be reestablished. However you are right it is no easy task. Especially in a world where big families are looked at with scorn

  • Well, I’m not try to assert that the past times were the good ol’ days. Rather, I wanted to paint a picture of how we got to the current dilemma, which I think wasn’t much of a problem (or at least not as much of a problem) in the earlier decades of the 20th century (though I think the 1880’s to the turn of the century some some similar problems). Indeed, past days carried their own problems, their own great struggles. I believe that problems with solidarity have risen and fallen over the centuries, and that currently we’re seeing a drastic collapse of solidarity in our nation.

  • I completely agree. I have seen so many people refuse necessary help because of pride. I try to make people understand that it’s ok to need help sometimes and it’s necessary that we be willing to give that help. Best wishes.

    – Schev

  • I sense a strong impulse toward solidarity in much of the current valuation of non-judgmentalism and inclusivitiy above all else. This is the Freshman Dorm Mentality: Let’s erase our points of difference in the hope that we can all get along. Maybe we end up “getting along” just fine, but ultimately these are superficial bonds — we have many acquaintances but few lifelong friends. Though we still long for it, what we have isn’t solidarity or community, but something much weaker. Erase enough of our differences and all that we have in common is our DNA.

    Even as we try to erase our differences, more behaviors seem to rise to the level of moral categorical imperative. If I have a barbecue in my backyard, will my vegan neighbor ostracize me? I have to worry at every turn not only that I’m being impractical, but that I’m being *immoral.* How can we have solidarity when so few of us share a common view of the summum bonum?

    Maybe that’s the rub: we have a staggering lack of imagination when it comes to our ideas about the common good and what human flourishing means. There is no sense of shared telos that we can all turn to and demonstrate how this action flows to that good. This state of affairs probably follows from many of the historical/social trends that Ryan described. We’ve become atomistic individuals, making choices that are unassailable simply because they’re our own. It’s true that there was no “golden age” or good ol’ days when everyone agreed on everything; but at a minimum there wasn’t a sanctification of all paths no matter how outlandish. It seems for real solidarity and community to exist, there have to be at least a few axioms about ultimate reality and the ends of human striving shared among all persons.

  • I completely agree, Ryan 🙂

Catholics, The 2nd Amendment, & Subsidiarity

Friday, January 2, AD 2009

Ryan Harkins took an initial look at how Catholics should look at the question of whether there is a natural right to own guns in a post last week. The basic thrust of Ryan’s argument, and I ask him to correct me if I misstate this, was to examine the question of whether the benefits of private gun ownership outweighed the potential social evils. This is, in a sense, an obvious way to look at the question. If one is trying to determine the rightness of allowing people to own something potentially destructive, it would seem natural to take a “do the benefits outweigh the dangers?” approach.

I’d like to take a slightly different approach, looking at both the actual text of the second amendment and Catholic Social Teaching. The second amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The libertarian approach to this is to assert that an armed citizenry is required in order to provide a counter-weight to the power of the government. However, I’m not convinced that the thinking behind the second amendment was a merely a balancing of powers in this sense. Rather, it seems to me that to a great extent the US Constitution is written with the point of view that people possess certain natural rights and duties, and that from these spring rights and duties of the government. My understanding is that one of the major controversies in regards to the second amendment (one spoken to fairly definitely in last June’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision) has been whether it secures a right of state militias to have weapons, or a right of individuals to have weapons. While in effect my opinion on the matter lies closer to the individual right side, it seems to me that there is an important distinction which has been increasingly lost in our modern mass society:

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26 Responses to Catholics, The 2nd Amendment, & Subsidiarity

  • If one looks at Catholic social teaching (e.g. the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church), I can find nothing which directly supports the absolute right to own small arms. As far as I can see, all the places where such weapons are mentioned, it is heavily emphasized that (e.g.) “Appropriate measures are needed to control the production, sale, importation and exportation of small arms and light weapons”. This would support a conclusion that the ownership of such weapons is always a prudential matter, and thus not an absolute right.

  • Paul,

    Point taken.

    And I tried to be clear that there is, to my knowledge, no specific Catholic treatment of how the natural right to self defense (which the Church does recognize specifically in the Catechism, 2263-2265) plays out in regards to the question of whether one thus has a right to the means to self defense. Similarly, I am not aware of any statement in Church documents (as opposed to the speculations of individual theologians) as to whether the duty to defend the common good and societal order springs from the rights and duties of the individual, or is a prerogative of “just authority” but never the people.

    However the passages such as you cite are invariably about the containment of various political ills associated with the arms trade and societal disruption, and I’m not clear that one can conclude from the existence of these passages (and silence on the above mentioned matters) that the Church thus teaches that the individual does _not_ have a right to the means to exercise his natural right to self defense.

  • I assume that “criminal record” comes with an “etc.” for other reasonable restrictions, e.g. mental illness, the existence of certain kinds of injunctions, etc.

    Sometime soon I have to ask your opinion on the catechetical series I’m using with Offspring #1, and some interesting assertions it makes regarding Church teaching on labor issues.

  • I assume that “criminal record” comes with an “etc.” for other reasonable restrictions, e.g. mental illness, the existence of certain kinds of injunctions, etc.

    Most definitely.

    Sometime soon I have to ask your opinion on the catechetical series I’m using with Offspring #1, and some interesting assertions it makes regarding Church teaching on labor issues.

    Some have claimed that when I discuss unions I should have my sanity license revoked, but I shall endeavor to behave myself. 🙂

  • I think that when most discussions of the second amendment get off track is dealing with the term “militia”. The founders would not have accepted a standing army (which would probably include the national guard as a part thereof) as dangerous to freedom.

  • Is there a right to self-defense that might be lethal? Yes: the Catechism certainly supports that (#2263-2264). But that is not the question at issue — but rather: Is there an absolute right to own a particular weapon that may be used in self-defense? We both see no teaching directly on the issue. In which case, we then have to look for indirectly related statements, to see what bearing they might have on the question.

    In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #511, it says: “Appropriate measures are needed to control the production, sale, importation and exportation of small arms and light weapons, armaments that facilitate many outbreaks of violence to occur. The sale and trafficking of such weapons constitute a serious threat to peace: these arms kill and are used for the most part in internal and regional conflicts; their ready availability increases both the risk of new conflicts and the intensity of those already underway.”

    It is very hard to read that and avoid concluding that, in the appropriate circumstances, a state might legitimately decide to ban the production or sale of small-arms, on the grounds that it would make an existing situation worse. If that conclusion is accepted, then, following on, it would seem that there could be no absolute right to own such a controlled weapon.

  • I would tend to agree with Paul and Ryan that this is a question of proportionality rather than a ‘right’ to firearms as a means of self-defense. There are significant limitations, for example, to individual property rights (e.g. taxes). A restriction on firearms in some contexts could similarly be a reasonable limitation on the right to self-defense.

    That said, I think a good argument can be made that there are proportionate reasons in the U.S. (as well as Constitutional support) for allowing citizens to own firearms.

    As an aside, I thought you were skeptical of additional Catholic ‘rights talk’ DC. Are certain commentators references to your ‘love’ of guns valid? 😉

  • Paul,

    We’re in agreement as to the legitimacy of self defense (and I assume to self defense being a natural right) which might some times be lethal.

    Is there an absolute right to own a particular weapon that may be used in self-defense?

    Actually, I would say: No.

    Come to that, the 2nd Amendment (which is what I’m trying to defend from a Catholic point of view here) actually doesn’t specify any particular weapon either — and I don’t dispute (though perhaps some of the founders would have) the Supreme Court finding that some kinds of weapons (all fully automatic firearms, for instance) can quite legitimately be banned.

    What I do think one can defend from a Catholic point of view is the claim (which would seem to be essentially a 2nd Amendment one) that since one does have a natural right to self defense and to defend and maintain order in one’s immediate community, that stemming from this would be a right to possess those weapons that might legitimately achieve those aims.

    Given that those are aims of limited scope, I would also see strong reason to restrict individual ownership of weapons that go beyond those needs. (After which I’d proceed to argue that given the wide availability of guns in modern American society, it would not be realistic to claim that a total ban on personal ownership of guns would be compatible with allowing people the tools for defense of themselves and their immediate communities.)

    Now, I take your point on the Compendium of Social Doctrine, however given that it p511 comes right between p510 which discusses the need to get rid of landmines (which significantly it goes on to call “a type of small arm that is inhumanly insidious”) and p512 where it strongly condemns the practice of recruiting child soldiers, I guess my big questions would be: Are the “small arms and light weapons” the sort of non-full-auto rifles, pistols and shot guns which are currently legal in the US? And, are we talking here about private citizens owning guns, or are we talking about local strongmen buying crates of AK-47s to hand out to their gangs of boy soldiers?

    Given that the second half of p511 says:
    The position of States that apply severe controls on the international transfer of heavy arms while they never, or only very rarely, restrict the sale and trafficking of small arms and light weapons is an unacceptable contradiction. It is indispensable and urgent that Governments adopt appropriate measures to control the production, stockpiling, sale and trafficking of such arms [1076] in order to stop their growing proliferation, in large part among groups of combatants that are not part of the military forces of a State.

    I guess I’d take it to be a pretty straightforward denunciation of countries making a policy of allowing unrestricted sales of everything from AK-47s to land mines and rocket launchers to trouble-makers in the third world. It doesn’t really strike me as addressing the question of whether households have a natural right to be able to own those weapons which, under the current technological and social conditions, would be sufficient to defend the household and its neighbors from harm.

  • John Henry,

    As an aside, I thought you were skeptical of additional Catholic ‘rights talk’ DC. Are certain commentators references to your ‘love’ of guns valid?

    Well, the specific examples I am concerned about in regards to “rights talk” pertain to claiming rights to be given something (a right to health care, a right to housing, a right to education, a right to a living wage) rather than a right to be able to possess something if you have the means to acquire it.

    I certainly would not say that a “right to bear arms” means that the state is obligated to give you a gun — simply that it may mean, if guns are the only culturally and technologically reasonable means by which you can defend yourself and your neighbors, that you should not be restricted from owning a gun if you choose to go out and take steps to acquire one.

    More generally,

    I recognize that I’m pushing a point here and trying to make an argument that may in the end not hold up. I’m going ahead and defending it strenuously in order to see how well the argument works (and try to make sure that I’ve presented my thinking thoroughly) but I recognize that this certainly is not “what the Church teaches”. At best, I’m hoping that it looks like a fairly reasonable conclusion based on what the Church teaches.

    So while I’ll continue to defend and clarify in an attempt to see how well this argument works, please understand that I’m not trying to simply assert, “The Catholic Church says you have the right to bear arms,” but simply to see if one can successfully make an argument for the personal right to bear arms within a Catholic context.

  • Startling how DC outright confesses his embrace of the rights to consume and possess, if one has the means, right as he rejects to the rights to be nourished educated, housed and paid equitably…

  • Mark,

    If you read my post a while back about “rights talk”, which is what I’m referencing there, I argued that the “right to housing” is not a natural right in the sense that if one is simply left to oneself and does nothing to create one’s own housing, one does not have any housing. The right to free speech, on the other hand, is a natural right in that one is fully capable of speaking until someone comes in and takes that right away from you.

    I am, of course, strongly in favor of people being free to obtain education, housing, and pay — but I don’t think it’s proper to describe something as a “right” which someone else has to come and give to you. That is properly described as a duty. As in: We have duty to provide shelter to the homeless, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, pay the worker, educate the ignorant, etc.

    To call those things rights, in my opinion, ignores the fact that they need to come from other people. They are not things that we naturally possess until someone else comes and takes them away from us.

    I’m not clear if you’re really unclear as to the argument, or you just enjoy a chance to characterize those you disagree with, regardless of whether your characterization bears any resemblance to the truth.

  • DarwinCatholic,

    While “small arms and light weapons” has no precisely agreed-on international definition, “small arms” would generally be reckoned to include revolvers, rifles, and AK-47s; and “light weapons” would be something like grenade launchers or two-person machine-guns.

    You say: “stemming from this [right to self-defense] would be a right to possess those weapons that might legitimately achieve those aims”. I think if that were changed to “… that would legitimately achieve those aims”, it would be defensible from a Catholic point of view.

    For example, suppose in a particular country, two different large groups were close to being in violent conflict. It could, depending on the exact circumstances, be legitimate (along the lines of what the Compendium indicates) for a state to ban the private possession of small arms and light weapons, until the reasons for the conflict were eliminated. Though each individual could say “This weapon is for my personal defense”, the cumulative effect of everyone in both groups claiming that, and acting on it, could tip things over into open conflict, or cause any subsequent conflict to be much worse. The individual’s benefits in possessing small arms have to be balanced against the needs of society (since, after all, each individual is also a a member of society, and is affected by and benefits from it).

    Opinions as to what the 2nd amendment means obviously differ quite widely. I think that if it were taken in some sense like: “Provided it benefits society, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”, that would be consistent both with the Compendium, and with much of how the law has tended to be interpreted (though not by all!).

  • This is a statement by the American Bishops who make clear that people of good will are free to contradict them on the means to the end, but not the ends.

    http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/criminal/handguns.shtml

  • Eric,

    The ends in this case being?

  • Eric,

    Where do they say that people of good will are not free to disagree with them?

  • For example, suppose in a particular country, two different large groups were close to being in violent conflict. It could, depending on the exact circumstances, be legitimate (along the lines of what the Compendium indicates) for a state to ban the private possession of small arms and light weapons, until the reasons for the conflict were eliminated. Though each individual could say “This weapon is for my personal defense”, the cumulative effect of everyone in both groups claiming that, and acting on it, could tip things over into open conflict, or cause any subsequent conflict to be much worse. The individual’s benefits in possessing small arms have to be balanced against the needs of society (since, after all, each individual is also a a member of society, and is affected by and benefits from it).

    I would certainly see the compendium as saying that in such a situation both the local government and outside governments should work to keep military hardware from being poured into the country. Pouring crates of AKs and RPGs into a third world country with a failing government will certainly not do anything to help the common good.

    I’m more skeptical that it would necessarily be a good idea for the local government to ban gun ownership and confiscate the guns that private households already own. The question would be: who in such a situation is likely to use the power to confiscate weapons from private citizens for the common good rather than simply to confiscate weapons from everyone but their own faction?

    From what I’ve read about conflicts in places like Uganda and Somalia, the problem is not that many individual citizens are armed to the teeth and ready to burst into civil war, but rather that the general population is almost completely unarmed while local strongmen have crates of weapons which they pass out to their followers. This makes it far easier for local strongmen to inflict terror on the population, because the population is unable to exercise any form of self defense against them.

    So, I would certainly agree with the Compendiums prescription that when there is great civil unrest in an area shipping in weapons is an additional source of trouble. I also could theoretically see a situation in which an area was sufficiently unarmed or disarmed that it was not necessary for people to own firearms in order to legitimately exercise self defense and control of their own communities — but my concern with suggestions of a confiscatory ban on all guns or whole classes of guns (like the 70s era statement supporting a hand gun ban out of the USCCB) is that when done in the context of rising violence this merely serves to prevent ordinary citizens from defending themselves while leaving the elements of chaos (who aren’t following the law anyway) fully armed.

  • That said, Paul’s interpretation strikes me as being more in keeping with precedent than mine. There were, to my recollection, a whole series of papal statements in the high middle ages attempting to ban specific weapons (notably the crossbow) and ban fighting on certain days of the week and such. To my knowledge, not of this was particularly successful, but it is the approach with history to it.

    To get a Catholic understanding of a right to bear arms one has to assume a new development along the lines of the right to own ones property and own the fruits of one’s labor — which was itself in contradiction to a long history of statements which tacitly accepted the peasant system.

  • -he rejects to the rights to be nourished educated, housed and paid equitably…-

    This sounds like a right to be infantilized.

    I would rather be poor and free, as I am now.

  • Actually, the Constitution was not originally meant to interfere in any of our lives. The document was written to protect states from federal interference. The 2nd amendment meant, when written, that the feds would not be allowed to disarm or disband any state militia.

    It may be hard to believe now, when we think the government should tell us where to live, how to live and why to live, but the constitution was not meant to do any of these things and neither was the federal government. An early Chief Justice (Jay? I’m not sure. It was in the 1820’s or 1830’s), when asked if the Bill of Rights applied to state governments, said,without hesitation, NO! I.e., a state could infringe on your right to bear arms, your free speech, etc. The Bill of Rights only restricted the federal government from doing these things because the founders did not fear their own states (since they controlled them!). The Congregationalist church was the state church in one of the New England states until the early 19th century, Bill of Rights or no.

    The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments changed all this and activist judges began to “incorporate” the rights expressed in the Bill of rights and applied them to all people.

    Really unfortunate, as our states have just been pawns ever since, and not the free, cooperating nations they were meant to be. Under the original intent of the constitution, people in each state would not have their hands tied every time they try to solve a local problem (Wouldn’t it be nice if your state, with a government you elected, could declare certain areas, infested by drugs and gangs, free from guns without the federal hassle and without trying to do the same thing everywhere? And then later reverse the decision if it seemed wise to do so? They could restrict pornography without some ACLU scum breathing down their necks. The present interpretation of the constitution makes us all slaves to out-of-touch nitwits in Washington.)

  • Thoughtful post Darwin. I think it is clear there is a natural right to proportionate self-defense.

    It is also clear that guns are a part of our reality whether we like it or not. No amount of legislation is going to change this fact. What legislation does change is who has the guns, i.e., whether the guns are in the hands of the people, the government and criminals, or alternatively, in the hands of the government and criminals alone.

    I think you’re right about the natural rights case to be made for the second amendment, but I wouldn’t discount the Founders desire to limit the power of government.

    The 2nd Amendment is part of the very fabric of our democracy. It helps underscore and substantiate the essential equality of all the citizens in our Republic. It does this by ensuring there is no substantial power gap between the rulers and the ruled.

    I think this commitment to equality, made significant by limiting the power of the government over its citizens, is very much in accord with the Catholic conception of the common good. We all stand to benefit from there being no one group of people responsible for eveyone’s defense. After all, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The Founders were wise to diffuse power rather than concentrate it.

  • Blackdadder,

    The end is the “joint effort to eliminate the criminal and deadly misuse of handguns.” We all have the same goal, but differing opinions as to how to obtain it and part of that constitutes the regulation of guns.

    Zach,

    You misread me. I said people of good will are, in fact, free to contradict the Bishops on the matter. They aren’t exercising magisterial authority.

  • I’ll add that it is evident from their words that the Bishops believe people of “good faith” can and will oppose gun control measures they collectively support. However, it is implicit (thus, I made my comment) that we are not in fact free to disagree with them on an end. No person of good will, abiding by the natural law, can disagree with the Bishops on the end goal of curbing gun violence. The means — gun control laws or no gun control laws — can be debated. The ends are non-negotiable.

  • Oh, there is no disagreement then. I thought the “end” you were thinking of may have been something like a ban on guns.

  • No person of good will, abiding by the natural law, can disagree with the Bishops on the end goal of curbing gun violence.

    This is true, but since hardly anybody does disagree with this goal, I’m not sure how significant a truth it is.

  • If we have a natural right to self defense, wouldn’t that imply that we have a natural right to effective self defense?

    What I mean by this is saying that a cat has a natural right to self defense, but I’m going to de-claw him and pull his teeth. He has a natural right to self defense, but I have effectively removed the means of the self defense.

    This is important, especially in the case of women who are generally much smaller, physically weaker and less aggressive than men. This means that a woman can’t effectively defend herself against a much bigger, stronger and more violent attacker. Those “less than lethal” methods are generally used closer up, and by that time the attacker is usually within arm’s reach.

    I heard a great quote: “A man use two methods to make me do what he wants. He can either convince me, or force me. A gun guarantees that he stick to the first method”.

  • As an old saying says:

    “God created man, Sam Colt made them equal.”

    Clearly the natural law right to defend oneself in our current milieu would allow the ownership of semi-auto hand guns and (at the least) civilian long guns. It would seem the USCCB position is contrary to this in it’s approach (but not it’s end).

    It also seems to me that the “Compendium of Social Doctrine” and the USCCB (even sometimes the Holy See itself) are sometimes stepping outside of their competence when they start to make judgments about the acceptability of specific weapon systems. As regards the proscription of “indiscriminant” use of weapons which cause mass destruction, it is the ends which are objected to, not the means. It would not necessarily be immoral to use a nuclear weapon against a nuclear missile silo. By the same token, I don’t think it’s reasonable for the hierarchy to judge that there is no legitimate use for land mine technology, if they are be deployed applying the rules of just warfare. The same goes for hand guns in legitimate self-defense, this is just out of the competence of the bishops.

    God Bless,

    Matt

16 Responses to Pop Quiz

  • “Our taxes going to the needy, however beneficial it might prove, is an abrogation of the human will towards charity. It not only bereaves us of the choice of where our money goes, but it also stunts the growth of charity in our souls.”

    That’s funny!

    You caricature the Right very well…

    “As a note, Senator Obama—like many on the left—seems to have little to no faith in human charity.”

    I know. Does not he see how little the poor need anyone beyond individual givers, uniting outside of the government? Case in point. Latin American countries under right wing dictators…the usa…

  • Did you use the Acton-Cliff Notes?

  • So Mark, do you believe the populace at large incapable of charity? Or if not, perhaps you can enlighten us as to how exactly we’re supposed to provide for the poor.

    Frankly, I can’t see how leaving people with their money to choose to spend/donate as they deem right is a bad thing. Even if they waste the money on trinkets or fast food, that’s jobs for people. Take that money away, that decreases the number of jobs available, which makes more poor. Handouts don’t cover what a steady job can provide.

    But you might have a different viewpoint. Please, enlighten us.

  • I personally know someone in my family who made some unwise decisions, got pregnant, lost her job and healthcare insurance for not being able to work (her healthcare was attached to her job). The man who got her pregnant is a deadbeat. So, she set her eyes on abortion. Luckily, she has a pro-life Catholic in her family and together, we made the decision that she shouldn’t do that.

    She’s received about 200 dollars a month from the government on unemployment. Many in our family contributed what they can to assist her with her baby that was born in July.

    My point? There was no way that this “redistribution of wealth” in anyway really changed the playing field. Or, what if that “redistribution” made it easier for people to be like me — the first in an entire family to go after higher education. It costs $30,000 a year to receive the education I do. My mother makes just about that much in a year. How many youth with potential are barred from going to school because of skyrocketing costs?

    It seems to me that even if I knew that the government would be assisting people, it would no in way bar me from doing charity. I think the notion that the government doing some of the work will prevent people from doing charity is absurd. The reason people don’t give charitably is selfishness — it’s not because someone else is doing it. Would you stop giving to charity? Would you not stop to help someone because the government gave them a few measely dollars that hardly enables them — even stretching the money — to live even comfortably in this society? Do you remember when minimum wage was $5.15? Have you ever watched a family struggle making it by on such a salary?

    Obama seems to have little faith in human charity. Maybe. But as far as the rich giving to charity, the amount they give is hardly a dime in terms of the money they have. What is $2 million dollars to Bill Gates?

    Moreover, I dare to ask how fair is the economic system we have. It’s fundamentally social Darwinism — survival of the fittest. It’s a system of unrestricted competition and it’s the very reason why a small few can set a monopoly on money and get richer, usually without doing anything. Perhaps, all it takes is nothing but an investment.

    But how is such a system that is naturally disadvantaged to the poor and lower middle class really compatitible with the Catholic faith? It’s not a natural law approach to anything. It’s a consequentialist ethic — which is in itself moral relativism with another mask. What is good in terms of business usually has more to do with profit, shareholders, and prosperity of that particularly business than with the human dignity and welfare of society. Ultimately, we’re banking on the moral uprighteousness of the private sector just as we’re banking on the moral uprighteousness of the government. All of mankind is fallen from sin. Why should we trust one over the other? Why is one method so much superior to the other?

    Sure you’ll disagree with me, but I think it is something that Catholic Social Teaching is entirely consonant with political conservativism. But political liberalism, or “socialism” is just bad business all over the place. If I’m not mistaken, Catholic teaching is beyond “left” and “right” politics. And though the issue at hand is not “non-negotiable” and thus we can have legitimate disagreement, we’re not both right. Or maybe we’re both wrong.

  • Eric,

    Excellent response, and tough questions to address. I don’t believe that government spending on the poor destroys all charitableness, or that the government shouldn’t spend money to help others. But I do think that government handouts have a tendency to harden hearts towards those receiving handouts, especially here in the U.S. where there is such a culture of individualism that we tend to look down on people in need. Indeed, I struggle a lot with the question of how we can justify railing against higher taxes when there are people in need. Aren’t we just struggling futilely to cling to material wealth, wealth that ultimately means little in the long run? My problem, ultimately, is not whether or not the government should send some tax revenue to aid the poor, but how much it should tax others to do so. How much is enough, and how much is too much? Frankly, if tax cuts increase federal revenue, then why speak at all of “raising taxes out of fairness” even if it means less federal revenue to spend on welfare?

    But the problem of charity is a real one. Certainly there is a problem when half the people you talk to complain about “lazy good-for-nothings, feeding off the government”. Does this mean that the government not giving out welfare will inspire charity? Not by any means. But I do believe there’s a point where the government takes so much and hands it back out to so many others that it starts to wound charity in the hearts of those who are taken from.

    I fundamentally disagree that our economic system is naturally disadvantaged to the poor and the middle class. Maybe that’s because I come from a middle class family, and am in third generation receiving a college education. Maybe it’s because I come from Wyoming, which has very few minorities, and thus I don’t see the discrimination minorities suffer from. Maybe it’s because in Wyoming, you can always work construction, the oil fields, or the coal mines, and make more in a year without a high school diploma than most college graduates make. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen my father work hard and build a small accounting firm, and has risen from making barely $30K/year to over $60K/year. Maybe its because my family was willing to offer a friend of mine free housing, food, clothes, and even a car for cheap in an effort to help him make it through college. And that friend started from a poor “white trash” (he’ll admit the white trash if you ask him) family, most of which is still in the gutters, not because they can’t haul themselves out, but because they keep wasting all the chances they get.

    The way we think things work undoubtedly comes from what we see growing up. Eric, I’m not sure what all difficulties you’ve had to face in your life, so I can’t necessarily appreciate where you’re coming from. But when I look at the economic system we have, I can’t see a better system for providing the poor with opportunities to rise out of squalor.

    Wealth tends to concentrate on a small percentage of the population? That doesn’t bother me any. Most of those who are wealthy worked their way to it. I think it is a fundamental prejudice to suggest that the rich don’t do anything to earn their wealth. I’ll agree that some don’t, and I’ll agree that some get rich quickly from dirty methods. But those are a scant few among the other hard-working, successful people.

    I could rant about this for hours, but I have work to do, so I’ll let it go there, without having said anything of substance. And I do understand very well the story of the rich man who donated a lot of money to the temple, but only a tiny, tiny fraction of what he had, and the poor woman who gave up her last two talents, and how Jesus praised her before his apostles for the sacrifice she made. There, at least, I can readily agree with you.

  • One interesting group to look at in this regard is the Amish. They refuse both social security, medicare and any form of private insurance because they believe such approaches do not constitute truly “being your brothers keeper”. Instead, each Amish community has its own emergency fund. Everyone is assessed, according to his means, to pay into that fund, and the fund then pays out when families run into problems (medical or otherwise) that result in expenses they can’t meet themselves.

    Now, here’s the thing: Even the most well off know they need to contribute to that fund, not only in order to avoid social and moral ostricization, but also because they know they have no other recourse. If the rich Amish bought insurance, but everyone was supposed to pay into the community fund to help the poor ones who couldn’t afford insurance — I would imagine that it would be a lot harder to get everyone to chip in. People would still have their charitable impulses reinforcing the need to help with the community fund, but their sense of self interest would no longer reinorce that impulse.

    Not that I’m saying I’m eager to give up my insurance…

    What I do think it can show the rest of us, however, is that getting people to participate in charitable/solidarity actions at a serious scale (not a hundred spare dollars once or twice a year, but enough to really cover the needs of those without their own means) relies on a sense of urgent need. If your self interest is brought into play because you rely on the same community fund, that gives urgency. If you know that there are no other options out there, and so if your parish (to pull an example) doesn’t put together a significant scholarship fund, than many of the students from poorer families will simply not be able to go to college — that gives urgency. But if one has the general feeling that there must be an awful lot of programs out there (private and public) already meeting a given need, there’s not much sense of urgency and people tend to keep themselves to themselves.

  • Ryan,

    I’m not convinced that tax cuts increases federal revenue, in fact, I think the opposite. It’s heatedly debated in political circles. But that’s not our interest here. We’re concerned on how we as Catholics — even as we disagree — can transform the political landscape with millions of other people with whom we agree and disagree. That’s the challenge. Personally, I’m all in favor of the FairTax. But that’s not the current tax system.

    I believe that the government has moral purpose. How the mechanism is used is the fundamental question. It’s difficult to answer. I’m not sure I agree with people having a hardened heart in receiving government “handouts.” I’m sure there are plenty who are grateful. It seems to me that if we had a system where people could receive needed assistance for a specific amount of time — in other words, a transition period — with information forwarded to them to aid them in finding a job and provided evidence that they are searching, I think we would be better off. This would decrease dependency dramatically and encourage self-sufficiency.

    It also seems to me that there are shades of the culture of individualism in saying “this is my money and the poor shouldn’t get it unless I say they can.” People of that sort don’t seem to care for charity — either through the government or themselves. Now surely this doesn’t account for the majority of conservatives. Nevertheless, the question of how much the government should help is one of prudence and that’s not definitively answerable.

    I do share your concern that the government giving out too much can have an adverse effect to some extent. I’ve been in the car with friends who say when they see a homeless person, “the government really ought to do something to help him.” But I don’t think that the lack of charity is contigent on the fact that the government is helping people, but rather it inadvertently reaffirms the lack of charity and moral disordering (for an ordered morality demands charity) that already exists in their own life. And I don’t think that we can avoid doing as much good as we can through the mechanism of the government (without the State exceeding its boundaries) for the sake of unintended consequences. It’s like not standing up against injustice because one fears that it’ll cause an unwanted backlash.

    In terms of our economic system, it depends on if its an unrestricted free-market or a free-market with a few minimal regulations. I favor the latter. I think the former does naturally give advantage to the upper middle class and the rich. I think that there are opportunities for people to rise out of poverty, but I attribute it more to God’s grace than to the system itself. I’m not entirely convinced that most of the wealthy worked their way to it. Just at my school, I see kids with a silver spoon in their mouth who in many ways are totally ignorant of the plight of others. Their parents can easily and readily afford college. Many of them have gone to private school their whole lives–some with tuitions just as high as their college tuition. They are born with all the support they need and with many advantages. What about children born to parents who aren’t as well off?
    Supposedly 60% of the bottom of the socio-economic scale is comprised of single parent households. Statistically children raised in such environments are more likely to do drugs, drink alcohol regularly, to drop out of school, to repeat a grade, to be sexually promiscuous, and the list goes on. I was born into the place on the scale. My grandmother who is 75 years old, to this day works, cleaning houses for two different families. One of which she has worked for her entire life (my grandmother’s family always worked for that family and I believe generations ago was “owned” by that family). The family she has worked for the longest is very wealthy. The lady — Mrs. Moroney — is a very liberal, pro-choice Democrat (she supports government intervention). She also happens to believe in me so much that she is willing to pay all remaining costs of my education — out of pocket — which has totalled over $30,000 by now. This was all generous charity and I am very grateful. But I ask myself to question — of the thousands of people that are born into a similar situation as mine, how many receive the same blessings?

    I’m not saying “let’s have a mass government ‘hand-out’ party,” but that there is some merit to the government assisting people. And yes, I’m looking at all of this through the lens of my own life — and I’d like to think through the lens of the lives of other people who won’t share my blessings. I find it very disheartening when things are just classified as “socialism” and dismissed. It really cuts off rational discourse and creates the endless culture war — this clash of orthodoxies — that we’re experiencing and are all frustrated about. Many Democrats, myself included, aren’t in favor of equal results in life. That’s not realistic. But we do favor an equality of opportunity and currently — and I don’t think anyone would argue this — there is a large disparity in the socio-economic ladder that makes this very difficult. Thus, people should be provided the resources they need — public and private — to help them achieve those means. No, we shouldn’t just subsidize it and give them a free ride and teach them that a lack of personal responsibility is alright; it isn’t.

    But I think a safety net that relies solely on charity in the western world is a recipe for disaster. It won’t happen. And the worse our education gets (its happening), the worse our morals get (its happening), and the more we’re all geared for ruthless competition with one another, we will fall. We’ve got to help as many as we can and I think it requires — at least at this point in history — that the government be involved. That’s my perspective.

  • Ryan,

    Would you say that the Amish system is an honest example of the doctrine of subsidiarity and distributism?

    Just a rhetorical question from a die-hard free-market capitalist just learning about Catholic teaching on economics and rethinking his position.

  • Eric,

    As a quick note, I might have been confusing about it, but the “hardened hearts” refer to the people seeing others getting handouts, paying their income into handouts, not the people receiving the handouts.

    I see the growth of government as a necessary effect of the decline of the morals of the populace. As people become less inclined to take care of themselves, the government has no choice but to step in a fill in the gaps. So to some extent I agree that government-funded welfare is a result of uncharitable hearts. I do feel that there’s a feedback in the system, though. As charity decrease, the role of the government increases, further justifying reduction in charity, forcing more government increase, and so on.

    But government exists to be a safety net, so I will never argue against the government providing safety nets. Government exists to protect us from outside threat. We could, perhaps organize that on our own with a bunch of independent militias, but it would be ineffective. Thus it provides a safety net there. Government exists to protect our rights from impinging neighbors. While we might have some success dealing with matters privately, and privately should be our first recourse, the courts exist as a safety-net to assure our rights are preserved. (I just wish they would stop inventing rights at the drop of a hat.) And these are cases that don’t directly touch upon the economic issue we’re talking about. Yes, we cannot count on safety nets that rely solely on charity. That, I believe, is actually called anarchy.

    The government first and foremost has to respect the human dignity of those it governs. Included in human dignity is industry, and compensation for labor. Thus I agree with government policy that regulates the markets so as to prevent monopolies and unjust wages. Thus I also agree with taxes, for I see the government as a body of people also deserving in compensation for their labor.

    The government has the ability to steer us through particular market forces, through taxes and subsidies. It can introduce artificial demands and artificial supply restrictions. And in do so, it can throw the market out of whack.

    Let’s consider colleges, for example. The cost of college is high, true, but its purpose is also to provide a further education and qualifications that make an individual valuable for some select positions in the market. Not everyone needs to go to college. Others can find themselves quite content with trade jobs or as laborers. Not everyone wants to be an executive. I agree, though, that having a college education gives one quite an edge in finding a nice, comfortable, high-paying job, and that many people who would be suited for those positions don’t get the chance because of financial considerations.

    What happens when we subsidize college education? The demand for college increases, as we’ve seen. We’ve struggled to send as many of our youth to college as we can, which in turn increases the demand. The demand is especially for prestigious universities. So what happens to the cost of attending? It goes up. On the flip side, a college needs students for a large portion of its funding, especially private universities that don’t receive state or federal funding. So more students means more funding. Except for the need for more facilities, more professors, more housing, more equipment, and so on. The net result? A mess. Usually the cost of attending continues to soar. At least, that’s how it has been at the University of Wyoming, and this little state university is one of the least-expensive to attend in the nation, even as an out-of-state student.

    Saying that, of course, calls my attention back to your silver-spoon students, who had no clue of the problems people around them suffered. Extrapolating from Wyoming probably makes me one of those, doesn’t it?

    “No, we shouldn’t just subsidize it and give them a free ride and teach them that a lack of personal responsibility is alright; it isn’t.”

    What is the right balance between providing, and enabling sloth? The problem, of course, becomes that the further away from the beneficiary you are, the less capable you are of making that decision. That’s why I feel government should be a last resort, and that family and community should be the first responders. They’re the best ones to know what you need (statistically speaking, anyway).

    To use your benefactor as an example: God bless Mrs. Moroney for her generous donation. Her example definitely supports what you said before about government intervention not preventing charity. But she also, by your very words, justifies my position. She knows you, knows your needs, believes in you, and thus has made a contribution. (You can burn me if I’m speaking out of line, too personal, or such, or if I’m just flat out wrong.) She wouldn’t necessarily do that to someone off the street because she doesn’t know if such a contribution would be worthwhile, what that person actually needed.

    Back to the college example, we don’t know if everyone needs the opportunity to go to college. For some, maybe going to college is the last thing they need. It certainly is telling when you provide a college education, practically free of charge, and many students simply flunk out for lack of care. Maybe it makes more sense to make the last two years free of charge as opposed to the first two. Federal Stafford loans already reflect this: the further you get in college, the more you can borrow.

    The problem I have is that too many of the policies suggested smack of eating the whole harvest without preserving seeds for next year’s planting.

    I would ask, then, what do you view as the ideal economic policy? How would you craft things so that everything works perfectly? I don’t ask this to be flip, but as a serious consideration. For a long time, I was very Ayn Rand-ian about unregulated free markets (while my sister was very, very Marxist, go figure). But I’ve migrated from the radical end to feeling that regulated free-markets, with government safety nets to assist those who fall through the cracks in the market work well. I might go a little further left of that, if convinced, but I cannot see any other economic policy in existence that provides the poor with as many opportunities.

    One thing that always caught me was this. Suppose we all stopped eating fast food and donated that money to charity. Well, that would nice at first, except it would put some 10 million people out of jobs, needing more charity. So suppose we cut out other luxuries in our lives and donated that money to charity. That’s more money given to the needy, but more people out of jobs, too. Keep following this line of thought, and suddenly we have huge unemployment and nowhere near enough money to help everyone. That’s why I was for a long time a follower of Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness”.

    But then there’s the catholic concern about God and mammon. That’s what changed my mind. Economic growth is important, because it is far more beneficial for a poor man to have a job than handouts. But we can’t subscribe to Rand’s selfishness, because it is selfishness itself that causes the corruption in the markets. And addressing immediate crises in human lives is more important than keeping economic growth high. Putting the growth of capital over all other considerations is just as evil as socialism. But certainly, there has to be some concern about economic growth. I just haven’t figured out the right balance, yet.

  • Tito,

    I would. And the distribution here doesn’t bother me much because it is down at a community level. What worries me about government redistribution is that it is impersonal and wasteful. The thing is, I have no problem with saying that the rich have an obligation to assist the poor. Ideally, I would like that to remain between the rich and the poor without any government intervention. Of course, thing’s don’t work that way.

  • Ryan,

    I was thinking the same thing about distributism. I like the concept, but at the smallest nuclear stage as possible.

    Being raised in a very small town in the middle of the Pacific, I can see this model working well in a neighborhood setting as opposed at the federal or state levels.

  • Ryan,

    You’re misunderstanding me. I can’t answer you point by point, so let me hit a few points. Since we’re talking about the United States, when I say “government,” I’m not necessarily saying the national government. If something can be taken care of at a more local level, then it must be done there first if it can be just as efficient. Therefore, the city government or individual state governments — in my view — bear the responsibility of providing a “safety net” without going beyond its own means. I’m very much in favor of state and local governments providing assistance first to avoid the creation of unnecessary bureaucracies. Moreover, the farther away from the situation one gets, the less pressing it is and the less efficient one is at managing it. So, I think there is a way one can honor the principle of subsidiarity while seeking other principles of Catholic Social Teaching such as preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.

    I think such a half-way measure allows for much common ground debate instead of the polarizing back and forth, endless system of liberals vs. conservatives. Why? Liberals initiate new programs, seek to fund older ones that are falling apart, and they tend to do it especially while having a majority at the national level. In comes the conservatives, they deregulate, cut taxes, cut programs, etc. It goes back and forth and the tug-of-war effects the economy and many who are on the receiving end of such things.

    In my view, human dignity must trump economic growth. A respect for human dignity usually leads to some sort of solidary and community–which usually doesn’t allow for economic collapse. A lack of respect of human dignity leads to a cold machine of unrestricted free-market capitalism, where what’s good for the businesses is good for everyone (which really means almost everybody) and it’s based on a consequentialist ethic of right and wrong, which as I have said, emphasizes profits and shareholders over public interest and I don’t see how this is at all compatitible with Jesus’ teaching. However, to be fair, there must be a working economy if we’re going to be able to help those in need and therefore, the regulation by the government has to be kept to a minimum and this is why I support doing it, as much as possible, away from the federal level so that regional or state problems are solved within the state and only assisted federally if it is necessary.

    There is no such thing as a perfect economic system. But I believe that a free market that has “common good” oriented regulation that is kept to a minimum, without handicapping the market, I think is most effective. But that’s my view and I’m not absolutizing it anyway. Though, I don’t think I’m fundamentally wrong. For example, in regard to minimum wage laws the reason that the Bishops support it is because there have been cases of people being employed for wages that are not sufficient to live decently in our country, particularly to provide for one’s family. Making $5.15 an hour is ridiculous (the current wage is $6.44, I think). Now, arguably, it might have been better for each state to deliver a different minimum wage law, but nevertheless be required to have one could have been a common ground solution. Surely it’s cheaper to live in some states than others. But the fundamental recognition in law that there has to be some relative wage that is fitting to the economic situation of our country that respects human dignity should be established.

    Now in regard to education, you have some good points. But I’ll just point to Texas. I live in a state that is predominantly governed by conservative policies because everyone votes for Republicans. Every fiscal year when we start cutting the budget, education is usually first in line. So in places like “third ward” in Houston, which is essentially a ghetto of blacks and hispanics — the schools are run down, underfunded, science labs have no equipment, teachers are poorly paid. The cost of college as you mention is rising. All of this, but we’re having an 11 billion dollar surplus this year in Texas.

    In my view, it’s not simply the money that’s required, it’s the priortizing and the budgeting. Clinton ended his presidency with four surpluses and a deficit of 5.63 trillion dollars. (I’m not saying that he deserves all the credit — he doesn’t). When Bush leaves office, that deficit will have about doubled. We’re fighting a war that requires us to borrow $10 billion dollars a month. On a side note, over half a million Americans die from various forms of cancer and we spend about $5.5 billion on cancer research. That’s not even a month in Iraq.

    When political conservatives take office, funding for public education and financial aid for students are first in line to be cut and money is delivered elsewhere. So in my view it’s not entirely about cost (costs do matter) but when it comes down to what matters, what doesn’t, what’s more important, and what isn’t, is when I begin to go liberal. I think a lot of problems could be solved if our priorities in our budgets were different.

    And what I really want to get at here is that I’m talking here mainly in theory–sort of like a framework. The approach liberals take, I generally agree with. Now are their policies and tendency toward nationalizing some matters an immediate consequence? I don’t think so. I’d argue that I’m “liberal” and other self-identified liberals sometimes aren’t. Just to give an example or two. If liberals really cared about the weak and vulnerable, they would oppose abortion. If liberals really cared about personal freedom, then they would support transitory welfare systems with strict limits so that Americans don’t become ultra-dependent on the government for survival. In that way, I can argue that I’m adopting a more faithfully “liberal” position.

    I think it’s fair to say — as usual — we agree, more or less, on principle and not on policies.

  • Eric,

    I feel I need to go paragraph by paragraph here…

    P1) Good to get on the same page. I was thinking you only meant federal government. Now that that’s cleared up, with you 100%.

    P2) Still 100%

    P3) Still 100%. I really think that full respect for human dignity and a thriving economy go hand-in-hand, that the second naturally springs from the first. Yes, human dignity must indeed trump economy when it becomes an either-or situation. I think we only differ on when that happens. Maybe the how, as well. We’ll see.

    P4) I’m only cautious about the minimum wage thing. That might be because in Wyoming, in most cities the cost of living is cheap. (Not in Laramie, where college students drive housing prices up, or in Rawlins, which is struggling to house a massive number of construction workers, or in Jackson a.k.a. “Little California”.) There’s a lot I could say about minimum wage, and it reflects back on immigrant workers that cram together in a small house, only staying there to sleep, essentially, as they struggle to make ends meet. But then, I don’t know if finding roommates to help split the cost is a good idea or not, giving the potential of abuse. And I suppose, reluctantly, that it makes sense to index minimum wage against inflation, but minimum wage is minimum wage for a reason. It is the wage that says “I have no skills, yet”. I’d rather see a bill mandating a certain amount of raise every so often than a bill raising minimum wage. Your thoughts on that?

    P5) To fix education, we have to fix our public schools and the success of our students there. I have no good ideas of how to do that. The cure, I don’t think, is as simple as throwing money at the problem. Do you think Texas might be willing to have recruitment of public school teachers on the level that it recruits football players? Get all the public schools together and have a draft of potential teachers, of which stats regarding each one’s teaching ability are publicly known? I’d definitely be willing to distribute some of that $11 billion surplus to help each school acquire teachers up to some set salary cap.

    It seems to me that fixing college, or making college available to more and more people, does little unless we actually make our public schools quality schools again. But then, I’ve also heard that a lot of failing schools are failing due to cultural reasons, not financial ones. Do you know or have any experience with this?

    P6) Priorities are going to be a place we differ. All I can say about your example, though, is that cancer is something that plagues all mankind, the Iraq war that is primarily an American and Iraqi problem. The problem I have with the Iraq War right now, and ever since the terrorists decided to make Iraq the central front, is that the Iraq War seems to be a low priority thing, even with all that we seem to be dumping into it. It doesn’t feel, to me, that we’re taking the war seriously. If we had really been serious about it, ramped things up to the levels of previous wars, I think we’d be out of Iraq by now. And since we thought we could fight Iraq in our spare time, I don’t think we should have gone in in the first place. I guess maybe I would amend what you have to say, then, is not just priorities, but commitment to them. Enough half-baked ideas or empty promises.

    P7) Makes sense to me.

    P8) I talk in theory a lot, too. My field of research is theory. Mathematics is about as theoretical as you get. So don’t worry if you’re getting too theoretical.

    P9) I think, between us, we could hammer out an acceptable policy. Let’s try to have one drafted up to present to the next president, whoever he is!

  • Ryan,

    In regard to your first question on minimum wage. Currently, minimum wage laws are done from the federal level. States can raise the wages higher, but cannot be lower than the federal mandated minimum wage. The notion of a “living wage” was introduced by Pope Leo XIII against the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism and communism. The Holy Father affirmed the right to private property while insisting on the state requiring a living wage. In essence, private property requires state protection and a certain dimension of the common good requires state regulation. Thus, minimum wage is a set legal stature by which the state mandates that all workers be given a “living wage,” which is necessary for a person to achieve a humane standard of living–a person should be able to afford quality housing, foods, utilities, transportation, health care, and minimal leisure.

    Some excerpts of Rerum Novarum:

    “If a worker receives a wage sufficiently large to enable him to provide comfortably for himself, his wife and his children, he will, if prudent, gladly strive to practice thrift; and the result will be, as nature itself seems to counsel, that after expenditures are deducted there will remain something over and above through which he can come into the possession of a little wealth. We have seen, in fact, that the whole question under consideration cannot be settled effectually unless it is assumed and established as a principle, that the right of private property must be regarded as sacred. Wherefore, the law ought to favor this right and, so far as it can, see that the largest possible number among the masses of the population prefer to own property.” (#65)

    “Wealthy owners of the means of production and employers must never forget that both divine and human law forbid them to squeeze the poor and wretched for the sake of gain or to profit from the helplessness of others.” (#17)

    “As regards protection of this world’s good, the first task is to save the wretched workers from the brutality of those who make use of human beings as mere instruments for the unrestrained acquisition of wealth.” (#43)

    How the state ensures a “living wage” can have a variety of forms, I imagine. The most common method is through minimum wage laws. Obviously, I support minimum wage laws. Given the unique structure of the American political system, I don’t think minimum wage laws — as I’ve said — have to be legislated on a national level. Since each state has its own economy, since the price of living in Alabama is not the same as the price of living in New York, then it seems to me preferrable that minimum wage laws still be made, but by the state rather than federal government. That way, the minimum wage in New York or California (places where it’s relatively more expensive to live) be higher than the minimum wage in Louisiana or Nebraska where the cost of living is notably lower. Giving differing state economies, it is more reasonable to not have an across the board minimum wage law. That’s my view on that matter.

    In regard to education, I don’t think we disagree much. We spend more money than any other industrialized nation in the world on education and we have a poor quality of education. One thing — we’re also a much larger country than many others and we have a profoundly different system. So in some ways, I think it’s not always good to compare. There is a need of money, as I noted with schools with outdated textbooks, lacking scientific lab equipment, and poorly paid teachers.

    One thing I think is the emphasis on athletics and not on academics, particularly in the south. The other is the shortage of teachers. Teachers aren’t paid well for all the work they do. A lot they do for free (e.g. staying after school to tutor students for hours). One thing is that education needs to be the item on our list that doesn’t face routine budget cuts. Huge surpluses and problems in our education system such as the ones we have, don’t make much moral sense.

    On the matter of proving the quality of education, I agree entirely. I’m in favor of all but abolishing standardized testing. All it does is gear the entirety of one’s education toward remembering facts to pass some test. The emphasis in education should be on writing well, thinking rationally and critcally, and being able to articulate clearly and synthesize ideas coherently. This usually curbs one’s tendency toward relativism because many of these tenets are present in a liberal arts education.

    Education is also suffering because of at home issues. Students in single parent households are likely to do poorer in school than those who have a traditional family setting. Some parents (Asians especially) are more interested in their children’s academic success than other ethnic groups (African Americans and Hispanics especially). This needs to be a factor that influences our approach to education so that this isn’t a cycling, never-ending reality. The people who grow up to vote, to effect the morality of our country and our culture, come through the education system. There will always be some failing at home and if there isn’t a “safety net” of some sort in the education system to limit cultural and moral relavitism through educating people away from that, we’ll continue to have problems. I suspect in retrospect that one of my high school teachers was a Catholic and that he geared me away from such forms of thinking. Surely, an aversion of relativism isn’t contigent on one’s being Catholic, but simply on being rational (so it’s possible to achieve). After all, everyone who approaches the abortion debate with a poor understanding of morality (and the ‘answerless’ question of when life begins) came through the American education system. It’s why I think it is so fundamental.

    In regard to priortizing issues, I was merely pointing out the fact that it seems that our priorties are misplaced. For someone who calls himself a “liberal,” I think most liberal methods in international policies are severely flawed. To give one example, sending millions of dollars to African governments to help people is commendable in intention, but in policy it doesn’t work. To send money through the machinery of a corrupt government is to waste money because it’ll never reach the people. There is a sufficient amount of food in Africa, it just isn’t distributed justly. I’ve been told (so I’m not sure if it’s true) that the government stores food up and keep it from its citizens. So we have to find more creative ways of dealing with these morally-pressing problems besides throwing American money at it. Essentially, I’m bad mouthing putting more financial power on foreign rather than domestic issues. Cancer was just the example I used. And I too agree that much of what we do, we do half-heartedly, which is an essential ingredient to its failure.

  • Eric,

    I’m ambivalent about standardized testing. For the one year I tested the waters in the college of education, I was exposed to a lot of prejudice about how schooling is to be done. Standardized testing is bad. Dividing students up into tracks is bad. Lots of projects that span many subjects are good. Lessons should be tailored so that the brightest and slowest are each engaged and learning. Grades should be based on rubrics, not the 100 point or A, B, C, D, F scales. Some of these points I agree with, others I don’t. One of my presentations was on standardized testing, and because the prevailing attitude was so negative, I tried to put as much positive spin on it as I could, and I couldn’t muster very much. (Even so, everyone thought I was a crazy conservative who was gung-ho on standardized testing.) But the question becomes, how do you ensure that certain benchmarks are met, that students are actually learning what they need to learn?

    The problem, like in all other areas, is the human factor, especially with teachers. Do we trust all teachers when they say that students have learned what they need to learn, or do we have some other measurement to go by? We can probably trust good teachers, but what about bad ones? But then, how can we trust test written and graded by people who are distant from the students have no idea if the results correspond to the student’s actual abilities? So I don’t think standardized tests are good, but I don’t have a more reasonable alternative, either.

    On the cultural issue affecting education, I’m with you 100%. But I’m not sure how to fix that problem. You can’t legislate that there have to be two parents, and you can’t mandate that parents take sufficient interest. I kind of feel that the only hope is to try to stress to our youth the importance of respect for sex, the sanctity of marriage, and the strength of a stable home in order to try to make life for the next generation better. And that becomes increasingly difficult as the nation is rapidly purging itself of respectable role models.

    As for minimum wage, I can agree that letting the states decide where the minimum is a good idea, especially in the respect for local economies. One of the problems I have is that the minimum wage can only go up. That might be all right if minimum wage is indexed against inflation (though I have arguments about that involving an increase in minimum wage only exacerbating inflation), but there are times when the economy slumps, and companies can only offer lower wages or lay people off. Another problem I have is that I have strong feelings against minimum wage being the base “living wage”. I’m not entirely certain why at the moment. Minimum wage is for the base, green, unskilled worker. Someone who has held a job for a year should not be making minimum wage. He should have seen some raises along the way, at the least. But that is theory, not practice. But here’s the main concern: when you increase the cost of unskilled labor, business tends to be less inclined to hire unskilled labor, and that hurts the unskilled laborers, makes it more difficult to develop skills and build a resume. So I guess the question is: is it really better to have no job at all than a job at $5.15/hr?

    I have no idea how much cost of living in in some places, but I think two people can live frugally in Laramie on about $1500/mo. That ends up being $750 per person take home. Using my sledgehammer approach to taxes (I assume the government simply takes 20% at this level), this amounts to needing to make a little less than $6.00/hr, assuming 40 hours a week, 4 weeks a month. At $5.15 an hour, this means the need to pick up a part-time job, but it is manageable. I know this doesn’t offer much chance of getting ahead, and any emergency can quickly destroy the budget.

    How do these numbers weigh against where you’re at?

    For the priority issues, I feel I might have stepped a little out of line with parts of what I said, and I apologize. And everything you said in your last comment about priorities is dead on, so I don’t have too much to add there.

  • I don’t think you stepped out of line on anything. Your apology is well accepted, but it isn’t necessary.

    To be brief, minimum wage laws are complicated and I don’t think we can come to an exhaustive, objective conclusion on what we should do. You pointed out correctly, I think, that a bare minimum wage can allow a person to live decently if they’re conservative and unyieldingly prudent with their spending habits. However, the slightest emergency can lead them to financial ruin. All I have to say is look at the skyrocketing cost of health care and the basic requirement of education today — with students needing supplies for projects, entire classes being mandated to purchase something, etc. The greater the number of people in this situation, the worse off we’ll be. Because we can’t have that many people fall through the cracks and expect our economy to survive. At the same time, we have to promote personal virtue and responsibility and not go into communism. So it’s a fine line.

    I agree entirely on standardized testing. I did change the standard of measuring progress: “The emphasis in education should be on writing well, thinking rationally and critcally, and being able to articulate clearly and synthesize ideas coherently.” I’m not opposed to testing if the entirety of your education is geared toward the goal of a sort of liberal arts — writing, analyzing, critical thinking skills, and being able to synthesize (coherently) information. If the education is good, then any sort of standardized test at the end of the day should be fairly simple. That’s currently not the case. Our education is geared toward passing a test and not toward being a fully developed human with knowledge of history, the arts, and the capacity to articulate and communicate effectively orally or in writing. Therefore, with the failure to do well on standardized tests, standards of education become increasingly lower, more class time is spent on taking practice tests, etc, than on actually developing these deeply needed skills. I think that’s why education is in such a crisis.

    I truly support any American who teaches their children at home because of personal disatisfcation with the current system. I’m glad this conversation is happening here because it deeply concerns me that Christians, especially Catholics, are not at the front of the American education reform movement. Most of whom I know (or rather, I have discussed it with) are just are very cynical and apathetic toward it. Behavior, values, etc. are learned. And if we cynically criticize culture and education, but aren’t the agents of change, our Christian values will receive — at most — lipservice. That’s what has happened in this country. Every sort of moral relativism, every affirmation of birth control, religious relativism, etc. will be conditioned into the next generation–in both education and culture. This is what I think happened in the late 20th century. The education system was taken away and Christians have not been on the forefront in reform and influence. We’ve created private schools, began to home school, but the mainstream public education that influences the majority, we’ve left to its own designs. And we’re paying for it now.