March 21, 2011

An Overview of an Overview (I)

In his “Author’s Introduction,” Mr. Ferrara lists five concerns of his to clarify what his book is not about.
It is not about the propriety of Christians’ voting for libertarian candidates, nor even about libertarianism “in the broad and benign sense of a call for limited governments consistent with the Catholic teaching on man, economy and state to be defended here.” (1) 
Perhaps any other sense might not be so benign.  In fact, his proviso rules out most libertarian philosophies, for what Mr. Ferrara means by “the Catholic teaching on man, economy and state” is libertarian in the weakest possible sense, i.e., merely non-totalitarian. 
Mr. Ferrara proposes a narrow definition of “socialism” such that his book is “not a defense of any form thereof,” even though he supports policies that would hamper markets no less than any socialist program, and for much the same reason socialists offer for their schemes: justice allegedly requires it.  Again, early in the book, before one has read one word of his opponents or even knows who they are, Mr. Ferrara has characterized them as purveyors of “bugaboos” that serve only as “distractions from real issues.” (2) 
John C. Cort was a Catholic gentleman who sincerely, eloquently, and prolifically argued that the social teaching of the encyclicals and non-Marxist democratic socialism converged on the same goal.  Having read his Christian Socialism, I'm largely persuaded of that fit.  When reading Ferrara, I get the impression that the only reason why a Catholic mustn't be a socialist is because a pope said so.  Catholics who reason that way tend not to perceive the implicit democratic socialism in what this or that pope actually wrote and, ironically, in what writers like Ferrara actually believe (i.e., Distributism). 
Of course, if one does not argue from authority against socialism, one inevitably draws upon the same resources that Murray Rothbard did and (for the last third of the 20th century at least) upon the “encyclicals” of Pope Murray himself and, in this century, the legions of “bishops” he influenced, instructed, coached, and mentored.
Mr. Ferrara rests his alleged opposition to socialism on what he views as a God-given right to property as the basis of a “rightly ordered liberty.” (2) (Or “real liberty” or “true liberty” as he will later refer to it).  He also sends mixed messages to libertarian readers. He wants to explore “common ground” with them in an effort to dismantle “the modern state” (not the state as such), which “was built on the ruins of former Christendom by the very principles doctrinaire libertarians defend as essential to what they think is Liberty.” ([2]; emphasis in the original). Mr. Ferrara’s appeal is presumably to non-doctrinaire libertarians whose libertarianism us compatible with Catholicism as he understands it.  It also provides a glimpse of his causal hypothesis about the origins of the modern state.
Mr. Ferrara will explain the 2007-2009 economic “meltdown,” presupposing his confusion regarding free markets and capitalism introduced in Chapter 1, a confusion that, by then, we will have exposed.
To anyone in the economics profession, “Austrian economics” is a perfectly intelligible label for a respectable body of thought, even to its opponents, such as Paul Krugman, the latest Nobelist in that field. Friederich Hayek's sharing of that prize in 1974 removed any justification, if there ever was one, for casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Austrian School. The Wikipedia entry for it describes it as “heterodox,” or “non-mainstream,” that is, not owing its distinctive ideas to the “orthodox” synthesis of neo-classical microeconomics and Keynesian macroeconomics.  Another heterodox school is the Marxian, around few would think it necessary to put scare quotes.  The origin of the appellation is of interest to our story.  Too bad Mr. Ferrara declined to tell it.
Mr. Ferrara is concerned that some Catholic Austro-libertarians portray their school “as compatible with orthodox Roman Catholicism,” whereas, he claims,
the principle features of the Austro-libertarian system, reflecting ‘classical liberalism’ in general, have been explicitly condemned as errors in a long series of papal pronouncements summed up by Pope Pius XI under the description ‘moral, legal, and social modernism.’ (3) 

The mute premise of Mr. Ferrara’s syllogism is that orthodox Roman Catholicism includes these papal condemnations so that what is inconsistent with the latter is also inconsistent with the former.  We will contest Mr. Ferrara’s facile theological equation.