March 23, 2011

An Overview of an Overview (II)

The “Author’s Introduction” concludes with two sections entitled “The Negative Case” and “The Positive Case.”
The gist of the former is that “no orthodox Christian can abide” the “grave moral, philosophical and even theological errors” of Austro-libertarianism “if he would be faithful to Christ and the Gospel.” (3) 
Observe the broadening scope of Mr. Ferrara’s defense: no longer merely Roman Catholicism as articulated in a century’s worth of papal pronouncements, it is (small “o”) orthodox Christianity itself, even the very meaning of the message of the Gospel and of Christ.  We will contest that claim.
Mr. Ferrara refers to “the triumvirate that rule the world today,” i.e., “Big Government, Big Business, and Big Finance” (4), but it is important to his case against Austro-libertarians that they be seen as obscuring that alliance, rather than, as is the case, among the first to have highlighted it, indeed among the thought leaders who first drew out its implications for scholarship. 
Mr. Ferrara’s unfortunate subscription to Kevin Carson’s epithet “vulgar libertarian” and the underlying notion is foreshadowed. (4)
(Please remember, patient reader, that we are still in his “Author’s Introduction.”)
As for the “positive case,” TCATL has the “far more important positive aim” of defending “the Catholic vision” of social order “presented in the papal encyclicals.” (4)  Implicitly, at least, Mr. Ferrara offers an interpretation both of those encyclicals and of their importance. As we shall see, however, he does not anchor his claims about their meaning and importance in anything more reassuring than his own grasp of history and theology, but does not admit that limitation.
Mr. Ferrara's epistemology will be shown to be “fundamentalist”: it entertains a proposition by comparing it to a list of privileged (“fundamental”) propositions and assigns truth or falsity to it based on its conformity to or divergence from any of them.  In his case, the fundamental propositions are to be found in papal encyclicals. We will examine this undefended epistemological presupposition and alternatives to it.  
Referring to the definiendum in the definiens, Mr. Ferrara claims that “real freedom means only that freedom made possible by the truth of the Gospel and that the only really free society is one built on the law of the Gospel.” (4-5) Again we meet those qualifiers (“real freedom,” “really free”) by which he conflates political libertarianism with libertarianism in both the metaphysical sense (“free will”) and in the psychological sense (cf. Romans 7).  That his “real freedom” is to freedom as military music is to music is something we hope to make clear.  
The Catholic understanding of fallen humanity’s need for grace and the latter’s variable active presence in all of us, regardless of our degree of depravity or sanctity, must inform what Catholics say about political liberty but it hardly justifies the illiberal political regime of which Mr. Ferrara seems to approve.  His claim that
Christian civilization, which stood for 1,600 years and can exist again if only we seek to restore it, already contains every morally legitimate element of the libertarian position . . . . (5)
raises several questions. Exactly which 1,600 years does he mean? That there is a libertarian core to the Gospel, and that this has implications for ordering our use of interpersonal violence, I have no doubt.  What is in doubt is the libertarianism (except in the most attenuated sense) of anyone who seeks to restore what Mr. Ferrara means by “Christian civilization.” 
Christendom, I shall argue, was a “mixed bag” at best, its own worst enemy at worst, and not something that anyone who names the name of Christ would want to restore without the gravest of qualifications, of which Mr. Ferrara offers not one.
Mr. Ferrara made it clear what he means by “the law of the Gospel.” (4) It is not the compelling quality of Christ’s personality and divinity as it given us in the documents called “Gospels” unmediated by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (granting freely that we wouldn’t even have them to interpret were it not for that Church).  No, according to Mr. Ferrara that magisterium is the cognitive mediator between Christ and man.  As he quotes Pope Pius XI:
Because the Church is by divine institution the sole depository and interpreter of the ideals and teaching of Christ, she alone possesses in any complete and true sense the power effectively to combat that materialistic philosophy which has already done and, still threatens, such tremendous harm to the home and to the state. . . . [T]he Church is able to set both public and private life on the road to righteousness by demanding that everything and all men become obedient to God “Who beholdeth the heart” to His commands, to His laws, to his sanctions.
[In this quotation from Ubi arcano dei (1922), Ferrara italicizes what he wishes His Holiness had emphasized but did not, but does not refer to that alteration. He will not advise his reader of this unexpected departure from honest practice in the introduction.  As we noted,  that announcement does not occur, assuming one is sharp-eyed enough to catch it, until the fourth note of the first chapter on page 327 and its force is assumed for next 300+ pages.]
This passage sounds the theme of Mr. Ferrara’s book.  What he calls for is hardly libertarianism minus “liberal errors.” But misstatement is nothing compared to his claim that TCATL,
however forcefully its arguments are presented in places, is also meant as a fraternal appeal to Catholic proponents of the errors at issue, that they might abandon all error and return to the path the Church has marked out for them and for every soul that seeks true happiness in this world and the next. (5)
As a Catholic proponent of what he deems error, I detect not the faintest tincture of fraternity emanating from this bloviating, self-appointed hammer of heretics. The author of a truly fraternal appeal would normally ask, in all humility, that those whom he criticizes show him, if they can, where he might have gotten something wrong and join him in a common search for truth, especially if they are fellow Catholics. 
But one does not search for something one thinks one already securely has, does one?
In this context I think it is worth noting that in his “Acknowledgements,” Mr. Ferrara didn’t discharge the customary authorial duty of taking full responsibility, and absolving all those he thanked, for “any remaining errors.”  I have always delighted in observing how many ways an author can creatively reword that ethical boilerplate.  Mr. Ferrara may have deprived his reader of that sample of his creative literary powers, but his silence reveals much more: he will not acknowledge even the possibility of his own error.  But what propagandist in history ever had?
No, I won’t be blaming Professors Médaille, McCall, or McArthur for remaining errors. I won't even blame Mr. Obriski, his “eagle-eyed” proofreader.