April 29, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (XIII): Of Doctorates, “Dummies,” and Defamation

Next: Mr. Ferrara’s preliminary spin on Thomas Woods’s interpretations of papal social encyclicals (in advance of the more protracted effort of later chapters).
As a Catholic layman, Dr. Woods has responsibly defended a position at the interface of economics with Catholic theology, a topic that will of course occupy us for many more posts. Reasonable disagreement with that defense cannot include the fact that Dr. Woods’s doctorate is in history rather than in economics or theology. He or she must show the relevance of that particular lack of expertise to Dr. Woods’s defense. 
That is to say, the non-Austrian economist with a Ph.D.—Rudolph Ederer, for instance—may not simply lord it over Dr. Woods, but rather show him that his lack of one accounts for his alleged economic errors. To the discernment of any theological errors by Dr. Woods, a non-Austrian economist’s Ph.D. (or a classicist’s, like Dr. Thomas Fleming's) is utterly irrelevant. (When one is dismantling a work of propaganda, one sometimes has to belabor the obvious.)
Aware that his interpretation of those documents expresses a minority viewpoint within the Church, Dr. Woods has always assumed responsibility for delineating and clarifying that viewpoint in order to address the concerns Catholics may have. Mr. Ferrara has not only read these efforts uncharitably, but also, and more importantly, misrepresented the situation that Catholics are in when something that a pope has written about a matter not of faith strikes them as erroneous (and also harmful when admixed with matters that are of faith). Mr. Ferrara presupposes that the situation is one way when it is in fact quite another. (He also claims that such a response is evasion and bugaboo. We shall see.) If we do nothing else in this blog, we will expose that presupposition as groundless.
Referring to the “seemingly endless series of writings by Woods against the teaching of the Popes on justice in the marketplace” (9), Mr. Ferrara surmises that
Woods has been “revisiting” this subject so often as to suggest a personal campaign to demonstrate that the Popes are wrong. The campaign has included an entire book on the subject, The Church and the Market (2005), wherein Woods contend that constant papal teaching on such matters as the just wage is “fraught with error” . . . . The controversy over “Austro-libertarian” among Catholics has become so closely identified with Woods’s writings and speeches as to become impossible to address without mentioning and quoting him extensively, which will be done here.” (10)
Some readers may have smiled upon reading Mr. Ferrara’s reference to someone else’s “seemingly endless series of writings.” In any case, for all he has shown to the contrary, the list of Dr. Woods’s germane writings is appropriately long. Notice how quickly Mr. Ferrara’s personal impression of a “campaign” is promoted to a fact upon which one may confidently build.
The ellipsis in our quotation hides a citation of Dr. Ederer, the Heinrich Pesch scholar. Those words impute to Dr. Woods’s evaluation of papal economic competency a mocking tone his own words do not carry. According to Dr. Ederer, as Mr. Ferrara cites him, Dr. Woods’s book The Church and the Market portrays a “host of some of the most impressive and saintly Popes . . . as ‘dummies’ . . . and out of their depth.”
The reference is to a 2005 review entitled “Economics for Dummies.” The word “dummies” appears once in the body of the review in quotation marks, but it is not a quotation from Dr. Woods. It is as though Dr. Ederer had written, “as it were, dummies.”
Let us be clear: in his review Dr. Ederer was interpreting Dr. Woods’s evaluation of the popes’ economic competency, not quoting him. In fairness to Dr. Ederer, we stress that he did not say that Dr. Woods referred to the popes as dummies, no more than he referred to their being out of their depth.
Because “dummies” appears in quotation marks inside Mr. Ferrara’s quote of Dr. Ederer, however, the reader may be forgiven if he or she gets the false impression that Dr. Woods called certain popes dummies (which would be to Mr. Ferrara’s polemical advantage). This the sort of behavior we expect of desperate lawyers. Or propagandists.
If the citation of my words had the effect of putting another man’s reputation in a bad light, I would regard not only him but also myself defamed. Mr. Ferrara was apparently not overly concerned about the risk of defaming Dr. Ederer, his ally in the war against Austro-libertarianism. Mere collateral damage, I suppose. I will charitably assume that the defamation was unintended.
We will have occasion to consider in detail the expert witness (qualified in economics, not in theology) whom Mr. Ferrara repaid so poorly.
To Be Continued
Postscript: My own 2005 review of Dr. Woods’s The Church and the Market, which the author apparently liked, is online.

April 28, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (XII): WHO Said WHAT?!

In our first post, we listed fifteen departures from good argumentative form that characterize TCATL and so discredit it as a criticism of Austro-libertarianism as a political option for Catholics. Today we examine the lapse entitled “digressive appeal to unqualified expert opinion.”
Mr. Ferrara says the Austro-libertarian movement is “of particular concern” to him because “the very founder and head of the Mises Institute, Lew Rockwell, and its leading polemicist, Thomas E. Woods, Jr., are both Catholics.” (9)  Unless Austro-libertarianism is an intrinsically anti-Catholic movement, however, there is no cause for concern that Catholics are among its leaders.
Given that the libertarian movement in the United States once had a secular, even atheistic, cast, it is a welcome development that today a significant segment of it boasts many Catholic writers and even leaders unless, again, Mr. Ferrara can show that it is essentially anti-Catholic. He will attempt to show it in later chapters, especially chapters 3 through 12, but he apparently cannot resist the urge to create an atmosphere of suspicion in the chapter ostensibly devoted to identifying Austrians and summarizing their tenets.
. . . Woods’ copious writings over the years against the social teaching of the Church as enunciated in papal encyclicals have provoked numerous Catholic commentators to accuse him of what one, the world-renowned Catholic economist Rupert J. Ederer, called “objective dissent from moral teachings by the Catholic Church.” As early as 2002, Thomas J. Fleming, editor of the respected journal Chronicles, had dubbed Woods’s position “the Austrian heresy,” and . . . Chronicles has recently [early 2010] completed publication of a series critiquing Woods’s “Austro-libertarianism” under the title “Is Tom Woods a Dissenter?” (9)
The method of the propagandist* is on display here. As Mr. Ferrara’s emphasis is on Thomas Woods as a “leading polemicist” for a movement opposed to “the social teaching of the Church,” it was not opportune for him to note that Dr. Woods, a Columbia-trained historian, is the author of The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era (based on his dissertation), How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, and Sacred Then, Sacred Now: The Return of the Old Latin Mass, to name just three books of his published in the last seven years (out of a dozen), books that might open a window or two on his grasp of and commitment to Catholicism. Mr. Ferrara will eventually refer to Dr. Woods’s intellectual conversion to Austrian economics and its effect on his reception of what is called “the social teaching of the Church,” but not until pages 119-120. 
In the meanwhile, Mr. Ferrara pretends that the opinions of the editor of Chronicles and of a commentator on the writings of Heinrich Pesch, S.J. bear on the matter of Dr. Woods’s fidelity to Catholicism. To bandy about terms like “heresy” and “dissent” is to disrespect the discipline of theology and the faith upon which it reflects. 
Postponing our examination of Mr. Ferrara’s treatment of papal encyclicals as practically infallible and interpretation of Dr. Woods’s writings as being “against” what Christ entrusted to His apostles, we note only that to adduce these unqualified opinions (and those of Dr. Peter Kwasniewski and Mr. Thomas Storck in the footnotes) is as gratuitous as it is fatuous.
Mr. Ferrara favors the opinions of Ederer and Fleming who think little of Woods. So what?
To Be Continued

* “By ‘propaganda’ I mean a communication of information, ideas, and opinions that the communicator wishes its recipient to accept uncritically. His intention is to persuade and dissuade, not by surveying the evidence, weighing alternative hypotheses potentially explanatory of it, and submitting to his readers merely fallible judgments. It is, rather, to filter that evidence and then emotionally charge selected portions of it in a way that convinces his audience to submit themselves willingly to his judgment.”  On Reviewing Propaganda, March 8, 2011
** Yes, unlike Dr. Woods, Dr. Ederer “has academic degrees in economics” (327, n. 10), but that does not confer theological competency. Neither does Dr. Fleming’s expertise in Attic poetry. 

April 21, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (XI): Joe Sobran, An Inconvenient Anarcho-Catholic

According to Mr. Ferrara, the sort of praise one finds in a tribute marking the departure (or anniversary thereof) of a notable and affectionately remembered figure can count as prima facie evidence that a cult has formed around that person.
Excuse me, patient reader, Mr. Ferrara didn’t put things so directly.  He wrote: “The [Austro-libertarian] movement has taken on the aspect of a cult” and “clearly savors of a cultic dulia.” (Emphasis added.) Perhaps clearly to Mr. Ferrara, but not to anyone who knew Murray Rothbard (and knew what he thought of political cults of personality). I grant Mr. Ferrara’s claim that the “word ‘cult’ is not used lightly” (9): I’m sure he gave it all the thought of which he is capable.
His evidence for his bizarrely counter-intuitive charge? “Rothbard’s innumerable ‘anarcho-capitalist’ tomes, tracts, articles and speeches are foundation stone of Austro-libertarianism . . . .” And the connection between literary production and cultic dulia? That’s apparently for him to know and for the reader to figure out.
Mr. Ferrara then mentions an implication of Rothbard’s political philosophy that has nothing to do with supporting the specific charge under review: there is “a legal right to allow unwanted children to starve to death.” (9) Now, in his reference note, Mr. Ferrara quotes Rothbard to the effect that he distinguished the question of the moral obligation one may have to feed one’s children from that of the justification a third party may have to use legally organized violence to force one to do so. He argued that there was no such justification. The implications of ignoring or denying that distinction go far beyond ensuring that a child’s natural protectors carry out their moral duty.
Mr. Ferrara does not put that distinction into the body of the text, let alone discuss it, for doing so would digress from his dulia ­charge, intolerably so even by his standards of literary composition. In accordance, therefore, with our policy of dealing with Mr. Ferrara’s charges serially, but only on a level of detail corresponding to the level on which he makes them, we must postpone our scrutiny of his distortion of Rothbard’s argument until we get to that section of TCATL (about sixty pages from our present context). For now we can only bring to the reader’s attention yet another symptom of Mr. Ferrara’s propagandistic style: the out-of-left-field, “Let-‘em-starve!” insinuation has one purpose: to poison the well (a fallacy given its name, we are happy to note, by Blessed John Henry Newman.) Now, back to the matter at hand.
In 2005, on the tenth anniversary of Rothbard’s death, the Mises Institute published a mostly prosaic summary of his life, work, and influence.  One may judge its purpose and tone by reading it in its entirety here. Of its nearly 2,000 words, Mr. Ferrara cites the last paragraph as though it were suggestive of dulia:
And so, to dear Murray, our friend and mentor, the vice president of the Mises Institute, the scholar who gave us guidance and the gentleman who showed us how to find joy in confronting the enemy and advancing truth, the staff and scholars of the Institute offer this tribute, alongside the millions who have been drawn to his ideas. May his works always be available to all who care to learn about liberty and do their part to fight for the cornerstone of civilization itself. May his legacy endure and may we all become happy warriors for the cause of liberty.
This would be the first cult to my knowledge that regards the object of its veneration or dulia as a friend and addresses him by his first name (even prefacing that by “Dear”). Again, Mr. Ferrara’s S.O.P. seems to be: throw it and see if it sticks. There is no empirical basis for his smear.
I wonder what he thinks of these words:
And may God also bless the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which for 20 years now has been promoting freedom without compromise.  I make it my habit to start the day by reading its excellent website, lewrockwell.com. Congratulations to Lew Rockwell for carrying on the work of von Mises and the late, great Murray Rothbard, both of whom would be justly proud of their brilliant, dauntless disciple.
Well, there you have it: Rockwell was the “great” Rothbard’s “disciple,” and upon his “excellent” work God’s blessings should be poured out.  How many readers would guess that they have just read the words of Joseph Sobran, R.I.P., arguably America’s greatest Catholic social commentator and wordsmith? They were published in the November 2002 issue of Sobran’s.
It is hard to imagine anyone less likely to join anything redolent of a cult than Sobran, whose credentials as a faithful and courageous Catholic I hope are beyond doubt. Sobran was intellectually converted to Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, just as many years earlier he had spiritually converted to Roman Catholicism. I hope my readers will read his apologia in “The Reluctant Anarchist” (published in his newsletter’s December 2002 issue.) No one to my knowledge ever thought him any less a Catholic for his public, eyes-wide-open conversion to anarcho-capitalism.
I am one of many who learned of Joe’s painful last days through the reports of his friend, literature professor David Allen White in Catholic Family News and kindred traditionalist Catholic organs. One looks in vain through all the obituaries in that genre of journalism for any mention of what, to them, must have been at best a serious lapse in judgment on his part, at worst an accommodation of evil. (Nil nisi bonum .  .  .?)
The fact of Sobran’s conversion to anarchocapitalism does not, of course, constitute a formal argument in its justification, or even a premise in such an argument. For those who admired him, however, and who subscribe to Aristotle’s approach to virtue (namely, that we learn what virtue is, not from reading books, but by observing the habits of men deemed virtuous), it is, I submit, a strong suasive consideration. For if his fellows regard a man as good independently of his assent to a controversial thesis, the principle of charity counsels us to presume that the assent is a reflection, not a betrayal, of that goodness until evidence to the contrary defeats that presumption.
Sobran’s “high favorable” rating among traditionalist Catholics like Mr. Ferrara (and, of course, not only them) does not cohere with the “strong unfavorable” rating they give Austro-libertarians. As he was a member of that class, however, they face the following dilemma: either Austro-libertarianism is not as evil as they say it is, or Joe Sobran was not as good as they say he was. So far they have refused to enter the arena occupied by that horned bull (who evaporates upon the sacrifice of either of those opinions).
Now to let some sunshine in on this otherwise gloomy dialectical business.
Sobran wrote at least three characteristically perceptive tributes to Murray Rothbard. One of them, published originally in The Washington Times, January 14, 1995, is available online as part of In Memoriam, pp. 38-39. It begins: “It wasn't like Murray Rothbard to die. Nothing he ever did was more out of character, more difficult to reconcile with everything we knew of him, more downright inconceivable. Murray dead is a contradiction in terms.” (More dulia, I suppose.)
The other two obits are not, to my knowledge, so readily available. Until now. Typed from clippings of the original columns, the text of these gems is appended below for your reading pleasure. (The exact dates are lost to me; can any reader supply them?) I envy those of you who will be reading them for the first time. May those among you who incline to Mr. Ferrara's point of view be willing to experience a little cognitive dissonance, in the interest of the truth of the matter: a charitable, Catholic reception of the legacy of Murray Rothbard as well as Joe Sobran.
(To show I’m an equal-opportunity pain-in-the-neck, I ask my fellow anarcho-Catholics: why was the archive of Joe’s LewRockwell.com articles culled from 212 down to 22? Here’s the current list.  Compare it to the list archived on the Way Back Machine. Limited space? Reversion of copyright? No explanation is given on LRC.)
Allow the words of this great anarcho-Catholic to disinfect the well of discourse that Mr. Ferrara’s propaganda has turned into a septic tank.

Murray Rothbard, R.I.P.
by Joe Sobran
The Wanderer, early January 1995
Murray Rothbard, a great champion of liberty, has died, felled by a heart attack at 68. The loss to libertarians is immeasurable; but so was Murray's achievement. His mind was profound, energetic, skeptical, versatile, imaginative, insistently lucid, and delightfully humorous.
I hardly know how to describe Murray: He was a wisecracking guy who could change the way you looked at the world. That was the effect he had on hundreds of people, including me. He had a breathtaking style, challenging common (mostly liberal) attitudes on every front. Many's the time I've blushed to think I'd accepted some cliché until Murray whacked it. He exposed more nonsense than any man since Socrates.
His reputation will rest largely on his economic thought, which I'm not competent to assess. He was also the most trenchant libertarian polemicist and political analyst of his time, and there I can say with assurance that he deserved the high praise he got.
Only last month [December 1994] Murray's close friend Neil McCaffrey died of cancer. Murray's disciples were also his friends, and he unaffectedly treated them as his equals, though there was no such thing as Murray Rothbard's equal. He had no self-importance; his manner was earthy, friendly, direct, and attentive. To be with him was to think, and to laugh. He wrote 25 books and countless articles and enlivened hundreds of gatherings with his uproarious speeches. The way the young libertarians loved him and looked forward to hearing him speak is moving to remember now; Murray never aged, never wound down. He seemed to use, and enjoy, every minute of his life.
The son of Jewish immigrants, Murray wasn't religious, but he had deep sympathy for Catholicism, which he considered the mother of freedom and also of the Western culture he loved. He passionately defended the Church against historic slanders, including those propagated by some of her wayward sons.
It's sad, even stunning, to lose him. But what a wonderful life his was. My deep sympathy to all his friends, but especially to his best friend of all, his wife Joey.

by Joe Sobran
The Rothbard-Rockwell Report, 1995
Murray Rothbard was one of a kind. He didn't remind you of anyone else, and nobody else will ever remind you of Murray. I hardly know where to start. He was an extraordinarily deep thinker who didn't act like it. His many books include Man, Economy, and State, hailed by Henry Hazlitt, among others, as among the greatest works of its kind, ever, but in person he was earthy, unpretentious, and wonderfully funny. He was so much fun to be around that you could easily forget what an imposing thinker he was; it never occurred to him to try to impress people. He had more opinions on more subjects than anyone in the room, but he always listened. The minute he took a liking to you, you had a loyal friend for good. But his best friend was Joey, his one and only wife; they went everywhere together, and she was with him when he collapsed with a heart attack at the optometrist's office.
Murray was born in New York in 1926 and spent most of his life there. His family were Communists, and as a boy he managed to shock them all by asking precociously, at a family gathering, just what was so bad about Franco. That was the beginning of a lifetime of arguing and laughing and refusing to let anyone else make up his mind for him. Pretty soon he was a libertarian, at a time when there was almost no such thing; for a time he belonged to Ayn Rand's circle, but even the Randians were too orthodox for him, and he struck out on his own, rethinking politics and economics from scratch. He argued with conservatives, liberals, socialists, Communists, Cold Warriors, and most libertarians; eventually he concluded that there is no justification for the state and called himself an anarchist—an "anarcho-capitalist," to be precise. Always willing to stand alone, he found his deepest affinity with the Old (and all but forgotten) Right, including Garet Garrett and John Flynn—"isolationists" who opposed both the welfare and warfare state. Above all he revered his mentor Ludwig von Mises, whose work he extended to new heights and applications in 25 books and about 10,000 articles. (The latter figure is neither hyperbole nor misprint.)
I could praise him all day and still feel I'd hardly told you a thing about him. He was hilarious, he was sweet, he was endlessly energetic and stimulating and startling. His mind was strong and decisive but always open. His latter years didn't seem like latter years, because he never slowed down. May the world catch up with him.

April 20, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (X): Austrian-Magisterium Rivalry?

Quoting from a publication or two of the Ludwig von Mises Institute that summarizes its educational mission, Mr. Ferrara notes that in “recent years Austrians have allied themselves with libertarians and are now promoting a complete political philosophy and theory of human liberty.” (8) A bad thing, one surmises.
The Mises Institute, he notes, believes that it has achieved the status of “the research and education center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics.” (8. This is the brief quotation to which he appends a significant reference note, buried 319 pages later, wherein he whispers in 9-point font that all the emphasis you find in any his citations are not in the original “unless otherwise indicated.”)
More putatively damning evidence comes from the mouth of the accused, in this instance, Mises Institute founder and Chairman, Lew Rockwell.  The Institute supports
the tradition of thought represented by Ludwig von Mises and the school of thought he enlivened . . . which has now blossomed into a massive international movement of students, professors, professionals, and people in all walks of life. It seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate as the foundation for a renewal of the free and prosperous commonwealth.” (8. Lew Rockwell’s April 2010 column “More Powerful than Armies.” Italics courtesy of Mr. Ferrara.)
So, Mr. Ferrara suggests that there is a danger emanating from a global movement of people who wish to achieve a free and prosperous commonwealth via a radical shift in the intellectual climate, that is, by writing, reading, and teaching from books. Now, what in that movement is verboten to a faithful Catholic? Certainly not the intellectual life per se or its international scope. Surely not the radical shift away from the current climate of opinion. Does not Mr. Ferrara’s traditionalist Catholic distributism offer just such a thing? That is the impression one gets from the book’s last chapters.  So, what’s the problem? Here’s the problem.
This [Mr. Ferrara writes] is clearly a movement whose intellectual pretensions have carried it far beyond mere economics into areas governed by the teaching of the Magisterium. “We have long known,” boasts Mises head Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., a professing Catholic, “that Austro-libertarianism is the only truly international economic-political movement outside Marxism . . . . This is a worldwide struggle, and now especially, we must work together, in the tradition of Mises and Rothbard for the good of all.” (8-9. More italics to help penetrate the skulls of dull readers.)
There it is. This is what drove the writing of TCATL. Across its pages Mr. Ferrara elaborates upon this accusation of illicit rivalry between what Austro-libertarians (especially Catholics among them) teach and what Christ taught his Apostles, which, Catholics believe, has been apostolically transmitted to and preserved for us today. And serially in these posts we will rebut that case—which in most instances will amount to the literary equivalent of vacuuming a smoke-filled room. The detail of our rebuttals will vary directly with that of the charges.
Like so much else in this mistitled first chapter, Mr. Ferrara’s words merely generate suspicion in the minds of those already disposed to trust him, so our immediate response is correspondingly brief, aimed only at dispelling that poisonous atmosphere.
The first thing to note is his phrase “far beyond mere economics into areas governed by the Magisterium.” Given the gravity of the accusation, it is hard to imagine a less responsible use of language. If one wants to show that a Catholic is teaching something not consistent with the Deposit of Faith, or indeed dissenting from it, and by extension contradicting Christ Himself, one must do more than mumble about “areas governed by.”  One must specify both what one means by “area” and what it means for the Magisterium to “govern an area.” And until one is prepared to do more than mumble, as Mr. Ferrara apparently is in later chapters, one ought not poison the well of debate with insinuations of heresy.
The second thing to note is his implicit admission that  “mere” economics is not so “governed.” No, it is not. I appreciate his discovery of common ground. I return the favor: like faith, morals does fall under the care of the Magisterium. (I will explicate my meaning in future posts.)
Together those two notes inspire the question we look forward to exploring, once Mr. Ferrara clarifies his lingo: to what extent, if any, does the meaning of certain Magisterium-“governed” sentences logically depend upon the meaning of economics-“governed” sentences? Totally? To some degree? Not at all? Everything, as we shall see in due course, hangs on the answer.
To Be Continued

April 19, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (IX): The State and Morals (3)

It would be anachronistic to describe the Angelic Doctor as a liberal. He was certainly no libertarian. I am sensitive to Kevin Craycraft’s concerns about aligning the thought of Saint Thomas with the liberal tradition. His paper “Was Aquinas a Whig? St. Thomas on Regime” (Faith and Reason, Fall 1994) documents the dangers to which loose talk can lead.
I cannot follow Craycraft, however, in his insinuation that the modern liberal ideal is a lost cause, incapable of assimilation into the Catholic worldview with its realist epistemology just because the first thinkers to articulate that ideal were nominalists or skeptics. By one contingency of history Hobbes, Locke, and other Protestant empiricists retrieved and formulated an ideal consonant with a Gospel truth about the dignity of persons as divine image-bearers. They achieved that in a world awakening from the nightmare of royal absolutism, which was, by another contingency of history, all too Catholic.
Liberty is the political expression of that Gospel insight.* That is, liberty is not merely logically consistent with the insight into the dignity of persons, but also  illuminating of that insight: person A may not initiate force against person B, regardless of the identities of A and B, and regardless of the fact that many Christians have initiated, or rationalized the initiation of, force against others. In my arguable, fallible view, that insight ought to govern.
(It governs my reading of Aquinas, whom I read with great admiration and reverence, but not uncritically. I cite Aquinas against Mr. Ferrara, not because I believe that whatever Aquinas wrote is ipso facto true, but because the saint cared whether a given moralistically inspired state repression might harm the common good, and Mr. Ferrara ignorantly dubs that sort of reasoning “consequentialist.” I have no problem with critically determining my proximity to and distance from the Angelic Doctor. I suspect Ferrara’s appropriation of him is less nuanced.)
On the basis of passages cited in the Dever paper (or which may be found directly in Thomas’ Summa Theologica, I-II, Question 96), however, we would argue that Thomas Aquinas was a proto-liberal. He is proto-liberal in that he maintains that the scope of human law is not total. His is a political liberty-honoring stance that presages more robust limitations of the State to be articulated in a later century. He is only proto-liberal, however, in that he argues for a much larger role for the force-monopolizing public authority than can sensibly be called "liberal" (let alone "libertarian") without fatal qualification.
Significantly, by “proto-liberalism” I do not mean merely the insistence, which unites virtually all Catholics, that the State’s reach stops at the Church’s door. No, I mean the further restriction upon the State (or whatever is functioning as the “public authority”) that it may not penalize a behavior merely because Catholic theology condemns it as immoral, that what is immoral is not ipso facto illegal.
The class of behaviors Aquinas deems morally illicit is not identical to the class of behaviors he says should be prohibited by law; and neither is the morally licit identical with the legally permissible. His interests in (a) demarcating what is destructive of interpersonal cooperation (“human intercourse”) from what is not and (b) confining the scope of the public authority to the former are arguably liberal interests, even though there were no self-described liberals in his day.
This dual interest is not any less liberal (or “proto-liberal”) because the  framework of Thomas’ political thought was a Catholic cosmology (in which human cooperation is a divine intention as well as a human project). Aquinas’ restricted proto-liberal point may be a conclusion that he draws from his cosmology, but it is not to be regarded as trivial: it is common ground with those who reach that conclusion by another worldview. The conceit of liberalism (and its further elaboration, libertarianism) is, after all, that disagreement over cosmology might be regrettable, even remediable, without also being an obstacle to social peace. 
Is that to be despised? Or is it to be celebrated? Do Catholics not want the Muslim, the Jew, the Buddhist, et al., to conclude, each integrally from his or her own worldview, that cooperation is the cosmologically sound option? Or until all those without Catholic faith  are converted to Catholicism, are we embroiled in a long bellum omnia contra omnes, war to the knife, in saecula saeculorum
The anarcho-Catholic argues that the State per se (properly defined) is destructive of human intercourse and that only institutions that honor human dignity ought to administer justice. The State per se offends human dignity. Error may have no rights, but erring persons have dignity. I agree with Aquinas that there is no metaphysical coherence to the idea of having “a right to be wrong.” That truth, however, does not offer the slightest warrant to individuals calling themselves “the public authority” to rob, kidnap, imprison, enslave, or kill the one who is wrong.**
The anarcho-Catholic and the Thomist would, I argue, agree about the terms of the discussion—“Where does one draw the line between what furthers and what impedes human cooperation?”—while disagreeing about where to draw that line (or about what institutional forms the line-drawing takes). One wonders whether Mr. Ferrara accepts the terms of the discussion. While it has been more than two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is not too soon to recall that not only Catholics like Mr. Ferrara, but also totalitarians have disparaged “the classic false liberal disjunction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ morality.” You would think he’d be anxious to distinguish his non-liberalism from theirs, rather than obscure that distinction.
There may be a liberal disjunction between the private and the public and it may be false, but merely calling it false, as Mr. Ferrara does, does not make it so. (Yes, he may later offer arguments for calling it false, but then why did he not postpone the generalization until then?) Since Mr. Ferrara has use for the idea of “public” authority, he must have his own take on the public-private duality, but this was the place to be explicit about it and to assure his readers that there is a norm of privacy that he does respect. 
There is no important difference that I can see between the public and the common or shared. Common to whom? Shared by whom? Why, individuals, the only agents there are. The private therefore pertains to the individual as individual. It rests on a logical contrast between the specific, concrete individual who one is and the generalized, abstract “others” with whom one interacts. There are goods that, irrespective of who each of us is an individual, we at least implicitly value and ought to explicitly. One common good is liberty, the framework of peaceful cooperation, a necessary condition of our pursuits of diverse ends and worthy object of attention, evaluation, and protection.
To Be Continued

* In future posts I will address the danger of equivocation Christians face when using the “liberty.” Unless otherwise noted, I use “liberty” in the political sense, that is, with regard to the morally licit use of interpersonal force, without prejudice to the traditional theological context of spiritual slavery to sin and liberation therefrom (eleutheria, e.g. Galatians 5:1, 5:13). The two senses are related, not opposed as “true” and “false” as Mr. Ferrara’s propaganda suggests.
** The limits of the Angelic Doctor’s proto-liberalism at this point are faced in Michael Novak’s “Aquinas and the Heretics,” First Things, December 1995, 33-38. Christendom’s fatal embrace of the State underlay Thomas’ willingness to have that public authority engage in those offenses against human dignity: a heretic’s error struck at what he thought was indispensable to human cooperation, namely, the medieval monistic State: “Once the integrity of the social fabric had been made to rest on key Christian beliefs (and the power of legitimate rulers on ecclesiastical approbation),” Novak writes, “criticisms of Christian practice that spilled over into criticism of underlying interpretations of the gospels were easily taken as acts of treason against the state. In short, by allowing Christian faith to be the consensual foundation of the political and social order, as it were the form of political life, Christendom confounded the things of Caesar with the things of God.”

April 18, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (VIII): The State and Morals (2)

We have addressed in a preliminary way Mr. Ferrara’s concerns that a market principle might “fix the moral limits of public authority as to all spheres of social interaction, even if ‘private’ morals might be Christian.” There is no cause for alarm, we argued, provided we interpret the market in terms of persons, that is, mutually respecting divine image-bearers, the living sources or “principles” of all social phenomena.
Consider this scenario: both (a) the dominant (not necessarily universal) ethos of a given territory (as large or small as you please) is Christian and (b) its several classes of guardians of peaceful cooperation* understand economics more or less as Austrians do and, in accordance with that understanding, deal with the violent non-cooperators in their midst.
Expanding our hypothetical scenario: occurring with some unwelcome regularity on that territory are several instances of non-violent moral evil (as a Christian ethos defines moral evil). What are Christian guardians of the framework of peaceful cooperation to do?
One answer is obvious: use every means at one’s disposal to suppress the immoral behavior by imposing penal sanctions on the miscreants. To tolerate the evil is to give one’s sanction to it, which God forbid.
Is this Mr. Ferrara’s position? We cannot validly infer that it is from those words of his that we have so far quoted. We do, however, have his so-far implicit disapproval of the idea that Christian morals might fall outside the scope of “public authority,” but because it is implicit, it is also without nuance. He may reject libertarian strictures on public authority when it comes to the suppression of immoral activity, but he apparently did not feel it necessary, at least here, to suggest what limits he would favor.
We will, of course, charitably assume that Mr. Ferrara is as anti-totalitarian as he is anti-liberal unless and until we have evidence that defeats that assumption. A writer for whom historic Christendom is a model for future social reconstruction, however, should not leave his readers guessing about those limits. To avoid any misunderstanding he should spell them out soon and as explicitly as he can.
A different answer may be found in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas: some evils tear at the fabric of the common good of the framework of peaceful cooperation, which is an absolutely impermissible evil and therefore must not be tolerated; other evils do not rend it and therefore ought to be tolerated.  Why? Because active suppression, would rend it. A policy of non-toleration would benignly intend the common good while unintentionally harming it. We shall charitably assume that this is not what Mr. Ferrara had in mind when he referred to the morally invalid consequentialist and utilitarian ethic the Church condemns. (8)
A socially intolerable evil: murder; a socially tolerable evil: prostitution. Prostitution is not any less evil for being socially tolerable, but it does not fall to the public authority to suppress it, for it does not have a virtue-instilling function. Its office is solely directed to protecting the framework within which persons peacefully, cooperatively pursue their diverse ends (including virtue). As Thomas put it:
Human laws leave certain things unpunished, on account of the condition of those who are imperfect, and who would be deprived of many advantages, if all sins were strictly forbidden and punishments appointed for them.
Summa Theologiae, 2-2, q. 78, reply to Obj. 3.
(Thomas is here arguing against the moral licitness of charging interest on a loan, a matter that will occupy us considerably in future posts. In this instance we are agreeing with him only on the narrow point of the office of human law.)
. . . it suffices for it [human law] to prohibit whatever is destructive of human intercourse, while it treats other matters as though they were lawful, not by approving of them, but by not punishing them. Summa Theologiae, 2-2, q. 77, reply to Obj. 1. [Emphasis added: A.F.]
Professor Richard Symanski summarized Thomas on this point as follows:
The aim of the criminal justice system is not to impose public standards of morality upon the private acts of consenting adults, immoral though they may be by widely held social standards, but rather to protect people and property from the harmful effects of others. 
Symanski, The Immoral Landscape: Female Prostitution in Western Societies. Toronto, 1981, p. 228. As quoted in Vincent M. Dever, rich with citations from Aquinas’ writings, which I urge upon my readers:
“Aquinas on the Practice of Prostitution.” Essays in Medieval Studies, Vol. 13, 1996.**
To Be Continued

* Even anarchist territories must have guardians of the consensus of the non-initiation of force, the framework of peaceful cooperation. They include the parents of a nuclear family, the elders of an extended one, and property owners who contract for the services of private suppliers of defense and courts. It does not follow from this “must” that the persons who carry out these guardianship functions devolve into criminals, macro-parasites who live off of the wealth they systematically confiscate by force or the threat thereof. Anarcho-Catholics will be in the vanguard of efforts to demystify, and keep demystified, that function by withholding from those who perform it the symbolic trappings and incantations that communicate and reinforce the suggestion of permanent monopoly and divine right. (Especially when the demos plays theos.)

** “Given this strong condemnation of fornication and prostitution,” Professor Dever writes after documenting the condemnation, “it would seem obvious that Aquinas would want to engage every force against them, especially civil law. Oddly enough he does not. Instead he notes that the state should allow fornication and prostitution to exist for the sake of the common good. Relying on the well-known passage from Augustine's De ordine, Aquinas advocates tolerance of prostitution by noting: ‘Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain evils be incurred: thus Augustine says [De ordine 2.4]: “If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.”’ If these social practices were to be suppressed, the public reaction might be such as to threaten the peace of society. Remember, Aquinas already maintains (1) that prostitution is a species of lust that is one of the capital vices that wreak the greatest havoc on the human soul and leads to other sins; (2) that it is a mortal sin that threatens the proper rearing of children and by extension threatens the common good of society; and (3) that it violates the natural law and matrimonial union. How then could one tolerate such an evil, particularly a natural law thinker such as Aquinas? Is Aquinas compromising on his principles or playing utilitarian?” If the reader finds the suspense is intolerable, he or she should read Professor Dever’s paper.

April 14, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (VII): The State and Morals (1)

The first chapter’s title, “Meet the Austrians,” kindles an expectation of biographical sketches, but there are none. The reader meets only gratuitous, unsourced, atmospheric generalizations such as this:
The Austrians, citing economic “laws,” propose not merely a “pure market” for its own sake, but a “market principle” of legally unhindered interpersonal exchanges that is the ethical foundation of a “market society” and fixes the moral limits of public authority as to all spheres of social interaction, even if “private” morals might be Christian. No matter how this is dressed up, this is nothing other than the classic false liberal disjunction between “public” and “private” morality. (8)
Note that Mr. Ferrara continues to “dress up” his sentences with scare quotes, which only impede our understanding of his intention.
As gratuitous as it is complicated, his first assertion merits only gratuitous denial. No Austrian has proposed a pure market (or “pure market”) “for its own sake.” Neither has he or she ever suggested that a market principle is the ethical foundation of a market society. But I am moved to do more than deny.
What Austrians may do is ask whether the principles of economic causality render a certain ethical prescription or proscription redundant or counterproductive. (Since man cannot fly merely by flapping his arms, for example, it makes no sense to morally command, permit, or forbid him to do so.)
Austrians do not distinguish themselves from other thinkers by not wanting to get more of what they want less of, and less of what they want more of. Everybody wants to avoid those kinds of results!
(It may be wise to reject anti-consequentialism in metaethics, but certainly foolish not to try to foresee unintended as well as intended possible consequences of one’s policies. Presumably, even Mr. Ferrara is interested in getting more of what he wants and less of what he doesn’t.)
No, Austrians as economists distinguish themselves by their unpopular and constant admonition to politicians—be they professional or amateur, secular or religious—that a coercive (e.g., statist) means to a good end may cost more than they, upon reflection, would be willing to pay by their own standard of moral accounting.
Austrians as ethicists might condemn a statist means to a good end on purely moral, non-utilitarian grounds. That is, they may hold that the principled commitment to voluntary exchange and peaceful cooperation, that is, the principled repudiation of the initiation of force expresses rather than establishes one’s ethical obligation to his or her fellows.
If these Austrians ethicists are natural law theorists, they may formulate that ethical obligation in ontological terms: that persons are self-respecters and mutual respecters pertains to the substance, not the accidents, of being human. (Universal interpersonal disrespect leads to the negation of the disrespecters, i.e., to human annihilation.) That is, for them, the dignity of the person “fixes moral limits” of the authority exercising responsibility for the framework of liberty (which is a common good). This is then a case of one’s ethical insights inspiring the formulation of a market principle, not the reverse.
If the Austrian natural law ethicists are Christians, then their ontological reasoning goes much deeper: the person is a created image-bearer of the God whose eikon or image is the man Christ Jesus (Col. 1:15) whose eikon we hope one day to bear after being transformed in and conformed to Him. (1 Cor. 15:49)
Our quotidian “getting along with each other” has an everlasting context, namely, getting along with God. The latter “vertical” relationship anchors the “horizontal,” without which the latter can be reinforced only by our syllogisms, rather than also by our experience of divine love. To define persons as self-respecters and mutual respecters is merely to express analytically the second great commandment. (Matt. 22:29) The so-called “golden rule” sums up the law and the prophets. (Matt. 7:12)
Anarcho-Catholics don’t insist that all Catholics draw the inference they draw about the State, but they do insist on their right to draw it and to defend that inference as sound.

To Be Continued

April 8, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (VI): Laws and "Laws"

Mr. Ferrara continues:
At any rate, the “laws” of economics are not moral laws, violation of which would have moral consequences for the “violator.” (8)
Watch those darn scare quotes! Strictly speaking, Mr. Ferrara didn’t deny that the laws of economics are moral laws. Rather, he denied that the “laws” of economics are moral laws! Worse, will not address his ambiguity of reference to law.  Does he mean law as universal principle?  Or law as legislation expressing the will of the legislator?
Our “inconvenient Jesuit,” James A. Sadowsky, answered Mr. Ferrara’s ideological forebears this way:
One detects at times a certain impatience with economics. Talk is heard about “so called laws of economics.” I read recently of a clergyman’s saying that we ought not to treat the laws of economics as if they were the laws of God. But the laws of economics are the laws of God. They are in the same way that the laws of physics are the laws of God. They are laws, however—not legislation. They are the laws of God because He it is that decrees the existence of the entities whose nature it is to obey those laws: had He wanted other laws He would have had to create other things. He can create beings that observe other laws, but He cannot legislate alternative laws for the same kind of being. This shows how nonsensical it is to ask why God did not make the laws of nature different from what they are. To ask for a different set of laws is to ask for a different universe! “The Christian Response to Poverty: Working with God’s Economic Laws,” London, The Social Affairs Unit, 1986.
(With all due respect to Father Sadowsky, I would have referred, not to entities’ “obeying” but rather their expressing [or embodying or participating in—or some other non-anthropomorphic metaphor] laws in the sense of principles.)
While it is logically possible to violate legislation, it is impossible to violate a universal principle. A person obeys or disobeys legislation, insofar as it issues from a person, but not a principle: to the latter a person can only wisely adjust his or her behavior in accordance with his or her awareness of it or ignorantly or foolishly fail to. The science by which one discovers the principle, however, is related to but distinct from the science that guides adjustment of conduct.
Mr. Ferrara’s countenancing even the possibility of “allowing” the laws of economics to operate “unhindered” only reveals the conceptual confusion of his own mind, not the alleged moral turpitude of the Austrian’s—a confusion he seems determined to propagate. Principles do not need “allowance” to operate. If they are rationally discoverable principles, they operate willy-nilly! He continues:
Therefore, moral scrutiny of the marketplace necessarily involves individually accountable moral agents, whose freely willed acts are neither determined nor excused by the operation of any economic “law.” (8)
The “field” that is the marketplace is ontologically nothing over and above the “transactions between individuals” who alone are subject to the moral law. 
The decisive difference between us is that I hold that the moral scrutiny of the marketplace involves those personal agents exclusively. That is, there is no collectivist object of moral scrutiny. Further, as we will argue, the “hindering” that Mr. Ferrara proposes violates the dignity of persons (even when commited in the name of that dignity) and that’s why Austro-libertarian Catholics oppose such hindering.*

To Be Continued

For a fine explanation of the nature of an economic law, see Jörg Guido Hülsmann, "Facts and Counterfactuals in Economic Law," Journal of Libertarian Studies, 17:1, Winter 2003, 57-102. Hülsmann, a Mises Institute Senior Fellow and Ludwig von Mises' biographer contrasts Mises the methodologist, who promoted what Hülsmann calls the "The Myth of Gedankenexperimente" (89-93) and Mises the economist, who actually employed the method of counterfactual comparison. He draws the same contrast in Murray Rothbard's writings. On his blog Tom Woods posted the link to Hülsmann's article in a column about this blog, for which we are grateful. [Note added June 15, 2011.]

April 7, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (V): Adventures in Meta-Ethics

To continue with Mr. Ferrara’s mood-setting (long on assertion, short on documentation and argument). We’re still at the top half of page 8:
The Austrian defense of the “laws” of economics, however, consistently judges moral abuses in the market according to the supposed greater good that accrues or greater evil that is avoided if these “laws” are allowed to operate unhindered—a morally invalid consequentialist and utilitarian ethic the Church condemns.  (See Chapter 8) (8)
What are we to read into the scare quotes this time? That economic laws are figments of the imagination? Or that they are real, but Austrian economists have not correctly identified them?
Since he will announce just a few pages later that he has no intention of dealing with the “technical matters” of economics—except for the “seemingly technical matter” of Austrian utility theory! (11)—we’ll never know. A convenient inconsistency, as I see it, which we will examine in due course.
In the syntactically challenged sentence under scrutiny, the meaning of its subject, “the Austrian defense,” is ambiguous. (Recall the point made in the preceding post: “in the interest of promoting certain values, we must prescind from them in order to discover and understand causal relationships. But both interests, cognitive and ethical, motivate the self-same person.” The Austrian economist focuses on those causal relationships, the Austrian political theorist focuses on the grounding of values in the nature of reality. From the fact that someone self-identifies as “Austro-libertarian” one cannot confidently infer the philosophical ground on which he or she stands. We will recur to this distinction again and again.)
The predicate of the sentence under review is “judges.” Now, who or what judges? Why, the “Austrian defense.” Which one? No answer is possible, because “defenses” don’t judge: people judge when they defend, and Austrians do not form a philosophical monolith. That's part of what I meant by "syntactically challenged."
In more than a quarter-century of study and experience, I have never met, read, or heard of an Austro-libertarian who, in the course of “defending” (expounding?) the laws of economics and having ascertained that a particular market transaction constituted a moral abuse, judged the occurrence of that abuse as morally acceptable because it transpired “in accordance with” the unhindered operation of those laws—excuse me, “laws.” 
(Mr. Ferrara may seek wiggle room in the fact that he did not use the words "morally acceptable," but I submit that that is the clear meaning of "judges moral abuses in the market according to the supposed greater good . . ." I leave it to the reader to decide if Mr. Ferrara would be successful in that effort.) 
What I have found to be the case is that we Austro-libertarian Catholics find the recommended market-hampering or market-hindering to be an intrinsic evil that we cannot countenance “that good may come” or another evil averted. (Romans 3:8) 
And Mr. Ferrara never cites the allegedly offending Austrians. Oh, he cites Austrians right and left, but not as having done what he slanderously insinuates that they do. (Not even in Chapter 8, still many moons away.) 
To the sentence we are parsing, which Mr. Ferrara apparently did not think was long enough, he appended an opinion that suggests that the Church takes a position on the terms set by his confusion. Since that appendix has so far receded in space, I will reproduce it here:
. . . a morally invalid consequentialist and utilitarian ethic the Church condemns. (8)
Mr. Ferrara will later elaborate upon what he means by this, but for some reason in a skimpy (i.e., five-page) chapter professedly dedicated to “meeting the Austrians,” he felt the need to throw in the kitchen sink-size issue of meta-ethics. Our response in this already overlong post can only glimpse the longer examination we will undertake at the appropriate time.
To express the matter with almost intolerable compactness: the consequentialist-deontological dialectic—the false alternative alleged between looking only, or never, to consequences—is a modernist dilemma and dichtomy. Since Mr. Ferrara knows that the Church predates modernity by a few centuries, he should never create the impression that She simply condemns one side of a modernist spat, because that impression would make it natural to infer the false conclusion that she supports the other.  
If one asserts without qualification that the Church "condemns" utilitarianism or consequentialism, one invites the inference that She favors some form of deontological metaethics, because that is the option to which utilitarianism is dialectically tied!  No one seriously argues, however, that a Catholic must be some kind of Kantian if he or she is not some kind of Benthamite.
Good consequences are the fruit of acting upon good principles, and the attractiveness of good consequences is germane to the thinking by which we arrive at good principles. (Matthew 7:16-24) But we’ll have to leave the matter there for now.