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