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