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.