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.