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.