As this blog’s subtitle implies, we will take TCATL apart root-and-branch as we delineate and defend “an Austro-libertarian option for Catholics.” We happily acknowledge the service that the writings of Thomas E. Woods have so far rendered in clarifying that option. It is not our primary purpose, however, to critically evaluate his ongoing contribution to that end.
Each time Dr. Woods’s words surface in TCATL, of course, we will have to consider whether Mr. Ferrara’s construction of them is charitable or not, his interpretation comprehending or not, his criticism sound or not. But we do not want to create the impression that the case for that Austro-libertarian option depends on the success of Dr. Woods’s efforts.
This blog therefore does not reflect Mr. Ferrara’s strong, if not unbalanced, focus on Dr. Woods, especially given the failure of the chapter (still) under review to fulfill the promise of its title (i.e. “Meet the Austrians”). Specifically, we do not presume to defend Dr. Woods against Mr. Ferrara, as though he were not capable of self-defense or has not demonstrated that capability. In some cases, we will refer the reader to those published responses. What concerns us is the truth of the matter that Dr. Woods and Mr. Ferrara address.
Having said that, we now present Mr. Ferrara’s explanation of his focus:
The controversy over “Austro-libertarianism” 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)
To which this footnote is appended 318 pages later:
In the interest of full disclosure, I must note that Woods and I were once colleagues and even co-authors of a book: The Great Façade (2002), a study of changes in the Catholic Church after Vatican II. We have since had a public parting of the ways over Woods’s public attacks on the Church’s social teaching, which, unlike the changes discussed in The Great Façade, has been explicitly imposed on the faithful as binding Catholic doctrine by Pope after Pope since Leo XIII. Thus far Woods has chosen to attribute my criticisms of his position to personal animus, even though other Catholics had subjected his views to severe public criticism for some seven years before I first mentioned him by name in my own writings on the controversy he has provoked. (328 n. 16)
If other Catholics had subjected Dr. Woods’s views to severe public criticism for seven years without his attributing it to personal animus, one explanation is that such animus is a distinguishing mark of Mr. Ferrara’s style of criticism. (Mr. Ferrara asserts, but does not here document, the alleged attribution.) Until we can compare the cogency and tone of those criticisms to those leveled by Mr. Ferrara, we cannot tell. (In my opinion, this “disclosure” should have been expanded and integrated into the body of the skimpy chapter.)
In any case, the issue is not whether Dr. Woods has received severe criticism over the years, but whether he has successfully rebutted it. It is also relevant to review the support, not just criticism, with which Catholic scholars have greeted his writings on Church and market. Dr. Woods is not the first anarcho-Catholic, but he is the first to have a significant impact on the culture beyond the niche audiences, and this has moved some traditionalist Catholics to controvert him in their “respected journals,” thus engendering what Mr. Ferrara dramatically dubs a controversy.
Contrary to Mr. Ferrara, it is possible to address the phenomenon of Austro-libertarian Catholics without focusing on Dr. Woods as he does, as though he were a dangerously influential but isolated representative.* There is no call for such emphasis at the price of overlooking contemporary but “pre-Woodsian” anarcho-Catholics like James A. Sadowsky, S.J., who befriended Murray Rothbard in the early ‘60s and published in 1983 a critical examination of “Classical Catholic Social Doctrine”; or the widely read (and much-missed) Joseph Sobran, who “anarched” in 2002, the year Dr. Woods debunked Vatican II with Mr. Ferrara.
Mr. Ferrara’s reference to “Woods’s public attacks on the Church’s social teaching” (foreshadowing the middle section of TCATL) assumes what is in dispute, i.e., whether a teaching of a pope, or even of a series of popes, is by the fact that a pope taught it, part of the deposit of faith binding on Catholics. Mr. Ferrara begs that question, to which we respond: if a teaching is not found in the deposit or implied by what is found there, then it’s not binding. Period. The contrary assumption presupposes a certain model of church government which is also not de fide.
The monarcho-papalist is one such model. It displaced the conciliarist model and influenced the way the faithful heard the news that the Pope wrote an encyclical; or desired to convoke an ecumenical council; or intended to displace an ancient liturgy (with little more than a reverent tip of the hat to the equally firm intentions of his predecessor papal-monarch, expressed in an Apostolic Constitution); or insisted on fast-tracking a canonization process.
An argument can be made for the choice of monarcho-papalism over conciliarism, but if it underlies one’s reception of a series of papal encyclicals—being at issue in a debate over part of the content of those circulars—then it must be made, not presupposed. (By the way, unlike St. Pius V’s Quo Primum of 1570, which intended the permanence of the Tridentine Rite, none of those encyclicals is an Apostolic Constitution.)
To put things with vulnerable polemical directness: Catholic traditionalists presuppose the necessity of the monarcho-papalist model. For them, of course, it not a “model” at all, for that implies alternatives: monarchy just conforms to the way things metaphysically are! By the implementation of that model, the Tridentine Rite could be
(a) established forever with a stroke of one monarch’s pen, but then
(b) effectively suppressed for (what seemed like) forever with the stroke of another’s, and then
(c) re-established, albeit with second-class status (the status of the “usurper” rite being simultaneously secured), with the stroke of a third’s.
For Traditionalists, the model is not to be questioned, but rather implemented and manned by one’s own personnel.
According to Mr. Ferrara, as noted in one of our first posts, “a faithful Catholic may withstand Paul VI to his face on Novus Ordo Missae, but not on the living wage, or John Paul II on episcopal consecration, but not on ‘consumerism.’” Mr. Ferrara’s polemic trades on an overstated (if not chimerical) division between liturgical “changes” one may legitimately protest and allegedly sacrosanct “teachings.” We will have opportunities to explore this Traditionalist conceit, which permeates TCATL.
As for “teaching,” if Jesus’ words at Matthew 23 on the scandal of disparity between preaching and practicing have any meaning, Popes have taught by the good they have done, and the evil they have acquiesced in and even blessed and ordered (e.g., imperial conquest and resultant slavery; the wresting of a liturgy from the faithful), no less than by the propositions they commit to writing and would have Christ’s flock take to heart.
If what any pope taught, however, whether by word or deed, explicitly or implicitly, was not among the truths Christ deposited with His Apostles, then divine protection from error does not extend to it. We have to examine such implied or stated propositions on a case-by-case basis.
On what coherent grounds, then, harmonious with Matthew 23’s censure, does a Catholic strenuously oppose the implementation of an Apostolic Constitution regarding the sacred liturgy (i.e., Paul VI’s Missale Romanum) while no less zealously sealing off from criticism a papal encyclical on economic justice? There are, I submit, none. Both are imperfect products of fallible men and are to be respectfully examined in order to locate the evidence not only of fruits of the Spirit but also of that fallibility.**
* To name just two productive Austro-libertarian Catholic professors whom Mr. Ferrara neglected in favor of Dr. Woods:
(1) Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Professor of Economics, University of Angers (France), author of Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism and the equally magisterial The Ethics of Money Production, who confessed: “Once a pagan interventionist, I first saw the truths of libertarian political theory, and eventually I started to realize that the light of these truths was but a reflection of the encompassing and eternal light that radiates from God through His Son and the Holy Spirit. This realization has been a slow process and I could not say now when and where it will end.”
(2) Jésus Huerta de Soto, Professor of Political Economy, Rey Juan Carlos University (Madrid), and author of Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles and (to cite only one of his articles) “The Ethics of Capitalism”, whose explicitly anti-consequentialist point of departure is a passage from Pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor.
NB: The links embedded in the titles of the cited books will take one, not to advertisements, but to free files of the books themselves, available for immediate downloading.
** For the record: Apostolic Constitution or no, I regard the de facto suppression and displacement over forty years ago of the (“technically never abrogated”) Tridentine Rite and the verbal engineering that has accompanied its phased-in rehabilitation (“ordinary rite” vs. “extraordinary rite”)—to amount to a scandal from which it may take longer to recover than from the one sees more frequently in the news.