May 5, 2011

Let’s Have at Those Caveats! (I): Freedom is Restraint

We are not quite finished with the first chapter of TCATL, but we are with the series “Demonize and Delete the Austrians.” We have addressed every issue arguably relevant to the title of Chapter 1, “Meet the Austrians,” that surfaced during our close reading. Its shabby treatment of the Austrians, which had precious little to do with history or biography, consumed all of three-and-a-half pages.
That being apparently too skimpy even for Mr. Ferrara, however, he appended another page-and-a-half of material whose topics relate more clearly either to TCATL’s introduction or to the second chapter (or even, by his own account, to the twenty-first!). He distributed that material across two sections subtitled “caveats.”* Posited ahead of Chapter 2 (“The Illusory ‘Free’ Market”), wherein Mr. Ferrara will offer justification of some his assertions, his “caveats” are nothing but assertions presented for assimilation into his readers’ mental innards.
One express concern of Mr. Ferrara’s is that his criticism of Austro-libertarianism may give the false impression that he is a socialist enemy of private property, an impression that purveyors of bugaboo among the Austro-libertarians will promote. Despite its odd location (and redundancy in the light of later chapters), we deem it worthwhile to examine his self-representation on this score.
A theme of Mr. Ferrara’s anti-market polemics, within and without TCATL, is that Catholic Austro-libertarians either (a) systematically misunderstand his straightforward points of criticism, or (b) do understand, but cloak their sin in rhetorical misdirection. A cursory reply will allow us to present the gist of our answer to his charge of incomprehension or culpable evasion, to the bare bones of which rebuttal we will add meat in ensuing posts. In his own words:
. . . the more free enterprise in the morally correct Catholic sense expounded by the Popes**, the better.
As the Church teaches, nothing conduces to true social freedom better than a society in which as many people own property sufficient for the support of themselves and their families, as opposed to toiling for the wealthy in the cubicles of large corporations while living under a mountain of credit card and mortgage debt that also redounds to the benefit of a capitalist oligarchy. (See chapter 21) Nor is this book in any way, shape or form an argument for socialism—the bugaboo Austrians and other “conservative liberals” always invoke in response to any critique of injustices within the capitalist status quo. The Church opposes socialism as firmly as she does unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism and, as already suggested . . . it is laissez-faire capitalism itself that has encouraged the rise of “soft” socialism in Western nations. (10. Emphasis in the original.)
As a way of framing the question, this is as confusing as it is tendentious.
Mr. Ferrara contrasts unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism to free enterprise—in the papally expounded sense, of course. In order to comment on this contrast, however, we will need to determine answers to several questions:
  1. Does free mean unrestrained?
  2. Does the phrase morally correct Catholic sense expounded by the Popes qualify the meaning of free to death?
  3. Does unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism refer to something that exists or existed in history?
  4. Does free market refer to something that exists or existed in history?
1. In the political-economic context, free does mean nothing more or less than unrestrained.  That is, it has a wholly negative meaning.  A person is politically free if he or she is not restrained, prevented, hampered, or hindered in the use of his or her property by force or the threat of force by others.
Political-economic freedom is not to be confused with the positive spiritual power to resist temptation to sin and instead do the right thing, with which Christians (among others) are concerned (Galatians 4:31-5:1), indeed, for which they pray. That concern is no warrant for unfavorably comparing that freedom to that power. They are distinct, but not rival dimensions of human living, related as interior to exterior, as it were.
The words free and unrestrained, however, while denoting the same thing, have a different connotation. Mr. Ferrara uses free before markets, but unrestrained before laissez-faire capitalism. A person is free, but a wild animal is unrestrained. Mr. Ferrara favors free, but not unrestrained markets.  He very much wants papally guided moral rules to restrain the metaphorical wild animals that roam in markets seeking whom they may devour.  To put it in such terms would, however, only expose the equivocation at the heart of his propaganda.
2. Our answer to the first question yielded one for the second. The phrase morally correct Catholic sense expounded by the Popes qualifies the meaning of free to death only if free means unrestrained. But by free Mr. Ferrara does not at all mean unrestrained.  Like most illiberals, he will not commit political suicide by mounting a frontal assault on the symbol of freedom or liberty. He prefers to keep the symbol but pour into it alien content.
To Be Continued 

* In Mr. Ferrara’s lexicon, an author may issue “caveats” about one’s own book to one’s readers. The Latin admonition, Caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”) is the warning of a third party to prospective customers, not a vendor's friendly invitation to them to enter his or her store. Caveat lector (“Let the reader beware”) is one writer’s warning about the work of another that he’s about to introduce. One may regard this blog as one, big Caveat lector about TCATL.
** Unless a particular Roman Pontiff is meant, “pope” should not be capitalized and neither should its plural.