July 11, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (XIV): Sketchy Stories (3): Land Theft

The first sketch on display Mr. Ferrara’s gallery is “The post-Catholic State’s massive seizure of Church property and its enclosure by the new ‘owners.’” (14-17) At least Mr. Ferrara doesn’t charge Austro-libertarians with either seizure or enclosure.
He doesn’t even say they applauded or otherwise approved of these things, although elsewhere he baselessly insinuates such a relationship of support.1
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the moral principle to which Mr. Ferrara makes implicit appeal. What we won’t do, however, is restrict its historical range. Let’s uncouple the issues of seizure from enclosure.
We agree with Mr. Ferrara, if we understand him, that state-sponsored aggression is intrinsically evil. We add, however, that it is evil not only when Catholics are its victims, but also when they are its perpetrators and beneficiaries. Mr. Ferrara refers to “wave after wave of seizures following the Protestant Revolt” (14), as if to insinuate that there was something unique about the violence that Protestant governments initiated. History is a slaughter-bench, Hegel once remarked, that segment known as “Christendom” not excepted. The Catholic Church enters this mess when Emperor Constantine decreed her legally able to own property. For reasons both political and pious, the wealthy hitched their temporal and eternal wagons to Her star, donate landed and other property to her, and within a few centuries She was the richest landowner on the Italian peninsula.
Some of it She has retained to the present day. And so, for example, by marrying the sister of his imperial predecessor, Maxentius, the Emperor Constantine acquired property that had for ages belonged to the plebian Lateranus gens or family. Putting aside the interesting question of how the Laterani acquired (and retained) their wealth under the Caesars, we know that Nero suspected one of them, Plautius, as a conspirator against him, and the Laterani lands were consequently forfeited. A few centuries later, Emperor Maxentius (reigned 306-312) came into possession of those Laterani holdings, some of which wound up in the hands of his sister Fausta. When she married Constantine (his second marriage), Domus Fausta came under his direct control. He then magnanimously donated it to the Bishop of Rome, probably (not certainly) Miltiades, who at once convened a synod there. We know it today as the Lateran Palace, the venue of five ecumenical councils, to say no more about this storied structure. This property was never again seized by force, and we are not suggesting that it ought to have been. But did the pope acquire it on terms consonant with the Gospel? His Holiness could have refused the donation, but instead moved in. One hand washes the other.
Constantine’s donation was the most notable, if not the first, of many attempts by men of power, wealth, and perhaps some piety to ingratiate themselves with the Bishop of Rome. After all, the latter would increasingly play a leading role in the maintenance of civil society as the empire decayed around everyone's heads. Another donation to the heirs of the throne of Peter (who once proclaimed, “Gold and silver have I none . . .” Acts 3:6a), had a destiny different from that of Domus Fausta. This was the Donation of Pepin the Short, crowned by Saint Boniface in 751, courted by His Holiness Stephen II, raised by him to the title of Patrician of the Romans in preparation for his routing of the Lombards. In 1870, Italian revolutionary forces, not happy with the pope’s implicit policy of “unification for me, but not for thee,” confiscated what became known as the papal states after a millennium of control by a series of Vicars of Christ. Those successors of Peter could have truly remarked, “Gold and silver have I plenty!” Those lands had virtually ensured that Christ’s Kingdom would be very much of as well as in this world (John 18:36).
We acknowledge the great administrative deeds and corporal works of mercy that such possession made possible, but we submit that those means were bought at the price of worldliness. We are, after all, not consequentialists.
Anti-Catholic forces, aiming at state power, confiscated lands that had in turn been confiscated from their rightful owners. That’s what the power-hungry do, virtually always by the instrumentality of the state and its mystique. Easy come, easy go.
The history of the Body of Christ on earth would certainly have been different had She not possessed in such abundance those treasures that moth and rust do corrupt (Matt. 6:20) and then suffered their loss, but would She have necessarily been less faithful to the Gospel?
Perhaps a word from Mr. Ferrara’s favorite libertarian, Kevin Carson, is in order.
In a 2008 article, Mr. Carson explored the idea of the “subsidy of history.” He notes that
We pay less attention [than we ought] . . . to the role of past state coercion, in previous centuries, in laying the structural foundations of the present system. The extent to which present-day concentrations of wealth and corporate power are the legacy of past injustice, I call the subsidy of history. “The Subsidy of History,” The Freeman, June 2008.
Now although he is writing about modern history, it is arbitrary to restrict to that era the application of the principle underlying his article. There is no statute of limitations on the pursuit of justice. That is, if an aggrieved party can demonstrate the injustice committed against him, the accused may not get off the hook by saying, “Oh, that was such a long time ago! Get over it!” The aggrieved party is, of course, within his rights to forgive and forget, but being forgiven is not an entitlement of the accused. The passage of time doesn’t remove the taint. At the end of the article, Mr. Carson notes with sharp irony the arbitrariness of the scope of some apologists for the subsidy of history:
The actual system of political economy that so many corporate apologists refer to as “our free market system” has in fact been characterized from the beginning by robbery. We must beware of “free market reforms” carried out by the robbers. They amount in practice to allowing the robbers—hands still full of loot—to say: “All right, no more stealing, starting . . . now!”
No more land theft, starting . . . now! No more slavery, starting . . . now!
To Be Continued

1 And so, for instance, because Murray Rothbard praised the libertarian import of certain aspects of this or that revolution in Europe or in America, he is fairly regarded as an apologist for the resulting revolutionary regimes and excuser of their crimes. (Recall Mr. Ferrara’s earlier atmospherics regarding “the Enlightenment’s overall attack on the Christocentric social order of Catholic Europe.”) By that logic, the counter-revolutionary Mr. Ferrara should be regarded as an apologist for every ancien regime and its crimes. And what about the crimes committed by Catholic clerics, over the centuries (not confining our attention to the contemporary scandal that invites the judgment of Matt. 18:6)? Shall we go there?