July 16, 2012

Ethics and Capitalism: An Interview with James A. Sadowsky, S.J.—Part 1 of 9

In 1987, Lucia Santa Cruz interviewed Mr. Ferrara’s inconvenient Jesuit, James A. Sadowsky, S.J., the first Rothbard-influenced anarcho-Catholic,* for the Chilean daily newspaper El Mercurio. Father Sadowsky’s answers to her questions were translated into Spanish, and the interview appeared in the November 22nd edition of that periodical and reprinted the following year in an anthology edited by Eliodoro Matte Larrain, entitled Cristianismo, Sociedad Libre Y Opción Por Los Pobres [Christianity, the Free Society, the Option for the Poor], which was published in Santiago, Chile by Centro de Estudios Publicos. 
About ten years ago I attempted to render this interview into in the expressions with which thirty years of friendship have made me familiar.  I was not happy with result, but only because he was not. (“It’s not English!,” he grumbled.)  Although the result is looser than his thought deserves, I no longer think it so bad that the illuminating content of his thought—which I believe does pierce the wooden slats of my translation—should be kept from a wider audience.  And so after almost 25 years of waiting for the truly bilingual kindred spirit to show up, I am publishing my amateur version in the hope that he or she will find it (or you will tell him or her about it) and be moved to ask me for a photocopy of Spanish text, which I will gratefully supply.
The interview has been divided into nine consecutive posts, following the subheadings of the original interview.
Some of you would want to know that Father Sadowsky’s health has deteriorated over the past year.  He is well-provided for at the Jesuit infirmary in the Bronx, but pretty much alone and forgotten.  He needs your prayers.  If you wish to send him a note of good wishes and appreciation, you may write him at Murray-Weigel Hall, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458. 
Anthony Flood

* In answers to questions put to him in another interview by Martin Masse for Le Québécois Libre (Montreal) in 2002, Father Sadowsky related this aspect of his intellectual journey. That interview was published on June 7, 2003. Take this link to it.  To read eleven essays by him on philosophical, theological, and economic topics, visit the Sadowsky portal on my site.

The Drive for Profit?
Capitalism rests on a specific idea of human nature and its basic motivations.  What it is the significance of the assertion of capitalism’s philosophers who claim that man is moved primarily by the desire to satisfy his own interests?
It goes far beyond looking for personal material benefits.  Man (however tautological this may sound) does aspire to meet his needs, but in the wider sense, which covers the most diverse kinds of needs.  Good can be of any kind, and one can desire them not only for oneself, but also for one’s family and for society as a whole.  To desire something is not necessarily to desire it for oneself.
You don’t believe, then, that it is synonymous merely with the drive for profit?
Well, why do you suppose the Red Cross plays the market?  To make money?  Clearly so they can satisfy the needs of others, not their own.
Underlying capitalism is not only a conception of human nature, but also a theory of knowledge that presupposes the human mind’s limited ability to scientifically grasp all mundane realities.
It is often said that there is a relation between belief in absolute truth and intolerance.  I deeply disagree.  I don’t see a logical connection between them such that it leads to the persecution of dissenters.  Indeed, I fail to see why a relativist must be tolerant.  There is nothing in relativism that logically favors tolerance.
I am referring to mundane matters.
So am I.
But behind the idea that the market allocates recourses more efficiently than does central planning is the notion that the human mind cannot grasp the infinity of complex variables that comprise reality and, therefore that each individual ought to be free to express his preferences on the free market.
Well, all you’re saying is that there’s no such thing as human omniscience.  But belief in absolute truth is not the same as belief in human omniscience.  I claim only that in some very limited areas, the human mind cannot err.  Being free of error is not the same as having knowledge.  In other respects this immunity from error is limited and refers only to a few matters.  For example, I can truly affirm that I exist.  You’re right with respect to what is claimed about the market, but that only shows that we don’t know everything.  That does not, however, necessarily warrant renouncing belief in absolute truth.
There is a difference between believing in absolute truth and maintaining certain true sayings irrevocably?
That’s why I told you that in claiming that one can know absolute truth, I refer to a few, very restricted areas where there are infallible truths.  I would say that in nine out of ten cases knowledge is conjectural; but it is important that there be cases of non-conjectural knowledge.  I insist on this, you see, because in defending capitalism one must be careful not to base that defense on inadmissible pretensions.  Let me take an historical example. One reason why the Catholic Church was so opposed to continental liberalism is that it built its case on skepticism.  Anglo-Saxon liberals never fell into that.  The continental liberal tradition is skeptical and rationalistic.  People like Adam Smith or Burke, however, could not be further from this position.  This skepticism formed no part of the English tradition or of the classical liberal philosophers.  This is important, because these considerations color the perception of capitalism.
To Be Continued