The Consequences of Reckless Rhetoric
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Unfortunately as part of the turmoil and loss of faith that followed the Second Vatican Council and the many changes in Catholic praxis that were instituted in the decade following, many Catholics lost both knowledge of the Church’s social doctrine and the passionate concern for economic justice that previously was fairly widespread among informed Catholics. Today among Catholics who might be said to display interest in the faith and a desire to understand it or to engage in apostolic activity, most are only vaguely aware of the body of Catholic social doctrine, and as a result they take their socio-economic views from the secular culture. Others are indeed aware of Catholic social doctrine, but they do not approach it with the docility that ought to characterize a Catholic. In some cases they make use of selective quotations to try to make the Church’s social teaching fit in with their classical liberal capitalist ideology.Later, he offers a plan of action:
What, if anything, is the remedy for this? In my opinion, probably the best means for addressing this selective dissent from Catholic teaching is simply a recovery of our Catholic identity, a recovery of a sense that it is more important to be a Catholic than to be a conservative, a liberal, an American, or indeed anything else on the face of the earth. All these other identities are acceptable only if, and to the extent that, they harmonize with our primary identity of being a Catholic. There are many, in fact, who are discovering this. People, for example, who begin by recognizing the beauty of the traditional Latin liturgy, and are led from that to the entire range of traditional Catholic thought on subjects from theology and philosophy to art to history, and not least to economic and social thought. Quite tragic, on the other hand, and in a way ridiculous, is the position of those who passionately adhere to traditional Catholic thought in some few areas, but whose primary identity remains as conservative Americans, whose Catholicism is simply their way of participating in the American Way of Life, as the sociologist Will Herberg noted many years ago.
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Dawson clearly follows the Classical, pagan preference for soldiers and noblemen, who make their living employing force against their fellow men, over businessmen who traffic in voluntary exchange. While soldiers sometimes fight justly, nobles can rule fairly, and businessmen can engage in evil trades (like slavery), surely it’s deeply perverse to prefer force to persuasion, serfdom to salesmanship, and conquest to commerce. The Church sees war as evil in itself, allowing it only in narrowly circumscribed cases, setting standards that very few wars waged even by Catholic monarchs ever fully met. Conversely, she sees ordinary business and commerce as the means by which most men earn their bread by the sweat of their brows—though she marks off certain methods of business which are evil. But sins of business are the exception, not the rule. For a war to be good, it must climb through the eye of a needle. So why should we as Christians prefer soldiers to salesmen, militaristic empires to bourgeois republics? Because the former are more romantic, and leave in their wake such poignant ruins?
The problem with Joe Carter’s reading of “freedom” is that he is completely unaware of his presuppositions. It is ahistorical. “The Market” does not occur naturally, as some liberalizing backdrop that merely has to remain uninhibited to bring freedom. Rather, the market is socially and historically constructed. For instance, a medieval farmer did not have access to an all embracing market autonomous of social and sacred concerns. He did not store his grain in hopes of more favorable prices at a later date, sell it to speculators while still in the field, or travel from village to village to fetch the best price. He didn’t even really own it. There were no property rights for individuals because people weren’t individuals; rather, the relevant entity was the community, and economic behavior was subordinate to the imperative to live communally as the church and care for one’s brother.
The conceptualization of the market as a place for all goods, or even a single good, that was autonomous from the social and the sacred aspects of human life, did not emerge until the triumph of the modern state. Prior to centralization of power under the monarchies of Europe, most human life was relegated to the communal level and freedom was understood as comportment with one’s nature taking place under a number of overlapping authorities and obligaitions all hierarchically arranged. Call this conceptualization of political, social, and economic space “complex.” It was under these arrangements that the common good — a common telos — could be sought, one based on shared affections and a shared vision of the good under subsidiarity and solidarity. It was here — in civil society, in churches, in local control over social and economic relations — that freedom manifested. People were rooted in community and place, which is the natural expression of human life.
With the monarchies of Europe, centralization by law and by force was prosecuted by the mobilization of war, which culminated with the absolutism of the sovereign monarch. The “complex space” of community, common good, and freedom was gradually displaced by a “simple space” that leveled community and subjected it to the centralization of governmental authorities. Liberalism eventually displaced this arrangement; however, it not only retained the absolute power of the state, it simultaneously magnified and limited it. The limiting is familiar to you all: the creation of political rights guaranteed by law. These rights, however, followed the construal of the individual and the government as the political and legal agents of any real legitimacy. This move — the creation of individuals unencumbered by community, family, and the social sphere — who look to the state to guarantee their equality, much like Christians look to Christ as an intermediary (this modern social construction REALLY is a secularization and distortion of very Christian ideas), further entrenched the state. What we now call civil society is simply an intermediary between the individual and the state and has no autonomy or authority of its own. People are individuated and cast into the mass of society, alienated and powerless. Further, political life has gone from seeking the common good together to the mediation of self-interested individuals through the organ of political and economic institutions. Liberals–left or right–and socialists adhere to this vision. The former merely prefers that the mediation between individuals occurs through state-created markets, while the latter prefers state-managed bureaucracies. Carter is under the mistaken presumption that these things are opposed, but if they are, it is a dispute in the family. “Porcherism,” localism, communitarianism, decentralized socialism, agrarianism, Anarcho-Monarchism (David Bentley Hart’s felicitous moniker) or whatever you want to call it, is a vision of society in opposition to the absolutism of the state and individualism.
In fact, both of these visions of socialism and modern capitalism, twinned as they from the same branch, are great evils. They assume a public-private division that denies the lordship and authority of Christ in political and social space, effectively separating grace and nature, the natural and supernatural, into totally different realms; they deny human nature by the marginalization of community and family;and they destroy any possibility of seeking the common good and instead treat society as an aggregation of naturally opposed and self-interested individuals, with avarice now the greatest of social virtues rather than charity. The anthropology of monadic individualism is anything but Christian, which approaches every aspect of human life in relational and communitarian terms. And with this basis, modern democratic capitalism and socialism has its own telos, liturgies, and sacred objects. For the truly self-autonomous individual who finds freedom in libertine choice rather than in Christ, the purchasing of commodities takes on a sacred mystique. To tame this individual, the state has its own anti-Eucharist in the institution of torture and other forms of coercion, which are essentially forms of intimidatory power that reinforce the legitimacy of the state, as William Cavanaugh, a prominent political theologian, has argued.
Mr. Carter would do well to read not only the likes of William Cavanaugh and Alasdair MacIntyre, but those who publish regularly in First Things who depart from the “theocon” consensus. David Bentley Hart has written about the “Optics of the Market” in one of his books, has repeatedly proclaimed his suspicion to both socialism and modern capitalism, and, as noted, adheres to what he playfully calls “Anarcho-Monarchism.” Likewise, Peter Leithart writes about the market and the state in the same manner, even going so far as to call such heresies on his blog.