Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Re: "Freemasonry and America"

In a recent post, David challenges me to take a closer look at the Masonic influence on our founding fathers "Freemasonry in America" (la nouvelle théologie August 23, 2005):

You state "I'm resistant to what I think is a reckless characterization of America as some kind of 'Masonic experiment.'" Well, regardless if you admit it or not, it's still a "fact," which you must sooner or latter admit to. Do some reading of both Catholic and non-Catholic sources my friend, which were provided to you in the comments on one of your earlier posts.

Brother, I beg you, the next time you visit D.C, open your eyes, OPEN your eyes. The entire city was designed by Masons (layout of the streets, all the significant buildings, memorials, White House, Capital Bldg, etc.). If the founders were so intent in making the physical structure of our nation's capital Masonic, is it not reasonable to assume that Freemasonry also influenced their beliefs & therefore their writings? Read any number of a dozen plus books I referenced to you and then let's chat.

In short, study what the Church teaches about Freemasonry. For example (one of hundreds), Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter Humanum Genus (1884) equated Freemasonry with the Kingdom of Satan. Study what any number of saints had to say about Freemasonry, i.e. St. Maximilian Kolbe, etc. Refer to what the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (B16 himself) had to say about Freemasonry in 1983. The list goes on and on. . . .

Which leads to the following point and I'm not the first to make it. It is this - Errors in the understanding of who and what God (or more appropriately god) is for our Masonic Founding Fathers (Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, etc.) led to errors in many other areas of their thought, including their understanding of religious freedom, which are spelled out in our governing documents. The logic of the Founding Fathers is a mixed-bag of Masonic, Enlightenment, and classical principles. I refer you to Kraynak's and Craycraft's books on this topic.

What's beyond dispute is the fact that the Catholic faith and Freemasonry are irrevocably opposed -- the various encyclicals of the Popes not to mention the reaffirmation by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith prohibiting membership in the Masonic order is testament to that.

However, David contends that "the logic of the Founding Fathers is a mixed-bag of Masonic, Enlightenment, and classical principles" -- and that is precisely the question that I'd like to look into during the course of my reading: to what degree the philosophical foundations of the American experiment was tainted by Enlightenment [and/or Masonic] presuppositions?

This of course calls for a serious investigation, as well as giving consideration to the research of Michael Novak (On Two Wings: Humble Faith & Common Sense at the American Founding), John Courtney Murray, Jacques Maritain, and precursors like Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) who contend that the founding fathers demonstrated an openness to religion and religious freedom -- in some cases in spite of their deism, unitarianism, and membership as Masons -- such that liberal democracy as embodied in the "American experiment" isn't necessarily antagonistic to the Catholic faith.

With respect to the above, I find Chris Burgwald's comments very helpful here:

I think my own position is distinct from both of yours, although closer somewhat to David's. . . .

To me, Masonry is just ritualized Enlightenment doctrine; it's the latter that is the real issue. And I think there's little doubt that our nation was founded on what are ultimately Enlightenment principles.

And yet the reverse is not necessarily the case: one can be a Freemason (in the sense of visible membership) without subscribing in full to the Enlightenment worldview, just as one can be a Catholic (in the sense of visible membership) without subscribing in full to the Catholic worldview.

My point here is that determining the worldview of our nation's founding fathers is not as simple as seeing which organizations they belonged to.

NB: I do believe that many or most of our Founders had the Enlightenment worldview; I am only saying that this is not determined by noting that they were Masons and saying nothing more.

* * *

I must admit one of the issues I have difficulty with in discerning what to read in Freemasonry is the notable abundance of conspiracy theorizing by the fringe right (Protestant and Catholic). Apart from the papal encyclicals on Freemasonry my past encounter with the topic has largely been the fevered mutterings of radtrads about Vatican II being a "Talmudist-Masonic" infiltration of the Catholic Church.

Likewise, the reason I went ahead with Whalen's Christianity and American Freemasonry as my first choice was due to Sandra Miesel's criticism of Behind the Lodge Door in her article for Crisis magazine (Swinging at Windmills Dec. 2, 2002) on the Catholic fringe:

In 1776, what Jacob calls "a radicalized mutation of the Masonic gene" brought forth the Illuminati, founded by canon law professor Adam Weishaupt. (Febrile minds imagine Jews having had a hand in the matter.) These mystic masterminds of Masonry were closed down by the Bavarian police in 1785 but are still imagined to lurk in the corridors of power.

Being generally liberal in politics, Masons often participated in revolutions. The Masonic affiliations of Washington, Franklin, and other founding fathers mean that, for some traditionalist Catholics, the United States has no right to exist. Or so says The Remnant’s top writer, Solange Hertz, author of The Star-Spangled Heresy: Americanism and an implacable foe of the Judeo-Masonic peril. (For good measure, Hertz has denounced Mother Teresa as a New Ager.)

Other critics, such as Ted Flynn in Hope of the Wicked, ferret out Masonic symbolism in our national emblems because Masons were involved in the designs. He reads the American Eagle as a Masonic phoenix and the Statue of Liberty as a Masonic goddess. Flynn’s source, Ralph Epperson, tries to make former President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration facing the Washington Monument into Masonic sun worship.

Because the Masons claim the number 13, it must be theirs—everywhere. But units of 13 in our Great Seal refer to nothing more ominous than the 13 original colonies, which existed for 44 years before the Revolution—rather a long wait to match a Masonic timetable. The alarming All-Seeing Eye also happens to be an old sign of the Holy Trinity, found in Baroque churches. (One breathlessly awaits revelations about the AOL logo.)

But it was the French, not the American, Revolution that stamped the Masons and their Illuminati masters as experts in rebellion, according to theories separately propounded by ex-Jesuit Augustin de Barruel (1741-1820) and Scotsman John Robison (1797-1798) and still popular in paranoid circles. Contemporary histories prefer to see people with radical sympathies becoming Masons rather than Masons becoming radicals. . . .

As for America, Behind the Lodge Door by Paul Fisher looks at the sorry record of American Masons in outbreaks of nativism, the Ku Klux Klan, and church-state relations. But Fisher, who does not link Masonry with the Jews, far exceeds his evidence to connect them with ancient cults, Illuminati plots, and the assassination of President Kennedy. William Wahlen’s Christianity and American Freemasonry is a far more sensible Catholic book on the subject.

That Meisel's article is hosted on TCRNews.com leads me to presume that Stephen also gives credence to Miesel's critique.

Although some of the criticisms offered by reviewers lead me to suspect his methodology (relying heavily on innuendo and speculation), I will likely give Behind the Lodge Door a read as David personally recommended it. But in exploring this topic my concern is to chart a careful path: looking to the papal encyclicals and serious, academic studies of this issue -- and my wariness of tenuous arguments and conspiracy theories. From what I've witnessed on the web, those who indulge in the such flights of imagination end up considerably "untethered" from reality.

* * *

Incidentally, it is questionable whether the Great Seal of the United States -- which Stephen Hand posts on his blog indicating the Masonic origins of the United States -- has any Masonic symbolism. According to Wikipedia:

Many consider the eye atop the pyramid to have its origins in Masonic iconography. However, the icon is not a Masonic symbol, nor designed by a mason. Among the Great Seal committee, only Benjamin Franklin was a Mason, but his ideas were not adopted by the committee.

The all-seeing eye was a well-known classical symbol of the Renaissance. The all-seeing eye of God is mentioned several times in the Christian Bible. The eye in a triangle design originally was suggested by Pierre Eugene DuSimitiere, and later heraldist William Barton improved upon the design. In Du Simitière's original sketch, two figures stand next to a shield with the all-seeing pyramid above them. The August 20, 1776 report of the first Great Seal Committee describes the seal as "Crest The Eye of Providence in a radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures."

More detailed explanation from a masonic website on the origins of the seal eschews any claim to Masonism, asserting that "The Great Seal of the United States is not a Masonic emblem, nor does it contain hidden Masonic symbols."

Likewise, masonicinfo.com points out that ""The first 'Official' use and definition of the all-seeing eye as a Masonic symbol seems to have come in 1797 with The Freemasons Monitor of Thomas Smith Webb - 14 years after Congress adopted the design for the seal."

For information as to the actual symbolism of the seal, see Official Heraldry of the United States.

(Of course, the fact that nothing is said publicly of the Masonic symbolism of the Great Seal -- and that the Masons eschew its significance -- may itself be part of the grand conspiracy).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Against "Straw Man" Tactics -- A Response to Thomas Storck and Stephen Hand

David from La Nouvelle Theologie alerted me to an article on TCRNews by Thomas Storck, provocatively titled Fr. Sirico's New Gospel. Thomas Storck was a contributor to the now-defunct Caelum et Terra and is a contributing editor to The New Oxford Review and Traditional Catholic Reflections & Reports (TCRNews.com) -- the latter two have, as of late, fallen into the unfortunate habit of launching "straw man" attacks against all those with whom they disagree (usually lumped together under the label "neocon"). This recent article by Storck is no exception.

It begins:

Fr. Robert Sirico is a priest who runs an organization called the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is dedicated to spreading the philosopy, so often condemned by the Church, of classical liberalism. Part of this classical liberal outlook is whole-hearted support for a largely unfettered free market. Just lately Fr. Sirico has taken a turn in praise of the rich, from whom he receives many donations. He writes, "As much as some might not like the rich, or as much as they might find them distasteful as a class, the rich are society's benefactors" (President's Message Acton Notes, July 2005). Such saluatary teaching! It is a shame that our Lord, and the inspired writers of Holy Scripture seemed to think otherwise about the rich. But, for fun, let's put Fr. Sirico's characterization of the rich, as "society's benefactors," into some passages of Scripture to see how they sound. Let's begin with our Lord . . .

The first paragraph alone gives one a sense of the rest of the article. Storck posts various scriptural criticisims of the wealthy (or, perhaps more specifically, the temptation to be wealthy as an obstacle to salvation -- Matthew 19:23-24; Luke 1:53; 6:24, 18:22-23; I Timothy 6:6-9; James 5:1-4). Apparently Storck is no stranger to the typically Protestant method of scriptural proof-texting, placing himself solely in the right and Fr. Sirico at odds with Jesus, from which he arrives at the following conclusion:

Doubtless Fr. Sirico and his followers will claim that things have changed since the time of our Lord. Under capitalism men no longer exploit their fellow men, rather one becomes rich by seeing some unmet need and selling us something that fills that need. Well, at least by persuading us that we have some unmet need and that only their product will meet that need. And of course, always at a just price and never with any exploitation of their employees. The fact that factories keep moving to places where the wages are lower and lower, from the American "rust belt" to the American South, then to Mexico and Central America, to India and China, wherever wages are lower and worker protections fewer - none of this of course means that the wages of their laborers were "kept back by fraud" nor that their cries will ever reach "the ears of the Lord of hosts." Of course not! Fr. Sirico himself assures them that they are "society's benefactors."

But the real difficulty lies deeper. Either Jesus Christ is God the Son, the Eternal Logos or he is not. If he is, then what he has said, about riches or about anything else, applies not only to the time when he was on this earth, but to all times. Arguments based on changes that are said to have taken place in economics cannot negate the Gospel, any more than arguments based on changes said to have taken place in our knowledge of sociology can negate the teaching of Gospel on marriage or the family. Thus Fr. Sirico becomes the herald of a new Gospel, the friendly American Gospel of wealth and comfort. But recall some other words of the Apostle Paul: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:3).

The blog Caelum Et Terra has already taken note of Storck's article, finding his tactic very clever. (If that's the case, they might get a kick out of any number of Protestant apologists who can bend and twist scripture to their will). There's already a good discussion going on between commentators, but I'd like to take a moment to respond to Storck's charges myself.

Let's start with the beginning, noting that Storck cites ONE SENTENCE from Fr. Acton. If we go to the source [July 2005 Acton Notes], we can find the full paragraph from which it was conveniently excerpted:

As much as some might not like the rich, or as much as they might find them distasteful as a class, the rich are society’s benefactors. They provide the capital base on which new investments are made and financed. They provide support for the arts, education, and charity. They fuel the luxury-goods industry—the most innovative market sector—with the result that these products (the Internet or wireless technology, for example) eventually become affordable and available to all.

One wonders if there is anything in that paragraph with which readers of this blog would honestly disagree.

For example, on my coffee table is a pile of books from a public library that probably wouldn't be around if not for the continued financial support of the wealthy.

One activity I enjoy doing on occasion is visiting an art or history museum that is maintained in part by wealthy "patrons of the arts."

The discoveries of science and medicine and technology that have helped rid the world of disease, lengthened humanity's lifespan, and facilitated the growth of human civilization have no doubt been assisted by the backing of wealthy philanthropists.

Right now, I'm typing this post on a computer that probably wouldn't exist today were it not for "rich benefactors." I use a Mac, and some might recall that Steve Jobs / Steve Wozniak started out in the Job's family garage prior to securing venture capital to become Apple Computer. You bet I'm grateful for the "rich benefactor" who decided to give them a helping hand).

Storck goes on to gripe: "Under capitalism men no longer exploit their fellow men, rather one becomes rich by seeing some unmet need and selling us something that fills that need. Well, at least by persuading us that we have some unmet need and that only their product will meet that need. And of course, always at a just price and never with any exploitation of their employees."

I presume Thomas Storck and Stephen Hand type their manifestos against the rich on similar computers, and would concede as to the usefulness. Surely they don't "need" them -- computers don't exactly constitute the "staples of survival" for you or I. Nor do telephones for that matter. But I'm thankful that I have one, and the blessings it has brought me in the form of communication with friends and family. I'm presently watching a movie on the early life of Pope John Paul II on television -- film and television both being superflous forms of entertainment, and by no means material "needs." What's the point of this? -- While it is correct to recognize that which we truly need in life from our "wants," it would be misleading to denounce the economic process for providing us such material comforts and the pleasures we enjoy in life.

But this is not so say that the free market (or what John Paul II cautiously praised as the "business economy" or "market economy") is subject to exploitation, corruption, and the promotion of decadent consumerism. The market, like all other human endeavors, is only as good as we make it. Does Fr. Sirico condone exploitation of employees? Storck gives nary a mention of the Whig-Thomist emphasis that our conduct of business must be informed by moral virtue or their agreement with JPII's worthy criticisms of the defects of capitalism. But if to support the free market automatically makes one a supporter of wage-slavery (as the Zwicks labeled Cardinal Dulles), one might as well lump John Paul II in the same boat, as I've demonstrated in my last post.

I do not believe in demonizing the rich or in reifying the wealthy a butt for scorn, derision and condemnation. That Thomas Storck engages in this tactic in forming a criticism of Fr. Sirico is disappointing and I would hope better from him. As for Fr. Sirico, we can gather what his true opinion is on "the rich" by asking him that very question -- or so Zenit.org did in a May 1, 2000 interview (Can a Camel Pass through the Eye of a Needle?):

ZENIT: There are those who think that one must be poor and oppressed to be saved and that wealth is synonymous with perdition.

FR. SIRICO: It is neither poverty nor wealth that saves a person. Only God's grace saves. St. Augustine said that it was not poverty that saved Lazarus, but his humility. It is not wealth that gives us God's blessing, but our moral conduct. Catholic tradition has always tried to distinguish between the opportunities and temptations that come with wealth. It has never canonized the poor "a priori" or demonized the rich, although it has called all, rich and poor alike, to commit their life to responsibility, generosity and sanctity.

* * *

It's come to my attention that this is not the first time Thomas Storck has engaged in such spurious criticism of Fr. Sirico. See his article "Can Economic Justice be Achieved Without Law? (New Oxford Review October 2000). The article is available on NOR's website for a fee. Here is Fr. Sirico's response, in which he rebutes Storck's attempt "to extrapolate from an excerpt a whole worldview to which [he] does not ascribe" -- a familiar strategy that is employed by Stephen Hand (TCRNews.com) and the Zwicks (Houston Catholic Worker).

From Fr. Sirico's response to Thomas Storck we can get a better sense of where he stands with respect to the issues:

I write in reply to an article in the October issue, “Can Economic Justice Be Achieved Without Law?” by Thomas Storck.

Mr. Storck criticizes the following statement of mine: “The way to have people make better choices is not to coerce their economic decision-making, but to inform their personal morality.” Unfortunately, Storck extrapolates from this excerpt an entire worldview to which he assumes I ascribe, including the idea that economic activity is an end in itself. Anyone familiar with my writing knows that I have claimed again and again that this is not the case. Economics is important but not total; it can provide truth about man, but not the whole truth; it is a necessary part of human existence, but it is not sufficient for human thriving.

Acton Notes, from which Storck draws his inference of my views, is a brief, popularly oriented monthly newsletter sent to donors and supporters of the Acton Institute. Anyone truly interested in gaining a robust, complete, and properly nuanced view of my positions and those of the Institute would do well to read at least a portion of the many monographs, scholarly articles, and other written materials that have been produced by the Institute over the past 10 years, especially our journal Markets and Morality (most of which is available at www.acton.org).

In the quotation Storck cites, I was simply attempting to make the point about the kind of non-coercive truth the Church proposes to the world that is outlined by John Paul II. In reference to the imposition of the true and good on others in the name of ideology, the Pope says, “Christian truth is not of this kind…the Church’s method is always that of respect for freedom” (Centesimus Annus [CA], n. 46). The model here, as Dignitatis Humanae (DH) points out, is Christ: “For He bore witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke out against it” (DH, n. 11).

Contrary to the implication of the article, I am in full agreement with the traditional Christian understanding of freedom as being in necessary relation with the truth. John Paul II is especially good on this point: The notion of freedom exercised in relation to truth has been a resounding theme of his pontificate. To believe that freedom is not the equivalent of license, however, is not necessarily to fall back on the power of the state as the normative enforcer of morality. To say, for instance, that a person commits sin and distorts his freedom by gossiping about his friend is not to say that there must be laws against every sort of gossip in order for people to be truly free (even if well-considered laws against slander and libel might be justified). The law is not always the most effective or the most appropriate instrument for bringing about the recognition of truth and the commitment to live according to it. In other words, the law — like economics — is a means, not an end.

Storck misrepresents my statement as implying that the law is irrelevant to morality and the economy. The principle of subsidiarity clearly permits certain limited interventions when necessary, but warns that “such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of State intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom” (CA, n. 48).

It would appear that a key difference between Storck and myself is that Storck believes that Church social teaching has specified exactly where, when, and how the government must intervene in society, while I believe that the Church has promulgated principles of social teaching, which are to be applied by people in the time and circumstances in which they find themselves. The exact extent and nature of government legislation on economic questions is a prudential question on which faithful Catholics may disagree. It is not a static dogma: “When it comes to reducing these teachings to action,” the Blessed Pope John XXIII wrote in reference to social teaching, “it sometimes happens that even sincere Catholic men have differing views” (Mater et Magistra, n. 238). Storck, contrary to John XXIII, seems to think that anyone who disagrees with him on whether or not the state should intervene in a particular case (again, one Catholic principle among many is that the state may and should intervene in some cases) cannot be at the same time a sincere and faithful Catholic.

The Church’s social teaching, the current Holy Father has emphasized, is a branch of moral theology — it is not economic theory, it is not social science, it does not answer technical questions concerning how effective a specific policy is or what are the best means to achieve a desired end. A corollary to this point is that the Church does not propose or endorse any economic system. “The Church has no models to present,” John Paul II insists, “models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political, and cultural aspects…” (CA, n. 43). Again, “The Church’s social doctrine is not a ‘third way’ between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another; rather, it constitutes a category of its own” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 41).

It should be clear by now that the Church is not in the business of proposing specific economic plans, policies, or systems. She articulates the principles that ought to guide workers, businesspeople, politicians, and others participating in the economy. It is the task of those acting in the economic sphere to determine just how these timeless and indispensable principles apply in specific settings and circumstances. And on those applications, even “sincere Catholic men” can have different views.

One part of the mission of the Acton Institute is to educate the religious community on the merits of a scientific approach to economics and the exciting possibilities inherent in the project of unifying sound economic theory with transcendent truth. In this, we are following the principle that “the more men and women of science engage in rigorous research to penetrate the laws of the universe, the more insistent becomes the question of meaning and purpose, the more pressing the demand for contemplative reflection which cannot help but lead to a profound appreciation of the sense of man’s transcendence over the world, and of God over man” (John Paul II, Address to the International Conference on Space Research, Jan. 11, 1997).

Fr. Sirico's words speak for themselves. So too, I think, the tactic of deceptive quoting and false imputation by Thomas Storck.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Memo to TCRNews: Context Matters

TCRNews's blog -- by way of la nouvelle théologie -- posts a rather curt Memo to the Acton Institute from John Paul II":

It is unacceptable to say that the defeat of 'Real Socialism' leaves capitalism as the only mode of economic organization. --Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus

In response, Santiago posts this quote from Michael Novak -- a good and necessary reminder to those in the habit of portraying Novak as an indiscriminate apologist for unbridled capitalism:

"Having always resented such moral imperialism as Paul Tillich's 'Every serious Christian must be a socialist,' and the British left's 'Christianity is the religion of which socialism is the practice,' I would by no means support he sentiment that "Every serious Christian must be a democratic capitalist," or that "Christianity is the religion of which democratic capitalism is the practice." As Centesiums Annus insists, the Catholic Church 'has no models to offer'--and, indeed, has powerful reasons to criticize many abuses and wrongs in the democratic capitalist societies. The Pope rightly insists that no worldly system can ever claim to be the Kingdom of God. What good would a Church be if it didn't constantly criticize the City of Man in the light of the City of God, sub specie aeternitatis? Indeed, as Thomas Pangle repots in his study of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, this emphasis on immortality and eternal life is the indispensable contribution of religion to the democratic experiment."

Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, New York, NY: The Free Press, 1993. Ppg. 142-143 of Part 2, "A New Birth of Freedom: John Paul II," in the section titled, "Toward a More Civil Debate."

* * *

One might also add the following Initial reactions to Centesimus Annus by our favorite neocons (Neuhaus and Novak, Weigel in absentia), as compiled by The Acton Institute:

  • From Richard John Neuhaus (First Things):
    "While Centesimus Annus is a ringing affirmation of the free economy, there is nothing in it to justify complacency among the friends of capitalism. Socialism is dead, but 'the new capitalism' has hardly met the challenges raised by the pope."

  • From Michael Novak (The Washington Post, May 7, 1991):
    "The pope's splendid new encyclical. . . . adds a new characteristic to his defense of liberty. It has been clear for many years that Pope John Paul II supports democratic institutions more than any previous pope and sees them as the best way to secure human rights. It has also been clear to some that he supports a type of 'reformed capitalism.' But this new encyclical makes clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that the pope endorses the 'business economy,' the 'market economy,' or simply the 'free economy' as the goal he now proposes for formerly Communist and Third World societies. . . .

    "The institutional limitations on capitalism on which the pope insists are two: first, a juridical framework that protects other fundamental liberties besides economic liberty; and, second, a grounding of all liberties in a moral and religious core. In short, the economic system must be limited by a democratic polity and by a strong set of moral and cultural institutions. . . . Only in this way will it, better than other systems, meet basic needs and constantly raise the level of the common good of peoples. . . .

    "The pope's greatest originality . . . may lie in going beyond questions of politics and economics to questions of morality and culture. In a sense, the political argument of the 20th century has been resolved in favor of capitalism. Thinking of the chief battleground of the next century, the pope turns to the disappointing use that existing free societies are now making of their freedom. He turns to the inadequacies of modern culture and morals. . . .

    "You can tell the quality and depth of a nation's culture, the pope trenchantly states, by observing what it produces and consumes. This simple remark imposes a new moral accountability on capitalist firms, advertisers and media. In this century, the pope thinks free peoples have neglected their responsibilities to the quality of the moral atmosphere, the cultural ecology in which they try to raise their children and to be faithful to their destiny of free citizens. . . .

    "This is a great encyclical. It will release enormous energies in Eastern Europe, the Third World and advanced societies. It should read as well in 2091 as Leo XIII's accurate predictions about socialism in 1891 still read today. No other world leader could have produced such a profound tour d'horizon. Get a copy and see for yourself. You will be glad you did."

* * *

Returning to the paragraph of which Stephen Hand cited only the first sentence, let's study it for a minute in its entirety:

We have seen that it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called "Real Socialism" leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization. It is necessary to break down the barriers and monopolies which leave so many countries on the margins of development, and to provide all individuals and nations with the basic conditions which will enable them to share in development. This goal calls for programmed and responsible efforts on the part of the entire international community. Stronger nations must offer weaker ones opportunities for taking their place in international life, and the latter must learn how to use these opportunities by making the necessary efforts and sacrifices and by ensuring political and economic stability, the certainty of better prospects for the future, the improvement of workers' skills, and the training of competent business leaders who are conscious of their responsibilities.

I would posit that the above recommendation is wholeheartedly supported by the Acton Institute, Fr. Neuhaus and Michael Novak -- the latter of course contending that the best way to rescue individuals from material poverty is to open the doors of opportunity to small business with proper training and support -- or, in the words of John Paul II, enabling them to "acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources."

Nevertheless, the "Whig Thomists" readily acknowledge that "free market" -- for all of its great potential -- is not without its flaws, and that John Paul II's endorsement of "the business economy" was a cautious and justifiably qualified endorsement.

To pursue this further, the Pope reminds us "there are many human needs which find no place on the market" -- and that in certain Third World contexts, the objectives specified by Rerum Novarum still remain valid and even constitute a goal "yet to be reached, if man's work and his very being are not to be reduced to the level of a mere commodity." Among these objectives are a sufficient wage for the support of the family, social insurance for old age and unemployment, and adequate protection for the conditions of employment.

The Pope goes on to affirm the legitimacy of trade unions and other workers' organizations in their demand for such rights:

In this sense, it is right to speak of a struggle against an economic system, if the latter is understood as a method of upholding the absolute predominance of capital, the possession of the means of production and of the land, in contrast to the free and personal nature of human work. In the struggle against such a system, what is being proposed as an alternative is not the socialist system, which in fact turns out to be State capitalism, but rather a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.

Likewise, while acknowledging the legitimate role of profit as indication of a successful business, John Paul II reminds us that "profitability is not the only indicator of a firm's condition":

. . . It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people -- who make up the firm's most valuable asset -- to be humiliated and their dignity offended. Besides being morally inadmissible, this will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm's economic efficiency. In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society. Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.

Note -- It is interesting here that the Pope's characterization of a company as a "community of persons" and his criteria for a business to be considered genuinely successful by demonstrating behavior above and beyond the task of earning profit is not unlike that laid out by Michael Novak's advice to businessmen in Toward Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life:

. . . business as a mediating institution has seven internal responsibilities that arise from the nature of the corporation itself and an additional seven external responsibilities that are derived from Judeo-Christian religious teaching. In order to succeed, a business must: (1) satisfy customers with goods and services of real value; (2) make a reasonable return on the resources entrusted to it by investors; (3) create new wealth; (4) create new jobs; (5) defeat envy by generating upward mobility and by demonstrating that talent and hard work will be rewarded; (6) promote inventiveness and ingenuity; and (7) diversify the interests of the republic, thus guarding against majoritarian tyranny.

The following additional external responsibilities are not found in business as business but in the convictions of its practitioners who bring their faith to the business world: (1) to shape a corporate culture that fosters the three cardinal business virtues ["creativity", "community" and "practical realism"] as well as other virtues; (2) to protect the political soil of liberty; (3) to exemplify respect for the rule of law; (4) to reflect and act in practical effective ways, individually and with others, in order to improve aspects of society; (5) to communicate often and fully with investors, pensioners, customers, and employers; (6) to voluntarily contribute toward the improvement of civil society; and (7) to protect the moral ecology of freedom.

[Summarized in Michael Novak's Portrait of Democratic Capitalism, Edward W. Younkins Markets & Morality Volume 2, Number 1. Spring 1999].

* * *

So whether one speaks of the "Whig Thomist's" endorsement of capitalism or John Paul II's oppostion to it, context matters -- and one cannot stress the necessity of examining the source to get the whole picture.

I'll close with John Paul II's address of the initial passage -- a lengthy citation, but bear with me, as he returns once again to the question:

. . . can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.

The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another. For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation, a teaching which, as already mentioned, recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but which at the same time points out that these need to be oriented towards the common good. This teaching also recognizes the legitimacy of workers' efforts to obtain full respect for their dignity and to gain broader areas of participation in the life of industrial enterprises so that, while cooperating with others and under the direction of others, they can in a certain sense "work for themselves" through the exercise of their intelligence and freedom.

P.S. But don't take my word for it. As Novak says: "Get a copy and see for yourself. You will be glad you did."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Diagnosing the Spiritual Health of a Nation

It must be remembered, that man cannot without danger behave according to his whim. To succeed, life must be led following invariable rules which depend on its very structure. We run a grave risk when we allow to die in ourselves some fundamental activity, whether it be of the physiological, intellectual or spiritual order. For example, the neglect of the development of the muscles, of the bodily frame and of the non-rational activities of the spirit among certain intellectuals is as disastrous as the atrophy of the intelligence and of the moral sense among certain athletes. There are innumerable examples of prolific and strong families which produce only degenerates or die out, after the disappearance of ancestral beliefs and the cult of honour. We have learnt from hard experience that the loss of the moral sense and of the sense of the holy in the majority of the active elements of a nation leads to the downfall of that nation and its subjection to the foreigner. . . . From all the evidence, the suppression of mental activities required by nature is incompatible with the fulfilment of life.

In practice, the moral and religious activities are bound together. The moral sense vanishes soon after the sense of the holy. Man has not succeeded in building, as Socrates desired, a moral system independent of all religious doctrine. Societies in which the need for prayer has disappeared are generally not far from degeneracy. That is why all civilised peoples--unbelievers as well as believers--must be concerned with this grave problem of the development of every basic activity of which the human being is capable.

Dr. Alexis Carrel - Prayer (1949) New York: Morehouse-Gorham, pp 47-49.

Via Rick Morrow @ Being in the Form of a Quest

* * *

Five days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Congress set aside December 11, 1776 as a "Day of Fasting and Repentance," imploring Almighty God to guide them in the days ahead "in the prosecution of a just and necessary war."

In 1779, Congress degreed October 20, 1779 a National Day of Thanksgiving, urging the nation to "humbly approach the throne of Almighty God" and ask "that he would establish the independence of the United States upon the basis of religion and virtue."

Reading Michael Novak's On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, one gets the sense that our founding fathers possessed a clear recognition of the importance, indeed the fundamental necessity, of prayer and religious devotion to the spiritual health of a nation. When we measure this awareness of our founding fathers to the timidity and shallowness of our present legislators, for whom "separation of church and state" is interpreted to mean the absolute divorce of religion from public life, it becomes apparent just how far we've fallen from the ideals on which our nation was founded.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Church & Democracy: from "hostility" to "internal critique"

The Church's encounter with democracy, from the days of Gregory XVI and Pius IX to the present, can be described as a process of transition from hostility (Gregory XVI and Pius IX) to toleration (Leo XIII and Pius XI) to admiration (Pius XII and John XXIII) to endorsement (Vatican II and John Paul II), and now, in the late 1990's, to internal critique. Prior to the Council, the Church was speaking to democracy from "outside"; since the council, the Church has, in a sense, spoken to democracy from within the democratic experiment as a full participant in democratic life, commited, through its own social doctrine, to the success of the democratic project.

To describe the relationship in these terms is by no means to subordinate the Church to politics; it is to note, however, that as the Church's understanding of democracy has evolved, so has the Church's understanding of itself vis-a-vis democracy. Because of the teaching of the Council and John Paul II, an "exterior" line of critique has given way to an "interior" critique. Far from being a neutral observer, and without compromising its distinctive social and political "location," the Church now believes that it speaks to democracy from "within" the ongoing democratic debate about the democratic prospect.

John Paul II developed this "internal line" of analysis -- which now constitutes the world's most sophisticated moral case for, and critique of, the democratic project -- in a triptych of encyclicals: Centesimus Annus (1991), Veritatis Splendour (1993) and Evangelium Vitate (1995).

* * *

If a single sentence could sum up the main thrust of this new "internal critique" of democracy in the social magisterium of John Paul II, it might be this: Culture is "prior" to politics and economics. In this sense, John Paul II is a "postmodern" pope. Since Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, he has become markedly less interested in the old structural questions of politics and economics (democracy vs. ancien regime vs. totalitarianism, capitalism vs. socialism vs. the "Catholic third way"). Those questions, the Pope seems to suggest, have been largely answered. If, under the conditions of modernity, you want a free and prosperous society that protects basic human rights while advancing the common good, you choose democracy and the market (or, in the Pope's preferred phrase, the "free economy"). The really interesting and urgent questions today have to do with culture: with the habits of the heart and mind that make democracy and market work to promote genuine human goods.

George Weigel, Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism (Eerdmans, 1996). p. 120. (Chapter 6: "Catholicism and Democracy: Parsing the Twentieth-Century Revolution" pp. 99-125 charts in greater detail the development of the Church's relationship and critique of liberal democracy described above. Regretfully it is not available online).

Friday, August 05, 2005

Nothing good can be done without freedom, but freedom is not the highest value in itself. Freedom is given to man in order to make possible the free obedience to truth and the free gift of onesself in love. -- Rocco Buttiglione, "The Free Economy and the Free Man."
A New Worldly Order: John Paul II and Human Freedom (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1992). p. 70.

Weigel [commenting on Buttiglione]:

"On this understanding of freedom and its relation to the nature of the human person, democracy is a substantive moral experiment. The procedures of democracy grow out of, and depend on, the ethos of the democratic society. And if those procedures are to serve human goods, that ethos must reflect the truth about the human person. This democracy depends on an ongoing process of moral-cultural revitalization. Democracy's self-governnence is never finally secured. Each generation must face Lincoln's question as to whether nations conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality before the law can long endure.
p. 127 (Soul of the World).

The last two chapters of Soul of the World contain very good reflections on Centesimus Annus and Veritatis Splendour. Despite the disagreements cited by the "Augustinian Thomists", I think it can safely be said that Weigel (Neuhaus, Novak) are very much in agreement with Schindler, Rowland, et al. on the deficiencies of secular democracy and modern liberalism, and concur with Pope John Paul II's "internal criticism" of the liberal democratic tradition.

The key source of disagreement, from what I gather so far, appears to be over the salvagibility and viability of the American experiment and the degree to which the philosophical foundations of the Enlightenment have tainted / corrupted classical liberalism such that it cannot be reconciled as a working political-economic model with the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Readers familiar with my website on The Catholic Church and the Liberal Tradition will note that the debate between the so-called "Whig Thomists"(Novak, Neuhaus, Weigel - and the journal First Things) and "Augustinian Thomists" (Dr. Robert Kraynak, Tracy Rowland and David Schindler of Communio) over the compatibility of the Catholic Church with the classical liberal tradition and the "American experiment" of democracy, human rights and the free market.

Not having the benefit of a grad school education (or the privileged access to an academic library), this is a debate I've been attempting to keep abreast of through what articles I'm able to access online and books I'm able to find in the used bookstores and public library (the latter being one of America's greatest institutions, I must say).

I'm grateful for those publications like First Things, Crisis and Commonweal that have generously put their back issues online (it's my hope that Communio will follow suite at some point).

This month I was also fortunate enough to find copies of Michael Novak's Freedom with Justice: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions and On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding. To aquaint myself with the Augustianian Thomists I've ordered David Schindler's Heart of the World, Center of the Church (Eerdmans, 1996).

I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Rowland's Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II but it's a little pricey (Perhaps I'll treat myself this Christmas?).

Having finished Novak's Free Persons and the Common Good, I've started on Weigel's Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism (Eerdmans, 1996) and Thomas Rourke's A Conscience as Large as the World: Yves R. Simon Versus the Catholic Neoconservatives (Rowman & Littlefield, November, 1996).

Novak's presentation of the "common good" in the liberal and Catholic traditions (via analysis of the Federalist Papers and the writings of Toqueville, Maritain, Yves R. Simon and Vatican II) was an invigorating read. I'm finding Weigel's book very refreshing. Focusing on the Church's social witness and relationship to the world, it covers some of the same topics as Schindler's Heart of the World, drawing on von Balthasar and John Paul II as much as he does John Courtney Murray, SJ.

Thomas Rourke's book,"a systematic critique of Catholic neoconservatism using the work of Yves Simon as a theoretical and practical lens of analysis," looks interesting as well. The rather curt First Things review notes that

"Yves Simon (1903-1961) was a very distinguished Catholic thinker who is, in fact, frequently and sympathetically employed by Novak, but Rourke thinks Novak got him all wrong. It is hard to know what to make of a book such as this, since it seems more than possible that Simon's views of forty and fifty years ago would have changed in the light of subsequent discoveries about the limits of the welfare state and the strength of market economies. Rourke himself is not much impressed by those discoveries, being a more or less unreconstructed "social democrat" of a markedly anticapitalist bent. What is clear enough, but hardly seems to warrant book-length exposition, is that the author does not like the gang of three. Whether or not Yves Simon is also "versus the Catholic neoconservatives," only Simon can say. We may hope for the answer to that in a better time and place.

Despite their skepticism, it seems like a novel approach and Rourke deserves better. I'll see how it goes. (BTW, a more detailed presentation of Rourke's thoughts are found in Neo-Conservatism: New Insights into Catholic Social Teaching, or just Old Liberalism in new Garments?, an assessment by Russel Sparks [.pdf format]

* * *

In the past several years of blogging I've had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a number of fellow Catholic / Christians interested in this imporant debate as well. In addition to the familiar faces of St. Blog's Parish -- Chris Burgwald ("Veritas") and Kevin Miller ("Heart, Mind and Strength"), I'd like to give special mention to the following (relatively new) voices in our online discussion:

  • la nouvelle thèologie by David Jones -- focusing of course on Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pope Benedict XVI and the ressourcement school of theology and the contributions of David Schindler, Tracy Rowland, et al. David keeps tabs on all aspects of this debate and is fast-becoming the "Drudge Report" of the WT/IT debate -- by that I mean, always on top of things with the most recent news and links.

  • My friend Santiago, who currently blogs at Cahiers Peguy but has his own blog as well (Constantly Risking. As a Paraguayan studying English literature and philosophy at a midwestern Jesuit college, blessed with an appreciation of our nation's history and a desire to learn about our founding fathers that is rarely found in most native-born Americans these days.
* * *

Occasional notes on my readings will be posted here (Religion and Liberty). However, if you notice a lag or altogether lapse in blogging, it's because I'm (Lord willing) engaged in serious study and making productive use of these remaining summer evenings.