Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005

"...WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLIC THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:" NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation..."

From the Thanksgiving Proclamation of George Washington, President of the United States. October 3, 1789. Source: The Massachusetts Centinel, Wednesday, October 14, 1789.

[Thanks to Padre of the "Not So Quiet" Catholic Corner].

Friday, November 18, 2005

"Geneological Jitters"

Geneological Jitters" and "Geneological Jitters Redux", from the blog Endlessly Rocking, on the criticism of modernity or perhaps characterization thereof as a unique event and a look back at a 'golden age' of synthesis.

(Much to ponder -- thanks to Chris Burgwald for recommending this post).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fr. Sirico on Dario Antiseri and the Debate on Relativism

[The following was conveyed to me by a representative of Istituto Acton in Rome, regarding the recent debate on relativism prompted by Sando Magister’s blog on Dario Antiseri (Disputed Questions. A Catholic Philosopher Argues for Relativism, by Sandro Magister. L'Espresso Nov. 3, 2005)]:

Statement by Rev. Robert A. Sirico:

It appears that a number of friends associated with the Acton Institute in Italy have recently entered into a vigorous and interesting discussion about the various meanings of relativism. I thought it might be of use to your readers to have my own reflections on that matter as well.

One of the insights of the Austrian school of economics has been to clarify the subjective nature of prices in a market economy operating relatively freely, along with the critical information and economic coordination that result from such free prices. One need not look far to see the deleterious effects in societies that attempt to regulate or controls prices.

Such economic subjectivism, which is rightly utilitarian in nature, ought not, in my assessment, to be confused with moral norms (virtues) which are objective in their nature and morally binding on the conscience for all people by virtue of the common nature with which they are endowed in their creation - whether or not people recognize their origin in God.

This access to moral truth by use of reason, often referred to as the Natural Law, is predicated on the belief that the human mind is a normatively reliable tool of cognition. It does not follow, however, that reason is infallible, much less that an apprehension of moral truth justifies in principle the use of coercion to force others to conform to its demands. "Christian truth is not of this kind," the Second Vatican Council reminds us.

In his pre-conclave address, the then Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the threat of "a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."

There is considerable room for a genuine plurality of views and disagreement among faithful Roman Catholics. Nonetheless, my own view is to affirm the condemnation of relativism as defined by the Holy Father, a condemnation that echoes the statements of the Magisterium on this matter as found in authoritative teaching documents such as Evangelium Vitae (no.20, no.70) and Veritatis Splendor ( no.1, no.48, no.84, no.101, no.106, no.112), and which, in addition to such authoritative pronouncements, I also find intellectually compelling.

I also wish to add that, as a corporate body, the Acton Institute is not engaging in this debate about relativism and no views expressed by any of the participants should be regarded as the position of the Acton Institute.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico
President, Acton Institute

Monday, November 14, 2005

Making Sense of Schindler: Good Diagnosis: What about the Prescription?

NOTE: This is continuation of my earlier posts "On Liberalism: Discussion w. Chris Burgwald" [Pt. 1] and Religious Convictions and Public Discourse [Pt. 2], addressing his post on the proposition 'Liberalism is the Death of God'. Chris' post was itself part of a series elaborating on David Jones' '[Points of] Disagreement with Novak', to which I responded here. The use of religious language in public debates and the problem of pluralism was the focus of an exchange btw/ Chris Burgwald and Santiago in the comments to his post. What follows are some extended reflections on these issues, put down over the course of the past week -- CB

For those who don't have access to Heart of the World, Schindler's article "Religious Freedom, Truth & American Liberalism: Another Look at John Courtney Murray" (Communio Winter 1994) provides his essential disagreement with Fr. John Courtney Murray's understanding of the First Admendment in juridical terms:

The claim of constitutional indifference (that is, neutrality) is tied, in the case of Murray, to his interpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment as "articles of peace." And this interpretation is reinforced by his definition of religious freedom first in negative terms, as an immunity (from coercion). But what happens if it can be shown that the religion clauses, whenever they actually mean anything, always imply someone's "articles of faith"; and if it can be shown, further, that a religious freedom defined first in negative terms already presupposes a theory of religion different from one which would define religious freedom first in positive terms, in terms of the person's positive relation toward God?

What I propose to argue is that the constitutional indifference toward religious truth which Murray defends turns out already to imply the beginning of the substantive (i.e., theoretical-societal) indifference which he otherwise decries. Any attempt at a purely formal definition of religious freedom will in fact always-already import a definite content of religion. Failure to recognize this suffices to distinguish one's approach to religious freedom, and indeed to political community, as already unacceptably liberal.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but apart from Neuhaus' responses in "The Public Square" and the expanded argument defending the 'liberalism' of John Paul II there isn't a lot of substantial engagement with Heart of the World to be found online or in print -- The other reviews being those by Michtell Kalpakgian (An Integrated Catholic Worldview, Homiletic & Pastoral Review. March 1998); Chrisophe Potworowski (Review in The Thomist, 1997); and Fr. Joseph Komonchak (Missing Person Commonweal Sept. 12, 1997).

Komonchak does note some weaknesses in Schindler's approach:

Let me offer some methodological and substantive comments. Schindler’s method typically searches for a sentence or two thought to represent his opponent’s starting point, from which, he believes, even if by “unintended logic,” must follow certain untenable conclusions. Thus, to take the instance I know most about, what Murray said about religious freedom being first negative-immunity from coercion-and being based upon the autonomy of the person is thought to imply an abstract notion of human nature which neglects that the first truth about the person is human nature’s positive orientation toward supernatural fulfillment in God. But such a view overlooks the moment of receptivity that must precede, condition, and direct all “autonomous” human activity. From the inadequacies of that starting-point follow, logically, all the consequences that have led to the corruption of the American experiment into “the culture of death.” That Murray’s writings contain many indications that belie Schindler’s description of it passes largely unnoticed. The result is a curious abstraction in the argument, logic replacing genuine dialogue and dialectic.

A second methodological problem is that, unlike those whom he criticizes, Schindler is most often content to remain at the level of first principles, where he thinks the real battle should be waged, and to leave the practical political, economic, or academic implications of his own position hazy. Even when one might agree that perhaps the starting-point should be more christological or Trinitarian, still what follows from this? How does one get at least part of the way from this exalted or primordial vision toward a different polity, economics, or university? And what mediates such necessary moves? Schindler’s remarks on Catholic universities do move a bit toward answering such questions, but when it comes to politics and economics, he is frustratingly vague.

My preference would be to see Weigel and Novak respond (William L. Portier referred to Weigel's Soul of the World as "a preemptive strike at another book that appeared later in 1996 from the same publisher"), and -- given Komonchak's criticisms -- more engagement by those Jesuit scholars who are well-versed in Murray's writings. Perhaps Kenneth Grasso might weigh in at some point (I read Grasso's article "Beyond Liberalism: Human Dignity, the Free Society, and the Second Vatican Council," this past week, with criticisms of liberalism circa. 1995 that were reminiscent of Schindler circa. 1997 -- for example, as when he asserts "it became apparent that the very rejection of teleology entailed by liberalism's nominalism and rationalism was incompatible with the affirmation of the type of objective and universally obligatory moral order whose existence early liberals had taken as axiomatic").

Dr. Schindler objects to a feigned moral/religious "neutrality" put forth by a certain kind of liberalism. Granted, any nation-state will inevitably have to make hard decisions concerning the public regulation of morality (the definition of marriage; sexuality, biological/medical ethics, etc.), and such cannot help but be made by appeal to a moral, if not religious, tradition. Even the Declaration of Independence was grounded in a conception of natural law with appeal to "the laws of nature and natur's God." On this note, even Irving Kristol -- that nefarious grand wizard of the Neocon Cabal -- criticizes the notion of a purely "managerial" democracy, pointing out that the affirmation of democracy itself presupposes a discussion -- Fr. Murray might say consensus -- of 'the good life' and a life worth pursuing.

I think that Fr. Neuhaus and Dr. Schindler (the AT's and WT's) are roughly on the same page regarding the pernicious effects of secular liberalism and it's "value-free" facade (Neuhaus takes umbrage at the notion that he has "uncritically baptized American democracy," pointing out his book The Naked Public Square which anticipates Schindler's criticism). As Santiago pointed out, the question persists as to whether the Church can align itself with liberal institutions while repudiating a liberal ideology which now engulfs Europe, and much of America.

For conservatives (Russell Kirk) this is a matter of "reappropriating and revitalizing the liberal tradition." For Neuhaus, Weigel, Novak and others, there is the added necessity of bringing the liberal tradition into engagement with the "internal criticism" of John Paul II, calling recognition to a proper understanding and grounding of the individual. Again, Fr. Neuhaus' reflection on the liberal critique of Centesimus Annus:

There is no more common criticism of the liberal tradition than that it is premised upon unbridled "individualism." [Centesiumus Annus] speaks of the "individual" and even of the "autonomous subject" (13), but most typically refers to the "person." Citing the earlier encyclical Redemptor Hominis, John Paul writes that "this human person is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission . . . the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption." He then adds the remarkable statement, "This, and this alone, is the principle which inspires the Church's social doctrine." (53)

This, and this alone. He writes, "The Church has gradually developed that doctrine in a systematic way," above all in the past century. Very gradually, we might add without disrespect. In the later encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul pays fulsome tribute to modernity and its development of the understanding of the dignity of the individual and of individual freedom. Individualism is one of the signal achievements of modernity or, if you will, of the liberal tradition. Nor should we deny that this achievement was effected in frequent tension with, and even conflict with, the Catholic Church. One important reason for such conflict, of course, was that the cause of freedom was perceived as marching under the radically anticlerical and anti-Christian banners of 1789. It is a signal achievement of this pontificate that it has so clearly replanted the idea of the individual and of freedom in the rich soil of Christian truth from which, in its convoluted and conflicted development, it had been uprooted. Only as it is deeply rooted in the truth about the human person will the flower of freedom flourish in the future.

It is a mistake to pit, as some do pit, modern individualism against a more organic Catholic understanding of community. Rather should we enter into a sympathetic liaison with the modern achievement of the idea of the individual, grounding it more firmly and richly in the understanding of the person destined from eternity to eternity for communion with God. The danger of rejecting individualism is that the real-world alternative is not a Catholic understanding of communio but a falling back into the collectivisms that are the great enemy of the freedom to which we are called. As CA reminds us, "We are not dealing here with humanity in the abstract, but with the real, concrete, historical person." The problem with the contemporary distortion of the individual as the autonomous, unencumbered, sovereign Self is not that it is wrong about the awesome dignity of the individual, but that it cuts the self off from the source of that dignity.

The "Augustinian-Thomist" response, inasmuch as I understand it -- and I'm somewhat at a loss here, as I have yet to read Kraynak or Rowland -- is varying degrees of skepticism and pessimism regarding the "salvagability" of constitutional democracy, given that the very seeds of corruption were planted at America's founding (some would say by virtue of their involvement in Freemasonry). Some approaches go so far as to advocate a kind of anarchism (the "Christian anarchism" of Ammon Hennacy, for example -- I confess in more radical years I was captivated by the religiously-inspired anarchism of Leo Tolstoy and Jacques Ellul). Others, like Alexander MacIntyrem are resigned to sit out the presidential elections, convinced that "when offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives [Bush's conservatism, Kerry's liberalism], it is important to choose neither."

In Heart of the World, Schindler affirms Vatican II's unequivocal rejection of integralism (the absorption of the world into the Church). He also maintains that "de Lubac's organic-paradoxical theory of nature and grace does not imply any dynamic for uniting the Church juridically with the state, at least not in the present world." At the same time, however, he maintains that

"[T]he fuller burden of communio ecclesiology, in its "worldly" implications . . . is destined for the transfiguring espousal with Jesus Christ: the espousal is meant to include human beings, not only in their individual but in their social nature as well: in their nature as extended into culture and hence into academic, political, economic structures and institutions. This espousal is meant also to include cosmic entities" [p. 20]

But Schindler qualifies this only a few pages later by adding that

"The transfiguration of creatures entailed by their espousal will of course be complete in the next life, and will be realized in this life (by human beings) only by undergoing the patient suffering, crucifixion, and death that is the way of Christ's own eucharistic offering. Transfiguration, in other words, is not a simple process of ever-increasing integration in Christ that occurs without radical discontinuity . . . a communio ecclesiology simply insists that we recognize the invitation to such transfiguration has nonetheless been extended to all creatures (proportionately, analogously) from the beginning of their existence and in a way that affects every aspect of their existence.

For an author who takes such great care in articulating his diagnosis of liberalism's ills, like Fr. Komonchak, I as a reader was personally hoping for -- but left wanting -- some genuine political or economic prescriptions.

* * *

Pope Benedict XVI: 'American Model' Worth Salvaging?

Lastly, as Santiago recently brought to my attention, Cardinal Ratzinger in November 2004 expressed his personal preference for the 'American model' over the European in terms of approaching religious pluralism:

. . . In comparing U.S. and European attitudes to diverse religions, Cardinal Ratzinger added: "I think that from many points of view the American model is the better one," while "Europe has remained bogged down in caesaropapism."

"People who did not want to belong to a state church, went to the United States and intentionally constituted a state that does not impose a church and which simply is not perceived as religiously neutral, but as a space within which religions can move and also enjoy organizational freedom without being simply relegated to the private sphere," he explained.

On this point, "one can undoubtedly learn from the United States," as it is a "process by which the state makes room for religion, which is not imposed, but which, thanks to the state, lives, exists and has a public creative force," the cardinal said. "It certainly is a positive way."

-- Cardinal Ratzinger Commends U.S. Model of Laicism Zenit News Service. Nov. 25, 2004.

Likewise, on October 17, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his support of a "positive secularity" in government:

In a letter to the president of the Italian Senate, Benedict XVI called for a "positive secularity" that omits any kind of hostility between religion and the state.

The "positive secularity" of which the Pope speaks guarantees "to each citizen the right to live his own religious faith with genuine freedom, including in the public realm." [. . .]

The Holy Father clarified that secularity must become "a commitment to guarantee to all, individuals and groups, respect for the exigencies of the common good, [and] the possibility to live and to express one own religious convictions."

According to the Bishop of Rome, the fundamental rights of the human being "are not created by the lawmakers, but are inscribed in the very nature of the human person, and refer back, in the last analysis to the Creator."

"Therefore," he added, "a healthy secularity of the state seems legitimate and advantageous, in virtue of which the temporal realities are governed according to norms that are proper to them, to which those ethical instances also belong that have their foundation in the very existence of man."

* * *

I've been sitting on these comments for the better part of the week and could probably revise them a third time over. However, time's a-wastin' and given Chris Burgwald's intention to expound on the additional criticisms of David Jones, we'll definitely have more opportunities for blogging on these subjects.

Monstrous mess that it is, I turn it over to my readers for their consideration.

Religious Convictions and Public Discourse (Discussion w. Chris Burgwald)

NOTE: This is continuation of my earlier post "On Liberalism: Discussion w. Chris Burgwald", addressing his post on the proposition 'Liberalism is the Death of God'. The use of religious language in public debates and the problem of pluralism was the focus of an exchange btw/ Chris Burgwald and Santiago in the comments to his post on liberalism. What follows are some extended reflections in response to these issues, put down over the course of the past week -- CB

Regarding Chris' mention of the Enlightenment desire to construct 'a public morality' without any reference whatsoever to religion, and acceptable to anyone with the basic ability to think" -- one of the questions that I was prompted to ask: wither the concept of natural law as a medium for communication between Christians and non-Christians?

On one hand, natural law is rooted in religion (there can be no 'law' without a lawgiver). But at the same time, isn't it posited that by human reason we have the ability to know the requirements of natural law without the explicit assistance of divine revelation? While there is no question that many Christians are deficient in bearing witness to the Good News and the call to evangelize, does it necessarily follow that engagement in public discourse is not worthy of our time unless one's position on this or that issue is given explicit grounding on religious convictions? -- Fr. Neuhaus is resistant to this notion, and for good reason:

Schindler says the NWN gang, following Murray, claim that they are engaged in public discourse and therefore must make their arguments accessible to all reasonable persons, irrespective of their theological convictions or lack thereof. That, according to Schindler, is just the problem. A full-bore, undiluted presentation of Catholic truth is unapologetically aimed at converting people to that truth. He asks, "Would not an ethic that held less demand for conversion have a greater chance for widespread success?" He does not deny that, but simply responds by quoting Balthasar that "success is not a Gospel category."

So much for the task of trying to construct a comprehensive public discourse based upon reason and moral law. Attempting that is a liberal delusion, according to Schindler. It is worse than futile; it inevitably results in a betrayal of the fullness of the truth. Schindler's position is in key respects a Catholic version of the position of R. J. Rushdoony and the theonomists among Calvinists and of Stanley Hauerwas in his more intemperate moments. In their view, a genuinely public discourse is an oxymoron. Although they may use the same words, between Christian and non-Christian (maybe, for Schindler, between Catholic and non-Catholic) there is no commensurable discourse. The Catholic intellectual should simply bear witness to the fullness of truth in the hope of converting others to it. Although he denies it, Schindler is, like the theonomists, disposed toward a monism that cannot abide the pluralism that is history before the End Time.

NOTE: On this issue, I recommend the following for further consideration:
  • God’s Reasons: Do appeals to religious authority have a role in public policy debates?, by Robert P. George. McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and author of Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2001). Dr. George strikes me as a good example if any of a Catholic who wields the natural law tradition effectively in engaging non-Catholics/non-Christians in policy debates in the public square.

  • Christian Conviction & Democratic Etiquette, by George Weigel. First Things 41 (March 1994): 28-35. Weigel asks: "How do we talk the talk? How, that is, do we talk so that moral judgments born from Christian religious conviction can be heard and thoughtfully considered by all Americans-or at least by those Americans willing to concede that moral judgment plays a crucial role in the public policy process?"

  • An example of this issue comes into play was the 2004 Presidential elections. As you might recall, John Kerry never tired of defending his "pro-choice" stance on grounds that while he was a Catholic, with respect to the question of abortion (and human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research), he would as a matter of principle refrain from "imposing" religious convictions on the general public. In April 2004, George Weigel weighed in on this matter as follows:
    "What belongs to everyone, since this is a national candidacy, is the responsibility to make clear that when Kerry says the Church's pro-life teaching is a sectarian position which cannot be imposed on a pluralistic society, he is willfully misrepresenting the nature of the Church's position -- by suggesting that this is something analogous to the Catholic Church trying to force everyone in the United States to abstain from eating hot dogs on Fridays during Lent."

    "This is simply false. The Church's pro-life teaching is something that can be engaged seriously by anyone. You don't have to believe that there are seven sacraments to deal with this, you don't have to believe in the primacy of the bishop of Rome to engage this position. You don't even have to believe in God to engage this [pro-Life] position because it's a position rooted in basic embryology and in basic logic, and anybody can engage that."

    Q: Is this a suitable and legitimate mode of reasoning for a Catholic in public debate? What would David Jones or Chris Burgwald say? What would Schindler say?

On "Liberalism" - Discussion w. Chris Burgwald

Chris Burgwald picks up on the conversation begun at La Nouvelle Theologie with the first in a series of posts elaborating on the reasons for disagreement with Michael Novak (together with Fr. Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Fr. Sirico). The first of these posts to Veritas is on the proposition: "The death of God for our times, for our culture, for us, is Liberalism".

The 'liberalism' which is condemned by Chris and David Jones (and those whom I'll refer to as 'The Schindler camp') is "characterized by the autonomy of the individual, which results in the individual as the primary focal point of every form of discourse: political, social, cultural, religious, etc," citing as an example the inordinant emphasis on "rights talk" in public discourse, on unrestrained human autonomy or individualism.

At the risk of stating the obvious, but there is nothing to be deplored in the mere affirmation of human rights -- George Weigel has recounted a story from the early 1980's, when Sir Michael Howard, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, suggested in a conversation that there had been two great twentieth-century revolutions: the first the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 (culminating in failure); the second the ongoing "evolution of the Catholic Church into the world's premier institutional defender of human rights," especially under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

In Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II -- no shrinking violet when it comes to criticism of liberalism -- praised as "the positive fruit of the Enlightenment" the ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity, and a better understanding of human rights: the rights of man as well as of nations, "to maintain their own culture and exercise political sovereignty." He oberves the significant proximity of the French Revolution (July 14, 1789), the proclamation of the Polish constitution (May 3, 1791) and the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America (July 4, 1776), and the "stimulating synthesis of the relation between Christianity and the Enlightenment" as found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

So, I think it is important to note the recognition of legitimate human rights by the contemporary Catholic Church, even as these are distinguished from the illusory rights born of a false notion of human autonomy (the disasterous judicial reasoning behind Roe v. Wade comes readily to mind).

Chris goes on to add that "individualism is not the only feature of liberalism: the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre is well-known for his critique of what he calls "the Enlightenment project."

MacIntyre uses this term to describe the attempt by Enlightenment philosophers to construct a 'public morality' accessible to reason alone, i.e. without any reference whatsoever to religion and acceptable to anyone with the basic ability to think. (MacIntyre convincingly demonstrates how such a project is an ultimately futile one.) This, too, tends to define liberalism broadly understood.
In "Beyond Liberalism: Human Dignity, the Free Society, and the Second Vatican Council" (pp. 29-58. Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism, Rowman & Littlefield, 1995) Kenneth L. Grasso reminds us that if we understand liberalism in the broad sense to consist of that which is "supportive of constitutionalism, limited government, the rule of law, etc., over and against absolutism," it would not be inappropriate to describe the political teaching of the Second Vatican Council as liberal -- what John Courtney Murray described as "a political commmitment, however discrete, to constitutional government" -- a "preferential option" for constitutional democracy (Grasso, p. 30).

But the other kind of liberalism -- that which emerged in the seventeenth century and became constitutive of modern Western thought, which Grasso summarizes as "that theory of man and society that combines a methodological rejection of teleology with an emphatic rejection of any notion of natural or God-given goals," is rightly to be condemned. It is this form of liberalism that is characterized by "a view of human beings as essentially sovereign wills ["unencumbered selves"], subject to no order of obligations not of their own creation, subject to no order of human ends that obligate independent of, and prior to, an act of free consent to strive for these ends." (Grasso, p. 45).

Chris goes on to note that liberalism in the sense he describes it "encompasses the vast majority of political discourse in our country today; virtually all of those people who describe themselves as liberal and conservative are actually liberals in this broad sense." He explains why it is considered the 'death of God' in modern times:

Now, why is liberalism understood in this sense the death of God for our times? Because of its amazing capacity to create and sustain (false) antagonistic dualisms, e.g. faith and reason; body and soul; church and state; religion and life. Note well: I'm certainly not denying that each element of each pair of terms is distinguishable from the other -- that's obviously true. My point here is that liberalism doesn't merely distinguish between (for example) faith and reason: rather, it puts them in opposition to one another at a fundamental level.

What we're talking about here is secularism: the view that denies religion's intrinsically pervasive nature. Secularism tries to create the "naked public square," i.e. to make religion a purely private matter without bearing and impact on the public life of a nation. I would argue that secularism is one of the logical consequences of liberalism, in spite of the fact that some liberals (e.g. conservative liberals) might themselves be vociferous opponents of secularism. In other words, there is a logic of liberalism which inexorably works itself out, whatever the positive and good intentions of individual liberals.

I find that definitions are key to this discussion. "Liberalism," as Fr. Neuhaus wryly notes in his response to Dr. Schindler, "is a wonderfully pliant term." It runs the gambit from the the laissez-faire economic liberalism (condemned by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum) to the libertarianism "which remains in the largest part a thought experiment for college sophomores of all ages" -- and one has only to take a survey of the many varieties of liberalism through the ages to notice the distinctions between them.

A number of the sources I have mentioned this past week in the context of our discussion here and at La Nouvelle Theologie concern those scholars who demonstrate that the thought of our founding fathers on the interaction of 'faith and reason', 'church and state,' 'religion and life' is a far cry from the secularism of contemporary liberals. While the experience of strife between religions motivated them to establish a boundary between 'church and state', their writings reveal that they did not see them in mutual opposition. (Indeed, they would likely be rolling in their graves at the antics of the ACLU). Likewise, they demonstrate that the founding principles of this nation have far more in common with Catholic tradition than some today would care to admit.

Among such resources cited are: Fr. Hunter ("Catholics and the Republic"), Fr. John C. Rager ("Catholic Sources of the Declaration"), the reflections of Fr. John Courtney Murray, the contemmporary research of Michael Novak (On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding), and -- thanks to David Jones for the introduction -- Scott McDermott (on the person of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence). Novak's On Two Wings stands out as one of the best compilations of the founders' real thought on religion in public life -- one that he "wanted to write for some forty years," if not for his ignorance, "convential (but mistaken) wisdom" and the many "erroneous perceptions . . . unconsciously drunk from public perception." I heartily recommend it.

* * *

There are two articles by Fr. Neuhaus which were written in response to the criticism of Dr. Schindler in Heart of the World:

In the latter post, Neuhaus expresses a concern with the sweeping condemnation of liberalism and its implications for Catholic engagement in the public square:
"The burden of the present book," he writes, "is to suggest that liberalism cannot so easily claim the moral authority of Catholicism, and, at the same time, to indicate why an increasing liberal hegemony throughout the world should be viewed not altogether with favor but, on the contrary, with a certain alarm." Well, yes, if, like Schindler, one puts the worst possible construction on liberalism' meaning the American founding, liberal democracy, and market economics. And that is what Schindler tends to do. Liberalism is condemned tout court as a dogmatic system premised upon radical individualism, the autonomous self, calculated self-interest, and human creativity as opposed to receptivity to God's grace. In sum, Schindler starts out by agreeing with those who construe the liberal tradition -- and its chief historical instantiation, the American experiment -- along rigorously secularist and un-Christian (maybe anti-Christian) lines. Those of us who defend the "Murray Project" might easily turn around and charge Schindler with selling out the American store to the enemies of the faith. I am not about to join him in giving up the argument and letting Laurance Tribe or the ACLU define the meaning of liberal democracy.
Both essays are well worth reading, addressing the conflicting understandings of liberalism and the Catholic Church's engagement with the liberal tradition in the thought of John Paul II (particularly in Centesimus Annus (which Neuhaus rightly points out is not so much a document on economic questions as it is about the nature of the free society).

As there is too much in Neuhaus' dual response to simply recount in the space of this blog, I recommend reading them with Chris Burgwald's post in mind, along with the recent discussions with David Jones and company.

Next Post: Religious Convictions in Public Discourse

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Against a 'Managerial' Conception of Democracy

Though the phrase "the quality of life" trips easily from so many lips these days, it tends to be one of those cliches with many trivial meanings and no large, serious one. Sometimes it merely refers to some externals as the enjoyment of cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner streets. At other times it refers to the merely private enjoyment of music, painting and literature. Rarely does it have anything to do with the way the citizen in a democracy views himself -- his obligations, his intentions, his ultimate self-definition.

Instead, what I would call the "managerial" conception of democracy is the predominant opinion among political scientists, socialogists, economists, and has, through the untiring efforts of these scholars, become the conventional journalistic opinion as well. The root idea behind this managerial conception of democracy is 'a political system' (as they say) which can be adequately defined in terms of -- can be fully reduced to -- its mechanical arrangements. Democracy is then seen as a set of rules or procedures, and nothing but a set of rules and procedures, whereby majority rule and minority rights are reconciled in a state of equilibrium. If everyone follows these rules and procedures, then democracy is in good working order. I think this is a fair description of the democratic idea that currently prevails in academia. One can now say that it is the liberal idea of democracy par excellence.

I cannot help but feel there is something ridiculous about being this kind of a democrat, and I must confess to having a sneaking sympathy for those young radicals who also find it ridiculous. The absurdity is the absurdity of idolatry -- of taking the symbolic for the real, the means for the end. The purpose of democracy cannot possibly be the endless functioning of its own political machinery. The purpose of any political regime is to achieve some version of the good life and the good society. It is not at all difficult to imagine a perfectly functioning democracy which answers all questions except one -- namely, why should anyone of intelligence and spirit care a fig for it?

Irving Kristol, from: "Pornography, Obscenity and the Case for Censorship" The Neocon Reader pp. 175-176. (Grove Press, 2005)

Welcome - 'Democracy for the Dead' (new blog)

It's one of the pleasures of blogging to stumble across another which shares similar interests -- in this case, to discover that one is not alone in pondering the Catholic Church's relationship with 'The American Experiment' in constitutional democracy, the relationship of church and state, Catholics in political life, etc. In this case, it's the collective blog "The Democracy of the Dead":

As G.K. Chesterton said in his masterpiece entitled Orthodoxy, "[tradition] is the democracy of the dead." This site is dedicated to analyzing politics, culture, and religion through the voices of those still living and those who have departed but left us their wisdom.

It is my pleasure to welcome them to the blogroll, and I look forward to corresponding with them in the future.

Some posts from their archive

Monday, November 07, 2005

Briefly: Recommended reading on 'Christianity and Democracy'

W. Lindsey Wheeler comments on my blog:

"How absurd is this:
[Citing Neuhaus]: "Democracy is a relative good, but it is superior to other orders because: 1) it is the form of government that, under the conditions of modernity, best accommodates the Christian understanding of human dignity;"

And then Chris you agree. Show me in Scripture where democracy is approved. Scripture approves only two forms of government--monarchy and mixed goverment (a republic, politeia).

I can not believe what I am reading. Why doesn't the church teach from its own Religious Divinely Inspired Writings?

Chris please Plato saw democracy as a disease of men. When their character becomes corrupt, democracy is the sign of that corruptness. Democracy breaks down righteousness and is the product of egalitarianism.

After constantly posting this Link: The Classical definition of a republic, is it all for nought?

Here is the scripture:

"...remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth (Politeias) of Israel,..." New Testament, Eph., 2.12

"But our commonwealth (Politeuma) is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,..." New Testament, Phl., 3.20

Tell me what is going on? Democracy is sign of the degeneracy of the people? Is not the Catholic Church about teaching the TRUTH? Why do you Chris continue to advocate democracy????? Why?

First, as to the distinction btw/ 'republic' and 'democracy', I refer you to I. Shawn McElhinney's post , on the oft-quoted remark by Benjamin Franklin, in which he observes that the structure of our government is moreso that of a republic than a strict democracy. I'll also wager that Fr. Neuhaus, for his talk of democray, is certainly aware of this distinction as well.

Second, there is more to Catholic tradition than an appreciation of Plato, and in matters of politics and economics (as well as other issues of morality) the Church isn't necessarily confined to a reading of the Scriptures, but the breadth of Catholic tradition over the centuries and the teaching authority of the Church.

To observe what Catholic tradition has to say with respect to constitutional democracy, I'd refer you to the many authors found on this website, among them George Weigel, Kenneth L. Grasso, Father John Courtney Murray (but of course), the relevant documents of the Second Vatican Council and papal encyclicals.

Among the readings the following might be worthwhile:

I am confident that my readers will be able to provide numerous additional recommendations on this topic as well.

* * *

Elsewhere in the comments W. Lindsey Wheeler wonders:

. . . the author does not respond and nobody else does either--why is that because we know we are promoting error? or are we too cowardly to address the situation? Or are we too high and mighty (too elitist) to respond?
I get between 12-20 commments a day on my various blogs, as well as various petitions of this or that nature. I work a vigorous day job and have much to occupy my evenings besides the internet, including a good amount of reading. Consequently, the time I do spend is particularly precious, and my friends' blogs generally receive preferential treatment. However, as my fellow readers know, if they find W. Lindsey Wheeler's comments worthy of response they are certainly invited to do so -- commenting on this blog is, of course, open to all save that they do so in civil fashion.

(A word of advice: call it the 'Fr. O'Leary Syndrome', but posting as many as 10 verbose comments in succession to a single post is a good indication that one might avail himself of a wonderful new device that is the fruit of modern technology: the blog). =)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

What makes a 'Neocon'?

The term 'neoconservative' was originally identified with a group of early (predominantly Jewish) liberals "mugged by reality": former Trotskyites who had become disillusioned with Communism and the increasing radicalism and anti-Americanism of the Left. Some of the more recognizable of these are Irving Kristol (editor of the now-defunct The Public Interest), Norman Podhoretz (Commentary) and William Kristol (The Weekly Standard). (A good documentary on the early years of Irving Kristol is PBS' "Arguing The World, covering the 'New York Intellectuals' Irving Kristol, Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer).

In a very loose sense, Catholics like Fr. Neuhaus and Michael Novak might be described as 'neoconservative' in that they were likewise active on the left during the 60's, and experienced profound reorientations in their perspectives on certain political issues over the years (Fr. Neuhaus worked with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights era, and in 1965, joined Heschel and John Bennett in founding "Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam"; Michael Novak describes his break from the Left in "Controversial Engagements" First Things 92 April 1999: 21-29).

Over the course of recent decades and especially in the 90's, the term 'neocon' has come to be used by the left and especially the "antiwar" movement to refer to practically anybody and everybody supportive of the foreign policy of the Bush administration in Iraq, or stretched even further -- as in the contension of Dr. J.P. Hubert that "virtually all of the "hot-button" issues of our day are either significantly impacted or controlled by neoconservative ideology including American foreign and domestic policy" ("The New Stealth World View").

Given the twists and turns in the understanding of 'neocon' over the decades, it is my contention that when the 'neocon' label is liberally applied without proper clarification or qualification, it easily becomes an impediment to the discussion and only adds to readers' confusion.

This is especially the case when whole groups of individuals, publications, or organizations are lumped together, as when the Zwicks issue a mass-condemnation of "Neuhaus, Weigel, Novak, Sirico, The American Enterprise Institute, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Acton Institute and First Things Magazine" in their article "Pope John Paul II condemns neoliberalism in Ecclesia in America, as social sin that cries to heaven" (Houston Catholic Worker Vol. XIX, No. 2, Mar.-Apr. 1999). (The Zwicks furthermore assert that "Neoliberalism is known in the United States as neoconservatism," a spurious charge addressed by Michael Therrien in his essay John Paul II’s Use of the Term Neo-Liberalism in Ecclesia in America").

I hope my readers will pardon this lengthy preface, because I am concerned here by David Jone's use of the term "neocon" in a recent post to Nouvelle Theologie, linking to the latest piece by Italian journalist and 'Vatican specialist' Sandro Magister on Italian Catholic philosopher Dario Antiseri(Disputed Questions. A Catholic Philosopher Argues for Relativism Nov. 3, 2005). David's post is titled "An Italian Neocon", with the following remarks:

[Antiseri] is criticizing, at bottom, Benedict XVI's positions on relativism, nihilism, and the natural law. In this article, it cites his affinity with American thinkers like Novak, Sirico and Neuhaus. Does this surprise anyone? It shouldn't considering this American camp of Whig Thomists have contradicted the last two Holy Fathers on many, many points.

David is well aware that I've criticized the use of the label 'neocon' in the past. Addressing Dr. Hubert's use of the term 'neocon' and his reference to a 'Straussianl' cabal allegedly pulling the strings of the Bush administration, I remarked that:

would be beneficial to "tighten up" his case (as well as a guide to further discussion) by coming to a more concise definition -- that is to say, laying out specific criteria by which one can accurately identify a "neoconservative" and/or a "Catholic neoconservative" -- including a substantiated list of "neoconservative principles" operative in U.S. economic/foreign policy.
So, it should come as no suprise to David that lumping Antiseri and Novak, Neuhaus and Weigel together as "neocons" would bug me to no end. =)

Magister alleges that Antiseri's writings are "read and appreciated in the United States, where he is in the company of Catholic thinkers like Michael Novak, Robert Sirico, and Richard J. Neuhaus." I find this curious, as a specific Google query for his name reveals total of 455 English results in Google). While he is compared to Neuhaus, Novak, a search of First Things' entire online archive for the author comes up with nary a mention. A search of the website for the Acton Institute comes up with a great deal more results, most in Italian.

Antiseri is, however, cited favorably on Lew Rockwell's blog, which purports to be "anti war, pro-market" and is quite fond of the Austrian (or Vienna) school of economics.

Antiseri was also involved in a panel discussion/presentation of book by Luigi Guissiani (L’io, il potere, le opere [The Self, Power, Works]). And back in September 2003, Antiseri reported on the research of scholars like Oreste Bazzichi and Alejandro A. Chafuen (Faith and Liberty. The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics), questioning the thesis of Max Weber that the spirit of capitalism originated in Reformation-era Calvinism, and which rather can be traced to various works of thought and practices in the Middle Ages (especially that of the Franciscans [!]).

But does all or any of this make Antiseri a "neocon"? -- and given the lack of qualification, is it in any way helpful to the discussion? If Antiseri is a neocon, and if Neuhaus, Sirico and Novak are likewise neocons, should we then impute the dissenting philosophical critique of Antiseri to the rest of them? On the contrary, it seems that the very application of the label obfuscates the content of Antiseri's article and the positions of Fr. Neuhaus, Sirico and company themselves.

I think if David Jones were to honor my recommmendation in coming up with a clear and comprehensible list of 'defining characteristics' or indicators of neoconservatism, it would be a greater challenge than he had anticipated.

* * *

On a side note, perhaps it was the translation, but I found Antiseri's piece rather abstract -- thus far, with the exception of this brief discussion on BrothersJudd, it's gotten precious little attention in blogland (I guess John Allen Jr. is the greater draw among religious bloggers).

Perhaps in time Neuhaus, Novak and Sirico will rush to the defense of their neoconservative comrades-in-arms.

Charles Carroll and the American Founding

How Charles Carroll Influenced U.S. Founding Fathers -- David Jones posts links to a two-parter by Scott McDermott on the legacy of Charles Carroll, the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. McDermott recently completed a biography of Carroll (Charles Carroll of Carrollton Faithful Revolutionary, and recently gave a talk to the Thomas More Society of Dallas, TX on the subject ("Guest lecturer reminds of America's Catholic Roots", by Monica Tomutsa. University of Dallas News Nov. 2, 2005).

As readers familiar with David's blog have come to expect, the talk of America's founding has again awakened the issue of the founding father's relationship to Freemasonry, including that of Daniel Carroll and his brother, John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop of the United States. See the comments for ongoing discussion, particularly a detailed exchange between David Jones and Tim Taylor on the Masons (with some minor contributions by yours truly).

  • How Charles Carroll Influenced U.S. Founding Fathers - Part I | Part II. Interview w. Scott McDermott. Zenit News Service. Nov. 1-2, 2005.

The following articles were recommended to me in connection with this topic (pertaining more to the philosophical and religious roots of the American founding than Freemasonry itself):

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Responding to David Jones' "Disagreement with Novak & other Whig Thomists"

David Jones has posted his "Disagreement with Novak & other Whig Thomists" (Oct. 21, 2005):

A friend asked the following question to me.

"Can you articulate in one short paragraph your core disagreement with the thinking of [Michael] Novak? I want your words, not a list of books I should read. Just a succinct expression of your disagreement."

My response was the following seven points.

1. The death of God for our times, for our culture, for us, is Liberalism.
2. Democracy is the not the best form of government.
3. Capitalism is not the best form of economics.
4. Novak does not adequately deal with the centrality of the nature-grace question, which directly impacts humanity and therefore our culture. He therefore uses a poor ontology (onto-logic) of the prudence required to deal with the political and economic practices and structures of modern-day society or man.
5. The War in Iraq is unjust. It did not meet the Just War criteria.
6. Big business destroys or lessens our humanity.
7. St. Thomas Aquinas is no Whig.

David's comments (or, rather, assertions) are very succinct indeed, although having "chewed on them" a little I think I'd prefer clarity and precision over ambiguity, even if it means for David to take some time to develop and "flesh out" his position in a series of posts.

Nevertheless, as he wishes for a response, what follows is a modified form of my email to him and one of our mutual friends, excerpted from prior correspondence and slightly revised (and posted in the comments to the post in question):

1) "The death of God for our times, for our culture, for us, is Liberalism"

To which one is compelled to ask: What kind of liberalism? What kind of liberty? As we know, the term itself can refer to a broad range of positions with often conflicting philosophies:

[T]he word liberalism is a wonderfully pliant term. It is used to label a range of philosophical and religious positions, many of which have little in common. Both the political theorist John Rawls and the economist Friedrich Von Hayek are commonly described as liberals. Yet, it is difficult to imagine two individuals whose views on many matters are more opposed to each other. . . . it makes little sense to ask whether a set of proposed practices are "liberal" or, for that matter, "conservative." Reasoned inquiry should ask whether an idea is reasonable and threfore true, or unreasonable and thus untrue.
-- Dr. Samuel Gregg [introduction, On Ordered Liberty].

Further reading on the ambiguities of the term "liberalism':

David / Schindler / AT's see liberalism as very much wedded to postmodernism [death of God, absence of meaning, nihilism] -- WT's contend for a liberalism rightly criticiqued by the Church, achieved in part by a recovery of the original vision of our founding fathers.

Here's one distinction: for philosophers like Alisdair MacIntyre (After Virtue -- another good book), David Schindler, etc., the Enlightenment is done and over with. As MacIntyre points out in Whose Justice, Which Rationality we're in a fragmented age of conflicting worldviews, even to address concepts like "Reason", "Truth," "Justice," et al. is to deal with clashing understandings and interpretations derived from conflicting traditions.

Postmodernism reigns supreme, so the battle is squarely that of postmodernism/nihilism/relativism vs. Christianity. Novak's attempt to even research and present the original vision of our founding fathers (On Two Wings) is an exercise in futility, because -- they would say -- who really cares at this point?

The WT's see the inclination toward postmodernism as stemming from the academies and intellectuals (remember in the questions at the end of On Two Wings (pp. 111-113) where Novak ponders how we got from there to here? -- the secular interpretation of America's founding challenged by Novak's research didn't happen out of nowhere. He speaks of the "Europeanization of American intellectual life" and a concerted effort in the late 40's and 50's to systematically secularize American life and the interpretation of our nation's founding.

Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind -- another must-read -- describes the decay of the universities during the latter twentieth century as the infection of relativism sets into academia. Camille Paglia (a militant feminist) is sometimes fun to read because despite her antipathy towards Christianity she stands clearly opposed to her colleagues obsession with European postmodernism (Derrida, Foucault, etc.) and the loss of even a basic knowledge of the bible.

Dr. Schindler maintains that this is not simply the universities' fault -- that America itself, the midwest, the 'red states', everybody -- is hopelessly infected by the malaise of liberalism / relativism. We're not so "religious" a nation as we appear. There is some truth to this, but I think they tend to go overboard in their criticism and are under-appreciative of the distinctly positive elements in American life or the liberal tradition upon which it is founded . . . yes, even here in New York. ;-) [Note: Michael Therrien's piece on neo-liberalism responds in part to Dr. Schindler's criticisms, as well as those of the Houston Catholic Worker].

"Democracy is not the best form of government."

In one of the final chapters of George Weigel's Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism he discusses the transition of the Church's relationship with democracy from hostility to internal critique -- see my post presenting Weigel on this very topic, blogged some weeks ago.

My own response here to David would be "relative to what?" -- It's worth noting that in Ecclesia in America which was recently cited by David/Hand, JPII conveys his preference for democratic institutions. I would imagine that Pope Benedict harbors a similar preference. This is not to say that our present form of democracy is the most acceptable -- the Acton Institute published an excellent essay by Cardinal Pell in Markets & Morality (Vol. 7, No. 2) titled "Is there only secular democracy? Imagining other possibilities for the Third Millenium"; the article is not yet available online, but it's worth the read.

Fr. Neuhaus did a three part series a couple years back in First Things ("The Public Square" Oct.-Dec. 1999), in which he presented 10 propositions on Catholicism and democracy:

. . . A fourth proposition is this: Democracy is and always will be unsatisfactory. Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying that "democracy is the worst system of government known to man, except for all the others that have been tried." That is not everything that can be said for democracy, but it is a not unimportant thing to be said. For the Christian, and indeed for every human being who aspires to live in the truth, the only satisfactory order is the Kingdom of God promised in the eschatological consummation of history. All our politics, including democratic politics, is, at most, penultimate. The state functions in the sphere of the penultimate. The church points to and anticipates the ultimate, the Kingdom of God. Christians live in both spheres and therefore are, in the words of the second century Letter to Diognetus, "resident aliens" in any earthly city.

Although all are unsatisfactory, all orderings of the earthly city are not equal. Democracy is a relative good, but it is superior to other orders because: 1) it is the form of government that, under the conditions of modernity, best accommodates the Christian understanding of human dignity; 2) it best fosters and protects the exercise of basic human rights; 3) it provides an enlarged sphere for the exercise of personal responsibility and the pursuit of the common good; 4) in its economic dimension, it best accords with human creativity and approximate justice; and, most important, 5) it is institutionally open to the future, including the ultimate future that is the Kingdom of God. On the last point, there is a great advantage in a political system that is transparently conducted by, and held accountable to, distinctly ungodlike human beings who freely avail themselves of their freedom to air their discontents with the system. This is a valuable prophylactic against the temptation to deify democracy or mistake it for the Kingdom of God. [SOURCE]

I would personally agree with Neuhaus' take, which I think is a solidly Catholic take on democracy. I think that those who wish to establish something otherwise -- even an integration of Catholicism with the state or variations thereof -- do so in ignorance of the lessons of history. And I think any reasonable alternative must take into account the reality of a pluralistic culture: America's founding and model was born of that reality -- Catholics and Protestants and Jews and agnostics and atheists in close proximity, neighbors, friends -- like it or not, we're stuck with each other. How do we then live?

3. Capitalism is not the best form of economics.

Again, relative to what? -- I think at some point we should bring in distributism into the conversation, as that appears to be the proposal of Stephen Hand, Thomas Storck and friends. (David has posted some links on this subject already). But nevertheless, here we can ask the same question: "what kind of capitalism"? -- As we can see, both Novak and JPII qualify their endorsement, and -- the WT's would maintain -- they tend to cohere.

Schindler faults capitalism and Novak's take because the proposal that we ought to act out of "enlightened self interest" runs counter to communio theology, in that it does not adequately manifest Christian spirituality and self-sacrifice.

David Schindler: "There is a single basic spirituality for all Christians, and Mary is the model of that spirituality. . . . for Christians, economic life, like all other aspects of life, must be formed from within the liberation effected by God in Jesus Christ" -- exactly how does economic life manifest Christian liberation? [Heart of the World p. 92]

Novak maintains a recognition of legitimate self-interest in contrast to avarice; his understanding of economics, and how business ought to work, is derived from an appreciation of Adam Smith and Alexander Tocqueville; "self-interest rightly understood". Here's the difference:

Adam Smith:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from the regard of their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity [philanthropy] but to their self-love, and never talk to them of their own necessities but to their advantages."
Thus the baker bakes a good loaf of bread because that is the way to ensure profit. The good both of the product and of the other (the potential consumer) is thus intrumentalized in the baker's self-interest.

David Schinder in Heart of the World, on Adam Smith's "baker":

A baker trying to live out his Christianity in his life as a businessperson, to imbue the reality of his economic life with the Gospel - in a word, to live in the spirit of the "new" liberation theory and praxis indicated in Centesimus Annus - would thus attempt to order profit differently from the way suggested by Smith. He would seek first to make a loaf of bread that was intrinsically good - in terms of its taste and health-producing qualities and the like - and he would seek to do this from the beginning for the sake of being of service to others in society, of enhancing their health and well-being. To be sure, he would recognize profit as a necessary condition of his continuing ability to provide this service to others. He would recognize that he was realizing his own good in this service to others. But that is just the point: his legitimate concern for profit, and his own "self-interest," would be integrated from the beginning and all along the way into the intention of service.

[See further elaboration on this point by Kevin Miller and relevant citations from Heart of the World.

I'm still pondering with this critique of Novak, because while it makes sense on paper, I'm not sure Novak / Smith are entirely wrong in their observation and judgement of what occurs.

Common sense dictates that it is indeed, in the merchant's "self interest" to please his customers, to build a good, reliable product, to behave with integrity and honesty. Novak would argue that these are indeed moral virtues and worth lauding -- and that the practice of business insofar as it contributes to the cultivation of integrity, honesty, fairness -- is worth promoting. Schindler, I think, would likely say this is all very well and good, but in the end it is simply not enough -- because business as so conceived fails to embody a distinctly Christlike spirit of "other-centered love."

Putting it in personal terms . . . sometimes when I come home from work I give my friend Ali a call. He's the owner of a Pakistani-Indian restaurant, with whom I'm good friends. I've eaten there enough (dine-in and delivery) that he knows exactly what I like. Now, while Ali and I are good friends, in the preparation and fulfillment of my order I suspect he is acting in his own "self-interest", that is to say: in preparing the food and/or instructing his staff, I daresay his chief motivation would be: earning a profit = paying the bills = feeding his wife and son (who I often see at the restaurant).

For Ali to act with this motivation in mind -- I would not necessarily condemn this basic matter of interest as a bad thing.

Here's my point: can we say that the baker in Adam Smith's case is acting purely to his own advantage? Or that my friend Ali is acting purely for the sake of profit? -- I'm not going to deny the fact that there are those who are motivated by greed and an improper sense of self-love, as one can witness by the financial scandals we read about in the paper and tales of luxury and extravagance, but it is also the case that a merchant, in running his business, does so out of consideration not for the dollar alone but for the welfare of his family.

In response to Schindler's philosophical critique, I would have to ask whether this manner of "self-interest" and Schindler's Christlike selflessness (characterized by a desire to make "an intrinsically good" plate of food "in service to others") is truly an 'either/or' matter or possibly "both/and"? Are they mutually exclusive, or can one indeed act with legitimate self-interest?

Is it not the case that when we scrutinize the "self-interest" of the businessman we see a mixture of self-regard and concern for family? That making a profit is desired not for profit itself but for other ends in mind -- in the case of my friend Ali: paying the bills, making a living, raising his child, providing roof and shelter for his family. In this light Ali's "self interest" would have more in common with Schindler's "other-centered love" than Schindler himself suspects, and what appears at first glance.

4. Novak does not adequately deal with the centrality of the nature-grace question, which directly impacts humanity and therefore our culture. He therefore uses a poor ontology (onto-logic) of the prudence required to deal with the political and economic practices and structures of modern-day society or man.

Don't have time to unpack this now but again, I believe this is found in Schindler's Heart of the World. At the same time, I think David could do well to flesh this out in his own words (less-abstract) and make it his own argument, posting it to his blog in his own words.

5. The War in Iraq is unjust. It did not meet the Just War Criteria.

While David merely asserts but fails to substantiate his argument, I think we've debated this ad nauseum. Granted, certain parties see the neocon's support of the war as part and parcel of their "Americanism" and wilfull disobedience to Rome -- Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel, "cafetaria catholics" no better than the rest. Other parties disagree (and not just the 'neocons').

The difficulty here is that the just war debate and Iraq include their own range of authors and background reading -- for instance, the work of just war scholar James Turner Johnson (who is coming out with what appears to be an excellent book on this very topic), Weigel's Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (1987) is also a must-read (in my opinion); also required to really debate this intelligently is an extensive knowledge of foreign relations and U.S. - Iraqi - Middle East history, et al. . . . in other words, a body of material which, I think, does not bear directly upon the "Augustinian-Thomist / Whig - Thomist" debate. Unless David is prepared to make the claim that ressourcement theology entails a specific stand with respect to the foreign policy of the Bush administration, I think that given the scope of this blog the war in Iraq is of a lower priority than other issues.

However, "warblogger" that I am, one may find this topic discussed on my blog Just War?, as well as my compilation of sources (pro/con) on this subject.

Finally, that said, Novak wouldn't have been my first pick as exponent of the Catholic just war analysis of Iraq.

6. Big business destroys or lessens our humanity.

Given that these comments are made with relation to the person of Michael Novak, I wonder whether David here is implicitly agreeing with the Zwicks' characterization of Novak as an "Enron apologist"?

7. St. Thomas Aquinas is no Whig.

David states the obvious, and neither Michael Novak nor Lord Acton would maintain that Aquinas was literally a "Whig." Novak discusses this at length pp. 120-123 of On Two Wings what Acton meant by this:

"Aquinas is called the first Whig because of the centrality he gave to human liberty in nature and history. The human person, he thought, is the most beautiful creature in all creation, the only one created as an end in itself. In his or her liberty the person is made in the image of the Creator. Aquinas further saw that the political power arises from the consent of the governed. . . . he also taught the traditional vision of limited government, limited both by moral law and by constitutional devices such as the mixed regime, and that justice sometimes demands that a tyrant be deposed."

Novak goes on to discuss the canonist appropriation of Aquinas' thought in the development of the idea of natural right as presented in Brian Tierny's study The idea of Natural Right: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law, and Church Law 1150 - 1625 -- for Tearney, to suggest that modern rights theories are derived entirely from Hobbes [and Enlightenment philosophers] ignore "the history of the concept of jus naturale before the seventeenth century."

I haven't read Tierny's book, nor have I (yet) read Rowland's Culture and Thomist Tradition after Vatican II -- which David recommends and is certainly on my reading list, after I purchase Kraynak -- but suffice to say the suggestion that Aquinas "was the first Whig" calls for further clarification. As David points out, I've dealt with this question in my post Aquinas: First Whig? (Religion and Liberty [blog] Sept. 21, 2005).