Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dr. Samuel Gregg: "Pope Benedict on Morality, Economics and the Market"

Dr. Samuel Gregg, Director, Center for Economic Personalism, addresses Benedict XVI's thought on the issue of the market economy in a recent article "Morality, Economics and the Market in the Thought of Benedict XVI", Economic Affairs, (2005-09-01) [.pdf format]:

. . . But does any of this suggest that Pope Benedict XVI has ever been or is likely to be an outspoken supporter of the market economy? The answer to this question is 'no'. As a theologian and Vatican official, Ratzinger has always recognised that, within the limits established by the principles of Catholic social teaching (e.g. the dignity of the person, the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity etc.), the precise configuration of the economy or the degree of government intervention in the economy are matters for prudential judgement by Catholics. One cannot repeat enough that Catholics are free to disagree among themselves about those matters that the Church identifies as being within prudential judgement territory. This embraces the vast majority of economic questions. Thus, because he is content to let Catholics discuss prudential matters among themselves, it is not surprising that very few direct discussions of economic matters are found in Ratzinger's writings.

A rare exception to Ratzinger's reticence to examine economic questions in any detail is a 1986 article entitled 'Church and Economy' [Communio 13, no. 3 (1986): 199-204]. Keeping in mind the context and time of the article, it provides a number of interesting insights into Ratzinger's thoughts about economic issues.

The first point to note is that Ratzinger underlines the failure and counterproductive effects of development programmes promoted by Western aid agencies and governments throughout the developing world (Ratzinger, 1986, p. 200). He goes on to suggest that new economic ideas will need to be considered if the developing world is to escape material poverty. If one recalls that much of the world in the 1980s still believed in the efficacy of such programmes (which even many on the political left now disown), it is possible to view Ratzinger as one of that relatively small number of intellectuals (secular or religious) who were willing to question the redistributionist orthodoxy that reigned in many political, government and church circles.

The most significant part, however, of Ratzinger's 1986 article was its analysis of some of the philosophical questions raised by free-market economies. Importantly, at no stage does Ratzinger question the market's superior wealth-creating capacities. Indeed, he stresses that market economies have facilitated much prosperity throughout the world (Ratzinger, 1986, p. 201). Rather, Ratzinger devotes his attention to the moral, cultural and philosophical assumptions that may or may not underpin such economies. Ratzinger is, for instance, quite critical of what he describes as the deterministic tendencies that underlie the thought of some free-market advocates (Ratzinger, 1986, pp. 200-201). He argues that it is a mistake to assume that market exchanges in themselves provide sufficient moral validity for the nature or outcome of the exchange. The fact that an action is efficient or maximises utility is not, to Ratzinger's mind, sufficient to qualify it as morally good. Morality, to his mind, is not defined by utility. The market, in other words, does not somehow 'create' morality. Nor does the market render the demands of the moral life superfluous, and Ratzinger criticises those business figures who think and act as if it does. Significantly, Ratzinger notes that the tendency to substitute morality with economics is equally characteristic of Marxist thought in so far as figures such as Lenin accepted that 'there is in Marxism no grain of ethics, but only economic laws' (Ratzinger, 1986, p. 202). The expression of anti-determinist and anti-utilitarian views is hardly novel for an orthodox Catholic theologian. Indeed, many free-market promoters would join Ratzinger in insisting that the moral life cannot be reduced to economic analysis or market transactions. Many free-market supporters would also support Ratzinger's opposition to those who regard economics as the lens for understanding everything. Like all ideologies, 'economism' is deeply reductionist and thus anti-human in its implications.

Ratzinger further notes, as a historical irony, that many people dissatisfied with 'economistic' approaches have tended to embrace centrally planned economies as a way of attempting to bring moral guidance to economic life. This is despite the fact, as Ratzinger notes, that 'it is a fundamental error to suppose that a centralised economic system is a moral system in contrast to the mechanistic system of the market

None of this, however, is to suggest that Ratzinger believes that economics can be safely ignored. On the contrary, Ratzinger concludes his article by stressing that economics, as an intellectual discipline, enjoys a legitimate autonomy of its own. He even states that 'a morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality' (Ratzinger, 1986, p. 204). He immediately adds that 'a scientific approach that believes itself capable of managing without an ethos [i.e. the demands of morality] misunderstands the reality of man. Therefore it is not scientific' (Ratzinger, 1986, p. 204). Synthesising these points, Ratzinger states that 'today we need a maximum of specialised economic understanding, but also a maximum of ethos so that specialised economic knowledge may enter the service of the right goals' (Ratzinger, 1986, p. 204). One suspects that those familiar with the commentaries of many Catholic intellectuals on economic matters will recognise that, on the basis of his 1986 article, few have come as close as Ratzinger to integrating an authentic Catholic approach to the moral life with an appreciation for the real technical knowledge yielded by modern economics into particular problems. It is a grave error, Ratzinger believes, for those thinking about how to address poverty to ignore what economics tells us about poverty. He is, however, insistent that economics in itself is not capable of determining the correct moral response to problems. Though a powerful instrument of analysis that can tell us how to do certain things, economics qua economics is incapable of telling us whether we ought to do certain things.

Our Holy Father was interviewed recently by Zenit News Service on the person and legacy of Pope John Paul II, in which he remarked:

. . . Initially, in speaking of the Pope's legacy, I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us -- 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church.

My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn't. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future.

Given his specific interest in realizing the thought of his predecessor, it seems to me that the Holy Father will likely draw from the riches of John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus, with its commentary on economic affairs and liberal and socialist philosophy, especially in issuing a necessary corrective to neoliberalism along with a qualified approval of the "market economy" or "free market." It seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI is very much of the same mind as his predecessor on these matters.

Dr. Samuel Gregg concludes:

. . . In a 2002 speech, for instance ["Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity" L'Osservatore Romano, 13 November, 2002], he reminded his audience of the evils committed in the name of the atheistic 'Marxist socialist system' (Ratzinger, 2002, p. 8). Ratzinger then added: 'It is undeniable that the liberal model of the market economy, especially as moderated and corrected under the influence of Christian social ideas, has in some parts of the world led to great success' (Ratzinger, 2002, p. 8). The then future pope went on to suggest that the absence of such moral-cultural forces in market systems could have profoundly damaging effects, especially in developing nations. Hence, he insisted that the 'globalisation in technology and economy' needed to be accompanied by 'a new opening of conscience', so that individuals become more conscious of the global demands of Christian morality (Ratzinger, 2002, p. 9).

Here again we see that Ratzinger did not dispute or disparage the market's superiority in wealth-creation. Nor does he engage in knee-jerk anti-globalisation rhetoric. Rather, his concern remains with the moral-cultural context in which free enterprise and free exchange live, move and have their being. On this basis, we can safely assume that any combination of a market economy with cultures predominantly shaped by variants of libertinism, materialism and utilitarianism is going to worry Benedict XVI as much as it concerned John Paul II.

Given, however, that these are cultural rather than economic problems per se, it seems reasonable to suggest that Pope Benedict is unlikely to be insisting that the state ought to be the institution to address such matters. Certainly the Catholic Church does not teach that moral problems, be they 'personal' or 'social', somehow enjoy an automatic immunity from the law or state authority. Nevertheless, Ratzinger has insisted throughout his writings that any society's moral-culture is primarily shaped by individuals, families and civil associations, especially the Church. Nor should we underestimate the effects of Ratzinger's experience of the state-worship promoted by Nazi totalitarianism, not to mention his very Bavarian Catholic consciousness of the Kulturkampf (literally 'culture-struggle') waged against the Catholic Church in Germany by the Bismarckian state in the wake of German unification in 1871.

As many know, the founder of Western monasticism, St Benedict, is credited even by many non-believers as saving Western civilisation from the chaos that followed the Roman Empire's collapse. In a similar fashion, attention to renewing the sources of Western culture is likely to be a priority in Benedict XVI's pontificate. To this extent, the papacy's attention to economic questions under Pope Benedict is likely to be focused upon the relationship between the market and culture, an area that, until John Paul II, remained relatively unexamined by Catholic social teaching. If in doing so, Benedict XVI continues to make the same careful distinctions that he did as the theologian and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, there is every reason to hope for thoughtful contributions to thinking about economic subjects from the new pope. Above all, we can expect the character of any such contributions to be neither 'right' nor 'left', but rather distinctly Catholic.

* * *

Dr. Gregg is Director of Research at the Acton Institute and an Adjunct Professor at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Marriage and the Family within the Pontifical Lateran University. He is author of several books on Catholic social doctrine including Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded (2001), Challenging the Modern World: Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II and the Development of Catholic Social Teaching (2003) and On Ordered Liberty (2003).

Related Links:

  • Market Economy and Ethics translated by Stephen Wentworth Arndt, and republished by The Acton Institute -- courtesy of Dr. Johannes Stemmler, secretary emeritus of the BKU (Federation of Catholic Entrepreneurs) and secretary of Ordo socialis in Köln, Germany. This article appeared previously in English under the title "Church and economy: Responsibility for the future of the world economy," Communio 13 (Fall 1986): 199-204.

  • Pope John Paul II Memorial Page, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty.

  • Review Essay: Challenging the Modern World: John Paul II/Karol Wojtyla and the Development of Catholic Social Teaching, by Gregory R. Beabout (Markets & Morality Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 2001): "[Samuel] Gregg's work, which flows out of his doctoral research at Oxford under the direction of John Finnis, is perhaps the most careful scholarly effort in English to date that aims to show the influence of Wojtyla's prepontifical writing on the social encyclicals produced by John Paul II."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

. . . individuals cannot learn to speak for themselves at all, much less come to an intelligent understanding of their happiness and wellbeing, in a world in which there are no values except those of the market. . . . the market tends to universalize itself. It does not easily coexist with institutions that operate according to principles that are antithetical to itself: schools and universities, newspapers and magazines, charities, families. Sooner or later the market tends to absorb them all. It puts an almost irresistable presure on every activity to justify itself in the only terms it recognizes: to become a business proposition, to pay its own way, to show black ink on the bottom line. It turns news into entertainment, scholarship into professional careerism, social work into the scientific management of poverty. Inexorably it remodels every institution in its own image.

Christopher Lasch, Revolt of the Elites.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Toward a Proper Understanding of Neoliberalism

In "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, Louise and Mark Zwick reiterate Pope John Paul II's condemnation of "neoliberalism", equating it with 'neoconservatism':

Neoliberalism is known in the United States as neoconservatism. Its Catholic proponents are Fr. John Neuhaus, George Weigel, Michael Novak and Fr. Robert Sirico. Their publications are available through the American Enterprise Institue, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Acton Institute and First Things magazine.

One can find this charge often repeated on websites such as TCRNews.com -- the most recent being a notation by Stephen Hand on his blog 'TCRMusings' ("John Paul II on Neoliberalism" 10/20/05):

Despite the attempts of neoliberals to explain it away, John Paul II shed a lot of light on their dismissive commentary when he wrote plainly that neo-liberalism is:
"...based on a purely economic conception of man, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of the specific policies and structures which are often unjust. (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, (January 22, 1999), no. 56 emphasis ours)

Thus attempts to baptise this system must fail, just as oil and water do not mix.

Read the entire Apostlic Exortation of JPII, Ecclesia in America in context.

While Stephen does not "name names", it is a good presumption (based on past history) that he would concur with the Zwick's equasion of "neoliberalism" with "neoconservatism", identifying this philosophy with the individuals in question.

One may likewise presume that Dr. Hubert also concurs with the Zwicks, in light of his charge that ""Neoconservative economic principles repudiate the Natural Law and thus are largely incompatible with Catholic teaching in the economic arena." ("The New Stealth World View" TCRNews.com).

I've already addressed Dr. Hubert's article in my recent post Leo Strauss and the Neoconservative Cabal Religion & Liberty [blog] Oct. 6, 2005), noting that as his "fast and loose" definition of neoconservatism left something to be desired, it would be beneficial to

[come] 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.

Stephen advises us to read Pope John Paul II's charge against neoliberalism in the context of JPII's entire apostolic exhortation, which I agree is a very good idea. If we examine the particular section in which the condemnation is leveled ("social sins which cry out to heaven") and the two paragraphs which follow the cited passage, we get a sense of John Paul II's solution to the problem of neoliberalism:

On the basis of the Gospel, the best response to this tragic situation is the promotion of solidarity and peace, with a view to achieving real justice. For this to happen, encouragement and support must be given to all those who are examples of honesty in the administration of public finances and of justice. So too there is a need to support the process of democratization presently taking place in America, (208) since a democratic system provides greater control over potential abuses.

“The rule of law is the necessary condition for the establishment of an authentic democracy”. (209) For democracy to develop, there is a need for civic education and the promotion of public order and peace. In effect, “there is no authentic and stable democracy without social justice. Thus the Church needs to pay greater attention to the formation of consciences, which will prepare the leaders of society for public life at all levels, promote civic education, respect for law and for human rights, and inspire greater efforts in the ethical training of political leaders”. (210)

Comparing for a moment the prescription of JPII with the stated mission of the Acton Institute to "articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing" and especially to:

[educate] religious leaders of all denominations, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers in economics principles, and in the connection that can exist between virtue and economic thinking. We exhort religious leaders to embrace the principles of economics as analytic tools in the consideration of economic issues that arise in their ministry, on the one hand, and, on the other, we exhort business executives and entrepreneurs, to integrate their faith more fully into their professional lives, to give of themselves more unselfishly in their communities, and to strive after higher standards of ethical conduct in their work . . .
Examining the various projects sponsored by the Acton Institute or George Weigel's Ethics & Public Policy Center, I'm inclined to think there is some degree of confluence between the work of Fr. Sirico and John Paul II in cultivating moral virtue in the business community and instilling a greater respect for the dignity of man. Likewise, one doesn't have to agree with every principle or program espoused by the Acton Institute or the EPPC to recognize that it is highly unfair to characterize their work (as Stephen and the Zwicks do) as a mere "baptizing" of unbridled capitalism.

In the interest of correcting the erroneous interpretation that John Paul II's condemnation of "neoliberalism" in Ecclesia in America amounts to a general condemnation of capitalism or the free economy per se (indeed, one would have to square this passage with JPII's qualified endorsement of the free market in Centisumus Annus), I refer my readers to Michael Therrien's essay, aptly titled John Paul II’s Use of the Term Neo-Liberalism in Ecclesia in America. Delivered at the Pontifical College Josephinum April 8, 2000, Therrien deals with the specific passage cited by Stephen Hand.

According to Mr. Therrien:

[Neoliberalism] is a worldview held by certain free-market economists who believe man’s social existence should be understood primarily in terms of economic considerations. This system of belief has led many to approach the market as though moral norms have no bearing upon market activity. In other words, an unfettered market itself, it is believed, will take care of the social problems we face.

However, Catholics need to grasp the distinction the Church makes between the free economy and neo-liberalism. This distinction is one of great import insofar as it distinguishes between a morally viable and important economic system in the first case and an immoral philosophical world-view in the second. Certainly these two realities can be related, but they are not necessarily so. In other words, neo-liberalism is not the inevitable outcome of the free-market system; it is only one possible outcome, depending on the moral disposition of the actors within the market. The Church, in as much as it values the fundamental principles of the free economy, understands this, and thus attempts through its social teaching to encourage the international community to place what it would prefer to call the "business economy" at the service of human dignity.

Of the term "neoliberalism" itself, Therrien notes "it is a word that has the potential for serious misinterpretation if it is not properly understood from within the Church’s ongoing dialogue with liberalism." (Thus in the context of the article he addresses some of the criticisms made by Dr. Schindler as well). The frequent use of the term by Stephen Hand and the Houston Catholic Worker, equated with "neoconservatism" and usually in reference to Fr. Sirico, Fr. Neuhaus, George Weigel, or Michael Novak, demonstrates this potential for confusion absent proper clarification and understanding of JPII's thought. For this reason I personally recommend Therrien's essay as a necessary corrective.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

George Weigel: "Europe, America & Politics Without God"

Europe, America and Politics Without God Interview with Paul Belien. The Brussels Journal Oct. 16, 2005.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Points to Ponder: On the Role of the Historian - I. Shawn McElhinnney posts a caution from Herbert Butterfield's The Whig Interpretation of History (c. 1931).

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Usury in Catholic Tradition

We are discussing the issue of usury over at David Jones' la nouvelle theologie ("Usury & Social Justice" October 13, 2005), in reference to an article by Orthodox Bishop Paul Peter: "Would a Bank Charge Jesus Usury?" (The Social Edge June 2003).

Coincidentally, I had read the following article by David Palm: "The Red Herring of Usury" (Vol. 8, No. 9 Sept. 1997) this past week, which I found to be a very useful clarification of the Church's condemnation of usury and what practices themselves constitute usury. (Apparently there's a catch to this, for on one hand it is apparent that the Church has revised its teaching on this issue in light of the changing world of economics; on the other hand, liberal Christians/Catholics -- like Fr. Richard McBrien, citing an article by John Noonan ("Authority, Usury & Contraception" Cross Currents Winter 1996) -- contend that if the Church has changed on this practice, it can very well change on other issues: contraception, for instance (always a favorite theme of the progressives).

According to David, "Noonan is correct that the Church consistently condemned usury in the most official way." Palm cites Canon 13 of the Second Lateran Council (1139); Canon 25 of the Third Lateran Council (1179), backed by the witness of many popes, including Alexander III, Gregory IX, Urban III, Innocent III, and Clement V. Says Palm:

The teaching of the Church condemning usury is unambiguous, binding, and irrevocable. . . . There have been so many solemn decrees on the matter that to argue, as some have, that the technicalities of an infallible teaching have not been met, or that the prohibitions against usury are only disciplinary and not doctrinal, is an exercise in special pleading.
But this is not the end of the story. Noonan, says Palm, make the erroneous claim that usury is the taking of any interest on any sort of loan. But this is clearly not the case, as "The Holy See admits practically the lawfulness of interest on loans, even for ecclesiastical property" (Catholic Enyclopedia). As David Palm demonstrates, the Church has in all times rightly condemned the practice of usury; however, what constitutes usury has not always been the same:
. . . during the greater portion of antiquity, economies were characterized by a lack of competitive markets and thus few opportunities for investment. Money itself was considered primarily a medium of private and not commercial exchange. . . .

During the Scholastic period of the Middle Ages, many issues, including the question of the morality of interest-taking, were subjected to more detailed analysis. On what specific principles is interest-taking moral or immoral? This was at the heart of the question of usury. Eventually the morality of interest-taking came to be understood as intrinsically bound up in the nature of the thing lent and the impact (or lack thereof) on the person lending it. It is immoral to take interest on the loan of a thing that is completely consumed by its use, for which one has no other use, and for which one incurs no loss by lending it.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia elaborates on the technical definition of usury as it came to be used in the Middle Ages and thus in the formal conciliar texts of the Church: "From the Latin usura, usury originally meant a charge for a loan of a fungible, i.e., perishable, nonspecific good, whose use consisted of its consumption. Such a loan was called a mutuum. Money, considered to be ‘consumed’ in the process of exchange for other goods, was classified as a fungible good. And as a money loan became the most common form of loan of this type, usury came to signify a charge for the use of money. Only after repeal of the laws prohibiting interest (usury in the above sense) and the establishment of legal rates did usury assume its present meaning of a charge for a money loan that is exorbitant or exceeds the legal rate."

In the Middle Ages, Palm explains, money was considered "barren," since one could do but two things with it: spend ("consume") it, or hoard it. The lending of money was considered usurious for this reason: "Apart from risk of non-repayment, to take interest for money that you had no use for but to hoard was getting ‘a breed of barren metal.’ It was taking up what you laid not down; it was making profit out of your neighbor’s need, or your neighbor’s gain, where there was no corresponding need unsatisfied, or gain forfeited, on your part" (Rickaby, Moral Philosophy, 261).

Palm goes on to explain how, as the nature of money progressed over time, so did the criteria for usury:

. . . as civilization progressed, it became clear that money in more modern economies—with competitive markets and almost unlimited opportunities for profitable ("fruitful") investment—did not suffer from the same tendency to be "unfruitful" as it had before. In the face of this change, the Church defined what is meant by usury. Session X of the Fifth Lateran Council (1515) gave its exact meaning: "For that is the real meaning of usury: when, from its use, a thing which produces nothing is applied to the acquiring of gain and profit without any work, any expense or any risk."

So too, Pope Benedict XIV, in his encyclical Vix Pervenit, says: "The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract [mutuum]. This financial contract between consenting parties demands, by its very nature, that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious."

Note again that a mutuum is "a loan of a fungible, i.e., perishable, nonspecific good, whose use consisted of its consumption" (New Catholic Encyclopedia). But at present the choice for one’s money in our world-economy is never simply between spending and hoarding, for money can always been invested in any number of genuinely profitable ("fruitful") enterprises. There is much greater facility nowadays for making profitable investments of savings, and a true value, therefore, is always attached to the possession of money, as also to credit itself. "A lender, during the whole time that the loan continues, deprives himself of a valuable thing, for the price of which he is compensated by the interest. It is right at the present day to permit interest (which is different from usury) on money lent, as it was not wrong to condemn the practice at a time when it was more difficult to find profitable investments for money." (Catholic Enyclopedia, 1917)

Money is no longer a barren thing in itself, and thus the loan of money at interest is not usurious. Rickaby sums up the correct view of usury nicely: "[I]t is usury to take any interest at all upon the loan of a piece of property, which (a) is of no use except to be used up, spent, consumed; (b) is not wanted for the lender’s own consumption within the period of the load; (c) is lent upon security that obviates risk; (d) is so lent that the lender forgoes no occasion of lawful gain by lending it" (Rickaby, 258).

In addressing the issue of usury it seems to me that one cannot simply quote Aquinas' teaching on the topic (as one commentator has done already), or "proof-text" from this or that council or papal enyclical, but should rather consider the breadth and depth of Catholic tradition and the changing historical circumstances. As the original Catholic Enyclopedia (1917) states:
Everyone admits that a duty of charity may command us to lend gratuitously, just as it commands us to give freely. The point in question is one of justice: Is it contrary to the equity required in mutual contracts to ask from the borrower interest in addition to the money lent? It may be remarked that the best authors have long since recognized the lawfulness of interest to compensate a lender for the risk of losing his capital, or for positive loss, such as the privation of the profit which he might otherwise have made, if he had not advanced the loan. They also admit that the lender is justified in exacting a fine of some kind (a conventional penalty) in case of any delay in payment arising from the fault of the borrower. These are what are called extrinsic grounds, admitted without dispute since the end of the sixteenth century, and justifying the stipulation for reasonable interest, proportionate to the risk involved in the loan. . . .

The precise question then is this: if we consider justice only, without reference to extrinsic circumstances, can the loan of money, or any chattel which is not destroyed by use, entitle the lender to a gain or profit which is called interest? To this question some persons, namely the economists of the classic school, and some Catholic writers, answer "yes, and always"; others, namely Socialists and some Catholic writers, answer, "no, never"; and lastly some Catholics give a less unconditional answer, "sometimes, but not always"; and they explain the different attitudes of he Church in condemning at one time, and at another authorizing, the practice of taking interest on loans, by the difference of circumstances and the state of society. . . .

Finally, I wish to clarify that to recognize the proper meaning of usury should not be construed as a criticism of Orthodox Bishop Paul Peter, who I believe rightly criticizes the usury of some credit card companies charging exhorbitant loans.

Related Links

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Fr. Schall on "The Inequalities of Equality"

. . . Moreover, a whole intellectual industry is devoted to what I call "gapism." Any "gap" in income or talent or material goods between rich and poor, this nation or that, or this person and that, is said to be a sign of injustice, imbalance, or evil. While this view practically ignores the whole history of how wealth came to be produced and distributed in the first place, the thesis is constantly repeated as if it were obvious, which it isn’t. As a result, we inaugurate agonizing crusades to right the imbalances. Massive efforts in unequal taxation and discriminatory policy initiatives are set in motion whereby these "gaps" are to be leveled down so that those who are said to suffer under them can feel more "equal."

Interestingly enough, studies in the history of envy show that often envy, the spiritual vice associated with equality and inequality, is more prevalent when people are more nearly equal than when they are not. This fact suggests that this "gap" analysis is missing something fundamental about human nature. Indeed, chances are that if we took a given population and somehow made them, on a given day, absolutely equal in terms of income and property, after a few years we would return to see that, in the meantime, by normal workings of exchange, talent, energy, and effort, some would have more, others less. The same inequality would return. Some people will be horrified by this result. Others will understand that inequalities are themselves a normal part of the human condition, something that explains why elements of aristocracy, the distinction between virtue and lack of it, have always existed in every society. . . .

The Inequalities of Equality, or All Things Being Equal, Not Everything Can Be Equal, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. Ignatius Insight October 12, 2005

TCRNews' Pre-emptive Claim to Victory?

Stephen Hand proclaims

We Are Satisfied That We Have Made a Decisive Case Against Neoconservative Politics, Foreign Policy and War ...thus we think we can rest our case, having done the work, engaged the great crisis of our time to the best of our ability. . . .

Inasmuch as certain deficiencies in Dr. Hubert's case against the "neocons" was noted on this blog last week, it seems to me presumptuous, one might say pre-emptive, to claim victory in this discussion. Chief among these is the rather flimsy characterization of "neoconservative" in Dr. Hubert's "Neo-Conservatism: The New Stealth Order / World View, hampered as it is by unsubstantiated claims and broad generalizations.

It would behoove Dr. Hubert, in my opinion, to "tighten up" his case (and guide further discussion) by clarifying his definition, and laying out specific criteria by which one can identify a "neoconservative", including a substantiated list of "neoconservative principles" operative in U.S. policy at home and abroad.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Michael Novak, Circa. 1969, 1982

". . . the hollowness of so much of American life; the vacant eyes watching television and drinking beer; the tired eyes of the men on the commuter train; the efficient eyes of the professor and manager, the sincere eyes of the television politician. Americans . . . do not know who they are, only what they are useful for; they are bored and apathetic because they are manipulated; they are violent because they secretly resent the lies they are forced to live. Unable to live with themselves, Americans level the earth, build and destroy, attempt to master matter and space and human history. Americans play God."

- Michael Novak, 'A Theology for Radical Politics' 1969;

That this was a superficial, unfair, and ideological description of real Americans became clear to me when I looked more closely at my neighbors and companions, and less at literary conventions.

- Michael Novak, 'Spirit of Democratic Capitalism', 1982

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Centisumus Annus: "Economics with a Soul"

On the eve of the opening of the synod, the Acton Institute initiated a series of 10 conferences to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. The subject was "Solidarity and Entrepreneurship: The Moral and Economic Foundations of the Free Society." Speakers included Italian Minister of Culture Rocco Buttiglione, Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, and Carl Schramm, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Zenit News Service reports.

For those who wish to revisit this discussion, I. Shawn McElhinney has wrapped up a condensed version of the May 2005 discussion "On Stephen Hand and Certain Statements He Needs to Account For" (Rerum Novarum Oct. 6, 2005): "The purpose [of which] is to deal in a reasonably economical fashion with several frequently enunciated statements by Mr. Stephen Hand and point to past corrections of those statements which he has continued to ignore" -- presenting what one might deem opportunities for further clarification.

Update! Greg Mockeridge has revisited the crux of his original editorial: Understanding The Difference Between Doctrine and Prudential Judgments: Essential to the Formation of The Catholic Conscience, by Greg Mockeridge. Cooperatores Veritatis Oct. 8, 2005.

Leo Strauss and the Neoconservative Cabal

David Jones has posted a link to Dr. Hubert's "The New Stealth World View, what looks to be an extended indictment of The Straussian Neocon Cabal [tm] which has infiltrated the Bush Administration, seduced Evangelical Christians and Catholics (Fr. Neuhaus, George Weigel, Michael Novak) alike, imbedded itself in not one but both mainstream political parties, launched a war of aggression against the sovereign nation of Iraq, and seeks to establish an American Empire by the spread a 21st Century Secular Paganism around the globe.

David seeks my comment on this piece -- my time is limited, and I have not yet read Andrew J. Bacevich's The New American Militarism (Oxford UP, Feb. 2004), upon which Hubert grounds much of his argument. Consequently the comments I make here will be rather brief (I also do not want to go too far afield of the specific purpose of this blog). In any case, I hope to explain why I think it difficult to 1) portray neoconservatives as 1) collectively adhering to a specific economic platform (besides a loose endorsement of the free market); 2) portray neoconservatives as a Straussian conspiracy with a stranglehold on the Bush administration.

First, I would like to say that Dr. Hubert's manner of constructing an argument leaves something to be desired, given as it weaves one allegation after another which simply begs for clarification and substantiation. Consider the following:

"neoconservative thinking embraces the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill" . . .

"Neoconservative economic principles repudiate the Natural Law and thus are largely incompatible with Catholic teaching in the economic arena" . . .

"In the economic realm neoconservatives are also Darwinian. [Footnote: "In contradistinction to paleoconservatives who while economically competitive had a basic historical commitment to the Judeo-Christian ethic, including fixed notions of right and wrong as well as fair-play."] Most are devoted to the unbridled free market capitalism of Adam Smith where brute “market forces” are allowed (unfettered) to determine the landscape. [Footnote: 'This is obviously incompatible with Catholic social teaching.']"

I could quote further, but the above should suffice as a demonstration. Perhaps I am alone in my resentment, but I find the use of blanket generalizations here more than a little frustrating.

Coincidentally, it was on the same day that David referred this article to me that I had just finished The Neocon Reader (Grove Press, Jan. 9, 2005), in which I came across several articles which might lead one to question some assumptions made by Dr. Hubert.

For example, let's unpack the following paragraph:

. . . Catholic teaching holds that both communism and unbridled capitalism are morally evil since they are destructive of basic human dignity. Free Market Capitalism must be “managed” in light of the principles of the Natural Law and be sensitive to the true nature of “man” as created in the Imago Dei in order to be just.[footnote: "this includes a proper balance between solidarity and subsidiarity as well as an equitable distribution of the world’s limited resources."]

So far so good. I think that if Dr. Hubert bothered to look, he would find some affinities with this proposal in the writings of Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel, Sirico, Buttiglione, etc. There may be some haggling over how the market ought to be "managed" -- but as they share an appreciation of John Paul II's thought there may be some basis for mutual agreeement (or, at the very least, constructive dialogue). So, on the whole, a good start to this paragraph. Moving on . . .:

Neoconservative economic principles repudiate the Natural Law and thus are largely incompatible with Catholic teaching in the economic arena.[9] This explains why Americans tolerate the consumption and export of pornography in ever increasing numbers. There is absolutely no inhibition when it comes to generating income whether the so called “free enterprise is morally licit or not. The objectification of women and the young is encouraged (as part of inter-state commerce and ever larger profits; both being instrumentalized through seductive television, “bill-board” ads and motion pictures in order to maximize economic growth). All of this is perfectly compatible with Darwinian neoconservative economic policy and rabid unbridled free market capitalism. This is an example of utilizing persons not as “subjects” deserving of basic human dignity and respect but as objects to be used, abused and discarded (even secular Kantians should cringe).
It seems to me that Dr. Hubert's argument pressupposes a collective adherence by neoconservatives to a specific economic philosophy or platform -- if this is the case, one might request specific citations from the key neoconservatives in question. Furthermore, as he charges that the neoconservatives have seduced various Catholic scholars into their number, I would expect Dr. Hubert to demonstrate how these individuals have given an unqualified endorsement of "the unbridled free market capitalism of Adam Smith" and the philosophy of John Stuart Mill.

Turning to The Neocon Reader, Adam Wolfson, in "Conservatives and Neoconservatives", compares three conservative approaches - traditionalism, libertarianism, and neoconservatism. He makes the following observation:

In contrast to the paleoconservative and the traditionalist, the libertarian is entirely at home in today’s world. He takes his bearings from John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and such twentieth-century social thinkers as Friedrich Hayek. The libertarian spirit is neither backward-looking nor meliorative. It is progressive, and aims at expanding economic freedom and individual choice ever-forward. Libertarians oppose almost all regulation, whether of markets or morals.

It is arguable whether libertarianism is in fact a variety of conservative thought. Hayek once wrote an essay explaining why he was not a conservative, and Milton Friedman has always insisted that he is a nineteenth-century liberal, not a conservative. But there is at this late date no point in playing semantics and quibbling over labels and definitions. From the 1950s to the present, libertarianism has been an important and influential - arguably the most influential - stream of thought on the Right, informing both Republican policy making and conservative ideology more generally. . . .

Wolfson goes on to chart significant points of distinction between libertarians and neoconservatives in their understanding of freedom and its moral boundaries, the limits of Big Government, etc., all of which lead me to question whether Dr. Hubert is not being to hasty in lumping the two together.

One might raise the observation that Catholic scholar like Michael Novak does seem to bridge this theoretical gap -- Novak is a fellow of what Wolfson categorizes as the economically-libertarian institution The American Enterprise Institute; he appreciates the work of Friederich Hayek (although not uncritical of his weaknesses); however, he draws equally, if not more, from Lord Acton, Alexis de Tocqueville, Jacques Maritain and John Courtney Murray.

Do Americans as a people "tolerate the consumption and export of pornography in ever increasing numbers"? -- Pornography is a great evil in our society, of that there is no question. But to imply that neoconservatism necessarily entails a "hands-off" approach to pornography out of deference to the free market (or, rather, "unbridled capitalism") is misleading. If we take for granted Dr. Hubert's chief allegation, we presently have a "neo-con" infested presidential administration that is concerned about the spread of pornography, having established a Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in May 2005, with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales making it a top priority.

In "The Neoconservative Persuasion" (Weekly Standard Volume 008, Issue 47 August 2003), Irving Kristol, the very "godfather of neoconservatism" himself, contends that "it is only to a degree that neocons are comfortable in modern America. The steady decline in our democratic culture, sinking to new levels of vulgarity, does unite neocons with traditional conservatives -- though not with those libertarian conservatives who are conservative in economics but unmindful of the culture."

If I may recommend to Dr. Hubert another article from the Neocon Reader: "Pornography, Obscenity and the Case for Censorship" (pp. 167-180). It is not a specifically Christian argument (Kristol is, after all, a secular Jew), but he does raise good points about the debasement and alienation of humanity in a pornographic culture and the danger that pornography and/or obscenity poses to the establishment of a democracy as our founding fathers conceived it. He even manages to employ C.S. Lewis. Amusing enough, Kristol in this case was writing in response to an editorial in the New York Times, which had taken the laissez-faire position of letting the market sort it out.

To summarize my concern, I think that sweeping generalizations and allegations of this nature render Dr. Hubert's argument less effective and invites further confusion. Perhaps a reading of Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism will bring the light of clarity, but I have to wonder if he is not making the common enough mistake of using "neo-conservative" as a catch-all term for anybody supportive of the foreign policy of the Bush administration. On this note see Think Again: Neocons, by Max Boot. (Foreign Policy Jan/Feb 2004).

* * *

One last aspect I'd like to touch on, and already this post is getting far too long and afield of the themes of this particular blog. Dr. Hubert makes the following claim:

At its core, neoconservatism embraces a Darwinian (survival of the fittest) mentality (epistemologically, metaphysically and morally) in which the historical reality of evil is recognized as foundational, the answer to which is overwhelming power (military and economic) and deception[4] of the masses.

Dr. Hubert credits this Machivellian approach to the influence of Professor Leo Strauss:

The history of American Neoconservatism arguably dates to the early 20th century and several academic German/Jewish intellectuals including Professor Leo Strauss who was purportedly a secular Zionist (Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Chicago) the philosophical progenitor of many contemporary public policy elites including several neoconservative Bush administration officials and other members of the Washington establishment in both political parties. Strauss was an avid opponent of modern liberalism having been an admirer of Martin Heidegger and by extension Nietzsche’s philosophy (itself Darwinian). It was later developed by several first generation neoconservatives including Norman Podhoretz (for many years editor of Commentary) and Irving Kristol. Later, in the second generation came Irving’s son William (now editor of Commentary’s “replacement” The Weekly Standard), Michael Ledeen, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer and Richard Perle among others. . . .
Dr. Hubert cites as his source for this startling revelation Jim Lobe's sketchy article, “Leo Strauss' Philosophy of Deception”, AlterNet. May 19, 2003, which in turn is largely based on a polemical work by Shadia Drury (Leo Strauss and the American Right).

I'll confess that I'm not directly acquainted with the thought of Prof. Strauss or Shadia Drury, and in this post I'm very much reliant on those who are familiar with their works. Drury's work on Strauss, however, appears to be regarded with squeals of glee from Bush-haters (confirming their worst suspicions about the Right) and cautious skepticism or outright derision by serious readers of Strauss -- for starters, see Ken Masugi's review "A Leo Straussian Conspiracy Washington Times Feb. 4, 1998).

I also stumbled across this blog entitled "Leo Strauss and the Politics of the Present", founded by Jon Feinberg and a liberal collective with the ambition of "focusing on the political and philosophical writings of Leo Strauss in an attempt to create a critical history of the forces that contributed to the emergence of the current conservative stranglehold on American politics and American thinking" (brevity, it seems, is not their forte). For reasons as yet unknown (short attention span? internal group rivalries? censorship under the Patriot Act?) the reading project lasts all of three months, with Mr. Feinberg urging readers in his last post to "read Drury cautiously" (Dec. 22, 2004): "So, I've finally made it into Drury's book, and, the further in I venture, the less impressed I am. . . .")

In any case, much of what I've read in connection with researching Hubert's charge strongly suggests that while Straussians did have a prevalent role in the Reagan administration and helped to establish a principled case for American anti-communism, the influence of Strauss on the foreign policy of the present Bush administration is rather questionable, as is the portrayal of Leo Strauss as "grand architect" of neoconservative thought.

I'd like to address the reasoning behind Hubert's assertion that Strauss "was an avid opponent of modern liberalism having been an admirer of Martin Heidegger and by extension Nietzsche's philosophy (itself Darwinian)." Now, a great many folk could be construed as being "avid opponents of modern liberalism" or critical of modernity: David Schindler, Christopher Lasch, Alisdair MacIntyre, to name a few. To predicate Strauss' opposition to liberalism on his appreciation of Martin Heidegger seems to me rather specious, since nothing is offered to clarify exactly what Strauss admired about Heidegger or Nietzsche.

Further investigation would reveal that Strauss (who was a student of Heidegger) was impressed by his intellectual prowess (Strauss remarked of Heidegger "I had never seen before such seriousness, profundity, and concentration in the interpretation of philosophic texts"), and yet went on to protest Heidegger's capitulation and subordination of his philosophy to National Socialism. Strauss was likewise concerned by the prevalence of relativism, nihilisma and radical historicism in contemporary German philosophy and the inability of the social sciences to establish a bulwark against totalitarianism.

Kenneth R. Weinstein elaborates on Strauss' concern with Heidegger in "Philosophic Roots: The Role of Leo Strauss, and the War in Iraq" (The Neoconservative Reader pp. 199-212):

Strauss saw liberalism threatened theoretically by the philosophically informed belief, developed through modernity, that unaided human reason could not find permanent principles. Hitherto, Western thought had been shaped by what Strauss characterized as the tension between two most compelling alternatives for developing a comprehensive account of the whole: reason and revelation, or as Strauss put it figeratively, Athens and Jerusalem. Though Strauss left the Orthodox Judaism in which he was raised as a youth, he took the Bible seriously, saw revelation as offering the firmest foundation for morality, and criticized the atheism of the Enlightenment's more strident figures.

After early modern political philosophy, especially in the Enlightenment, unmasked the claims of revelation in the name of reason, late modernity took to unmasking the claims of reason. The growing importance ascribed to history in philosophy by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) meant that nature was no longer a standard for man. The rise of historical consciousness was especially a threat to the U.S., a regime based on the unalienable rights ascribed to man by America's Founding Fathers. Radical historicism, as seen in the writings of Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Martin Heideggar (1889-1976), made the defense of intellectual rationalism and democratic republicanism increasingly difficult. Nietzsche's view that beliefs are values, mere creations, paved the way to cultural relativism as well as to nihilism.

In the face of the crisis of the West, in particular historicism and relativism, Strauss turned to the great authors of the past. In contrast to most contemporaries, Strauss sought to understand these thinkers as they understood themselves, not assuming that their ideas wer shaped or limited by the times in which they lived . . .

Mars' Hill Audio (Christian journal) profiles Strauss and this turn to the classical philosophers:
Strauss's most famous work is Natural Right and History (1950), in which he documents the rise and fall of the idea of natural right, or what is right by nature. Contemporary social science, Strauss argues, embraces both relativism and the distinction between fact and value. Thus social scientists today believe their work must be entirely value-free and objective. But, Strauss contends, this gives us no basis for the ultimate principles we choose. In keeping with his ancient-verses-modern dichotomy, the distinction between classical and modern natural right is of great significance to Strauss in Natural Right and History. Classical natural right claims the good life for man to be "the life that is in accordance with the natural order of man's being, the life that flows from a well-ordered or healthy soul . . . The perfection of man's nature." However, beginning with Hobbes, modern natural right finds the possibility of man's perfection wholly impractical, instead championing the instinct of self-preservation and the rights of the individual.
Weinstein's article further serves to counter the liberal portrayal of Strauss as "neoconservative war propagandist from the grave". According to Weinstein, while there are indeed distinct Straussian elements in the positions of some those supporting the war, one could just as well employ Strauss in building an intellectual case against it:
"Though many prominent Straussians supported the Iraq war in some fashion, a number of Straussians expressed doubts, both privately and publicly. In fact, there seem to be numerous theoretical justifications in Strauss' own understanding of politics to think that the anti-utopian Strauss might have been skeptical of parts of the enterprise of the war -- especially the notion that regime change would help, as some of the more exuberant supporters of the war believed, to bring democracy to Iraq."
Thomas G. West provides an example of a Straussian argument against regime-change in excellent fashion in Leo Strauss and American Foreign Policy The Claremont Review of Books Volume IV, Number 3 Summer 2004).

There are a number of other good articles to explore Strauss' thought as well as his relationship with / influence on the neoconservatives (and conservatives of other stripes) which I've recommended below.

* * *

In closing, I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Hubert (and Stephen Hand). If not for them, I may never have been inspired to research this particular conspiracy or the works of Dr. Strauss.

Although Strauss does not appear to have a great influence (if any) on the thought of the distinctively Catholic "neoconservatives" (it was pointed out to me that Novak mentions Strauss' Natural Right and History briefly in On Two Wings, only in approving Brian Tierney's criticism of Strauss' theory of natural right), he nevertheless strikes me as a thinker I should becoming minimally acquainted with.

I wish to recognize the post Iraq: Just War?, following up on a recent discussion between Chris Burgwald and Dr. Hubert, which addresses in part Dr. Hubert's position on the war in Iraq and Catholic just war tradition. (Readers are also invited to peruse "The Catholic Just War Tradition and the War in Iraq" website for further resources on this important debate).

Finally, with respect to Dr. Hubert's liberal application of the "neocon" label, I think it 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.

* * *

Related Links on the Straussian Neoconservative Cabal

  • Straussian.Net - a good place to start, if anywhere. The author, Jeffrey R. Wilson, has done a good job of documenting what he calls the "Straussian Conspiracy Wave of '03" (April - June 2003). I'd say Hubert & co. are a couple years too late?

  • What was Leo Strauss Up To?, by Steven Lenzner & William Kristol. The Public Interest Fall 2003:
    The only way to begin to understand Leo Strauss’s political thought is by studying his writings. This may seem a simple rule of common sense. Yet a glance at the current controversy over Strauss’s supposed influence on contemporary American politics and foreign policy suggests that this rule is easily ignored.

    The controversy turns on a legitimate question: “What was Strauss up to?” - or, more precisely, “What was Strauss’s intention?” But it would be misleading to attempt to understand Strauss by ascribing to him an influence, whether beneficial or nefarious, on current policy debates, and then inferring from the alleged influence what his aims really were. It makes far more sense to turn first to Strauss himself - that is, to his writings - in order to understand his political teaching. Then one might evaluate his intentional as well as inadvertent influence on today’s policy debates. . . .

  • Leo Strauss Natural Right and History (1953), by Hadley Arkes. First Things 101 (March 2000): 39-40. More of a reflection than a review of the book itself, but hey, it's Arkes (i.e., worth reading).

  • Leo Strauss: Conservative Mastermind, by Robert Locke. A critical appraisal of the philosopher and his ideas -- absent the hystericism of the left. FrontPage Magazine. May 31, 2002.

  • Leo Strauss and American Foreign Policy, by Thomas G. West. The Claremont Review of Books April 25, 2003. Contra Shadia Drury, Thomas West makes a case against American expansionism on the principles of Strauss:
    My impression as an outside observer is that Straussian influence in the administration has been grossly exaggerated. But let us assume for discussion's sake that it is strong. Since Strauss has been wildly accused of everything from being an admirer of Hitler to being a devotee of Wilsonian progressivism, I think it high time to clarify Strauss's understanding of foreign policy. I shall argue that although there is some common ground, Strauss's overall approach is quite different from that of Kristol, Kagan, and other prominent neoconservatives in and out of the administration. . . .
  • What Hath Strauss Wrought?: Misreading a Political Philosopher, by Peter Berkowitz. Weekly Standard June 2, 2003.

  • "The Leo-Conservatives, by Gerhard Sporl. Der Spiegel August 4, 2003.

  • Tim Robbins' Ghostwriter, by Terry Teachout. The Straussian Cabal's enginnering of the War in Iraq was alluded to in a play directed by Hollywood actor Tim Robbins (Imbedded), in which a character named Pearly White [named after prominent neoconservitive Richard Pearle] is made to recite a line attributed to Strauss . . . only the quote in question is totally bogus. Terry does some detective work and uncovers the source.

  • Straussian War Conspiracy Exposed The following exchange is taken from a "teach-in" sponsored by Bill Bennett's Americans for Victory over Terrorism at UCLA on April 2 and later broadcast on C-SPAN. (The full transcript is available on AVOT's website.) Two very shrewd students seem to have stumbled onto the Dirty Little Secret of this war . . .

  • "The Straussians are Coming!", by Clifford Owen. Claremont Review of Books April 28, 2005. (Review of Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, by Anne Norton. Yale UP, Sept. 2004). The author reviews yet another book -- apparently there is a market for exposé of the Straussian Cabal's inner circle.

  • The Real Leo Strauss. New York Times June 7, 2003. Jenny Strauss Clay, a professor of classics at the University of Virginia, defends her father's name in the face of his detractors.

  • "The Princely Protocols", BrothersJudd.com. Oct. 28, 2003. Responding to Shadia Drury's interview on the "Straussian cabal" in the Bush administration, Orrin Judd observes:
    Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the Left's fear of Straussianism is their insistence that its elitist anti-democratic aspect is a dark and jealously guarded secret. It is, of course, the classic conservative critique of democracy that such a system is not necessarily liberal--does not protect liberty. No one was better aware of this than the Founders, who wrote a rather anti-democratic Constitution and created a Republic, based on those of ancient times, rather than a pure democracy. In order to believe the Straussian disregard for democracy to be unique to them and a secret, you not only have to ignore the Federalists themselves, but folks like de Tocqueville in the past and both the more popular writings of the neocons, like Fareed Zakaria's Future of Freedom, and the best writings, like Robert Kraynak's Christian Faith and Modern Democracy, of those the Straussians have influenced.

    And, finally, David Cohen would like to inform us that We're All Straussians Now BrothersJudd May 11, 2003:

    Let's note a couple of ironies. The Bush administration, according to the popular press, is either helmed by an ignoramus with no intellectual curiousity, or it is controlled by several secretive cabals, including one whose inner circle are political philosphers. Liberals, who consider themselves, ipso facto, intellectuals, are entering their fourth decade on a rudderless ideological boat. Finally, it is liberalism, not conservatism, that believes that the world must be run by a small group of enlightened philosophical despots, who tell the masses (infected as they are with false consciousness) what they need to hear.

    I have to admit, though, that this is my path to religion. I have never had a direct revelation and have never felt G-d's intercession in my life (although I have lived a blessed life). Looking at history and at the current state of the world, I have decided, for reasons that have been rehearsed here many times, that religion, particularly if at odds with a powerful state, is necessary to secure our liberties. If that strategic religiosity makes me a Straussian, so be it.

NOTE: The conclusion of this post was edited on October 13, 2005]