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The Trouble with Feser (on Libertarianism); Woods, Fleming, Chronicles Discussion

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Reply to Feser on Block

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on July 13, 2006 03:41 PM

Ed Feser’s recent Contra the Rothbardians yet again: A Reply to Walter Block is the latest entry in the author’s growing separation from libertarianism.

I’m sure Block will reply, but I jotted a few notes down when reading his piece, and assemble some of them here.

Large Scale Public Actions and Contract Enforcement. Feser writes:

I wrote only of large-scale public actions of a political or commercial type that have an inherent tendency to further the public legitimation of behaviors contrary to traditional morality.

A couple comments in response to this. First, this view would seem to argue that even private contracts between gays that attempt to mimic some of the legal rights married people have–such as rights of inheritance, custody of kids, visitiation/hospital rights, power of attorney, including medical power of attorney and living wills, and co-ownership of real estate, etc.–would not be enforceable. The courts would be justified in both monopolizing law enforcement and justice and courts, and in refusing to enforce even private civil agreements between gays. I guess they get to hold hands, and that’s about it. But as I have argued, private contracts between gays ought to be enforceable.The Trouble with Minarchy

Second, as indicated above, even if Feser’s moderate limitations on standard libertarianism are limited to very visible/large-scale behavior, and limitations thereon by a local government–his views seem to require a state, at least at the local level. After all, in anarchy, how is he going to say that a local government could in some cases be justified in restricting some publicly immoral/corrupting behavior? In other words, Feser’s views necessarily entail the existence of the state; so to that extent they are not libertarian, because libertarianism rejects aggression, and states require aggression. See my What It Means to be an Anarcho-Capitalist; Gene Callahan, The Most Crucial Gap in Politics. (NB: I think even when Feser was a libertarian he was a minimal-state type, not an anarchist.)

On Reluctant Aggressors

In my view, it’s a bit curious that Feser has renounced libertarianism but then seems not to like it when implications of this–such as not being completely opposed to all forms of aggression (for this is what it means to be a libertarian)–are pointed out. I have noted this many times. Those who are not pure or complete libertarians are of course impure because they do not oppose aggression 100%; they condone it in some cases. This is why they are not libertarians; if they did oppose aggression consistently, they would be libertarians. But they say they are not libertarians, yet bristle at having it pointed out that they actually do in some cases condone aggression.

I’ve seen this many times. For example, see some of my posts on the nature of aggression here, such as Feser’s reply to one of my replies (which was deleted from the L&P blog when I was banned for a while–but thank goodness for Google cache, eh?–see 1, 2, 3), and my The Trouble with Feser (on Libertarianism).

See also my post Minarchists as State-Aggressors; and similar interchanges with or comments on non-libertarians such as: Scott Richert and Thomas Fleming et al. (Fleming again) [note: see archived version below; also Economics, Catholic Social Teaching, and Dissent]; one Ralph Luker; Jonah Goldberg. Notice how Richert et al. wriggle and squirm, trying to deny that they actually do condone aggression. It’s kind of amusing.

On Taming Our Beasts Feser writes:

UPDATE: It occurs to me that some readers might wonder whether what I say above about a community prohibiting “large-scale public actions of a political or commercial type that have an inherent tendency to further the public legitimation of behaviors contrary to traditional morality” would entail the banning of books, political speech, and the like that defended liberal moral attitudes. The answer is no. As my JLS article makes clear, the context of my discussion was the question of what might, from the point of view of traditional morality, be detrimental to the moral development of a child. A thoroughly “pornified” popular culture, from which, as any parent knows, it is extremely hard to shield children without withdrawing from society altogether, is arguably detrimental in this way. But the existence of books and speeches arguing for a certain anti-traditional moral point of view is not. The former sort of thing has an inevitable impact on the sensibilities and inclinations of people exposed to it over time. The latter doesn’t.

This seems a bit naive. Does Feser think that people are so nuanced? I am reminded of one of my favorite Mises quotes:

No socialist author ever gave a thought to the possibility that the abstract entity which he wants to vest with unlimited power—whether it is called humanity, society, nation, state, or government—could act in a way of which he himself disapproves.

Local Government

the question I was concerned with in the article was simply that of whether the thesis of self-ownership per se automatically rules out all governmental measures by which a local community might seek to uphold a genteel “Main Street U.S.A.” ethos. It was not a defense of any particular policy, much less of any sort of draconian paternalism.

Again: note how Feser assumes that there is a local government, that is itself compatible with self-ownership. I would grant you: if this is so, then yeah, maybe it is legitimate for it to further infringe on self-ownership. The reason is government itself has to violate rights (self-ownership) just to exist; and if you grant this is okay, then where does it end? but the point is, he has to assume the legitimacy of the state to make his arguments; so if libertarianism is not compatible with the state, then you can’t argue that various measures that require a state for enforcement, could ever be compatible with libertarianism.

Libertarians and Socialism. Feser writes (in comments):

This is one reason — by no means the only one — why I am no longer a libertarian. Fusionism, I now think, is an illusion. Genuine conservatives who also think of themeselves as libertarians should therefore abandon libertarianism. Indeed, I would say that real libertarianism, when thought through consistently, is really “left libertarianism,” a view that at its heart is simply incompatible with the basic natural law and conservative conviction that authority does not ultimately derive from contract or the consent of the individual, and that we have obligations that we did not consent to and can have no natural right to neglect. So much the worse for libertarianism, then. It is, I now think, on all fours with socialism, egalitarian liberalism, and all the rest — just one modern “rationalist” (in Oakeshott’s sense) ideology among others, which a conservative ought to oppose.

Oh really? Isn’t this a bit strong, even for Feser? To claim that we are on all fours with socialism? Come on. Feser with his careful nuances–distinguishing between laws regulating promotion of homosexuality (okay) and those restricting gay handholding (bad?)–can at least grant us, even if he thinks libertarianism is too rationalistic, that we are not “on all fours” with socialism?!

In fact, if anything, Feser’s non-libertarianism (whatever you might call it) is more on all fours with socialism. We may share rationalism with socialists (arguably) but he shares the advocacy of the state and therefore of institutionalized criminality, as opposed to we anarcho-libertarians who on principle oppose aggression of any form from any source.

In any event, even if he thinks libertarianism has gone astray, is it really plausible for a former libertarian and conservative to maintain we are on all fours with socialism? Is its persistence, or origin, our fault? Come on. We are its most vocal critics.

Libertarian Obsession with Rights:

Classical liberalism — the tradition of Locke, Smith, and Hayek — is a more interesting and plausible view, and less obviously at odds with conservatism. (I reject the assimilation of classical liberalism and libertarianism — the latter is really a kind of classical liberal “heresy,” a grotesque distortion that arises when one focuses obsessively on rights and ignores the other elements of the more nuanced sort of moral theory to be found in the great classical liberal theorists.)

But we only focus on rights when people like Feser or others advocate or condone or use force or violence. In other words, Feser is in favor of aggression, in some cases, just like a socialist, dictator, or petty criminal. We are said to have an “obsessive” focus on rights–i.e., our pointing out every case where there is aggression, that violates rights; could it be, perhpas, because non-libertarians have a remnant of conscience that makes them uncomfortable having it pointed out that they advocates aggression? They don’t like being called on it, I think.

The Future and Libertarianism

I don’t think “political liberalism” or “political libertarianism” have a hope in hell of working. And yes, I think that things are going to get much worse. I say this with nothing but the deepest regret. I’ve got three children, and I do not like the world I fear they are going to inherit.

Again, this is overwrought. Even if he thinks we are too principled or too much against aggressioon–does he really think that this bad world we have coming is because of … libertarians?? This minority of harmless radical academics who have very few adherents? When all the dangers we face are from institutionalized aggression coming from the state? A state which is based on the idea that some agggression is justified–an idea Feser himself shares. Not us.

Libertarian Rigor.

Let me say also that I think Eric [Mack] is an excellent philosopher, from whose work I’ve learned much. Indeed, since the kind of libertarianism based on self-ownership is the kind I used to be attracted to — there are other kinds — and since Mack’s is, in my view, the most sophisticated version of self-ownership based libertarianism around today, I would recommend to those interested in these matters that they read his work. It’s a little hard to get a hold of, scattered as it is among various journal and book articles, but well worth the effort. And much, MUCH more interesting and philosophically rigorous than the stuff most Rothbardians are putting out.

Rigorous–I call to Feser’s attention, e.g., Hoppe’s magisterial A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. Res ipsa loquitur.

Natural Law and Intrinsic Morality:

libertarians draw (what now seems to me to be) the grotesque conclusion that we can have a natural right to do something even if it is intrinsically immoral: addict ourselves to heroin, commit suicide, let a starving man die, and so forth. Yes, they (including my younger self) hedge this by saying that it might still be against other moral principles — e.g. wisdom, charity, or kindness — to do such things, but even to make the sort of claim at issue is to go way beyond anything the classical liberals would have said.

Feser maintains that if something is “intrinsically immoral” there can be no (natural) right to do it. Personally, I think his error here is over-reliance on natural law theory. Let me splain why.

First, I tend to agree with Hoppe “that the concept of human nature is far “too diffuse and varied to provide a determinate set of contents of natural law”. A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, n. 7, p. 235 (quoting Gewirth). Feser’s gut might tell him something is intrinsically wrong, but it’s really not possibly to rigorously demonstrate this (after all he apparently cares about rigorous arguments now).

Second, I think this helps to highlight the semi-positivist notion that rights flow from anything, even natural law. I think it shows the danger of relying on natural law as the “source” or “grounding” of rights. I personally think you don’t need to really rely on “natural law” to ground rights. No space go go into this in detail here–and I plan to write more about this in the future–but I think we need to recognize that aggression is not defined in terms of rights, but rather the other way around. So Feser gets it wrong when he writes, “what counts as ‘aggression’ depends on what rights we have”. I don’t blame him here; I think many libertarians are confused on this. Again, no space to elaborate: but in my view, pure deductions of rights from natural law all stumble on the is-ought dichotomy: you can’t derive an ought or ethic, from an is or fact, Rand’s flip comment that what a thing is, determines what it ought to do, notwithstanding. Rather, rights are merely a convenient conceptual description of situations when the use of force is, and is not, justified or legitimate (which may be said to correlate with the concept of aggression). So, in cases where force may be used in response to X, X is aggression, and there is a right to not have X happen. And to find out when force is justified, one must appeal to a pre-existing and shared ethical system. That is, interpersonal/political ethics (what our rights are) has to be a hypothetical undersaking, based on presupposed ethics shared by all civilized people who are part of the inquiry. The fact that some savages or outlaws or criminals outside the civilized system do not accept civilized ethical norms is utterly irrelevant. (Even Rand’s system is really based on a hypothetical base: the amoral choice to live; see also Part III of this paper by Khawaja.) This is why I see the appeal of theories of rights that rely on undeniable ethical presuppositions of relevant parties to the discussion; see, e.g., my New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory.

In sum, I think Feser et al. can’t show most of what they want to is really “intrinsically immoral”; and even if they could, it has nothing to do with rights, which need not be based on natural rights theory. In my view this is one danger of overuse of the idea of “natural rights”. They should just be rights. Defended with reason, not with appeal to basically traditional religious moral views which opens the door for a Feser to step in and seize control of the spigot or source of rights. Elaborations on the dangerous legal positivism inherent in natural law theories of rights will have to await another blogpost. Stay tuned, y’all.

The Trouble with Feser (on Libertarianism)

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on July 27, 2004 10:38 PM

Ed Feser’s recent article, The Trouble with Libertarianism (blogged here by Stephen Carson), like your boy Jonah Goldberg and one-hit neocon wonder Francis Fukuyama, has to misconstrue libertarianism in order to attack it. He sets up straw men that are easily knocked down. But the libertarianism that he attacks is not the libertarianism I know.First, note his definition:

“Libertarianism” is usually defined as the view in political philosophy that the only legitimate function of a government is to protect its citizens from force, fraud, theft, and breach of contract, and that it otherwise ought not to interfere with its citizens’ dealings with one another, either to make them more economically equal or to make them more morally virtuous.

This is not too far off, but I would say libertarianism is, at its essence (2), simply based on the preference for peaceful interaction and opposition to violent conflict with our neighbors. In short, it is opposed to aggression, the initiation of force against others; or worded differently, the unconsented to use or invasion of the borders of the bodies or property of others. As a consequence of this, we naturally oppose institutionalized aggression, i.e., the state, or at least seek to keep the state within strict limits and to only a few, narrowly-defined functions.

But what makes Feser’s argument an attack on a straw man is his insistence that libertarianism is correct because it is “genuinely neutral between diverse moral and religious worldviews.” Not only tradition or natural-law based versions of libertarianism, but also contractarianism and utilitarian strands of libertarianism “fail to be neutral between moral and religious points of view.”

I find this utterly bizarre. Of course libertarianism is not “neutral.” True, we support a political ideal that does permit individuals freedom to pursue a diverse variety of modes of life. But it does not permit, say, axe-murdering, if that happens to be your gig. No, we aren’t neutral about that, sorry to say. It of course is opposed by its nature to those who want to use the institutionalized force of the state to outlaw non-aggressive behavior that they don’t like.

Libertarians are opposed to aggression. We favor voluntary, peaceful, cooperative interaction between people. So we are not neutral as between the entrepreneur and the criminal, the saint and the socialist , the victim and the aggressor, the civilized man and the savage. We are not neutral at all. I, for one, am not. I hate the latter, and love the former. I would stamp out the latter, for the sake of the former. The criminals are a wretched excuse for humanity, but really just a technical problem. Our fellow, civilized kith and kin are what life is all about.

To emphasize: note that nothing Feser says about us not being “neutral” in any way justifies the initiation of violent force against one’s peaceful neighbors.

Re: The Trouble with Feser (on Libertarianism)

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on July 28, 2004 10:22 PM

Mr. Feser replied to my earlier blogpost. His reply, reprinted below (with permission), and my response to it, follows:

Dear Mr. Kinsella,

A friend directed me to your reply to my article. Unfortunately, like others who’ve criticized it, you don’t seem to have read it very carefully. Some comments on your comments:

1. I didn’t “attack” libertarianism. Rather, I attacked the claims that (a) libertarianism is neutral between comprehensive doctrines, and (b) that there is a common core to all the main theories usually classified as “libertarian.” All of this leaves open the possibility that some doctrine usually classified as “libertarian” is true; indeed, I am personally inclined to accept some version of Aristotelian-natural law based
libertarianism, combined with insights drawn from Hayek (though these days
I’d probably prefer the label “classical liberal” or, with Hayek, “Burkean
Whig,” to the label “libertarian,” which, partly for the reasons I discuss
in the article, is often extremely misleading). Moreover, someone familiar
with my other writings on libertarianism — as I know you are, since you
once sent me a nice note about one of my articles — would realize that
“attacking libertarianism” wasn’t quite what I intended.

2. Yes, I realize that no libertarian claims that his view is neutral between _every single_ worldview, however bizarre, any more than Rawls does. (Obviously, ax-murdering is, as you say, out.) What I said was that libertarians generally take their view to be neutral between the main worldviews represented in contemporary pluralistic societies: this sort of thing is usually what is meant by the claim that a view like Rawlsian liberalism or libertarianism is “neutral,” and it is this claim that was my target. (For an example of this sort of libertarian claim to “neutrality,”
think of Nozick’s concept of the minimal state as a “meta-utopia” in which
different visions of how society should be ordered can be tried out.)

3. It is simply no good to say that “non-aggression” etc. is the core to all versions of libertarianism, because the real question is what counts as “aggression” — after all, NO ONE, libertarian or otherwise, claims to be in favor of aggression, so what is the point of appealing to “non-aggression” as if it answered all questions? In fact it doesn’t answer anything, because what counts as aggression can only be determined once we’ve first determined what rights we have and why we have them. Does abortion count as aggression? Does refusing to legalize same-sex marriage count as aggression? Does outlawing stem-cell research count as aggression?
Different versions of libertarianism will give very different answers to
these questions, because they have very different conceptions of rights.

The point of my article was to suggest that the differences between these versions of libertarianism are often far more important and interesting than the similarities. Libertarians of a Lockean, Aristotelian, or Hayekian bent are, in my view, miles away from libertarians of the contractarian or utilitarian type. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that the latter are closer to modern liberals and the former closer to modern conservatives than the two camps of libertarians are to each other. That many
libertarians don’t see this is, I think, a consequence of their not paying
sufficient attention to the very different implications that the foundations
one gives libertarianism might have for what _counts_ as “libertarianism.”
(If you want to see just how radically different the Aristotelian-Hayekian
sort of libertarianism is going to be from other varieties, once its
implications are consistently drawn out, you might find of interest my
article “Self-Ownership, Abortion, and the Rights of Children,” forthcoming
in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.)

Best,

Ed Feser

My reply is as folllows. First, let me make it clear that I meant no disrespect to the Fesenator, nor that I uncharitably construed his words. But after all, his article was entitled “The Trouble with Libertarianism,” hardly something a diehard, hardcore, irascible libertarian like me can be expected to resist responding to (see, e.g., my responses to previous attacks on libertarianism by Jonah Goldberg and Francis Fukuyama).

I do not think it matters much whether Feser’s argument is characterized as an “attack” on “libertarianism” per se or not. The main question for me is: has Feser set forth any arguments that show that the main libertarian case is wrong? If he does not, his title is inapropos and frankly, I am (qua libertarian) completely uninterested. If he does not assert or maintain that libertarianism is flawed or incorrect, then I withdraw my response.

If, on the other hand, he does for whatever reason claim that libertarianism is flawed, then I feel compelled to take issue with this. I disagree with this. Now the question in this case is, what is his argument? As I said in my previous post, his main argument seems to be that libertarianism somehow rests upon the idea that it is “neutral between comprehensive doctrines” and also “that
there is a common core to all the main theories usually classified as ‘libertarian.’”

I’ll be honest that this country boy’s eyes glaze over when philosopher and humanities types use terms like “neutral between comprehensive doctrines” or even “common core.” In fact this makes my trigger finger itch. Just kidding.

I went right to what I saw as the heart of the matter, when I read this, so I’m sorry Feser thinks I didn’t “seem to have read it very carefully.” The bottom line to me is: does Feser mount any kind of case against the primary libertarian belief? This belief is, as I noted, that the unconsented-to use of another’s body or property–what is commonly referred to as aggression–is unjustiifed. It has nothing to do with being “neutral between comprehensive doctrines”. Nor does its justification.

So to be honest, I find Feser’s attack to be completely beside the point. That is why I did not delve into the details (that, and I am short on time). I really don’t mind if Feser wants to prove libertarianism is not “neutral between comprehensive doctrines”, any more than I mind if he wants to prove libertarianism “has no position on the length of the universe.” This is because the principled opposition to aggression does not rely in the slightest upon being “neutral between comprehensive doctrines”. In fact, as I said before, this view is NOT “neutral.” It is anti-aggression, and pro-victim.

Let’s make it even clearer. To disprove libertarianism’s central contention–that aggression is unjustified–one must actually try to (a) show that aggression is actually justified (in some cases); or (b) show that what we view as aggression (e.g., murder and other private crime; or activities of the state such as taxation, regulation, conscription) is not actually aggression. I honestly see no other logical alternative.

Now I ask you: Does Feser’s demonstration (if it is that) that libertarianism is not “neutral between comprehensive doctrines” show either thing? Of course it does not. Feser may be interested in this and indeed it may be an interesting thing to show, but I fail to see how it shows that aggression is justified; or that the state does not necessarily employ aggression.

Accordingly, I conclude that our view that aggression is unjustified and the state is inherently aggressive (and therefore unjustified) is simply not challenged by Feser’s opinion or observation that libertarianism isn’t “neutral between comprehensive doctrines”!

Of course, I am focusing with a monomania on aggression. But then, I am a libertarian. Shall I apologize for that? To whom? The savages? In the words of The Mighty Thor, I say thee … NAY!

Re: The Trouble with Feser (on Libertarianism)

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on July 29, 2004 03:52 PM

Following up on recent blogposts: The Fesenator wrote me back:

Thanks for your note, and for your latest comments on the Rockwell blog. My impression from what you say is that we probably don’t disagree here about anything of substance. My article was intended to criticize, not libertarianism, but rather certain claims _about_ libertarianism, such as the claim that it is, as Rawls’s position aims to be, “neutral” between “reasonable comprehensive doctrines.” (I know the jargon is ugly, but discussions of this issue since the time Rawls wrote have tended to adopt it, so I’m afraid I’m stuck with it.)

I gather that you don’t necessarily disagree with this point as long as it does not entail that your own version of libertarianism is false — and as far as I can tell, it does not entail this, any more than it entails the falsity of the Aristotelian and Hayekian versions of libertarianism I favor.

If you wonder whether there are libertarians who do care whether libertarianism is “neutral,” though, you might check out Will Wilkinson’s reply (2) to my article on TCS. Wilkinson seems to think it is desperately important to defend the claim that libertarianism is neutral in this Rawlsian sense, so my article was by no means directed against a view that no libertarians are committed to. I plan to respond to Wilkinson in another TCS piece.

As I wrote Ed back–if all Ed is discussing is whether libertarianism is “neutral” in some sense, that is fine but it simply does not interest me–at least, not qua libertarian. All I care about–qua libertarian–is whether the claim that aggression is unjustified (and I do believe the content of “aggression” is well understood), is true or not. And, of course, applications of this, details, investigations into what aggression is, in the gray or difficult issues, etc.

Wilkinson does go on about “Liberal Order and Liberal Neutrality” but my eyes tend to glaze over at this stuff. I don’t see how showing there is some kind of “neutrality” in libertarianism is either necessary or sufficient to justify it. In the end, libertarianism is about being civilized: about co-existing peacefully with one’s neighbors; cooperating with them rather than violently struggling with them; respecting their stuff rather than trying to take it and treating it like it’s yours.

Now we have this to a certain degree; we have a certain amount of voluntary respect for others’ rights already, otherwise we would not have obtained the degree of prosperity and civilization we do have. Now the question of why or how or whether this view is justified is an interesting one; so is the question of to what degree it is followed, or could be followed, or will be followed; and the question of what things can be done or will be done to achieve a higher compliance with the libertarian idea; and so is the issue of what is one’s personal ethical obligation in terms of devoting part of one’s own life to strategizing, activism, rhetoric, etc.

But none of these are libertarianism per se. To be a libertarian is to endorse the simple proposition that peaceful interaction is preferable to violence. It does not mean one believes we have liberty; or that perfect liberty will ever be achieved. It does not commit one to being some irritating activist who thinks it’s his duty to vote a certain way or “fight” for liberty. It does not mean that one even thinks that true liberty is possible.

***

Richert’s article and the followup comments: archived here and here, and pasted below:

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


The Limits of Economics
posted by Scott P. Richert at 15:46

Over at LewRockwell.com, Thomas Woods has replied to Thomas Storck’s excellent article, “Economic Science and Catholic Social Teaching,” itself a reply to Woods’ earlier LRC post, “The Trouble With Catholic Social Teaching.” (Back when Woods first posted his article, I wrote a three-part response on my Rockford Files weblog; you can find those posts here, here, and here.)

Actually, to say that Woods replies is a bit of an overstatement; he cranked out 2,078 words overnight (a feat for which Lew Rockwell praises him), but very few of those words address the arguments that Storck raised. In fact, he includes only one quotation from Storck, which he uses to set up a straw man that he can knock down. The rest of the article avoids engaging Storck’s very well-thought out critique. It is evident that Storck read Woods’ article very closely and took Woods’ argument quite seriously; the least Woods could have done was to return the favor.

Instead, Woods begins by complaining that people have taken his argument seriously enough to respond to it:

There are few things more frustrating than writing a book, and then being confronted with a ceaseless stream of arguments you’ve already answered while you’re waiting for it to be published.

That’s an odd statement for a writer to make; presumably, Woods published his essay when he did in order to stimulate debate and discussion. After all, his articles are not papal encyclicals, which, by their nature, are meant to limit (or, in some cases, even preclude) further discussion. If Woods didn’t want folks such as Storck and myself to respond to “The Trouble With Catholic Social Teaching” until his book appeared, then there was a simple answer: Don’t publish the essay. If he’s frustrated because his book answers questions that his essay did not, then I’ll be happy to review the pre-publication manuscript (and I’m sure Storck would be as well). In doing so, we might even be able to help him improve his book.

In this latest essay, Woods reiterates his earlier argument–the Church has no special competence in economic affairs, and, therefore, She should not make pronouncements about what should be done in the economic sphere–apparently believing that Storck and I and others didn’t understand it the first time. The problem, however, is that we did; we simply disagree. (Readers might legitimately wonder why someone who received his degree in history has a greater insight on economic matters than a pope; apparently, as an advisor, the Holy Spirit is a bit more fallible than Lew Rockwell.)

Woods bases his argument on his belief that economics is a science, which, in this and in his earlier article, he has compared to architecture and mathematics (while, paradoxically, insisting that Austrian economists “criticize the attempt to fashion economics along the model of physics and the hard sciences.”) He writes:

If things work a certain way, no Church pronouncement can make them work another way. That is the crux of my argument. “What was wrong with Catholic social thought in the nineteenth century,” writes Fordham University’s Fr. James Sadowsky, “was not so much its ethics as its lack of understanding of how the free market can work. The concern for the worker was entirely legitimate, but concern can accomplish little unless we know the causes and the cures for the disease.”

Father Sadowsky’s point seems perfectly obvious to me. My position, therefore, in no way involves the claim that the sciences per se, including economics, are exempt from moral evaluation. They are, however, exempt from technical critiques on the part of the Church, since churchmen may speak only as individuals on such questions and not for the Church as a whole.

But who determines what works, and–more importantly–who determines the criteria by which we determine whether something is working? That is the crux of this debate. Even Father Sadowsky, in the quote above, doesn’t make the kind of absolutist statement that Tom Woods makes–Father Sadowsky criticizes 19th-century Catholic social thought for failing to understand “how the free market can work” (an ideal) not how it does work (a reality).

To illustrate the point, let’s take an example from Woods’ latest article:

It is all well and good for churchmen to say that churches should be built with the sturdiest materials in order that they might remain standing for as long as possible. But they go beyond their competence as churchmen and their ability to bind the faithful on pain of mortal sin as soon as they say, “The best building materials are A, B, and C, and the wisest techniques to use are X, Y, and Z.” A churchman qua churchman has been vouchsafed no particular insight into such a question.

Notice the artificial constriction of the role of “churchmen” and the concerns that they are legitimately (according to Woods) allowed to have. What Woods may not know, however, is that this example has a particular relevance. In certain ethnic Eastern churches (Catholic as well as Orthodox), there is a tradition of constructing church buildings entirely out of wood and fastening the boards with wooden pegs rather than nails. In recent years, some Eastern bishops have begun urging their parishes to return to this tradition; some, I understand, have even required it in their dioceses. Are they wrong to do so?

In Woods’ worldview, yes, because all they can possibly be concerned about is “that churches should be built with the sturdiest materials in order that they might remain standing for as long as possible.” Wood is clearly not “the best building material” for that task, nor is eschewing the use of nails “the wisest technique.” The funny thing is, these church buildings not only serve their purpose quite well; many of the Eastern Christians who worship in them believe that they serve that purpose much better than church buildings that are built using better materials and wiser techniques. For one thing, they are a living monument to their traditional Christianity; for another, they take much longer to build and therefore represent a greater labor of love than the concrete block churches of the West that may last longer but, alas, are less likely to be filled.

(By the way, what purpose can Woods possibly have in bringing up churchmen’s “ability to bind the faithful on pain of mortal sin” in this context, other than to set up a straw man? Since, in his article, church architecture is just an analogy for the Church’s social teaching, perhaps he can tell us which pope has claimed that one of his social encyclicals binds the faithful on pain of mortal sin. It’s hard to take Woods’ arguments seriously when he seems more concerned with winning points than with accurately representing the tradition–yes, tradition–that he’s arguing against.)

This, in the end, is what it all comes down to: What is the purpose of the market and of economic freedom? For that matter, what is the purpose of government? The Church has, for 2,000 years, offered a very specific answer to both questions. Here’s a hint: It’s not providing the maximum number of goods at the lowest cost to the greatest number of “consumers.”

(As always, we welcome your comments and discussion in the writebacks. Please, if you have the time, read both of Woods’ articles, Storck’s response, and the earlier discussion over on my weblog as well, and feel free to bring material into the discussion from those sources.)

/Economics print # writebacks (84)

22 Jun 2004

The Limits of Economics

Over at LewRockwell.com, Thomas Woods has replied to Thomas Storck’s excellent article, “Economic Science and Catholic Social Teaching,” itself a reply to Woods’ earlier LRC post, “The Trouble With Catholic Social Teaching.” (Back when Woods first posted his article, I wrote a three-part response on my Rockford Files weblog; you can find those posts here, here, and here.)

Actually, to say that Woods replies is a bit of an overstatement; he cranked out 2,078 words overnight (a feat for which Lew Rockwell praises him), but very few of those words address the arguments that Storck raised. In fact, he includes only one quotation from Storck, which he uses to set up a straw man that he can knock down. The rest of the article avoids engaging Storck’s very well-thought out critique. It is evident that Storck read Woods’ article very closely and took Woods’ argument quite seriously; the least Woods could have done was to return the favor.

Instead, Woods begins by complaining that people have taken his argument seriously enough to respond to it:

There are few things more frustrating than writing a book, and then being confronted with a ceaseless stream of arguments you’ve already answered while you’re waiting for it to be published.

That’s an odd statement for a writer to make; presumably, Woods published his essay when he did in order to stimulate debate and discussion. After all, his articles are not papal encyclicals, which, by their nature, are meant to limit (or, in some cases, even preclude) further discussion. If Woods didn’t want folks such as Storck and myself to respond to “The Trouble With Catholic Social Teaching” until his book appeared, then there was a simple answer: Don’t publish the essay. If he’s frustrated because his book answers questions that his essay did not, then I’ll be happy to review the pre-publication manuscript (and I’m sure Storck would be as well). In doing so, we might even be able to help him improve his book.

In this latest essay, Woods reiterates his earlier argument–the Church has no special competence in economic affairs, and, therefore, She should not make pronouncements about what should be done in the economic sphere–apparently believing that Storck and I and others didn’t understand it the first time. The problem, however, is that we did; we simply disagree. (Readers might legitimately wonder why someone who received his degree in history has a greater insight on economic matters than a pope; apparently, as an advisor, the Holy Spirit is a bit more fallible than Lew Rockwell.)

Woods bases his argument on his belief that economics is a science, which, in this and in his earlier article, he has compared to architecture and mathematics (while, paradoxically, insisting that Austrian economists “criticize the attempt to fashion economics along the model of physics and the hard sciences.”) He writes:

If things work a certain way, no Church pronouncement can make them work another way. That is the crux of my argument. “What was wrong with Catholic social thought in the nineteenth century,” writes Fordham University’s Fr. James Sadowsky, “was not so much its ethics as its lack of understanding of how the free market can work. The concern for the worker was entirely legitimate, but concern can accomplish little unless we know the causes and the cures for the disease.”

Father Sadowsky’s point seems perfectly obvious to me. My position, therefore, in no way involves the claim that the sciences per se, including economics, are exempt from moral evaluation. They are, however, exempt from technical critiques on the part of the Church, since churchmen may speak only as individuals on such questions and not for the Church as a whole.

But who determines what works, and–more importantly–who determines the criteria by which we determine whether something is working? That is the crux of this debate. Even Father Sadowsky, in the quote above, doesn’t make the kind of absolutist statement that Tom Woods makes–Father Sadowsky criticizes 19th-century Catholic social thought for failing to understand “how the free market can work” (an ideal) not how it does work (a reality).

To illustrate the point, let’s take an example from Woods’ latest article:

It is all well and good for churchmen to say that churches should be built with the sturdiest materials in order that they might remain standing for as long as possible. But they go beyond their competence as churchmen and their ability to bind the faithful on pain of mortal sin as soon as they say, “The best building materials are A, B, and C, and the wisest techniques to use are X, Y, and Z.” A churchman qua churchman has been vouchsafed no particular insight into such a question.

Notice the artificial constriction of the role of “churchmen” and the concerns that they are legitimately (according to Woods) allowed to have. What Woods may not know, however, is that this example has a particular relevance. In certain ethnic Eastern churches (Catholic as well as Orthodox), there is a tradition of constructing church buildings entirely out of wood and fastening the boards with wooden pegs rather than nails. In recent years, some Eastern bishops have begun urging their parishes to return to this tradition; some, I understand, have even required it in their dioceses. Are they wrong to do so?

In Woods’ worldview, yes, because all they can possibly be concerned about is “that churches should be built with the sturdiest materials in order that they might remain standing for as long as possible.” Wood is clearly not “the best building material” for that task, nor is eschewing the use of nails “the wisest technique.” The funny thing is, these church buildings not only serve their purpose quite well; many of the Eastern Christians who worship in them believe that they serve that purpose much better than church buildings that are built using better materials and wiser techniques. For one thing, they are a living monument to their traditional Christianity; for another, they take much longer to build and therefore represent a greater labor of love than the concrete block churches of the West that may last longer but, alas, are less likely to be filled.

(By the way, what purpose can Woods possibly have in bringing up churchmen’s “ability to bind the faithful on pain of mortal sin” in this context, other than to set up a straw man? Since, in his article, church architecture is just an analogy for the Church’s social teaching, perhaps he can tell us which pope has claimed that one of his social encyclicals binds the faithful on pain of mortal sin. It’s hard to take Woods’ arguments seriously when he seems more concerned with winning points than with accurately representing the tradition–yes, tradition–that he’s arguing against.)

This, in the end, is what it all comes down to: What is the purpose of the market and of economic freedom? For that matter, what is the purpose of government? The Church has, for 2,000 years, offered a very specific answer to both questions. Here’s a hint: It’s not providing the maximum number of goods at the lowest cost to the greatest number of “consumers.”

(As always, we welcome your comments and discussion in the writebacks. Please, if you have the time, read both of Woods’ articles, Storck’s response, and the earlier discussion over on my weblog as well, and feel free to bring material into the discussion from those sources.)

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Vinnie Terranova wrote

Ease up on Tom Woods!
Scott,

First of all at the outset,may I say that I don’t consider any disagreements we may have as making you my enemy or me yours. I applaud your concern and intelligence in trying to find ways of improving the lives of our fellow man at all levels of life.

If I may, let me briefly explain why I do believe that the free market is truly the most moral and Godly system for meeting the material needs of mankind. First, in a free market, the consumer decides who wins and who loses by the measure of who serves his needs and desires best. He who supplies more of what his fellow man wants is rewarded with profits. Service to your fellow man and then personal reward. Second. Since no one has found a way around greed and selfishness, the free market is the only system that takes this potentially destructive weakness and turns it into a benefit for all of us. In his poem, “The Fable of the Bees”, Mandeville shows how egoism produces abundance while what appears to altruism at first glance, leads only to impoverishment and misery. Third, since none of us possesses the God like knowledge to plan and direct a human economy, all attempts are doomed to failure. Unfortunately, many have been driven in the opposite direction of increasing force and coercion against their fellows when their utopian economic plans come crashing down. The planned economy can’t plan, can’t supply, can’t know the uncountable desires and choices of each and every acting individual. To think it humanly possible to decide what everyone is to produce, buy and sell and at what prices without regard to the marketplace is truly to wish for something that not only has never been, but can never be. Fourth, all planning involves coersion. Resources by definition are scarce and without the market to allocate them, the only other alternative means is the political. As all political decisions are mutually exclusive, each consumer is pitted agains every other consumer to try and influence the political powers that be to supply us wi

John wrote


I think he totally confuses the churchmen qua churchmen argument by Woods. Specifically the fact that he’s saying that if the Church says we’re going to build our church in the way we think it should be built(perhaps sturdiest), they have no real authority to tell the people in their diocese how they should built their houses or businesses or what have you. I see the Church as providing spiritual and moral teachings and would seek their advice on those matters; however, I would not seek their advice on how to build my house. I wouldn’t say that churches shouldn’t or can’t require people in their diocese have their houses made in a certain way. I just think it’s ridiculous from the perspective of an institution that is meant to promote spiritual and moral living.

JazMan wrote

Attack Dogs of Chronicles
It was a bit odd to see Storck’s article characterized on LRC as “an attack” (from Rockwell’s blog entry _and_ in Woods’ article).

John Esposito wrote

uti/frui
“What is the purpose of the market and of economic freedom? For that matter, what is the purpose of government?”

Here Mr. Richert, as I understand him, means to distinguish between _utenda_ and _fruenda_, which former the economic scientist investigates, and which latter, Woods’ ‘churchman-qua-churchman'; and, further, to appeal to the moral priority of _fruenda_, which priority, following Augustine, scarcely — at least among the faithful adherents to the sub-Theologia-subordinated _philosophia perennis_ — has been seriously disputed.

It is, of course, most necessary _ex suppositione societatis materialisticae_ to order ‘useful’ and ‘noble’ goods rightly, granting the ‘noble’ the correct teleological emphasis; it does not seem that Mr. Woods is formally denying this, but virtually (I mean technically, _virtualiter_), I think, he may be — scilicet, through the crudity of the ‘churchman-qua-churchman’ argument, which Mr. Storck only indirectly addresses by direct appeal to papal fiat. (Naturally one must accept magisterial teaching, but it is necessary also to understand _propter quid_, by natural reason, what is already understood _quia_ numerous popes have declared it to be so.)

Mr. Woods’ argument — as I understand it — seems to be this: (M) All things contributing towards economic well-being are good; (m) That which economic science determines to contribute towards economic well-being, is what contributes towards economic well-being; (C) That which economic science determines to contribute towards economic well-being, is good.

The minor is proved by appeal to natural reason, particularly (I think), the species of economics called ‘the Austrian school'; therefore Mr. Storck’s objection that the Austrian school does not represent economic science, fails to address the validity of Mr. Woods’ argument, but rather attacks the minor premise: which attack must be made by economic science, since economics is the species of practical philosophy concerned with whatever _utenda_ pertain to economic well-being. (That there is disagreement on some matter discoverable by natural reason, obviously proves nothing at all; the disagreement may, weakly though legitimately, recommend caution in making pronouncements, but (human) indisputability is not necessarily predicable of of the true.)

Granting the minor, then (which Mr. Storck has ineffectively endeavored to attack), the argument may be refuted only by destruction of the Major — which Mr. Richert attempts in this most recent reply.

And the objection formally (if not materially, since the objection is given not dialetically, but rhetorically: “The Church has, for 2,000 years, offered a very specific answer to both questions. Here’s a hint: It’s not providing the maximum number of goods at the lowest cost to the greatest number of ‘consumers.'”) holds: but whether or not Mr. Woods’ economic theories are refuted on account of the falsehood of the Major premise ‘All things contributing towards economic well-being are good’ must be determined by supra-economic ethics, and, finally, metaphysics, on account of the convertibility _bonum_ and _ens_: for _ens_ lies without the purview of economic science, and within the scope of metaphysics (and therefore Theology) alone.

The point has been addressed, briefly; it has been noted that Catholic social teaching (in accord with the Aristotelian-Ciceronian-etc. natural philosophy) has always recognized that material well-being in a human subject is conducive to _religio_; but this is not a major premise: it is not the case that material well-being is essentially conducive to _religio_; therefore whether or not some particular material well-being is conducive to _religio_, and through this the salvation of souls, must (again) be established by ethics, therefore metaphysics, therefore Theology.

Mr. Woods objects to particular doctrines of the Catholic social encyclicals on account of these doctrines’ contradiction to the prerequisites of material well-being, which contradiction is discovered by economic science; but this establishes only the doctrines’ contradiction to the prerequisites of material well-being, and not their utter falsity. For bonum-per-se is fruendum; that which contributes towards economic well-being is utendum; but whether or not the useful is ordered towards the noble is a question not for economics, but for metaphysics and Theology, to answer.

Ian wrote


Dr. Woods is preeminent in his ability to set up straw men and then knock them down. I think his straw men tend to draw people from what I believe are the clear problems with his primary argument. I understand this argument to be that the pope is non compis mentis to teach authoritatively (i.e., in a binding manner) on economic or other social concerns.

First, it strikes me that no one in the discussion has ever claimed that a pope would be within his rights to tell a nation how to order its economic or political affairs in terms of technique. Unfortunately, Woods makes it sound as though someone has. It would be analogous to the pope telling doctors which techniques to use in the treatment of cancer or gingivitis. The form of argument is silly and no one has pressed it in the discussion.

There is a moral quality to all human endeavors and I think what the popes have maintained throughout the past two thousand years that there’s a right way and a wrong way to practice any art, including that of governance and economics. I would point to Thomas’s essay “On Kingship”. Although this is a private treatise written by a theologian and not a pope, it rather neatly illustrates a method of inquiry undertaken by later popes like Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. In both works, the writers are very clear in stating that there are definite boundaries to any art. Thus, the art of rulership is one thing, the art of healing another. Each however stands in a certain relationship to the others, forming a hierarchical arrangment. For example, a physician cannot practice the art of healing well if he lives in a society where physicians are persecuted by an evil king. A king who rules to the detriment of his subjects still practices the art of rulership (however badly). A benevolent king can establish a medical college for the education of doctors and promote the art of healing without himself being a physician. In doing so, he more closely fulfills the end of proper kingship, namely, to rule for the sake and well-being of his subjects. If an evil physician were to move into the kingdom and begin practicing abortion, the just king would remove him promptly from the midst of his subjects as a threat to society. The king would not have to know how an abortion is performed nor would he need a detailed medical knowledge of fetal development in order to justify his decision. His art comprehends and is superior to any inferior art like medicine. We call those kings “wise” who order their decisions according to the good. Whatever it may be, a higher good or purpose is the guide in the practice of any art. No one builds a house for the sake of just building, rather, he builds so that he can have shelter for himself and his family.

Needless to say, within the Christian tradition, the popes have viewed themselves as being practicers of the divine art which is superior to and antecedent to all others (artifacts of this opinion: the triple crown tiara, the excommunication of Henry VIII, and the power to “bind” and “lose” on heaven and earth, etc.) According to Catholicism, man has one final end: to serve and love God. In so far as the lesser arts promote or detract from this end, the popes have claimed the right to judge their compatibility with the God’s final end for mankind. Thus, Leo XIII and other orthodox popes are quick to praise human effort when it is directed towards promoting their own welfare, the welfare of their families and the human family more generally. Likewise, they are quick to condemn those practices which prove detrimental to the Christian understanding of man’s purpose. Marxism has been condemned repeatedly by the Church because She sees in that economic system a rival who redefines man’s end in purely materialistic terms.

I see in Dr. Woods a person who doesn’t understand that within his own religious tradition, the divine arts and the lesser arts do not work as some chain of highly isolated atoms from one another. Austrian economics owes its many profound insights to Jewish thinkers like Mises and Rothbard, but both of these men were the first to point out that economics has a definite subject and a definite scope to its concerns. When Mises wrote of usury, he dismissed the medieval Church’s condemnation as irrational. Woods and the gang at LewRockwell.com are making the same mistakes that other heretics have made throughout history and I would caution people to study Thomas Aquinas, the encyclicals and the Fathers of the Church before giving assent to Dr. Woods. Dr. Woods is a professor of American history. He does not evince a well-established background in theology or Church history, nor does he behave charitably towards those who question his position (I know from personal experience). I hope Storck and Richert avoid descending to the levels of the Rockwell crowd. This group is very sensitive to any criticism and it’s just a matter of time before they are characterized as immoral hedonists. So far, they’ve been measured and reasoned in their views despite Dr. Woods’s juvenile characterizations of them (“rages”?, puh-leeze)

Scott P. Richert wrote

Regarding Vinnie Terranova’s Comments…
I’m not quite sure what Mr. Terranova means in urging me to “ease up on Tom Woods.” I doubt that he means that I’ve been unkind; as others have pointed out here, both Thomas Storck and I have tried to keep this debate at a high level. Does he mean that we shouldn’t be discussing the material that Woods has published? As I mentioned in my latest remarks, we’re only doing Tom the favor of taking his arguments seriously. Were our roles reversed, I would welcome Tom’s critique of my arguments–indeed, I await them now.

As I’ve stated before, Woods’ book on Catholic social thought will be very controversial. Having published a sample of its argument, he should hardly be surprised that it is already generating controversy. And, indeed, if the manuscript is not already set in type, he would be wise to take into account the criticisms of a friend–because that is what I consider him to be–in order to strengthen his arguments. When the book is released, there will be many reviewers who will not be nearly as kind or respectful as Storck and I have been.

As for Mr. Terranova’s textbook lecture on the seeming “magic” of this “most moral and Godly system” known as “the free market,” I’ve again apparently missed something. Despite Lew Rockwell’s insistence that Thomas Storck’s article was an “attack” on Woods “and the free market,” Storck has done nothing of the sort, and neither have I. I believe very strongly in economic freedom, as anyone who is familiar with my writings can attest. But “the free market” isn’t the be-all and end-all of human life; in fact, “the free market” is nothing more than an abstraction, in the same league as the Jacobin abstractions of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” There are markets; but such markets are particular markets in particular places in particular times, and each one is shaped by the particular historical circumstances–political, cultural, and moral–in which it arises. My argument has always been that the Church, as the preeminent moral voice instituted by Christ Himself, is within both Her rights and Her competence in trying to shape the moral circumstances of economic affairs and, thus, to help direct them to moral ends. If the manner in which She does that or the ends at which She aims violate the “laws” of Austrian economics, then the Austrian economist who regards himself as a loyal son of the Church has a duty–to the Church and to himself–to reexamine his position. In this, he should consider the example of Lord Acton–a man beloved of Catholic classical liberals–when he found that he could not assent to the doctrine of papal infallibility as proclaimed at Vatican I.

Finally, Mr. Terranova, I too know Lew Rockwell personally. I’m not sure what you regard as my “unkind words against him”; if you mean my joke about the relative fallibility of Lew and the Holy Spirit, I can assure you that Lew is a big boy and can take such humor in stride. In any case, it wasn’t really a joke about Lew so much as a lighthearted attempt to broach gently a nagging question that each successive Tom Woods’ essay makes more urgent: Why does Tom, whose degree is in history, believe himself to have a special competence in economic analysis when he denies that very possibility to Leo XIII and Pius XI–and, for that matter, to any other man who has held or will hold the office of the papacy?

Scott P. Richert wrote

Actually, John…
It appears that you’re confused on Woods’ argument on churchmen qua churchmen. Go back and reread it–he’s not talking about churchmen telling the faithful in their diocese how to build their homes and businesses; he’s saying that they are beyond their competence in telling builders what materials and techniques to use in building churches.

I thought, by using the example of Eastern churches built out of wood in the traditional manner, that I could make my point clearly without being pedantic, but apparently I couldn’t. So here’s the pedantry: All action is moral action; all choices are moral choices. Sometimes, the moral consequences of a choice are not immediately obvious. Tradition and history, here, can be indispensable guides, because there really are very few new moral choices under the sun. An Eastern bishop who trusts in the tradition of his Church and knows the history of churches built out of wooden boards fastened only with wooden pegs may very well believe that he has a special insight into the moral consequences that may flow from the choice to use only such materials and such techniques–and he may very well be right. Whether he is right or wrong, however, he is well within his role as shepherd of his flock to urge (or even, in some cases, to demand) that new churches be constructed in the traditional manner–even though the “laws” of economics or of architecture or of structural engineering might indicate that his directive is folly.

The problem with liberalism, and one of the reasons it was condemned by, among others, Pope Pius IX, is that it attempts to remove certain spheres of human action from the moral realm–and specifically from the moral authority of the Church. And thus it should come as no surprise that Pio Nono’s right-hand man, when he ascended to the papacy, authored Rerum novarum.

And, yes, John, Austrian economics is a form of liberalism.

Vinnie Terranova wrote

Thanks for your reply
The bottom line to all this is simply that the pope and bishops have no authority when they step outside of their duty to teach and pass along the deposit of faith and morals. When they take economic and social positions that would bring a smile to any Marxist academic, we have no duty to believe or act on them. The Catholic church and its social teachings have spawned not only Liberation Theology but many other openly socialistic action groups all of which support and push for policies that have proven time and again to be destructive of economic prosperity and desposed to the disruption of social harmony.

When the pope calls for the UN to become a global government am I to take him seriously? Am I to support his foolish belief just because he’s the pope? He’s so far out of his league this time that we can’t even lay the blame for it at the feet of his philosophical roots in Phenomonology. His thoughts too on economics are just as mixed and confused as everything else he comes out with.

Instead of spending their moral capital against abortion and in areas that truly are vital to society, they’d rather sit back and become social workers. They’ll support illegal aliens and push for increased social spending programs. Most have never met a welfare program they couldn’t love.

The time was when the philosopher studied and surveyed all of the disciplines and all areas of knowledge. Before the compartmentization into various specialized fields, no one would have dared question a Tom Woods,(an historian) ranging into ethics, morals and economics. Nor would Lew be shrugged off because he’s not an “academic” economist.

I’m afraid that what we’re left with this time Scott is that Tom and Lew are exactly right on this one. It’s time to back off and regroup. You’re off base and about to get picked off this time.

Vinnie T.

Scott P. Richert wrote

I’m Afraid Vinnie Has Missed My Point…
Once again. I’m not questioning Tom Woods as an historian “ranging into ethics, morals and economics”; what I am questioning is his assertion that he has a special competence in economics that popes do not. If he can have such a competence without possessing a degree in economics, why does he vehemently deny that a pope could have at least a similar competence? Tom likes to portray himself as an economic thinker, over and against popes who are hopelessly out of their league when it comes to economics; in order to make that claim, however, he needs to show some basis for his special competence. That’s all.

Note that I’m perfectly willing to “rang[e] into ethics, morals and economics” without claiming a special competence in economics, and if Woods had done the same, I would never have discussed the question of credentials. But he’s the one who raised it, by contrasting his own economic competence to that of Leo XIII and Pius XI.

As for liberation theology, I’ll leave that discussion for a different time. For now, suffice it to say that liberation theology and Austrian economics, in their shared belief in the “almost magic” ability of economics to transform human life, have more in common with each other than they do with traditional Catholic social teaching.

Finally, Vinnie, you seem to be assuming some sort of papolatry on my part. But once again, you’re missing the point. I’m not saying that Leo XIII and Pius XI were right because they’re popes, and Tom Woods is wrong because he isn’t; I’m saying that they were right because their encyclicals are in line with 2,000 years of Catholic teaching, and Tom is wrong because his writings aren’t. If you can’t understand that distinction, well, as Tom Woods might put it (indeed, has put it), “that is very much [your] problem, not mine.”

Al Gunn wrote


What the clear implication of Pius XI’s teaching in Divini Redemptoris, Quas Primas and yes, Quadragesimo Anno is, is that Economic Liberalism proceeds from the same scepticism about the effects of the Incarnation and Grace that Religious Liberalism and Political liberalism does: the being “dung hills covered with snow” we cannot expect man to be sufficiently reformed so as to properly exercise authority, in this case the authority to organize man’s social and economic affairs in accord with a rational estimate of the moral obligations of “solidarity.”

What Pius says we cannot do, though, is to allow this failure of faith to allow us to recoil from our obligation to realize both commutative and distributive justice in our public and social affairs. As Pius indicates, again in his encyclical against Communism: “49. But charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into constant account. The Apostle teaches that “he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law” and he gives the reason: “For, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal . . . and if there be any other commandment, it is comprised in this word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”[36] According to the Apostle, then, all the commandments, including those which are of strict justice, as those which forbid us to kill or to steal, may be reduced to the single precept of true charity. From this it follows that a “charity” which deprives the workingman of the salary to which he has a strict title in justice, is not charity at all, but only its empty name and hollow semblance. The wage-earner is not to receive as alms what is his due in justice. And let no one attempt with trifling charitable donations to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice. Both justice and charity often dictate obligations touching on the same subject-matter, but under different aspects; and the very dignity of the workingman makes him justly and acutely sensitive to the duties of others in his regard.

50. Therefore We turn again in a special way to you, Christian employers and industrialists, whose problem is often so difficult for the reason that you are saddled with the heavy heritage of an unjust economic regime whose ruinous influence has been felt through many generations. We bid you be mindful of your responsibility. It is unfortunately true that the manner of acting in certain Catholic circles has done much to shake the faith of the working-classes in the religion of Jesus Christ. These groups have refused to understand that Christian charity demands the recognition of certain rights due to the workingman, which the Church has explicitly acknowledged. What is to be thought of the action of those Catholic employers who in one place succeeded in preventing the reading of Our Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno in their local churches? Or of those Catholic industrialists who even to this day have shown themselves hostile to a labor movement that We Ourselves recommended? Is it not deplorable that the right of private property defended by the Church should so often have been used as a weapon to defraud the workingman of his just salary and his social rights?

51. In reality, besides commutative justice, there is also social justice with its own set obligations, from which neither employers nor workingmen can escape. Now it is of the very essence of social justice to demand for each individual all that is necessary for the common good. But just as in the living organism it is impossible to provide for the good of the whole unless each single part and each individual member is given what it needs for the exercise of its proper functions, so it is impossible to care for the social organism and the good of society as a unit unless each single part and each individual member – that is to say, each individual man in the dignity of his human personality – is supplied with all that is necessary for the exercise of his social functions. If social justice be satisfied, the result will be an intense activity in economic life as a whole, pursued in tranquillity and order. This activity will be proof of the health of the social body, just as the health of the human body is recognized in the undisturbed regularity and perfect efficiency of the whole organism.

52. But social justice cannot be said to have been satisfied as long as workingmen are denied a salary that will enable them to secure proper sustenance for themselves and for their families; as long as they are denied the opportunity of acquiring a modest fortune and forestalling the plague of universal pauperism; as long as they cannot make suitable provision through public or private insurance for old age, for periods of illness and unemployment. In a word, to repeat what has been said in Our Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: “Then only will the economic and social order be soundly established and attain its ends, when it offers, to all and to each, all those goods which the wealth and resources of nature, technical science and the corporate organization of social affairs can give. These goods should be sufficient to supply all necessities and reasonable comforts, and to uplift men to that higher standard of life which, provided it be used with prudence, is not only not a hindrance but is of singular help to virtue.”[37] “

Ian wrote

Mater Si, Magister No
Didn’t the neocon William F. Buckley make the same arguments as Dr. Woods in an article he published during the 1960s? I think the title of the piece was “Mater Si, Magister No” and basically rejected the claim that the pope could judge economic and political systems under their moral aspects. It’s pretty ironic that the Rockwellians are advancing the same position 40 years later while at the same time denouncing the antics of the neocon rags like Buckley’s National Review. Buckley of course is a big government type who wasn’t crazy about the popes issuing statements that weren’t favorable to the Cold Warriors of the era. Isn’t Dr. Woods doing the same thing that most heterodox Catholics do? Denying papal precedent, practice and and authority when it doesn’t suit his pet interests or beliefs? Is he really in a position to call Catholic prelates “weaklings” and “apostates” as he has while he himself chips away at the magisterium? Under what authority can the pope teach reliably on sexual and medical matters if he can’t teach on the moral aspect of economic issues? I’d personally like to see Dr. Woods defend the Austrian justification for usury on economic grounds in light of the Church’s teaching on it. Woods will discuss wage rates ad nauseam, but there’s much more written about usury. I’ve actually read Catholic thinkers who’ve said that the Church’s position on usury is wrong or irrelevant and that it is no longer discussed in papal documents for that reason. If so, this would cast doubt on the claims to inerrancy within the ordinary magisterium of the Church. It would certainly invite theologians and laymen to question the authority of any papal teachings on birth control, homosexuality and eugenics. Maybe Dr. Woods will address the topic of usury in his forthcoming book. I look forward to seeing how a traditionalist Catholic/Austrian economist handles this matter. I fear though that it will just be ignored or dismissed with a flippant comment. Dr. Woods will praise Catholic teaching whenever it says something favorable about private property or market choice (cf. Rerum), but he balks whenever it conflicts with Austrian economic theory.

Thomas Fleming wrote


In reading over some of the comments on our site and elsewhere, I think we should begin to clarify the issues–as I tired in my Hard Right column. To keep the conversation going on the current rather high level, let us bear in mind a few things.

First, the issue is not about Tom Woods. Here in Rockford we have known Tom for years and like him and wish him well. He is quite wrong, of course, but he is not (to borrow a phrase from John Lukacs) an original sinner. His line of argument is simply a more liberal version of the neoconservatives’ arguments against the Church. The first time I heard Michael Novak speak, he was giving his familiar wheeze that the only problem with Latin America is that it never experienced a Protestant Reformation. Michael took his stand on democratic capitalism and that is that. If we were an honest man, which patently he is not, he would simply have left the Church. Instead, he has consistently attempted to misrepresent the current pontiff’s positions on war and the economy. This led to the break-up of the American edition of 30 Giorni, because Novak and his friends actually censored the Pope in order to convey a false impression of his opinions. Neither this or any Pope is perfect, but John Paul II is no classical liberal, no capitalist, and I think Tom Woods knows this. So the issue is not Woods v. the Papacy–a ridiculous notion.

Second, the issue is not about Papal infallibility, and those who say it is are, as usual, lying. Popes make mistakes all the time, and, as I pointed out in my column, even Councils of the Church have had to reverse direction from time to time. The basic question is whether or not the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit over time. If it is, then the foundational principles of the Church in theology and ethics are true. If not, it is time to find another religion.

Third, the issue is not about economic liberty or private property. The Church has consistently defended both. But it is only in the Modern Age that property rights became absolute, while other moral considerations had to be bracketed as matters of private opinion–a position to which the Church has never subscribed.

Fourth and finally, the issue is not the economic expertise of this or that Pope. But if it were, I fail to see why a young man with a PhD in American history or a professional press flack like Rockwell are presumed to understand economics better than an old European-trained professional philosopher. As an aside, I think on strictly technical matters the classical liberals in general and the Austrians in particular are quite good, and on most specific questions one can benefit from reading them. What the non-Christian Mises cannot do, however, is to dictate a social morality to Christians, which is precisely what his followers would like. A Misesian could probably give a pretty good explanation of the economic disadvantages of rearing a large family today: We don’t need children to work on the farm, and because of social security and retirement plans, we no longer expect them to support us in our old age. So why not sell our babies to the dog food factory? Well, even decent pagans would not do that–because they had a moral code higher than liberalism. And as Christians we cannot. Who says so? Well, obviously, Christ himself and the traditions of his Church. But why is this different than other moral and even cultural issues, whre the Church has maintained a consistent tradition? Why, for example, is the condemnation of usury to be set aside?

Now, Catholic liberals are right to point out that economic systems change over time, and that there is a difference between lending money at interest in 1100 and putting money into a company that uses the money to expand jobs and production. And that is certainly an argument worth making and for moral theologians to consider. The teaching of the authority of the Church is such that it can respond to these changes with flexibility, but the response must never represent a break with fundamental traditions.

The hardest part of being a Catholic is that you give up the right to be a wise guy who makes up his own world and his own rules. By subordinating one’s self to the discipline and traditions of the Church, one begins to grow and expand in all sorts of unexpected ways. But if we insist upon imposing our own ideology–whether Marxist or Existentialist or Liberal–we shall never learn anything. Few of us believe what we believe because we have undertaken a skeptical Socratic investigation of ultimate truth. Young libertarians believe what they believe largely because of a temperamental inclination and because they were exposed to libertarian thought. It is amazing how many people were converted to this religion by the crackpot dime-novelist Ayn Rand. The fact that some of them eventually grow out of Objectivism does not necessarily mean that they are capable of rational thought, much less of finding the truth. Catholicism requires a certain amount of patience and humility, and if I am going to be asked to reject the infallibility of the Church, I am certainly not going to replace it with the infallibility of non-professional economists.

Thomas Fleming wrote


PS I am still waiting for a libertarian to respond to my challenge. Can they show that their liberal-individualist ethic is represented either in the NEw Testament or in the authoritative teachings of the Church? In the Beatitudes, for example, or in Christ’s admonition to the rich young man, in the writings of Augustine and Thomas on the obligations of charity? If they were not sunk in the mire of 19th century liberalism–a dead tradtion of thought, if ever there was one–they might be able to understand what the issue is. Come on, boys, we are waiting for a single rational argument that is not simply a recital of liberal platitudes.

Ian wrote


Lew Rockwell posted this comment from Sean Corrigan on the LRC blog:

“Talk about setting up a straw man — as we all know, Mises is always careful to point out that all ecocomic arguments are intrinsically amoral and that preferences may well be arrived at through non-economic (thymological, presumably ethical or religious) means — economics merely analyses what outcomes one expects when planning to act upon one’s subjective orderings”

Here, Corrigan shoots himself in the foot when he says that “economic arguments are intrinsically amoral”. Yes, economics recognizes that people make different valuations about the acquisition, management, distribution and use of material goods. This was the point that I made in an earlier post, viz., that inferior arts such as economics cannot necessarily judge their activity against the backdrop of eternity. An economist can only judge the efficacy that various systems are able to obtain their proper ends. Again, look to Aristotle and Plato as well as Thomas for understanding *some* of the underpinnings for papal though over the centuries. As I also pointed out, Mises understood that economics had a definite field of interest and that everyone makes different choices as consumers. From the point of view of economics, one is not necessarily immoral or moral for choosing one good over another. An economist does not condemn a man who forgoes a life of saving and work in order to become a contemplative monk. The economist only recognizes, among other things, that a choice is made and that it can and will differ between individuals. For Christianity though, the very fact that one can act upon his own volition suggests the capacity to sin. A consumer who choses to purchase porn or invest in the distribution of pornography would be committing a sin. Yeah, he’s engaged in economic activity, but so what? The very fact the popes recognize that employers have defrauded workers of just wages indicates that economics is in fact not a science on par with mathematics or physics. As Gunn’s quotation of QA shows, economics overlaps the areas of morality because it deals with human action and volition. In math or physics, the truth of pi is independent of human will and does not intersect with man as a moral agent. We do not speak of math as a moral science because we recognize that it is a sphere wholly abstracted from the vagaries of human desire and purpose. For this reason, the popes have never defined a scientific point as true or false within FORMAL Church teaching, .i.e., the ordinary magisterium.

The tendency to grant economics a much higher state than it deserves is distinctly Marxist in flavor. We had decades of Marxist literature, Marxist critique of art, Marxist gender theory, etc. All of it is driven by hubris and the notion that economics is a perfect science capable of interpreting any other sphere of life. Dr. Woods and the Rockwellians are imputing something to Austrian economics that Mises and Rothbard never claimed that it had. I suggest that it was because they were Jewish and were not faced with any contradictions between some of their findings and that of some religious authority like the papacy. Dr. Woods and the other Catholic libertarians sense this contradiction and would like to shew it away because it’s a threat to their own work and their own opinions.

JazMan wrote


Re: Ian’s comment “The tendency to grant economics a much higher state than it deserves is distinctly Marxist in flavor.” It’s the same old problem: when you’re a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. When you’re a Libertarian or a Marxist (are they really that different?), everything becomes about economics and the state (power). On Libertarian sites we wouldn’t be surprised to find an article such as “The Economics of Morality” whereas in Chronicles we’d find an article such as “The Morality of Economics”.

Jim S wrote

Response to Fleming’s challenge
Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

JazMan wrote


Render to Caesar what is due Caesar, to God what is due God. And in context, what is due Caesar is: taxes. (I can hear the collective libertarian [an apparent paradox?] groan now.)

Thomas Fleming wrote


I want to be polite on this site, and I hope Jim S will write in to reassure us that he is only pretending to be a fool. All societies, including Marxist-ruled countries, have prohibitions on theft. I we are going to have to deal with arguments on this level, we shall never get anywhere. No one on the Catholic side is arguing for a system of forced redistribution of income, and I have already dealt with where we stand on confiscatory taxation, big government, and the welfare state–that we are against them, both for pragmatic reasons which the Liberals understand and for moral reasons that derive from the teachings of the Church. If this is the best that Liberals can do–and if Jim S is a reflection of what they are capable–then I declare the match a forfeit.

The problem with Liberal and Austrian economics is not the economic analysis but the Liberal philosophy which is part and parcel of their system. It is based on utterly fatuous and self-evidently false principles which they choose to regard as universal, even though most people in human history would not have agreed with them at all. The reason they put teh profit motive above all other values is simple: Liberal philosophy only recognizes two moral actors: the individual and the state. Libertarian liberals exalt the individual and denigrate the state, while leftist liberals do the opposite. But both sides begin with entirely false, counter-factual premises about the nature of man and the nature of society. But, quite apart from the falseness, these premises are not only non-Catholic, but they are also non-Christian.

That great historian and theologian Lew Rockwell is now invoking Galileo. Not the real Galileo, of course, who accepted the sentence of the Church because he cared more about his soul than about his profession, but the mythical Galileo so beloved of atheists and other anti-Catholics. As I keep saying, the Church is capable of making mistakes, and churchmen have made as many as other men. Galileo defended himself- on the perfectly correct grounds that he was being attacked for the teachings of Copernicus which had been accepted by the Church. It was a complex and difficult issue. Galileo was not always temperate in his expressions, and he had made enemies. But the other side was not merely obscurantist. Bellarmine was a deeply learned man who grappled in good faith with the issue. If you just want to engage in propaganda, go ahead and make Galileo the martyr of science and show your true colors as an enemy of the Church. If you would rather try to begin to understand something of this matter, order a tape of Paul Check, Sr.’s lecture on Galileo from the Rockford Institute.

The more these people write, the more they show their true colors. They avoid serious historical and philosophical investigation and search for any weapon they can use to attack the Church. They don’t need to tear off the mask any more: It has rotted of their anti-Christian faces.

Thomas Fleming wrote


For a sample of the libertarian reply check out http://forums.originaldissent.com/showthread.php?p=86403, where the replier not only does not understand the question at issue but cannot read plain English. Of course libertarians have moral preferences, and some, though not all, believe in protecting pre-rational minors–though some would argue that a child of 14 can make decisions about sexual behavior. The question is this: are moral preferences like the preference for one flavor of ice cream or another–that is, everyone should be left free to choose–or are they to be made binding, if it is possible, on a community. Some of these questions–moral and cultural– involve abortion, adult pornography, sado-masochism, satanism, public profanity, and zoning of historic and beautiful places, protection of natural areas. The usual libertarian answer is that government should play no part (though some regard abortion as homicide and thus as criminal). I might prefer to preserve a wilderness or the center of Siena, but the market is sacred. Of course, when push comes to shove, it turns out that building Walmarts, McDonalds, shopping malls is a positive blessing to manking because it gives you more choice of which junk to waste your life on. The problem is, I repeat, the degrading philosophy of Liberalism that sees “freedom” as an end in itself rather than as a means to a good life that is defined in moral and spiritual terms. “What does it profit a man that he should gain the whole world but lose his immortal soul?” I’m still waiting for that one coherent and honest answer. I am beginning to feel like a Cubs fan.

Ian wrote


Fleming wrote: “The more these people write, the more they show their true colors. They avoid serious historical and philosophical investigation and search for any weapon they can use to attack the Church. They don’t need to tear off the mask any more: It has rotted of their anti-Christian faces. “

This is precisely my concern with the arguments advanced by Dr. Woods. He makes a number of errors of a theological, historical and philosophical nature. Ironically, I think his positions lead ineluctably towards those of Buckley and Novak. For Woods, the Church is the spiritual mother of humanity, but her authority extends only to theological teachings and not human morality. Thus, the Church can give an opinion on same-sex marriages, but it’s capable of being fallible and therefore not binding on the conscience of a Catholic(this is incidentally the position of some pro-abortion Catholic politicians). Her opinion on the Immaculate Conception would not be grounds for dispute though because that’s her venue so to speak. As Newman pointed out, all heresy amounts to a denial of some portion of Catholic tradition however small. The heretic says I will go to this point, but no further and anything after is wrong.

One of the things to keep in mind when you read Rockwell et. al. in his camp is that a number of them are disaffected conservative Republicans who were active in politics years ago. Their disillusionment with politics has led many of them to search for intellectual and philosophical positions that eschew the thing they now despise. If you think these folks have problems with their economic views vis-a-vis their militant Catholicism, you should take a real close look at their defense of anarcho-capitalism.

At the same time, these libertarians have witnessed the break down of Church doctrine and practice and have experienced a growing concern with papal authority because they sense that it is largely responsible for the current spiritual crisis of the West. Pope Paul VI is frequently used as an example of the problems with papal authority. Woods likes to go after the current pope even though he goes to great lengths to frame his social teachings within the context of his predecessors. “Tis better to just do away with all authority because authority can let us down sometimes.” Non-Catholic thinkers provided a ready-made, cohesive system for the disaffected and many of them like Rockwell have embraced Austrianism unreservedly. Not surprisingly, a number of them have also embraced ignorance and anti-Catholic positions on such things as papal authority and Galileo. As Fleming said, the only people who bring up Galileo are anti-Catholics. Catholic theologians for years have pointed out that Galileo’s condemnation was not issued by the pope in his capacity as supreme pastor of the Church. Protestants like to point to it though as evidence that he is fallible. Of course he is fallible, the issue is whether he is fallible when addressing the Church Universal in his capacity as supreme pastor. Go read an encyclical letter like Rerum or Quadragesimo and note carefully who they address. The encyclical is considered part of the ordinary magisterium and is therefore inerrant and binding on all Catholics. Any other form of papal statement, including growing praise of the U.N., is not binding unless it is formally and explicitly addressed to the Church Universal. The Rockwellians are throwing up red herrings and non-issues because they themselves aren’t they well-versed in the structure and practice of papal authority. As Newman warned before Vatican I, the declaration of infallibility would open up a pandora’s box for doubters who wanted to challenge the deposit of faith. Woods and Rockwell have along with others like McBrien are proving him right every day.

The conception of the state held by Rothbard and Hoppe are completely at odds with Catholicism’s understanding of the function of the state. Rothbard and his followers say the state is a crime family with an iron-clad monopoly on stealing and murder. I agree with Rothbard, but I don’t think his views are exactly Catholic and I get annoyed with the Rockwellians trying to mix oil and water. You can’t be an orthodox Catholic while maintaining that the state is inherently criminal. No where will you read a pope say that the state is in essence a criminal enterprise, only that it can work contrary to its proper end (see my preceding posts). Even at the height of the persecutions, no doctor or saint or pope declared the state to be evil per se. Rockwell likes to quote Augustine on this point, but the quotation does not give a complete view of Augustine’s political theory.

Al Gunn wrote


On the claimed “autonomy” of the sciences, Fides et Ratio makes the same claim for Philosophy.

Yet does anyone question (with the exception of ardent secularists) that the Church has overreached her authority in endorsing St. Thomas? Or repudiating Consequentialism or Proportionalism?

Al Gunn wrote


And from LRC’s blog we can see how deep the commitment to the free exchange of ideas runs: No Writebacks to be found.

John Esposito wrote

The objects of certain sciences
If economics is a species of ethics — or, proximately, a species of politics, which is a species of ethics — then the economist must derive his principles from ethics (proximately or remotely); but (the realist admits) ethics derives its principles from metaphysics, and so Theology.
For this reason the _principia_ which are the beginnings of economic science lie within the competency of the Magisterium.
If anything else is proposed — for instance, that economics “merely analyses what outcomes one expects when planning to act upon one’s subjective orderings” — then, obviously, ‘economics’ is being used equivocally. The object of ethics is not divorceable from _bonum-per-se_, so neither is the object of any species of ethics.
What remains for the practical philosopher, _bonum-per-se_ having been accurately perceived (as is presupposed of the faithful Catholic), is to find those useful things, the _bona-per-accidens/aliud_, which are good (per accidens) precisely inasmuch as they are ordered towards _bonum-per-se_.
But it seems to me — and of this I am not certain, being ill-versed in economics, and having gazed perhaps inordinately on the higher part of Lady Philosophy’s seamless garment — that economic science does not properly treat of this relation, that is, of the ordering of accidental objects towards the formal object — which are, respectively, the economic ‘things to be used’ (_utenda_), and God (_fruendus_; or more proximately salvation, which comes to the same thing).
For economic science treats only the accidental goods; but the science which comprehends some relation must first comprehend the correlatives; but one of the correlatives of the relation in question is God.
I’m not sure where, with respect to these matters, anyone disagrees.
If no-one does disagree, then the economic scientists, following Mises, will admit that the “outcomes one expects” may not be determined to be formally identical to the particular and proximate goods towards which human action is to be ordered; and that, therefore, the rejection of certain things shown by economic science to be effective at producing certain ends, may be accomplished by the theologian understanding those things as not-ordered towards _bonum-per-se_, and therefore (whatever their other merits) not accidentally good. Of course the theologian must understand those things (the ‘economic things to be used’) not properly according to the science of theology, just as the economic scientist cannot understand the other correlative according to the science of economics.
The ‘accidental goods’ in question include, of course, material prosperity; since material prosperity is not essentially good, as Scripture, experience, (non-Magisterial) authority, and natural reason all easily show; therefore it must be shown not only that certain ‘economic things to be used’ bring about material prosperity, in order for the Church to accept them; and it is possible that certain ‘economic things to be used’ which do bring about material prosperity, may rightly be rejected by the Church. Any other claim (as has, I think, been made) entails that material prosperity is essentially good.

JazMan wrote

LRC Blog
They do include email addresses on their comments, although I’ve gotten mixed results with that (Rockwell is always civil). I am sure Rockwell knows his audience includes enough of the clownish types that absolutely ruin open forums.

Ian wrote

infallibility
Stephan Kinsella wrote a blog entry over at the LRC site that I would encourage everyone to read (cf. “Re: Re: Woods, Storck, Fleming et al.”) since it reveals one of the problems that hinder the current discussion. Kinsella doesn’t understand what papal infallibility means and keeps mentioning “infallibility” at peculiar points in his post. Thus, he writes ” I am not sure what this is; it seems to be some kind of intermediate “infallibility lite” standard.” in reference to the ordinary magisterium’s teachings on social concerns. He also likes mentioning ex cathedra alot but he doesn’t really know when and to what purpose it has been used by the popes. Just as a suggestion: It would help the discussion if Kinsella et. al. would use Google to at least do some research on the terms before wading into the discussion. Infallibility refers to very precise moments in which the pope formally defines and declares a theological doctrine requiring the assent of the faithful. There have been very few infallible pronouncements made in the history of Catholicism (the doctrine of infallibility wasn’t defined *formally* until Vatican I). Even so, theologians recognize earlier pronouncements as infallible because of their formulation. Here’s a sample from Ineffabilis Deus (1854), promulgated before Vatican I:

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. “

Here’s the binding portion:

“Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart.”

This is an example of the exercise of infallibility. So in the future, Mr. Kinsella and other uber-Catholic libertarians will not keep injecting it into the discussion and causing confusion.

The following link will provide anyone sincerely interested in the question with a formal statement of the nature and authority of the ordinary magisterium. The statements within the ordinary magisterium (Quadregismo Anno, Rerum Novarum, et. al) provide the material for the disagreement between Fleming, Woods, et. al.

http://www.cin.org/jp2/adtuen.html

Here’s a brief snippet from Ad Tuendam Fidem (preceding link):

“Canon 750 1. Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.

2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held; namely those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Here’s an interesting quote from Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae (written by Leo XIII):

“It is alleged that now the Vatican decree concerning the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff having been proclaimed that nothing further on that score can give any solicitude, and accordingly, since that has been safeguarded and put beyond question a wider and freer field both for thought and action lies open to each one. But such reasoning is evidently faulty, since, if we are to come to any conclusion from the infallible teaching authority of the Church, it should rather be that no one should wish to depart from it, and moreover that the minds of all being leavened and directed thereby, greater security from private error would be enjoyed by all. And further, those who avail themselves of such a way of reasoning seem to depart seriously from the over-ruling wisdom of the Most High-which wisdom, since it was pleased to set forth by most solemn decision the authority and supreme teaching rights of this Apostolic See-willed that decision precisely in order to safeguard the minds of the Church’s children from the dangers of these present times. These dangers, viz., the confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world, have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now a greater need of the Church’s teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful both of conscience and of duty. We, indeed, have no thought of rejecting everything that modern industry and study has produced; so far from it that we welcome to the patrimony of truth and to an ever-widening scope of public well-being whatsoever helps toward the progress of learning and virtue. Yet all this, to be of any solid benefit, nay, to have a real existence and growth, can only be on the condition of recognizing the wisdom and authority of the Church.”

The quote reminded me of Fleming’s question to Dr. Woods (Woods of course won’t answer the question): given that a pope can make errors in his recommendations for the practical application of doctrine, why would any faithful Catholic forego “greater security from private error” in order to endorse Austrianism? Austrianism is a perfect science according to Woods, right up there with math. How can it be perfect while defending usury against the claims of centuries of Church teachings? In addition, the popes have for centuries acknowledged that the secular state has a duty and role to help the poor through its own active agency (as opposed purely private market forces, etc). These duties are of a redistributive nature. How does the uber-Catholic libertarian mesh this with the gist of Leo’s quote?

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Profit Motive?
Mr. Fleming writes: “The problem with Liberal and Austrian economics is not the economic analysis but the Liberal philosophy which is part and parcel of their system. It is based on utterly fatuous and self-evidently false principles which they choose to regard as universal, even though most people in human history would not have agreed with them at all. The reason they put teh profit motive above all other values is simple: Liberal philosophy only recognizes two moral actors: the individual and the state. Libertarian liberals exalt the individual and denigrate the state, while leftist liberals do the opposite.”

I do not agree that libertarians “put the profit motive above all other values.” First, I am not sure what such a statement even means. How do you put a profit motive above other values? Second, libertarians simply maintain that initiating violence against the person or property of innocent, peaceful neighbors is unjustified. If Fleming thinks aggression can be justified he is welcome to try. And libertarians qua libertarians don’t “exalt” anything, much less the individual over the state. How does favoring peace, cooperation, civilization, and prosperity, and opposing violent conflict, struggle, murder, mayhem, rape, pillage, theft, misery, death mean you “exalt” the individual? All this is perfectly compatible with a traditionalist world view as well.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Infallibility
Ian wants to delve deep into details of Catholic lore about infallibility. It’s boring and irrelevant. My point was a logical one (no offense intended). None of this is very complex. My position is simply: Austrian economics is very sensible; and the church pronouncements that are inconistent with it are (a) incorrect, and (b) not infallible. Therefore, you can be a Catholic and an Austrian. It’s really not too complicated.

Likewise for libertarianism: Libertarianism is very sensible; and the church pronouncements that are inconistent with it are (a) incorrect, and (b) not infallible. Therefore, you can be a Catholic and an Libertarian.

Libertarianism is simply the view that aggression–violence directed at innocents–is unjustifiable. It does not imply “putting the profit motive above all other values” (whatever this means), or “exalting the individual over the state” (though states are inherently evil, while individuals at least have a chance not to be).

Ian wrote


The topic of infallibility wasn’t boring to Mr. Kinsella when he was writing about it at 9:32 last nite. It only becomes boring when delving into the actual details reveals that he doesn’t really understand the words he’s using. “Libertarianism is simply the view that aggression–violence directed at innocents–is unjustifiable.” This would apply equally as well to Quakerism and veganism and isn’t really helpful to the discussion since it isn’t a complete definition. I assume that Fleming, Storck and Richert also endorse non-aggression towards innocents. Ergo, I guess they are also libertarians too. So why’s there any debate all? This is the kind of flippant and facile manner in which Rockwellians treat of serious subjects. They do fine as long as they crank out essays restating the theory of time preference for the umpteenth time. Can’t have too much of a good theory and all that.

John Esposito wrote

“profit motive above other values”
Mr. Kinsella wrote:

“I do not agree that libertarians ‘put the profit motive above all other values.’ First, I am not sure what such a statement even means. How do you put a profit motive above other values?”

May it not simply be restated as ‘treating material prosperity as the highest good’?

That the accusation that libertarians treat material prosperity as the summum bonum, is true, has not been demonstrated here; obviously libertarianism may rationally entail this, while some particular libertarian (say, a good Catholic libertarian) denies it: artefacts do not have essences, so however many condemnations of ‘liberalism’ have been published, the word’s reference, because liberalism has no essence, can (non-Wittgensteinianly) vary: this is why dogmatic Councils, and (some) encyclicals, state explicitly the particular doctrines which they condemn. (This is why Vatican II’s water-bloodedness, versus Trent’s thundering anathemas, is so very dangerous.) If someone today pronounced himself a Nestorian and simultaneously proclaimed Mary ‘Mater Dei’, he would not be a heretic; although Nestorianism remains truly a heresy. In such a case the Church would (rightly) pastorally warn him to cease preaching under the polluted title ‘Nestorian’. But ‘Nestorianism’ describes simply ‘the doctrines of Nestorius’, which are defined by Nestorius himself; whereas here, clearly, no definition of ‘libertarianism’ has been mutually accepted.

Such pronouncements as “little or no acknowledgment is made in papal economic writings since 1891 of the enormous increase in living standards that became evident among the great mass of the population from the Industrial Revolution to the present” (from Mr. Woods’ first article in this series) seem, prima facie and in context, to suggest some such deordinated “exaltation” of material prosperity; but of course it is impossible, from such informal and semi-sermonic statements, to claim the logical entailment which serious attacks on Mr. Woods’ position, with respect to the order of goods, requires.

Thomas Fleming wrote


I think Mr. Kinsella is a well-intentioned but his arguments are confusing because he is so confused. I am happy to recommend a course of serious reading that will enable him to see that while Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism have some good things to contribute to debates on policy, they grow out of a political philosophy that is fundamentally antithetical to Christianity. It is also not a philosophy that can be sustained except by those who accept its a priori and ex cathedra statements about individuals and their rights.

Kinsella declares that libertarian philosophy is “sensible” and lets it go at that. Would that life were so simple as Marxists and libertarians believe. I find nothing self-evidently true or even sensible in the basic propositions of Liberalism. I don’t at all see that societies are made up of unconnected rational indidivuals possessed of those mystical rights that Liberals are forever speaking of. I wish someone would please find one of those rights out in the field or on the stree and send me one, because I have never seen one and cannot imagine where they come from.

Kinsella and the rest simply will not even try to understand what is being argued. They take it for granted that they know the truth about economics–but how do they know they are right if they cannot persuade others? They also take it for granted that when their ideology is challenged by the Church, it is always the Church that is wrong by definition because their ideas are so “sensible.”

This is simply not an argument. We have said until we are blue in the face that Popes and Councils can be wrong and frequently are–but even when the Church has made mistakes, She demands the loyalty of Catholics. Arguments are to be made within the community of faith and unless a Pope has caused scandal by his departure from the Church’s Tradition or by an immoral life, he should he treated with the greatest respect. But neither Kinsella nor Woods will pause for a moment to consider what we and they are saying. We are saying that there is a Christian and Catholic way of looking at social obligations–an ethic that is binding even in economic matters–and that this way of treating social and economic issues is completely at odds with the Liberal/Libertarian approach. To win their case, they would have to disprove this assertion, which they obviously cannot, so they take refuge in tehir imaginary right to assert anti-Catholic views while pretending to remain Catholic. In good faith, they cannot do this.

If Kinsella will read what we have written–over a period of 25 years–he will see that we share his suspicion of the modern state, his opposition to big government, his hostility to the welfare state and to global philanthropy. Indeed, my recent book makes a better Christian case against these evils than the Liberals/Libertarians ever could. And yes, there are statements coming out of the Church that strike me as misguided and in need of patient debate and polite correction.

But that is not what the Libertarians are doing. They are presuming to reject the entire Catholic position of 2000 years and yet contine to claim they are Catholic. To make their argument at all convincing, they will have to make it in quite different terms from the language of selfish individualism in which Liberals/Libertarians traditionally speak. In speaking the moral language of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and the atheist anti-Christian Ludwig von Mises, they cannot hope to persuade those who speak the language of Paul, Augustine, and Thomas. I do not ask them to give up their libertarian views, only to understand that they cannot be both libertarian and Catholic any more than one can be Marxist and Catholic or Scientologist and Catholic or Mason and Catholic.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Libertarianism
I appreciate Mr. Fleming giving at least my motives the benefit of the doubt.

Fleming writes: “Kinsella declares that libertarian philosophy is “sensible” and lets it go at that. Would that life were so simple as Marxists and libertarians believe.”

Obviously, I was sketching the contours of what the debate was about, not presuming that merely saying it’s sensible is some kind of proof.

Fleming writes: “I find nothing self-evidently true or even sensible in the basic propositions of Liberalism. I don’t at all see that societies are made up of unconnected rational indidivuals possessed of those mystical rights that Liberals are forever speaking of. I wish someone would please find one of those rights out in the field or on the stree and send me one, because I have never seen one and cannot imagine where they come from.”

As I stated above, libertarianism simply maintainst that initiated violence against the person or property of our fellow man is unjustified. There are many people who do believe that such aggression is, at least in some cases, justified. To that extent, they are not libertarian. But notice, opposing such violence against innocent individuals in no way implies the view that “societies are made up of unconnected rational indidivuals”. I have no idea what this would mean, as a matter of fact.

Fleming denigrates the notion of rights, but in my view this is just stubbornly adhereing to an idiosyncrative semantic preference. If Fleming believes, for example, that an innocent person is justified in defending himself with force against a thug who tries to attack him–then Fleming necessarily believes in rights (namely, the victim has a right not to be so attacked!), whether he will use conventional terminology or not.

Fleming also writes, “… those mystical rights that Liberals are forever speaking of. I wish someone would please find one of those rights out in the field or on the stree and send me one, because I have never seen one and cannot imagine where they come from.”

By asking where rights “come from” (and viewing them as “mystical”), Fleming makes the legal-positivistic assumption that rights have a “source”, that they “come from” somewhere (if they are to exist at all). Now modern-day secularists think that source is the Supreme Court, or the majority. Traditionalists tend to deny this but push it back a level, to God or the natural order, thus making a similar positivistic mistake in thinking that rights have to be decreed, have to have a “source.” But rights have no “source”, just as the fact that 2+2=4 has no “source”; no fact or truth has a “source”, it is simply confusing to think of it this way. We know that there *are* rights because we know that in some circumstances the use of force against threatened invasions of the right is justified. I trust Fleming agrees that the use of, say, force defending against crime is justified; therefore we may describe this capacity of the person’s use of force as being justified, as being rightful.

This is just a matter of careful, consistent definition of concepts.

Ian wrote, “”Libertarianism is simply the view that aggression–violence directed at innocents–is unjustifiable.” This would apply equally as well to Quakerism and veganism and isn’t really helpful to the discussion since it isn’t a complete definition. I assume that Fleming, Storck and Richert also endorse non-aggression towards innocents. Ergo, I guess they are also libertarians too.”

I assume Fleming, while he does oppose some aggression, both private and public, does not oppose all aggression. For example, say, tarring and feathering a pornographer; or I suppose, if he is not an anarchist, any number of institutionalized acts of aggression necessarily and/or predictably committed by the state. Therefore, to that extent, he is not a libertarian, i.e. does not oppose the intiation of violence against the person or property of innocent neighbors.

Ian says, “This is the kind of flippant and facile manner in which Rockwellians treat of serious subjects. They do fine as long as they crank out essays restating the theory of time preference for the umpteenth time. Can’t have too much of a good theory and all that.”

You may disagree with libertarianism but I believe it is uncalled for and rude for you to make this insinuation.

Why the snide derision of Austrian theory, e.g. scholarly articles on time preference? Do you disagree with its substance, or are you just some anti-intellectual rube?

I simply find the institutionalized use of violent force against innocent neighbors to be unjustified, abhorent, and immoral. Why do you people find this view so threatening? Why must you mischaracterize it as having something to do with exalting the individual or believing society consists of unconnected atomistic individuals?

A more honest reply would be to either agree with us that aggression cannot be justified; or, if you think it can be, and you do endorse it, to flatly state this without guilt or embarassment, and try to justify it. If you think you need to break a few eggs to make an omelet, and the omelet is “worth more” to you(?) than the eggs, say so, and be prepared to justify it.

Thomas Fleming wrote


It is clear that Mr. Kinsella cannot bring himself to debate the issues at hand. If he wishes to persuade us that the Rothbardian principle of non-aggression is universally binding, he cannot simply appeal to what seems to him to be a universally accepted principle. This sort of QED reasoning goes nowhere. If he believes, as he appears to do, that all sensible people believe in universal human rights, then he cannot have studied any philosophy. Even the Liberal utitlitarian Benthan referred to the social contract/human rights theory as “nonsense on stilts.” Hume makes a devastating argument in his Essay on the Original Contract, and Robert Filmer in a crude way virtually blows up the case that would be made by Locke. Locke knew this which is why he had to misrepresent Filmer’s views.

As for scientific and mathematical rules, they are universally believed to be true because they work all the time (at least for those stuck in the lower levels of math like me) and higher level rules can be based on them. That cannot be said for anything having to do with human behavior unless the rule is so vague and general that it can be applied Jesuitically to all situations.

Mr. Kinsella does not even understand the Liberal tradition or he would not attempt to deny that it is individualistic. Read Mill and read Stephen’s refutation of Mill, just for starters. When I have attempted to discuss social and political questions with Libertarians, say immigration, the answer comes back that people have a right to sell their labor and this right cannot be abridged by the existence of artificial boundaries of artificial states. If we speak of trade and the fact that my neighbor has lost his job,, they speak of the universal benefits of free trade and the right of everyone to purchase goods at the lowest prices, and we are soon back to the Misesian QED. It is not at all clear why low prices or economic efficiency are an absolute good, and the only way such arguments can be defended is by denying the existence of human communities that do not depend on free and rational contracts made by individuals. Why is it you Libertarians always cry “foul” or “rude” when someone challenges your basic assumptions. You and Tom Woods see nothing whatseover wrong in pretending to be Catholic while rejecting the Church’s authority to pronounce on morals. Challenging the Church is fine, but not the atheist Austrians?

You ask us to endorse a general Libertarian rule of non-aggression? Why should we? We have a vastly richer and more serious moral tradition, of which you are completely unaware, which requires a far higher moral standard than mere non-aggression. The whole point is that all these Liberal principles are grounded in false Liberal assumptions–individualism, universalism, rational objectivity, etc.–that are contrary both to the common sense of mankind and to the Catholic tradition. You see, Mr. Kinsella, we have a duty not only not to harm you, but we have the duty to waste our valuable time in what is probably a vain attempt to bring you to the point of mental clarity where you will realize that your false and anti-Catholic philosophy is a danger to your soul as well as to your sanity.

In analyzing the style of the Libertarian responses, I find myself asking several questions. Why must you shut off debate whenever you are pinned in the corner–as Rockwell has done? Why can’t you read anything that is not on the Mises Institute reading list? Are you all afraid that there might just be a vast world of intelligent writing out there made up of people who do not burn incense at Mises’ shrine. Why do you shy away from discussing the basic principles of the Liberal tradition–the radical individualism that refuses to take community obligations into consideration? But if you enter into a discussion of first principles, you cannot take the line that “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” any more than I, in arguing with Mises or Block, can insist that they accept the Nicene Creed as the basis of discussion. A great many wise and brilliant men for 2500 years would have ridiculed the thin philosophy of Mises–one of the least important philosophers in the Liberal tradition as even an Austrian philosopher friend of mind concedes (I say nothing against Mises’ strictly economic analysis). But why in the name of sweet reason does an American historian or a patent attorney, who are neither experts in economics nor student sof philosophy, get the idea that they can make infallible pronouncements on subjects that have troubled the wise for thousands of years. The least you can do, if you wish to claim to be a Catholic, is to take a few years off from rereading Mises and to study Christian/Catholic philosophy and the Church’s traditions. If Tom Woods would try that some time, he might begin to understand what he is arguing against, because at this point, so far as I can tell from his writings, he hasn’t a clue.

Yes, I think you are sincere in your delusions as so many libertarians are. What we are trying to help you to realize is that you cannot be both X and anti-X, both Catholic and atheist-Misesian. As a (I hope) rational person, you are free to choose, but as a Catholic your are most decidely not free to pick and choose which doctrines you are willing to accept. That is called Protestantism, but, by the way, since we are talking about the fundamental teachings of Christianity, the question of Papal authority is virtually a side-issue. Why not join our Hard Right reading club? We just finished up Filmer’s arguments against the state of nature and natural liberty and we are moving on to Aristotle. I have read much, perhaps too much of the Liberals. Why not take a walk on the wild side with the Christians?

Ian wrote


“Why the snide derision of Austrian theory, e.g. scholarly articles on time preference? Do you disagree with its substance, or are you just some anti-intellectual rube? I simply find the institutionalized use of violent force against innocent neighbors to be unjustified, abhorent, and immoral. Why do you people find this view so threatening?”

This is what I meant by “flippant”. The Austrian time theory is awesome and I don’t take issue with it. I agree with Mises that you can’t have too much of a good theory, but my personal concern is that Rockwell et. al. sometimes fixate only on these things. This is a problem with maxims and aphorisms and ideologies more generally — they tend to stifle debate. You know better than anyone how hard it is to talk to a liberal without the liberal resorting to platitudes about helping the poor, etc., as though you were some monster intent on harming them. I think you and the other LRC writers are brilliant, including Dr. Woods. However, in my opinion, you suffer from myopia and ignorance with regards to the Catholic-Austrian issue. I’m also willing to admit that maybe I am a rube and am wrong in my view that Austrianism is not *fully* compatible with both the spirit and formal teachings of Roman Catholicism. I think that there is a lack of vigor and precision in the discussion on both sides. For instance, your statement about non-violence towards the innocent is not particular to libertarianism and it is not a point of contention anywhere. As I indicated, your statement is a kind of tautology in that it uses words without saying anything meaningful. “Him I call a god who can rightly divide and join the parts at their natural joint.” This is a rough paraphrase of Socrates and is really the goal of all sincere philophical inquiry.

The Fleming side has made some serious misstatements about libertarianism as well. I’ve repeatedly mentioned usury and the role of the state in Catholic social thought because they are particular. The current discussion lacks focus; it’s just generalizations along the lines of “you are anti-free market and pro-aggression” or “you support a system that is Liberal and rights-based.” I’ve read alot of Austrianism and have never detected any focus on classical liberal notions of rights. I couldn’t tell you what Fleming is talking about at all on this point.

I wrote Dr. Woods sometime ago and asked for his participation in a public forum that would focus on reading and discussing the actual text of papal statements in addition to the foundational works of the Austrian school. He declined. Said he didn’t have time to engage in such discussions (in other words, the issue is important enough to write a book about, but not important enough to engage in active debate with traditionalists (clergy and lay), theologians and others). Maybe that’s an unfair characterization, but I think it’s healthy to actually engage in discussion rather than just hurling barbs from the sidelines. The Rockwellians generally shun debate and I think it’s a big positive to have someone like Mr. Kinsella venturing out of the ghetto. I’m a big fan of yours on the LRC blog and appreciate the good stuff you contribute there.

Ian wrote


“It is not at all clear why low prices or economic efficiency are an absolute good, and the only way such arguments can be defended is by denying the existence of human communities that do not depend on free and rational contracts made by individuals.”

This is a false characterization of Austrian libertariansm. Austrianism doesn’t say that the lowest price is the “absolute” good, it only says that the market — the aggregate of uncoerced economic activity between buyers and sellers — will tend to produce a price that is an accurate valuation of a good. If given a choice between buying the same product from A or B, consumers will *generally* pick the item that is cheapest and easiest to procure. You exhibit this behavior probably on a daily basis when you buy or sell goods, from auto insurance to food to clothing, but balk whenever a business owner does the same thing in his hiring practices. Don’t make Austrianism into some kind of exclusively materialistic philosophy. It’s not Marxism even though some of its proponents can start sounding like it at times.

The point of Dr. Woods’ thesis is that Austrianism can secure the same general goods outlined by the popes by allowing the free market to work its magic. Neither he nor any of the other Austrians are claiming more than this. Incidentally, both Mises and Rothbard recognized that man had aspirations that went well beyond economics and that they varied by individual tastes and faith-based considerations.

Thomas Fleming wrote


If the neo-Austrian/Meo-Liberals want to repudiate the idea of rights, then I say God bless them. When the greatest of the modern Austrians, Murray Rothbard, used to discuss these matters, he pronounced himself very troubled by my rejections of all rights theory which he took as a given of moral and political philosophy, as well he should, since it is part of the Liberal tradition. The question is not what the “Austrians” talk about, but the assumptions they take for granted. If they wish to deny the fundamental assumptions of the Liberal tradition going back to Locke and beyond, that is fine, but let us hear them do it and give their reasons for the revolution.

Thomas Fleming wrote


In the interests of fairness, I want to concede several points to the Austrians. First, I find nothing wrong whatsoever in Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard pursuing an entirely secular approach to politics and economics. The three can be read with profit on many topics and on most basic national policies–from the wars we fight to the regulations we impose–I agree with them on practical grounds. Not on everything, of course.

Second, I have always liked and admired Lew Rockwell’s spunk as a fighter. He does not always think through every issue and on many I think he is quite wrong, but if you keep him off politics and on nitty-gritty questions, he is lucid and hard-hitting. I would not be so critical of his philosophical naivete, if he were not always making broad pronouncements on issues he has not really studied. The most galling thing is that I know he is a smart man, and that if he could detach himself from ideology and study philosophy, he would become a more effective debater even for his own side. He has also been highly admirable in helping students, and this is a rarity on the right. Obviously Lew and I shall probably never agree on the merits of sending jobs to China or allowing Walmart to destroy human communities, but a more serious discussion could be carried out if the Libertarians would agree to debate according to the normal rules.

Third, although the Liberal tradition is imbued with the language of rights–and this includes Hayek and Rothbard–that is not the typical language of Mises who prefers to argue for economic liberty on the grounds of efficiency, prosperity, and technological innovation. He takes it for granted, of course, that these things ar not only good but more or less equivalent to “the good.” He also repudiates moral considerations, saying in his book on Liberalism that societies must not outlaw institutions that are beneficial (that is, contribute to prosperity and progress, merely on the grounds that they are supposed to be immoral. These arguments would seem to put him more in the Utilitarian camp than in the more purely liberal camp. I have wrestled with Mises but make no claim to expertise. The person who knows all about these things is the estimable David Gordon, a serious critical philosopher who is solidly on the Austrian side. If someone could contact David and pose some of these questions to him, I feel sure we could clarify what is at issue. So far as I know, he has not a religious bone in his body, but he is scrupulous in argument.

So, if a Misesian wishes to ignore the question of rights–and Rothbard’s belief in them–the question remains: On what grounds do they think that economic efficiency or even the principle of non-aggression trumps all other moral and cultural preferences? An undeducated Catholic can answer that the Holy Spirit has informed the Church from the beginnin, and therefore the Church has the answers. An educated Catholic could add metaphysical and epistemological arguments. What I don’t hear from any kind of Liberal–either the John Rawls kind of Liberal or the Ludwig von Mises kind of liberal–is where their principles come from and how they know them to be true.

Derek Copold wrote


“Fleming denigrates the notion of rights, but in my view this is just stubbornly adhereing to an idiosyncrative semantic preference.” No, Steve, it’s not just semantics. Accepting the idea of abstract and eternal rights will logically lead to the the atomistic view Dr. Fleming mentioned, as abstract rights trump every particular and communal obligation. “If Fleming believes, for example, that an innocent person is justified in defending himself with force against a thug who tries to attack him–then Fleming necessarily believes in rights (namely, the victim has a right not to be so attacked!), whether he will use conventional terminology or not.” I won’t presume to speak for Dr. Fleming, but you don’t need “rights” to defend your life. You could also approach from a point of veiw relying on obligation. We have an obligation to preserve human life, including our own. I’m no anthropologist, but I’d hazard that this is an obligation you can find in almost every culture.

Stephen H wrote


As a non-Catholic and non-economist, I am nonetheless finding this an interesting controversy to follow. Primarily this is due to its apparaent aptness as an aid to one who believes it essential that we have our systems of authority properly grounded and that we understand how they are grounded.
I think Lew Rockwell’s citation of Galileo illustrates the point which Dr. Fleming is making regarding illegitmate argument (I write this as an admirer of all that is good in Rockwell. Thanks to Dr. Fleming for providing coherent analysis as to why I have not always been able to “follow Rockwell’s reasoning”). Much of the difficulty in this debate is due to the complications regarding the “soft science” nature of economics – just wehn this starts to become clear, Rockwell muddies it up again but attempting an analogy using a harder science. The specifics of the Galileo case aside, thinking about what loose mental screw allowed Rockwell to even think of introducing Galileo will shed a lot of light on the difficulty of conducting an argument with the libertatians. An endless series of unhelpful analogies is a good way to foreclose any possibility of thought. In this case, as is most, this is probably not a concious motive, but it is hard to deny that is is an effect.
Is it helpful to regard economics as merely an analytical method, realizing the quality of the output will be governed by the types of values we input? Thus, if we ask a materialist whether we Walmart will be a positive for our community, he will input no spiritual values into his human-behaviour-analysis-technique and the results will be predictable. If we ask someone who lives on a spiritual plane, there will, to say the least, be a bit more nuance in his reply. How far can we push our willful ignorance of spiritual issues as they impact our communities without disastrous effects? I am really trying to take the edge off MY ignorance and therefore feedback and advice from various perspectives will be helpful.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Who is Steve?
Derek, especially given that I took you to lunch a couple years ago, you would think you could get my name right. You classics types are supposed to know the difference between Stephan and Stephen.

In any event, Copold writes, you don’t need “rights” to defend your life. You could also approach from a point of veiw relying on obligation. We have an obligation to preserve human life, including our own. I’m no anthropologist, but I’d hazard that this is an obligation you can find in almost every culture.” Let me repeat: if your use of force in response to aggression is justified, then by definition you have a right. If you don’t have a right, then your use of force is unjustified. It does not matter how a given victim “approaches” it. If a victim of violence is justified in defending himself, he has a right that would be violated by the action defended against. Whether he has ever heard of the word “rights”.

Fleming writes: “I am happy to recommend a course of serious reading that will enable him to see that while Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism have some good things to contribute to debates on policy, they grow out of a political philosophy that is fundamentally antithetical to Christianity.”

I would be happy to see the recommended reading list. Couple comments: mainstreamers–like my irksome fellow attorneys–refer to “debates on policy”. I think this tries to elevate personal preferences into some kind of science. As a libertarian, I prefer peace and cooperation. Fleming also says, “It is also not a philosophy that can be sustained except by those who accept its a priori and ex cathedra statements about individuals and their rights.” Well, this is just the way of the universe. Criminals are just those who do not care for any theory or justification of rights. It does not good to argue with them. You can only kill them. Those who are civilized are just those who have taken the leap–the decision–to be civilized. So yes, in a sense, libertarianism is “sustained” (whatever that means) only by those who already accept its tenets. But this is akin to the notion that civilization is carried on by those who love civilization, not by the parasites and scumbags who fall into the and thrive in the cracks and shadows.

“They take it for granted that they know the truth about economics–but how do they know they are right if they cannot persuade others?” But Fleming of course knows that the validity of an idea does not depend on its popularity. The masses can be wrong. Hey, tough luck. Tragedy is possible. Deal with it.

Later Fleming writes, “It is clear that Mr. Kinsella cannot bring himself to debate the issues at hand.” I didn’t know there was an official list of “issues at hand”. To my recollection, this topic is about Woods having been attacked for being a Catholic and daring to promulgate extreme (read: principled) economic/social views that happen to differ with non-infallible teachings of some popes. My comments of course have pertained to this.

“If he wishes to persuade us that the Rothbardian principle of non-aggression is universally binding, he cannot simply appeal to what seems to him to be a universally accepted principle.” But I don’t wish to persuade you. In fact I think it is largely futile. I would not bother reasoning with a burglar. Why should I think it is morally obligatory, or even possible, to persuade someone determined to violate my rights? Better to shoot, or at least keep a wary eye on, them.

“If he believes, as he appears to do, that all sensible people believe in universal human rights, then he cannot have studied any philosophy.”

Of course I don’t believe that; nor do I “appear” to. It’s difficult to see why an astute reader like Mr. Fleming would read something like that into what I wrote, since I believe nothing like this. Maybe it is my ineptness at expression.

“Even the Liberal utilitarian Benthan referred to the social contract/human rights theory as “nonsense on stilts. Hume makes a devastating argument in his Essay on the Original Contract, and Robert Filmer in a crude way virtually blows up the case that would be made by Locke.” Actually Bentham said that rights were nonsense, and that natural rights were nonsense upon stilts. But as a libertarian–someone who has leaped Hume’s is-ought divide by choosing to oppose initiated violence against innocents–what can it possibly matter that there are rights-skeptics like Bentham? After all, the existence of outrightly rights-hostile individuals (i.e., criminals) does not “disprove” rights, any more than cursing your mother proves that it is not impolite. So if being raped or robbed or murdered or conscripted or taxed does not prove I had no rights against these things (to maintain this is to fail to distinguish between fact and norm), how can the mere printed comments of a pointy-head academic have any relevance whatsoever to whether people have rights?

“As for scientific and mathematical rules, they are universally believed to be true because they work all the time… That cannot be said for anything having to do with human behavior unless the rule is so vague and general that it can be applied Jesuitically to all situations.” Well, Austrians are dualists and don’t apply the scientific method (applicable to the causal, natural sciences) to essentially teleological phenomenon, namely the study of human action. So we distinguish between validating something by whether it “works” or whether it is valid for some other reason. In my view, math rules are believed not only because they work but because they can be proved, and they are not proved by repeated failure to falsify a hypothesis. As for whether the apodictically true “axioms” of economics are trivial, I refer the reader to various articles on economics & epistemology by Mises and Hoppe, e.g. those found here: http://www.hanshoppe.com/publications.php , such as “In Defense of Extreme Rationalism: Thoughts on Donald McCloskey’s The Rhetoric of Economics” and “On Certainty and Uncertainty, Or: How Rational Can Our Expectations Be?”, as well as “Economic Science and the Austrian Method”.

Continues Fleming, “If we speak of trade and the fact that my neighbor has lost his job, [Libertarians] speak of the universal benefits of free trade and the right of everyone to purchase goods at the lowest prices, and we are soon back to the Misesian QED. It is not at all clear why low prices or economic efficiency are an absolute good, and the only way such arguments can be defended is by denying the existence of human communities that do not depend on free and rational contracts made by individuals.”

Mr. Fleming keeps referring to us as “Libertarians” though most of us are merely libertarians, not members of the LP. In any event–I view this kind of talk as a distraction. It is not that someone is merely “speaking” of “trade and the fact that my neighbor has lost his job”–rather, it is that he is advocating the use of force against innocent individuals. The libertarian believes this to be unjustified. The advocate of the socialistic policies either does not care that it is unjustifiable, or has some justification that is not persuasive to me.

“It is not at all clear why low prices or economic efficiency are an absolute good, and the only way such arguments can be defended is by denying the existence of human communities that do not depend on free and rational contracts made by individuals.” I would never–a Misesian would never, I daresay–say that “low prices or economic efficiency are an absolute good”; in fact I am not clear what an “absolute good” is. Misesians qua economists would say that a private property order is the most efficient way to achieve material prosperity, as well as interpersonal harmony. Libertarians would observe that if you try to use violence against innocent individuals, then that is unjustified–and that muttering that “low prices and economic efficiency are not absolute goods” simples does not justify the use of violent conflict and struggle against peaceful neighbors.

“Why is it you Libertarians always cry “foul” or “rude” when someone challenges your basic assumptions. You and Tom Woods see nothing whatseover wrong in pretending to be Catholic while rejecting the Church’s authority to pronounce on morals. Challenging the Church is fine, but not the atheist Austrians?”

I am not clear how this comment is supposed to show that any policy or law that commits violence against innocent neighbors is justified. In any event, does this forum require one to be a Catholic? If so, please inform me. I don’t recall myself having admitted to being Catholic; and fail to see the relevance.

“You ask us to endorse a general Libertarian rule of non-aggression? Why should we?”

Well, a criminal might ask me the same thing. To him I won’t say he should, I will try to shoot him.

But the answer to your question is that the libertarian already values cooperation and peace, and opposes violence initiated against his neighbors. Surely it is obvious why we would want others to adopt this rule too–because we would rather not have them shoot us or have to shoot them. Duh. As for why you should adopt it–you have to ask yourself that. I suppose–an attachment to social cooperation, to civilized behavior, empathy for the pain and suffering of others, a Christian love for our fellow man and desire for them to also have happy lives… I guess this gets into pschologizing or sociology, but the reasons some people choose to be civilized, and the reasons others choose to essentially be criminal (to one extent are the other), while interesting, are really not relevant; these “why’s” don’t prove anything. I’m not sure what your question really is.

“We have a vastly richer and more serious moral tradition, of which you are completely unaware, which requires a far higher moral standard than mere non-aggression.” Mr. Fleming is far too educated to be unaware that libertarians view the non-aggression principle as merely the bare minimum; it is the political ethic. We don’t deny higher morals, but they are beyond libertarianism, just as, apparently, economics is beyond most popes. So what? Division of labor.

“The whole point is that all these Liberal principles are grounded in false Liberal assumptions–individualism, universalism, rational objectivity, etc.–that are contrary both to the common sense of mankind and to the Catholic tradition. You see, Mr. Kinsella, we have a duty not only not to harm you, but we have the duty to waste our valuable time in what is probably a vain attempt to bring you to the point of mental clarity where you will realize that your false and anti-Catholic philosophy is a danger to your soul as well as to your sanity.” And I appreciate all this; but I fail to see how it justifies–overcomes my reluctance to endorse or engage in–institutionalized aggression against innocent, peaceful neighbors.

“Why do you shy away from discussing the basic principles of the Liberal tradition–the radical individualism that refuses to take community obligations into consideration?” By this latter phrase, are you implying that if one “takes community obligations into consideration,” one will realize why aggression is, after all, justified in some cases? If not, I can’t see how what you are saying would be objectionable to libertarians. But if so, why not be explicit about it instead of roundabout.

Elsewhere, Fleming writes, “On what grounds do they think that economic efficiency or even the principle of non-aggression trumps all other moral and cultural preferences?” I don’t know what he means by “trumps”. We view aggression as unjustified. I am not sure … if Fleming implying that “other moral or cultural preferences” mean that in some cases, aggression is, in fact, justified? If so, go ahead and make a coherent, explicit case; and then the libertarian can point out to you exactly why we think this proffered justification is inadequate. It does not overcome our revulsion against violent interaction. I would have thought Christians also oppose the imposition of violence, crime, domination, pain, suffereing, etc.

Back to the previous Fleming quote–“But why in the name of sweet reason does an American historian or a patent attorney, who are neither experts in economics nor student sof philosophy, get the idea that they can make infallible pronouncements on subjects that have troubled the wise for thousands of years.” Mr. Fleming, I freely admit–as do any Misesians–that we might be wrong any any given belief. But you seem to put an awful lot of stock in pedigree–whether one is “officially” qualified to speak on something; and on the approval of the masses (when you speak of the relevance of no one being persuaded by an argument). Look, it’s quite simple: we libertarians don’t believe aggression is justified. Anyone who disagrees with this is either (a) a criminal, who does not give a damn about whether his actions are just or not; or (b) someone who does not want to be a criminal so who also desires to justify his actions or proposed policies. Now in the case of (a), the libertarian has no special problem here, other than the technical one of how to defend against crime. In case (b), the socialist is free to proffer a justification for isolated or systematic cases of aggression, but it so happens that all these justifications seem to fail, at least in libertarian eyes. Libertarians are those reluctant to engage in or endorse violent struggle with others; they do so only if a burden is satisfied; it is satisfied in the case of self-defense or retribution, but otherwise, not. The yammerings of socialists don’t meet the high standards of the libertarian. They might meet those of the socialist, but so what? A criminal have virtually no threshold; a socilaist has a slightly higher one, but not as high as the civilized man.

Ian wrote


Wow. Many bytes were spilled in discussing the merits of non-violence towards innocents again. Mr. Kinsella has really sidetracked the discussion with the cooperation of Fleming. I’m truly sorry to see Mr. Kinsella resort to the Rockwellian condemnations of people. He keeps insinuating that criminals are criminals because they don’t share his precise view of the state. For instance, he says along with Rothbard that the state is an organized crime syndicate and then commences to draw these facile distinctions between “us and them”. I get this image of Dubya stuck in my head when I read some of Kinsella’s points saying things. Nuance and philosophical discourse have taken a backseat to ideology and I *suspect* that Kinsella is purposefully changing the debate to draw attention from the real problem at hand. I suspect that a significant number of Rockwell’s financial donors are probably Catholics who sincerely believe that they can hold that the Church has erred in calling for the active participation of the state in resolving certain social and economic problems while also accepting the Rothbardian view that the state is intrinsically evil. The Rockwellians exist in an intellectual ghetto and they simply cannot afford to have anyone probe too deeply into the question without losing a chunk of their cadre of uber-Catholics. These uber-Catholics will never see their icons enter into the fray, they just send over folks like Kinsella to turn the discussion off onto some stupid tangent about whether Fleming, Storck, et. al. are aggressors because they do not adhere to the strict orthodoxy of the LRC camp. It’s clear from Kinsella’s most recent posts that he has neither good will nor a genuine desire to reason about the points in Mr. Richert’s piece. Would that they were as zealous in sticking to the real point of disagreement. Of course, that might result in some of the LRC’s supporters being exposed to a Catholic view of economic and social matters. They might decide that their dollars are better spent on genuinely Catholic interests and causes.

John Esposito wrote

efficiency (colloquial sense)
“‘It is not at all clear why low prices or economic efficiency are an absolute good, and the only way such arguments can be defended is by denying the existence of human communities that do not depend on free and rational contracts made by individuals.’ I would never–a Misesian would never, I daresay–say that ‘low prices or economic efficiency are an absolute good'; in fact I am not clear what an ‘absolute good’ is. Misesians qua economists would say that a private property order is the most efficient way to achieve material prosperity, as well as interpersonal harmony.”
Hypothesizing ‘material prosperity is good, this is the best way to achieve material prosperity, therefore this is good’ — The problem with ‘positive economics’ considered apart from ‘normative economics’ is this, that, assuming Aristotelian teleology, it is impossible to understand anything pertaining to human action without a correct understanding of the good, and the order of the good. There are essential (per-se) goods and accidental (per-accidens) goods, the latter subordinated to the former; goods, and therefore ends, do not exist apart from the order. You can’t compartmentalize within a hierarchy; ordination determines everything, because the final cause is the terminus of every action. If something is not essentially ordered towards the per-se good, then it isn’t necessarily ordered towards the per-se good. Material prosperity is not essentially ordered towards the (per-se) good, because material prosperity is not essentially (per-se) good: per-se goods have the rational character of divinity (_ratio divinitatis_), but material prosperity does not. Therefore material prosperity is not necessarily good. Even if there were no circumstance in which material prosperity were not good, material prosperity would still not be necessarily good (_secundum necessitatem simpliciter_). But what is not necessarily good, is not necessarily the proper end of human action; therefore material prosperity is not necessarily the proper end of human action. (The qualifying adjective is ‘aliquis'; ‘human action’ here means ‘any human action’.) Therefore to establish the ordination of some action towards material prosperity, does not suffice to establish the rectitude of that action; for the syllogism would require a major premise which the rational character of material prosperity alone cannot support. But this is precisely what ‘material prosperity is good, this is the best way to achieve material prosperity, therefore this is good’ entails.

I hypothesize ‘material prosperity is good, this is the best way to achieve material prosperity, therefore this is good’ because it *seems* to me that the Austrian-libertarian-Catholics (leaving aside for the moment whether this is logically possible; grant ‘sub nomine’ at least) propose that Austrian economic theory demonstrates the falsity of certain (non-authoritative) Catholic social teaching just inasmuch as Austrian theory correctly shows “the most efficient way to achieve material prosperity”, while the doctrines advanced in the various encyclicals do not; from which it is presumed (though I haven’t seen this said quite so explicitly) that, since material prosperity is good, the human action which Austrian economics shows to be the most efficient means to achieve material prosperity, ought to be embraced.

(It is quite possible that I have mischaracterized the Austrian-libertarian-Catholic position; if I have, then I apologize for my ignorance, and hope to be corrected.)

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Meta-meta-meta-talk
When a discussion becomes a discussion about a discussion about the discussion, it usually becomes pointless. Ditto when absurd conspiracy theories are introduced.
I have no idea why Ian is using the crankish term “intellectual ghetto”. I have no idea why he would think I was “sent” here by Rockwell. This debate is not about me, Stephan Kinsella, personally, and I regret when things turn personal (it detracts and distracts from the merits of a substantive discussion). But let me simply say I’m a completely independent person, not beholden to anyone, not acting at anyone’s beck and call, nor even at anyone’s suggestion. Such wild-eyed conspiracy theories are simply ridiculous.

What does it matter anyway? Scott Richert has had the grace and manners to be polite and charitable in interpreting my motives, even though we have disagreed–and especially strongly at first–on the merits of a given issues.

I was made aware that Tom Woods’s viewed had been opposed by Storck, via a blogpost on Lew Rockwell’s blog. I took a look commented, at first on the LRC blog, since I simply disagreed with what seemed to me to be the heart of the Chronicles (“paleo-Catholic”?) crowd’s criticism of him.

Now I may be incorrect in my reasoning or in my interpretation of the paleo-Catholic case against Woods, I freely admit, as any of us fallible types may be; but admitting this obvious fact gets you nowhere.

But it appeared at first to me, either you are criticizing Woods’ for his substantive views; or on the grounds that they conflict with teachings of the Church. So my initial reaction was: well, if the former, then they are not presenting a very good case, b/c they are resorting to authority. And if the latter, this argument makes sense only if the teachings in question are infallible; for if they are not, then there is nothing wrong with Woods, qua Catholic, disagreeing with them.

Now I voiced some opinions along these lines. There is a high cry that it’s unfair of me to say you meant infallibility, since you never said that (although Fleming does seem to rely on this notion expressly in one of his posts). So at this point I’m scratching my head–what exactly does these liberal arts types mean? It’s not always easy to tell, the way the humanities types write. As an engineer and lawyer, and I guess libertarian, I’m used to, or at least prefer, to see things stated clearly and precisely, without muddying or hiding one’s position, or burying it in metaphor or poetry.

But no matter. I believe now what Richert et al. are primarily saying is that even if the teachings in question are not infallible, someone like Woods has a duty as a Catholic not to disagree with them, at least publicly; for the sake of his own soul or to avoid harming the Church’s credibility or the faith or other believers, etc. Or, at least, he has a duty not to do so lightly. That is, it appears to be similar to stare decisis in the common law: one court is reluctant to overturn the judgment of a previous court, even if the latter court feels the former decision is wrong, out of respect for predictibality and integrity of the law, etc., and for the other court, and for courts’ authority and prestige–but stare decisis is not absolute and the latter court can overturn precedent if it is manifestly bad enough, and if due consideration is given to the costs of overturning precedent in general. I.e., the lower court ruling is given some deference, even if it is in the end, overturned.

And then there appears to be disagreement whether Woods did this lightly, or only after sufficient soul-searching. I suppose some here want to examine Woods himself and his motives, etc., in micro-detail, and if that is “the issue” then I personally am not interested; for it does not, in the end, really matter. At least not to me. Nor do I think there is any reason to believe he would, in the end, stand convicted. However many here seem to confuse the issue, in standard liberal arts style, by throwing in a bunch of unrelated things and not making it clear exactly what the argument is.

As for Ian’s comments–“I’m truly sorry to see Mr. Kinsella resort to the Rockwellian condemnations of people. He keeps insinuating that criminals are criminals because they don’t share his precise view of the state.”

I have no idea why Ian is “sorry” about anything. This is typical pointless, saying-nothing, space-wasting humanities type writing. In any even, back to substance (no offense), I’m not condemning people, I’m simply being clear about the implications of libertarian views. Of course we view anyone who commits aggression as a criminal; and anyone who endorses it (e.g., by speaking in favor of it, voting for it, etc.) is at least, sympathetic to and/or aiding and abetting criminality.

Ian’s complaints remind me of those of the agnostic who is bothered not by the particular beliefs of a given religion, but by the fact that the have any beliefs at all–since by having a belief you necessarily belief other religions are incorrect. It is the soft-skinned, eggshell-skull view of the hippies who talk about “my reality” and “your reality”, dude.

It’s always interesting to me that you people who are not pure libertarians get so worked up when one of us libertarians merely states our view. I will assume here that you people are not libertarians–that you do not oppose some state action that exceeds the minimal-state limits; i.e., that you do not object to at least some types of institutionalized aggression, whether it be taxation, or whatever. (If you do object to all aggression, then you are libertarians and we have no quarrel.) What this means is you favor a society that allows the state to go beyond the limits the libertarian thinks should be set on the state. Well, congratulations–! for you are winning! Your system is in place. You have won. Libertarians have lost. We are simply complaining; we are rattling our coffee cups against the bars of our prison cells. I don’t think there is any real danger there is about to be a libertarian revolution where you people will be unable to implement laws based upon aggression. So what are you so hot and bothered about? I’d switch places with you in a New York minute: if I could have a libertarian society where all public aggression, at least, is impermissible, at the cost of having a little pathetic minority of varying types of statists whine and complain about it, hey, that would be a good deal. So you people should cheer up, for you have your way; you should relax, and not worry so much about libertarians; we are no threat to you.

Ian writes, “For instance, he says along with Rothbard that the state is an organized crime syndicate and then commences to draw these facile distinctions between “us and them”.”

Why is it facile? This is not an argument.

“I get this image of Dubya stuck in my head when I read some of Kinsella’s points saying things. Nuance and philosophical discourse have taken a backseat to ideology and I *suspect* that Kinsella is purposefully changing the debate to draw attention from the real problem at hand.”

This is just ridiculous and absurd–and incorrect; and I see no point in having to overcome such ludicrous, unmannerly, out of place, craven charges.

“I suspect that a significant number of Rockwell’s financial donors are probably Catholics who sincerely believe that they can hold that the Church has erred in calling for the active participation of the state in resolving certain social and economic problems while also accepting the Rothbardian view that the state is intrinsically evil. The Rockwellians exist in an intellectual ghetto and they simply cannot afford to have anyone probe too deeply into the question without losing a chunk of their cadre of uber-Catholics. These uber-Catholics will never see their icons enter into the fray, they just send over folks like Kinsella to turn the discussion off onto some stupid tangent about whether Fleming, Storck, et. al. are aggressors because they do not adhere to the strict orthodoxy of the LRC camp.”

I have no earthly idea what you are yammering about. My eyes glaze over at this conspiracy theory stuff just as they do when militia nuts start blathering about the gold fringe on the flag.

Thomas Fleming wrote


The issues at hand, Mr. Kinsella, were defined by the contributions made by Scott Richert and myself. The central point is very simple: are Catholics free to turn their backs on the Church’s 2000 year tradition on moral and social responsibility. Mr. Woods, backed by Lew Rockwell and Mr. Kinsella, say yes, but they have yet to explain their justification. Mr. Kinsella keeps on taking refuge in his misunderstanding of infallibility, but, as I said at the beginning, if the Church is wrong, so are St Thomas and Augustine, St. Paul and Christ himself. Even if there were no God, and the Church merely human, it would surely be worth some time to discover what has been taught by an Institution that shaped our civilization for two millenia. And, if one is not an atheist but any kind of Catholic, how is it possible to put the teachings of an anti-Christian atheist above the church in a matter of morals? We’ve been over the ground, showing that the argument is not about state-intervention or state welfare systems–which we oppose on practical and moral grounds–but like the dog returning to his vomit,, the libertarian must take his stand not on Christ’s two great commandemnts–to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself, but on the much lower principle of non-aggression, which is taken as a given by most moral and religious systems. I can only conclude that these people are in the grip of a fanaticism so iron-clad that it cannot imagine what an alternative point of view might be. I recommend that Mr. Kinsella begin a patient reading course, beginning with Aristotle’s Ethic and Politics, and if he can mind his manners and learn to listen instead of shouting platitudes, he is most welcome to join our discussion.

God be with you. I am moving on to Aristotle.

Ian wrote


“Ian’s complaints remind me of those of the agnostic who is bothered not by the particular beliefs of a given religion, but by the fact that the have any beliefs at all–since by having a belief you necessarily belief other religions are incorrect. It is the soft-skinned, eggshell-skull view of the hippies who talk about “my reality” and “your reality”, dude. ” So out of curiosity, can you tell us which of the papal encyclicals you’ve read on social and economic matters before posting here? You’ve called me several names in the course of your postings, but I get this sense that you’re not really here to discuss anyting, just insult posters (rubes, soft-headed, etc) and pull the conversation towards things you actually know like criminality, rights and legal issues. This was a tactic that Dr. Woods took with me — he denounced me as a lifestyle libertarian anti-Catholic w/o knowing anything about me other than that I disagreed with his view that Austrianism (and Rothbardianism) were completely compatible with Church teachings… in other words, I was charaterized perjoratively by a man who makes his living as an insignificant front man for what many might call an extremist and equally insignificant political group possessed of a siege mentality (another term for such a group: militia). It’s one thing to say that you believe in something like Christian charity, it’s another to practice it and I just never see any of you moralists at LRC use it in your dealings with individuals outside of the creepy cult. What I am and what my beliefs are irrelevant; I’ve made some arguments about certain point and you can’t address those because you are out of your depth. Is Mises just a dirty old Jew because he wasn’t some bizarre Latin Mass militant Catholic? What about Rothbard? Is Rothbard roasting in hell because he was also a Jew? I don’t think so. I think they were brilliant men and that they believed that a reasonable person could be persuaded that liberty, prosperity and peace are worthy goals obtainable through libertarianism regardless of one’s religious background. For this reason, they’ve drawn a number of people from all walks of life to their opinions. It’s unforutanate to see Rockwell and others rewrite their memory, esp. given that their concerns were not of a theological or religous nature at all. In fact, in looking over the few times when I’ve ever seen a Rockwellian talk to someone outside the group, they’ve quickly and without provocation resorted to the crudest forms of name calling and invective and I’ve really gotta wonder what their form of Christianity does to help them in the path of holiness. It certainly doesn’t show up in the way they treat others, even those who maybe do them wrong. I’d like to suggest that Dr. Woods, you and some of the others follow Dr. Fleming’s example more closely when debating others. Fleming has spent a lifetime immersed in the Western canon and he has adopted and learned the habit of discourse that our tradition values. That involves give and take, but it doesn’t mean using insults. If you don’t like a point made, then just ignore it. No need to act like the so called hedonist hippies that you find lurking everywhere in your tiny little intellectual worlds. The behavior of Rockwellians is so truly Randian that I just gave up all donations to the maintenance of their site.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

The Topic
Fleming writes: “The issues at hand, Mr. Kinsella, were defined by the contributions made by Scott Richert and myself. The central point is very simple: are Catholics free to turn their backs on the Church’s 2000 year tradition on moral and social responsibility. Mr. Woods, backed by Lew Rockwell and Mr. Kinsella, say yes, but they have yet to explain their justification.”
Mr. Fleming, I will freely admit I was looking at this from a primarily rational point of view. I have assumed that if one arrives at a sound view, then one is free to promulgate it even if it contradicts church teaching (leaving aside infallible matters). The issue here seems to be, even if one might be correct and might be able to expose a given church teaching as false, should one do it. If one is interested in pursuing and discussing the substantive truth of a given idea, the answer is of course; but if you are saying higher concerns override doing this, that Woods is obligated by some moral code to keep silent even if he is right and knows he is right, then I don’t agree; but I freely admit I have no deep expertise, nor interest in, this particular topic, so will enter the debate no further on this matter. In some of your replies to me in my attempt to understand more clearly exactly what your critique of Woods was (I thought it must either be substantive; or that it contradicted dogma; I see now you think it’s some kind of moral obligation to refrain from pointing out even real Church mistakes), several — what I view as — imprecise or incorrect statements were made about libertarianism (conflating it with “exalting” things or making material values “absolute” etc.) or Austrian economics (conflating wertfrei economics with value-laden preferences). Therefore I responded. I did not mean to get the thread off-topic, nor to throw bombs. I respect your opinions but I think we are largely talking past each other.

I disagree strongly with your pejorative comments about platitudes, vomit, etc., but will let it pass. Ian’s comments are not worth responding to.

Derek Copold wrote

My apologies, Stephan
I apologize for getting your name wrong, Stephan. As to your point, there is a fundamental difference between a right and an obligation. A right in the libertarian sense essentially begins and ends with an individual. An obligation goes beyond the individual. So, where you or I have a “right” to defend ourselves, we don’t have a “right” to expect others to do it for us. The individual is the ultimate end of abstract rights. An obligation not only compels us to defend our lives, but to also help others in their need, and perhaps even surrender our lives, if need be. Thus, unlike rights, obligations have the community as an end. This is much, much more than simple semantics.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Rights and Semantics
Derek, I’ve run into this problem many times. A traditionalist type conservative rails against the notion of rights; but quite readily admits a victim of violence or crime is “entitled” to use force to defend himself, or that his use of defensive force is permissible, legitimate, or at least, not unjustified.

But this is all that a libertarian means by saying someone has a right to X–that he is entitled to use force to defend it. Therefore, the traditionalist/paleo-conservative who grants all of this excepts stubbornly refuses to use the word “right” to describe it is, when it comes down to it, agreeing with the libertarian that “there are rights”. He may not agree that they are “natural” rights; he may not agree that they can be “proved” by rationalist thinking; but that is not the point. So it is, indeed, in my view, a simple stubborn semantic issue if the paleo agrees with us about rights except for the willingness to apply that label to it.

You wrote, “there is a fundamental difference between a right and an obligation. A right in the libertarian sense essentially begins and ends with an individual. An obligation goes beyond the individual.”

The first sentence is correct, if its relevance is not clear; but I have no idea what the other two sentences are supposed to mean. Rights “begin” somewhere? They “end” somewhere? What on earth does this mean? Obligations “go beyond” … things?

“So, where you or I have a “right” to defend ourselves, we don’t have a “right” to expect others to do it for us.”

I don’t think you can ever have a right to “expect” something. Do you mean a right to have others do it for us? Well, in that case, in general, you are right; but how does this harm the libertarian notion of rights? Libertarians simply say that you have a right not to be aggressed against; we do not say, qua libertarian, that you have a second-level right to have someone or some agency defend your rights. Having a right imposes an obligation on would-be criminals to avoid infringing the right; but it imposes no positive enforceable obligations on others to provide you with the protection you need–any more than your neighbor has an obligation to buy you a lock for your front door.

However: I would say, that along with Fleming et al., I would not say that the set of moral obligations an individual, as part of a community, has are exhausted by the strictly negative political obligations to refrain from aggression. He may well have a moral obligation to help his weaker neigbors, for example, defend themselves; he may well have a positive moral obligation to jump in a lake to try to save a drowning stranger; etc. In fact I would say, in general, that we do have such positive moral (but non-legally-enforceable) obligations, although this cannot be rigorously proved by theory; perhaps, here, is where Fleming would be correct, that study of the 2000 year history of the Church’s thought and teachings would be beneficial, in the domain of private, interpersonal morals.

And another aside: I would say a child has a right to receive, inter alia, protection from his parents; they have a positive, and legally enforceable, obligation to help the infant/child defend his rights. Here I probably differ with most libertarians, who rightly think there can be no legally enforceable obligations unless they are voluntarily incurred, but who obsess to much on there being bqsically only one mode of voluntarily incurring obligations, signing some kind of formal, commercial contract. I see no need to be so parsimonious in what types of things can cause obligations to be incurred. For example, aside from agreeing to an obligation, committing aggression is a type of voluntary action that causes one to incur obligations. If I pass a stranger by who is drowning I have no legal obligation to try to save him; if I intentionally push him in the lake I incur an obligation to rescue him. Likewise, the voluntary conceiving and bearing of children predictably brings into the world beings with a natural helplessness and natural need for food, care, etc. from the parents. Therefore it is my view, though not of most libertarians, I believe, that the parent does incur obligations to the child. The typical libertarian is too hostile to the notion of enforceable positive obligations, understandably so given that the state wants to impose so many on us; but there is nothing wrong with such obligations per se, so long as you could have avoided it by failing to take the action which led to it.

“The individual is the ultimate end of abstract rights.”

I have no idea what “abstract” rights are; there are rights. If someone is entitled to defend himself from violence, is the correlative right “abstract” or not? I have no idea. Such adjectives I find useless and sidetracking. As for the “ultimate end” of rights being the individual, not sure they have an “end”, much less, an “ultimate” one. Men have ends; capacities or qualities of men, like rights, don’t have ends.

“An obligation not only compels us to defend our lives, but to also help others in their need, and perhaps even surrender our lives, if need be. Thus, unlike rights, obligations have the community as an end. This is much, much more than simple semantics.” I agree with the first sentence, and think it is consistent with what I said above about moral obligations. Your “Thus” does not follow, however; just because one can have a moral obligation to sacrifice oneself to help others does not mean that obligations have the community as an end, while rights do not. First of all, I may have a moral obligation to help others because it helps me in some sense (e.g., is good for my soul). Second, just because I have a right not to be murdered etc., does not mean that the “end” of the right is the individual; in fact it may be that we have such rights primarily for the benefit of the community (for example the strongest probably benefit least from their being rights being widely recognized, as they can defend themselves anyway; widespread recognition of rights probably helps the weakest the most, and permits genuine communites to flourish); and, moreover, it may be that many or most people should, or do, use their “individual” rights in the service of others (to put it simply, I can’t help you unless I am alive).

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Randians
One quick point: it is somewhat amusing that Ian says the “behavior of Rockwellians is … truly Randian”. I say this because it seems to me it is the paleos here on this list who are acting more like Randians. If you recall, Rand denounced libertarianism, even though its views were almost identical to her “politics” branch of her philosophy, because she believed you had to buy her entire philosophy to be entitled to have her political views. That is, it was not enough, for Rand, for the libertarian to share her political views; he has also to be an Objectivist, and share Rand’s extra-political moral views as well.
Now similarly, if I understand Fleming et al. correctly, who pretty much admit their politics is similar to ours, what bothers him about libertarians is that we don’t concern ourselves (as libertarians) with community-related obligations etc. I.e., according to Fleming, it’s “not enough” to be a libertarian; one has to be a traditionlist Catholic in order to be a real libertarian, something like that. Of course, libertarians don’t say you can’t be a Catholic; they don’t even say there are no moral obligation; nor that Catholicism is the one true foundation for libertarian normative views. That is open.

Vinnie wrote

Whew!
Allow me to kick this dead horse one last time. I guess I have to agree that if in fact we had a truly Catholic nation or government, I’d have to consider that government a true blessing and conform myself to all the social dictates based on fundamental truthes as revealed by the doctrines and traditions of the church. Since I can only think of one such entity; The Vatican, I wonder how I should view all the other governments that aren’t Catholic in outlook and practice? All the other nations and governments of this world are either marxist, humanist or secularistic in one form or another and in combination. This materialist outlook views humanity as only stomachs attached to sex organs. How should I view their actions? If instead of protecting life and property, they involve themselves in taking them, should I still view them as a blessing or should I perhaps view them as a criminal gang of predators who have seized power through force and retain power through the same means? Maybe the whole answer being debated lies in the simple fact as to whether or not a legitimate government is or isn’t Catholic. To Scott and John, Steve, Tom and all the rest of you who have made their points and thoughtful comments, I wish to thank all of you for your views and gentlemenly ways of disagreeing with each other. We really aren’t enemies after all you know. All of us are in fact looking to find ways to bring the civilizing aspects of both the faith and liberty under law to civil government. Since this issue has been pretty well talked out, might I suggest you all turn your thoughts to the ramifications of the Fatima message and what exists in the concillier church today?

John Esposito wrote

re. “there are rights”
The question is — What does ‘are’ mean here?
You are predicating of rights extra-mental (_in re_) existence; this existence must be either substantial or accidental.

But it cannot be substantial, because ‘right’ is not a substance; nor can it be accidental, because ‘right’ does not fall into any of the nine categories of accident.

Clearly, however, the word is not utterly without meaning; perhaps it correctly signifies some concept which does not correctly supposit, but like a poor wax-impression does resemble something having once sharply pressed itself onto the mind.

Or perhaps I (we?) are simply not understanding what is meant by the word, because (Rothbard notwithstanding) liberalism is so remote from Aristotle. Perhaps ‘are’ is not being used as strictly as I would have it; but it is dangerous to dismiss rigorous usage as the mere application of labels, lest scientific philosophy collapse utterly, cowering before Wittgenstein’s terrible cry, and lest some purported disputability of language allow a criminal to justify his perjury by questioning “what the meaning of ‘is’ is”.

Immediately, for instance — if rights do exist, then they have an end; one can only deny their telos by denying their existence. This does not quite remove ‘rights’ from useful discourse, since the concept may be used for rhetorical or legal purposes, but it withdraws the claim of that metaphysical status which a well-founded political philosophy requires; nor does this mean that anyone who uses ‘rights’ is political-philosophically unfounded, but only that one must go deeper than ‘rights’ to understand those things of which existence may be predicated truly, even in order to understand ‘rights’ themselves.

Scott P. Richert wrote

Regarding Stephan Kinsella’s Various Remarks on Libertarianism . . .
I have posted a discussion of the principle of non-aggression over at my Rockford Files weblog. It might be better to direct further discussion on that topic over there, returning this thread to its original purpose.

Thomas Fleming wrote


I have posted this note over on my Hard Right column on Catholic morality. Answer, if you like, over there. Our old friend Jeff Tucker now weighs in on the theology of money, claiming that St. Thomas is the founder of liberal thought (yes, he says this) and complaining: “It becomes tedious having to explain this again and again to people who can’t be bothered to read in the area in which they are writing.” http://blog.lewrockwell.com/lewrw/archives/004954.html The Jeff Tucker I used to know, before his mind was reprocessed by the Misesians, would not have mad such a an absurd statement, nor would he have contradicted his elders and betters.

St. Thomas’ political and ethical thought is far-ranging. Like Aristotle, he sees human needs fulfilled not by the individual but through the family and the commonwealth. The commonwealth should not, it is true, attempt to coerce virtue, because such attempts often cause more harm than good in many ways, but the commonwealth does have a duty to create conditions propitious to leading a virtuous life. Admirers of Thomas might disagree as to which conditions are most propitious, but there is not a hint in Thomas of Liberalism’s false rationalism or its contempt of particular relationships and duties.

It is not that one cannot find sentences in Thomas that can be misread in a Liberal sense, but what will Jeffrey do with Thomas’s account of law? [Summa I-II, qu 92], where he says, for example, “Since every man is a part of the state (i.e., the commonwealth), it is impossible that a man be good unless he be well proportionate to the common good;nor can the whole be well consistent unless its parts be proportionate to it. Consequently the common good of the state cannot flourish unless the citizens be virtuous.” I am quoting from the somewhat clumsy translation in The Political Ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, since my Latin text is at home, but this one extract is enough to show how alien Thomas is to the Liberal tradition whose exponents hated him, that is, those who knew him at all. Why can’t liberals be content with expounding their own false doctrines without confounding them with other traditions that are more coherent and more true to what we know of human nature?

Jim S wrote

Questions
Richert/Fleming: In your comments, you noted that you have disagreed with Church positions too. Would you please explain how your criticisms were loyal to Catholicism, while Woods’ were not? Would you also please comment on the non-aggression principle that libertarians favor. Is there a substantive difference between it and the commandment to love thy neighbor? Thank you.

Scott P. Richert wrote

Regarding Jim S.’s Comments . . .
I have never written, in these comments or elsewhere, that I have disagreed with Church teachings, and I don’t think Dr. Fleming has either. What Dr. Fleming did mention is that popes and councils have occasionally been wrong, and he can elaborate on that if he wishes.

As for the non-aggression principle, I have commented on it on my weblog, as I noted above. Is there a substantive difference between it and loving your neighbor? Yes, indeed, and I think the example I used in the Rockford Files post should make that clear. If not, we can continue this conversation over there.

Al Gunn wrote


Dr. Fleming, Thank you again for your clarification on the Thomistic position on the Common Good, the requirement of Public Authority to the attainment of the Common Good, the character of the state as a “perfect society. . . .” An elementary consultation of the Summa on the terms used in ST IaIIae, q. 96, a. 2, should lead even the Thomistic neophyte to the principle that though not all vice need be proscribed, the state/human law is actually required to inculcate virtue in the citizenry (public as well as private virtue being necessary to the attainment of the Common Good). This principle, as well as the many others which derive from the Thomistic account of the Common Good should warn off anyone from citing St. Thomas as defender of the libertarian account of government, in particular over an against a Thomist like Pius XI.

Thomas Fleming wrote


Scott Richert is exactly right. In many areas there is and ought to be a free-wheeling, though civil debate, on how to implement basic Christian teachings and the doctrines of the Church. On doctrines that have been agreed upon from the beginning and have only been refined through successive debates, there is little room for disagreement. This applies not only to the old debates over the nature of the Trinity but also to basic moral teachings on war and charity.

Between Christ’s TWO great commandments, to love god and love thy neighbor as thyslef, there is a gap as wide as the gulf between Heaven and Hell. It is interesting that Adam Smith similarly, in Theory of Moral Sentiments, misuses Christ’s second commandment as justification for his potty notion of the impartial spectator. Why do self-described Christians–for none but them is presumably in this debate–want to eliminate God from the moral universe?

Finally, let us all get on the same footing. I think it is a courtesy if people fully identify themselves. I think a simple first name can sometimes act as an incentive for flippant or insulting comments for which one will not have to take responsibility.

Ian wrote

been there, done that
Al, I’ve tried using the same point before in my conversations with a particular Rockwellian to no avail. Men are neither gods nor angels, and though they may live sometimes in isolation, both Aristotle and St. Thomas recognize that for men to live more fully, they require life in a polity. (Polity doesn’t mean a Hoppean/Rothbardian private law society either.) A polity provides not all for an increase in the seleciton of available goods and skills, but also in the practice of virtue and liberality. Another point I’ve made before in discussion with the anarcho-captialist Catholics is that the papacy has never said that the state is intrinsically evil. It strikes me that the encyclicals are unabashed in pointing out those things that are evil (atheism, socialism, Americanism) and therefore harmful to the practice and beliefs of Catholics. If it were true that the state is intrinsically evil as the Rockwellians maintain, why doesn’t the Church warn her children from any support of the state?

Al Gunn wrote


Ian, Of course the state is not an intrinsic evil, since its actually a good, and one of the greater goods there is. What an absurd position! Do the Rockwellian’s actually believe that?

Ian Wright wrote

si, they do
Yes, they do. Mr. Kinsella has confirmed that this is his view as well in a previous posting. I happen to share it, but I would qualify it by saying that nations for the past two hundred years are no longer properly states in the sense used by Aristotle and St. Thomas. (I don’t really think this the thread to go into more detail on it either.) Some libertarians also share this view, but you have to really press them on the point. So far as I know, Murray Rothbard did not qualify his statement at all, but I’d prefer that someone better read in his political philosophy post on this point. Maybe Mr. Kinsella can clarify.

Al Gunn wrote


Ian, Even states in the attenuated (greviously I might add, with regard to modern states) sense are still good, though with much privation.

Ian Wright wrote

the politics
I respectfully disagree with your view Al, but I will say that I understand how a student of St. Thomas might hold this position. Let me just say that Aristotle distinguishes between those “groupings” (for lack of a better word) that hold a semblance of being a true polity but are in fact economic alliances and those that are true polities simply, whether of the aristocratic, democratic or monarchical form. Aristotle uses particular examples of Hellenic states from roughly his own era when talking about economic alliances in the Politics and his discussion is most interesting. Again, I only offer it here because you and others will probably already know what I am referring to. I do not want to side track the discussion at all.

Al Gunn wrote


BTW, for those requiring access to a Latin edition of the Summa online, there is one here (http://www.unav.es/filosofia/alarcon/amicis/ctopera.html)

Ian Wright wrote

the politics
I respectfully disagree with your view Al, but I will say that I understand how a student of St. Thomas might hold this position. Let me just say that Aristotle distinguishes between those “groupings” (for lack of a better word) that hold a semblance of being a true polity but are in fact economic alliances and those that are true polities simply, whether of the aristocratic, democratic or monarchical form. Aristotle uses particular examples of Hellenic states from roughly his own era when talking about economic alliances in the Politics and his discussion is most interesting. Again, I only offer it here because you and others will probably already know what I am referring to. I do not want to side track the discussion at all.

Jim S wrote

Questions
“I have already dealt with where we stand on confiscatory taxation, big government, and the welfare state–that we are against them, both for pragmatic reasons which the Liberals understand and for moral reasons that derive from the teachings of the Church.” Some of us may find it hard to see how Woods’ arguments are not morally derived from Christianity. Mr Fleming, would you please explain how Woods’ argument is not derived from the moral teachings of the Church? Also, you have allowed that Popes made mistakes and later Popes corrected them. How can we know whether a new finding from economics will ever be incorporated into Church teaching at some point in the future? Your writings on taxation, the welfare state, and even the UN differ from the Church’s current stance on these issues. Surely you are hoping the Church will adopt your views?

Thomas Fleming wrote


Very briefly. I don’t believe my ideas on any of these subjects depart from the historic teachings of the Church. Indeed, most of my arguments are derived from good Catholic thinkers like St. Thomas and St. Augustine. In the past 50 years many confusing ideas have been put forward in an ill-advised attempt to package Catholic teachings in liberal and Marxist wrappings. Even the great Fr. Antonio Rosmini made a similar mistake by adopting the methods of Descartes. No one is perfect. No theologian, no philosopher, no Pope.

Political matters are important but not all-important or even primary. The Church’s traditions on the basics are unswerving, but in applying them to economic and political matters today, prudence and worldly wisdom–and a knowledge of economics–can be very important. Take the example of welfare. In a Christian society, the primary welfare institution must be the Church, but this does not mean that secular rulers–let us call them princes for the moment–do not have an obligation to provide for the poor. But before intervening in other people’s lives, we have to be sure that we are doing more good than harm, which is certainly not what happens in modern European and North American welfare states. Let us imagine we were living in Virginia in 1820 and a plague or famine hit. Would it be wrong for a county government to give aid? Of course not. What if the county fell short, would state assistance be justifiable? Of course. Federal aid? No, and for two reasons: first, such aid would violate the federal aspect of the Constitution and secondly, it is inconceivable that any state could not look after its own people.

In politics there are no hard and fast rules. A constitutional monarchy in 1300 or a Greek city-state have little in common with modern states– vast, independent power structures run by cynical elite classes. The evils of modern states should not blind us to the legitimacy of political order nor even to the necessary functions they carry out.

I don’t want to continue beating up on poor Tom Woods, who seems unable to defend himself. The basic problem is that he starts with all the anti-Christian assumptions of the Enlightenment and then applies them to Catholic Social teaching, which he cannot understand because he speaks an entirely different language and will not take the trouble study what he must regard as the enemy’s language. If Woods were content to criticize specific arguments used by Paul VI or John Paul II, no one would be condeming him. But in setting himself qua Austrian economic theorist (though where he got that idea I cannot imagine. I might as well call myself a chemist because I once wanted to be one) above the Church’s authority and traditions, he puts himself outside the argument.

By the time we are in our teens, we have all absorbed the basic tenets of liberalism, and it is a difficult task to work our way out of the box. Rather than continuint to criticize the Liberals and their Marxist alter-egos, it is better for us to study Aristotle and Thomas and some of the Orthodox fathers , so that we can regain a sense of a tradition that is 1) our own, 2) deeper and more capable of exploring the richness of human life, and 3) truer to the facts of human nature as those facts are shown to us by modern science. It is not we who are the superstitious obscurantists, but those who put their faith in an irrational rationalism for which there is no evidence.

Keith wrote

Woods & Economics
I have read some of this interesting debate and it seems to me that Woods overlooks the Social character of Economics. Economics as a social science must observe the moral law and therefore falls within the jurisdiction and competence of the Church.

Keith wrote

Woods & Economics
I have read some of this interesting debate and it seems to me that Woods overlooks the Social character of Economics. Economics as a social science must observe the moral law and therefore falls within the jurisdiction and competence of the Church.

Keith wrote

Woods & Economics
I have read some of this interesting debate and it seems to me that Woods overlooks the Social character of Economics. Economics as a social science must observe the moral law and therefore falls within the jurisdiction and competence of the Church.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Libertarianism “versus” Other Virtues?
I have been too busy to reply lately to the threads, but I will try to respond briefly.
John Esposito wrote, “Mr. Kinsella wrote: ‘I do not agree that libertarians “put the profit motive above all other values.” First, I am not sure what such a statement even means. How do you put a profit motive above other values?’ May it not simply be restated as ‘treating material prosperity as the highest good’?”

I suppose so. Personally I try to understand such statements within the well-defined Austrian economics-based understanding of human action. In this view, preferences and values are demonstrated precisely by action that seeks the thing valued over and above lesser-valued goals. So there is no “highest good”; there is only a most-valued end of a given action. When I eat ice-cream, it is the most-valued end for me at that time. It does not follow that it is “the highest good” in some absolute or time-invariant sense. Indeed, values are demonstrated in action but are not cardinal; are not interpersonally comparable; and are not even comparable over time, for the same person. So it seems imprecise and non-rigorous, to me, to speak of a “highest good”, since I fail to see how it can be objectively demonstrated what anyone’s “highest good” is. I also don’t know what “treating” something “as highest good” means; is “treating” a type of action? But this is largely irrelevant so I will move on.

Mr. Esposite also wrote a bunch of fancy philosophizing re the question, what does “are” mean if we say “there are rights”. I think he overcomplicates the issue. For libertarians, saying someone has a right (to some X) is just a shorthand way of expressing the view that this person is justified in using force, to prevent another from (or punish the other for) taking or using or stopping the X. Now since even you paleocons (whatever label is appropriate for you) admit that there are a cases in which a person is justified in using force to defend some domain or thing of his, then you would be in agreement, in this case, that the person has a “right”, in the sense that we use the term. Therefore, refusal to use the term “right” is, in my view, just petulant and time-wasting. We can make up a new term if you like, or use the long-description every time, but this would be silly.

Similarly the philosophizing about the ontological status of whether rights “exist” is just irrelevant. Does “love” exist? Does “running” exist? I don’t know, and I don’t care. If I say I love my wife I express something about my relationship with her (do “relationships” “exist”? I don’t know, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?). I have seen people run before, so I know that there is an activity called running. “Is”? Why, where is the “running”? I don’t know. Do we really need to waste time on college sophomore level sophistry?

As for people identifying themselves, I quite agree w/ Dr. Fleming about the silliness of hacker handles and such in a forum like this. BTW I don’t think “Nemo” was used to make some kind of Greek allusion, but probably adopted from the Disney kiddie flick Finding Nemo.

Ian wrote, “Aristotle and St. Thomas recognize that for men to live more fully, they require life in a polity.” For the libertarian, who is in favor of a view of rights that says rights are violated when and only when aggression is used (which is shorthand for: another person impermissibly uses, i.e. invades the borders of, one’s own body or property), we view such statements with suspicion. For it seems to be a way of implicitly saying that this is a justification for aggression, without having to put it so bluntly. So when you say people “require life in a polity,” what in the world does this mean, exactly? If you mean live in society; of course. If you mean a state is justified, then it is just an assertion. The state commits aggression against innocent people, by its very nature. (See What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist) So if you are saying the state is justifed “because people require life in a polity”, you are saying that aggression is justified because people require it. This is a bare assertion and in any event the libertarian disagrees.

(Incidentally, I’ve tried to clarify and summarize some of the essentials of libertarianism here: What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist; Defending Argumentation Ethics; The Essence of Libertarianism; Why do we rile them?)

Dr. Fleming writes, “Political matters are important but not all-important or even primary.” Of course, I would not disagree with this, for a number of reasons. First, I know of nothing “all-important” or “primary”, since this does not seem to be objectively definable. Second, even if it is, of course politics would not be the primary thing, but rather other things we value in life, such as family, happiness, spirtuality, achievement, whatever. Third, simply being a libertarian of course does not imply that political matters are all-important. Everyone has some political views, whether the substance of their views is libertarian or some socialistic variant. If I am a libertarian it simply means my political views are pro-private property; whereas if one is a modern liberal or a paleo-conservative then one’s views are different. So what? Does merely having an opinion on politics mean that one elevates it above all others? Being libertarian does not mean that is all that is important to us; it is just our own brand of political views, just as everyone else has theirs. I also have views on who is the best modern writer of espionage type thrillers (Nelson DeMille); does that mean I elevate “DeMille-as-best-writer” “as the highest good”? Of course not.

Dr. Fleming contines, “In politics there are no hard and fast rules. A constitutional monarchy in 1300 or a Greek city-state have little in common with modern states– vast, independent power structures run by cynical elite classes. The evils of modern states should not blind us to the legitimacy of political order nor even to the necessary functions they carry out.”

Saying there are no hard and fast rules does not satisfy the libertarian, who opposes violence committed against innocent people, that this violence is justified. Saying that there are “necessary functions” also does not. At the very least, we try to insist on explicit defenses of aggression, so that at least the terms of debate are clear. Why not simply say, clearly, for example (and then show why your assertion is justfied), that aggression is justified if and when it is “necessary”, or something like that?

Incidentally, I personally tend to agree with most of what Mr. Fleming says about Aristotle in this thread and in his column about Aristotle the other day. I am simply confused about why he thinks this is somehow incompatible with libertarianism. Why can I not have a principled objection to institutionalized aggression (as well as to private crime) but also be in general agreement with the other things Mr. Fleming says? Saying “because libertarianism’s pedigree is the corrupt hyper-individualism of the horrible Enlightenment” simply makes no sense to me; either you agree, or disagree, with the substance of a libertarian’s conclusions, regardless of the history of how we got here.

Ian Wright wrote


“Ian wrote, Aristotle and St. Thomas recognize that for men to live more fully, they require life in a polity. For the libertarian, who is in favor of a view of rights that says rights are violated when and only when aggression is used (which is shorthand for: another person impermissibly uses, i.e. invades the borders of, one’s own body or property), we view such statements with suspicion. For it seems to be a way of implicitly saying that this is a justification for aggression, without having to put it so bluntly. So when you say people require life in a polity, what in the world does this mean, exactly? If you mean live in society; of course. If you mean a state is justified, then it is just an assertion.” A polity is a term used in most English translations of Aristotle’s Politics. It derives from the Greek word polis, meaning city-state. It connotes a definite form of government, not a private law society of individuals living in a kind of Hoppean feudalism under a private covenant. You may view this as a justification for aggression, but I think your reasoning relies on equivocation and alot of jumping from here to yonder while leaving out some necessary middle terms. I do agree that giving up any power to a group of people designated as “governors” or the “government” invites eventual theft, murder and destruction. I think history supports this view and to claim otherwise is just to be pie-in-the-sky. It’s largely for this reason that I don’t support Catholic teaching and don’t want to see folks like Dr. Woods misleading other libertarians about what the encyclicals and tradition say on economic and political matters. Dr. Woods is not well-versed in theology and philosophy as some of his essays reveal. I’m not comfortable in saying that St. Thomas and Aristotle would discuss political theory with the state as a given while knowing or believing that it was intrinsically evil.

Ian Wright wrote


Lew Rockwell is providing links and reprints of some of Rothbard’s notes on Catholic social teaching at LRC. Here’s a choice nugget that should help understand the decidedly non-Catholic point of view of both Rockwell and Dr. Woods. “As for the Papal encylicals, it must also be remembered that Catholics are not required to take them for gospel; only the Pope speaking ex cathedra on matters of high religious dogma – which of course is a rare event must be obeyed implicitly.” Rothbard was Jewish and much of his reasoning in the “Unpublished Memo to the Volcker Fund” (http://www.mises.org/rothbard/MNRCatholicism.pdf) uses common misconceptions about the papacy, the teaching authority of the Church, etc. For the Catholics on this board, just think back to the number of times you’ve had to explain infallibility to friends because they were confused or clueless about what it meant and you’ll have Rothbard in a nutshell. Throughout the first part of the memo (and I’ve not read all of it yet), Rothbard notes that there are leftist and rightist and centrists within Catholicism. (Notice how secular terms and delineations are used; secular political ideologies interpet and distinguish according to their own superior first principles (a la Marx)). From there, he deduces that Catholicism must necessarily support a range of opinions on economic and social issues — the popes just happen to fall in the “social” camp when teaching on matters of economics. They are just one of a number of opinions that are not necessarily weightier than those held by purely capitalistic or socialistic Catholic thinkers . Unfortunately, that’s the whole point of contention. I don’t really care if Patricia Ireland or any other Catholic supports abortion or euthanasia or birth control, the current topic of debate is about the substance of what the Church teaches formally to her children in both tradition and papal pronouncements. I really really really hope that traditional Catholics will read the PDF in the link and note very carefully how Rothbard employs the same method of disputation as used by all the various apostates and heretics that Dr. Woods likes to inveigh against in his writings. So-and-so does it, Quadregismo wasn’t said ex cathedra, blah blah blah. Why on earth would anyone turn to a Jew for instruction on their own Catholic tradition instead of the tradition itself? Why does Dr. Woods and the sundry other Rockwellian Catholics continue to offer Rothbard’s opinion to regular readers at Mises.org and LRC? Why not include additional links to St. Thomas and Aristotle and Plato, as well as the Vatican Councils and the Fathers of the Church? Rockwell and Dr. Woods both like to quote Scripture so to speak when it suits their purpose, but they’ve no problem rejecting out of hand the very same tradition that they claim to defend whenever it suits them in their professional life. Cafeteria Catholic anyone?

Scott P. Richert wrote

Amen
to Ian’s posts above.

Scott P. Richert wrote

And Please Read . . .
Stephan Kinsella’s “Libertarianism “versus” Other Virtues?” above, because–almost certainly without intending to–he has made it very clear why a Catholic cannot accept the Austrian understanding of human action, which underlies, of course, the Austrian conception of economics. See these lines in particular:

I try to understand such statements within the well-defined Austrian economics-based understanding of human action. In this view, preferences and values are demonstrated precisely by action that seeks the thing valued over and above lesser-valued goals. So there is no “highest good”; there is only a most-valued end of a given action.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

“Highest Good”
I had written, “I try to understand such statements within the well-defined Austrian economics-based understanding of human action. In this view, preferences and values are demonstrated precisely by action that seeks the thing valued over and above lesser-valued goals. So there is no “highest good”; there is only a most-valued end of a given action.” Richert quotes this as evidence for why “a Catholic cannot accept the Austrian understanding of human action.”
A couple of points. First, I fail to see the relevance of saying Austrianism is incompatible with Catholicism. I realize there are some Catholics here but is this forum exclusively about, by, and for, Catholics? I am interested in truth and this, indeed, is the goal of all rational discourse. If you are not interested in the substantive truth of a matter–if you will reject something not because it is untrue, but merely because it is incompatible with some other viewpoint–this seems to be to be an attitude inimical to rational discourse.

Second, I am not denying here that in some moral or religious sense you can define some religious goal as an “ultimate good”. I am pointing out the definitional problems with using such a term, however, especially in the scientific context of economics. I am saying that it is objectively clear that when you act then the end of your action is, ex ante, necessarily the most-valued thing at the time. But if you do not demonstrate your values in action it is difficult to objectively even define what it means to say that something is valued. If you would like to introduce a careful, coherent definition of what it would mean to have a “highest good”, without reference to action, I’d be curious to see what it could possibly mean and how you could have a careful, consistent definition.

Scott P. Richert wrote

The Subjective Theory of Value versus Efficiency
Mr. Kinsella wrote:

I fail to see the relevance of saying Austrianism is incompatible with Catholicism. I realize there are some Catholics here but is this forum exclusively about, by, and for, Catholics?

Mr. Kinsella has been participating in threads on more than one post, so perhaps he simply forgot which one he’s replying to. This post concerns Tom Woods’ forthcoming book on economics and Catholic social teaching. That is the relevance.

By the way, Tom Woods would seem to share my view (at least partway). If I understand his argument correctly, he’s saying that Catholic social teaching is incompatible with Austrianism and therefore should be rejected (though he does believe that he is not, therefore, rejecting Catholicism as a whole). My biggest disagreement with Woods seems to be over which takes priority, Catholicism or Austrianism? (And, of course, there’s the secondary disagreement–can you reject just part of Catholicism without rejecting the whole?)

Mr. Kinsella further writes:

I am not denying here that in some moral or religious sense you can define some religious goal as an “ultimate good”. I am pointing out the definitional problems with using such a term, however, especially in the scientific context of economics.

Looking once again at Mr. Kinsella’s statement, I’ll grant that I may have overreached. I read “the well-defined Austrian understanding of human action” rather than “the well-defined Austrian economics-based understanding of human action,” and I was making my statement based on my misreading. Mises’ philosophy of human action is a problem for Catholics, because it reduces all human action to, in Mr. Kinsella’s words, the “most-valued end of a given action” and staunchly rejects moral judgments of those values (as Tom Fleming has shown in “Abuse Your Illusions,” Perspective, January 2002).

I’m happy to concede, however, that, on the micro-economic level, such things as individual prices and individual wage rates are essentially driven by this theory of human action, which, in economics, is called “the subjective theory of value.” It seems to me, however, that someone who believes only in the “most-valued end of a given action” is hardly in a position to lecture churchmen who try to teach the faithful that there are certain things they should value above efficiency and that those things should be the foremost considerations when, for instance, two men are agreeing on prices or wage rates.

The problem is that, depending on whom they are arguing against, adherents of Austrian economics flip back and forth too easily between the subjective theory of value and the elevation of efficiency to–if Mr. Kinsella will forgive the phrase–the highest good in economic action. Efficiency, as even Tom Woods is arguing in his Lou Church lecture, is essentially an objective measurement. And it has to be objective for Mr. Woods to make the very argument he’s making. In which case, he is elevating efficiency to the level of the highest good, at least with regard to economic action.

Stephan Kinsella wrote

Richert on: The Subjective Theory of Value versus Efficiency
Scott Richert said:

Mr. Kinsella wrote:

I fail to see the relevance of saying Austrianism is incompatible with Catholicism. I realize there are some Catholics here but is this forum exclusively about, by, and for, Catholics?

Mr. Kinsella has been participating in threads on more than one post, so perhaps he simply forgot which one he’s replying to. This post concerns Tom Woods’ forthcoming book on economics and Catholic social teaching. That is the relevance.

Fine; but I have to say I am personally interested in the truth, primarily. /blockquote>By the way, Tom Woods would seem to share my view (at least partway). If I understand his argument correctly, he’s saying that Catholic social teaching is incompatible with Austrianism and therefore should be rejected (though he does believe that he is not, therefore, rejecting Catholicism as a whole).

This may be; and Woods and I do not agree on everything (though we do not mind and are civil with each other). In any event, I think Woods’s view (though he can speak for himself is that there are no infallible Church doctrines which are incompatible with Austrian economics; and a good thing, too, since the latter is correct and the former cannot be wrong. But that to the extent non-infallible Church “teachings” are incomptabile with sound economic reasoning–and they are incompatible to some degree–those Church teachings are simply incorrect. Now I take it from previous posts that you paleocons have not really said the Austrians are wrong, but rather have tried to make the meta-point that it is un-Catholic to try to show that those teachings are wrong, even if they might be.

(And, of course, there’s the secondary disagreement–can you reject just part of Catholicism without rejecting the whole?)

If not, it would seem to equate infallible dogma with non-infallible teachings.

Mr. Kinsella further writes:

I am not denying here that in some moral or religious sense you can define some religious goal as an “ultimate good”. I am pointing out the definitional problems with using such a term, however, especially in the scientific context of economics.

Looking once again at Mr. Kinsella’s statement, I’ll grant that I may have overreached. I read “the well-defined Austrian understanding of human action” rather than “the well-defined Austrian economics-based understanding of human action,” and I was making my statement based on my misreading. Mises’ philosophy of human action is a problem for Catholics, because it reduces all human action to, in Mr. Kinsella’s words, the “most-valued end of a given action” and staunchly rejects moral judgments of those values

Well–look, I don’t know what it means to “reduce” human action to its most valued ends (e.g., human action always involves means to accomplish the ends; presupposes a volitional actor; presupposes opportunity cost, and the like; so “end” is not the only thing about action). And to recognize that human action implies certain economically useful true facts in no way implies that human action “reduces” to its ends. It also in no way “rejects moral judgments of those values”; it is simply that the science of economics is not the tool to use to perform such moral judgments. In fact economics presupposes subjective valuations and values on the part of the actor; and those subjective values have to come from somewhere; maybe even from the moral judgments of the actor.

The point I was making in raising an objection to the loose use of the term “highest good” is to try to show that it is not immediately clear exactly what is meant; to show that, unlike in economics where the ends of a given action have a clear meaning, it is not clear what someone means by a “highest good”. I am not denying that IF you can define this properly, God or salvation or whatever might not be the highest good. I think you might mean something like it’s some kind of overarching end that, IF you had to ever choose, in a given action, between this (long-run?) end and some other material, temporary end, THEN you predict that you would choose the former and not the latter. I think this is what you mean, but I am not sure.

I’m happy to concede, however, that, on the micro-economic level, such things as individual prices and individual wage rates are essentially driven by this theory of human action, which, in economics, is called “the subjective theory of value.”

I am being picky but I would not agree with this; first, I don’t know what the micro-economic level is. There are acting individuals; their actions have consequences. Second, prices and wages are not “driven” (whether “essentially” or not) by a “theory of human action” or by the subjective theory of value. Prices are not driven at all. Prices arise on a free market as a result of the respective demands and estimations of supply etc. of the respective market participants. A theory of economics helps explain this and helps to explain consequences of economic action, but does not itself drive prices. Now I konw that if you took time to reword this you would agree that a theory does not drive prices. But then, I am not quite sure what you are trying to say.

It seems to me, however, that someone who believes only in the “most-valued end of a given action”

Of course, I don’t believe only in this. Not even in my capacity as economist. I simply say that talking about “the highest good” is unclear in what exactly you mean, UNLIKE the clear-cut meaning of the end of a given action.

is hardly in a position to lecture churchmen who try to teach the faithful that there are certain things they should value above efficiency and that those things should be the foremost considerations when, for instance, two men are agreeing on prices or wage rates.

But this is simply untrue. Austrians–not even libertarian Austrians–do not say that there are not things that you should value above efficiency! Look at it this way: do Austrians ever spend money? Of course they do. Everytime you spend money, you demonstrate that you value something more than money! As a simple example.

If you say you want to achieve a goal, and I point out that a private property system is the most efficient way to achieve a given goal (say, overal material prosperity of the working class), how does my pointing this out reject that there are moral, and immoral, ways of dealing with people?

Now if I equate immoral with inefficient laws–which I do not do but I do think they correlate–then the only way you can say that this implies that nothing should be valued above efficiency is if you believe that something’s moral status necessarily means there should be a law. Even Fleming admitted earlier that if a red light district were permitted in a suitably secluded area this does not condone the activity.

The problem is that, depending on whom they are arguing against, adherents of Austrian economics flip back and forth too easily between the subjective theory of value and the elevation of efficiency to–if Mr. Kinsella will forgive the phrase–the highest good in economic action. Efficiency, as even Tom Woods is arguing in his Lou Church lecture, is essentially an objective measurement. And it has to be objective for Mr. Woods to make the very argument he’s making. In which case, he is elevating efficiency to the level of the highest good, at least with regard to economic action.

I think he is pointing out that if the goal is say to improve working conditions or material prosperity for the poor or working class, THEN of course, the most efficient means to achieve this is desirable to achieve the goal.

BTW re Mises and economics being incompatible with Catholicism: what would seem to me to be the most incompatible would be his view that the nature of action seems to imply that there could be no God who “acts”, i.e. ever does anything (like perform miracles). Action is considered to be an attempt to improve one’s state of affairs; to remove “felt uneasiness”. A perfect being such as God could of course never have uneasiness and never be in an state that is less than perfect; so to “act” would seem to imply that he is imperfect. Therefore, if He’s perfect, he can’t act, i.e. He can’t do anything. Now I am not saying this is correct but that might be a more fruitful ground for the anti-Misesian Catholics to pursue him on!

John Esposito wrote

efficiency as good
“I think he is pointing out that if the goal is say to improve working conditions or material prosperity for the poor or working class, THEN of course, the most efficient means to achieve this is desirable to achieve the goal.”
But the problem remains as above — essential and accidental ordination are not being distinguished properly.

Efficiency is good only inasmuch as it is actually ordered towards some end; efficiency in economic action is good only inasmuch as it is ordered towards some ‘economic good’ as an end; but ‘economic good’ is only good inasmuch as it is ordered towards the highest good, which is not material prosperity. (This would not matter if material prosperity were essentially ordered towards the highest good — but it is not.)

If ‘economic good’ is not the same as material prosperity, then ordering some economic action towards material prosperity does not through itself make this economic action good. If economic science claims only to be able to discover the most efficient means to material prosperity, and not to determine whether some material prosperity is an ‘economic good’ ordered towards the highest good, then economic science cannot sufficiently determine whether or not some economic activity is good

***

Economics, Catholic Social Teaching, and Dissent:

About the Author

Scott P. Richert is the executive editor of Chronicles.

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Economics, Catholic Social Teaching, and Dissent

by Scott P. Richert

July 7th, 2004 • RelatedFiled Under

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Yesterday, we posted a magnificent article by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, an assistant professor of philosophy at a papal institute, the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. Dr. Kwasniewski has been following the debate over Thomas Woods’ “The Trouble With Catholic Social Teaching” and has weighed in with his own critique. Last night, Tom Woods replied on the LewRockwell.com Blog.

It’s worth reading Woods’ response, if only to see the limits of the LewRockwell.com crowd’s commitment to the free marketplace of ideas. Woods attacks Kwasniewski and Chronicles while refusing to name any of us by name or to provide links to any of the articles on our site. Some ideas are just too dangerous to be discussed, apparently. I thought, though, that that was Bill Buckley’s stand, for which the libertarians rightly criticized him?

In any case, read Kwasniewski’s article and Woods’ response, and let the debate begin. You won’t be able to post any writebacks over on Lew’s blog (more evidence of his commitment to freedom of expression), but you can here.

By the way, here’s a chronological list of links to the major posts (both on our site and Lew’s) that relate to this debate (if I’ve forgotten any, please let me know). Feel free to bring material from any of these into this discussion:

“The Trouble With Catholic Social Teaching” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

“Economic Law versus Catholic Social Teaching” by Scott P. Richert

“Economic Law versus Catholic Social Teaching, Part II” by Scott P. Richert

“Economic Law versus Catholic Social Teaching, Part III” by Scott P. Richert

“Economic Science and Catholic Social Teaching” by Thomas Storck

“On the Actual Progress of Peoples” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

“The Limits of Economics” by Scott P. Richert

“Faith and the Dismal Science” by Thomas Fleming

“The Debate That Won’t Die” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

“Fleming on Woods” by Stephan Kinsella

“Re: Woods, Storck, Fleming et al.” by Stephan Kinsella

“Re: Re: Woods, Storck, Fleming et al.” by Stephan Kinsella

“On Infallibility, Popes, and Woods” by Scott P. Richert

“This Goes Way Beyond Free Markets: Thoughts on the Disagreement Between Woods and Storck” by Peter Kwasniewski

“Catholic Social Teaching Yet Again” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • wipykhero April 10, 2012, 3:10 pm

    Road to Truth starts here: http://d.truenewworld.com
    You can publish your links at the page “Your site”.

  • Todd Lewis August 7, 2014, 2:36 pm

    It is clear you not being charitable to Feser’s and I will illustrate this by utilizing your same modes of thinking against you.

    “In fact, if anything, Feser’s non-libertarianism (whatever you might call it) is more on all fours with socialism. We may share rationalism with socialists (arguably) but he shares the advocacy of the state and therefore of institutionalized criminality, as opposed to we anarcho-libertarians who on principle oppose aggression of any form from any source.”

    The claim it appears Feser is making is this: that egalitarianism, socialism and libertarinaism are all (1) modern rationalist ideologies, (2) all seek autonomy of the human will (which human’s will is not always the same) and (3) devoid of divine revelation.
    Feser is not saying that libertarians are socialists, but that socialists and libertarians have the same false starting points, autonomous human reason.

    “he shares the advocacy of the state and therefore of institutionalized criminality”

    Talking about a bit much, your claim that supporting the state is supporting institutionalized criminality when you support institutional genocide with abortion is a bit much. Double take anyone?

    “But we only focus on rights when people like Feser or others advocate or condone or use force or violence. ”

    Except when you condone murder of unborn children.

    “In other words, Feser is in favor of aggression, in some cases, just like a socialist, dictator, or petty criminal.”

    Sure and your not? Abortion. Need I say more?

    In short if Feser supports criminality you support Genocide. I think the former is less sever than the latter. This moral outrage of yours against Feser over his alleged statism rings hollow in your defense of abortion/genocide.

    I will use the standard UN definition of genocide.
    In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts
    committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such :
    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to
    bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    Abortionists violate (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e).

    So why would anybody support libertarians who legalize genocide? Stop the genocide then maybe conservatives will take libertarians seriously.

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