Caritas in Veritate, the bane of Austrianism

I've been beleaguered with requests for my take on the new Encyclical, and I believe part of this is due to the flaws of the encyclical itself. People are confused and unsure what to think of it. If it were a great encyclical, few would be asking a lay theologian for his opinion but instead would be praising it and looking forward to my praise as well. The lack of interior unity in the encyclical has allowed socialists to praise it, the libertarian-Austrian outlook to praise it, and various other groups to praise it. I'll deal with the specific difficulties of the encyclical in a part II, since this whole post is already perhaps too long.

Nevertheless, it has been interesting to note very shallow and narrow-minded organs such as the Acton Institute attempt to spin this encyclical toward Austrian economics, something founded upon an atheistic market view, when even other American Free-market thinkers such as George Wiegel and Michael Novak have the honesty to tell us that the encyclical does not agree with their worldview. More on that in a moment.

However some people, usually die hard Republican voters, take this view that the Church is right on life issues, but is run by these liberals, and is politically liberal, therefore I don't have to listen to them since the Pope is only infallible on faith and morals. Who in the history of the Church would have held that position and applied it to a papal encyclical?

Besides that, the Pope is not infallible in faith and morals, he is infallible when speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals. If the Pope speaks on faith and morals in an allocution, or an audience (such as Theology of the Body), or in an encyclical where he does not make use of the extraordinary magisterium, then his teachings are not infallible. Documents teaching the whole Church (an encyclical or motu proprio) which are not apart of the extraordinary magisterium are authoritative though they are not infallible in themselves. As I discussed before in my sedevacantist refutations, the ordinary magisterium may be infallible if it confirms what the Church has always and everywhere believed, but it is not infallible by itself as the extrarodinary magisterium is. This which is where modern neo-conservatives such as Wiegel and Novak, and even the Acton institute, get into trouble. They treat documents which attempt to teach the world in matters economic as not authoritative merely because their personal definition of economics and social activity is different than the Popes. They argue that since economics deals with science, the Pope has no authority to speak on them. This view is heretical, since it denies the authority given to the Pope at Vatican I.

This should surprise us little since they follow Lord Acton, an English liberal who denied the definition of Papal infallibility and died a heretic outside of the Church, according to several of his contemporaries. Economics, since it is based on the choices of men with their money, is bound up with social consequences which render the actions of men immoral or moral, and the Church has authority even to speak infallibly on those matters. Economics is not 2+2=4, it is a social science such as psychology, and is bound up inherently with moral behavior. Thus the Church has authority to speak on economic matters, even infallibly. It would be one thing if the Pope was trying to redefine necessary laws of economics, such as supply and demand, but he can say it is not moral to reduce everything (including employment) to a matter of supply and demand like some kind of Darwinian economic scheme. Moreover, while it is to be admitted that no ex cathedra statement exists on social teaching starting with Rerum Novarum onward, that is not grounds to reject the teaching, as say Wiegel does. Such a position is both intellectually facile and theologically dangerous, on par with the left which rejects Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on the same grounds (not being ex cathedra) and those who reject Vatican II out of hand as non-authoritative and binding. Ordinary magisterial teaching is an act of the teaching magisterium (which this encyclical forms a part) and as such is authoritative and requires a certain level of assent. It does not require absolute assent as an article of faith does, as in you can't question it in any way, but it does require obsequium religiosum, that is religious assent. It could also be translated as religious respect, or deference. It does not mean an absolute assent upon which your eternal salvation is based, that is what is required of Ex Cathedra teaching, the articles of faith of Popes and councils teaching from the extraordinary magisterium. With ordinary magisterial teaching that does not pertain to infallibility, one may suspend his Judgment and even his assent if the teaching is not sufficiently clear or if it appears to contradict former teaching, so long as the authority in question is still respected. In the case of a contradiction, the more recent teaching always gives way to the older teaching until the magisterium should clarify it. Thus with Humanae Vitae, the liberals are correct that the teaching is not ex cathedra, but in order to withhold one's assent there need to be proportionate grounds, namely that there is a contradiction in the tradition. No such contradiction exists, Humanae Vitae's teaching is consonant with the whole Church tradition in every way. There is not one dissension in the tradition.

By contrast liberals accept the current teaching of JPII on the death penalty which is in the catechism, even though it contradicts what the Church, and even Popes have declared historically on the right of the state to put a criminal to death for proportionate crimes against society. This shows that the left simply picks and chooses, which is modernism, truth begins in the individual. Thus, I'm thankful Wiegel and Novak have admitted what we already knew, they are both modernists, since there is no proportionate reason in the Church's tradition, that is in her magisterial teaching either among the Fathers or Popes and Councils for rejecting what the Church teaches on social issues. Wiegel's position is particularly defiant, the Pope didn't write this, it came from a committee, therefore I don't have to pay attention to it. Yet, there are many instances of documents written by others, even Rerum Novarum. Once the Pope puts his name on the document and promulgates it, it is authoritative unless by an act of the same Pope, the document is rescinded.

So where does this leave us with the encyclical? Before I move to my criticisms of it, there are positive elements which are wholly in accord with Catholic social thought over the centuries.

First of all, justice. Ubi societas, ibi ius: every society draws up its own system of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity[1], and intrinsic to it. (CV no 6)

This is an important point to preface the start of the encyclical with, because too often we fall into the trap of modernism with respect to business. We feel that business owes us because it is rich. For that matter, if one meets a person who is wealthier than him, there is not only the feeling of jealousy (why am I not "rich") but of a positive feeling that he owes you. This is where charity is not rooted in justice, but is rooted in the selfish wants of the individual, and hence not charity. Catholic social teaching can not seek to eliminate justice in order to attain a better situation for the poor. It can advocate and predicate changes to the system based on truth and charity, it can never advocate robbing the rich to give to the poor. Confiscating men's wealth unjustly and giving it to others to create some great society is an act of injustice and does nothing to help society here we don't speak of preferential option for the poor, or other things to help the poorest in their time of need, but attempts to keep the poor strung along with material goods that do nothing for their dignity, rather than creating opportunities for them to work and not depend on the state.
Another important consideration is the common good. To love someone is to desire that person's good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of “all of us”, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society[4]. It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or “city”. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis. (CV no 7 emphasis in the original)
It is good and useful that the Holy Father argues that we need to strive for the "real needs" of the other, and not perceived needs. This is not Celine Dion defending looters by saying "let them touch those things!" Justice and charity require us to create justice in society. We can not say "that's the market!" when the market creates injustices. Because the truth is the market does not create anything, that is a bonehead idea which we need to be cured of. Men make the marked do things through their decisions, and when they act unjustly something must be done about it. Moreover, Benedict with this last statement is contending that it is the polis, the state, as well as the individual who must seek to remedy social evils. The government is not this benign clockmaker akin to deist thought which must never be involved beyond a basic thing like creating security. Government itself is required to provide for the common good of its citizens, and one of those ways is by ensuring justice in the marketplace, as we shall see.
Man's earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family. In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations[5], in such a way as to shape the earthly city in unity and peace, rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the undivided city of God. (ibid)
This is also important in as much as the Pope is now taking reference to the family and society's obligation to provide for the common good of the family, and extending it to the global family, that is he is arguing that society is responsible for the effects of it's actions on other continents and to other people's. We'll see how this pans out later in the encyclical.
The Encyclical Humanae Vitae emphasizes both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexuality, thereby locating at the foundation of society the married couple, man and woman, who accept one another mutually, in distinction and in complementarity: a couple, therefore, that is open to life[27]. This is not a question of purely individual morality: Humanae Vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II's Encyclical Evangelium Vitae[28]. The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”[29] (no 15)
Here the Pope, while pointing us back to some of the more positive ends of Paul VI's pontificate, speaks of his document Populorum Progressio and Humanae Vitae, to highlight that social issues are bound up with life issues. There is a lot of truth to this and it is a serious problem for Austrian economists who deny that there is such a link or that the Church should make such a distinction. G.K. Chesterton in his essay Three foes of the Family, argues:
"It cannot be too often repeated that what destroyed the Family in the modern world was Capitalism. No doubt it might have been Communism, if Communism had ever had a chance, outside that semi-Mongolian wilderness where it actually flourishes. But so far as we are concerned, what has broken up households and encouraged divorces, and treated the old domestic virtues with more and more open contempt, is the epoch and power of Capitalism. It is Capitalism that has forced a moral feud and a commercial competition between the sexes; that has destroyed the influence of the parent in favor of the influence of the employer; that has driven men from their homes to look for jobs; that has forced them to live near their factories or their firms instead of near their families; and, above all, that has encouraged for commercial reasons, a parade of publicity and garish novelty, which is in its nature the death of all that was called dignity and modesty by our mothers and fathers. It is not the Bolshevist but the Boss, the publicity man, the salesman and the commercial advertiser who have, like a rush and riot of barbarians, thrown down and trampled under foot the ancient Roman statue of Verecundia."
In destroying the family, by bringing the wife and kids to work (at that time, now its daycare for the kids) and eliminating common life, the social evils of today are made possible. When the family breaks down, the traditional means of educating children to carry on society becomes flawed. It is misdirected and half learned. Support is not there when children run into problems. Why else do we have teen pregnancy, abortion, divorce, families who do not want to take care of the elderly abandoning them to homes, or euthanizing (murdering) them? We have it because the family, the social unit of society has broken down. Thus the Pope notes this very thing when linking the ills of society with life issues.
In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI taught that progress, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation: “in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfil himself, for every life is a vocation.”[34] This is what gives legitimacy to the Church's involvement in the whole question of development. If development were concerned with merely technical aspects of human life, and not with the meaning of man's pilgrimage through history in company with his fellow human beings, nor with identifying the goal of that journey, then the Church would not be entitled to speak on it. Paul VI, like Leo XIII before him in Rerum Novarum[35], knew that he was carrying out a duty proper to his office by shedding the light of the Gospel on the social questions of his time[36]. (CV no 16)

Again the Holy Father takes a swipe at the Austrian outlook. Progress, the improvement of technology, changes to business and society, need to be rooted not in the immediate end, but in the eternal end. Namely, we need to get to heaven, not make money and if our business actions have an ill effect on society, if progress leads us not to creating better lives for people trying to get to heaven but rather to make their lives more difficult, or take no account of their legitimate needs, one's business actions are no longer just. Benedict likewise calls the Church's social teaching a "duty of office". Every Pope since Leo XIII has considered it their duty to speak on social issues, and arguably bl. Pius IX as well although the dynamic was different in that time.
Besides requiring freedom, integral human development as a vocation also demands respect for its truth. The vocation to progress drives us to “do more, know more and have more in order to be more”[41]. But herein lies the problem: what does it mean “to be more”? Paul VI answers the question by indicating the essential quality of “authentic” development: it must be “integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man”[42]. Amid the various competing anthropological visions put forward in today's society, even more so than in Paul VI's time, the Christian vision has the particular characteristic of asserting and justifying the unconditional value of the human person and the meaning of his growth. The Christian vocation to development helps to promote the advancement of all men and of the whole man. (CV no 18, emphasis in original)
In other words the Church's vision of economic development can not be limited to a bottom line, it has to be oriented to the ultimate end of man, and justice owed to God or else it is completely invalid and a waste of time. It is not sufficient for more wealth to be produced in society, or for everyone to have the latest technological toy if man is not advancing to his ultimate goal, if justice is lacking in society.

These are all insights from Paul VIs encyclical Populorum Progressio which he is bringing back to our consideration. In chapter 2, the Pope moves to the current state of affairs in the world.
Paul VI had an articulated vision of development. He understood the term to indicate the goal of rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy. From the economic point of view, this meant their active participation, on equal terms, in the international economic process; from the social point of view, it meant their evolution into educated societies marked by solidarity; from the political point of view, it meant the consolidation of democratic regimes capable of ensuring freedom and peace. (CV no. 21)
Although I have no love for democracy either as an ideal or a political system, it is worth noting that flawed political systems can work. In the Church's language since the council, there are often useless references to "democracy" as an end in itself, especially under JPII. What is useful in this reference, is the Holy Father qualifies democracy with "capable of ensuring freedom and peace". Thus not democracy just for the sake of it, but democracy based on the same principles of limited government as medieval monarchy, for those principles are the only thing which can give freedom and peace. Bloated oligarchies masquerading as democracy (such as ours or most of Europe) only lead to injustice, and consequently war.
We recognize, therefore, that the Church had good reason to be concerned about the capacity of a purely technological society to set realistic goals and to make good use of the instruments at its disposal. Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, [free market economics] if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty. (Ibid)
Again, what can someone from Acton or Von Mises say in response to that, except to reject the encyclical as Wiegel and Novak have? The main idea of Austrian economics is that the profit motive in and of itself moves the most able men in society to produce and improve society, and if in the process self sufficient people get replaced by wage earners or poor dependent upon the state for survival, this is not an economic problem because it produced success in the one individual.
It is true that growth has taken place, and it continues to be a positive factor that has lifted billions of people out of misery — recently it has given many countries the possibility of becoming effective players in international politics. Yet it must be acknowledged that this same economic growth has been and continues to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems, highlighted even further by the current crisis. This presents us with choices that cannot be postponed concerning nothing less than the destiny of man, who, moreover, cannot prescind from his nature. The technical forces in play, the global interrelations, the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing, large-scale migration of peoples, often provoked by some particular circumstance and then given insufficient attention, the unregulated exploitation of the earth's resources: all this leads us today to reflect on the measures that would be necessary to provide a solution to problems that are not only new in comparison to those addressed by Pope Paul VI, but also, and above all, of decisive impact upon the present and future good of humanity. (Ibid, emphasis in the original, my emphasis)
This is probably one of the most useful sections in the whole encylical, if only for the mention of
"real economy". What does the "real economy" mean? It is a term that has come into parlance in recent years to denote real wealth produced from tangible sources, fields, mines, forests and fisheries, as opposed to wealth produced ex nihilo through financial dealing, such as banking and dividends, stock portfolios here today and vanishing tomorrow, which has come to be termed the "financial economy."

Thus the problem is not that there is too much regulation, as the free marketeers would have it, but the wrong regulation to direct the progress of society in accord with the common good, and while wealth is growing, it is not widely distributed, that is, we do not find well divided property or access to new technologies which are being developed, they are rather restricted to the wealthy classes, as we see in the rest of this paragraph and in nos. 23-24.
Today, as we take to heart the lessons of the current economic crisis, which sees the State's public authorities directly involved in correcting errors and malfunctions, it seems more realistic to re-evaluate their role and their powers, which need to be prudently reviewed and remodelled so as to enable them, perhaps through new forms of engagement, to address the challenges of today's world. Once the role of public authorities has been more clearly defined, one could foresee an increase in the new forms of political participation, nationally and internationally, that have come about through the activity of organizations operating in civil society; in this way it is to be hoped that the citizens' interest and participation in the res publica will become more deeply rooted. (CV no 24)
Here again the Pope is saying we need correct regulation to guide the conducting of economic affairs, not according to a semi-socialist vision where the government takes over companies. What needs to be done
In the context of this discussion, it is helpful to observe that business enterprise involves a wide range of values, becoming wider all the time. The continuing hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State has accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other. In reality, business has to be understood in an articulated way. There are a number of reasons, of a meta-economic kind, for saying this. Business activity has a human significance, prior to its professional one[98]. It is present in all work, understood as a personal action, an “actus personae[99], which is why every worker should have the chance to make his contribution knowing that in some way “he is working ‘for himself'”[100]. (CV no. 41)
This is yet another call for the meaning and dignity of work, and for us to escape the Scylla and Charybdis of Capitalism and Socialism. The Holy Father is calling us to transcend both systems and bring business back to human activity concerned with human beings not the bottom line of the capitalist or the quotas of a state political officer. Is the Pope calling for Distributism? In a way we could say that, however, without making special mention of the term or its adherents (particularly Chesterton and Belloc, both of whose families received telegrams from Pius XI and XII, I'm sure the Pope knows who they are) it would be rather shallow to claim this line of thinking for us exclusively as the Acton Institute or other libertarian think tanks have, particularly as there are things in this encyclical which should make a Distributist nervous, such as the an apparent violation of the principle of subsidiarity, but we will deal with that in the next post.

However it would be correct to say that Distributism proposes to conform economy to Catholic social teaching, and right here the Holy Father is speaking of moving the game away from principles of economy which address the system only, or utopian ideologies that put the state in charge of the family. He is talking about how to make the family, and the human being doing the work in particular, important in the economic process, since currently he is just a mere variable in an equation. Because for the Pope the individual precedes business, his needs and his dignity precede it and transcend it, business is part of the journey of man to his final end (heaven in case any capitalist is now thinking of the boon to the mortuary business) and needs to be considered within the integral nature of the person. The Pope is also saying, what we have now ain't working, and he isn't speaking of the economic crisis, but of the model in which it came into being. He brings this out more in the rest of the article:
It is in response to the needs and the dignity of the worker, as well as the needs of society, that there exist various types of business enterprise, over and above the simple distinction between “private” and “public”. Each of them requires and expresses a specific business capacity. In order to construct an economy that will soon be in a position to serve the national and global common good, it is appropriate to take account of this broader significance of business activity. It favours cross-fertilization between different types of business activity, with shifting of competences from the “non-profit” world to the “profit” world and vice versa, from the public world to that of civil society, from advanced economies to developing countries. (ibid)
In other words, business has a vocation to serve the common good not merely its profit margin, and in an increasingly globalized society it is not merely the common good of a given nation which must be considered, but of the maximum number of people on the earth affected by our business and financial decisions. If we are going to consider the common good of the globalized society, it in fact means the common good of everyone. Thus economic responsibility is not to shareholders alone, or owners alone, but to everyone affected by the businesses' decisions.

Now that of course leads to the most troubling and difficult part of the encyclical, to which we will draw this reading to a close. What consequences are there for realizing the need to conform business to a global common good?
In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect[146] and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago. Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good[147], and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights[148]. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums. Without this, despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations. (CV no. 67)
First off, any libertarian reading of this document is dead with this passage, there is no way around it. Secondly, there is an interior contradiction which should give us pause. A world body governing world finance according to subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity is that the smallest possible unit should govern a thing, operate a thing or conduct a thing. If a group of 10 people running automated machines to produce computer chips and parts who co-own are able to produce computer parts more efficiently or as efficiently as a large factory with underpaid employees, it ought to as the smaller unit. If government can govern more efficiently as a smaller unit than a larger, bloated bureaucracy, it should. The whole history of large and expansive governments, from the first one world government of the Roman Empire to the present with large bloated oligarchies masquerading as democracies shows us that big government does only one thing, get bigger. There is no way to sufficiently regulate or limit the power of government to prevent it from pursuing its own interests, or from being beholden to the more powerful nations, because the more power nations will fund the thing. The only governments that run on the principle of subsidiarity are those which are small, and accountable to the local populace.

I think in an ideal world where nations were animated with charity for their fellow man and desired to make decisions for the common good, such an institution would follow naturally from the continued linking of society through technology. Following from such an idealistic view one would want a world court, a world political authority which could uphold international law. Such however given the militant Christophobic nature of modern governments in wealthy and powerful nations (US, UK, the EU, etc.) that anyone could seriously make this assertion let alone the Pope should give us pause. Who helped the Pope write this encyclical, and are we bound to it?

We are not bound to this proposition that we require a one world government firstly because it contains an interior contradiction which I have mentioned. It says a one world government needs to run on subsidiarity when the definition of such a thing is contrary to the principle of subsidiarity. It is little different than saying a bachelor is a married man or there are four persons in the Trinity, they are self contradictory.

Secondly, it is on faith and morals which we are required to render obsequium religiosum to the Pope when he teaches the whole Church using the ordinary magisterium. Therefore a political suggestion can not qualify as faith and morals, since it is not connected so intrinsically with the concept of the common good or any other moral teaching so that it could be said to be connected inherently with a morals teaching. The conduct of business is a question of morals, the conduct of governments is also a question of morals and requires our respect, even if we suspend our judgment over things unclear until they are made sufficiently clear. The nature of the governments, or what might ideally be the best government is not a question for morals. Nevertheless this statement raises other questions about this encyclical, which we will address in the next section.


Richard,  Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 5:30:00 AM CDT  

I don't suppose there's a possiblity that maybe, just maybe, the Pope being only a human being may actually be wrong sometimes?

What happens when a Pope contradicts an earlier Pope?

Anonymous,  Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 9:35:00 AM CDT  

This is a helpful analysis, and I look forward to part II.

Undoubtedly, the folks at Mises are wailing and gnashing their teeth (I know at least one of them is for sure).

I think you are on weaker ground with the Acton folks. They serve as a useful boogeyman, but I'd actually like to see you dive into one of Sam Gregg's or Kishore Jayabalan's commentaries and point out their dishonesty. Sirico is certainly a fellow traveler with Weigel and Novak, but I think he is less committed to their ideological project than you assume. (I know all of the men just mentioned).

Most of the Catholics at Acton want to think with the Church and I think have been generously docile since the encyclical was released.

In fairness, I think you should reexamine your analysis, or give the rest of us some concrete examples before you continue to profane them. I understand the ideological hothouse of academic disputes, but we're all on the same team at the end of the day. The distinction is between those that want to think with the Church, and those that want to pursue their own ideologies. Most of the Acton folks are in the former camp. Remember, truth is powerless without charity (the whole point of the encyclical.).

Also, this is not a distributist document. Distributism has not been discredited. Rather, this speaks to the treetops rather than the grassroots. But what we really needed was an enyclical that spoke to the grassroots (distributism).

The problem with modern Catholic social thought (since John xxiii) is that it has sought to moderate liberal institutions rather than articulate first principles and build up from there. In other words, we start from a policy position, and then baptize it using the tradition. This, I think is a fool's errand, and why all sorts of groups affiliated with the USCCB like Catholic Charities will promote policy solutions that appear to have good intentions, but are radical assaults on the distributist society.

Again, I look forward to round two.


Sean DeWitt Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 9:54:00 AM CDT  


I understand your objection to the ‘world government,’ however I don’t believe though not explicitly stated that the Pope is calling for a world power that ignores subsidiary. The Church itself has a ‘world government’ in the Vatican, yet still remains to hold the principle of subsidiary. For the Church the Bishop’s have most of the day-to-day power and even more than that the pastors and leaders of religious orders.

If the ‘world government’ that Pope Benedict is calling for is as you describe it, I am opposed. But I think the ‘world government’ that the Pope is calling for is more along the lines of how the Church is organized, which has vast amount of power on the local level.

Sincerely in Christ,

Sean DeWitt

John Médaille Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 10:07:00 AM CDT  

Sean, I think your comments are directed towards me rather than Athanasius, the author of this post. You are correct that Benedict is very explicit in this encyclical about subsidiarity, and everything he writes about gov't has to be interpreted in that light. Subsidiarity is not anarchism; it is not about "no gov't" or even about "only local gov't." Rather it states that every level of gov't must serve the lowest level of gov't, and especially that little gov't known as the family.

I think the Pope is right: in a world were there is world trade we need a world organization to regulate so that trade disputes do not end in war (as is common in history). We need a "WTO," we just don't need the WTO we have, which is a servant of the rich.

Sean DeWitt Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 10:26:00 AM CDT  


Sorry for my mistake. I was unaware of the different author because it didn't state the author in the beginning.

I am glad to see that we have an acord on this issue. The encyclical is the first I have read on my own outside of class and I have found it very fruitful in understanding the 'moral state of affairs' if you will.

afitz211,  Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 10:55:00 AM CDT  

I have a question for either author of this post. I was wondering what your thoughts were on interpreting the system of world government as a form of global federalism (which gives certain powers to the states and to the different levels of government.) The Pope in this encyclical never mentions the idea outright, but in the idea of subsidiarity there seems to be a notion that this is what he could be talking about.
I also want to point out to be fair to the Libertarian perspective is that their notion of government being about the people is something which the encyclical affirms. However, where Libertarianism falls into error is how that political movement understands freedom as license rather than as a gift from God. I mention this; however, because if we do more to point out the common ground that other non-mainstream groups have with our position, then it will be easier to build collective action which serves the common good.



Athanasius Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 11:44:00 AM CDT  

What happens when a Pope contradicts an earlier Pope?

One goes with the prior teaching unless the magisterium can demonstrate a reason why the prior teaching was flawed. Pius XII did this in Sacramentum Ordinis when he declared the form and matter of Holy Orders, and that the handing on of the paten and chalice was a later add on and not part of the actual rite. It had been assumed so for years. Pius XII very clearly and with evidence demonstrated why the old teaching was flawed. If that doesn't happen, one is free to follow the prior teaching until the contradiction has sufficiently been clarified.

Athanasius Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 11:48:00 AM CDT  

Also, this is not a distributist document.

I explicitly said that. There are distributist ideas in all social teaching, or, ideas which distributists claim as their first principles, but no document even Rerum Novarm is "distributist" so to speak. This one is the least so.

The problem with modern Catholic social thought (since John xxiii) is that it has sought to moderate liberal institutions rather than articulate first principles and build up from there. In other words, we start from a policy position, and then baptize it using the tradition. This, I think is a fool's errand, and why all sorts of groups affiliated with the USCCB like Catholic Charities will promote policy solutions that appear to have good intentions, but are radical assaults on the distributist society.

That is exactly the problem. There is less clarity. Leo XIII and Pius XI had a basic program, give people a share in the land (real economy), establish organizations to defend them, and the problem of wealth and capital will begin to change positively. This encyclical outlines some good ideas and principles, but offers few solutions.

Athanasius Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 12:17:00 PM CDT  

The Church itself has a ‘world government’ in the Vatican, yet still remains to hold the principle of subsidiary. For the Church the Bishop’s have most of the day-to-day power and even more than that the pastors and leaders of religious orders.

There is a difference between ecclesiastical government and political government, the former is constituted by Divine Will, while the latter is constituted by human creation. The authority given to the bishops to rule and guide, and likewise the Pope is a necessary creation of divine command, and is necessarily suited to the task given them. Now the Church in her temporal government can in fact violate subsidiarity, as we see with Bishops' conferences which are bloated bureaucracies that produce little and obscure much, the Vatican offices of media relations and various councils have long ceased to be efficient, precisely because they don't work on the principle of subsidiarity but have modeled themselves off of modern businesses.

I think the Pope is right: in a world were there is world trade we need a world organization to regulate so that trade disputes do not end in war (as is common in history). We need a "WTO," we just don't need the WTO we have, which is a servant of the rich.

I'm open to the fact that I could be wrong, but I don't believe what the Pope is calling for is realistic. Again, who would establish a world trade organization? The wealthy Christophobic nations who currently run the UN, the EU, the WHO and WTO and IMF. Is the Pope right that such a thing may be ideal? Perhaps. Yet the Holy Father gives us no proposal by which we could make the beginnings of creating such an institution. Moreover, would China and India (already vexed by western attempts to interfere with their economies for their own benefits) be willing to form a body enshrining the principles the Pope proposes? Would Russia? The former Eastern Bloc? The US, especially with Catholics of the caliber we have seen in public life? Its highly unrealistic, and the Pope offers us no road to get there.

I think you are on weaker ground with the Acton folks. They serve as a useful boogeyman, but I'd actually like to see you dive into one of Sam Gregg's or Kishore Jayabalan's commentaries and point out their dishonesty.

That's more than a fair criticism. I'll update this with specifics that I read a while back, although it is already very long.

John Médaille Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 1:02:00 PM CDT  

Athanasius, it all depends on what one means by "realistic." What most people seem to mean by realism is "conformity with current political lunacy." What I mean is "conformity with the real nature of things."

International cooperation is actually both quite common and generally successful. The failures may be spectacular, but there are hundreds of aspects of our lives which depend on such agreements, including our ability to type these messages on the internet and have them read by somebody in New York or New Delhi. So it is not "unrealistic" on its face.

I am not at all worried about the values of Buddhists or Hindus; with them I will always have something in common. I am worried about the values of modernists; with them there is little to talk about. But the "modern" is coming to an end; I am more concerned with what comes next.

Benedict may be the biggest realist of all.

Athanasius Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 1:32:00 PM CDT  

International cooperation is actually both quite common and generally successful. The failures may be spectacular, but there are hundreds of aspects of our lives which depend on such agreements, including our ability to type these messages on the internet and have them read by somebody in New York or New Delhi. So it is not "unrealistic" on its face.


That is because it is within their interest to do so. International agreements exist because it is in the interest of governments and corporations. In other instances, such as my fair trade organic coffee, is too small of a blip to matter (give the FDA time). What interest is there in the wealthy and powerful nations subjecting their interests to the needs of the global common good? American and European policy for 50 years (if not the last 300) has been highly detrimental to South America and Africa, and continues to be so to the point where our State department considers it a threat that Africans might develop their own resources and we can't steal them.

I have no problem with the fact that there are international agreements and the nations of the world could agree on things or even establish regulatory bodies. I do have a problem with the idea that they will adhere to the common good. We can't even do that in America and scarcely more in Europe.

I am not at all worried about the values of Buddhists or Hindus; with them I will always have something in common. I am worried about the values of modernists; with them there is little to talk about. But the "modern" is coming to an end; I am more concerned with what comes next.

Benedict may be the biggest realist of all.

The point about the Indians is that according to everything I have read they are more and more annoyed with Western proposals for them to hinder their development and it would seem to me be unlikely to join up with an international partnership, at least not unless they were given a substantial stake in the regulation.

Overall, let me put it this way, I would be happy if that were the case, but I don't see it.

John Médaille Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 1:37:00 PM CDT  

As long as modernism is the case, the common good will not be the rule, since for the modernist the CG is merely the summation of individual goods arrived at by calculations of self-interest. But modernism is antique, outmoded, and passing, and we need not confine our thinking to that antique rule.

Bsdouglass Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 4:28:00 PM CDT  

Very good piece, I look forward to Part II.

If anyone is interested in the Mises Institute response here it is:

It's quite an insightful read. (and not done by Tom Woods),  Friday, August 7, 2009 at 11:41:00 AM CDT  

I have to say that I disagree with any idea of governmental organization that dictates policy over nation states because

I think that defines Imperialism.
cooperation can be done via treaty agreement so why do we need World Imperial Bodies to regulate anything?

On what basis do you deny the sovereignty of the nation-state?

According to "Caritas in Veritate" the reason is because unrelenting growth of global interdependence but I see an assumption here that I don't agree with namely that growth in global interdependence is somehow the inevitable, natural, and desirable.

Globalization and interdependence was imposed by the Christophobic Oligarch of the Anglo-American Establishment (called the British Empire prior to WW2) on the basis that national sovereignty was too unstable.

Quote from David Rockerfeller: “It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subject to the bright lights of publicity during those years. But, the world is now more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto determination practiced in past centuries."

By it was the system of those very Oligarchs that created the instability by putting states against each other and denying them the right to develop.

So saying we need another Imperial organization because the current model of forced interdependence created by free trade, debt and speculation is causing a crisis is like giving poisoned food to starving man.

The world needs more respect for national sovereignty and basis for international should be based on ideas of a peace that worked.

The real basis for international peace and cooperation is not a supranational body but the principles introduced by the great Cardinal Mazarin mainly the “advantage of the other.”

The only real basis for peace is that principle of Catholic charity and that idea must govern relations between nation states than any forced imposed over nation states.

When concept of making the nation states weak and interdependent is destroyed and instead strong independent sovereign developed nation states are allowed to flourish then their cooperation will be of a much greater effect just as the cooperation of efforts of independent skilled adults is more productive than a gang of children run by bully.

I submit that idea of any political authority over the nation is against natural law because the basis of human development is found in language culture and if the natural political formation based such language culture form a Subsidiarity and if you attempt to imposed on it a foreign i.e. supranation governance you will in effect deny the development potential of that Subsidiarity because its effect denying a nation the ability to govern itself and you are denying that nation can formulate for itself the necessary language culture needed for it to exist.

In short, attempting to rule over a people not your own is folly and it will destroy both them and you and therefore Empire and World Government must be rejected in all of its forms. Only by understanding that republican freedom (the freedom act towards the common good) for all separate language culture groups is only and final form of human government that is for every nation has right to a republican state i.e. to be ruled by and for the “common wealth” of the people.

Bsdouglass Friday, August 7, 2009 at 4:18:00 PM CDT  

I'm all for bringing back the Holy Roman Empire...which is what I'm hoping the Pope meant.

Johannes,  Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 7:12:00 PM CDT  

There are two statements in CV that are very interesting from a Peak Oil-aware perspective.

CV 44, second paragraph:

"On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified labourers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs."

Thus, it is desirable that a country's birth rate never falls beneath "replacement level", or in equivalent terms, that a country's population never declines. (Actually the text could even be construed as saying that such a low birth rate is a highly undesirable case, not the only undesirable case.) Therefore, a country's population has only one acceptable way to go: up. And so does the world's population, since it is the sum of all countries'.

CV 50:

"On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself — God's gift to his children — and through hard work and creativity."

Obviously "room" does not refer to "physical space", since even deserts provide it: it refers to the availability of "the resources to live with dignity". Thus, the above statement says, in other words, that the Earth's carrying capacity can accomodate "everyone", "the entire human family". But "the entire human family" in 1800 was much smaller than that in 1900 which in turn was much smaller than today's. So, to what time's "entire human family" is the Pope referring? Clearly to any time's. Therefore, the Pope is stating that the Earth's carrying capacity can accomodate "everyone" living at any time, which obviously includes today.

If we now take this statement together with that in #44 quoted above, (any country's - and therefore the world's - population should only go up), the Pope is saying that the Earth's carrying capacity can accomodate an indefinitely large number of people. (Unless we assume that the second coming will occur before the world's population reaches Earth's carrying capacity, a statement that neither looks like a solid theological proposition nor was probably in the Pope's mind when he wrote that.)

Clearly the quoted statements are not definitive (and thus infallible) teachings. But how authoritative are they? Let's take into account at this point the profession of faith in JPII's motu proprio "Ad Tuendam Fidem":

“Moreover I adhere with submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”

Thus the key point is: are the quoted statements "magisterial teachings" or "personal opinions"?

Athanasius Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:10:00 PM CDT  

The first of the quoted statements is an opinion connected with moral truths. A society with birthrates going down due to contraception will reap various curses, and they are legion.

Secondly, the Pope's analysis on the space on the earth should be taken for its obvious meaning, and it is authoritative (i.e. we need to adhere to it unless we can find compelling evidence in the tradition to question it) because it is the consequence of teachings of the Church, principally creation and divine economy. This is why I always argue that belief in unstoppable manmade global warming is nothing more than superstition, because God would not put us here and give us the creative intellect to make machines that would make human life unsustainable on the planet. Likewise with population. There are numerous factors which will always keep the human population in check, disease, war, natural disasters, sins due to fallen human nature such as murder and its derivatives, accidents, etc. The human birthrate may be going up in the mean but in the end net gains are moderated by natural forces. The fact remains that the earth could hold many times the number of people who now inhabit it, and on a long term scale due to forces of nature deaths and births will allow for a stable growth making use of the resources. Thus the Pope is correct in a strict sense that the earth will always be able to sustain human life because natural forces will limit human population. Besides that there are health epidemics around the corner (and I don't mean swine flu) which will make the population of 2009 look more like 1809.

Johannes,  Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 3:08:00 PM CDT  

Athanasius, as you point out, the Pope's view/teaching in #50 is related to biblical teaching about creation, specifically to Gen 1:28: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it."

The key point is that there are two possible ways to interpret the command in Gen 1:28:

A: "multiply indefinitely"

B: "multiply till you fill the earth".

The Pope's view/teaching amounts to interpretation A. (BTW, I assume you are aware that "stable growth" leads to indefinitely large numbers over time.) As far as I know, this interpretation has never been defined as "the" correct one by the Magisterium, so that the situation here might be like that of geocentrism in the XVII century. But I certainly respect your view that A is "the" interpretation and that the Pope's point is a teaching, so that "Roma locuta, causa finita" and I will not talk about case B any further.

Best to you.

Boniface Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 8:19:00 AM CDT  


There is one other interpretation of Genesis 1 which you are neglecting. Besides, "Multiply indefinitely" and "multiply until you fill the earth", it could just mean "multiply" with no qualifiers; i.e., do what is natural and don't actively try to inhibit multiplying, which is different than either of your first two interpretations.

Johannes,  Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 5:35:00 PM CDT  


as I see it, your interpretation of "multiply" with no qualifiers is practically equivalent to "multiply indefinitely".

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