Middle Ground Between Storck and Sirico?

The inspiration for this essay is recent a vivid critique of the libertarian-Catholic Acton Institute and it's front man, Fr. Robert Sirico, written by Thomas Storck, an authority on distributism. There is much in this critique that is true, and I will not necessarily be questioning its accuracy. Rather my primary task will be to show the unexplored areas of thought and raise questions as to the viability of collaboration between what appear to be, at first glance, mutually exclusive movements.

There are two things that Thomas Storck argues that are unquestionably true: 1) That Fr. Sirico hasprofoundly misread John Paul II's encyclical Centesiums Annus (and "misread" is a charitable interpretation), which in no uncertain terms condemns a radical capitalist ideology, keeping with his other encyclicals such as Laborem Exercens, and in no way conflates sexual and economic libertinism, and 2) that the Papacy, historically and traditionally, has accepted a much larger role for the state in economic affairs.

In other words, the Acton libertarians are fundamentally wrong on a point of Catholic social teaching, and their errors, as Storck I think rightly points out, are rooted in the assumption that if libertarian philosophical assumptions collapse, "then logically Fr. Sirico's entire enterprise will fall." What I submit here is that it is not logically necessary that libertarianism as a whole has nothing important to say to Catholics because of its deeper philosophical errors. Furthermore, a distributist-libertarian alliance is an idea that is long overdue for serious consideration.

My intention is not to belittle philosophical disputes. But as something of a pragmatist myself, I have come to see that in many cases they serve to merely obstruct or obscure truths that are applicable to the social problem at hand, but which lie outside of the conflict of the contending philosophies. Additionally, not enough work is done to root out those areas of the contending philosophies that actually do overlap. Thus I submit two propositions: 1) that the philosophical dispute between libertarianism, CST, and distributism has obscured practical ways in which Catholics of different philosophical persuasions might collaborate, and 2) that the philosophical dispute itself does not need to end in the total destruction of one of the contending philosophies.

Read the rest here.


John Médaille Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 1:43:00 PM CST  

It depends on which libertarians. The mutualistts we have worked with for a long time. But the Acton Institute and the Austrians are simply stalking horses for corporate control. The problem with pragmatism is that it is a matter of playing the game; just make sure you are playing your game and not theirs.

Mises insisted that Christianity and capitalism were incompatible. I agree with him: you have to make a choice.

Robert Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:04:00 PM CST  

Agreed. Depends on the libertarians, many of whom call themselves libertarian simply because they don't know what a distributist is. Acton, though, is a Trojan horse hoping to enter Christianity and adapt it to the demands of the fundamentalist Liberalism that it serves. It must be kept outside of the gates.

Mr. Piccolo,  Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:57:00 PM CST  


As I see it, one of the major problems with classical liberalism is that it no longer really exists, and perhaps cannot be revived, as a practical ideology. As the 19th Century wore on, it became clear to many people that classical liberalism had no answers to the various vexing problems that the Industrial Revolution had created. That is why many classical liberals transformed into progressive liberals and accepted a greater role for the State in the society and economy.

I am not sure when you could date the definitive end of authentic classical liberalism as a living ideology, but the Great Depression was probably the last nail in the coffin.

I would also point out that the historical failures of classical liberalism probably go a long way towards explaining why various right-wing political parties, including the Republican Party, have not completely dismantled the Keynesian state (much to the chagrin of libertarian conservatives). These parties likely know that if they completely dismantled the Keynesian state and returned to an authentic, classically liberal economy, the economy would probably collapse.

As to the philosophical side of the issue, I can’t really add much to Mr. Storck’s excellent article. But I will mention that it is interesting that the harshest critics of capitalism were probably the old-style traditionalist conservatives, and I am including Marx and the Marxists in my assessment.

I think the strongest critique of capitalism that I have ever read came from the Vicomte de Bonald.

Iosue Andreas Sartorius Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:26:00 AM CST  

Comments from a reader on my blog deserve a wider audience -- The Austrian School and Distibutivism:

I think that the foregoing reconcilation of Austro-libertarianism with distributivism is, indeed, an extremely important project (not only from a theoretical standpoint, but also as a means of keeping otherwise well-intentioned believers in each of these schools of thought from killing each other).

This reconciliation is one to which I have given a great deal of thought in the last several years (after being convinced by the rigor of the Austrian School, but also lured by the beauty of the Distributivist vision, as well as the social thought of William Cobbett, John Ruskin, William Morris, etc.

I am also interested in reconciling Austro-libertarianism with (a) the social, ontological, and liturgical insights of Radical Orthodox theologicans such as John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock (when ripped from its Anglican context and made fully Catholic), (b) and the permaculture of Bill Mollison and Paul Stametz (sp?), and (c) and the agrarianism of Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin.

Here are a few points that ought to be attended to in attempting to bring about the reconcilation of Austro-libertarianism with Distibutism:

Iosue Andreas Sartorius Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:27:00 AM CST  


(1) Land reform and other one-off property redestributions commended by Agrarians, such as Cobbett, and the Distributivists can be justified, but not on account of the injustice of big land holdings per se, but rather, as restitution for certain prior acts of aggression and conquest which allowed for the agglomeration of those holdings in the first place. In other words, the ground for effecting such a coercive redestribution is not some patterned theory of justice (that only small holdings can ever be legitimate), but on a historical one (that, in point of fact, the only way that such large holdings ever arose was through robbery and/or cooperation with the state in enclosure movements, the expropriating of cottagers, etc.

(2) The well-being and virtues of the petit-bourgeosie class farmers, artisans, and shopkeepers, and of economic decentralism more generally, can and should be unabashedly promoted (as per the suggestion of John Zmirak in a recent article), and this non-coercive promotion of these and other ends such as bio-regionalism/permaculture, hospitality and almsgiving (and other concern to the poor), and a public liturgical cycle of both asceticism and festivity , should be thought of as part and parcel of our political programme (this, then would be a very thick version of libertarianism,or voluntary solidariam), and not as mere non-political preferences which are matters of indifference politically. The Church (broadly considered) ought to be considered the ultimate site of such non-coercive politics (as such non-coercive politics has been sketched out in Geoffrey Plauche's recent work). Nonetheless, we ought of course to cooperate and ally ourselves with those advancing thinner versions of libertarianism when it comes to advocating the libertarian conception of justice and condemning violations thereof. Where we will dissent is in insisting that there are virtues other than justice (such as loyalty, generosity, etc., that are also absolutely necessary for the flourishing of social life, and in fact, in there absence, justice itself cannot long be maintained).

Iosue Andreas Sartorius Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:28:00 AM CST  


(3) It should be remembered that much of the criticism of "Capitalism," whether in the works of the Distributists or elsewhere is really a critique of the prevailing system of state-capitalism (or the misdoings of neo-liberalism abroad) and not of the free market as such. At this point the work of left-libertarians and mutualists (e.g. Roderick Long, Charles Johnson, and Kevin Carson) can go along way. This requires reading charitably the works of others who may advocate a "socialism" that has absolutely nothing to do with state ownership of the means of production or command economies. Furthermore, even a perfectly free market (populated by fallen men) will require prophetic denunciations of greed and preoccupations with the glittering distractions of this-wordliness.

(4) The only thing I thing I think Roepke, the Distributists, and the Southern Agrarians missed was that that that they tended to think that the competitive market led inexorably over time to the the consolidation of industry in fewer and fewer hands. Because of this, they tended to think that (even, absent any aggression or conquest) periodic land reform would have to take place to prevent undue aggregation, or that certain industries would likely need to be either strictly-regulated or nationalized and run for the public weal. On this point, the New Left historiagraphy of Gabriel Kolko and William Appleman Williams is absolutely crucial in showing that most "anti-trust" agitation and other progressive legislation supposedly put forward to reign in the excesses of Big Business were really pushed through by those self-same Big Business interests to prevent the competition of new entrants from cutting into their profit margins. Again, the work of Kevin Carson is of huge help here.

(5) Finally, I think that there is a problem with "political individualism" when taken to require that only natural persons can hold property, enter into binding contracts, sue and be sued etc. At this point, the work of Robert Nisbet, Otto von Gierke, and others has shown that the State has selectively used such individualism to weak and/or eradicate all other institutional and associational forms that stood intermediate between the individual and the state. This means vigorously denying the concession theory of corporations (that all non-natural legal persons are legal fictions, stemming from state privilege); and it also means, promoting the sort of Social Pluralism advocated by Robert Nisbet and illustrated in the work of legal historian Harold Berman in his masterful study Law and Revolution.

Joe Hargrave Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:07:00 AM CST  

I appreciate the comments, and I wish I recognized and were familiar with more of the names - I evidently have a lot of reading to do in the future.

One thing I wish to make clear, however, is that I in no way endorse either left or right versions of anarchism; that is either anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, or anarcho-capitalism.

I have no interest in debating the legitimacy of the state, or the US Constitution.

Regarding the original post, which quotes Thomas Woods, there are problems there of the type I wish to avoid. How can he say that the Church "couldn't" have a problem with an arrangement simply because it was voluntary and non-violent?

There are a number of immoral, anti-social behaviors that fall into that category. Now while the response to such behavior may vary, to suggest there is not, or could not be, a moral issue to be resolved is simply a falsehood.

Even on the issue of wages, Pope Leo insisted that voluntary agreement was not a sufficient condition for economic justice - on that point, I wholly concur.

Where we might agree is that the resolution is best left to the local government as much as possible.

Chris Campbell Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:32:00 AM CST  

John, good comments.

Siricio is a i think a wolve let loose in the farm....or a fox in hen house if you will....I could say more, but trying to be, also, charitable....some libertarians we can work with, but some are really no all as libertarian as they think they are...

Joe Hargrave Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:42:00 AM CST  

I think it is counterproductive to say to people identify as libertarians, "you're not 'really' a libertarian."

I think we have to make a distinction between anarcho-capitalists on the one hand, and constitutionalists on the other. A libertarian who acknowledges the US constitution and the right of effective local governments to exist is an ally. An anarcho-capitalist who insists on the abolition of the state and that voluntarism is the only moral criteria is not.

What I reject is the notion that we be rigidly guided by labels. People are always more complex than the labels they adopt, and no current of thought is 100% pure and right, unable to mingle with others lest it lose the luster of its halo.

Robert Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:10:00 AM CST  

That is true of individual libertarians. It is not true, though, of the Acton Institute. It is a creation and arm of the Atlas Foundation, the core mission of which is proselytization of a Randian worldview.

Joe Hargrave Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:17:00 PM CST  

We must always oppose Objectivism, as I indicated in my piece. It is extremely hostile to Christianity.

Is it accurate to identify libertarianism as such, with Objectivism? I don't think so at all.

When I look at the "Core Principles" of the Acton Institute, I do not see the promulgation of an Objectivist worldview, which is atheist and radically individualistic. Whether or not they are engaging in deception, I will not say - I refuse to engage in speculation of that sort without evidence.

Robert Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:34:00 PM CST  

You can't say the same of its parent organization, which creates, funds, and promotes multiple platforms (Acton being just one of many) tailored to proselytize its message to various niche markets. The horse, of course, does not openly reveal to the Trojans that it hides Greeks within.

Chris Campbell Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:57:00 PM CST  

Acton is backed if i recall by the Amway founders..which are tied to GOP and one of the family I recall has a Blackwater type organization...best to work with semi-libertarians or quasi-libertarians, but would avoid Acton/Siricio at all costs

Joe Hargrave Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:48:00 PM CST  

I think we ought to be open to anyone who is open to us. That is my operating principle.

If they're willing to say, "yes, we agree with you on these points, and we can work together in spite of our disagreements on these other points", I see absolutely no reason to reject that.

All collaboration, if it is to be fruitful and honest, comes with reasonable conditions to which both sides agree. So it never ought to be assumed that I advocate liquidation for the sake of unity.

John Médaille Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:01:00 PM CST  

Ah, "open to us." That's precisely the problem. I don't see anywhere that they are. There are some simularities in some positions. But they are certainly not open to us in the way that we are, for example, to the mutualists, Georgists, guild socialists, the ESOP people, or the like. If you think they are open to us, then you haven't been reading Woods or Tucker, or pretty much any of them.

John Médaille Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:02:00 PM CST  

However, I do think this whole topic is worth a symposium, with yourself, Joshua, the commenter on his web-site, Kevin Carson, and our regular commentators.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 1:21:00 AM CST  


The whole reason I feel the need to broach this topic is precisely because I have read Woods and have been confronted by many skeptical/hostile libertarians who don't really understand what we are all about, or who have as narrow a view of distributism as some who tend towards our way of thinking have of libertarianism - and I was one of those folks for a long time.

I look forward to a symposium, and, my next piece is going to address the reasons why I think libertarians owe distributism a fair hearing.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 1:23:00 AM CST  

Let me also add that what gives me encouragement at the same time are the libertarians who, though fewer in number, are NOT hostile to distributist ideas because I think they have a better grasp on both their own principles and what distributism proposes.

Some of them are in a position to help faciliate a dialogue with Woods & Co.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:28:00 AM CST  

One other thing I wish to add, now that it comes to mind.

I don't know where mutualists such as Kevin Carson stand on the Catholic Church; the red-and-black banner has historically been raised in violent anti-Catholic pogroms (i.e. the Spanish Civil War).

The Church supported Franco because the anarchists wanted to destroy the Church - and I agree with their decision.

I don't think anti-clericalism follows out of logical necessity from mutualist political economy (any more than it does from Austrian political economy, either). But I KNOW where Thomas Woods stands on Catholicism - like many distributists and like myself, he is a defender of tradition in the Catholic Church against liberalism and innovation.

What I don't know is where today's mutualists stand. If the fires of anti-clericalism and sexual libertinism are still smoldering in that movement, they pose just as much, if not more of a problem for Catholic distributists than do the economic disputes with the "right" libertarians.

Note that I said "if" - because I don't know.

John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:08:00 AM CST  

But Woods IS a defender of Liberalism, and of liberalism of the most radical sort. Further, he attacks the Church openly (which is at least honest) and denies that it has any authority to speak on these issues. See the symposium on Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Science in the current issue of The Catholic Social Science Review, http://www.catholicsocialscientists.org/CSSR/

Chris Campbell Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:18:00 AM CST  

I think it is good for us to discuss these things, esp with the gentlemanly way this and other articles have been discussed.On some things, people of good will can work together.
Woods is good on many Catholic Trad fronts, but his thinking is somewhat schizophrenic as well, for as part of tradition, he mixes in Catholic teaching, but-as John notes- he then mixes in liberal aspects arising most forecefully from teh 19th C on when it comes to the market, the role of the Church,etc.
He has largely gone on record saying that the Church should butt out of a discussion on economics, which is what the 19th C liberals said about the Church in ragards to Her involvment in affairs not only of economics, but state,education,etc...
Liberals want the Church to keep to Sunday Mass and never export her teaching to living the Gospels daily, this includes the State and the markets...
Woods, the Trad Catholic, has largely agree that when it comes to the market, it is a big "church keep out". There is now room for the Church there and men should have complete freedom to do whatever. Somehow free will and the Fallen Nature do not enter in or the markets have a chrism of grace to correct or to stop evil....
Then again, he is paid Mises staffer, that could play a role..
He is really not a big difference with those that support Churches teaching on all areas,except Just war....then it is they that wan the Church to stifle it...Pat Buchana hada good articel on this awhile back, about dissent on the right..
To me, Austrian libertariansim is a cancer that is infecting the Traditional movement, the same that Liberal modernism affected the majority of the Church....
It cloaks as righteous when in fact, it is just a nice looking/sounding form of liberalism as well...

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:39:00 AM CST  

Obviously we are not going to agree with him on everything.

I've read Wood's views in a number of places and as I've already indicated in this discussion, he's said things that I know are absolutely incorrect as a Catholic.

The question is simply whether or not we share a common goal that can be pursued without conceding basic truths - and I maintain that the answer is yes, there is.

John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 10:47:00 AM CST  

Joe, What do you think the common goal is?

Chris Campbell Friday, January 29, 2010 at 10:49:00 AM CST  

On economics, he will not change his mind or submit to CST-Tom Storck makes good points on this...Woods refsues to agree and continues to attack CST nad the pre-V2 and post V2 Popes on teaching.
he is good on things like the Mass, traditions, history,etc...writes good things on those most of time, but he has a gapping theological problem when it comes to economics and justice...when it comes to CST, he becomes a wolve in the House..is is sad to see how many people think Mises,et all are a reflection of CST, thanks to Woods' spin...

When I was a state Chair for the Constitution Party, we worked with many different groups for things like ballot acces, but it was up to me to guard aginast watering down the Party, either with libertarians or racists/nuts out there that occasionally I dealt with...so, common ground on some things maybe with Mises/Woods,such as the NWO or the black hole of centralized Govt power...but must engage Woods and el al when it comes to other things...

I recall a barbecue some months ago, in which a fellow there that I had never met was going on how great the Mises Institute was and how they are Catholics running it and how great it was.Clamly as we could, me and others there-a priest and layman, had to refute the unCatholic thinking there, esp from Rothbard/Mises...

Joe, sometimes we can agree and sometimes we can agree to disagree...I am just thankful to to John,you and many others for opening my eyes to Distributism...


Chris Campbell Friday, January 29, 2010 at 10:52:00 AM CST  

The common goal-the Social Reign of Christ the King and a just economic and Govt system...one that would have away to restrict man's evil passions without becming a dictatorship of socialism or monopoly capitalism...

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 1:42:00 PM CST  


I don't mean to be rude but have you read my post? What I think our common goal is, is evident. I shouldn't have to say in the com-box discussion...


For many reasons I think now is not the time for independent party politics. I think our chief goal as distributists ought to be to, well, go be distributists. By that I mean our primary goals ought to be economic and local - starting businesses, building contacts in the community, rallying fellow Catholics, etc.

As for the Mises people, and as for all people - especially, for heaven's sake, left libertarians who wear the red & black! - we must always draw distinctions and point out the errors.

Having done that, though, we ought to be prepared to look at similarities. This is absolutely necessary in politics, which is like war, which requires alliances against common foes, and in which today's allies may well become tomorrow's foes.

Robert Friday, January 29, 2010 at 1:53:00 PM CST  

Having seen the great damage Acton's propaganda has done within Evangelicalism I have to say that you are being extremely naive here. They rage with us against the machine not because they hate it or see the flaws in it, but because they are fundamentalists who see the Liberalism we fight against as not Liberal enough. They may well be allies-of-the-moment in specific campaigns in the political realm, but their ideology and agenda must never be anything other than anathema.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:04:00 PM CST  


First, I am not limiting anything I say here to Acton people. I am speaking very broadly of libertarians in general.

Secondly, almost everything I read coming from them indicates that our chief problems can be reduced to language and vocabulary.

Thirdly, why are you calling me naive when you essentially agree with what I am saying - that we make alliances as needed?

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:06:00 PM CST  

By the way,

I read an essay by Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party that I thought was absolutely amazing and spot-on today.


In fact I was preparing my next post much along the same lines. Which again is why I want to stress that my criteria for collaboration is that the individual or group considered is a constitutionalist and not an anarchist.

John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:15:00 PM CST  

While I maintain that the answer is "No, there isn't." Sure, there is a certain superficiality in terms, but they always have opposite effects. For example, the Austrian libertarians always claim to want small gov't, but the theory is so flawed that it always leads to the opposite. This is simply an historical truth. In the same way that Marx's "withering away of the state" leads to absolutizing the state, Mises's negation of the state leads to continual aggrandizement of the state. This is the way it has always worked, because of fundamental contradictions in the theory. We would get the rhetoric but not the reality. If you have any counter examples, I would be glad to look at them, but so far no one has been able to point me to even one.

John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:24:00 PM CST  

Joe, I am all for making alliances, whenever that is possible. That is why the Distributist Review has run guest articles from a Georgist, a mutualist, a "binarian" (ESOPs) and why I am continually on the lookout for contributions from different but converging perspectives. But I am not going to run one from Woods or Sirico (except perhaps in the context of debate) because that the perspectives DO NOT converge. These people always end up as the dupes, fellow travelers, and useful idiots of corporate control of the state. Despite their rhetoric, their understanding of economics, of social science, and of Catholic Social Teaching.

Further, it is not my arguments that you must overcome, but Mises's. It is Mises who says that Catholicism and Capitalism are incompatible, and that one must vanquish the other. Mises at least understood his own theory--and Christianity--to know that the two could never be combined. On this point at least, I believe Mises was right. But right or wrong, his arguments will have to be answered before this project makes sense.

John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:26:00 PM CST  

I should read before hitting send. The sentence should read, "Despite their rhetoric, their understanding of economics, of social science, and of Catholic Social Teaching is simply too primitive to form a coherent partner, one that will not always be selling us out.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:31:00 PM CST  


That the Austrian theory is incomplete or flawed is not in question here.

The issue at hand is, what are the practical policy aims of libertarians? My argument is that their practical policy aims ought to be ours for the time being, given the nature of the really-existing, actual state.

I will repeat, I suppose, for the 10th time that I reject anarchism in all of its forms, that not all libertarians are anarchists, that a strong localism is in the interests of both those committed to individual liberty and economic justice, etc. etc. etc.

So this is not chiefly about Austrians. I think Murray Rothbard and Mises, as anarchists, atheists, and individualists are dead wrong about many things. And I think the Catholics working for or with the Mises or Acton Institutes have to know on some level that this anarchism and atheism aren't acceptable.

So really we are making an appeal to people who profess either/or the Catholic faith or Constitutionalism, and not atheism or anarchism.

I really thought that all of this was evident in the piece, but I suppose my terrible writing skills weren't able to convey the message.

Chris Campbell Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:35:00 PM CST  

Joe, I did read your article and always look forward to your insights..will do myself a favor and re-read to see if I have misunderstood you or if we simply have disagreements...of course, language sometimes makes people not see the big picture or misunderstand...

Please know I value your views and your contributions on this site...as I do others, for I have had minor disagreements before with others, likely, they with me...some people I think we can cooperate with at times, in certain things if not all, but others I think are actually not willing to cooperate, theirs is a agenda and often, not a good one..

God bless you and your family, your work!


John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:36:00 PM CST  

Joe, I understand your point; I just disagree. What we need from the libertarians we can get from the mutualists. But the Austrians are not just wrong, THEY ARE DESTRUCTIVE OF EVERYTHING WE STAND FOR. Many people I work with do not count themselves as bound by Catholic Social Teaching and usually don't know much about it, and I would not ask anybody to do so in order to be a distributist. But Woods, et al., do not it and either actively reject it or work to subvert it.

Mises is right on this point, and I don't see how you can make the case without answering him.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:38:00 PM CST  

"Further, it is not my arguments that you must overcome, but Mises's."

No, not really. This argument of his is irrelevant, first of all because, once again I am not limiting myself to Austrians, and secondly this belief has no bearing on whether or not the things that libertarians (and not just doctrinaire Austrians) actually propose to DO, as opposed to the reasons WHY they do it (which don't matter) are worthy of our support.

I address all of this in my actual article when I discuss the pragmatic approach to politics and philosophical obstructionism.

The idea that we have to agree 100% on philosophy as a pre-condition for collaboration is simply false, and you admit this yourself when you open the door to mutualists who hail from a tradition that has been known to be quite hostile and violent, in real history, to the Catholic Church.

I don't know whether you have, or intend to if you haven't, read my piece. A critique of specific points I made would be welcome.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:43:00 PM CST  

So mutualists consider themselves bound by CST?

If that's the criteria than mutualists are as excluded as Austrians - and at least some Austrians profess to be Catholic and defend the Church admirably in other areas. When have mutualists ever signaled support for a Catholic social agenda?

With all due respect this is a blatant double standard that really doesn't make sense to me. You put in capital letters that Austrians are "destructive of everything we stand for" - left-libertarians, left-anarchists, in actual history, actually have TRIED TO DESTROY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. They murdered and tortured priests and nuns in Spain during the Civil War and they have agitated against the Church since the beginning, whether they are Bakuninites or Proudhonists.

Now I am willing to accept that not ALL mutualists embrace this anti-clerical heritage and that we might be able to work with them as well; but it seems not only inconsistent but grossly hypocritical to rule out libertarians in general because of the pronouncements of a sub-set of libertarians, the Austrians, on the one hand, while on the other hand extending an unconditional and open invitation to mutualism.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:47:00 PM CST  

As for Mises argument, it doesn't need to be addressed because I'm not trying to reconcile Catholicism to anarcho-capitalism, and because there is a great deal one might mean by "capitalism" - a word that could just as easily be applied to voluntary distributist enterprises as it could be to autocratic multinational conglomerates.

John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:48:00 PM CST  

No, they don't. I said that. I don't require 100% philosophical unity, and have run articles from differing viewpoints. We already work with libertarians, and my work is heavily indebted to Kevin Carson, for example.

I don't know what incidents you refer to, but there are "anarchists" of all stripes, from nutty bomb-throwers and anti-clerics, to Dorothy Day. When you hold out your hand to Woods and Sirico, you are holding it out to hyper-liberals (even though that passes for "conservatism" these days.) I, for one, don't think its a good idea. But I would like to hear what other contributors have to say.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:57:00 PM CST  

You don't know what incidents I refer to? I mentioned the Spanish Civil War, which was a pretty big event and pretty big persecution of the Catholic Church, so big that the Church supported Francesco Franco against them - but this is a part of the whole history of anarchism from the beginning down to the present day.

Even the anarchists I've known in my own time have been more hostile to the Church than even the communists!

Frankly I'm not sure I think you are completely clear on what it is I am proposing here. Which is why, again, I would appreciate a critique of specific points I made in the article, perhaps even a rebuttal if you have the time.

Robert Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:01:00 PM CST  

Perhaps some examples. What kinds of collaboration are you imagining?

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:03:00 PM CST  

Robert, I think we can collaborate on any political campaign that would bring about a reduction in the size and scope of the federal government, for reasons I laid out clearly in the original piece, and which I am simply not going to reiterate in the com-boxes.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:14:00 PM CST  

I also have to point out as well that not all Austrians - or lets say, all people sympathetic to Austrian economics - are "opposed to everything we stand for."

First of all, if they are consistent, they don't oppose ANYONE who does not propose to achieve their aims through coercion, which I don't think distributism relies upon at all. The true anarchists will oppose even local government, but true anarchism is nonsense, since a "state like" apparatus will always come into existence.

Secondly, if they hate everything we stand for so much, then why did Ron Paul support legislation that was aimed at expanding worker ownership in the US? I bet even Woods, a Ron Paul supporter, doesn't even realize that Paul co-sponsored the Employee Ownership Act.

If you look at the list of co-sponsors for that bill, you see in reality what I am talking about here, you see left-liberals, centrists, conservatives, libertarians all essentially agreeing to the statement that the US should vastly expand worker ownership.

THAT'S an example of what I am talking about.

John Médaille Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:22:00 PM CST  

Joe, if you are just talking about political cooperation on this or that issue, well, have at it. I've held office five times, and I didn't ask about the philosophical predispositions of the people who voted for me. If you are talking about some sort of alliance, I just don't think it possible. I am willing to be persuaded, but I am skeptical of the results.

Politics is about building coalitions, but I don't think politics are meaningful anymore. For those who still have some confidence in the process, they should attend to it; I beg to be excused.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:26:00 PM CST  

"Joe, if you are just talking about political cooperation on this or that issue"

Did you read my essay?

"If you are talking about some sort of alliance"

How do you define alliance? What gave you the impression that I was talking about anything other than a political alliance?

"For those who still have some confidence in the process, they should attend to it; I beg to be excused."

Fine, you're excused. I beg to be read in full before critiqued.

papabear Friday, January 29, 2010 at 5:45:00 PM CST  

As far as I know, the Austrians support Walmart coming to town. How are distributists supposed to encourage the development of small business, etc. if the Austrians are practically opposed to this in their support of the big box stores?

Anonymous,  Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:20:00 PM CST  


Thanks for your clear-headed thinking and constructive proposals. I also appreciate your firm responses to Medaille and his tiresome Distributist Inquisition, as though distributism is his little sandbox and he gets to decide who plays and who doesn't.

Catholics should be open to all that's true, or all "that is," even if sometimes it comes from the Austrians, the mutualists, the Georgists, or whomever.

Keeping distributism in the amber as Medaille seems to want to do benefits no one.

And his calumnies against fellow Christians despite their errors are simply outrageous.

We have to remember that charity is the best way to convert people to our position, as well as the fact that the actual economic situation we are facing will help people see the truth in distributism.

Thanks for helping to restore both sanity and maybe even some fellowship between the various camps.

Joe Hargrave Friday, January 29, 2010 at 10:08:00 PM CST  

I hope we can resolve these differences without going at one another.

I also think that John is more open to this idea than he lets on, since he liked my earlier essay on getting beyond capitalism and socialism.

To get beyond these things is to get beyond the actual words. The language of the Employee Ownership Act clearly identifies worker-owned and controlled enterprises with free market capitalism. Why? Because these firms can, do, and will compete on an open market without protection from or collusion with the state. All the EOA does is establish tax-incentives, which few if any libertarians would object to (and if they do, they're probably anarchists who want no state at all).

I'm going to have to keep coming back to this dead legislation because it is all we have had, because it can serve as a model for the future, and because so many different ideological representatives were a part of it.

Distributism smashes through the false dichotomies of the past. It is time to get over the notion that we must be "anti-capitalist" when so many people identifying as capitalists also think worker ownership and control of industry is a good idea, when all that "capitalism" means to them is the right to own property and engage in trade.

Anonymous,  Friday, January 29, 2010 at 11:33:00 PM CST  

Joe, agreed. The EOA proposal is worth revisiting.

And although I get a little tired of Medaille always trying to be the Distributist Magisterium, let's give him serious kudos for this fine post I saw referenced on another site while watching some Dorothy Day videos:


marion Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 1:37:00 AM CST  

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Septeus7,  Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 5:16:00 PM CST  

Folks seem to be getting a little heated around here but I think the main issue is that Liberalism is not compatible with Catholic Social teaching and thus regardless of policy issues we may have in common with the various child movements of the Liberalism we have show people that where they are correct the best reasons for those positions do not come from Liberalism itself.

People need to understand that what Paulo Sarpi was trying to do when he created Liberalism. He wasn't trying create coherent worldview but rather employing a tactic where the action of Liberty is separated from truth and therefore if one objected to the application of truth apart from the Oligarch's control it was threat to "freedom" and untruth was liberated to enslave the masses because the authority of truth was destroyed and therefore only the authority of Oligarchy rules.

It takes the form economic liberalism where all value determined by the popular opinion of "free market" which in truth is owned the Oligarchy and all other claims of authority regarding what is proper economic conduct should be are "infringements" on the markets are and therefore invalid as an attack on freedom regardless of the true basis for correcting existing conditions.

I reject all notions of free market for the reason that is merely a tactic to remove the idea of truth from economic practice by claiming that all economic truth is determined apolitical market forces governed by various deterministic axioms and if one makes a discovery of principle outside of the self serving axioms of the current system it is attacked as invalid not basis of truth but rather because derived outside of the axioms i.e. it is creative discovery and actions based on truth i.e . true Liberty is not permitted.

Since all free market models assume various deterministic axioms they all destroy true freedom because they do permit creative discovery because if they did they wouldn’t be axiomatic.

The reason Liberalism, as John noted, produces results opposite of what they claim to bring is that it was for that feature it was created by Sarpi and developed by Locke and others.

I think we have more in common with New Deal type progressives than libertarians because progressives at least believe we should try to improve human conditions and that belief only implies a standard of truth.

Mr. Piccolo,  Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 9:17:00 PM CST  


You make some good points. I think Amintore Fanfani made some similar arguments in his book "Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism," where he described "the capitalist spirit" as seeking the removal of extra-economic ideas (i.e. political ideas, religious ideas, moral ideas, etc.) from the realm of economic or social policy.

Thus, the Church or State, for example, should not uphold or pass laws preventing or regulating certain economic actions by private actors. These would be infringements on the free market, and therefore cannot be tolerated.

Liberal capitalism seeks the complete rationalization of life around purely economic criteria, with the State and other institutions existing only to facilitate this process.

Joe Hargrave Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:35:00 PM CST  

Look, we have every reason to be concerned with liberal capitalism.

But lets not forget who actually tried to completely annihilate the Catholic Church in the 20th century. It wasn't free market capitalists. It was communists and left-anarchists.

Meanwhile the Papacy has a record of historical support for the ideals of the early American republic, which did not emulate the madness and chaos of the French Revolution.

We need to decide what the problem is, anyway - is it "free market capitalism", or is it plutocracy? Is it a mere idea or is it a real thing? I maintain that our primary battles ought to be fought against real things.

In real life, we don't have free markets but a plutocracy. In real life it wasn't Austrian economists who tried to destroy the Catholic Church but the communists, anarchists, and fascists.

That doesn't mean that free market ideology and Austrian economists are beyond criticism (I have plenty for them), but it does mean that some of these critiques suffer from a misaligned priorities.

I think many Austrians and other types of libertarian suffer from a similar problem of perspective, putting equally irrelevant concerns ahead of their own political well-being. This I will address in my next post, which I hope to have up by Monday.

Anonymous,  Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 1:35:00 PM CST  

And let's not forget who has seen actual success in annihilating the Catholic Church, or at least in neutering it and stealing the minds and first loyalties of Catholics. It ain't anarchists, communists, or fascists, it's liberationists. It's Liberals.

Learn from the grave mistake the Protestant Christian Right made. They entered into coalition with the rightist Libertarians thirty years ago holding rather traditionalist/communitarian economic and cultural commitments. Those commitments are gone now, or at least deeply muddled, and they're quickly becoming indistinguishable from the corporatist stooges whose ideological discipline and proselytization seduced them unawares.

Chris Campbell Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 1:45:00 PM CST  


this has been a good debate, but lets not let disagreemtns lead to insults.John has had excellant articles,etc and at times I ahve disagreed with him..

as far as being pure, I have no problems iwth that, if not careful, we could become indifferent and syncretistic, ruining distributist thought with thos that have no Christ-centered approach

Chris Campbell Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 1:49:00 PM CST  

"And his calumnies against fellow Christians despite their errors are simply outrageous."

actually, he has been rather firm, but fair in my dealings iwth him and he tries to use sources, research to back it up...I see no "calumnies" in his responses..though attacking him seems to take on a rather angry tone....Joe and John have good thoguhts and disagreemtns,but lets stick to the facts, not pummeling John......

Chris Campbell Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 7:15:00 AM CST  

Joe, your article, looking at the number of posts (56 this AM) on this, has got people talking!

Anonymous,  Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 12:31:00 PM CST  

Chris, you raise a fair point, and perhaps my post aimed at John was overheated. But let me give you a few of the calumnies witnessed on this site:

1. Michael Novak is not a Christian.

2. People, specifically, more libertarian folks, who don't agree with John are "useful idiots" of the corporations.

3. Any Catholic associated with Acton or the Mises Institute is a dissenter. (And let's stipulate that they themselves openly note a tension between their views and what is found in some papal encyclicals and the compendium of social doctrine). Is disagreement on these issues enough to get one labeled with the nasty tag of dissenter? Frankly, I doubt it.

I'm sure John is a fine man, and someone I'd like to know and break bread with. And I hope he would forgive me if he found any of my criticisms to cross the line. But I don't think we should be beyond calling folks out for their excesses.

John Médaille Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 1:26:00 PM CST  

Anonymous (why are they always anonymous?) complains about "calumnies" while offering three of his own. It would be nice if anon could offer us evidence, but it would be too much to expect; instead, ad hominem is the best he can do.

No one that I know of has doubted Novak's sincerity or Christianity, nor could you find any statement of mine remotely like that. I have stated that his views cannot be reconciled with Church teaching on these matters.

The second point is simply a lie. I have said that the right-wing libertarians (not "everyone who disagrees with me) are useful idiots of corporate control, and historically there isn't much doubt on this point. Hayek was mentor to Thatcher, Reagan, and Pinochet, yet the gov't (and the debts) grew on their watch, not shrank. I have briefly described the process in "Hayek's Super-Highway" http://distributism.blogspot.com/2007/09/hayeks-super-highway.html, and Naomi Klein has written a whole book on the subject, "The Shock Doctrine." Now, you are free to disagree with these conclusions, but it is a calumny to state that I apply the fellow traveler label to everybody who disagrees. I have offered my reasoning, and instead of challenging that, the best you can do is ad hom, the sure sign of an infantile intellect.

The third point is simply contradictory. You acknowledge that these people admit a "tension" between what they say and what the Church says, but object to their being called "dissenters." The problem is that I don't call Woods a dissenter, Woods calls Woods a dissenter; I don't say that Mises is anti-Christian, Mises says Mises is anti-Christian; I don't say that Hayek is anti-conservative, Hayek says Hayek is anti-conservative (and does so in an essay you should appreciate: it is a masterpiece of ad hominem argument.) Right-wing libertarianism tries to import the ideals of the French Revolution into Catholic Social Teaching. Can't be done; there is, as you say, a "tension."

Feel free to disagree with anything you read here. But your disagreements will carry more weight if you actually present some arguments, rather than just vent a little spleen.

Chris Campbell Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 12:04:00 PM CST  

Woods has-and I used to read his articles and listen to his MP3's via Mises alot-admit he knows more about Catholic thought and that the Popes were largely out to lunch. He is much more friendly then many of the left wing Catholic grups of the last 40 yrs in languagea nd attitude, but in the end, still dissent.

John has several articles quoting Mises, Novak,et al that by their own words they are against Cathoic teaching to varying degrees......the subject has to conform himself to the truth, not the other way around.......

Chris Campbell Friday, February 5, 2010 at 2:18:00 PM CST  

We cannot comment on the state of anyones soul nor where they wound up after death...that is God's domain...but, we can say to someone going over a cliff that they are going over a cliff...Woods does seem to dissent, but to his soul,no...

saying someone is wrong and why is charity if done correctly.Both John and Tom Storck I think have fairly done so.

Clare Krishan,  Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 9:40:00 PM CST  

Appreciate the level-headedness of the appeal to reason, and have faith that dialog is the means to compare and contrast cognitive categories articulated for the political agency of man's personhood/individualism and what is proper to that man's person/individual nature (his 'proper'ties, as a self-directed, self-aware, self-seeking actor in a social realm where authority and power rests in varying degrees in other self-directed. self-aware, self-seeking actors under a dynamic system of catallactics, aka exchange of goods or economy).

I haven't indulged myself in reading the thread since its almost bedtime, but may I propose that the "authority" question in this dialog on agency is key - the assumptions many Catholics of a utopian persuasion (those who advocate for their particular flavor of 'purism' as opposed to 'pragmatism' in human affairs either Distributist or Austrian school) is that we actually operate in a milieu of perfect authority, ie God's law. This is patently false. We will be judged under His perfect Truth, but we second millenials struggle in an underdeveloped global maelstrom of highly relativistic norms and precepts as regards economic affairs. Perhaps it would behoove us to narrow the preliminary's down to a definition of terms - I have appeald to John Medaille to engage the debate on vocabulary of crucial terms such as "money" but so far not seen anything that approaches the lucidity of Jesus Huerta de Soto's magisterial treatise on the vagaries of the divergences in Anglo-Saxon and Roman (and more clearly Thomist) legal precedents behind deposit contract law upon which our banking systems have become so derailed in recent centuries, culminating in the farce of FIAT currencies and central planned fiduciary media.

Consider the recent paper published by Prof. Schiltz of University of St. Thomas Law School (sketched in brief here:


on regulation of credit as a merely legal matter concerning which "authority" may be tasked with steering man's economic affairs (ie may Delaware export its usury practices to all the contiguous territories). ... contd. below

Clare Krishan,  Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 9:55:00 PM CST  

Here we have an accomplished Catholic legal scholar who engages neither the distributist nor the libertarian camp but appeals to "articulation" of encyclical concepts. Good luck with that!

Consider: any number of firms, let us call them for arguements sake Mondaragon'CreditCard'Distributists, in Delaware are happy to oblige anyone who wants to share in the cooperative credit binge. We can all become distributists of easy credit, managed for the common good (liquidity and economic "stability") by our betters in Wilmington! (or if you prefer subsidiarity elect a local state capital, preferably not Sacramento or Trenton, since California and New Jersey are verging on bankruptcy).

When these firms exhaust the supply demanded by the social commonwealth, they simply float the whole gravytrain down the Chesapeake and up the Potomac to the Federal Reserve who plays God and generates ex nihilo an amply supply of "liabilities" (debts are carried as "assets" on the banks' books, for they are a revenue stream) for those eager to enslave themselves to their appetites without sacrificing a moments thought to where this dystopian feeding frenzy will end...

Prof Schiltz seems totally oblivious to the extent that this hall of mirrors pervades the global economy, its not a mere matter of the common good/commonwealth of predatory lending in 'consumer' credit, but commercial real-estate investment vehicles, state and local municipal bond obligations and international monetary reserves of nation states too numerous to mention. The whole deck of cards will come crashing down unless this conundrum of "authority" (what we Catholics call natural law or absolute truth) can be treated justly. The commonwealth can only really mean what it says it is (conducive to wellbeing of all) if it is real, ie materially physically present in some form capable of exchange. Ceding authority in one's monetary regime to a centrally-planned association of relativistic bankers is not a common wealth, it is a feudal gulag!

Can we not agree that the authority most likely to guarantee the quality of liberty most conducive to social flourishing of non-Randian objectivists (ie rejecting collectivist reductionist materialists in the Greenspan-Bernanke mold) are the Paulian-subjective marginal utilitarians who hold self-discipline as the highest form of commonwealth?

Aristotle won't cover all the bases, but the virtues of thrift, family first and non-aggression seem like values that should appeal to both sides in this debate, no?

Clare Krishan,  Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 10:02:00 PM CST  

If this approach were to bear fruit, after examining "money" and "authority" as absolute terms, I think we could make a strong case that "time-preference" be a third term that would reap rewards in understanding what we mean when we make appeals for certain political autonomy on behalf of citizen/stakeholders.

The health-care and social security discussions at root of the deeply unsettling breach in the contract between the generations would benefit from a means to gauge the economic impact of altering social time-preferences by appealing to government interference in what should be autonomous responsibilities for self and one's life purpose. The illusory "generation" of the Fed's manipulation of interest rates and money supply is matched by an equal yet truely corrosive force of "corruption" (Raymond DeLlull's medieval categories of good and evil) of the capital (aka savings) of a lifetime of one's personal industry (aka labor) via inflation/depreciation in purchasing power of the legal tender "authorized" in the economy to which one is "privileged" to participate. (Having labored on three continents I watch the gyrations of the central banks of the United Kingdom's pounds sterling, Germany's euros and the United States federal reserve notes with horror and dread, never certain which of the nest eggs I have "laid-away" will be expropriated first. *gold-bug* no longer seems like the epithet Mr. Medaille is keen to apply to those guilty of avarice, but rather the charitable duty of solicitude incumbent on prudent householders in defence of that modicum of property necessary to sustain life as I know it to have been in my memory and identity.

Apologies for rambling on, I look forward to reading more after a restful nights sleep!

Clare Krishan,  Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 10:22:00 PM CST  

Re: shenanigans with *time preference* in the euro zone, see how Wall Street helped orchestrate Greece's downfall with AIG's help:

" 'Politicians want to pass the ball forward, and if a banker can show them a way to pass a problem to the future, they will fall for it,' said Gikas A. Hardouvelis, an economist and former government official who helped write a recent report on Greece’s accounting policies. "

Joe Hargrave Monday, February 15, 2010 at 2:34:00 AM CST  


I find your views intriguing and fascinating, and I thank you for them. I'm unfamiliar with some of the terms and concepts employed, but I do hope you will continue to contribute here.

Clare Krishan,  Monday, February 15, 2010 at 10:08:00 AM CST  

Thanks for recognizing my wee contribution, John, and having now read the thread, I will add two thoughts:


re: your appeal @ Jan.29 10:08PM: "Distributism smashes through the false dichotomies of the past. It is time to get over the notion that we must be "anti-capitalist" when so many people identifying as capitalists also think worker ownership and control of industry is a good idea, when all that "capitalism" means to them is the right to own property and engage in trade.

DITTO - this another good term to agree upon our shared understanding of (after authority, money, time preference) for it is the amalgam of the prior three. As the widow's mite is her capital, she is the epitome of CST when she puts her skin in the game, not a mere fractional reserve but ALL of it! Truely Christian banking would not require an FDIC to ensure her for loss should the collection basket have a hole in it and her contribution is lost to moral hazard. The capital of Christian monastics are the fertile acres (known as granges) and tools of their vocational trade (pen and ink in the case of manuscript illuminators along with the accoutrements of animal husbandry and tanning for a steady supply of vellum) and the funds raised by selling their work products (medieval books were luxury goods and a very lucrative business model) in their procurator fiscal's accounts deposited in a custodial institution that preserves the liquid capital from predation. The illiquid form of capital is preserved by some suitable form of securing its physical integrity, immobile real estate can be enclosed by a bulwark such as a wall or fencing, mobile equity on the other hand usually requires a lock and key. How do "purist" distributists propose securing the physical integrity of the procurator fiscal's accumulated liquid capital? As soon as those funds are deposited in a modern-day bank they are diluted and re'distrubuted' in the form of fractional reserve money multipliers to tempt overconsumption and malinvestment via credit. Such a 'market' is indeed no longer "free" thus I could find myself sympathetic to
the POV of Septeus7...

Clare Krishan,  Monday, February 15, 2010 at 10:10:00 AM CST  


Septeus7 ..."I reject all notions of free market for the reason that is merely a tactic to remove the idea of truth from economic practice by claiming that all economic truth is determined apolitical market forces governed by various deterministic axioms"

but cannot let it stand without some clarification of what do we mean by our liberty under freedom? The "market" localists do so much to defend is the conceptual model Austrians consider a natural aspect of human action - man's subjective decision making regarding what time preference he attaches to what resources at his disposal. A market can only be said to operate when participants are free to engage in exchanges that meet their needs to improve their physical security - as soon as an external "authority" abrogates the right to determine the outcomes, man's moral sense to chose for good or ill has been usurped. Such moral hazard is now endemic in our global political institutions, and it would be incorrect to blame "free" markets for the errors of coercive aggregate powers that hold the industrial genius of man in bondage. Consider that our State now determines which price fixing is legitimate and which is not (how's that for "free" for you): "The Federal Trade Commission announced another gunpoint "settlement" today against a physician group. What distinguishes this case is the FTC now expressly states that refusal to accept federal Medicare price controls is itself a form of illegal price fixing."

The liberty we speak of must mean the liberty to do good. Being "free" to be forced into cooperating with evil and obstructing charity (is the FTC care, a cheaper way to provide medical care to those in need of affordable care) is no freedom I am interested in defending....

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