Saturday, April 01, 2006

"Electric Funeral" Dept.

I attended another family funeral on Wednesday{1} this one in Tacoma, Washington. Okay, it was hardly "electric" as the title says but I have not used a Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne reference in a post (as a title or otherwise) in many moons. I must say though, it went about as well as a funeral{2} can actually go I suppose. Basically my mother contacted me and asked "wanna go to a funeral???" and I figured why not since this has gotten so regular in recent years. Plus, some of the parties particularly close to the deceased had travelled about twice the distance roundtrip to my father's funeral back in 2001 as I would be travelling so it seemed appropriate for that reason if nothing else.

But funerals do provide an opportunity to reacquaint with extended family much as weddings do. Unfortunately, few other occasions provide for this{3} so we have to take what we can get I suppose. With the numbers of funerals I have attended in recent years, it is perhaps sad to say that I have gotten numb to the whole thing by now. But I do find myself wondering why something cannot be done to fight against what I suppose is the natural tendencies on these matters -particularly as the years go passing by{4} and I age hopefully in a reasonably graceful fashion. But anyway, I said it was a "productive funeral" so maybe I had better explain what I mean by that so that no one reading this is confused by it.

In my field of business, one markets themselves pretty much anywhere they go so a funeral is no different. Nonetheless, at the funeral I met some cousins I had not seen in years, some cousins I barely remembered having, and also saw some extended family that are not seen all that often. (Even if in recent years the frequency has been greater than normal cause of all the funerals.) The cousin I had not seen for a long time is Marylyn whom I recall being quite the hippie-like girl.{5} Anyway, that recollection was shot to pieces when I found out that she is basically a Ted Nugent conservative ala what my buddy Tim Tull has become -and maybe for the same reasons.{6} She also has a blog which I will add to the side margin the next time I can be bothered to add anything.{7} We exchanged contact information, business cards, and all that jazz...she is living now on the East Coast which oughta really bring out her "inner Nugent" even more than it already is. But I digress.

In other news, the cousin I vaguely remembered having was the daughter of the deceased who is also in my business field.{8} We exchanged cards and will talk shop later on...I am cognizent of the need to give space after the death of a parent so it may be at least a month if not longer before I contact her. After the funeral, I dropped off my great aunt (after stopping in Puyallup to pick her up) back at her home but not before stopping by the autobody shop that her family owns first. I intended to talk with my mother's cousin-in-law but the latter was not there at the time.{9} Nonetheless, her daughter (and my cousin) was there and as we both work in real estate, we discussed the matter and will do business together after she closes her existing listing and gets back from her vacation next month.

There was also a reacquaintance with other relatives and I must say, on the whole it went about as well as a funeral can go. One thing I will note in passing is that the invitations were done in calligraphy and missing the names. For some reason, they had them at the tables but rather than try to figure that out logically, I will merely note it in passing because grieving people do not think logically{10} and that may explain the mixup as well as anything else I can think of offhand. Anyway, that is all I will note on the matter now though I may bring it up again in the future if I feel so inclined to.

Oh and kindly remember in your prayers Kathy Edlund (God rest her soul).

Notes:

{1} For those actually keeping score, that is the fourteenth in six years two weeks time out of twenty-one deaths amongst family and friends in that time span.

{2} Technically it was billed as a "life celebration" but to refer to it as that is to miss out on using the Black Sabbath post title.

{3} My father and some of my other relatives decided back in the 1970's to have an annual family picnic because of this reason. The inaugural one was in 1978 and it was well-attended by both sides of the family for about fifteen years afterwards. (The peak years attendance-wise were 1984-1987.) And though it is still held every year, for the past ten years or so, someone from my mother's side of the family has done the arranging so the picnic kinda loses part of its function as I see it. I may undertake organizing it for 2008 as a kind of thirty year anniversary thing or whatever...something tells me that I could at least do a better job than the ones currently running it but I digress.

{4} I will be attending another funeral on Wednesday -my fourteenth in six years...In light of this and recent tragedies with certain persons I will not mention at this time (former and hopefully future friends), I am left wondering why it takes tragedies to cause people to recognize that most disagreeements are in the giant sphere of things so minor. Furthermore, that families beyond the immediate circle tend to only get together for weddings and funerals and rarely (if at all) at other times is also a problem I find myself pondering more and more about as the years go passing by. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa March 26, 2006)]

{5} Maybe one of the reasons for this is that we were both a lot younger then. (I remind my readers that I was not always as consistently conservative as I have become over time.) Another reason may well be that she is from Oregon and spent some time living in a rather liberal part of Seattle. Those not too familiar with Oregon, I can summarize it in a sentence for you: it is the only state in the union where you can legally kill yourself but cannot pump your own gasoline without being fined. Compared to that, we in The People's Democratic Republic of Washington may not have it so bad even with Bonnie Parker Christine Gregoire as commandante governor.

{6} I will be vacationing in California later this month (Santa Cruz to be precise) and may blog once or twice when I am down there if there is time to. Those who would find it interesting that I would head down to a place like Santa Cruz (which is one of the former Kremlin's west coast branches) it is to visit one of my oldest friends who has (in their time there) definitely become another Ted Nugent if you know what I mean. So it should be a blast and be a good recharge for my mental and physiological batteries. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa January 12, 2006)]

{7} Her rants and raves can be read HERE. Oh and though she considers herself an Independent, her views are much more akin to the Republicans than the Democrats; ergo the Democratic women vs. Republican women paradigm mentioned last year at this humble weblog remains intact.

{8} She actually has a higher rank than I do in the "pecking order" as VP for the company she is affiliated with (unlike your host).

{9} I wanted to discuss the possibility of an apprenticeship for a friend of mine who is attending the Voc-Tech in Seattle. (She wants to be an automotive airbrusher.) The contact was accomplished the day before yesterday when I contacted my mother's cousin-in-law by phone about the matter. (The answer to the request was yes so that is good.)

{10} Grieving people can say some downright odd things. I am always hesitant to go into an analysis of their statements for this reason. Nonetheless, the statement I will note in this posting is merely to (i) again outline an obvious double standard and of course to (ii) note how shamelessly The Evil Party will use anyone they can to advance their agendas. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa August 18, 2005)]

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Points to Ponder:

Sobering up really screws up your drinking. [Stevie Ray Vaughan]

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Terri Schiavo Remembrance Thread:
(Plus Additional Requests for Prayer)

To follow in the belated pattern established by The Secret One, I am reposting in remembrance of Terri Schiavo the threads blogged on or in some fashion pertaining to her to this weblog (along with doing some blegging for prayers from you readers). Without further ado (from oldest to newest excluding any weblog update threads) here goes...

As for Michael Schiavo, may that twisted degenerate have a long and painful purgatory. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa October 21, 2003)]

For additional perspective on the Terri Schiavo situation, please consider this link from De Fidei Oboedienta. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa October 22, 2003)]

The Terri Schiavo Situation and Another Pitch for Consistent Principles (circa October 26, 2003)

Boycott Michael Schiavo!!! (circa October 27, 2003)

"Cohiba Ergo Sum" Dept.--A Rerum Novarum Triple Slam (circa October 30, 2003)

Threads on Rights, Free Speech, and Development of a Consistent Line of Argumentation for Making Progress in the Culture Wars--A Rerum Novarum Recapitulation Thread (circa October 30, 2003)

Developing a Consistent Principle of Argumentation--An Exhortation to Readers of Rerum Novarum (circa October 30, 2003)

Points to Ponder from SecretAgentMan (circa October 31, 2003)

Terri Schiavo Update Via Fr. Rob Johansen (circa November 1, 2003)

"Ecumenical Jihad" Dept.--Courtesy of TCR (circa November 10, 2003)

Society's Ills, the Function of Law in a Just Society, Etc.--Dialogue With Kevin Tierney (circa April 16, 2004)

The above thread dealt in part with a defense of the three fundamental rights of man with Terri Schiavo's right to life being directly mentioned in the argument.

On Marriage, the Supreme Court, Law in General, Etc.--Dialogue With Charles de Nunzio (circa June 2, 2004)

Terri Schiavo's name was mentioned by Charles de Nunzio in the context of the above dialogue.

A Terri Shiavo Update Plus Notations on Long and Short Term Approaches to Dealing With the Problems of Judicial Activism (circa August 29, 2004)

"Culture of Life and Fundamental Rights" Dept.--From Earl A. Appleby Jr. With Additional Commentary by I. Shawn McElhinney (circa September 25, 2004)

The Fundamental Rights of Man Revisited (circa September 25, 2004)

More on Terri Schiavo and the Fundamental Rights of Man--A Rerum Novarum Inculcation Thread (circa February 18, 2005)

More on Terri Schiavo, an Activist Blogosphere Effort on Her Behalf, Etc. (circa February 22, 2005)

"Tales From the Mailbag" Dept. on the Terri Schiavo Situation and the Culture War in General (circa February 23, 2005)

Miscellaneous Bits on the Terri Schiavo Situation (circa February 24, 2005)

On an Upcoming Weblog Series--Disturbing musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum (circa March 18, 2005)

The Men Behind Hitler --Introduction (circa March 19, 2005)

The Men Behind Hitler --Chapter I: Surplus People (circa March 19, 2005)

The Suspension of a Weblog Series (circa March 21, 2005)

Points to Ponder by Charles de Nunzio on "Civil Disobedience" and "Freedom of Religion" (circa March 21, 2005)

Miscellaneous Musings on Terri Schiavo and The Face of Evil (circa March 22, 2005)

An Appeal to Federalist #78 Southern Style --With additional musings from Rerum Novarum (circa March 25, 2005)

Miscellaneous Threads of Possible Interest (circa March 29, 2005)

Miscellaneous Mutterings on Terri Schiavo's Situation, So-Called "Christian Fascism", and Communist Supporters of the Culture of Death (circa March 30, 2005)

Miscellaneous Musings on the Death of Terri Schiavo, A Possible "Grace" From This Tragedy, Etc. --Part I of an Audio Posting (circa March 31, 2005)

Miscellaneous Musings on the Death of Terri Schiavo, A Possible "Grace" From This Tragedy, Etc. --Part II of an Audio Posting (circa March 31, 2005)

"The Framers Know Best" Dept. (circa April 16, 2005)

The above thread was written two days before Terri Schiavo's passing but not posted until April 16, 2005 at which time it was tweaked slightly for contemporary significance.

A Most Urgent Request for Prayers (circa March 19, 2006)

Though the above thread did not have to do with Terri Schiavo directly, in speaking of the tragic situation with his son, Stephen Hand mentioned Terri's name. Stephen is keeping a journal on his son which is viewable at this thread. Anyway, it seems appropriate to therefore to end this thread with the latter one and request once again from the readers to offer prayers for Stephen, his son, and the rest of the Hand family. (As well as the eternal repose of the soul of Thomas Blosser who was Dr. Philip Blosser's brother and Christopher Blosser's uncle.)

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Points to Ponder:

There is no problem with Capitalism that a good dose of authentic Christian morality cannot solve. Capitalism produces wealth like no other economic system. But it is a mirror of the values of the society that employs it. [Michael Forrest]

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Charles Krauthammer fact checks Francis Fukuyama and preserves the historical record from the latter's attempts to airbrush it

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Monday, March 27, 2006

On the Acton Institutes' Critique of Distributivism:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

Well, I finally managed to find some time to finish an interaction with this critique which was started in November of 2005. (After a reader sent it to me for my input on the matter.) The words of the critique I will interact with will be in black font.

What's Wrong with Distributivism?"
by Dr. Todd R. Flanders


A presentation at the Austrian Scholars conference at Auburn University, March 2000.

I.

I have retained the form of the critique as Dr. Flanders presents it which is basically one which contains three parts to it (denoted by Dr. Flanders in Roman numerals which will be reproduced in this post for easier tracking of the material).

I have been asked to offer a critique of distributivism. Critiquing distributivism as an economic theory at a conference of Austrian scholars is like critiquing geocentrism at a conference of astrophysicists. It might seem easy. Thorough critiques are implicit in the canons of your own discipline. So, rather than just bring coals to Newcastle-and since I am a theological ethicist and not an economist-I will attempt to provide some alternative fuel as well.

It is pleasing to see Dr. Flanders disclose that he is outside of his realm of acknowledged expertise with this critique. Those who would for that reason dismiss his observations as meaningless should note a couple of things. First of all, consistency in their approach in doing the latter would require them to likewise dismiss certain proponents of distributivism (more on this later on). Furthermore, such a dismissal would heavily imply that reason and logic are special tools at the preserve of the intellectual elites or so-called "experts" and involve a form of tyranny of its own. And while the latter should be obvious on its face; nonetheless, it is beyond my intentions to deal with it in this posting.{1} Moving on...


For distributivism was, and is in its newer manifestations, more a movement in ethics than in economics.

This is true; however, one could also argue that all theories of economics which are worthy of the human person have to have a foundation in ethics. Ergo, that distributivism would follow suit in this regard (if it is an economic theory worthy of the human person) should hardly be surprising.

Its most famous early exponents, Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, were capacious thinkers for whom economic ideas and experience of economic systems were not foreign-yet these men too were not economists.

This seems to be the more appropriate place to address those who would dismiss Dr. Flanders' observations on the basis of him not being an economist. Such persons should (if they are being consistent) expect to see Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton's views on the matter treated with similar neglect as neither of them were economists either. That would be the consistent approach to take for those who take that particular weltanschauung. However, no one with a normal intact functioning brain should act in that fashion. For that reason, the merits or demerits of Belloc and Chesterton's views on the matter (every bit as much as Flanders' or anyone else's) is what the focus should be on. As obvious as this should be on its face, a lot of people do not see to get it; thus my noting of it here in advance before moving onto the meat of Flanders' critique.

Distributivism's animating principle was that social justice demands widespread distribution of property. By property distributivists meant chiefly land. Widespread property ownership would obviate the need for division of labor, which Chesterton termed "a half-witted system." Distributivism would prove the needed antidote to socialism, because it was more consonant with the dignity of each human person, investing each with a real stake in the economic life of the community. It was to be an approach consonant with human nature, whereas socialism was unnatural. It would undermine socialism's attractiveness because it would counter alienation, which was perceived as a byproduct of capitalist production. Responding creatively to the new Christian social thought of Leo XIII's watershed encyclical, Rerum Novarum, distributivism aimed to combine the best in contemporary ethical reflection with the imperative of a humane economy.

This seems to me to be a reasonable summation of the intention of the distributivist theoreticians.

While "Chester-Bellockian" economics never achieved much practical success-being, indeed, impractical and impracticable-distributivism has continued to exert literary, cultural, and social influence because of the beauty and power of its social and ethical ideals.

This is true also. However, not all which claims the mantle of "distributivism" is the real deal: something Dr. Flanders will touch on next.

Ongoing manifestations, which I shall term "neo-distributivism," include the Catholic Worker movement, southern agrarianism (whose ideas have variously inspired poets and would-be statesmen such as Pat Buchanan), and intentional communities of various kinds.

For the sake of this critique, I will not go over my general distaste for these kinds of labels. However, I do agree with Dr. Flanders that those he outlines above do not advocate distributivism of the sort Belloc and Chesterton wrote about.

The contemporary writer Wendell Berry, who is influencing a number of minds in Christian seminaries and elsewhere, is a significant representative of distributivist ideas today.

I do not feel I am adequately versed in Berry's work to give a sure judgment one way or the other on his views; ergo that is all I will say at this time on his writings.

For the Acton Institute, my organization, neo-distributivism is a live concern. With the declining appeal of real socialism among religious thinkers, some of the most forceful attacks on the morality of market activity are now coming from neo-distributivist quarters. To evaluate these attacks, it is important first to consider that some of the tenets of distributivism, highlighting the movement-s ethical concerns and also elements shared in common with sound economics. I will also suggest how the neo-distributivist understanding of capitalism today bears little resemblance to the earlier distributivists' understanding of capitalism. Therein lies the possibility of a response to neo-distributivists grounded in their own history.

For those who are interested in trying to follow an argument (or who have problems making an actual argument), what Dr. Flanders noted above is key because he has just enunciated a thesis he intends to try and demonstrate pertaining to distributivist theory. As it seems appropriate to remind readers of what these terms mean, I will at this time quote from my Miscellaneous BLOG where I have defined the terms in a workable fashion and how to differentiate a theory from a thesis. To wit:

[W]hen one is dealing with a theory, they are dealing with both abstract notions as well as coordinating dynamic principles of action. One of the author's intellectual mentors once defined a theory as "a set of non contradictory abstract ideas (or as philosophers like to call them 'principles') which purports to be either a correct description of reality or a guideline for successful action."...

Having established a working meaning of the term theory, it is worth noting also that the word thesis according to the Merriam Webster Thesaurus is related to the word theory. (Both of them having a foundation in the term assumption.) A good way of looking at this in the current context is to view a thesis as "an abstract principle or proposition to be advanced and to be maintained by argument" and a theory as incorporating a thesis -or a series of theses -with a guideline for successful action. The reason for this is because a theory by its nature must involve either (i) a correct description of reality or (ii) a guideline for successful action. For this reason, any viable theory involves several principles if you will which work together.

Or another way of looking at it would be to consider that a theory is being conceived of a series of non contradictory coordinative theses or points of presupposition. When viewed in this light, a theory clearly is only as strong as the theses which support it. [Excerpt from the Rerum Novarum Miscellaneous BLOG (circa January 14, 2004)]

Essentially, the theory being dealt with is distributivist theory and the thesis that Dr. Flanders seeks to demonstrate (at least initially) is a disconnect between distributivism in its earliest exponents and those of more modern persons whom he refers to as "neo-distributivists."

A little anecdote may suggest reasons why the old-fashioned ideas of distributivism die hard. I was a presenter at a University of Chicago Divinity School ethics conference, listening to a young theologian from Duke expound on the evils of the "Wal-Martization of the world." Mega-marts are much maligned these days, and their critics tend to overlook the role of consumer freedom in the Mega-marts' success. They tend to see only large corporate imposition on the ways of small communities. So the Duke theologian developed not an economic critique (he didn't know anything about economics) but a cultural critique: the rhythms of community life and tradition are undermined when longstanding patterns of small local ownership are ended.

Am I the only one who sees obvious hypocrisy in those who are so critical of capitalism from those whom Dr. Flanders calls "neo-distributivists"???

I argued with him about consumer choice, consumer value, and pointed out that Mom and Pops still flourish, albeit often in types of business unknown to previous generations. None of these arguments registered with my interlocutor. In the end, he was not at all interested in economic analyses.

That is not surprising unfortunately. A lot of people refuse to consider anything that they believe undermines what they often take almost on faith. And for some people, distributivism is literally taken on faith. With people of the latter sort, oftentimes no amount of reasoning will penetrate their approach to these matters which could accurately be called solipsistic.

It was a romantic vision that he sought, a snapshot image of an earlier life frozen in time. I then asked him what his economic ideal would be. His answer was an agrarian variant of distributivism: widespread distribution of land ownership, an agriculturally based economy, preferably with farms operated by mule power. I asked him how, under present conditions, everyone might have his forty acres and a mule. The response was that it is the role of a theologian and an ethicist to provide a moral framework, not a practical plan.

In other words, the fella passed the buck. Anyone can be a critic and criticize various theories, systems, methods, etc. However, when called on it, they had better have some kind of viable solution to offer and that solution had better have some practicality to it. Otherwise, there is no reason why should anyone should take them seriously.

In a nutshell, we have a number of characteristics of distributivism: romanticism, an appreciation for small local community life, a suspicion of uneven concentrations of property, and, most notably, a quasi-Jeffersonian sense of land, farming, and localized trades and occupations as roots of communal virtues and indeed of freedom and independence. "A multitude of men are standing on their own feet," wrote Chesterton, "because they are standing on their own land."

It should be noted that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of the characteristics noted above in and of themselves. I am sure most people desire one or more of them -certainly I do and concur with some of them myself. However, that does no one any good if the rubber of abstraction does not at some point meet the road of reality.

Distributivists have been fiercely committed to private property as the wellspring of liberty, the enabler of virtue, and the protection against encroachments of the state. Distributivists were from early on opponents of communism, socialism, and what has come to be called the welfare state.

Yet how many who would affiliate themselves with distributivism today would take such a stand as the early distributivists did against communism, socialism, and welfare state mentalities??? Probably not many since most of those I have seen who are advocates of distributivism tend to likewise promote various forms of welfare and socialism under the veil of "compassion": a strong corroborating scenario for sustaining Dr. Flanders' thesis as enunciated earlier in this thread.

It may seem odd, but early exponents were opposed to a version of "capitalism" for an identical reason: they saw collectivism and capitalism as tending in the same direction, toward the "servile state."

And certainly a capitalism shorn of morality would be no better morally than communist collectivism. However, it is not in any way inevitable that all or even many forms of economic theory which are based in capitalist ideas are inexorably tending in that direction. Those who would assert the converse theory have a responsibility to demonstrate it and not merely assert it simply because certain authorities that they admire said that it was so.{2}


II.

The Servile State is, of course, the title of Hillaire Belloc's 1912 masterwork, which became a distributivist manifesto. As Belloc was instrumental to Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism, so he was instrumental in laying the foundation for their joint enterprise in social theory. The Servile State is also, ironically but tellingly, taken to be a seminal work in the history of liberty. It was reprinted by Liberty Fund in 1977 with an introduction by Robert Nisbet, who ranks it among the handful of books that most shaped his vision. How can the same work be embraced alike by contemporary champions and opponents of a truly free economy?

Probably because each reads from the source what they want to and reads into it what it does not say.

Let us return to Belloc himself.

Belloc's concept of "capitalism" has roots in Marxian analysis, even if Belloc was mortally opposed to Marxist theory.

In other words, Belloc used analyses from the Marxist weltanschauung to define the capitalist model from!!! Those who do not see a problem with this at the get-go are either not paying close enough attention or they adhere to Belloc's views on these things as if the latter were matters of faith economically speaking.

A society in which private property in land and capital, that is, the ownership and therefore the means of production, is confined to some number of free citizens..., while the rest have not such property and are therefore proletarian, we call capitalist; and the method by which wealth is produced in such a society can only be the application of labor, the determining mass of which must necessarily be proletarian....

Notice if you will the complete lack of morality in Belloc's analysis. The result is that what could be called "acceptable capitalist theory" is not even interacted with or even acknowledged while a serious caricature is treated as "THE capitalist theory" as if there is not (or cannot be) a variety of applications of the capitalist model.{3}

Belloc goes on to identify two marks of the "capitalist state":

1) that the citizens thereof are politically free: i.e. can use or withhold at will their possessions and their labor, but are also 2) divided into capitalist and proletarian in such proportions that the state as a whole is not characterized by the institution of ownership among free citizens, but by the restriction of ownership to a section markedly less than the whole, or even to a small minority. Such a capitalist state is essentially divided into two classes of free citizens, the one capitalist or owning, the other propertyless or proletarian.

Note how Belloc considers the "proletarians" to be politically free, yet servile. Belloc relates socialism and capitalism by arguing that in a collectivist state, the masses are actual slaves, and that in a "capitalist" state, they are de facto slaves.

This analysis by Belloc is faulty because he presumes from the outset that morality plays no role whatsoever in the equation (or would not).

Belloc's chief concern about capitalism as he understood it was that it causes insecurity and insufficient provision for the mass of mankind. Capitalism was a zero-sum game for Belloc, with the mass of mankind the losers.

And it is this kind of "zero sum" thinking (or what economist would call "static" thinking) which is at the crux of Belloc's error.{4} For if he recognised the nature of economics in a capitalist system, he would realize that the pie is not necessarily a finite one but is capable of being expanded. This "dynamic" understanding would assist him in seeing that far from one side gaining necessarily at the expense of another that both sides can gain together by virtue of expanding the existing pie so to speak.

Sharing with Marx an understanding that a servile capitalist state was the present situation in the developed West, Belloc saw only three possible solutions:

In light of the flaws of his operative presuppositions, it should not surprise that Belloc would have a negative view of capitalism.

Collectivism, or the placing of the means of production in the hands of the political officers of the community;

Communism/socialism in essence.

Property, or the reestablishment of a distributive state in which the mass of citizens should severally own the means of production;

How would this be accomplished without stealing from one class of people to give to another??? And would Belloc recommend that government do this??? If he did than he would be sanctioning lwhat Claude Frederic Bastiat called "lawful plunder" which is an mockery of the very concept of justice under the law in a free society.{5}

and

Slavery, or a servile state in which those who do not own the means of production shall be legally compelled to work for those who do, and shall receive in exchange a security of livelihood.

The above would be Belloc's gross caricature of capitalism. Betwixt the evil of communism/socialism and the gross caricature Belloc has of capitalism, he proposes a "distributivist" approach. The problem as I see it (his caricature of capitalism aside for a moment) is how such a system would work in reality as opposed to theory.

We can see that the "Third Way" we hear so much about today has a pedigree. You will note that Belloc refers to a "reestablishment of a distributive state." His reference is to an earlier economic order in the high Middle Ages, which he viewed as a developed and highly workable system of private and shared ownership, nurtured in small communities where habit and custom fostered liberty. While overly romanticized, Belloc's account contained elements of truth that subsequent historians have confirmed and elaborated. Certainly Belloc punctured a common view that the march of history has been an uncomplicated unfolding of ever-greater liberties. Anyone who sees the modern state as too large, powerful, and invasive will be able to appreciate the service Belloc rendered in his time.

To Belloc's credit, he did not take the Whig view of history, that is for sure...

But Belloc rendered yet greater service to lovers of liberty. Central to his critique of both collectivism and the "capitalist" servile state was an opposition to state power and to the coercive power of laws that expropriate and transfer wealth and labor. "The servile condition," notes Belloc, "is present in society only when there is also present the free citizen for whose benefit the slave works under the compulsion of law." Belloc carefully distinguishes the necessary conditions of freedom and servitude:

[T]he difference between servitude and freedom, appreciable in a thousand details of actual life, is most glaring in this: that the free man can refuse his labor and use that refusal as an instrument wherewith to bargain; while the slave has no such instrument or power to bargain at all, but is dependent for his well-being upon the custom of society, backed by the regulation of such of its laws as may protect and guarantee the slave.

In this contrast, Belloc recognized a crucial difference which many who would claim to be followers of his thought would not (and do not) make.

It is the laws of a state that make and enforce a condition of "slavery." This can clearly be read as a prescient criticism of welfare statism. If it is a criticism of anything that could be related to capitalism today, it would be of crony capitalism, or of corruption in government or of legally condoned force and fraud in business dealings.

Precisely. But these are all matters which involve an unjust use of law in society to in some form or another deprive persons of the three rights which Claude Frederic Bastiat recognized as fundamental: life, faculties, production.{6} I am unaware of any who are criticized by those whom Dr. Flanders calls "neo-distributivists" who would subscribe to capitalism in the manner in which Belloc describes it above.

Needless to say, today's neo-distributivist heirs of Belloc place much more emphasis on Belloc's quasi-Marxist understanding of economic conditions and on his concern for distribution of property than they do on his understanding of the place of bargaining in a regime of liberty and on his overwhelming opposition to state power and control.

This would certainly describe from what I can discern the viewpoints espoused by those whom Dr. Flanders would call "neo-distributivists."


Liberty-loving readers naturally place the emphasis the other way around.

Natch.

The liberty lovers have the better of the argument.

Said with 20-20 hindsight. In Belloc's defense, this was not so evident in his time. However, those who would claim to be "distributivists" today cannot credibly claim the same ignorance.

We know now how and why Marxist analysis of capitalism is faulty.

True.

We also know that the widespread distribution (i.e. transfer) of property that distributivists seek could not be accomplished without massive state intervention and tyrannical oversight of the transfers.

Precisely. This is why I noted above that Belloc's idea cannot be actuated in the real world however wonderful it sounds on paper.

We know too that property, once distributed, cannot remain equitable-this was a mistake in Belloc's analysis of high Middle Ages economics: he mistakenly saw patterns of property use and ownership as static rather than dynamic.

I noted this earlier and it is the crux of the difference in a nutshell: those who see economies as static and those who see them as dynamic. Dynamic theorists take into account cause and effect factors and the impact that interactions have in the economics matrix if you will. By contrast, Belloc and those who believe they are hus heirs in distributivist thought do not (at least as a rule) do this.

In all, it is possible now to know that distributivism, noble and illuminative as many of its insights may have been, contains internal inconsistencies that doom it as economic theory.

Agreed. (It essentially violates the law of non-contradiction.)

It was, then, through no mere fault of his own that the Duke theologian was unable to provide a workable plan.

Though until he and advocates like him do provide a plan for distributivism that does not involve violations of basic rights, there is little reason to take their ideas seriously. Anyone can be a critic but to be credible, the latter had better provide a workable alternative.

III.

Internal inconsistencies notwithstanding, neo-distributivists today behave as though the theory is not only coherent, but also unremittingly opposed to free economic activity as actually practiced in free societies. Belloc's chief worry about state encroachment on freedoms is virtually absent in the new manifestation. What remains is antipathy toward capitalism, and toward a parody of capitalism at that.

Agreed. This is why these so-called "neo-distributivists" are generally not taken seriously. They are instead by logical extension default advocates of marxist statism under the mask of distributivist theory.

Notre Dame theologian Fr. Michael Baxter, a man of considerable depth and theological perspicacity, nevertheless sternly warns that the capitalist order ought to be opposed by "blowing the dynamite of the Church." He speaks freely of the need for a "Catholic radicalism" that contains a substantial dose of political and economic radicalism. Similarly, the Marxist-turned-Thomist ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre has repeatedly suggested the moral impermissibility of a free economy, relying on an ahistorical evaluation of the thought of Thomas Aquinas. When asked recently what he retains from his Marxist past, MacIntyre responded, in half-jest, "I would still like to see every rich person hanged from the nearest lamppost."

How lovely.

Baxter, MacIntyre and others fail to appreciate the gravity of what the real radicalisms of the twentieth century wrought. While they yearn for a morally and spiritually better society, they retain the revolutionary's zeal for radical change, the revolutionary's implicit or explicit longing for utopia. The revolutionary tenor of these new voices contrasts with the much more modest thought of a Belloc or a Chesterton. Perhaps the contrast reveals a pessimism characteristic of contemporary distributivists, who may intuit that the radical moment has passed, who may sense that the end of history has arrived, and that they have lost. Whereas a Chesterton always kept a playful and hopeful spirit about the human prospect, a MacIntyre appears to flirt with apocalyptic despair.

That would seem to explain why the so-called "neo-distributivists" are often so shrill.

Turning from the realm of theory to practice, the Catholic Worker movement actually tries to implement, on a small scale, elements of neo-distributivism. "Distributivism means a society of owners," write Catholic Workers Mark and Louise Zwick. "It means that property belongs to the many rather than the few." Founded by the charitable and theologically astute Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day while Chesterton was still at work, this movement is generally a force for good.

I concur with this assessment.

It embraces persons from around the world who suffer economic hardship and incorporates them into communities of joint ownership, labor and love.

Whatever one says about the results of these efforts, the good intentions of the parties noted above should at least be presumed apriori.

Successful community building has, though, increasingly encompassed the radicalism and pessimism noted above. Labors of love for and with the poor and marginalized have increasingly been joined by radical critiques of "systems."

Of course, critiques of "systems" is not in and of itself a bad thing. The problem is, one should have an alternative that works and that does not have an internal contradiction to it as the so-called "neo-distributivist" approach so evidently does.

The Houston Catholic Worker is a newspaper of the Catholic Worker's Casa Juan Diego, and it has taken in recent years to wholesale condemnations of almost anything that smacks of free enterprise.

Presumably they do this because they buy into the caricature of capitalism as espoused by Belloc and accept this view uncritically.

For them, a global market is simply "brutal." The free market has brought about a "new feudalism."

See my previous comments.

This newspaper has been pointed in its criticism of Catholic thinkers who have labored to bring to Christian social thought a fuller appreciation of economic knowledge:

Michael Novak, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, Gregory Gronbacher, and Fr. Robert Sirico. These thinkers, the newspaper suggests, use Catholicism simply to provide a moral sheen for greed. Capitalism is, for The Houston Catholic Worker, precisely what it was for Marx; the problem with this is that capitalism is not in actuality what it was for Marx.

Precisely. Marx seriously misunderstood capitalist theory and Belloc (whose theories formed a basis for distributivist theory) took this misunderstanding of Marx into the corpus of his exposition. This is why Belloc's critique of capitalism is so weak: it is part and parcel to the fallacy of strawman argumentation -though I am hardly going to claim that Belloc did this deliberately of course.


Neuhaus, Novak, Gronbacher, Weigel and Sirico have been key in demonstrating not only the moral rationale for free economic activity, but also its role in improving the lot of the poor. When Pope John Paul II recognizes, as he has throughout the past decade, that the free economy offers the best hope for developing countries, we can see that the terms of the debate have shifted. While the Catholic Church will not pronounce in favor of one mode of economic arrangement, the ground of the Church's discussion has moved dramatically toward embracing, and informing, liberty.

Without question.

I suggest that part of the reason the ground of the discussion has changed is due to the tremendous success of modern capitalism of providing many of the things distributivism originally hoped to foster: greater economic participation, broader ownership, cooperative enterprise, etc.

Agreed.

While neo-distributivists remain fixated on land distribution, the Church's reflection has begun placing needed emphasis on the role of human capital: in a stunning line from his encyclical Centesimus Annus, written, significantly, on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, John Paul writes, "besides the earth, man's principal resource is man himself."

Essentially, the church has come to recognize that there are different kinds of capital. Bastiat referred to "life, faculties, and production" in the mid nineteenth century and referred to these things as "man." Now, we have Pope John Paul II recognizing in a social encyclical that man is also a resource and a principle one at that. It would take a lot of time to unpack this point with the detail which it deserves; however, it suffices to note that these observations do not to my knowledge inform the modern so-called "neo-distributivists" who still operate from the faulty marxist paradigms of thought.

Not as often discussed, but important to Catholicism's greater openness to economic freedom, is the unchallengeable relation of that freedom to the argument against coercive population control.

Hmmmmmm, I never thought of that but it makes sense.

Yet despite these many blessings and advances, blessings and advances consonant with earlier goals of distributivism, The Houston Catholic Worker remains mired in an older view of the world as divided into capitalists and serfs.

You don't have to be a genius to realize that the global economy now solidly in control and flourishing, has been built on the bodies of Third World people who have worked for practically nothing to fill the coffers of First World companies.... The foundation of the tremendous success of these companies is slave wages. Again, we have a very healthy economy built on a cemetery filled with poor workers who have died not with a bullet to the head or a firing squad but death from malnutrition, overwork, slave wages, poisoned water, (etc.)... The global market has reinvented serfdom.

No acknowledgment here of the steady if uneven advances worldwide in life spans, public health, infant survival, caloric intake, and other direct measures of the well-being of the poor, which are direct results of economic growth and trade.

Results of a dynamic approach to economics and not a stagnant one...

This all might be just more of the standard anti-capitalist litany. Yet its special gravity is connected with its association with the founding lights of distributivism, as well as its claims to roots in Christian social thought and the personalist philosophy of John Paul II. The arguments of the neo-distributivists are more sophisticated than those of the old Christian socialists, more theologically and philosophically informed. Their work with the poor and marginalized is to be deeply admired, and their anger at poverty and injustice worldwide is to be shared.

Of course the claim to being rooted in Christian social thought is one which can be debated as to just how faithful it is to the corpus of Christian social thought as a whole. However, the good that they do in their work with the poor cannot be.

Indeed there are many reasons to be angry at poverty. What the neo-distributivists need to come to realize is that their anger is better directed at the enemies of freedom than at its champions. A good place for our friends in Houston to begin a soberer course of reflection would be to ask themselves: why is it that the poor immigrants they serve in Texas struggle to cross borders into a society of relative freedom in the first place?

Well said and in the end Dr. Flanders' thesis from what I can tell is sustained upon closer examination. Let us hope that the so-called "neo-distributivists" will recognize over time the faulty presuppositions from which they operate.{7} The anger they feel is not necessarily unjustified but it is misplaced. Let us hope and pray that they at some point take that energy spent tilting at windmills and channel it in a fashion that will better benefit society and the common good.

Notes:

{1} It suffices to note that I have touched on it before on many occasions including HERE.

{2} For to do this would be a fallacious form of argumentum ad vericundiam: hardly a foundation on which any theory could be grounded upon if its proponents want it to be taken seriously.

{3} Some acceptable and others not so.

{4} While many opposed to NAFTA at the time were focusing on the lower wages part of the equation, I took the position that this was wrong-headed and the argument needed to be recast. For businesses were not about to leave the US over lower labour costs if the other factors in the equation (business taxes and regulatory red tape) were dealt with.[...] I also should have noted (if I had thought of it at the time) that the focus on labour as the dividing issue was merely a reassertion of the marxist-socialist myth about there being a necessary adversary relationship between business and labour[...] under the myth of a static or limited economic pie (rather than a dynamic and non-limited one which is the correct approach to take with economics). [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa July 29, 2005)]

{5} I do not have time to go over this subject now (check the archives in the side margin for threads pertaining to this subject).

{6} Or rephrased another way: individuality, liberty, and property. I have written on these subjects more than I care to recall offhand though this thread from about eighteen months ago will suffice as one example of what I refer to here.

{7} [W]hen you have two or more people who view the world through different "lenses", it helps to try and establish agreed upon points of reference at the outset of any proposed dialogue. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa April 18, 2005)]

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Points to Ponder:
(On Helping Others and Our Priorities)

I will be attending another funeral on Wednesday -my fourteenth in six years. (Out of twenty-one deaths of family and friends in that timespan.) In light of this and recent tragedies with certain persons I will not mention at this time (former and hopefully future friends), I am left wondering why it takes tragedies to cause people to recognize that most disagreements are in the giant sphere of things so minor. Furthermore, that families beyond the immediate circle tend to only get together for weddings and funerals and rarely (if at all) at other times is also a problem I find myself pondering more and more about as the years go passing by.

We all need in my opinion to ask ourselves this question: if we feel moved to help other people (and Lord willing we all have this desire in some form or another) then why is it that so often we are more concerned about helping those outside of our family more than our family??? Oh and I can be just as guilty of this as anyone so this is hardly a criticism that I am exempt from lest anyone wonder. [I. Shawn McElhinney (circa ten minutes ago)]

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