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American Unprincipled Project

June 17, 2009

I randomly discovered this site, dubbed (rather modestly) the American Principles Project. It is not a Catholic site, but it was founded by Catholic philosopher Robert George and has as its “communications director” a certain Thomas Peters, who has some minor renown as the proprietor of the American Papist blog that in reality leans far more American than papist. Anyway, this American Principles Project epitomizes everything I find troublesome with the Catholic right — its America-centered view of the world, its selective approach to morality, its misapplication of the term “conservative” to encompass radically individualist beliefs. Let me just give a few examples.

The principles of the project:

“The United States of America does not need new principles.  It needs renewed fidelity to the principles set forth in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These are timeless principles:  truths that we hold, in Jefferson’s immortal words, to be, “self-evident.””

Not quite. Instead of holding up the positive law as a shining beacon, it should instead seek to have the positive law mirror the natural law to the extent possible. The only “timeless principles” are those of the natural law. Instead, these guys resort to a kind of sola scriptura constitutionalism. After all, these constitutional principles were forged in the furnace of Enlightenment-era liberalism, with its utilitarian-inspired call for the “pursuit of happiness”. Don’t get me wrong, there is much to commend this kind of liberalism, such as a greater emphasis on human dignity than what came before, but there is also much to criticize — especially the individualist anthropology that gave rise to a kind of laissez-faire constitutionalism that stood squarely against the development of Catholic social teaching in the area of economics.

“a new voice is needed in American politics, a voice that is unafraid to stand up for what is right and speak out against what is wrong.”

Agreed.

“Indeed, that “voice” must be nothing less than millions of American voices raised in unison in defense of political liberty and economic freedom, the sanctity of human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, and the sovereignty and security of our nation.”

Wait a minute. The only “right and wrong” I see in this statement relates to the sanctity of human life and the integrity of marriage. What do they mean by political liberty? I can see that as an issue in some countries (see Iran), but it most certainly not an issue right now in the United States and the rest of the developed world. And what does economic freedom mean? I suspect it means the kind of laissez-faire individualism that sits uneasily with Catholic teaching and its insistence on the universal destination of goods, solidarity, and the preferential option for the poor. After all, property has a twofold nature of private possession and common use. After all, the Church teaches that an equitable distribution of wealth is just as important as the accumulation of wealth. After all, the right of the state to intervene in the economy for the sake of the common good has been recognized by the Church since the days of Pope Leo XXIII. After all, the right to decent wages, rather than whatever comes out of the free market, is a core tenet of Catholic social teaching, as is support for organized labor. No, this “economic freedom” tradition in the US context is one that puts private liberty ahead of the common good. It is a philosophy that regards market outcomes as virtuous. Ironically, it is this very same notion of “private liberty” that led to the “right” to abortion and the “right” to gay marriage. But these people do not recognize these clear links.

And what of the other “right and wrong” issues? Where is the blanket condemnation of torture, surely a live issue in the current US political context? Where is the condemnation of a war mentality, a justification of pre-emptive war condemned squarely by the Church, a misuse of the just war principles as a fig-leaf to defend American foreign policy? Again, these were grave sins in the American policy over the last decade. And even today, we have people calling for bombing Iran, and supporting grave injustices (even war crimes) undertaken by the people deemed friends of America. This was an evil policy under Reagan, and it is an evil policy today.

And what about the structural sins on our society, the pervasive violence and gun deaths, the marginalization of the poor and minorities into economically-deprived ghettos, the lingering legacy of racism, the breakdown of the social order? Are these not compelling moral issues? What about the death penalty? What about the immoral nuclear arsenal that still exists? What about the injunction to care for the immigrant, to be stewards of the earth, to be peacemakers and try to understand the injustices that fosters terrorism and hatred of the United States? What about those who suffer and even die from inadequate healthcare in a society of great affluence? None of this is radical. It is all standard Catholic teaching, it all flows directly from morality and yet…it is not important enough to be an “American principle”.

“Are we conservatives?  You bet we are, if by a “conservative” one means a believer in the rule of law, democracy, limited government and respect for civil liberties, private property and the free market, equality of opportunity, the sanctity of human life, the protection of marriage and the family, and the defense of our nation’s sovereignty and security.  For us, these convictions are not platitudes.”

Actually, you are not. Again, the issues related to life and marriage might be deemed conservative in that they seek to preserve and bolster the social order. The rest is a mixture of liberalism and nationalism, the historical enemies of true conservatism. Defending “our nation’s sovereignty’? That says a lot. For a start, it glosses over the war mentality witnessed so clearly over the past few years that they fail to condemn.

In the “what is at stake” section, we are treated to further elaboration of this selective morality. What seems to drive most of all is the intrusion of the government into affairs they deem private:

“All of this has been accompanied by the growth of central state power which usurps individual responsibility and the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families, religious institutions, and other forms of private association…Lack of a moral compass and restraint in business practices has provided an excuse for the state now to intrude deeply into the economy and to claim the authority to exercise unprecedented control over the affairs of private business firms. The net result is the weakening of all authority structures apart from the state itself.”

On one hand, they (quite justifiably) call for greater state involvement to protect the lives of the most vulnerable in society, and to stand firm on the definition of marriage. And yet, in most other areas, they want the government to stay far far away. This division makes no sense. Of course, state ownership of the means of production has always been condemned by Catholic social teaching, and Pope John Paul II wrote clearly about the problems of welfare dependence in Centesimus Annus. And yet, the state can be called upon to serve the common good in economic life just as in social life. Striving to seek the appropriate balance is exactly what animates Catholic social teaching– it was Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno who condemned both socialism and free market capitalism as the “twin rocks of shipwreck”. In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II, while accepting the legitimacy of the free market, nonetheless warned against the “idolatry” of the market, noting that there are some areas where the free market can work well, and others where it cannot.

If these people want to argue that we have crossed some kind of boundary, they should do so, but they do not. For in fact, this would be extremely difficult to do. As I pointed out recently, only in Rush Limbaugh’s drug-addled brain could the United States be described as “socialist”. For in the United States, the government owns a whopping 0.2 percent of corporate and business assets, and taxes are at the very bottom of the OECD scale. In fact, there is a strong case to be made for a decent progressive tax system, especially giving the steadily rising inequality and income erosion over the past few decades– given the importance attached to an equitable distribution of resources in Catholic social teaching. And as for the (strictly limited) government intervention in the economy, I would defer again to Centesimus Annus, which notes that governments may want to intervene directly in the business economy for “urgent reasons touching on the common good”. I think the worst recession since the Great Depression might qualify. But no, I fear that much of these kinds of arguments are driven more by ideology than practical reason.

It gets worse. The “national security” banner links to an essay by Andrew McCarthy calling for Gitmo to be kept open. This is the same Andrew McCarthy who has made a habit of defending torture when instituted by the United States, and who recently argued that all that matters is the mind of the torturer — “It doesn’t matter what the average person might think the “logical” result of the action would be; it matters what specifically was in the mind of the alleged torturer — if his motive was not to torture, it is not torture.” Of course, what McCarthy means is that if the US does it, they are only doing it to save lives, and don’t mean any harm. If the Iranian government or the Khmer Rouge does it, it’s torture, because they are sick and sadistic by nature. Of course, a proper reading of the natural law tells us that what matters is the object of the act, the directly chosen behavior. Because torture is an intrinsically evil act, the purity of intentions or the virtuous consequences don’t matter at all (see Veritatis Splendour). So here we have it, a defender of an intrinsically evil act who employs moral relativistic reasoning to defend this act  is called upon by the “American Principles Project” to make the case for continued unjust imprisonment of those men whose torture he once defended. That says it all really, doesn’t it? Principles indeed.

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40 Comments
  1. June 17, 2009 5:40 pm

    “Instead of holding up the positive law as a shining beacon, it should instead seek to have the positive law mirror the natural law to the extent possible.”

    I’m not sure how you could possibly read that paragraph as arguing that the positive law is “a shining beacon” or whatever. Of course, it’s the natural law principles, that happen to be embedded in our Founding documents, that George et al want to recover. Not the documents for the sake of themselves.

    What a weird rant.

    Another example. you write, “Defending “our nation’s sovereignty’? That says a lot.”

    It says a lot to someone who wants to read a lot into someone else’s words, rather than read the words they actually wrote.

    “Defending our nation’s sovereignty” is a noble goal that fits quite naturally with Catholic Social Teaching, which is concerned with the rule of law and social stability.

    Man alive

  2. David Nickol permalink
    June 17, 2009 5:42 pm

    Here is what I get when I try to reach the site from my work computer:

    Security risk blocked for your protection
    Reason:
    This Websense category is filtered: Potentially Damaging Content. Sites in this category may pose a security threat to network resources or private information, and are blocked by your organization.

    URL:

    http://www.americanprinciplesproject.org/

    I’ll check it out at home . . . if I dare!

  3. M.Z. permalink
    June 17, 2009 5:49 pm

    One of the top headlines: “Why Gitmo Must Stay Open”.

    Aren’t there enough neocon sites?

  4. Mark DeFrancisis permalink
    June 17, 2009 5:55 pm

    One of the sidebars:

    “Obama’s disappointing response to Iranian crisis.”

    Idiotic. If we were to be seen as meddling, then this would give Iranian authorities political ammo to squelch much of the passion and unity behind the protests.

  5. June 17, 2009 6:03 pm

    No kidding. I thought Robert George was of a much higher caliber than this; by the looks of this site and its content–ranging from an attack on Obama for his muted response to the events in Iran, a tirade against health care reform, and a juvenile mention of the “age of Obama” along with a scary reference to–oh my!–European socialism–what we have here is AEI style movement conservatism. Who funds this, does anyone know?

  6. June 17, 2009 6:04 pm

    Well, Zach, the problem with the modern nation state (which true conservatives acknowledge, unlike this phony kind) is that it demands the direct and unique loyalty of every individual who happens to be a citizen of that state. Traditionally, loyalties were diverse and multi-faceted, and identification was with community or guild. Subsidiary mediating institutions are effectively neutered. Personally, I would like Catholics all over the world to feel more loyalty to Catholicism than to their particular nation state.

    And if we can go below the nation state, we can go above it. The Vatican believes, in the modern era, that the UN is bast placed to make decisions that affect security. This goes beyond the nation state, and yet this is exactly what gives nationalists a heart attack.

    But ultimately, the problem with these “security, sovereingty, freedom” arguments is that they can play into the war mentality. Just look at the Bush years.

  7. June 17, 2009 6:05 pm

    Mark — good catch. I meant to include that in my post, but I forgot, and anyway, it’s too long as it is!

  8. Kurt permalink
    June 17, 2009 6:56 pm

    Thomas Peters has let ‘American Papist’ become way to focused on politics (and politics of a certain point of view). It is good he is ditching the religious aspect and just coming out as a straight conservative.

  9. J.H. permalink
    June 17, 2009 8:22 pm

    How do we know “meddling” would not bring about a positive result in Iran?

    It worked pretty well for John Paul II & President Reagan during the Cold War.

    Does anyone really believe that dialogue will achieve anything in Iran?

  10. J.H. permalink
    June 17, 2009 8:26 pm

    To automatically assume that President Obama’s approach to economic & social concerns (excepting abortion) is compatible with Church teaching is erroneous.

    One may be correct in arguing that many of his end goals are consistent with Church teaching. However, his plan to use large, expensive programs administered by the federal government in Washington D.C. to achieve these goals is very questionable in light of Church teaching.

    In fact the Church warns against such a government-dominated approach, lest individuals and local communities lose the incentive to take their own part in God’s work. This principle is known as subsidiarity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes the following:

    “In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies.” (CCC 1894)

    Moreover, the words of John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus seem to warn against just the type of government-dominated approach being aggressively pushed by President Obama:

    “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need.” (Centesimus Annus 48)

    Thus, in Catholic teaching, it is the responsibility of individuals and local communities to look out for the less fortunate (and failing that, perhaps state governments), not that of a distant, inefficient government in Washington D.C.

  11. June 17, 2009 8:39 pm

    “In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies.” (CCC 1894)

    “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need.” (Centesimus Annus 48)

    I read the point of those two exceprts to be; if subsidiary institutions have things well in hand, or are well on their way to having them well in hand, then it is wrong for higher institutions to usurp their role.

    That isn’t the situation, however. It’s not like the local, county or state governments (or “the market”) are well on their way to getting all those iuninsured people coverage, and Obama is moving to undercut their efforts; the problem is persistent, and the evidence of experience suggests that a national-level plan has become the obvious solution.

  12. June 17, 2009 8:45 pm

    Wrong, JH. Popes from Leo XIII to John XXIII to Paul VI to the present have accepted the role of the state in tempering the injustices of the free market. You are taking a very particular issue (welfare dependency) and generalizing it.

    I’m well aware of subsidiarity. Sometimes the state level is the appropriate level. I’ve pointed out many times that the very existence of US military could be criticized on subsidiarity grounds. And if you think Washington DC is a “distant, inefficient government” it is follows that you would want to desolve the union and return all power to the states. That, at least, is a consistent argument — but it flies in the face of another pseudo-conservative tenet: nationalism.

  13. June 17, 2009 9:00 pm

    I must say this post is a tad disappointing for several reasons

    “a certain Thomas Peters, who has some minor renown as the proprietor of the American Papist blog that in reality leans far more American than papist”
    Looking at the post that American Paist does it is hard to see that he is not mainly religious focused

    Should that be backed up at all by some proof? There is a charge there. Thomas peters is a Conservative though his Conservative Politics lean in a diorection mine does not. For instance he was a huge Ron Paul guy and see things through those glasses at time I guess

    “Not quite. Instead of holding up the positive law as a shining beacon, it should instead seek to have the positive law mirror the natural law to the extent possible. The only “timeless principles” are those of the natural law. Instead, these guys resort to a kind of sola scriptura constitutionalism”

    Sigh

    TO those that are not aware of Robert George he has done major work for the Natural Law and has worked to have it part of Jurisprudence. That strangly is not talked about here and it a very big sin of omission.

    If I recall correctly there was a huge thread on this supposed “sola scriptura constitionalism”. THis is a silly term. I have a law degree from a pretty good law school. I have never heard of this concept. Further on Catholic Legal blogs I have never heard of this concept. The use of this is try to connect a protestant view of interpreting scripture and apply it to the Const. It is nonsense and the purpose is to make certain valid schools of intepretation of the Const akin to Protestant heresy. Not only is it dishonest it is silly. Beware of people that never took a Law Class but are experts on the Law. They might have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express but besides watching Law and Order they have no clue about the Law.

    “And what of the other “right and wrong” issues? Where is the blanket condemnation of torture, surely a live issue in the current US political context? Where is the condemnation of a war mentality, a justification of pre-emptive war condemned squarely by the Church, a misuse of the just war principles as a fig-leaf to defend American foreign policy? Again, these were grave sins in the American policy over the last decade. And even today, we have people calling for bombing Iran, and supporting grave injustices (even war crimes) undertaken by the people deemed friends of America. This was an evil policy under Reagan, and it is an evil policy today.”

    It should be pointed out that this site just started out. It started in June and has a total of 16 posts. It is always dangerous and in fact misleading to focus on what a blog does not have as it focus There are many things that Vox Nova does not talk about on a consistent basis. Yet I do not assume they are are not authentic catholics depsite not addressing certain matters. The fact that VOX NOVA does not have as repeated theme the need to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act does not mean they are for gay maariage coming through the back door via the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Again lets be civil here. Ditto for the next paragraph that is a list of issues that Morning Minion appears shocked they have not all addressed in the month of June.

    “On one hand, they (quite justifiably) call for greater state involvement to protect the lives of the most vulnerable in society, and to stand firm on the definition of marriage. And yet, in most other areas, they want the government to stay far far away. This division makes no sense. Of course, state ownership of the means of production has always been condemned by Catholic social teaching, and Pope John Paul II wrote clearly about the problems of welfare dependence in Centesimus Annus”

    No in fact there is no irony or inconsistent thought in this. The Fact that the Govt seems to be running the Car companies for instance is amtter that Catholics can disagree on and still be faithful Social Justice Catholics

    “It gets worse. The “national security” banner links to an essay by Andrew McCarthy calling for Gitmo to be kept open. This is the same Andrew McCarthy who has made a habit of defending torture when instituted by the United States, and who recently argued that all that matters is the mind of the torturer — “It doesn’t matter what the average person might think the “logical” result of the action would be; it matters what specifically was in the mind of the alleged torturer — if his motive was not to torture, it is not torture.” Of course, what McCarthy means is that if the US does it, they ……..”

    Observatn readers will notice we have jumped from the issue if GITMO should remain open to torture for some reason. That is in fact that the blog that is being analyzed agrees with torture(whatever that is) or variou sdegress of enchanced interrogation. Of course those are two different issues. One might note that every one yells about GITMO but no one seems to care about that little air force base we have over ther in Afghanistan. Who knows what is happening there. But again it si a red herring. Somehow we get from Gitmo to this blog endorsing “torture”

  14. June 17, 2009 9:10 pm

    “Thomas Peters has let ‘American Papist’ become way to focused on politics (and politics of a certain point of view). It is good he is ditching the religious aspect and just coming out as a straight conservative.”

    THis is nonsense and one can tell that by looking at his posts. Yes he talks about politcs just like VOX NOVA. He also talks about relgious themes. Henry’s post on VOX NOVA this week “Let Us Set Aside All Earthly Cares” was a wonderful example of balance I like in blogs that deal with poltical issues and matters of the more spirtual.

  15. June 17, 2009 9:42 pm

    MM:

    The United States does not demand singular allegiance. In fact, our Founding documents emphasizes that our rights before the Government do not come from Government but from Nature’s God, to whom we owe our first loyalty.

    I’m not sure why you think citizens of the modern nation state cannot have diverse or multifaceted loyalties. I must be misunderstanding you (even though that seems to be a direct paraphrase), because what you said makes no sense.

  16. J.H. permalink
    June 17, 2009 9:45 pm

    You both make good points.

    First, subsidiary institutions have no incentive to fulfill their responsibilities, if a distant mega-government does it for them. And, if subsidiary institutions are not fulfilling their responsibilities, the problem is best addressed at that level by voters, stakeholders, etc.

    Second, a once-size-fits all approach out of Washington is by its very nature an inefficient approach and cannot possibly meet the needs of the various constituencies across the land. Indeed it is local charitable institutions, particularly, faith-based institutions which have the best outcome. I would argue that this success is partly due to the fact that we are spiritual creatures in need of God’s grace. And, of course, the government programs favored by progressives have to be stripped of the religious element, that is so important to dealing with adversity and achieving self-improvement.

    Moreover, a government-based approach makes us soft as Christians. Ironically, such an approach only encourages individualistic and self-centered behavior by removing responsibility to care for the less fortunate from us as individual Christians. Not surprisingly, studies show that “blue” state residents give less money to charity per capita than red state residents. Of course, that is not to say that blue-staters do not care about the less fortunate. They passionately do. They just view the issue as the responsibility of government.

    Last, I question the fall back assumption that only a national government-administered program can ensure coverage for everyone.

    I would propose health insurance be addressed at the state level and handled the way college savings plans (529 plans) are administered. Health insurance would be purchased directly by individuals (removing employers as middle men) picking from plans offered by 5 to 10 companies competing against each other. Coverage would be required by law at some designated minimal level, as is done with car insurance. Finally, the poor would receive tax credits and/or subsidies to enable them to purchase a policy.

    This plan would keep free-market efficiencies in place, would be regulated by the government to prevent abuses, would expand coverage to everyone, and, most important, would satisfy the requirements of subsidiarity.

  17. ron chandonia permalink
    June 17, 2009 10:00 pm

    On one hand, they (quite justifiably) call for greater state involvement to protect the lives of the most vulnerable in society, and to stand firm on the definition of marriage.

    Wow! A good word for pro-life somehow missed the editor’s hand here, MM. And you’ve zeroed in on yet another easy target, a 24-year-old blogger just starting out his first serious job. As I read this, I was wondering if you have ever, here at Vox Nova or anyplace else, critiqued a left-wing Catholic for supporting abortion as a right?

    I ask because you have another great opportunity. Just as Tom Peters started his job for Professor George, Michael Sean Winters and the lefties at NCR were wetting their pants over the social-justice credentials of Catholic Congressman Thomas Perriello from Virginia:

    http://ncronline.org/news/people/catholic-activist-turned-congressman-has-seat-table

    Says this latest in Great Left Hopes, “I firmly believe that abortion should not be criminalized, nor can we allow any action that seeks to coerce women by reducing access to care or making the process less safe.” Why don’t you log onto NCR’s blog and post your thoughts on that, MM? I’ll watch to read them.

  18. June 17, 2009 10:26 pm

    I am always fascinated to note the respectful engagement sought by most conservative commenters on this blog, and the unveiled contempt for conservatives displayed by most of the liberals.

  19. June 17, 2009 11:08 pm

    You need to get beyond the “liberal” and “conservative” names — they really have no place in Catholic discourse. If you look at the post, one thing I argue is that the hodge-podge of beliefs is not internally consistent, and neither can it be dubbed “conservative”.

  20. grega permalink
    June 17, 2009 11:41 pm

    While I very much agree with the post I somehow have a hard time believing the first sentence.
    “I randomly discovered this site,..”
    Yeah right…

  21. digbydolben permalink
    June 17, 2009 11:44 pm

    Of course, it’s the natural law principles, that happen to be embedded in our Founding documents, that George et al want to recover.

    Oh, yeah, man, tell that to the Negro slaves of the period, who were deemed by that precious “natural law” document to be three fifths of human beings–while the Catholic Church (illegal in “natural law”-adhering Anglo-Saxon countries) had been telling the Iberian monarchs that the slavery being practised in their territories was illegal for more than two centuries by that date. I’ll take the interpretations of the “natural law”–flawed though they may sometimes be–of the Catholic and Apostolic Church over those of a base lot of “Enlightenment” heretics any day of the week.

    Those American nationalists pretending to be “more Catholic than the pope” who write their fulminations in favour of “American exceptionalism” here, day in and day out, really don’t know much about the history of the persecution of the Church in their own country–or about the contemptuous dismissal, by American “19th century liberals,” of the condemnations–based on REAL “natural law”), by popes who actually CARED for the poor of all countries, of the “American [i.e. LIBERAL] heresy,”

    For instance: although it’ll never get published in any American high school history book (unlike in Canada, where it IS published), the most massive riots in Boston in the 1770s weren’t over tea or stamps, but over the toleration of Roman Catholicism in newly-annexed Quebec province.

  22. Michael Enright permalink
    June 18, 2009 12:18 am

    Its clear that citizens of a nation state cannot have diverse loyalties. Really. If you have a loyalty that competes with that to the U.S.A., you are seen as “anti-american” or not sufficiently patriotic. This includes when one opposes any particular war out of principle. Competing loyalties, including those of one’s religion are not tolerated if one wants to be properly considered “American”. Just ask an anti-war protester.

    Now, I think we have to address this issue of “natural law” principles. The claim that “natural law” principles akin to Catholic concepts of natural law are enshrined in our founding documents is absurd. The sense of “natural law” in the founding documents is an enlightenment concept, not part of some sort of Catholic jurisprudence. It is not as if Madison, Jefferson, and Adams were closet Thomists.

  23. June 18, 2009 1:31 am

    Okay so I have a question. Who wrote the following:

    “Another consideration claims my earnest attention. All intelligent men are agreed, …, that America seems destined for greater things. Now, it is my wish that the Catholic Church should not only share in, but help to bring about, this prospective greatness. I deem it right and proper that the Church should, …, keep equal step with the Republic in the march of improvement, at the same time striving to the utmost, by her virtue and her institutions, to aid in the rapid growth of the States.”

    Was this an American Papist?

    Well, yes and no.

    This was Pope Leo XIII in the document Loginqua, a document which refers to our government, yes our Constitutional government MM and digby, as “well-ordered,” a document that refers to George Washington as “the great” and also a “genius.”

    But no, no. You are right again.

    I guess someone ought to let the Vatican know they shouldn’t leave documents like Longinqua just lying around. Some Catholics might pick it up and read it. They might get the impression that the U.S. is destined for greatness or, worse, that we have a pretty darn good Constitution worthy of praise by even the Pope.

  24. digbydolben permalink
    June 18, 2009 2:48 am

    And then it was a successor of Leo XIII who referred, again, to the heresy called “Americanism” and wrote the “Syllabus of Errors” which used to be used in American high school classes to mock the Catholic Church.

    I think popes are rightly able to find some virtue in almost every kind of governmental system. Catholicism does not endorse any particular form of government.

    And, yet, the “oracle in the Vatican” IS usually capable of finding and noting the heresy which inspires certain governmental policies (certain unfortunate 20th century events being rare exceptions to the proper exercise of this faculty).

    For instance, did you know that the Confederate States of America made a strong argument to the papacy of Pius IX that they should recognise the Southern States’ government because it was supposedly fighting for the 19th century version of “subsidiarity,” but that, when the diplomats representing the Confederacy were called back for further meetings with the curia officials, it was made clear to them that the South’s championship of slavery overrode considerations of “local control,” and that, consequently, the papacy would not be able to recognise them?

  25. Kurt permalink
    June 18, 2009 8:39 am

    1. J.H. Says:
    June 17, 2009 at 9:45 pm
    You both make good points.

    As do you.

    First, subsidiary institutions have no incentive to fulfill their responsibilities, if a distant mega-government does it for them.

    We should discuss what responsibilities are being fulfilled by the federal government.

    And, if subsidiary institutions are not fulfilling their responsibilities, the problem is best addressed at that level by voters, stakeholders, etc.

    Among the subsidiary institutions there is one that maybe is the most frequently mention by the Church (other than herself) and least frequently mentioned by conservatives including Catholic conservatives. That would be trade unions. That would be an even more interesting question to discuss – the need for trade unions to take on new responsibilities.
    Second, a once-size-fits all approach out of Washington is by its very nature an inefficient approach and cannot possibly meet the needs of the various constituencies across the land. Indeed it is local charitable institutions, particularly, faith-based institutions which have the best outcome.

    Yes. And that is why it is a positive thing that so much of our social welfare system follows this insight. The federal government partners or provides grants or loans to a wide variety of private, non-profit organizations (both religious and secular) as well as state and local governments, to actually deliver social services. Head Start, Food Stamp outreach, the programs of the Older Americans Act such as “Meals on Wheels”, job training, energy assistance, vocational rehabilitation, trade adjustment assistance, Title XX, adoption assistance, school lunches, section 202 housing, college aid, etc.

    Since this decentralization leads to a wide variety of local programs and initiatives designed based on the discernment of locals, it sadly often becomes the victim of right wing attacks because they have found ONE program in ONE local area that either has truly abused the program principles or just SOUNDS funny. I remember the conservative attacks on a few local jurisdictions that sponsored “Midnight Basketball” as an anti-crime/youth engagement initiative. It seemed to me the same principles as the CYO and YMCA followed (who often were involved in these programs).

    Moreover, a government-based approach makes us soft as Christians. Ironically, such an approach only encourages individualistic and self-centered behavior by removing responsibility to care for the less fortunate from us as individual Christians.

    I don’t think there is any lack of opportunities for Christian to carry out their faith obligations. I don’t think before we had social welfare that individual Christians had eliminated the need for any social action.

    Not surprisingly, studies show that “blue” state residents give less money to charity per capita than red state residents.

    That same study showed that religious progressives were the most generous, religious conservatives next, secular progressives following and secular conservatives the least generous. Now, conservatives are more church going, to their credit. And, while it is still a virtue, much of the charitable giving was not for the relief of the poor but to maintain the donor’s House of Worship.

    Last, I question the fall back assumption that only a national government-administered program can ensure coverage for everyone.

    President Obama questions that assumption as well.

    I would propose health insurance be addressed at the state level and handled the way college savings plans (529 plans) are administered. Health insurance would be purchased directly by individuals (removing employers as middle men) picking from plans offered by 5 to 10 companies competing against each other. Coverage would be required by law at some designated minimal level, as is done with car insurance. Finally, the poor would receive tax credits and/or subsidies to enable them to purchase a policy.

    That is not far off from the President’s plan. Bringing the President’s plan closer to your would probably suffer strong Republican opposition.

  26. mark permalink
    June 18, 2009 8:59 am

    My basic question is – why does anyone care what an anonymous blogger on a blog with mostly anonymous contributors think?

    Cowardice is not one of the first building blocks in interesting, valuable engagement.

    Who bloody cares what “MM” thinks about anything?

  27. Henry Karlson permalink
    June 18, 2009 9:27 am

    Mark

    Apparently, you do. That’s why you need to use an ad hom to respond to his point.

  28. June 18, 2009 9:34 am

    Mark — commenting here is a privilege, not a right. I’m not a free-speech liberal– anything that even remotely approaches this kind of rudeness again, and you are out of here. If you don’t care what I think, stay away. We’ll both be more content.

  29. June 18, 2009 10:26 am

    digby,

    The Syllabus of Errors was issued by Pius IX in 1864. Pius IX was also the pope who took some personal interest in the Confederacy.

    Longinqua was issueed by Leo XIII in 1895. Leo XIII was, of course, also the author of Rerum Novarum and thus the explicit social teaching of the Catholic Church — and not coincidentally the first pope _after_ the take-over of the papal states by Italy, which Piux IX never accepted.

    Now your point was…?

  30. June 18, 2009 10:51 am

    To jh, et al.

    Look, I disagree with MM about many things, and I am sympathetic to the general objection that s/he tends to point out Catholic hypocrisy issuing from political right much more than s/he does such hypocrisy issuing from the political left. But, from the vantage point of traditional orthodoxy, there is a good argument to be made that–in our particular time and place in history–Catholic hypocrisy issuing from the political right *requires* more attention and critique than that issuing from the political left *precisely* because of its apparently nearer approximation to orthodoxy.

    In other words, in my opinion it is fairly obvious to see how, for example, publicly pro-choice privately pro-life Catholic politicians in the national Democratic Party machine misrepresent the demands of their faith for partisan political ends. And no Catholic that knows anything about her or his faith should be mislead by the sophistry by which such politicians laud the principles of social justice even as they support a law that denies its primary tenet to the the weakest, mutest, poorest class of human beings.

    The Republican party, however, and “movement conservatism” more generally, constitutes a much subtler, and therefore much more difficult to perceive, distortion of Catholicism for its own ends. A purported respect for “Life”–no doubt held more or less sincerely by different leaders in the party–and a support for a hazily defined “social conservatism,” is the *best* thing one can say about this party, which at least puts it (for now) on the correct side of the most pressing ethical issue of our historical epoch: abortion. However, precisely *because* of the Republican party’s allegiance (real or apparent) to the pro-life cause, it has been able to seduce Catholics into accepting certain other of its positions, which include the ideology of the “free market,” unfettered by any meaningful juridical restraints (which are derided as “socialist”), a portrayal of the person as an “individual” first and a member of a preexisting community second, and, in recent years, a strident nationalism which includes, as its a priori test, a willingness to conduct preemptive (and therefore necessarily unjust) wars on the behest of American interests.

    The cultural prestige of Catholic neoconservative writers such as Weigel, Neuhaus (in his more unreflective moments), and Novak has been instrumental in perpetuating the false conflation of Catholicism and a certain species of American exceptionalism to well-meaning and faithful Catholics who, partly through their own fault and partly through the fault of the Church, lack the requisite theological sophistication to discern the propaganda masquerading as apologetics that, unfortunately, marks the thought of these figures. Their influence, combined with the more obvious depravity of the Democratic Party platform, has made it too easy for Catholics to align themselves with the Republican Party, rather than recognizing that the enemy of their enemy is not their friend.

    This is why I am really saddened by Robert George’s participation in something so blatantly driven by the worst aspects of movement conservatism as the American Principles Project. George is one of the few Catholics in America who has both sufficient knowledge and influence to begin to articulate, in contrast to both parties, a legitimately Catholic approach to politics in this country. But instead of doing this, he has opted, from the appearance of the website in question, to continue to encourage the subsumption of the pro-life cause *within* the pre-existing frame of partisan Republican talking points. And MM is right to call him out on it.

  31. June 18, 2009 11:39 am

    WJ,

    I am curious how the Republican Party is “seducing ” people tho free market unfettered by any meaningful Juridical restraints? The first question is is this fantasy Libertarian market at? Most people I know that are in business have to seal witha ton of juridical restraint via regulations and laws

    Maybe people accept the free market not because they have been seduced by the GOP but because they observes it works, or they took economic classes and found it best in their viewpoint

    I must say I don’t get the hostility to Robert George on this. Engage his ideas and the web site. Enter into the debate. Too many people on both the left and right have a viewpoint there is cookie cutter correct view of authentic Catholic thought. THere needs to be much engagement on ideas such as economics, war, social issues, etc and a lot less name calling.

    If there is not then Catholic SOcial Justice will just stay in the Compendium .

  32. June 18, 2009 12:09 pm

    Paul, just this guy… wrote:

    “I am always fascinated to note the respectful engagement sought by most conservative commenters on this blog, and the unveiled contempt for conservatives displayed by most of the liberals.”

    Me too, when it is the case. However, it is also not the case many time for the opposite reason. And, more often, it is not the case because lots of people don’t fit into those categories at all.

  33. June 18, 2009 12:30 pm

    Jh,

    Thanks for your response.

    Let me say, first, that I have the highest respect for Robert George, which is precisely why I find his founding the American Principles Project so unsettling. From my own perusal of the site and its attendant blog, I derived the impression that it was a mouthpiece for some of the worst excesses of movement conservatism combined with an admirable support for pro-life legislation. Juvenile denunciations of the “statist ideology” of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, an over-the-top characterization of the “Age of Obama, when America will be transformed to resemble the socialist states and radically secularist societies of Europe,”–this sort of stuff is what you expect to hear from the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity, not from a venue founded by an actual thinker such as George. There is, further, no suggestion on the site that the American Principles Project is, in its supposed embrace of “conservatism,” willing to engage *actual* conservatives who don’t fit the National Security State movement mold–people like Daniel Larison, Rod Dreher, etc.–and this, to my mind, is rather strong evidence of its *real* function: to reestablish the political relevance of ideas important to social conservative issues *within* the current broad agenda of the Republican Party. Because I happen to think this party morally bankrupt and laughably hypocritical–though no less, of course, than the Democratic Party–I am saddened by George’s willingness to sell himself out to its dubious corporatist and stridently nationalist agenda. I don’t construe my position as “hostile” to George, though I do admit it is critical of George on this one decision.

    Let me say, too, in response to your response about the free market, that our difference consists not in my total repudiation of free economic exchange and your total endorsement of unfettered capitalism, but rather in what–given our current circumstances–constitutes what JPII called a sufficiently strong “juridical framework” so as to ensure that the market, as you put it, “works”–not, however, “works” by increasing profits come what may, but works by ensuring productivity, helping to foster a relatively equitable society, one with sufficient safeguards for the working poor. For the Church does not, and has never believed, that the free market will “work” in this fashion without a robust regulatory framework–and insofar as Republicans seem always in favor of de-regularization, of privatization, of the economizing of sectors of society that should not be economized–education and health care come predominantly to mind–they are in need of correction.

    Have you read any of the Communio school? I recommend David Schindler’s Heart of the World, Center of the Church, and Tracy Rowland’s Culture and Thomism: After Vatican II. Neither of these authors can be placed on the “left” or on the “right.” But both articulate the theological problems that arise from Catholicism’s engagement with liberal culture (which, of course, includes the ‘culture’ propounded by both Republicans and Democrats alike.)

    I agree with you that CSJ cannot merely stay in the Compendium. I only wish that Catholics were more aware of the fundamental conflicts between the claims for CSJ and both strands of contemporary liberalism on offer to them.

  34. digbydolben permalink
    June 18, 2009 12:49 pm

    “DarwinCatholic,” I think that it’s fascinating that somebody who’d call himself a “conservative” would deny the fundamental incompatibility between the “American [LIBERAL] way” and the doctrines and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Here’s something from the Knights of Columbus—of all people—that may give you pause:

    “There is…a central fifth tenet fundamental to the
    Americanist point of view: a belief in the intrinsic compatibility
    between Catholicism and American culture.
    Archbishop Ireland
    expressed the idea in beguilingly simplistic terms in 1884: “The
    choicest field which providence offers in the world today to the
    occupancy of the Church is this republic, and she welcomes with
    delight the signs of the times that indicate a glorious future for
    her beneath the starry banner.” And in a remarkable address to a
    French audience in 1892, seven years before the promulgation of
    Testem Benevolentiae, Ireland declared:

    The future of the Catholic Church in America is bright and
    encouraging. To people of other countries, American Catholicism
    presents features which seem unusual; these features are the result
    of the freedom which our civil and political institutions give us;
    but in devotion to Catholic principles, and in loyalty to the
    successor of Peter, American Catholics yield to none…. Besides,
    those who differ from us in faith have no distrust of Catholic
    bishops and priests. Why should they? By word and act we prove that
    we are patriots of patriots. Our hearts always beat with love for the
    republic. Our tongues are always eloquent in celebrating her praises.
    Our hands are always uplifted to bless her banners and her soldiers.

    This is as naive as it is sincere. In the middle years of this
    century, by contrast, John Courtney Murray, SJ, polished the
    Americanizers’ intuitions to a sophisticated high gloss. The Catholic
    Church, he argued, was not simply comfortable in America; properly
    understood, the American tradition and the Catholic tradition were
    very nearly one and the same.
    In his celebrated and enormously
    influential book We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the
    American Proposition
    (1960), Murray wrote of the “evident
    coincidence of the principles which inspired the American Republic
    with the principles which are structural to the Western Christian
    political tradition”-principles which, he contended, find their
    fullest expression in the Catholic natural-law tradition.

    John Courtney Murray died in 1967. He lived long enough to see the
    leading edge of the cultural revolution of that era, but not the full
    collapse into secularized barbarism that followed. That may have been
    his good fortune, but it raises unavoidable questions about his
    relevance today. Murray correctly argued the compatibility of
    Catholicism and the American system at a time when they were
    compatible. What of the nearly three decades since then? What of the
    situation now?

    Kennedy in Houston

    To Murray’s credit, he anticipated the onset of the deluge and
    attempted to project his analysis into the radically changed cultural
    circumstances that only fully emerged after his death. In 1962 he
    wrote:

    If this country is to be overthrown from within or without, I would
    suggest that it will not be overthrown by Communism. It will be
    overthrown because it will have made an impossible experiment. It
    will have undertaken to establish a technological order of most
    marvelous intricacy, which will have been constructed and will
    operate without relations to true political ends: and this
    technological order will hang, as it were, suspended over a moral
    confusion; and this moral confusion will itself be suspended over a
    spiritual vacuum.

    For something written more than three decades ago, this is a
    remarkably apt description of America in 1995. The struggle now, as
    Murray foresaw, is for the very soul of America. Murray’s
    intellectual heirs among contemporary Catholic neoconservatives
    continue to argue the fundamental compatibility in principle between
    the American system and the Catholic natural-law tradition. As a
    practical matter they are right to make that argument, for unless
    their position is correct and, even more to the point, unless it can
    be vindicated against powerful forces of post-modern disintegration,
    the likely future of the United States and its culturally assimilated
    Catholics is an increasingly deadly moral chaos.

    Just as John Courtney Murray provided the definitive intellectual
    rationale for the Americanizers’ vision of Catholic and American
    compatibility, so the election of John E. Kennedy as president in
    1960 supplied the definitive affirmation of the same insight on the
    political and symbolic levels. That also is significant. Crucial to
    Kennedy’s victory was his famous speech in Houston to an audience of
    suspicious Protestant ministers-a speech promising that he would not
    allow religious allegiance to override his duties as president and
    that, in the event of irresolvable conflict between the two, he would
    resign.
    Whatever Kennedy and his theological speech-writers (the
    Catholic journalist, later an Episcopalian priest, John Cogley, is
    said to have been the principal author) were thinking of, the door
    was thereby opened to a generation of Catholic politicians who soon
    would troop through proclaiming themselves “personally opposed” to
    abortion (as their religious affiliation required them to be) but no
    less opposed to “imposing their morality” on others by law and public
    policy.

    Archbishops, theologians, and presidents are, in the nature of
    things, not your typical men in the street. So one might ask: Are the
    shifting currents of Americanism reflected in the everyday world of
    grassroots Catholicism? Have ordinary American Catholics wrestled-and
    do they now wrestle-with what it means to be both Catholic and
    American? Indeed they have, and indeed they do.

    * * *
    For Catholics who regard this as a profoundly unhealthy state of
    affairs, there is an obvious conclusion. Roman Catholics in the
    United States must urgently explore the range of options open to them
    for practicing creative counterculturalism.
    Obvious models exist.
    These range from the Amish (separatism, flight-the deliberate effort
    to escape a corrupt and corrupting secular culture and raise walls
    against it)
    to the model of the Christian Coalition (aggressive
    engagement, in hopes of besting the adversary culture with political
    weapons). Does either model appeal to Roman Catholics of the United
    States? Is there some Catholic third way? Without panic, but in
    clear-eyed recognition of our parlous state, we need to begin talking about these things. If the Catholic Church in the United States means to survive, Americanism must finally- nearly a century after Testem Benevolentiae undertook to do the job be laid to rest. What comes next?”

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/AMERICAN.TXT

    The principal difference between me and most of the nationalist and “American exceptionalist” pontificators at this website is NOT over abortion, or over “priestly celibacy” or over the “rights” of “gay” Catholics or of “gay” Catholic priests, or over Obama’s moderately conservative reforms of the American economic system in favour of European-style social democracy, or over American foreign policy in the Middle East or elsewhere. I’d be perfectly willing either to find “common ground” with all of you on a number of issues, or, else, to submit my judgment to the wisdom of a two-thousand-year-old “wisdom tradition” that I’m rooted in and respect enormously.

    The principal difference between me and most of you who write here, and what I WILL NOT compromise on, is that, in the interests of self-preservation, I’d have the “American Catholic third way” be one of “separatism and flight,” in the style of the Amish, and you’d have it be one of attempted cultural war and coercive—and predictably violent–restoration of the status quo ante.

    I’m more interested in the Church’s survival and most of you believe that the Church can and must “convert” a culture that always was and always will be fundamentally heretical because of its initial premises of radical individualism, of radical intellectualism of spirituality (“salvation by faith alone”) and radical exclusion of the “elect” from “God’s grace” (“pre-destination”). That Protestant culture cannot and will not compromise with the Catholic Church on those matters of theological DOCTRINE that are the GROUNDS of “moral theology.”

    You “conservatives” are, for instance, in my opinion, making a TERRIBLE mistake in the matter of abortion by separating the “theology” of “personhood” (i.e. when “ensoulment” occurs) from the issue of “natural law.”

    Theology or DOCTRINE (as gradually “developed” by a sacramental Church which has the RIGHT to decide, if it wants to, that a soul is imparted at, say, 80 days—referring to the DOGMA of the Immaculate Conception) takes PRECEDENCE over the ever-developing human understanding of “natural law.” There’s a certain anthropology that is a part of the history of the Church, and its belief systems are a part of its “prophetic” (or “infallible”) voice. You’d compromise that voice, by attempting to marry it to the American Founders’ contempt for “papistry” and “Romish superstition.”

  35. June 18, 2009 2:29 pm

    But, from the vantage point of traditional orthodoxy, there is a good argument to be made that–in our particular time and place in history–Catholic hypocrisy issuing from the political right *requires* more attention and critique than that issuing from the political left *precisely* because of its apparently nearer approximation to orthodoxy.

    Exactly.

  36. June 18, 2009 3:16 pm

    In brief: How the *$#! can it be possible for someone to lose health insurance ?

    Only an idiot or a corporate whore could think that insurance being tied to a job is a good thing. Not that government-run programs in the US are all that – try becoming a provider for/getting paid by Medicare or Medical. It defies belief. Medical in particular is so shoddily run that doctors try to avoid it like the plague. In the private sector, many insurance companies will not take on any more doctors in particular areas, or in Blue Shield’s case with psychologists, the entire state. I believe it was Jon Stewart who coined the term catastrophuck. He used it for Iraq, but it certainly applies to healthcare bureaucracy.

    Kafka could not have dreamed up the American healthcare system. The constant screwups by the inane bureaucracy, private and government, are comical – unless you’ve been waiting to be paid by them, of course. It’s no wonder doctors want cash-paying patients whenever possible.

  37. June 18, 2009 3:17 pm

    oops wrong window :P

  38. c matt permalink
    June 18, 2009 3:52 pm

    Coverage would be required by law like car insurance

    That sounds like a really bad bad bad idea – car LIABILITY insurance is required as a minimal protection against those whom you may injure in exchange for the privilege of operating a motor vehicle. But required to insure your own health? In exchange for what – the privilege of breathing? What if you just can’t afford it, but don’t meet some arbitrary government definition of “poor” and therefore don’t qualify for assistance? Is the gov’t going to put you in jail for not having health insurance? Shoot you at dawn?

  39. Gabriel Austin permalink
    June 20, 2009 12:32 pm

    digbydolben Says June 18, 2009 at 12:49 pm
    “DarwinCatholic,” I think that it’s fascinating that somebody who’d call himself a “conservative” would deny the fundamental incompatibility between the “American [LIBERAL] way” and the doctrines and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church…”

    and following. It is a bit long [and includes digby’s tendency to raise his voice in bold type]. But it is basically correct. In the abortion battle and the related issues of marriage, family, pornography, and the like, the late Fr. Neuhaus wrote that he could not but foresee another revolution in the making. This led Gertrude Himmelfarb to resign from FIRST THINGS.

    But was he wrong? I think not. We are a country which is eating its children; a country which with its treatment of Indians and its immigration policies, refuses to share; a country whose workers [I include CEOs and such] demand ever higher wages which lead to ever higher prices [and that for products of ever increasing mediocrity]; a country whose politicians and economists spout meaningless phrases [“pro-choice”] not based on any moral principles, and refuse to see that the prosperity of this country is strictly based on the extraordinary natural resources of the land, which are being depleted.

    Then there is education…

  40. digbydolben permalink
    June 20, 2009 11:43 pm

    Gabriel Austin, you won’t find ME disagreeing with you about what is called “education” in America.

    It isn’t “education” in any traditional sense; it’s “training.”

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