Friday, January 18, 2008

America: Ron Paul and Catholic Social Teaching

Micheal Sean Winters has written a ridiculous blog post titled "Ron Paul, Libertarianism, and Catholic Social Teaching" for the left oriented Jesuit publication America. Nice title for a piece where only one mere sliver of Catholic Social Teaching is even mentioned. Further, he takes a very narrow view of libertarianism, namely the libertine variety that is often associated with places like the Cato Institute and he claims the libertarian patron saint is none other than the uber-egoist Ayn Rand. Of course, if this was libertarianism properly understood, as a universal philosophy of living life, then Catholics have no place holding such a political philosophy.

However, if there were ever a patron saint of libertarianism, particularly in the modern era, it would probably be the Catholic political philosopher Lord Acton, who famously stated that "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end." While Acton holds such a high view of liberty, it should be noted that this view does not go beyond what is political. In other words, Winters is correct when he says "[Catholics] do not value human autonomy..." Naturally, the human person is more than just some automaton living out an existence of extreme independence. From birth, we are dependent on parents. At extreme old age and infirmity, we are dependent on our children and our siblings. In our economy, we are interdependent on the actions of our fellow man by making mutual gains from exchange, trade. Most importantly, as Catholics we are dependent on God. Without, the Lord the Giver of life, we'd have no life. Without the sacrifice of the Son on Calvary, we'd have no Resurrection. And so we come to the highest end of humanity, to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our souls. Thus, it is not a necessary condition that libertarian political ideal need be construed to encompass all facets of a persons life beyond its practice politically.

Libertarian political thought can be summarized as the Golden Rule in negative form, do not to your brothers as you would have not done to you. This ideal should be seen as a bare minimum for human interaction, and not as a complete universal to human interaction. Caritas to our fellow man is still required, but it does not follow that it is to be carried out through means of brute force and coercion. The Catholic or Christian libertarian simply looks to follow the Golden Rule in negative form regarding political interaction, and in positive form for the balance of his human interaction.

I'd recommend Winters look beyond the libertines to other sources of libertarian thought before spouting his mouth off about things he does not understand. Reading authors like Locke and Cicero, as well as to Catholic sources like John of Salisbury and the Spaniards at Salamanca of the Late Scholastic period to get a sense of where libertarians might be coming from. Besides since when was the Cato Institute the Libertarian Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? Winters argues that since Cato once had a vile conference promoting a book on genetically altered "Designer Babies", that this passes for libertarian thinking everywhere. Winters seems to have no idea that the Cato Institute has never had nor ever will have any amity with Ron Paul. And as to why he didn't get the memo from his New Republic buddies on their well timed smear of Ron Paul, I don't know? In any case, Ron Paul has always been outside what is often held as mainstream libertarianism, namely because he's a pro-life country doctor and family man, that views libertarianism as a political philosophy and not as some means to live a life of decadent license. Ron Paul doesn't exasperate people like Winters at their cosmopolitan dinner parties with talk of eliminating traffic signals. No instead, Paul just goes home to see the grand kids.

So while we're talking about life, liberty, and Catholic Social Teaching, let's see how Winters measures up Paul.


Winters, like most others, derides Ron Paul's foreign policy as isolationist. What practitioner of Catholic Social Teaching does Winters site in refutation? That Catholic paragon known as Harry Truman of course. Winters could at least cite George Weigel or Father Neuhaus, but Truman? You know, the only man crazy enough to deploy nuclear weapons against human beings at two of Japan's largest Christian cities. So, in a truly nuclear move, "[Paul's] isolationist foreign policy views were happily repudiated by Harry Truman and GOP Sen. Arthur Vandenberg more than 50 years ago." I guess the murders at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a smashing success in destroying the idea of an "isolationist" foreign policy. Maybe Winters is referring to the United Nations and all the fruitful works that have resulted with its interventions in Korea, Palestine, and the Balkans. But, then again, mass death comes with the blue helmets too. In any case, in calling Ron Paul a "wingnut" Winters fails to address Paul's invocation of St. Augustine's Just War thesis or his call to consider the Golden Rule when thinking about foreign regimes. It is quite disconcerting when an author at a prominent Jesuit publication derides a non-interventionist foreign policy invoking peace, diplomacy, and trade in an off handed manner by means of Harry Truman, an acolyte of belligerent warmongery. Paul's foreign policy can be rightly described by John XXIII's encyclical, Pacem in Terris, as a method to regulate relations between the US and other states by the principle of freedom. "This means that no country has the right to take any action that would constitute an unjust oppression of other countries, or an unwarranted interference in their affairs." Which is exactly what Ron Paul has consistently called for on the floor of the House of Representatives, in the GOP debates, and on the campaign trail. As for Truman's foreign policy, you know the Satanic idea that we have to kill them over there before they might try to think about killing us over here, Elizabeth Anscombe gets it right reminding us of Saint Paul who argued that we must not do evil that good may come:

"When I say that to choose to kill the innocent as a means to one's ends is murder, I am saying what would generally be accepted as correct. But I shall be asked for my definition of "the innocent". I will give it, but later. Here, it is not necessary; for with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are not confronted with a borderline case. In the bombing of these cities it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end."

Gold Standard

If one does not understand how the Federal Reserve operates, essentially by what is called fractional reserve banking, I can understand how they might not be alarmed by what is being done to our currency. However, through the means of merely printing money with no disciplined approach, the Federal Reserve has dramatically decreased the purchasing power of our currency. To those who worry about the ideal of a Just Wage, they should consider Ron Paul's arguments in favor of the gold standard as a means of reigning in a regime of monetary permissiveness that has consistently operated to serve the best interests of Wall Street bankers and corporate America. Further, monetary permissiveness has hurt most those living on fixed incomes, particularly the elderly. It is my understanding that all government policies, in light of the CST, should consider the common good rather than the private interests of a business elite. I'd hope writers at America who show concern for America's poor would consider how a stable currency comports with a view to the common good, in contrast to the chaos and hyper-speculative activity that results from fractional reserve banking.

Social Welfare Programs

It is true that Dr. Paul wishes, in the long run, to eliminate Federal welfare programs as well as federal income tax. However, he does take the realistic view that Social Security, Welfare, and VA benefits are programs that people have become dependent on which will take time to eliminate. He has consistently said that by reigning in our interventionist foreign policy, that he would use such funding to continue provide Federal welfare for those in need. Which brings us back to libertarians and understanding the human coniditon, where Paul recognizes the fact that many are dependent on such programs and that it would be inhumane to cut people from them cold turkey. Of course what is at stake for these people is their dignity, and as such, it is the hope of some Catholic libertarians that when government forms of welfare are eliminated, private forms of Catholic charity can more than fill the gap with the vigor and love which they have been renowned for hundreds of years. It's time to stop crowding out charity based on caritas, with the bureaucratic form, dull and lifeless.

Next time, when Micheal Sean Winters writes about Ron Paul's policy ideas and Catholic Social Teaching, maybe he could address them substantively, based on research about Ron Paul's actual ideas and not on some libertine caricatures. Hopefully he'll actually address, in some manner, the social teaching of the Church.