If you haven’t bothered to click over to The Josias yet, you really must. Today part four of a six-part series on “The American Founders and the Aristotelian Tradition” went live. You still have time to digest it all before tomorrow’s installment. Here are the links.
I have been accused before of being uncharitable and harsh toward the Acton Institute and all of its works. Some claim I am distorting what they are “really doing” while unduly demonizing them when I should be praising their pro-market, pro-freedom agenda. Then I read thing like Dylan Pahman’s “Consumerism, Service, and Religion” over at the Acton Power Blog and quickly remember why I, a professing Catholic, cannot flatter Acton’s troubling worldview. Pahman, an ex-Calvinist Orthodox Christian, isn’t happy with Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent piece on “The Spoiling of America.” Why? Well, for one thing Longenecker’s anti-consumerist ethos doesn’t jibe with Pahman’s free-market religion, which includes lauding a free market for religion. Using Alexander Hamilton’s somewhat famous observation that “it is . . . absurd to make [religious] proselytes by fire and sword,” Pahman concludes that markets are the better — perhaps only? — alternative. On this point I’ll let the man speak for himself. Pardon the extended block quote.
Update 7/31/2014: At some point during July 30, 2014, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry deleted the “Tweet” that I quote below. Whether that deletion came in response to this post or for other reasons, I do not know. Please keep that fact in mind when reading the following.
Though unlikely, it is possible that Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (PEG) can’t read, or at least not well. After apparently reading yesterday’s post, “Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s Dissent From CST,” this is what he so charitably posted on Twitter:
Several recent off-blog inquiries have asked whether or not I setting off in a fundamentally new direction with this, Opus Publicum 2.0, since hitting the reset button just over a month ago. (For more on that, see “Rebegin.”) Given that the last couple of weeks has, with the exception of a single post on “Latinizations” in the Eastern Catholic churches, been dedicated to matters concerning international law and politics, it might seem to some that the previous blog’s concerns with intra-ecclesial affairs from a traditional Catholic perspective has faded away in favor of more neutral engagements on socio-political topics. I assure you that’s not the case, or at least not entirely.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (PEG), a neo-Catholic economic liberal, is taking umbrage with Patrick Deneen’s claim at Ethika Politika that those whom the latter refers to as “neoconservative Catholics” (see my brief thoughts on that here) “have tended, then, to read the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics to be inviolable, but Catholic social teaching regarding economics to be a set of broad and even vague guidelines.” PEG goes on to pitch a fit, claiming that the distinction Deneen attributes to neoconservative Catholics is the very distinction the Catholic Church herself maintains. To back up his claim, PEG lifts a passage from the Catechism that happens to be quoting a very small section of Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus which, according to PEG, is “thoroughly platitudinous” as compared to the Catechism’s section on abortion. Even so, that hardly means the Church’s social magisterium, or what we commonly call Catholic Social Teaching (CST), is nothing but a set of platitudes and hortatory declarations with no binding force. Even if CST were comprised of nothing but vague and highly abstract guidelines, it wouldn’t mean that they are due less accord than the more apodictic statements the Church has made on topics such as abortion, fornication, and marriage. However, the Church’s social magisterium is not nearly as vague or abstract as PEG intimates, and the whole of it cannot be captured by appealing to a partial passage from a single encyclical.
Two Catholic bloggers/writers of rather different ideological temperaments — Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig (ESB) and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (PEG) — got into an interesting, but somewhat strange, back-and-forth last week over the proper Christian conception of property rights. (You can find a brief summary here.) I call it strange because the term “legal realism” was thrown around to mean something other than what “legal realism” has, conceptually speaking, meant for nearly a century. According to ESB, legal realism — or Christian legal realism or Augustinian legal realism or whatever — , when applied to property at least, is the view that rights are conventional and can be rearranged across time and location. Or, as PEG summarizes, legal realism, according to ESB, “is merely a descriptive theory, not a prescriptive one, and that all it does is note that different property arrangements exist at different times.” But that’s hardly a novel insight. The opening paragraphs of Gaius’ Institutes, where the great Roman jurist distinguishes the civil law from what he calls the law of nations, is predicated on the rather banal observation that different polities have different laws, though Gaius certainly believed that there were laws — the law of nations — which were universally held valid. If anything, a descriptive account of different legal rules — or that there are different legal rules — today falls under the umbrella of legal positivism. The question which legal theorists of different stripes have wrestled with for centuries is not whether legal rules are different, but whether they are right. Even when legal positivists claim to engaged in a purely descriptive enterprise, there is a not-so-subtle normative claim embedded in their thinking that the validity/invalidity of a particular legal rule or system cannot be properly adjudicated. As men embrace and discard different conceptions of justice, different legal orders will emerge. So what then is legal realism?
Last week Artur Rosman published a very informative interview with Patrick Deneen at Ethika Politika entitled “The Neo-Conservative Imagination.” In it, Deneen discusses, among other things, the disconnect that exists within what he calls “neoconservative Catholics,” specifically their orthodox view on sexuality morality and their heterodox view on Catholic Social Teaching (CST). While I have no disagreement with him that there is a disconnect, I think the interview — and a lot of critical writing on what I will broadly call economic liberalism within Catholicism — could have taken more care to be conceptually clear. Let me see if I can sort it out.
The topic is a bit local, but for those interested in what I write about when I am not blogging, my latest piece for the Michigan-based Bridge magazine, “Anti-Panhandling Ordinances Should Offend our Moral Conscience,” is available for reading. The title should tip you off concerning the message.
Today is the Feast of St. Charbel Makhluf, a Maronite monk known for his life of contemplative prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. Were he alive today and inclined to visit certain “Eastern Catholic” or “Byzantine Catholic” websites, he might be surprised to learn that piety toward our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament should not be emulated by Christians of the East, but rather reviled as a “Latinization.” That at least is the fashionable opinion of some Internet loudmouths who stumbled upon Eastern Christianity the day before yesterday and have now anointed themselves adjudicators of the “authentic” when it comes to the theology, spirituality, and liturgy of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome. They’re an obnoxious lot, but it seems their numbers may be on the rise as more and more boutique religious consumers, already bored with the fruits of Summorum Pontificum, seek ever more exotic and mysterious rituals to dabble in before either growing wise to their shallowness or, as has already happened with some notable liturgical fetishists out there, exiting the Catholic Church altogether. A large part of me wants to say, “Good riddance!,” but charity compels me to still hope they’ll recover some sense of what it means to be a Christian once their incense high wears off.
A lot of focus has been placed recently on Mark Movesian’s First Things (FT) blog piece on the deplorable situation of Christians in Iraq, “A Line Crossed in the Middle East.” You should go read it; it’s quite good. The article does, however, inadvertently raise the question a friend of mine asked, “What responsibility does FT bear for Iraq?” For those of you too young to remember, during the 1990s and 00s, FT was the main hub for neoconservative Catholicism. The late Fr. John Neuhaus, along with his ideological sentries George Weigel and Michael Novak, beat the war drums leading up to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 while trashing those Christians who stood in the way. While FT has undergone some significant internal shakeups since the death of Neuhaus in 2009, the magazine—which at this point is a minor Catholic institution—has never publicly repented of its support for the Iraq War and, by extension, the misery which followed it.