1. Aethelfrith
    December 17, 2014

    “economic liberalism of various tripes”
    Freudian slip?

  2. Ita Scripta Est
    December 18, 2014


    I don’t mean to start drama or anything but could you give an example of what you have in mind when you use the term “socialist Catholics”? When I hear of this I think of someone like Michael Sean Winters, who’s career is enjoying something of a renaissance with the election of Francis. Or perhaps some of the writers over at a place like Vox Nova. If that is what you have in mind, I agree with your critique. Winters, especially seems to be the left-liberal version of George Weigel.

    On the other hand, I see almost nothing worthwhile coming out of the libertarian camp. Criticizing the modern state or criticizing modern Weberian bureaucracy is like hitting the broadside of a barn, anyone can do it and most modern ideologies do do it some form or another. The question is does the critique make sense and can the it provide some kind of viable solution? I think libertarians fail on both points. You are more like likely to find a better critique of the state from the left especially from some of the more heterodox positions, but I’ll differ to someone like Ochlophobist who is more versed in the various schools of thought.

    1. modestinus
      December 18, 2014

      Let me see if I can reply to all of the questions you raised here…

      First, I would have to say that “socialist Catholic” is a pretty broad category, and I am certainly open to qualifying it a bit. Certainly Michael Sean Winters comes within that orbit. At the moment, I would put Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig as the most consistently outspoken “representative” of what I mean by that expression. Daniel Nichols, at times, comes pretty close to being one; in fact, based on some of what he has written, he may even believe himself already to be one.

      Second, and related, I don’t think socialist Catholicism is as unified in orientation as the neoliberal/libertarian camp(s). I should also be clear that it’s not “all or nothing” either. I think someone could ne committed to Distributism while retaining views of the relationship between the market and the state which pulls them closer to socialism. The primary problem I have with the socialist approach is that it’s top-down with a definite egalitarian bent to it. While there are certain programs/regulations where such an approach may always be called for, I find starting there to be problematic — and certainly not endorsed directly by CST.

      Third, just to clarify, I understand that socialism, removed from a Catholic context, as historically come in many shapes and varieties, some of which are far more compatible, or exhibit real overlap, with CST than others. When I say “socialist Catholics,” I am really thinking about a rather contemporary, but not unified, orientation which likely only has tenuous links to what I will call the “secular socialism” which emerged in the 19th C.

      Fourth, vulgar libertarianism, the sort which just goes on endlessly about the state, the state, the state, isn’t really what I had in mind. In fact, most “promotional libertarianism,” secular or Christian, is unimpressive. What I am thinking about here are some of the basic insights which libertarians, at their best, hold dear, namely the importance of the rule of law; the principle of subsidiarity; and the difficulties which attend centralized regulation (not as a general, sweeping charge, but rather case-specific analyses of the limits of regulatory instruments for solving certain socio-economic problems). Of course, I have disagreements about how libertarians express and use all three. As I have written about before, “the rule of law,” while important, is not neutral, and libertarians who tout it should stop pretending that it is. Similarly, with respect to subsidiarity, I think Catholic libertarians are right to emphasize it, but wrong to absolutize it at the expense of other CST principles.

      Last, I will say that libertarians have a more sympathetic understanding of the market mechanism which pro-CST Catholics, particularly Distributists, might learn a thing or two from. I fear that amidst all of the polemics against capitalism and free-market economics, faithful Catholics lose sight of the fact that what we, on the basis of CST, are arguing for is a market, albeit one subject to natural justice. That is, we’re still talking about maintaining a system of free exchange, only with a much thicker idea of what “freedom” means than, say, the libertarians are willing to entertain.


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