Austin Ruse likes to antagonize his co-religionists, or so I surmised from his various entanglements with the so-called “New Homophiles.” While I am not unsympathetic to some of Ruse’s concerns, the unduly harsh manner in which he engages fellow Catholics, coupled with his myopic view of Church teaching and theology on a number of issues, renders me unable to fully endorse his writings. That reservation is now stronger than ever in light of his most recent Crisis piece, “Abortion, Torture, and Juice-Box Theologians.” In it, Ruse attacks not only Left-leaning Catholics who, for various reasons which are perhaps inadequate, reject the mainline Republican Party, but also more conservative/orthodox Catholics. According to Ruse, these “thunder-bolt tossing uber-Catholics,” some of whom are associated with the website Vox Nova, have expanded the list of political “non-negotiables” to absurd lengths, placing issues like gun control, climate change, and the federal minimum wage on the same level as abortion and same-sex marriage.
To a modest extent I sympathize with Ruse’s frustrations. To place a murderous policy like abortion which, since 1973, has been responsible for the termination of 55 million lives on the same level as gun control is perverse on its face. Similarly, to treat a federal minimum wage as a non-negotiable when minimum wages are, at most, a second-best solution to a real problem seems a bit much, even though pressing for not just minimum but rather just wages is an authentically Catholic social concern. Where I cannot follow Ruse is on his insistence that, in light of our current political predicament, the only “solution” is to throw in with Republican-style liberalism—one which he believes, without intelligent explication, gels with the Church’s social magisterium. All Catholics have to do, apparently, is frame their policy desires like this:
Eliminate the corporate income tax. Eliminate the capital gains tax, and the death tax. Eliminate OSHA and the Department of Education. At the same time, run a national campaign out of the White House encouraging people to finish high school, get married, go to church, and have babies. Sit back and watch all boats rise.
Unfortunately for Ruse, it’s not clear that any or all of these policy positions are either endorsed by or congruent with the social magisterium. Maybe because making that matter clearer would require Ruse to think through the issues rather than carp on about those with whom he disagrees, he opts to not make the effort. What he does opt for, however, is a pointless parting jab:
[L]et’s get the Federal government out of the land business. The Feds own a third of all US land, up to half and more of many western states. Let’s have a modern day land-rush for all those Distributists out there who are just itching to fish, farm or make cheese—though one suspects they’ll stay exactly where they are, blogging and adjunct teaching.
I doubt most readers will miss the irony of Ruse knocking bloggers when his “public intellectual” persona is advanced through little more than glorified blogging. (This is not a knock on Crisis, but simply a statement of present publication realities.) As for adjunct teaching, what’s wrong with that? Does Ruse possess the chops to do even that much? But I digress.
The real problem with Ruse’s closing swipe, aside from the fact it betrays his lack of knowledge about Distributism, is that it places a highly generalized, ad hominem attack in as a placeholder for a thoroughgoing critique—one which he may not be capable of rendering. And truth be told, there is certainly nothing out-of-sorts with Distributists or any other faithful adherent of the Church’s socio-economic teachings desiring the federal government to divest itself of mass land holdings in certain, though obviously not all, circumstances. Moreover, returning to Ruse’s list of policy preferences, it is difficult to think that he has seriously studied whether those steps will truly result in “all boats ris[ing].” Does Ruse believe that on the basis of airtight theory backed by empirical evidence or because he is enamored with the dubious belief that the Republican Party is our only hope? The Josias, and a growing band of thoughtful Catholics of various intellectual stripes, thankfully have a thing or two to say about that.