David Mills, a former editor at First Things and Touchstone, joined Ethika Politika‘s (EP) editorial board last year; now he is assuming the role of editorial director. In a brief but thoughtful article, “Why I Joined,” Mills explains what attracted him to EP in the first place, particularly its diversity. Here are some of Mills’s own words:
Speaking, again, as a reader [of EP], I enjoyed the site’s diversity of voices and opinions and appreciated the fact that it showed no great interest in making final definitive judgments on the meaning of Catholic social teaching. It drew upon writers of different commitments to address the open questions. Both free marketing and socialist Catholics have something to offer, even if you think one of them, or both of them, wrong. There weren’t many sites (other than the aggregators) where you could find all sorts of serious Catholics speaking. Elsewhere the ideological policing was too stringent.
Mills’s last point is surely correct, and it doesn’t take much reflection to figure out which sources of Catholic (or broadly Christian) commentary are aligned one way or the other. However, it seems that a small but noticeable shift is underway where former ideological monoliths are diversifying on the margins. It is, for instance, much more difficult to speak of a singleminded “First Things consensus” today than it was in the 1990s and 00s even if that publication’s old guard still casts a long shadow over its current efforts. Crisis, for better or worse, remains conservative in the strict sense, and its handling of the Church’s social magisterium tends to lean neoliberal/libertarian despite some exceptions here-and-there. More “ecumenical enterprises,” like The Imaginative Conservative, tend to favor right-liberal approaches to socio-economic affairs while giving occasional space to distributists and other conservative voices that remain skeptical of free-market capitalism. Still, at the end of the day, voices which speak neither the jargon of socialism nor capitalism remain ghettoized in speciality publications, websites, and blogs. Breaking free of the bunker mentality that ghettoization often engenders and engaging the wider spectrum of Catholic thought has not been their strong suit thus far.
EP can help change that, or so I hope. While I have not contributed to the site since last year, I continue to benefit intellectually from a number of its articles, even those with which I disagree (and sometimes quite vehemently). Mills, whose commitment to rigorous but charitable dialogue is beyond question, brings more than gravitas to EP; he also carries with him a wealth of experience, connections, and original insights on the role of Catholicism in our secular-liberal society. Moreover, Mills’s aversion to ideological policing hopefully means that Catholics (and non-Catholics) of varying orientations can finally meet each other on neutral ground rather than succumbing to the temptation to carp behind each other’s backs.
It is an unfortunate fact that there remains sizable misunderstandings amongst socialist, libertarian, and distributist Catholics. These misunderstandings not only prevent one camp from giving another a fair hearing, but it also blinds them from seeing the excesses in their own position. For example, socialist Catholics routinely rail against libertarianism’s excessive faith in the market as being incongruent with Catholic social principles without acknowledging where the socialist platform falls short with respect to respecting property rights and subsidiarity. Distribustism — a camp which I have a great deal of sympathy toward — could say a great deal more to both libertarians and socialists if only its defenders put more time into putting meat on the skeleton erected by earlier generations of distributists.
In closing, let me reaffirm my delight that Mills is taking on a larger role at EP. Much of his recent writing evidences a clear understanding of the issues which continue to divide many Catholics and the need to broaden Catholic socio-political thought beyond the liberal fusionism which reigned supreme for decades. What comes next under his leadership remains to be seen, but I for one am looking forward to it.