I’ll say one thing about the nomination of Rep. Paul Ryan for the vice-presidential slot: it has produced some of the most telling exchanges about the details of Catholic thought, especial Catholic social thought, that we have seen in a long while. The fact that the WSJ feels the need to publish not one but two pieces defending Ryan on Catholic grounds is fascinating in itself.
Michael Sean Winters has put together quite a blockbuster response to the latest attempt at defense. Winters crisply articulates what could be a manifesto for getting beyond left/right polarization:
as someone who strives, and strives mightily to submit his mind and his will to the teachings of the Church, to never be a “cafeteria Catholic,” I will say unequivocally that I am as appalled by Ryan’s dissent as by Biden’s and for the same reason: The libertarianism of the right on economic matters, like the libertarianism of the left on sexual ethics, offends the most central dogmatic claim of the Christian Church, the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity, which reveals that at the heart of all Reality, the source of all Creation, is not an autonomous individual known as God, not an abstract, impersonal Unmoved Mover, but a God who has revealed Himself as relational.
His editorial is also notable for pithily summarizing the whole intrinsic evil/prudential judgment issue:
To be clear, and to repeat: The moral obligation to help the poor is absolute. The moral obligation to protect human life is absolute. How we achieve such help and such protection, in the world of practical political and legal realities, requires prudential judgment in both instances. If Mr. Ryan were saying, “My way of helping the poor is better than yours,” that would be one thing, but he has offered no way of helping the poor just as Mr. Biden has offered no way of protecting the right to life of the unborn.
Finally, he takes us what I think is the underlying issue in the debate: the errors of theological anthropology explicitly in a vision of the world inspired by Ayn Rand and Austrian economics:
I do not object to anyone reading Ayn Rand. I do not even object to someone liking Ayn Rand, provided that someone is a college freshman, raised in a strict conservative Christian home, living on their own for the first time, and feeling alienated by college life. By sophomore year, hopefully such a student will have discovered friendship, or an area of study, or a devotion to culture, or the life of the Spirit, that will lead to understand that Rand’s hostility to altruism, which is heart of her economic and political views, is profoundly hostile not only to a Catholic worldview but to any humane worldview.
Several recent discussions here have evidenced that there is a lot of room for real discussion about the practical merits of various economic policies and choices. Great. What is missing, it seems, is a recognition that pure market solutions – that is, a kind of ideological faith that markets are better, for everything, every time – do not reconcile with even the principles of CST, and they are animated by a profoundly misguided theological anthropology. What is of the most concern is the Ryan budget is shaped by a theological anthropology, which is fundamentally at odds with the Church. Here is John Paul II in his most “pro-market letter”, Centesimus Annus:
can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? … The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. … Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces. (no. 42)
Here is Pope Benedict XVI, stating the kind of hybrid market-state-corporatist vision of Caritas in Veritate:
When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion. (no. 39)
Certainly these kinds of descriptions leave ample room for a discussion about whether Medicaid should be left to the states, or whether Medicare should be a more market-driven voucher system, or any of a host of other wonkish issues. What they don’t seem to leave room for is an ideological assumption that federal programs, regulations, and mechanisms are inherently bad, nor for an assumption that we should make significant tax cuts to already-wealthy persons as a step toward fiscal responsibility. Both these assumptions are deeply rooted in a Randian worldview, and at the very least, it would seem that Rep. Ryan should come out and explain how he now has come to recognize the errors in this view that he previously endorsed. Perhaps to make this more clear: while CST allows for obvious and necessary prudential judgment in explaining the balance of state, market, and “gratuity-inspired enterprises,” it authorizes a proper mix of these things, because it is based on a theological anthropology of human solidarity.
The persistent inability of both Catholic politicians (of both parties) and even some Catholic bishops to recognize this fundamental problem in theological anthropology needs explaining. What is apparently the case is that some believe the Church has complete and total competence to pronounce on the nature of human SEXUAL dignity, but that when it seeks to connect this dignity to fundamental claims about the nature of human community, of technology, of the economy, and of ecology, the Church suddenly loses this ability to speak authoritatively. The ascribing of authority to only one realm of human experience would seem to explain why Rep. Ryan would (presumably) abhors Rand’s sexual ethics, while somehow embracing her economics. The (false) dichotomizing of intrinsically-evil acts and prudential judgment is meant to mask this incoherence. It is easy enough to identify absolute statements – both positive and negative – on economic and environmental issues, and the Church has recognized “inviolable” rights to food and water, as well as to religious freedom and property.
Fortunately, the Magisterium of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have manifested an ever-more integrated reflection, in which the nature of life, sexuality, economy, ecology, and technological progress are subordinated to limits and to a partially-realized eschatology of love, manifest as much in the world of marriage and of business and of nature, as it also is manifest in holy poverty, chastity, and obedience. As Pope Benedict writes:
The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society. (CV, no. 51)
But this unity stretches back further still. I still remember reading an article by my now-colleague David Matzko McCarthy (“Procreation, The Development of Peoples, and the Final Destiny of Humanity”), which demonstrated the unity of vision of Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio and Humanae Vitae (Communio, 26 Wint 1999, p 698-721) . We can and must debate details of this teaching, but hopefully we grasp the unity of the sexual and social vision found in this theological anthropology… and not pretend that one part has an “authority” that the other part does not have.