Thursday, April 26, 2012
Today, Rep. Ryan delivered the Whittington Lecture at Georgetown University. The text is available here. Among other things, the lecture has an admirably civil and warm tone (I didn't hear the talk itself), which I confess I might have had difficulty in maintaining, in the wake of the snooty and dismissive letter he received by way of welcome from a number of Georgetown faculty. Besides the regrettably-common-but-still-simplistic identification of the current state of social-welfare programs with policies clearly mandated by a conscientious application of Catholic Social Teaching, the Georgetown letter snarkily charged that the Ryan budget proposal "appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.” Ryan has made clear that his alleged devotion to Rand is an "urban legend", and elaborated:
“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says. [RG: Nor me!]
Because -- like most of those who have criticized the Ryan budget -- I actually don't know everything about it, or everything about its implications, or everything about the soundness of its empirical premises and predictions, I don't presume to endorse it uncritically or dismiss it out of hand. It does seem to me, though, that Ryan is entirely right (a) to challenge the so-tired idea that Catholic Social Teaching maps neatly onto the social-welfare, spending, and taxation proposals and priorities of the Democratic Party (just as "subsidiarity" is not merely "devolution" or "small government," "solidarity" and "community" are not Catholic baptisms of statism and bureaucracy) and (b) to insist that those charged with authority in the political community are morally obligated to address the challenge of our "debt-fueled economic crisis." As he says, of course, "how we do this is a question for prudential judgment, about which people of good will can differ." There is, however, nothing Catholic about election-oriented complacency (see, e.g., the Senate's indifference to its obligation to pass a budget at some point) in the face of mounting debt, the weight of which can only crush the hopes and opportunities of young people, children, and future generations. Ryan critics who stop at criticism, without at least proposing, for consideration and debate, feasible changes in course that they plausibly and in good faith believe would respond to the challenges he identifies, are not, in my view, serious.