Monday, October 17, 2016
From Christianity Today (full article here):
What Trump is, everyone has known and has been able to see for decades, let alone the last few months. The revelations of the past week of his vile and crude boasting about sexual conquest—indeed, sexual assault—might have been shocking, but they should have surprised no one.
Indeed, there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.
And therefore it is completely consistent that Trump is an idolater in many other ways. He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.
Some have compared Trump to King David, who himself committed adultery and murder. But David’s story began with a profound reliance on God who called him from the sheepfold to the kingship, and by the grace of God it did not end with his exploitation of Bathsheba and Uriah. There is no parallel in Trump’s much more protracted career of exploitation. The Lord sent his word by the prophet Nathan to denounce David’s actions—alas, many Christian leaders who could have spoken such prophetic confrontation to him personally have failed to do so. David quickly and deeply repented, leaving behind the astonishing and universally applicable lament of his own sin in Psalm 51—we have no sign that Trump ever in his life has expressed such humility. And the biblical narrative leaves no doubt that David’s sin had vast and terrible consequences for his own family dynasty and for his nation. The equivalent legacy of a Trump presidency is grievous to imagine.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
As a needed reminder that Christian values and social justice cannot comfortably be forced into neat partisan packages, two recent newspaper editorials may appear to point in opposite directions but actually illustrate that neither end of the political spectrum today may capture Gospel values or reflect genuine social justice.
One editorial suggests that the reliance of the political left on government-centric solutions fails to advance social justice on prudential grounds, while the other pointedly reveals that the presumptive nominee of the party that has been the bastion of the political right is now professing a "theology" bearing no resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Herewith a sample of each:
Jay Miller in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes:
The idea of slapping the wealthy around and righting all perceived injustices sounds terrific. Putting it into action through the heavy-handedness of government intervention often tells a different story: Economic stagnation that punishes the least well-off first, exactly the ones who are supposed to benefit from populist policies.
One need look no further than Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina to see what current or former populist leaders of those countries have wrought with their so-called egalitarian policies.
For all the faults one can find with capitalism and free trade, they work better than any other system and that's something we should never forget.
Peter Werner writes in the New York Times on “The Theology of Donald Trump”:
Time and again Mr. Trump has shown contempt for those he perceives as weak and vulnerable — “losers,” in his vernacular. They include P.O.W.s, people with disabilities, those he deems physically unattractive and those he considers politically powerless. He bullies and threatens people he believes are obstacles to his ambitions. He disdains compassion and empathy, to the point where his instinctive response to the largest mass shooting in American history was to congratulate himself: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.” ***
Mr. Trump’s entire approach to politics rests on dehumanization. If you disagree with him or oppose him, you are not merely wrong. You are worthless, stripped of dignity, the object of derision. ***
The calling of Christians is to be “salt and light” to the world, to model a philosophy that defends human dignity, and to welcome the stranger in our midst. It is to stand for justice, dispense grace and be agents of reconciliation in a broken world. And it is to take seriously the words of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?”
Monday, February 29, 2016
“For some of us, principle and country still matter.”
These words are from Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman (Chair of the Finance Committee for Chris Christie for President), when she denounced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “astonishing display of political opportunism” in endorsing Donald Trump, a “dishonest demagogue” who “would take America on a dangerous journey.”
The Trump steamroller moves on to Super Tuesday tomorrow. The increasingly desperate campaign to deny Donald Trump the Republican nomination for President has belatedly targeted his scandalous habit of taking unfair advantage of people in his questionable business dealings.
The list of transgressions runs long. Trump tried to use eminent domain and employed construction crews who smashed her windows and set fire to the roof, all in an attempt to bully an elderly woman who refused to surrender her house. Trump wanted to pave the land over for a limousine parking lot alongside his casino. Trump charged students tens of thousands of dollars in “tuition” to a Trump University, while promising students they would have the best professors “handpicked by me” and would learn his secrets to getting rich with real estate. Instead, they got little more than a photo opportunity with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.
Moreover, Trump has built much of his financial empire taking advantage of human fallibility, reaping hundreds of millions from lower- and middle-income people who have lost money and sometimes their livelihoods gambling at his network of casinos. Trump commented on his casinos in one of his books: “I’ve never gambled in my life. To me, a gambler is someone who plays slot machines. I prefer to own slot machines. It’s a very good business being the house.” As he later said on his television show: “How much have I made off the casinos? Off the record, a lot.”
And, of course, there is the Trump sleaze. Consider the women exploited at Trump casino strip clubs.
But there are still bigger reasons to fear the prospect of a Trump Presidency:
- Praising and Quoting Dictators: When asked about Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin jailing of his opponents and reporters, Trump says: “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” Quoting World War II Fascist Dictator Mussolini, Trump tweeted just yesterday “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” When asked about it, Trump insists: “It’s a very good quote. I didn’t know who said it, but what difference does it make if it was Mussolini or somebody else — it’s a very good quote.”
- Creating an Enemies List: Of the Washington Post and New York Times for publishing unfavorable news about him, Trump says only a few days ago: “And believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems, they’re gonna have such problems!” Saying of the owner of the Chicago Cubs: “I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $’s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”
- Promising War Crimes and Torture: During his campaign Trump says: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” And to interrogate persons suspected of terrorist acts, Trump says he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
- Advocating a Philosophy of Vengeance: Trump writes in one of his books: “For many years I’ve said that if someone screws you, screw them back. When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can.”
- Repealing Free Speech Protections for the Press: Trump says: “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
- Denying Religious Freedom to Minority Religions: While he claims to support religious liberty, Trump does not include everyone. Most notable was his “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He flirted with requiring Muslim Americans to register with the government.
- Hesitating to Disavow White Supremacists: When asked about the endorsement of him by David Duke, former leader of the KKK just yesterday, Trump responded: “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.”
In one of the late Justice Scalia’s most famous passages from his decades on the Supreme Court, he drew upon Christ’s warning in Matthew 7:15 about false prophets who “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” In this dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia observed that threats to the constitutional separation of powers frequently appear before the Court “clad, so to speak, in sheep’s clothing.” In other words, the potential “to effect important change in the equilibrium of power is not immediately evident, and must be discerned by a careful and perceptive analysis.”
Justice Scalia closed with these haunting words: “But this wolf comes as a wolf.”
[Note: I’d prepared this post over the weekend, before Rick Garnett’s response to inquiries from a longtime MoJ reader. For an earlier MoJ post on Trump, see here. Also, in the initial post, I confused the “Whitmans”; Meg Whitman is the one quoted above, while former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whiteman has also said she is “ashamed” of Governor Christie’s endorsement of Trump.]
Friday, February 26, 2016
When the leftward end of the American political spectrum proposes yet another government program or entitlement, the budgetary costs and the dangers of ever bigger government tend to be immediately apparent.
That's not to say, of course, that those in elite circles or the mainstream media are quick to ask those impertinent questions about saddling future generations with ever-more debt and unsustainable entitlements or about how much liberty should be sacrificed to accommodate the demands of larger government. In each election cycle, the left offers to add still more entrees to the buffet of government benefits, promising an ever-bigger “free lunch.” And the generally sympathetic media tends to hype yet another government benefit, focusing primarily on those who would directly benefit, while downplaying the costs and how to pay for it.
Nonetheless, for those who are paying attention and especially for those who are sensitive to the cumulative harm imposed on a healthy society that comes from ever-increasing dependence on government, the downsides are usually easy to identify. When senator and socialist candidate Bernie Sanders proposes free tuition for all public universities and colleges, for example, what criticism follows is likely to focus first on the enormous costs and next on the creep of federal control over higher education.
But, sometimes, an even-greater threat lurks below the surface, not so easily detected. By definition, unanticipated consequences tend to be, well, not anticipated. The sad fact remains that most Americans — definitely including those who populate the opinion-leading sectors of government, academia, and the media — have but a passing familiarity with economic side-effects or any appreciation for collateral social consequences that follow new social experiments.
For this reason, most are unlikely to perceive the grave danger that the Sanders proposal poses to intellectual and cultural diversity in American higher education and particularly to faith-based colleges and universities.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
On the Republican presidential campaign, some are saying that “Silly Season” should be over. But then the “Trump Spectacle” stopped being funny quite some time ago.
Since I became of age to vote, I have cast my ballot for the Republican nominee for President on every occasion (a total of nine times). I am proud to say that I was one of the first to join what became the Reagan Revolution, working as a teenager in the unsuccessful Reagan campaign of 1976 and then being chosen as the second-youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention which nominated Ronald Reagan for President in 1980.
The Republican Party is blessed with one of the strongest set of candidates ever presented for the highest elected office in our country. We have successful and innovative governors, active and effective Senators, demographic diversity, youthful vigor and wise seniority, and a host of interesting proposals to restore growth and leadership to the United States. Then there is Donald Trump, who displays none of this.
Those who know me, know that I am hardly a liberal-leaning critic or left-wing fellow traveler. Nor would I be characterized as someone who easily takes offense at typical political rhetoric.
Within the liberal echo chamber that is the American legal academy, I frequently sound a dissenting note. I often rebel against political correctness, especially when used as a trump card to suffocate dissenting viewpoints that make the academic elite uncomfortable. I share the frustration (and even occasional resentment) of a majority of Americans toward a political class that presumes it has all the answers (always more law and government) and insists that it holds the moral high ground (again always with more law and government), while it arrogates more power and revenues to itself.
I too am worried by this feckless President’s unstable foreign policy which has continually weakened our nation’s position in the world, lost so many opportunities to strengthen security, and failed to take sustained and meaningful action against international dangers.
It can be lonely in higher education to be an orthodox Catholic; defender of the unborn; supporter of free markets; believer in America as a force for good in the world; questioner about do-gooder campaigns that rely on imposing rules and building distant bureaucracies; and resister to judicial overreaching. It is often tiring and sometimes discouraging.
But no level of frustration, no justifiable venting, no disappointment in false promises by politicians, no discouragement about the hegemony of the cultural and media elite – none of this – can justify casting a vote for a person who repeatedly and flagrantly offends standards of decency and who exhibits no moral seriousness and uplifting principle.
Donald Trump speaks with contempt for women, making comments on appearance (and even beyond) that no gentleman would ever think, much less utter.
Trump regularly paints those in the minority or on the margins into his picture of scapegoats, an ignorant and cowardly posture that fails to genuinely engage with the problems facing our country.
When a prominent figure slurs Muslim Americans by repeatedly broadcasting the lie that thousands of them in New Jersey celebrated the terrorist attacks of 9/11, every decent person is morally obliged to speak up as a witness for the truth. When a presidential candidate speaks approving of an outrageously unconstitutional proposal to force persons of a particular faith to register with and be monitored by the government, anyone who cares about religious liberty should be alarmed.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters in this country have demonstrated repeatedly by their actions and their words that they believe in the American Dream. For those who are interested in the truth about American Muslims, including their own views as shown in polls, I refer you to one of my works on religious liberty, which includes considerable data on the vibrant and encouraging role of Muslims in our American tapestry (here).
And after I wrote a draft of this post and circulated it to some colleagues for comments, Trump went a step further and called for banning any Muslim from even visiting the United States. Beyond how outrageous this is as a matter of principle, it displays disqualifying foolishness as a matter of foreign policy. Turkey, for example, is a member of NATO and an ally in the fight against ISIS. Trump would ban anyone from Turkey from entering the United States. Indonesia is one of the fastest rising nations in the world, with soaring educational achievements and an exciting new democratically-elected leader. It is becoming an icon of Muslim democracy. And, of course, Trump would blacklist all of them.
Nor can casual contempt for Latino immigrants and falsely portraying nearly all of them as criminals be left unanswered. Our nation has always been strengthened by immigrants, who today willingly take jobs that others turn down, show an entrepreneurial spirit, and reflect powerful family values. While some entered the country without proper documentation (a matter of justifiable concern), they did so for reasons that every American can respect, that is, to build a better life for themselves and their families.
And now Trump undermines our national stand against terrorism by calling for America to engage in blatant violations of human rights and openly commit war crimes.
He boasts that he would restore water-boarding of terrorist suspects, not as an interrogation technique but for the very purpose of imposing torture on those who supposedly deserve it.
Without any prompting, Trumps volunteers on national television that we should respond to terrorist attacks by killing (“take out”) the families of any terrorist. If the United States were to initiate atrocities by executing parents, brothers and sisters, and children because a member of the family committed a violent act against innocents, we would have crossed the moral line to the same side as the terrorists.
Now and again, someone will ask me, who is voting for Donald Trump? The answer, of course, is that no one is. The voting hasn’t begun. Especially in this chaotic pre-primary season with an unusually long list of candidates, the polls are an unreliable predictor of what will happen once caucusing begins and primaries are held.
The Republican Party is the genuine party of hope and change, with candidates who offer not merely a celebrity image but actually have a track record of meaningful and positive change. Once the Republican nomination process actually begins, this is the message that will win; this is the face of the Republican Party.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
As we draw to the end of Respect Life Month, I just had to express some academic pride in one of the ways that a pro-life commitment is reflected at the University of St. Thomas (and I speak here of the undergraduate institution, beyond the law school where I teach).
The Catholic Spirit, which is the newsletter of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, reported the wonderful news that four Minnesota women have entered the Sisters of Life religious order, headquartered in New York. And all four were graduates of the University of St. Thomas here in Minnesota. Herewith an excerpt (and you can read the rest here):
Four Minnesotans are among the young women preparing to dedicate themselves to the pro-life cause as Sisters of Life, a religious community based in New York City focused on helping women in crisis pregnancies and promoting a culture of life.
In September, Caroline Stiles, 22, of Sacred Heart in Owatonna; Paula Thelen, 25, of St. Peter in North St. Paul; and Elizabeth Schmitt, 23, of St. Mark in St. Paul, became postulants in the community. Fellow Minnesotan Sister Magnificat Rose, baptismal name Jillian Wayland, of Divine Mercy in Faribault, is in her second year of the novitiate with the community.
All four women graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, where they also crossed paths in their studies and dormitories.
This reminds us, as if any reminder were necessary to the Mirror of Justice community, that Catholic higher education matters. Our Catholic colleges and universities make a unique contribution to our society and the common good. At so many Catholic colleges and universities, the Good News is being heard, experienced, and lived.
Especially during this Respect Life Month, remember in your prayers those who are discerning whether they are called to religious life at the Sisters of Life. You can read more here about the Sisters of Life, a vibrant, joyful, and servant community. And donations to their work can be made here (I've just placed a donation myself).
Friday, October 9, 2015
A Tale of Two Videos: Contrasting the Likely Reaction in the Legal Academy to a Hypothetical Undercover Video Displaying Institutional Racism With That to the Planned Parenthood Videos
Suppose, hypothetically, that a non-profit organization concerned about racial justice and equality in the American economy conducted a series of undercover operations targeted at leading national banks. They secretly recorded video of banking executives making racially insensitive statements and generally exhibiting a callous attitude toward minorities in urban communities who struggle to pay their mortgages or start businesses.
On one video, let us say, the white executive of a major bank is caught saying to a lending committee that, while the bank’s brochures may tout diversity and non-discrimination, the bank really had no interest in providing financing for business projects in minority communities because “none of them have any work ethic.” Other members of the committee nod vigorously.
On another of these hypothetical videos, the head of urban residential loans for another major bank is depicted looking through a document showing the bank’s increase in mortgage lending in a minority neighborhood. He then remarks, with a chuckle, “they’ll never be able to pay off those mortgages for those over-priced houses. But we’ll take our profit and be outta there when the mortgages get sold in the secondary market.”
Other videos are in the same vein, showing similar troubling attitudes about race and minority communities in a number of leading American banking institutions. Again, this is all hypothetical.
The response in the American legal academy to these hypothetical videos can be imagined:
“The Banking Videos” likely would be incorporated into classroom teaching in courses on race and the law and in a number of courses on banking and commercial transactions. Students would be encouraged to prepare advanced writing papers dissecting the videos and suggesting new banking regulations to promote economic justice. Law journals would host symposia devoted to the legal and cultural issues raised by “The Banking Videos.”
The annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools probably would host a plenary and well-attended session focused on “The Banking Videos.” The President of the AALS would devote a column in the AALS News observing that “The Banking Videos” remind us that the path to racial equality is still a long one, while insisting that legal education is at the forefront in highlighting the presence of structural racism in the American economy.
To be sure, classroom discussions and symposia presentations would have to address complaints that the hypothetical racial justice organization had used subterfuge to gain access to these insider banker meetings, as well as accusations that the videos had been edited in a misleading way. But such objections would not overshadow the larger issues or much divert attention from the shocking nature of some of the comments recorded and attitudes expressed — which “context” hardly softens.
By the end of the year, there’d hardly be a law student in the country who had not been exposed to the “The Banking Videos.”
It would have become a nationally-prominent “teaching moment.” And rightly so.
By contrast, consider the not-hypothetical undercover videos of Planned Parenthood leaders talking about late-term abortions and examining fetal remains.
In one video, Planned Parenthood’s senior director for medical services sips wine while saying to the undercover actors who claim to be seeking fetal organs: “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part. I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
On another video, featuring the vice president and medical director for Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, we watch technicians crack fetal skulls to extract intact brains and pick through legs, abdomens, and other remains. One Planned Parenthood employee says in a jocular tone: “Here’s some organs for you. Here’s a stomach, kidney, heart.” Another Planned Parenthood employee jokes as she examines dismembered aborted fetuses: “And another boy.”
For “A Quick and Easy Guide to The Planned Parenthood Videos,” Mollie Hemingway’s guidebook at "The Federalist" is invaluable and offers these and other direct quotations in context while also providing direct links to both important excerpts andthe full videos. (Warning — these videos are disturbing and some are graphic.)
Let's set to one side the debate whether the videos provide any “smoking gun” evidence on actual violations of the laws restricting sale of human fetal body parts. Indisputably, even to the point that the President of Planned Parenthood apologized for tone, the videos portray a shockingly callous attitude. We hear casual dinnertime comments about “crushing” living unborn human beings and see Planned Parenthood personnel lightheartedly rooting around in the remains of dismembered fetuses while joking that they’ve found this or that organ or encountered “another boy.”
So how much attention have “The Planned Parenthood Videos” received in the typical law school?
In courses on human rights or professional responsibility, are they being used to show the danger of becoming desensitized and losing a sense of human dignity? Are we as legal educators addressing the danger that character may be corrupted when someone too easily assimilates into an institutional setting? Have we used these videos as examples of how ideology may blind one to the horrors in which one is participating?
In constitutional law classes, are “The Planned Parenthood Videos” being offered as a counterpoint to the politically-favored narrative that Roe v. Wade is an uplifting advance for gender equality and an unalloyed victory for human rights? When people fall back on comfortable slogans like “the right to choose,” is the reality of dismembered fetal bodies being picked over by technicians like butchers at a meat packing plant shown to suggest that perhaps what is being “chosen” is termination of fellow human beings, at least with respect to late-term abortions?
In sum, is there really any debate occurring at the typical law school about the legal and cultural (much less moral) significance of these videos? Or, instead, are legal academics generally ignoring the videos or declaring uncritically that the videos don’t really portray what they obviously do show to anyone who watches them? Are we as a community of educators betraying our oft-touted mission to honestly address even that (especially that?) which makes us uncomfortable? Or, when it comes to “reproductive rights,” is the real message that diversity and critical reflection on this issue is not welcome in the American legal academy?
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
This morning, Professor Brian Leiter posted on the Law School Reports the 2015 ranking of American law schools by Scholarly Impact.
The complete ranking and narrative are available here.
In 2012 and again in 2015, I have shepherded the Scholarly Impact study, along with my librarian colleagues here at the University of St. Thomas, Valerie Aggerbeck, Nick Farris, and Megan McNevin, assisted by a team of students led by Maria Pitner. The preparation of the Scholarly Impact Ranking involves months of painstaking work identifying tenured faculty at law schools, performing citation counts (including sampling where necessary), double-checking and reconciling results, and calculating scores, scaling, and ranking.
Three years ago, through a series of posts here on Mirror of Justice, I offered several arguments as to why scholarly work and scholarly impact are especially important to Catholic legal education. Those points remain just as salient today.
The first argument, made here, was that a meaningfully Catholic law school must be an intellectually engaged law school, which is not possible without a faculty also engaged in the quintessential intellectual activity of scholarly research and writing.
My second point, made here, was that through scholarly excellence and law school scholarly prominence, we witness to society the vibrancy of intellectual discourse by persons of faith and counter the anti-intellectual stereotype often attaching to religiously-affiliated institutions, including law schools.
My third point, made here, was that, as Catholic Christians, we have are called to share the Gospel, both directly and indirectly. The central role of scholarly research in our academic vocation is affirmed by no less a Catholic authority than St. Pope John Paul II in the apostolic constitution for Catholic universities, Ex Code Ecclesiae: “The basic mission of a University is a continuous quest for truth through its research, and the preservation and communication of knowledge for the good of society.”
In sum, while we are called to teaching and service as well, we cannot fully participate as academics in the search for the truth without also contributing to the scholarly literature, which reaches audiences beyond the walls of our own institution and which is preserved in medium so that we can affect the scholarly discourse long after we have departed. It is a tremendous privilege – and a grave responsibility.
With respect to the 2015 updating of the Scholarly Impact Ranking, I may be forgiven here for highlighting certain results for schools at which members of the Mirror of Justice family teach:
The University of Notre Dame ranks in the top 25. Emory is ranked #27. The University of St. Thomas ranks in the top 40 (at #39) for Scholarly Impact -- almost 100 ranking levels above its relegation in the U.S. News ranking.
Below the fold, I've set out the top 40 ranking in a table:
Monday, July 27, 2015
As the Church Discovered the Virtues of Religious Liberty, Eventually the Church will Appreciate the Charisma of Democratic Capitalism
It took long centuries for the Catholic Church, which frequently had aligned itself with State power, to come to a better understanding of the moral and prudential virtues of religious liberty. Developing as an institution during a time of authoritarian and rather primitive societies, the Church understandably accommodated to traditions by which the instruments of the State were used by those in power both to govern and to inculcate the vision of the elites.
In his famous book, We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, published in 1960 on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, American Jesuit John Courtney Murray offered the success of the unique American experiment in religious liberty as evidence of a new moral truth consistent with the natural law tradition of the Catholic Church.
The Second Vatican Council was greatly influenced by Murray and his observations about religious liberty in the American context. At the close of the Council in 1965, Pope Paul VI promulgated Dignitatis Humanae (The Declaration on Religious Freedom) formally declaring as Catholic teaching that “the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person.”
Writing about Murray and the Second Vatican Council, Judge John Noonan observed that “the Declaration on Religious Freedom would not have come into existence without the American contribution and the experiment that began with Madison.” John T. Noonan, Jr., The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom 353 (1998).
The Catholic Church eventually came to appreciate that authoritarian government, especially as to religious freedom rights, created the environment for abuses and ultimately weakened faithfulness.
Likewise, the Church eventually will come to understand that authoritarian government approaches to economics also are rife with opportunities for abuse (crony capitalism, structuring the system to benefit political and economic oligarchies, rent-seeking by favored economic and political actors, etc.) and ultimately undermine prosperity.
But, just as was true with the slow evolution of the Church’s views on religious liberty, the Church will take some time to appreciate in its teaching that democratic capitalism has been the greatest engine for prosperity in the history of the world and creates the free space for moral structures and intermediary institutions, such as the Church.
As Catholic philosopher Michael Novak observed some 35 years ago in his classic work Toward a Theology of the Corporation at 1 (AEI 1981), “[m]ost theologians of the last two hundred years have approached democratic capitalism in a premodern, precapitalist, predemocratic way; or else they have been socialists, usually romantic and utopian rather than empirical.” Novak was one of the first to deprecate “the anticapitalist bias of the Roman Catholic Church," which has been plagued with “systemic misperceptions about the nature of democratic capitalism.” Id. at 9-10.
A Church that is rightly and genuinely concerned with the plight of the poor cannot afford to ignore the realities of economics. In contrast with the static societies of the Middle Ages, during which the Church began to consider the economic moral order, the modern world has seen hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty by the innovation of free market economies during the past century and more. We would do well to remember the harsh realities of human existence in the precapitalist period, as Novak explains:
Until the rise of democratic capitalism a permanent condition of poverty was seen as a given. Indeed, in the 1780s four-fifths of all French families spent 90 percent of their income simply buying bread — only bread — to stay alive. In 1800 fewer than 1,000 people in the whole of Germany had incomes as high as $1,000. Yet in Great Britain from 1800 to 18509, after the sudden capitalist take-off that had begun in 1780, real wages quadrupled, then quadrupled again between 1850 and 1900. The world had never seen anything like it. After World War II dozens of other nations — but not all nations — used the ideas of democratic capitalism to experience even more rapid growth. (Id. at 23-24.)
By contrast, nations with excessive government intervention into markets during that same post-World War II period discouraged innovation, investment, and growth, leading to economic stagnation. Point to a nation with a history of heavy-handed government interventions into markets, and you will be pointing to a nation that has suffered a (comparative) decline in economic growth. A prosperous nation can afford to consider how best to allocate wealth, while a poor nation needs to focus on economic growth, which in turn demands relatively free markets.
Consider two contrasting examples: South Korea as representative of the “economic miracle" in much of Asia. And Argentina as illustrative of the cronyist interventionst approach by governments in much of Latin America.
A century ago, Argentina was “one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with a standard of living on part with that of the US.” Michael Boskin, Why does Chile prosper while neighbouring Agentina flounders?, The Guardian, Nov. 22, 2013.
Let’s compare the trajectories of these countries, with different economic policies. In 1950, Argentina was a wealthy country, with per capita GDP of $6164 — far above South Korea’s of only $1185. By 2010, Argentina had grown only to $13,468, while South Korea’s had jumped to $30,079. The annual growth rate in Argentina over those 60 years barely broke 1 percent, while South Korea enjoyed a growth rate above 5.5 percent. Christopher D. Piros & Jerald E. Pinto, Economics for Investment Decision Makers 629 (Wiley 2013).
Despite beginning the period as a wealthy country, Argentina through political instability, excessive spending and debt, and repeated government intervention in markets has fallen steadily downward. At its worst point a little more than a decade ago, 60 percent of the population of Argentina was below the poverty line. On the Heritage Foundation “Economic Freedom Index,” Argentina ranks 169 out of 178 nations.
Many factors — culture, political arrangements, monetary policy, natural resources, educational investment — play a role in a nation’s economic progress (or lack thereof). But economic freedom remains indispenable. Of course, no nation permits entirely free markets. A stable legal system governed by the rule of law which holds people to account for agreements and punishes abuse is also essential. Antitrust laws to prevent monopolies are standard. Labor rights should be added to the mix. And reasonable rate of taxation is necessary to build infrastructure and ensure educational opportunity. In fact, contrary to the conventional wisdom in many Church circles, the number, extent, comprehensiveness, and intrusiveness of current governmental regulations and market controls imposed on economic entities in the developed world, national and international, is striking. In sum, a thoroughly free market does not exist in this country.
The question is the right balance between free markets to allow creativity, innovation, and growth, and legal security to keep order in markets and prevent abuses. The same is true in balancing the virtue of religious liberty against the imperative needs of a society. And we cannot begin to find that balance without first appreciating the charisma of democratic capitalism.
Fortunately, Saint John Paul II already has jump-started the movement of Church moral teaching on economics beyond pre-modern assumptions:
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. (Centesimus Annus, para. 42.)
Progress seldom proceeds in a straight-line. As that progress moves haltingly forward in the future, Saint John Paul II’s vision will ascend again.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Last night — the last night of our Montana vacation — the three of us decided to take a drive to a nearby mountain lake, hidden in a valley and surrounded by rocky cliffs. The drive was longer than expected, much of it on gravel roads, but we persevered. The arrival was spectacular as Tally Lake became visible through the trees. The the deepest lake in all of Montana was a dark blue in contrast with the gray rock rising up on all sides.
On the way back toward Whitefish, our daughter, Katie, home from Notre Dame for the summer, asked about the danger of hitting a deer while driving along these mountain roads. My wife, Mindy, having grown up in Montana, and I, having lived there for several years, assured her that we had driven on these kinds of roads innumerable times without incident.
Katie persisted, saying she had a bad feeling. Mostly to mollify her, I agreed to keep our speed low. Even when we got back on to paved county highway, I kept the accelerator to around 25 miles per hour, though the posted speed limit was much higher.
Not more than ten to fifteen minutes after Katie expressed her disquiet — a flash of brown fur and a thud! A deer had jumped right in front of the car. And even with our slower speed and my instinctive slamming on the brakes, we hit the animal dead center.
None of us were injured — indeed, by virtue of the slow speed and my immediate braking, we barely felt the impact. The deer collision had damaged the bumper, but the hood, windshield, and engine were undamaged.
Even the deer may have survived the incident. As I was slamming on the brakes, the doe’s legs were swept out from under her by the bumper and her side struck the grill-area of the front of the car. She then fell out into the road and rolled to the side into the ditch. I initially feared a gruesome scene of a badly injured animal flopping around in the ditch. But, after just a second or two, the doe regained her feet and ran quickly into the surrounding woods. As I examined the damage on the car, there was no blood. To be sure, it is possible that the deer suffered fatal internal injuries. But I’d like to think the deer, perhaps with a cracked rib or two, managed to get through the encounter.
I am so very grateful that I acquiesced to my daughter’s misgivings — and that she expressed them. It could have been disastrous had I continued along the road as I otherwise was inclined, probably slightly exceeding the speed limit. Had we struck the deer at such higher speed, the animal very likely would have bounced up on to the hood and perhaps into the windshield, with a grave risk of serious injury to the two of us riding in the front.
We’re all familiar with the Woody Allen quip saying that 80 or 90 percent of life is just showing up. I tend to think showing up is not enough. One also has to also be paying attention. Today I am very grateful that we paid attention to our daughter. I’d like to think that, by doing so, we were listening to the voice of God speaking through her to warn us of the approaching danger.
Obviously this was not the most enjoyable way to end an otherwise wonderful summer vacation. But a dented bumper can be repaired. And the family is fine. Thank God.