Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A misplaced and unwarranted criticism of Catholic University of America (and, yet again, on public-sector unions)

At dotCommonweal, Anthony Annett has this post, "Catholic University's Business School Again," in which -- in the course of making some entirely sensible points about the tension between certain forms of "libertarian" "individualism" and Catholic Social Teaching -- he lodges what I think are some unfounded and in places unfair criticisms of Catholic University and its President, John Garvey (full disclosure:  Pres. Garvey is a friend and mentor of mine).  

First, Anthony objects to the fact that, at Catholic University's Business School, there was on display a poster that included an image of the headline of this op-ed, which Pres. Garvey co-authored a little while back and which defends (quite persuasively, in my view) the University's decision to accept a $1 million contribution from the Charles Koch Foundation to hire researchers on the role of "principled entrepreneurship."  The headline included this subtitle: “This Catholic university won’t cave to demands made by the liberal social justice movement.”  Anthony then writes:  "I am well aware that op-ed authors don’t often write their own titles and subtitles. But do Garvey and Abela seem remotely embarrassed by this title? Not in the slightest."  

This seems quite unfair to me.  As we all know (and many of us who have written for newspapers have been frustrated by this), the titles to our op-eds are very rarely written by us.  There's absolutely no reason to think Pres. Garvey and then-Dean Abela wrote this subtitle and there's no evidence provided for the suggestion that they were or are unbothered by it.  How, exactly, were they supposed to manifest their embarrassment or irritation?  And, in any event, Pres. Garvey has a long and productive history as a scholar and a public intellectual (I mention him, and not Dr. Abela, only because I don't know the latter or his work) and that history does not provide any reason to think that Pres. Garvey has any reservations about the fact that -- as Anthony writes -- "'[s]ocial justice' is central to Catholic social teaching, and its tenets are non-negotiable."  (Indeed, that history is rich with reasons to think otherwise.)

Anthony writes later:

And in a speech in Bolivia this summer, Pope Francis had this to say: “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property.”

This is the very antithesis of the Kochs’ ideology. It is highly traditional Christian teaching. But would Garvey and Abela view these as demands coming from the “liberal social justice movement”?

Whatever the flaws (and I concede the flaws, of course) in "the Kochs' ideology" (and putting aside, for now, the near-obsession in some quarters with "the Koch Brothers" and the tendency to allow the mere invocation of their name to function as an argument) there is, again, no reason to suggest that Garvey and Abela would dismiss the words of Pope Francis, or the traditional content of Catholic Social Teaching, as "coming from the 'liberal social justice movement.'"  Again, it just doesn't seem fair.  If one thinks that CUA should turn down money from the Koch Brothers because they hold some unsound views . . . fine.  But the arguments that Garvey and Abela made for adopting a different conclusion are reasonable and do not remotely rest on or reflect a "libertarian" rejection of Catholic Social Teaching's tenets. (They do reflect, I suppose, an assumption that the role of "principled entrepreneurship" in a market economy is an important and worthy topic . . . and they are right.  Catholic Social Teaching certainly permits, and I think it supports, what John Paul II called a "market" or "free economy" -- which is, obviously, a well-regulated, humane economy that recognizes the important limits on the domains of markets.) 

Finally, Anthony takes issue with Garvey's and Abela's brief discussion of the Koch's opposition to public-sector unions' activities, and writes:

Garvey and Abela pull out the favored talking point that the Church has never spoken explicitly about unionization in the public sector. But neither has it said anything explicitly about unionization in any other sector! A natural right to association does not cease to be a natural right because the employer is public rather than private.

As I've written here at MOJ many (many, many) times, it is not, at all, the case that the Church's teachings on labor, the dignity of work, and the natural right of association entail support for, say, closed-shop arrangements and the details of collective-bargaining agreements between public-employee unions and state and local governments.  Of course public employees have the right to associate and of course they and their work are dignified.  It simply does not follow, though, that there are not important and policy-relevant distinctions to be drawn between the relationship between governments and public employees, on the one hand, and the relationship between private employers and their employees, on the other.

I am not disagreeing with Anthony's premise that, sometimes, the appropriate response by a Catholic university to a donation from a bad actor, or to funding that comes with unacceptable conditions, should be to say "no, thank you."  This could be a good way, sometimes, to bear witness to the Truth.  But I do think, again, that this post was needlessly unfair to Pres. Garvey and to then-Dean Abela. 


Garnett, Rick | Permalink