Wednesday, June 13, 2018
I was scheduled to attend, but then -- unexpectedly, and to my regret -- had to miss, the recent conference at Georgetown, "Overcoming Polarization in a Divided Nation Through Catholic Social Thought." (Learn more about the conference, and watch some video, here.) At Distinctly Catholic, Michael Sean Winters -- who did participate -- shares some reactions.
I think Winters is right to remind us both that "polarization" is not new nor is it worse than it has ever been. I also share the view that "civility" -- as important as it is -- needs to be discussed and thought about in the larger context of moral (and the morality of) argument. (See, e.g., Murray: "[S]ociety is civil when it is formed by men locked together in argument." And he's wrong (though many other commentators are, too) to suggest that the fact Merrick Garland is not an Associate Justice somehow establishes which of the two dominant parties is more ruthless or determined in its efforts to secure its policy and other aims, especially with respect to judges, but put that aside. I want to focus on one thing in particular, he said with respect to Prof. Helen Alvare's presentation.
[T]here remains a point of confusion that must be addressed. In the public session, Professor Helen Alvaré, law professor at George Mason University, said that she always thought the dichotomy between "social justice Catholics" and "pro-life Catholics" was a false one, because all of her pro-life friends work at soup kitchens or undertake similar work on behalf of the poor. God bless them. But, Catholic social teaching, while it commends opportunities for charity of the kind Alvaré described, also demands more. It demands justice. It demands that we look at, say, the economy through the lens of Catholic moral teaching and reach moral and anthropological conclusions based on our teaching rather than merely swallowing the dominant Hayekian ideology about markets that is so popular on the right and can be found in the classrooms of the Catholic University of America's business school.
The claim about "dominant Hayekian ideology" is misplaced (because no such "ideology" is "dominant" at CUA or anywhere else; the debate is about the extent, content, and efficacy, not the existence, of economic regulations) but the point about "justice" is worth underscoring. Winters points out that more than personal charity directed toward the poor is required by the Church's social teachings, and that sounds right. By the same token, though -- and I suspect Winters would not disagree -- more than support for policies that, one hopes, will result in fewer women becoming pregnant and choosing abortion is required by those teachings, too. What is "demand[ed]" here is also "justice," and - contrary to the recent suggestion by Fr. Reese -- a "new strategy" that gives up on building a just legal regime, one that recognizes the equality and protects the dignity of each person, is not an attractive one.