popeIrving, Texas. Since its beginnings with Aristotle and Plato, the study of economics has always been regarded as a branch of philosophy, a colony of politics and ethics. But all that changed in the late 19th century, when economists attempted to make of what was then called political economy the pure science of economics. By “pure,” they generally meant a science modeled on physics, where markets moved according to strict laws in the same way that the stars did, and where moral considerations would not be allowed. Freed from the moral order, economic scientists would be able to chart the course of the economy with the same precision that astronomers could chart the course of the planets; only observation and mathematics would count. As W. S. Jevons put it more than 100 years ago, if the economists could just gather enough statistics, then economics would be “as precise as many of the physical sciences.”

Since Jevons’ time we have established great bureaucracies, both public and private, devoted to gathering statistics about the economy. Moreover, we have great computational engines that were unimaginable in Jevons’ day. Yet despite all the stats passed through all the computers, economic science entirely missed the coming of the current crisis. Ninety percent of all economists failed to see this problem developing, and the few who did were regarded as fringe figures. Nor is this an unusual case. The most prominent economists are prone to pronouncements that “all is well” just as things are all about to collapse. This pattern has been repeated over and over again through each and every crisis. The only rule seems to be that the bigger the crisis, the greater the blindness to the causes.

If economists exhibit such an habitual blindness to the events in the real world, do we not have warrant for suspecting that their “science” is less than complete, for suspecting that they have missed some basic principle that is necessary to the study of the economy?

The Catholic Church has always thought so. Beginning in 1891 (just as economic “science” was beginning to predominate) Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Rerum Novarum insisted that an economy must be based on justice. Further, he insisted that the sign of this justice was the just wage. The new economists found this perplexing; wages were just another commodity whose price was set like any other commodity, say wheat or pig iron. They simply had no way of incorporating Leo’s insights into their calculations, and regarded his pronouncements as a throwback to the middle ages. Nevertheless, every subsequent pope has reiterated and extended Leo’s teaching. They have insisted that economics deals with those personal and institutional relationships that are necessary for the material provisioning of society. And since it deals with human relationships, it must be an humane science, one dependent, as are all the humane sciences, on norms of human conduct, norms which we call virtues and morals. The highest of the natural virtues is justice, and in the political and economic arenas, this will mean both personal and social justice.

Now comes Pope Benedict XVI with a new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Love in Truth”) which exceeds all the other social encyclicals by insisting that a proper economics is based not only on the natural virtue of justice, but on the super-natural virtue of love! Justice is, of course, a part of love; you cannot be said to love someone and treat him unjustly. But no other encyclical has gone as far in asserting the primacy of love as a practical consideration of economics and social life. But Benedict goes even further: He insists on a principle of gratuitousness in business, on the idea of pure gift. At this point, many reasonable observers could conclude that the Pope is indulging a pure utopian fantasy, suitable perhaps for a world of angelic figures, but disastrous in a world of fallen men. And a businessman might be excused if he were to throw up his hands and say, “I can’t possibly run my business in this way,” and ignore the whole thing. And yet the Pope’s claim is that to ignore this would be a mistake not only on some abstract or spiritual level, but on the practical level as well. What Benedict does is bring us face to face with Tina Turner’s great question, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

The sheer scope of this encyclical is somewhat daunting. In fifty-four pages, the Pope tackles issues of globalization, financial speculation, outsourcing, inequality, migration, technology, patent law, ecology, and the list goes on. But perhaps the best way of getting a handle on all this is to recognize that Benedict is reviving the thought of his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, who was the pontiff at the close of the Second Vatican Council. Paul wrote two highly controversial encyclicals which between them managed to anger both the right and the left. One of them was called Populorum Progressio, which was written forty years ago when what we now call “globalization” was in its infancy, and it dealt with the development of the “third world.” Paul warned that if the world did not develop with justice and equity, the resulting inequality would shake the world apart to produce pretty much the situation we see today. The other encyclical was Humanae Vitae, which dealt with human sexuality, and particularly with the difficult issue of contraception. In Benedict’s view, this encyclical “indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics” (15).

Benedict has combined the thought of these two encyclicals into one work and applied them to the current situation. His belief is that those who are not open to life cannot in reality be open to their neighbors. He views development as an exercise in solidarity with our neighbors, no matter how far away those neighbors are, and part and parcel of the task of evangelization. Throughout the encyclical, Benedict insists that the moral concern is also an economic concern. For example, in discussing the extremely high levels of inequality, both among countries and within countries, Benedict notes,

Economic science tells us that structural insecurity generates anti-productive attitudes wasteful of human resources, inasmuch as workers tend to adapt passively to automatic mechanisms, rather than to release creativity. On this point too, there is a convergence between economic science and moral evaluation. Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs. (32)

Thus Benedict advances social ethics as a practical principle of sound economics. And while he deals with many issues in this way, I would like to focus on the principle of gratuitousness. Can such a principle really be part of economic science? Businesses, after all, are run to make a profit, which seems to run counter to the idea of a gift.

The Pope does understand the need for profit, a word he uses fourteen times, but he understands profit as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself (21, 32, 38, 40, 41, 46, 47, 66, 71). Making a profit tells a businessman that he has properly allocated the resources of the firm. Without this, he has no real way of knowing if he is running the business in a correct way. However, “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty” (21). Actually, most business people understand this intuitively. While they might intone, “I entered business to make a profit,” they also know that they became entrepreneurs for a variety of reasons: to express their own skills, to support their families and even their associates’ families, to contribute to the community, to achieve a sense of mastery and self-worth. These emotions are familiar territory to most entrepreneurs. As Benedict notes, there is,

[A] growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference…many far-sighted managers today are becoming increasingly aware of the profound links between their enterprise and the territory or territories in which it operates. (40)

These sentiments will not come as a surprise to many entrepreneurs. However, to many corporate bureaucrats, these words will be mysterious, since they have been trained in the belief that their only obligation is to the shareholders, and not to any other social good. Ironically, these bureaucrats end up serving only their own interests, getting as much as they can in the way of pay and privileges at the expense of the owners, the workers, and the larger community. Indeed, we are in the habit of speaking of “business” as if it were all of the same kind. But in fact, there are at least two modes of business: the great corporations, run bureaucratically by and for the bureaucrats, and the small and medium-sized enterprises run largely by the entrepreneurs who own them. The latter group often has a much easier time in seeing their obligations to their workers, their suppliers, and their neighbors.

Now, with all of this as background, it is easier to see what Benedict means by gratuitousness. The worker and the entrepreneur offer their services to the community, and offer it in solidarity with all the other stakeholders. On the mere level of exchange, this is of course covered by the rules of contract, by the laws of supply and demand. Nevertheless, “in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity. This is a human demand at the present time, but it is also demanded by economic logic. It is a demand both of charity and of truth” (36). This “logic of gift” does not negate the logic of exchange or the logic of duty or law, but transcends them both. It allows us to see our work in a new light, and thus enlightened, to contribute our talents to the commonwealth and the common good.

This enlightened way of viewing business allows the Pope to imagine new forms of enterprise:

Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves. It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy. Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself. (38)

Once again, we may ask ourselves if Benedict is merely fantasizing about new forms of enterprises. But in fact, such enterprises are not new. They exist, have always existed, and are, by and large, quite successful. Many examples could be advanced, but some of the more prominent ones include the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation of Spain or the cooperative economy of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. The former, a fifty-year-old collection of worker cooperatives is one of the largest corporations in Spain, and has over 100,000 workers doing more than $20 billion in sales. But Mondragón is not just a business; it operates schools, research institutes, a university, training institutes, a social welfare system, and a credit union, all of which are self-funded. Such a huge enterprise requires no outside investment but the commitment and dedication of its own workers and its community.

In the Emilia-Romagna region (the area in Italy around Bologna) worker cooperatives provide 40% of the GDP. Wages are about twice the average for Italy and the standard of living is among the highest in Europe. Moreover, they have pioneered a new process of industrial production which involves networking among small firms to cooperate on large projects, a feature which allows them to maintain small and medium-sized companies, but to compete internationally on big jobs. And these are just two of many thousands of examples that could be offered.

The most definitive reply to someone who says “it can’t work” is to show that it is working, and has been doing so for a long time. Obviously, such firms are not the norm, but the exception. But there is no reason they cannot be the norm. Rahm Emmanuel has famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” It would be a shame if we wasted the current economic crisis, if we did not use it as an occasion to reflect on the meaning and role of business. I believe that Benedict provides us with the intellectual and spiritual tools to reflect on this crisis, and on what we must do with it. Caritas in Veritate, “love in truth,” can and should be the focus of this reflection for all faithful Catholics. Love, caritas, is not sufficient to enable one to found a business; a great deal of technical knowledge is required as well. But such knowledge is likely to go astray if not enlightened by a vision of love for one’s neighbor. There must be a continuous dialogue between them. Or as Benedict puts it,

Charity is not an added extra, like an appendix to work already concluded in each of the various disciplines: it engages them in dialogue from the very beginning. The demands of love do not contradict those of reason. Human knowledge is insufficient and the conclusions of science cannot indicate by themselves the path towards integral human development. There is always a need to push further ahead: this is what is required by charity in truth. Going beyond, however, never means prescinding from the conclusions of reason, nor contradicting its results. Intelligence and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love (30).

This article will appear in Catholic Men’s Quarterly

34 COMMENTS

  1. Here at John Medaille’s Front Porch Republic where we get John’s distributist opinions with a certain regularity, I have to say that I concur with the above!
    Any privately held company/corporation that wishes to use its profits to construct schools, build hospitals, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, ect. works for me. And, John’s cited European examples seem to indicate that it is feasible.
    What John and his fellow travellers have to understand is that the key here is freedom of action. They must understand that Voluntaryism is far, far superior than having the heavy hand of gummint in your pants confiscating your hard heard wealth.

  2. I am curious about the reasons Catholic Front Porchers would have for being against centralized economic power, and centralized political power, but being for centralized religious power. Is there something about centralized religious power that makes centralization OK in that case? That is, why not opt for Congregationalism?

  3. “Is there something about centralized religious power that makes centralization OK in that case? That is, why not opt for Congregationalism?”

    Yes, that something is that Jesus Christ established and ordered the Church thus and so it will be until the end of time. The Church is ultimately a supernatural institution, not a human one, despite it being made up of humans, so it is beyond a personal opinion for its constitution.

  4. Actually, Empedocles asks a great question which points out why there’s a sizeable – though not dominant – Catholic contingent here on the Front Porch. While much of the discussion here states wariness toward the tendency in the modern age toward rationalistic uniformity, homogenization, centralization and the like, most here I think would agree that one needs to be equally wary of relativism and claims of culture used as a defense of acts of oppression and inhumane acts (thus, almost always in response to the critiques of government centralization come accusations about insensitivity to injustices like slavery. This is a pretty dumb response, but it’s intended to suggest that one must choose one or the other. We are demanding a bit more hard work – the prospect that “either/or” does not exhaust the range of possibilities for human life and culture).

    Broadly here on the the Porch there is, then, an acknowledgement of something that is TRUE about humans, our nature, the natural condition and the created world. At the same time, a large part of that truth is that humans flourish in particular places and cultures in accordance with our own senses and the natural conditions of our particular places. Catholicism exists in recognition of this truth about humans – there is a truth about humans, our created world, and ultimately our Creator (reflected in Church doctrine, the Catechism, the Nicene Creed, etc. – all part of the “central” doctrine of the Church), but at the same time that one’s religious life is experienced in the rich diversity of local circumstance – in parishes (to which belongs by dint of one’s PLACE, not choice), local governance, local memory, local saints and martyrs, etc. Catholicism is a faith that is mediated – an interlocking set of intermediary institutions and relationships link the individual worshiper to Rome (by contrast, defenders of early liberalism argued that it was essential that the central government should act directly on INDIVIDUALS, not through the auspices of states or localities. This connection seeks to eliminate the legitimacy of any intermediating institutions and relations).

    Aquinas found Aristotle so appealing especially because of this dimension of Aristotle’s thought – the truth of human nature combined with the truth of our being as specific, historical and cultural creatures, requiring the special virtue of “practical wisdom” as the art of negotiation between the universal and the particular, etc. I would say further that – for my part – I don’t object per se to “central” government, whether by that we mean more local or national forms – so much as to the process of CENTRALIZATION, the tendency in our time for the central government to accrue all powers to itself, in combination with ever more centralized and large-scale concentrations of economic power. It is the canard of our time that the Church represents the ultimate of centralizing religious power, an absurd contention since subsidiarity is built into the theological anthropology of the Church. The truth is, centralization of power is the logic of a more modern anthropology, one that renders us placeless and timeless, without a history or any particular future, and requires a central power to take the place of any other intermediary institutions or lived inheritances of culture so that we can achieve maximum control over nature, and thereby (ironically), maximum individual autonomy. Ironically, even tragically, the dream of autonomy requires ever more centralized government and large concentrations of economic power.

  5. Not much I can add to Dr. Deneen’s excellent comment, just want to point out to the non-Catholic that our Roman Church isn’t nearly so centralized as one thinks. In fact, many, many times I wished Rome played a stronger hand against bad bishops, of whom there are sadly quite a few today.

    PS – Marchmaine, your linked web site looks very interesting. I was just in the Shenandoah Valley this weekend (Mt. Crawford), and bought plenty of veggies from some local mennonite farmers. You have proper farmers’ markets up there, which we don’t really have down here in Hampton Roads. I wish I lived close enough to buy from your butcher, I have long wished to find grass-fed, cruelty-free meat sources in this area. (I also just plain miss the Valley – I went to school at VMI and have loved the area ever since)

  6. Steve K., “I also just plain miss the Valley – I went to school at VMI and have loved the area ever since.” If this were another time, you’d be serving in Jackson’s Second Corps. I understand that all the graduates of that great school have similar feelings.

  7. Empedocles:

    One can distinguish between ultimate authority residing in one individual, and the nature of that authority and how it is exercised. Questions of interest both to Pope Benedict XVI and the Orthodox.

  8. With regard to the centralization of the state and the centralization of the Catholic Church it was ironically an English Catholic, William of Ockham, whose writings in the first half of the fourteenth century ultimately destroyed the authority of the church and reduced the extent of its influence. Ockham was a sort of early distributist believing that God did not grant a legal right to property. He was also the original Enlightenment Liberal in his opposition to the divine right to rule be it pope or king. Undoubtedly in Ockham’s time there would be tension between both kings and popes with each claiming the divine right to rule. This was in part a conflict over property with the church wanting property for its aim of a religious communist state and the monarchy wanting it for power and wealth, or the same indirectly through fealty and the supply of fighting men. Websites worth looking at for more information are:-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_of_Ockham

    http://www.britac.ac.uk/pubs/dialogus/polth.html

  9. Bob Cheeks – “If this were another time, you’d be serving in Jackson’s Second Corps. I understand that all the graduates of that great school have similar feelings.”

    Yes sir I would! Who wouldn’t want a chance to march with ol’ Blue Light?

  10. Steve K., sir, you are a true son of THE Virginia Military Institute! I would be honored and priviledged to march with that son of western (West) Viriginia and would gladly do so on short rations.

    “The Institute will be heard from today” Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathon Jackson said, “General Rodes,you may take your men forward!” Chancellorsville, 6:00 PM, 2 May, 1863.

  11. Leo XIII was perspicatious is promoting the rights of the human person to self-ownership of his labor, and to promote the fraternity “proper” to those divinely endowed property rights argued from principle not utility, but its not wise to push his flawed perception of “just wages” as the key thought of the Church’s social doctrine, as it misses the point (the kernel or radical thought) at the root of social justice, a term coined way before Vatican II or Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio, by servant of God Antonio Rosmini, CI. This Italian priest who promoted Italian provinces independence from their Austro-Imperial overlord, now elevated to the antechamber of the communion of saints, yet who subjected himself to having 40 of his propositions “proscribed” in a communique from his (now) co-blessed Leo.

    Note that the Pope may have honored this deeply liberal (in the good “generous” sense of gratuitous or ‘triniform’ grace favored in the encyclical) thinker in titling his work, echoing his risorgimentalist anthropological writings that foresee Woytyla’s development in a theology of the acting person

    “the work of Christian wisdom truly consists in this charity exercised in truth”

    Indeed Hayek and Mises promoted the priority of personal property rights over democratic rights as key to preserving Western civilization’s heritage against the multiple tyrannies they saw erupting during the 20th Century. Hoppe today warns of a similar dictatorship of relativism of public expropriation under the guise of duty to the “common good.” The time preference rates of the owner-proprietor are inherently “conservative” re:resources (artisan to his skills — as opposed to a public peon or serf owed only for time-served, where labor is wage-slavery — or monarch to his estates or private entrepreneur to her business venture) a principle of concern when applied to monarchical (private) government and democratic (public) government.

    “Hoppe lays out his position in his seminal “The Political Economy of Monarchy and Democracy, and the Idea of a Natural Order,” and clarifies and extends it in pieces including “Time Preference, Government, and the Process of De-Civilization: From Monarchy to Democracy.” Hoppe argues that the time
    preference rates of private rulers (monarchs) will be lower than the
    time preference rates of democratic rulers, ceteris paribus. This difference
    is caused by each ruler’s relationship with present income and the present captial values of their respective realms.”

    cited from last chapter, the essay by James D. Yohe and Scott A. Kjar on corporate governance perspective on public or private TPR, conserving or eroding real assets, in “Property and Freedom”
    http://blog.mises.org/archives/010365.asp

    Indeed these thoughts are key to an economic crisis in a US style “democratic” monetary regime, where the Fed and Treasury collude in usurping sovereignty of temporal property by arrogating the rights to set the TPR of the federal reserve note, aka dollar.

  12. Missing citation for charity exercised in truth:
    http://www.rosmini-in-english.org/Weblife/LifeC3.htm

    Indeed one could credit Rosmini with the contemporaneous characterizing of an authentic Christian ethic as a “Civilization of Love” (anglicized ‘society of love’) at
    http://www.rosmini-in-english.org/ARsiteInfo_Spiritual.htm

    More
    http://books.google.com/books?id=y63Mggc2irEC
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Rosmini-Serbati
    http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/175502?eng=y

    Bruce, surely Hoppe would find the violence inherent in expropriation by plunder anathema? Such prudence is missing in the corporate managerial class, who plunder long term returns to attain present income:

    “Because the corporate manager is less tied to the future earnings, he has incentives to sell the firm’s long-term assets and use the funds to acquire more present-income-oriented assets. As a manager, he cannot simply sell the assets and consume the cash; all he can do is rearrange their composition to produce greater amounts of income in the nearer future. More roundabout means
    of production are reversed toward less roundabout means in the interest of more current revenue, but at the expense of the firm’s long-term capital value.”

    More “round-about means of production” would encompass the local mutualism John holds up for our consideration, where binding social relations encompassing longer time frames are discounted at lower rates. That’s surely preferable to less roundabout means discounted at such high rates that it can suck the wealth out of society so suddenly the ownership class is plunged into a crisis of vanishing future certainty, with asset returns traded imprudently for a premium fee: the broker’s salary, as now?

  13. The “first principle of the whole ethical and social order,” Pope John Paul II wrote in Laborem exercens, is the universal destination of goods–that the resources of the earth must be shared in common or broadly distributed because that is the condition in which the earth and all life was originally given by God. “All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinate to this norm; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application. It must be considered a serious and urgent social obligation to refer these rights to their original purpose.” So wrote Paul VI in Populorum progressio, which Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate, singles out as the new starting point for Catholic social teaching in the age of globalization.

    When the neoliberals who held sway in the Catholic public square in recent decades did not simply ignore this “first principle of the whole ethical and social order” (how could they entirely?), they hideously deformed it by marrying the goal of distributive justice to an un-Christian liberal-contractual model of society and human behavior that was anathema in all of post-Enlightenment Catholic tradition until the last few decades.

  14. Lew, thanks for this,
    “The “first principle of the whole ethical and social order,” Pope John Paul II wrote in Laborem exercens, is the universal destination of goods–that the resources of the earth must be shared in common or broadly distributed because that is the condition in which the earth and all life was originally given by God. “All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinate to this norm; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application. It must be considered a serious and urgent social obligation to refer these rights to their original purpose.”

    Lew, I appreciate your honesty very much. You’re not a devious person.
    However, as an American I take any threat to private property rights seriously and consequently stand against you and Mr. Medaille’s Catholic distributism.
    It strikes me that the bedrock of the Front Porch Republic is private property rights, the right to own your piece of the planet unencumbered by the unjust impositions of the state. I do hope the leadership of the FPR decides to resist this distributism along with the ongoing efforts of the central gov’t to consolidate power.

  15. Cheeks,
    Though supremely knee-jerk in devious temperament, I aint yet convinced that the distributists are some form of 5th column waiting to grab your bit of paradise and give it to some witless peasants. What I do see is something like the Mondragon Cooperative where individuals held their own domicile…as far as I can tell… but that they took control of the local means of production (by buying it) and turned a failed Sewing machine factory that had been thoroughly whipsawed by revanchist Fascism and turned it into a vibrant and productive source of employment with, as I recall somewhere around 85% of the employees holding ownership position. This was done by a non-governmental organization.

    As to the VMI…..one of my treasured possessions is a little black and white photograph of cadets, in dress uniform, scratching their heads in disbelief as they read Ginzburgs “Howl” in class. Cripes is it rich.

    Lastly, in the issue of “owning your piece of the planet unencumbered by the unjust impositions of the State”…this status covers a large ground extending from an exclusive ownership that is predatory and extractive, leaving a mugging in its wake and then there is the proper and right honorable end of the spectrum…the property owner acting as steward in a respectful effort at stewardship of his or her own in concert with their fellow. This is a serious issue and at current, the trend favors the more dysfunctional muggers and corporatist exploiters concerned primarily with rapine in the service of short term profit.

    As to the other stated fears of Church Centralization…we live within an era where the church is separated from government and so free of the european history of the Church, and its decadent higher clergy in cahoots with the State….a predatory State which was primarily dominated by an eroding gene pool of primogenitor that produce receding brains AND chins. Needless to say, in our case, 200 years of a democratic republic seems to be evolving a new class of receding brains at the helm and all of it without the great art and music frequently produced during earlier times……in other words, Everyone is a King and this King is a Dope.

  16. Bruce, thanks for the link, the stuff looks interesting and I’ll download. I’ve always been of the opinion, perhaps misguided, that private property rights are worth fighting for.
    As an aside, a fellow named Bruce Smith saved my life in 1956…pulled me out of an icy, flooded creek. I wrote the story of the American Enterprise a few years ago, then it was published in a book.

  17. D.W., I am quite comfortable living at least politically in the eighteenth century…it all went down hill after that anyway.
    Re: Catholic Distributism and Mr. Daly’s comments:
    “All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinate to this norm; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application. It must be considered a serious and urgent social obligation to refer these rights to their original purpose.”
    …well to put it politely, that dog ain’t huntin’ and I’m surprised you tolerate it. In fact that’s worth a damn good revolution, yes sireee, bob!
    I don’t have any problems with ESOP’s, never did.

    Re: this: “Lastly, in the issue of “owning your piece of the planet unencumbered by the unjust impositions of the State”…this status covers a large ground extending from an exclusive ownership that is predatory and extractive, leaving a mugging in its wake and then there is the proper and right honorable end of the spectrum…the property owner acting as steward in a respectful effort at stewardship of his or her own in concert with their fellow. This is a serious issue and at current, the trend favors the more dysfunctional muggers and corporatist exploiters concerned primarily with rapine in the service of short term profit.”
    There are laws that define land usage. If we can’t enforce those laws, then perhaps we can’t enforce any laws and we already exist in a state of anarchy. The right to private ownership of property is the ground of liberty. It was in the eighteenth century and it is today and damn well worth fighting for…don’t ya think?

    As a good, fallen away Catholic I have a fondness for the Pope other than when he speaks of grand world councils.

    “Needless to say, in our case, 200 years of a democratic republic seems to be evolving a new class of receding brains at the helm and all of it without the great art and music frequently produced during earlier times…”
    No, palsy, I don’t agree at all. The problem is not republicanism rather the rise of sundry distortions: socialism, progressivism, alienation, and the loss of meaning of the founding symbols: liberty, freedom, federalism, justice.

    The problem is we didn’t follow Jefferson’s dictum and shed a little blood every twenty years or so. If we’d hung a couple of dozen congressmen/senators, bankers, and regulators over this latest wet dream and left their bodies to rot on lamp posts our bettors might have gotten the message.

    So, for me, it’s no go with Catholic Distributism (socialist succotash!) but no hard feelings, palsy. We can argue over this, not that I like to argue!

  18. Property rights have always been contingent upon the environment we have found ourselves living in. When there were no suitable plants and animals to domesticate for farming human beings retained the nomadic lifestyle. When there were suitable plants and animals to develop farming the necessary concept of property rights was developed. This became a norm because we are dialogical creatures (endlessly having dialogues with each other that often result in norms and then laws.) However, South Pacific islanders, for example, believed for many years in taboos and there were various punishments for breaking taboos up to the confiscation of all of an individual’s property including, land, hut, tools, crops and animals (See “The Golden Bough” Fraser). Secondly, imagine you live in a house on a remote volcanic island in the South Pacific. You live there with your wife and the house has four bedrooms. The volcano is active and erupts one day making many people homeless on the other side of the island. The island’s government urgently needs to find homes for people and declares an emergency law for the foreseeable future to accommodate homeless people in houses with spare bedrooms. Your property rights have been partially abrogated. Property rights I, therefore, argue are ultimately based upon the norms, or will, of the community you live in. It is very useful to have them but they are entirely contingent.

  19. I don’t have to worry. I live in the valley of the west fork of the Little Beaver, we don’t have no volcanoes.

  20. I promise someday I’ll have something useful to contribute to the Front Porch, but until that time:

    “As to the VMI…..one of my treasured possessions is a little black and white photograph of cadets, in dress uniform, scratching their heads in disbelief as they read Ginzburgs “Howl” in class. Cripes is it rich.”

    Good grief, DW, where on Earth did you get that?

    Because I remember exactly when that happened. You see, one of my roommates belonged to that rare and dubious breed, the VMI English major. There were not many of them, at least at that time, so anytime some man of letters or another was invited to school to speaker or do whatever that sort does, all of them are involved in it in some way or another. So when we were seniors, somehow Ginsburg got invited to come to the I, and he had to give him a tour of the school. I had never heard of him at the time, but we all got an education, the general reaction was “WTF?!!” Followed by many, many jokes about the soundness of English majors. I think the whole thing was worth it, because he put on some public poetry reading one evening, and the Commandant and his wife went, dressed to the nines, clearly ignorant about who Allen Ginsburg was, and he read Howl. The strained discomfort multiplied by basic Southern hospitality not to make a scene, was priceless.

    According to my roommate Pete, on the tour Ginsburg was rather intimidated by the place and what went on there, which surprised me, I thought it’d turn him on or something.

  21. Steve K..
    I seem to recall finding it in the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco way back in the olden days where it was some kind of a totem snickering at the militaristic rubes but I thought it a fine commentary on Ginsbergs brand of high-strung paranoia and libertinism as identity.

    You have a perfect thing to contribute to this sordid venue…a full essay on your day with Ginsburg at the VMI

    Cheeks, you live far too close to the Federal District not to be worried. Volcanos are but pikers in comparison to that Krakatoa of Graft and Best Intentions Gone Armed and Dangerous. For the record, I “tolerate” these distributist reveries because I find them interesting when compared against the flatheaded excesses of the last 30 years. I grant myself a little license to explore it because I think they have a snowball’s chance of hell in actually getting one of these systems up and running like they did @ Mondragon. Here in this lapsed-republic, the citizen heartily embraces “collectivization” in thought, transgression and consumerism ….following the turbid stream right into penury but if anybody mentions the word in an economic sense, they wet their panties and jump for mommas lap and start sucking their thumbs.

  22. D.W.
    Well, I’ll keep an eye on your ‘comments’ to see how that “collectivization” Catholic Distributist thing works out for you. But I ain’t running with people who have what appears to be so little regard for property rights. Hey, I go to church with “Democrats,” that’s how broad minded I am, but I sure as hell ain’t singin’ “kumbyaya my Lord!”.

    Re:”property rights:”
    Ten or fifteen years ago the State of Ohio, Dept. of Transportation, called the wife and says, “We’re coming on your property to do a historical survey in preparation for a highway which may be going across or near your land.”
    So the wife’s not happy and says “what do you think?” and I says, “Only if they buy a permit.” (We’d been involved in the permitting of a hazardous waste facility). So the next day they call back and the wife tells them they gotta buy a permit, for $1,000. (I figured that was a fair price, considering license plate fees, property taxes, hunting tags, fishing tags, ect.) The bureaucrat at the Dept. of Trans. gets her pants in a knot and starts ranting and raving (she didn’t see the humor of my fee proposal!) and threatens the wife with a lawsuit, whereupon the wife says, “See you in court.”
    Well, the sheriff called a few weeks later whining about me not getting along with the state boys but that was it, the matter was over. ALL of my neighbors had quietly and meekly given in to the will of the State.

    So, I figure I won’t cede my property rights to some church or guild or committee or gummint and if I must, well then the game’s over anyway and we’re living in Amerika and it’s lock and load time.

  23. Front Porcher dialogue might improve if the idea of “property for use” and “property for power” was given more consideration. Even further improvement is possible if more thought is given to the concept that to maintain individual freedom and the common good you need social control and that with population beyond a certain figure that means using a democratically controlled state.

  24. “Even further improvement is possible if more thought is given to the concept that to maintain individual freedom and the common good you need social control and that with population beyond a certain figure that means using a democratically controlled state.”

    I would be very interested in seeing you expand the above sentence, either in a FPR Blog if possible or in a ‘comment.’

  25. Cheeks,
    They let Democrats into your church? What kind of an operation is this? I thought most Democrats were taking Yoga class or pilotis on Sunday morning…at least those ambulatory at the hour.

    Just for your records, I aint giving up my property rights any time soon, not even to someone who asks politely.

    I can only wish that the contretemps with the State DOT could have escalated to them ignoring your permit fee request and coming anyway , only to be served a Cease and Desist Order by you, duct taped to the end of your 12 gauge…..while you were wearing a Happy Face Tshirt.

    What is highly entertaining is the fact that the DOT actually had someone maintaining they were doing a Historical research tour.

  26. D.W. Fearless defender of freedom, though lately seduced by the siren call of Collectivized Catholic Distributism, I have no doubt you are a closet right wing, property-rights, American patriot! Never doubted it.
    RE: the Ohio DOT, they threaten but usually don’t seize, unless some politician wants the land. We have a county official noted for that. Someday I’ll tell you the story of when the beloved first wife defended her dear friend in a Columbiana County Court after she’d been sued by an agri-business chicken grower over a right of way. Mrs. Cheeks won!
    RE: guns we have four or five each and plenty of ammo but we are certified sissies when it comes to my heroic neighbor who owns an armory in his basement sufficient to hold off a platoon of Mujahadeen.
    Re: The Ohio DOT, they sent a long-haired, college prof to assure us they only wanted to ‘walk’ around lookin’ for Indian stuff and maybe hug a few trees. After determining he didn’t have a bong on him he was promptly escorted to his state vehicle.
    Re: Democrats are everywhere!
    D.W., I love you dude, I don’t care if you are a little left of center, you’re still aces, and I’d join you at the barricades any day!

    Smitty: Dude, now come on, don’t be shy. I can tell you are really, really smart and I look forward to learning stuff. And, besides the subject is intriguing and my guess is D.W. would love to read it too.

  27. Hey Bob. We all want to see your ability to figure this property thing out! Don’t be lazy. Why should I do all the work? Anyway as you’d agree self-taught is best.

    Viz your healthcare post. The nineteenth century private charity thing on healthcare didn’t work too well for my ancestors nor for most other folk’s ancestors which is why governments got involved in the provision. I wouldn’t dream of asking you to directly fund the healthcare insurance of somebody who can’t afford it. I would though like you, me and others, to give up small contributions to those who can’t afford it and with a method that minimizes free-loaders. Tell me how the Church prevents free-loaders and you’ll understand why the “gummint” got involved!

  28. Smitty,

    Dude, it was your suggestion, I am merely and unsnarkily interested in what you have to say. So it’s up to you, you already know my position on private property.

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