C.S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism

by David J. Theroux on August 16, 2011 · 107 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power,Writers & Poets

C.S.-Lewis-1

This is Part I of a III Part series on C.S. Lewis and Statism. The series originally appeared at the Independent Institute. See part II here and part III here.

For decades, many Christians and non-Christians, both “conservative” and “liberal,” have unfortunately embraced an ill-conceived, “progressive” (i.e., authoritarian) vision to wield intrusive government powers as an unquestionable and even sanctified calling for both domestic and international matters, abandoning the Judeo-Christian, natural-law tradition in moral ethics and economics. In contrast, the Oxford/Cambridge scholar and best-selling author C. S. Lewis did not suffer such delusions, despite the gigantic and deeply disturbing advances and conflicts of total war, the total state, and genocides that developed during his lifetime.

Lewis’s aversion to government was clearly revealed in 1951 when Winston Churchill, within weeks after he regained office as prime minister of Great Britain, wrote to Lewis offering to have him knighted as “Commander of the Order of the British Empire.” Lewis flatly declined the honor because he, unlike the “progressives,” was never interested in politics and was deeply skeptical of government power and politicians, as expressed in the first two lines of his poem “Lines during a General Election”: “Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear / All that; it is their promises that bring despair.”[1]

Lewis had held this view for many years. In 1940, he had written in a letter to his brother Warren, “Could one start a Stagnation Party—which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place?” He further stated, “I was by nature ‘against Government.’”[2]

In comparison to such contemporary, “progressive” Christians as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren, who clamor for the foolish and disastrous notion of achieving “social justice” through gigantic government powers (see Robert Higgs’s book refuting the “progressive” myth in American history, Crisis and Leviathan),[3] was Lewis just ignorant or naive about modern realities, or was he aiming at a deeper and more significant purpose? In this article, I only begin to touch on some of Lewis’s many writings pertaining to the subject of liberty and Christian teachings because any truly adequate examination would warrant at least an entire book.

Lewis was unquestionably and profoundly interested in the ideas and institutions that were the basis for free and virtuous individuals and communities, but he was not at all interested in partisanship or campaign politics. He instead focused on first principles, and public-policy matters were of interest only as they pertained to questions of enduring value. As a result of this focus, whereas the work of most modern scholars and other writers quickly becomes dated and obsolete, Lewis’s work has achieved increasing timelessness and relevance. His books continue to sell at an astounding rate, and although Lewis is best known for his fiction, he also wrote superb books in philosophy and theology, literary history and criticism, poetry, and autobiography, as well as at last count more than fifty thousand letters to individuals worldwide.

Individual Liberty

Throughout his work, Lewis infused an interconnected worldview that championed objective truth, moral ethics, natural law, literary excellence, reason, science, individual liberty, personal responsibility and virtue, and Christian theism. In so doing, he critiqued naturalism, reductionism, nihilism, positivism, scientism, historicism, collectivism, atheism, statism, coercive egalitarianism, militarism, welfarism, and dehumanization and tyranny of all forms. Unlike “progressive” crusaders for predatory government power over the peaceful pursuits of innocent people, Lewis noted that “I do not like the pretensions of Government—the grounds on which it demands my obedience—to be pitched too high. I don’t like the medicine-man’s magical pretensions nor the Bourbon’s Divine Right. This is not solely because I disbelieve in magic and in Bossuet’s Politique. I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ it lies, and lies dangerously.”[4]

Lewis addressed not only the evils of totalitarianism as manifested in fascism and communism, but the more subtle forms that face us on a daily basis, including the welfare, therapeutic, nanny, and scientistic states. “Of all tyrannies,” he stated,

a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.[5]

Throughout his books, he defended the rights and sanctity of individuals against tyranny not just because he opposed evil, but because he considered a life in freedom—including both social and economic freedom—to be essential: “I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he had “the freeborn mind.” But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology.”[6]

As Rodney Stark discusses in his book The Victory of Reason,[7] Marcus Tullius Cicero and others had contemplated the concept of the self (individualism) and free will before the Christian era, but it was not until Jesus personally asserted in words and deeds the concept of universal moral equality before and responsibility to God and not until Christian theologians made it a central feature of their doctrine that the rights of each and every individual were championed and slavery was condemned. This bold advance in thinking arose in part from the revolutionary insight of methodological individualism in the study of human behavior, wherein the individual is considered primary. As Jon Elster notes, “The elementary unit of social life is the individual human action. To explain social institutions and social change is to show how they arise as the result of the actions and interaction of individuals. This view, often referred to as methodological individualism, is in my view trivially true.”[8] Austrian school economist Murray Rothbard similarly wrote, “The fundamental axiom, then, for the study of man is the existence of individual consciousness.”[9] Ludwig von Mises further stated that “the collective has no existence and reality but in the actions of individuals. It comes into existence by ideas that move individuals to behave as members of a definite group and goes out of existence when the persuasive power of these ideas subsides.”[10] And Stark has pointed out that although almost every other early culture and religion viewed human society in terms of the tribe, polis, or collective, “it is the individual who was the focus of Christian political thought, and this, in turn, explicitly shaped the views of later European political philosophers.”[11]

This focus produced a radical change in a world where, despite notable but limited exceptions of political decentralization, slavery and nearly universal and unyielding despotism had ruled,[12] where people were treated as mere members of a group without rights. With Christianity, each and every person is “a child of God” or a holy object (res sacra homo) who has free will and is individually responsible for the choices he or she makes. In this tradition, Thomas Aquinas stated, “A man can direct and govern his own actions also. Therefore the rational creature participates in the divine providence not only in being governed but also in governing.”[13]

Natural Law

Working from this Christian background, Lewis stressed the importance of the natural law of moral ethics, a code of moral conscience that is inescapable and defines each person as human. Such morality exists on its own independent of subjective choices or experiences, just as one may grasp the inherent truism of mathematics or natural physical laws such as gravity. Lewis drew on the natural-law insights of such thinkers as the apostle Paul, Augustine, Magnus, Aquinas, Cicero, Grotius, Blackstone, Acton, and Locke, and he considered modernist dismissals of such work to be fundamentally erroneous. In particular, both Aquinas’s notion of “common sense” (communis sensus) as described in his Summa Theologica and the legacy of rational theism found in Jewish, Islamic, Christian, and certain pagan writers—the core philosophical system of the West—had a powerful effect on Lewis. To him, the culture of “modernism” is not just an historical aberration of this “common sense,” but a profound threat to the pursuit of truth, goodness, and civilization itself.

This “common sense,” or Lewis’s notion of common rationality, consisted in part of each individual human being’s intrinsic understanding of an objective, universal, and natural legal order of truth and morality (the “natural law,” or what Lewis called the “Tao”[14]), upon which he or she discerns, chooses, and acts.[15] For Lewis, each individual responds to and can come to know and experience this external reality of truth—it is a “common knowledge.” This insight is similar to Adam Smith’s view, as expressed in his 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that individuals are born with an innate moral conscience and “sympathy” for the well-being of others and can maintain them by following the natural law.[16]

Lewis likewise claimed that

[i]f a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason of man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects [of Confucius], the Stoics, the Plantonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of almsgiving and impartiality and honesty. He may be a little surprised (I certainly was) to find that precepts of mercy are more frequent than precepts of justice; but he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the law of nature. . . . [T]he pretence that we are presented with a mere chaos—though no outline of universally accepted value shows through—is simply false and should be contradicted in season and out of season wherever it is met. Far from finding a chaos, we find exactly what we should expect if good is indeed something objective and reason the organ whereby it is apprehended—that is, a substantial agreement with considerable local differences of emphasis and, perhaps, no one code that includes everything.[17]

Lewis noted that what is common to all these concepts is something crucial: “It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. . . . No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are illogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should obey it.”[18]

As such, Lewis firmly rejected the idea that only those who are Christian can understand or be moral because the natural law is fundamental to human existence and serves as the basis for human choice. He noted that if only Christians were able to be moral or to understand morality, then there would exist an unworkable dilemma in which no one would be persuaded of being (or ever be able to become) moral who was not already a Christian, and hence no one would ever become Christian. “It is often asserted that the world must return to Christian ethics in order to preserve civilization. Though I am myself a Christian, and even a dogmatic Christian untinged with Modernist reservations and committed to supernaturalism in its full rigour, I find myself quite unable to take my place beside the upholders of [this] view. It is far from my intention to deny that we find in Christian ethics a deepening, an internalization, a few changes of emphasis in the moral code. But only serious ignorance of Jewish and Pagan culture would lead anyone to the conclusion that it is a radically new thing.”[19]

Lewis argued that a natural moral law is known to all, and this natural moral code is inescapable; it is the basis for all moral judgments. Its foundational truths such as “caring for others is a good thing,” “good should be done and evil avoided,” “dying for a righteous cause is a noble thing”—are understood regardless of experience, just as we know that 2 + 2 = 4.

As Paul stated, “When Gentiles do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”[20]

In his book The Discarded Image, Lewis showed that Paul’s statement completely conforms with the view that morality is determined by “right reason” or the Stoic idea of natural law: “[T]he Stoics believed in a Natural Law which all rational men, in virtue of their rationality, saw to be binding on them. St. Paul[’s] statement in Roman’s (ii 14 sq.) that there is a law ‘written in the hearts’ even of Gentiles who do not know ‘the law’ is in full conformity with the Stoic conception, and would for centuries be so understood. Nor, during those centuries, would the word ‘hearts’ have had merely emotional associations. The Hebrew word which St. Paul represents by kardia would be more nearly translated ‘Mind.’”[21]

Lewis posed similar arguments in his books The Problem of Pain and Christian Reflections.[22] However, like all natural-law proponents, he was careful to note that natural law does not afford easy or precise solutions to all questions. Echoing Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics he noted that “moral decisions do not admit mathematical certainty.”[23]

David J. Theroux is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Independent Institute, Publisher of The Independent Review, and Founder and President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California. He received his B.S., A.B., and M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, and his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. Books produced by Mr. Theroux have been the recipients of the Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize, Templeton Freedom Award, two Mencken Awards for Best Book, seven Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Awards for Best Book, two Benjamin Franklin Awards, four Independent Publisher Book Awards, and three Choice Magazine Awards for Outstanding Book.

This is Part I of a III Part series on C.S. Lewis and Statism. The series originally appeared at the Independent Institute. See part II here and part III here.

Footnotes for Part I

[1] C. S. Lewis, “Lines during a General Election,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964), 62.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. Warren H. Lewis (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966), 179.

[3] Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). Also see his book on the disastrous myth of the “progressive” state in America since 1930,Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity (New York: Oxford University Press for the Independent Institute, 2009) as well as Arthur A. Ekirch Jr., The Decline of American Liberalism (Oakland, Calif.: Independent Institute, 2009), and Jonathan Bean, ed., Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky for The Independent Institute, 2009).

[4] C. S. Lewis, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays in Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1970), 315.

[5] C. S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in God in the Dock, 292.

[6] Lewis, “Is Progress Possible?” 314.

[8] Jon Elster, Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 13.

[9] Murray N. Rothbard, “The Mantle of Science,” in Scientism and Values, ed. Helmut Schoeck and James W. Wiggins (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand, 1960), 177.

[10] Ludwig von Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science: An Essay on Method (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2006), 80.

[12] See, for example, Thomas J. Thompson, “An Ancient Stateless Civilization: Bronze Age India and the State in History,” Independent Review (Winter 2005): 365–84; Jesse L. Byock, Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); David Friedman, “Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case,” Journal of Legal Studies 8, no. 2 (1979): 399–415; Joseph R. Peden, “Property Rights in Ancient Celtic Law,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 1, no. 2 (1977): 81–95; and Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983).

[13] Quoted in Berman, Law and Revolution, 25.

[14] Lewis’s use of the term Tao (literally meaning the “way” or “path”) to describe natural moral law should not be confused with the Chinese naturalist philosophy of Taoism (Daoism), the various forms of which uphold nihilism, ethical skepticism, relativism, mysticism, intuitionism, and primitivism.

[15] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 18–19, 83–101. Also see C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1952), and Lewis, God in the Dock.

[16] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1976), 47–48.

[17] C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 77–78, emphasis in original.

[18] Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 19.

[19] Lewis, Christian Reflections, 44, 46.

[20] Paul, Romans 2:14–15 [NIV].

[21] C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 160.

[22] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 39; C. S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism,” inChristian Reflections, 78–80.

[23] C. S. Lewis, “A Reply to Professor Haldane,” in On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), 80.


 

{ 105 comments }

avatar Jordan Smith August 16, 2011 at 11:28 am

Really enjoyed that. Looking forward to Parts II and III.

avatar JD Salyer August 16, 2011 at 7:29 pm

“This bold advance in thinking arose in part from the revolutionary insight of methodological individualism in the study of human behavior, wherein the individual is considered primary.”

Interesting.

avatar j. blum August 17, 2011 at 12:24 am

Methodological individualism may be trivial but it is not true. The individual does not precede society historically. Society predates our current version of humanity. Whether the individual is logically prior to society depends on an axiom. Reject the axiom and methodological individual ism vanishes. The individual does not exist without his biological forebears, these suffice to constitute society.

avatar David Theroux August 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm

j. blum, In no way is “methodological individualism” trivially true. The very fact that you have a mind and free will to make any assertion, such as your comment, means that you exhibit purposeful behavior as an individual. The fact that individuals only exist within the context of natural law in no way makes their existence any less real or significant. Humans perceive, think and act as individuals, not collective blobs, and the “modern” attempt to deconstruct and dehumanize mankind by denying the reality of individual agency is at the heart of the intellectual and cultural chaos of modernism and post-modernism.

avatar j. blum August 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Descartes began the nonsense, sir, not I. People are not atoms. The individual does not exist without society and constituent institutions like the family to bear, raise and educate him. We don’t think as collective blobs, a straw figure if ever I read one, but we do tend towards ovine repetition of our authorities, even our libertarian gurus. We show our bold individualism by mouthing the creeds of Mises or Rand?

avatar David Theroux August 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

j. blum, I fully agree with you that people are not atoms and that family, tradition and connections of all sorts are real and indeed crucial, but in no way does this negate the fact that only individuals have minds, choose and act. C.S. Lewis understood this, as has the entire tradition of natural law proponents, including Aquinas, Madison, Tocqueville, Acton, etc. The strawman argument of “atomization” you make that recognizing the existence of individual human beings is hardly relevant.

As I have simply noted and scholars such as Alvin Plantinga have so effectively shown, you as an individual in choosing (including making your comments here) is based on the correct tautological assumptions by you that you have a mind and free will and can rationally infer as an individual. To deny this is to embrace a self-contradiction and incoherence. Moreover and as Lewis so well explained, to believe that individuals do not choose and are responsible for their actions is to deny reality and negate personal responsibility and the rule of law itself. Please see his C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”: https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/IssuesInReligionAndPsychotherapy/article/view/273/272

avatar j. blum August 17, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Methodological individualism as explicated by both Mises and Rothbard insists on the logical and historical priority of the individual to society and this is simply untrue. I do not deny the tautology of personal choice ; you cannot deny the tautology that society precedes you as you and I are so amicably employing the English language, which neither of us invented out of the depths of our sovereign intellects.

avatar David Theroux August 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm

j. blum, The “methodological individualism” of the Austrian School of economics says nothing about the origins of social norms, mores, and customs, including those that formed the cultural roots of Western civilization or human communities anywhere. Other works by such scholars as Harold Berman would be recommended. What the Austrians do say is again the fact that societies exist based on the actions of individuals, not undefined, mindless and non-existent “collective” agents. This is a “methodological” point for use in analysis, not a claim of the origins of mankind. However, when man did become man it was when individual agency occurred, based on the “substance dualism” of mind and matter. This agency means that only individual human beings purposefully think, choose and act.

It is no accident that it was the Christian clerics of scholasticism at the University of Salamanca who first most advanced this insight, which is based on Christian teachings. Rodney Stark discusses this point in his book, “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success”: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812972333/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

avatar Siarlys Jenkins August 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Blind individualism is a form of idolatry that becomes a license for tyranny. If the individual is free of state interference, then the biggest, baddest, roughest, toughest, richest, individual, the individual with the rowdiest and/or most disciplined gang of followers, becomes the Lord of the Pond.

IF a distributist vision of compensation according to work were fully implemented, complete with achieving a stable distribution of property, then and only then the glorification of the individual as presented here might have some merit.

In the present world, individuals depend on long supply lines operated by a series of remote, inaccessible, wealthy and powerful enterprises, which MUST have THEIR soul-less liberties infringed.

As John Medaille argued in an article linked from another recent post,

“Adam Smith pointed out the fallacy of this logic. The worker “bargains” under the compulsion of poverty; he simply cannot do without the work for any appreciable length of time. The owners of capital, on the other hand, can go long periods without working, and hence they are under less compulsion. In other words, Smith pointed out that labor contracts arbitrate power, not productivity. The CEO gets 500 times what the line worker gets not because he is 500 times more productive but because he is 500 times more powerful; the seamstress in a sweatshop gets a pittance not because her productivity is low but because her power is pitiful.”

You might say that this imbalance is a violation of the natural law. I would agree up to a point — although the original state of anarchy gave rise to tyrannical gangs and petty tyrants which gave rise to states which gave rise to wars and empires. But, unless this fundamental violation of natural law can be corrected, in practical terms, the logic of broadly attacking “statism” and glorifying individual liberty is merely a license to steal.

Government powers should be limited and delegated, not infinitely expansive. But philosophy never stopped a capitalist enterprise from engorging itself at the expense of countless individuals, trampling on their freedom every step of the way.

avatar Jon Cook August 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm

David, I love what Lewis I have read and I am by no means well-read or a scholar on these issues, but I don’t think our Christian faith asserts the primacy of the individual so strongly. What about the collective known as the Church, the Body of Christ? Or it as the Bride of Christ? What about the Old Testament, replete with God’s dealing with nations as whole entities? No, I think our faith teaches a right balance between the human and humanity, between the individual and the collective. Both are aspects of a true view of humanity. If Lewis did focus on the primacy of the individual as you say, then perhaps he was somewhat infect by our hyper-individualistic culture; he was merely a man after all, Yes, individuals are so important that a good shepherd will leave the ninety and nine to go search for the one, but we are then all members of one body and everything we do impacts others, and in some real (that is, spiritual) sense we are one thing and Christ can rightly call us His Bride.

avatar Rob G August 20, 2011 at 10:05 am

I was going to say something similar, Jon. There are many good points in the article, but on the whole it doesn’t seem to make enough of a distinction between the Christian idea of the individual — the valuable, free and responsible creation of God reflecting the imago Dei and of necessity living in community — and the more Enlightenment-rooted idea of the person as an individuated autonomous free moral agent for whom community is an artifact of sorts.

avatar Thaddeus August 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

Neither conservatism nor libertarianism accepts the sacred as the only ground for the political use of power.

Guardini: The law of the state is more than a set of rules governing human behavior; behind it exists something untouchable, and when a law is broken it makes its impact on the conscience of man. Social order is more than a warrant against friction, than a guarantee for the free exercise of communal life; behind it stands something which makes an injury against society a crime. The religious dimension of law suffuses the entire moral order. It gives to ethical action, that is action necessary for the very existence of man, its own proper norms, which it executes from without and without pressure. Only the religious element of law guarantees the unity and cooperation of the whole order of human behavior.

and Thomas Molnar:

We are thus approaching societies without the sacred and without power. To use the words of Gauchet again, the political enterprise is no longer justified in calling itself the concretization of the heavenly law. Political power is subverted in its symbolic foundation and sacred identity. Its roots, hence its mediating legitimacy, have been removed by a quiet revolution. Liberal democracy has proved to be a passage from society founded on the sacred to society founded on nothing but itself.

avatar John Haas August 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

“. . . the peaceful pursuits of innocent people . . .”

Thanks! Needed a laugh!

avatar David Theroux August 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Siarkys Jenkins, You are certainly correct that “Blind individualism is a form of idolatry” and this is a major theme of C.S. Lewis’s work. Lewis points out both that a society ruled by the instincts of the jungle is a system of tyranny and that Pride is not just one of the Seven Deadly Sins but the basis for all sin. You also correctly point out that from our innate understanding of the natural moral law, we recognize that the unchecked predation of the jungle (murder, theft, rape and fraud) against individuals is evil and that we must have civil rules (the rule of law) that reflect and are subject to the natural law and protect the rights of all individuals to be free. But then you claim that a free society in which such a rule of law exists itself necessarily produces evil and that the natural law is either a sham or ineffective. If this were the case, then how would we have an understanding of it in the first place and on what basis should we then have laws? If natural law itself is wrong, then what is the basis for sin?

You go further, as is the case with most moderns, to insist that we must embrace a utilitarian (or “use”) basis for morality because “the end justifies the means” through a system of “distributism” (a la Chesteron and Belloc I suspect) made possible by having a State with the legal authority to circumvent natural law precepts and impose its own rules. In other words, even when individuals ARE innocent of predation on others, they should STILL be treated as if they were criminals by those who work for the State, who should be exempt from the natural law. In your system, predation on the innocent is not just to be legalized but is to be institutionalized across society as the new standard of behavior by a governing class that can impose edicts based on whim, since natural law is jettisoned. C.S. Lewis addresses this profound fallacy in his book, “The Abolition of Man” (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition1.htm), and points out that such a view is based once again of the sin of Pride in which some individuals believe they can circumvent the natural law and rule over others. As I also note in my article, Lewis further refutes the concept of the welfare state as profoundly immoral and counter-productive in his essay “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State” (from his book, “God in the Dock”) (http://tinyurl.com/3qcxu7f}. In addition, “distributism” has been refuted repeatedly not just from a moral standpoint but also because of the economic fallacies it presumes by abandoning the natural law. For example, please see “Chesterton and Belloc: A Critique,” by Walter Block, Marcus Epstein, and Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (“The Independent Review,” Spring 2007: http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=632).

But the problem with your view also fails empirically as we examine the historical record that shows that the “Progressive” view of American history is a cruel modernist myth. We now know that the size of a business enterprise or its market share do NOT correlate with predatory behavior. Not only does market success for a firm instead reflect the fact that an enterprise produces goods and services that people willingly choose to purchase (as opposed to a State’s mandated payments for its operations), but that such a firm must adopt civil behavior to attract and keep customers and that predation can only occur to the extent that a State possesses the legal authority to allow and indeed celebrate such actions. In other words, “corporatism” can only exist to the extent that a State has the authority to abrogate the natural law and dispense such powers to favored people in society. True-believing “Progressives” in fact have been unwittingly responsible for the creation of corporatism in America with their naïve support for each and every enhancement of State power that business, labor and other interests may well seek but are unable to acquire and utilize without government sanction. As I also note in my article, this has been shown most notably by the economist and historian Robert Higgs in his path-breaking book, “Crisis and Leviathan” (http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=15). And I would also recommend the following:

“Crisis and Quasi-Corporatist Policy-Making: The U.S. Case in Historical Perspective,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=312)

“Quasi-Corporatism: America’s Homegrown Fascism,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1663)

“Military-Economic Fascism: How Business Corrupts Government, and Vice Versa,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=665)

C.S. Lewis discusses repeatedly in his books that the sin of Pride is the driving force for tyranny, and as you exhibit in your comment, FEAR of allowing people to be free to make their own choices is the resulting foundation behind all forms of statism, one of the greatest evils created by mankind:

“Fear: The Foundation of Every Government’s Power,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=1510)

“Why Are Politicians Always Trying to Scare Us?”, by Robert Higgs (http://independent.org/events/transcript.asp?eventID=130)

avatar David Theroux August 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Jon Cook, Mankind has always been prone to self-worship (self-idolatry or narcissism), and secularism is especially based on this fatal view. As I note above in my response to Siarkys Jenkins, C.S. Lewis wrote extensively on the Christian teaching that Pride is not just one of the Seven Deadly Sins but the basis for all sin. However, to be born again as Jesus taught was to kill off one’s prideful self and become anew as an individual in Christ as we are lifted up to God. In other words, God created mankind as individuals with individual souls, mind and bodies, who make individual choices and are held accountable as individuals for such choices, and can be redeemed only by individually choosing to accept the Grace of God. It is also noteworthy that when God became man as Jesus, he was born, lived, traveled, ministered, was tempted, prayed, died and was resurrected, all AS an individual. Now none of this is to deny the relational basis for Jesus or any individual, but the fact remains that God created us as thinking, choosing and acting individuals, not collective blobs.

Moreover, when one becomes a Christian, this person enters as a Member into the Church or Body of Christ, but each person does so perfectly fulfilled as an individual soul with a unique identity and purpose. This fulfillment is in direct contrast to Buddhism and other views in which the individual soul enters oblivion and is annihilated into the material universe or some state of non-existence. C.S. Lewis addresses this matter clearly in his essay, “Membership” (see his book “The Weight of Glory and Other Essay”: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060653205/qid=1146954305/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647) in which he notes that the word “member” derives from the word “organ” as in a body and that as each distinct organ functions complementarily to support the body, so does each member of the Church. To speak of membership is to speak of identity and vocation in the New Creation. The Church is more like a family, where inequality of roles yields variety, enjoyment, and health, than it is like a State (that rules people collectively), where an artificial equality is enforced from without. In the Church, we become Christ-like as fulfilled individuals whose purpose to love perfectly.

Lewis was a major critic of modernism and its moral and epistemological relativism (subjectivism) and he championed the “permanent things” of the natural law that are truly embodied in Christianity. Worship of the self is a sin, but so is worship of the collective over God’s creation of individuals as sacred objects. Individuals should be free to choose the Good as God had intended and as all individuals are mindful of, but doing so also means that choosing evil is an option. As a result, Lewis well understood that liberty was a great good and to enslave individuals through statism is a great evil.

avatar David Theroux August 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Rob G, The point is that the natural law sets the epistemic and moral foundation and context for the existence of all people as individuals and that such laws make the cooperation, norms, and relationships of community possible. To break the natural law is to simultaneously break the relational bonds of community that are the basis for the natural rights of all individuals to be free and responsible. An excellent book on the voluntary basis of community within the natural law tradition is the following:

“The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society,” edited by David T. Beito, Peter Gordon, Alexander T. Tabarrok; Foreword by Paul Johnson (University of Michigan Press)
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=17

The secular “Enlightenment project” instead claims that the natural law is a myth and there are no objective standards or rules for truth and good behavior. It was only the earlier discovery of the moral and economic lessons of the natural law by Christian scholars (e.g., Aquinas, Spanish Scholastics, etc.) that enabled mankind to establish civil societies in which the innocent were universally protected under a rule of law and the economic/social well-being of all people was radically improved from the enforcement of natural rights that facilitated free-market entrepreneurship and innovation. Ironically enough, when man discovered these truths and began to prosper from them, his own pride blinded him into believing that he was their source. Hence, the “Enlightenment project” which has since been on a foolish and pointless mission to destroy this legacy.

C.S. Lewis’s work calls for us to return to the natural law paradigm and abandon the secular hedonism of self-worship and moral ambiguity of modernism.

avatar David Theroux August 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Thaddeus, Thank you for your quoting Guardini and Molnar, both quotes of which support exactly what C.S. Lewis was saying and I describe in my article.

avatar David Theroux August 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm

John Haas, Do you consider protecting “. . . the peaceful pursuits of innocent people . . .” to be something to be mocked or perhaps even opposed? C.S. Lewis believed that loving others by protecting the innocent from aggression is a great virtue and the rule of law should reflect this standard.

avatar John Haas August 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

No, no, not at all.

I love angels.

avatar JonF August 22, 2011 at 5:37 am

The Aristotelian mean should be invoked here. Both individualism and collectivism lead to bad ends when pursued to excess. Ayn Rand is simply the flip side of the coin that also bears the image of V.I. Lenin. And in the present day I would suggest we Americans suffer from an excess of individualism, not collectivism.

avatar Rob G August 22, 2011 at 8:32 am

“C.S. Lewis’s work calls for us to return to the natural law paradigm and abandon the secular hedonism of self-worship and moral ambiguity of modernism.”

And are not commercialism and consumerism part of that very same secular hedonism, self-worship, and moral ambiguity?
Note that economic liberalism is still liberalism. One needs to watch out for the poison of “the secular ‘Enlightenment project” in economics just as much as in the other disciplines. Far too many conservatives act as if it were given some sort of magical protection from Enlightenment influence.

“Ayn Rand is simply the flip side of the coin that also bears the image of V.I. Lenin.”

Indeed. You also could have said Hefner instead of Lenin. The “freedom” of lust and the “freedom” of avarice are joined at the Enlightenment hip.

avatar Rob G August 22, 2011 at 8:39 am

~~In addition, “distributism” has been refuted repeatedly not just from a moral standpoint but also because of the economic fallacies it presumes by abandoning the natural law.~~

See the recent work of Christopher Ferrara and John Medaille, wherein these supposed refutations are themselves refuted.

avatar Rob G August 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Distributism requires abandoning the natural law? Funny that Ferrara argues precisely the opposite.

Fact is, the godfather of Austrian libertarianism, Mises, was just as much an anti-Christian atheist as Marx. If Mises’ view of human action is correct, God cannot exist. Rothbard was his disciple. Sorry, but you’ll get no sympathy for the views of a couple atheistic economists from me.

Papal socioeconomic teaching makes a lot more moral and economic sense. And I’m not even Catholic.

avatar David Theroux August 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm

RonG, “Distributism” indeed means abandoning the natural law as it requires trampling on justly acquired private property rights and the rule of law and embracing the view that some elite group is exempt from the natural law in order to steal from the innocent and redistribute wealth to those favored by this elite. Such a view requires embracing the utilitarian (i.e., of modernism) that the “the end justifies the means” (“might makes right”). Distributists see no difference between the person who works and acquires wealth peacefully and those who acquire it by conquest, the latter with whom the Distributist sides with in this command-and-control folly.

The fact that Ferrara’s collectivist views are contrary to those of Aquinas as well as such contemporary natural law proponents as C.S. Lewis, Heinrich Rommen, Robert George, Jacques Maritain, etc., should be a wake-up call.

Despite Ferrara’s erroneous claims, the founder of the Austrian School of economics was not Mises but Carl Menger who was a Thomist (i.e., Catholic dualist) and whose own work was based on the Catholic philosopher Franz Brentano (also at the University of Vienna), whose expertise was the work of the Spanish Scholastics. Menger’s 1871 path-breaking book in economics, “Principles of Economics,” is based on this work: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principles_of_Economics

Mises was a Jewish agnostic and was in no way “anti-Christian.” Interestingly enough, Mises well understood that monism could not explain reality, and in his magnum opus on economics “Human Action”, Mises specifically based it on methodological DUALISM in which individuals perceive, think and act Purposefully. For this, he has been viciously attacked by modernists for NOT embracing positivism, reductionism and determinism. The same could not at all be said for Marx who was a determinist and denied the existence of individual agency.

And for Rothbard, he further abandoned Mises’s use of Kant and embraced the Thomist/Aristolelian framework for his masterwork in economics, “Man, Economy and State”, and then went on to champion natural law theory. He wrote at length in praise of Aquinas and the Scholastics, including a large section of his book “Economic Thought before Adam Smith: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1” (Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1995), 51–64, 97–133 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1852789611/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647). Here are further articles by Rothbard on the Christian roots of economic liberalism, all rooted in the Middle Age insights of the Scholastics:

“New Light on the Prehistory of the Austrian School”, by Murray N. Rothbard
http://www.mises.org/story/2357

“The Philosopher-Theologian: St. Thomas Aquinas”, by Murray N. Rothbard
http://mises.org/daily/3920

“Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism”, by Murray N. Rothbard
http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard56.html

And here are further sample articles on this topic:

“Juan de Mariana: The Influence of the Spanish Scholastics”, by Jesus Huerta de Soto
http://www.mises.org/about/3238

“New Light on the Prehistory of the Theory of Banking and the School of Salamanca”, by Jesus Huerta de Soto
http://www.mises.org/journals/rae/pdf/R92_4.pdf

“The Late-Scholastic and Austrian Link to Modern Catholic Economic Thought”, by Robert A. Sirico
http://www.acton.org/sites/v4.acton.org/files/pdf/mm-v1n2-sirico.pdf

“Free Market Economists: 400 Years Ago”, by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=2242

“Capitalism and Catholicism”, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods37.html

“Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics, by Alejandro Chafuen”, reviewed by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods53.html

“Morality and Economic Law: Toward a Reconciliation,” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
http://mises.org/daily/1481

avatar JonF August 23, 2011 at 5:43 am

David Teroux,
Were the first Christians trampling on “Natural Law” when they held all things in common? What about the monastic orders?

While I do not counsel communism, I find the elevation of Property Rights as the sole right by the libetatrians (and various self-serving oligarchs) counter to the Christian tradition. We speak of “Life, liberty and property” as the natural rights, but note that Property is named last, as it should be. Life and liberty come from God, while property is something we acquire on our own, according to such definitions as seem proper to us (and may or may not be moral). And consider this: Will there be Plutcorats and Paupers in the New Jerusalem? Yes, yes, we cannot “immanentize the eschaton” as Mr Buckley admonished us not, but we also should not merrily waltz farther away from it either.

avatar Rob G August 23, 2011 at 8:07 am

As a former neo-con, I know all the free-market arguments; I used to believe them. I’ve read Hayek, Friedman, Hazlitt, etc. But the fact is, laissez-faire capitalism, being a form of liberalism, has no inherent mechanism by which to govern itself. The self-aggrandizing corporation has no more motivation to limit its own acquisition of power and wealth than does the self-aggrandizing state, and plutocracy is just as objectionable by natural law standards as socialism is. Greed cannot be made into a virtue no matter how much alleged “good” it does. Autonomous liberty to buy and sell and get rich is no more a manifestation of true freedom than is the autonomous liberty to have sex whenever we want. Both are not liberty, but license.

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 12:47 pm

JonF, You are certainly correct that the rights to life, liberty and property come from God. However, property rights and the rights to life and liberty are inseparable and there is no hierarchy. The right to one is a right to all three. To have a right to life is to have sovereignty over one’s body, meaning that others do not and slavery is forbidden. To have a right to liberty means being independent of the coercion of others in what one chooses and such choices necessarily mean acting with one’s body and using those physical assets one rightfully owns and has peacefully acquired. In other words, liberty in all human action involves the free and peaceful use of property and liberty can have no other meaning. All human rights are hence property rights. Here is the natural law proponent Murray Rothbard on “Human Rights as Property Rights”: http://mises.org/daily/2569#ArticleTab

Furthermore, where property rights are not protected and are abrogated by some manmade standard, conflict and harm results, morally, economically, environmentally, etc.

I should also add that many localists fail to understand that instead of the inherent “tragedy of the commons” from even decentralized collectivism or communalism, it is property rights that form the basis for just and thriving communities through establishing covenants and other cooperative agreements in which rule-making is facilitated to establish standards, handle common concerns operate social services and mutual aid and settle disputes. An excellent book on this is the following:

“The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society,” edited by David T. Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alexander T. Tabarrok, with a foreword by Paul Johnson
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=17

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Rob G, I would suggest that neo-conservatism is unfortunately hardly supportive of liberty or natural law. Indeed, neo-conservatives embrace a utilitarian ethic, even for religion, as culturally and politically “useful” for some social purpose, not because it may be true. For the neo-con, ethics are situational and statism is just fine for them so long as once again, they believe that “the end justifies the means.” As a result, neoconservatives are in league with Machiavelli not Aquinas.

You are of course correct that economic theory is no ground for truth or justice or liberty. If the self-interest of “use” is the sole basis for what one does, the result will and has always been tyranny. But this is not what C.S. Lewis or I are talking about in defending the natural law tradition, and my article is very clear about this. Being free to engage in enterprise or any human action must by grounded in a natural law foundation and this foundation forms the basis for liberty, free markets, and human rights. As C.S. Lewis noted:

“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”
—C. S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man” (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition1.htm)

avatar Rob G August 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

My point in mentioning neo-conservatism is that it has a strong fiscal libertarian streak. Why do you think so many of them have latched on to Rand? Yet Rand is just Mises for the masses, and I do not accept the idea that economic laws as explained by Enlightenment thinkers are part of the “natural law.” These atheists and agnostics can quote St Thomas all day long; it doesn’t make their views correct. After all, Richard Weaver, for instance, had a strong metaphysical understanding of the right to private property, but he was no libertarian, and in fact warned against the depredations of corporate capitalism.

Likewise, I’m afraid that I don’t accept Rothbard’s notion of absolute property rights, as undercuts the Christian idea of stewardship. If even our bodies are not our own in an absolute sense how can our material property be? Rothbard believed that we have the “right” to do anything we want with our bodies, and because of that he supported a woman’s right to abortion.

But if Christianity teaches that even our bodies are not our own in an absolute sense, how can our property be?

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Rob G, I know of no neoconservatives who like Rand, and all for the wrong reasons. Rand’s views are an incoherent jumble in which she tried to reestablish natural rights and objective standards for morality, but fallaciously grounded her view in self-interest and naturalism. What the neocons do not like is primarily her defense of natural rights and her critique of statism, neither of which can be logically grounded in her atheist worldview.

Neoconservatives are economic and social nationalists and as such oppose efforts to undermine centralized policy, so long as they are at the helm. The fact that they hate libertarian Republican Ron Paul should be a clue here.

Richard Weaver was indeed a classical liberal and natural law supporter, and I have already referred you to the scholarly references that show the pre-Enlightenment Christian basis for liberty and free markets.

As for your comment on the Christian stewardship of our bodies and the world around us, I completely agree as would C.S. Lewis. Rothbard was wrong in his view of abortion, but to his credit, he agreed that life began at conception and that the fetus was a human being with full rights. I would add here that Ron Paul, who is a supporter of natural law, is against abortion which he considers murder.

In short and to answer your question, we have absolute property rights from God and NO PERSON can take these from us. We can never precisely define each and every property right because we have limited information but we should endeavor to do so and adjust, as was done in the common law tradition, to seek to recognize and protect such rights as best as possible.

avatar JD Salyer August 23, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Just a suggestion, but rather than have the libertarian vs. traditionalist argument go round and round, a more attainable point for resolution might be to unpack Mr. Theroux’s contention that Lewis is on the side of natural law (which, Theroux asserts, necessarily implies something like libertarianism) while Distributists aren’t. In light of this position I’d be curious what we should make of the part in That Hideous Strength wherein one of the villains criticizes one of the heroes for having embraced something called “Distributivism”.

That is, I’ve always been under the impression that one of the protagonists from Lewis’ fiction is a Distributist, or something very similar.

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

JD Salyer, Thank you for your suggestion, but one of my points, which is what Lewis was also saying, is that there should be no dispute between “libertarian” and “traditionalist” views so long as they are rooted in the natural law tradition. If not, then they both become problematic.

As for C.S. Lewis’s great dystopian novel, “That Hideous Strength,” it is important to note that this book is a fictionalized presentation of the exact themes from his non-fiction book championing natural law, “The Abolition of Man.” As such, the book is a blistering critique of statism and the vanity and moral poverty that drives such ambitions.

As I have referenced in my article, for Lewis’s critique of welfare statism and coercive redistributionism of any kind, the best source is his essay, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State”: http://tinyurl.com/33ayeqx

avatar Michael Enright August 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Mr. Theroux–

I am somewhat confused with your argument. You state that distributism is a violation of natural law. I have actually seen very few concrete distributist political proposals. What specific distributist policy is a violation of natural law? Furthermore, what natural law precept is it a violation of, and what natural lawyers actually held that view?

avatar JD Salyer August 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I’m familiar with both That Hideous Strength and The Abolition of Man.

My point is that Lewis seems to have liked Distributism.

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Michael Enright, I have referenced above a critique of “Distributism” and here it is again: “Chesterton and Belloc: A Critique,” by Walter Block, Marcus Epstein, and Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (“The Independent Review,” Spring 2007: http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=632).

In short, “Distributism” breaks the natural law tenets against theft and in so doing breaks the ethics of the natural law of the Decalogue in proscribing against theft, coveting, and killing (since lethal force is needed to back up the takings). It simultaneously breaks the economic laws of the natural law by creating a “moral hazard” in which people face disincentives to save, produce and conserve. Moreover, there exists an entire field of “public choice” in economics that analyzes the problems created by command-and-control, politicized decision-making, and “Distributism” utterly fails: http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=93

Now if individuals contract with one another through a covenant or other agreement in which some form of “Distributism” is included, then no moral abridgement of the natural law occurs, even if economic problems may occur. However, both Chesterton and Belloc were intending “Distributism” to be imposed by government rule, not consent. They did not differentiate between the existence of wealth unjustly acquired by conquest with that justly acquired by voluntary production and trade, and in order to correct their perceived wealth disparities, they lumped the innocent and the guilty together to be treated the same in having their assets confiscated and redistributed, regardless of behavior. In effect, “Distributism” is a form of legalized theft.

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 5:04 pm

JD Salyer, My point is that he did not. You should recall that Lewis’s characters go through a series of stages in the novel and belief in folly of various forms occurs as this unfolds.

avatar Rob G August 23, 2011 at 6:43 pm

“Richard Weaver was indeed a classical liberal and natural law supporter”

He may have been a classical liberal in the broad sense, but he was no uncritical friend of Enlightenment economics, and he certainly was no libertarian. So was he an idolater or just inconsistent?

By the way, I’ve read ‘The Abolition of Man’ any number of times, and while it certainly is anti-statist, it’s hardly the pro-libertarian tract you’re making it out to be. It’s got more in common with Weaver’s ‘Ideas Have Consequences’ than with anything Rothbard or Mises ever wrote.

And by the way, Russell Kirk, another great natural law man, had little time for either libertarianism or Austrian economics, saying at one point that the only Austrian economist worth reading was Roepke. With which sentiment I strongly agree.

avatar Rob G August 23, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Mr. Theroux, that’s as potted, biased a summary of distributism as one is likely to hear. But I wouldn’t expect much better from Block (Rand fan and anarcho-capitalist) and Woods (Catholic hyper-libertarian). Epstein I don’t know.

Mr. Medaille is needed here to give a real summary…

avatar John Médaille August 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Rob, I have written many a summary of distributism; I seriously doubt that David would read any of them; he certainly won’t reply. As for the absurd claims that the Schoolmen of Salamanca were Prot0-Austrians, see http://distributistreview.com/mag/2011/03/corporation-christendom-the-true-school-of-salamanca/

Molina, and ALL the others, opposed usury, utility pricing, supported a just wage, and so forth. IOW, they despised all the things the Austrians love, and loved all the things they despised. And they especially loved property. The Woods-Block article turns on the legitimacy of the property of Rockefeller and his fellow robber-barons, which Woods claims he got by free exchange and fair dealing. It is astounding that someone who claims to be an historian could make this claim. The oil, railroad,steel and financial barons really were robbers, and they enlisted the state in their robberies. They could not have pulled it off without that. The theft of public assets was an inside job.

This is why Austrianism is never an effective foil to state control. “Independent” they may be, but whenever any one moves to limit the authority and public privileges of the robbers, the Austrian think tanks churn out charges of redolent of the 50′s: “command and control” or “statism” they charge, without actually citing any commands. When the same groups demand more state privleges, the Libertarians are sent back to the corner to await their next moment of usefulness. Most libertarians resent this misuse of their work, but the Austrians seem to revel in it.

avatar JD Salyer August 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I’m sorry — I wasn’t entirely clear. I wasn’t talking about Studdock and his character development.

I was talking about the part where one of the villains explains to Studdock that the reason Denniston isn’t fit to join the conspiracy against humanity is because, although “a brilliant man” in his youth, Denniston has “gone quite off the rails since then with all his Distributivism and what not”.

In other words, “Distributivism” is given by one of the bad guys as a precise example of what it is the bad guys don’t like about Denniston.

The villain then goes on to snidely suggest that Denniston is “likely to end up in a monastery.”

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Rob G, Weaver was indeed a critique of Enlightenment thinking but not the natural law tradition. His book “Ideas Have Consequences” is quite superb and Rothbard referenced it often.

As for Kirk’s work, he contributed a great deal to this thinking but he also faltered by embracing the ethics of utilitarianism in his support for Disraeli, etc. He liked Roepke not just because Roepke was correctly a critic of economic reductionism, but because Roepke endorsed a welfare state, even though it was Bismarck who first created welfare statism as a means to advance Prussian war aims. Hardly virtuous on any level.

avatar Michael Enright August 23, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Mr. Theroux,

You don’t seem to want to answer my question. What specific distributist political policy violates natural law? To answer that distributism involves theft is actually to dodge the question because you don’t explain what distributist policy actually is equivalent to theft. I would expect you to answer that certain forms of taxation or taxation coupled with certain forms of welfare spending are theft. You never explain why you believe that distributism is theft.

I also asked what natural law thinkers would agree with you in opposing whatever taxation/spending/redistributive policy you believe to be theft. You don’t do this either. My suspicion is that very very few natural law theorists would actually agree with you on this. Especially if you look outside those who self-identify as “Rothbardians”.

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 8:57 pm

John Médaille, Thank you for your comment and link to the article on the Scholastics. The scholarly evidence of the Late Scholastics in having unpacked the natural law tenets of economics is massive. Chojnowski’s lumping of “Libertarianism” with “Neo-Conservatism” in the first sentence sets the stage for his article’s repeated errors and exaggerated claims. He further actually equates these views with “Jacobinism” as if Rousseau’s views are equivalent with those of Grotius and Pufendorf. Astounding! If this is what you use to defend “Distributism”, you are sinking fast in quicksand.

For the record, it is factually wrong that “Molina, and ALL the others, opposed usury, utility pricing, supported a just wage,” and even an introductory reading of the material will make this apparent. Indeed, it was key Scholastic Schoolmen who first made the great breakthrough to show that “just price” was a false concept and the labor theory of value is incoherent. In addition to the references I have provided, here is yet another article on the subject that might be helpful: “Scholastic Economics: Thomistic Value Theory”: http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-7-number-4/scholastic-economics-thomistic-value-theory

As for the wealth acquired by Rockefeller and others, where such wealth was acquired via government subsidy or other privilege, such mercantilism indeed does deserve critique, but most businesses, large and small, were not mercantilist. As I have referenced above in these comments, for in-depth scholarly analysis of the rise of statism and corporatism in America, please see the following:

“Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government,” by Robert Higgs (Oxford University Press): http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=15

“Crisis and Quasi-Corporatist Policy-Making: The U.S. Case in Historical Perspective,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=312)

“Quasi-Corporatism: America’s Homegrown Fascism,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1663)

“Military-Economic Fascism: How Business Corrupts Government, and Vice Versa,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=665)

Also, please see the following that is a festschrift in honor of Professor Higgs:

“Government and the American Economy: A New History,” edited by Price Fishback (University of Chicago Press)

In contrast and as with most “Distributists”, you do not distinguish between wealth acquired voluntarily and that obtained by force. For example, and contrary to your claim, it is simply untrue that “The oil, railroad, steel and financial barons really were robbers, and they enlisted the state in their robberies.” Some were but most were not. For example, there is a total difference between James J. Hill’s building of the Great Northern Railway with no federal grants or other government support and at far less cost and the Union Pacific and Central Pacific with their land grants.

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm

JD Salyer, Some believe that Denniston may have been Lewis’s choice as the successor to Ransom as the Pendragon of Logres. The passage you are referring to in “This Hideous Strength” reflects the fact that at the time of the novel, belief in “Distributism” was not uncommon among Catholics and would be logically considered a sign of faith and for Curry that Denniston could not be trusted. However, this does not mean that “Distributism” itself is true, desirable or viable. Similarly, belief in many Church doctrines or even heresies could be signs for a secularist to be on guard. But, none of this means that Lewis agreed with such doctrine or if he did, that such views were correct. Again, I refer you to Lewis’s essay of the evils of compulsory wealth redistribution.

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Michael Enright, I am not sure how I can be more clear here. As I noted, if a group of individuals combine and form a voluntary association or covenant in which they agree to some form of “Distributism”, as was the case in the establishment of mutual aid societies in England and U.S. in the 19th century, then all is well ethically. Here is an excellent book on the importance and extent of such mutual aid societies:

“From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967”, by David Beito (University of North Carolina Press)

Also please see “Poor Before Welfare,” by David Beito
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=28

But Chesterton and Belloc sought the machinery of the State to impose a wholesale system of permanent property redistribution along with myriad controls on how and what any property owner could peacefully do with his/her property, including sales, etc. It is this erection of legalized theft of property by a State that makes “Distributism” a form of institutionalized theft, and hence an abrogation of the natural law on a mass scale. In other words, if it wrong for me to take your coat, car or wallet, it is also wrong for any State official to do so. Perhaps to clarify this further, you should look at “The Law,” by Frederic Bastiat, the French Catholic writer of the early nineteenth century: http://www.fee.org/library/books/the-law-by-frederic-bastiat-free-download/

avatar David Theroux August 23, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Rob G, Like anything, commercialism and consumerism if they become idols for their own sake are of course wrong. But in no way does this mean that peaceful individual private enterprise or competitive markets are themselves evil. They are simply the product of the natural law in which people act freely and cooperatively to work, create, build, and produce goods and services for others who voluntarily exchange for them. Indeed, man is a sub-creator (as Dorothy Sayers so well noted), whose ability to do so was described by God as Good. And it is no accident that to the extent the natural law is followed, the economic and social welfare of mankind is enhanced. People should be free to engage in enterprise in cooperation with others and this insight comes not from the “Enlightenment” but hundreds of years earlier from the Christian teachings of the Scholastics. Lord Acton called Thomas Aquinas the “first liberal” because of Aquinas’s work of natural law, and the ideas of economic liberalism are rooted in Christianity. The scholarship on this is extensive and here is a sampling:

Rodney Stark, “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and
Western Success” (New York: Random House, 2005).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812972333/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

Alejandro A. Chafuen, “Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics” (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0739105418/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

Murray N. Rothbard, “Economic Thought before Adam Smith: An Austrian Perspective on
the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1” (Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1995), 51–64, 97–133.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1852789611/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, “The School of Salamanca: Readings in Spanish Monetary Theory,
1544-1605” (Oxford University Press, 1952).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1852788682/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, “Early Economic Thought in Spain 1177-1740” (London: Allen & Unwin, 1978).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0049460110/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, “Economic Thought in Spain: Selected Essays of Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson”, Laurence Moss and Christopher K. Ryan, eds. (Aldershot, England, 1993).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1852788682/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

Raymond de Roover, Business, Banking, and Economic Thought in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226725464/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

If you believe that it is circumstances that subjectively determine what is right and wrong, as is the case with “Distributism” then you believe that the proscriptions against murder, theft and fraud are not true and the Decalogue is false. People can allegedly commit invasive acts against others (even if they have not committed such crimes) and such behavior then becomes a “new” standard, which again will alter as circumstances change again. Lewis shows the absurdity and indeed danger of this view in “The Abolition of Man”.

Incidentally, for a path-breaking and critical look at how the “Enlightenment project” has morphed into the two major, rival secular religions (economism vs. environmentalism) that dominate the views of Western elites today, please see the following award-winning book:

Robert H. Nelson, “The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America” (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010)
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=84

Nelson shows that both the secular religions of economism vs. environmentalism are heresies that resulted when Judeo-Christian views were decapitated of theism by the “Enlightenment”, and the resulting bizarre and disastrous views that have developed are the result. However in no way does this discredit the natural law insights into liberty.

Finally, I have seen no refutation from Christopher Ferrara and John Medaille of the study I have referenced and their devotion to “Distributism” is itself idolatry because it requires abandoning the natural law. I would further note that the concept of “social justice” is a rationale for repression because it assumes that justice for individuals is not justice after all and the only way to achieve “justice” is once again to use invasive force against the innocent.

avatar Rob G August 24, 2011 at 8:18 am

Two fundamental errors of Enlightenment economics seem to be the change in the consideration of the discipline from a humane science to a “hard” or mathematical science, and the corresponding removal of avarice from the list of the seven deadly sins. The market came to be viewed as amoral.

This is hugely problematic, however, as it implies that there are no moral implications inherent in people’s actions related to earning, buying and selling. As I heard one philosophy professor put it, economists have spent so much time studying ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ that they’ve ignored ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments.’

Because the market is comprised of numerous people making moral decisions, the market cannot but have a moral dimension.

avatar Rob G August 24, 2011 at 8:31 am

Two fundamental errors of Enlightenment economics seem to be the change in the consideration of the discipline from a humane science to a “hard” or mathematical science, and the corresponding removal of avarice from the list of the seven deadly sins. The market came to be viewed as amoral.

This is hugely problematic, however, as it implies that there are no moral implications inherent in people’s actions related to earning, buying and selling. As I heard one philosophy professor put it, economists have spent so much time studying ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ that they’ve ignored ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments.’ But because the market is comprised of numerous people making decisions carrying one degree of moral weight or another, the market cannot but have a moral dimension.

In view of this it is frightfully wrongheaded to attribute all of the abuses of contemporary state-capitalism to the “state” part of that term while leaving capitalism off the hook. As if the corporations would be pure as the driven snow if it weren’t for that rascally government.

avatar Michael Enright August 24, 2011 at 8:48 am

I read a bit of Chesterton and Belloc and I never read where they argue for subjectivity or against the natural law. I honestly don’t know how you come to these conclusions, and just repeating them does not explain anything. Can you provide citations of specific passages where Belloc or Chesterton argues against the natural law or against objective right and wrong?

Are you saying that all taxation is theft, a violation of natural law, and a system where circumstances subjectively determine what is right and wrong?

avatar JD Salyer August 24, 2011 at 9:28 am

I’m not claiming that Lewis himself was a Distributist, much less arguing for Distributism itself.

My point is neither more nor less than this: C.S. Lewis could not have been very anti-Distributist, or he would not have made one of his heroes a Distributist; i.e., he did not view Distributism as “abandoning the natural law.”

avatar David Theroux August 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Rob G, I completely agree with you in your assessment of the corruption of economics and other fields as a result of the “Enlightenment project”’s naturalism, utilitarianism, scientism, and reductionism. The rise of the Austrian School was in part a response to this trend and why it rooted itself in the much earlier Scholastics. For example, Hayek’s critique of Comte and Saint-Simon in his book “The Counter-Revolution of Science” is part of this rebellion. Indeed, the Austrians became the major opponents of the German Historical School and today the mechanical, dehumanizing determinism of neoclassical economics. And I am delighted that you agree with us regarding the great merit of Adam Smith’s book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”.

But then you leap to say that it is not the legal violence and monopoly-creating powers of the State that are not the problem with state-capitalism (i.e., neo-mercantilism). Once again, the failure to differentiate between conquest and cooperative association and enterprises is a major failure. Indeed, you are buying into the fallacy of modernism that claims that individual consent is immaterial and irrelevant.

A stock-holding firm is also simply a voluntary organization among those involved who pool their resources for a common purpose that can exist only to the extent that others voluntarily participate and fund it. If in the agreement the parties choose to limit their individual liability among themselves, they are free to do so, but there should be no state-sanctioned liability protection of harms to others. It is important top note that such limited liability is only possible if mandated by the State, which means that the rule of law is compromised in the process.

avatar David Theroux August 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Michael Enright,

Merriam-Webster: Theft— the act of stealing; specifically: the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.

As I have noted, since theft, coveting, and murder are prohibited in the natural law, this means that such a rule applies to every person and the rule of law should reflect this. Taxation is by definition taking someone’s private property without consent and stands in direct contrast to someone voluntarily paying. Taxation is legal plunder and a form of involuntary servitude in which if payment is not made, imprisonment or death are threatened. Again, the distinction is between conquest and consent. There are many studies of this and here is one by the Catholic philosopher Edward Feser:

“Taxation, Forced Labor, and Theft,” by Edward Feser (The Independent Review)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=227

Since Chesteron and Belloc supported the taking of the property from innocent people, they were advocates of theft on a mass scale. They in effect believed that the natural law prohibitions against theft were circumstantial and relative and that theft by state officials was justified on utilitarian grounds.

avatar Rob G August 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

“you leap to say that it is not the legal violence and monopoly-creating powers of the State that are not the problem with state-capitalism (i.e., neo-mercantilism).”

No, what I said was that the problem with state-capitalism cannot be limited to the state, and that’s no leap. Both the corporations and the state are complicit — there’s a lot of mutual backscratching going on. From the opposite side one could very well call state-capitalism “corporate socialism.” Our modern day Leviathan is a two-headed beast, and to ascribe all the evil to only one of the heads is a grievous error and, well…wrongheaded.

avatar David Theroux August 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Rob G, There indeed is a mutual back-scratching in mercantilism (corporatism) but the fact remains that without the legalized violence of the State to have the power to tax, spend, subsidize, and regulate, any firm (business or union) is left to fend for itself through selling goods and services honestly through serving customers. Moreover, for every firm that is protected by government privilege, most are not and are instead compelled to fund the privileged few. In short, you cannot equate force with consent, as the Marxist attempts to do. Adam Smith’s book “The Wealth of Nations” is a critique of mercantilism and a call to end State privileges, but as with “Progressives” it appears that such government measures are ones many “Distributists” support.

Once again, here are references on the corporatism made possible by discretionary State power:

“Crisis and Leviathan,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=15)

“Crisis and Quasi-Corporatist Policy-Making: The U.S. Case in Historical Perspective,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=312)

“Quasi-Corporatism: America’s Homegrown Fascism,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1663)

“Military-Economic Fascism: How Business Corrupts Government, and Vice Versa,” by Robert Higgs (http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=665)

avatar Rob G August 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm

By the way, I live in a city which once had huge problems with both air and water pollution, as well as issues related to strip-mining in its surrounding areas. There is no evidence whatsoever that the steel and chemical plants would ever have stopped polluting, nor would the coal companies have reclaimed the devastated areas had not the government put pressure on them to do so. You will get little corporate sympathy from me — I’ve seen how they work firsthand. It’s all about the buck, and the public be damned.

avatar Michael Enright August 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

This is interesting. Your sweeping criticisms of distributivism (and welfare-stateism) as against the natural law (as well as against objectivity, the ten commandments, Jesus Himself) are based on premises (like taxation is theft) that are actually not shared by most natural law philosophers. If taxation is really a violation of natural law, why was that never discovered by other natural law thinkers? Has Finnis noticed that taxation is a violation of natural law? Boyle? Grisez? Maritan? No. None of these share your views of natural law.

On another point, it is just bizzare to call St. Thomas a “liberal”. Liberals didn’t exist when he was alive and this is an anachronism. Actually liberalism (which you most certainly are supporting, even if you call it “classical”) is part of the enlightenment project, and is a rejection of the very Thomistic concept of the summu bonum. Certainly Locke’s philosophy (and all liberal philosophy) contains a rejection of the summum bonum which is central to authentic Thomist philosophy.

Finally, stop referencing the fact that a thinker may be Catholic. Just because someone is Catholic doesn’t mean that their works are stamped with some sort of magisterial authority or an imprimatur.

avatar Rob G August 25, 2011 at 7:57 am

“the fact remains that without the legalized violence of the State to have the power to tax, spend, subsidize, and regulate, any firm (business or union) is left to fend for itself through selling goods and services honestly through serving customers.”

In the libertarian scheme, what then prevents a corporation from accumulating enough/wealth power for it to attempt to move even a minimal state to make policies in its favor? Or to use the example I mentioned above, what prevents corporations from polluting the air and water and devastating the landscape?

To put it another way, if your hero Acton’s dictum about power is correct, why does it apply only to the state while corporations get a pass?

avatar D.W. Sabin August 25, 2011 at 11:50 am

Ahhhh yes, another thrilling debate between the owned and the want-to-own. Funny how both protagonists generally conspire toward a virtually identical final chapter to their respective farce.

Summing up though : “it is their promises that bring despair”. This nougat prompted me to break the floss on my right canine.

One thing is certain, totalitarian thinking don’t take sides….it is ambidextrous and cheerfully a-political, until it comes into power. Unfortunately, the hands of both arms generally clutch clubs.

avatar David Theroux August 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Rob G, Acton stated that power “tends to corrupt” in all forms of human associations, but his goes further that to do so not only requires what C.S. Lewis describes in his great essay on the prideful temptation to be accepted by breaking the natural law, “The Inner Ring” (http://www.lewissociety.org/innerring.php), it requires an authoritarian position that is only possible through State power. A business firm is checked in this regard by the voluntary participation of those involved and the competition among firms for customers, investors, and employees.

F.A. Hayek also addressed this problem in his book on political power and statism, “The Road to Serfdom,” especially chapter 10, “Why the Worst Get on Top.” Here also is a video based on the book:
http://blog.independent.org/2009/03/03/barack-obama-and-the-road-to-serfdom/

The answer once again to your question is that a State’s existence depends on the use of violence to maintain its sovereignty and fund itself. A business firm instead depends up attracting and serving customers, investors, and employees who voluntarily support it.

I suspect that you believe that the problem is that “a business firm is based on greed” while “a State is based on altruism”. But I would suggest that a business firm must not just corral greed by employing the Golden Rule to be successful but must be other-directed in seeking out to understand what customers are seeking and then establishing practices that will serve them. The more other-directed a firm is in producing goods and services that serve people, the more successful it will be. Incidentally, there is an entire literature on the inherent failure of State institutions because they are based on command-and-control and here are a couple examples:

“Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure,” by Randy T. Simmons
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=93

“Anatomy of the State,” by Murray Rothbard
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ln8fLa9BEI

http://mises.org/resources/1011/Anatomy-of-the-State

avatar David Theroux August 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Michael Enright, In no way did Jesus ever embrace welfare statism or any form of statism, and neither does the Decalogue. Jesus noted that there were two laws: loving God completely and loving all others completely (which clearly and simply re-states the Decalogue), which leaves no room for using violence against innocent others nor worshiping or supporting any State.

You are certainly correct that some natural law proponents embrace taxes and other coercive means. For example the Roman stoics Cicero and Seneca, both strong natural law proponents, believed not just in slavery but in infanticide. The question is whether such views can be comported with natural law tenets.

Aquinas’s contributions have been nothing short of stellar but he also made mistakes that others have resolved. The same holds for other natural law devotees. As I have noted, since theft is prohibited in the natural law, to believe that a government official is somehow exempt from this proscription is to say that the natural law is not universal nor even correct. Instead, morality would then allegedly bed one standard for some and another for others.

In effect, those who support taxation or any form of legal invasiveness against the peaceful are saying that the natural- aw ban on theft is just not “practical” because “the end justifies the means,” or as Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed, “Taxation is the price of civilization.” However, we now know that this is not completely incorrect as taxation is not essential to provide social services or infrastructure for a society. Indeed, taxation makes such services less likely and more costly because a State serves itself and its favored supporters/benefactors, not the citizenry who are forced and exploited to comply. I have already provided various references for the non-State provision of welfare. Here for example are others:

Roads:
“Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads,” edited by Gabriel Roth
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=64

Environment:
“Re-Thinking Green: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy,” edited by Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=58

Urban Issues:
“The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society,” edited by David T. Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alexander T. Tabarrok
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=17

Crime:
“To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice,” by Bruce L. Benson
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=21

As for your objection to my calling Aquinas “the first liberal”, the actual phrasing by Acton was “the first Whig” which of course meant then that Aquinas was “the first classical liberal.” Aquinas’s brilliant arguments for natural law, natural rights, and individual liberty, including his support for regicide against tyrants, indeed make him a great champion of liberty. Here are a couple sample quotes by Aquinas in this regard:

“True liberty is an essential property of objective truth and morality. Therefore there can be no true liberty in a civilization that enshrines moral relativity.”

“A man can direct and govern his own actions also. Therefore the rational creature participates in the divine providence not only in being governed but also in governing.”

Here also is an excellent online archive of Aquinas’s work and its relevance to liberty:
http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?Itemid=269&id=321&option=com_content&task=view

And here is a chronology of his life and work:
http://tinyurl.com/3ztc2v4

Incidentally, the philosopher Edward Feser whose work I mentioned is a Thomist who understands that the ideas of liberty were not the product of the “Enlightenment project” as the secular propaganda claims (and you apparently believe), but are rooted in Christian teachings. And the reason to identify him or anyone as a “Catholic” philosopher is to note that his work is in fact based on Catholic scholarship.

avatar David Theroux August 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Rob G, The natural law supports the ownership of private property and when such rights are not protected and resources are left in a “commons” status, the result is “the tragedy of the commons” in which people fight over who has rights to use what resources and how. It is noteworthy that all environmental problems exist within a common status (e.g., the lake, river, aquifer, roadside, park, ocean, air, etc.), and of course all government domains are commons. If a firm or anyone can shift (dump) the costs of actions onto others, history shows that many people will tend to do so. The solution is to prevent this by de-socializing any non-consensual commons and recognizing and protecting property rights under a rule of law. Ironically enough, the modernist environmental movement believes that the solution to ecological problems is to expand the commons, exactly what creates and worsens such problems. In this regard, environmentalism for most western elites has become a secular religion that has nothing to do with actually resolving environmental problems (see “The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America,” by Robert Nelson: http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=84).

Please see the following for example:

“Property Rights vs. Environmental Ruin,” by David Theroux
http://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=1447

“Re-Thinking Green: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy,” edited by Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=58

“Sustainable Development and Institutional Failure: The Case of Ecuador,” by Franklin Lopez
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=500

“Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution,” by Murray Rothbard
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=58

“Externalities, Conflict, and Offshore Lands: Resolution Through the Institutions of Private Property,” by John Brätland
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=38

“Environmental Colonialism: “Saving” Africa from Africans,” by Robert H. Nelson
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=28

“Eco-Industrial Parks: The Case for Private Planning,” by Pierre Desrochers
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=195

“The Endangered Species Act: Who’s Saving What?”, by Randy T. Simmons
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=328

“Fixing the Endangered Species Act,” by Randy T. Simmons
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=314

avatar David Theroux August 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

D.W. Sabin, The entire point of may article is to present C.S. Lewis’s opposition to tyranny of any kind and his support for liberty based on the natural law. This is why, as I noted, he correctly disdained political power.

avatar Rob G August 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Bowing out now, as I’m not getting answers to simple questions. Instead I’m getting hyperlinks and standard-issue libertarian boilerplate. I think I’ll stick with the Agrarians, Kirk and Weaver, tyvm.

avatar David Theroux August 25, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Rob G, I have carefully answered all of your questions and provided ample references to back up the points I have made. It is up to you then to examine them.

avatar Rob G August 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm

No, I’m afraid you haven’t. Here’s my question: XYZ Inc. is dumping toxic sludge into the Ohio River. Libertarianism stops this how, exactly?

“A business firm is checked in this regard by the voluntary participation of those involved and the competition among firms for customers, investors, and employees.”

and

“A business firm instead depends up attracting and serving customers, investors, and employees who voluntarily support it.”

Except when they don’t, which has been pretty much since Day 1 of the industrial revolution. The wish for corporate self-limitation and self-discipline is a gigantic pipe-dream, which in fact is Satanic, as it denies the effects of the Fall just as much as statism does. The invisible hand does not wipe away the stain of original sin, and never will.

‘I suspect that you believe that the problem is that “a business firm is based on greed” while “a State is based on altruism”. ‘

Absolutely not. I am first and foremost a decentralist, and I see the accumulation of wealth and power to be detrimental to the republic, whether that accumulation be statist, corporate or some combination of both.

avatar David Theroux August 25, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Rob G, The law was given to mankind AFTER the Fall and to whatever extent it is followed, humankind prospers.

As for the accumulation of wealth, if I give you a hundred dollars and NOT others in exchange for a product you make, does this make you a criminal? What if a million people do so? Everyone involved is consenting to the transactions and everyone benefits. Hence, the answer is NO it does not, unless you commit a crime. But that is the point in the first place, isn’t it?

To return to your question of company XYZ dumping toxic sludge in a river, my point is that if the river were properly owned privately then based on the common law tradition XYZ would be guilty of a trespass (and probably more) and would be held accountable. As a result, a private owner of a river would have the incentive to police its use and protect it from dumping, and potential dumpers would think twice before dumping because they would know that the owner would not take any dumping lightly.

However if you leave the river in a “commons” status controlled by some government bureaucracy and subject to political pressures, why would you expect those responsible to be held accountable? You have created a situation that specifically encourages harms to innocent people (i.e., other property owners). The government bureaucracy is exempt from liability because of sovereign immunity and coercively receives its funding each year by taxation, regardless of how it performs. If those forced to fund and accept its edicts in controlling the polluted river don’t want to support its handling of the matter, they have no option of removing funding or holding those responsible for the damages. If they do, then they are threatened with imprisonment or death. Moreover and in addition to being held accountable for any dumping on another’s property, a firm must attract its funders by securing the voluntary consent of customers, and if a firm trespass on others, their credibility (goodwill) ends.

Again, the references I have provided address all manner of environmental issue from lake and rivers to the air, endangered species, energy, land use, etc. The conclusion is that collectivism creates environmental problems and liberty, property rights and the rule of law resolve them.

Incidentally, I am delighted that you are a “decentralist” and I would respectfully suggest you apply this consistently, meaning that the freely made choices of all people should also be protected from any group that believes they have the right to impose their schemes on others by force.

avatar Rob G August 26, 2011 at 8:39 am

Privatization of all the commons, in other words? Thanks, but no thanks. Monsanto and BP and Bayer, et. al, already have enough power.

Industrial/corporate/finance capitalism baptizes greed, and as such is Satanic. End of story. St. Thomas would be appalled.

avatar David Theroux August 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Rob G, Why would you propose privatization to major corporations? Why not privatize a commons to the people living contiguously to it? Or why not create a stock-holding firm or partnership of anyone in the community who wishes to invest in the ownership?

As I also have discussed and C.S. Lewis wrote at length on, greed and envy exist in ALL human endeavors, including governments. What tempers this is the Golden Rule which is an essential practice for any firm that seeks to attract and keep customers. In contrast, a State can be abusive and oppressive at will because it can get away with doing so.

Aquinas was in no way against enterprise. Indeed, it was the business operations of religious orders in the Middle Ages that created the prosperity of the time and the enormous improvement of the well-being of the people. See Rodney Stark’s book, “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success”: http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=89

avatar D.W. Sabin August 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Believe me, Mr. Theroux, you will find my ear more sympathetic than some of the others posting here. I’ve read your essays with much interest. When Christopher Hitchens declared that he disliked CS Lewis, I felt my admirometer trend in Mr. Lewis’s direction. Not that I dislike Mr. Hitchens, one must be charitable to the Gin-enfused, I just consider his thinking altogether stymied by the notion that this hollowed-out Glory Hole of a nation can cure everyone else’s problems….at gunpoint and on a finance plan.

To think that Aquinas or Augustine were “against ” enterprise is to indulge in an accelerated brand of re-invention. Men are many things but chief among their pursuits is enterprise of one form or another .

The Distributists have some very interesting and exhaustively documented ideas, their antipathy toward the Austrians is not hard to figure out. And, of course, vice versa. What I find hard to swallow is the cocksure certitude that their exposed hand will be any better than the magical hidden hand because after all, we are human and have fallen and will be forever thus. Best to not plan too much in my book. The planners , nine times out of ten, shall slide unctiously into demagoguery. Keep up the fight.

avatar David Theroux August 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm

D.W. Sabin, Thank you for your very kind comment!

Unfortunately, the now quite ill Christopher Hitchens, unlike his now Christian brother Peter, remains a great and unapologetic admirer of Leon Trotsky. As a result, I suspect that Hitchens is somehow still a devotee of dialectical materialism and Trotsky’s concept of “permanent revolution” (i.e., global war against any and all ideas and institutions resting in the natural law). This would fit with Hitchens’s uncompromising support for invasive wars in the Mideast. Incidentally, William Cavanaugh shows that western interventionism is rooted in the secular crusade of the “Enlightenment project” and he specifically addresses Hitchens. Please see Cavanaugh’s seminal book, “The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict” (Oxford U. Press): http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195385047/theindepeende-20/002-6508816-9461647

Fundamentally and like so may tragic figures in history and literature, Hitchens does not want God to exist because he wants to make up his own rules. We can only pray that he will abandon his hubristic ways.

In contrast, you may be interested in the following by Austrian School economist F.A. Hayek, presented upon his receipt of the Nobel Prize in which he critiques the delusions of power by those who support government central planning. Humility is indeed a great virtue:

“The Pretense of Knowledge,” by F.A. Hayek
http://tinyurl.com/3g59gb7

avatar Michael Enright August 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I wouldn’t be so sure that the decalogue leaves no room for taxation or support of the state. For example, the Old Testament contains provision that provide for the re-distribution of property every fourty-nine years (Jubilee). If the same book of the Bible both condemns theft and supports property redistribution, I think you need to have a lot of argumentation to explain that taxation is actually theft.

Your argument that taxation is theft contains a hidden assumption. That assumption is that 100% of the holdings one peacefully obtains in the market have been obtained by one’s individual efforts alone. The fact of the matter is that there are a number of economic benefits to living in society. If the fact that one lives in a certain societal structure contributes some portion of one’s income, it seems that if the government collects less than that portion, society is only taking what it has already contributed.

This is classically expressed in terms of property. Much of the value of land is determined not by the actions of the owner but of the surrounding community (both neighbors and civil authority). If your land value increases because of these factors, property taxation is only society taking a value that it has created itself. There are many other ways in which society effects one’s income. Living in a society with other educated people would be one easy example.

If society is taxing a portion of one’s wealth that it has created, that is clearly not theft.

avatar David Theroux August 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Michael Enright,

1. You are completely confusing “Society” with a “State” when they are exact opposites. The cooperative behavior of free people in associations, enterprises and trades is by definition voluntary and comport with the natural law, while using violence or the threat of it to compel people to obey is not. We are not the State!

Once again, please see “Anatomy of the State,” by Murray Rothbard
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ln8fLa9BEI

Here also is the classic study “A Theory of the Origin of the State,” by Robert Carneiro (Science, August 21, 1970), in which he shows how taxation originated as institutionalized theft by bands of thieves and invading conquerors.

Also, the following free books are recommended on the nature of the State:

“The State,” by Franz Oppenheimer
http://www.franz-oppenheimer.de/state0.htm

“Our Enemy, the State,” by Albert Jay Nock
http://mises.org/books/Our_Enemy_The_State_Nock.pdf

In addition, we are, as has been discussed above, relational beings and we are rooted in, seek out and need community because we need to love and be loved. But this in no way alters the fact that “Society” has no mind, no soul, no ability to perceive or make choices, cannot sin or be redeemed, etc. Society is not a person, only individuals are persons. Only individuals create and produce and only individuals commit evil acts, including theft. “Society” does not tax anyone, certain individuals presume the power to do so by using “Society” or “National Interest” or “race” or “class” or “gender” or other holist concept to justify acts that we all know are immoral and should be outlawed (e.g., murder, rape, theft and fraud). I have provided references that show that taxation is and always has been legal plunder or theft by ruling elites over defenseless people who must obey or else.

Collectivism is a cruel and barbaric myth used to justify all forms of tyranny and is the enemy of justice, liberty, and human well-being.

2. You also apparently believe that prices in a market are somehow “objective” in describing some quantitative measure of value. This is the fallacy of the “labor theory of value,” an error refuted by the late Scholastics at the University of Salamanca and advanced later by the Austrian School of economics in refuting the views of Marxists. (Prices and values are not determined by the amount of time taken to produce something.)

The fact that individuals make value judgments is objective but prices themselves are “subjective” and reflect the tastes and preferences of people in a society as they perceive and evaluate possible courses of action. This information flows into the determination of prices and how they change in the competitive process of a market. For example, when one is hungry, the value of an apple goes up for that person, but after one has eaten, the value of the same apple goes down. Meanwhile the perceptions and preferences of others come into play as they similarly make value judgments. The result is what determines prices at any one point. In addition, the value that one person has for something cannot be added to the value that someone else has in order to sum up values across society and produce some total collective valuing. Instead, prices do this as a coordination process. C.S. Lewis also discusses this fallacy in his great book, “The Problem of Pain”: preferences, including joy and pain are only perceived by individuals and no such evaluations can be known by others or summed up to be known or aggregated into some non-existent collective human mind.

3. If you believe that the provision in the Decalogue against theft is not prohibited, then why stop there? And if theft or murder or coveting are not evils in themselves then sin does not exist. When Jesus was asked what was the law, he answered simply by restating the Decalogue: the first four laws involve loving God and the last six involve loving others. He made no mention of Jubilee or diet restrictions or not healing on the Sabbath, did He?

avatar Michael Enright August 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Your theory is contradictory to that of Acquainas. Acquainas held that government is the entity that promots the common good. Society may not be a person, but there are goods that we hold in common and government is the entity that promotes the common good.

You do understand that Nock doesn’t agree that all taxation is theft. He supported George’s single tax. He also thought government was different from the predatory state.

By the way, you didn’t answer my question. If taxation is theft, then why does the same Bible condemn theft and support property redistribution. But as the earlier poster is right. All you are offering is hypertext and boilerplate.

Finally, I don’t believe that taxation is theft. I will not respond to your question (3) because I am not arguing that theft is appropriate. I am arguing that taxation isn’t theft. Your not arguing, you are accusing. I’m no longer playing.

avatar David Theroux August 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Michael Enright, Please note that his name is spelled Aquinas, not “Acquainas”.

Aquinas was a champion of natural law and believed in government as a system of laws so long as they reflected Divine law (especially the Decalogue). He also noted that if a government official transgressed the natural law, he should be held accountable and the citizenry had the right to rise up and oppose, depose and even kill the ruler, exactly as Jefferson presented in the Declaration of Independence. In effect, Aquinas did not view manmade institutions to be Divine but that natural law was a lens through which they (and all human behavior) should be judged. As a result, a State is not Society (as moderns such as the atheist Hobbes later claimed) and there is a clear distinction between the rule of law to protect natural rights of all people in Society and a State.

As for Nock, I am well aware that he was a libertarian Georgist who supported the “single tax” or land rent concept of Henry George. Nock, like Aquinas, Aristotle, and many other writers, made mistakes that have since been refuted by others. But Nock’s central thesis in “Our Enemy the State” is that a State is a force of predation and hence the enemy of Society, exactly the opposite of your repeated attempts in defense of statism. Nock like Aquinas believed in government strictly limited by the rule of law.

As for taxation being theft, you are free to believe whatever you wish, but you have not refuted the arguments or evidence I have presented. Instead, you have only presented “arguments from authority” (argumentum ad verecundiam) by claiming that since X person said otherwise, it must then be true or false. If you wish to counter my points and defend statism, please try to do so. So far, you have not.

Lewis, as with myself, did not believe that God created man to be treated as a commodity or slave by some elite who use lethal force to expropriate wealth and compel obedience to do evil. Statism is indeed a great evil and liberty a great good.

avatar Rob G August 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm

“Aquinas was in no way against enterprise. Indeed, it was the business operations of religious orders in the Middle Ages that created the prosperity of the time and the enormous improvement of the well-being of the people.”

There is. of course, a difference between being pro-business and pro-capitalist. St Thomas would not be appalled because of enterprise, he’d be appalled by the excuses made for, and the glorification of, avarice. “Woe to those who call evil good,” said Isaiah. Calling greed “self-interest” is doing exactly that.

By the way, my father was a small businessman, and I have nothing against enterprise of that sort. Most folks with agrarian or distributist leanings do not.

avatar David Theroux August 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Rob G, The term “capitalism” was coined by Karl Marx to describe essentially ANY social system that included private property. He used this term erroneously because of his belief in the folly of the “labor theory of value” and that “capital” was a myth and the root of exploitation. As a result, Marx used the term to describe everything from laissez-faire markets to mercantilism to state or crony capitalism (or what came to called fascism). For Marx, only the abolition of private property could produce a deterministic setting in which human nature would be altered and socialized into a collectivist utopia.

But “capital” is simply the product of human action in creating wealth from raw materials. Ultimately, all “capital” is “human capital” (i.e., skills, knowledge, ideas, etc.) that are then reflected in and applied for the conversion of physical assets into things that can produce goods and services for people. “Capital goods” are things that can produce wealth at less cost that simply hunting and gathering. To have such capital, private property rights must exist so that the person who transforms and creates such goods is protected from predators who might steal or destroy his property. Hence, every person is a “capitalist” in this sense and is engaged in enterprises of various sorts, some of which are “businesses”.

What I have instead been describing is a system in which all people are free to own private property to exchange, cooperate, associate and trade among themselves under a rule of law to protect such rights. No one has the right to limit or dictate the terms of such agreements, unless those involved agree to such limits. In such a system, a division of labor and comparative advantage emerge as different people seek different courses and are viewed by others as better and more reliable sources of goods, services, and relationships. As a result, an unequal distribution develops based on merit and the ongoing discovery process of people in the society.

As a result, some call such a system “capitalism” but because of the sloppy use of the term and Marx’s reasons for coining the term, there exists a great deal of confusion in the culture about what we are talking about. Most human choices and endeavors are not commercial in a free society, but those that are, are critically important to the well-being of the people involved. In addition, Marx’s view that private property rights lead to State capitalism is completely erroneous. Private property (a la Aquinas and others) reflects a natural right that needs to be affirmed to PROTECT people FROM predators, especially the State.

However, if you are interested in discussions on how the term “capitalism” is misleading and erroneous, please see the following:

http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.com/2010/01/libertarians-against-capitalism.html

http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd1005b.asp

http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/tgif/is-capitalism-something-good/

You clearly and mistakenly also believe that almost any unequal distribution of wealth is unjust and leads to harm. Is any unequal distribution of intelligence or knowledge or experience and relationships or preferences for different foods, books, or languages also unjust and dangerous? Part II of my article discusses C.S. Lewis’s critique of this egalitarian fallacy: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2011/08/c-s-lewis-on-mere-liberty-and-the-evils-of-statism-pt-ii/

avatar Theodoret August 27, 2011 at 3:39 pm

“He also noted that if a government official transgressed the natural law, he should be held accountable and the citizenry had the right to rise up and oppose, depose and even kill the ruler, exactly as Jefferson presented in the Declaration of Independence.”

As usual with libertarians this is dishonest. The contrast between Aquinas and Jefferson is quite clear especially when it comes to notions of society and the common good. While Aquinas said revolution was justified in the most extreme of circumstances it was something of a last resort. Aquinas also explicitly stated that a bad monarch was still better than a bad oligarchy (which is pretty much what we have had in America since the beginning.) This is radically different from Jefferson the deist who advocated that every generation should have their own revolution every twenty years . Heck Jefferson himself admitted that Locke, Bacon and Newton were his influences not Aquinas.
While St. Thomas does not claim that profit seeking while not is inherently evil, Aquinas believes it to be very dangerous and certainly not inherently good. Man’s needs are limited but his desires are unlimited and profit by its very nature is unlimited. The ancients were pretty consistent in their belief that wealth and virtue were opposed in a society and that a society obsessed with wealth gathering would not be virtuous.

avatar D.W. Sabin August 27, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Would that W.F. Buckley might have listened to his pappy’s hosting of Nock for lunchtime homilies aimed at the Buckley Chillun .

But then the Cold War intervened. It is still a malingering force but a little Nock is a damned fine astringent .

Some folks is rich, some is poor and neither luck nor brains has the upper hand . Hard work helps but it too don’t always work. However, when the State takes it upon itself to “manage” wealth, you can be sure the epaulettes and ribbonry will come out and marshall music will rise to the top of the charts.

This is not to say that some form of governmental counterbalance to the potential cold-blooded thievery of the average oligarchy is devoid of benefit. A voice vote is preferred over others, followed by a show of hands.

The best bet is to plan for the worst but make sure one’s governmental manias do not automatically lead directly to the worst…as they are wont to do.

avatar Michael Enright August 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm

No. Not all my arguments are from authority. I have argued that there are values from living in society, and government is the agency that acts to preserve those values. Your inclome, your wealth, your property value are what they are not solely because of your actions. Since society is responsible for the creation of much of the wealth you have, it has some claim to take some of it back.

You can’t prove taxation is theft unles you can prove that 100% of the value of the items taxed were not in some way created by the actions of the government or society in general. Since you can’t do that, you can’t prove your point.

Also, my intent wasn’t to argue from authority. My intent was to argue that you are using others (Nock and Aquainas) to support your arguments when they would never have accepted your conlusions. Individualism wasn’t a 13th century notion, and the idea of a “right” to do something that was wrong wouldn’t even have made sense. You may agree with Nock that the state (as opposed to government) is predatory, but your view of what the state does that is predatory is somewhat different (for Nock it has atleast something to do with the enforcement of property titles to absentee landlords). The same goes for Oppenheimer, who thought that the state helps capitalists exploit labor. If you really are arguing that the state works largely to help capitalists exploit labor, well, I guess citing Oppenheimer makes sense. If you are arguing it works in entirely different ways, your citation makes no sense.

avatar Rob G August 28, 2011 at 12:03 am

“You clearly and mistakenly also believe that almost any unequal distribution of wealth is unjust and leads to harm. ”

So if I happen to believe, say, that most CEO salaries are obscene I’m automatically a leveller? Gotta love the false binaries of the liberal ideologue!

My father owned a small business with a few employees. He did not strive to get rich, and mirabile dictu! we managed to have a pretty decent middle class life.

On the other hand, the Fortune 500 company that I currently work for (I am an average man on the totem pole — right about at the median income for the company) has a CEO that last year made approximately 370 times the median. In other words, he makes as much in a day as I make in a year. If you can’t see the difference between my dad’s “capitalism” and the CEO’s, I’m afraid your ideology has addled your brain.

No one needs that much money, and furthermore, no one should want that much money. It is avarice, pure and simple, yet capitalism has baptized it and turned it into a virtue. Remember the words of Isaiah. I have a feeling that judgment day will not go well for either plutocrats or their enablers, just as it won’t for statist tyrants and theirs.

avatar David Theroux August 28, 2011 at 1:09 am

Michael Enright, I have now made and shown the point repeatedly that “Society” is not a being that does anything. It is simply the complexity of individual minds acting in coordinated ways with another. No one is denying that this complexity exists, but all that happens in society is the result of individuals acting as entrepreneurs. “Society” is not owed anything and cannot act to accomplish anything because it is only a euphemism and to believe it exists as a being (as you clearly do) is nothing but superstition akin to witchcraft.

As for “individualism”, the concept is rooted in ancient writers, including the stoics and others, and indeed was boldly advanced in the writings of Boethius, Magnus, Aquinas and others. Christianity moreover is about individuals having free will, making choices and being held accountable for these choices, only to redeemed at sinners by the individual sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. I have given you scholarly references to this effect but you choose to ignore them because they do not comport with your own collectivist views.

And yes, Oppenheimer believed that a State is essential for the exploitation of people, which is precisely the point I have been making.

avatar David Theroux August 28, 2011 at 1:30 am

Rob G,

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
—Exodus 20:17

“Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
—Deuteronomy 6:21

Compensation for CEOs at major firms reflects the fact that federal and state government laws on liability have dramatically shifted and socialized risks and liability onto such positions to be held personally for events made by people throughout the organization, including you. As a result, the price to hire and maintain such people has skyrocketed; yet another example of the harmful and pointless effects of “progressive” (i.e., authoritarian and oligarchic) regulations that trample on the natural law.

But aside from such market price distortions from government regulations, clearly a Steve Jobs is worth more than virtually any other person by hundreds of times, because the value such a Jobs brings to the products being produced warrants such compensation. Otherwise, people would not pay for it, invest in it, or purchase the products. Wherever it is that a person works he/she has chosen over all other courses because this fits that person’s criteria. This is what is called “demonstrated preference” and what a Steve Jobs is paid or what a Magic Johnson is paid or what a Sam Walton is paid or what a Matt Damon is paid or what you are paid reflects this fact.

avatar John Médaille August 28, 2011 at 10:16 am

David, your say, “Compensation for CEOs at major firms reflects the fact that federal and state government laws on liability have dramatically shifted and socialized risks and liability onto such positions to be held personally for events made by people throughout the organization, including you.” I can’t make sense of this sentence. Did the government “socialize” the risk or “personalize” it? And what laws are you thinking of? The only one that comes to mind is Sarbannes-Oxley, but that is of very recent vintage.

avatar John Médaille August 28, 2011 at 10:19 am

Where do you find the concept of “individualism” in Aquinas, and Magnus? And you seem to be equating freedom with any and all “free choices.”

And pay, as Adam Smith points out, reflects power, not productivity.

avatar David Theroux August 28, 2011 at 2:51 pm

John Medaille, I am first referring to the myriad SEC (as well as other federal and state) mercantilist controls that exist in regulating “public” corporations, but the greater problem has indeed been created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in the aftermath of the Enron and Arthur Anderson scandals. The result has been to radically reduce the pool of qualified individuals who will take executive positions at firms, to raise insurance rates for executives, to reduce competition among firms and have many of them move to other countries, to reduce investment in U.S. firms and reduce employment, and to raise costs for consumers.

Here are examinations of the disastrous effects of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that has only served to cartelize business in the U.S. under federal overlordship:

“New Regulations May Have Driven Recent Recession,” by Manuel Cosme
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1194

“Capital Flight: The U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley witch hunt has forced IPOs overseas. Canada shouldn’t make the same mistake,” by Pierre Lemieux
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1862

“The SEC Doesn’t Want the Truth to Get Out,” by Pierre Lemieux
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1367

“Bush Overreacts to Enron,” by Pierre Lemieux
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=409

“Four Years After Enron: Assessing the Financial-Market Regulatory Cleanup,” by Roy C. Smith and Ingo Walter (The Independent Review)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=585

“The Real Enron Lessons,” by Alexander T. Tabarrok and Eric A. Helland
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=413

“Does Regulation Prevent Fraud? The Case of Manhattan Hedge Fund,” by Chidem Kurdas (The Independent Review)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=712

“Knowledge Flat-talk: A Conceit of Supposed Experts and a Seduction to All,” by Daniel B. Klein (The Independent Review)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=791

“Private Equity: Capitalism’s Misunderstood Entrepreneurs and Catalysts for Value Creation,” by David Haarmeyer (The Independent Review)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=708

avatar John Médaille August 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

All of these articles appear to be post Enron, but CEO pay had already reached strtospheric levels. This cannot be the explanation, unless you posit that effects precede their causes.

avatar David Theroux August 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm

John Medaille, I have already addressed the issue of executive compensation where market-based incomes reflect productivity and then when “progressive” regulations were adopted, such mercantilism served to cartelize labor markets and produce a market distortion of such wages to far higher levels. Your problem remains that you believe in the fallacy of “just price”.

As the following article discusses, “Smith offered a number of theories to explain wages. In Chapter 8, Book I, he suggested a subsistence theory of wages, a productivity theory, a bargaining theory, a residual claimant theory, and a wages fund theory. Apparently he was not disturbed by the contradictions among these positions, and in other parts of his book he explicitly rejected some of his own propositions.”
http://www.economictheories.org/2008/07/adam-smith-wage-profit-rent-theory.html

Smith was handicapped, as was Ricardo, by his belief in the “labor theory of value,” again refuted hundreds of years earlier by the Late Scholastics and then brought into the modern era by the Austrian School of Economics. Here are sample critiques of Smith:

“The Celebrated Adam Smith,” by Murray N. Rothbard
http://mises.org/resources.aspx?Id=2691&html=1

“Classical Economics Versus the Exploitation Theory,” by George Reisman
http://mises.org/etexts/exploitation.asp

“The Ambitious, Accommodative Adam Smith,” by Salim Rashid (The Independent Review)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=413

Here also is a relevant analysis of Aquinas and critique of the theory of “just price”:

“The Myth of the Just Price,” by Laurence M. Vance
http://mises.org/daily/2918

avatar David Theroux August 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm

John Médaille, As I clearly note in my article on the views of C.S. Lewis and natural law, in no way am I saying that “free choices” is the same as Liberty. Liberty means freely made choices by individuals to use their own private property in non-invasive ways (peacefully and in cooperation with others) under a rule of law that reflects the natural law.

avatar John Médaille August 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm

On the contrary, all of the scholastics, including those of Salamanca, were labor theorists. Indeed they specifically rejected utility pricing, since utility exists in the buyer, and not the seller, and hence to sell utility would be to sell what the seller does not own. (ST II-II, 77, 1). Molina repeats Thomas’s words almost verbatim 500 years later at Salamanca. BTW, article 77 is followed by 78, the article on usury, rejected by the Scholastics (including Salamanca) but embraced by the Austrians and the moderns in general.

I do notice that all of your sources are Austrian. Do you read anyone else in economics?

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 1:50 am

John Médaille, You have made this erroneous claim before and I have shown you where you are completely wrong and provided some of the many scholarly references. There is little more that I can do for someone who insists on believing one of the most incoherent and enormously harmful follies in the history of thought, “the labor theory of value”—a folly that moderns have used to foment some of the greatest suffering, genocides, and atrocities in the history of mankind.

To answer your question, yes at the Independent Institute we address the entire range of economic other thinking in the “social sciences”, but much of it has been shown to be of limited value or has been refuted. As a result, we see no reason to recycle fallacies, especially when they result in massive human misery.

avatar John Médaille August 29, 2011 at 11:38 am

David, the question is not whether the labor theory of value is erroneous, but whether or not it was held by the Scholastics. I am quite aware of the sources you cite, and I find them unpersuasive in light of what the Scholastics actually said; they seem to be imposing their views on the Schoolmen, rather than letting these scholars speak for themselves. The Scholastics were adamant in opposing a utility theory of pricing, which they considered a violation of the 7th commandment. They opposed usury, regarded utility pricing as a variety of theft, called for the prince to set prices, believed that wages had to be high enough to support a worker in his “station in life,” etc. After considering these things, what is left of “Austrian” economics. Your sources are all Austrians deciding the case in their own favor; does anyone else see this latent Austrianism? None that I am aware of. How, for example, do you deal with the words of Thomas in the place I cited, or how do you deal with these words of Molina:
“That one may not accept a higher price by reason of the advantage of gain of the buyer is proved from the fact that the advantage is not something of the seller’s but the buyer’s; therefore the seller may not accept payment for it; otherwise he would sell what is not his (1759, Disputation, 348:6)”

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm

John Médaille, I have again given you ample references that trace through Aquinas’s work very carefully as well as subsequent Schoolmen’s writings over many generations. This matter is really not a controversy among scholars but apparently remains a question that you dismiss for the simple reason that if true, your mutualist/collectivist/statist views are in shreds. If you insist that “down” is “up” and counsel others to jump off cliffs based on such “insights”, there is little others can do.

avatar John Médaille August 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Well, David, I’ll give you points for consistency: If someone asks a question, claim it has been answered by somebody else. But I’ve read your sources, and the question isn’t answered, and if it is, you should be able to quickly cite the place. Then, when that tactic doesn’t work, resort to the ad hominem: your correspondent is a “collectivist.” Pretty shabby, methodologically speaking.

Here’s the truth of the matter: the Schoolmen opposed everything the Austrians support, and support everything the Austrians oppose. I can cite the schoolmen in their own words; you can only claim that someone else has already cited them, but can’t seem to cite them yourself. You must Pardon me if I find such tactics not only unpersuasive, but unworthy of anyone who claims the title of “scholar.”

avatar Rob G August 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Ah, yes, critique of the super-rich is always a mask for envy. I was wondering how long that specious claim would take to rear its ugly head. I guess that St Jerome was guilty of envy when he wrote that somewhere behind opulence there is always theft?

Perhaps a revisit to James 5:1-6 is in order: O you rich men, weep and howl!

Of course the apostle James wasn’t an economist, and didn’t have the Austrians to teach him the truth.

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm

John Médaille, Two final points for you:

1. You have well confirmed the fact that you are not a scholar. You are what Eric Hoffer called a “True Believer” and nothing else matters for you but your hubristic devotion to mutualism and compulsory “Distributism”. There are a myriad of people who have adopted all sorts of fallacious views that make all manner of claims. Nevertheless, here is my last suggestion of a reference, this time from the field of “public choice.” Will it make any difference? Unfortunately, I sincerely doubt it.

“Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure,” by Randy T. Simmons
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=93

2. Despite the façade of “holiness”, those who support the tyrannical evil of statism in upholding the institutionalized violence against the peaceful choices of people are what produced the horrors of the 20th century. Very disturbing and sorrowful, and there is precious little difference between your views of every aspect of human life and what is described in the following:

“Nothing Outside the State”
http://blog.independent.org/2010/03/16/nothing-outside-the-state/

“Nothing Outside the State: Part II”
http://blog.independent.org/2010/03/27/nothing-outside-the-state-part-ii/

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Rob G, The view that wealth equals sin is incoherent. Does this then mean that any action by someone to improve well-being beyond starvation is immoral? And what do we do with the person who has overcome poverty, tax him into poverty once again because his new wealth is sinful? And the person who prospers from producing goods and services that others voluntarily trade for that improve their lives, it this also a sin? Yes indeed, the very kind of envy and hatred you propose itself is indeed a sin, the sin of coveting.

Incidentally, each parable of Jesus is directed at the prideful sin of the person being addressed. The parable of the talents is hence difference from others, but in no way was Jesus ever claiming that enterprises that follow the Decalogue were sinful practices or that money or wealth per se were sinful. It is the love of money and wealth over God that is the sin, not money and wealth themselves which result from following the God-given natural law.

avatar John Médaille August 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Again, David, full marks for consistency. You say I am no scholar, and if what you have displayed is “scholarship,” then I certainly hope that you are right. You method is three-fold: avoid the question; call your interlocutor bad names; cite your friends. As to the third point, it amounts to saying, “I’ve asked all the Austrians if what they say is true, and they say it is, so it must be.” The true sign of the True Believer (as Eric Hoffer would explain to you, if you bothered to read him) is that he gets all his information from one source, and one source (largely the one you edit) is your only source. But this makes not the scholar (who by definition is acquainted with a wide variety of sources–and can cite them) but the ideologue. And as Andrew Bacevich notes in this month’s edition of The American Conservative, “Ideology makes people stupid.” It certainly doesn’t make them scholars.

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm

John Médaille, That’s funny, the book I have just recommended is rooted in the economics of public choice and institutional schools. I guess you just missed this somehow.

avatar John Médaille August 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Yea, your conversation seems to consist of saying, “Read the (book, blog, review).” But if you’ve read all those things, and can’t answer simple questions, I suspect the books, blogs, and reviews have no answers. The question was simple enough: If the scholastics opposed utility pricing, (or usury, or “free market” prices, or absolute property, or one of a dozen other areas) how then can they be considered Austrians. Your “answer” is to snarl “collectivist” at anybody who has the temerity to pose such questions.

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

John Médaille, My answer once again is that key figures in the Late Scholastics embraced marginal utility/subjective value. The studies I have given you discuss this at length.

There incidentally is not need to “snarl” anything, but indeed your views are collectivist.

avatar John Médaille August 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm

And BTW, David, what does a book on ” the economics of public choice and institutional schools” have to do with the question of whether the Scholastics were proto-Austrians? When did the subject change? I missed that.

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm

John Médaille, You have apparently missed a great deal more. Despite your pleadings, I leave the references for you to examine. I am not your tutor.

Incidentally and as a reality check, my article is on C.S. Lewis’s views on Liberty, not your own misunderstandings of political economy or the history of ideas. Nevertheless, clearly you completely disagree with Lewis.

avatar John Médaille August 29, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Still at it I see, David. No, I don’t disagree with Lewis, and that was not the subject of the conversation. The subject was your claim that the Scholastics were proto-Austrians. They weren’t. The hated what the Austrians love, and loved what the Austrians hate. But good attempt to change the subject. Yet again. Wouldn’t it be easier to answer the question? Or admit it has no answer?

avatar Rob G August 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I do not believe that wealth equals sin. There’s a reason, however, why Christ said that it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. And part of that is related to what St. James has to say. Wealth = power, and if power tends to corrupt, so does wealth. Perhaps Acton realized this. I don’t know. One thing’s for sure — libertarians don’t.

avatar David Theroux August 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Rob G, Wealth does not equal power. As Oppenheimer, Carneiro and many others have shown, there are two ways to obtain wealth, one is by producing it and peacefully trading with others and the other is to conquer those who have produced wealth. You advocate the second, meaning that you advocate mass theft and the projection of power over all, regardless of their being innocent guilty of criminal acts or not. This is what is called tyranny.

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