Monday, May 31, 2021

Capitalism to you: 1 thru 5, or 6 thru 10?

(From Edward Fesser blog...)

When people use or hear the word “capitalism,” some of the things they might bring to mind are:

1. The institution of private property, including private ownership of the basic means of production

2. Market competition

3. The existence of corporations as legal persons

4. Inequalities in wealth and income

5. An economic order primarily oriented to the private sector, with government acting at the margins and only where necessary

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those things.  Indeed, some of them (such as private property and a government that respects subsidiarity) are required as a matter of natural law.   Eliminating all economic inequalities (as opposed to remedying poverty, which is a very different matter) is neither possible nor desirable.  The concept of the corporate person has long been recognized by, and regarded as salutary within, the natural law tradition (whatever one thinks about its instantiation in modern business corporations).  Socialism in the strict sense, which would centralize the most fundamental economic decision-making, is intrinsically evil.

On the other hand, other people using or hearing the term “capitalism” might have in mind things like:

6. A doctrinaire laissez-faire mentality that is reflexively hostile to all governmental economic intervention

7. The market as the dominant social institution, with an ethos of consumerism and commodification of everything as its sequel

8. Corporations so powerful that they are effectively unanswerable to government or public opinion

9. Doctrinaire minimalization or even elimination of social welfare institutions, even when there is no feasible private sector alternative

10. Globalization of a kind that entails dissolution of corporate and individual loyalties to the nation-state and local communities.

Now, all of these things are bad and should be opposed on natural law grounds.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative.  And what it illustrates is that it is unhelpful to talk about either embracing or rejecting capitalism full stop.  The term has too many connotations for that, and needs to be disambiguated.  Hence the sweeping claims often made by both sides in the debate over capitalism inevitably generate excessive heat while reducing light.  When people say “I support capitalism,” they often mean “I support 1-5” but their opponents hear them as saying “I support 6-10.”  And when people say “I oppose capitalism,” they often mean “I oppose 6-10,” but their opponents hear them as saying “I oppose 1-5.”  To a large extent, they talk past each other.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Hope, Anger, Politics, CS Lewis, Seneca, and Acid...

Some snippets gleaned from the March issue of First Things. For some time our political parties have made utter and complete enemies of the opposing party members. I do not belong to either party and neither party represents my ideas and beliefs. But I think the currently prevalent attitudes and pronouncements of politically active people, both politicians and citizens, are outside of the bounds of useful discourse and help nothing. Is there hope for out country to ever be a semi-united nation again? To that question the following clips from various columns in the aforementioned digest maybe have something to say:

"The virtue of hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage: anger with the way things are, and courage to change them for the better."

Hope is a choice we make in the face of suffering and disappointment. Georges Bernanos once described hope as “despair overcome”. Hope has a strength that comes of struggling with doubt and fear."

Like many Americans, I am angry at the way things are. Certainly, patriotism and respect for elected officials are important Christian duties. They’re especially vital in America, where the law, not ethnicity or religion or even language, is the glue that holds us together. Disregard for the law is uniquely toxic in our country."

(America was founded with no place for a king. The law, in the form of the Constitution, sits in the place of a throne for America, and all decisions must comply and fall under its guidance. Without this, America is not what it was founded to be.)

"Anger is the easy daughter. C. S. Lewis warned that the pleasure of anger lies in “the fact that one feels entirely righteous oneself only when one is angry. Then the other person is pure black, and you are pure white.” It’s hard to imagine a better description of the current condition of American politics. In the long run, that’s fatal to national community."

"If our leaders (of both parties) want national unity, then they cannot demonize and punish their opponents. They cannot turn their reverence for the Republic, the law, on and off like a spigot, according to their party’s current agenda. If our leaders want national healing, they need to respect and listen to people they disagree with and don’t like."

"Seneca concluded his essay On Anger with these words: “[Nothing is] great which is not at the same time calm.” Anger untempered by patience and prudence, anger fixed on revenge or vindication of the self, anger not directed to the common good, can only diminish and destroy. Absent love and the interior peace it brings, all of life is conflict, and our faith is empty. Absent love, speaking the truth is not merely useless; it becomes an instrument of self-righteousness and a weapon against others."

"(Two) key points about Augustine’s view of Christians and politics."

"First, Augustine never offers a political theory, for good reason. He doesn’t believe that human beings can know or create perfect justice in this world. Our judgment is always flawed by our sinfulness."

"Second, no political order, no matter how good, can ever constitute a just society. Errors in moral judgment can’t be avoided. Therefore, the Christian needs to be loyal to her nation and obedient to its legitimate rulers. But she also needs to cultivate a critical vigilance about both."

"Hope feeds and grows on the experience of love, the will to persist in that love, and the letting go of anger, no matter how vicious or lunatic the times. Nations rise and fall. Ours has no special immunity. But in the meantime, God and his love for us endure. Strong tremors are shaking our society. If you’re like me, you’re feeling knocked off balance, and you’re casting about for explanations."

"Those on the left spy resurgent racism, xenophobia, and other pathologies, which they assume are radicalizing a populist base."

"Those on the right worry about utopian dreams on the left, which fuel a new totalitarianism. By my lights, these lines of analysis can tend toward hysteria (“Fascism!” “Socialism!”) rather than understanding. They are ... not pathways toward a sure footing in this time of staggering and stumbling."

"(A wise person) once said “Lack of trust is the acid eating everything.” He was not referring to trust in God. He was pointing to the decline of trust in many once-stable authorities. Mistrust runs through public life as well. Trumpian loyalists denounce some Republican senators as “traitors.” They are denounced in turn by respectable conservatives as an emerging “extreme right” that is captive to conspiracy theories." The accusations fly and get more and more entrenched."

"We not only distrust one another. We also have lost confidence in institutions that in an earlier time easily won our loyalty. We should seek people and institutions we can trust. Unlike faith, this trust needs to be partial, not complete. No worldly institution backs up its promises with the certainty of God’s power and righteousness. We are not called to be chumps. Yet we must beware the acids of mistrust and counter them with gestures of loyalty."

(A complete and bitter mistrust of everything outside my own small realm of ideas and those that agree with me will "eat everything like acid")