Monday, November 30, 2009

A Pro-Life Economic Agenda, Part IV

"It sounds nice, but . . ." — or so goes the usual rejoinder when people wish to evade their individual and personal responsibility to work for the common good, first within their immediate milieux, and — always — with an eye toward the effect that every act has on the common good as a whole. This is what is called a well-formed "social conscience." Despite such equivocations, however, all of the excuses given for not promoting Capital Homesteading as a Pro-Life economic agenda either fall apart from the pressure of their own contradictions, or are clearly evasions of responsibility. To take only two,

" 'They' won't let us/you." What "they"? Who is this "they"? Please be specific! "They" is defined in the dictionary as "the generalized 'other'." A "generalized other" can do nothing. It takes a particular (that is, identifiable and specific) "other" to carry out an act as definite as preventing Capital Homesteading or anything else. What people usually mean when they say " 'they' won't let us/you," is that our social institutions are badly organized. If so, these institutions are inhibiting or preventing the practice of virtue, specifically, the acquisition and possession of private property in the means of production. That being the case, the solution (as Rev. Ferree makes clear in Introduction to Social Justice) is to organize and carry out "acts of social justice" to restructure our institutions so that they once again assist us in our acquisition and development of virtue instead of operating to our detriment.

"It's impossible." It's astonishing how often something people don't want to do or don't understand is "impossible." It's impossible to have a stable society without a god-king. It's impossible to sail across the ocean-sea without falling off the edge of the earth. It's impossible for a remote and heterogeneous collection of colonies to unite and break away from the mother country. It's impossible to fly. It's impossible to go to the Moon. On the contrary, as Rev. Ferree pointed out. As he explained in Introduction to Social Justice, "Another characteristic of Social Justice, . . . is that in Social Justice there is never any such thing as helplessness. No problem is ever too big or too complex, no field is ever too vast, for the methods of this Social Justice. Problems that were agonizing in the past and were simply dodged, even by serious and virtuous people, can now be solved with ease by any school child." (47)

And so on. Excuses could be multiplied ad nauseam, but what's the point? They are excuses, not reasons. The principles supporting Capital Homesteading have never been successfully challenged despite decades of demands that critics get explicit about what, exactly, is wrong with them. The best anyone has ever been able to do is to claim, based on other principles, that Capital Homesteading or the Just Third Way is crazy, stupid, evil, or some other handy pejoratives as helpful as they are scholarly. This, of course, is much easier than actually arguing. As Chesterton explained,
It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else's principles, but not on his own. After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours. We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views of what is morally permissible, but if we argue we must argue "on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves." (G. K Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Dumb Ox." New York: Doubleday Image Books, 1956, 95-96.)
So, aside from panic-stricken excuses, injured pride, and a general feeling of individual helplessness, there is nothing to prevent a "Capital Homestead Act" from being enacted. The only things remaining are to outline (briefly) how Capital Homesteading works, and figure out where the money is to come from. For the full-blown program, of course, interested readers should go to Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen (2004). Because the question as to where we are to get the money is of such paramount importance, we will cover it first.

The "money question" is actually easy to answer, once we understand a few basic concepts, the most important of which is that "money" is anything that can be used in settlement of a debt. The Capital Homestead Act proposes a number of programs so that every man, woman and child could get interest-free (though not "cost free") capital credit from a local bank. Consistent with the tenets of the classic "Banking School" of finance and the real bills doctrine, future earnings of the capital purchased would pay off the loans, including bank service fees and premiums to cover capital credit default insurance and reinsurance. Every member of a family would get access to this special credit by setting up a tax-sheltered Capital Homestead Account (CHA) — like a "Super-IRA" — at a local bank or other financial institution.

It is critical to understand that no money is or can be created under Capital Homesteading until and unless a "financially feasible" capital project is brought to a commercial bank for financing. It is not a case of creating money, then spending it. Instead, a sound investment is identified, properly vetted by the bank and the insurance company, and then — and only then — is the money created to loan to the "Capital Homesteader."

This is based on classic banking theory embodied in the real bills doctrine. Briefly, a commercial bank can create money — remember, defining "money" as anything that can be used in settlement of a debt — at will, without inflation or deflation. This, however, is only so long as the amount of money created does not exceed the present value of an existing asset or future stream of income from an asset to be financed by taking a lien on the future asset to a bank for "discounting" (sale to the bank).

The piece of paper or other medium that conveys a lien (a legal claim to an asset — "a charge or security or incumbrance upon property," Black's Law Dictionary) is called a "bill." If the bill represents something of actual, definable value, it is a "real bill." If it is fraudulent, it is called a "fictitious bill." Having value, a real bill can be exchanged for something else of value, thereby functioning as "money."

That answers the question as to where the money is to come from. In our next and final posting in this series, we'll look at how Capital Homesteading would work.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

News from the Network, Vol. 2, No. 48

It's one of the imponderables of the financial world why Black Mondays and Black Tuesdays are bad, but Black Fridays are good. The financial news coming in from around the world is that, due to something going on in Dubai, stock markets are plunging. In the U.S. (which as of this writing hasn't opened yet) the speculators are hoping with crossed fingers that the American consumer, suddenly relevant again, will somehow be able to make enough purchases today to account for the usual 10% of annual retail sales.

How this is supposed to happen when an increasing number of consumers 1) don't have jobs, 2) have tapped out their credit, 3) aren't receiving redistributed wealth through welfare, and 4) aren't sure they will have any source of income for the coming year remains a mystery. As Jean-Baptiste Say pointed out almost two centuries ago, people do not make purchases of what other people produce with "money," but
through the medium of money with what they themselves produce. If some goods and services remain unsold (as may be the case today), it is because other goods are not produced.

The solution to the situation is not to give increasing amounts of money to bail out failed companies and rescue speculators and gamblers, or to extend greater amounts of consumer and government credit that have less and less of a chance of being repaid, but to enable people to acquire and possess an adequate ownership stake of productive assets — thereby empowering them to produce goods and services that they can exchange for the goods and services produced by others.

This week's news items reflect CESJ's efforts to reach that goal:
• CESJ held its monthly executive committee meeting on Tuesday, November 24, 2009. A number of items were discussed, most notably the effort to bring the powers-that-be and the public at large to a better understanding of money, credit, and banking. Briefly (as we have noted a number of times on this blog), the world is currently trapped in the assumption that only existing accumulations of savings can be used to finance capital formation. This leads to a number of extremely damaging conclusions, such as the only way in which the great mass of people can gain a living income is via the wage and welfare system, that ownership of the means of production must be concentrated, and that the State necessarily exercises total control of the economy through a monopoly over money and credit.

• A decision was tentatively reached to schedule the annual rally at the Federal Reserve for April 15, 2010, to be followed by the Second Social Justice Collaborative, and then the CESJ annual celebration. Much of this relies on how matters develop over the next couple of months, especially how many new people can be brought in both to participate and to help run the events.

• The editing draft of CESJ's booklet, Common Ground: Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, has been turned into a .pdf and distributed to members of the CESJ Executive Committee for comments and editing. The book is based on the blog series that concluded last week, and which has received a great deal of favorable comment from a number of quarters. Common Ground may be available for bulk purchase before the end of December.

• Dr. Alamgir's book, Notes from a Prison: Bangladesh, has been delayed due to factors beyond the control of Economic Justice Media, CESJ's publishing imprint. Assuming that the new schedule can be adhered to, the book will be available for bulk purchase before the end of December.

• A number of door opening efforts have taken place during the week. While the percentage of these efforts that eventually bear fruit is relatively low, the more efforts are made, the greater the success. Local radio shows that are open to doing interviews over the telephone are a good place to start, writing a letter or sending an e-mail to a local talk show host and suggesting an interview with Norman Kurland. Newspapers and magazines are also good places to suggest interviews or feature articles.

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 35 different countries and 49 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, the UK, Canada, Philippines, and Brazil. People in Uganda, Aruba, Senegal, the United States and the Netherlands spent the most average time on the blog. Of the top five postings, "Thomas Hobbes on Private Property" in the No. 3 spot is the only one not in the series on "Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism."
Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Pro-Life Economic Agenda, Part III

If you were looking for something for which to be thankful tomorrow, you may need to look no further. As we hinted in the two previous postings in this series (as well as in the series on the ontology of personalism), the situation is far from hopeless. While the individual is frequently helpless to effect change in social situations, the remedy of social justice is open to every single human being.

Each member of the human race, by virtue of the fact that he or she is human and therefore a "natural person" (that is, a person by the mere fact of being human at whatever stage of physical, mental, spiritual, economic, or political stage of development), has the capacity to organize and act directly on the common good not as an individual per se, but as a member of a group. If we are faced with unjust structures that inhibit or prevent us from owning an adequate stake in the means of production sufficient to generate a living income, then we do not need to go, hat-in-hand, either to a rich private elite and beg for alms, or to the State and surrender our personal sovereignty in exchange for our vote and a bare sufficiency to meet our material needs. The only thing we need is a specific plan, for — without that — we might as well just stay where we are. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there . . . and rather quickly, at that.

Such a plan is Capital Homesteading, a concept embodied in a proposal called the "Capital Homestead Act."

The Capital Homestead Act is a modern version of Abraham Lincoln's 1862 Homestead Act that (usually — there were some exceptions) offered a quarter section of land (160 acres) on the frontier to anyone 21 years of age or over, and who was an American citizen or declared the intent to become one. While there are many modern critics blessed with 20/20 hindsight who can point out the flaws of the Homestead Act, it cannot be denied that the Act was the most successful economic initiative in American history, excepting only the fact of America itself. The Homestead Act laid the foundation for America's rise as the world's greatest industrial power, and embedded ownership of the means of production as the road to economic and political independence deep in the American psyche, from which more than a century of effort by the State and other forces have been unable to root it out entirely.

Unfortunately, land has a singularly unique drawback. There is, generally, only so much to go around, and the land eventually runs out. There is, however, a frontier that, to all intents and purposes, cannot run out. That is the technological frontier, the sector of the productive economy made up of industrial and commercial enterprises.

Admittedly, hostility toward technology is also embedded deep in the American psyche. This is not because technology is evil, per se, but (as Hilaire Belloc pointed out in The Servile State, 1912, as did Kelso and Adler a generation later), because methods of corporate finance virtually guaranteed that ownership of the new technology would be concentrated in the hands of a very few people. Since (as Daniel Webster observed in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1820), "power naturally and necessarily follows property," concentrated ownership of the means of production automatically means concentrated power.

Americans hate concentrated power.

That's not to say that other people do not hate concentrated power. There is, however, just something about the proud, the arrogant, those who exercise raw, naked power — as did the United States Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade — that excites a profound and visceral reaction in the American spirit. This aspect of the American spirit can only be ameliorated or all but extinguished through intensive and continuing — and State funded, of course — propaganda, and the fostering of a servile class ready, willing, and able to look to the State as the source of all that is good. This is in sharp contrast to what Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early 19th century of the habit Americans had of organizing and taking care of matters themselves without the bumbling interference of the central government.

Nevertheless, despite the debilitating results of training people to look to the State as the source of every blessing, the fire of the American spirit is not so easily extinguished. Rather, the state of society in which we seem to be trapped today is the result of the fact that most Americans were never given a chance to share in the ownership and profits of our high-tech industrial and commercial frontier, which (unlike land) has no known limits.

Capital Homesteading would take nothing away from present owners, who would be left with their current accumulations intact. They would only lose the virtual monopoly they now have over ownership of future capital.

By returning to a sound understanding of money, credit, and banking and employing advanced techniques of corporate finance, Capital Homesteading would link every American (especially the poorest of the poor and those previously economically disenfranchised) to the profits from sustainable economic growth. Every citizen could gain a share in power over technological progress and the tools and enterprises of modern society. Through widespread, direct ownership of the means of production everyone would participate in a more democratic economic process, just as they now participate in the democratic political process through access to the ballot.

The only question remaining is how Capital Homesteading would probably work — and why people seem to think it won't. We will look at those questions in the next posting in this series.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Pro-Life Economic Agenda, Part II

In the previous posting we discovered that, to understand Capital Homesteading (particularly as a Pro-Life economic agenda) we have to reject outdated notions of money and credit, as well as discredited Malthusian concepts of scarcity. Once we separate the in-depth thinkers from the not-so-in-depth thinkers and get over that admittedly revolutionary Pons Asinorum, we can get on to the even more radical ("radical" in terms of today's ossified thinking, that is) particulars of Capital Homesteading.

Throughout history the rich and powerful have owned the things that produced the wealth. When land and people produced wealth, the rich and powerful owned land and people. Today what produces most of the wealth are land and technology — "capital," that is, non-human (non-person) things. This is why Kelso and Adler (mistakenly, in our opinion) characterized the modern economy as capitalist. In particular, technologies such as machines, robots, rentable structures, and advanced information systems are replacing people at their workplaces and threatening their family incomes.

Obviously, then, the people who own the land and the technology (productive capital) are today's "rich and powerful." Due to flawed thinking about money, credit, and scarcity, many people accept the concentration of ownership of the means of production as a given. Unfortunately, this results in a state of society in which too few people own income-producing wealth (capital) and too many people own nothing. The result is a society in which many people owe more than they own, and the great mass of people are utterly dependent either on a private elite (as in capitalism), or a State elite (as in socialism). The tragedy is that many otherwise thoughtful people reach the conclusion that this situation is somehow normal or consistent with the natural moral law.

The bottom line is that anyone is economically vulnerable if he or she doesn't own — as private property — a just and adequate private property stake in the land and technology that produce most of today's wealth. To make matters worse, economic power is tied closely to political power. Political power comes from property (the rights and powers of ownership) and the means to acquire possess private property in the means of production: capital. In today's global economy, the most significant forms of capital are in advanced technologies. These can be and in many cases are directly owned, but most capital today is owned through unique social tools called corporations — the ownership of which (due to how capital formation is financed) is highly concentrated in the hands of a very few people.

When ownership is concentrated, power is concentrated. This is why a few people are very powerful, and most people are virtually powerless. The wealth-producing power of an individual worker — as "pure labor," sans technology — has not increased appreciably over the last thousand years. Poor people and most non-property-owning workers can only produce insecure subsistence incomes from their jobs. Some people, however, profit from the work that technology can do by owning shares in the companies that use that technology. These people become rich and powerful because they own the things (capital) that produce most of our wealth.

In a democratic and just economy everyone should have an equal opportunity and equal access to the means to own shares in companies that use advanced technology. The U.S. economy, for example, should have programs that lift artificial tax and credit barriers to help every American become an owner of American Industry. Every family could then earn income from jobs and income from capital that each family member would own.

The question is, how?

Today many people, even the poor, can buy consumer items such as cars, TV sets, clothing, and homes on credit. These purchases are not, however, "capital": income-earning property. Borrowing for such things makes the debtor more economically vulnerable than otherwise. Meanwhile, every year America adds about $2 trillion worth of new productive assets in both the public sector and private sector, or approximately $7,000 for every man, woman, and child. The way we finance these new assets creates few new owners and widens the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

Constrained by bad definitions of money and other flawed institutions, the usual solution takes two forms. One, capitalism is "socialized," and the State takes over control of the economy indirectly by mandating prices, wages, interest rates, and so on. Two, the State takes over direct control of the economy — socialism by any name. This can be done through subsidies and bailouts of businesses considered too big to fail, or by taking over actual ownership (control) of companies.

Whether by socializing capitalism or by implementing socialism outright, those in authority (usually the State, but it could be a private elite) circumvent institutional flaws by redistributing existing wealth. This is not only ineffective and counterproductive, it is inadequate even within its own framework and works only for a short time. Redistribution is usually carried out either directly, through the tax system, or by manipulating the currency through inflation or deflation, depending on whether the State wishes to favor debtors or creditors, respectively.

There is, however, an alternative to the current system that is neither socialism nor capitalism. This "Just Third Way" would be a free enterprise economy, generating private sector profits — but with ownership of the new growth systematically flowing to every individual citizen. With access to capital credit repayable with the full pre-tax earnings of the capital itself, everyone could gain ownership in America's expanding technological frontier. We wouldn't have to take away wealth from those who already own capital, or rely on an allegedly beneficent and all-powerful State to distribute largesse to the presumably needy and those deemed sufficiently worthy.

An application of the principles of the Just Third Way is called "Capital Homesteading," as in the title of the book, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen. The Capital Homesteading concept has been developed into a specific proposal called the "Capital Homestead Act," which we will look at in the next posting in this series.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

A Pro-Life Economic Agenda, Part I

In the previous series on "Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism," we closed with the comment that anyone interested in the details of a possible Pro-Life economic agenda should visit the website of the Center for Economic and Social Justice ("CESJ"), www.cesj.org. Specifically, interested parties should look over the materials on "Capital Homesteading," especially the book, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen (2004), available as a free download on the CESJ website, as well as in paperback from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

As we noted in the "Personhood" Series, we've stated the basic principles of Capital Homesteading a number of times on this blog. Still, we felt it would be useful to reiterate the concept, especially in light of the astonishing popularity of the series of postings on personalism. Capital Homesteading is, after all, the best, most consistent, and "person-centered" approach to economic development we've yet come across, although we're open to suggestions about improvements and even other proposals that can demonstrate as close a consistency to the natural moral law as Capital Homesteading.

A couple of caveats need to be inserted here. First, this particular series can only give the broadest and sketchiest outline of Capital Homesteading. If the concept interests you at all, or if you think you find flaws in what is said here, go first to the CESJ website and read up on the subject.

Second, be aware that Capital Homesteading uses a different definition of "money" than the one with which you may be familiar. This is something of which we ourselves only recently realized the full import. Briefly (for we've tried to make this clear as well in previous postings), Capital Homesteading — consistent with CESJ's Aristotelian/Thomist natural law orientation — defines money by its nature and proper use, not as a creature of positive law, that is, of direct State action.

In other words, CESJ understands "money" in ontological terms of what it is, instead of what it happens to do or (more immediately) can be forced to do. The former is based on nature, the latter on will — usually that of the State, which thereby tries to take on the divine aspect of being able to determine reality. This latter is the view of the Keynesian, Monetarist, and Austrian schools of economics. (See, e.g., John Maynard Keynes, A Treatise on Money, Volume I: The Pure Theory of Money. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1930, 4.)

CESJ defines "money" as anything that can be used in settlement of a debt; it is the "medium of exchange." You don't ordinarily need anybody's permission, especially that of the State, to trade what you have for that which someone else has. As Jean-Baptiste Say explained in his refutation of the scarcity-based economics of Reverend Thomas Malthus, you don't make your purchases of what others produce with "money," per se, but with what you produce by means of your labor or capital. "Money" is simply a "social tool" to facilitate transactions. If some people cannot sell all they produce, it is because other people are not producing. (Letters to Mr. Malthus, 1821, 2)

This definition of "money" is implicit in the tenets of the "Banking School," as well as in the work of Dr. Harold Moulton (notably in his 1935 classic, The Formation of Capital), the binary economics of Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler, and even the venerable Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776). This is emphasized in the subtitle of the second book Kelso and Adler co-authored in 1961, The New Capitalists: "A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings."

Finally, be aware that Kelso and Adler made two "mistakes" in the title of their book. One, they carried over the vague term "capitalism" from their first collaboration, The Capitalist Manifesto (1958). In The Capitalist Manifesto they explain that by "capitalism" they mean an economic system in which capital, not labor, is the predominant factor of production. This is less than helpful, for the definition also fits socialist economies. As Chesterton remarked, "If the use of capital is capitalism, then everything is capitalism." (G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, 1927, Ch. 1.)

Two, this is not really an error, but the phrase "Slavery of Savings" implies a hostility toward or a rejection of savings. On reading The New Capitalists, however, we quickly discover that the "slavery" to which Kelso and Adler refer is dependence on existing accumulations of savings to finance capital formation. Dependence on past savings or reductions in current consumption restricts capital ownership to those who can afford to save, or who receive redistributed capital from the State (in which case they cannot truly be said to own that wealth).

What Kelso and Adler proposed was to replace past savings with future savings. That is, instead of cutting consumption and accumulating in order to invest, the process is reversed so that investment in new capital generates its own repayment — a basic principle of finance. It is no longer (and never actually was) necessary to cut current consumption. Instead, by creating money backed by the present value of the future stream of income to be generated by the newly-formed capital, current consumption levels can be maintained, even increased, at the same time that income is generated to repay the financing of the very capital that generates the income.

By future savings, we do not mean forced or involuntary savings, terms which have a completely different — and much more complicated — meaning in most modern schools of economics. (It's so complicated and contradictory that it would be counterproductive even to try to explain it here.) We have, confusingly, used "future" and "forced" savings as synonyms in the past — and might in the future (nobody's perfect) — but the reader should be aware that there is, in fact, a significant difference between the future savings concept in binary economics, and the forced savings theory in Keynesian, Monetarist, and Austrian Schools of economics.

Thus, to understand Capital Homesteading, keep in mind that the proposal uses a different understanding of money than is usual today, and that it rejects Malthusian concepts of scarcity as invalid. We will begin to look at how to apply these "revolutionary" ideas in the next posting in this series.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

News from the Network, Vol. 2, No. 47

As unpredicted, the stock market is up. I mean down. I mean it's . . . un-bear-a-bull. Here is a reliable stock market prediction. Once Capital Homesteading is adopted, the secondary market for debt and equity will settle down and stabilize into a pattern of steady growth reflecting the actual growth of the economy, having abdicated its position as pretender to the position of driver of the economy.

Getting away from the fantasy world of Wall Street and Washington, this week's happenings, while superficially sparse, are of much greater moment than the antics in the world of finance and politics:
• Due to the press of outside business, the monthly CESJ executive committee meeting was postponed until next week. Everyone in CESJ is a volunteer and receives no compensation for filling a position. Thus, when the immediate need of making a living intrudes on the work of civilization CESJ carries out, CESJ business must wait. Consider volunteering some of your time to the Global Justice Movement in general, and CESJ in particular, in order to broaden our resource base and expand the number of people we can rely on to fill critical roles in times like these when people are becoming stretched very thin as a result of a global economy that limps along without Capital Homesteading. Check out the volunteer opportunities and the application on the CESJ website.

• As noted, the CESJ monthly executive committee meeting has been moved to next week, Tuesday, November 24, 2009, from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm. If you wish to listen in on the discussions (direct participation is usually limited to the executive committee and board members), send an e-mail to CESJ at the contact information on the website and ask to be put on the list to receive the access code for the telephone conference.

• Due to the press of other business (see above), the final editing of Dr. Alamgir's book, Notes from a Prison: Bangladesh, has been delayed another week. This book is important not because of Dr. Alamgir's economic framework — as former Minister of Planning, he is an expert not in the Just Third Way, but in getting the most out of the admittedly flawed existing system in the most ethical manner possible — but because of the principles of social justice he exhibited in organizing and working for the common good, both while unjustly incarcerated and afterwards by working to call attention to flaws in social institutions. That is why CESJ is publishing the North American edition under a new imprint, "Social Justice Publications," not "Economic Justice Media."

• Because of the popularity of the recently-concluded blog series on "Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism" (the title suggested by Mr. Guy Stevenson of Iowa), the series will be turned into a monograph for republication in book form after editing and some expansion of the text. If you would like to receive a pre-publication copy in electronic format for review and comment when it is ready, please send CESJ an e-mail at the contact information on the CESJ website. The working title for the book is Common Ground: Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism. The idea of turning some of the blog series into short publications was suggested by Dawn K. Brohawn, CESJ's Director of Communications. If "Common Ground" is successful, we anticipate a significant number of new publications, first from among the large amount of material CESJ already has on hand, but later soliciting new works consistent with the principles of the Just Third Way as found in the economic justice principles developed by Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler, and in the social doctrine of Pope Pius XI as analyzed by Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., "America's greatest social philosopher."

• CESJ (and Equity Expansion International, Inc., a for-profit company with which many of the members of the CESJ core group are affiliated) now has a presence on "Linkedin." Earlier this week, at the suggestion of Mr. Steven Gajdosik, president of the Catholic Radio Association, Michael D. Greaney created a profile on the networking service and joined the "Catholic Radio Group" (not the "Catholic Radio Association Group," the confusingly-named not-for-industry-outsiders professional group).

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 39 different countries and 45 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, the UK, Canada, Aruba, and Brazil. People in Aruba, Uganda, Argentina, the United States and the U.K. spent the most average time on the blog. As noted, the recent postings on personalism have generated a surprising amount of interest, suggesting that people are starting to wake up to the need for a new approach. The personalism articles are followed by "The Slavery of Past Savings," and "No One Can Breathe Against Their Will" — all on the same general topic of the essential dignity of the human person under God. The weekly news updates, still retain their usual readership, but far more visitors to the blog are looking at the postings on the natural moral law.
Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part XV

As we saw in the previous posting, the belief that abortion is a constitutionally-protected right is both the Pro-Choice movement's greatest strength and, paradoxically, its greatest weakness. No one can claim a right to choose to have, materially assist in procuring, or support abortion without at the same time acknowledging the right of others to choose not to have, materially assist in procuring, or support abortion.

If some people are denied the right to choose in order to secure the right of choice of others, then the presumed right to choose abortion is not, strictly speaking, a true right, but (just as Justice Bryan White declared) an exercise of raw judicial power — an act of tyranny by means of which one group forces its will on another group or groups. The Pro-Life movement can therefore justly demand that all forms of government support for abortion cease immediately — or force the Pro-Choice movement to admit that the alleged choice they themselves are demanding applies only to them, and is not, in fact, a right at all (which implies the functioning of justice), but the creation of a privileged class or establishment of a State religion that has been granted the power to rob the taxpayer for its own benefit.

Still, useful and effective as removal of all federal, state, and local government support for abortion would be, it is clearly not enough. Abortions took place long before anyone had the idea that there was any kind of right involved, or even before there was any kind of State subsidy or support. Once all government support for abortion has been eliminated, then, two things remain to be done.

First, people must be educated to realize that the fetus is a human being, is thus a person, and thereby entitled to the full spectrum of natural rights that necessarily accompany the human condition. The Pro-Life movement has been perfecting its techniques in this effort since 1973, and, considering the massive amounts of money spent by the Pro-Choice movement and the government support it enjoys, has been astonishingly successful. Nothing should be done to decrease current efforts. A good case can and should be made that efforts must, on the contrary, increase dramatically. No day should pass without continuous protests outside any and all facilities providing abortions; no magazine or newspaper should be without its educational Pro-Life advertisement or article; prime time radio and television, as well as the internet, should carry a full load of both informational and educational advertising. Denial of media access should be the basis for a lawsuit on the grounds of denial of free speech.

People in the Pro-Life movement might want to consider refusing to take even legitimate tax deductions for contributions for Pro-Life purposes. While any legal justification for denying tax deductibility is shaky — many Pro-Choice advocates claim to support the aims of the Pro-Life movement other than an end to abortion, and it is highly questionable whether even the United States Supreme Court would move to so abridge or discourage freedom of speech — such a move would be another great moral victory at a relatively small cost. Most people who contribute to Pro-Life organizations or causes do not consider the tax effects in any event, and voluntarily surrendering a legitimate tax deduction removes the possibility that the Pro-Life movement would be labeled hypocritical for demanding an end to tax deductions for contributions to Pro-Choice organizations or causes, while continuing to take advantage of them to present an opposing view.

There is, however, one remaining thing that must be done. The charge of hypocrisy has already been leveled at the Pro-Life movement, chiefly on the grounds that people in the movement care only what happens to the fetus, not about the quality of life of the baby once born. This, up to a point, is a legitimate criticism, but hardly of the magnitude to be termed hypocritical.

The adoption of a Pro-Life economic agenda, first for the United States, and then the world would not only remove the charge of hypocrisy from the Pro-Life movement, it would in large measure remove any and all economic justification for abortion. One program that should be investigated that may have the potential to open up the opportunity for each family to generate income sufficient to meet common domestic needs adequately is Capital Homesteading for every citizen, from the book with the same title.

Capital Homesteading has been described many times on this blog, and a large amount of material is available on the website of the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ), including a free download of the book, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen, which is also available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Some of the philosophical orientation of the Just Third Way can be found in, In Defense of Human Dignity, also available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (Anglophiles and UK residents can also find both books on Amazon UK: Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen, In Defense of Human Dignity.) Anyone wanting to help promote these ideas might want to consider writing a review of (and giving a high rating to) either of these books.

Anyone interested in promoting a Pro-Life economic agenda — and, incidentally, a possible way out of the current Great Recession (a.k.a., "The Jobless Recovery") — should look over the material on the CESJ website, and consider in what way he or she could advance the effort. One of the better ways is to spread the word, and open doors to "prime movers" such as Barack Obama who might be open to hearing about something that has the promise to deliver justice instead of inflation, joblessness, war, poverty, and death.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part XIV

In the previous posting in this series we noted that individual or individualistic approaches to fundamental social change are, absent some miracle, usually ineffectual. That is because individual methods are generally useless in addressing a social situation. We are, however, left with a serious problem. It is contrary to the principles of natural law on which this country is explicitly based to force anyone to participate in an act that person regards as evil. Forcing citizens to participate in a morally repugnant act is, in moral philosophy, legitimate grounds for changing rulers, even (in extreme cases) the form of government. (Aquinas, De Regimine Principum, I.vi; Bellarmine, De Rom. Pont. Eccl. Monarchia, Lib. I, Cap. VI. Nota quarta. De Laicis, Cap. VI; also Recognitio, Libri Tertii De Laicis.)

Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that, in the present state of society, unilaterally abolishing legalized abortion is not practicable, even if it could be done tomorrow. Such a move would, in all likelihood, cause even more immediate harm to the social order than that inflicted at present by abortion and other activities that the Pro-Life movement considers related. As Rev. William Ferree points out in Introduction to Social Justice, the primary law of social justice is that the common good must be kept inviolate. (35) As "America's greatest social philosopher" explains,
To attack or to endanger the Common Good in order attain some private end, no matter how good or how necessary this latter may be in its own order, is social injustice and is wrong. The Common Good is not a means for any particular interests; it is not a bargaining point in any private quarrel whatsoever; it is not a pressure that one may legitimately exercise to obtain any private ends. It is a good so great that very frequently private rights — even inviolable private rights — cannot be exercised until it is safeguarded. (Ibid.)
This is not to say that continued legalized abortion will not inflict even greater harm on the common good in the long term. It is a case of dealing with the lesser — that is, the most immediate — of two evils (maintaining order in society in the face of obvious, even horrifying injustice), not an admission that abortion is somehow a good. Direct participation in abortion is always evil, but at present the anticipated evil of the serious disruption or destruction of the social order should abortion be outlawed is of more immediate concern.

There is, however, a possible "common ground" that can exist in the debate, and gives us a basis for achieving the only possible compromise between the Pro-Life and the Pro-Choice positions: the Pro-Life economic agenda. If abortion supporters are truly "Pro-Choice," then they should be the strongest supporters of a Pro-Life economic agenda designed to remove entirely any economic incentive to procure an abortion, thereby bringing an end to the undue influence on free choice exerted by economic institutions.

Consistent with that, Pro-Choice advocates should also be in the forefront in the effort to remove all government financial support for abortions, direct or indirect, thereby taking away the implied political and social endorsement for abortion, the effects of which can obviate "free" choice even more effectively than economic forces. A fully consistent Pro-Choice position would be to deny any and all deductions for taxpayers who give money to support or procure abortions. This is because tax deductibility involves a substantial degree of government support, as well as providing what amounts to a subsidy that must be made up by increasing taxes paid by all taxpayers.

In view of the political realities of the situation, the Pro-Life movement may be able to give a reassurance to the Pro-Choice movement that, consistent with the democratic process, abortion will not be criminalized until such time as an overwhelming consensus is reached that this should, indeed, be the case. This is, to all intents and purposes, a meaningless concession. Such a law would be ineffective anyway until and unless an overwhelming consensus is reached, something of which the Pro-Choice movement should be fully aware.

Still, should the Pro-Choice movement balk at eliminating all forms of government support (financial and otherwise) for abortion, the Pro-Life movement must seek legal redress. As we have seen, it is both inconsistent and unconstitutional for the Pro-Choice movement to demand the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, or support or promote abortion, and yet at the same time deny others the right to choose whether or not to pay for that abortion through the use of their tax monies. A challenge to federal, state and local government support in any form for abortions should, on legal grounds, have a good chance of becoming law — to say nothing of saving massive amounts of money that, in these times of economic turmoil, could certainly be put to better use.

Failing that, an option that might be considered is a "tax revolt," although such action cannot be recommended except as a last resort against a State that has, in effect, become a tyranny. Although the position was equivocal (being based on private judgment about the morality of the action), during the Vietnam War, a number of people either refused to pay taxes at all, or withheld a portion of their taxes. Many of them ended up in prison, but if the 51% of the population that, according to a recent Gallup Poll describe themselves as "Pro-Life" refused to pay unjust taxes, the government would be forced to capitulate. Such a move, of course, would be feasible only after all legal means were exhausted, including bringing the case to the Supreme Court, which, if it wishes to retain its credibility, could not rationally allow free choice to obtain an abortion while denying free choice to pay for it.

Removal of all forms of government support at all levels for abortion in any way shape or form is only a part of the solution, although it would constitute in and of itself a major victory. Such an effort should, in the interests of equal rights for all, be led by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU would otherwise have to admit publicly that the rights they demand for their preferred groups and causes do not, in fact, apply equally to all.

Further, removing all forms of government support at all levels would convince a great many people, trained to look to the State as the arbiter of right and wrong, that abortion might not be quite as fundamental a right as Pro-Choice adherents insist, and go a long way toward persuading people that all human beings, including fetuses (Latin for "unborn human being") are persons within the natural law context of the United States Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence which (while not itself law) gives context to the Constitution.

Two more things are necessary, both of which we will cover in the next and final posting in this series.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part XIII

In the previous posting in this series we noted that, according to Rev. William Ferree, eulogized on his death in 1985 as "America's greatest social philosopher," even super-heroic individual virtue has little if any chance of ameliorating a social evil. As the paraphrase of the passage from Introduction to Social Justice pointed out, "Her [Jane Jones'] mistake was to attack a social evil with only individual means." The question becomes, "How should she have gone about it?"

The Personhood Movement and the Pro-Life movement could, of course, continue to do exactly what they are doing: stage public demonstrations and distribute propaganda (in the good sense) with the end of enacting a law or adopting a constitutional amendment the object of which is to prevent abortion. We have seen, however, that simply passing a law or even amending the Constitution is, absent public support, ineffectual and can even bring about greater evils than the one presumably being eliminated.

The ineffectiveness of the usual approach (aside from its implicit denial of individual sovereignty within the social order and its reliance on the coercive power of the State to impose desired ends) is evident once we internalize the basic principles of social justice. Primarily, as Father Ferree points out in his unfinished ms., Forty Years After . . . A Second Call to Battle (c. 1985), such demonstrations, necessary and useful as they might be to raise public consciousness of an issue and even in saving infants' and mothers' lives on an individual basis, all have one fatal weakness: they are all inevitably demands that somebody else do something, i.e., stop having, performing, supporting, or promoting abortions. The demonstrator is, socially speaking, completely ineffectual, although left with a feeling of great virtue and vast superiority over other, less enlightened people who "don't get it." The institution of abortion as a socially acceptable thing is left unchanged, except perhaps to strengthen the resolve of Pro-Choice adherents to resist the efforts of the "antis" to take away their right to choose.

We find the answer to this seemingly insoluble situation in the laws and characteristics of social justice. As Father Ferree explains in Introduction to Social Justice (52),
Another corollary of this characteristic of Social Justice (that it is never finished) is that it embraces a rigid obligation. In the past when it was not seen very clearly how the duty of reform would fall upon the individual conscience, the idea became widespread that reform was a kind of special vocation, like that to the priesthood, or the religious life. It was all very good for those people who liked that sort of thing, but if one did not like that sort of thing, he left it alone.

All that is changed! Since we know that everyone, even the weakest and youngest of human beings, can work directly on the Common Good at the level where he lives, and since each one "has the duty" to reorganize his own natural medium of life whenever it makes the practice of individual virtue difficult or impossible, then every single person must face the direct and strict obligation of reorganizing his life and the life around him, so that the individual perfection both of himself and of his immediate neighbors will become possible. This idea should not be taken alone, it should be held only in conjunction with the characteristics we have already seen, namely, that one cannot practice Social Justice alone as an individual, but only with others; and that the realization of Social Justice takes time.
That is, when individual virtue cannot function, or does so partially or inadequately, the solution is to organize with others, and work directly not on the specific problem itself, but on the surrounding institutions of the common good that are "allowing" the problem to continue or, in extreme cases, causing the problem.

With respect to abortion and the effort to get the fetus recognized as a person in conformity with the principles of the natural moral law on which the United States was founded, this is a two-step process, which we will begin examining in the next posting in this series.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part XII

As we have seen in the previous postings in this series, the Pro-Choice position seems to have the Pro-Life position completely boxed in. In substantiation, we have the clear teaching in moral philosophy that if a bad law, even a very bad law, does not force us personally to do evil, we must permit the law to continue, if our taking action would reasonably be expected to disrupt significantly or destroy the social order. Social order — the network of institutions known as the common good — is such a great good that we must allow even incredible evil to continue if stopping the evil would destroy or materially harm the social order. To put an end to the matter, we are constantly told that abortion on demand is the law of the land. It must be permitted and supported without question with all the resources of the State and the people.

Regardless of the shoddy legal and social reasoning behind such assertions, the Pro-Life movement, and (evidently) the Personhood Movement to some degree appear to have accepted this understanding of the situation. Consequently (so the reasoning seems to go), if the law can be changed, then the coercive power of the State and all the resources of the nation can be used to stop abortion rather than protect and promote it. This understanding ignores both political and social reality, and the act of social justice.

As we previously noted in this series, simply passing a law — whether in the form of an Amendment to the Constitution or a Supreme Court decision — does nothing to change a situation if people don't want it to be changed. Prohibition, for example, while intended to eliminate the presumed scourge of drunkenness and all the crime and sin associated with the consumption of alcohol, caused massive upheaval in the social order. Public opinion was opposed to Prohibition to such an extent that conventional government and rule of law virtually disappeared in some areas of the country.

The Supreme Court's decision in Scott v. Sandford (60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857)) that upheld the right to own slaves everywhere in the United States and overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was itself effectively overturned within five years by the bloodiest war in American history. The Supreme Court's role in exacerbating the conflict between Pro-Slavery adherents and Abolitionists in the Dred Scott decision, combined with the presumed economic necessity of chattel slavery argued in David Christy's 1855 Cotton is King, has not been adequately studied or appreciated as a direct cause of the Civil War.

The situation seems hopeless — which is precisely what it is . . . at least from the standpoint of individual and individualistic efforts to solve the problem. To illustrate this, let's paraphrase a passage from Rev. William Ferree's, Introduction to Social Justice (44-45), substituting "abortion" for "honesty."
The question is: What can Jane Jones do as an individual? She might, for instance, decide to give the community "a good example" of a Pro-Life approach to the problem. That is, she could refuse to obtain an abortion, regardless of the circumstances surrounding her situation (e.g., rape, incest, lack of adequate or secure income, social embarrassment, etc.), and allow herself to be showcased as an exemplar of adherence to Pro-Life principles. This sounds good; but, remembering that what is wrong with that community is that everyone considers it normal to have an abortion under these and similar circumstances, we might readily calculate the chances that Jane Jones' heroic adherence to Pro-Life principles would have of reforming the community. When she refuses to go along with the dictates of public opinion, she will be idolized briefly by a relatively small segment of the population, vilified and ridiculed in the media, and shunned by family and friends for making the wrong choice. As soon as the next cause célèbre comes along, she will be forgotten, having lost in the interim her job, her reputation, and virtually all hope of a normal life in society. It is unlikely that her example will attract many followers among women seeking abortions or men promoting them. Her mistake was to attack a social evil with only individual means.
The question becomes what to do about this situation. We will start to look at that in the next posting in this series.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

News from the Network, Vol. 2, No. 46

The fact that we had to check the stock market reports right before writing the introduction to this week's news items probably says it all. The wild swings have been impossible to predict, although easy to anticipate, for some time now. Today's big, Big, BIG(!!!) rise is reportedly the result of substantial corporate profits offsetting depressing consumer data. In English, that means the high prices that are discouraging consumers from purchasing at prior levels and are decreasing effective demand are generating larger than expected profits.

The possibility that the combination of high profits and low demand suggests unnecessary State subsidies and government over-spending as well as price gouging doesn't seem to be occurring to anyone. It appears that, instead of having the usual warmed-over Keynesian turkey, the political and economic elites are preparing to kill the golden goose of consumer demand for Thanksgiving. (We'll spare you the rest of the bad puns, e.g., whirled peas, small potatoes, flaky economics instead of rolls . . . you get the idea.)

There are, nevertheless, some encouraging signs of hope, one of which is the results of the mock election held this past week at Mission Viejo High School, in Mission Viejo, California.
• While we hope to post the full story as soon as the current series on "Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism" is finished, the returns from the mock election held at Mission Viejo High School in California were astonishingly positive for the Just Third Way embodied in the platform of the American Revolutionary Party. The Republicans won the election, but the student using the name "Norman Kurland" as the presidential candidate for the ARP ("There's a new Norm in politics"), tied for second with the Green Party. The Libertarian Party placed fourth, and the Democratic Party running "Barack Obama" came in fifth. In last place was a single vote cast for "Mickey Mouse," who seems to be a perennial presidential contender in Southern California. It is not clear to what degree the distorted Keynesian economic program being implemented virtually worldwide differs from the policies bearing the name of Mr. Mouse.

• Guy Stevenson of Iowa has posted a comment on Alan Keyes's blog, alerting Mr. Keyes to the liberty-enhancing potential of the Just Third Way, especially Capital Homesteading. Visit the blog, post your own comment, and "go thou and do likewise" among other influential bloggers, drawing attention in particular to the possibilities inherent in Capital Homesteading to proclaim Liberty throughout the land, and unto to all the inhabitants thereof.

• This past week we sold our first copy of In Defense of Human Dignity in the United Kingdom. A few copies of Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen are already in circulation across the pond. While CESJ's publications are not (yet) bestsellers, this argues at least a growing interest in solutions other than the ubiquitous Keynesian fixes that are being used to bolster the power of the economic and political elite at the expense of ordinary people.

• A number of important meetings took place this week, although (as is usual with such events) the true significance as well as the "reportability" of the meetings has to wait on the results, if any, achieved.

• "Door opening" remains a top priority. Yesterday we received an enquiry about a possible radio interview from a station in Denver, and earlier today an e-mail arrived from the president of a religious radio association, both of which came through Guy Stevenson's efforts. Norman Kurland is an experienced "interviewee," having appeared on a number of different radio and television talk shows ranging from local community access to more typical venues, such as "Michigan Catholic Radio." Postings on the blog, especially these news items, might suggest various "hooks" to interest radio and television hosts, especially in local or regional media who don't mind an interview over a telephone or skype. Remember: there are talk shows besides Oprah and Leno, and they all need interesting and informative guests.

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 38 different countries and 45 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, the UK, Canada, Aruba, and India. People in Aruba, Uganda, the Czech Republic, Argentina, and Belgium spent the most average time on the blog. Recent postings have generated a surprising amount of interest, arguing that people are starting to look for more creative answers to the economic crisis and the general malaise afflicting the world. Surprisingly for a series with the pedantic title of "Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism," postings have now become the most visited individual postings, followed by "The Slavery of Past Savings," "What is the Natural Law?" the non-published letter to the Wall Street Journal, "Justice, Justice, Thou Shalt Pursue," and "No One Can Breathe Against Their Will." The weekly news updates, while previously the most consistently popular items, have retained their usual readership, but far more visitors to the blog are looking at the postings on natural law solutions to world problems. Whether this is a sign of hope or of desperation is impossible to say.
Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part XI

As we noted in the previous posting in this series, simply passing a law to prohibit abortion or adopting a Constitutional amendment protecting personality (which already exists in the 14th Amendment) would in all likelihood be ineffective. If what A. V. Dicey called "public opinion" does not support the law, the law will either not be obeyed, or will have a substantially different effect than what was intended. For any legislation affecting abortion to be effective, there must be some sort of common ground on which Pro-Choice and Pro-Life adherents can meet and agree.

Some people have complained that using the term "Pro-Choice" is both misleading and concedes too much to the opposition. That may be the case, but (as we shall see presently) it is a meaningless concession that has the potential to provide the basis for a quantum advance for the Pro-Life movement — if Pro-Choice advocates are sincere in their beliefs, especially the existence of a right to free choice, and honest (or at least consistent) in their application of the principle.

First, we have to realize of what a right consists. A right is the power to do or not do some act in relation to others. The existence of a right (which implies the functioning of justice) necessarily involves a correlative duty. A duty is the obligation to do some act in relation to the right holder. Thus a right to a free choice regarding a specific act means that someone has the power to choose to do or not do that act, with the choice being free from coercion or undue influence exercised by others.

The right of a free choice regarding a specific act necessarily includes the right of a free choice to participate materially or not participate materially in assisting others in doing or not doing that act. For example, if slavery were legal, someone could freely choose to own a slave. The prospective slave owner could not, however, by any means force someone who does not choose to own a slave either to own a slave, to assist the prospective slave owner in any material way in procuring a slave, or to promote slavery or slave owning.

The State has a monopoly over the instruments of coercion to force compliance with its will. This, of course, must be in accordance with the general consent of the governed, as long as the general consent of the governed or the interpretation and application of that will does not violate either a natural right held by everyone (regardless of their expressed will) or the rights of a minority.

Given the legality of slavery, the State's obligation would therefore be limited to permitting people to own slaves, and to passing and enforcing laws regulating the sale, purchase, and possession of slaves (e.g., acceptable treatment, working conditions, compensation, etc.). The State would be exceeding its authority if it were to force non-slave owners or abolitionists to own slaves, promote slavery, or to subsidize slavery through the tax system — all actions that involve either active or implied coercion on the part of the State, and thus an exercise of undue influence or actual threat forcing people to act contrary to their consciences.

We can make the same observations regarding the wage system prevalent under both capitalism and socialism. Given the existence of the wage system, an arrangement that some people have described as a condition of "wage slavery," the State's obligation is limited to permitting people to subsist exclusively on wages, and to passing and enforcing laws regulating hiring, termination, and terms of employment (e.g., acceptable treatment, working conditions, compensation, etc.). The State exceeds its authority if it forces people to work solely for wages, promotes the wage system over other economic arrangements, subsidizes the wage system, or prohibits or inhibits ownership of the means of production by anyone — thereby establishing a condition of society that Hilaire Belloc called "the Servile State" in his 1912 book of the same title.

How these principles relate to the Pro-Choice debate will be covered in the next posting in this series.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part X

As a practical matter, and leaving out ethical considerations, if abortion were to be outlawed tomorrow, it is highly likely that the law would be flouted to an even greater extent than the Fugitive Slave Act or Prohibition. Going contrary to what many people, rightly or wrongly, have become convinced is a right is a recipe for social disaster on a massive scale. This is why Aquinas counsels that obedience even to the worst of laws is required, if breaking the law or refusing to obey it would cause the situation to get worse, cause massive social upheaval, or even the destruction of the social order itself.

In De Regimine Principum, the "Angelic Doctor" (as Aquinas is sometimes called), relates the story of the tyrant Dionysus of Syracuse who, at a time when he seemed to be reviled and hated by everyone, was surprised to come across an old woman praying fervently to the gods for his safety and long life. Naturally enough, Dionysus asked why, when everyone else was hoping for his early demise, she was doing exactly the opposite. The old woman explained that when she was a young girl, a terrible tyrant oppressed the land, and everyone prayed for deliverance. The tyrant died, and was replaced with a worse one, and so on, until now, near the end of her life, Dionysus, the worst of the lot, seized power. That being her experience, she now prayed that he would last long in power, for she couldn't take anyone worse.

In moral philosophy (ethics), the only time we are permitted to disobey even a bad law is when the law requires us, individually and personally, to act contrary to our consciences. Coerced obedience in that case would constitute an offense against our human dignity. This is the same human dignity that the State, as guardian of the common good, is required to safeguard by preserving and protecting the institutional environment within which we as moral creatures acquire and develop virtue and so become more fully human.

Pro-Choice advocates, whether or not they realize this principle on a conscious level, have been quick to exploit it to the disadvantage of the Pro-Life movement. Pro-Choice advocates are in the forefront of those who demand obedience to the law . . . as long as it is a law with which they agree. Logically, of course, consistent with their line of reasoning that Roe v. Wade established abortion on demand as the law of the land, simply passing a law to the contrary would end the matter. If they acted in a manner consistent with their expressed principle that the State in the person of the United States Supreme Court creates the law and thereby determines what is right and wrong, Pro-Choice advocates would defend the outlawing of abortion with the same vigor, even fanaticism with which they have defended the presumed right to abortion, similarly (presumably) established by law.

Simply passing a law, as we have seen, however, does nothing if people are not prepared to accept or obey the law. In the event a law prohibiting abortion on demand were to be passed, many people would act contrary to their stated principles, and disobey it, despite their previous insistence that the law as established by the State is absolute and sacred. To believe otherwise is to be living in a fantasy world.

There is, however, a very effective tactic that has yet to be tried, one that is based not on passing a new law, but on demanding full and impartial enforcement of what Pro-Choice advocates insist is the current law of the land. In one sense, of course, this could be viewed as a very clever turning of the tables on the Pro-Choice position. Ultimately, however, it is not some kind of legal chicanery, but a simple demand for justice — and on the terms set and the ground defined by the Pro-Choice movement. That is what we will cover in the next posting in this series.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part IX

In the previous posting in this series we discovered that the current push for "Personhood Amendments" in a number of states is a necessary and salutary effort in the struggle to restore the social order to something more conformable to the principles of the natural law, and thus to human nature. The problem is that there are groups that seem determined to remake humanity in their own image, and force their vision onto everyone else, using the coercive power of the State to accomplish this end.

Part of the problem with reorienting people's thinking is the fixed idea many people have that the State can do anything, or (more accurately) that we can use the State to gain whatever ends we desire, and that the individual is helpless in the face of unjust social structures. This is an extremely naïve view not only of the role of the State and of the place of the person in the State, but also of the power that the State and the law actually have to change attitudes and behavior, that which constitutional scholar Albert Venn Dicey, noted for his emphasis on the "rule of law," (1835-1922) called "public opinion."

As Dicey pointed out in his landmark study on the sociology of law, the less-than-snappily-titled if extremely erudite and profound (and out of print, except for what reviewers have called an overpriced and very bad edition) Lectures on the Relation Between Law and Public Opinion in England During the Nineteenth Century (1905), the effectiveness of any law depends on how the public receives it. That is, how "public opinion" agrees with and perceives a particular law affects the understanding and interpretation of that law and other institutions, as well as its enforcement.

Dicey's book, by the way, is an excellent accompaniment to Alexis de Tocqueville's sociological analysis, Democracy in America (Volume I, 1835; Volume II, 1840). Not surprisingly, both de Tocqueville and Dicey were great admirers of the United States. Both, however, pinpointed possible dangers in the American system that have, in large measure, made serious inroads on the natural rights of life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness, the protection of which presumably constitutes the chief reason and justification for the United States. For de Tocqueville, the danger lay in false notions of equality, while for Dicey the concern was the corruption he saw inherent in party politics.

Dicey's conclusion was that if people are prepared to accept a new law, there is a high likelihood that the law will be obeyed and have the intended result. If, however, people are not prepared to accept a new law, then there is a high likelihood that the law will not be obeyed, or will have effects sometimes the exact opposite of what was intended. The best examples of the latter case in the United States are the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and Prohibition, both of which were widely disobeyed and actually advanced the activities they were intended to counter.

In social justice, of course, the primary power to change and reform our institutions rests not with the State, but with individual people. This, however, can be misunderstood as a statement of individualism or anarchy. On the contrary, as Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., makes clear in Introduction to Social Justice, ordinary, everyday people have the power to act directly on the common good. The common good is the network of institutions within which we as human persons exercise our natural rights and thereby acquire and develop virtue.

It is not, however, as individuals per se that we have the power to act directly on the institutions of the common good, including our laws, customs, and traditions, but as members of organized groups — who remain, at the same time, fully differentiated individuals within the organized structure of an institution. As Edmund Burke declared in Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents (1770): "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." (Burke did not say, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," an individualistic rephrasing of the more socially-just approach Burke described.)

This, the apparent paradox of social justice, explains how we can retain our individual identity and human dignity, and at the same time, act in accordance with our political nature — as Aristotle reminds us, "man is by nature a political animal." That still leaves us, however, with the problem of protecting each person's essential human dignity in the face of such egregious misunderstanding and misinterpretation of basic principles of the natural moral law and the United States Constitution as exemplified by Roe v. Wade.

If, as we have seen, public opinion appears to be ranged against any limitations on the presumed right to an abortion (as if any right could ever be exercised without any kind of limitation on its exercise), how do we, as seemingly helpless individuals, organize and change public opinion so that public opinion no longer regards abortion as a right, and that a law making abortion illegal — if it would even be necessary at that point — would be effective instead of destructive of the social order?

In the next posting in this series we will begin to examine one possibility that appears to have the potential to satisfy all competing claims in this issue, at least those that base (or attempt to base) their positions on reason and rule of law.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part VIII

Some people have argued that opposition to abortion is a purely religious issue, and that therefore the State can make no laws prohibiting abortion or limiting it any way. If opposition were, in fact, purely a religious issue, that would indeed be the case — at no level, whether local, state, or federal, could any form or branch of government make any law restricting or prohibiting abortion. We are ignoring for the sake of the argument that the State does in fact have the power to make laws restricting or prohibiting religious practices if they cause harm to individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole. This was, in part, the justification for outlawing plural marriage as practiced among some branches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — "the Mormons."

The point, however, is that if opposition to abortion is a purely religious issue, then support for abortion cannot be a purely civil issue. As a matter of consistency and of common sense, if opposition to abortion is a religious issue, then support for abortion is also a religious issue. Any form of support for abortion by government at any level would necessarily be a violation of the 1st Amendment as it would, in effect, establish a State religion.

No, the only rational approach to the abortion issue is on the basis of civil rights. Why someone opposes or supports abortion is irrelevant, regardless whether someone is a convinced deist who thinks that God has commanded women to have abortions at will, or a devout atheist who believes that the State has no right to make politically-motivated decisions as to who and what constitutes a "person." That being the case, the issue must be handled in the public arena, with both sides accorded equal, not preferential, status and dignity.

Thus, there is currently a movement afoot in a number of states to enact "Personhood Amendments" to their respective constitutions as a prelude to amending the U.S. Constitution to correct the perceived flaws in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. One obvious response, of course, is to point out that, given the proper understanding of the basis and form of the United States government, we don't need to amend the Constitution on this point.

This does not mean that the "Personhood Movement" is useless, wrong-headed, or anything other than a sign that "the people" are becoming sufficiently concerned about the loss of civil rights to organize in social justice and direct their efforts to the reform of the institutions of the common good. This is what Alexis de Tocqueville described as the quintessential characteristic of American life in the 1830s. According to the author of Democracy in America, people did not wait for the State to act, but took matters into their own hands as a matter of course, organized, and addressed social problems by acting directly on the relevant institutions without interference from the State. This sort of thing was so pervasive that de Tocqueville declared that in America the federal government hardly seemed to govern at all.

The mere fact of the Personhood Movement thus suggests — strongly — that there is a growing public perception that something is terribly wrong in how the United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution, the second most important founding document of the United States. The most important document, of course, is the Declaration of Independence, which gives context to and justifies the Constitution. It would be a serious mistake for "the powers that be" to conclude that, because (in their opinion) "Personhood Amendments" have little chance of being enacted, the movement can safely be ignored.

If nothing else, the Personhood Movement focuses attention on the way the Supreme Court, in an exercise of what dissenting Justice Byron R. White declared an exercise of "raw judicial power," has apparently pushed some extremely creative reinterpretations onto the Constitution in furtherance of questionable political ends. The Movement alone may be sufficient, without managing to get any state or federal amendments enacted, to cause our nation's leaders to wake up to the fact that something is seriously wrong in their basic understanding of the role of the State. This, in and of itself, may be enough to persuade our leaders to take steps to correct matters.

What needs amendment and correction, then, is not the wording of the Constitution or any Amendment, but the legal philosophy and moral orientation of the justices on the Supreme Court. There is, after all, no guarantee that, in the event a Personhood Amendment is adopted, the U.S. Supreme Court will change its thinking and interpret a new amendment differently from the understanding the Court has already forced on the rather clear wording of the 14th Amendment by ignoring the 9th and 10th Amendments, leaving the situation unchanged.

Is there, however, a way to change the thinking of the Court and reorient its thinking and philosophy to something more consistent with the natural law basis on which the United States was founded?

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Friday, November 6, 2009

News from the Network, Vol. 2, No. 45

Despite the antics of the stock market and the result of the New Jersey and Virginia elections, a much more important focus is the real economy, not the artificial world of Wall Street or inside the Washington, DC beltway. We are told that jobless claims are down (huzzah), the unemployment rate is up (boo), and "productivity" is up (yay) because employers are laying off workers and forcing the remaining workers to do more with less (drears).

In other words, the situation remains essentially unchanged with respect to the basic problems, and no one seems to be able to suggest anything other than the usual tried-and-failed solutions of the past, only more so.

No one except . . .
• A short time ago we mentioned Michiel Bijkerk of the Netherlands Antilles and editor of the Arco-Carib E-zine had begun his thousand-mile trek on foot to draw attention to the possibilities for economic and political reform found in what he calls "solidarism," and that we call "The Just Third Way." Despite being afflicted with MS, Michiel has been making steady progress through the byways of Cuba since October 13, 2009. His daily reports are being dutifully posted on his Arco-Carib website, and distributed through his e-mail network. Despite the obvious "human interest" aspects of Michiel's trek, his message of hope, and the fact that he's carrying out his self-imposed task in Cuba with enormous difficulty, which usually manages to focus media attention, the media don't appear to be "getting it," possibly because they simply don't understand that there truly is something possible besides the envy-ridden socialist system, and the greed-obsessed capitalist system. If you want to advance the cause of justice in the world, you might want to see what you can do to alert local, national, even international news and media outlets to the story — many media websites have e-mails addresses or "forms" by means of which you can submit story ideas. Direct them to Michiel's website, by means of which they can contact him for information, possibly even an interview. With the internet and modern communications, even a small local radio or television station or newspaper, to say nothing of magazines and blogs, have the capacity — and the need — to report on Michiel's epic trek to publicize the fact that the world doesn't need to be trapped within the two exclusionary systems of capitalism and socialism. Maybe all the media need is a reminder from you. As a hint, not only the "regular" media, but religious publications of all faiths should be interested in what Michiel is doing. That's a hint for you to get busy, and publicize the effort through your network if nothing else.

• In a more mundane and much less spectacular vein, there have been a number of significant meetings this past week on various projects supported by many of the organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, involved in the Global Justice Movement. The meetings are significant, if having substantially less human interest and media appeal than Michiel Bijkerk's heroic effort, so we merely mention that they have taken place.

• A number of members and friends of the Center for Economic and Social Justice, notably Guy Stevenson of Iowa, have been working very hard to open doors for meetings with the media and potential "prime movers" to introduce more people and organizations to the possibilities inherent in the Just Third Way. Guy has been using the "Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism" blog postings — for which he suggested the title — as his "hook," following up with copies of In Defense of Human Dignity that he ordered in bulk from CESJ (available individually from Amazon and Barnes & Noble). (Guy received a full case, 26 copies, a week ago, and has almost run out.) Prospective door openers might want to consider using Michiel's thousand-mile journey as a hook to interest the media and potential prime movers in the potential of solidarism/The Just Third Way to address today's seemingly insolvable economic and political problems. BTW, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen and even William Cobbett's The Emigrant's Guide are also available in bulk quantities — 10 or more — from CESJ at a 20% wholesale discount off the cover price. A case of Capital Homesteading, 32 copies, would be $460.80 plus shipping and handling (available individually from Amazon and Barnes & Noble); The Emigrant's Guide (a "must" for distributists and Chesterton scholars), 30 copies, would be $480.00 plus shipping and handling (ditto, Amazon and Barnes & Noble).

• CESJ's president and the Director of Communications had a telephone interview with a prospective intern from Brigham Young University this week. The interview went very well, with the prospective intern commenting favorably on a number of the components of the Just Third Way, while reserving judgment on some others — an indication of serious interest and true open-mindedness. If your alma mater has an internship program, you might want to consider alerting them to the possibilities offered by a CESJ internship. Obviously, complete agreement with CESJ's principles, even programs and proposals is not a requirement, neither is membership in CESJ. One caveat is that CESJ internships are unpaid as well as very limited in number. One advantage on which nearly all CESJ interns have commented is that no intern has ever had to get coffee or make copies for anyone other than him- or herself. Internships are not limited to college students, although high school students and post graduate individuals might want to consider the regular volunteer program if they do not need academic credits.

• Norman Kurland gave a presentation today via "skype" to approximately 90 high school students in the Humanities program at Mission Viejo High School in Mission Viejo, California. The students are running a mock election for president. The entry of the "American Revolutionary Party" as a "fifth party" in addition to the more usual Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians seems to have confused some supporters of the other, rather ossified parties, who aren't able to come to terms with the ARP's "radical center" position that has the potential to meet liberal ends with conservative means and principles, most notably the natural moral law applied in acts of social justice. What possibly confuses adherents of the other four parties more than anything else is the goal of reducing the State to its proper role and relying on the traditional American principle of free association by citizens at the "lowest" possible level to attain political ends, something described in Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Chapter XII, Volume I: "In no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used, or more unsparingly applied to a multitude of different objects, than in America." You might want to consider arranging to have Norman Kurland address your class or organization via skype, a system available on a global basis.

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 42 different countries and 39 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, the UK, Canada, Aruba, and Brazil. People in Aruba, Uganda, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and the United States spent the most average time on the blog. Recent postings have generated a surprising amount of interest, arguing that people are starting to look for more creative answers to the economic crisis and the general malaise afflicting the world. The postings on "Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism," have now bumped "The Slavery of Past Savings" from the number one spot. followed by the non-published letter to the Wall Street Journal, "Justice, Justice, Thou Shalt Pursue," "What is Natural Law?" and "No One Can Breathe Against Their Will." The focus on the natural moral law and its application to sound solutions for today's problems continues to resonate with our readers.
Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.

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