Monday, September 10, 2012

Distributism Yet Again, II: The "Catholic System"?

One of the more irritating habits of the neo-distributist is the snarky way so many of them have of either suggesting or declaring outright that distributism is a (or, more offensively, the) Catholic system. This shifts the basis of economics from reason and ethical philosophy (morality), to faith in a particular religious revelation.

That is, something is right not because of its inherent goodness, but because you have interpreted something you believe to be from God as a command to do thus-and-so, whether it makes sense or not — that is, the basis of the natural law is shifted from God's unchanging and unchangeable Nature, self-realized in His Intellect, to a private (and possible irrational or insane) interpretation of something you believe to be God's expressed Will.

This is a disaster. "Good" becomes whatever the person with the biggest club says it is. The Leviathan State takes over, and humanity is condemned to perpetual slavery. As Heinrich Rommen explained,

"The perpetual and primary question for the essence of law, alternating between the propositions, 'law is reason' and 'law is will,' was then in opposition to St. Thomas answered by 'law is predominantly will.' If adherents of this school adopt Occam's blunt statement that law is will, then the essence of natural law vanishes. Ethics loses its basis of natural reason and becomes positivist. A rather futile and strange discussion may begin about the question, whether God, in order to be really omnipotent, must be able to will the hatred of Himself. If God's omnipotence was thus exalted the consequence had to be and has been a kind of nihilism in natural ethics, a transformation of the fides rationalis into an emotional faith of sentiment, the negation of natural theology and a one-sided supernaturalism. All too easily the world of politics and economics is then left to itself. This consequence tends to make the Church an obedient instrument of the State, which has the monopoly of nature, world, and power." (Heinrich Rommen, The State in Catholic Thought. St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder Book Company, 1947, 17-18.)

Logically, then, the Church does not and cannot endorse any specific economic model — including distributism. The only question is what system best conforms to Catholic social teaching and respects human dignity and integrates the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.

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