Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Strange Case of the Ignored Encyclical

On December 23, 1922 Pope Pius XI issued his first encyclical, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, "On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ." Given the number of people who haven't read his landmark Quadragesimo Anno ("On the Restructuring of the Social Order") from 1931, it should come as no surprise that virtually no one seems to have read (or even heard of) Ubi Arcano.

In any event, we can sum up our interest very quickly. As far as we are concerned, the heart of Ubi Arcano is found in § 61: "There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism."

This is a theme that runs through the encyclicals of Pius XI, is found in virtually all those of Leo XIII, and has been continually reiterated in those of succeeding pontiffs. This is the spread of moral relativism, due (according to the popes) entirely to the abandonment of the natural law based on God's Nature, self-realized in His Intellect — or you can use just plain old human nature and your brain without worrying about where it all comes from.

Yes, believe it or not, the pope says you don't have to believe in God or even a god to be able to know the natural law, i.e., right from wrong.  He just thinks it will help you understand things better if you do . . . what, the high priest of a religion should tell you not to believe in his god?  (Pius XII, Humani Generis, §§ 1-2.)

Anyway, as a result of people not using their brains to figure out the difference between right and wrong, they've ended up shifting to someone's (usually their own) private interpretation of something they believe to be God's Will, or whatever they've substituted for God, like the State or the newspaper, but which usually turns out to be (surprise!) their own opinions based on what they want.  Or maybe the Devil made em do it.  ("Em" is the new pronoun replacing the patently offensive "he" or "she" and the ungrammatical "they" for singular references.)

The result has been disastrous for the world. As Heinrich Rommen explained in his book, "The Natural Law,"

"For Duns Scotus morality depends on the will of God. A thing is good not because it corresponds to the nature of God or, analogically, to the nature of man, but because God so wills. Hence the lex naturalis could be other than it is even materially or as to content, because it has no intrinsic connection with God's essence, which is self-conscious in His intellect. For Scotus, therefore, the laws of the second table of the Decalogue were no longer unalterable. . . . an evolution set in which, in the doctrine of William of Occam (d. cir. 1349) [excommunicated in 1326] on the natural moral law, would lead to pure moral positivism, indeed to nihilism. (Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law. Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 51.)

Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the effect Rommen and the popes have noted is the near-total global adherence to the principles of Keynesian economics, the chief tenet of which is that it is impossible to finance new capital formation without first cutting consumption — thereby restricting capital ownership and its benefits to a private elite or a State bureaucracy.  Ownership of capital is only for an elite.  Control of capital is only for the State.  As for the rest of us . . . be happy with your wages from the jobs that are no longer there, and the welfare from the government that can no longer pay.

That is, if you insist on maintaining the traditional understanding of the natural law. Keynes was, however, equal to the challenge. The natural law is getting in the way? Abolish it! Do away with those troublesome inalienable rights like life, liberty and, especially, property. All you have to do is make the State all-powerful, even greater than God, the newspaper or even the internet (but not television), by asserting that the State has the right to "re-edit the dictionary"! Problem solved!

Or not. Some people might have problems with an all-powerful State. Of course, you could always re-examine Keynes's assumption that the only way to finance new capital formation and thus widespread capital ownership is by cutting consumption. That is, in fact, what Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler did, building on the work of Dr. Harold Moulton of the Brookings Institution, presented in The Formation of Capital (1935).

Moulton discovered (or rediscovered, actually) that during periods of rapid economic growth and capital formation the financing did not come from past reductions in consumption, but from future increases in production. It is possible (as people have done for millennia) to draw a contract and use it for money to finance new capital, then redeem the contract out of the profits generated by the very new capital financed with the contract. The vast majority of documents from the ancient world show that this was how financial transactions were carried out for thousands of years before the invention of coinage, or even currency.


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