A Blog of the Global Justice Movement

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Death of Reason, IV: How Not to Make Your Case

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Recently we posted our reasons why we chose not to review John Mueller’s book, Redeeming Economics (2010).  In retrospect, we probably could have made everyone’s life a little easier by demanding that if you expect us to review a book, the least you can do is send us a complimentary copy.  It wouldn’t even have to be new, just as long as it is legible.

Instead, we gave our reasons why — based on the comments made by the, er, commentator — why we didn’t feel like reviewing the book.  After all, if you want people to do something (such as read a book), you really should give them valid reasons for doing it.  It pays to advertise, and no one ever makes a sale by calling a prospective customer names or threatening him.

Needless to say, we got one or two additional comments from various sources chastising us for not reviewing the book, and for taking the advertising at face value.  As one AD (“Additional Commentator”) stated,

I have a couple of problems with your post about John Mueller’s book. First, as you admit, you have taken the commentator’s words and put them in the mouth of Mr. Mueller. I’ve read about Mr. Mueller’s book and it would very much surprise me if the author misapplies the natural law. (See isi.org/books) It sounds like a great intro to economic theory as the author, in promoting the book, talks about the importance of studying economic history, and how, as an econometrician, he compared the logical and mathematical structures of scholastic, classical, and neoclassical economics. Here is a little excerpt from the ISI book description: ‘Since the great Adam Smith tore down this pillar of economic thought, economic theory has had no way to account for a fundamental aspect of human experience: the social relationships that define us, the loves (and hates) that motivate and distinguish us as persons. In trying to reduce human behavior to mere exchanges, modern economists have lost sight of how these essential motivations are expressed: as gifts (or their opposite, crimes). Mueller makes economics whole again, masterfully reapplying economic thought as articulated by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.’”

Now, keep in mind what we wrote in yesterday’s posting about reaching conclusions based on the evidence and argument (empirical validity and logical consistency) in a criminal investigation or philosophical (or any other kind of) debate instead of simply spouting an opinion.

First, did you notice the subtle twisting of our position?  “First, as you admit, you have taken the commentator’s words and put them in the mouth of Mr. Mueller.”

We did no such thing.  We attributed to Doctor (or Mr.) Mueller no words at all.  We said that, assuming the description of the book is accurate, here’s why we don’t feel it’s worth reading.  If anyone put words into anyone’s mouth, it was the person who originally asked us if we had reviewed the book.  We relied on that individual’s representations about the book, admitted that we relied on those representations, and explained as clearly as we could that we made our decision based on those representations.

Is this dishonest?  Not according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.  Every CPA’s opinion that relies on representations of management must state that the CPA relied on management’s representations in rendering the opinion, not direct observation.  Nothing is hidden or dishonest.  If the case is otherwise than management represented, the one making the accusation must be prepared to present evidence and argument and prove his claim.  You cannot automatically assume that someone is dishonest or wrong because you disagree with him.

Second, this commentator states, “I’ve read about Mr. Mueller’s book and it would very much surprise me if the author misapplies the natural law.”  [Emphasis on the original.] Here’s someone who (like us) has not read the book but has read about the book.  Nevertheless — going far beyond our opinion based on the representations made by the first commentator — he is willing to state that “it would very much surprise [him] if the author misapplies the natural law.”

Argument?  Proof?  No — unsupported opinion.  The quote about the book from the ISI website does not support the second commentator’s assertions about Mueller and the natural law — just the opposite, in fact.  Thus — assuming that the ISI description of Mueller’s book is accurate — we are more convinced than ever it is not worth reading. Mueller evidently attempts to redefine the basis of civil society from justice to charity, or from contract to status.

Under the natural law, human society is divided into three discrete societies, civil (State), religious (Church) and domestic (Family).  Each of these is governed by its own special applications of the natural law, depending on and derived from the immediate “end” of that society.  Mueller makes the mistake of applying the principles that govern domestic society to civil society.

This is what Thomas Hobbes did in Leviathan by asserting that God divinely ordains the sovereign as the literal (if not biological) father of the nation, thereby empowered to govern under the principles of paternal justice. This is, in fact, why Sir Robert Filmer’s defense of divine right (ably refuted by St. Robert Bellarmine) is called “Patriarcha.”

By shifting the basis of civil society from the justice that governs the behavior of independent others amongst themselves, to that which governs the behavior of principals to dependents, i.e., parents to children or masters to slaves, Mueller commits the error against which Pius XII warned in Humani Generis.

The end result of attempting to mix apples and oranges, so to speak, that is, attempting to apply the standards that govern relationships between principal (parent/master) and dependent (child/slave) under domestic (paternal) justice based on differences in status, to relationships between presumably independent others of equal status, and thus necessarily governed by contract, is to undermine the whole of the natural law.

Mueller does this by redefinition of fundamental rights that define us as persons, twisting them out of context and misapplying them. As both Heinrich Rommen and Mortimer Adler point out (and as history has shown) this leads straight to totalitarianism.

You cannot — repeat, cannot — redefine a basic postulate of natural law and the fundamental building block of civil society, viz. the natural rights of life, liberty (freedom of association/contract), access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property, and the pursuit of happiness (acquiring and developing virtue), and expect to end up with anything other than the Servile State, with those in control of distributions the masters, and everyone else their slaves.

This is one of the primary reasons why Pius XII identified what Mueller and others have attempted to do as the greatest threat to Catholic doctrine in the world today.

By making some people dependent on others for what they receive on a permanent basis, you institute effective slavery. Slaves by definition have no virtue and thus no rights — yet the only reason we have life itself is to acquire and develop virtue through the exercise of our natural rights, thereby fitting us for our final end.

In short, Mueller — consciously or not — takes the Keynesian “shortcut” and “re-edits the dictionary” with respect to the fundamental precepts of the natural law as they apply to civil society.

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