Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Death of Reason, XII: Civil v. Domestic Society

The author of this blog series wishes to state for the record that it is purely coincidental that this blog series started out using Richard III as a hook.  The posting on January 16, 2013 was clearly written prior to the announcement this week that "they" (i.e., the people who were looking for it) found the grave of Richard III.

Anyway, the title of this particular posting is more than a little misleading, but at least it has the advantage of being short and to the point.  And what is the point?  That another way John Mueller’s book, Redeeming Economics, undermines the natural law is to misapply the principles governing domestic society (the Family), in which distributions are based on need, to civil society (the State), in which distributions are based on equality or proportionality of exchange.

Yesterday we looked at what we should have addressed in our response to Mueller’s defender.  Today we look at what we did address.  Nevertheless, even though today’s posting is an incomplete response, it must have satisfied the commentator, for he said he would be back “later today,” and that was quite a while ago, at least as the internet measures time, and — like Charlie on theMTA — he never returned.

We take as our starting point the phrase in the ISI description, “In trying to reduce human behavior to mere exchanges.”

Human relationships in civil society are governed by the natural rights of life, liberty (freedom of association/contract), property, and the “pursuit of happiness,” i.e., the acquisition and development of virtue primarily through the exercise of our natural rights.

By disparaging “exchanges” — contracts — in civil society as “mere,” Mueller (or his publicist — presumably at his direction) implicitly dismisses the important of freedom of association — the right to enter into contractual relationships freely.  This, as Pius XI insisted, is essential to the establishment and maintenance of a just social order.  Denigrating contract also renders private property — and charity itself — meaningless, for how can you be said to own something to which another has a claim, or give away something you don’t really own?

By subordinating participation in economic life on the basis of contract (proportional or direct equality of exchange) to participation on the basis of status (need/charity), Mueller forces a condition of dependency on most human beings . . . for their own good, of course.  As C. S. Lewis explained in God in the Dock, however,

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Forcing a condition of dependency on others makes the personality of those others conditional.  It undermines the natural law by asserting a change in essential human nature, considered by Catholics to be a reflection of God’s unchanging and unchangeable Nature (“Image and Likeness”).

A “person” is that which has rights. A “natural person” has rights by nature. Denying the importance of these natural rights of life, liberty (freedom of association/contract), property and pursuit of happiness, Mueller would create a society of masters and slaves — a slave is defined as a human being without rights, and thus without the capacity to acquire and develop virtue.



Baseball Billy said...

Hey Michael, This is the man who never returned. (I like that song.) Or it's one such man. Maybe you use this humorous tag whenever someone doesn't get back to the argument according to your idea of timeliness. I am a dime short, so I'm still not here. The dime is the book by Mr. Mueller, the one that seems to have grabbed your attention since January 9th because it (supposedly) distorts the natural law.

Michael D. Greaney said...

Yes, I've read the book, and it performs as advertized. Mueller redefines humanity on page 2, thereby violating the first principle of reason: the law of contradiction/identity, and effectively abolishing the natural law. I am currently working on an article/review of the book, showing why breaking the rules in this way is something Aquinas described as "mental suicide", as Venerable Fulton Sheen translated it. Sheen and G. K. Chesterton addressed this issue and why it was so critical. Ironically, Mueller is a founder of the Chesterton Institute, but appears to have ignored the warnings Chesterton gave on this very subject.

Baseball Billy said...

The term "mere exchanges", I'm thinking, is used to imply that there is more to the political economy than exchanges. Isn't there also production, distribution, and consumption? Also consider that in our (CESJ) booklet by Father Ferree, it says something about our responsibility for contributing to the common good being greater than our responsibility to live up to our duties in exchanges; in other words, social justice (or, maybe, distributive justice) is more important than commutative justice. BOTH ARE IMPORTANT! (Let me know if you can't find this in the booklet; I can't find the paragraph right now.) Another thought I have is something I read in the catechism earlier today that you might be overlooking: "The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons ... This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated in love.

Michael D. Greaney said...

As Pius XI made clear in Quadragesimo Anno, the whole of a just civil society is built on "mere exchanges" — liberty, that is, freedom of association/contract, which can only take place between persons of equal status. (QA, § 87.) The act of social justice relies on this freedom of association/contract not only to be effective, but to exist at all. It is not coincidental that freedom of association/contract is a natural right; efforts to circumvent it necessarily lead into what Hilaire Belloc called the Servile State.

The "job" of social justice is not to replace the functioning of commutative or distributive justice, but to enable them. Commutative and distributive justice (individual justice) are directed at the good of individuals. Social justice, in contrast, is directed at the common good: humanity's analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue. This good common to all humanity manifests itself as the vast network of institutions — laws, customs, traditions (social habits entered into on the basis of contractual relationships) within which natural persons exercise their individual rights, build habits of doing good (virtues) and thereby become more fully human.

The key to understanding this is to realize, with Aristotle, that "man is by nature a political animal." This is a possibly unique thing in all creation, for it signifies the exercise of individual rights within a social context. Humanity is not merely individual, and not merely social (as Mueller ultimately concludes by redefining liberty and property), but political.