Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Enthusiasm!


Item Number 6 on the CESJ Code of Ethics is Enthusiasm.  As the Code states, Fear not the heat, excitement or intensity of debate. This passion is healthy and natural for those committed to the pursuit of the Truth. Don’t throw cold water on the normal exhilaration and emotions people feel when they are reaching out to the borders of reason and new ideas.”

We’re not going to talk about that today.  Instead, we are going to use a different definition of enthusiasm, one that is nowhere near as good as the positive thing in the CESJ Code of Ethics.

We’re taking a look at how many people today understand economic and social justice.  This is viewed through the analytical lens provided by Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957) in his book, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.)

All this came about because somebody asked us our opinion about a film and a statement issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Some people might wonder why we, a non-religious organization, should be concerned with such things.  We answer that all of this is presumably based on the natural law common to all humanity, which makes it our concern.

Both the film and the statement are, in our opinion, near-textbook examples of what Knox called “enthusiasm”: an excess of charity that threatens unity (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 1) . . . which probably explains why Knox is the forgotten member of the Chesterton-Knox-Sheen "Reason Triumvirate.Chesterton was entertaining and witty about everyday life, Sheen was charismatic and witty about everyday faith, while Knox was scholarly and witty about things nobody knows a damned thing about — or cares.

Again, we're not talking good enthusiasm here, but misdirected enthusiasm, which can be extremely damaging.

Both the film and the statement are based on assumptions derived from the changes that Monsignor John A. Ryan introduced into the concept of distributive justice.  These are, in turn, based on the principal error of modernism, the shift in the basis of the natural law from what we discern by “the force and light of human reason,” to faith (Pascendi Dominici Gregis, § 6).  Instead of being built on a foundation of reason, and enlightening and guiding reason (Summa, Ia, q. 1, a. 1), faith ends up contradicting reason, and charity ends up contradicting justice.

The natural law and the supernatural law become confused, with the inevitable consequence that the State subsumes organized religion (establishment of religion as a branch of government, e.g., the Church of England), or organized religion takes over the State (e.g., the push for a new Caliphate in some Islamic countries).

What Pope Leo XIII saw as the ideal model for Church/State relations in the United States, what we can call “good Americanism” (cf. Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae), is tossed aside.  Shifting to faith instead of reason as the basis of the natural law, and thus of human positive law, as many popes, Franz Mueller, Heinrich Rommen, Mortimer Adler, and others have agreed, is the foundation for totalitarianism.

According to Msgr. Ryan, natural rights are not inalienable, that is, they are not part of human nature itself.  Instead, like the supernatural rights with which they are confused, they are infused into human nature, and are revocable if they are not justified by the needs of the right holder (thereby contradicting the fact that God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable, Romans 11:29).  As Msgr. Ryan declared, “They [natural rights] are essential to the welfare of a human being, a person. They exist and are sacred and inviolable because the welfare of the person exists.” (John A. Ryan, A Living Wage. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1906, 48.)

Msgr. Ryan’s error here is extremely subtle — and dangerous.  According to him, we do not have natural rights because we are human beings (the Aristotelian-Thomist principle), but because we need rights for our welfare, a distortion of Platonic-Augustinian philosophy (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 580).  Carried to its logical conclusion, if our welfare does not require certain rights, then, according to Msgr. Ryan, we do not have those rights (Ryan, A Living Wage, op. cit., 45); inalienable rights can therefore be alienated when that alienation is deemed useful or expedient.

What happens then, as Knox pointed out, is that the concepts of right and justice, truth and falsehood, even faith and charity become perverted.  “Rights” are only for the godly or those deemed worthy.  No one else has rights.  (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 584-585).

The logical conclusions to Msgr. Ryan’s changes in the natural law, while widely accepted today, are, frankly, terrifying.  The natural rights to life, liberty, and, most immediately, property become revocable at the will of whoever has the power to take them away:

·      • If your life is not worth living, as Binding and Hoche argued in Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens (1920), “Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life”, that is, if your welfare or that of the community is better served if you are put mercifully to death or not permitted to be born, then you lose the right to life.

·      • If you use your liberty (freedom of association) in ways contrary to “sound popular feeling” even if you break no existing law, you lose the right to be free, as happened in Nazi Germany following the “reforms” of the legal system and the adoption of the Nuremburg Laws.  (Vide George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, Third Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961, 918-919; cf. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, II.22.)

·    • If you have “too much wealth,” and refuse to “gift” others with what they need, you are guilty of a crime, an offense against the State (vide John Mueller, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2010, 2; cf. Michael Naughton, The Logic of Gift: Rethinking Business as a Community of Persons. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University Press, 2012), and lose the right to own, i.e., private property.

Unfortunately, as is clear from Economic Justice for All (1986) and Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2011), as well as other statements and programs, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken Msgr. Ryan’s changes to the presumably unchanging and unchangeable truths of the natural law (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 53) as both normative and prescriptive.  This is not merely “dangerous,” but disastrous, however small or unimportant it might seem to those suffused with an excess of charity.

The whole orientation appears to contradict fundamental principles of natural law, and thus Catholic (or any other Aristotelian-based) social teaching.  As Aquinas declared in the opening of his treatise On Being and Essence, seemingly small errors quickly grow enormous (§ 1).

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