THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Economics, Part I: Will or Intellect (Again)

Early today we received an e-mail containing a lengthy article on "Easter Economics" by Charles Clark, composed in memory of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. We found we could agree with a great deal that was in the article, at least all that related to statements of fact or quoted various declarations from the Catholic Church. We had problems, however, with the other things Mr. Clark said.

The problem comes in when Mr. Clark imposes a faith-based analysis and an a priori conclusion based on personal opinion, on Catholic social teachings promulgated under a mandate to apply the principles of human reason as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas. This mandate is contained, among other sources, in the encyclicals Æterni Patris (1879), Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), Studiorum Ducem (1923), and Veritatis Splendor (1993).

By redefining basic concepts such as the natural rights to life, liberty, and property, Mr. Clark and others not only change the "rules of the game" without notifying the other players, they change what it means for a thing to be a natural right. Basing their conclusions on faith instead of reason (or, as St. Thomas would put it, on a private interpretations of God's Will rather than the common consent of all mankind as to what we can perceive of God's Intellect), the entire second table of the Law of Moses (accepted by both Christians and Jews as an expression of the natural law) becomes subject to change and reinterpretation. This is just as Dr. Heinrich Rommen, the noted student of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., Ph.D. (sometimes described as the founder of "solidarist economics"), claimed inevitably happens in his book on the natural law:
With Duns Scotus (d. cir. 1308), and with the principle of the primacy of the will over the intellect so much emphasized by him, there began inside moral philosophy a train of thought which in later centuries would recur in secularized form in the domain of legal philosophy. The principle that law is will would be referred in legal positivism, as well as in the theory of will in jurisprudence, to the earthly lawmaker (self-obligation).

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) on the natural moral law, would lead to pure moral positivism, indeed to nihilism." (The Natural Law, pp. 51-52)
As Dr. Rommen describes Occam's contribution to this process,
For Occam the natural moral law is positive law, divine will. An action is not good because of its suitableness to the essential nature of man, wherein God's archetypal idea of man is represented according to being and oughtness, but because God so wills. God's will could also have willed and decreed the precise opposite, which would then possess the same binding force as that which is now valid — which, indeed, has validity only as long as God's absolute will so determines. Law is will, pure will without any foundation in reality, without foundation in the essential nature of things. Thus, too, sin no longer contains any intrinsic element of immorality, or what is unjust, any inner element of injustice; it is an external offense against the will of God.

As a result, Occam, who sees only individual phenomena, not universals, the concepts of essences, can likewise admit no teleological orientation toward God is inherent in all creation and especially in man; or at least he cannot grant that it can be known. The unity of being, truth, and goodness does not exist for him. Moral goodness consists in mere external agreement with God's absolute will, which, subject only to His arbitrary decree, can always change. (Ibid., 52-53)
If we then — contrary to explicit instructions given by the popes on how to understand Catholic social teaching — take the Will as the basis of natural law instead of the Intellect, nothing is certain. Everything becomes subject to change. The effect is to change the basis of the natural law from reason to faith. This goes from the traditional faith and reason joined together, each one illuminating the other, to forcing a choice that has vested the modern world with acute schizophrenia and posited an irreconcilable difference between science and religion: faith or reason. This schizophrenia is evident in Mr. Clark's analysis:
The Catholic social thought tradition also has a very different conception of equity. The basis of equity in Catholic social thought is the common gift of the earth from God. Thus the minimum equity criteria is that all have a share in this gift so that each will be able to meet their basic, minimum needs. "God destined the earth and all that it contains for the use of all people and peoples. Furthermore, the right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one's family belongs to everyone" (Vatican II, in Dorr, 1992, p. 154). This is not a claim for perfect equality, but that all be insured a decent standard of living. This claim is also put forward in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Mr. Clark states that, "The basis of equity in Catholic social thought is the common gift of the earth from God. Thus the minimum equity criteria is that all have a share in this gift so that each will be able to meet their basic, minimum needs." By inserting "common" into the discussion in a way never intended by the Catholic Church, Mr. Clark changes the thrust of millennia of natural law theory from, "each human being has, in common with all other human beings, the right to acquire and possess the goods of the earth" (the "analogy of being"), to "each human being must possess an equitable portion of the goods of the world that all own in common" (a restatement of the socialist dictum, "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" — a principle valid for charity, not for justice).

Thus, by misunderstanding essential concepts of natural law, the stated basis for Catholic social teaching, Mr. Clark seems effectively to interpret the passage "the right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one's family belongs to everyone" as meaning the same as "a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one's family belongs to everyone." The passages, however, are different. The latter removes the concept of right, and eliminates the critical distinction between "access" (opportunity) and "use" (exercise). Misunderstanding or reinterpreting what constitutes a "right" changes everything, so that what might seem to Mr. Clark as saying the same thing, actually says two very different things.

By thereby implicitly redefining the right of universal access to the goods of the earth found in the Bible, Catholic social teaching, and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mr. Clark implies that a redistribution of the goods of the world based on need, instead of a redistribution of opportunity to acquire and possess the goods of the world, supplemented by charitable redistribution in the event of failure, is the objective of Catholic social teaching. This is not the case, as we will explain tomorrow.