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.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Of Distributism and Dissent

For those of you who care (and we would be surprised if there were very many), the Chestertonian Community (i.e., fans of the English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1874-1936) sustained a shock on the order of 7.3 on the Richter Scale this past Friday.  It seems that His Excellency (or His Lordship; we aren’t up on the latest ecclesiastical lingo in the U.K.) Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton in England, which was Chesterton’s home diocese, put the kibosh on Chesterton’s “cause” for canonization.

Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton
In plain English, Bishop Doyle reported that, following an official investigation, there was in his opinion insufficient evidence to proceed with the process.  It does not mean that Chesterton is not in heaven or a “saint,” as the Catholic Church puts it.  It just means that the official word is that there is insufficient reason to carry out an expensive and time-consuming process.  Chestertonians can continue to think what they want, but they have to acknowledge that there is no official sanction for their opinion.
And that gripes the, er, heck out of some of them.  A few are claiming the bishop has made false accusations against Chesterton.  One or two got even nastier.  A goodly number vow to carry on the fight, and so on.
So, what has this got to do with the Just Third Way?
Quite  bit, actually.  First, for decades we have contended that there is no effective difference between distributism as Chesterton and his confrere Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc (1870-1953) understood it and the Just Third Way.  Of course, we have also claimed that the Just Third Way is fully consistent with Catholic social teaching and that of any other faith or philosophy grounded in natural law.
Pope Saint John Paul II
At the same time we have been informed by experts in distributism in no uncertain terms that, no, the Just Third Way is not compatible with distributism, Catholic social teaching, or anything else in this Vale of Tears we call temporal reality.  The fact that a canonized saint (Pope John Paul II) gave his personal encouragement for our ideas and proposals and advocated their implementation on at least three separate occasions, a U.S. president (Ronald Reagan) gave us his endorsement, and that we have a few tons of endorsements as well as millions of people (yes, millions) who have benefited from a partial and incomplete implementation of the Just Third Way is not something the presumed experts consider relevant, any more than the fact that not one of them, nor anyone else, including two (yes, two) Nobel Laureates (yes, Nobel Laureates — Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman) has been able to say specifically what is wrong with anything we say.
We have, in strict fact, been accused by some of these experts of “dissenting” from the Catholic faith in the areas of economic and social justice . . . a claim utterly ludicrous on two counts.  One, CESJ is not a Catholic or even a religious organization, although we acknowledge God in our Core Values.  How we are supposed to be dissenting from something that has no direct relevance to matters of faith or morals is a complete mystery to us.
Pope Leo XIII
Two, while CESJ claims consistency with the principles of Catholic social teaching, we disagree on some of the specific applications — for which we present argument and evidence.  For example, in § 46 of Rerum Novarum Pope Leo XIII stated that as many as possible of the people should prefer to own capital, and he suggested that workers be paid more so they could save and purchase some land.
We say that as many as possible of the people should prefer to own capital (so far, so good), but state that in our opinion it is better that workers as well as everyone else (why limit ownership to just workers?) should be able to purchase any kind of capital and pay for it out of the future profits of the capital itself.
DISSENT!! shriek the experts.  The pope specifically said to pay people more.  Anything else constitutes dissent from papal teaching . . . at least, in the opinion of the experts.
Another example, closer to our day?  How about the 1986 U.S. Bishops’ pastoral on the economy, Economic Justice for All?  We have taken issue with some of the specifics in the document; they seem a trifle naïve at times, and the committee that put together the final draft completely ignored the input of some very qualified people, particularly concerning their concept of social justice and specific applications of economic justice.
Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.
CESJ co-founder and social justice expert Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., referred to as “the U.S.’s greatest social philosopher” on his death in 1985, and his fellow co-founder, Dr. Norman G. Kurland, ESOP inventor Louis Kelso’s Washington Counsel, referred to as “the leading ESOP philosopher” and “a one-man lobbying organization for the Kelso ideas,” both testified in September 1984 before the Lay Commission on the Economy . . . and were ignored.  An acknowledged expert in the social doctrine of Pope Pius XI, Father Ferree in particular was harshly critical of the draft of the pastoral he saw before he died, and which remained largely unaltered in its final form.
Do we dissent from the pastoral?  If by “dissent” you mean we think it did not go far enough, it left out some important issues, the applications described were inadequate at best, and a number of other issues, then, yes, we “dissent” from the document.  If, however, by “dissent” you mean we disagree with the underlying principles of charity and justice, however poorly understood (Father Ferree’s opinion) or applied (Dr. Kurland’s opinion), then, no, we do not “dissent.”  We think the document could — and should — have been much better than it was, but we do not reject the fundamental principles involved.  How they were applied is another matter altogether.
Dr. Norman G. Kurland
At the heart of the decision of the Bishop of Northampton, however, and the reaction of a number of Chestertonians is not a matter of applying a principle, but of principle, specifically the authority of a bishop in his own bailiwick and area of expertise.  There seems to be an attitude among some that obedience to authority is only legitimate when you agree with it . . . which sort of takes away the character of virtue, and that if the bishop doesn’t accept their position he is wrong.  That this attitude in and of itself might have contributed to the negative decision is something we will look at in tomorrow's posting.