Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Politicization of the Magisterium by Ideology: Weigel and Novak

I have been informed that the provenance of this first posting was not authored by George Weigel, but is a satirical caricature by certain blog writers at "Vox Nova" of Weigel's National Review piece which is posted immediately afterwards. However, it does make the point of the politicization of the Magisterium. Up front and immediately below, I post an apposite portion of Lumen Gentium #25 as magisterium on the authority of the Magisterium.

"This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated" - Dogmatic Constitution on the Church #25 (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21 November, 1964).


The Good Pope and the Bad Advisers —

A Fable about George Weigel

Once upon a time there was a good pope called John Paul II. He was very good and everybody loved him. Well, almost everybody. There was a sneaky group of bad people called the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and they were very powerful under previous popes. In fact, they were so powerful that they persuaded Pope Paul VI to issue a really bad document called Populorum Progressio, and this document is an “odd duck…clouded by then-popular leftist and progressive conceptions about the problem of Third World poverty, its causes, and its remedies.” In other words, it was very bad.

Then along came good Pope John Paul II. But the bad people at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace were very cunning. They whispered in the pope’s ear, and he allowed them to guide his encyclical called Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, and the result was not good. And so when it came time for his next encyclical, John Paul was ready. Justice and Peace sent him a text. But John Paul stood up to them. He ripped up their text, and started from scratch. The result was Centesimus Annus , the greatest document ever produced by the Church. It said that there was no more “third way” between capitalism and socialism, but that capitalism was the only way. But it also a very long document, so its best to read it in the abridged version, and the best abridged form is the one written by Richard John Neuhaus, and myself, George Weigel. This abridged version strips all the influence of Justice and Peace from the document. Yes, for even though John Paul cast these treacherous advisers away, they used magic to get into his dreams, and some of their bad ideas made it into the document, even though the pope never even knew it. This is why you need the abridged version.

Justice and Peace was angry. Very angry. Skulking in the darkest corners of the Vatican, they plotted their revenge. With an evil cackle, they hatched their malicious plots. And when John Paul died and Benedict was elected pope, they saw their opening. “Your Holinessss,” they whispered, “don’t you think you should issue a document to mark the anniversary of that great encyclical, Populorum Progressio? We could help you, you know, it would be your greatest achievement ever, Holinessss,”. Pope Benedict saw the evil gleam in their eyes and he was most disturbed. They gave him a document, but he said no. He did not trust them. They hissed in frustration, but held back their anger. They handed him a second document, and he rejected it again. They tried a third time, and again the answer was no.

Ever the kind old man, the pope did not want to hurt their feelings. So he told a little white lie. “My friends,” he said, “the world is going through the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. We need to reflect more on that before we write the document”. Of course, there was no such “economic crisis” (these things cannot happen in capitalism after all, unless the evil government messes it up). But the advisers were not very bright, and they believed him. And so they kept plotting.

And so Pope Benedict, like John Paul before him, set out to write the document be wanted to write. But Benedict was a kindly old man, a “truly gentle soul”, and he took pity on Justice and Peace. “Why,” he said to his cat, “these poor men have put so much effort into this, I must give them something.” And so he did, but he was very clever. In his own hand, he wrote in a gold pen, a gold as bright as the shining sun. What they gave him, he wrote with a red pen, a red the color of blood. And so he created a long encyclical called Caritas in Veritate. People were confused by the two voices, and thought it was a “duck-billed platypus”. But Benedict knew that if people read the document clearly enough, they would understand the difference between the gold and the red. They would know that his own contributions were “strong and compelling” and that the other stuff was “incomprehensible”, “clotted and muddled”, full of silliness about the redistribution of wealth, and calling for dangerous transnational governance. He knew they would figure it out, helped of course by guides like yours truly.

And so, the evil advisers at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace read the encyclical with glee, and saw their words in bright red. “We have won,” the exclaimed, saliva dripping from their yellow teeth, “red means it’s really important…we have had our revenge. Hahahahahaha…” But Pope Benedict only smiled. He knew that their sections were so incoherent, so impenetrable that they sounded less like a trumpet than the “warbling of an untuned piccolo”. Let them have their untuned piccolo, thought Benedict. Let them think they have won. In reality I have vanquished them, and they don’t even know it. Now, if only they hadn’t persuaded me to oppose the Iraq war….

The End.


Caritas in Veritate in Gold and Red

The revenge of Justice and Peace (or so they may think).

By George Weigel

In the often unpredictable world of the Vatican, it was as certain as anything could be in mid-1990 that there would be a 1991 papal encyclical to commemorate the centenary of Rerum Novarum — the 1891 letter of Leo XIII that is rightly regarded as the Magna Carta of modern Catholic social doctrine. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which imagines itself the curial keeper of the flame of authentic Catholic social teaching, prepared a draft, which was duly sent to Pope John Paul II — who had already had a bad experience with the conventionally gauchiste and not-very-original thinking at Justice and Peace during the preparation of the 1987 social encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. John Paul shared the proposed draft with colleagues in whose judgment he reposed trust; one prominent intellectual who had long been in conversation with the Pope told him that the draft was unacceptable, in that it simply did not reflect the way the global economy of the post–Cold War world worked.

So John Paul dumped the Justice and Peace draft and crafted an encyclical that was a fitting commemoration of
Rerum Novarum. For Centesimus Annus not only summarized deftly the intellectual structure of Catholic social doctrine since Leo XIII; it proposed a bold trajectory for the further development of this unique body of thought, emphasizing the priority of culture in the threefold free society (free economy, democratic polity, vibrant public moral culture). By stressing human creativity as the source of the wealth of nations, Centesimus Annus also displayed a far more empirically acute reading of the economic signs of the times than was evident in the default positions at Justice and Peace. Moreover, Centesimus Annus jettisoned the idea of a “Catholic third way” that was somehow “between” or “beyond” or “above” capitalism and socialism — a favorite dream of Catholics ranging from G. K. Chesterton to John A. Ryan and Ivan Illich.

It was, in a word, a rout — the
Waterloo for Justice and Peace. Ever since, Justice and Peace — which may forgive but certainly does not forget — has been pining for revenge.

It didn’t get it during the last years of the pontificate of John Paul II, despite efforts to persuade the Pope to mark the 30th anniversary of Paul VI’s 1967 social encyclical,
Populorum Progressio, with a major statement — or, when that stratagem failed, to mark Populorum Progressio’s 35th anniversary. Evidently incapable of taking “No” for an answer, Justice and Peace kept beavering away, with an eye toward Populorum Progressio’s 40th anniversary in 2007. It is one of the worst-kept secrets in Rome that at least two drafts of such an encyclical, and perhaps three, were rejected by Pope Benedict XVI.

That Justice and Peace should imagine a
Populorum Progressio anniversary encyclical as the vehicle for its counterattack against Centesimus Annus is itself instructive. For in the long line of papal social teaching running from Rerum Novarum to Centesimus Annus, Populorum Progressio is manifestly the odd duck, both in its intellectual structure (which is barely recognizable as in continuity with the framework for Catholic social thought established by Leo XIII and extended by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno) and in its misreading of the economic and political signs of the times (which was clouded by then-popular leftist and progressive conceptions about the problem of Third World poverty, its causes, and its remedies). Centesimus Annus implicitly recognized these defects, not least by arguing that poverty in the Third World and within developed countries today is a matter of exclusion from global networks of exchange in a dynamic economy (which put the moral emphasis on strategies of wealth creation, empowerment of the poor, and inclusion), rather than a matter of First World greed in a static economy (which would put the moral emphasis on redistribution of wealth). Interestingly enough, Paul VI himself had recognized that Populorum Progressio had misfired in certain respects, being misread in some quarters as a tacit papal endorsement of violent revolution in the name of social justice. Pope Paul tried a course correction in the 1971 apostolic letter, Octogesima Adveniens, another Rerum Novarum anniversary document.

Now comes
Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Benedict XVI’s long-awaited and much-delayed social encyclical. It seems to be a hybrid, blending the pope’s own insightful thinking on the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to Catholic social doctrine, which imagines that doctrine beginning anew at Populorum Progressio. Indeed, those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker. The net result is, with respect, an encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.

The clearly Benedictine passages in
Caritas in Veritate follow and develop the line of John Paul II, particularly in the new encyclical’s strong emphasis on the life issues (abortion, euthanasia, embryo-destructive stem-cell research) as social-justice issues — which Benedict cleverly extends to the discussion of environmental questions, suggesting as he does that people who don’t care much about unborn children are unlikely to make serious contributions to a human ecology that takes care of the natural world. The Benedictine sections in Caritas in Veritate are also — and predictably — strong and compelling on the inherent linkage between charity and truth, arguing that care for others untethered from the moral truth about the human person inevitably lapses into mere sentimentality.

But herein lies the problem: what does it mean “to be more”? Paul VI answers the question by indicating the essential quality of “authentic” development: it must be “integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man”[42]. Amid the various competing anthropological visions put forward in today's society, even more so than in Paul VI's time, the Christian vision has the particular characteristic of asserting and justifying the unconditional value of the human person and the meaning of his growth. The Christian vocation to development helps to promote the advancement of all men and of the whole man.

The encyclical rightly, if gingerly, suggests that thug-governments in the Third World have more to do with poverty and hunger than a lack of international development aid; recognizes that catastrophically low birth rates are creating serious global economic problems (although this point may not be as well developed as it was in previous essays from Joseph Ratzinger); sharply criticizes international aid programs tied to mandatory contraception and the provision of “reproductive health services” (the U.N. euphemism for abortion-on-demand); and neatly ties religious freedom to economic development. All of this is welcome, and all of it is manifestly Benedict XVI, in continuity with John Paul II and his extension of the line of papal argument inspired by Rerum Novarum in Centesimus Annus, Evangelium Vitae (the 1995 encyclical on the life issues), and Ecclesia in Europa (the 2003 apostolic exhortation on the future of Europe).

But then there are those passages to be marked in red — the passages that reflect Justice and Peace ideas and approaches that Benedict evidently believed he had to try and accommodate. Some of these are simply incomprehensible, as when the encyclical states that defeating
Third World poverty and underdevelopment requires a “necessary openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion.” This may mean something interesting; it may mean something naïve or dumb. But, on its face, it is virtually impossible to know what it means.

The encyclical includes a lengthy discussion of “gift” (hence “gratuitousness”), which, again, might be an interesting attempt to apply to economic activity certain facets of John Paul II’s Christian personalism and the teaching of Vatican II, in Gaudium et Spes 24, on the moral imperative of making our lives the gift to others that life itself is to us. But the language in these sections of Caritas in Veritate is so clotted and muddled as to suggest the possibility that what may be intended as a new conceptual starting point for Catholic social doctrine is, in fact, a confused sentimentality of precisely the sort the encyclical deplores among those who detach charity from truth.

There is also rather more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation — a sure sign of Justice and Peace default positions at work. And another Justice and Peace favorite — the creation of a “world political authority” to ensure integral human development — is revisited, with no more insight into how such an authority would operate than is typically found in such curial fideism about the inherent superiority of transnational governance. (It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Catholic Church why the Roman Curia places such faith in this fantasy of a “world public authority,” given the Holy See’s experience in battling for life, religious freedom, and elementary decency at the United Nations. But that is how they think at Justice and Peace, where evidence, experience, and the canons of Christian realism sometimes seem of little account.)

If those burrowed into the intellectual and institutional woodwork at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace imagine
Caritas in Veritate as reversing the rout they believe they suffered with Centesimus Annus, and if they further imagine Caritas in Veritate setting Catholic social doctrine on a completely new, Populorum Progressio–defined course (as one Justice and Peace consultor has already said), they are likely to be disappointed. The incoherence of the Justice and Peace sections of the new encyclical is so deep, and the language in some cases so impenetrable, that what the defenders of Populorum Progresio may think to be a new sounding of the trumpet is far more like the warbling of an untuned piccolo.

"Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include in his encyclical these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear will concentrate their attention, in reading Caritas in Veritate, on those parts of the encyclical that are clearly Benedictine, including the Pope’s trademark defense of the necessary conjunction of faith and reason and his extension of John Paul II’s signature theme — that all social issues, including political and economic questions, are ultimately questions of the nature of the human person."


Ditto on Michael Novak

Economic Heresies of the Left

Jun 29, 2009

Michael Novak

What exactly is in Benedict XVI’s new encyclical on the economy and labor issues is not yet known. Catholic leftists and progressives, though, are already trembling with excitement. Three glaring errors have already appeared in these heavily panting anticipations.

An accurate presentation of real existing capitalism requires at least three modest affirmations:

1) Markets work well only within a system of law, and only according to well-marked-out rules of the game; unregulated markets are a figment of imagination.

2) In actual capitalist practice, the love of creativity, invention, and groundbreaking enterprise are far more powerful than motives of greed.

3) The fundamental systemic motive infusing the spirit of capitalism is the imperative to liberate the world’s poor from the premodern ubiquity of grinding poverty. This motive lay at the heart of Adam Smith’s important victory over Thomas Malthus concerning the coming affluence—rather than starvation—of the poor.

Since the origins of modern capitalism around 1780, more than two-thirds of the world’s population has moved out of poverty. In China and India alone, more than 500 million have been raised out of poverty just in the last forty years. In almost every nation the average age of mortality has risen dramatically, causing populations to expand accordingly. Health in almost every dimension has been improved, and literacy has been carried to remote places it never reached before.

Whatever the motives of individuals, the system has improved the plight of the poor as none ever has before. The contemporary left systematically refuses to face these undeniable facts.

Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., one of our most reliable leftist bellwethers, has recently opined that Benedict XVI’s new encyclical will cry out for more regulation, rather than unregulated markets. Further, the pope will denounce greed and cry out for more attention to the urgent need to aid the world’s poor.

Reese thinks these are anticapitalist positions. That is ridiculous. They lie at the heart of why capitalism has worked as well as it has to liberate the poor—first in the United States and Europe, then in one continent after another, as it is now doing in almost all areas of Asia.

Fr. Reese says that the pope will blame the greed of U.S. bankers for the current global financial crisis. While many institutions, including banks, failed in their basic duties, government action was the principal villain in the 2009 debacle. It was the federal government that forced banks to make sub-prime loans to poor families (who were known to be unable to pay their mortgages on a regular basis). It threatened banks that did not invest in poisonous packages of mortgages, vitiated by the bad ones.

The federal government even guaranteed the work of two huge quasigovernment mortgage companies—Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac—that wrote more than half of all mortgages during the fateful years. Of course, when the house of cards fell, government was not there to make good on its guarantees—or even to accept responsibility for its own heavy-handed actions.

For at least ten years before the disaster finally occurred, my colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute had been warning of the government abuses that were heading toward this calamity. Partisans of big government refused to listen.

For moralists, it is essential to see how often (not always) government itself sins grievously against the common good, out of a lust for power and domination over others. Furthermore, government often (not always) generates foolish and destructive regulations, and often dispenses justice that winks rather than justice that is blind. Government is more frequently the agent of injuring the common good than the ordinary lawful actions of free citizens. During the twentieth century, governments too often destroyed the common good of their citizens for years to come.

In the United States, the existing code of federal regulations for businesses is enormous. Title 12 covering “Banks and Banking” runs to 4,786 pages; Title 15 on “commerce and Foreign Trade” is 1,941 pages; Title 16 on “Commercial Practices,” 1,600 pages; Title 17 on the “Securities and Exchange Commission,” 2,708 pages; and Title 31 on “Money and Finance: Treasury,” 1,917 pages.

The total number of pages in this code is 12,592. Laid out end to end, the volumes of the code extend for 2.35 miles. If you count the pages in feet (30 inches per linear foot is the standard measure) the code runs for six linear miles.

An unregulated market indeed! The real world of American capitalism is more like Gulliver bound down by thousands of threads. Many of the regulations are out of date, obsolete, costly, destructive, and—in their actual effects—counter to the very intentions that gave them birth. But regulation there is, and regulation there must be. Without rules, American capitalism cannot function.

As for greed, Max Weber pointed out that greed is present in every age and every system of human history. Yet greed was rather more socially central in ancient times than today, and played a much more decisive role. And nowadays, greed flourishes most wherever government power is concentrated.

By contrast, in enterprise societies such as the United States, it is possible to become rich—even very rich—by methods that focus on innovation rather than greed. The great universities of the Middle West and Far West, were founded expressly to give spur to new inventions in mining, agriculture, and other technical fields. Texas A & M, Iowa State, Wisconsin State, Oklahoma State, and scores of others have been the hothouses of ideas in agriculture, engineering and electronics, geology, mining and drilling—ideas rendered practical by the makers of many fortunes. They have mightily served the common good of Americans and the entire human race.

As John Paul II wisely commented in Centesimus Annus, practical knowledge is the main cause of wealth today. Ideas rather than great landholdings are the main form of wealth in our time. As both Caesar and Cicero long ago observed, although it seems as though community ownership ought to serve the common good best, in practice private property does. The right to private property has long been justified by virtue of its superior service to the common good.

And in the United States, scores of entrepreneurs are ready to risk losing everything they have in order to create something new, create something that will make life better for their fellow men. Henry Ford failed repeatedly in several businesses before he finally made the Ford Motor Company the great model for business that it once was. (It was the first establishment in history to pay its laborers a handsome wage of five dollars per day. At the time, ordinary lawyers averaged about $1500 per year. Ford’s motives, of course, were not altruistic; he wanted his workers to purchase the cars they helped build.)

As Oscar Handlin once noted, almost every industrialist who built a new railroad North and South in the United States in the nineteenth century prospered. Nearly every tycoon who tried to build an East–West railroad lost money. What spurred men to keep trying had less to do with greed that with the sheer romance of conquering the deserts and the Rockies. The element of romance in business is simply not grasped by dialectical materialists.

In brief, nearly all the leftish critiques of American and other forms of capitalism are empirically false. They do not fit the actual facts. But these three—greed, unregulated markets, and the idea that capitalism makes the poor of the world worse off—are especially tiresome, and very far from reality.

Will all those good Catholic leftists who announce their own enthusiastic preference for the poor actually help to liberate the poor, even by a little? Will their anticapitalist policies help alleviate poverty? The historical record offers very little evidence for that contention.

And yet wherever a healthy, inventive capitalism goes, the poor soon rise by the millions out of poverty, come to better physical health, and advance into higher education.

You can look up the record.

Michael Novak, a member of the editorial board of First Things, holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is No One Sees God (Doubleday, 2008).

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