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Separated Shoulders: A Detailed Critique of “On all of our shoulders”

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Part I

On October 9, 2012, a group composed primarily of liberal Catholics issued a manifesto against Paul Ryan and, by extension, all people who believe that a small and limited government is the best form of government. The entire document consists of straw man arguments, jumping to false conclusions, misinterpretations, character assassination, and many other fallacies in its sophomoric attempt to claim that the views of the signatories and their interpretations of Catholic Social teaching are correct, and so Paul Ryan and others who hold similar beliefs to his must be wrong and also opposed to Catholic Social Teaching.

What follows is a detailed critique of the primary claims made in “On all of our shoulders” (http://www.onourshoulders.org/). I will quote many statements from the document in the order in which they are written, and then follow with a critical assessment. The quotes from the document will be preceded by Oaoos: , and my comments will be preceded by DB:
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Oaoos: “…we write to proclaim the Catholic truth that the stewardship of common good rests upon all of our shoulders together….We fulfill this obligation in myriad ways, but indispensibly [sic] among them, through the policies of our government.”

DB: Actually, the stewardship of the common good rests first and foremost on all of us as human beings and private citizens Prior to and above any particular government involvement.

Moreover, the great theologian St. Augustine pointed out in the City of God that government is a necessary evil. With this Augustinian wisdom firmly in mind, it is unwise to expand any necessary evil, and it is extremely wrongheaded to praise government policies as an indispensable means to steward the common good. This also betrays a lack of imagination and faith in people to be able to do indispensable things without government involvement or direction.

So almost from the get-go, the document sets forth its alleged purpose regarding the common good, and then it immediately insults the common people by proclaiming that government policies are indispensable to steward the common good. In fine, the contention of Oaoos is that the people alone or in free associations cannot adequately serve the common good unless directed by government policies. Such overstated and insulting claims have been favored by those who advocate more and more government intervention as the only viable solution to many problems, and they first came to prominence in the US at the beginning of the so-called progressive/socialist movement in the late 19th century.

Oaoos: “America is at a tipping point where the traditional commitment of our government to protecting and advancing the common good is in very real danger of being dismantled for generations.”

DB: Is there any real evidence for this silly claim that the government will not protect or advance the common good? Also, based upon many statements in the document, much of the “traditional commitment” as promoted by the signatories is primarily the spending of more money on government programs and projects regardless of the evidence that such spending has not been done in a prudent manner that truly benefits the common good. And so despite the reality of an increasing debt that threatens the health of the entire economy, the calls continue for more spending, more government programs, and so on.

Oaoos: “Members of the “Tea Party,” libertarians, Ayn Rand followers and other proponents of small government have brought libertarian views of government into the mainstream; legitimating forms of social indifference.”

DB: The reference to the various groups who are “proponents of small government” is an acceptable characterization, but then claiming that all of them “have brought libertarian views of government into the mainstream,” and thereby “legitimating forms of social indifference” is a completely unjustified straw man argument. It is also reprehensible to suggest that the ideas and principles of all of these groups reflect some kind of “social indifference.”

On the contrary, many of the people who make up the cited groups are keenly aware of the dangers to the common good from increasing government power. For instance, these people presciently foresee the dangers of a national healthcare program that gives government bureaucrats more power over the health care decisions of its citizens. They are also aware of the fact that the common good cannot be served if the economy collapses from the ongoing spending that is advocated by liberals who live in a fantasyland where spending can always increase virtually at will. Many of these limited government advocates are also dedicated champions of the unborn who recognize that the common good cannot be served if the primary right to life is not upheld. They do not hold the morally bankrupt position of President Obama and Vice President Biden that abortion is simply a choice. They also largely support Catholic Social teaching in its ideas on traditional marriage, and traditional marriage is one of the truly indispensable ways to serve the common good.

Oaoos: “We are concerned however, that defenders of Ryan have gone beyond highlighting the aspects of Catholic moral teaching with which his political positions are laudably consistent, to argue that his Ayn Rand “inspired” individualist and anti-government vision and the policies they inform are themselves legitimately Catholic. They are not.”

DB: First, note the claim that Ryan’s inspiration from Rand is not only “individualist” (actually a good thing when tempered by Catholic Social doctrine and properly understood in contradistinction to the collectivist vision that does not fully respect individual rights), but also “anti-government,” which is entirely false. Paul Ryan emphasizes limited government, which is not “anti-government.” Moreover, many of Ryan’s proposals in favor of limited and prudent government programs are at odds with more stringent libertarian followers of Rand, so the false characterization not only lacks honesty, it’s not even high school level scholarship.

Being objectively honest, one can only conclude that Ryan’s limited government advocacy is legitimately Catholic, and it also coincides with more Catholic Social teaching than those of the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and pro-government intervention vice president Biden. Indeed, Ryan’s attitude toward government as a necessary evil echoes St. Augustine as set forth above, and also many of the thoughts of John Paul II, especially in his very insightful encyclical Centesimus Annus, a most important and relevant document that is only briefly cited in “On all of our shoulders,” and used by the authors to construct yet another straw man criticism, this time against other limited government advocates who reference the encyclical (more on this deliberate distortion/mischaracterization by the Oaoos in part II).

Oaoos: “Given these values, it seems reasonable to conclude that Ryan’s deep cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps are policy priorities themselves. Thus, it is not surprising, that the savings achieved by these cuts are swamped by revenue losses resulting from massive new tax cuts for high earners and corporations.”

DB: More astonishing ignorance on display, along with a revealing claim that suggests a prejudice and hostility toward wealthy people and the most successful business form of organization that has increased standards of living (thereby serving the common good) for more people than any other form of business throughout the world.

First, it needs to be repeated that the Obama/Biden administration is actually taking money out of the Medicare system, not the Romney/Ryan ticket. So much for yet another “honest” assessment by Oaoos.

Next, no mention is made of the alternatives presented by Paul Ryan to help maintain the solvency of Medicare. Once again, because part of the Ryan solution includes free market elements involving vouchers for people under 55 and so on, it is ignored by Oaoos. It doesn’t count as an alternative according to the warped and limited views of Oaoos.

Lastly, what are these “massive new tax cuts” claimed by Oaoos, and why does it adopt the hyperbolic language of the political left in declaring such cuts will be for high wage earners and corporations as if nobody else will benefit? What are the actual cuts, if any, and how is it determined that they are “massive” for the benefit of high wage earners and corporations? What about all of the other people who benefit from tax cuts?

How many of the Oaoos signatories are ignorant enough to actually believe the juvenile claim that the Bush tax cuts across the board were simply (or perhaps magically) tax cuts for the rich? And can any of the Oaoos signatories grasp the economic reality that if the government confiscated all of the wealth of the rich, the federal government could operate for only a few months? By the bye, this reality also exposes the infantile class warfare claim of President Obama that taxing the wealthy at higher rates will really help reduce the deficit.

Oaoos: “Ryan’s rejection of Rand’s atheism is laudable, as are his public avowal of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and Catholic social doctrine. We do not question the sincerity of his convictions, but must note that a shift from the social philosophy of Ayn Rand to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church is a radical change indeed. Such a conversion would take much time and reflection. Congressman Ryan’s policies have remained unchanged through this shift. This suggests that they may in fact still be more indebted to the social principles of Rand than to Aquinas and the Catholic Church. Clarification of the substance of Catholic social doctrine will assist him and other Catholics in discernment of these policies.”

DB: The mighty Saint Thomas Aquinas was able to incorporate the wisdom of pagan philosophies into Catholic teaching, and this did not require a shifting from first holding pagan beliefs. A much easier task is incorporating some of Rand’s economic insights into Catholic Social teaching, especially since many of her free market policies have been accepted by the Church over the years, and many faithful Catholics, like Paul Ryan, have done just that. In fact, many free market principles were first elaborated by the 16th and 17th century Catholic scholars (including some Saints) associated with the School of Salamanca. Admittedly, this would be very difficult for the signatories of the Oaoos to appreciate because of their limited vision (I wonder how many of them have ever heard of the School of Salamanca and the Catholic progenitors of the free market tradition.), but because of their lack of scholarship and depth of understanding, they are the last people who can assist Paul Ryan or anybody else in clarifying Catholic social doctrine.

Oaoos: “Prudence also requires consideration of the full range of options available and an honest assessment of the outcome of policy proposals. After decades of tax cuts, honesty requires considering revenue increases in addition to program cuts. Government programs are not perfect and need to be improved. Proposals to slash or eliminate programs without proposing alternatives, however, is exactly the kind of indifference Jesus condemned in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man and Lazarus.”

DB: An honest assessment includes an analysis of the fact that the so-called “decades of tax cuts” have been overwhelmed, exceeded by, and dwarfed by increased government spending, and such spending cannot continue without harming more people than it helps.

And then we are treated to one of the great understatements of history in the proposition that “Government programs are not perfect and need to be improved.” No kidding. However, once again an honest assessment must also come to grips with the reality that many government programs are harmful, inefficient, wasteful, and need to be ELIMINATED.

Next up is a bald-faced lie in claiming that no alternatives to eliminating programs are presented. The astounding ignorance is on display once again, because alternatives are always advocated and presented, BUT (as previously stated) many of them do not include the government as the alternative, so such alternatives are dismissed, ignored, or in “brilliant” relativist fashion, they are claimed to not even exist.

End of Part I

DB

2 responses »

  1. Hi, Theodore:

    Much depends on how the markets develop in terms of human liberty and dignity. A large government, by its nature, is harmful to individual rights. A large market may or may not be harmful. Consider the hypothetical of Seeber Enterprises. This organization is so fantastic, and provides the best religious goods by far, that more and more people freely choose to buy these goods from Seeber Enterprises. As a result, Seeber Enterprises grows dramatically, and it gives more jobs to more people. After a short time, Seeber Enterprises has gained 95% of the religious goods market, yet it employs thousands, and its customers just love the organization, the prices, and so on. Alas, along comes a well-meaning person who advises the head of Seeber Enterprises that the growth of the company is unseemly. Even worse, it’s an ideal that coincides with libertarian and atheistic attitudes toward freedom of economic choices for the people. So the well-meaning person advises that he will recommend that the government break-up Seeber Enterprises because it’s just too large. The well-meaning person also claims that the charity work that Seeber Enterprises does will be handled by others through the government, so everything will be better in the long run. But it turns out not to be the case. More jobs are lost and charities also lose donations in the process. Nevertheless a libertarian-type ideal was smashed in the process.

    One more thing in the condemnation of others because of their fondness for the insights they receive from certain parties. A version of the ad hominem fallacy that is applicable is called Argumentum ad Hitlerum. Instead of engaging the essence of a person’s arguments, link him or her to some notorious character and declare the argument over.

    Since the Church has proclaimed the value and logic of free market practices, I guess you could easily condemn it as well for “relying on libertarian atheists for [its] understanding of how economics works.” Is that what you really want to do?

    God Bless!

    DB

    Reply
  2. Tyranny requires a tyrant. A tyrant cannot exist in a free market because the defining features of a tyrant and a free market are mutually incompatible.

    What is the bad kind of markets and what makes them bad is something you haven’t bothered to define here. Perhaps your definition would make sense if you could rouse yourself to give it. Based on our past discussions, I’m not hopeful.

    Reply

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