The 2008 credit crisis is not only a crisis in economics, but also a crisis in the basic concepts and assumptions that underlie our thinking about economics, economics as a science. Critical analyses are called for of both economic practices and economic theory. New concepts and paradigms are needed. The first Kuyper Seminar Amsterdam aims at exploring what resources the Christian tradition has to offer for developing a sustainable and just economy of the future.
Jordan Ballor’s paper, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Two Kingdoms, and Protestant Social Thought Today,” just made the Social Science Research Network’s current Top Ten download list for Philosophy of Religion eJournal. From the abstract:
Last century’s Protestant consensus on the rejection of natural law has been quested in recent decades, but Protestant social thought still has much work to do in order to articulate a coherent and cogent witness to contemporary realities. The doctrine of the two kingdoms has been put forward as a model for advancing the discussion, and while there is much to be learned from such a doctrine, its excesses ought to be avoided, just as the excesses of a transformationlist ethic ought to be avoided as well. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian, is put forward as an example of a modern Protestant thinker with much to offer towards the advancement of Protestant social thought today, particularly with regard to his perspectives on the two kingdoms and the divine ethical mandates (marriage, work, government, and church).
You can download a free copy here.
This morning the online publication Ethika Politika, the journal of the Center for Morality in Public Life, published my response to a previous article by Thomas Storck on natural law and political engagement. In his article, Storck contents that though the natural law exists as a rationally accessible, universal standard of justice, due to the disordered passions of our fallen condition political engagement on the basis of natural law is all but fruitless. Instead, he recommends a renewed emphasis on evangelism, emphasizing that the change of heart that comes through conversion is a far more effective way to effect social change and, in his view, necessary before any political change will realistically happen. In my article today, I respond,
While I am sensitive to Storck’s insistence that evangelism deserves renewed zeal for the sake of moral progress in society, I feel his opposition of evangelism rather than political action (or, more accurately, evangelism then political action) is ultimately harmful. In particular, there would seem to be no vocation for the Christian as citizen or civil servant today, no vital service that he/she has to offer to the kingdom of God now in his/her civic capacity before such a widespread evangelization has taken place.
I focus my response to Storck mainly on the relationship between the natural law and the positive law of the state, but the above quote contains something that I would like to pursue a little further. (more…)
Anytime I can get a progressive/dissenting Catholic magazine/blog like the Jesuit-run America simultaneously to quote papal documents, defend the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, embrace the Natural Law and even yearn for a theological investigation “by those charged with oversight for the Church’s doctrine” of a writer suspected of heresy, I consider that I have had a good day.
And to think that all this was prompted by two sentences of mine quoted in a New York Times story on an attempt by adjunct professors at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University to form a union! Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer asked how I made sense of the resistance on the part of Duquesne, a Catholic University, to unionizing efforts by adjunct professors in light of the Church’s teaching about unions. We had a pleasant half hour talk on the subject in which I first explained that the Church generally looked favorably on unions – certainly not all of them, at all times or in all places, and not at all they do, and not as an end in themselves, but rather for the well-being of those workers and their families (i.e., that the Church’s support for unions is contingent). This favorable bias does not mean that workers are obligated to join a union, nor that management is obligated to accept the terms of a union. The right to join a union, in Church teaching, is rooted in the natural right of association, which of course also means that people have the right not to associate. It all boils down to the details of the specific case, meaning that Duquesne was probably considering the ever-rising costs of education and its impact on the lives of students and their families.
It was in this context that I uttered what the America magazine/blog writer Vincent Miller deemed offensive when I observed that Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum, “In the industrial revolution, [when] the church was concerned about communism, and not just capitalism but savage capitalism . . . People were being brutalized. That’s just not the case in Pittsburgh today.” (more…)
I was privileged to participate this week in a conference at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, hosted by the Division for Roman Law and Legal History, “Law and Religion: The Legal Teachings of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations.” My paper today was titled, “Natural Law and Subsidiarity in Early Modern Reformed Perspective.”
In this paper I explore some of the theological context in the sixteenth century among Reformed theologians like Wolfgang Musculus, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and Franciscus Junius that form a part the early modern pre-history of the modern principle of subsidiarity.
In this respect, I argue particularly that
The link between natural law and the idea of subsidiarity in this early modern Reformed context, then, is in the affirmation of the natural moral obligation to help your neighbor, both at the individual as well as at the institutional level. Subsdiarity, in its most basic (if not yet principled) sense is in this way a corollary of natural law, in that it is an aspect of the rational ordering of society, including human individuals with a common nature (including dignity and relative autonomy) as well as a variety of institutions with different ends (natures). Subsidiarity is an answer to the question of ordering variegated social institutions and relating them to the individual, an answer which became increasingly developed and mature as Reformed social thought progressed.
I was reminded of the ongoing significance of the “natural moral obligation to help your neighbor” when watching the acclaimed film Winter’s Bone recently. Ree is Sonny’s older sister, and even though she is still in high school she is the sole provider for the family. The family is under enormous financial and legal pressure, and with this background we have this exchange between Sonny and Ree. They see that their neighbors have recently killed a deer, while Ree’s family is starving:
Sonny: Maybe they’ll share some of that with us.
Ree: That could be.
Sonny: Maybe we should ask.
Ree: Never ask for what oughta be offered.
“Never ask for what oughta be offered.” In that short phrase we have a deep insight into the assumed social obligations in this example of Missouri hill country, as well as the rather remarkable willingness to go without, and perhaps starve, rather than ask for what someone is morally obliged to provide. It captures wonderfully the simultaneously coexisting rugged individualism and social conscience of historic American culture.
Ree’s neighbors have full knowledge of her family’s troubles, and later that evening they do in fact bring food to them, with the explanation that the neighbor didn’t want them to think that they “forgot” about their moral obligations.
These scenes are one small illustration of what I argue is the Reformed “vision of a society as one of mutual aid.”
“Does the Vatican think water should be ‘free’?” asked Kishore Jayabalan in his post examining the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s latest document on water. Although he is now the director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute’s Rome office, Jayabalan formerly worked for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control.
In his post, Jayabalan referenced the analysis of George McGraw, the Executive Director of DigDeep Right to Water Project, a human rights and development NGO headquartered in Los Angeles. Mr. McGraw asked if we’d be interested in providing a counter-argument from a conservative perspective, so we’ve decided to publish his response below:
David Theroux of the Independent Institute concludes his two-part article on “secular theocracy” here (the full article can be read here). In this second part, Theroux observes that “C.S. Lewis understood that natural law applies to all human behavior including government officials.”
Indeed, it is hard to see how the rule of law can function apart from a conception of the natural law. Now as Theroux shows, not just any conception of the natural law will do. It has to be one rooted in the divine lawgiver to those created in his image, with the implications for dignity and basic rights entailed by such.
Otherwise you might have a “natural law” that empowers the strong over the weak on the basis of their ability to dominate, or their intelligence, or their “fitness” to rule. See, for instance, Sam Gregg’s explanation of how Plato and Aristotle justified slavery.
I’m at the “Whole Life Discipleship: Integrating Faith, Economics, and Work” conference today at Regent University. As I have the opportunity today, I’ll blog (and tweet) some of the lectures. First up is Stephen Grabill of the Acton Institute, and here are some highlights:
He focused on three basic questions: What is political and economic freedom? How do we use Scripture in our approach to social life? What about natural law?
On the first: A Christian anthropology is anti-revolutionary in the sense of van Prinsterer and Kuyper. In this sense Groen was a protestant Lord Acton. The spirit of human autonomy manifest in the French Revolution is at odds with the spirit of Christ manifest in all areas of life.
On the second: The missing theological piece of the puzzle is that the Bible is only part of the revelation of that we need to get to concrete positions on various social questions. The distinction between special vs. general revelation is critical here, as is the place of natural law in relation to general revelation.
On the third: If we can figure out what to do with natural law, we will have taken a critical first step in articulating a vigorous public theology. The natural law tradition acknowledges both special and general revelation. Natural law is a forgotten legacy of the Reformation, and it’s one that we have to recover to connect faith and economics today.
I hope to update this post with more as the day progresses.
Update: The next session is a talk by Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riano of Regent University.
His lecture focuses on explicating the following question:
What is a humane economy, and how does this relate to enterprise and entrepreneurship?
First, he explores a theory of humane economics, rooted in a robust moral anthropology. Economics is a theory of human action, production, distribution, consumption. Economic action is fundamentally moral in nature, preferring some goods to others, some ends to others. Insufficiency is a natural, basic fact of human existence: every human being needs other human beings. Perhaps the chief tenet of the natural law is human insufficiency (assuming relations to neighbors and God). A humane economics is one that enshrines natural limits to economic activity, accepting the natural hierarchy of human goods, guarding against the commodification of everything.
Second, a culture of enterprise is to be understood as one promotes entrepreneurship.Empathy as an essential part of anthropology, is an essential part of enterprise at the heart of an economic system. Moral ecology (Novak) and culture address the climate of a person’s socialization, a person’s relation to others. Human beings are born needy and wanting. This reality of insufficiency must be recognized. Self-awareness calls human beings to recall their lowly state and contextualizes their expectations. The moral consequence is that there must be an empathetic orientation toward the other, focusing on the needs, the lack, of other people. Enterprise, the focus on innovative responses to human needs and wants, is therefore a moral consequence of empathy.
Finally, the role of entrepreneurs in an entreprise culture must be explored. in a humane economic system. To support human flourishing a culture of enterprise must have a holistic account of human insufficiency, the principle that human beings have unattainable non-economic needs, as well as attainable economic needs. Entrepreneurs have a critical social role in addressing the latter: attainable economic needs. Since these needs are so variable, actual embodiments of entrepreneurship are equally variable. There are many different kinds of entrepreneurs, focused on many different kinds of goods. Creativity, however, seems to be one of the characteristic features of entrepreneurship. Only when entrepreneurs become wisdom-lovers, and wisdom-lovers become entrepreneurs, can we hope to move to a culture of enterprise that promotes a humane economics.
Further reading: Gerson Moreno-Riano, “Democracy, Humane Economics, and a Culture of Enterprise,” Journal of Markets & Morality 13, no. 1 (Spring 2010).
Greg Forster’s latest response to Sam Gregg, Acton’s director of research, on the utility of John Locke’s thought today is up over at Public Discourse. There’s a lot to learn from reading these exchanges, but right now I want to focus just briefly on one of the criticisms that Sam levels against Locke. Comparing Locke’s definition of Law to that of Aquinas, Sam finds Locke to be quite wanting. For Locke, “Law’s formal definition is the declaration of a superior will.”
“How different this is from Aquinas’s understanding of law,” writes Sam, “as ‘an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by him who has the care of the community.'”
In one sense Sam is quite right. These are quite different formal definitions of law, the former presumably more voluntaristic (defined in relation to the will, the volitional faculty) the latter intellectualistic (defined in relation to the intellect, the rational faculty). For Sam this is in microcosm the problem with Locke, as he embodies the voluntaristic and therefore nominalistic proclivities of Protestantism, abandoning the eminently reasonable teachings of the Angelic Doctor.
My point here is not to defend Locke. Greg goes on to do that ably enough and in great detail. But I do want to reiterate the point that even apparently quite different definitions of law can be reconciled depending on how the relationship between the will and the intellect is defined. Thomas certainly has his own view, but so did lots of other medievals, and the Reformers picked up on the diversity of medieval opinion.
And it simply isn’t the case that the big bad “nominalists” like Ockham, d’Ailly, or Biel, were in principle opposed to defining natural law in terms of right reason. They just had a different way of relating the question of the divine intellect and the divine will. Maybe they were wrong. But at least on the question of voluntarism/intellectualism (the former of which need not lead to nominalism: see John Duns Scotus), there is ample Augustinian precedent for not seeing a “rationalistic” and a “volitional” definition of law as necessarily incongruent.
Thus Lombard, following Augustine, writes, “God’s will is reasonable and most equitable” (Sentences, bk. 1, d. 42, cap. 1).
And as a concluding aside, for an example of a Protestant scholastic who directly appropriated Aquinas’ definition of Law, see the recently translated scholia of Franciscus Junius in the Journal of Markets & Morality, “Selection from On the Observation of the Mosaic Polity.” His first thesis? “The Law is the ordering of reason to the common good, established by the one who has care of the community.”
The recent English riots, soaked as they are in unrestrained Marxism, bring to mind one of the 20th century’s great anti-Marxists, the British novelist Evelyn Waugh. Waugh was a staunch—even curmudgeonly—defender of social order, and a derisive critic of Marxism, calling it in The Tablet “the opiate of the people.”
Waugh would no doubt have been a booster of the Acton Institute (his best man was Lord Acton’s grand nephew), and a passage in his 1945 classic Brideshead Revisited artfully sums up the Institute’s founding justification. It is a conversation between Charles Ryder and Lady Marchmain in which her ladyship reveals a history of a conscience troubled by great wealth.
It used to worry me, and I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor. The poor have always been the favourites of God and His saints, but I believe that it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included. Wealth in paganRomewas necessarily something cruel; it’s not anymore.
Lady Marchmain is not the most sympathetically drawn character, and at first it seems strange what she says about coveting the advantage of the poor. But of course what she was coveting was not the earthly simplicity of Lazarus’s existence, but a perceived spiritual primacy.
What she neglected to do was to put her trust in Providence, which sees to the distribution of wealth according to an Eternal Law she cannot read. What she came to see is that she is merely a stewardess of “so many beautiful things.” The cruel Roman world was that of Nero’s nihilistic tyranny, but the Domus Aurea has become the ornately restored chapel at Brideshead.
The conversation continues with Charles (the first-person narrator),
I said something about a camel and the eye of a needle and she rose happily to the point.
“But of course,” she said, “it’s very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It’s not to be expected that an ox and an ass should worship at the crib. Animals are always doing the oddest things in the lives of the saints. It’s all party of the poetry, theAlice-in-Wonderland side, of religion.”
(Against charges that Waugh was a snob need only be set this comparison of himself to the ox and the ass in Bethlehem.)
The socialist rejects this Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of life, and tries to impose his own order on it. That was the folly of the Soviet Union, and it is the folly of the modern comprehensive state.