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, December 30, 2009

The Political Animal, Part XII

As we learned in the previous posting in this series, the belief that the natural moral law is based not on the Intellect, but on the Will is one of those "small errors" in the beginning that leads to great errors in the end. The particular great error on which we will focus in this particular posting is the idea that the State is or can be sovereign in and of itself, or by direct grant of Heaven, without reference to the individual sovereignty of the human person under God.

The idea that the State is somehow sovereign in and of itself or has been granted some kind of sovereignty directly by God leads inevitably to the belief that all rights come not directly from God to natural persons as part of nature itself, but from the State or the collective to individuals as a revocable grant. The individual is perceived as utterly helpless in any social situation, unless he or she is directly assisted by the State, which assistance always takes the form of direct control over the life, liberty, property, and acquisition and development of virtue of each citizen. Every individual becomes a "mere creature of the State," existing as a person only at the sufferance and permission of the State, which thereby becomes all-powerful.

Nowhere is this more immediately evident than in the institutions of money and credit, the life's blood, so to speak, of the body politic. As the 19th century economist Charles Morrison explained,
Confidence and credit are only moral elements in society; they may be said to be, to a great extent, mere matters of opinion; yet their importance in the production and distribution of wealth is so great, that the whole machinery of material production is kept at work, disordered, or paralyzed, according as these principles act in a healthy manner, irregularly, or not at all. They are to our industrial community what the nervous system is to the body, a slight and sensitive substance in itself, but the indispensable cause of all the life and motion of the system. A great nation may possess in abundance all the means of producing wealth, — population, intelligence, capital, natural and artificial instruments of production; and yet, if credit and confidence should be from any cause destroyed, all these resources seem to have lost their virtue, and general distress prevails. Let confidence and credit be restored, and the whole system is immediately set in motion again, and in a very short time general prosperity returns. (Charles Morrison, An Essay on the Relations Between Labour and Capital. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1854, 200.)
Money and credit, as the economist Irving Fisher explained in The Purchasing Power of Money (1911), are based on private property. Credit, simply put, is delivering something of value to another conditional upon the future return of something of equal value. Extending credit creates a debt. Money is whatever is used to return value to a creditor; it consists of anything that is or can be used in settlement of a debt.

Money is thus always something that conveys a property right. This obviously implies that whoever or whatever issues or creates the money has a property right to convey; that he, she, or it "owns" whatever backs the money, or has a legal claim on the thing of value sufficient to derive and issue claims against the thing of value. Issuing money backed by something that the issuer does not own or to which he or she does not have a legal claim is theft; the issuer is making promises for someone else to keep, or is committing theft in some other fashion.

By understanding money and credit as the medium of exchange — that is, anything that can be used in settlement of a debt — anyone can participate in the economic process and engage in exchange simply by establishing his or her "credit" in the community. That is, someone demonstrates to the satisfaction of all parties to any transaction in which the one seeking to establish credit participates that he or she will make good on his or her promise to deliver value on demand or at some agreed-upon future date or on the occurrence of some event. The ability to enter into a contract is an inherent aspect of individual human sovereignty, coming under freedom of association (liberty), and is based on private property. Every person is (or should be) free to enter into a contract (free association) to deliver value immediately or in the future (private property).

Part of this explanation might confuse some people. They may wonder how or why the power to deliver value immediately or in the future comes under "private property." This confusion is easily cleared up once we understand that "property" does not refer to the thing that is owned, but to the inalienable (absolute) right to be an owner that every human being has, and to the socially determined bundle of rights that define how an owner may use what he or she owns. "Property," as the late lawyer-economist Louis O. Kelso pointed out, in everyday speech connotes "control." Thus, the power to deliver something of value immediately or in the future signifies the owner's exercise of control in the form of the right of disposal over what he or she owns — private property.

Thus, anyone who wishes to participate in the economy must have the means to do so. This in turn means that everyone who wishes to participate in the economy must have ownership of something, whether labor or capital (preferably both), and that ownership must be exclusive, that is, the owner must have the right to exclude others from the use and enjoyment of that which he or she owns. (There are circumstances that justify limiting or even confiscating a portion of what someone owns for the common good, but only to the extent that 1) it is absolutely necessary and no other recourse is possible — and the owner is justly compensated in some fashion — and 2) the owner's right to be an owner is in no way limited or abolished.) Only in this way can the process of money creation be carried out legitimately, for unless we have something of value to back our promises, we cannot make good promises, and the economy will not function, just as Charles Morrison pointed out. As Jean-Baptiste Say explains,
Since the time of Adam Smith, political economists have agreed that we do not in reality buy the objects we consume, with the money or circulating coin which we pay for them. We must in the first place have bought this money itself by the sale of productions of our own. To the proprietor of the mines whence this money is obtained, it is a production with which he purchases such commodities as he may have occasion for: to all those into whose hands this money afterwards passes, it is only the price of the productions which they have themselves created by means of their lands, capital, or industry. In selling these, they exchange first their productions for money; and they afterwards exchange this money for objects of consumption. It is then in strict reality with their productions that they make their purchases; it is impossible for them to buy any articles whatever to a greater amount than that which they have produced either by themselves, or by means of their capitals and lands. (Jean-Baptiste Say, Letters to Mr. Malthus on Several Subjects of Political Economy and on the Cause of the Stagnation of Commerce. London: Sherwood, Neely & Jones, 1821, 2.)
The "job" of money is thus to facilitate participation in the economic process. If people need this thing called "money," they either produce a good or service to exchange for the goods and services produced by others, join with others to create the money by means of a contract backed by the promise to repay the money in the future, or borrow existing money on the strength of their promise to produce a good or service in the future to repay the loan. Obviously, common sense tells us that if we borrow money, we should only do so if what we spend the money on produces something that we can use to repay the loan. We are otherwise diminishing our future ability to meet our consumption needs out of our own resources — in effect, robbing not only Peter, but ourselves to pay Paul.

If we reflect on Say's explanation of the role of this thing we call "money," we come to a number of conclusions, the most important of which is that anyone can create money simply by having "good credit" and by exercising his or her right of free association to enter into contracts with others. The actual thing or things that two parties to a transaction agree to exchange between themselves is irrelevant to anybody who is not a party to the transaction. It can — and has been — such things as stamped lumps of gold, silver, and bronze, cattle, tobacco, playing cards, wooden tokens, promissory notes, even elephants or human skulls. All that is necessary is that someone either have a good or service that he or she has produced, or be reasonably certain that a good or service can be produced in the future so that it is available for delivery when the "money" is redeemed, thereby making good on the promise. As Say further explained to Malthus,
From these premises I had drawn a conclusion which appeared to me evident, but which seems to have startled you. I had said, "As each of us can only purchase the productions of others with his own productions — as the value we can buy is equal to the value we can produce, the more men can produce, the more they will purchase." Thence follows the other conclusion, which you refuse to admit: "that if certain goods remain unsold, it is because other goods are not produced; and that it is production alone which opens markets to produce." (Ibid., 3.)
This is "Say's Law of Markets." To summarize as briefly as possible, production equals income, and supply generates its own demand, and demand its own supply — in aggregate, of course.

Unfortunately, while this understanding of money is both logical and derived directly from the common sense precepts of the natural moral law based on the Intellect, it is neither widely understood nor accepted today. Instead, the world has been saddled with an understanding of money based on an approach derived from positivism, an almost pure moral relativism, that is, the Will, rather than the Intellect. We will look at this "unnatural" understanding of money and credit in the next posting in this series.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Political Animal, Part XI

In the previous posting in this series, we found that many people base their understanding of the role of the State and the place of man within the common good on a theory of human society peculiar to themselves. Almost inevitably these theories are irreconcilable with the traditional Aristotelian and Thomist understanding of the natural moral law based not on Will, but on the Intellect, that is, on reason alone.

Within the framework that bases the natural law on the Will, "right" and "wrong," as Heinrich Rommen pointed out, become matters of opinion. Morality becomes "situational," based on the personal faith of the individual with little or no reference to reason or common sense. Reason itself becomes something to ridicule, if not rejected outright. Faith alone justifies all of our acts and beliefs, just as William of Occam concluded. As Rommen explains the results of this kind of thinking,
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. . . . Hence there exists no unchangeable lex naturalis, no natural law that inwardly governs the positive law. Positive law and natural law, which indeed is also positive law, stand likewise in no inner relation to each other. The identity of this thought structure with The Prince of Machiavelli, with the Leviathan of Hobbes, and with the theory of will of modern positivism (the will of the absolute sovereign is law, because no higher norm stands above him) is here quite obvious. (Rommen, op. cit., 52-53)
Obviously, opinions based on faith are invalid outside of whatever group accepts those specific concepts or shares that particular interpretation of some document of faith or of revelation, or has or obtains the power to force others into compliance with what they assert must be the divine Will. (Hence the accusation so frequently heard these days that attempting to assert any absolute standard of the good is "forcing your morality on others.") Basing the ideas of right and wrong on opinion necessarily results in the creation of an elite "inner circle" that alone is privy to the full truth that the great mass of humanity simply lacks the capacity to understand.

Thus, within this framework, it becomes the duty (or, more correctly, the delusion) of the elite to force the masses to comply with its personal interpretation as to what constitutes the good. Naturally, the means by which compliance is forced on the rest of humanity is the State, which has a monopoly on the instruments of coercion. Implicitly rejecting the natural equality of all humanity — that is, that every human being by the mere fact of being human has an analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue — the human race is divided into two groups. These two groups are 1) a necessarily small group of rulers — masters — and 2) the much larger group of ruled: natural slaves. Since this arrangement is presumably based on God's Will, the rulers have their positions by divine right, while the ruled are under a holy obligation to obey the rulers on peril of their immortal souls . . . to say nothing of their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, which must in all cases be sacrificed if the elite in control of the State so demand or command.

These assumptions are at the root of such productions as Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, or, The Natural Power of Kings (1680) and, of course, Thomas Hobbes's virtual manual for totalitarian government, Leviathan, or, The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651). Within this framework, individuals have no inherent, that is, natural rights. All rights are a grant from the ruler, and are thus the result of prudential judgment on the part of the State as to what rights can be permitted, and how they are to be exercised.

This extends even to the natural rights of life, liberty, pursuit of happiness (the acquisition and development of virtue), and, especially, private property. Some modern commentators, claiming to be "authentic" interpreters of, e.g., the social teachings of the Catholic Church (based on the natural moral law, in common with all the major religions), have taken it on themselves to redefine the institution of private property as being "a right, but not an absolute right." This is a meaningless statement once we understand the difference between possessing a right, and exercising a right. Nevertheless, the idea that all rights come from the State is pervasive today, and is based on a presumption of totalitarian State power in one form or another. As Hobbes asserts,
A Fifth doctrine, that tendeth to the Dissolution of a Common-wealth, is, That every private man has an absolute Propriety in his Goods; such, as excludeth the Right of the Soveraign. Every man has indeed a Propriety that excludes the Right of every other Subject: And he has it onely from the Soveraign Power; without the protection whereof, every other man should have equall Right to the same. But if the Right of the Soveraign also be excluded, he cannot performe the office they have put him into, which is, to defend them both from forraign enemies, and from the injuries of one another; and consequently there is no longer a Common-wealth.

And if the Propriety of Subjects, exclude not the Right of the Soveraign Representative to their Goods; much lesse to their offices of Judicature, or Execution, in which they Represent the Soveraign himselfe. (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, II.29)
Note the subtlety of the change from the traditional understanding of the natural law. As far as Aristotle and Aquinas were concerned, every human being is a natural person, and thus necessarily has those natural rights that define something as a "person." How those natural rights are to be exercised, however, is a matter of prudence, subject however always to the proviso that the exercise of natural rights must never be defined in any way that effectively negates the right itself. Aristotle and Aquinas disagreed as to whether all human beings have the full — analogously complete — capacity to acquire and develop virtue, and thus the full spectrum of natural rights, but the fact of natural, that is, absolute, rights is not a matter of dispute.

That is, all human beings necessarily and absolutely have such natural rights as life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness (the acquisition and development of virtue). They could not otherwise be defined as human beings. It is essential to the understanding of humanity as political animals that we realize each of us has the full spectrum of natural rights, and we have possession of these rights absolutely — or, again, we could not be defined as "human."

No one, however, has or could possibly have the absolute exercise of any right, even a natural right. This is impossible in any event, given humanity's social nature. No right can be exercised except within the confines of the common good, which in turn precludes the exercise of any right in any way that harms the right holder, other persons, or the common good. You cannot legitimately violate anyone's rights by the proper exercise of your own rights. As John Locke pointed out, you are not even "allowed" to violate your own rights, e.g., by voluntarily selling yourself into slavery or committing suicide. That would imply that your presumably inalienable rights to life and liberty are, in fact, alienable. If you can alienate your own rights, even with your own full and free consent, what is to stop others from alienating your rights without your consent once the precedent of alienation has been established?

Ultimately, the claim that a ruler holds his or her position by some kind of divine right, that is, either by a direct grant of authority from God or some other Power, or believes it to be self-generated or unaccountable, is a claim to divine status. Thus, by claiming that ordinary people do not have absolute possession of their natural rights — in effect, that natural rights are not, in fact, rights at all, but "prudential matter" — the State (or the ruler who claims to personify the State, especially by his or her own authority) usurps the place of God.

Understood in this way, basing the natural law on the Will rather than the Intellect is clearly contrary to reason — and, possibly, one of the reasons why Aquinas declared that the law is discernible by reason alone. Basing the natural law on the Will is one of those seemingly "small errors" in the beginning that lead to big errors in the end, as both Aristotle and Aquinas pointed out. Nowhere is this more evident than in how we relate to the institutions of the social order, those props intended and presumably designed to assist each individual in the task of acquiring and developing virtue, and thereby becoming more fully human. That is what we will begin to examine in the next posting in this series.


Monday, December 28, 2009

The Political Animal, Part X

In 1896 (the same year in which he entered the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield), the Anglican monk John Neville Figgis (1868-1919) published The Divine Right of Kings, a study of the political philosophy that reached the height of its development after — and as a result of — the Reformation.

From the Catholic point of view, the Mirfield Community (which still exists) is a relic of the somewhat artificial effort initiated during the "Oxford Movement" to revive the role that the monasteries had in the daily life of the people prior to what is euphemistically described as "the break with Rome." It is an application of "branch theory," a complicated issue that has no real significance for our argument, however important it might otherwise be. Whatever might be your personal opinion of such efforts as the Community of the Resurrection, it attracted some of the leading intellectual lights of the Anglican Church. The novelist Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) spent time there before his conversion to Catholicism and ordination as a Catholic priest.

Figgis's scholarly labors took a different direction. While apparently convinced to the end of his days of the falsity, etc., of the claims of "the Church of Rome" to a spiritual supremacy in Christendom, in all honesty he openly admitted, in common with William Cobbett a century earlier, that essential concepts such as the natural equality of all men, democracy, and governing with the consent of the governed had all been developments and teachings of the "Church of Rome" to which (for expedience, if nothing else) we will refer in the customary fashion as "the Catholic Church." (Some authorities consider the term "Roman" Catholic to be a concession to "branch theory," that is, to the belief that there are three "branches" of the Universal — Catholic — Church: Orthodox, Roman, and Anglican. The autocephalous Orthodox churches and the churches in union with the pope do not accept branch theory.)

Figgis concluded that divine right theory is a purely Protestant invention, and directly contrary to the great philosophical and political tradition of the West. While he utterly rejected the claims of the Catholic Church relating to the supremacy of the pope, Figgis felt himself forced to admit that, as far as political theory went, the Catholic Church was in the right, and it was, and had always been, a champion of political democracy as being the theory most consistent with the dignity of the human person.

Paradoxically, however, many people today, even (or especially) devout Catholics, seem unalterably convinced that a divine right monarchy is the only legitimate "Catholic" form of government, the only form given direct sanction by God Himself, and the only form approved by the Vatican and the papacy. How this came to be is the result of a series of historical accidents, as well as the triumph (temporary, we hope) of the party that since the sixteenth century has sought to base the natural moral law on God's revealed Will (explicit commands of God found in documents we base on faith), rather than on His Intellect (divine Nature reflected in that of every human being and discerned by reason alone). It's a complicated story, but we'll try to condense it as best we can.

It begins, as we might expect, with the rediscovery of Aristotelian philosophy in the 12th century — something to which we will keep returning in order to understand what is going on in the modern world. As Dr. Heinrich Rommen explained in his book, 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. The crux of theology, namely, the problem of the apparent dispensations from the natural law mentioned in the Old Testament and thus seemingly granted by God (the command to sacrifice Isaac, Raphael's apparent lie, Osee's alleged adultery, the polygamy of the patriarchs, and so on), was now readily solved. Yet St. Thomas, too, had been able to solve such cases. Now, however, 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. (Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law. Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 51-52.)
Rommen was a student of the great Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., Ph.D., who (in common with so many thinkers of equal or even greater caliber) has suffered much at the hands of later commentators and disciples who twist the otherwise clear teachings of their "master" to fit their preconceived theories and ideas. The distortions forced on the distributism of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc come forcibly to mind, especially those that change the substantial nature of natural rights to liberty — freedom of association — private property, and pursuit of happiness — the acquisition and development of virtue.

As a member of the renowned Königswinterkreis discussion group that included such luminaries as Father Oswald von Nell Breuning, Gustav Gundlach, and Franz Müller, Rommen was probably more "in touch" with Father Pesch's teachings than many of Father Pesch's latter-day aficionados. A number of these "wannabe" authorities seek to validate their personal opinions at the expense of common sense and sound philosophy by using Father Pesch's name as a deodorant for theories directly at odds with Father Pesch's Thomist orientation and that adhere more closely to an understanding of the natural moral law based on the Will rather than the Intellect.

This Occamist "triumph of the Will" received its greatest impetus after the success of the Reformation and when the Protestant groups finally saw themselves as completely separate bodies from Rome, instead of themselves being the sole representatives of the true Church established by Christ. This was supported by the aberrations in philosophy that began cropping up. As that genial commentator of the early 20th century, G. K. Chesterton, commented,
Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox: a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confidence man, that if once we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if once he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind. (G. K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas, "The Dumb Ox." New York: Image Books, 1956, 145-146.)
Coincidence (as they say)? I think not — although with far more justification than is usual with conspiracy theory fanatics. We will start to look at why this is so in the next posting in this series.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Just Third Way Christmas Message

In view of the current state of the social order and the economic chaos that pervades the earth, we thought it would be appropriate to post a Christmas Message that not only gives words of comfort, but also points the way to a viable and sound solution to the problems that afflict the world. After a few attempts to put this into words, we realized that Pope Pius XII said what needed to be said much better than we ever could in "The Rights of Man," his 1942 Christmas Message.

For some unaccountable reason some sources have re-titled this radio broadcast "The Internal Order of States and People," a change that seems to disparage somewhat the importance of basing the social order on the inalienable rights inherent in each human person. The rights of the human person are a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching and of all religions and philosophies based on the natural moral law.

We only have space for a relatively short extract from "The Rights of Man," but we believe that this passage highlights critical concepts. As we might expect, the selection first gives the reason for having a social order: the perfection of the human person — in Aristotelian terms, the acquisition and development of virtue through the exercise of rights, or (as America's Founding Fathers put it), the "pursuit of happiness."

The second part of this particular selection focuses on the importance of institutions: the social tools designed and intended to assist each individual in the acquisition and development of virtue by protecting basic human rights and making their exercise possible. The section labeled "Common Life in Tranquility" emphasizes the importance of a well-structured social order that provides the environment within which individuals acquire and develop virtue. "Tranquility and Action" is a reminder that everybody is called to organize with like-minded others to carry out acts of social justice with the goal of providing that "tranquil environment."

Our selection closes with "The World of Labor," which — in common with all the popes since Leo XIII and political scientists throughout history — emphasizes the social importance of widespread direct ownership of the means of production. As Daniel Webster pointed out in 1820, "Power naturally and necessarily follows property." Without property to vest each individual with the power to exercise rights within the common good and thereby acquire and develop virtue — becoming more fully human in the process — the primary task of the human person becomes much more difficult, at times almost impossible.

Selections from "The Rights of Man"
1942 Christmas Message of Pope Pius XII

The Development and Perfection of the Human Person

The original and essential purpose of social life is to preserve, develop, and perfect the human person, by facilitating the due fulfillment and realization of the religious and cultural laws and values which the Creator has assigned to every man and to the human race, both as a whole and in its natural groupings.

A social doctrine or structure which denies or neglects the internal and essential link connecting God with all human concerns is an aberration; those who follow such a doctrine build up with one hand but with the other they are providing the means which sooner or later will undermine and destroy the structure. If they fail to acknowledge the respect due to the human person and to the life of the human person, if they give human personality no place in the social system, in legislative and executive activity, then, far from benefiting society, they damage it; far from fostering and enlivening the social sense and realizing its aspirations and hopes, they deprive it of all intrinsic value, making it a mere catch-phrase which in ever-increasing sections of the community is being resolutely and frankly repudiated.

If social life implies internal unity it does not on that account exclude the differences between men which are grounded in reality and in nature. But so long as we hold fast to God as the supreme controller of all human concerns, both likenesses and differences find their proper place in the absolute order of being, of values, and consequently also of morality. If that foundation is attacked, however, ominous fissures appear in the structure: the various spheres of culture become dissociated from one another; outlines, boundaries, and values become blurred and uncertain; with the result that the decision between opposing policies comes to depend, according to the prevailing fashion, upon merely external factors, and often even upon blind instinct.

During the past decades a damaging economic policy subordinated the whole of civil life to the profit motive; today a conception rules which is no less detrimental to society, regarding as it does everything and everybody from the standpoint of utility to the State, to the exclusion of all ethical and religious considerations. In either case we have a travesty and a misconception pregnant with incalculable consequences for social life, which is never nearer to losing its noblest prerogatives than when under the illusion that it can with impunity repudiate or neglect God, the eternal source of its dignity.

Reason, enlightened by faith, assigns to each person and to each particular association in the social organism a definite and noble place; above all it tells us that the purpose of the whole of the State's activity, political and economic, is the permanent realization of the common good: that is to say, the provision of those external conditions which are needful to citizens as a whole for the development of their qualities and the fulfillment of their duties in every sphere of life. material, intellectual, and religious — in the supposition, however, that the powers and energies of the family and of other organisms which hold natural precedence over the State are insufficient, and also subject to the fact that God, in His will for the salvation of men, has instituted another universal society, the Church, for the benefit of the human person and for the realization of his religious ends.

In a social conception inspired and sanctioned by religious thought, economic and cultural activities are seen as a vast and admirable forge of energy, richly various and harmoniously coherent, in which the similarity of men as beings endowed with reason and their functional diversity receive just acknowledgment and find adequate expression. In any other conception labor is oppressed and the worker is degraded.

The Legal Structure of Society and its Purpose

If social life, such as God wills it, is to attain its end it needs a legal structure for its support, defense, and. protection. The function of this structure is not to dominate, but to serve; to encourage the development and vital growth of society in the abundant variety of its aims, promoting the full achievement of private enterprise in harmonious collaboration, and protecting it by suitable and legitimate means against anything detrimental to its full expansion. Such structure, in order to secure the balance, the security, and the concord of society, has also the right of coercion against those who cannot in any other way be restrained within the honorable discipline of social life; but no authority worthy of the name can fail to feel, in the just exercise of this right, an anxious sense of responsibility in the sight of the Eternal Judge, before whose tribunal any unjust sentence, and especially any reversal of Divinely established principles, will receive inevitable punishment and condemnation.

The ultimate, deep-rooted, lapidary principles which lie at the foundation of society cannot be abolished by any effort of human ingenuity; they may be denied, ignored, disregarded, or disobeyed, but they can never be deprived of their juridical validity. Admittedly conditions change with the passage of time, but there is never a complete gap, never entire discontinuity, between the law of yesterday and the law of today, between the disappearance of old forms of government and the introduction of new constitutions. Whatever happens, whatever change or transformation may take place, the purpose of all social life remains the same, ever sacred, ever obligatory: the development of the personal values of man, who is made in the image of God; whatever legislator or authority he may obey, every member of the human family remains bound to secure his immutable ends. He has therefore always the inalienable right — a right which no opposition can destroy and which all, friends and enemies alike, are bound to acknowledge — to a constitution and an administration of justice inspired by the conviction and understanding that it is their essential duty to serve the common good.

The legal structure has also the noble and arduous task of securing harmonious relations between individual citizens, between various associations within the State, and between their members. Legislators will accomplish this task successfully if they avoid dangerous theories and practices which are detrimental to the community and to its cohesion, and which owe their origin and wide diffusion to false postulates. Among these is to be counted a juridical positivism which invests purely human laws with a majesty to which they have no title, opening the way to a fatal dissociation of law from morality. Likewise to be banned is the theory which claims for a particular nation, or race, or class, a juridical instinct against whose law and command there is no appeal. Finally, all those theories are to be shunned which, though in themselves divergent and deriving from opposed ideologies, have this in common that they regard the State, or a group representing it. as an absolute and supreme entity exempt from all control and criticism, even when its theoretical and practical postulates result in open and clashing contradiction with essential data of the human and Christian conscience.

Those who clearly perceive the vital connection between genuine social order and a genuine juridical structure, those who appreciate that interior unity in multiplicity depends upon the primacy of the spiritual, upon respect for human personality both in oneself and in others, upon a true love for society, and upon attachment to the ends for which God has ordained it, cannot wonder at the unhappy results of juridical conceptions which have departed from the royal road of truth to follow the slippery paths of materialism; and they must immediately see how urgently necessary it is to return to a conception of society which is spiritual and ethical, earnest and profound, instinct with the warmth of a true humanity, lit by the light of Christian faith which reveals in the juridical structure a reflection of the social order as God has willed it, a luminous product of the spirit of man, which in its turn is an image of the spirit of God.

This organic conception of society, the only vital conception, combines a noble humanism with the genuine Christian spirit, and it bears the inscription from Holy Writ which St. Thomas has explained [IIa IIae, q. 29. 3. 3.]: 'The work of justice shall be peace'; a text applicable to the life of a people whether it be considered in itself or in its relations with other nations. In this view love and justice are not contrasted as alternatives; they are united in a fruitful synthesis. Both radiate from the spirit of God, both have their place in the program which defends the dignity of man; they complement, help, support, and animate each other: while justice prepares the way for love, love softens the rigor of justice and ennobles it; both raise up human life to an atmosphere in which, despite the failings, the obstacles, and the harshness which earthly life presents, a brotherly intercourse becomes possible. But if the evil spirit of materialism gains the mastery, if the rough hands of power and tyranny are suffered to guide events, you will then see daily signs of the disintegration of human fellowship, and love and justice will disappear — presaging the catastrophes which must come upon a society that has apostatized from God.

II. Common Life in Tranquility

The second fundamental element of the peace towards which every human society almost instinctively tends, is tranquility. Tranquility has nothing in common with a hard and childishly obstinate contentment with the state of things as they are; nor with a reluctance, begotten of a lazy and selfish spirit, to confront the problems and questions to which the progress of time and the succession of generations give rise, and which urgently demand an immediate solution. For the Christian, conscious of his responsibility to even the least of his brethren, there can be no such false tranquility; he does not run away, he throws himself into the fray; he is all for action, action against apathy or desertion in the great spiritual war in which the structure, indeed the very soul, of the society of the future is at stake.

Tranquility and Action

Tranquility, understood in the sense of St. Thomas, is not opposed to intense activity; for one who fully appreciates the beauty and the necessity of a spiritual foundation for society, for one who understands how noble is its ideal, tranquility and action are associated in perfect harmony. And this leads Us to address a word of special affection and fatherly good will to you, young people, who are inclined to turn your backs upon the past and to place all your hopes and aspirations in the future: Enthusiasm and courage in themselves are not enough; they must be placed at the service of a good and untarnished cause. Feverish activity and anxious labor must all come to nothing, unless you find stability in God and in His eternal law. You must be inspired by the conviction of fighting for the truth, of devoting to that cause all your own desires and energies, all your yearnings and your sacrifices; you must be conscious of fighting for the eternal laws of God, for the dignity of the human person and for the attainment of the ends which the human person is destined to achieve. It is in the eternally active tranquility of God that mature age and youth will both find safe anchorage and so effect the truly Christian co-ordination of their differences of temperament and of activity. There, so long as driving power and the curb of restraint are coupled together, the natural difference between the older and the younger generation can give rise to no danger; on the contrary their collaboration will contribute powerfully to the implementing of God's eternal laws throughout the changing course of time and circumstances.

The World of Labor

There is one section of the community, for the past hundred years the scene of violent agitation and conflict, in which tranquility, at any rate to all appearance, reigns today; We mean the vast and ever growing world of labor, the great army of workers, wage-earners, and dependents. Viewed from the standpoint of present conditions with their war-time needs, this state of peace may be said to be an objective necessity; but if we consider it from the point of view of justice, from the point of view of an orderly and legitimate labor movement, we cannot but conclude that such tranquility will continue to be no more than apparent until that movement achieves its purpose.

Guided always by religious motives, the Church has condemned the various systems of Marxist socialism, and she condemns them still today, for it is her permanent duty and right to save men from currents of thought and from influences which jeopardize their eternal salvation. But the Church cannot fail to know and to perceive that the worker, in his efforts to improve his condition, finds himself confronted by a system which, far from being conformable with nature, is contrary to the order established by God and to the purpose which He has assigned earthly goods. The methods used may have been, and may still be wrong, dangerous, and deserving of condemnation; but no one, least of all a priest or a Christian, can possibly remain deaf to the cry that rises out of the depths, calling for justice and for a spirit of brotherhood in a world which a just God has made. To be silent in such circumstances would be wrong and inexcusable in the sight of God; it would be contrary to the inspired preaching of the Apostle, who, while insisting that we must be resolutely opposed to error, knows also that we must be full of sympathy with those who go astray, and full of understanding for their aspirations, hopes, and motives.

When God blessed our first parents He said to them: 'Increase and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.' [Gen. i. 28] And to the first father of a human family He said later: 'In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread.' [Gen. iii. 19] Therefore the dignity of the human person normally demands the right to the use of earthly goods as the natural foundation for a livelihood; and to that right corresponds the fundamental obligation to grant private property, as far as possible, to all. The positive laws regulating private property may change and may grant a more or less restricted use of it; but if such legal provisions are to contribute to the peaceful state of the community, they must save the worker, who is or will be the father of a family, from being condemned to an economic dependence or slavery irreconcilable with his rights as a person.

Whether this slavery arises from the tyranny of private capital or from the power of the State makes no difference to its effect; indeed under the oppression of a State which controls everything and regulates the whole of public and private life, which encroaches even upon the sphere of thought, conviction, and conscience, this lack of freedom may have consequences even more disastrous, as experience shows.

The bottom line, of course, is that man was not made for the State, nor for the convenience of an economic, political, and certainly not spiritual elite. The social order, as Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson hinted in his short apologetic work, The Religion of the Plain Man (1906), "is intended for the 'man in the street,' who, after all, has a certain claim on our consideration, since Jesus Christ came to save his soul."

The State is a tool made by man for man, to assist the ordinary individual in the acquisition and development of virtue. Until and unless the State fills that role adequately, it is a hindrance, not a help to humanity in becoming more fully human. The Just Third Way, particularly in its application called "Capital Homesteading," is one possible means of achieving the goals for which Pius XII called nearly three-quarters of a century ago, when it seemed that the Nazi tyranny, based on the positivist triumph of the Will, could very easily take over the world. The world stands in the same danger today. The time to act, to implement Capital Homesteading at the earliest possible date, is now.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Political Animal, Part IX

In the previous posting in this series we saw that Aristotle and Aquinas both agreed and disagreed on their respective understandings of legal justice and how people participate in the common good. According to Aristotle, no one has direct access to the common good by means of an act of a virtue. According to Aquinas, no individual has direct access to the common good by means of an act of a virtue . . . but that the common good is directly accessible. How is this possible?

Unfortunately, Aquinas did not explain how the common good is both not directly accessible by any act, and directly accessible . . . but not by any individual act. (Remember this, for it is an important point: no individual as an individual can have direct access to the common good.) To this we need to add the general principle of philosophy that no one other than a person can carry out an act of a virtue. Further, no one can act directly on something that does not allow a particular act — and a general virtue is, by definition, a virtue that does not have a particular act.

The solution to the first of Aquinas's apparent self-contradictions becomes evident once we think about it. If you have something you call legal justice that you define as a general virtue with the common good as its indirect object, and then claim that legal justice alone looks directly to the common good, it is clear that you are using the same term for two different things. Obviously, then, Aquinas was telling us that there is a general virtue called legal justice that has the common good as its indirect object . . . and that there is a particular virtue, that he also confusingly called legal justice, that has the common good as its direct object. Logically, there are thus (according to Aquinas) two distinct types of legal justice, one general, and one particular.

General legal justice is just what Aristotle said it is: a general virtue without a directed (particular) act that has the common good as its indirect object. Particular legal justice, however, has the common good as its directed object — "legal justice alone looks directly to the common good" . . . and there Aquinas left us hanging. It necessarily follows from the fact that a virtue is a particular virtue that it has a directed act . . . but all we can tell from what Aquinas said following his declaration about particular legal justice is, although particular legal justice has a directed object, individuals as individuals cannot carry out a directed act of legal justice! (Again, this is a critical point to keep in mind: individuals as individuals cannot carry out directed acts of legal justice.)

The "act" of legal justice, whether general or particular, apparently remains the vague, indirect effect that Aristotle described. That is, the effect that individuals acquiring and developing the classic virtues has on the general welfare, not any particular, directed effect on the complex network of institutions that make up the concrete manifestation of the common good and give particular form to the social order.

For the next eight centuries or so philosophers and political scientists got around this difficulty by — ignoring it. Treatises on justice examined legal justice exclusively as a general virtue (and not very deeply, at that, as Ferree notes), and left it at that. The only way to affect the common good is, they concluded, indirectly, and then only by means of acts of other virtues that somehow improved the general welfare of the community. In the meantime, however, a theory was reemerging in Europe regarding the origin and transmission of political power — sovereignty.

For centuries the west had more or less based its politics on Roman theory. According to the Romans, the social order is divided into three discrete societies, domestic (the family), religious (the temple), and civil (the State). Sovereignty is a slightly different concept, or at least has different applications, in each of the three societies.

In the family, the Romans believed the gods vested all power in domestic matters in the head of the family, the pater familias. No one, not even the head of State or the chief priest, could interfere with the power of life and death that the pater familias exercised over the members of his familia. In theory, anyway. In practice, it wasn't too uncommon for a pater familias to be prosecuted for violating a family member's civil or even religious rights, such as poisoning your wife or introducing the worship of unauthorized gods into the family. Even a slave had the quasi-right to sue for his freedom if he thought he could prove he had been unjustly enslaved — and winning such a case was not as rare as we might think.

Religious society was similar. The gods vested the priest with the power to administer religious matters. With so many gods, however, and the fact that the Romans were always bringing in new ones as new nations joined the Empire, it was anybody's free choice which god or gods you worshipped, or even whether you worshipped at all. Again, that was the theory. In practice, many civil institutions required participation by religious authorities or religious sanction, including the games.

Foreign affairs, for example, were construed as relations between peoples under the protection of different gods, so diplomats at the highest level had to be priests. Also, the person of a diplomat or envoy was considered sacred, so harming a diplomat offended the god or gods involved. A witness could not give testimony in a court of law without calling a god — usually Apollo — to stand surety, and to punish the witness in the next life if the testimony was perjured. When the reigning Caesar was considered divine or at least semi-divine, soldiers burned incense to the emperor's "genius," symbolized by his bust, as a test of loyalty. Early Christians were considered dangerous atheists and traitors to the State for refusing to participate in these practices.

In civil society, however, the Romans believed all power resides in the people. The State receives its power as a grant from the people who make up the State. The Romans don't appear to have gone much further than that, but the principle is clear. The State only exists by the consent of the governed, and the selection of ruler is ultimately the people's choice — in theory. "Emperor" (Imperator) was not a civil office, but a military honor signifying "one worthy to command Romans in battle." The heads of State (there were always two) were officially the Consuls, in theory elected every year. How well this worked in practice, and how consistently it was applied is a different issue.

The bottom line in all this is that during the Middle Ages, any ruler, regardless of the specific form of government, was believed to rule ultimately only with the consent of those whom he or she ruled, albeit with the sanction of God, sometimes confusingly referred to as ruling by "divine right." With the intellectual revolution that resulted from the rediscovery of Aristotle in the 12th century and in response to the changing political situation, however, new theories began to evolve or be revived as philosophers and political scientists began to examine the matter in greater detail. That is what we will start to look at in the next posting in this series.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Political Animal, Part VIII

In the previous posting in this series we saw that Aristotelian philosophy and Christianity came into conflict in the 12th century when the philosophy of Aristotle was "rediscovered" in Europe. As far as we are concerned for the purposes of this series of postings, the most important point of conflict was Aristotle's belief that each human being had a different capacity to acquire and develop virtue, versus the Christian belief that every human being has the same capacity to acquire and develop virtue as everyone else.

Thomas Aquinas resolved this conflict in an unusual way, an extremely subtle technique by means of which he didn't disagree with Aristotle directly. Instead, Aquinas carefully avoided undermining Aristotle's authority by explaining what Aristotle really meant by a passage that appeared to be in conflict with essential Christian precepts.

For example, Aristotle was rather clear what he meant when he said that some human-appearing creatures lack all capacity to acquire and develop virtue, and are thus "natural slaves." In the Summa, however, Aquinas explained that what Aristotle really meant is that there are some people, such as criminals, who (due to some accident in their makeup or their upbringing) are not adequately realizing their analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue. They are dangers to themselves and to society, and are therefore in need of training and correction so that they can be fitted to reenter civil society.

Thus (so Aquinas claimed) what Aristotle really meant when he said that some men are "natural slaves" what something different from what we might suppose. Aquinas explained that what Aristotle meant is that, when someone is clearly in need of correction and rehabilitation in order to be able to function adequately in society, it is natural that such an individual be deprived of the exercise of rights and put in the care of a master — the State or a private individual. The master is responsible for undertaking the task of rehabilitating the criminal and training him or her to reenter society. In this way Aquinas managed to maintain the Judeo-Christian belief in the analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue that every human being possesses, but without appearing to contradict Aristotle's natural slave argument.

Aquinas did something similar with legal justice. In the treatise on law in the Summa, the "Angelic Doctor" laid out Aristotle's argument on legal justice. Aquinas carefully explained how legal justice is a general, not a particular virtue. Thus, while legal justice has the common good as its object, the common good is not the directed object of legal justice. That would be impossible, for legal justice is a general justice, and therefore cannot have a particular, that is, a directed act. Instead, the quasi-act of legal justice consists of the indirect beneficial effect that the acquisition and development of other virtues has on the common good.

So far, so good. Aquinas was evidently in full agreement with Aristotle. As we have seen, however, implicit in Aristotle's analysis (and thus in Aquinas's apparent agreement with Aristotle) is the presumption that, if the virtue that has the common good as its object — legal justice — is and can only be indirect, then two conclusions are inevitable. One, human beings do not have analogously complete capacities to acquire and develop virtue, and therefore do not have equal rights. Two, no one has direct access to the common good, that complex network of institutions within which we acquire and develop virtue, and the social order is therefore a given. For both reasons individuals are helpless to effect changes directly for good or ill in the social order.

The individualist resolves this conflict by rejecting the social order as a positive good in conformity with nature. At best, the individualist tolerates the State as a necessary evil, as prudential matter, but only up to the point where infringement of individual rights becomes intolerable.

The collectivist takes the opposite approach. He or she resolves the conflict by rejecting individual rights as positive goods in conformity with nature. At best, the collectivist tolerates individual rights as necessary evils, as prudential matter, up to the point where the exercise of individual rights becomes intolerable.

Aquinas presented us with a different solution, as Father William Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., points out in The Act of Social Justice (1943). What Aquinas did was extremely subtle, and appears to have been missed for eight centuries. Of course, we also have to consider the possibility that Aquinas's solution might be in a section of the Summa that Aquinas did not complete, and may be one of the passages "filled in" by his students from his notes. It might therefore be not so much subtle as too brief, coming across as a simple unimportant assertion without explanation.

Whatever the reason, after presenting Aristotle's classic analysis of legal justice in the Summa (keep in mind that Aristotle's main point is that legal justice is a general virtue and can only affect the common good indirectly) Aquinas makes the single — and astounding — statement, "Legal justice alone looks directly to the common good." (Ia IIae q. 61 5, 4m) The implications of this brief statement are profound and yet have been largely ignored since Aquinas made it.

It is not just that Aquinas seems to have contradicted everything he had just said with respect to legal justice. If legal justice looks directly to the common good, then much of what Aristotle concluded about how people participate in the common good is wrong. Instead of having no power to affect the institutions of the social order, or being forced to relegate all power over the common good to the State or an economic or political elite, the common good is, on the contrary, directly accessible by every single human being.

Who, then, is correct? Aristotle, who claimed that some people are only partially human (and some not human at all), and that in consequence the common good is not directly accessible by anyone? Or is Aquinas correct — Aquinas, who contradicted Aristotle's idea that some people could be less than human, but then agreed with Aristotle about legal justice and the inability of anyone to have direct access to the common good . . . and then seems to have turned around and contradicted himself?

There is a way to resolve this new problem, which we will look at in the next posting in this series.


Friday, December 18, 2009

News from the Network, Vol. 2, No. 51

Perhaps the most astonishing news of this past week (please note: "astonishing" does not necessarily equal "important") is Time magazine's naming of Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke as its "person of the year." It's tempting to fake a New York accent, and describe Mr. Bernanke as "poison of the year," but — to be honest — the Chairman only reflects the flaws evident in the widespread misunderstanding and consequent misuse of the financial system, even the concepts of money and credit. The Federal Reserve, which owes its existence in large measure to William Jennings Bryan, and which was described as the combination of "Jacksonian hopes and financial responsibility," is designed to operate in accordance with the real bills doctrine.

Unfortunately, the three major schools of economics today (Keynesian, Monetarist, and Austrian) as well as most of the minor ones are based on a rejection of the real bills doctrine, and insist that all capital formation must be financed using existing accumulations of savings. Every binary economist, however, knows that this assumption was completely disproved by the work of Dr. Harold Moulton in his 1935 classic, The Formation of Capital, written as volume 3 in a four-part series to present an alternative to the Keynesian New Deal. The real bills doctrine is also supported by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776), Henry Thornton in An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain (1802), John Fullarton in On the Regulation of the Currencies of the Bank of England (1845), and, of course, Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler in their 1961 collaboration, The New Capitalists: A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings.

In essence, Mr. Bernanke is trapped within a paradigm that insists upon using a screwdriver as a hammer. He might eventually get a nail driven in by sheer force and great persistence, but it's not going to do the job right or (more probably) at all, and he's only going to ruin the tool, the fastener, and the workpiece while he's at it.

Despite this, proponents of the Just Third Way continue to try and bring the principles of binary economics and Capital Homesteading to the attention of the powers-that-be — for which intensive and ongoing door opening efforts are essential. Remember: if you don't open a door to your contacts, nobody else is going to do it. To further door opening efforts of the Just Third Way and other initiatives, these are some of the events that happened during the week. As can be seen, the closer we get to the holidays, the more activity winds down as people anxiously await the end of the year — as if the New Year will be any better if there has been no effort put forth to make it so.
• On Tuesday, December 15, 2009, CESJ held another biweekly "summit" meeting to discuss aspects of the Just Third Way and develop specifics for moving forward. Among other things, it was pointed out that 2012 will be the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's 1862 Homestead Act. Perhaps not coincidentally, the original Homestead Act came at a time when many people believed that it is impossible to finance capital formation without the use of existing accumulations of savings or for the economy to survive without chattel slavery. This was the premise behind David Christy's immensely influential book, Cotton is King (1855), credited with supplying the South with the economic arguments it needed to justify continued slavery and succession. We have not advanced beyond that today, with most people absolutely convinced that it is impossible to finance capital formation without the use of existing accumulations of savings, or for the economy to survive without wage slavery. This is the premise behind John Maynard Keynes's immensely influential book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), credited with supplying the world with the economic arguments it needs to justify continued wage slavery and effective State socialism.

• Getting the word out about Capital Homesteading in time to enact the Capital Homestead Act in 2012 (or before) appears to be shaping up as a definite focus.

• CESJ's monthly Executive Committee meeting took place on Wednesday, December 16, 2009. While lengthy, the meeting was lively, again focusing on how to spread the word about Capital Homesteading and open doors to prime movers and others with a vested interest in bringing an end to the current seemingly endless spate of economic and political crises.

• Early today we reconnected with an old friend from college who reacted very positively to what he heard, and immediately began thinking of business and political connections with whom we should be in touch. This shows what can happen when people become familiar with the potential of the Just Third Way and start using their connections to open doors.

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 42 different countries and 43 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, the UK, Canada, Brazil and the Philippines. People in Senegal, Aruba, Venezuela, the Philippines, and Indonesia spent the most average time on the blog. The postings on a Pro-Life Economic Agenda hold three of the top five spots, with "Aristotle on Private Property" and "Thomas Hobbes on Private Property" in the No. 2 and No. 3 places, respectively.
Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Political Animal, Part VII

As we saw in the previous postings in this series, what is possibly Aristotle's most serious and fundamental error is his conclusion that each individual human being has a different capacity to acquire and develop virtue. Logically, then, while no one is fully human in the sense that he or she possesses the full capacity to acquire and develop virtue, some people have a greater capacity to acquire and develop virtue. Such individuals are thus more human than others. Still others, while human in appearance, completely lack any capacity to acquire and develop virtue. They therefore also lack the natural rights the exercise of which are essential to the acquisition and development of virtue. These are the natural slaves.

With the coming of Christianity, however, a new understanding of what it means to be human came on the scene, although (in justice) Christianity cannot be said to have originated the idea. Christianity views itself as the fulfillment of Judaism, so it should come as no surprise that what we see in Christianity can be found also in Judaism; these ideas did not spring full grown out of Christianity. Credit rightfully goes to the Jews.

Judaism, however, was (by and large) viewed as being exclusively for Jews. Whatever the purely religious claims of Judaism and Christianity and the differences between them, the basic understanding of what it means to be human is essentially the same in both religions, as well as in Islam. In a temporal (that is, non-religious) sense, Christianity's contribution was to universalize Judaism's view of the human person and his role in society. The Law — meaning the natural moral law — was no longer to be understood or construed as something exclusively for Jews, but, when reduced to its essential precepts, as applying to the whole of mankind. As Jesus tried to make clear, He came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it; not the tiniest particle of the Law would pass away.

Aside from the revolutionary idea that there is only one God, then, Judaism seems to have popularized the idea (also found in some of the Sophist philosophers, although, if we believe Aristotle, evidently poorly argued) that every human being is as fully human as every other human being. That is, each human being has the same capacity to acquire and develop virtue as every other human being. All human beings are thus fully human, and all human beings therefore meet the requirements for full participation in the common good.

This new view of humanity caused a serious problem when the philosophy of Aristotle was "rediscovered" in the 12th century. The philosophy of Aristotle was clearly based on logic and common sense, and yet appeared to be in conflict with the truths of revealed religion. In a line of argument that has been labeled "buffoonery," at least one commentator, Siger of Brabant, tried to explain away this problem by asserting that there are thus two different truths, one religious, and one scientific. In this Siger was ably opposed by Aquinas — although who is to be the ultimate victor appears to be in question to this day. As G. K. Chesterton described the matter,
Siger of Brabant said this: the Church must be right theologically, but she can be wrong scientifically. There are two truths; the truth of the supernatural world, and the truth of the natural world, which contradicts the supernatural world. While we are being naturalists, we can suppose that Christianity is all nonsense; but then, when we remember that we are Christians, we must admit that Christianity is true even if it is nonsense. In other words, Siger of Brabant split the human head in two, like the blow in an old legend of battle, and declared that a man has two minds, with one of which he must entirely believe and with the other may utterly disbelieve. (G. K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Dumb Ox." New York: Image Books, 1956, 92-93.)
Among other issues (which, however important, we will not get into here), Aristotle's conclusion that each human being has a different capacity to acquire and develop virtue and some have none, came into direct conflict with the Christian idea that all human beings have the same ("analogously complete") capacity to acquire and develop virtue — the equal opportunity and means to become "adopted children" of God. As America's Founding Fathers were to put it later, "All men are created equal."

In response to the oddities propounded by Siger of Brabant and to resolve the apparent paradox presented by Aristotelian philosophy, Aquinas posed his theory of "analogy of being." That is, each and every human being is "analogously complete" with every other human being. If you are human, you are fully human. If you are not human, you are fully not human. Whatever anything is, it is fully whatever it is, without qualification. If a thing is a particular thing, it is fully that thing. If it is not a thing, it is completely not that thing.

Aquinas's analogy of being is a logical development of Aristotle's "principle (or law) of contradiction" (or non-contradiction). This is, nothing can both "be" and "not be" at the same time. Thus, Aristotle's theory that human beings could have different capacities to acquire and develop virtue — the capacity to acquire and develop virtue being that which defines us as "human" — did not hold water in light of his own law of contradiction.

This breakthrough of Aquinas laid the groundwork for reconciling the individualistic and the collectivist views of society. This will be covered beginning in the next posting in this series.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Political Animal, Part VI

In the previous posting in this series we saw that certain of Aristotle's assumptions about how each person has a different capacity to acquire and develop virtue leads inevitably to two conclusions about the role of the human person in society. One, no human being can directly access (fully participate in) the institutional environment that gives specific form to a particular society. This is because there is no exact match between any individual's capacity to acquire and develop virtue, and the "fullness of virtue" that makes up the common good — the institutional environment. The institutional environment becomes accepted as a given.

Two, any individual only has indirect access to the common good, and then only if he or she has some measure of that special capacity to acquire and develop the specific type of virtue that makes a good ruler. This individual (sometimes a group, depending on the form of government) tries to make the good life (the acquisition and development of virtue) possible by passing and enforcing good laws. Our individual obedience to these laws has a generally good effect on society, while our individual disobedience has a generally bad effect.

Because the effect on the common good most often comes from obedience or disobedience to human laws, the virtue that affects the common good indirectly is called "legal justice." Because legal justice does not act directly on its object — the common good — it is not a particular virtue, but a general virtue. Further, because this legal justice does not look directly to its object, there is no specific ("particular") act that can be identified as an "act of legal justice." Instead, the "act" of legal justice can at best be described as the indirect effect that the acts of other virtues have on the general welfare of society.

It becomes evident, then, that this thing we call the common good has two aspects, one "particular," that is, specific, concrete, and identifiable, and the other vague and "general." The particular aspect of the common good is the network of institutions — including laws, customs, traditions, and so on — that give specific form to the social order within which we as political creatures work to become more fully what we are. (Again, there is another view on whether such things as laws, customs, and traditions can be considered "institutions," but we will try to get to that later.)

The general aspect of the common good — the "general welfare" — on the other hand, can possibly best be understood as the "tone" of a society: not just that good laws are being obeyed, but how they are obeyed, and even the quality of the laws themselves. Are the laws that are being passed, in fact, good laws? Even if they are clearly good laws, are people obeying them in the manner in which the lawmakers intended they should be obeyed, and are the laws having the desired effect?

In the Aristotelian framework, we thus have a paradox. We cannot act specifically (directly) on that part of the common good that has a specific — "particular" — identity. In philosophy and law, only a "person" can be the directed object of an "act." This is because only persons have rights. If we (in colloquial terms) perform an act that injures or benefits a thing — a non-person or that which has no rights — the goodness or badness of that act in human or social terms is not the goodness or badness of the effect that our act has on the thing. Rather, the goodness or badness of our act (again, in human or social terms) is determined by how our act affects the person whose rights to and over that thing have been injured or benefited.

Aristotle "solved" this problem by observing the institution of slavery. Seeing that slaves functioned in society on behalf of their owners as if they were their owners, Aristotle claimed that, in cases in which a thing functions in society as if it were a person, the thing becomes, in effect, an artificial person by reason of the reflection of virtue from its owner, and the exercise of rights on behalf of its owner.

A thing, of course, cannot be a natural person in its own right, but a thing can be an artificial person by means of a delegation of rights from its owner or (in the case of a political entity) its sovereign. This, obviously, says nothing about whether slavery is right or just. It is simply the theory that Aristotle developed to explain how, given the fact of slavery, a slave — or anything else that is not a natural person — manages to participate in the common good, even though a slave is not a person, but a thing.

In political matters (using the word in its modern sense) the identity of a sovereign in a State may be an issue, e.g., whether the people or a divine right ruler. The bottom line in any political arrangement, however, is that the State — a thing — must derive its just powers from a natural person or persons somewhere along the line. Similarly, there can be multitudes of artificial persons in society, such as slaves, charitable foundations, or business corporations, but somewhere there has to be a natural person or persons from which these artificial persons derive the rights that they exercise.

The act of creating an artificial person has a special word in philosophy: incorporation. This is probably a bad word, for today it is used almost exclusively to refer to business corporations and, on rare occasions, to political entities at the municipal level. We are going to have to use it, however, for the word was used later in the 17th century in the development of totalitarian political philosophies, and thus in the development of theories that countered those philosophies.

That, however, will come later. In our next posting we will begin looking at how Aquinas corrected Aristotle's error — though not the effects of the error or its continued widespread acceptance throughout the world.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Political Animal, Part V

In the previous posting in this series we discovered that, if we allow ourselves to be trapped by one of Aristotle's few errors, we are confronted with an insoluble paradox. That is, if we assume that humanity has no direct access to the common good (meaning to the complex network of institutions that make up the social order), then we have no way of improving our institutional environment. We're stuck with whatever the situation happens to be, and must make the best of it, no matter how bad things get.

On the other hand, humanity — being political by nature — creates institutions and thus a social order to assist people in the task of acquiring and developing virtue. Logically, if human beings create institutions, then human beings can reform institutions and bring them closer into conformity with our own nature. Otherwise the institutions are not doing the job for which they were intended.

The bottom line to trying to work within Aristotle's flawed framework is that we are building tools (and institutions are tools to assist us in our acquisition and development of virtue) that we can neither use the way they are intended to work, nor redesign them so that they will work as intended. We are building tools — machines (including the "machinery of the State") — that we cannot control.

Thus, in Aristotle's analysis people are essentially helpless before the social inertia of something that humanity itself has created. Within that framework there are only two ways to affect the common good — our institutional environment. The first is the way of individualism, or (carried to its logical extreme) anarchy. That is, break things apart and make them smaller. The current delusion of the individualist is to declare that "small is beautiful," and to demand that everything be reduced to "human scale," with "human scale" understood as individual human scale. This will presumably allow individuals to take charge of their own lives.

The problem with the individualistic approach (besides being completely egocentric and ultimately relativistic) is that the human person is not merely an individual, but also has a social nature, a combination Aristotle described as being political. Anything involving even one other person is automatically beyond individual human scale. Within the "small is beautiful" paradigm, then, anything "larger" than or beyond the competence of a single, unaided human being must be eliminated if we are to follow the principle logically, that is, in a manner consistent with our rational nature. Because of our social nature, the individualistic approach is directly contrary to what we are as political animals. It leads necessarily to anarchy, that is, a state of no laws, individual redefinition of laws, or each person making the decision as to which law or laws he or she chooses to obey.

The second way to affect the common good — the social order — is the way of collectivism. That is for the strongest to take charge and impose his or her will on the social order. Within the Aristotelian framework we can, however, only do this indirectly, by the strongest passing good laws and demanding obedience. This has an indirect effect on the wellbeing of all of society, the "general welfare," but does nothing directly to change or improve the institutional environment that has a specific, not a general identity. There may be (and often is) an improvement in the common good in such situations, but it cannot be directed, that is, controlled.

In light of this observation, only two conclusions are possible: 1) the individualistic assumption that society is irredeemably evil and must be abolished at all cost for the sake of humanity, or 2) the collectivist deduction that the individual is irredeemably lost, and must be subsumed in the collective for the sake of humanity. We will begin to look at how to get out of this trap in the next posting in this series.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Political Animal, Part IV

In the previous posting in this series we saw that, due to his acceptance of slavery as a "natural" condition for some beings that are human only in appearance, Aristotle came up against a serious logical problem. That is, only persons have rights, and rights are necessary for something to be able to function in society. Rights give something a "social identity," without which no one or no thing can be a true member of or participant in society; lacking rights means that a being has no legal — social — existence.

The problem was, however, that you had things — slaves — acting in society just as if they were actual persons. If only human beings could be persons, this could not be the case. Today, a "slave" is legally defined as a human being without rights, but Aristotle denied the humanity of "natural slaves"; they were "human only in appearance." There were thus two kinds of slaves, according to Aristotle. There were the natural slaves, who might look human but were not, and human beings who, due to some accident (meaning something other than nature), had become or been made slaves for the sake of expedience. Thus, slavery can be a permanent condition, as with chattel slavery, or temporary, as is the case when a State takes away rights from someone convicted of a crime after determination of just cause and through due process.

Aristotle concluded that somehow "things" (remember, slaves are not persons, but things), when they are owned by persons, "share" their owners' lives in some unspecified way. By being owned, a thing receives a "reflection" (we would call it "delegation" or grant) of its owner's virtue. This "reflected virtue" makes a thing into an extension of its owner and enables the thing (in this case, a slave) to act in society as if it were its owner to a limited extent. "Reflected virtue" from a natural person thus makes a thing into an artificial person.

Ironically, Aristotle's mistake about natural slavery was one that allowed him to make astounding advances in the science of politics that he would otherwise not have been able to make. The idea of how a government — a thing — receives a delegation of political power from its citizens — natural persons — organized into a State, is based on Aristotle's theory of how a slave participates in or shares its owner's virtue. Similarly, the whole idea of the corporation, an artificial person that is ultimately owned by natural persons, comes from Aristotle's idea of natural slavery and the problem of how a thing can be empowered to act within the social order as if it were a person. As we will presently see, these advances had a profound effect on Pope Pius XI's development of the doctrine of social virtue.

Aristotle's specific mistake was to conclude that human beings have different capacities to acquire and develop virtue. The capacity to acquire and develop virtue, however, is what defines us as human — the good common to all humanity: the common good. Aristotle's conclusion that this capacity is different for every human being is extremely serious, because — if true — it means that some human beings are more human than others, while there are some human-appearing creatures that aren't really human, and therefore can be owned in the same way as other things.

The implications of Aristotle's error are profound. If some people are more human than others, then inequality of rights is not a problem. There are even people who have no rights at all because they have no capacity whatsoever to acquire and develop virtue. Such creatures are not, strictly speaking, human at all, but things — natural slaves. Thus, people without the capacity to acquire and develop virtue do not participate in the common good to any degree, while those with limited or different capacities to acquire and develop virtue can only participate in society — the network of institutions by means of which the common good manifests — in a limited fashion. Thus, as far as Aristotle was concerned, no one has or can have full access to the common good.

There's also a problem in Aristotle's framework with direct access to that complex network of institutions by means of which the common good manifests in society. To put it bluntly, it can't be done. An exact match is necessary to fit two things together and allow direct access or interaction. You can't force a round peg into a square hole and expect the peg or the hole to remain undamaged. Partial or non-existent individual capacities to acquire and develop virtue cannot link up with the full capacity to acquire and develop virtue — the "fullness of virtue" — that is the common good of all mankind. There is no complete or perfect "fit," and therefore no direct access.

This sets up a paradox, for the common good as it manifests in the social order as a network of institutions provides the environment within which we acquire and develop virtue . . . and these institutions are specifically man-made things. What you end up with using Aristotle's analysis is the paradox that man has created social tools — institutions — to which he has no direct access. Lacking direct access, he cannot control or even recreate to make them controllable, and thereby conform our institutions to their proper roles in assisting individuals in acquiring and developing virtue. If we accept the Aristotelian analysis, then, man has built something beyond his own control.

Obviously, this does not make sense. As Aristotle realized, however, man is rational. Confronted with a problem, the thing to do is not give up, but to work in a manner consistent with nature and solve the problem. We will begin to examine the framework for problem solving in the next posting in this series.


Friday, December 11, 2009

News from the Network, Vol. 2, No. 50

We were deeply saddened, not to say shocked to learn late yesterday of the sudden and unexpected death of John Logue, CESJ Counselor and founder and director of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC), on December 9, 2009, barely a week after being diagnosed with cancer. More details are available here on the website of the OEOC.
• Some administrative glitches have cropped up in the publication of Dr. Alamgir's book, Notes from a Prison: Bangladesh. We anticipate that the book will now be released shortly after the New Year.

• We have been answering questions on "Linkedin," the professional networking site, mostly regarding current views on money, credit, and banking. Somewhat to our surprise, presenting an alternative understanding of money, one based on the tenets of the British Banking School rather than the British Currency School, has met a positive reception. Evidently a growing number of people actually involved in money, credit, and the science of finance on a daily basis are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the distortions of the economy forced onto the system by unquestioned acceptance of a fundamental premise of Keynesian, Monetarist, and even Austrian schools of economics: that it is impossible to finance formation of new capital without first cutting consumption and saving. Dr. Harold Moulton proved this wrong in his 1935 monograph, The Formation of Capital, volume three in a four-part series giving an alternative to the Keynesian New Deal as a model for economic recovery. The other books in the series are America's Capacity to Consume (1934), America's Capacity to Produce (1934) and Income and Economic Progress (1935).

• We have re-titled the book on the ontology of personalism as Supporting Life: The Case for an Economic Agenda for the Pro-Life Movement. The short (104 pp) book is now in editing, and is scheduled for release before the end of this year. It directly addresses Mr. Obama's call for finding "common ground" between the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life positions, to say nothing of guiding people toward a solution to the current economic crisis. Not that you need to wait until the book is released to investigate the possibilities offered by the Just Third Way as an economic recovery program. All you need do is download the free copy of Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen from the CESJ website.

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 36 different countries and 46 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, the UK, Canada, Brazil and the Philippines. People in Aruba, Senegal, the United States, the Philippines, and Argentina spent the most average time on the blog. Of the top five postings, the Pro-Life Economic Agenda holds all the spots except for "Thomas Hobbes on Private Property" in the No. 3 place.
Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Redefining Our Monetary and Financial Systems

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posting to repost an answer we put up the other day on "Linkedin," a professional networking site we recently joined. A vice president of a commercial bank asked, "Is it better for us to keep dealing in paper-based currencies and economies, or to redefine our monetary and financial systems?" Our answer received the comment that we had given "valuable comment with lots of valuable information to absorb and learn from."

The other answers to the question were all good — given the definition of "money" currently in use by economists and policymakers. It would be better, however, to replace the current definition of "money" used by economists and policymakers. The understanding of money in all the systems based on the tenets of the "British Currency School" — which include Keynesian, Monetarist, and Austrian schools of economics — assume that this thing called "money" is effectively a purchase order issued by the State or State-authorized agency. Implicit in this understanding is the assumption of State omnipotence and ultimate ownership of everything (and everyone) in the State, just as Thomas Hobbes asserted in Leviathan.

A definition of money that adheres more closely to the demands of human dignity and respects humanity's natural rights, especially the natural right to be an owner, is that used by the lawyers: "anything (repeat, anything) that is used in settlement of a debt." This is based on the tenets of the British Banking School, and embodies the real bills doctrine that we have covered in a number of previous postings. Briefly, the real bills doctrine is that money can be created as needed without inflation or deflation if (and only if) it is linked directly to the discounting of "real bills" (that is, claims on something with actual present value) by commercial banks for capital projects, that is, projects the generate their own repayment out of future profits.

Limiting the concept of money to government-issued or authorized paper, gold, credit cards, and so on, ad infinitum, does not address the basic problem with today's monetary systems. That is, unless whatever we use as "money" represents a conveyable (transferable) private property interest in something with a present value, it is, as Paul Samuelson admitted, "legal counterfeiting."

A sound money supply, whether based on paper, gold, or elephants (as, once upon a time, it was in Sri Lanka), requires that whatever you are using not necessarily be valuable in and of itself, but be readily — and freely — exchangeable for something else of value, such as food, clothing, shelter, etc. Thus, while "money" can take any form that people agree to accept, it must be "backed" by something of value.

Nor does the backing of the money have to be gold or silver. It can be any hard asset, that is, anything with a definable present value. As Jean-Baptiste Say pointed out nearly 200 years ago (and I necessarily paraphrase, not having the source in front of me), we do not make our purchases with "money," per se, but with what we ourselves produce by means of our labor, our capital, or our land. "Money," as Aristotle pointed out, is an abstraction, the social tool we use to measure the value of our own productions so that we can exchange them for the productions of others, both being measured in terms of a third thing so as to come to a common measure of valuation.

The proper function of a commercial bank (as opposed to a "bank of deposit") is to create "money." That is, a commercial bank values something a prospective borrower brings to the bank in terms of "money," and gives the borrower "money" — generalized purchasing power backed by the bank's word to make good on it. In exchange, the commercial bank takes a lien on whatever the borrower brought to the bank for financing. For providing this service, assuming that the loan is made for something that generates its own repayment (otherwise you are dealing with usury or riba) the bank properly charges a fee, as well as a risk premium determined by how good a credit risk the borrower is.

As a prudent move, the bank also usually demands collateral — a store of existing wealth that the bank can take should the borrower not pay back the loan of money so that the money can be canceled. Kelso and Adler point out that the demand for collateral can be replaced with capital credit insurance, making it possible for people who are not rich to finance acquisition of capital assets. The State's role in this is not to create the money, but to set the standard of value and make certain that no one creates money that deviates from that standard, plus ensuring that the assets behind the money exist.

This is only the briefest outline of a very complex subject. For the proper way to manage the currency, read The Formation of Capital (1935) by Dr. Harold G. Moulton, if you can find one of the rare copies sometimes offered for sale. Book II of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations also gets into this, as does a rare book published in 1845, by John Fullarton, The Regulation of the Currencies of the Bank of England. An updated treatment can be found in Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler's The New Capitalists: A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings (1961). Don't bother with Keynes, Friedman, or the Austrians — they all use a definition of money based on the Currency School, and differ only in details. Also see Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen by Dr. Norman G. Kurland.