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.

Friday, January 29, 2010

An E-mail Exchange with Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine

Last week's Friday news report related that President Obama has decided to come down hard on the financial institutions that have taken extreme advantage of the government's efforts to save the economy. We made it clear we believed that, while regulation is clearly necessary, it must be the right sort of regulation, something that affects the basic institution and thus makes regulation part of the system itself, not something imposed from the outside, from the top down.

We were unaware that the noted magazine Tikkun, run by Rabbi Michael Lerner, had weighed in on its website a day earlier on this issue. Noting President Obama's reference to big banks as "fat cats," the article performed an important service in underscoring the need for reform. Writer Lauren Reichelt described the president's efforts as "forcing savings and loans to divest themselves of the investment banks that gambled away taxpayers' savings, and forcing the largest banks to be broken up. . . . It is probably not coincidental that these are the same banks that caused the near collapse of our financial institutions, sucked up billions in tax funds and then planned to hand the same amount out to top execs as bonuses."

Tikkun appeared to support President Obama's proposal not for the presumed salutary effects that the increased regulations would bring to a sorely beset American people and a badly crippled productive economy, but for the political benefits that would flow to the Democratic Party and the poke in the eye it would deal to the opposition. As the writer claimed, "Congressional Republicans obstruct this bill at their own peril."

In other words, the emphasis appeared to be on revenge, not justice. This was apparently with an eye toward increasing the rate of redistribution of a rapidly shrinking pool of wealth from a devastated tax base at a time when the productive sector is imploding. The report mentioned that "It is probably very significant that Obama made this announce[ment] flanked by Paul Volcker. Neither Geithner nor Summers were present, nor were they mentioned by name in the press release. Some of you may recall that Volcker, who advocated for increased regulation of banks and a large jobs bill, was frozen out of the administration at the outset by Geithner and Summers." It concluded by exulting, "We lost a seat in MA, but we may have won the war. Certainly, we have won the right to engage in battle."

In our opinion, despite the evident good will toward and concern for the little guy displayed by Rabbi Lerner's staff, their belief that the State can solve the current economic disaster by fiat and with an increase in spending and redistribution of that which has been accumulated by others is wrongheaded. You can't redistribute wealth that isn't being produced forever, nor can you hold producers' feet to the fire with threats, veiled or otherwise, in an effort to disgorge their presumably ill-gotten gains, or force them to produce when there is no incentive to do so, such as a just rate of return determined by the free market. They simply stop producing and move to a more conducive climate with less regulation and cheaper labor. Nothing is more easily exported in today's global economy than capital, leaving the country without the means to generate sufficient production to sustain itself.

Although such thoughts were running through my mind, at least in germ, I sent a link to the article to the Just Third Way network. Whatever I felt to be the defects in the article, admitting the need for reform of any kind is a major advance. Identifying the problem and having the right orientation to a viable solution is half the job. Specifics can come later.

I then received the following e-mail from an Islamic natural law scholar who supports the Just Third Way. It's a little pessimistic and down on Mr. Obama, but it does express — qualified — optimism. At this point, any optimism is a breath of fresh air and a sign of hope.
Will President Obama go beyond regulating the current system and dare actually to change the institutions? Opportunities usually come from crises, but unfortunately crisis managers rarely see them and merely seek to maintain the status quo under the appearance of change. Obama has lost the trust of his followers, but it may not be too late, so we shall see. It is hard to turn a failed State around when the leaders don't have a clue about whether and why it failed. Does Obama know something that we don't? Hope springs eternal, but one cannot live on hope and love.
To encourage more positive responses, I immediately posted the following e-mail on the Tikkun website, and copied the Islamic scholar.
This is a great opportunity for Tikkun to join the radical middle. While the Tea Partiers are advocating "End the Fed" and the worshippers of the State are calling for imposing top-down control of the Federal Reserve by the U.S. Treasury Department, why not support the Coalition for Capital Homesteading's "Own the Fed" rally? The goal is to put money power in the hands of the citizens of each of the twelve Federal Reserve districts? Plan to join us on Thursday, April 15th at the Federal Reserve in Washington, DC, to neutralize the poison of the million or so angry people coming in that day to protest at the White House. For our long-term plan for democratizing the economy by 2012, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Homestead Act, follow this link Anyone interested can make contact via the information on the CESJ website. I hope Rabbi Lerner can be moved to the radical center. Then we'll offer him a chance to speak at our rally. Own or Be Owned, Norm
The response from the Islamic scholar was thought provoking:
Norm, you and Rabbi Lerner represent the two wings of the Just Third Way strategic bomber. In the Second World War we had the song about "Coming home on a wing and a prayer," about the crews coming back to Britain after a run over Nazi Germany, but they were lucky. We need both wings, and then God as the co-pilot to help with the steering. Peace through compassionate justice.
I admit I was somewhat puzzled. It seemed to me that the Islamic scholar had unintentionally belittled the Just Third Way and CESJ's efforts to promote peace through the establishment of justice inspired and then fulfilled by charity. Instead, he, in common with Rabbi Lerner, appeared to want to base everything on the presumed necessity of first establishing perfect charity as a precondition of justice. This, of course, is impossible, for as philosophers and religious teachers through the ages have reminded us, we must establish justice inspired by charity as a precondition of charity. In the words of Pope Pius XI, "Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into constant account." (Divini Redemptoris, § 49) To do otherwise is to put the cart before the horse. Charity fulfills justice, and logically cannot fulfill that which does not exist, or which is a necessary precondition.

Nevertheless, this issue was developing into a discussion that could prove very useful in clarifying how people are thinking about these issues, and thus the appropriate actions to take to solve the present set of problems. The heart of the issue seems to be that there is a difference of opinion not only between those of us who promote the Just Third Way and those who promote other systems, but even among those of us whom I thought understood the basic principles of social and economic justice underlying the Just Third Way. Many intelligent people continue to insist that charity must come before justice, whereas common sense tells us that justice must come before charity.

This is because justice does not fulfill the demands of charity. Instead, charity fulfills the demands of justice. As Pope John Paul I said in the General Audience of September 6, 1978, "Charity is the soul of justice." Thus, because charity is the higher virtue, it cannot exist except on a foundation of justice. In practical terms, if we must put one before the other, justice takes precedence because it is lower, and thus more readily attainable by human beings in their imperfect state.

This is because the virtue of justice — rendering to each what each is due — has natural limits, that is, boundaries within which it functions or it cannot be called justice. Rendering to each more or less than what each is due is unjust. What is rendered must be what each is due, no more, no less. The application of justice is therefore attainable by purely human means and through the use of reason simply by acting in accordance with human nature, which the great religions agree is consistent with divine Nature.

It is different with charity, the supreme virtue with no limits, and therefore impossible for humanity to attain, despite the paradox that we must work for nothing else. You cannot love too much. You can love the wrong things, such as money, status, even yourself in certain circumstances, but of properly oriented and directed love, as the Great Commandment implies, there can never be enough: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbor as thyself." As the Christian Evangelist John expressed it, "God is Love," that is, perfect love is attainable only by God.

To argue that we must, therefore, first perfectly fulfill the demands of charity in order to establish justice is to demand something impossible, even blasphemous — that we become God — as a precondition of establishing justice, something that is within the power of every human being by nature itself. To me, this is getting everything backwards — but that is what people seem to insist on doing. It does have the advantage of excusing our ineffectiveness in bringing about just social change, but it does nothing to establish the reign of peace and love. It only succeeds in frustrating everybody.

Thus, I felt it was the time for some pointed questions to start laying the groundwork for an approach to the problem that would bring about a viable solution. The Islamic scholar's reference to the bombing missions out of England in World War II seemed an obvious point from which to take off, so to speak. I responded,
As you know, I flew B-47 bombers in Strategic Air Command. One basic rule of navigation is that you need to know where you're going if you want to get where you planned to be at a specific time. The Just Third Way is both a route and a destination. I know where I'm heading. God created us and all of nature, and gave us as part of our unique nature the free will and power to act justly or unjustly or just plain confused on how to cope with life. God's Will does not, in my opinion, determine how we act. That's up to us. (I highly commend to you Michael Greaney's blog discussions of two divergent philosophical views of God's role in influencing human thought and human actions — God's Will or, according to Thomas Aquinas, God's Nature, which includes humans as well as all non-human aspects of the universe. Michael and I agree with Aquinas's school of thought.

Do you really believe that Rabbi Lerner understands the basic principles for navigating toward the same Just Third Way destination as those of us in CESJ? I hate to say it, but you have me confused.

Frankly, I'm getting increasingly frustrated by those who preach prayer, non-violence and peace, but either are silent about the absolute necessity of justice to the establishment of peace, or they preach "justice" with little or no understanding of basic principles of that virtue. My continuing prayer is my work for justice — as the Benedictines, a Catholic religious order, have as their motto, Laborare Orare Est — "To work is to pray." As such I "pray," that is, work for justice, virtually all my waking hours every day since I first became aware of "the Just Third Way" 45 years ago.

Again, are you suggesting that there is no spiritual sensitivity in my work or that of other Servants of Justice in CESJ? What is the "wing" missing from our work?

In Peace through Justice,
The response from the Islamic scholar, while interesting and informative, confirmed my belief that people insist on reversing the proper order of things, and demand that we first be perfect before we can get to work becoming perfect.
I agree with you and Mike about God's Being versus God's Will. This has been probably the biggest issue in the 1400 years of debate among Muslims. This debate led in the second Islamic century [eighth century] to the only Inquisition in the history of Islam, when the Mutazillites went to an extreme in their insistence that God is Being in order to defeat the Salafis (ancestors of the modern Wahhabis) who said that God is all Will and that therefore if He wishes evil, so be it. The battle was waged in the arcane arena of whether the Qur'an is created (the Mutazillite position) and therefore requires reason to apply it, or whether it is uncreated (the Salafi position) and therefore must be followed blindly without the use of reason to understand it. The middle-of-the roaders, the Asharites, said that God is Being and therefore cannot act contrary to his nature, which consists of love and justice, but that God is the ultimate actor in the universe and wills man to choose his own future, even if it be injustice, because without free will there can be neither love nor justice. In other words, the Asharites (like me) say that the universe and even human nature are good, and that evil comes only from their self-worship by humans who think they are God.

This is a short summary of 1400 years of Islamic thought, which is mirrored in every one of the world religions. The language and apparent issues vary from one religion to another, but the substance is identical in them all.

My only difference with you over the decades has been the prioritization of prayer vìs à vìs action as it relates to the balance between changing ourselves and changing our institutions. Rabbi Lerner is right to say that the "capitalists" should be compassionate, etc., but he is hopelessly wrong if he thinks that they ever will. And even if an individual "capitalist" would have a eureka moment and seek justice, he would be hopelessly caught in an unjust system and have no power to make a difference. You are right that manmade institutions must be perfected in order to make it possible for good people to do good. Perhaps the difference between you and Rabbi Lerner is that he thinks that personal change must come first, whereas you say that institutional change must come simultaneously in order for personal change to have any effect. The Communists said that institutional change (the abolition of private property and its related institutions, not the perfection of these institutions, as we contend) must come first, so that personal change would come automatically. The Communists are all wrong, Rabbi Lerner is more than half right, and what you and I are, of course, is obvious. Keep on flying.
What the Islamic scholar states as his only difference with me is the most critical difference of all — the "balance between changing ourselves and changing our institutions." There are enough misunderstandings in the last paragraph to fuel centuries of debate, as, in fact, they have. I think the basic difference has to do with our understanding of "institution," even of society itself. An institution is there to assist us in our human task of working toward a perfection that, paradoxically, we can never reach. It is a tool, a human artifact. As such, we can make it "more perfect" as the Constitution says, so that it can do the job of helping us as human beings to become "more perfect," but, being imperfect ourselves, we can never make an institution perfect.

It seems to me that Rabbi Lerner's frustration is rooted in a belief that people should be perfect but are not, and thus the State must force them to be perfect. The Islamic scholar's position seems to be that people are not going to change, no matter what, that Rabbi Lerner "is hopelessly wrong if he thinks that they ever will [change]"; that certain people are not capable of "pursuing happiness," that is, acquiring and developing virtue, especially justice and charity. The Islamic scholar misstates my position somewhat when he says that I am right that "manmade institutions must be perfected in order to make it possible for good people to do good." No — our institutions must be restructured if they prevent or inhibit us from doing good, but we can never make them perfect. This appears to lead to another minor error, that I believe that it is somehow necessary for people to perfect themselves at the same time they perfect their institutions. On the contrary, we must work to make our institutions more perfect so that we can use these social tools in our efforts to work toward perfection.

Still, these are relatively minor issues, at least in the context of the discussion. There is a fundamental agreement — with the Islamic scholar. Rabbi Lerner is a different case. I told the Islamic scholar that when Rabbi Lerner was an undergraduate at Berkeley during the 1960s, he learned about the Just Third Way from Marty Kelso, Louis Kelso's daughter, but my hunch was that he was troubled by Kelso's use of the word "capitalism" within a community that hated the term. Clearly, his call for a "Global Marshall Plan" to solve the current economic crisis without reference to the democratization of access to capital credit and capital ownership disqualifies him from being a supporter of the "Just Third Way." His way is trickle-down allocation of income and top-down control over money and capital credit. Ours is the reverse. Nevertheless, I concluded that, as the Islamic scholar and other supporters agree, the door remains open for the Rabbi and Tikkun, all well-intentioned advocates for peace and spirituality, to join the true people's revolution.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Lerner disagreed. I received an e-mail from him that led me to believe he had read my comments and those of the Islamic scholar a little too quickly, and missed the point:
I have no idea why you feel it necessary to mis-charaterize my position on these questions, but it leads me to not pay much attention to you or your work at Third Way. That we have not filled in some details is one thing, but that we have a trickle-down allocation of income and top-down control of money and capital credit is a conclusion that we have not come to, but which you project onto us. We do not believe that at this stage of introducing the idea of a Global Marshall Plan those issues need to be resolved, because the idea of a Strategy of Generosity to replace a Strategy of Domination is still so far out of the political mainstream that we have years of work to do before needing to resolve the kind of question you raise.
Rabbi Lerner appears honestly to believe that he is not advocating an unacceptable degree of State control of the economy. That, however, is belied by the unfortunate "triumphalism" of the article in Tikkun. True, Rabbi Lerner did not write the article, but he did publish it, and his reference to "we" would seem to indicate substantial agreement. Whatever Rabbi Lerner believes (and it is clear he holds his opinion honestly, or he would not be so upset), the approach to reform of the banking system that the article supports is necessarily top-down, Statist in its approach, and relies on trickle-down allocation of income.

This is inherent in the system that Rabbi Lerner appears to take for granted. The Rabbi does not appear to support institutional change to make it possible for people who want to do good to be able to do good, but on some unspecified center of power forcing a change from a "Strategy of Domination" to a "Strategy of Generosity." I would agree that a great many details have to be filled in, but the approach and principles have to be much clearer than Rabbi Lerner, for all his evident goodwill, has managed to explain.

Unfortunately, the Islamic scholar, whom I had thought to be in substantial agreement with my position — justice inspired by charity first — decided to weigh in on the discussion and support Rabbi Lerner's position, which seems to be along the lines of charity first, but since people won't be charitable, there is no hope . . . unless the State forces people to do the right thing. As the Islamic scholar wrote, apparently defining "charity" as forced almsgiving, that is, redistribution (which is not true charity),
The difference between you and Rabbi Lerner seems to be that the Rabbi emphasizes charity, whereas you emphasize justice. Charity is praiseworthy but can do no more than merely alleviate the suffering from a faulty economic system, because it can solve problems only on an individual basis, even though it may help millions of people. Its necessarily limited scope thereby leaves billions of people to suffer from poverty and all its associated problems.

On the other hand, the economic institutions of the modern world, which have been structured to concentrate wealth and thereby maintain concentrated political power, will never be changed until both the educated public and the legislators adopt a charitable mentality and exercise their charity by organizing to reform the institutions. This solidarity in action is what Father Ferree called social justice.

Social justice is impossible until the charitably-minded know how to perfect the institutions of money and credit so that they will no longer concentrate ownership of wealth-producing assets. Until this knowledge is understood, which is simple in theory but requires highly sophisticated know-how, we will have to rely on charity as the redistribution of wealth. Even the most ambitious charity can never do more than help the marginalized in the world barely enough to prevent revolutions and terrorism from threatening the unjust institutions that cause most of the injustices and suffering in the first place.

The goal of economic justice, according to the Just Third Way, is to broaden capital ownership to everyone in society so that economic power and therefore necessarily also political power will flow from the bottom upward rather than from the top down. The goal of justice is to remove the need to institutionalize charity as the re-distribution of wealth, which serves only to concentrate power at the top.

The Just Third Way would largely remove the need for charity except as a mindset to prevent the re-corruption of the institutions that made institutionalized charity necessary.

Rabbi Lerner is absolutely correct that the bottom line must always be faith-based, compassionate justice, which seeks to protect human dignity by recognizing human responsibilities and the resulting human rights as the ultimate ends of all public policy. In all of the world religions, the intent and motivations are the key to justice, and the motivation can come only from love. Without that, there will be no sustained action. The Just Third Way motto is "persistence, persistence, persistence," but this is impossible without charitable love as the bottom line.

Thomas Jefferson said it all when he warned that free people can remain free only if they are properly educated, that proper education consists of education in the virtues (which nowadays mean human responsibilities and rights), and that no people can remain virtuous unless their lives are infused with awareness and love of God. This assures that one's motivation will not be based on the quicksand of institutional change as a polytheistic panacea whereby the goal of changing institutions can itself become a false god and replace charity as the bottom line.

Charity comes first, always,
Social justice is not "solidarity in action." Father Ferree was clear on that point, as he explained in The Act of Social Justice (1943). That mis-definition is not, however, the main problem with the above e-mail. It is the statement that "Charity comes first, always" (with "charity" vaguely defined as institutionalized redistribution, which is neither justice nor charity), with the implication that we cannot even proceed with establishing a just social order until and unless we have all perfected ourselves in charity.

At this point, the sequence of the discussion becomes a little mixed up. I wrote the following e-mail to Rabbi Lerner before I received the Islamic scholar's note above. As I said, "Before seeing your message, I just sent out my response to Rabbi Lerner. As you will see I recognize the complementarity between charity and justice, as best expressed in 1978 by Pope John Paul I: "Charity is the soul of justice." He died after a little over a month in office and was succeeded by John Paul II, who blessed our work for justice when we met with him twice. Thanks for your supportive statements and solid understanding of the Just Third Way, a movement that will not only advance religious freedom but will create a higher level of solidarity between Jews, Christians, Muslims and followers of all other faiths and spiritual belief systems. Someday I hope Rabbi Lerner will come to appreciate our work, which I consider my living prayer and thanks to the Creator."

You can continue to pray and preach your Strategy of Generosity. It will not replace the Strategy of Domination. It never has and never will. Only a Strategy based on Justice will end Systems of Domination. Yes, I'll admit that a spirit of generosity is vital for those working for Justice, the kind of spiritual height reflected in Maimonides' eighth and highest order of Charity, a level of Charity where Justice and Generosity intersect. But it isn't sufficient to try to change the hearts and minds of the greedy, as you are attempting to do. Those of us who worked in Mississippi in the early 1960s (and I don't believe you were there) for overcoming the segregationist system and breaking the barriers to the political ballot for black citizens did not spend much time trying to win the hearts and minds of those who dominated the "White Supremacy" culture then pervasive throughout Mississippi. We followed a strategy based on Justice, as evidenced by the attached Medgar Evers' letter to me before he was killed. By 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed and by 1965 the Voting Rights Act passed the Congress.

If you don't think that "at this stage . . . issues [involving changes aimed at lifting unjust legal and institutional barriers to economic empowerment for the poor] need to be resolved," then it's time you deepened your understanding of "the virtue of Social Justice" as articulated by Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical on "The Restructuring of the Social Order" and by our co-founder the late Marianist leader William Ferree. (See the latter's Introduction to Social Justice) Acts of Social Justice are aimed at organizing people with good hearts and a strong sense of Justice to work together in well-conceived and principled "Strategies of Justice" aimed at restructuring systems to end Cultures of Greed and Domination. That's how civilization (as in the founding of this country) has evolved throughout history to advance Generosity, Peace, Prosperity and Freedom for all. When you take the time to appreciate how laws and systems affect human behavior and thought, posively as well as negatively, you will begin working on Strategies of Justice. Our door will always remain open to you.

By the way, I do not work "at Third Way." I proudly work with other true revolutionaries of all faiths for the Just Third Way, with heavy emphasis on the word "Just." Your attempt at belittling our work forces me as a Jew who takes seriously the mandate of Deuteronomy 16:20 to ask you as a Rabbi, "Where today are the Jews for Justice?" I know you are a compassionate person. We need more like you in our revolution.

In the Pursuit of Truth, Love and Justice,
Norm Kurland
To this, Rabbi Lerner responded,

Since you ask, you obviously don't know about the outstanding work for justice done by the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, the work of the Jewish Fund for Justice, or the work of Progressive Jewish Alliance. And you seem determined to ignore Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives' campaign for a Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or the rest of our Spiritual Covenant with America which you can read at www.spiritualprogressives dot org. And in light of the Supreme Court decision last week to extend the same rights of individuals to corporations (building on a similar ruling in the 1870s), we will be discussing the launching of a campaign for a constitutional amendment to restrict the power of corporations at our Tikkun conference in D.C. June 11-14. If I'm really lucky, I'll even convince David Saperstein to speak at this gathering and maybe even William Greider if he is willing!

You just don't know what you are talking about when you describe Tikkun or NSP or my positions on this and other matters, and you do that by trying to drive a wedge between spiritual concerns or compassionate orientations on the one hand, and justice on the other. But as our Torah and Jewish tradition makes clear, these can go hand in hand. And what you leave out of your discussion is the strategy for transformation of consciousness, as though one could simply articulate some good ideas and then promote them, without paying attention to all the unconscious blocks that make people resistant to even listening to those ideas in the first place. I strongly urge you to read my books on this, particularly Surplus Powerlessness, The Politics of Meaning, Spirit Matters, and The Left Hand of God.
For my part, I pledge myself to read Rabbi Lerner's books . . . if he will read ours (Curing World Poverty, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen, Introduction to Social Justice, and In Defense of Human Dignity . . . among others, including the new release by Dr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, Notes from a Prison: Bangladesh), and put reviews in Tikkun, as we would put reviews of his efforts on this blog. Stay tuned to this blog for any further developments.


News from the Network, Vol. 3, No. 4

The Stock Market is down . . . no, it's up . . . oops, down again . . . no, it's up. Anyway, Bernanke, Time magazine's "Man of the Year," has been reappointed as Chairman of the Federal Reserve for a second term — as if changing the chairman would result in any significant change.

The big news is from last week, with the United States Supreme Court decision that confused the concept of "person" even more than previously, and again sidestepped the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution.

In any event, in the real world outside of Wall Street and the Washington, DC Beltway, more significant events have been happening, a few of which we report here:
• There were a number of important meetings this past week, but more for their potential than for the accomplishment of any specific goal. There appears to have been a great deal of progress made in surfacing some possible door openers who can get us to a VIP who can get Mr. Obama's attention. This sounds tenuous, but this is the way things are done not just in Washington, but throughout the world. Attempting to open our own doors and going directly to potential prime movers in politics or the media (or anywhere else) is almost inevitably written off as self-promotion. We need you to open the door to contacts who can then put us in touch with the prime movers.

• Michael D. Greaney, CESJ's Director of Research, published several articles in The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Thematic Encyclopedia, Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio Publishing, 2009. Copies of the encyclopedia can be ordered through the publisher's website, as well as from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The price for the two-volume work is $180.00 (Barnes and Noble is offering it at $144.00, the member price, to everyone for a limited time.)

• Norman Kurland has had a number of interesting discussions with a former Israeli media personality via telephone from the Middle East. We should point out that Norm is very open to interviews both on radio and television, having appeared as a guest on a number of shows. Please let us know if you can arrange an interview.

• A significant number of copies of Dr. Alamgir's new book, Notes From a Prison: Bangladesh, have been distributed. Consider purchasing a copy yourself and reviewing it for a local newspaper or magazine. As we mentioned last week, the book is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

• Joseph Recinos returned home to Maryland briefly this week in the middle of his extended business trip in Central America, and paid us a visit at CESJ headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Joe brought us the sad news of the recent death of Alberto Martén Chavarría in Santa Ana, Costa Rica, on December 26, 2009, at the age of 100. Señor Martén is revered as the founder of Solidarism in Costa Rica in 1950. He was also the founder and first president of Grupo Acción Demócrata in 1943, and in 1947 laid the seeds of Plan de Ahorro y Capitalización, later known as "the Martén Plan," and founded the Office of Economic Coordination, serving from 1949 to 1961 as its Director General. During his tenure, he introduced concepts of worker ownership under the name "Solidarismo." Martén was a student of the work of the great Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., evidently coming across Father Pesch's work while living in Europe in the early 1920s when his father was in the Costa Rican diplomatic service. Martén corresponded at length with Louis O. Kelso, developer of what is today known as "binary economics," presented in Central and South America as "El Tercer Camino," or "The Third Way," seeing Kelso's work as consistent with Solidarism. Dr. Martén invited Norman Kurland to Costa Rica in the early 1970s to meet with business and worker leaders involved in Solidarismo. He asked Norm to do a critique of Solidarismo to see how it could be improved by applying the principles and techniques of Kelso's binary economics. A great champion of economic justice, Señor Martén will be greatly missed.

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 49 different countries and 42 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, Brazil, the Philippines, and Ireland. People in China, Australia, Taiwan, Venezuela, and Malaysia spent the most average time on the blog. The "Political Animal" series and news items are the most popular postings.
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, January 28, 2010

A Little More on William Cobbett, Part II

As we saw in yesterday's posting, many people are firmly convinced that the only two possible economic systems in the world are capitalism or some variety of socialism. Capitalism being discarded as heartless, greedy, and cruel, the only alternative is socialism — which is heartless, envious, and cruel. Nor does it have to be called socialism. It is only necessary that socialism's substantial nature be present. That, as Karl Marx clearly stated in The Communist Manifesto (1848), is the abolition of private property in the means of production.

Unfortunately, socialism — by whatever name — has more flaws than capitalism. Believing private property in the means of production to be the root cause of injustice, socialists either abolish private property outright, or redefine it in ways that result in its effective abolition. What they miss is that capitalism, properly defined, is not a system based on private property, per se, but on concentrated ownership of the means of production as a necessary, even beneficial thing. As John Maynard Keynes, the architect of the modern welfare State (that uneasy marriage of capitalism and socialism), declared dogmatically at the start of his career, "The immense accumulations of fixed capital which, to the great benefit of mankind, were built up during the half century before the war, could never have come about in a Society where wealth was divided equitably." (John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1919, Chapter 2, Section III.)

The solution to capitalism, then, is not to concentrate ownership of the means of production even more so in the hands of an impersonal State, but to spread ownership out through just means that respect the dignity of all people, not only those recognized as fully human by those who seize power. This means that (attractive as the prospect might appear to outraged arbiters of the behavior and moral standing of their fellow man) it is wrong to confiscate the wealth of some for redistribution among others to enhance the latter's quality of life. This violates the human dignity of those whose property rights were violated. The end, contrary to the dictum of Machiavelli, does not justify the means.

Confiscation and redistribution to meet an emergency, such as plague or famine, or even individual dire necessity is a separate case that, in any event, is not a blueprint for the way society should be run, but an expedient to meet an emergency. It is an application of the "principle of double effect," whereby something that is not objectively evil, that is, evil in and of itself, may be done on a temporary basis as an expedient in order to achieve an end whereof the intended good outweighs the unintended evil.

In light of the necessity of keeping both ends and means consistent with universal principles, what the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice ("CESJ") calls the "Just Third Way" appears to offer an acceptable alternative to both capitalism and socialism. The Just Third Way is an arrangement of society, with emphasis on the economy, based on the dignity and sovereignty of every person. "Dignity" is not just a handy catch phrase, however. It means recognition and protection of the inalienable rights possessed by each and every human being, consistent with universal — "natural law" — principles of justice. "Inalienable rights are also referred to as "inherent" or "absolute," i.e., not subject to be taken away or their exercise inhibited or prevented except for just cause and due process by duly constituted authority.

These human rights, such as life, liberty, and property, are derived from a transcendent source of natural law and universal moral principles. The Just Third Way uses the Aristotelian/Thomist view of the natural law as based on human nature, as opposed to the view of, e.g., Grotius and Puffendorf, that the natural law is based on direct revelation from a deity. Within this system all social institutions and laws are structured to be subordinate to and supportive of the dignity, sovereignty, and full development of each person within a just social order. To this end the Just Third Way promotes — as a fundamental human right — access to the means of acquiring and possessing the full rights and powers of private property in income-generating capital, as well as in one's own labor.

William Cobbett agrees. As he explained in many of his writings, but never more forcefully than in A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland (1826),

Freedom is not an empty sound; it is not an abstract idea; it is not a thing that nobody can feel. It means, — and it means nothing else, — the full and quiet enjoyment of your own property. If you have not this, if this be not well secured to you, you may call yourself what you will, but you are a slave. . . . You may twist the word freedom as long as you please, but at last it comes to quiet enjoyment of your own property, or it comes to nothing. (§ 456)
William Cobbett may have been an unwitting adherent of the tenets of the British Currency School and believed the only way to acquire and possess private property in the means of production is to cut consumption and save. He agitated against inoculation against smallpox, thought potatoes unhealthy, and even committed the unforgivable crime in the eyes of today's liberals in thinking the United States the greatest country on earth where England's mistakes were corrected. He put the cap on his radicalism by maintaining that taking public welfare or a State pension made you a slave of the State, whether or not you felt yourself entitled to it.

Cobbett had one distinct advantage over today's economists and politicians, however. He knew that ownership of an adequate stake of the means of production — with ownership an absolute right of every human being, even while the exercise of that right is necessarily limited — is virtually the sole means most people have to secure and enjoy their other natural, absolute rights of life, liberty, and the acquisition and development of virtue to become more fully human — the "pursuit of happiness." He was truly the apostle not only of distributism, but of the Just Third Way.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Little More on William Cobbett, Part I

We've decided that a short break from extended analyses of everything that's wrong with the world is in order . . . so we decided a short piece on William Cobbett, the "Apostle of Distributism," is in order. To start off, of course, we begin with a quote from the man who wrote, What's Wrong With the World (1910), G. K. Chesterton. The postings on Cobbett for today and tomorrow are adapted from the foreword to our annotated edition of The Emigrant's Guide from 1829, available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (BTW, The Emigrant's Guide is available for a limited time on Barnes and Noble at a 10% discount, as is Dr. Alamgir's new book, Notes from a Prison.

"The chief mark of the modern man has been that he has gone through a landscape with his eyes glued to a guidebook, and could actually deny in the one, anything that he could not find in the other. One man, however, happened to look up from the book and see things for himself; he was a man of too impatient a temper, and later he showed too hasty a disposition to tear the book up or toss the book away. But there had been granted to him a strange and high and heroic sort of faith. He could believe his eyes." (G. K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, 1926)

Thus did Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the co-founder (with Hilaire Belloc) of the distributist movement, describe William Cobbett in his all-too-brief biography of the great early 19th century political commentator. Cobbett was author of the "Peter Porcupine" letters, The Poor Man's Friend (1829) and the iconoclastic A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland (1827), among a vast body of other works, including a seemingly endless stream of books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets. Cobbett's output is even more astonishing when we consider that he taught himself to read and write after he reached adulthood while serving in the British Army. (Sources differ on this, others maintaining that he taught himself to read and write earlier, or that his father taught him.)

Chesterton being Chesterton, he focused primarily on Cobbett's economic thought — which was really political, both in the usual meaning of the term today and in the more antique sense of the study of the creation and distribution of wealth as "political economy." Both men were concerned with the economic (and thus political) disenfranchisement — the lack of power — resulting from concentration of the ownership of the means of production in the hands of a political and economic elite. Chesterton called this condition either "capitalism" (if the elite was private) or "socialism" (if the elite was public). Cobbett called it "tyranny" — when he wasn't calling it something worse.

Many otherwise thoughtful people assume as a given that capitalism and socialism are the only possible alternatives for an economic system. Some people who explicitly reject one or the other accept them under different names, evidently believing that changing the name is to change the thing named. Thus, many people outraged at the injustices and greed inherent in a capitalist system see no alternative to socialism as a system to make a better life possible for most people.

We will take a look at the problems caused by this assumption in tomorrow's posting. For a more complete analysis, of course, read our edition of The Emigrant's Guide or, better yet, the free download of Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Political Animal, Part XXVI

In the previous posting in this series, we concluded that Capital Homesteading has the potential to initiate the restructuring of the social order in the economic realm. It appears to address the two primary areas in which the popes since Leo XIII have focused attention: the restoration of the natural law as the basis of a just society, and the natural right to private property as a necessary prop for the other natural rights, especially life, liberty (free association), and the pursuit of happiness (the acquisition and development of virtue).

Often thought in the modern world to be completely unrelated (especially by socialists of whatever name), even antithetical, the restoration of a moral society and the restoration of widespread direct ownership of the means of production go hand-in-hand, as the popes have recognized. The natural moral law can never be restored except through the action of ordinary people organizing for the common good, and ordinary people will never have the power to organize effectively until and unless they have direct ownership of a meaningful stake of income-generating assets. As Daniel Webster observed in 1820, "Power naturally and necessarily follows property."

The problem is how to empower ordinary people with the means of acquiring and possessing private property. Today's popular understanding of money and credit requires — erroneously — that only existing accumulations of savings can be used to finance capital formation. By right of private property, this necessarily restricts ownership of all newly formed capital to those who, by definition, have a monopoly on existing accumulations of savings.

Capital Homesteading is specifically designed to overcome this problem. First, of course, Capital Homesteading uses a different understanding of money and credit than do the prevailing theories, a more organic, natural understanding based on the laws of social justice, especially freedom of association.

The common misconception about money and credit today is (as Keynes declared in his Treatise on Money) that "money" is exclusively a State creation, an inorganic and legalistic concept, essentially a purchase order issued by the State or a State-authorized individual or institution. When the economy needs more "money," the State creates more; when there is too much, the State reduces the amount. This is, essentially, the monetary theory of the British Currency School. It rejects Say's Law of Markets and something called the "real bills doctrine." (The real bills doctrine is that money can be created as necessary to carry out transactions without inflation or deflation, as long as the new money is backed by the present value of existing inventories or a future stream of income to be realized from the production of marketable goods and services.)

Capital Homesteading takes a different, more organic understanding of money, one consistent with the tenets of the British Banking School. That is, "money" is whatever is or can be used by anyone in settlement of a debt. The parties to the transaction make this determination, not the State. The State may make a declaration that something will be exclusively accepted by the State in payment of taxes, or that such and such a thing, if delivered under certain conditions, satisfies a debt if there is some dispute in the matter. The State cannot, however, under any circumstances declare a contract or other transaction void simply because it does not involve State-issued or authorized currency, or is undertaken without the explicit consent of the State.

The State's role is to regulate the value of the currency, create a uniform standard of measure, and to police abuses that may occur in the process of money creation. This, obviously, is not a creative function of the State. Asserting that the State, because it has the responsibility for setting and maintaining a uniform standard and police abuses, legitimately has the power to create money or arbitrarily set the amount is the same as if the State, charged with setting the standards for a uniform system of weights and measures, declared that only a limited number of inches can be used in the coming year. If anything else needs to be measured, application must be made to the State for a new issue of rulers and yardsticks. Louis Kelso perhaps said it best when he pointed out,
Money is not a part of the visible sector of the economy; people do not consume money. Money is not a physical factor of production, but rather a yardstick for measuring economic input, economic outtake and the relative values of the real goods and services of the economic world. Money provides a method of measuring obligations, rights, powers and privileges. It provides a means whereby certain individuals can accumulate claims against others, or against the economy as a whole, or against many economies. It is a system of symbols that many economists substitute for the visible sector and its productive enterprises, goods and services, thereby losing sight of the fact that a monetary system is a part only of the invisible sector of the economy, and that its adequacy can only be measured by its effect upon the visible sector. (Louis O. Kelso, Two-Factor Theory: The Economics of Reality. New York: Random House, 1967, 54)
Obviously, then, believing that the State has the power actually to create money on its own authority without producing anything ("economic input") is to put the State in the position of having absolute power. This is just as Keynes intimated in his Treatise on Money (1930) with his declaration that the State has the right to "re-edit the dictionary," i.e., alter reality to suit itself. As Pope Pius XI pointed out, such power has only one result: the creation of an elite that, while not themselves owners of the money issued by the State in the name of "the people" (never actual people), puts control over money and credit in their hands, "which they administer according to their own arbitrary will and pleasure."
This dictatorship is being most forcibly exercised by those who, since they hold the money and completely control it, control credit also and rule the lending of money. Hence they regulate the flow, so to speak, of the life-blood whereby the entire economic system lives, and have so firmly in their grasp the soul, as it were, of economic life that no one can breathe against their will. (Quadragesimo Anno, 1931, §§ 105-106)
The chief problem, then, is not the inability to produce. As Dr. Harold Moulton pointed out in America's Capacity to Produce (1934), America — the world — has demonstrated time and again that the economy typically operates at much less than full productive capacity. Nor is it a problem of lack of consumer demand, as Moulton explained in America's Capacity to Consume (1934). Every individual living at or below the poverty level argues otherwise.

No, the problem is that the money and credit system, which is designed and intended to link together production and consumption, has been diverted to other purposes. This is usually to further political aims or implement some variety of social engineering to transform society into the vision (or lack thereof) of the latest administration in Washington. Money and credit have been redefined to serve the needs of either a private elite, as in capitalism, or a State elite, as in socialism.

Capitalism establishes a monopoly over money and credit — and thus access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in the means of production — by insisting that only existing accumulations of savings can be used to finance capital formation. Socialism establishes a monopoly over money and credit by insisting that only the State has the right to create money.

Moulton demonstrated the falsity of the capitalist claim in 1935 in The Formation of Capital. More than a century earlier Jean-Baptiste Say refuted the socialist position when he proved that "money," just as Kelso pointed out in Two-Factor Theory (op. cit.), is not a State monopoly, but a symbol for what we and others produce, invented to facilitate the exchange of those productions among people, just as Aristotle claimed in The Politics.

In view of the wasted productive capacity evident in all economies and the manifest under-consumption revealed by the existence of poverty, to which we add our understanding of money and credit as an organized and regulated means of linking production and consumption, the solution becomes obvious. The money and credit system must be reformed to open up democratic access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in the means of production. That is what Capital Homesteading proposes to do.

Today even the poor have little or no trouble buying consumer goods and services on credit. These purchases, however, are not income-earning property. As a general rule, while capital credit can make someone wealthy, consumer credit makes the borrower even more economically vulnerable than before.

Consider the fact that even in a "slow growth" economy, America adds annually approximately $2 trillion worth of new productive assets in both the public sector and private sector. This works out to more than $7,000 for every man, woman, and child. Under both capitalist and socialist assumptions these assets are typically financed in ways that create few if any new owners. The gap between "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

There is an alternative to capitalism and socialism. This "Just Third Way" is a natural law-based, free enterprise economy, generating private sector profits. The Just Third Way "difference" is that the ownership of the new growth would flow directly to every individual citizen.

With access to capital credit repayable with the full pre-tax earnings of the capital itself, everyone could gain ownership in America's expanding technological frontier. We wouldn't have to take away wealth from those who already own capital to provide ownership, nor have the State redistribute income to make up for the lack of widespread direct capital ownership. The principal vehicle for achieving these goals is the proposed "Capital Homestead Act."

The Capital Homestead Act is a modern version of Lincoln's 1862 Homestead Act that offered a piece of the land frontier to anyone 21 years of age or older, and who was an American citizen or stated the intention to become a citizen. The Homestead Act was the most successful economic initiative in America's history. It laid the foundation for America's rise as the world's greatest industrial power. Unfortunately, the land frontier ran out. Most Americans were never given a chance to share in the ownership and profits of our high-tech industrial frontier, which unlike land, has no known limits.

Capital Homesteading would take nothing away from present owners, but would link every American (including the poorest of the poor) to the profits from sustainable economic growth. Every worker and citizen could gain a share in power over technological progress and the tools and enterprises of modern society. Through widespread ownership all citizens would participate in a more democratic economic process, just as they now participate in the democratic political process through access to the ballot.

The Capital Homestead Act proposes a number of programs so that every man, woman, and child could get interest-free capital credit from a local bank. Future earnings of the capital purchased would pay off the loans, including bank service fees and premiums to cover capital credit default insurance. Through the Capital Homestead Act, access to capital credit — which today helps make the rich richer — would be enshrined in law as a fundamental right of citizenship, like the right to vote.

Using its powers under § 13 of the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Reserve System would supply local banks with the money needed by businesses to grow — but only in response to financially feasible investments brought to the banks for financing. This is a critical reform of the money and credit system that is often overlooked: money could not be created until and unless it could be backed 100% by the present value of existing assets or the future stream of income to be generated by an investment.

Trapped by the dogmatic belief that capital formation can only be financed using existing accumulations of savings, today's economists and banking experts assume as a matter of course that money must first be created before investment can take place. Inflation then shifts the purchasing power of existing savings to the investor, who uses it to finance the new capital.

The monetary reforms of Capital Homesteading counter such institutionalized and systemic theft by requiring that any new money must be backed by the present value of existing or future assets. No money can be created until and unless there is a reasonable assurance that the assets financed will, in fact, generate a stream of profits sufficient to repay and cancel the money created to finance the capital formation in the first place, and thereafter provide consumption income for the owner of the asset. This is nothing more than the real bills doctrine embodied in the tenets of the British Banking School.

The difference between Capital Homesteading and classic banking theory is that the new money and credit for private sector growth would be "irrigated" through Capital Homestead Accounts and other credit democratization vehicles.

Through a well-regulated central banking system and other safeguards (including capital credit insurance to cover the risk of bad loans), all citizens could purchase with interest-free capital credit, newly issued shares representing newly added machines and structures. These purchases would be paid off with tax-deductible dividends of these companies. Neither existing accumulations of savings nor current consumption income would be reduced.

Thus, Capital Homesteading is an application of the principles of the natural moral law as they pertain to money, credit, and finance, and a blueprint for restructuring the social order. Capital Homesteading provides a means to get away from false and dehumanizing definitions of money and credit, putting these uniquely social goods at the service of the whole of humanity instead of a small elite.


Monday, January 25, 2010

The Political Animal, Part XXV

In the previous posting in this series we discovered that Pope Pius XI had discerned a new type of virtue, social virtue. Social virtue is directed not at any individual good, but at the whole of the common good, that is, the network of institutions — the social order — within which we as political animals acquire and develop virtue. Restructuring the social order to conform more closely to the natural moral law is not a question of being more individually virtuous with a general intention to the common good. Instead, we must be socially virtuous. Not that individual virtue is thereby negated. As Emmanuel Mounier explains,
That moral improvement, radically necessary for the good health of institutions, cannot by itself provide technical competency and historical efficacy and, finally, that institutions are capable of more rapid transformation than men and must as far as possible offset the deficiencies of men while waiting for the fruits of their good will to ripen. (The Personalist Manifesto, op. cit., 106)
By this means we conform ourselves ever closer to our true nature, which is itself a reflection of divine Nature. Pius XI's achievement was like turning on a light in a dark room. As Reverend William Ferree put it in his pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice (1948), there is,
. . . something tremendously new and tremendously important in this work of Pope Pius XI. The power that we have now to change any institution of life, the grip that we have now to change any institution of life, the grip that we have on the social order as a whole, was always there but we did not know it and we did not know how to use it.

Now we know.

That is the difference. ("Conclusion," Introduction to Social Justice)
Pius XI called this desired state of society "the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ," to be achieved through the "Reign of Christ the King." Admittedly, these are not the best nor the clearest terms to use to express the concepts to non-Catholics, or even (such is the decay of the understanding of the role and basis of the natural moral law in the modern age) to many Catholics. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it might have been better to make the link to the natural moral law based on Intellect (Nature) more clearly the basis of a just social order. Nevertheless, we should also keep in mind that we are dealing with the doctrine taught by the leader of a global religion, and his teachings will, obviously, be expressed in terms of the faith for which he has the burden of responsibility.

We should be prepared, then, as rational human beings, to discern the universal truths in those teachings, and apply them as justice and prudence dictate. Consistent with the theory that Christ the King rules society through the compliance of individuals and the institutions of the whole of the common good with the precepts of the natural moral law, the goals necessarily to be sought through acts of social justice are:

A limited economic role for the State. If State absolutism is rejected and democratic principles are acknowledged as consistent with Catholic teaching, then both common sense and the principle of subsidiarity dictate that much of what people have allowed the State to usurp, especially in matters of personal economy (what the Germans call "Volkswirtshaft," sometimes misleadingly translated as "National Economy"), is now the responsibility of individuals, either alone or (more usually) in free association with others. The State's proper role is limited to ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity and the means to meet his or her material needs and those of his or her dependents adequately and securely. As an expedient in an emergency, the State may undertake to guarantee individual welfare, but this must be regarded only as a last resort, and must cease as soon as private means of succor become available, especially through an individual's own efforts.

Free and open markets as the best means of determining just wages, just prices, and just profits. In his social doctrine, Pius XI emphasizes seemingly to the point of redundancy the principle of "free association," that is, liberty. If we are as individual human beings charged with the responsibility for the common good, and we can only affect the common good through acts of social justice that can only be carried out by organizing with others, then it necessarily follows that not the State, other individuals or groups, nor society as a whole can interfere with the right of free association, except as required to prevent material harm to individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole. Free and open markets, of course, are essential to making the institutions of money and credit operate for the good of all rather than exclusively for the State or the State's favored individuals or groups — understanding "money" as whatever anyone will accept in settlement of a debt, not limited to State-issued or authorized purchase orders. Further, the dignity of the human person demands that, as soon as someone gains the status of adult, he or she must have an equal opportunity to participate freely to the fullest extent possible in the common good, of which economics constitutes an important part.

Recognition and protection of the rights of private property. With the rapid economic disenfranchisement of the great mass of people through being stripped of both private property in the means of production, and the means of acquiring that property in the first place, it would be more accurate to rephrase this necessary goal as "restoration of the rights of private property," and (in recognition of the fact that the business corporation is the predominant form of economic organization) add "particularly in corporate equity." From the early 20th century, due largely to misleading definitions of money and credit and methods of corporate finance employed, minority shareholders had been stripped of their natural right of control and the enjoyment of the fruits of ownership. Thus, even when people owned a moderate stake of income-generating assets, the ownership was in many cases so attenuated as to be effectively meaningless. "Property," however, is not the thing owned, but the right to be an owner, as well as the bundle of rights that define how an owner may use what he or she possesses — particularly with respect to how what is owned can be used, and receipt of the income the asset generates.

Widespread direct ownership of the means of production. If the general necessity of restoring the natural moral law based on the Intellect (Nature) as the basis of a just social order and the foundation of respect for the dignity of the human person can be said to have a "rival" on the list of papal goals, it is the particular necessity of ensuring that "the law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners." (Rerum Novarum, § 46) The sheer number of papal statements regarding the importance, even necessity of widespread direct ownership of the means of production render it incredible that anyone could possibly reinterpret the clear teachings of the popes as advocating some form of socialism, that is, the abolition of private property. That, however, is the case in an overwhelming number of instances. Despite the hysteria with which papal teachings on private property are opposed, reinterpreted, ignored, and so on, however, there is no more effective means of empowering the human person to carry out acts of social justice and therefore assume his or her responsibility for the care of the common good at his or her level, than ownership of the means of production. Ownership also serves to protect and maintain all other rights, especially life and liberty. As William Cobbett declared, "Freedom is not an empty sound; it is not an abstract idea; it is not a thing that nobody can feel. It means, — and it means nothing else, — the full and quiet enjoyment of your own property. If you have not this, if this be not well secured to you, you may call yourself what you will, but you are a slave. (A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, 1826, §456.)

Within the framework of Pius XI's social doctrine, Father Ferree discerned a number of "laws" of social justice. Consistent with Pius XI's emphasis on institutions and free association, these are remarkably consistent and correlate almost perfectly with the "rules" of democracy of American life as discerned by de Tocqueville, even though, surprisingly, Father Ferree does not appear to have been familiar with the work of either de Tocqueville or Brownson. The "laws" of social justice as discerned by Father Ferree are,

One, That the common good remain inviolate. This is analogous to de Tocqueville's observation that an orderly society is of the utmost importance. Classic moral philosophy also makes this demand — but does not offer any way out when a social order is structured unjustly, other than a change of ruler or government.

Two, Cooperation, not conflict. This, too, has an analogue in what de Tocqueville claimed was a strong tendency of Americans to subsume or at least integrate their private interests with those of others, join with those others, and cooperate in order to achieve a desired end.

Three, One's First Particular good is one's own place in the common good. As de Tocqueville observed, Americans had integrated into their social habits the principle that, in order to optimize one's particular good, they first had to secure the common good.

Four, Each is directly responsible. De Tocqueville claimed that every American believed him-or herself to be personally responsible for the condition of society.

Five, Higher institutions must never replace lower ones. De Tocqueville believed that Americans had realized that the agency to handle social situations is not automatically the highest or the lowest level of society, but the one closest to the situation. This is the principle of subsidiarity, that situations are to be handled primarily by those who subsist within particular milieux.

Six, Freedom of association. The most striking characteristic of American life as far as de Tocqueville was concerned was the incredible proclivity to organize and form associations.

Seven, All vital interests should be organized. The habit of forming associations was so great that Americans, according to de Tocqueville, couldn't even imagine doing things differently. If something needed to be done, and it was at all important, it was crucial that people organize and form themselves into associations in order to accomplish whatever end they had in mind.

From these "laws" and a general understanding of social as opposed to individual virtue, Father Ferree drew up a list of six characteristics of social justice so that we can more easily discern whether what we are doing is truly "social justice." Of course, the primary characteristic that Father Ferree takes for granted is that our organization, means, and goals are all fully consistent with the precepts of the natural moral law, or we are betraying ourselves and others by acting contrary to our own nature. The whole idea of the act of social justice is to act consistently with our own nature, both individual and social, that is, politically.

The most obvious characteristic of social justice, then (aside from conformity to the precepts of the natural law), is that only members (individuals) of groups (social institutions) can perform acts of social justice. That is, acts of social justice are, above all, political acts.

The second characteristic of the act of social justice is that it takes time. This is, no doubt, shocking to the short-attention-span 20th and 21st centuries, when people demand fast, fast, fast relief, but it's true. Whenever you have individuals organizing for a common goal, they first have to reconcile their individual interests, and then start to work changing social habits. Even individual habits can take a long time to change, so we should not be surprised when changing our institutional habits can take even longer.

The third characteristic of social justice is that, in social terms, nothing is impossible. The State, the whole of the common good, in fact, was made by man for man in conformity with human nature. That being the case, there is no such thing as a social problem that cannot be remedied — if we act politically, both as individuals and as members of society.

The fourth characteristic of social justice is eternal vigilance. Pius XI noted that society is in such a state of constant flux as to be termed radically unstable (Discourse to Diocesan Congress of Catholic Youth, May 16, 1926; Cath. Action, 107-112). That being the case, each human being is personally responsible for keeping an eye on things. When the situation deviates too far from the norm set by the precepts of the natural moral law, it is a signal to organize for the common good and correct matters.

The fifth characteristic of social justice is effectiveness. Frankly, martyrdom as an end in itself is not and has never been a teaching of the Catholic Church or any sane religion or society. What is done must have a reasonable probability of success, or it is a waste of time. Killing ourselves or others, or expending effort just to make a point is futile and a waste of God's gifts for which we shall probably be held strictly accountable if or when we face judgment, if only the judgment of history.

The sixth characteristic of social justice is that you can't "take it or leave it alone." If we see a situation that needs correction, and we fail to organize with others to act for the common good and bring matters back as far as possible into conformity with the precepts of the natural moral law, we are shirking our responsibility both as individuals and as members of society.

We now have (at least in outline) all that we need to realize our human nature both as individuals and as members of society. The act of social justice is the social tool by means of which we can realize our political nature and act together in solidarity for the mutual advantage of ourselves as individuals, and everyone else as members of society. As Orestes Brownson put it, we must strive to attain "the sovereignty of the people without social despotism, and individual freedom without anarchy."

In the next and final posting in this series, we will take a look at Capital Homesteading, a proposal that appears to have the potential to effect the restructuring of the economic order — and thus the political order — so as to start the process of bringing the whole of the common good back into material conformity with the precepts of the natural moral law.


Friday, January 22, 2010

News from the Network, Vol. 3, No. 3

Once again the Big News of the week is the plunge in the stock market, blamed on Mr. Obama's demand for greater regulation of the banking system. We agree: the banking system needs more and better regulation if the economy is to have a true recovery instead of the artificial, stimulus-induced fantasy we are currently enduring. If the past is any indication, however, what Mr. Obama means by "regulation" is not a systemic overhaul to remove incompatible functions and conflicts of interest, but passing more laws to punish anyone who causes economic disruption by misusing institutions that are poorly designed and almost impossible to use correctly. "Success" will continue to be defined as "getting away with it," while "criminal behavior" will still mean whatever those in power want it to mean, as long as they can convince enough people that something is right or wrong.

If that were not enough, Mr. Obama is campaigning in . . . that is, visiting Ohio, reassuring people that there will be massive job creation. The question is, as we might expect, how, exactly, do you "create jobs"? "Full employment" seems to be desirable so that people have enough money to spend. Thus, a "job" is primarily a means to get money rather than one way of engaging in productive activity.

That being the case, why not just print money and hand it out to people who need it? It is much more direct and certainly much more efficient than printing money to hand out to a company to hire workers to fill jobs producing something for which there is no demand. It is also somewhat more respectful of human dignity. As F. Ray Marshall, former Secretary of Labor, pointed out, "There is no more complete rejection of a person than to give them a job you know and they know is useless."

Of course, if we really want to solve the problem, we could implement a Capital Homestead Act at the earliest possible date, thereby opening up democratic access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in the means of production, naturally reaching full production of resources — and thus full employment of all resources, including labor — instead of the more limited goal of full employment of labor alone.
• The book by Dr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, Notes from a Prison: Bangladesh, has been published and is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Both internet booksellers have the volume "in stock." Barnes and Noble has the cover art and a member price of $18.00 (that's Barnes and Noble membership, not CESJ membership). Amazon's price is $20.00, the same as Barnes and Noble's non-member price. Bulk/wholesale orders (10 or more copies) in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico have a 20% discount plus shipping and can be ordered direct from the publisher, CESJ, from the contact information on the CESJ website.

• While considering a purchase of Dr. Alamgir's new book, don't forget to browse through CESJ's other publications, notably Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen (Amazon Barnes and Noble) and In Defense of Human Dignity (Amazon Barnes and Noble).

• CESJ also has a number of other new publications in process. We will keep you informed on the progress we're making on them.

• A number of important contacts have been made over the past week. A former broadcaster in Israel was introduced to the possibilities inherent in the Just Third Way for bringing peace to the Holy Land, especially as found in the Abraham Federation concept. A college professor who was formerly with the World Bank and did a three-year tour in Haiti has expressed interest in a Just Third Way approach to rebuilding the country, an approach first presented to the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995, but which was not seriously investigated for implementation. Two professionals who came across CESJ on the "Linkedin" through discussions on social justice have also expressed interest in the Just Third Way as an approach to solving the increasingly desperate problems in the world.

• The above news items show what can be done by a few individuals putting in less than an hour each week working to surface contacts who can get members of the CESJ "core group" and others involved in the Just Third Way to door openers and prime movers. We need more people going through their contacts and seeing which ones might be effective in helping us reach out to others.

• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 46 different countries and 41 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, Brazil, the Philippines, and Ireland. People in the Taiwan, Malaysia, Venezuela, France and Turkey spent the most average time on the blog. The "Just Third Way Christmas Message" is the most popular posting, followed by "The Political Animal" series and "Aristotle on Private Property."
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, January 21, 2010

The Political Animal, Part XXIV

In 1923, soon after his election to the papacy, Pope Pius XI declared the long-neglected (one might even say ignored) Robert Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621) a "Beatus." Beatus is one step away from canonization, or official recognition as a "saint." A saint is an individual whom the Catholic Church as a matter of faith certifies to be in Heaven. (Canonization does not "create" a saint. It is a certification or recognition process, not a creative one. In Catholic belief, someone makes him- or herself a saint by cooperating as fully as possible with God's grace.)

This "beatification" was nothing if not surprising. Bellarmine, as we learned earlier in this blog series, was a champion of democracy against the divine right of kings. To this day many people, even sincere Catholics, remain convinced that some form of royal (or State) absolutism is the only legitimate "Catholic" form of government — hence the persistent belief that Pius XI, who condemned fascism on a number of occasions in no uncertain terms, was actually endorsing it!

For example, in Reverend Eamon Cahill's The Framework of a Christian State (1932) explicit papal condemnations of fascism are toned down to such an extent that a reader gets the distinct impression of approval of fascism, except in its more extreme elements. As we have seen, the American Catholic bishops in the Antebellum South did the same thing in assuaging the consciences of Catholic slaveholders after centuries of papal condemnation of the institution of human chattel slavery.

Even more surprising, in 1925 Pius XI issued an encyclical, Quas Primas ("On the Feast of Christ the King") that seemed to contradict Blessed Robert's "promotion" by being widely interpreted as endorsing the divine right of kings as authentic Catholic teaching. Why this understanding of Quas Primas is incorrect is covered in this writer's "A Just Third Political Way: The Concept of Sovereignty in Quas Primas," In Defense of Human Dignity (Arlington, Virginia: Economic Justice Media, 2008, 149-190.) Briefly, Christ reigns as "king" in the universe through humanity's adherence to the divine Nature reflected in human nature. Christ the King does not rule States or nations as political sovereign, but the human heart through compliance with the precepts of the natural moral law "written in the hearts of all men."

Then, in what seemed yet another about-face, Pius XI canonized Bellarmine and a year later vested him with the supreme honor of being named a "doctor" of the Church. A doctor of the Church is an ecclesiastical writer of eminent learning and sanctity who, although his or her writing is not necessarily free of error in all respects (i.e., "infallible"), has been given the title because of the great advantage the Church has derived from his or her work.

Anyone in certain Catholic circles who has an animus against democracy thus has an "out" — or so it would at first seem. Even though named a doctor, that doesn't necessarily mean that Saint Robert's teachings on democracy and the transmission and vesting of the sovereign power are infallibly correct . . . right? Technically, that is true. That is why the embodiment of Bellarmine's ideas in Pius XI's social doctrine as announced in his first encyclical, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio ("On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ"), 1922, is important as an affirmation and endorsement of Saint Robert's views on democracy. Referring to the civil strife that had afflicted many countries since the end of World War I, Pius XI stated,
These political struggles also beget threats of popular action and, at times, eventuate in open rebellion and other disorders which are all the more deplorable and harmful since they come from a public to whom it has been given, in our modern democratic states, to participate in very large measure in public life and in the affairs of government. Now, these different forms of government are not of themselves contrary to the principles of the Catholic Faith, which can easily be reconciled with any reasonable and just system of government. Such governments, however, are the most exposed to the danger of being overthrown by one faction or another. (Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio § 12)
The encyclical stresses two things as being of the greatest importance in restoring true peace to the world. These are, one, the restoration of the natural law as the foundation of and protection for a just social order, and two, widespread direct ownership of the means of production ("private property") as the foundation of and protection for the family.

There remained a problem, however. The "Great War" had so disrupted the social order throughout the world that even the most promising model of a just society, the United States, was suffering from many of the same evils that afflicted Europe and elsewhere. Ownership of the means of production was becoming increasingly concentrated at an accelerating rate. At the same time, "new" political models of State absolutism, notably fascism, were making great strides even in America. The reconciliation between the individual and the collective that de Tocqueville and Brownson had seen as America's special characteristic and mission in the world was falling apart in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Bellarmine's views on democracy, however, do contain a flaw that is not consistent with Catholic teaching. They rely on inserting the collective between God and the individual. This is not conducive to promoting the dignity of the human person. Leo XIII had, to all appearances and possibly influenced by the writings of de Tocqueville and Brownson, circumvented this flaw in Bellarmine's thought by holding up America as an example to be followed. Why, after all, worry about a theoretical flaw when you have a working, practicable model to guide your efforts? De Tocqueville had even stressed the fact that Americans were impatient with theory. Americans were interested in what worked, and the American system not only worked admirably, it promoted widespread direct ownership of the means of production and was clearly based on the natural moral law.

Leo XIII, however, didn't have the effects of the Great War to worry about, nor had the Panic of 1907 yet revealed the serious weaknesses in the American financial and monetary system. Pius XI was therefore faced with the daunting task of developing a sound and consistent theory as to why the American system had worked so well and seemed destined for such great things, and yet, along with Europe, had fallen victim to degenerating social conditions caused by the decay or corruption of the institutions of the common good.

Obviously, then, the old ways of doing things were no longer adequate. As Pius XI explained, possibly consciously echoing de Tocqueville nearly a century before, "The pastoral theology of another day will now no longer suffice." (Pius XI, Discourse to the Ecclesiastical Assistants of the U.C.F.I., July 19, 1928. Quoted in Civardi, Manual of Catholic Action, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1936, 178.)

Alexis de Tocqueville's approach to understanding democracy in America — "A new science of politics is needed for a new world " — seems to have exercised a particular fascination for Pius XI. As Father William Ferree pointed out in his landmark study of the social doctrine of Pius XI, The Act of Social Justice (1943),
It would be an interesting study in itself to go through all the utterances of Pius XI to pick out the recurrences of the phrase "now no longer." The title of this section is one of the most interesting — and perhaps startling — examples, but there are others: "The personal apostolate can no longer suffice, if indeed it can be so much as maintained that it ever did suffice . . . . " (L'Action Catholique, 422.) "We simply cannot ignore the fact that to repair the evils or ruins of modern society the action of the clergy, no matter how active and earnest it can be, is no longer enough . . . " (Letter to the Philippine Hierarchy, 6.) And to these must be added all the reiterations of the phrases of "in our times," in the "changed conditions of the present day," and so forth. ("Appendix B," The Act of Social Justice.)
What Pius XI achieved was not only a solution to the practical problem of how to reconcile the interests of humanity as both individual and social creatures, but provided a sound theoretical foundation for restructuring the social order into a just, sustainable, and (above all) practicable living social organism, flexible enough to conform a particular society to its special wants and needs, and yet firmly grounded on the universal precepts of the natural moral law, especially the inalienable — absolute — rights to life, liberty (free association), access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in the means of production, and of acquiring and developing virtue ("pursuit of happiness"). Pius XI's achievement was a completed doctrine of social virtue, with special emphasis on the "highest" social virtues of social justice and social charity.

As we discovered when we examined the difference between Aristotle's and Aquinas's concept of the common good, and Aquinas's partial reconciliation of individual rights and social needs, one of the chief difficulties (as Pius XI noted) is that individuals are frequently helpless to ensure justice when faced with a social or institutional problem. This agrees with Aquinas's puzzling analysis that claims the common good is directly accessible — only not by individuals as individuals.

Pius XI, however, realized that the common good is made up of institutions, "institutions" being essentially organized groups, that is, individuals acting in a structured manner in free association. In common with de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, he emphasized the natural right of free association thirty-eight times by name in Quadragesimo Anno (see especially §§ 37 and 87) and countless times by implication.

Pius XI then realized that if the common good is directly accessible (as the Thomist analysis assures us must be the case), then there must be a type of virtue directed not at individuals, as is the case with the classic virtues, but at institutions, that is, at the common good itself. The common good, however, is a "thing," that is, not a natural person. The nature of a virtue is that it can only be directed at a person, not a thing.

There is, however, a special case in which a thing behaves in society just as if it were a person: Aristotle's "natural slave." As we saw, as a quasi or artificial person, a slave somehow receives a delegation of its master's virtue, and can thus, in a sense, be the directed object of a virtue and thus have a social identity through its master. Pius XI concluded that the act of organizing, of forming a structured group at some level of the common good, is in effect "incorporating" that group or institution as an artificial person, and it can thus be the directed object of a virtue. As Pius XI explains, directly contradicting Thomas Hobbes's theories in Leviathan that would make all organized bodies — "corporations" — subject to direct State control and eliminate all freedom of association (liberty),
If, therefore, We consider the whole structure of economic life, as We have already pointed out in Our Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, the reign of mutual collaboration between justice and charity in social-economic relations can only be achieved by a body of professional and inter professional organizations, built on solidly Christian foundations, working together to effect, under forms adapted to different places and circumstances, what has been called the Corporation. (Divini Redemptoris, 1931, § 54)
Thus, the common good can be directly accessed . . . only not by individuals. Instead, because the common good is itself made up of these "artificial persons" or corporations, only individuals who are members of such organized groups can work directly on the common good to establish "the reign of mutual collaboration between justice and charity." Aquinas's baffling omission of a particular act of legal justice was now made up. Pius XI had identified the specific means by which humanity realizes its full potential as a political animal. The act of particular legal justice does not merely allow people to be both individuals and social at the same time, it requires that these two sides of human nature work together in concert.

Another problem surfaced, however. It was not a particularly critical one, except in an age obsessed with positivist word games and an understanding of the natural moral law based on the Will rather than the Intellect. The fact is, using the same term, "legal justice," for two different virtues (one general, the other particular) was bound to be confusing. Pius XI therefore took a term that had previously been used in a vague fashion to describe carrying out acts of individual virtue with a general intention to the common good, "social justice," and "promoted" it to the name of particular legal justice, and restricted the term "legal justice" to what Aristotle meant.

Here, then, was the means Pius XI taught to establish "the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ," and thereby implement and maintain the "Reign of Christ the King." Through "acts of social justice," individuals are to exercise their liberty (free association) and organize socially. Then, with the power thereby gained, they are to act politically directly on the common good as members of groups. Free association, an aspect of our free will, is absolutely necessary to this process. As Pius XI explains,
Moreover, just as inhabitants of a town are wont to found associations with the widest diversity of purposes, which each is quite free to join or not, so those engaged in the same industry or profession will combine with one another into associations equally free for purposes connected in some manner with the pursuit of the calling itself. Since these free associations are clearly and lucidly explained by Our Predecessor of illustrious memory, We consider it enough to emphasize this one point: People are quite free not only to found such associations, which are a matter of private order and private right, but also in respect to them "freely to adopt the organization and the rules which they judge most appropriate to achieve their purpose." The same freedom must be asserted for founding associations that go beyond the boundaries of individual callings. And may these free organizations, now flourishing and rejoicing in their salutary fruits, set before themselves the task of preparing the way, in conformity with the mind of Christian social teaching, for those larger and more important guilds, Industries and Professions, which We mentioned before, and make every possible effort to bring them to realization. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 87)
By this means humanity has the ability to restructure the institutions of society to bring them into closer compliance with the divine Nature as reflected in human nature. Christ "reigns," but only through the natural law, written in the hearts of all men and discernible by reason alone unaided by faith. It is thus not necessary to be a Catholic, a Christian, or even to have ever heard of Christ in order to be bound by the precepts of the natural moral law and so come under the suzerainty of Christ, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The question that remains is, What are the specific goals for which we are to strive when we work to restructure the social order so as to establish and maintain this "reign of Christ the King"? We will start to look at some particulars in the next posting in this series.