Alasdair MacIntyre has a way of opening his books with perfect summations of serious philosophical issues in moral and political philosophy. The opening paragraphs of After Virtue provide an example of such erudition,
“Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred. Nonetheless all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.”
“What is the point of constructing this imaginary world inhabited by fictitious pseudo-scientists and real, genuine philosophy? The hypothesis which I wish to advance is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of natural science in the imaginary world which I described. What we possess, if this view is true, are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have – very largely, if not entirely – lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, [of] morality.”
In his book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, MacIntyre builds on this theme by including the concept of justice into the rational inquiry,
“Begin by considering the intimidating range of questions about what justice requires and permits, to which alternative and incompatible answers are offered by contending individuals and groups within contemporary societies. Does justice permit gross inequality of income and ownership? Does justice require compensatory action to remedy inequalities which are the result of past injustice, even if those who pay the costs of such compensation had no part in that injustice? Does justice permit or require the imposition of the death penalty and, if so, for what offenses? Is it just to permit legalized abortions? When is it just to go to war? The list of such questions is a long one.
Attention to the reasons which are adduced for offering different and rival answers to such questions makes it clear that underlying this wide diversity of judgments upon particular types of issue are a set of conflicting concepts of justice, conceptions which are strikingly at odds with one another in a number of ways. Some conceptions of justice make the concept of desert central, while others deny it any relevance at all. Some conceptions appeal to inalienable human rights, others to some notion of social contract, and others again to a standard of utility. Moreover, the rival theories of justice which embody these rival conceptions also give expression to disagreements about the relationship of justice to other human goods, about the kind of equality which justice requires, about the range of transactions and persons to which considerations of justice are relevant, and about whether or not a knowledge of justice is possible without a knowledge of God’s law.”
While the opening paragraphs of After Virtue lucidly capture the chaotic theoretical and practical environment moral philosophy finds itself (and I would argue that nothing much has changed since the book was originally written), the summary of the equally chaotic atmosphere from which we are to examine important aspects of justice is where I would like to transition into examining disagreement among approaches to the political economy.
The insight articulated by MacIntyre is a beautiful synopsis as to why I am in such deep disagreement with many political philosophies that either ignore or combat the Christ-centered teachings of Catholic Social Doctrine. This discernment is not only limited to concepts of justice. An intimidating range of questions exists for every potential philosophical examination; whether it is metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of economics etc., there exists a wide range of traditions and answers to the relevant questions given any of the important issues under investigation. Moreover, every one of these branches of philosophical thought will either influence or be influenced by others; no matter how hard a person tries to avoid it, they will always find themselves reasoning from within a tradition and system of thought. This may take place within a conscious examination of the traditions and system from which one is doing their thinking, which may further increase epistemic justification for a chosen tradition, or it may remain hidden and unexamined, and therefore lowering the individual epistemic justification for a chosen tradition.
This brief analysis also applies to the realm of economics. These areas of thought mentioned above significantly influence arguments for various economic theories and principles. Economics is highly influenced by a person’s moral and political philosophy, which especially involves competing concepts of justice within the civil society. Pat Buchanan, referencing Robert Gilpin, provides three variations on how to view the political economy,
- Classical liberals – views economics from the standpoint of the individual.
- Marxists – views economics from the standpoint of classes.
- Traditionalists – have an organic view of society and subordinates economics to the nation.
These brief descriptions highlight the manner in which moral and political philosophy influences how a person might go about doing their economic thinking. Every view mentioned above is not philosophically self-evident, and each view requires argumentation in order to appropriately demonstrate the value of the framework from which to do economics. This means, in my view, that the science of economics is also not a self-evident, purely objective examination of social realities having strict demarcations from its subsequent motivating moral philosophy, political philosophy, and the derivatively understood concept of justice within the contextual framework of a given political economy. This does not mean, however, that there is no objective truth regarding the science of economics, rather, it is to suggest that there is much more going on when a person is doing economic theory. Simply stated, to theorize is to do philosophy.
In addition to the three rival conceptions mentioned above, Buchanan says this,
“Classical liberals and advocates of worldwide integration believe that international relations are essentially harmonious. Since the nineteenth century, they have argued that free trade is not a zero-sum game. One nation’s gain is not another’s loss. All peoples and nations benefit from free trade, and it is the duty of governments to remove all barriers to trade.”
“Politics, however, is a zero-sum game. For every winner there is a loser. GOP congressional victory in 1994 meant the Democrats’ defeat. Clinton’s reelection doomed Dole’s career. ‘In power terms, international relations is [also] a zero-sum game.’ One nation’s rise entails another’s decline. The collapse of the Soviet empire enhanced the power of the United States; and as China grows in power, people speak of the end of the American Century.”
The recognition of a zero-sum quality to political power is common for political realists,
“…realists hold that calculations about power dominate states’ thinking, and that states compete for power among themselves. That competition sometimes necessitates going to war, which is considered an acceptable instrument of statecraft. To quote Carl von Clausewitz, the nineteenth-century military strategist, war is a continuation of politics by other means. Finally, a zero-sum quality characterizes that competition, sometimes making it intense and unforgiving. States may cooperate with each other on occasion, but at root they have conflicting interests.”
Identifying a zero-sum characteristic in the realm of international politics is important to consider when thinking about foreign policy as well as economics. Political power and economic power are deeply interconnected. An economy weakened by bad trade packages will most likely result in the strengthening of a rival economy, and therefore, a potential political rival will be strengthened at the expense of economic theorizing. Purist virtue signaling among economists can lead to political ruin in foreign affairs.
With all that being said, the Catholic too has an economic perspective that is informed by a specific theology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy. Theologically speaking, Catholics recognize the social doctrines of the Church as the framework from which to do our economic thinking. I would maintain that the Catholic economic perspective is most in line with the third description of the traditionalist outlook mentioned above. This is the case for at least two simple reasons; the Church has condemned liberal individualism and Marxist class warfare as egregious errors, and an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Liberalism and Marxism are both modernist in their philosophical understanding of reality, which is to say, they conduct philosophical examination as if God does not exist and that He has not revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Catholic view and the traditionalist view are in deep concord, and we must approach the topic of economics accordingly.
– Lucas G. Westman
 After Virtue, 3rd ed., Pg. 1
 Ibid, Pg. 2
 Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, Pg. 1
 The Great Betrayal, Pg. 65
 Ibid, Pg. 65
 Ibid, Pg. 65
 The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Mearsheimer, Pg. 18