Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saints, Scholasticism, Theology, Thomism

Catholic Theology & Philosophical Foundations

Saint Thomas Aquinas the Angelic Doctor Background“As we will see, Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et ratio strenuously upholds the tradition of giving priority to faith in the question of the relationship between faith and reason. To do otherwise, of course, would be to flirt with rationalism. Faith, however, must be understood; it is always, to borrow from St. Anselm, “seeking understanding,” What rational tools will one use to understand one’s Christian faith? Of the many philosophies that human culture knows and has known, which one ought to be chosen to aid in the comprehension of faith? Is every philosophy equal to this task?

As is well-known, St. Thomas chose the philosophy of Aristotle for this task. He found that Aristotle’s thought served the faith well; he found, most precisely, that the metaphysics of Aristotle provided a strong foundation upon with to “think the faith.” In light of this, and in light of Pope Leo XIII’s Thomistic revival, theologians began to ask if Catholic theology must be forever wedded to the philosophy of Aristotle. Many said no and attempted to change the philosophical foundations of Catholic theology – none with great success.

The University of Fribourg’s eminent philosopher, I.M. Bochenski, sets the stage for an answer as to why this was so. He explains that modern philosophy, that is, philosophy during the time between 1600 and 1900,

“came into being with the decline of scholastic philosophy. Characteristic of scholasticism is its pluralism (assuming the plurality of really different beings and levels of being), personalism (acknowledging the preeminent value of the human person), its organic conception of reality, as well as its theocentric attitude – God the Creator as its center of vision. Detailed logical analysis of individual problems is characteristic of scholastic method. Modern philosophy opposes every one of these tenets. Its fundamental principles are mechanism, which eliminates the conception of being as integral and hierarchical, and subjectivism, which diverts man from his previous concentration of God and substitutes the subject as the center. In point of method modern philosophy turned its back on formal logic. With some notable exceptions, it was characterized by the development of great systems and by the neglect of analysis.”

The mechanistic and subjectivist a prioris of modern philosophy, along with a whole set of reductionisms in contemporary philosophy, simply do not provide a solid enough grounding for Christian faith.”

 

– Lucas G. Westman


*Taken From The Sacred Monster of Thomism

 

 

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Ethics, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics

The Catholic Church & Capital Punishment

The Catholic Church & Capital Punishment“Between 1796 and 1865, Giovanni Battista Bugatti executed 516 condemned criminals, more than four-fifths for murder. Some of them were hanged, some guillotined, and some decapitated with an ax. In the case of especially heinous crimes, the methods of execution were harsher. Some criminals had their heads crushed with a mallet, after which their throats were cut. Some were drawn and quartered.

Who is Bugatti? He was the official executioner of the Papal States, a devout Catholic who carried out his work as a loyal servant of the Holy Father. Indeed, the popes and the Church were active participants in the process of execution, which was highly ritualized and freighted with spiritual significance. On the morning of the execution the pope would say a special prayer for the condemned. A priest would hear Bugatti’s confession and administer Holy Communion to him in advance of the event. In the hours before the execution, a special order of monks would cater to the spiritual needs of the criminal, urging confession and repentance while there was still time and offering the sacraments. They would then lead him to the site of execution in solemn procession. Notices in local churches would request that the faithful pray for his soul. As the sentence was carried out, the monks would hold the crucifix up to the condemned, so that it would be the last thing he saw. Everything was done to ensure both that the criminal received his just deserts and that the salvation of his soul might be secured. When asked in 1868 to stay an execution, Blessed Pope Pius IX, though he certainly had legal power to do so, apparently thought he morally ought not to, replying, ‘I cannot and I do not want to.’”[1]


There are many in the Catholic Church today working to abolish capital punishment. Those participating in this progressive social justice campaign would recoil at the above description of capital punishment being legislated by the Papal States. Confronted with these descriptions of historic realities the aforementioned social justice warriors would most likely react with banal modernist slogans and emotionally triggered outrage. Underneath the reactionary platitudes the typical claims being made against capital punishment is that it is intrinsically unjust, immoral, and undermines a culture of life.

This view is in error to say the least, but unfortunately many in the Church are impressed with mantras coming from liberally compromised clergy rather than looking to the official teachings of Mother Church concerning the execution of justice against evil and violent criminals.

There is, however, a corrective remedy for this problematic position gaining momentum in the ranks of the Mystical Body of Christ.

I recently received my copy of Edward Feser and Joseph M. Bessette’s book, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, and it is devastating to opponents of the death penalty. This book contains a systematic proclamation of the truth taught by the magisterial authority of the Church, as well as a complete refutation of the modernist position seeking to abolish capital punishment.

Feser is typical in his brilliant exposition of Thomistic natural law theory, and in my view, thoroughly dismantles the New Natural Law Theorist (NNLT) position, which considers capital punishment to be intrinsically immoral in every instance of its application. The NNLT movement is comprised of many prominent Catholic intellectuals, so it is important that Feser interacts with their arguments. Not every moral position articulated by NNLT advocates is problematic. Indeed, their stated positions on marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and many others are often exemplary. Ultimately, however, the philosophical foundations are where the problems initially arise, which lead to negative unintended consequences despite the good intentions of NNLT advocates. Feser makes this point clear and shows that without the proper philosophical foundation, that is, a perennially grounded metaphysics of the Aristotelian-Thomistic sort, NNLT collapses into itself and can no longer justify their extreme positions on the death penalty. Traditional natural law theory and NNLT differ on key foundational issues,

“The NNLT differs from traditional natural law theory in several crucial respects. As we have seen, for the traditional natural law theorist, what is good for us is grounded in human nature, where ‘nature’ is understood in terms of the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of formal and final causes. Given formal and final causality, ‘value’ is built into the very structure of the ‘facts,’ and there is no metaphysical space between them by which David Hume and his positivist followers might pry them apart. NNLT proponents, by contrast, tend to endorse the Humean fact-value dichotomy. Like Hume, they insist that an ‘ought’ cannot be derived from an ‘is.’ Thus, like Hume, they deny that morality can be grounded in a metaphysical analysis of human nature.”[2]

Referencing David Oderberg, Feser highlights another key difference,

“Traditional natural law theory is ‘world-centered’, whereas the NNLT is ‘agent-centered’. For the traditional natural law theorist, an agent knows the good by taking an objective, or ‘third-person’, view of himself. He asks what sorts of ends human beings have, given the kind of creatures they are, and thereby knows what is good for him qua human since he is one instance of that kind among others. According to the NNLT, the agent knows the good from the subjective, or ‘first-person’, point of view. Considering what reasons he has for acting this way or that, he asks what sorts of good are self-evidently desirable and for whose sake he might pursue other goods. That is by no means to say that his judgments are, according to NNLT, ‘subjective’ in the sense of being arbitrary or idiosyncratic. They are taken by the NNLT to reflect human practical reason as such, not merely the practical reason of this or that agent, and are thus in that sense ‘objective.’ But they are ‘subjective’ in the sense that it is from the agent’s introspection of his own practical reason in operation, rather than from mind-independent facts of a philosophically informed anthropology, that he finds a guide to action.”[3]

Finally, there are five main divergences between traditional natural law theory and NNLT (these are the words of the author and not my summary of the positioned differences),

  1. First, it is essentially an attempt to reformulate natural law without either nature or law and is therefore not really a ‘natural law’ theory at all. For since it denies that the good can be grounded in the natures of things in general or human nature in particular, there is nothing ‘natural’ about it; and since it denies that our obligation to pursue the good has anything essentially to do with conforming ourselves to the will of the divine lawgiver, its imperatives lack the character of true ‘law’. [4]
  2. Second, the endorsement of Hume’s fact-value dichotomy is a dangerously radical concession to the philosophical naturalism, positivism, and scientism that are fundamentally at odds not only with the systems of philosophy historically favored by the Church, but with Catholicism itself. This concession is also completely unnecessary, since the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical foundations of traditional natural law theory’s account of the good are entirely defensible, and since the fact-value dichotomy has in contemporary philosophy been severely criticized, not only by writers sympathetic to the natural law tradition but by others as well.[5]
  3. Third, the approach to political philosophy taken by some NNLT writers also involves dangerous concessions to modern philosophy, owing more to the liberalism and individualism of Hobbes, Locke, and Kant than to the natural law political tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas.[6]
  4. Fourth, the NNLT account of intention is excessively subjectivist and has implications that are simply bizarre from the point of view of traditional Catholic moral theology. As the craniotomy example shows, what would historically have been regarded as an absolutely forbidden direct abortion becomes, on the NNLT, a kind of indirect abortion that is permissible in principle. Meanwhile, because any war appears obviously to involve intentional killing, the very idea of a just war becomes highly problematic. The problem can be dealt with only via implausible and convoluted reasoning to the effect that the deaths of enemy soldiers are not intended but rather a foreseen but unintended side effect of combat.[7]
  5. Fifth, the NNLT list of basic goods (which varies somewhat from writer to writer) is arbitrary and ad hoc, formulated precisely so as to guarantee that certain desired conclusions will be reached and certain undesirable conclusions will be ruled out. The NNLT’s eschewal of philosophical anthropology deprives it of a way of providing an objective criterion by which to determine which goods are really basic, and its appeal instead to the ‘self-evidence’ of some goods and not others seems merely dogmatic.[8]

Following this comparative analysis, Feser demonstrates that by NNLT’s own principles capital punishment does not necessarily need to be considered intrinsically immoral, that the NNLT approach to capital punishment is incoherent, and finally, that the NNLT position on capital punishment cannot be squared with official Catholic teaching on the issue.

As important as the philosophical treatment of capital punishment is, I contend that the essential issue needing to be settled is Scriptural authority. What does the Sacred Page have to say about capital punishment? Feser clearly demonstrates that the abolitionist position cannot be associated with Biblical authority. The most explicit endorsement of capital punishment is found in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” This is an explicit command in favor of the death penalty, and it is based on the moral implication that man is made in the image of God. In addition to this, God reveals in the Mosaic Law specific scenarios calling for the death penalty, and God Himself utilizes the death penalty in some of the most significant events in the Old Testament. The Flood is an obvious instance, and the Egyptians dying while attempting to cross the Red Sea is another. And since I brought up Exodus, I cannot overlook the slaying of 3,000 at the command of Moses for worshiping the golden calf.

Instances like these take place in the New Testament as well. Consider for a moment the situation in the Book of Acts concerning Ananias and Sapphira. St. Peter, presumably by the power of God, basically strikes these two dead for lying to the Holy Spirit; as soon as St. Peter speaks their condemnation they drop dead. This is not exactly the same as capital punishment, but it is evident that taking their lives was used to enact justice of a specific sort.

Philosophically combatting against errors of reason is vitally important, but even more important is to remind those who are in the Church where the ultimate authority can be found – Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. If newly invented philosophical systems amount to revoking the authority of Scripture, then the philosophy is in error and must be corrected. As every major Saint and Doctor has taught, including St. Thomas, revelation and theology guides and corrects human reason in the philosophical arena. Philosophy is the handmaiden to theology not its judge.

In my view, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, settles the issue in systematic fashion. There is no way around the arguments being presented and the only reaction against its necessarily corrective teaching is to remain in the state of modernistic incredulity.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Feser & Bessette, Pg. 9, 10

[2] Ibid, Pg. 81

[3] Ibid, Pg. 81, 82

[4] Ibid, Pg. 86

[5] Ibid, Pg. 86

[6] Ibid, Pg. 86

[7] Ibid, Pg. 86, 87

[8] Ibid, Pg. 87

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Political Philosophy, Politics

A 5-Step Program For Totalitarian Government

5 Step Program For Totalitarian GovernmentDespite rhetoric promising to drain the swamp, the march toward totalitarian centralization of American government continues on with the Trump administration. The proposal to replace the disastrous Affordable Care Act, as well as the massive congressional budget deal, indicates a commitment to the ongoing trend which perpetuates the cultural monopolization and profligate spending so characteristic in Washington. In addition to the continued centralization of America’s domestic policy, President Trump has moved away from his non-interventionist America first proposal in foreign policy, potentially outsourcing this area to the generals in command of the military.

This is quite the dramatic turn from the governing program outlined during the campaign, especially since all of these shifts in policy took place in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. His most devoted followers refuse to acknowledge the defeat delivered to Trump’s ambitions at the hands of the globalists and the deep state bureaucracy, but the fact remains that the promises he ran on, indeed, those that won him the election have been left unfulfilled. There is no wall, hence no border security. The Affordable Care Act could potentially be replaced with an equally disastrous health care plan that is in actuality a tax cut masquerading as a policy change. And the strained relations with our international rivals have only increased in their intensity based on a foreign policy direction Trump promised to reverse, rather than prolong. The Democrats are positioning themselves as the resistance, and they are winning against a G.O.P. holding majority power in Washington.

More important than these current events, however, is understanding how this centralization process continues without being questioned or even remotely slowed down by any person holding political power. There is a 5-step process that is taking place right before our eyes, and its ultimate end is the subjugation of the American people.

How radicals take control of government, society, and culture in 5-steps:

1. Movement radicals infiltrate and acquire positions of power in the institutions shaping our culture, which leads to radicals of the same mind and spirit pursuing and acquiring positions of power in the government.

2. The radicals who have previously infiltrated the institutions which shape the culture mold and influence society in a specific moral direction in readied preparation to receive the political agenda created by those who have acquired power in government. The radicals who have acquired political power utilize the image of a real or alleged social grievance. The grievance is then packaged as being a problem created either by an action of the government or through a scenario where the government should have acted but failed to do so.

3. The societal grievance is marketed as a violation of specific rights against an identified group whereby a mob clamoring for democratic action demands that the injustice be solved by governmental action.

4. The radicals who have acquired power in the government create legislation to remedy the real or alleged scenario with a centralizing program resulting in the diminishing of legitimate freedoms, and create a path toward the total eradication of freedom at the communal level of culture and society.

5. Repeat steps 2 – 4. Those radicals of the same mind and spirit who have acquired the position of opinion molders and cultural agitators champion the legislation passed by the radicals in the government as a success. Although it is considered a success, the path toward centralization is not complete because the legislation does not entirely solve the problem, and in fact may even increase the severity of the problem so that the mob demands more democratic action resulting in further centralizing legislation, which is created and passed by the radicals pulling the political levers of power.

This program of radicalization in politics results in a government that is totalitarian in nature, and all other legitimate spheres of authority in the societal hierarchy – family and local communities closest to those families – are now considered enemies of progress. Moreover, state governments become nothing more than redundancies because they transform into agents of the centralized totalitarian government being run by sociopathic revolutionaries. The surrender of state governments to Leviathan is accomplished by bribing state officials with tax funds that have been expropriated from the very  people these representatives are meant to protect against totalitarian ambitions.

This process is exactly what we are witnessing with the health care laws that have been passed over the last decade. The bill created to replace the Affordable Care Act is not a solution to the problem; it is a step toward a totalitarian system of centralized health care. If it passes the Senate, and is signed into law by President Trump, the ensuing chaos will most likely result in a sweeping change in power and the Democrats will push a single payer system until the G.O.P. surrenders – which they do every single time. By the time this takes place, the people will beg the totalitarians in power to fix the problem, a problem that was created by the radicals in the first place.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


NOTE: This 5-step process is outlined in the book, The Unseen Hand, by A. Ralph Epperson.

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Philosophy, Political Philosophy

Libertarian Gnosticism

Storming of BastillePope Francis recently made some critical remarks about libertarianism. And following these remarks, libertarians responded with their usual bluster.

The immediate and reactionary response is to always claim that whatever has just been said or written about libertarianism is a straw man. It never fails. Every single time a view that is critical of libertarian political philosophy is offered, libertarians inexorably say that libertarianism is being misrepresented. This complaint, however, does not stem from bad interpretations of libertarian political philosophy, but is most certainly due to the incoherence of libertarianism itself. Even libertarians don’t agree on what constitutes libertarianism, which amounts to a self-serving ability to dodge whenever they are criticized on a point of principle or doctrine. If a person criticizes libertarians who are in favor of abortion it is immediately pointed out that not all libertarians are in favor of abortion. If anarcho-capitalism is criticized for its “anarchic” absurdities, which by the way is theoretically postulated by a guy who is dubbed Mr. Libertarian, some libertarians will point out that not all of them are anarchists or that anarchy is not the same state minimalism; on some accounts libertarianism equates anarchy and on other accounts libertarianism equates “minarchy”. No matter which is criticized it can be guaranteed that someone will point out that not all libertarians are in agreement on this division.

Continuing with examples of discord among libertarianism:

If a libertarian commitment to the gold standard is criticized it will immediately be pointed out that not all libertarians like the gold standard, and some may in fact lean towards Friedmanite monetarism. Some think conservatism and libertarianism are allies, some don’t. Some libertarians are metaphysical realists and some are nominalists. Some are natural law theorists and some are consequentialists. Some associate ‘true’ libertarianism to NAP and some do not.

To be a libertarian among this calamity of contradictory opinions amounts to having a mystically infused knowledge of truths applying to the social and political realm. In order to avoid interacting with this dilemma, an almost magical experience is postulated when interacting with the Rothbardian cult of social gnosticism – Rothbard frees people from their statist intellectual tendencies. Creating a mystical social religion rather than a coherent philosophy leads to the esoteric infusion of “truths” regarding the social order; nobody actually knows what libertarianism amounts to other than what the individual believes to be true according to their own subjectively felt involvement with the “philosophy of freedom.”

The above reality points out at least one very important thing; libertarianism is a total mess.

There are, however, two things uniting this divergent silliness (if a cult of personality is excluded from the equation), and that is the reduction of society to the choices of the individual and contractual consent. Libertarianism turns the freedom of choice into a fetish, and this is what Pope Francis is ultimately criticizing; and the Pope is 100% correct in his judgment.

Not only does the inherent confusion of libertarian political philosophy amount to an undeniable need to reject it on purely rational terms, its reductionist principles are at complete odds with Catholic social doctrine. Given the certainty of intellectual and spiritual conflict, Pope Francis’s criticisms are entirely accurate,

“Finally, I cannot but speak of the serious risks associated with the invasion, at high levels of culture and education in both universities and in schools, of positions of libertarian individualism. A common feature of this fallacious paradigm is that it minimizes the common good, that is, “living well”, a “good life” in the community framework, and exalts the selfish ideal that deceptively proposes a “beautiful life”. If individualism affirms that it is only the individual who gives value to things and interpersonal relationships, and so it is only the individual who decides what is good and what is bad, then libertarianism, today in fashion, preaches that to establish freedom and individual responsibility, it is necessary to resort to the idea of “self-causation”. Thus libertarian individualism denies the validity of the common good because on the one hand it supposes that the very idea of “common” implies the constriction of at least some individuals, and the other that the notion of “good” deprives freedom of its essence.

The radicalization of individualism in libertarian and therefore anti-social terms leads to the conclusion that everyone has the “right” to expand as far as his power allows, even at the expense of the exclusion and marginalization of the most vulnerable majority. Bonds would have to be cut inasmuch as they would limit freedom. By mistakenly matching the concept of “bond” to that of “constraint”, one ends up confusing what may condition freedom – the constraints – with the essence of created freedom, that is, bonds or relations, family and interpersonal, with the excluded and marginalized, with the common good, and finally with God.”

Most importantly, however, is the fact that the Catholic claiming the status of libertarian, or claims that Catholicism can be coherently reconciled to libertarianism, is yet to provide the necessary references of official Church documents to make their case. They do not do this because it cannot be done.

Some people claim that I have a vendetta against libertarianism.

This is false.

I have a vendetta against error.

Libertarian political philosophy – left, right, or anarchic – is in error. This error is incompatible with official Church teaching. So those seeking to unite it to the Church will be addressed and their errors refuted. It is as plain and simple as that.

The social doctrine of the Catholic Church and its relationship with political philosophy can really be summed up as a battle between the traditionalists (who are right) and the modernists (who are terribly wrong).

This article by Jeffrey Tucker, reacting to Pope Francis’s recent remarks, is exhibit A. According to Tucker’s interpretation of history Catholic social doctrine is the natural forerunner to classical liberalism, even linking it to Aquinas. In fact, Tucker is under the impression that the Catholic Church has been an ally with Enlightenment liberalism from the very beginning of this anti-Catholic movement committed to the overthrow of Christendom. This is ridiculous to say the least, but it marks the clear division in the Church concerning social issues between the traditionalist and the modernist.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Economic Method, Epistemology, Philosophy, Political Philosophy

A Critique of Misesian Economic Methodology: Part I – Introduction

Introductionludwig-von-mises

The Austrian School of Economics (ASE) is growing more influential among those interested in economics and political philosophy.[1] It offers an alternative philosophical and methodological way of thinking about economics and economic problems.[2] The distinctive features of the ASE methodology are radical subjectivism, methodological dualism, and deductive apriorism. These distinctives are associated with Ludwig von Mises, the fountainhead of the contemporary Austrian tradition. The Misesian system was constructed in order to combat the growing influence of positivism in economics during the twentieth century. Mises was concerned positivism would strip economics of the human element of purposive action.[3] In order to contest positivist influence in economics, Mises offers a foundational theory of human action called praxeology. Moreover, the praxeological foundation utilizes core elements of the Kantian critical system of philosophy, and leans strongly in a neo-Kantian direction.

Although Misesian praxeology is primarily Kantian, there are features in his system that conflict with the philosophical tenets of this foundation. Praxeology, broadly speaking, is a general foundation for the social sciences, while catallactics focuses on human action within the jurisdiction of economics.[4] Not only can the conflict of realism and anti-realism be detected in the praxeological foundation of the Misesian system; it is also discovered when separating the general praxeological foundation from the narrower field of economics. Indeed, this tension can be found throughout the contemporary Austrian corpus. For example, Jorg Guido Hulsmann writes in the introduction of, Epistemological Problems of Economics, that Mises only has rhetorical affinities[5] related to Kantian philosophy, while he is actually working in the tradition of Aristotelian realism.[6] Murray Rothbard, the most ardent advocate of the Misesian praxeological tradition, argues contrary to Hulsmann. Rothbard states Mises was an adherent of Kantian epistemology,[7] rather than only possessing rhetorical affinities. Moreover, Rothbard explicitly rejects the Kantian aspects of the Misesian praxeological foundation for an Aristotelian version.[8] In an article written for the Mises Institute, Faustino Ballve emphatically associates Mises with Kantian philosophy.[9] Finally, Peter Boettke’s book, Living Economics, contains a chapter titled “Was Mises Right?” which thoroughly highlights, although this was not Boettke’s intention, the tension between realism and anti-realism in Misesian thought.

The evidence clearly indicates that there is deep metaphysical discord at the heart of the Misesian system, and the metaphysical discord also suggests epistemological incoherence. Concerning the metaphysical dissonance, one cannot be a realist and an anti-realist at the same time. For the realist, the truths of the external world are mind independent. For the anti-realist, the truths of the world are not mind independent. Misesian praxeology is the foundation from which he proceeds to practice economics, and this foundation is unambiguously anti-realist. Moreover, the manner in which Mises practices economics is in the tradition of realism. It is not until this metaphysical confusion is solved that a meaningful epistemology might be suggested as a corollary of prior metaphysical commitments.

In addition to this already problematic metaphysical position, what Mises suggests as a solution for positivist influence in the area of economic methodology only reemphasizes the mechanistic framework from which the positivists were/are operating. The development of positivism has its roots in the Kantian foundation Mises suggests as a methodological safeguard for economic theory. This Misesian maneuver ultimately results in only a nuanced difference in key areas of economic thought, while vast overlap between competing schools remains firmly intact. Consider this list of overlap between the Austrian and Chicago Schools of Economics[10]:

  • Both champion the sanctity of private property as the basis of exchange, justice, and progress in society.
  • Both defend laissez-faire capitalism and believe firmly in Adam Smith’s invisible hand doctrine, that self-motivated actions of private individuals maximize happiness and society’s well-being, and that liberty and order are ultimately harmonious.
  • Both are critics of Marx and Marxist doctrines of alienation, exploitation, and other anti-capitalist notions.
  • Both support free trade, a liberalized immigration policy, and globalization.
  • Both generally favor open borders for capital and consumer goods, labor, and money.
  • Both oppose controls on exchange, prices, rents, and wages, including minimum wage legislation.
  • Both believe in limiting government to defense of the nation, individual property, and selective public works (although a few in both camps are anarchists, such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman).
  • Both favor privatization, denationalization, and deregulation.
  • Both oppose corporate welfarism and special privileges (known as rent seeking or privilege seeking).
  • Both reject socialistic central planning and totalitarianism.
  • Both believe that poverty is debilitating but that natural inequality is inevitable, and they defend the right of all individuals, rich or poor, to keep, use and exchange property (assuming it was justly acquired). They do not join the chorus of pundits bashing the rich, although they frequently condemn corporate welfarism.
  • Both refute the Keynesian and Marxist interventionists who believe that market capitalism is inherently unstable and requires big government to stabilize the economy.
  • Both are generally opposed to deficit spending, progressive taxation, and the welfare state, and favor free-market alternatives to Social Security and Medicare.
  • Both favor market and property-rights solutions to pollution and other environmental problems, and in general consider the environmentalist crisis as overblown.

As the above list indicates, the agreement between these supposed economic rivals is significant. The nuanced differences can be found in areas of methodology, the role of the government in the economy, what constitutes sound money, and macroeconomic theory.[11]

Given all of this, it is my contention that contemporary Austrian School practitioners must either abandon the anti-realist Misesian praxeological foundation they champion or cease advocating for the practice of economics from a realist perspective. This dilemma provides great difficulties for the ASE because it is the Misesian praxeological foundation that allegedly makes them unique among their peers; this foundation is also the reason why their peers reject their methodology.[12] Although difficult, this conflict can be resolved by abandoning the anti-realist Misesian praxeological project whereby a new methodological understanding can be constructed in the tradition classical metaphysical realism. Following this clarification, a more proper epistemology can be offered for the field of economics, one that necessarily includes the moral realm of the political economy.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] The growing influence is directly connected to the republican presidential primary campaigns of Ron Paul, and the continued efforts to spread Austrian economic ideas at the Mises Institute.

[2] Peter Boettke emphasizes this in his book Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. On Pg. 38 and 39 he says, “What you emphasize in the phrase ‘Austrian economics’ matters for how and whom you interact with. If you emphasize Austrian economics then you are led to stress philosophical foundations and methodological positions. If you emphasize Austrian economics, then you are led to stress substantive propositions in economic reasoning and applications. It is easier to communicate with your peers in economics if you do economics, and it is easier to talk with other social scientists and philosophers if you work on philosophy and methodology… Bottom line – whichever side you come down on (Austrian or economics) strive to work with the best minds in the relevant disciplines.”

[3] The majority of economists agree with the basic assumption that the rational human agent is the object of study in the science of economics. Many definitions of economics have been given to us throughout the history of this field. In Principles of Economics, Alfred Marshall says, “Economics is then the science which investigates man’s action in the ordinary business of life.”(Principles of Economics, Marshall, Pg. 115) Thomas Sowell provides this definition “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.”(Basic Economics, Pg. 3) To elaborate on these definitions we can say that economics is the social science dealing with the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses within a framework of constrained maximization. Keeping these insights in mind, the proper definition of economics defined in modernist terms is thus – Economics is the social science that studies rational actors or agents seeking to maximize efficient and optimal allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses within a framework of constrained maximization. This definition, however, will be challenged in a later essay looking to reintroduce moral theory into economic methods.

[4] Mises highlights this distinction clearly, “All that can be contended is this: Economics is mainly concerned with the analysis of the determination of money prices of goods and services exchanged on the market. In order to accomplish this task it must start from a comprehensive theory of human action. Moreover, it must study not only the market phenomena, but no less the hypothetical conduct of an isolated man and of a socialist community. Finally, it must not restrict its investigations to those modes of action which in mundane speech are called “economic” actions, but must deal also with actions which are in a loose manner of speech are called ‘uneconomic.’

“The scope of praxeology, the general theory of human action, can be precisely defined and circumscribed. The specifically economic problems, the problems of economic action in the narrower sense, can only by and large be disengaged from the comprehensive body of praxeological theory. Accidental facts of the history of science and conventions play a role in all attempts to provide a definition of the scope of “genuine” economics.

“Not logical or epistemological rigor, but considerations of expediency and traditional convention make us declare that the field of catallactics or of economic in the narrower sense is the analysis of the market phenomena. This is tantamount to the statement: Catallactics is the analysis of those actions, which are conducted on the basis of monetary calculation. Market exchange and monetary calculation are inseparably linked together. A market in which there is a direct exchange only is merely an imaginary construction. On the other hand, money and monetary calculation are conditioned by the existence of the market.” (Human Action, Scholars Edition, Mises, Pg. 235)

[5] Epistemological Problems of Economics, Mises, Pg. liii

[6] Epistemological Problems of Economics, Mises, Pg. li

[7] Economic Controversies, Rothbard, Pg. 65

[8] Economic Controversies, Rothbard, Pg. 65

[9] http://mises.org/daily/5708/On-Methodology-in-Economics

[10] Vienna & Chicago: Friends or Foes?, Skousen, Pg. 3, 4

[11] Ibid, Pg. 6, 7

[12] This is not the only reason mainstream economists reject the Misesian paradigm, but these issues will be dealt with later.

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Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics

Liberal Democracy as a Comprehensive Doctrine

French Revolution“Similarly, in a liberal democracy everyone knows – and only a fool or a fanatic can deny – that schools have to become more and more liberal and democratic for the same reasons. Again, this inevitable process requires that the state, the law, and public opinion harshly counteract against all stragglers – those who are trying to put a stick in the spokes of progress, dreamers who imagine that in the twenty-first century we can return to the school as it existed in the nineteenth, pests who want to build an old-time museum in the forward-rushing world. And so on, and so forth. Similar reasoning can be applied to churches, communities, associations.

As a result, liberal democracy has become an all-permeating system. There is no, or in any case, cannot be, any segment of reality that would be arguably and acceptably non-liberal democratic. Whatever happens in school must follow the same pattern as in politics, in politics the same pattern as in art, and in art the same pattern as in the economy: the same problems, the same mechanism, the same type of thinking, the same language, the same habits. Just as in real socialism, so in real democracy it is difficult to find some nondoctrinal slice of the world, a nondoctrinal image, narrative, tone, or thought

In a way, liberal democracy presents a somewhat more insidious ideological mystification than communism. Under communism it was clear that communism was to prevail in every cell of social life, and that the Communist Party was empowered with the instruments of brutal coercion and propaganda to get the job done. Under liberal democracy such official guardians of constitutional doctrine do not exist, which, paradoxically, makes the overarching nature of the system less tangible, but at the same time more profound and difficult to reverse. It is the people themselves who have eventually come to accept, often on a preintellectual level, that eliminating the institutions incompatible with liberal-democratic principles constitutes a wise and necessary step.

Forty years ago, at the time when the period of liberal-democratic monopoly was fast approaching, Daniel Bell, one of the popular social writers, set forth the thesis that a modern society is characterized by the disjunction of three realms: social, economic, and political. They develop – so he claimed – at different rates, have different dynamics and purposes, and are subject to different mechanisms and influences. This image of structural diversity that Bell saw coming was attractive, or rather would have been attractive if true. But the opposite happened. No disjunction occurred. Rather, everything came to be joined under the liberal-democratic formula: the economy, the politics and society, and – as it turns out – culture.”

– Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy – 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Saint Bonaventure, The Franciscans

St. Bonaventure’s Tripartite Division of Society

St. Bonaventure on Society“The social nature of man is rooted in two fundamental characteristics: affection and dependency. We see this fundamental fact in that man possesses a social affection by which he desires the companionship of fellow human beings. Man is a rational animal, but one that is dependent; he needs the help of other human beings. Bonaventure sees this affection and dependency functioning in three social orders – the conjugal, the domestic, and the civil. Each is a true society possessing its own proper authority: matrimonial (of husband over wife), parental (of parents over children), and civil (of superior over subordinates).

The dependency of the human being is found at the most basic level in the fact that the continuation of the species requires the cooperation of a man and woman in a union of common purpose and mutual aid. The marital state is necessary for the procreation and education of offspring. Husband and wife need each other to provide mutual help for this task. In attempting to fulfill this task, they develop a common will or unity of purpose – ‘a conformity of will’. Furthermore, such a union, in order to fulfill its task, must be permanent and exclusive. Hence, we find Bonaventure’s teaching on man’s social nature presented in his discussion of marriage as the foundational relationship of human society.

What is true of marriage and the family is also true of society. Society too requires mutual help and a common will. Goods received should be shared, whatever these may be. A society has a unity of nature, purpose, and activity. This threefold unity of society is built on that of the marital union and family. There is thus an organic unity to society from the most basic of its units to its wholeness. Indeed, a society is like a living organism in which the members depend on each other for mutual aid and common purpose.

In the body politic, there is a diversity of members. There are three main groups amidst this diversity in any society: those who work, those who fight, and those who pray. Bonaventure’s tripartite division of society was commonplace in medieval thought; it was believed that each had its own unique role in the larger society. And society, as an organic body, must have an order in which each part is delineated, and ordered within the whole. Without order, there could be no common life.

Furthermore, this order necessarily requires a hierarchy of members. Indeed, the hierarchy of human society simply reflects, and is part of, the other hierarchies of the universe. Bonaventure thinks that there are three main hierarchies in reality: (1) the divine hierarchy (the Trinity), (2) the angelic, and (3) ‘the ecclesiastical’ or human. This universal ‘ecclesiastical’ hierarchy is, in turn, made up of three orders: (1) the monastic, that is, those who live the purely contemplative life; (2) the clerical, or those living both the active and the contemplative life; and (3) the lay, or those living the active life. The lay order of the hierarchy includes three other hierarchies: rulers, ministers, and the people. The hierarchies of this lay order concern themselves with temporal affairs, that is, with the goods of nature, the fortunes of private individuals, and the commonwealth, respectively.”

– Christopher M. Cullen, Great Medieval Thinkers: Bonaventure

– Lucas G. Westman

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