Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And now...

... the sound of one hand clapping.

The money quote:
What Benedict XVI has not spelled out yet is another forgotten lesson from St. Augustine: the ever-corrupting role of sin in the City of Man. Augustine points out how difficult it is even for the wisest and most detached humans to discover the truth among lies—and how even husbands and wives in the closest of human bonds misunderstand each other so often. The Father of Lies seems to own so much of the real world.

What are the most practical ways of defeating him? The Catholic tradition—even the wise Pope Benedict—still seems to put too much stress upon caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions, and not nearly enough on methods for defeating human sin in all its devious and persistent forms.

Even the Pope’s understandable nostalgia for the European welfare-state too much scants the self-interests, self-deceptions, and false presuppositions that are bringing that system to a crisis of its own making. This was a crisis John Paul II saw rather more clearly in paragraph 48 of Centesimus Annus.
- Michael Novak

Where, O where, to begin? First of all, Joseph Ratzinger came of age in Nazi Germany, and I don't think a socialistic state gives him any warm-fuzzies of nostalgia. And how can Mr. Novak claim that it is the Holy Father (a confessor for over 50 years) who is naive about sin, when it is he who naively believes that market motives and the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest will somehow spark a society of justice and equity. Where does the corrupting power of sin enter into the market? O, that's right, I forgot, the market is amoral - not like there are sinful human agents operating within it, just automaton consumers responding to economic laws and mathematical motives. What a crock.

Finally, what the hell is more practical for defeating sin and overcoming evil in the world than "caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions"? These are things which private individuals must foster and which a State cannot enforce, so it surprises me to hear Mr. Novak calling for something more "pragmatic" and "programmatic." But, apart from that surprise, I am still left to wonder - what is more practical for overcoming sin than caritas in veritate? Anyone? Bueller?

Now, I know I said I wasn't going to get into parsing and analyzing this document just yet. But apparently, people in the blogosphere are very concerned with a phrase from paragraph 39. Mr. Weigel doesn't understand what is meant by "forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion."

Now, first, let's read paragraph 39 in full:
Paul VI in Populorum Progressio called for the creation of a model of market economy capable of including within its range all peoples and not just the better off. He called for efforts to build a more human world for all, a world in which “all will be able to give and receive, without one group making progress at the expense of the other”. In this way he was applying on a global scale the insights and aspirations contained in Rerum Novarum, written when, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the idea was first proposed — somewhat ahead of its time — that the civil order, for its self-regulation, also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution. Not only is this vision threatened today by the way in which markets and societies are opening up, but it is evidently insufficient to satisfy the demands of a fully humane economy. What the Church's social doctrine has always sustained, on the basis of its vision of man and society, is corroborated today by the dynamics of globalization.

When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion. The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift.

Alright, the phrase which has so many people so upset is "forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion." Now, this is understandable in some ways, since "quotas" are common in Socialist models of economy, and we would not want to say the Pope is encouraging that here. So, just what is he encouraging? What does this expression mean?

Well, on the one hand, I think knee-jerking at the word "quota" is a bit hasty. There is no Latin version of this document on the Holy See's website, yet. The Italian indeed does have "da quote di gratuità e di comunione." However, the French rendering is "par une part de gratuité et de communion" and the Spanish, "por ciertos márgenes de gratuidad y comunión." Certain margins characterizing a form of economy gives a much different sense than "quotas." So, perhaps we're reading too much into a word. Even so, what does this marginality mean and how does it get defined and who defines it? This too seems simpler than is being made out. The paragraph speaks before and after this quotation about the concept of "solidarity" as a necessary characteristic of economic activity, and also notes that globalization is not necessarily letting more people in but simply letting fewer people benefit at the expense of more and more marginalized (people only ostensibly enfranchised of power). If our motives to give are simply to receive in return, or because it is by mandate of the State, this falls short of the ideal and will not lead us to truly include others in economic life - just use them.

I could conceive of various Distributist models which capture the idea of this phrase, like Belloc's incentive-based taxation which tries to keep more people participatory in the economic activity of a region by making bigger business only WANT to accrue a certain part of property. They leave off what would be surplus and unprofitable, allowing others a chance to work with that property; then as others succeed and are able to pay their own greater share of the upkeep of the commonwealth, the larger owners benefit from a fall of their own taxes. The success of the other would be thus an incentive for a particular owner, albeit not until the system had been in place and begun to succeed.

Another thought is that it seems any small, family run business is already a local form of what Benedict is talking about. Two brothers open a store, and one day Brother A gets sick on his day to manage: will Brother B really take it out of his salary for his own coming in, knowing that Brother A had to pay the copay for a doctor's visit that day? No. The brothers will act first of all like brothers, and their business will be characterized by certain margins of gratuitousness and communion. They will be a family first, and a business second. This is what Benedict means by "economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it." He means take what works (and is virtuous) about the local and try to keep the global in the same ethos. It might seem pie-in-the-sky, but given that the human race really is a family, under God, spread accross the globe, then this as a model for "globalization" is not all that far-fetched. So, the job of people like Novak and Weigel ought to be asking, "what would this look like on a bigger scale, and how could we do it?" rather than decrying it as nonsensical drivel.

Anyhow, I'm open for discussion whether this phrase is really as unmeaning as others make it out to be. To me, it does convey a sense, perhaps indeed somewhat imprecise, but only because it's not something to be seen so much in finer details as in the "big picture." Thoughts?
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