Having abstained from posting last week, I would like to comment on a couple of things that caught my attention while I was in Michigan.
Ryan and Dorothy Day
Congressman Paul Ryan, who has a well documented history as an acolyte of Ayn Rand, not only insists that he is really a disciple of St Thomas, he now is even quoting the Servant of God Dorothy Day. No, not on war and military spending ( not only does Ryan’s budget not touch military spending, but his voting record is consistently pro-war) but on Social Security, which Ms Day opposed. But she opposed SS not because she was a conservative Republican, but because she was an anarchist. And insofar as she was an anarchist, she did not think with the mind of the Church. (I note that these remarks are from 1945, and I have seen it argued that her opinion changed, though I cannot find documentation on this). Dorothy Day may have been holy, but she was not necessarily a consistent thinker. And as Fr Benedict Groeschel has said, you can go to hell imitating the vices of the saints.
The Church has always held that the State is a natural institution, like the family. While anarchists believe the State is an absolute evil and more moderate libertarians believe it a necessary evil, the Church has always held it to be a necessary good, meant to serve the common good and ensure justice. Defending the State in principle, of course, does not imply defending any particular State, let alone the American status quo, any more than a defense of the family means defending the father who beats his wife and molests his daughters. Rather than “proving” that the family is evil, his case only shows how sinful man can distort a God-given role.
Many States have been evil, only a few really good. Most, like most families, accomplish their ends imperfectly, are both functional and dysfunctional.
But what is really troubling about Ms Day’s comments are that her opposition to Social Security is based on the fact that it is “force and compulsion”; ie, a program funded by involuntary taxation. The idea that taxation is unjust is one that is common on the political right, but is nowhere to be found in Catholic teaching. Indeed, Catholics like Ryan, who are eager to baptize their individualistic economics, have a real problem: every historically Catholic European nation has a far more extensive social welfare system than the United States, all funded by progressive taxation. Not only did the Church never oppose this, but in nearly every case the social democrats were directly inspired by the Church’s social teaching. The power of the State to fund programs that contribute to the common good flows from the Church’s teaching on the universal destination of goods and the State’s role as arbiter of justice. Again, defending this in principle should not be taken as an endorsement of any particular social program, let alone the overblown bureaucracies that tend to administer them.
But that does not matter to conservative Catholics. Ryan’s attempt to rewrite his own well-documented history would be laughed off the public stage were it not for the fact that there are so many Catholics eager to believe him. Personally, I have much more respect for an honest libertarian, like Thomas Woods, who openly opposes the Church on economic questions, than someone like Ryan, who is who appropriates the language of the Church while promoting an agenda that is contrary to the vision of that Church.
If Ryan can quote someone who does not appear to influence his thought one bit, like Dorothy Day, to make his point, so can I:
“Self-esteem is reliance on one’s power to think. It cannot be replaced by one’s power to deceive. The self-confidence of a scientist and the self-confidence of a con man are not interchangeable states, and do not come from the same psychological universe. The success of a man who deals with reality augments his self-confidence. The success of a con man augments his panic. The intellectual con man has only one defense against panic: the momentary relief he finds by succeeding at further and further frauds.”
That is Ayn Rand.
The Ohio Bombers
As you probably heard, a group of anarchists, associated with Occupy Cleveland, were arrested last week for attempting to bomb a bridge in the nearby Cuyahoga National Park. Reading the story, though, it becomes apparent that this is yet another case of an FBI agent infiltrating a bunch of knuckleheads, stirring them up, urging them on, supplying them with what they thought was a bomb, then busting them. Only a handful of real terrorist threats have been defused since 9/11; only yesterday another of the psychologically fascinating underwear bombers was intercepted. In the vast majority of these “terror threats” the plot was wholly a federal creation, the “terrorists” a group of young and easily influenced men. One can only speculate as to why the Feds chose the fringes of the Occupy movement instead of the usual mosque to find their stooges.
Your tax dollars at work, my friends, keeping the cattle scared, keeping the military industrial complex well oiled.