MacIntyre on Money

Alasdair MacIntyre, one of the greatest living Catholic thinkers, was featured last month in Prospect Magazine. The piece, entitled “MacIntyre on Money,” is well worth the read. Here’s a snippet:

MacIntyre has often given the impression of a robe-ripping Savonarola. He has lambasted the heirs to the principal western ethical schools: John Locke’s social contract, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Yet his is not a lone voice in the wilderness. He can claim connections with a trio of 20th-century intellectual heavyweights: the late Elizabeth Anscombe, her surviving husband, Peter Geach, and the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, winner in 2007 of the Templeton prize. What all four have in common is their Catholic faith, enthusiasm for Aristotle’s telos (life goals), and promotion of Thomism, the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas who married Christianity and Aristotle. Leo XIII (pope from 1878 to 1903), who revived Thomism while condemning communism and unfettered capitalism, is also an influence.

MacIntyre begins his Cambridge talk by asserting that the 2008 economic crisis was not due to a failure of business ethics. The opener is not a red herring. Ever since he published his key text After Virtue in 1981, he has argued that moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade, or art: playing the violin, cutting hair, brick-laying, teaching philosophy. Through these everyday social practices, he maintains, people develop the appropriate virtues. In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life. After Virtue, which is in essence an attack on the failings of the Enlightenment, has in its sights a catalogue of modern assumptions of beneficence: liberalism, humanism, individualism, capitalism. MacIntyre yearns for a single, shared view of the good life as opposed to modern pluralism’s assumption that there can be many competing views of how to live well.

This rift between economics and ethics, says MacIntyre, stems from the failure of our culture “to think coherently about money.” Instead, we should think like Aristotle and Aquinas, who saw the value of money “to be no more, no less than the value of the goods which can be exchanged, so there’s no reason for anyone to want money other than for the goods they buy.” Money affords more choices and choice is good. But when they are imposed by others whose interest is in getting us to spend, then money becomes the sole measure of human flourishing. “Goods are to be made and supplied, insofar as they can be turned into money… ultimately, money becomes the measure of all things, including itself.” Money can now be made “from the exchange of money for money… and trading in derivatives and in derivatives of derivatives.” And so those who work in the financial sector have become dislocated from the uses of money in everyday life. One symptom of this, MacIntyre contends, is gross inequality. In 2009, for instance, the chief executives of Britain’s 100 largest companies earned on average 81 times more than the average pay of a full-time worker.

MacIntyre’s After Virtue was a pivotal text for me, as I suspect it is for most. Its trenchant critiques of conservative and liberal liberalism, as well as of libertarianism, are as forceful now as they were 30 years ago. If you haven’t read any MacIntyre, get off the blogs, put away the computer, and do yourself the service of remedying that deficiency.

58 Responses to MacIntyre on Money

  1. Nate Wildermuth says:

    I will do that! Thank you! 🙂

  2. Blackadder says:

    MacIntyre is the greatest metaethicist alive, but his political judgments has always struck me as being rather ill formed (for example, I recently read a lecture of his in defense of censorship, and he seemed to be both disturbingly sweeping in the examples of what he would like to see banned and blind to the practical difficulties involved). I have the same reaction to the views on money he expresses here, and have to agree with the conclusion of the article’s author that MacIntyre’s “micro-models of a proto-Leninist theocracy—a kibbutz, a Marxist Indian state, and an Irish farming co-operative—do not lead one to believe that his ideal replacement for western-style democracy and the global economy would be realistic let alone desirable.”

  3. Zach says:

    “In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life. “

    Yes.

    The only way to have a truly good society is to have good people and one cannot legislate good people. That said, some political orders are better than others; some are more conducive to human flourishing.

    “One symptom of this, MacIntyre contends, is gross inequality. In 2009, for instance, the chief executives of Britain’s 100 largest companies earned on average 81 times more than the average pay of a full-time worker.”

    I wonder about inequality. I know that Catholics believe in the universal destination of human goods, and that all that we have we have to be willing to give away. These are good and true things and good and true principles for right action.

    But I also know that Catholics believe in private property, and that the very concept of private property entails an amount of inequality that I think can be called natural and good. What I mean is that a person deserves to receive the just fruits of one’s labor, and because some people will be more skilled (i.e. virtuous) or less skilled than others, there will be justified inequality.

    Now how do these two ideas relate to one another? I don’t really know.

    I think common sense says that a person has a right to see to the needs of his/her family first. A Christian person then has an obligation to share what he has been given that exceeds what he needs. But to what extent exactly I’m not sure. I also am not sure such behavior can be coerced, or should be coerced, especially by the state.

    And so return to MacIntyre: I find it very hard to imagine that this gross inequality that he speaks of is in not some ways justified. But because of it’s magnitude, it is indeed a scandal. But what of this? What are we supposed to do about it, as a society? I think, as MacIntyre says in the earlier part of his post, we must encourage and applaud true virtue. What this looks like practically, I’m not really sure.

    I basically agree with his criticism but I wonder what it leads us to do, not so much personally (we ought to be as charitable as we possibly can, and be good examples for other, non-Christians), but socially (what is the political implication of this critique). Maybe there isn’t one.

  4. Joe Hargrave says:

    Hmm.

    “MacIntyre yearns for a single, shared view of the good life as opposed to modern pluralism’s assumption that there can be many competing views of how to live well.”

    That isn’t an assumption. It’s a fact.

  5. jonathanjones02 says:

    A solid majority of political and financial problems are, at root, moral problems. There is a rift between economics and ethics because humans are sinful, regardless of structure (and this is not to say that structures are not important, because they are).

    Regardless of structure (Taiwan and Hong Kong and Singapore and China, for example, came to amazing growth and general economic prosperity in a very short period of time under rather different structures, which raises some un-PC questions many don’t want to contemplate), culture and morality are what matters most.

    Let us be Catholic in our culture and morality. On this point, David Goldman, a non-Catholic fan of the Pope, has a great essay:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/JL09Dj02.html

  6. MJAndrew says:

    But I also know that Catholics believe in private property, and that the very concept of private property entails an amount of inequality that I think can be called natural and good.

    Correct. Since MacIntyre works in the Thomistic tradition, we can look at Aquinas on the question of inequality. Inequality of wealth, as Aquinas says, is permissible and is not in and of itself good or evil. The problem arises when inequality becomes so gross that it erodes the sense of common purpose of society, negative impacts the civic friendship of citizens, and ends up depriving the poor of necessities. I understand MacIntyre to be following Aquinas on this point. Because Aquinas does not affirm a natural right of the individual to private property, he argues that the poor who are without basic necessities and quality of life have a right to the superflua of the wealthy, that is, the wealthy’s extra wealth that is procured neither for necessity nor for quality of life. Hence, Aquinas says it is sinful for the wealthy to deny to give their superflua to the poor. Aquinas says that there is a natural right to a regime of private property and that the institutionalization of such a right is a positive law rather than a tenet of natural law. That regime would be a government that coordinates the distribution of goods such that no citizen is without necessities or quality of life.

    Incidentally, this is one place that Joe Hargrave badly misreads Aquinas, CST, and Locke. For Locke, following Hobbes, each individual has the right to take what is his/her absolutely–a natural right of the individual to private property. For Locke, the individual’s accrual of wealth is prior to the government and to the rule of law, both of which are established to protect that right (among a few other rights). For Aquinas and CST, the institution of private property for the individual is one role of the state (hence, Leo XIII’s criticisms of Marxist socialism, which designs a state that neither honors the natural right to a regime of private property nor sustains the natural dominion of humans commonly over external goods).

  7. Blackadder says:

    A solid majority of political and financial problems are, at root, moral problems.

    I disagree. I would say that most political and financial problems are fundamentally technical problems, but that people have a strong tendency to treat them as moral problems because it simplifies the issue.

    Taiwan and Hong Kong and Singapore and China, for example, came to amazing growth and general economic prosperity in a very short period of time under rather different structures, which raises some un-PC questions many don’t want to contemplate

    Actually, as Krugman noted in his The Myth of Asia’s Miracle, the growth of all these countries had the same basic cause, i.e. growth of labor inputs (China, of course, has not achieved general prosperity, though it has had lots of growth).

  8. That isn’t an assumption. It’s a fact.

    Relativism is fun.

  9. MJAndrew says:

    MacIntyre is the greatest metaethicist alive, but his political judgments has always struck me as being rather ill formed (for example, I recently read a lecture of his in defense of censorship, and he seemed to be both disturbingly sweeping in the examples of what he would like to see banned and blind to the practical difficulties involved).

    MacIntyre doesn’t do metaethics. As for his political judgments being ill-formed or his vision being unrealistic, it seems you are not understanding his critiques. If you have a chance, read (or re-read) the final chapter of After Virtue, especially his comments on our needing a “new St. Benedict.” You’ll see that your objections are not objections at all.

  10. MJAndrew says:

    I disagree. I would say that most political and financial problems are fundamentally technical problems, but that people have a strong tendency to treat them as moral problems because it simplifies the issue.

    You’ve definitely got that backwards! Treating these problems as merely coordination or “technical” problems is as simplistic as it gets. Such patchwork ways of civic coordination treat symptoms, not diseases. MacIntyre implores us to think a bit more deeply than patchwork policy.

  11. MJAndrew says:

    That isn’t an assumption. It’s a fact.

    If you take Aristotle, Aquinas, or even Benedict XVI seriously, then you would notice that all argue that there is a metaphysical grounding to human nature and that this nature precludes the possibility that there can be a number of different, competing views of the good life. What you mistake as a fact about human nature is really an assumption of liberalism. Perhaps by “fact” you are referring to the alleged competing views that are held within a liberal and libertarian society. MacIntyre’s point is not that there aren’t such alleged views, but that these views distort the truth about human nature. Thus there cannot be competing views, since the alleged views are false (and falsities do not compete with truth).

  12. Blackadder says:

    MJ,

    I have read After Virtue. It’s a great book.

  13. MJAndrew says:

    I have read After Virtue. It’s a great book.

    Then how do you explain your criticisms? As MacIntyre makes clear, he is not offering concrete policy or coordination advice. He is arguing for a complete transformation of liberalism into something else. Hence, his reference to St. Benedict. Perhaps your criticism stems from your view that most financial and political problems are “technical” and can be remedied within the structure of liberalism. You yearn for MacIntyre to prescribe specific, “technical” solutions. But why would he do that when he is arguing that liberalism itself must be transformed?

  14. Blackadder says:

    If you take Aristotle, Aquinas, or even St. Benedict XVI seriously, then you would notice that all argue that there is a metaphysical grounding to human nature and that this nature precludes the possibility that there can be a number of different, competing views of the good life.

    It’s not clear how there being a metaphysical grounding to human nature would preclude there being different competing views of the good life. It might mean that there is only one correct view of the good life. But clearly there can be different competing views on an issue even if only one of them is or can be right. This, I believe, was Joe’s point.

  15. MJAndrew says:

    But clearly there can be different competing views on an issue even if only one of them is or can be right. This, I believe, was Joe’s point.

    As I noted, if this Joe’s view, then he does not deny anything MacIntyre says. And if this is what Joe thinks the article means, then Joe is misreading the line, since the context of the article and MacIntyre’s own writings make clear what is meant.

  16. Blackadder says:

    Then how do you explain your criticisms?

    Let’s take a specific example. In the article, MacIntyre says that money is “no more, no less than the value of the goods which can be exchanged, so there’s no reason for anyone to want money other than for the goods they buy,” whereas in the current economic system “[g]oods are to be made and supplied, insofar as they can be turned into money [and] ultimately, money becomes the measure of all things, including itself.”

    Statements like this leave me scratching my head. It’s not clear what precisely this is supposed to mean, and insofar as I can make out what it means the claim is false. Overall it does not seem to represent a well-thought out and informed position so much as a residual Marxist revulsion to finance.

    If I look to After Virtue, I find nothing that would make the claim any more sensible or supportable. One could believe the claim while rejecting what MacIntyre says in After Virtue, and one could reject the claim while thinking that After Virtue is a great book. If you disagree I would welcome an explanation as to why. Simply telling me to re-read the last chapter is not helpful.

  17. Joe Hargrave says:

    It is my view, and my beef is with the person who wrote the article, since he phrased it that way, not the person it is written about.

    Thanks for the lecture, though.

  18. MJAndrew says:

    It is my view, and my beef is with the person who wrote the article, since he phrased it that way, not the person it is written about.

    Yes, you misread the line. The context of the article and MacIntyre’s own writings make it clear.

  19. MJAndrew says:

    Blackadder,

    It seems to me that you are not sure what MacIntyre is up to, and as I suggested before, this may be because you are stuck in a mode of thinking that most financial and political problems are “technical” problems. MacIntyre (like Anscombe and Taylor) isn’t interested in such patchwork approaches to public policy. It’s about transforming the structure itself. St. Benedict.

    Statements like this leave me scratching my head. It’s not clear what precisely this is supposed to mean, and insofar as I can make out what it means the claim is false. Overall it does not seem to represent a well-thought out and informed position so much as a residual Marxist revulsion to finance.

    Is this an argument? Affirming the contrary (“the claim is false”) and then attributing some auxiliary motive to MacIntyre’s claim? Approaches like this leave me scratching my head.

  20. Joe Hargrave says:

    “For Locke, the individual’s accrual of wealth is prior to the government and to the rule of law”

    Yeah, and it is for Leo as well. Zach can read my article and see that for himself.

    http://www.insidecatholic.com/feature/how-john-locke-influenced-catholic-social-teaching.html

  21. Joe Hargrave says:

    Yes, everything is “misread.” Ok.

  22. MJAndrew says:

    Yeah, and it is for Leo as well. Zach can read my article and see that for himself.

    I am sure Zach is, by now, aware of your claims about Locke and Leo XIII. As my own series on these topics proceeds, it will be clear that your claims are false.

  23. MJAndrew says:

    Yes, everything is “misread.” Ok.

    It’s just an observation.

  24. Blackadder says:

    MJ,

    I think you are right that one of the key issues here is whether “most financial and political problems are ‘technical’ and can be remedied within the structure of liberalism.” However, I would add two points. First, some of the comments that I find insensible involve attempts to show that the current liberal order is intrinsically flawed and should be completely transformed, so saying that MacIntyre believes liberalism should be completely transformed doesn’t resolve the issue. And second, MacIntyre does in fact sometimes offer concrete “patchwork” proposals for public policy, which are also, in my view, ill thought-out.

  25. Blackadder says:

    Btw, MJ, are you adding to your comments after you post them? I could swear that some of what you say wasn’t there before.

  26. MJAndrew says:

    First, some of the comments that I find insensible involve attempts to show that the current liberal order is intrinsically flawed and should be completely transformed, so saying that MacIntyre believes liberalism should be completely transformed doesn’t resolve the issue.

    Your first line, I think, hits at the heart of MacIntyre’s project. Is liberalism intrinsically flawed? I think that’s where we will discover whether MacIntyre’s project is ill-conceived or workable. That’s certainly a debate worth having.

    And second, MacIntyre does in fact sometimes offer concrete “patchwork” proposals for public policy, which are also, in my view, ill thought-out.

    Is there one we could look at as an example that does not presuppose the transformation he has in mind but is strictly meant to patch up some concrete coordination problem?

  27. MJAndrew says:

    Btw, MJ, are you adding to your comments after you post them? I could swear that some of what you say wasn’t there before.

    Guilty. I tried to finish annexing some thoughts to my comments before anyone posted another comment, but it appears I failed. Some comments went up as I was still editing.

  28. Blackadder says:

    Is this an argument?

    No, it’s not an argument. It’s an explanation by way of example, which I believe it what you asked for.

  29. Blackadder says:

    Guilty. I tried to finish annexing some thoughts to my comments before anyone posted another comment, but it appears I failed. Some comments went up as I was still editing.

    No problem. Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going mad.

    Is there one we could look at as an example that does not presuppose the transformation he has in mind but is strictly meant to patch up some concrete coordination problem?

    I will send you a copy of the lecture on censorship (which is what is driving my comments as much as the money article is).

  30. MJAndrew says:

    I will send you a copy of the lecture on censorship (which is what is driving my comments as much as the money article is).

    Much appreciated. Perhaps one of us could do a post on it here at TAC.

  31. MJAndrew says:

    In a conversation I once had with MacIntyre, he told me that he “prefers” the writings of Pope Pius IX and Pope St. Pius X to those of, say, Pope John Paul II. He sees a strong anti-liberal, anti-libertarian strain in the former popes. Modern popes, he thinks, have unwisely adopted the language “rights” from liberalism, which obscures the Thomsitic underpinnings of CST.

    I’ll add that I do not share MacIntyre’s total aversion to liberalism. As something of a Rawlsian, I think there’s quite a bit we can do with virtue and the good within a liberal paradigm.

  32. Thanks for the post, MJ… an ongoing discussion about MacIntyre’s thought would be very interesting at TAC.

    I’m *really* intrigued, though, by your comment indicating your less-than-complete agreement with MacIntyre, and even more so by your self-description as something of a Rawlsian… what gives? Aren’t they like oil & water? Prima facie, I don’t see *any* compatibility between the two, but then, my knowledge of Rawls is relatively superficial.

  33. Zach says:

    “…and that the institutionalization of such a right is a positive law rather than a tenet of natural law. That regime would be a government that coordinates the distribution of goods such that no citizen is without necessities or quality of life.”

    This has been shown, in practice, on numerous occasions, to be a horrible idea. It can also be seen at present in many nations. Take Cuba, for example.

    Anyways.

    I think everyone here agrees with MacIntyre when he says that liberalism is “intrinsically flawed”. Every human community and every human construct is “intrinsically flawed”. We are not divine, and we should not pretend that we are, nor should we construct human communities with that delusion. Our governments are all by definition coercive; because of this, and because they are human, there needs to be limits to their power.

    W.R.T. the debate about the possible contribution of John Locke to Catholic Social Teaching: I certainly do not think it’s impossible that John Locke influenced a Pope or two, especially considering the soundness and practicality of some of his ideas. It’s also certainly true that John Locke is on all fundamental philosophical questions (epistemology, anthropology, metaphysics, etc.) in deep disagreement with Catholic thought. But these deep philosophical matters are not identical with Locke’s political ideas. His political ideas may be similar to some of the political ideas of the Catholic Church.

    I haven’t read either of the essays with enough attention to comment on the specifics of the disagreement between Joe and MJ, but I intend to and hope to contribute to a discussion in the future.

    Finally, I’m fine with talk of replacing liberalism with something else. I just want to hear specifics: how it will be done, and more importantly, what it will be replaced with, SPECIFICALLY. The devil is in the details. It’s easy to critique things, it’s harder to offer a positive alternative.

  34. Blackadder says:

    Modern popes, he thinks, have unwisely adopted the language “rights” from liberalism, which obscures the Thomsitic underpinnings of CST.

    Ironically I think I agree with him on the point (I say “I think” rather than “I do” because of course everything MacIntyre says is mysterious to me🙂

  35. Blackadder says:

    Zach,

    I don’t think having a “a government that coordinates the distribution of goods such that no citizen is without necessities or quality of life” necessitates having Cuban-style economic control by the government.

    Simply agreeing with Aquinas here doesn’t settle the question, for example, of whether you should have single payer health care a la Canada or a National Health Service a la the UK, or for that matter whether you should just opt for a minimal nightwatchman-style government. This is part of what I mean when I say that political and financial problems are fundamentally technical.

  36. MJAndrew says:

    This has been shown, in practice, on numerous occasions, to be a horrible idea. It can also be seen at present in many nations. Take Cuba, for example.

    I was unclear in my writing about Thomas’ position. The coordination of private property by the state is not, on Thomas’ view, a total possession by the state and then a redistribution. Rather, since Thomas sees all external goods as under a common dominion of humanity, the state institutes by law a regime of the individual accrual of private property such that there may be inequality in wealth accumulation but not deprivation of wealth for any citizens. Marxism certainly would not be an instantiation of such a system.

    I think everyone here agrees with MacIntyre when he says that liberalism is “intrinsically flawed”. Every human community and every human construct is “intrinsically flawed”.

    Point taken. I think MacIntyre’s point is that liberalism in some way ignores or violates or hinders human flourishing in favor of an arbitrary rights-based system that inconsistently promotes neutrality when it comes to human well-being. So while MacIntyre would grant that all human institutions will be flawed insofar as humans make errors of judgment, sin, etc., he sees in liberalism a full-blown socio-economic structure that is contrary to human nature.

    I certainly do not think it’s impossible that John Locke influenced a Pope or two, especially considering the soundness and practicality of some of his ideas.

    Impossible, no. Did he actually influence a pope or two in any important way? There’s no evidence to suggest he did.

    It’s also certainly true that John Locke is on all fundamental philosophical questions (epistemology, anthropology, metaphysics, etc.) in deep disagreement with Catholic thought. But these deep philosophical matters are not identical with Locke’s political ideas. His political ideas may be similar to some of the political ideas of the Catholic Church.

    Locke’s political ideas flow from his epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions. As I am arguing in my series on Locke, the incompatibility between CST and Lockean political theory runs all the way down to the foundations. Any similarities are superficial. But all this will be discussed in my series.

    Finally, I’m fine with talk of replacing liberalism with something else. I just want to hear specifics: how it will be done, and more importantly, what it will be replaced with, SPECIFICALLY. The devil is in the details. It’s easy to critique things, it’s harder to offer a positive alternative.

    I like this!

  37. MJAndrew says:

    I’m *really* intrigued, though, by your comment indicating your less-than-complete agreement with MacIntyre, and even more so by your self-description as something of a Rawlsian… what gives? Aren’t they like oil & water? Prima facie, I don’t see *any* compatibility between the two, but then, my knowledge of Rawls is relatively superficial.

    I’d like to write on Rawls at TAC in the future. For now, I will just say that I don’t think we have to get rid of liberalism altogether in order to have the sort of practices, social cooperation, and human flourishing that MacIntyre discusses. What I like about Rawlsian political thought is its appeal to reasonableness as a standard for the basic institutions of society (e.g., constitution, market, court), legislation, and public discourse. I think Rawls’ two principles of justice can be reformulated to encompass the basic goods identified by the fundamental principles of natural law theory without dismissing Rawls’ aversion to incorporating comprehensive theories of the good into the basic institutions and laws of society.

    This is just a rough pass. Obviously, this all needs to bake quite a bit longer!

  38. MJAndrew says:

    Simply agreeing with Aquinas here doesn’t settle the question, for example, of whether you should have single payer health care a la Canada or a National Health Service a la the UK, or for that matter whether you should just opt for a minimal nightwatchman-style government. This is part of what I mean when I say that political and financial problems are fundamentally technical.

    While I don’t know that I like the “technical” aspect, I agree with Blackadder’s point. Aquinas’ account of natural law (and CST in general) underdetermines the instantiations of just socio-economic structures. Aquinas and CST establish a range of acceptable instantiations. Marxism is certainly not one of them.

  39. jonathanjones02 says:

    Hmmmm….I love Thomist thought and will try to wade through the comments a bit more shortly.

    Blackadder, if you truly believe that most political and financial problems are fundamentally technical problems, and that people have a strong tendency to treat them as moral problems because it simplifies the issue, then perhaps we simply have categorically different assumptions and it will difficult to have a conversation. I do think, however, think that such a position could be junked aside just by cold empiricism and study of case study upon case study.

    MJ, “As something of a Rawlsian….” aaaaahhh, this hurts. Say it ain’t so.

  40. Blackadder says:

    Jonathan,

    Let’s take one of the cases you mentioned in your original comment. In China, prior to 1978, you had mass starvation, poverty, etc. After 1978 you’ve had high levels of economic growth, reductions in poverty, hunger, etc.

    You say that what matters is not structures but morality and culture. Did Chinese culture suddenly turn on a dime in 1978? Were the Chinese morally corrupt prior to 1978, only to become pure and pristine afterwards? I think not. What changed was the economic structures. Maoist nonsense was abandoned in favor of (limited) use of markets and private property.

    Do you disagree? Is the case of China somehow atypical?

  41. jonathanjones02 says:

    Blackadder,

    “You say that what matters is not structures but morality and culture.”

    It would be more correct to characterize my original comment as: morality and culture (and I would also throw in average group evolutionary cognitive development, but let’s not derail the thread) are more important for socio-economic development than economic structure, although I acknowledge economic structure is of vital importance. I did not say that what matters is not structures but morality and culture.

    As for China, a people of high average cognitive ability finally had the boot released from their throat by comparison to Maoist horror – and they did indeed prosper economically. It is by far the best example of your stated position. I do not disagree with you that economic structure was very likely the central driving force of this development.

    However, this does not mean my generalization falls apart. Look to the example of Singapore and Hong Kong. Rather different means of economic structure to prosperity, no? But what of the common characteristics of the people? Why is Germany prospering in Europe now (relatively speaking)? I would say, fundamentally, it is because of the German people, who are not sympathetic to right-liberalism.

    Your point is valid, and I do not deny it. But culture and morality – the content of the people – are more important for long-term socio-economic health.

  42. What I like about Rawlsian political thought is its appeal to reasonableness as a standard for the basic institutions of society (e.g., constitution, market, court), legislation, and public discourse.

    I look forward to hearing more about this, MJ, as I immediately thought — as MacIntyre might — “whose reasonableness?” The varying conceptions of rationality seem to me to be one of the fundamental problems facing our civilization.

    But again, I recognize that this was a rough pass, and I look forward to reading more when you’re able. 🙂

  43. Blackadder says:

    Look to the example of Singapore and Hong Kong. Rather different means of economic structure to prosperity, no?

    No. I’d say the economic structures of Singapore and Hong Kong are very similar. No doubt there are differences between the two, as there are between any two countries. But they are as close to each other as they are to any other country.

    Why is Germany prospering in Europe now (relatively speaking)?

    Across the border from Germany is Switzerland, much of which is predominantly ethnic German. If you ask who is more prosperous (relatively speaking), the average Swiss German or the average German German, the answer is that the Swiss win hands down. And of the two, Switzerland is much more sympathetic to what you call right-liberalism.

  44. jonathanjones02 says:

    “I’d say the economic structures of Singapore and Hong Kong are very similar.”

    I am not referring to the present day. I am referring to the period from the end of the Second World War and ending in the 90s, when market reforms were far more entrenched than in the decades immediately after the conflict.

    The political and economic evolutions of these places are not similiar, but the populations (Chinese of immigrant stock in a place of little natural resource) are. And we see the pattern repeating right now in Africa – Chinese success regardless of socio-economic constraints. Another example is Malaysia, and many details are in Amy Chua’s World on Fire.

  45. Blackadder says:

    I am not so familiar with the economic policies in place in Singapore prior to independence (1965). However, the policies after independence are quite similar to those present in Hong Kong, and the post-1965 period is when you see the strong growth in Singapore.

    What is it that you think was so different between Hong Kong and Singapore between 1965-99? What countries do you think were more similar to one of the two than the two were to each other?

  46. Art Deco says:

    the growth of all these countries had the same basic cause, i.e. growth of labor inputs

    You do not really intend to say that there has been no notable capital investment, improvement in joint-factor productivity, or improvement in living standards in the Far East, right?

  47. Zach says:

    Yes, fair enough about the Cuba comment – that was an overreach. Consider it rescinded! I can see that “a government that coordinates the distribution of goods such that no citizen is without necessities or quality of life” ” does not necessarily have to be like Cuba. But I do think there is a danger of governments becoming like the one in Cuba. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And a government that coordinates the redistribution of goods, especially a democratic government, has quite a bit of volatile power.

    MJ – I’m very sympathetic to the claim that a person’s political ideas flow from their more basic assumptions about epistemology, anthropology, metaphysics, etc. Probably because it’s true. But this does not mean that a person who makes errors at the beginning is necessarily mistaken about everything else. Locke was certainly mistaken about many, many things, and can be correctly understood as a corrosive influence on liberal government, but this does not mean that he was wrong about everything. It also does not mean that the things he was right about are only superficial. We must hold out the possibility that he got a few important things right, too.

  48. Blackadder says:

    You do not really intend to say that there has been no notable capital investment, improvement in joint-factor productivity, or improvement in living standards in the Far East, right?

    You are correct. The comment ended up a mangled hybrid of two different phrasings.

  49. MJAndrew says:

    Locke was certainly mistaken about many, many things, and can be correctly understood as a corrosive influence on liberal government, but this does not mean that he was wrong about everything. It also does not mean that the things he was right about are only superficial. We must hold out the possibility that he got a few important things right, too.

    I don’t claim that Locke was wrong about everything, nor do I claim that anything he might be right about is superficial. Rather, I claimed that any similarities one might spot between CST and Lockean political philosophy are superficial (i.e., only apparent at the surface) and not fundamental.

  50. Zach says:

    There are no important things in Locke’s political philosophy that are also reflected in CST? I look forward to reading you future stuff…

  51. WJ says:

    Hmmm…a rapprochement between Rawslian liberal theory and MacIntyre’s critique of the liberal project itself—this sounds like a dissertation to me!😉

    In general, more anecdotes relating personal conversations with “the smartest man in the world” as graduate students called him in the early 90s would be much appreciated. I love the image of MacIntyre sitting down studiously to read the papal documents of Pius IX and X, of which now probably has near total recall.

  52. MJAndrew says:

    There are no important things in Locke’s political philosophy that are also reflected in CST?

    Sure, there is some common property (no pun intended) insofar as Locke and CST operate within the same Western philosophical tradition, but there is also common property between CST and Marxism. My point is that this common property is not sufficient to establish a fundamental congruence or deep agreement between the two.

  53. Joe Hargrave says:

    Yeah, and there’s common property between classical liberalism and Marxism too.

    If all this comes down to a different understanding of what rises to the level of a “fundamental congruence or deep agreement”, and I’m beginning to suspect it does, then I don’t think I’ll be too troubled by anything you have to say. People can decide for themselves how significant or insignificant these common positions are.

  54. Zach says:

    I guess that’s what I’ve been thinking.

    I’m not sure anyone expects fundamental congruence or deep agreement between CST and Locke.

    Or for that matter, between CST and really any human thinker. To the extent that CST is revelation it is Divine and thus transcends the errors of the human mind.

  55. MJAndrew says:

    If all this comes down to a different understanding of what rises to the level of a “fundamental congruence or deep agreement”,

    The only understanding that really matters is Locke’s, Aquinas’, and Leo XIII’s. The nice thing about these figures (especially the former two) are that they are systematic thinkers, building their conclusions up from explicit starting points. Philosophical rigor runs the show for them. It’s easy to spot their fundamental principles since they state them outright. Plus, since philosophical rigor is a virtue of their work, we are able to see how their derivative conclusions follow from their fundamental principles. It’s very difficult to mistake what is fundamental in their work. It’s beautiful, really.

    People can decide for themselves how significant or insignificant these common positions are.

    I think a better approach is to look at how significant and fundamental these common positions are according to Locke, Aquinas, and Leo XIII. That, I think, will militate against misreading texts, misattributing positions, and misguiding by our own auxiliary motives. When we let Locke speak for himself (or any philosophical thinker, for that matter), then we don’t need to “decide for ourselves” what Locke is saying. “Deciding for ourselves” what Locke is arguing rather than just allowing Locke to decide what he is arguing is a hop-skip-jump from gross misreadings of the text.

    Now, I don’t know if this is an admission on your part of how you have been reading Locke, Aquinas, and Leo XIII. If it is, then the reality is that none of us should be “too troubled by anything you have to say,” since you are admitting that you are not trying to follow the arguments of these thinkers but are “deciding for yourself” what they are saying and what is significant in their respective theories. I truly hope that is not your modus operandi when it comes to reading the history of social and political theory, for that is a rather insular and self-referential manner of interpretation. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, nevertheless, and assume that you really are interested in understanding Locke and the others on their own grounds rather than deciding for yourself what that ground is.

  56. MJAndrew says:

    I’m not sure anyone expects fundamental congruence or deep agreement between CST and Locke.

    Joe Hargrave does, for one. He has argued for fundamental congruence on a number of points between CST and Lockean philosophy (e.g., right to private property). In fact, he went so far to say that some of Locke’s views were “deliberately inserted” into Rerum Novarum. It is his account that I primarily concerned about rebutting with my series.

    Or for that matter, between CST and really any human thinker. To the extent that CST is revelation it is Divine and thus transcends the errors of the human mind.

    Many aspects of CST are the product of taking truths of revelation and applying them to practical affairs. CST is one of the exemplary places where faith and reason work in tandem. Aquinas would be a figure who comes to mind when I think of deep congruence between one thinker’s theory and CST. Dorothy Day would be another. Granted, both of these thinkers (and there are many others) take for granted the revelatory tradition, but they apply it to practical life through philosophical reflection, experience in ministry, and empirical generalizations about human affairs. So I don’t think the fact that fundamental principles of CST are revelatory entails that no thinker will come up with an internally consistent and coherent socio-economic theory that is congruent with CST. In fact I deny that it follows.

  57. Gabriel Austin says:

    Blackadder writes Friday, November 12, 2010 A.D.
    “”A solid majority of political and financial problems are, at root, moral problems””.

    “I disagree. I would say that most political and financial problems are fundamentally technical problems, but that people have a strong tendency to treat them as moral problems because it simplifies the issue”.

    Said St. Theresa “When I pray, I pray; when I cook, I cook”.

    Which I take to mean that cooking should be done in a moral manner [so as not to wound the cook], but not according to morality. A saint may make a mess of the stew like any other bad cook.

    As a model for us may be the meeting of the Jewish Accountants Group in Long Island a few years back. The question was raised “May one cheat?”. The answer was felt to be so obvious that it was not treated as a question.

    Mark Twain remarked that Jewish business men were so successful because they were honest.

  58. Kyle Cupp says:

    If you take Aristotle, Aquinas, or even St. Benedict XVI seriously, then you would notice that all argue that there is a metaphysical grounding to human nature and that this nature precludes the possibility that there can be a number of different, competing views of the good life.

    There may be a metaphysical grounding to human nature, but the way in which we each understand and give expression to that metaphysical grounding, and through it human nature, will vary based on the figurative and symbolic language used to frame, color, and conceptualize them. The same can be said of our thinking about good and evil. For example, the Christian conception of evil as a stain or blemish that the cleansing waters of baptism remove envisions evil as a kind of thing, as something with being, and yet, in the same tradition, evil is also considered as a privation, as a lack of a good that ought to be there, as not a thing at all, as not having any being. These two conceptions of evil aren’t entirely compatible – they are differing and conflicting views. Ultimately what we know about evil, or anything else that we use figurative language to conceptualize, cannot be made into a single, coherent, all-encompassing conception. Its truth is not one, but many, at least in so far as we have its truth figuratively in mind. Count me among the pluralists.

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