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What’s Really at Stake in the Catholic Showdown?

Patrick Deneen’s article from earlier this year, “A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching,” put front and center among American Catholics a controversy the origins of which date back at least to the Americanist heresy of the 1890s, a controversy that now and again flares up, but that some want to pretend does not exist.

What exactly is that controversy? In a nutshell, it is over whether the liberal capitalist socio-political order is really compatible with a Catholic view of the state, of society, and even of the human person; whether the condemnations of liberalism made by so many popes and Catholic writers are suddenly out-of-date, passé, made obsolete by the triumph of the new world order represented by the Lockean polity that was fully realized in the United States; and whether, in fact, Catholics can perceive that just as communism posed a deadly threat to a Christian social order and to the very life of the Church, so the bourgeois liberalism of the capitalist world represents a threat of another sort, but in the end one that is just as dangerous.

Ryan Shinkel’s article, “The Two Catholic Camps Worth Debating,” seeks to reduce this controversy to a friendly discussion between two groups in general agreement—”culturally conservative Catholics who apply natural law principles in different ways”—but who in the end can learn much from each other and work together “to preserve the moral life and the fight against our countercultural Judeo-Christian morality becoming more excluded and our institutions less autonomous.”

But not so. The controversy is very much deeper than that and concerns our understanding of how the Church should influence the social order. The debate can be characterized on several levels. On one level it is between those who seek to shape their socio-political views according to Catholic social teaching, and those who essentially use that teaching, or selected parts of it, in favor of a worldview the origins, first principles, and standards of which lie elsewhere. On another level it can be characterized as between those who see that the way of life and the institutions build up by Christendom as an historic social order are fundamentally at-odds with the way of life and the institutions created by the modern West, and those who for whatever reason obscure these facts. And lastly, it can be characterized as a controversy between those who somehow manage to ignore the incredibly destructive effects that capitalism has had on all traditional cultures and ways of thinking, and instead focus their attention almost exclusively on overreach on the part of governments, overreach that in many instances was a well-intentioned but misguided or confused attempt to reign in those same capitalist forces of destruction.

A full justification of these statements would exceed the limits of this article, so I will only mention a few things below, more as illustrations than as arguments. But I note that these themes have been fully explored by numerous Catholic writers for decades, by such figures as Hilaire Belloc, Christopher Dawson, Richard Tawney, Bede Jarrett, and others, including myself.

To mention a few things: First Shinkel says that my criticism earlier this year of George Weigel “is due to the fact that each believes he is correctly applying CST and natural law. Both camps want to articulate better our philosophical and theological traditions …” But that is not what I said in my article, and I’m afraid that it is not what was at issue there. I pointed out then that while recently Weigel has promoted the (correct) notion that “popes are not like presidents … [and] a change of papal ‘administration’ does not—indeed cannot—mean a change of Catholic ‘views,'” in the not-so-distant past Weigel promoted the very opposite notion with regard to Catholic social doctrine, namely that the basic thrust of social doctrine had been altered by the allegedly new views of John Paul II expressed in Centesimus Annus. Weigel trumpeted Centesimus as “a decisive break with the curious materialism that has characterized aspects of modern Catholic social teaching since Leo XIII” and as a “new departure in Catholic social thought.” But since with Pope Francis it is no longer tenable to pretend that Catholic social doctrine has made a neo-liberal turn, Weigel now seeks to ignore most of the actual contents of Catholic social doctrine and claims that “social doctrine leaves open to debate the specific, practical means by which people of good will, and governments, exercise … solidarity and charity.”

Of course to some extent this is correct, for the popes never tried to devise a detailed plan for an ideal social order. Yet consistent throughout all their teaching, including Centesimus, is a rejection of the notion that fundamentally all that is needed are market forces plus a legal framework that helps make these market forces function efficiently. Intermediate groups such as guilds, worker participation in management, coordination between unions and owners, proper regulation on the part of the government—the popes have offered all these suggestions, and a Catholic is free to debate many of the details of how they might be applied. But he is not free to suggest that market forces are fundamentally productive of justice or sufficient to regulate the economy.

Shinkel refers more than once to his two camps as both consisting of “culturally conservative Catholics.” But does that term have any real meaning? Does it bring clarity to our public policy debates? What exactly are those who call themselves cultural conservatives seeking to conserve? The chief difficulty here is that while cultural conservatives correctly oppose many of the manifestations of liberalism as applied to marriage and the family or to the human person, they embrace or at least accept liberalism in politics and the economy. The “Neuhaus camp”—as it has been called—consists of those who think that “American liberal democracy and a competitive market economy” are consistent with Catholic teaching. This, as Daniel Saudek says, is “strange,” indeed it is passing strange. A “competitive market economy” has been one of the most destructive and destabilizing forces in the entire history of the world, and the Catholic instinct has always been to fear and resist it. Those who champion a competitive market economy and a commercial civilization and at the same time oppose the latest manifestations of decadent liberalism, such as legalized abortion or same-sex “marriages,” are fooling themselves—or trying to fool the rest of us—for liberalism is responsible for both. We cannot at the same time encourage the gratification of greed and restrain the gratification of lust. We cannot have economic liberalism and at the same time a “culturally conservative” social order.

A Catholic will look elsewhere than at a society that glorifies personal freedom and compulsive consumption. I could multiply quotations almost without end, but this one from Hilaire Belloc’s The Crisis of Civilization, which describes the fundamental outlook that obtained in Christendom, must suffice:

… the spiritual force and motive underlying the whole business was an appetite for security: for making life tolerable on its material side so that there should be room and opportunity for men to lead the good life, as the Greeks put it, or, as the Catholic Church puts it, to save their souls.

This is what human life is about, the salvation of our souls. Obviously this does not exclude reasonable efforts to achieve such measure of happiness as is possible in this world. But that happiness does not consist in the maximization of personal freedom, in the purposeless accumulation of goods, or in the mindless way of life created by our commercial civilization—a way of life that serves primarily to preserve and increase the profits of those who are our economic (and increasingly our political) masters, while keeping the rest of the population in a kind of materialist and hedonist semi-stupor.

This is what the Catholic “showdown” is about. It is not a mere in-house squabble over the fine points of Catholic social doctrine or the exact limits of government. It is over the fundamental orientation of our life, social and personal; over the place of Christ’s one Catholic Church in the social order; over whether the Catholic Church, or modernity and the American republic, is the new order of the ages. This is indeed a showdown worth watching, and, yes, a debate worth having too, but only if the real terms of the debate are understood from the outset. If they are obscured, if the debate hides what is actually at stake, then it is to no purpose. But if they are understood, then there will be opportunity to look at the real issues, to see their consequences and to choose sides accordingly.


Readers are invited to discuss essays in argumentative and fraternal charity, and are asked to help build up the community of thought and pursuit of truth that Ethika Politika strives to accomplish, which includes correction when necessary. The editors reserve the right to remove comments that do not meet these criteria and/or do not pertain to the subject of the essay.

  • Thank you for weighing in on the matter. Mr. Weigel and his protege on these pages are very misguided. There is finally no other way to parse out the heretics than to ask, are we worshiping God under our Church or are we worshiping an optimal production and distribution of materials? Marx favored the latter, as do all of our exponents of scientific and technological imperative.

    • Gus

      “Heretics?” Really? I think I’ll just stop reading Ethika Politika if this is direction the discussion is taking. “Mr. Weigel and his protégé on these pages are very misguided.” In all fairness, the same could be said of Mr. Storck and Mr. Mullally.

      Catholic Social Doctrine consistently says a free market economy is preferable to any of the alternatives. The debate should be about the technical details of what makes for a free market economy — how much competition should there be, to what degree should the government be involved, Keynesian vs. Austrian, ethics in business, etc.

      Mr. Storck pointed out in his 9/29/14 essay on social teaching, “The Church’s social teaching, like the rest of her moral doctrine, is for the most part an example of the ordinary magisterial teaching. But the teaching of the ordinary magisterium can be binding and infallibly taught when it is both ordinary and universal.” The key words here are “can be.” What is infallible and what is not has always been the debate, along with the technical details required to put a teaching into practice.

      One example Mr. Storck offers is that of “a just wage.” Let’s agree for the moment that this is indeed an infallible teaching, even though, as Mr. Storck says, “IT WOULD APPEAR that the following . . . “ is an infallible teaching. Such a doctrine is a bit light on technical details. What is a just wage? Who determines what a just wage is? What factors must be taken into account when
      setting this just wage? As I have mentioned in comments before, a just wage in the U.S. for a single 23 year old male, still living with his parents in Marquette MI, will be quite different than what a 30 year old married male with 3 children and a mortgage, living in Chicago would need. And quite obviously a just wage will also vary
      from state to state, and from country to country. And there are many other factors as well.

      So if this is now a “showdown” with those in the “MacIntyre camp” claiming they are on the side of infallibility and saying that those in the Neuhaus camp are heretics, instead of a spirited discussion that offers ideas and alternatives, Ethika Politika has just lost a reader.

      • Well as you know, Ethika Politika does not review the posts. Obviously I do not represent this site, and if your goal is to squelch speech at odds with your own limited viewpoint, then that is reprehensible.

        To ignore all encyclicals of modern age which point to problems of capitalism, and think in terms that is the best we can do with our flawed natures and doomed world, is just thinking like a predeterminist Presbyterian. So there you have it again. Try instead to learn from our Holy Father.

        • Gus

          Please reread my comment. I’m not trying to squelch speech, just temper it. Flinging out accusations of heresy because someone does not agree with your viewpoint is not very nice. Accusing someone of trying to squelch speech
          is not very polite either. And neither is accusing someone of “thinking like a predeterminist Presbyterian.”

          Sure there are problems with capitalism. I’m not denying that. But the world is not going to suddenly switch from capitalism to distributism and I don’t think the Church is suddenly going to endorse distributism either. The Church espouses a free market. It’s up to society to figure out how best to make a moral, ethical free market a reality.

          I wish someone would translate Fr. Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio “Saggio teoretico di dritto aturaleappoggiato sul fatto” (A Theoretical
          Treatise on Natural Law Resting on Fact) into English. Apparently Taparelli ”took a shot at describing what he felt was an economic system that would help bring about a more just society. [His] ideal economic system injected morality into economics. He posited that a wide open, laissez-fare type of economy would inevitably result in unbridled competition, which would end up being more harmful than helpful to society. On the other hand, an economy governed by honor, honesty, virtue, and sound moral principles would be more likely to benefit the common good. Out of Taparelli’s works on a moral economic system, the concept of subsidiarity emerged.”

          • OK thanks, likewise a quick read of my post could easily be that I was calling Weigel a heretic, but really I called him misguided and went on to reference the idea of parsing out heretics. He prominently speaks for an imperial ethic which I believe is anathema, but of course he must be a well-meaning man to be devoting his energies to journalism.

            And I also like the idea of refusing to jettison the best parts of capitalism, and your article is thinking in terms compatible with Dr. Storck. We are all on same page here, which is trying at minimum, to restore counterweights to godless, international robber-baronism, which was let loose a generation ago with the ideological victory of libertarianism…. That is right, I was right there with the crowd that won, kneeling at idol of purist ideology, I was not with the Lord at that time. And now I am contrite: we are seeing libertarianism’s ultimate manifestation, which is a rationalization of everything even the most sacred, via dollars, and an absurd corporatism… No, this is not any creeping socialism that we have, as the mantras of Randians and their industrialist financiers want us to believe. (There was another set of godless politicians who were bankrolled by industrialists in support of the world’s foremost military machine, and started a corporatist regime. That was the bunch who started WWII.)

            So let’s start looking for compatriots on the far left– sure they do not have the Lord in mind, but they are fighting His fight a lot more than those on the right who are transfixed on our hapless puppets in government bureaucracy. Yes JGradGus, corporate interests and bureaucracy now control government bureaucracy, the two are intertwined and bleeding the common man. Republicans are bought and paid for and have abandoned social issues, Democrats are bought and paid for and have abandoned the common man. So let’s stop giving corporations a pass just because they are not the government and because we might be getting a small piece of the action… the biggest corporations tend to foster the most evil. Insurance interests helped design Obamacare. The supposedly conservative Supreme Court passed not only gay marriage, but years ago, eminent domain for purely economic reasons (Kelo vs. New London)…. absolutely everything is done at an altar of maximum production and turnover of money, but all of the “creative destructions” are just false progresses, of replacing one thing with the next, regardless of which is really better.

            So let us us bring the Lord, faith and family to the Green-oriented people on the far left, so they can help us whip down this dragon. Let us make them realize that the answer to environment is simply quelling worldly ambitions as the Lord taught us 2000 years ago, not some technocratic compulsions of law, or else they will just get co-opted and used up, as well… God Bless!

          • Gus

            You are right that it is not creeping socialism, but it is not libertarianism either. It is crony capitalism. I’d actually like to see a bit more libertarianism. I’d like to see some major restraints on lobbying, I’d like the government to get out of our lives, and I’d like politicians to actually do what’s best for ’we the people,’ instead of lining their own pockets and jockeying for more power.

            We are living in an age of rapidly advancing secularism. We do have to get people to make God, faith, and family first and foremost in their lives, not just the greens – everyone. If we can do that everything else will fall into place. God Bless you, too!

          • That is wonderful to hear…. when you are discontent and want to harangue the vested interests, restoring resources to broader society, that is actually the heart of CST in a nutshell, only a constituency that I have recently tuned myself out from…. and while I would argue that cozy arrangements at the top are part and parcel of the libertarian victory, that is but water under a bridge… Further, your internal policing as it were, is probably more effective for CST itself, than my idea to go about converting the good-hearted people who find themselves boxed out from both money and the Lord, as is my project.

            Either way, I feel like we are both on the right path… this must be the Holy Spirit pushing us forward, JGradGus,… Praise the Lord!

      • Robert Herreid

        I agree. It seems that most of the articles on EP are written by a small circle of like minded utopians who have no idea how to get from here and now to the promised land and aren’t interested in real discussions with people who aren’t already on board. I do enjoy reading comments like yours, so I hope you don’t quit.

        PS. What is a living wage in Zimbabwe and who’s going to tell Robert Mugabe?

        • I wish I could say I was sorry to be strident, but if people stay comfortable, Satan will continue having his way.

          As for the site, if I can get upset with Shinkel and others representing 50% of articles, then they must be doing a good job!

      • Thomas Storck

        “Catholic Social Doctrine consistently says a free market economy is preferable to any of the alternatives.”

        I’m afraid this just isn’t true.

  • Gary Houchens

    It is difficult to argue with the consequences of capitalism’s rise that Mr. Storck describes. Perhaps economic conservatives are guilty of downplaying these consequences and overplaying the negative side effects of government regulation. But surely Mr. Storck will agree that the emergence of capitalism has also facilitated the most rapid increase in wealth, health, and standard of living (and corresponding decline of poverty) in the world’s history. No? And wouldn’t we agree that these are goals that very much emerge from Catholic Social Teaching?
    Again, I find that Mr. Storck and others want to perpetually portray their interlocutors here as fire-breathing Randian libertarians. Certainly there are those folks out there, but they are most certainly NOT in line with CST. Rather, the other “camp” of conservative Catholics are simply suspicious of the negative side effects of centrally-planned efforts to combat the negative side effects of capitalism, as these efforts have had a demonstrably destructive effect on the family and civil society, and want to pose thoughtful market solutions that both preserve the wealth-generating capacity of capitalism while compromising our commitments to a just social order as little as possible. Certainly that’s not an easy balance to achieve, but that is where the argument between the two camps lies – how to achieve the best balance – not in the Manichean framework that paints the free(ish) market as an anti-Christian evil and its supporters as money-grubbing narcissists.

    • Yes we have a surplus of goods in line with a degradation of nature, and a poverty of spirit. One out of three is not OK… it is time to do better.

    • Thomas Storck

      “But surely Mr. Storck will agree that the emergence of capitalism has
      also facilitated the most rapid increase in wealth, health, and standard
      of living (and corresponding decline of poverty) in the world’s

      Is this quite as clear as you think? Proponents of capitalism like to compare the working class in England circa 1830 with the working class circa 1890 and point to increased standards of living as proof of the beneficent effects of capitalism. But what if we were to compare the working class of 1500 with that of 1830 – adjusting for the differences in technology (and perhaps even without that) we’d see a different story, I think, one in which the general sufficiency of the medieval poor degenerated to the horrible exploitation of six year olds chained in mines, working 15 hour days. Then, much of the reason that wealth increased in the 19th century and to some extent spread among the people was the beginnings of unions and government regulation of the economy. Lastly, capitalism does generate lots of stuff – but to what end? Capitalism works without reference to mankind’s needs, but with reference to what people can be persuaded to buy. As Chesterton wrote, it is “the fundamental falsehood that things are not made to be used but made to be sold.” That’s why I spoke of the purposeless accumulation of goods. Capitalism certainly produces lots of junk – but junk is not wealth.

      • Gary Houchens

        So comparing 1890 to 2014, Mr. Storck, we do see a massive improvement in people’s lives – but surely this is a combination of a freeish market AND government regulation (you seem to acknowledge the latter, but not the former). Again – this dichotomy only holds up if you are arguing with the most doctrinaire libertarian. The “other camp” (Weigel, Shinkel, et al.) are not arguing from that point of view and might well agree that today’s wealth is a product of regulated MARKETS. So again, we are back to arguing how to strike the proper balance, and that’s an argument well within the boundaries of a faithful CST debate. What else am I missing here?

        • Mr. Houchens, what we want is a better way to measure societal growth, than dollars. As the system of capital is put into its proper place, frankly we are facing a decline in traditional and redundant economic activity that is more beneficial to people than ever higher production. This is what atheist Marx failed to imagine, if you read Das Kapital he was greatly admiring of the amorality and ever changing goals of capitalists in their struggle for supremacy, and admiring of capital’s subjugation of the Church, and simply thought the workers state could be more efficient, not as much, more fair.

          Therefore please try and get your arms around it… When Dr. Storck compares well being between medieval and modern times, or speaks of re-establishing trades, etc etc, he is far from measuring economics according to defunct standards of growth and GDP.

    • And unsurprisingly, what began as instruments of trade (capital and money), in the absence of moral standards have become instruments of domination.

  • Mary

    I would ask, what you are proposing as an alternative to the market-based economy which would be in line with Catholic social teaching. Economics, properly understood, is merely a codification of what individuals do under whatever economic structure they find themselves in, and that is to respond to incentives. In a free (or somewhat free) economy, individuals can improve their skills through education or training and “sell” those skills to the market in exchange for wages. The greater or more desirable their skill level, the higher wage they can command. This of course is constrained by the ability of those with capital beyond that necessary to sustain themselves to invest to actually invest those funds, thereby creating enterprises which create work for those individuals. These individuals also need an incentive to do so. It is far from a perfect system, but it at least allows individuals some freedom in their choice of occupations, and some freedom to use the fruits of their labor as they see fit. And this imperfect system has produced a tremendous amount of wealth, or the means to feed, house and clothe many more human beings than at any other time in history. And this “excess” is necessary to sustain those who either cannot or do not have the freedom to attain these goods on their own – the poor. But any move away from such a structure, to a more centralized control of “the means of production” and the taking of the fruits of an individual’s labor by that central control reduces the incentives the individual has to improve themselves, to work hard and to produce this needed “excess.” Simply put, if individuals believe that they will receive the same return regardless of what they do they will soon realize that there is no reason to do anything. This is why all socialist societies are poor, and why most have thriving black markets. It is also why they devolve into totalitarianism, regardless of their initial intentions – without any internal incentives people must be forced to work for the good of the society, and at whatever endeavor their masters dictate. And a totalitarian society can never be a just one, regardless of whether everyone is poor equally (and the rulers of these societies are never poor). And certainly such cultural ills as sexual license, pornography, abortion and substance abuse are just as rampant in those societies as in our own – one need look no further than the former Soviet Union for confirmation of this. Perhaps an alternative to our market-based economy would work if everyone were fully morally formed and therefore freely willing to work for the good of all regardless of what material return they might receive. That is, if they believed in the Gospel as we Catholics profess to do. But that is the work of evangelization. The world will not change until individual hearts are changed, regardless of what artificial political or economic structure you may endeavor to create.

    • Just a comment… to think in terms of managing society from a strictly material standpoint, e.g. “creating incentives” and idea that society benefits when labor is simply drawn to work at highest bidder regardless of project, is thinking in the amoral coda of domination.

  • Matthew Shadle

    In this debate I am probably more sympathetic to your position, but in this essay you make some sweeping statements that do not hold up. For example, you write,

    “A “competitive market economy” has been one of the most destructive and destabilizing forces in the entire history of the world, and the Catholic instinct has always been to fear and resist it.”

    Yet the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states quite clearly:

    “A truly competitive market is an effective instrument for attaining important objectives of justice: moderating the excessive profits of individual businesses, responding to consumers’ demands, bringing about a more efficient use and conservation of resources, rewarding entrepreneurship and innovation, making information available so that it is really possible to compare and purchase products in an atmosphere of healthy competition.” (#347)

    I suppose it all depends on what we mean by “competitive market economy,” for you the term “competitive market economy” is carrying more weight than the limited sense the Compendium is using, but that is precisely my point, that Shinkel is right that there is significant common ground, that the disagreements are not as stark as you suggest.

    Second, you write that:

    “Yet consistent throughout all their teaching, including Centesimus, is a rejection of the notion that fundamentally all that is needed are market forces plus a legal framework that helps make these market forces function efficiently.”

    But please show me where any major neoconservative Catholic has claimed that. Indeed, it was Neuhaus, along with Peter Berger, who were partly responsible for making “mediating institutions” part of the public debate in the U.S. with their 1977 book To Empower People: The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy. Neuhaus had also written:

    “Centessimus is as hard on the libertarians as it is on the socialists. While economics is important indeed, man must never be reduced to the merely economic. To think that the entirety of social life is to be determined by market exchanges is to run ‘the risk of an ‘idolatry’ of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities.’”

    And in The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Michael Novak writes,

    ““By ‘radical capitalist ideology,’ the Pope seems to mean total reliance on market mechanisms and economic reasoning alone. . . . My own reasoning in preferring to speak of ‘democratic capitalism,’ rather than ‘the market economy,’ is to avoid sounding libertarian—that is, narrowly focused on the economic system alone. For in reality, in advanced societies the institutions of both the juridical order and the cultural order do impinge greatly on, modify, and ‘control’ the economic system.”

    So again, there is greater agreement than you let on, meaning it is all the more important to define more precisely what the disagreement is.

    • Thomas Storck

      I’ll try in passing to reply both to Mr. Shadle and to Mary.

      Although Catholic proponents of capitalism like to say that they’re not libertarians, etc. the limits they generally place on capitalism are simply those of a personal moral framework, laws against fraud, etc. Their chief limits on the market are simply cultural and moral – nothing with teeth in it, so to speak. Do you consider Fr. Sirico a libertarian? He wrote as follows, ” “So long as individuals avoid forceful or fraudulent actions in their
      dealings with one another, government is to stay out of their business”
      (Acton Notes, January 1998). That’s libertarianism in a nutshell. I’ve never seen Novak or Weigel or Neuhaus explicitly repudiate that kind of talk. If they’ve done so, you would do me a favor by showing me where. The Compendium contains all kinds of statements, with, as the introduction notes, varying levels of authority, nor can it be taken by itself apart from the entire tradition. Centesimus contains several passages that support what I claimed here.

      Mary, you ask “what you are proposing as an alternative to the market-based economy”? You may be aware that I am a distributist. You’ll find plenty of material at the Distributist Review setting forth what kind of economy distributists favor, with many pieces by myself. Moreover, we need to be careful when we speak of a “market economy” and make sure we define our terms precisely. If a market is where people buy and sell, no modern economy lacked markets, even the Soviet economy. But who controls a market, to what end do they operate, etc.

      • Gary Houchens

        A key problem here, I think, is that distributist ideas are virtually unknown to most people (and I must confess only a fairly limited understanding of the concepts myself). Perhaps I ought to study distributist ideas more thoroughly given the intellectual gravitas of its classic proponents (Chesterton, Belloc, etc.). But for your part as a distributist advocate, I’d recommend that if you are going to spend some much energy attacking the libertarian boogey man then perhaps those arguments need to be coupled with a more explicit articulation of how a distributist economy would be different than our current one. Otherwise, for most readers it is impossible to distinguish your ideas from those of the conventional American Left, and then we are back to the same old tired political arguments that we can hear on CNN or Fox any given day of the week.

        • Thomas Storck

          “perhaps those arguments need to be coupled with a more explicit
          articulation of how a distributist economy would be different than our
          current one.”

          Didn’t I just refer anyone interested to a site which does develop many of these points? Do you really expect someone to deal with every objection in one article? And by the way, what do you think of the Sirico quote?

          • Gary Houchens

            That quote would not be in line with CST. But how does this indict the entire Neuhaus camp as libertarians. Regarding articulation of distributist theory – see my other comment about who the “two camps” really are, and how critical that is to this discussion. That’s why being explicit about your distributist perspective is important.

      • Matthew Shadle

        I am mostly in agreement with your points here. I agree that what Novak, Neuhaus, and Weigel propose as juridical, moral, and cultural constraints on the market are insufficient and in practice do not hold at bay the corrosive effects of the “idolatry of the market,” although I would add they are not just talking about “personal morals” but also the institutions that instill those morals. But still, proposing constraints that in the end will be ineffective is not the same thing as proposing no constraints at all, which was your original claim.

        Second, as for Sirico, I don’t think he has ever identified himself as a neoconservative, and I think he might even self-identify as a libertarian. I think his ideas are distinct from Novak, Neuhaus, and Weigel, although again I think you are right that they never did a sufficient job of making that contrast.

        As for the Compendium, I think the question of its relative authority is not that relevant, since authority and faithfulness to the tradition are two distinct things. It seems improbable that a document written by a pontifical council which has assisted the popes in writing their social encyclicals, and which had the approval of Pope John Paul II, would present teaching as starkly contradictory to CST as you suggest. And I only chose that quote because its phrase “truly competitive market” was so similar to your phrase “competitive market economy.” As you probably know, the actual content of the passage is virtually identical to content found in Centesimus Annus:

        “It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.” (#34)

        “Certainly the mechanisms of the market offer secure advantages: they help to utilize resources better; they promote the exchange of products; above all they give central place to the person’s desires and preferences, which, in a contract, meet the desires and preferences of another person.” (#40)
        Of course in both instances John Paul goes on to say that there are limits to the market, but so does the Compendium. So I reiterate my original point, that it really depends on what we mean by “competitive market economy.” I think it is clear that the CST tradition, especially since CA, does speak of the free market or the market economy in a positive way, while also criticizing the “idolatry of the market” in a way consistent with what you are arguing. But that adds some nuance that I think was lacking in the original essay. As John Paul writes, “The answer is obviously complex” (CA #42).

        • Thomas Storck

          Mr. Shadle,

          I appreciate that you’re trying to be constructive here, and your points deserve consideration. Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno #88 wrote,

          “Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social and moral
          character of economic life, [individualism] held that economic life must be considered and
          treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in
          the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle
          of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the
          intervention of any created intellect. But free competition, while justified and
          certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot
          direct economic life — a truth which the outcome of the application in practice
          of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated.”

          This I think is likewise the teaching of John Paul, and perforce of the Compendium. So when people talk about a free-market economy they appear to me to be contradicting the above from Pius XI. It’s a question, I think, less of limits on the market than of where is the center of gravity, so to speak, in an economy, in
          free competition or in “the
          intervention of any created intellect.” Moreover, the latter, as distributists keep on saying but people don’t seem to understand, need not be done by the state itself, but by lower bodies such as guilds.

          A free market essentially unhinges economic activity from its place in the hierarchy of human acts, just as if we were to promote free sex on the ground that essentially irrational human choices would somehow promote the common good in the end.

          As to the Catholic neoconservative writers, Novak, for example, his writing tends to be vague, he frequently does not make an argument per se, but uses suggestive language to make his point, but a point that is not always clear. So sometimes it’s hard to know what he really thinks or what his concrete policies would be. And this last point, I think, is one of the major weaknesses of these neoconservatives, that though they might suggest limits on market activity, in the end they seldom or never seem to find any that they like.

          Recall, moreover, the book, New Worldy Order, edited by Weigel, with contributions by Novak and Sirico among others. In this book Centesimus is hailed as a new departure in Catholic social thought,something at odds with Leo XIII, Pius XI and the older pontiffs. So apparently all these gentlemen thought that their ideas – and those they claimed belonged to Centesimus – were at variance with the older teaching. In face of all the evidence it seems absurd to me to claim that Weigel, Novak et al. are simply in conformity with the entire tradition of Catholic social thought. They themselves proclaimed loudly that they weren’t when Centesimus came out. (For substantiating quotes, see this, )

          • Gus

            Have you read “Papal Economics” by Fr. Maciej Zieba yet? It is more than anything an analysis of Centesimus. Very interesting, considering that Fr. Zieba is according to the jacket, “one of the foremost interpreters of the thought of Pope John Paul II . . .”

          • Thomas Storck

            No, only some reviews and other discussions of it. Of course, book jackets are designed to sell books.

          • Gus

            You should read it. It may give you a different perspective on CA. Fr. Zieba is the founder of Tertio Millennio Institute which is “dedicated to deepening the dialogue on Catholic social doctrine.”

          • Thomas Storck

            Well, I think it’s probably more profitable to read the encyclicals themselves and the classic commentators who wrote when Catholics pretty much were of one mind as to what the Church taught about the social order.

          • Gus

            Since the debate over exactly what the encyclicals say (what is doctrine, what is suggestion) seems to be at the heart of the matter, I would think the opinions of someone who may have a good understanding of how Pope Saint John Paul II thinks would be welcome.

    • Gary Houchens

      Thank you, Mr. Shadle, for making these points. The unfortunate effect of Mr. Storck’s Manichean rhetoric is to shut down meaningful debate. There is, in fact, a lot of room for discussion and debate about the balance between markets and regulation within a faithful CST framework, and that is repeatedly lost when Wegel, Neuhaus, etc. are portrayed as allies of Ayn Rand.

  • FrPhillip De Vous

    Are capitalism and the institutions of the free market entirely reducible to simply greed? That seems to be the conviction herein. But how does that square with the appearance of greed in other socio-economic arrangements? I see much to agree with here, but there is an intellectual reduction at work here as it relates to capitalism that could benefit from some nuanced analysis rather than mere presumptive denunciation.

    • Certainly our system glorifies greed more than any other– that is its founding principle, all parties working in naked self-interest.

  • Gary Houchens

    The debate here is thoroughly obscured by confusion (or really mistrust) over who the “two camps” actually are. Are we talking about libertarians versus European-styled social democracts, or neo-conservatives versus distributists, or some other combination? The way we conceive the other side makes a different. Mr. Storck seems suspicious that the neo-conservatives are really libertarians in disguise (or in effect), while the neo-conservatives will be suspicious that Mr. Storck et al are Old Left socialists (at least in effect). As long as this is the way each camp approaches the other, then our discussion devolves into who is really a “good Catholic” (relative to CST). But if Mr. Storck accepts that neo-conservatives are who they say they are, and if the neo-conservatives (for lack of a better term) accept that distributism might really be a different beast than the modern social welfare state, then we have a place to begin meaningful discussion. Then it is a conversation among faithful Catholics trying to work out the best policy approaches to implementing CST. As it currently stands, Mr. Shinkel seems far more willing to engage at this level than Mr. Storck, and a better articulation of distributism (assuming that is the proposed alternative) would help.

  • Robert Herreid

    “The Compendium contains all kinds of statements, with, as the introduction notes, varying levels of authority, nor can it be taken by itself apart from the entire tradition.” Thomas Storck

    However, when anyone he disagrees with makes this point Mr. Storck pretty much accuses them of being dangerous heretics.

    • Thomas Storck

      The Compendium is not a social encyclical. Moreover, even with the encyclicals there are varying levels of authority, which I fully acknowledge. You could discover that for yourself if you looked even a little bit more at what I’ve written, e.g., this on Ethika Politika which deals directly with this point.

      • Robert Herreid

        “A truly competitive market is an effective instrument for attaining important objectives of justice: moderating the excessive profits of individual businesses, responding to consumers’ demands, bringing about a more efficient use and conservation of resources, rewarding entrepreneurship and innovation, making information available so that it is really possible to compare and purchase products in an atmosphere of healthy competition.” (#347) Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

        “A “competitive market economy” has been one of the most destructive and destabilizing forces in the entire history of the world, and the Catholic instinct has always been to fear and resist it.” Thomas Storck

        Compare the levels of authority of these two quotes. Which is more likely to be helpful in having a meaningful debate?

        • That is like taking the only parable of Jesus where He uses a story about material productivity as analogy for multiplying Word of God, and saying Jesus was speaking for capitalism. Obviously He was not, throughout His life He was speaking for building the Kingdom within every heart. One cannot serve two masters. Now, is that enough authority for you?

      • Robert Herreid

        Thanks to Matthew Shadle.

  • Rosemary58

    There is also the free market of ideas: Mr. Storck is selling distributism but it does not seem to have buyers. More “capital” is required to get it going perhaps.

    In any case, all this would be moot if Catholics were properly catechized so that they could set a standard of business practices for those who are without moral principles. There is one Catholic business school that is incorporating CST into its program for the very reason Mr. Storck mentions. The Catholic faith and teaching is supposed to be the leaven in society that keeps it from degenerating but if its own adherents don’t know what they claim to believe, we end up not with a free market or capitalism but sheer chaos.

    • Christopher Hall

      The Marketplace of Ideas is a ridiculous idea, essentially asserting that the best and truest ideas will win out, because more people will “buy” into them. If that were simply true, we wouldn’t be facing crises in marriage or chastity. People don’t just intuit the truth, or the best ideas, or the most prudential decisions and cleave to them from among a myriad host of other false, faultier, less prudent things–their passions get in the way, their ignorance gets in the way, the weight of the fall and the darkness afflicting the human spirit gets in the way.

      But appealing to “the marketplace of ideas” as if it were a reality (or even a GOOD thing) shows just how woefully central “the market” is in Liberal anthropology. It becomes the lens through which nigh on everything is viewed, to the cheapening and falsification of so, so much.

      • I like your exposition of the deep rooted logic we face, of competition equaling efficiency, as both cruel and false. In fairness Rosemary is closer to a truth namely, that hearts change first and society second, compared to the fellers above still wrestling with Dr. Storck.

        • Christopher Hall

          Thank you. You’re right that she is right when she says that “hearts change first and society second”–at least, in a highly simplified manner. If hearts don’t change, our society won’t. But the problem is that society changes hearts, itself–indeed, this is one of Storck’s central ideas, that the liberal socioeconomic order tends to change hearts for the worse–and a society built upon anthropological falsehoods will tend to produce stunted anthropoi.

          And, further, though I do not know if this is the way Mary was using idea (that hearts change first and society second), I find that most defenders of economic and political liberalism use it simply to defend that system (“People chose this!–Marketplace of Ideas!”) without bothering to take a new critical view of it or engage with the criticisms that are leveled against it, or to argue circuitously for it, in the sense that they presume that goodness and truth (and, heck, throw beauty in there, as well) arising in a kind of individualistic groundswell (one person here, another person there) will correct all the shortcomings of socioeconomic liberalism while leaving it essentially intact. They want to separate morality from the market itself, with people supplying the morality–which, if it happened, would destroy the separation between the market and morality, and fundamentally change the market. In effect, they admit that morality cannot and ought not to be separated from the market, but they don’t take this to its logical conclusion: that the market itself must reflect morality and truth, and not simply rely on the inconstant good will of people, and a few bare government regulations, to moralize it.

          • Excellent… And we haven’t even touched on the despicable mass media!… 🙂 . I am majoring in Anthropology now, as a post-business interest. You see, in NJ and beyond, I wish to start developing the post-capital vision with like minded Christians, in form of an association, so drop me a line!….

      • Rosemary58

        Christopher, please try to get out more often because you are in the reality of the free market of ideas; otherwise you would not be able to defend your position or even present one.

        We must not assume the worst motives in people. Many people have ostensibly good motives (nationalism) that are corrupted. God has given us sufficient wisdom to see through evil; that we choose not to is another issue.

        Even the Church Herself has had to always defend her teachings in the free market of ideas in such a way that they appeal to man’s reason. Otherwise, we are left with fanaticism or fideism. An how would science progress without its theories being challenged? What happens when science is left unchecked? Nobody seems to address that. One could argue that science has caused the deaths of millions, etc….

        We often associate capitalism with unbridled financial lechery but as other commenters have said, it is a useful mechanism, and like any tool, it must be used properly. Some Catholic business schools are teaching that.

        • Christopher Hall

          What you’re describing isn’t actually a “marketplace of ideas,” exactly. The so-called “marketplace of ideas” is the idea (the bad one) that the best ideas–that the truth itself–will emerge if all (or at least the vast majority) of viewpoints are given essentially equal footing or treatment.

          Although I did misspeak: certainly we are living in a society that treats ideas as if they are a commodity to be “bought and sold” according to individual tastes. (The only exception to this is in mathematics and the natural/physical sciences, though even there the exception slips.) That is a reality. But the central point of the “marketplace of ideas”, that truth will emerge from this morass, has almost no basis in reality. As I pointed out, this hasn’t brought us to a place where the truth has the upper hand and is recognized for what it is; the sexual revolution and its disastrous consequences is a particularly notable instance of how the marketplace of ideas can lead to falsehood being enshrined as truth. The human cost of this is tremendous, not only in broken hearts, broken lives, broken marriages, broken families, but in the literal human cost of abortion.

          Just because the Church has used reason to make some of her points doesn’t mean She countenances the marketplace of ideas. Indeed, historically, she has not, and I cannot think of a single instance in which She has, really. Sometimes truths of the faith have emerged from disputes with heretics, but that doesn’t mean that the Church countenances the spreading of heresy, or teaches that it ought to be tolerated.

          • Rosemary58

            The Church persistently faces down the prevailing errors of an era, and Arianism was no different.
            If truth did not prevail, civilization could not also prevail. We may not abide the evil in society but we must always trust that the Lord will help us provide the leaven necessary. It may seem small, like the mustard seed, but the Lord magnifies our efforts with grace. We must not lose heart or our trust in Him. Villifying th evil we see must always be tempered by faith. Otherwise we end up like the banging gong St. Paul mentions – it is shrill and panic-driven. Better to keep our hand on the plow and not look back.

          • Christopher Hall

            Yes, of course all that is true.

            It has nothing to do with the desirability of some “marketplace of ideas.” As if we purchased truth, rather than Truth purchasing us–with his blood, no less.

          • Rosemary58

            The marketplace of ideas is very desirable as it is a manifestation of our free will. Freedom to think and speak and challenge and affirm. Where would we be without it? We would not be able to have any discourse or establish our principles.

            Even within the Church, we are still working it out. It takes time, unfortunately.

          • Christopher Hall

            I’m not sure what you’re suggesting. Are you suggesting that free will is ontologically dependent on the marketplace of ideas? I really doubt that is what you are suggesting, because that would be, uh, well, risible.

            Or are you suggesting that if the marketplace of ideas never existed, we wouldn’t be able to believe or profess anything as a practical, and not ontological, result? Because that doesn’t work, either. It’s not a zero sum situation: either all or nothing.

            Look, the concept of the marketplace of ideas is not isomorphic with the reality of different opinions. People have different opinions. They express them. But the best idea–or the truth–does not always win out, which is precisely what the notion of a marketplace of ideas says it DOES do.

            I suggest you familiarize yourself more with the term if you’re going to use it. It’s not synonymous with free will or the absence of some kind of brainwashing, or the fact that we do not possess all knowledge and much still needs to be discovered and learned–which you seem to be suggesting it is. It is the proposition that, of their own accord (without reference to the interior and inherent growing power of the Kingdom of God), the best ideas are “bought” and rise to prominence and general acceptance if all (or nearly all) ideas are given equal footing in the public square.

          • In our system the reasonable public debate, we might better term it, is often superseded by imperatives of the actual material marketplace. It is called mass media, and it is one of the most onerous and destructive attributes of the system of capital.

          • Rosemary58

            Yes, certainly mass media can be destructive. It’s like any tool or research or medication, etc.: either it is used for good or evil.

            As a Christian, I do not believe that my life choices or ideas are driven by “imperatives of the material marketplace”, although I do acknowledge the limits that the material world places upon me. This is our human condition but we are not necessarily defined by it. If I were, I would be an atheist.

            As with most things in life, we can either curse the darkness or light a candle.

          • While I still dislike apologetics on behalf of capitalism, I have to agree on that last idea.. Praise the Lord and God Bless!!

  • Bob Farrell

    Storck makes many false statements about the essence of capitalism. I would argue the essence of capitalism is not greed or profit (which Stock uses in this article as a synonym for exploitation), but individual choice. Nothing in this world that involves humanity can be perfect, but an economy where I can decide what to purchase and how much to pay is much better than one where a politician makes those decisions for me. Now, if you substitute “capitalism” with “consumerism”, I would agree with almost every one of Storck’s arguments.

  • Edgardo Tenreiro

    Deneen’s and Stork’s attacks on Locke in the name of Catholic Orthodoxy remind me of Don Quixote’s attacks on windmills in the name of Dulcinea. They either don’t know, don’t care to know or if the do know chose to ignore that the principles of political and economic freedom are not Lockean but Thomistic. The Second Vatican Council spoke of religious freedom–“, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, [and which] has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society” not based on Locke but based on Aquinas. Similarly, that man acts and uses means to obtain a certain effect, that if he were indifferent toward those effects he would not act, that those means must be scarce, that the best method to administer those means is private property, that man is a social being unable to survive on his own, that in order to provide for his needs he must engage in social cooperation and employ the division of labor, etc., all of these principles of economic freedom are not Lockean but Thomistic. If Deneen, Stork and company want to argue against political and economic freedom, they can take the Quixotic way out and attack Locke (and the failed American liberal experiment,) but if they want a rational dialogue with traditional Catholics who advocate for political and economic freedom, they better read their Aquinas.

    • Thomas Storck

      To claim that the capitalist economy of modernity is based upon Aquinas is absurd. Moreover, it’s odd that the classic Catholic commentators, Pesch, Fanfani, Ryan, et al. never noticed that, but now that so many otherwise orthodox Catholics have embraced social modernism (to use Pius XI’s term), they’ve somehow discovered that neo-liberal economics has its roots in Thomas. As Daniel Saudek wrote, this is indeed “strange.”
      If these otherwise orthodox Catholics could learn to look beyond the sad left/right divide and try to embrace a truly Catholic view of things, they would serve themselves and the Church much better.

    • Aquinas is great Saint and his works great asset, but unfortunately the so-called Late Scholatics simply recast his findings to justify hegemonies of science and industry. Reason must be tempered by faith, and as our Holy Father has tried to explain, we have been suffering from a “decadent neo-Thomism”, not from works of Aquinas himself.

    • Incidentally, I find the Don Quixote analogy to be disrespectful to Dr. Storck and his faithful work, and also reflective of a Calvinist mindset. Of course it may seem to you that the march of false progress, is unstoppable. Yet the world is not lost my friend, trust in the Holy Spirit.

  • Bravo! Tom.

    • Thomas Storck

      Thank you, David.

      • Hello sir, I have a new suggestion for Mr. Cooney and yourself about how to understand our condition that will help the ardent defenders of capitalism to understand too… Here it is: Since many of them complain that we do not have capitalism, and I think we have to in some sense agree with that, we should therefore interpret capitalism as dead and buried, at some point between its triumph and today. I would say that point was the papering over of 2008 crisis and that with same we have a triumph of imperialism or new imperialism which extends inward too, some of our erstwhile allies like JGradGus would call it cronyism, please call it what you like, but it is not capitalism and capitalism is not coming back.

        • Thomas Storck

          Capitalism can be and has been defined or characterized in many ways. Unless we agree on a definition we’re talking past another most likely. I use Pius XI’s definition from Quadragesimo Anno #100. If someone doesn’t like that definition, I’ll debate using another definition, but we must be clear at the outset what we mean by the term if the debate is to make any sense.

          • OK thank you, I always look to Pope Leo and Pope John Paul II and frankly skipped Pius over, so let me see. All the best,

          • OK– yes Quadragesimo Anno #100 thru #110 describes exactly same condition as today… have bookmarked it for the copy/ pasting…. 🙂 .

  • Ben Thorp

    I would like to suggest an overall problem with this debate: the debate seems to be taking place in primarily intellectual terms, when it properly belongs in the category of prudential arguments.
    The main objection of the neo-Conservatives to theories like Distributism is NOT intellectual, but pragmatic: “Sure, Distributism sounds great, but how the heck do you propose GETTING THERE?” There have been various attempts to live out distributism, but I think they’ve all ended in failure for one reason or another.
    And so I guess the opponents of Distributism have concluded that a restrained version of Capitalism is the next best thing.
    I think they are wrong, but I also recognize the force of their prudential argument: distributism is a quixotic goal held by idealistic intellectuals who prefer abstract fantasies to dealing with reality.