Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, A Libertarian?




As faithful readers of this blog know, I have absolutely no use for the late Ayn Rand, a  puerile novelist who got rich on the formula of writing didactic libertarian novels like Atlas Shrugged, and filling them with smut at a time when smutty mainstream novels were still a rarity.  I also have little use for libertarians, the perfect political philosophy for fifteen year old nerds.  However, , at The Stream, is quite correct about a new form of “red baiting” going on in Saint Blog’s today:


Today Catholic circles are seeing the exact same tactic, except that now the use of guilt-by-association and false implication is serving the cause of big-government statists. The targets are conservative Catholics who distrust the modern secular state, and the smear-word is not “Communist” but “libertarian,” which is then connected with the thought of Ayn Rand. Welcome to the age of the Rand-baiters.

An entire conference held last summer at Catholic University of America was devoted to such Rand-baiting, to speeches that said, implicitly or explicitly, that Catholics who oppose the expansion of government and the large-scale redistribution of wealth are “dissenters” from Catholic Social Teaching. Listening to them speak one would imagine that opposing the leviathan state was a heterodoxy on par with supporting partial-birth abortion and euthanasia. Austin Ruse wrote a fine response to this conference, which provoked a sneering answer from Matthew Boudway at Commonweal.

Go here to read the rest.  Can we supply an example of this Rand Baiting?  Can we?  (Mark, you are missing your cue!)

I am similarly dubious. When I hear Ryan a) ceasing to pretend that he was never an acolyte of Rand and b) doing more than paying lip service to Thomas and citing more than the word “subsidiarity” to give his rhetoric a veneer of Catholic respectability, I will take his Sister Souljah Moment with regard to Rand seriously. Till then, I’m not buyin’ Ryan. He seems to me to be a particularly odious epigone of the Randian Class Warrior against the weak, dressing his class warfare with a few rags from Catholic social teaching to make it look nice. When the Randian jargon goes and is replaced with actual Catholic social teaching beyond the bare repetition of the sacred word “subsidiarity” (interpreted to mean “individualism and hostility to the state”) I’ll start to trust that he is serious.

This touching child-like faith in Caesar to take care of the weak, against all the evidence of recorded History, has little to do with Catholicism and much to do with the fact that since the Popes no longer have had secular responsibilities as rulers of the Papal States, their economic views have become ever more utopian and unhinged from reality.  However, at their most fanciful, what the modern Popes have written in no way is the same as the welfare state uber alles misinterpretation twist given to it by many Catholic bloggers who hail anathemas down on other Catholics who have a healthy suspicion of Caesar and doubt if any good comes in relying upon the State to take care of the least among us.  How that duty is carried out in practice should cause every sentient Catholic to realize that the welfare state is not the solution to poverty, but helps to perpetuate it.

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  1. Maybe Mark could take the time to carefully elucidate Church teaching on economics. After all, he has made his vocation as a Catholic apologist, and as such he should have the time and opportunity to delve deep into the roots of Catholic teaching. As a full-time apologist, certainly he has the time and ability to read through and thoroughly research documents dating back to the time of Aquinas and well beyond. As someone whose life’s work is calling people to conversion, he could lay out a meticulous and well-documented long essay or even book that deconstructs centuries of writing and distill Church economic teachings to its very essence.

    Alternatively, he could just write shrill blog posts that mock people who disagree with him without making a substantive case as to why the person being derided is wrong.

  2. “He seems to me to be a particularly odious epigone of the Randian Class Warrior against the weak…”

    Actually, it seems that the current social justice crowd are the class warriors, resurrecting Marxism with a Christian veneer. Neo-Marxism perhaps. Or perhaps more a Christian materialism.

  3. I don’t waste a second reading their crap. That’s why I come to this blog.
    Your “certain catholic circles” are pathetic. They have nothing but dishonest ad hominems and hysterical shrieks of, in this case, “Libertarian!” That is equally as honest and intelligent as the noises heard from a wind chime in a hurricane. If the crux of the essay is errant, typing in words such as “epigone” doesn’t make it right.

    The catholic/social justice cranks are demonstrably not self-aware. hey fail to recognize that their, and their democrat/statist allies’, agendae are based on envy, hatred, and lies. They aid and abet liberal politics and the state which essentially are coercion/force and deceit.

  4. Ayn Rand Objectivists and Libertarians are two different things, although they share some similar points of view. Both points of view are however flawed. That said, I used to consider myself Libertarian until I came to realize that the Libertarian Party in the United States supports abortion and homosexual marriage. I prefer to simply be called Catholic. As such, Caesar is not my God.
    BTW, why would anyone find as admirable an adulterous woman of insatiable sexual need who died of heart disease and lung cancer because she lack the self control to stop smoking cigarettes? The selfishness which she deified was abominable.
    Also interestingly she was a Russian Jew.

  5. “Alternatively, he could just write shrill blog posts that mock people who disagree with him without making a substantive case as to why the person being derided is wrong.”
    He-who-should-be-ignored has become nothing more that a caricature. He’s quite pathetic, really. I almost … ALMOST … want to feel sorry for him because of how far he’s fallen from his apologist roots to become whatever it is that he is now.

  6. Sorry to be a repetitive bore on this subject, but the problem that Shea, Dineen, et al do not confront re this subject is that the social encyclicals (esp. Rerum Novarum) are difficult to operationalize. That named seems to assume master-journeyman-apprentice configurations which were disappearing then and are non existent in our time. So what do you do? (You also get the impression that the Pope’s thinking was clouded by the experience of daily life in an ecclesiastical economy wherein everyone has a stipend or benefice which has little relation to marketable skills). This superstructure sits on top of the bowl-o-spaghetti which is papal teachings on usury. I’ve heard some reasonable arguments from economists and medieval historians on the implications of lending at interest in poor agricultural economies where the ratio of cash to real income was low to get a sense of why it was considered a dubious practice in that context. You still have at least one papal encyclical (addressed to the Italian bishops in 1745 or thereabouts, not the whole Church) which explicitly addresses that and denies that interest is licit in any context.

    Keep in mind the sort of thing we’re arguing about in this country would be the pros and cons of various means of financing medical care. It’s difficult to see how papal teachings (even without the lacunae which infest them) can adjudicate disputes that granular. Append to that the tendency of people without much aptitude for mathematics and statistics to think in terms of nominal categories rather than spectra. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are vehicles for different sets of interests and different subcultures and that is reflected in public policy dispositions. So the fact that Republican legislators are less inclined to advocate or accede to state allocation of one or another resource is transmogrified in the minds of innumerate yappers into advocacy of the nightwatchman state. The innumerate yappers also do not take into account the ways in which our political institutions fuel obstructive veto groups. The federal government is a Fibber McGee’s closet of agencies which were derived from the pet projects of Lyndon Johnson or long departed members of Congress. Has anyone done a tally of which of them would be eliminated by Ryan’s don’t-rock-the-boat multi-year budget plans? Veronique de Rugy has been writing a series on the efforts to shut down one modest corporate welfare sink, the Export-Import Bank and the resistance that’s getting from both sides of the aisle. That’s the reality of public policy in the making.

    In fairness to the yappers, you knock-about in discussion fora frequented by partisan Republicans and there is an abrasive retro-libertarian element therein. These people all have two things in common: they have no familiarity with how much anything costs even in sketchy outline and they are not in positions where they actually deal with policy questions in their professional life. Republican policy is not likely to ever reflect the viewpoints of these types.

    /rant off.

  7. Libertarianism is a bit like communism– a really pretty theory that does massive damage when over-applied. For communism, that’s pretty much any time it’s outside of the family; for libertarianism, it’s more not so clear cut. (maybe because there’s so much less control involved?) They both have baseline issues– communism, who decides what is fair; libertarianism, who decides who is a person, and what harm is, and similar things.
    They’re both trying to make messy, personal and complicated things simple, neat, systematic… and they fail, in pure form, because of that.
    For the howler monkeys– they’re name calling. Don’t give it any more dignity than that. When they bother to make an actual argument, then answer it; other than that, point out the fallacies and refuse to dignify them with more.

  8. I’ve never been a libertarian because of their stand on drugs and sex. And I, like Don and several others, I have no use for Ayn Rand because she was a heartless person who exploited the people who followed her. For a devastating portrait of ‘Miss Objectivism’ read Daniel Flynn’s “Intellectual Morons” which also has some spot on looks at several other liberal loonies.

  9. Paul: that Rand was Russian Jew has absolutely no impact on her ideology.
    Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:”I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property–until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
    I am fearful that giving government access to taxing the citizens for an agenda such as Social Justice, Obamacare or Global Warming will only bloat the government will little, if any, serious trickle down effect to help the poor. In evidence, there is Obamacare, willing to murder people to balance their idea of who ought to be given the Right to Life and who must be euthanized by our tax dollars. The virtue of charity is a matter of personal conscience of the individual citizen, not of government. Government has already violated man’s individual conscience by denying a man and his personal conscience. So, how is government going to do Justice to Social Justice?
    Another example of government abdicating its obligations after taking our tax money, is how our veterans are being ignored and abandoned after giving their all to defend our nation. Private organizations are helping, but the government has taken our tax money. Taxation without representation. Do not let it happen again.
    Now, that I am a digit with a social security number to the government, the government has little care about eradicating me.

  10. died of heart disease and lung cancer because she lack the self control to stop smoking cigarettes?

    Rand died at 77, a perfectly unremarkable life span for a woman born in 1905 (about normal, in fact). I do not think cigarette smoking has ever been considered a healthy habit, but by the time the association between cigarettes and lung cancer was a matter of public record, Rand was 61 years old. I have a fairly proximate relation who quit smoking at age 59. He still died of lung cancer. I’ve consulted actuarial data which tells me I remain at elevated risk for lung cancer (not having smoked in nearly a quarter century). Tobacco’s one of life’s pleasures (which no one indulges in moderation, sad to say).

    It’s conceivable her sexual appetite was ‘insatiable’. I had not heard about anyone other than her husband and Nathaniel Branden. Of course, carrying on an affair with a man 20 years your junior is not something ordinary women in their 50s do…

  11. Also interestingly she was a Russian Jew.

    With a social viewpoint and a set of mores quite different from the median among Ashkenazic Jews in the United States. She also intermarried, which was not done in 1929. The significance of her origins is that she was a child of Russia’s small merchant-professional class and her family saw its property (an apothecary shop) stolen by the Bosheviks. That triggered the development of her social thought.

  12. ”I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property–until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

    Fake quote. It has been conning people since 1937:

  13. Anybody had a chance to read Anthony Esolen’s book yet? I haven’t, but it sounds worthwhile; at least based on this review:

    Like the thought of Pope Leo XIII, Esolen’s thinking is suffused with Christian realism about men and how they live. In his discussion of social life, for example, he summarizes the concreteness of Christian love in a memorable way: “Jesus did not command us to love ‘mankind.’ There is no such reductive abstraction in true Christian morality. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The neighbor is not someone conveniently on the other side of the world. The neighbor is inconveniently here, now. He is the man who never mows his lawn and who drinks too much. She is the woman escaping from her troubled home to meddle in the lives of the victims of her benevolence. He is the man fallen among thieves, right there in the ditch, bleeding his life away.” It is only with this sort of understanding that any sense can be made of how social life works.

    Catholic social teaching has become, certainly in this country, almost completely politicized. Many, perhaps most, Catholics hear the phrase and automatically associate it with the political left. Esolen’s erudite primer eviscerates this distortion by restoring a sound understanding of this area: not left (or, for that matter, right) on the ideological spectrum but Catholic: rooted in the family, in the common good, and ultimately in the source of all Catholic life—the Eucharist.

  14. Art Deco wrote, “You still have at least one papal encyclical (addressed to the Italian bishops in 1745 or thereabouts, not the whole Church) which explicitly addresses that and denies that interest is licit in any context.”
    You have in mind Vix Pervenit by Pope Benedict XIV, probably the greatest Canonist ever to sit in the Chair of Peter (his only competitor is Innocent IV).
    He declares that “The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract. This financial contract between consenting parties demands, by its very nature, that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given…”
    However, he continues, “By these remarks, however, We do not deny that at times together with the loan contract certain other titles – which are not at all intrinsic to the contract – may run parallel with it. From these other titles, entirely just and legitimate reasons arise to demand something over and above the amount due on the contract. Nor is it denied that it is very often possible for someone, by means of contracts differing entirely from loans, to spend and invest money legitimately either to provide oneself with an annual income or to engage in legitimate trade and business. From these types of contracts honest gain may be made.”
    This is really obvious. A loan for consumption of money or other fungibles (mutuum), like a loan for use (commodatum), or deposit or pledge, is a real contract. The obligation arises from the delivery and receipt of a thing (“res”) and can only be one of restitution (or of repetition, in the case of fungibles). Contrast commodatum with hire (locatio conductio), where a rental is legitimate, for there the title constituting the obligation is different; it is a consensual contract, not a real one.

  15. As I’ve said before on this and other blogs, my take on Ayn Rand is that her Objectivist philosophy was basically a massive overreaction to Soviet Communism that went off the deep end in the other direction. She fled Stalinist Russia and despised anything that reminded her of it; and because that regime used concepts like “common good” and “shared sacrifice” to justify what they were doing, she decided that these concepts were bad.

    The two books by her that MAY be worth reading are “The Romantic Manifesto,” which explains her view of art (and articulates why so much modern art leaves people cold) and a collection of essays titled “The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution,” which does a great job of skewering the pretensions of liberals. In these two instances, Rand was the proverbial stopped clock that happened to tell the correct time. Other than that… forget it.

    I’m still waiting for someone to come up with a political or social philosophy that doesn’t take an all-or-nothing approach of “Government is always the solution” or “Government is always the problem.” Is it just possible that we really need a balance between these two extremes and that the balance may need to be periodically adjusted as conditions change? A dash of libertarianism, or government intervention, may be appropriate in some circumstances but totally disastrous in others.

  16. Elaine Krewer wrote, “I’m still waiting for someone to come up with a political or social philosophy that doesn’t take an all-or-nothing approach of “Government is always the solution” or “Government is always the problem.”
    Recall Rousseau’s answer: “The question “What absolutely is the best government?” is unanswerable as well as indeterminate; or rather, there are as many good answers as there are possible combinations in the absolute and relative situations of all nations.
    But if it is asked by what sign we may know that a given people is well or ill governed, that is another matter, and the question, being one of fact, admits of an answer.
    It is not, however, answered, because everyone wants to answer it in his own way. Subjects extol public tranquillity, citizens individual liberty; the one class prefers security of possessions, the other that of person; the one regards as the best government that which is most severe, the other maintains that the mildest is the best; the one wants crimes punished, the other wants them prevented; the one wants the State to be feared by its neighbours, the other prefers that it should be ignored; the one is content if money circulates, the other demands that the people shall have bread. Even if an agreement were come to on these and similar points, should we have got any further? As moral qualities do not admit of exact measurement, agreement about the mark does not mean agreement about the valuation.
    For my part, I am continually astonished that a mark so simple is not recognised, or that men are of so bad faith as not to admit it. What is the end of political association? The preservation and prosperity of its members. And what is the surest mark of their preservation and prosperity? Their numbers and population. Seek then nowhere else this mark that is in dispute. The rest being equal, the government under which, without external aids, without naturalisation or colonies, the citizens increase and multiply most, is beyond question the best. The government under which a people wanes and diminishes is the worst. Calculators, it is left for you to count, to measure, to compare”

  17. I’m still waiting for someone to come up with a political or social philosophy that doesn’t take an all-or-nothing approach of “Government is always the solution” or “Government is always the problem.”

    I do not think any well thought out conception of the political order working in the broad swath of territory between Robert Nozick and Lenin would say either, and neither extreme would be reflected in the policies politicians actually pursue. You’re confounding social thought with rhetorical tropes. The thing is, much political discussion is self-aggrandizing. You can see this more readily on the portside because a lot of it defaults to vacuous babble about various bogies in lieu of discussing a discrete set of issues. On the starboard, much of it takes the form of jabs and complaints that productive citizens such as themselves are being injured by various and sundry social parasites. There is some truth to that, but you try to get them on the subject of how the quality of public services might be improved and you get a complete blank; the only discussion of public agencies they favor is point-and-laugh that said agency bollixed something up.

  18. Rand has her heroic characters clearly attempt to obey the Natural Law. The banker’s books balance. The employers pay wages to the last penny. They don’t lie, cheat, steal, defraud, murder, or vandalize. They earn their wealth from their own hard work. The books would be better without the smut – but I’ve seen similar lacunae for different cardinal sins from “Catholic” authors. She held to “Objectivism” – that the moral law was objective, like CS Lewis pointed out, and that places her and her followers far closer to truth than the moral relativists – including those claiming to be Christian or Catholic. Her reasoning was sometimes faulty, and even rationalizing (she only committed adultery after finding a loophole). But she was aiming at the right target.

    The Bishops have found it more convenient to have the national governments do their job. When appearing before the judgment throne, Jesus will say “When I was sick, hungry, etc., you told me to go to Obama for help!”. So “Catholic” hospitals have to do far more today than burn a bit of incense to the god of Caesar. They have to engage in (unborn) human sacrifice.

    In the movie, “Time Bandits” near the climax, the dwarves go across time to get weapons and aid. Two are futuristic machines, and when the battle starts the Devil says “I control the machines” – one of the dwarves says “he’s right!” and it starts shooting at the dwarves and not the Devil.

    Government is like that. If you keep it simple and direct and appropriate (subsidiarity) the Devil doesn’t have much to seduce and pervert, and the corruption is usually obvious. But centralize and complicate power and the Devil has an easy time. Acton was a christian and libertarian, and what he said is true: Power corrupts.

    That is what the US Declaration and Constitution are about. Limiting, dispersing, and causing conflicts of power. Just enough to do the job Government has the competence and authority to do. And leave the Church free to do things proper to its sphere, and citizens free to go about their business in peace and freedom.

    Ayn Rand understood and got a large part of that right. Too many Catholics today don’t understand any of it. They think that the gospel says to get Caesar to do the works of mercy.

  19. tz: “(she only committed adultery after finding a loophole). But she was aiming at the right target.”
    Actually, tz, if Ayn Rand was looking for a loophole to commit adultery, she wasn’t committed to finding the truth. Looking for a loophole to get out of heaven is not very wise and puts her other judgments into question.
    The rest of your post is very interesting and very well thought out.

  20. I’d love to hear the loophole. I’ve had plenty of arguments with hostile-to-tradition type libertarians who don’t even want to admit that she did.
    For those who want a thumbnail: she entered the union with her husband with the agreement that they could sleep around– if the other agreed. She then did it against her husband’s wishes, which is an even bigger deal than is obvious because the entire point is that she couldn’t keep even a deal where she’d designed it, entered it willingly, and entered it with full humanly possible knowledge.
    The hostile-to-tradition sorts tend to reject the social contract because they think it’s not fair to expect people to hold up their end of a deal unless they entered it willingly, and they specifically exclude any non-explicit agreements.

  21. Folks,

    You really need to understand how Objectivists view selfishness as a virtue:

    And here is a time line of Ayn Rand, the Brandens and her adultery, and not just hers:

    In my apostasy I tried to adopt the Objectivist philosophy. It depressed me to the point where I had a breakdown and almost drank again. In my opinion, because it has so many things in its philosophy which seem true and correct, Objectivism is one step removed from Libertarianism and closer to true evil.

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