The American Interest
Religion & Other Curiosities
Published on November 9, 2011
Is the Vatican about to Occupy Wall Street?

The Roman Catholic Church has had difficulties with modernity for a long time. In 1861 Pope Pius IX (famous for his Syllabus of Errors, an exhaustive compendium of modern heresies) made matters very clear in a famous “allocution”, which rejected the notion that “the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization.” Two distinctly modern institutions intended by the term “liberalism” are democracy and capitalism. As far back as the French Revolution the Church aligned itself, throughout the 19th century and beyond, with one anti-democratic cause after another. And it suffered defeat after defeat. In 1870 the troops of the new Italy marched into Rome and liquidated the Papal States (that was in the last years of the pontificate of Pius IX, who defiantly convoked the First Vatican Council, which defiantly proclaimed the doctrine of papal infallibility). In 1905 the long struggle between the French Republic and Catholic conservatism ended with the decisive victory of the former, solemnized by the law separating the state and religion. And this kind of conservatism was fundamentally discredited by the victory of democracy in World War II (though there was a final gasp in the project of the Franco regime to remake Spain as an “integrally Catholic” nation). But it was only in the 1960s that the Second Vatican Council solemnly endorsed democracy and the democratic catalog of human rights. Since then the Catholic Church has been a reliable advocate of democracy wherever it has influence, with remarkable effects in Eastern Europe, in Latin America and elsewhere.
The difficulty with capitalism has been less clearly resolved. Catholic teaching in this area has been greatly influenced by two papal encyclicals—Rerum Novarum, by Leo XIII in 1891, and Quadrogesimo Anno, by Pius XI in 1931. Both affirmed the right of private property, rejected socialism and class struggle. But they also expressed great concern for the plight of the poor, endorsed the right of labor to have a voice, and advocated an ethic of solidarity. The details of the economic and political arrangements that were to realize these principles were left rather vague. Thus it was that these encyclicals were used to legitimize both democratic labor unions and the “corporate state” instituted by fascist regimes. An important step came with the encyclical Centesimus Annus, by John Paul II in 1991, which for the first time made favorable mention of the “market economy” (which it also called the “free economy”), though it rather unconvincingly differentiated this from “capitalism.” The Polish pope issuing the encyclical had no illusions about socialism and had used his authority to oppose the quasi-Marxist Liberation Theology movement in Latin America. Yet there continues to be a lingering Catholic animus against the “creative destruction” which Joseph Schumpeter had correctly ascribed to capitalism. Conversely there continues a Catholic nostalgia for a harmonious society, with just prices and just wages enforced by the law (though, needless to say, it remains unclear just how such “justice” is to be defined).
One had every reason to expect a resurgence of anti-capitalist sentiments as a result of the economic crisis unleashed in 2008. It was rather slow in coming, but it has come now—with the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and with intensifying demonstrations expressing similar sentiments in Europe. Given the aforementioned history, it was probably inevitable that a Catholic voice would chime in. It now has.
On October 24, 2011, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, customarily referred to by its Latin title Iustitia et Pax, issued a document ponderously titled “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary System in the Context of Global Public Authority.” Iustitia et Pax is an agency within the Roman Curia, presently headed by an African cardinal, Peter Turkson from Ghana. It is generally regarded as a sort of leftist lobby within the complex bureaucratic labyrinth of the Curia. Its utterances are definitely not to be taken as authoritative statements of the papacy. Indeed, on the very day that this document was published, the Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi stated that the document is not a papal statement—in his words, “not an expression of papal magisterium.”  One may imagine that the present pope, Benedict XVI, was eager to create distance between himself and the document, which Catholics are free to disagree with. All the same, Iustitia et Pax has a significant constituency in the Catholic world, and its statements have potential consequences.
The document (some forty pages long) is quite complex, though its basic thrust is clear: It asserts the moral and practical bankruptcy of the current international economic order, and it calls for its replacement by what amounts to a world government. In practice, the International Monetary Fund and other institutions of the global economy are no longer able to control the reckless adventurism of many capitalist actors. Morally, the current order ignores the interests of the poor in favor of the rich. The document does acknowledge (grudgingly, one surmises) that in recent decades there has been a great increase in “global economic well-being”, but it makes no mention of the crucial fact that this development has been caused by the global spread of capitalist economics. Instead it emphasizes the inequalities between rich and poor, between and within countries. The inequalities are supposedly caused by policies inspired by “economic liberalism” (also referred to as “neo-liberal thinking”), which is characterized by a blind faith in market forces, an aversion against state interventions in the economy, and an ethic of “selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a mammoth scale.” (I don’t understand the last phrase. It may be due to the fact that the English translation is described as “provisional”—I believe the original text was in Italian).

Much in the document is not new. After every few sentences there is a reference to a papal encyclical or some other prior expression of Catholic teaching, with which the document is supposed to be in accord. (This is standard practice: The Catholic Church never admits to saying anything really new, even when it does. Each new statement is to be seen as emerging logically from a long line of previous statements.) There are some rather moderate recommendations, which have been made by others—such as taxes on financial transactions to create a “world reserve fund” for troubled economies, or special regulations for the “shadow markets” created by obscure financial instruments. But the truly novel recommendation by Iustitia et Pax is for the creation of a “supranational authority” to regulate the global economy.
This entity is also called “a world political authority” and a “global government.” In addition to replacing the allegedly dysfunctional institutions set up by the Bretton Woods agreements, this world government is also to deal with issues of peace and security, arms control, human rights, migration and food security.  The document admits that creating the entity will be difficult and can only happen gradually, building on steps that have already occurred (such as the expansion of the G-7 to the G-20, which gives voices to some of the more important emerging economies). There is no detailed description of how the new entity is to be structured, though the process to do so is to begin “with reference” to the United Nations. One can only guess what “reference” means here—probably that the process to set up the world government should start with negotiations at the United Nations.
Does this document mean that the Vatican is about to join the Occupy Wall Street movement?  Is Benedict XVI about to bless the encampment in Zuccotti Park? Definitely not. But the document does stand in a distinct tradition of Catholic thought, not limited to the far left in the Church. It deserves some credit for adopting a gradualist rather than revolutionary approach, and for refraining from a call for socialism. But its analysis of the current situation is pure neo-Marxism: All our problems are due to the financial predators headquartered on Wall Street and the “neo-liberal” intellectuals who legitimize them. There is no understanding at all of the fact that millions of people have been lifted from degrading poverty to a decent level of material life by, precisely, “neo-liberal” economic policies. As to the most novel recommendation of the document, its call for world government to be negotiated at the United Nations, this would be a grotesque disaster if it were ever successful. Fortunately, its chances of success are nil.
There are indeed financial predators on Wall Street (as well as in the City of London and other centers of the global economy—including the Shanghai Stock Exchange). Quite a few of them should probably be in jail. However, it is salutary to remember that the current crisis began with a bursting bubble in the American housing industry. This did not originate on Wall Street, but in Washington, where (presumably well-intentioned) liberal politicians pressured banks to give mortgages to people who could not afford them. Only then did Wall Street predators come in with their opaque financial instruments, which nobody could understand and whose collapse eventually infected the entire global economy. The capitalist economy should not be rejected because of some predatory capitalists, any more than democracy should be rejected because of some corrupt or (in this case) foolish politicians. Iustitia et Pax can be blamed for a faulty diagnosis and a disastrous prescription. It will encourage a revival of the Catholic Left, which will do nothing to solve our current problems and only suggest solutions that would make them worse.

  • WigWag

    “However, it is salutary to remember that the current crisis began with a bursting bubble in the American housing industry. This did not originate on Wall Street, but in Washington, where (presumably well-intentioned) liberal politicians pressured banks to give mortgages to people who could not afford them.” (Peter Berger)

    With all due respect to Professor Berger this is a remarkably misinformed statement. It is simply not accurate to blame “liberal” politicians for creating the housing bubble by pressuring banks to give mortgages to those unable to afford them.

    In fact, the idea that home ownership for the poor should be a national priority originates with conservative politicians not liberal politicians. As far back as the Reagan Administration, former Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp and former Secretary of Education William Bennett advocated selling units in public housing projects to the impoverished renters of those units. They recommended government subsidized mortgages to make the sale of these units financially feasible.

    In 2003, George W. Bush coined the term “the ownership society” as an approach that could be used to lift the poor out of poverty. The approach that Bush advocated had its genesis in the policies of Margaret Thatcher, although Thatcher herself borrowed the concept from David Howell and Peter Drucker.

    One of the main ideas behind the “ownership society” was that public housing projects should be privatized by selling the government owned flats to impoverished renters.

    While it is certainly true that liberals came to embrace the idea, liberal politicians didn’t dream up the idea of encouraging banks to make irresponsible loans to poor people, conservatives did.

    The economic commentary in this post is as flawed as the political commentary. It is facile to suggest that “the current crisis began with a bursting bubble in the American housing industry.”

    The roots of the current crisis go far deeper than that. The period of extraordinarily low interest rates that facilitated the housing bubble was ushered in by a conservative republican hero, Alan Greenspan. As the housing bubble expanded it was liberals like Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman who warned that a crisis was percolating; conservatives like Greenspan denied that a housing bubble even existed.

    But the current financial crisis has roots that are even deeper than the duplicity of conservative financial officials. The real roots of the current debacle go back as far as the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. I am sure that Professor Berger remembers that one of the villains of the S&L scandal was the son of George H. W. Bush and the brother of George W. Bush; Neil Bush. Of course, Democrats were implicated as well.

    As a result of the S&L crisis, American banks and indeed the whole American financial industry was in a shambles. Fortunately for the financial sector, this was just the period that rapid technological change was enabling a whole new approach to the sale of financial products. The financial industry restored itself to health by taking massive advantage of the new opportunities afforded by technology-induced disintermediation.

    Instead of merely servicing huge pension funds and the very wealthy, the financial industry was able to market its wares directly to the public in the form of IRAs and 401Ks. Money market funds became an alternative to bank accounts and the mutual fund business which marketed stock and bond funds directly to the public became ubiquitous. One of the most popular forms these funds took was the marketing of Ginnie Maes (mortgage instruments) directly to the public in securitized form. Ginnie Mae funds were popular because they were considered to be a conservative investment.

    Further improvements in computer technology facilitated on-line brokerage services and the creation of numerous sophisticated and arcane financial derivatives. Slicing and dicing mortgages and the separation of mortgage origination from mortgage ownership was the logical conclusion of this massive process of disintermediation.

    Those interested in a more sophisticated rendering of what occurred should read a fascinating book by NYU Professor of Finance and former Goldman Sachs partner, Roy Smith. His book is entitled “Comeback: The Restoration of American Banking Power in the New World Economy, Harvard Business School Press, 1993″ More can be found here,

    http://www.amazon.com/Comeback-Restoration-American-Banking-Economy/dp/0875845673/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320867173&sr=8-1-fkmr0

    Claiming that the etiology of the current financial crisis can be found in the housing bubble is a lot like claiming that the cause of one’s heart attack can be found in the French fried potatoes eaten for lunch just yesterday. While the two may not be unrelated, it is simply naive and over simplistic to claim that one caused the other.

    With all due respect to the fascinating and formidable Professor Berger, his analysis of the current economic turmoil isn’t any more sophisticated than the account he criticizes provided by the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Kris

    “It asserts the moral and practical bankruptcy of the current international economic order, and it calls for its replacement by what amounts to a world government.”

    Give unto us a Caesar!

  • WigWag

    “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Mathew 7:3 KJV)

    Given its enormous wealth, even if it has been somewhat diminished by the recent sex abuse scandals, one wonders why the Roman Catholic Church fails to practice what the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace preaches. Does the Vatican really devote a sufficient portion of its financial resources to healing the world?

    I’m not sure why any rational person would look to the Roman Catholic Church for either economic or financial advice. After all, the Vatican has been a hotbed of financial scandal for centuries. It was only a few short decades ago when the Vatican Bank was caught red handed in a money laundering scheme involving an Italian bank (Banco Ambrosiano). There have been credible, even if somewhat far-fetched, allegations that the scandal led to the assassination of John Paul, I. According to the National Catholic Reporter, a new Vatican Bank money laundering scheme came to light in September, 2010. For more, see here,

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/new-vatican-bank-scandal-threatens-erupt

    In fairness to the contemporary Roman Catholic hierarchy, ecclesiastical authorities have made a habit of sticking their noses into economic matters for centuries.

    It didn’t start with the harangue Jesus delivered to the money changers. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Dead Sea Scrolls knows that a number of the documents found in Qumran deal with the economic relationship of individual acolytes to the Essene community. For example, one of the most famous and well preserved documents known as the Damascus Document deals extensively with economic matters.

    Prior to that, the Books of the Pentateuch include many laws and teachings on economic matters, from prohibition of interest on loans and cancellation of debts to damages for injury to draft animals and damage to crops. Extensive commentary can also be found for tithes and offerings which required the transfer of economic goods from ordinary Israelites to the control and consumption of the priestly class.

    In the 21st century, it’s not just the Roman Catholic Church that thinks it has sage advice to offer when it comes to the accumulation and dispensation of worldly goods. The number of Protestant adherents of the prosperity gospel seems to grow larger with every passing year.

    When it comes to the Roman Catholic Church’s musings about economic matters it seems that it is the same as it ever was.

  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com Greg Metzger

    Last week I did this blogpost and it is a direct challenge to Berger’s type of interpretation. I titled it “Why Warren and the Vatican are blaming the banks” and I incorporate some of Berger’s points of government policy. The two points are not contradictory at all.

    http://debatingobama.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-are-vatican-and-elizabeth-warren.html

    In this blog I challenge George Weigel’s attack on the Vatican document.

    http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/11/8/113328/058/Front_Page/Weigel_v_Weigel

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Mr. Wig Wag:
    I always find your comments risible. I could equally find a list of liberal names and plug them into nearly the same sentences of your comments and they would probably fit. Some names that come to mind off the top of my head: Dr. Peter Dreier, Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin, Jimmie Carter, Bill Clinton, Barnie Frank, Charles Schumer, Maxine Waters, ACORN, et seq. This sort of discussion and rhetoric gets us nowhere but to fire political potshots at each other.

    I could also add some names you probably never heard of that had more to do with the U.S. Housing Crisis than you would ever believe. They are all French Socialists who liberalized the global rules of finance called Basel Accords II. Their names are: Jacque Delors of the European Union, Henri Chavransky, member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Michael Camdessus, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Without the cascade of foreign money that came into the U.S. between the years 2000 to 2007 there would have been no housing crisis or financial meltdown.

    By the way the Basel II Accords were approved by the U.S. Congress. The Basel Accords mandated quotas for the proportion of mortgages in the portfolios of commercial banks and replaced the ratings of Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s investment rating houses.

    I am reminded here of Dr. Berger’s apt observation in many of his writings that the same legitimation or justification can be used to approve slavery or anti-slavery, housing redlining or NINJA loans (“No Income, No Job, and No Assets”).

    Your criticism of Dr. Berger’s statement about neo-liberal involvement with the Housing Crisis is based on juxtaposition and name-dropping, which would hardly pass a test for causation in a science lab or a courtroom. That the housing crisis was the “proximate” cause of the U.S. financial meltdown is beyond doubt even if it wasn’t the only or the initial cause. Look up the origin of the term Neo-Liberal — today they are called Neo-Cons.

    I would admonish you to read some liberal books about the financial crisis as I have. Engineering the Financial Crisis by Jeffrey Friedman, Capital Rules: The Construction of Global Finance by Rawi Abdelal, and Real Estate and the Financial Crisis by Anthony Downs are all written by liberal authors and get above the political pot-shooting that pretend to civil discussion about the crisis and the pop books like Michael Lewis’ Liars Poker that just repeat a bunch of cliches. I have found liberal scholars have done the best objective analysis of the housing crisis. I rather doubt any of the authors would agree with you.

    I would point out empathetically as I can that if you continue to leave the sort of weekly comments as you are prone to do that you will end up not being taken seriously.

  • Patty Woodworth

    Just a Quote by Einstein that was floating around facebook last week. All I could say was, “Right on, Einie, Thanks for keeping it simple.” Here is the Quote:

    “We cannot solve the problems of the day with the same mentality that we used when we created them.”

  • Koko338

    Mr. Wig Wag is exactly correct. There is a very credible theory afoot that the EU is nothing more than a resurrection of the old Roman (Catholic) Empire, whose goal is world domination. Any edict from any part of the Vatican suggesting 1) a one-world currency (as the Vatican did last week) or, 2) a New World Order of one, vastly centralized government is beyond terrifying (see George Orwell and Adous Huxley).

    However, the New World Order theory explains better than anything else why the EU desperately holds on to the fallacy of a united Europe by demanding soverign “debt” (in reality bank debt transferred to public treasuries) be honored.

    By accepting these “letters of agreement” between the IMF and various countries, the citizens completely lose their soverignity and become “citizens” of the IMF, with mountainous tax bills, low wages, non-existent pensions, and no national assets — Voila! New World Order, brought to you courtesy of IMF, EU and now the Vatican.

    Witness Greece’s new Prime Minister — straight out of the European Central Bank. Watch closely who is chosen to head Italy now that Beresconi is out.

    Citizens of Europe — refuse the IMF, EU, and Vatican until your last breath! If you enjoy living in corporate-controlled concentration camps, you’ll love The New World Order, as envisioned by these mad men.

    Iceland very politely told the banks to stick it and eat their own damned losses. Things aren’t easy in Iceland, but they’re looking pretty rosy compared to what is in store for Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and probably the UK.

  • Considered Opinion

    Quoting Wig Wag: “They recommended government subsidized mortgages to make the sale of these units financially feasible”

    Spending tax/subsidy dollars upfront for mortgages paints bright lines between charity and business — exposure is strictly limited. On the other hand, encouraging banks to lower lending standards corrupts the integrity of the entire system.

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  • Kenny

    We can all thank God that America was founded as a nation by Protestants and not Catholics. If so, I fear we’d be as corrupt and useless as South America, Italy, Spain, etc.

    And I say this as a cradle Catholic who still practices the faith in spite of the poor excuses who pass for leaders in the Church’s organizations.

  • Susan Lee

    Interesting post & great comments. I am a devoted Roman Catholic, and love the theology of the Mass – but I wish the Magisterium would remember Christ’s statement “My kingdom is not of this world”.

  • http://www.peterjessen-gpa.com Peter Jessen

    It was a delight to recently discover Professor Berger’s blog. The level of discourse civility is a welcome change over blogs whose threads are more shriek sirens than sense seekers, as commentors on this blog conduct what Professor Berger would call a “contestation” of ideas.

    Wig Wag confirms Prof Berger’s notion that the housing crisis began in DC not NY (Wig Wag correctly discusses Reagan and W – who were in DC not NY, although he strangely omits the detonator of the housing bomb, Clinton’s putting Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act on risky lending steroids combined with his administration’s repeal of part of the Glass-Steagall Act, and thus enabling banks to then morph/transform into investment, commercial banking, and insurance services – NY got on board after the table was set by DC — and the housing bubble was off to the races come hell or highwater, resulting in many winding up in the hell of being underwater with their home values. Good intentions gone awry with negative unintended consequences as governement planners and regulators shouted out, “follow me.” Hence, “is the Vatican about to occupy Wall Street” chanting “follow me”?

    To use a more apt image, it began when DC created public policy horses that Wall Street jockeys were then eager to ride. We all watched riveted (OK, maybe not all of us) to C-Span as Democrat after Democrat, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, declared that what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae and others were doing was “Riskless”. For too many attempting to impose public policy, the new Holy Writ of Biblical standing are the scrolls of mathematical models, whether econometric or climatalogical or in war games. All contain the seeds of their own debunked destruction because it is impossible to have what they claim to have: all the variables.

    Wig Wag does well to remind us of the S&L “crisis.” I had clients in the mid-80s getting out of the industry. Why? I asked. Because the industry will collapse. Why? I asked. Because our bosses tell us to make any loan, regardless. Regardless of what? I ask. Risk. Why, I asked. Because S&Ls get upfront fees for making the loans. Why make loans, I asked, if they are so risky? Because our bosses tell us not to worry as the federal government guarantees all the loans. Why? I asked. Because they say with the federal guarantees no one loses.

    And then, they told me, those few who understood, they saw that their bosses were mad and immoral, that the system was mad and immoral, and that madness in turn was driving them mad and they didn’t want to be mad and immoral. So they got out. So this round of moral hazard of bail outs was locked into place 25 years before 2008, just as the moral hazard of the farcical Euro and European Union are chickens, as Malcome X would say, now coming home to roost.

    The European union, with more than one set of Piigs (humans and institutional) have essentially fed themselves their arms for financial nourishment. Now they are eating their legs. Economic cannibalism. The Roman Catholic Church, Brusssels, and similar utopians are like the Black Knight in the Monty Python sketch. When an arm is cut off, “Tis but a scratch,” and when his other “I’ve had worse.” He fights on. With a leg gone, “its just a flesh wound.” With both gone, “I’m invincible.” With only a torso and mouth, he shouts, as the knights that defeated him ride off, calling them cowards, “come back here and I’ll bite your legs off.” That’s the certitude of true believers.

    Cardinal Turkson seems to lump all capitalists involved, yet around the world, the last hold outs rejecting capitalism, North Korea and Cuba, will also embrace it once they figure out how to make the crony version work for them as it is for Russian and Chinese elites (see the Kaesong Industrial Park at the south of NoKo and Raul’s plans for post Fidel resorts and casinos). How is it that when even the non-democratic forms of capitalism have brought more people out of poverty than any other economic system, it is still summarily condemned? Is it not because it threatens the existing institutions that don’t want to give up their non-capitalist roots?

    Is not the real goal of the encyclicals: (1) to fight to protect the institution of “the one true church,” that (2) is led by old guys who can’t let go, holding out infallibility as the last line of defense, but who (3) attempt to keep the institution the same, dismiss the reality of the great engine of change that precedes, parallels, and continues with the dynamic Professor Bergers identifies as”creative destruction,” that of disruption (Clayton Christensen’s term) which is why the Roman Catholic Church (and Islam for that matter, not to mention Marx and all socialist/totalitarian progeny) cannot and will not prevail: as technology always disrupts (and its gettting faster), and always prevails, creating a drive for change that is particularly and eagerly sought by the young as they resist and fight the anti-disruptive elderly. Christensen’s books illustrate why (the 1st 2 chapters of Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Solutions” some see as the best 2 chapters on business in the past several years).

    The left, seeking an impossible putative utopia for the future, and the right, seeking to resurrect a golden age of the past that never existed, are, in Prof Berger’s terms, “historically specific conservatives” (both “conservative” if you will) meaning that once they get their goal, they want to freeze it in place — conserve it — attempting the impossible: a perfect, static society, defying Newton’s 2nd law which, when metaphorically applied to society becomes “dialectical” (forever changing, unlike the “end” of change, the “end of history” of Hegal and Marx and Fukuyama) and what Weber calls the “reciprocal causation of reality” (continuous change acting back upon it, etc.), as socially constructed reality becoming externalized, and then objectivized as “real,” and then internalized as real, being then legitimated as real (“…until further notice,” of course, as Prof Berger has said in other works).

    In other words, unlike the left or right or the left and right parts of the Roman Catholic Church, the “old” cannot be kept in place nor the “new” fashions to mirror one’s self created by ideological will. The “end” cannot be achieved as all is unending, as the “end” creators (left and right) get confused with end time exchatology. Utopians are anti-democratic, with totalitarian impulses, whether they are utopians of the Roman Catholic Church or the bureaucrats of Brussels or the Occupiers opposed to corporations and capitalism.

    Professor Berger suggests that any faulty diagnosis and disastrous prescriptions (whether from Iustitia et Pax (Justice and Peace or other utopian writings) will encourage a revival of the Catholic Left (or secular left of secular utopians), “which will do nothing to solve our current problems and only suggest solutions that would make them worse.”

    What to do? I’ll suggest a way out using Prof. Berger’s recent work that is in turn based on half a century wrestling with these utopian scenarios (see Pyramids of Sacrifice: Political Ethics and Social Change).

    Needed is an anti-utopian approach or, to use a more collaborative term, for lack of an alternative, what Professor Berger calls “pedantic utopianism.” It would take the best of what he calls “historically NONspecific conservatives” whose approach is to follow the old Roman notion of “make haste slowly”.

    Some of us contend that evil exists, even in human beings (for lack of a better term, call it “sin”; behavioral psychology has other terms suggesting the same thing for the secularists that dismiss “sin” only to find evil still resides). This makes it tough for planners who see no evil (or unintended consquences) in their work. It would be a good sign if the current movements de jour, Tea Partiers and Occupiers, as well as those still jockeying for position in the media for the hearts and minds of those they would bring into their utopiain folds, stand back, and consider becoming what Prof Berger calls “pedantic utopians” and engage in “pedantic utopianism,” allowing, besides their ideological proclimities, the use of a method that would include what Prof Berger calls a “calculus of pain” (easy to identify: what we don’t want, the “no’s,” as opposed to the “yesses” the utopians want that often come laden down with unintended consequences, some horrific – think World Wars 1 and 2), as well as what he calls a “calculus of meaning” (offering “cognitive respect” as opposed to “cognitive imperialism” regarding those whose lives the planners, utopians and anti-capitalists would rule).

    Human life is rife with suffering (at a minimum, the sorrow of a loved one’s death) even as it is of joy. The Sermon on the Mount offers ways to deal with the suffering. For seculrists, I offer a parallel, Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

    Thus, I would urge the Roman Catholic and Occupier anti-capitalists (and all anti-capitalists), including planners (who, by definition, start out by believing they have the answers that those they plan for should thankfully follow, trusting government over people and the market), to engage in this “pedantic utopianism” by starting with Prof Berger’s “50 propositions about prosperity, equality, & liberty” in his “The Capitalist Revolution,” using his recent three books as foundational to the discussion (“Between Relativism and Fundamentalism”, “In Praise of Doubt” and “Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist” (his intellectual biography).. This, in my view, would foster reviving a Catholic (and catholic) sensitivity to all sides while bringing to the fore such Protestant sensibilities that caused the Priest visiting my Lutheran Church on Reformation Sunday to proclaim as his opening statement to his message/homily/sermon, that “Martin Luther was right” (something too many Lutherans today seem to be ashamed of). This would do more to foster solving problems by empowering people to assist in the planning that is to deal with their problems rather than further empowering bureaucracies over people. Then there can be a chance to derive suggested solutions that will enable resolving the problems positively, not make them worse.

  • myth buster

    What I want to know is who suggested a global government and whether or not that person has actually read the Book of Revelation. After all, Revelation 13 speaks of a global political, economic and religious system under the complete control of the Antichrist.

  • Mike from Wall Street

    What Mr. Jessen offers as a solution, presents just as many problems as it does solutions. His desire to resort to the utopianism of “empowering” the masses is just as futile and dangerous to liberty. The ancient understanding of a pure democracy was seen by many as the curse of mob rule. Resulting often in the violent trampling of minority rights. What I don’t get in his comments is exactly what was Martin Luther “right” about? What was his legacy? Hundreds of years of religious war and bloodshed? The rise of the omnipotent state and the exploitation and oppression of the lower classes? Even during his lifetime, the German nobles turned on the peasant masses, who had been encited to revolt by Luther himself, slaughtering thousands, when subsequently Luther betrayed and denounced them. Thus instituting a new secular power, devoid of any restraint. Is this what Mr. Jessen means by “Protestant sensibilities?” Count me out! We need rather to teach people about the great benefit of free enterprise and capitalism. Too many have no clue as to how our system and institutions work. They have failed to learn the lessons of history which show that socialism is the way to dysfunction and ruin. We can blame academia, the entertainment industry and the media for this sorry and dangerous development. We need to foster the same drive that many immigrants have when they come here and prosper. The “immigrant effect,” self-reliance, initiative, innovation and personal responsibilty. Now that’s a prescription to live and prosper by.

  • Mike from Wall Street

    My response to Kenny, You’re being rather naive if you think Catholics have a monopoly on corruption.

  • http://www.peterjessen-gpa.com Peter Jessen

    Mike from Wall Street embodies the hope that I have for Prof Berger’s suggestion of holding a “contestation of ideas” in order, to use the words of Berger’s last sentence, that “a faulty diagnosis and a disastrous prescription” can be avoided, as they “will do nothing to solve our current problems and only suggest solutions that would make them worse.” Mike does a first rate job. And I think we all share that goal: to avoid making things worse.

    But how? I’ve struggled with this question for several decades, and, to me, this framework that Berger suggests is at least one excellent methodological answer process that makes sense to me and suggests that it will be a useful tool in helping us to keep from making things worse. But I have not always expressed myself clearly. I appreciate Mike from Wall Street pushing me to be clearer in expressing these ideas so that we can be better enabled to work with them together.

    My recommendation is that we bring it to the public policy table with others, in order to enable the public policy questions before us, regardless of political party or candidate, to work toward reducing the “no’s” Berger lists (“no to children living in garbage, no to exploitation and hunger, no to terror and totalitarianism, no to anomie and the mindless destruction of human meanings”) while also working to eliminate those polices found to unintentionally increase them.

    Mike from Wall Street is in agreement regarding the need for a “prescription,” as he states that the “prescription to live and prosper” is the one of “the immigrant effect,” which, he recounts, is, “self-reliance, initiative, innovation and personal responsibility.” I agree that, for most, this is the case. It doesn’t solve the problem of the widows and orphans, the infirm and challenged, and those who are oppressed, and those with other limitations, but it does cover the majority of people. How do we deal with both without making things worse?

    And the key weapon in Mike from Wall Street’s arsenal is similar to Prof Berger’s: education. As Mike states, and quite accurately, according to the historic record, many of our problems are due to people having “failed to learn the lessons of history which show that socialism is the way to dysfunction and ruin.” He might have added that those that then become capitalist usually do not become democratic capitalists unless allied with the West.

    Where we get into dispute is when we forget the baseline of modern life: institutions, and baseline truths about human nature (as Vico said, we make history but not nature), and thus calls into question the efficacy of “lessons” without, in my judgment, the framework brought to the process by Berger.

    Immigrants (and my relatives were all immigrants) didn’t come to a country that was a tabula rasa: it had a political system advocating democracy, rule of law, a believe in certain universal inalienable rights (not the case where them came from), a ladder for social mobility, no welfare system, and two of the most remarkable things unimaginable where they came from: a tradition and a piece of paper that support human liberty unlike any other.

    The tradition: our first “king” (what those who feared him called him) George Washington began the “tradition” of the “ruler” voluntarily stepping down to be replaced by another, in an overly manner, with the successor elected by the empowered people through elections.

    Why did George do this? Because Washington believed in the institutions of this country that he helped create and because he believed in the people, and, and this is key, he believed in the “Jiminy Cricket conscience” he had helped bring to life, as seen on the first piece of paper of its kind, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, that people would answer to that piece of paper, the word of freedom on that paper, not the word of kings and councils. Martin Luther did the same: freed the individual to engage his or her conscience with the word of God and God’s paper, The Bible, not with kings, nor councils nor popes.

    It is as if Cardinal Turkson was echoing Tevye, who said, in a different context, of doing something against the tradition of the elders: “Unheard of. Absurd. Unthinkable. Where do you think you are? … America? This isn’t the way it’s done. Not here. Not now. Some things I will not, I cannot, allow. … Tradition. … This should never change. … One little time you pull out a prop, and where does it stop? Where does it stop?”

    And this is what the end of history folks (Hegel, Marx, Fukuyama) or the left and right “historically specific conservatives” and their utopias that they want to create/recreate and freeze (conserve) into place, don’t get: it doesn’t stop. That’s the genius of Newton applied anywhere and everywhere: for every action there is a reaction, Weber’s continuous “reciprocal causation of reality,” people “acting back upon those acting upon them.” Prof Berger’s suggestion, if I read him correctly, is that as we can’t stop it, let’s harness it, and cooperate, be “pedantic utopians” exercising collaboratively to work out “what’s next” through exercises in “pedantic utopianism,” using such perspectives as a “calculus of meaning” and “calculus of pain,” exercising “cognitive respect” and not “cognitive imperialism.”

    So I applaud Mike from Wall Street’s ability to summarize two key points, with which we probably all agree: how (1) “sin” has entered in (OK, he doesn’t’ use sin, he uses “Luther” and “secular power devoid of any restraint” and “riots”, “slaughter”, “oppression” and “exploitation”), and (2) the prescription of teaching and learning about “the great benefit of free enterprise and capitalism.” And Mike speaks well to the point of what some Lutherans think are skeletons only in their closet (riots, slaughter, oppression and exploitation).

    The key here remains Prof Berger’s last sentence: how not to make things worse.

    Mike from Wall Street reminds us of those who, from ancient times, warned about how “pure democracy” could turn into “the curse of mob rule,” although that is not what I advocated. Hence, our founding fathers created a democratic republic, empowering people to elect those who would rule in legislative gatherings, not town hall gatherings of all the citizens, and have their sinfulness (or corruption/corruptibility) held at bay by a system of checks and balances. No other piece of paper does this. Is it no wonder ours is the oldest piece of paper on the globe?

    Mike talks of the risk of democracy creating an empowered mob. We were reminded of this yesterday by Mary Anastasia O’Grady that it was Tocqueville who, at our beginning, both marveled at our democracy / liberty and also “rightly warned that democracy can only endure up to the point when politicians realize they can bribe people with their own money” which ends democracy (the socialism that takes it places, said Margaret Thatcher, would then last only until they ran out of other people’s money to spend). This is Europe on display today. Hence my Monty Python Black Knight reference.

    But it is not the mob of people with whom we should be concerned. When Professor Berger reminds us that “Two distinctly modern institutions intended by the term “liberalism” are democracy and capitalism,” we must not forget that these are exercised by people in institutions framed as organizations called the “institutions” of Congress, denominational Head Quarters, papacy, military, universities, unions, hospitals, medicine, corporations, mom and pop stores, etc., not to mention all of the non-profit institutions, government institutions, non-government institutions, etc., all of which are where people derive much of their sense of identity and self worth and, if they can be chief bureaucrat at any level, their own little ruler.

    So it is not the empowered people as a mob that bothers me (Tea Partiers, Occupiers) but the empowered institutions they march against (federal and state legislatures, private and public institutions / organizations). Mark Twain called Congress empowered thieves, as in “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” And “We have the best congress money can buy,” and, in the words of Davy Crockett, “There ain’t no ticks like poly-ticks. Bloodsuckers all.” As PJ O’Rourke has said, “Giving money and power to the government is like giving car keys and whisky to teenage boys.”
    “When politics are used to allocate resources, the resources all end up being allocated to politics.”

    Hence, like it or not, the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers.

    The problem with Mike’s prescription is that it is the one way street advocated by most, left or right: being educated to go in the direction determined as best to go in by the teacher. That is what eventually leads to the riots, slaughter, oppression and exploitation Mike so rightly condemns. So let’s explore Mike’s prescription: education, which also does not begin with tabula rasa.

    Many think that what the philosopher Santayana said is “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” He actually said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” He referred to “savages” (pre-literates) caught in an endless running of Ground Hog Day, with each new day like the previous one: cannot. Ideologues are the same way: “can’t think outside their ideological box because they will themselves to “cannot.”

    I submit that once one is locked into an ideology, facts and history don’t count, only their versions of the past and their preferred version of the future, regardless of the fact that the future is always empirically unavailable.

    So let’s get pre-Biblical and use a favorite quote of Professor Berger, from Thucydides’ Great War, which should be sufficiently removed in time to present no threat to Biblicist or secularist:

    In will be enough for me…if these words of mine are judged useful by those
    who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which
    (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways,
    be repeated in the future. [emphasis added]

    In other words, hitching Luther to the riots, slaughter, oppression and exploitation is not unique, as most through out history were hitched to those wagons, including the rioters who were put down, which both sides pulled out to ride in when they found themselves in what each perceived to be a threatening corner (regardless of whether it was or not; declaring it so made it so, as W.I. Thomas reminds us). Humanity would probably have stayed in that corner a lot longer save for Luther and the subsequent discovery of the New World, and yes, there were eventual riots, slaughter, oppression and exploitation of Native Americans, who, in their turn, did it to those they found when the arrived (“human nature being what it is”). I’m always amused by those who defend the plains Indians way of life not knowing that their horse based culture was very new, their adaptation that came after the Spanish brought horses to this continent for the first time). They apply Darwin only when it supports their argument at the time.

    So, how about a four-lane highway rather than a rutted road? Education or indoctrination?

    I was asked to teach 1st graders this year in our Lutheran Sunday school (something about all boys and unmanageable, yet they are pure angels for me — and yes they do react differently with men teachers, particularly when I answer the “who are you” question with a line I slide in, “and I was drafted and served in the Army”, as well as periodic sports identities which work equally as well). In learning about the Creation story and the power of words, such as “let their be light” (although I must admit I have the same power, for it happens whenever I enter a room and flip a light switch: I can even think it on without having to say it when I flip the switch). Then comes the crucial Biblical mantra that God looked on his creation and saw that, after each day’s work, “it was good.”

    My first graders disagreed. Not cars, not oil, not coal. When I told them that the dusting for dust in Mary Poppins was not dust but ground up horse manure, with the car thus being hailed as the “ender of pollution” and that poor people went to bed at dusk as only the rich could afford whale oil for their lamps (kerosene was a much later invention, contrary to Western movies) it was hard for them to grasp at first. The idea that it wasn’t oil and coal and cars that were bad but the way we use them was incredulous to them (they already have submitted to the UN’s call for no energy sources under ground). Hence, my question to them: how can you find a way to use something without causing harm when you already call it bad no matter what? Or, to use Berger’s last sentence, how can we act without making things worse?

    For too many, modern education is not about knowledge per se but about the specific knowledge gained through consciousness raising about how to believe about public policy: the superior raising the inferior thinking to the superior way of thinking (the suicide pill for multiculturalism, as the content of history goes to the winner of who raises that consciousness).

    If education and “history’s lessons learned” were keys, how could World War 2 follow World War 1? My favorite professor in college was at the Battle of the Somme in WW1: 5 months, 1.5 million casualties. It caused him to not want to bring children into this world (he stacked bodies like cord wood, 15 feet high), a decision he regretted when his beloved wife died leaving shoe boxes filled with cut outs from magazines of babies and toddlers). Shades of O’Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”

    Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was (much later) called the Great Appeaser when he waved his treaty with Hitler and said, “Peace in our time.” He was a patriot yet convinced of pacifism after the slaughter of World War 1. And yet World War 2 came, and he battled the Nazis too. And so fearing Soviet domination and slaughter again, vowing to avoid another world war, action was taken in Vietnam to stop what was feared to be potential dominoes falling, country after country. And so only two Senators voted in 1964 against the resolution to allow the President (LBJ) to go to war in Vietnam. And even though it was begun by JFK and escalated by LBJ, it has been successfully labeled “Nixon’s War.” That’s education. Learning about the ability to change minds has been erased, as now, as they “know”, as Hegel remarked, it is the end of philosophy: nothing more to learn: so use just one lane, my lane (my dad said they were told in college in the 1920s not to major in physics, as all that could be known was now known; little did they know of the disruptive technologies coming over the horizon of much stronger telescopes and microscopes).

    This brings us back to Tocqueville: “The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.” Mike from Wall Street would agree. As do I. Larger government only limits freedom, and brings freedom only to those exercising the limits and making the allocations.

    And that brings us back to Mike from Wall Street’s central idea: “learn the lessons of history which show that socialism is the way to dysfunction and ruin. We can blame academia, the entertainment industry and the media for this sorry and dangerous development.” But we saw above what the lessons of World War 1 begat: World War 2.

    So what lesson is learned, if the government promotes more taxes so it can get bigger to do what it “knows” “must” be done and controls the education and teaches giving more taxes to school children? And how, when the major teachers are not only K-12 and academia, but also those outside K-12 and academia, what many young people identify with: entertainment (movies, music, TV), computer games, and other media? As the father is told in the movie “True Lies,” his daughter spends more time with Guns and Roses that with her dad.

    Enter Luther again. He is listed on history’s list of most influential at #25 (Newton is at #1). Many think God wants Kings for us. Not so. I Samuel 8 clearly states that kings are not good for people. But the Israelites insisted. We see what it got them. Luther said he and he alone would commune with God, and that it would be his conscience that he answered to as formed by his conversation with God in prayer and in reading the Bible, not obeying kings or popes or councils or thinking what they tell him to think. The non-Protestant world waits for others to tell them what they can do and when (hence a lack of innovation and entrepreneurialism). Weber called the difference “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Berger points out that in China today secular Confucianism is similar to the Protestant ethic and hence modern China post Mao (but not the China of Mao or pre-Mao). Luther said it was every father’s duty to teach his children, both boys and girls, to read, so they could read the Bible (which he translated for them as it was forbidden to be read, not even by priests, who were illiterate reciters of Latin). Then Gutenberg invented the printing press and protestant countries’ kids kept on reading.

    So how about we widen the road, have four or five lanes, not just one or two (or even 12 lanes across as some freeway parts have), and lets all be pedantic utopians, combining what Berger calls “intellectual self-discipline” (the value-free objectivity of Max Weber fueled by actually reading and learning and discerning what is read) and our “utopian imaginations” (come on, admit it, you’ve got one, which we all have, if only on a lazy summer afternoon’s day dreaming or when we get mad at something idiotic said by a politician or when we are whispering or listening to sweet nothings).

    This we could bring to creating exercises in what Berger calls “pedantic utopianism”, which would be “carefully cultivated research and teaching,” avoiding the attempt to say the foundation is a liberal plank or a conservative plank, a Christian plank or a Marxist plank, but rather where any of us so gathered, regardless of our plank, could still agree on the plank of Berger’s “no’s”, “no to children living in garbage, no to exploitation and hunger, no to terror and totalitarianism, no to anomie and the mindless destruction of human meanings.” In this way, suggests Berger, we might “move ahead to the painstaking task of finding alternatives which will not only be morally acceptable, but which will work,” and thus avoid making things worse.

    Berger’s books’ subtitles encourage us further: “Political Ethics And Social Change,” “Visions, Strategies And Realities,” “The Role Of Mediating Structures In Public Policy,” “Prosperity, Equality And Liberty,” “Religious Resources For A Middle Position,” “How To Have Convictions Without Being A Fanatic,” and “How To Explain The World Without Becoming A Bore.”

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  • Jim.

    The Church should come into this on the individual level, not a governmental one.

    The Church must make certain that the Gospel is heard in the highest circles of corporate power, and that those who exercise that power know the difference between right and wrong.

    If the Church wants to be involved in government, it should only be in terms of fighting against laws that impinge on the spread of the Gospel, and laws that infringe on the right of the individual to answer the dictates of his own conscience.

    (By the way, there’s a huge amount of work to be done fighting laws like that; law as it is (mis)construed now in the United States has practically put a gag order against the Gospel in both public activities and even in private conversations in private companies. That silence has led directly to “moral hazard” disasters like the recent banking crash.)

    Aside from fighting laws that prevent the Word from spreading and acting, the Church can (and should) only act through the votes of those who find its teachings persuasive.

    The closer men are to angels, the less government is necessary. And we won’t get very close at all, if we don’t hear the Word.

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