Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Western man is increasingly enslaved to a system that is not only impersonal but anti-personal

But another frustrating aspect is that the typical "left/right"/"liberal conservative" paradigm leads many to think that Catholics who uphold Church teaching must, by their robotic, mindless, and unenlightened nature be opposed to any sort of concern for the environment. Or, worse, that they actively support and take pleasure in destroying the environment. That isn't true at all, just as it isn't very accurate to portray theological and political liberals as the only ones who really, truly care about the poor.
On a related note, a book that might be of interest is Joseph Pearce's Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics As If Families Mattered (ISI, 2006). I reviewed it recently for National Catholic Register (full view requires subscription), and wrote:

This work is an homage to and an extension of E.F. Schumacher’s famous 1973 book Small Is Beautiful, which was subtitled “Economics as if People Mattered.” Schumacher was a noted economist and philosopher; he was also a convert to Catholicism. Schumacher, like Pearce, was influenced by distributism, which emphasizes limited government, private ownership and care for the environment. Schumacher was also heavily indebted to the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII, which “absolutely staggered” him with their brilliance. Schumacher’s great achievement, writes Pearce, “was the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern economics in a language that encapsulated contemporary doubts and fears about the industrialized world.” He was also “one of the earliest conservative eco-warriors” who believed that economics was made for man, not man for economics.

Drawing deeply and openly upon Schumacher’s arguments and beliefs, Pearce addresses the state of economics in the opening years of the 21st century. “The fundamental error of modern economics,” he writes, “is its mechanistic approach.” Western man is increasingly enslaved to a system that is not only impersonal but anti-personal, aimed at nothing more than “progress” — that is, profit and continual growth. Economics is all about the “how” of producing profit at the expense of the “why” of human existence.

I also note that I disagree with some of Pearce's conclusions, especially some concerning environmental issues. But I think his book is an articulate presentation and defense of some basic Catholic principles, such as subsidiarity, and commonsense thinking about economics and culture. It does not fall into an easily "right/left" category, nor should it, since Catholic doctrine and the principles that flow from that doctrine are not concerned with "right/left," but with truth and falsehood:

When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a "hierarchy" of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ. (Unitatis redintegratio 11)

And, finally, for an excellent explanation of the "hierarchy of truths," see this article by Douglas Bushman. Posted by Carl Olson on Monday, September 10, 2007 at 11:48 PM

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