Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gregg's "Tea Party Catholic"

Samuel Gregg, Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing, New York, Crossroad Publishing, 2013, 260 pages.

The title of this book, The Tea Party Catholic, suggests the book is about politics. The subtitle shows the author is writing about the principles of politics not the day-by-day parade of politicians and their supporters. Still, why on The Main Event would I write about a political subject? After all, the focus of The Main Event is on the conflict between reason and mysticism, which is an epistemological issue. My hope in reading this book was to see at what point, if any, the Catholic author would resort to mysticism in his argument for "limited government, a free economy, and human flourishing."

As usual, the following is a collection of notes rather than a formal review of the book.

AUTHOR'S PURPOSE. The writer of the Foreword, Michael Novak, says "Gregg means to foster three world-transformative ideas: limited government, religious liberty, and economic liberty." (p. 1)

Gregg himself distinguishes the "free enterprise Catholics" from other supporters of "free enterprise." In particular Gregg disavows "people like the pro-capitalist but militantly-atheistic philosopher Ayn Rand." He says, "[t]he Catholic case for limited government, the free economy, and religious liberty is very different from that of many self-described libertarians, let alone Randians." (p. 22) The key difference, Gregg says, is that the Catholic argument for free enterprise holds that free enterprise permits human flourishing, that is, "the excellence that every person is capable of realizing through the reasonable use of their freedom—an excellence rooted in our very nature as the imago Dei [image of God]: a being called to freely embrace all those goods that make us flourish precisely as human beings rather than embrace mediocrity." (p.23)

Explaining the nature and scope of these freedoms to Catholics—indeed anyone interested in understanding distinctly Catholic as well as particular natural law arguments for economic liberty and limited government—is this book's purpose. (p. 28)

AUTHOR.  Samuel Gregg left his native Australia to obtain a doctorate at Oxford University. There he worked under the supervision of John Finnis, an expert on natural law. (p. 1) Moving to the USA in 2001, Gregg began writing a series of books which "steadily established his leadership" in the movement working for three interconnected ideas: limited government, economic freedom; and religious liberty. (p. 1)

Novak says Gregg is qualified in three ways to achieve his purpose: He has "a strong grasp of the natural law." He understands  "the long Catholic intellectual tradition." He is motivated by "profoundly Catholic reasons." (p. 1)

SUBJECT. The main title is misleading. The book is not about the Tea Party in the United States, nor about the author's role, if he has any, in it. The subtitle accurately states the subject of the book. Gregg presents the specifically Catholic case for limited government. He bases his argument on Catholic principles.

Gregg says the Catholic position in favor of limited government differs from other positions because of the Catholic position's grounding in "Catholicism's specific understanding of the nature of human freedom. For Catholics, human freedom in turn is grounded in what man is—an individual, sinful, social being graced with reason and free will—and directed to ... 'integral human flourishing'." (p. 36) Thus, this Catholic position on limited government is tied to the supernatural through grace (which means God's gift).

Further, "... the coherence of these positions [on the desirability of limited government] stands or falls upon the Catholic conception of human flourishing...." (p. 37) Citing Pope Gregory VII, Gregg supports the idea that "full freedom in the Christian sense can only be realized through the freedom of life in the Lord in eternity." (p. 38)

The fact of sin and human imperfectability reminds us that the fullness of the flourishing we seek lies in the world which is to come, the gates of which have been opened for us by Christ's Resurrection. (p.49)

Gregg says "the central thesis of this book is that Catholics who underscore the cause of economic liberty can—nay, must—invest the cause for limited government with the same moral depth that Catholics have brought to other issues." (p. 23)

When discussing such subjects, Gregg references Catholic sources such as Augustine and William Ockham, but also other writers such as Cicero and Hegel. Gregg also frequently quotes the writings of popes who have lived in the last 200 years. Gregg seldom directly cites the Bible.

STRUCTURE. The book arcs from the history of Catholicism in the USA, to the present socially conflicted state of the Catholic Church, to an explanation of the principled argument that Gregg offers, and finally to examples of applications of the principles.

The Introduction presents the current situation among Catholics in the USA—including their many disagreements with each other—and the history that led up to it: Since the late 1800s, Catholics generally supported government intervention in the economy; however Gregg sees evidence now of a shift away from economic interventionism: the rise in the 1980s of new generations of Catholics wanting to limit the welfare state; and the spectacle of Catholics publicly debating among themselves—for example, in 2012 Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic Democrat, debating against Paul Ryan, a Catholic Republican.

Chapter 1 ("Catholic and Free") presents the core of Gregg's philosophical and theological argument in favor of limited government and free enterprise. Chapter 2 ("An Economy of Liberty") looks at the issues in the proper relationship between government and the economy. 

Chapter 3 ("Solidarity, Subsidiarity, and the State") explains two Catholic concepts. Solidarity is materially and spiritually supporting individuals in need. This is an application of the "the commandment to love our neighbor as we would want to be loved ourselves." (p. 101) Subsidiarity is the principle that says that in helping the poor people, superior organizations, such as governments, may assist but not displace the voluntary activities of individuals, families, and businesses who are closest to the problem. For example, a welfare program from Washington, D.C., should not replace a particular Texas parish's effort to feed the hungry people in its neighborhood.

Chapter 4 ("The First Freedom") describes the history and nature of the freedom of a follower of a religion to live according to his beliefs. Chapter 5 ("But What About ...?") examines several current issues to illustrate the principles that Gregg thinks should guide Catholics in political controversies.

Chapter 6 ("A Patriotic Minority") describes Gregg's view of the role Catholics can take in today's culture in the USA. He sees a continuing decline of modern liberalism among Catholics and "signs of considerable renewal in the Church in America." (p.197)

EVALUATION. Gregg is a well organized and moderately clear writer. Non-Catholics can learn the basic principles that Gregg advocates, but finer points may be unclear without studying Catholicism. Careful reading shows non-Catholics that Gregg, like many Catholic intellectuals values integration. He attempts to tie principles he learns from revelation, via the Church, to living amidst conflict in modern society. 

Gregg's integration is not objective, that is, drawn, logically from sense-perceptible facts of reality, but it is an attempt to provide a systematic plan of action. That makes Catholicism formidable, possibly the most dangerous advocate of mysticism in our culture today.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here:

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