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Yes, Mr. Woods, You Advocate the Right to Oppress

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo thomaswoods_zps65b2661f.jpg This post constitutes my third and final reply to Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s critique of my series on his neo-Confederate activities. In my first reply I explained why, his protestations not withstanding, he is indeed a neo-Confederate. My second reply focused on how Woods twists his opponents’ statements into self-serving red herring.

Now I get to what is as the heart of Woods’s neo-Confederate/libertarian agenda: defending the right to oppress; a critical component of which is the combination of nullification and secession.

“I am a libertarian” and “not a `neo-Confederate'” wrote Thomas E. Woods, Jr. in a verbal shell game he plays to mask the shared flaw of his chosen philosophies:  the elevation of raw power over justice and equality before the law, cloaking oppression in the guise of freedom and liberty.

As I have previously noted, his advocacy of both secession and the unilateral nullification of Federal court decisions as well as Federal legislation appeals to many on the Catholic Right. What’s more, nullification is becoming a weapon in efforts to thwart the will of the American people as expressed by its elected representatives.

Some Neo-Confederates are also Libertarians

While not all libertarians are neo-Confederates, neo-Confederates of Woods’s ilk are certainly libertarians. This comes into focus when we consider the League of the South,a neo-Confederate organization with which Woods proudly identifies and whose core economic beliefs are of the aforementioned Austrian School of libertarian economics: opposition to fractional banking; a return to the gold standard; and a general distrust government regulation that often borders on anarchy. (Indeed, Woods himself is devotee of  anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard).  Woods’s strain of libertarianism argues that these are essential elements of freedom.

Austrian school libertarians even oppose the laissez-faire “Chicago school” economics of Milton Friedman — which at least considers using some government intervention in the economy through monetary policy.  Austrian schoolers want government to play no role at all in the economy. After all, they steadfastly assure us, that economically speaking, everyone acts with reasonable self-interest.

Austrian schoolers also believe that the freedom to contract is absolute, regardless of the imbalance of power between parties, particularly when it comes to matters of employment. “Labor is appraised like a commodity not because the entrepreneurs and capitalists are hardhearted and callous,”  Ludwig von Mises famously declared, “but because they are unconditionally subject to the supremacy of the pitiless consumers.” (Woods is a Senior Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.) Every dollar is a ballot from their point of view; and the messy ethical considerations of government are replaced by the supposed efficiencies of the free market. Of course, if every dollar is a ballot, then those with more dollars have more ballots and the outcome of every election is predetermined.

Thus the question of freedom, is really a question of freedom for whom?

The above von Mises quote suggests that owners are free to abuse low wage workers while providing excessive executive compensation; unjustifiable stock dividend payouts; failing to invest in more efficient manufacturing equipment; and ineffective trades policies. And as the 2007 Wall Street meltdown has proven, many financial figures do not act solely out of “reasonable self-interest;” irrationality plays an outsized role along with, greed, ego and self-aggrandizement.

This gets us to the core of our dispute: That Woods’ neo-Confederate libertarianism distorts the meanings of freedom and liberty into a defense of the excesses of self-interest.  He argues, referring to me:

And finally, my critic says I defend a “right to oppress.” This is preposterous, needless to say. … The point is that the federal government is far more likely to be a threat to our liberties, indeed to civilization itself, than the states — from which, in any case, exit is rather easier. There is absolutely nothing the states could do that would amount to a grain of sand on the beach compared to a new Middle Eastern war, but I am supposed to be super worried about what Montana might do next. Nice priorities.

He then added, “And of course, nothing centralized regimes do ever, ever, ever discredits centralization.”

This is typical Woods, vigorously assaulting a straw man of his own invention. (While I clearly believe that a sturdy federal government is far preferable to confederacy, nowhere have I claimed that it is a perfect; all forms of government are subject to abuse.) Quite tellingly though, Wood opposes the centralization of power in a democratically elected Federal government, but thinks the centralization of economic power in the hands of unaccountable private interests is just fine.  

There is no shortage of examples to demonstrate that Woods’s definition of freedom includes the right to oppress.  Woods goes so far as to oppose child labor laws. (He claims that passing laws against child labor is like passing laws against gravity.)  He also opposes the recent efforts of fast food workers to achieve a living wage. “Instead of being amazed that they can earn anything at all with no skills to speak of,” says Woods, “they are enraged that they aren’t making a comfortable living performing a task as simple as fast-food preparation.”

Ignoring Facts and History

History teaches us a different lesson about child labor than the world according to Woods.  Child labor in the past has been used to drive down wages by creating a surplus of workers. Beyond that, the law informs us that minors are generally considered to be legally incompetent to enter into most contracts. While Woods’s position may be honestly grounded in his libertarian philosophy it does not change the dynamics of highly unequal wage bargaining power — hence his embrace of a right to oppress children without interference from the government.

Progressive child labor laws have freed children from toiling long hours in mills full of dangerous machinery or having to dig for coal in poorly ventilated and unsafe mineshafts. At the same time, parents have received better wages because the size of the workforce was reduced. Children once unable to attend school, now have the opportunity, which in turn, creates a more sophisticated work force.

Likewise, increases in the minimum wage pegged to productivity have proven to be healthy for the overall economy – as well as being the right thing to do. Woods mischievously frames his argument against fast food workers seeking a raise, by suggesting that they want something exorbitant.  It is not unreasonable for workers to seek wages that are at the very least, adjusted for inflation.  Woods’ twisting of facts to fit his argument is characteristic of his method.

As if all this were not enough, there is one part of Woods’s critique of one of my pieces on nullification that I find astonishing. “There is absolutely nothing the states could do,” he claims, ” that would amount to a grain of sand on the beach compared to a new Middle Eastern war…” As someone who holds a Ph.D. in history from an Ivy League university he should know better. He must certainly be aware that his beloved (so-called) Confederate States of America’s dreams of a slave empire extending into the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.  History teaches us that neither size nor form of government is a guarantee against Empire – let alone the desire to extinguish individual rights.

If the modern federal state is inherently such a tyrannical menace, why have Sweden’s armies not marched in conquest?

No Oppressor is an Island

Woods is also involved with organizations that are devoted to the right to oppress.

As I have previously documented, Woods is a founding member of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group.

The League’s “Core Belief Statement” also suggests a religious supremacism of the sort that would clearly be a building block of theocracy. The League declares:

“The South still reveres the tenets of our historic Christian faith and acknowledges its supremacy over man-made laws and opinions…

If the southern Leaguers got their way in this regard, the prospects might be bleak for anyone other than officially approved Christians, and worse for minority religions and the non-religious. Freedom for religious supremacism means the right to oppress, whether at the state, local or federal level.

Woods, a convert to traditionalist Catholicism, is a regular contributor to the The Remnant . This traditionalist biweekly newspaper has been highly critical of anything Catholic since Vatican II, including Nostra Aetate, — the official Catholic statement repudiating the notion that the Jewish people are guilty of deicide.  The Remnant has also been a vocal supporter of the schismatic – and anti-Semitic – priestly order of the Society of St. Pius X.  For this and other examples of hostility to Judaism The Remnant has also earned a spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.

The Remnant’s support for SSPX is a particular point of interest. SSPX has maintained ties to the Northern Italian secessionist political organization, Northern League – as does the League of the South.

Coming Full Circle

Of course, to this crowd, the main problem with a sturdy federal government is that it stands in the way of the neo-Confederate vision itself. Modern notions of civil rights as well as the legacy of New Deal economics exist to protect the rights of those who would suffer if the neo-Confederate libertarian dream were to come true.

What the agendas of secession and nullification are truly about is the frustration of various like-minded minority factions’ ambitions to oppress the majority.  To that end, they want the federal government disassembled at least to the point where the religious and economic prejudices of the few are less likely to be checked by the democratically derived consensus of the many.

This happened in 1861 when proslavery forces lost their grip on the White House; and it is happening now with a small but effective gang of Christian Right activists that cannot find a constitutional avenue to impose their moral and economic views on the entire nation.  It is why we see, paradoxically, the likes of the theocratic protestant Gary North (an Associated Scholar of the von Mises Institute) and Opus Dei priest C. John McCloskey embrace Woods’s brand of theocratic libertarianism. North and McCloskey are not opposed to theocracy, per se, they just want to localize it. Indeed, that is why Woods’s advocacy of secession and nullification is so appealing to them. If they cannot persuade the whole country to see things their way while playing by the rules, they will simply tear up the rulebook – as well as the nation.

This is libertarianism’s inherent fatal flaw: Its sole emphasis upon the liberty of the more powerful individual and its striking indifference to the rights of others.  It fails to account for externalities — when a third person is affected by an occurrence or transaction to which he is not a party.  It is a philosophy of governance that refuses to consider that the individual’s well-being is linked to the well-being of all within a given society.

I will assume that Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is sincere when he says he doesn’t personally believe in oppressing others who are different than him.  But he defends a philosophy predicated upon a highly subjective definition of liberty attained at the expense of others.  I would go so far as to say he also believes in maximizing the opportunities presented in such situations. Therefore, he resolutely believes in the right to oppress, and is conflating freedom with oppression.

But there is a different way of viewing freedom.  

 “One principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn,” Aristotle once said, “and indeed democratic justice is the application of numerical not proportionate equality; whence it follows that the majority must be supreme, and that whatever the majority approve must be the end and the just.”

For related articles, click here.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and the Neo-Confederate Catholic Right

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Thomas Woods is an increasingly influential  player on the Catholic Right. In this and a subsequent post, we will consider how his world view is   incompatible with both Catholic Social Justice principles and American history.

Over the years, this column has looked at the many facets of the Catholic Right, including neo-cons, paleo-cons, Bill Donohue, Opus Dei, and more. We now come to the Neo-Confederate Catholic Right, a peculiar variation of libertarianism, which focuses almost exclusively on economics while maintaining most, if not all of the social conservative culture war issues such as opposition to reproductive rights and marriage equality. Indeed, this movement employs the long discredited states’ rights theory of nullification — the notion that any state has the right to ignore any federal court order or law which that state has deemed unconstitutional.

Among the Catholic Rightists beating the drum for nullification are Pat Buchanan, Thomas DiLorenzo, Thomas Fleming and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.  All four advocate states’ rights, a seething resentment of Abraham Lincoln, and as Rachel Tabachnick recently highlighted, Woods is a key member of the pro-secession League of the South, Traditional Catholicism (save possibly DiLorenzo) and Austrian-school, libertarian economics.

Woods is a convert to the type of Catholicism sought by many on the Catholic Right. As such, he is a vocal proponent for a return to a pre-Vatican II mindset. He is extreme in his economic libertarianism as well as secession and nullification.  While nullification has a long and dark history on matters of race in the U.S., it is also looming as an issue for reproductive rights and marriage equality.

It is therefore no surprise that among Woods’ admirers is the influential Opus Dei priest C. John McCloskey. The former Ivy League-Wall Street laissez-faire apostle-turned-prelate has himself ruminated on the appeal of secession to achieve theocracy.  In his infamous futuristic dystopian essay 2030: Looking Backwards he gleefully imagines a violent separation from the United States:

The tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the Faith in North America were indeed the “seed of the Church” as they were in pre-Edict of Milan Christianity. The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize the natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith. With time and the reality of the ever-decreasing population of the states that worship at the altar of “the culture of death,” perhaps we will be able to reunite and fulfill the Founding Fathers of the old United States dream to be “a shining city on a hill.”

What McCloskey describes as “by no means an ideal solution” has a more accurate, more commonly-held description: Treason.

And yet there is more than a hint of hypocrisy in McCloskey’s admiration of Woods – especially his libertarian economic outlook.  Catholic writer Angus Sibely has observed, Woods is a devotee of über-libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard. A closer examination of Rothbard beliefs reveals why this is problematic.

First, Rothbard is the father of anarcho-capitalism, the basis of Woods’ economic philosophy.  It is such an extreme philosophy that even law enforcement and the courts would be privatized; taxation would be replaced by either private payments or insurance settlements. Rothbard is on record saying “the entire theory of labor unions is deeply flawed.” As Angus Sibley explains, it is the very antithesis of Catholic economic teachings:

Most practical methods of reducing inequalities are repugnant to libertarians. Labor unions are hated because they obstruct the worker’s freedom to agree his own contract with his employer. … Redistributive taxation (higher tax rates on higher personal incomes) “is a mode of disguised expropriation of successful capitalists and entrepreneurs” according to Mises, while his admirer Murray Rothbard stated that “Taxation is Robbery” and that “the libertarian favors the right to unrestricted private property and free-exchange”.

Hayek rejected outright the principle of distributive justice: “the results of the individual’s efforts are necessarily unpredictable, and the question of whether the resulting distribution of incomes is just or unjust has no meaning.”  Catholic teaching flatly repudiates such nonsense. Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum, §45) spoke of “a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner”, and he strongly commended (#49) workers’ associations, of which “the most important of all are workingmen’s unions.” John Paul II (Centesimus Annus, §20) observed that “unions… are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people.”

But what is all-too-conveniently glossed over by Woods, McCloskey and others — is Rothbard’s shocking and idiosyncratic view on abortion.  It is a view that is consistent with extreme libertarianism, but is very far from any other pro-choice thought I have ever heard. Rothbard’s view suggests a deep fissure on the conservative spectrum that they would rather we not see.

Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.  [Emphasis added]

We need to understand why Woods and McCloskey’s Neo-Confederate philosophy of nullification and secession is so appealing to some on the Catholic Right so we can not only better answer them, but sharpen the contrast with just alternatives. Those tasks will be tackled in subsequent posts.

Back to Rev. C. John McCloskey’s Dystopian Future

Originally posted at Talk to Action

John McCloskey Recently Talk to Action’s Fred Clarkson authored a very important essay for Religion Dispatches concerning the growing alliance between conservative Evangelical Protestants and some traditionalist Catholics. He focused on Eric Metaxas, the revisionist biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Opus Dei priest to the powerful, C. John McCloskey.

In his essay, Fred discussed McCloskey’s literary vision for the Catholic Church in the year 2030. But while his story appeared to be about a smaller and more strident Church, it also appears to be a broadside against birth control – and by extension, Keynesian economics.

Understanding McCloskey

Rev. C. John McCloskey is the Catholic Right’s culture warrior’s culture warrior. Whether it be economics or religion, he can be fearlessly forceful and controversial. He is well-connected with the politically powerful, having friends such as former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), Kansas Republican governor Sam Brownback, as well as friends on Wall Street such as converts Lawrence Kudlow and Mark Belnick.

In a 2002 piece for Slate, Chris Sullentrop offered a spot-on assessment of McCloskey:

McCloskey is a native Washingtonian, an Ivy Leaguer who graduated from Columbia and a former Wall Streeter who worked at Citibank and Merrill Lynch. As a result, he travels comfortably in elite circles, and his ministry is focused on them: on young priests and seminarians (the intellectual elite in many Catholic communities), on college students at elite universities and “strong countercultural” Catholic institutions, and on “opinion-makers and people of influence.” The self-described supply-sider has a top-down strategy to transform the culture, too. He wants to turn Blue America into Red

But as both Fred Clarkson and I have documented, McCloskey is not a conservative in the mode of Barry Goldwater but a reactionary in the mode of de Maistre. In the early 1990s Catholic students successfully petitioned for him to be removed from the chaplaincy at Princeton University. As the Opus Dei Action Network reported in a story sourced from the Trenton Times, McCloskey counseled students not to take courses given by professors who he defined as “anti-Christian.” His more recent writings scorn non-Christians as “pagans” and openly hint at violent insurrection as a means of achieving political ends while predicting “We will convert those Moslems yet!” A picture emerges of a man who is not merely old-fashioned in his beliefs, but militantly so.

Looking Back from Dystopia

This leads us to one of McCloskey’s most incendiary pieces to date, 2030: Looking Backwards. The writing is in the form of a January 1, 2030 letter to a young pried from a seventy-seven year-old priest named Fr. Charles. It is nothing less than an imagined triumphant manifesto for Opus Dei.

The Catholic reactionary vision would be calamitous for most of the rest of us — particularly Catholics who look to the government to protect them from the hierarchy’s more strident positions on issues such as reproductive rights and stem cell research. Fred Clarkson gave us clear idea of McCloskey’s future vision:

In his original essay, McCloskey’s avatar, Fr. Charles, explained how “the great battles over the last 30 years over the fundamental issues of the sanctity of marriage, the rights of parents, and the sacredness of human life have been of enormous help in renewing the Church and to some extent, society.”

McCloskey’s literary device allows him to avoid openly seditious language, while suggesting that conservative Catholics and allied evangelicals should prepare for civil war. Now a Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, which published his update, McCloskey repeated his vision of “the secession of the ‘Culture of Life’ states from the United States, precipitating a short and bloody civil war that resulted in a collection of the Regional States of America.” He also says that the Church of “2030” was “much smaller… and nary a dissenter to be seen.”

Interwoven throughout the piece are attacks on birth control. Statements such as “You will also note that as a group they [Catholics] are averaging four to five children per family, which means that over the next few decades we will see an increasing natural growth” as well as “We pray that as Europe survived the barbarian invasions of the so called Dark Ages, it will survive its own attempted continental suicide by contraception…” stand out as issues McCloskey specially seems wanted highlighted. If that were to be the case, the question becomes what was the militant priest truly after?

Why 2030?

But why did McCloskey pick the year 2030 as his year from which to look backwards? Was it arbitrary or just a thirty-year point in the future from when the essay was written? Was part of his attack purely against contraception? I suspect that the Opus Dei priest’s choice of dates may have been deliberate and has to do with economics.

First, let’s look back to 1930. It was in that first year of the Great Depression that the British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote his essay The Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren.

In his essay Keynes envisioned a world where only fifteen hours a week of work would be necessary to live the equivalent of a comfortable middle-class life; one in which we led lives full of productive leisure – art, scientific inquiry and civic involvement (not idleness). Capitalism was a necessary but temporal evil that (he hoped) would eventually extinguish itself once everyone was free from want. There would be no Marxian apocalypse, merely transformation. Just a scarcity disappeared as a relevant economic consideration, so to would the need for money-making. It is Keynes’s estimation of when this better world would exist that should sate our interest:

But this [The Great Depression] is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is today.

That would be 2030.

But it is probably the first of four prerequisites of a coming society Keynes described that had to have gotten under McCloskey’s skin:

The pace at which we can reach our destination of economic bliss will be
governed by four things – our power to control population, our determination to
avoid wars and civil dissensions, our willingness to entrust to science the direction of those matters which are properly the concern of science, and the
rate of accumulation as fixed by the margin between our production and our consumption; of which the last will easily look after itself, given the first three. (italics added)

We must remember that McCloskey is a self-described “supply-sider.” And if there is a bogeyman for supply-siders, it is John Maynard Keynes. It was Keynes who stated in his Magnum Opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, “[S]upply creates its own demand in the sense that the aggregate demand price is equal to the aggregate supply price for all levels of output and employment.” In other words, it is demand that needs to be maintained; that, in turn, will take care of supply. Add government intercession through active fiscal policy to the equation and you an anathema to supply-siders. Throw in Keynes’s belief in birth control and you also have the perfect storm for an economic/religious conservative such as McCloskey.

While McCloskey does not directly discuss economics in his 2030 piece, he has elsewhere demonstrated his antipathy to birth control from an economic point of view. Indeed, in a 2011 book review he made an incredible assertion — one repeated by many on the Catholic Right:

Therefore, according to Mueller, both private savings and government insurance will reduce fertility. He also shows the connection between weekly worship and higher fertility. He analyzes marriage in this way: “In a certain sense the spouses are partners in a small business; and to make the most of their house resources, work out a coordination of economic roles.” There is much more, including an empirical analysis showing that halting all abortion would almost immediately solve the problem of the bankruptcy of Social Security, but I will let you discover these fascinating insights on your own.

The assumption that merely by increasing the birth rate that it “would almost immediately solve the problem of the bankruptcy of Social Security” is absolutely absurd. More importantly, McCloskey – who has a degree in economics from Columbia University – must know it.

A study by McCloskey’s Alma Mater points out, “In 2001, close to 2 million children received survivors benefits with the average monthly benefit being $554 per child.” The result of a population burst of the type McCloskey envisions would more likely be a greater strain on Social Security and other safety net programs. After all, more children translates into a greater number of dependents if a parent were to die – a greater probability as the average parent age at birth would be increasing.

There is nothing new about dishonest attacks on Keynesian economics by Opus Dei Catholics. In 2011 I wrote about how the since-resigned head of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti-Tedeschi, not only attacked the eminent British economist on similar grounds but also significantly misrepresented (or misunderstood?) Keynes’s view on saving (he was not opposed to saving, but having it exceed investment).

Can we say for sure that McCloskey was using birth control to attack Keynes? I cannot read his mind — but in rereading McCloskey’s 2030 piece in conjunction with his past statements on ministering to wealthy elites and his other writings, that esoteric jab at Keynes did indeed leap out at me.

But it is where this all leads that is of greater concern. Here is a movement conservative clergyman with powerful connections, and unlike Kenyes, from what I have read from McCloskey over the years, little concern for the economically marginalized. Also unlike Keynes, who was concerned with peaceful transformation, McCloskey is not shy about discussing violence as a means to his dystopic end for society. If that be the case it is the English atheist who lived more Christ-like than this reactionary Catholic priest.

Rick Santorum’s Opus Dei Catholicism

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

In a recent post I explored the influence of the teachings of  Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer on GOP Presidential contender Rick Santorum. I warned that circumstantial evidence and the candidate’s own past statements suggested a strong identification with the secretive, ultra-traditionalist sect, Opus Dei, which Escriva founded.

The Washington Post now confirms much – and a great deal more – of what many of us have suspected all along.

I recently posted about Santorum’s connection to Opus Dei and some of Escriva’s teachings.  He is apparently not a member, but a “cooperator” — a designation for someone who supports the secretive organization’s goals of a more theocratic society built upon a foundation of ultra-orthodox Catholic notions of morality.  I wondered, how far does Santorum’s admiration for Opus Dei’s founder extend to his vision for America?

The Post suggests that the answer is very far indeed. The paper reported, for example, that Opus Dei paid for Santorum’s 2002 trip to Rome for a celebration of Escriva’s 100th birthday. He was accompanied by none other than Opus Dei evangelist, Rev. C. John McCloskey.  The future presidential contender used the occasion to launch his first attack on JFK’s 1960 campaign speech on the separation of church and state.

The Post also surfaces other important aspects of McCloskey’s relationship with the ambitious pol.  For example, “McCloskey enlisted Santorum’s help in converting then-Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to Catholicism.”   The relationship has continued, as Santorum also met with McCloskey the day before last week’s Illinois presidential primary.

In a previous post (here and in The Public Eye , I’ve discussed McCloskey’s divisive nature. He pines for a Church that has eliminated moderate and liberal faithful, who would be replaced by former conservative protestant converts. He further envisions a United States torn asunder by a secessionist movement bent on creating a separate theocracy.

The Post portrays a man who is deeply influenced by the Opus Dei founder:

During Senate debates about abortion, Santorum told the audience in Rome, he hears Escriva telling him that “it is not true that there is opposition between being a good Catholic and serving civil society faithfully.” In his public fight to uphold “absolute truths,” Santorum said, “blessed Josemaria guides my way.”

“‘As long as you are making straight for your goal, head and heart intoxicated with God, why worry… ?'” Santorum said, quoting Escriva, according to a transcript of the speech.

In my last post on this subject, I reviewed several of Escriva’s more troubling teachings – his condescending view of public education; his distrust of liberty and his call for his followers to be secretive about their dealings with Opus Dei.  Perhaps of greatest concern was his admonition that his followers should “Get rid of those scruples that deprive you of peace” – especially in light of Santorum’s gross mischaracterizations of President Obama’s call for Americans to pursue some form of higher education. And then there are Santorum’s repeated attempts to disingenuously paint JFK as a president who had no tolerance for people of faith in the public square.

Santorum is not stupid. He had to have known that president wasn’t being “a snob” about higher education or that the first Catholic president did want to exclude religious principles from public debate.

These are acts of demagoguery, perhaps  made in accordance with Escriva’s admonition to “put aside those scruples.”

Now the Good News

The New York Times reports that Santorum is losing the Republican Catholic vote to the more ideologically amorphous Mitt Romney.

Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has trailed Mr. Romney among Catholics in 10 of the 12 states in which Edison Research conducted exit polls that asked about religion.

With two exceptions, he has lost the Catholic vote by a minimum of 7 percentage points (in Michigan, where Mr. Romney grew up) and by as much as 53 percentage points in Massachusetts, where Mr. Romney was governor. He has even lost among Catholics in the South, although he was nearly tied with Mr. Romney among Catholics in Tennessee and won decisively among Catholics in Louisiana.

Why is that? I suspect that even many socially conservative Catholics are put off by Santorum’s often-strident tone. As one Maryland primary voter told Times  reporter Katherine Seelye, “I feel Governor Romney is more willing to tolerate different views and values, and the president of the United States has to accept and respect the right of every American to believe as they will.”  Perhaps some are put off by Santorum’s rejection of certain Catholic principles. Santorum embraces, for example,  the evangelical notion of creationism, a teaching that the Vatican rejects in favor of evolution.

But while Santorum’s path to the Republican presidential nomination is questionable, he may gain enough support to land a spot on the GOP ticket, or play a role in a Romney administration.

It is, therefore, more than reasonable for voters to ask themselves if they want an Opus Dei cooperator to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Apparently, most Republican Catholic voters, the Catholics who know Santorum and Opus Dei best, have already answered that question for themselves. How the conservative evangelical element of the electorate answers the question, may be different.