Over the past fifty years, increasing numbers of American Catholics have abandoned the economic positions associated with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and chosen to embrace the principles of economic freedom and limited government: ideals upheld by Ronald Reagan and the Tea Party movement but also deeply rooted in the American Founding. This shift, alongside America’s growing polarization around economic questions, has generated fierce debates among Catholic Americans in recent years. Can a believing Catholic support free markets? Does the Catholic social justice commitment translate directly into big government? Do limited government Catholic Americans have something unique to contribute to the Church’s thinking about the economic challenges confronting all Catholics around the globe?
In Tea Party Catholic, Samuel Gregg draws upon Catholic teaching, natural law theory, and the thought of the only Catholic Signer of America’s Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton—the first “Tea Party Catholic”—to develop a Catholic case for the values and institutions associated with the free economy, limited government, and America’s experiment in ordered liberty. Beginning with the nature of freedom and human flourishing, Gregg underscores the moral and economic benefits of business and markets as well as the welfare state’s problems. Gregg then addresses several related issues that divide Catholics in America. These include the demands of social justice, the role of unions, immigration, poverty, and the relationship between secularism and big government.
Above all, Gregg underlines how economic freedom’s corrosion in America is undermining the United States’ robust commitment to religious liberty—a principle integral not only to the American Founding and the life of Charles Carroll but also the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. As a creative minority, Gregg argues, limited government Catholics can help transform the wider movement to reground the United States upon the best insights of the American Experiment—and thereby save that Experiment itself.
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Tea Party Catholic
The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing
By Samuel Gregg
The Crossroad Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2013 Samuel Gregg
All rights reserved.
Catholic and Free
We consider the establishment of our nation's independence, the shaping of its liberties and laws as a work of special Providence, its framers "building better than they knew, the Almighty's hand guiding them." And if ever the glorious fabric is subverted or impaired, it will be by men forgetful of the sacrifices of the heroes that reared it, the virtues that cemented it, and the principles on which it rests.
The Catholic bishops of the United States, Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, 1893
On October 15, 1774, the ship Peggy Stewart owned by the Annapolis mercantile company of Dick and Stewart sailed into the harbor of Annapolis in the colony of Maryland, carrying with it a cargo of tea. On arriving, the ship's owner paid the tax then applied by Britain to importations of tea to its American colonies in accordance with the Tea Act of May 1773.
This law was intended to avert bankruptcy of the East India Company which had lobbied the British Parliament to exempt it from the tea import duties which its colonial competitors were required to pay. As if this was not enough, the Company was also granted the privilege of being allowed to ship its tea directly to agents in America instead of placing its tea on open auction in Britain. The Company was thus able to undercut American merchants who were required to purchase tea by the regular process of passing through the higher-taxed British controls.
Leaving aside the inherent injustice of using state power to privilege one commercial enterprise over others, the political point of this exercise was to elicit the American colonists' implicit agreement to the British Parliament's right to tax the American colonies. This at least was how it was understood by those American colonists who were increasingly incensed at what they regarded as a pattern of repression against His Majesty's subjects in British North America.
Opposition to what many Americans viewed as the British government's latest arbitrary act was especially fierce in Maryland. Few were more outspoken in their opposition than one of its leading public figures, Charles Carroll of Carrollton. "It will not do," Carroll insisted, "to export the tea to Europe or the West Indies. Its importation is an offense for which the people will not be so easily satisfied."
Carroll was no man of violence. He was disconcerted by some of the Boston Tea Party's radical undertones and subsequently worried about the potential for anarchy and disorder that is part of any revolution. Such qualms did not, however, prevent Carroll from proposing that the owner of the Peggy Stewart, Anthony Stewart, make amends — and save his own skin — by burning not just the tea but also his ship!
Even some of Carroll's equally angry contemporaries were taken aback by the strength of Carroll's convictions on this matter. They would have been less surprised had they known that after Britain's imposition of the Stamp Act seven years earlier, Carroll had warned his English friends that "The Americans are jealous of their privileges and resolved to maintain them." And as if seeking to provoke his correspondents in the mother country, Carroll added that the Americans "are not yet corrupt enough to undervalue Liberty, they are truly sensible of its blessings, and not only talk of them as they do somewhere else, but really wish their continuance."
A Signer Unlike the Others
Though most often remembered as the last Signer of the Declaration of Independence to depart this world, Charles Carroll was also distinguished by the fact that he was its sole Roman Catholic signatory. But long before most of the other Signers and Founders, Carroll had concluded America should be free. "In time," he said in 1763, "it will and must be independent."
In signing the Declaration, Carroll arguably put more at risk, at least materially, than any other member of the Revolutionary generation. At the time, he was probably the richest man in America. As well as inheriting considerable wealth from his equally-entrepreneurial father, Carroll proved to be an extremely able businessman in his own right, increasing the family fortune several times over. A defeat of the Revolution may well have resulted in the government's confiscation of the fruits of his family's business acumen.
Nevertheless the cause of liberty meant so much to Carroll that he was willing to back what must have seemed to be a forlorn endeavor to many at the time. But Carroll had always embraced the deeper meaning of his family's motto: Ubicumque cum libertate: "Anywhere so long as There Be Freedom." This devotion to freedom — and what he was willing to put at stake — was noticed by many of Carroll's fellow revolutionaries. Speaking of Carroll, the man who would be America's second president, John Adams, remarked: "In the cause of American liberty, his zeal, fortitude and perseverance have been so conspicuous that he is said to be marked out for particular vengeance by the friends of Administration; but he continues to hazard his all, his immense fortune, the largest in America, and his life."
Unlike the other Signers, however, Carroll and his family knew in a particular way what it meant to have one's liberty violated. Until the 1770s, Carroll was formally barred from voting or holding public office in Maryland because of his Catholic faith. Carroll also knew that, unlike the other revolutionary leaders, his Catholicism made him especially suspect to the British government (and more than a few of his fellow revolutionaries). In their minds, Catholicism was still associated with papist disloyalty to a Protestant crown in an overwhelmingly Protestant British Empire.
Another feature distinguishing Carroll from his fellow patriots was his reasons for making his stand for freedom. All of Carroll's biographers affirm that his political and economic thought was influenced by his Catholicism, by what the Catholic Church's greatest minds had said about the nature and limits of government, and by the Church's long history of resisting the incursions of temporal power into its affairs. Carroll was quite aware that the Catholic Church had always insisted that the state had certain legitimate functions. Yet the same Church also maintained — and continues to do so — that there were bounds beyond which governments cannot go.
The limits of state power vis-à-vis the rights of individuals and communities were central to the events leading to and following the American Revolution. The sources to which America's Founders turned in explaining their choice to embark upon a new experiment in ordered liberty were diverse. They ranged from classical figures associated with the Roman Republic, to philosophers such as John Locke who had helped shape England's revolution of 1688. The language and ideas employed by many of these figures when discussing questions of liberty, property, and the nature of government was not, however, completely dissimilar from that of the Catholic tradition. All belong, after all, to what is often called the Western canon of ideas.
Notwithstanding these similarities, the Catholic position in favor of limited government and the free economy does differ in important ways from pre-Christian and post-Enlightenment schools of thought. These disparities owe much to Catholicism's specific understanding of the nature of human freedom. For Catholics, human freedom is grounded in what man is — an individual, sinful, and social being graced with reason and free will — and directed to what Benedict XVI called in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, "integral human development," or what some Catholic moral theologians and philosophers describe as "integral human flourishing."
This is the distinct contribution that Catholics can bring to the much needed renewal of the movement for economic freedom and limited government throughout America: a deeper and coherent understanding of why freedom really matters, including in the economy. More specifically, they can demonstrate that:
Entrepreneurship, economic liberty, and the market economy are not simply more efficient than the alternatives; they also create tremendous opportunities for human flourishing.
A highly economically-activist state is not just economically ineffective but also tends to damage the moral culture and undermines human flourishing.
There are better ways for Americans to realize their concrete obligations to those in need than large welfare states (not least through churches and other intermediate associations), and in a manner which contributes to the integral development of those being assisted.
A robust conception of religious liberty is essential for human flourishing and limiting government power — including in economic life.
The market economy and the ideal of limited government are more reliant on a strong civil society, intact families, and a robust moral culture than many people realize.
These are just some of the specifically Catholic and sometimes corrective glosses that limited-government Catholics can help to integrate into the broad movement for freedom in America. It cannot, however, be repeated enough: the coherence of these positions stands or falls upon the Catholic conception of human flourishing, and its subsequent meaning for the free choices and actions of individuals and communities as well as what Catholics call the common good.
Human Liberty, Human Flourishing
The idea of human flourishing is as old as Aristotle. It also finds resonance in the aspirations contained in the immortal phrase, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." But what is the Catholic conception of human flourishing? And how does it relate to human freedom?
The beginnings of an answer are to be found in the Church's specific understanding of the nature of liberty. Right from the beginning of Christ's ministry, freedom was seen in terms of man's liberation from sin and his free submission to the one who sets us free: Jesus Christ. The New Testament attests to this over and over again. "For freedom," Saint Paul proclaims, "Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1).
The same conception of liberty is at the heart of Saint Augustine's great work The City of God: "the good man, although he is a slave, is free; but the bad man, even if he reigns, is a slave, and that not of one man, but, what is far more grievous, of as many masters as he has vices." Of all the Roman pontiffs, the medieval pope Gregory VII perhaps did more than any other to help secure the Church's freedom (libertas ecclesiae) from the princes of this world. Nevertheless Gregory affirmed that full freedom in the Christian sense can only be realized through the freedom of life in the Lord in eternity.
This understanding of freedom differed from the idea of liberty articulated by particular pagan writers whose influence is still felt today. The Roman philosopher Cicero, for instance, understood freedom as being able to live as one wishes. Yet the difference between his position and that of Catholicism should not be exaggerated. Cicero also viewed the attachment to freedom as something that distinguished people like his fellow Romans from barbarians. In that sense, Cicero also associated freedom with civilized people: the implication being that civilized people don't do whatever they want whenever they want to. Instead they seek to offer reasons for their choices that go beyond the "because I just felt like it" argument of adolescents seeking to justify themselves to disapproving parents.
Pope Leo XIII is perhaps most famous for inaugurating the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching with his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. Rather fewer people know that the same pope devoted an entire encyclical to the subject of freedom. Published in 1888, Libertas Praestantissimum (On the Nature of Liberty) stressed the Church's recognition that the widespread yearning for freedom that seemed so characteristic of modernity was something that the Church had always affirmed. God had made man free. This meant that the Church did not see freedom as a feature of life to be simply tolerated. The very first sentences of Libertas begin by insisting that liberty is the "highest of natural endowments."
Such an explicit affirmation of freedom by a pope living in the modern world was important for two reasons. First, it represented an effort by the Church to demonstrate that a concern for freedom was not somehow the exclusive property of the French Revolution, its Enlightenment progenitors, and their nineteenth-century liberal (and usually anti-Catholic) offspring. The Church, Leo wanted to make clear, was not an enemy of freedom. Second, it allowed the Church to enter into contemporary debates about the nature of liberty: an engagement that involved affirming particular modern insights but also offering necessary amplifications, correctives, and, when necessary, rebuttals.
Libertas particularly stressed that liberty was in no way to be equated with license: that is, a freedom detached from man's natural capacity for reason. Through reason, Leo affirmed, humans could know the truth about themselves, the natural world, and good and evil. With the aid of grace, human reason was thus able to free human beings from error and ignorance as they sought to freely orient their will, know these truths and integrate them into their lives through their free choices and free actions.
Over the past fifty years, these and related matters have been particularly explored by many Catholic minds, especially popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. One reason for this attention has been the very real threat to liberty emanating from sources such as Marxism-Leninism and radical jihadism. But many Catholics have also engaged these questions because they believe that most modern conceptions of liberty which prevail today — including those present throughout much of America — are inadequate because they don't do justice to the human person and his or her potential for excellence or the intimate connection between freedom and truth.
Called to Willfulness?
Strong conceptions of human flourishing are rarely invoked by many self-described modern people when they celebrate autonomy and individuality. Instead the idea of liberty is often subsumed into a juxtaposition of two visions of man.
One is the notion of the sovereign individual whose identity is largely to be found in his exercise of the will. The ends he chooses are not so important, provided they bring him pleasure rather than pain. More significant is the fact that this individual embodies rights to choose. This entails his liberation from as many constraints as possible in order to pursue whatever he finds pleasurable. The supposed contrast with this rather hedonistic conception of human beings is a vision of people as creatures essentially bound by obligations to others to whom they must simply submit: their families, civil associations, religious communities, and the state, among others.
These understandings of freedom are often traced back to early and late Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke, Hume, and Rousseau, not to mention nineteenth-century figures such as Hegel and Nietzsche. In truth, they enjoy a far longer pedigree; one that was present in the world of the ancient Greeks but which manifested itself with particular force in the writings of certain medieval theologians, most notably the Oxford Franciscan William of Ockham.
Much ink has been spilled, most notably by the Dominican moral theologian, the late Servais-Théodore Pinckaers, on the manner in which Ockham reshaped the world of ideas in the West. Ockham died in 1347. But it is difficult to downplay the influence of Ockham's conception of freedom as simply the neutral factor of choice that comes about when I exercise my will. Ockham's vision of freedom is not one of a will guided by reason toward the good. To Ockham's mind, freedom is simply liberty to choose. What I choose — what Catholic thinkers call the "object" of one's choice — is more or less irrelevant. What really matters is that I choose.
Excerpted from Tea Party Catholic by Samuel Gregg. Copyright © 2013 Samuel Gregg. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Catholic and Free 33
Chapter 2 An Economy of Liberty 57
Chapter 3 Solidarity, Subsidiarity, and the State 97
Chapter 4 The First Freedom 129
Chapter 5 But What About…? 159
Chapter 6 A Patriotic Minority 193