dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

The Jesuits Go Another Round With Paul Ryan

It's been a rough year for Republican VP nominee Paul Ryan in his dealings with the Jesuits. (Esquire's Charlie Pierce puts it better---and more colorfully---here.)The latest episode comes courtesy of Vincent Miller in America's fine group blog, "In All Things". Miller listened to the available audio of Paul Ryan's 2005 speech at the Atlas Societys Celebration of Ayn Rand", and made his own partial transcription of portions of the speech that had not previously been transcribed.After listening closely to Ryan's speech, Miller concludes "This philosophy leaves no room for Catholic notions of Government in service to the common good, there is no room for a social conception of the human person. Rejection of Rands atheism notwithstanding, Ryans policies are based on a political philosophy completely at odds with the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine. Prudence is an insufficient measure of his proposals and the threat this philosophy poses to the Catholic faithful."It's far too early for retrospectives about this election season, but it does seem that one small positive outcome is likely to be a growing recognition of the extent to which Chairman Ryan and many Republicans have distanced themselves from the mainstream of Catholic teaching.But, as Miller himself writes, "Dont trust my bullets. Read the transcript. Dont trust my transcript, listen to the audio on the Atlas Society site."

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

If Miller can't imagine any way to fulfill the requirements of Catholic social teaching than a fiscally unsustainable pure government transfer program, then perhaps he needs to cast the net of his imagination a bit more widely.I read the blog post at America. I don't see anything particularly alarming about this Never-Before-Revealed! transcript. Luke, perhaps you could point out specifically what worries you about it.

I'm tired of reading weak analysis like this. Entitled does not equal need. Everyone over 65 is entitled to medicare but they dont all need it, and they certainly dont all need it at the same price. Justice requires that those who are entitled but have the ability to pay more actually pay more. That too is Catholic Social teaching. And that is essentially what Ryan-Wyden proposes. Its perfectly rational and completely Catholic.

I think it's time to look at what Ayn Rand acually says about the merits of selfishness. Here is a tiny part of the celebrated speech of John Galt in her novel Atlas Shrugged. In my opinion it is not absolutely contrary to Christian social teaching, but most of it is. http://amberandchaos.com/?page_id=106From John Galt's speech You have heard it said that this is an age of moral crisis. You have said it yourself, half in fear, half in hope that the words had no meaning. You have cried that mans sins are destroying the world and you have cursed human nature for its unwillingness to practice the virtues you demanded. Since virtue, to you, consists of sacrifice, you have demanded more sacrifices at every successive disaster. In the name of a return to morality, you have sacrificed all those evils which you held as the cause of your plight. You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence to unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need. You have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial. You have sacrificed happiness to duty."So how do we answer the two central/ serious charge 1) that mercy destroys justice and 2) duty destroys happiness? For instance, how do you persuade a kid that he/she can't go to college because the money is needed to pay for another kids medical bills?Let's stick to Ayn Rand for a moment and then get to Paul Ryan. If she can't be answwered persuasively, then neither can he. And remember - there are millions of Americans who are John Galt fans and call themselves virtuous because of it.

Be careful folks as this door swings both ways. If we insist that every political ideology or policy position cohere with Catholic interpretations of social policy, in order for the politician to claim the moniker of Catholics, then does the Magisterium have to provide an imprimatur to a Catholic politician's political stance.I heard Mario Cuomo give, what seemed to me to be, a very credible rationale for supporting policies that legalized abortion while at the same time being a devout Catholic. While his rationale directly contradicted papal teaching on the subject, in the prudential sphere of politics it made sense.I would likely disagree with some of Paul Ryan's views on government role and economics but I can understand, as a Cathoiic, how he might hold that position. for example, I think health care is a basic right and as a result the government should absolutely provide it for its citizens. But I would not accuse someone of infidelity if they had a differing view. As long as the common good, is the the value then we can discuss how to get there.Besides, I also have some disagreements around the Church's understanding of the state and government. I am a bit of a quasi-anarchist in the sense that I believe in local control to the greatest extent possible and am not a fan of big, bloated government.

If Miller cant imagine any way to fulfill the requirements of Catholic social teaching than a fiscally unsustainable pure government transfer program, then perhaps he needs to cast the net of his imagination a bit more widely.Jim,I think you are misunderstanding Ryan's critics. They are not defending "unsustainable pure government transfer programs." No one would defend something unsustainable. It seems to me they are pointing out that, in theory at least, Ryan (or Rand's) philosophy doesn't even allow for a prudently managed, sustainable, adequately funded version of a program like Social Security. It is "collectivist," and Ryan's whole philosophy is individualism (good) versus collectivism (bad). Ryan, as far as I can tell, would oppose Social Security if it was solvent as far as the eye could see, because it is managed by government and it is collectivist. Catholic Social Teaching, it seems to me, is in favor of the government helping when the government can reasonably help, and particularly about the government helping those who can't help themselves. Ryan (and Rand) wants individuals to help themselves, or private charities to help those who can't help themselves. What I find very frustrating is that it was claimed we would have a clearer choice and a clearer debate when Ryan was picked. We have had anything but. Romney and Ryan have not offered anything clear and straightforward. Everyone who is the least bit interested in economic policy knows the current course is unsustainable. Conservatives want everyone to applaud Romney and Ryan for saying the current course is unsustainable, and then offering as vague a plan (for which the numbers do not add up) of their own as possible. It is not enough, when someone critiques the Ryan budget or the Romney plan, to say, "The current course is unsustainable!" Of course it is. Romney and Ryan have to show what course they want the country to take, and what they propose to do if aid to the poor and the elderly really does need to be cut drastically. From my point of view, they haven't done anything approaching that.

Lets stick to Ayn Rand for a momentAnn,I believe it was Aristotle who is quoted as - "seek moderation in all things". Some of John Galts quotes like 'you have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial' suggest the pendulum has swung too far and would not be contrary to CST in that light. Some seem non-sensical - 'You have sacrificed Justice to mercy' - but certainly CST does not hold that injustice can be replaced by mercy. Perhaps I'm just being self-serving but I believe its possible to pick and choose elements of Ayn Rand's philosophy and use them moderately in appropriate circumstances while still living fully 'Love your neighbor...'

" It seems to me they are pointing out that, in theory at least, Ryan (or Rands) philosophy doesnt even allow for a prudently managed, sustainable, adequately funded version of a program like Social Security."I don't know why anyone would go back, read Rand (talk about a penitential practice that a Catholic could do any Friday of the year), and then make some inductive leap that, because a Rand character in a bad novel from 60 years ago said A, therefore the policy of the House Budget Committee Chairman is X. I admire Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, but it doesn't mean that I subscribe to all of their policy choices.It just seems a lot more straightforward to look at Ryan's actual, current policy statements. The 2013 House Budget is here. A cursory glance at it reveals his philosophy regarding Social Security, Medicare and other components of the social safety net.http://paulryan.house.gov/uploadedfiles/pathtoprosperity2013.pdfThe numbers therein certainly are fair game for criticism, as is the strategy for getting the nation where he wants to take it. But it's impossible to claim that he is philosophically opposed to the social safety net. The heart of his proposal is that he wants to preserve it.

and particularly about the government helping those who cant help themselves. David,I think you have substantially mis-read CST. Extrapolating from 1901 of the Catechism, governments should follow the natural law, ensure the fundamental rights of all persons, maintain the public order and seek the common good. There are many ways to help those who can't help themselves including government programs but the RCC would vigorously defend its right to provide that help without any government interference, though it would welcome governmental support.

Jim P., for the sake of argument, let's agree that Ryan "wants to preserve it {the social safety net]." And let's agree that we all ought to live up to the Gospel of "Financial Rectitude" that you have been preaching.The let's try to put a few specifics on the table.For my part, I'd raise revenue in the following way:a. I'd remove the cap on the amount of wages on which people apy Social Security taxes.b. I'd let the Bush 2000 income tax reductions expire.c. I'd eliminate mortgage exemptions for second homes.d. I'd rescind the tax breaks given for ethanol production.e. I'd tax capital gains atthe same rate as income.I'd propose strengthening the safety net in the following ways:a. I'd provide funds for shelter and basic medical care for homeless people.b. I'd fully implement the Affordable Care Act.c. I'd strengthen medicaid by requiring states to cover all qualified needy people who live in their states. This is to avoid the danger of a "race to the bottom."What do you think? What would you put on the table? How would you raise revenue? What would you do to the safety net?Let me admit that I'm no economist. I'm sure that I could not produce an acceptable overall plan. but this is the political season. Let's raise issues that deserve to be talked about.

There are many ways to help those who cant help themselves including government programs but the RCC would vigorously defend its right to provide that help without any government interference, though it would welcome governmental support.Bruce,From Pacem in Terris:

Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of illhealth; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.

Now, if the Catholic Church, or any other private organization, can take care of these rights, then fine. But in real life, government is necessarily going to have to be involved in most of those. That is what Ayn Rand didn't like and I presume what Paul Ryan didn't like.The day private charity takes care of all the needs of the poor, the sick, the disabled, the very young, and the very old, I will be more than happy to see government butt out. But it's not going to happen. I think you are profoundly misreading CST when it comes to the role of government. I have a favorite passage from the Declaration on Procured Abortion:

[I]t is the task of law to pursue a reform of society and of conditions of life in all milieux, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person. Help for families and for unmarried mothers, assured grants for children, a statute for illegitimate children and reasonable arrangements for adoption - a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion.

It is the task of law, not of philanthropists. No one could mistake the above as a passage from Atlas Shrugged on the importance of individualism. I cannot imagine Paul Ryan reading that passage with a straight face, even though he claims to be pro-life!

But in real life, government is necessarily going to have to be involved in most of those.David,I must have missed something because I did not see the word government anywhere in your quote from Pacem in Terris. As your second quote, I think you have overread the role of government since the only item exclusive to government is 'the task of law'. The other items need not flow from the government, but are required for a just society. Several Sources, provides these in NJ for one example. Finally, I would note that subsidiarity suggests that perhaps Washington is not the best place for all these decisions. I guess you and I just disagree on how much government is capable of providing. Here's one real life example:Of course, to acquire food, WCFB needs money. They watch their overhead such that $.97 of each dollar goes to food and food programs, but they still need sources of income. Their annual budget is $3.6 million. Where does their money come from?They receive money from the state, but, given a bad economy, budget deficits, and less tax revenue, this amount has been cut $142,000 over the past three years and is now at $300,000.The same is true from the federal government where the amount has been reduced from just over $100,000 to just under $10,000.They do fundraising throughout the year, often in conjunction with local business.Private donations make up the rest. They are a mixture of a lot of people donating small amounts of money, and a small amount of people donating a lot of money.The full article is herehttp://catholicmoraltheology.com/what-does-it-take-to-feed-the-hungry/

What's odd about Paul Ryan's position is that he seemed to assert that his stance on government NOT assisting the poor springs from his Catholic faith. It is one thing to believe there are different channels to meet our obligation to the poor, but saying that government NOT helping them is the only way to go is at least as screwy as saying government assistance is the only way to go.And I'm a little disconcerted by a candidate for public office claiming that Ayn Rand had a transformative effect on him. It reminds me of a former Vice President saying Ferris Bueller's Day Off was his favorite movie. It's just not something you expect a grown-up to say in public.

"It is one thing to believe there are different channels to meet our obligation to the poor, but saying that government NOT helping them is the only way to go is at least as screwy as saying government assistance is the only way to go."Irene --You've hit the nail on the head!!! (I love Ferris Bueller too. It's about the human spirit and the lovability of individuals, besides being about the neglected virtue of hope. Bon jour, Irene:-)

I take that last bit back. I think I'm thinking of a different movie.

See Miller on B16 and "Redistribution": http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/blog.cfm?blog_id=2

Thanks all, for the comments. As happens with delightful frequency here, the comment thread is more interesting and illuminating than the initial post.To clarify my own remarks a bit, I didn't find anything particularly new, surprising or worrisome about the additional information from Cong. Ryan's Atlas Society speech. (It largely confirms what we already knew.) I think that the distance between his statements about Social Security and Medicare in that speech and, say, his most recent budget proposals affecting those programs, reflects the fact that he's a politician, and a politician with growing power. (That's not a criticism; in a republic like ours, it's entirely appropriate and expected for our politicians to negotiate and compromise from their starting beliefs.)What I do sense shifting is the once-common assumption that liberal American Catholics are the "cafeteria Catholics". While that might have been the default position, say, 25 years ago, today the view that "we are all cafeteria Catholics" in increasingly the norm.Ryan's rise to prominence and the reactions to his philosophical, religious and political views and actions is the most prominent example of that shift in the current election season.

"Justice requires that those who are entitled but have the ability to pay more actually pay more. "Bruce --Too simple. What justice requires is that each pay his/her fair share. Consider now that the American health care system is an *insurance* system, or it's supposed to be. We're supposed to be splitting the costs of the total system and thereby individually avoiding the risk of humongous costs for some individuals. But suppose (as seems to happen in the U. S.) the total cost of the system in fact exceeds the total of the premiums taken in, Then you should not complain that some of the members could afford to pay more of the actual total cost of the system. All the individuals, including the well-off, have already paid their agreed upon fair share.The solution is not to have the well-off insured get less from the agreed upon health system or have them pay more into it, but to have them pay more taxes.In other words, we all should have the same rights and duties within the insurance system. If the system ends up more expensive than the premiums can cover, then higher taxes are needed. And this is where those who are better off should pay more, same as with other costs of government -- each pays according to ability.