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Neuhaus on Pro Life Progressivism

Father Neuhaus has some interesting comments on a symposium issue of the University of St. Thomas Law Journal on the topic of "The Future of Pro-Life Progressivism" in the December 2006 issue of First Things at 71-72. While generally dismissive of the papers and of the very concept of "pro-life progressivism," he was kind enough to refer to me as among "the more thoughful participants," for which I am grateful. But, I did not escape unscathed! One of the points I made in my paper was that the old Catholic Democratic vote had disappeared (this was written in 2005), and I tried to explain some of the reasons. The first reason I proferred "was the Republican Party's enormous success in forging an iron link between race and taxes-- i.e., paying high taxes came to mean spending money on undeserving and threatening black people," and that this "tore white ethnic Catholics, now largely middle class or at least lower middle class, away from the Democratic Party and its tax-and-spend, race-coddling liberals." Father Neuhaus takes me to task for this argument, asking whether I "really want to stand by [this]...reason," because "[i]t is a terrible thing to suggest about Catholics, that once they were non-poor they no longer cared about the poor." Moreover, "resentment of undeserving and threatening black people does sound like liberal-talk for racism." I am befuddled as to why Father Neuhaus is surprised and apparently offended by this argument. It was no original argument on my part to point out how the Republican linkage of race and taxes undermined not only the Democratic vote, but solidarity between the middle class (including white Catholic ethnics--"Reagan Dems") and the poor. Thomas Byrne Edsall's "Chain Reaction:The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics," makes this point beyond dispute, at least in my opinion. Catholics in that group may have "cared about the poor" at the level of private charity, but Republican pandering to and exploitation of their resentments about welfare, affirmative action etc.(almost exclusively associated with blacks) and their own economic insecurities, had the effect of exacerbating class divisions that was indeed frankly racist. I didn't think I was engaging in "liberal-talk" in my discussion of this -- I assumed it was entirely obvious that I was talking about racist politics. In any event, I would be interested in seeing an someone try to argue that one of the key elements in the alienation of Catholics from the Democratic Party and progressive politics in general was NOT race. Of course, I know that the other big issue was abortion -- I discussed that at length in my piece, so no one needs to remind me of that here -- I am simply focusing on the race issue in response to Father Neuhaus' critique. In any event, Father Neuhaus raises other points about the papers and the concept of pro-life progressivism, but that is a topic for another post.


Commenting Guidelines

Have you considered that perhaps many Catholics began to vote Republican *because* of their concern for the poor?

I deleted the post mlj is responding to by Bill Mazzella, because it contained needless ad hominem. I am leaving mlj's comment because it contains interesting information about him.

Then let us proceed more mannerly, mlj. Can you give more details about how you might have agreed with the substance of my post, if not the heat involved.

I can only report on my own considered thoughts and those close to me who think similarly, which may or may not include a raft of econ PhD's from the world's leading department. You have responded with ridicule, rhetorical graffiti and cluttered prose. Perhaps if your posts were less like bulletins on your current emotional state and more propositional we could proceed more mannerly.

From the Volokh Conspiracy here is Jim Lindgren's summary of his recent paper touching on redistribution and race. It claims that those who favor income redistribution are more likely to express racist views. This paper won't settle anything but likewise I believe that to claim Edsall makes his contrary point beyond dispute is more than a little exaggerated."I begin by showing that respondents who express traditionally racist views (on segregation, interracial marriage, and inborn racial abilities) tend to support greater income redistribution. "The data are broadly inconsistent with the standard belief in the social psychology literature that anti-redistributionist views are positively associated with racism. The results are a problem for the academic assumption that opposing income redistribution indicates hostility toward other groups and a desire to dominate them."

I think Neuhaus was annoyed because you hit upon a major flaw in the way he and his cohorts think. In their logic, they confuse the non-negotiability of abortion as an issue, with the "negotiability" of voting for a pro-abortion politician. I am convinced that those who promoite this view simply refuse to acknowledge some basic points from moral philosophy, because they are blinkered by their ideological attachment to the Republican party.You should have a look at the fascinating debate over torture that is going on at Jimmy Akin's blog. As is well known, Jimmy is one of the guys behind the infamous Catholic Answers voter guides. Many us of have been harping for months now about why torture was not a sixth non-negotiable principle, given that it admitted no exceptions and was a major issue in current US political debate. For months, these guys just ignored the issue. And when Akin responded, he did so in a completely amateurish way, surprising given his demonstrated expertise and acumen. He basically said that torture was only intrinsically evil if it involved the disproportionate use of pain. He then went on to defend waterboarding in a ticking bomb scenario, if no lesser pain would suffice to extract a confession. Wow. Talk about proportionalism and consequentialism. Fortunately, a blogger named Zippy shot straight through this argument, recalling Veritatis Splendour. He noted that an intrinsically evil act is evil in its object, and cannot be justified by appeal to intent or circumstance. In other words, defending waterboarding on these grounds is no different from saying abortion is justified if some good comes of it (a better life for the woman) or saying Truman was right to drop those nuclear weapons because it saved untoward lives. But somebody like Akin would know all this. To me, this is telling. The attempt by some Catholics to justify support for Republicans can go to great lengths, and leans toward intellectual dishonesty.Back to abortion. Mark-- your essay on pro-life progressivism was one that really helped me crystallize my thoughts on this topic. Thank you! Of course, the elementary error lies in assuming that voting for a person who supports abortion is akin to voting for abortion. In fact, many factors come into play, such as: will the person have any impact on abortion legislation? even if Roe is overturned, will that reduce abortion rates? What if the pro-abortion candidate will enact economic and healthcare policies that would serve to lower abortion rates? What's more, what if in voting for the pro-life candidate, we get nothing on abortion, but a whole host of other evils that would not otherwise have come about (torture, for example)? How would Neuhaus and other address this?I've made these arguments in many venues many times. Christopher Decker has written a really nice paper, showing how this fits into the classic theory of double effect. His logic is impeccable! Even Cardinal Ratzinger, in his infamous letter to Cardinal McCarrick in 2004, noted that voting for a pro-abortion candidate can be no more than remote material cooperation, and is allowed for proporionate reasons. Exactly! But the other side then goes on to argue the only licit proportionate reason is if there are no pro-life candidates on the ballot. They even argue that public advocacy of abortion is itself so great an evil that it can never be supported. Now, I don't know about you, but I worry more about actions and policies than words. More broadly, this reasoning is alien to traditional moral philosophy (as evidenced by the principle of double effect), showing again that this group will go to great lengths to justify their support for Republicans. Sorry for rambling on for so long!

"More broadly, this reasoning is alien to traditional moral philosophy (as evidenced by the principle of double effect), showing again that this group will go to great lengths to justify their support for Republicans. ""That is the whole point and what makes them truly dangerous. It is narrowing the gospel to anti-abortion, anti-gays, pro-war, patriarchy and anti-woman. All proposed as a matter of national law in America.Many respected conservative are up in arms about this outrageous behavior. Rightly so.