Pre-debate reading material.
Or maybe during, depending on how boring it is. Yesterday, more than one hundred Catholic theologians, scholars, and ministersreleased a statement called "On All of Our Shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good." (Kind of a mouthful, right? I'm calling it "Don't Need No Shrugs" for short. Feel free to use that.) The list of signatories -- Commonwealcontributors like Sidney Callahan, Cathleen Kaveny, Peter Steinfels-- is impressive and, as Michael Sean Winters notes at the end of his comment on the text, impressively diverse. What's their point?
We write to hold up aspects of the Church's social doctrine that are profoundly relevant to the challenges our nation faces at this moment in history, yet are in danger of being ignored. At a moment when the ideas of Atlas Shrugged influence public debate and policy, we write to proclaim the Catholic truth that the stewardship of common good rests upon all of our shoulders together.(...)Congressman Paul Ryan's candidacy for Vice President brings the threat of this social philosophy home to the Church. We do not question Paul Ryan's faith. We are concerned however, that defenders of Ryan have gone beyond highlighting the aspects of Catholic moral teaching with which his political positions are laudably consistent, to argue that his Ayn Rand "inspired" individualist and anti-government vision and the policies they inform are themselves legitimately Catholic. They are not.
Be sure to read the rest of the statement. It's firmly grounded in Catholic tradition (Aquinas makes an appearance), Scripture (see "the least of these"), and papal teaching (both John Paul II and Benedict XVI feature in the argument). The authors wield Catholic teaching to critique the libertarian notion that society can be reduced "toa collection of individuals," which shrinks "the common good to fit the outcomes achievable by private, for-profit firms."Over at Mirror of Justice, Rick Garnett claims the authors have exaggerated the extent to which Paul Ryan is influenced by Rand-style libertarianism. (We'll pass over for now his suggestion that the statement is partisan.) Yet, as the authors note, Ryan has spoken at length about Rand's influence on his policies, going so far as to say that he checks his "premises" against her novelAtlas Shrugged,"so that I know that what I'm believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism." Individualism, of course, is something popes have been teaching against for quite some time. The statement cites, for example, John Paul II: "Blessed John Paul II described 'individualism' as a dimension of the 'Culture of Death' arising from an 'eclipse of the sense of God.'... Again, in the words of John Paul II, 'We are all really responsible for all.'" So, yes, when Ryan trumpets his devotion to Rand's social philosophy (but, not, it must be said, her well-known militant atheism), he is flirting with a way of viewing the person that is dramatically at odds with the Catholic tradition.But don't take my word for it. Read the whole thing. And then come back at 9 p.m. for our debate-watching party/open thread.