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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. 

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Why pass over for now (Professor Garnetts) suggestion that the statement is partisan? It is undeniably a partisan statement by a group of liberals. As Garnett states in the conclusion of his post: "In my view, a statement that aspires to be more than a partisan, day-before-the-debate intervention -- a statement that sees our "common good" as "endangered" and the unity and integrity of the Church's social teaching as being misunderstood -- would frame the "moment" as one in which both tickets include a Catholic. It would, in addition to what this statement says, note to "liberal"-leaning Catholics attracted to the Democrats' social-welfare-spending policies that the Democrats' commitments and policies on abortion, religious liberty, and school choice -- and, for that matter, an indifference to the burdens we are imposing on future generations through our current spending practices -- are inconsistent with the unity of the Church's social teaching about the 'common good.' "

FYI, Here is an excerpt from a NY Times Op-Ed which gives a radically different perspective.Each year, American taxpayers spend nearly $1 trillion trying to help the poor, according to a recent study by the Cato Institute. Its easy to miss that headline number, though, because the money flows into and out of scores of federal, state and local government programs....But for now, lets use that $1 trillion figure to ask a broader question: Are we spending this money in truly the best way to help the poor?Consider a thought experiment: Divide $1 trillion by 46 million and you get around $21,700 for each American in poverty, or nearly $87,000 for a family of four. Thats almost four times the $23,050 per year federal poverty line for that family. Its intriguing to think about converting all of this to a cash payment that would instantly lift everyone in poverty up to the middle class.Whole article here

"It is undeniably a partisan statement by a group of liberals."Some of the signatories would be quite surprised to hear themselves described as liberals, or partisans of the Democratic party.

Nothing partisan about Professor Garnett?He is one of the 10 consultors to the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty along with- Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus, who had served in various positions of the Executive Office of the President of the U.S. during the during the administration of Ronald Reagan.- Mary Ann Glendon, professor, Harvard Law School, who was appointed as United States Ambassador to the Holy See 2008 -2009 by George W. Bush and is a vocal Romney supporter. - Judge Michael McConnell, professor, Stanford University Law School, who was nominated by President George W. Bush to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush and was thought to be a potential nominee to the Supreme Court during the administration of President George W. Bush.- Philip Lacovara, attorney, who was appointed by President Reagan to the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission.- Father Raymond J. de Souza, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario (Canada) and a columnist, who writes for the National Review.

Helen --I read an article on a very conservative blog the other day (yes, I read people I disagree with), and one of the main points was that the author hoped that Carl Anderson would run for President.This is how movements start sometimes. Be forewarned :(

Nothing partisan about Professor Garnett?Helen,Sure, but there are at least two sides to every story. Neither has a monopoly on the truth.

Not a big fan of metaphorical or rhetorical excommunication (left or right).Besides, the American culture itself IS individualistic. That is the unique feature of American culture versus European culture. Most European countries were heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic church and had monarchies. The US is a creature of strains of thought from the Enlightenment (speaking of uneasy bedfellows with Thomistic philosophy !!!!) and is emphatically not a monarchy, it is a constitutional republic founded on limited government and enumerated powers.In Canada, it was not unusual to have Catholic leaders of the political parties with wildly divergent ideologies (Liberal, Progressive Conservative, NDP, and Bloc Qubcois). This is also the case in Europe. The US is unique in that, paradoxically, notwithstanding the official policy of religious neutrality if not indifference in the constitution, these questions become part of the electoral process.

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