Friday, January 18, 2008

Deep question for a cold Friday

Lawprof Rob Vischer, writing over at the incomparable Mirror of Justice, asks conservatives a good question. Using as his starting point, a statement from Rush Limbaugh on his personal desire to be independent from other persons. Rush said, although not everyone can do it, more people can that that's what conservatism is. Vischer asks us:

I understand -- and agree with, in many contexts -- conservatism's skepticism toward government as the most effective provider for human needs. But Rush seems to be taking that skepticism to another level, turning it into a principle that stands in direct conflict with the nature of the human person, as expressed through the ideas of solidarity, reciprocity, subsidiarity, and the common good. I know there are many different currents within the mighty conservative river, and so I'm likely to get many different answers, but let me try to simplify the question: is Rush disconnected from mainstream American conservatism, or is mainstream American conservatism disconnected from an authentic understanding of the human person?

There follows an interesting discussion among MOJ's contributors. I am inclined to agree with Rick Garnett who doubts that Limbaugh is stating a sophisticated, anthropological point.

But Vischer's question is still very important. Let's take the anthropological view of Professor Garnett (who I think can fairly be described as a conservative):

We [Catholics] have . . . an alternative vision to propose, one that turns the received anthropology on its head, one that emphasizes not so much our autonomy and moral self-sufficiency as our dependence and incompletion. After all, the fact that freedom of choice is a gift, and even that its value is “inestimable,” does not make it the only valuable thing; that we are distinguished by our capacity for choice does not mean that our dignity is reducible to that capacity. We are not merely agents who choose; we are people who belong, who exist in and are shaped by relationships. We live less in a state of self-sufficiency than in one of “reciprocal indebtedness;” A Christian anthropology acknowledges our limits.

I think that he has it right but of course this informs, rather than decides, our policy debates. Recognizing human interdependence does not mean that human persons ought not to be held to some measure of individual responsibility. Indeed, living into this relationship of reciprocal indebtedness and radical regard for others may well require it. Acknowledging how we live in relationship does not really tell us to what extent those relations need to be managed coercively - from the top down - by government. Understanding that human dignity lies in more than the capacity to choose may have some implications for social policy that are more identified with American conservatism than liberalism.

But - at least for Christian conservatives (and my impression is that Jewish and perhaps other theologies have the same implications), shouldn't this understanding of humanity must remain at the heart of our thinking?

In any event, Professor Vischer will be presenting a work in progress to the Marquette law faculty later this semester. I look forward to that.


Anonymous said...

Great post Rick.

There is a reason I don't subscribe to any orthodoxy. I see your conundrum of trying remain true to the traditions of your faith while supporting the contemporary conservative movement. I don't see how it can be done. Especially in light of some of pope JP II's comments.

''Unemployment that is not the fault of the unemployed becomes a social scandal when available work is not distributed fairly and the profit of the work is not used to create new work for as many possible. "

There is a third way. You don't have to be right or left. We live in a post modern society. We are free to blend different traditions together and make them our own. It is the American way.

Dad29 said...

Some light can be found here:

Hauerwas' comments were excerpted; maybe the full item is still available at First Things.

Yes, Limbaugh's declarations on "American Exceptionalism," (inter alia) are a bit disturbing.

G K Chesterton's 'Distributism,' although opaque, is also on point.

The 'solidarity'/'individualism' debate has a great deal to do with Calvinism's take on Original Sin. The very brief (and not nuanced) take: Calvin's view that man is a wretch who does not DESERVE salvation runs counter to Catholicism's view that man, while not DESERVING salvation, is offered same by the Love of God (Christ.)

This played out in inter-personal (economic, e.g.) relationships; thus the "what's mine is MINE" mindset of some--which is, to be kind, an incomplete read of salvation history.

On the other hand, Catholicism does not reject personal responsibility in the least. The Church recognizes, however, that one must 'convert and repent' to be saved.

To Calvin, such 'convert and repent' stuff was not particularly germane.

Dad29 said...

By the way, properly defined, "conservatism" is more Burkean.

Dad29 said...

Also see Neumayr's comments on the Huckabee/ster antipathy, excerpted here:

Huckabee, while a philosophical descendant of Calvin & Co., gives Neumayr a chance to take on the follies of the "right."

Amy said...

Acknowledging how we live in relationship does not really tell us to what extent those relations need to be managed coercively - from the top down - by government.

This is the crux of the argument.

JPII would not have endorsed communism or socialism (both very anti-religious and something JPII fought against in Poland and elsewhere), or the government's forcible redistribution of one's resources to another person.

The Church does not punish or ridiclue those who have earned a good living, own nice homes, drive nice cars. Indeed, the Church calls on all individuals to be personally responsible and work with dignity and respect - and it calls on members of the Church to donate and provide charity for those who fall on hard times.

And, in fact, those who identify as practicing Christians (of all denominations) are those who give the most to charity.

Those who make their unemployment or financial struggles of their own doing (irresponsible behavior, irresponsible spending) still deserve respect, but also tough love - the "teach a man to fish" approach.

There are a few things in the modern conservative movement that are incompatable with my faith. But that does not make them mutually exclusive.