EWTN Bookmark – 5/17/2015 – RECLAIMING CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING

By | September 4, 2019


[♪] Doug: And welcome once again to EWTN’s “Bookmark.” I’m Doug Keck, your host. Our guest author is Dr. Anthony Esolen, author of “Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching: A Defense of the Church’s True Teachings On Marriage, Family and the State.” Great to have you back here. It’s been about… Anthony: Hi Doug. It’s great to be back. Doug: 5, 5 years I think since we’ve. Anthony: Has it been? Doug: Been, we did the “Bookmarks” originally when we traveled through the “Divine Comedy and with Dante and “Ironies of Faith,” the other book you wrote. What’s your day job when you’re not appearing on EWTN’s programs? Anthony: My day job is to teach great kids at Providence College. It’s a Dominican College in Providence, Rhode Island. Doug: The Friars. Anthony: The Friars, yeah. Doug: That’s right. Anthony: Friars who got bumped out of the tournament. Doug: Right. Years ago, Ernie DiGregorio was a great player for the Friars. Anthony: That’s right. Doug: I remember that. Anthony: We still talk about Ernie D. Doug: Yeah. He was a great player. I remember him. Now, one of the things that struck me about this is its, you say, “Reclaiming.” Are they lost, Catholic social teaching? Why do we say, it’s lost? Do we claim it as somebody taken it over from us? Anthony: Maybe. Chalk it up to the narrowness of education and that’s endemic in our schools and in Catholic schools, too. What you need really to understand in Catholic social teaching is a thorough founding in Catholic philosophy, Catholic theology, in Scripture and then a Catholic culture going all the way back to the time of the Lord. When you have that, then, it seems to me that you have some way of engaging what the Popes have been saying about the welfare of a society – what a society even is, what a human being is and how we’re made for a society. If you don’t come at it with that kind of fund of knowledge from the inside, so to speak, then, what happens is, people look for this or that narrow economic prescription. Doug: Which is what we tend to. Anthony: Or monetary prescription. Doug: Right. Which is what we tend to associate when we hear about social justice, kind of social teaching. We think social justice. Anthony: Yeah, it, well, social justice without having defined what the word ‘justice’ means and without really any clear idea of what it means to be social – what is a society? Doug: So, is that why you always talk right at the beginning, “First Principles” are so important to your whole understanding?” Anthony: Yeah, so, I went to the letters of Pope Leo. There are many. We always think of “Rerum Novarum,” that great social encyclical on “The Organizations; The Problems of the Working Class,” and the organizations of workers for their own welfare. But he was writing social encyclicals long before “Rerum Novarum” and he continued to write them to the end of his papacy. Then, he wrote private letters or semi-private letters to particular bishops in various situations across the world. So, I read everything that Pope Leo with a social name or just about everything, in the original Latin, Italian and French. This book is my attempt to organize, to write down what I saw. Now, Leo comes at this with that kind of education that I’ve described. He had that, right? And the problems that he’s talking about were relatively recent. So, he sees them fresh also. I find his letters to be remarkably fruitful and clarifying. Doug: So, you don’t see them as dated since they’re going back 2 centuries at this point? Anthony: No! That’s another thing the Pope. Doug: When people say, “Well the world is so much different today,…” Anthony: Right, right. Doug: “…post-World War II, post-Cold War.” Anthony: Yeah. Human nature has changed completely. No, it hasn’t. One of the great virtues of reading old books – and I teach Ancient Literature, Renaissance Literature, Medieval Literature at Providence – is that, you see, in fact, those social structures, in some regards, might change; in some regards, they don’t and human nature, basic human nature does not change. When you read the poetry of Homer, you immediately recognize men and women, children, certain kinds of people. They’re still with us. That hasn’t changed. And besides, if you are a Catholic, if you’re a Christian of any sort, particularly if you’re a Catholic, you cannot possibly believe that something that one of your forebears in the faith wrote or saw 200 years ago is not relevant to you now. Because Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Pope Leo is saying that constantly. Doug: The continuity. Anthony: That’s right. Well, identity even. He was up against what were then called “Modernists” – that is, people who believed that truth was mutable, that it changed with the ages. Well, what this does basically is cut people off from their forebears. And frankly, once you do that, you don’t really have a culture and you don’t have a society. That’s a fundamentally, anti-social thing to do because it dismisses people older than you are and people who have gone before you, to irrelevance and of course, you’re instructing people who come after you to dismiss you in the same way. That’s radically truncated vision of man and what’s left, it cannot properly be called a society at all. Doug: At the beginning of your book you say or ask the question… And that’s where you say.. I know, you were talking about a carpenter later. That if your T-square is off, no matter how much you try and make it right, it’s always going; you’re going to end up building something that won’t stay. Anthony: I got that analogy from the Epicurean, Lucretius, pagan poet. If you start from false principles – imagine a house built by a carpenter who has an 87 degree angle for his T-square or whose plum line doesn’t hang straight and whose rule is off, right, that thing is going to fall apart. Now, if you’re illogical, thank, we also thank the Lord that most people are not relentlessly logical. If you’re illogical, you can start from false principles and wander back into common sense once in a while. The trouble is that we’ve got people who are, in one sense, very clever – that is, they have high IQ’s. They can logically flesh out bad principles and then, if they have the power, they can impose them upon the rest of us. They have done, in the last 150 years, untold harm to millions and millions and millions of human beings. But we’re describing there that the evil phenomena, ideological phenomena of Communism, even milder form in socialism, Nazism and so forth. Doug: Right. Exactly. Now, one of the things what’s interesting here, you talk about the fact that… that when we’re dealing with man, we have to talk about then and see them. You talk about, “We must return to the first principles. Imagine somewhat appealing to Florence Nightingale to justify Dr. Doe’s suicide and the ground she wanted to relieve suffering.” I could see people doing it today. “Imagine somewhat appealing St. Francis…” Anthony: Florence Nightingale wouldn’t have been listening to that one. Doug: St. Francis of Assisi to justify looting on the grounds that his heart is with the poor.” But in somewhat, you’re right but in the way, today, a lot of people would use those as justifications for exactly those acts. Anthony: That’s because they have a truncated – I shall use the word again – view of human nature, that is, a human being is merely a consumer of the things that he wants for various pleasures – for pleasures of the body, for a full belly and other such things; even intellectual pleasures or vanities. Well, and if that’s what your view of human nature is, then, you don’t see at all with all the pagan philosophers saw and the Fathers of the Church, what’s there in Scripture. You don’t see that if you start from immoral fundamental principles, you can give people all of the material comforts that they might crave, they might want, maybe even that they deserve as a human right. It’s not going to make them happy and you’re not going to have a real society. Doug: Right. Anthony: You’re going to build a colossal monster. That’s not Catholic social teaching because we have to have a real human society to embody Catholic social teaching, not a monstrosity of hedonism. Doug: You talk also here about “Approaching an absurdity of those who claim that Catholic social teaching implies the existence of a vast welfare state.” That seems to be something that’s sometimes we get when we hear things are talking preferential options for the poor and Catholic social justice, that, you know, we need to take care of people and everybody agrees with that. But it does seem to be that, where does that cross over from charity into the welfare state in your mind? Anthony: Well, when it ceases to be a human interchange, I think. Now, just as Pope Leo never prescribes a particular form of government as the best – in fact, he deliberately refrained from doing that, even though the Democrats of his day, the American bishops of his day – want him to say, you know, this form of government really is superior to the other. So, this is the one we’re, new direction which we ought to go. He doesn’t do that. So, just as he doesn’t do that with regard to the structure of a polity, so too, we don’t necessarily have to prescribe the structure for assisting those among us who are poor, who need food, who need medical care. What distinguishes the just from the unjust or the human from the inhuman are our fundamental moral principles – what we believe a human being is, what a human being is for, what a human society is. And frankly, if you believe that a human being is simply a consumer – that is, if you believe that that human persons problems can be solved by a check – you’ve reduced the human being, you’ve, you have no clear conception of what a society is because there’s no human interchange at all. You’re. Doug: It’s something we even hear about today, which, you talk about in the book. Anthony: It’s mechanical. Doug: The dignity of work, the fact that people having work and having that ability, that that’s intrinsic to man’s ability to feel… Anthony: And Pope Leo is always talking about. Anthony: “The Goodness of Work.” Doug: “Work,” exactly. You say, What’s the point you’re trying to make? Anthony: Oh, these are all the same thing and that is abundantly clear as you read through Pope Leo’s letters. I didn’t know how clear it was going to be. I suspected it would be and it was far more powerful than I had expected. That is, it’s clear from what he says that if you’re talking about assisting the poor in such a way, by such a governmental mechanism, as would corrupt their morals – that is, you’re introducing a principle of destruction into the families of the poor – then, you’re not helping them. You’re destroying them. Doug: And we’re seeing that in many cases. Anthony: We have seen it. Doug: Right. Anthony: We have seen it. We’ve got the – unlike in the days of Pope Leo when you have people who are grindingly poor, in a material sense but who had moral capital and they had, still had intact families and they had physical strength or skills to do something that was worthwhile – we’ve now established an underclass of people who can’t do anything for anybody that would be worth the pay. We have brought them up to know very little and to know how to do very little. And we pat ourselves on the back because we send checks their way, with no human contact. And then, we load up their communities with heavily armed police to manage the inevitable chaos. That’s a society? That’s not a society. Doug: Well, one of the things you see in there obviously is the whole dealing with the collapse of the family. You put right here in the beginning, “A Defense of the Church’s True Teachings on Marriage, Family and the State,” and clearly in here, it’s how intrinsic marriage is to everything. Also, the idea that you bring out is that What do you mean by that? Anthony: Well, Pope Leo’s taking it from Scripture, of course and from the teachings of the Church but he also is going back to; he’s a classically educated man, unlike most of us today. He’s read his Aristotle. He knows that Aristotle says that “Man is by nature a political animal.” That he is a living being who thrives in the context of a polis. And for Aristotle, a polis was a relatively small city state, self-governing. Thomas Aquinas picked up that dictum from Aristotle and then, he fleshes out much of his moral teaching regarding man and men’s relationship with one another accordingly. So, it is natural for human beings to form societies. Now, what we mean by society there – Pope Leo, of course, he’s thinking in Latin – what we mean is an association, a friendship, a complex network of friendships. He’s not talking about an abstract thing, let’s say, 300,000,000 people living within certain geographical boundaries, that that is a society. Where are the social virtues? Well, what do they all do together? A society properly speaking is a concatenation of social actions, friendships, acts of friendship. So, if the state intrudes upon these societies, let’s say, of Church schools or even your local publicly administered school or the family or a town and its ordinances’ regarding what it sees – what would be good, what would be good for our town – or a fraternity, a guild, a club, a bowling league, whatever. If the state – I call it jabba-the-state – if jabba-the-state devours these on the grounds that jabba-the-state can administer better to people than these or knows better, right, then, what we have is something fundamentally anti-social and inhuman. It’s inhuman in the end to say to that Catholic adoption agency, “You have to abandon your Catholicism in order to serve the people, the needy people, who come calling upon you.” That’s an anti-social thing. That’s inhuman, okay. What it basically does is reduce everybody to little atoms of individualism in a massive unsociety, with the chaos more or less managed by jabba-the-state. Doug: Yeah, well, you say, Anthony: “The pride and passion man,” what Newman said, “If you think that with a couple of reasonable laws, rationalist laws, you are going to be able to manage that state, you might as well think that you can manage a ship by threads.” The pride and passion of man will go where it goes. But again, to divorce the reason from faith and the analogues to divorce the civic or the civil from the sacred is to get mankind wrong, It’s to get the human being wrong and his person and to get human society wrong. So, a strictly secular society is a contradiction in terms, it ceases to be a society at all and it is not humane. It is inhuman. So, if you’re a Catholic and you think that because of our wonderful form of government here, things that have to do with Monday-Saturday belong in this realm only, without regard to the sacred, without regard to Sunday, then, you have no idea what the Church teaches about what a society is. Doug: Right. That’s moving from freedom of religion to freedom of worship, where it’s okay for you to go into your church. Anthony: Just so long as it doesn’t mean anything. And Pope Leo says that. Doug: As long as it doesn’t impact your life. Right. Anthony: He has already seen that. He’s already seen the secularist attempt to put religion… Doug: Marginalize, really. Anthony: …over there in a safe, contained place, to have no influence whatsoever upon the way people work and make money and marry and educate their children and so on. Doug: Right. And dealing with human liberty, you say, and that’s you talking about the inferno here. Anthony: Right. We don’t have to go to Christian Scripture for this. It’s amazing how much we’ve lost because of our stupid abandonment of the wisdom of the ages. The historic philosopher, Epictetus said, “You can put maniacal on my hands and fetters on my feet but you cannot take away my freedom.” And what he’s talking about there is, of course, a moral freedom, spiritual freedom. Everybody who talked about liberty, until rather recent times, understood that license was not only just a distortion of liberty. License was enslaving. It was the antithesis of. Doug: The death of liberty, you could say. Anthony: It’s the death of liberty, yeah. Doug: The death of liberty. “This is because man’s liberty is first perfection.” Anthony: Yeah. Doug: Right. Anthony: And as Leo says, going along with this, a shocking thing for people to hear now, “Why human beings come together in society.” They most obviously come together because no one person can provide for all this material needs. Somebody’s got to be a farmer. Somebody’s got to take the iron ore out of the mountain. Somebody’s got to look after the small children. But the real reason for society, the bigger reason, the better reason is that we come together in these friendships for our moral perfecting. He writes that to the French bishops. It’s our ‘perfectionnement moral.’ We; that is what a society is for, right? And so, to suppose that liberty means you can do as you please so long as you don’t step on other people’s corns – that has just banished from our view the whole reason why we come, for Pope Leo, the reason why we societies in the first place. Doug: You say, I thought this was interesting That sounds familiar. And the other thing, you make the point here; you talk about innovators in here I thought it was interesting. Anthony: Ah yes, Pope Leo, right, Pope Leo thinking in Latin. Doug: Right. Anthony: And he’s classically trained. Doug: Right. Anthony: Okay. The worst thing that you could call somebody in Ancient Rome, in the days of republic was an innovator. It meant some unscrupulous person, who wanted to change the way we’re doing things. When the way we were doing thing is reliable, we rest upon the wisdom of our ancestors. Now, the Romans could take this to an extreme. None still, the principle remains. The burden of proof is always on somebody who wants to change things because if things are working, why should you want to tinker with them? Now, people who have one kind of cleverness up here and a certain amount of power, a certain amount of money, they can – building on false principles but it seemed true to them – they can wreak untold damage, leveling all the fine things that people have labored so hard over many centuries to establish culturally and you have a wasteland. Doug: Right. Well, in the section on marriage, “No family, no society.” Pope Leo’s quite clear on the matters, “The family,” he writes, “May be regarded as the cradle of civil society.” And also, this was interesting; “A group that destroys the goodness in individuality of its members is no true society but a sickly cult.” Anthony: Right. Doug: So, what’s the difference between a society and a cult in your mind? Anthony: [laughs] Or what Leo calls a “simulacrum,” of a society, like, a phantom or a zombie of a society. Doug: Okay. That’s where ‘fantasium’ gets used at the beginning of the book quite often. Anthony: Yeah, ‘fantasmum, fantstna,’ are just hallucinations almost, notions that have no basis in reality, as Pope Leo uses the word. If, see, the things are related – and this is what people generally don’t understand and we can’t rely on they’re having the kind of classical training that Pope Leo took for granted. If you have an individual here and you don’t understand that man is, by nature, a social being; so that is, individual rights are really for the execution of duties, of friendship, of love and of virtue towards other human beings, you’ve gotten him wrong and you’ve made society itself impossible. You still have the word “society,” but you don’t even know what you mean by it. You just mean an aggregate. Now, if we establish this pattern so that each individual basically thinks that my right to do as, to who I want, that’s sacrosanct, as long as I’m not obviously stepping on your feet, leave me alone” and “I love, I love, I love that country that allows me to act without regard, to duties, to virtue, to other human beings, that’s not even a real nation anymore. That’s a cult. Doug: You say, “The family is not for economics. Economics are for the family.” Anthony: Right. If there’s another thing. Doug: Sounds good. What does it mean? Anthony: Of all people – and I don’t often have very kind things to say about the 2nd Roosevelt – but Roosevelt still understood and his cabinet ministers understood that the real economic vitality of a country lay in its households, not in individuals. So, many of the early New Deal programs were geared at households, either households that existed or households that would exist. So, you get, for instance, CCC. You take all these young boys off the streets in the city, you give then a barracks life, an Army kind of life. You have them do hard physical labor under pretty severe… Doug: Building parks and cleaning things out. Anthony: Right, right and building canals. We have thousands of miles of canals in the country. When they come out that, they’re strong, physically and they’re skilled and they’re disciplined and they are prospective heads of households. Everything was geared in their minds to the household. We’ve lost that. But the word “economics” comes from the Greek word which means household management. That’s what it means. A truly economical vision. – Pope Leo’s always thinking about the household when he thinks about economics. If we really want to be economically healthy, according to the anemology of that word, we want healthy households but almost nobody talks in those terms now. Doug: Not anymore. We don’t want anybody to feel bad. Just before we go, you use a great line here. You say, “What we’ve come to call “Cafeteria Catholicism” is essentially anti-social, something for us to think about.” Anthony: It is anti-social. Doug: Another book in the works, or? Anthony: Yes. Tan Books is publishing a work called “The Poetry of Praise: On Hymns As Palms,” and ISI Press is coming out with “Life Under Compulsion: 10 Ways To Destroy The Humanity Of Your Child.” Doug: There you go. Thank you so much. Always something to make us think. Thank you so much. Anthony: Thank you. Doug: Dr. Anthony Esolen. The book is “Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching.” There’s so much more than we could even get to. “A Defense of the Church’s True Teachings on Marriage, Family and The State.” We need it now. Get it through the EWTN Religious Catalogue, ewtnrc.com. Join us next time right here on EWTN’s “Bookmark.” [♪]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *