Archive for the ‘Law and Economics’ Category

Podcast of the Sixth Class Session, Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church Course

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Here is the audio podcast of the sixth class session of the course The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church held on the evening of 4/8/14 at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Chicago as part of the School of Catholic Thought.

Here is the Page for the course, containing links for previous session podcasts, along with notes.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXIV

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Inefficient and ineffective government cannot be compassionate government. Every resource wasted steals from another good purpose. Every unintended consequence or perverse incentive invites another injustice.

Therefore every act of government requires unremitting scrutiny through continuing public policy analysis, evaluation, and reform.

Consequently, to criticize the faults of a government program is not in an of itself lacking in compassion. Compassion and efficient, effective government belong together.

Every good steward must be a student of efficiency and effectiveness.

Poor stewardship and neglect of a public resource is every bit an evil as is narcissism and hardness of heart.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church: A Noncredit Course

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

At the Blessed John Paul II Newman Center at UIC, I’ll be offering a free noncredit course on The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, as part of the work of the School of Catholic Thought, which was scheduled to begin today, 1/28/14.

However, due to the cold in Chicago, the JPII Center will be closed on 1/28/14, so the first class will be at 6PM next Tuesday, 2/4/14. I’ll post my first lecture here in a few days.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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On Reading the “Treatise on Law” of St. Thomas Aquinas

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

It would be difficult to consider the question of social justice without considering the notion of the common good and its relationship to law.

The following terse statement written sometime from the 1260s to the 1270s irrevocably linked the notion of the common good to the definition of law:


Et sic ex quatuor praedictis potest colligi definitio legis, quae nihil est aliud quam quaedam rationis ordinatio ad bonum commune, ab eo qui curam communitatis habet, promulgata.

And so from the four traits that have been mentioned, we can put together a definition of law: Law is (a) an ordinance (ordinatio) of reason, (b) for the common good, (c) made by one who is in charge of the community, and (d) promulgated.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, First Part of the Second Part (I-II), Question 90, Article 4, Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso.

http://www.thomasinternational.org/projects/step/treatiseonlaw/delege090_4.htm, accessed 9/22/13.

Drawing in this case from St. Isidore of Seville, as well as from Classical, early Christian, Scriptural, and throughout his writings from a wide variety of his own contemporary sources, including Jewish and Islamic, St. Thomas Aquinas summarized, synthesized, and structured a moral, rational, practical, and communal basis for law that extends beyond what a mere summary of his presentation might reveal.

That is why I highly recommend that those interested in deepening their understanding simply “step into the water” and read into the thomasinternational.org presentation of the “Treatise on Law,” very nicely presented in several languages at that website.

What can be learned from a document on law that is hundreds of years old?

One is a deeper understanding of the relationship between human reason, both practical and what we would today call “theoretical” (and what translators of Aquinas call “speculative”), and the common good as a product of human action.

A second is the series of linkages that Aquinas establishes between human practical reason and the common good. These linkages involve natural law, which informs human-made law.

When the law appeals to “common sense” by any measure, despite popular modern rejection of any natural law, the law is appealing to natural law as Aquinas defined it.

Human-made law devoid of common sense toward the common good, and thus a linkage of practical reason with the common good–Aquinas’ natural law–is practically useless.

A third is the role of the Divine Law, both the Old Law (based, in St. Augustine’s memorable turn of phrase, upon “timor” or fear) and the New Law (based upon “amor” or love) in informing human action toward the common good.

The Divine Law and natural law inform human-made law. Both Divine Law and natural law lead us to direct human-made law toward the common good.

A law that is not made for the common good is unjust.

Few writers clarify and stimulate the mind as does Aquinas. I invite my readers to jump in!

I’ll have more on this topic after several more readings. But I will say this: those who try to merely boil down Aquinas to a catechism or a series of lists without wrestling with his dynamic and insightful mind miss being taught by him to live the Christian and intellectual life more fully and dynamically. Each time I turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, he wakes me up to something I never saw or never understood.

For more resources on reading and studying the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, try this link.

And just how does one measure whether a law or government action benefits the common good? A much longer answer is in the works. . .

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Those Who Fund Violence Should Forfeit Their Wealth

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Petrodollars have placed Middle Eastern factionalism on the world’s center stage, and have resurrected an ascendant Persian empire in opposition. These two Middle Eastern regional forces are bombing each other for dominance in several factional and sectarian uprisings that have spread into Africa. The rest of the world is bankrolling this conflict by enriching the bankers of violence. No military action can stop this process in an of itself.

One way to reduce conflict in the Middle East and Africa therefore is to turn down its throttle — to systematically over time reduce the oligarchic concentration of wealth that is fueling the conflict. This reduction involves minimizing the flow of the world’s dollars to the bad actors.

Those who fund violence should pay a heavy financial price–the loss of their wealth–for doing so.

It’s time for the rest of the world to ride a bike, buy a hybrid, or take the bus, and for the petrodollar-funded financial sponsors of regional conflicts to be publicly identified and denied resources through every means of economic differentiation and penalty available, from consumer boycotts even to the point of having their wealth seized or embargoed by the international community. The international information economy could help realize such a strategy.

Such a strategy may not reduce the will to violence, but may reduce its means.

The fuel of violence must be made the most costly fuel of all.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Prelude to a Just and Merciful Society

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The problem of sustaining not only the continuing existence of human society but also of a just human society has challenged both dreamers and those who consider themselves realists.

This second group, so-called and sometimes self-appointed realists, is comprised to a great degree also of dreamers who happen to be unaware about essential skills and knowledge they themselves and society in general do not possess which may apply to the very problems they propose to solve.

The present paradox of achieving social justice involves theoreticians and political actors who think political power can directly achieve justice, when power, exerted over time to sustain continuous human systems instead more likely forms institutions and therefore bureaucracies which, sometimes very usefully, slow the effects of power and sometimes stop power dead in its tracks, for the principal reason that the power-wielders very often lack the foresight, knowledge, and skills to properly construct and lead the institutions and bureaucracies. This is another manifestation of what I (not originally) call the political illusion, an illusion that assumes that political power can in an of itself solve human problems over the long term.

Political power, since it must be sustained in one way or another–even in a dictatorship–by the consent of at least an elite in the population, tends to turn long-term capital assets, principally buildings, infrastructure, and institutions, into short-term political assets, and thus to exhaust the potential of these assets to sustain a just society.

Political power-seeking is thus the very enemy of sustainabilty, because sustainability properly treats long-term assets as long term assets, while political action generally doesn’t.

The phenomenon of the serial ribbon-cutting politician who immediately loots a new project for the next round of supposed innovations elsewhere in an endless and decaying series of unsustainable promises is only but one example. In general, few public projects are established with the supply chain of resources to sustain themselves over time, since politicians tap cash from all sources for their next series of promises or for their next inevitable crisis.

Political infrastructure thus differs from real infrastructure the way a Wild West movie set, composed of facades, differs from a real town. Self-styled political realists to a great degree dwell in the Wild West movie set version of reality, which is useful for media photo-ops but not for when it rains.

To build an unsustained, unsustainable public institution may one day be considered a crime. Some day, we will view unsustained public housing, public hospitals, public schools, and public infrastructure as public acts of injustice.

Community and political movements nevertheless often try to build institutions that may outlast themselves, schools and places of employment being a common example.

But theorists, writers, and activists too often, if not always, lack the practical skills of institutional organization, know little of what Peter Drucker called the liberal art of management, and know even less of the practices of continuous organizational improvement, many of these based upon science and engineering, so their institutional innovations become like many others, mired in their own bureaucratic processes and procedures. This predicament leads to diminishing returns and to an endless series of unrealized bright ideas, and eventually, inertia or cataclysm.

Of the many challenges facing our global society in its history, one foundational challenge remains: how to feed, clothe, shelter, heal, and transport each other within a variable natural system subject to weather, accident, and disaster.

Upon this shifting foundation, the even more shifting patterns of human demography manifest themselves. And if there are not enough healthy people, questions of economic growth and social progress become moot.

While this outline may seem elementary, political activists often forget that a community is built upon a population that in the end depends on nature, and that the effective distribution of resources within this sphere depends as much, if not more, upon accumulated knowledge of science and engineering, as especially applied in contemporary agriculture, as it does upon politics. Informed, competent action thus comes into play.

Political power can, for a time, seem to defy the forces of natural, demographic, or economic “weather” or “gravity,” but inevitably these fundamental forces break through, and negate the effects of political power, because political power cannot direct weather or the force of gravity.

The initial economy, literally the translation of the original word, is the human household, predominantly composed as the family when a male and a female bond for life. From natural resources and human demography grow culture (religion, folkways, arts and letters, leisure, etc.) and economic activity, upon culture and economy grow institutions and organizations with their accompanying communications, science and engineering, public health, law, and politics.

None of these cumulative societal actions could exist without continuous human mastery of the necessary skills and knowledge leading to effective action, be that action successfully producing a crop, a road, an automobile, or a classroom of literate students.

None of these cumulative forms of organization could endure without the various methods that society has learned to hedge and to insure, and therefore immunize itself, against natural disasters and failures of crops, production, supply, and of public health.

And none of these activities could continue without the establishment of basic forms of trust throughout society, which ensures communication, continuity, and freedom of innovation. Religion, the arts, leisure activities, and other manifestations of culture play a key binding role in the establishment of common human references, and thereby trust.

Human mercy plays an even more critical role in sustaining human trust. The mercy of a U.S. Grant, inspired by Lincoln’s “with malice toward none,” on a Robert E. Lee and his soldiers spared a nation from guerrilla warfare, and thereby saved it.

The integration and advancement of human society in all of these fields of endeavor could also not exist without the accumulating and exchanging nature of the city, and its meeting places and crossroads of transformation and regeneration, whether these be houses of worship, theaters, studios, or ultimately universities, which bring together and sustain science, engineering, agriculture, arts and letters, law, medicine, and all the other disciplines of human mastery that fan out and populate families, businesses, schools, hospitals, labs, farms, mines, and all forms of active human enterprise.

Human society is thus composed of many interacting and composite goods, but it is fundamentally grounded upon natural resources subject to variability manifested by growth, decay, change, and disaster.

These processes of variability and especially decay echo throughout every human system, and must be thoroughly understood and mastered within each human context for a just and sustainable society to thrive. The mastery of the processes of variability and of decay is fundamental to human competence.

The political illusion lives as if nature or demography or economy would never break through and undermine societal stability, but inevitably they do. The political illusion is not so much devoted to progress as to the self-perpetuating of a given elite, in coalition with trailing elites. The political illusion claims to be about the many, but in the end, it is almost always about the few.

The principal political and economic theories of the past two hundred years, be they Marxist or capitalist, have represented wishfully dangerous and destructive short-cuts to human progress by promising their own particular leap over the practical challenges inherent in managing land, labor, and capital resources in putatively just and fair ways.

These short-cuts, framed as political ideologies, have subsumed art, religion, science, and culture into their domain as mere cheering sections, and have thereby weakened and corrupted these as independent, useful, and also transcendent societal assets. These political ideologies have killed millions upon millions of human beings, and in the end, have merely established flawed institutions and bureaucracies that to this day remain un-mastered, uninformed, inefficient, and ineffective.

Bureaucracy, in spite of itself, plays a useful role, as well. Bureaucracy manages critical information and resources, and accumulates, implements, and moderates law and regulation. Bureaucracy is therefore necessary for human survival, and is a principal pattern seen in mediating institutions.

But bureaucracy is also where everyone’s pet idea for reform goes to die. Politicians continue to give bureaucracy its (usually unfunded) mandate, and then they, who often manufactured bureaucracy in the first place, are reduced to haphazardly bullying it since nothing else, from their perspective, appears to work.

The problem of the 21st century is therefore, pace W.E.B. DuBois, not so much the color line, but un-mastered bureaucracy, and in general, lack of mastery of our own work and professional activities. Or to put it bluntly, the problem of the 21st century is our own incompetence.

It is therefore not progressives and not capitalists, but incompetent progressives and incompetent capitalists, who are the enemies of human progress.

None of us, from the digger of ditches to the President of the United States, really comes to their job well prepared to do it. We have met the incompetents, and they are we.

To build a just society, I therefore propose that we do not carry the discussion forward at this point from the point of view solely of political economy, which can come later, but to begin considering the dignity and capability of each human person, which for a Catholic like myself is usually the starting point.

Not only must each human person have the capacity to be good (meaning, morally good) for society to be good, as the mythical traveler Raphael Hythloday stated in Thomas More’s Utopia, but each human person must be informed and skilled enough to effectively do good.

Yet another virtue is needed. Each of these good and competent persons must have what Alexandr Solzhenitsyn called “civic courage,” the willingness to speak out when something wasn’t right. Without civic courage, our knowledge of what could be improved would be lost, and our society would also not be free.

Recently, when Cuban human rights blogger Yoani Sánchez was challenged by someone who pointed to the availability of food, shelter, and health care in Cuba, she didn’t stop to blink. Ms. Sánchez stated that a bird in a cage has such things. Civic courage makes such a discussion, but also a free society, possible.

Finally, each good person must be not only morally good and just, but merciful. The relationship of mercy with justice, one of the most profound contributions of Blessed John Paul II, is often the most overlooked aspect of a just society. [I write these words on 4/7/13, Divine Mercy Sunday. Here’s a reference to Pope Francis’s homily for the day.]

It is to the topics of moral goodness, competence, civic courage, and mercy in a free and just society that I will turn when I next have the chance to continue this essay.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Mercy and Justice in Personal Mutuality

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

While recuperating from surgery on 3/5/13, I read off and on, in between dozes, from a small pamphlet-sized copy of Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Dives in Misericordia, On the Mercy of God.

I wrote earlier about this profoundly revolutionary document, which encapsulates Blessed John Paul II’s Christian response, as it were, to the great destructiveness of the 20th Century, forces of death that threaten to continue unabated into the 21st.

One key theme of Dives in Misericordia is the link between Mercy and Justice, lived out by persons from act by act, in mutual relationship with each other.

My own conclusion: John Paul II’s approach rules out establishing the mechanistic justice of a merely theoretically fair, impersonal political system, which means, translated into concrete terms: the “perfect” bureaucracy. There is no perfectly just system. Whoever tries to establish such a system inevitably establishes some form of imperfect bureaucracy that still depends upon individual acts of human mercy and mutual knowledge to realize justice.

John Paul II’s approach is grounded instead in Christian personalism and mutuality:

An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him.

Dives in Misericordia, part VII, number 14

This personal mutuality is one of the unique and specific gifts that Catholic Christians can offer to their neighbors. Personal mutuality is a fundamentally different kind of relating and giving from simply bestowing mercy solely as an act of power.

I’ve included below the entire section of Dives in Misericordia
from which the above excerpt has been drawn:

14. The Church Seeks To Put Mercy into Practice

Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called “to practice mercy” towards others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”120 The Church sees in these words a call to action, and she tries to practice mercy. All the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount indicate the way of conversion and of reform of life, but the one referring to those who are merciful is particularly eloquent in this regard. Man attains to the merciful love of God, His mercy, to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the spirit of that love towards his neighbor.

This authentically evangelical process is not just a spiritual transformation realized once and for all: it is a whole lifestyle, an essential and continuous characteristic of the Christian vocation. It consists in the constant discovery and persevering practice of love as a unifying and also elevating power despite all difficulties of a psychological or social nature: it is a question, in fact, of a merciful love which, by its essence, is a creative love. In reciprocal relationships between persons merciful love is never a unilateral act or process. Even in the cases in which everything would seem to indicate that only one party is giving and offering, and the other only receiving and taking (for example, in the case of a physician giving treatment, a teacher teaching, parents supporting and bringing up their children, a benefactor helping the needy), in reality the one who gives is always also a beneficiary. In any case, he too can easily find himself in the position of the one who receives, who obtains a benefit, who experiences merciful love; he too can find himself the object of mercy.

In this sense Christ crucified is for us the loftiest model, inspiration and encouragement. When we base ourselves on this disquieting model, we are able with all humility to show mercy to others, knowing that Christ accepts it as if it were shown to Himself.121 On the basis of this model, we must also continually purify all our actions and all our intentions in which mercy is understood and practiced in a unilateral way, as a good done to others. An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him.

Thus, the way which Christ showed to us in the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitude regarding those who are merciful is much richer than what we sometimes find in ordinary human opinions about mercy. These opinions see mercy as a unilateral act or process, presupposing and maintaining a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it, between the one who does good and the one who receives it. Hence the attempt to free interpersonal and social relationships from mercy and to base them solely on justice. However, such opinions about mercy fail to see the fundamental link between mercy and justice spoken of by the whole biblical tradition, and above all by the messianic mission of Jesus Christ. True mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice. If justice is in itself suitable for “arbitration” between people concerning the reciprocal distribution of objective goods in an equitable manner, love and only love (including that kindly love that we call “mercy”) is capable of restoring man to Himself.

Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of “equality” between people, and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as well, insofar as justice aims at the same result in its own sphere. However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of objective and extrinsic goods, while love and mercy bring it about that people meet one another in that value which is man himself, with the dignity that is proper to him. At the same time, “equality” of people through “patient and kind” love122 does not take away differences: the person who gives becomes more generous when he feels at the same time benefitted by the person accepting his gift; and vice versa, the person who accepts the gift with the awareness that, in accepting it, he too is doing good is in his own way serving the great cause of the dignity of the person; and this contributes to uniting people in a more profound manner.

Thus, mercy becomes an indispensable element for shaping mutual relationships between people, in a spirit of deepest respect for what is human, and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood. It is impossible to establish this bond between people, if they wish to regulate their mutual relationships solely according to the measure of justice. In every sphere of interpersonal relationships justice must, so to speak, be “corrected ” to a considerable extent by that love which, as St. Paul proclaims, “is patient and kind” or, in other words, possesses the characteristics of that merciful love which is so much of the essence of the Gospel and Christianity. Let us remember, furthermore, that merciful love also means the cordial tenderness and sensitivity so eloquently spoken of in the parable of the prodigal son,123 and also in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.124 Consequently, merciful love is supremely indispensable between those who are closest to one another: between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends; and it is indispensable in education and in pastoral work.

Its sphere of action, however, is not limited to this. If Paul VI more than once indicated the civilization of love”125 as the goal towards which all efforts in the cultural and social fields as well as in the economic and political fields should tend. it must be added that this good will never be reached if in our thinking and acting concerning the vast and complex spheres of human society we stop at the criterion of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”126 and do not try to transform it in its essence, by complementing it with another spirit. Certainly, the Second Vatican Council also leads us in this direction, when it speaks repeatedly of the need to make the world more human,127 and says that the realization of this task is precisely the mission of the Church in the modern world. Society can become ever more human only if we introduce into the many-sided setting of interpersonal and social relationships, not merely justice, but also that “merciful love” which constitutes the messianic message of the Gospel.

Society can become “ever more human” only when we introduce into all the mutual relationships which form its moral aspect the moment of forgiveness, which is so much of the essence of the Gospel. Forgiveness demonstrates the presence in the world of the love which is more powerful than sin. Forgiveness is also the fundamental condition for reconciliation, not only in the relationship of God with man, but also in relationships between people. A world from which forgiveness was eliminated would be nothing but a world of cold and unfeeling justice, in the name of which each person would claim his or her own rights vis-a- vis others; the various kinds of selfishness latent in man would transform life and human society into a system of oppression of the weak by the strong, or into an arena of permanent strife between one group and another.

For this reason, the Church must consider it one of her principal duties-at every stage of history and especially in our modern age-to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of mercy, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ. Not only for the Church herself as the community of believers but also in a certain sense for all humanity, this mystery is the source of a life different from the life which can be built by man, who is exposed to the oppressive forces of the threefold concupiscence active within him.128 It is precisely in the name of this mystery that Christ teaches us to forgive always. How often we repeat the words of the prayer which He Himself taught us, asking “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” which means those who are guilty of something in our regard129 It is indeed difficult to express the profound value of the attitude which these words describe and inculcate. How many things these words say to every individual about others and also about himself. The consciousness of being trespassers against each other goes hand in hand with the call to fraternal solidarity, which St. Paul expressed in his concise exhortation to “forbear one another in love.”130 What a lesson of humility is to be found here with regard to man, with regard both to one’s neighbor and to oneself What a school of good will for daily living, in the various conditions of our existence If we were to ignore this lesson, what would remain of any “humanist” program of life and education?

Christ emphasizes so insistently the need to forgive others that when Peter asked Him how many times he should forgive his neighbor He answered with the symbolic number of “seventy times seven,”131 meaning that he must be able to forgive everyone every time. It is obvious that such a generous requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. Properly understood, justice constitutes, so to speak, the goal of forgiveness. In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness.

Thus the fundamental structure of justice always enters into the sphere of mercy. Mercy, however, has the power to confer on justice a new content, which is expressed most simply and fully in forgiveness. Forgiveness, in fact, shows that, over and above the process of “compensation” and “truce” which is specific to justice, love is necessary, so that man may affirm himself as man. Fulfillment of the conditions of justice is especially indispensable in order that love may reveal its own nature. In analyzing the parable of the prodigal son, we have already called attention to the fact that he who forgives and he who is forgiven encounter one another at an essential point, namely the dignity or essential value of the person, a point which cannot be lost and the affirmation of which, or its rediscovery, is a source of the greatest joy.132

The Church rightly considers it her duty and the purpose of her mission to guard the authenticity of forgiveness, both in life and behavior and in educational and pastoral work. She protects it simply by guarding its source, which is the mystery of the mercy of God Himself as revealed in Jesus Christ.

The basis of the Church’s mission, in all the spheres spoken of in the numerous pronouncements of the most recent Council and in the centuries-old experience of the apostolate, is none other than “drawing from the wells of the Savior”133 this is what provides many guidelines for the mission of the Church in the lives of individual Christians, of individual communities, and also of the whole People of God. This “drawing from the wells of the Savior” can be done only in the spirit of that poverty to which we are called by the words and example of the Lord: “You received without pay, give without pay.”134 Thus, in all the ways of the Church’s life and ministry-through the evangelical poverty of her-ministers and stewards and of the whole people which bears witness to “the mighty works” of its Lord-the God who is “rich in mercy” has been made still more clearly manifest.

Dives in Misericordia, part VII, number 14

The above passage gives us an entirely different way, following Christ’s example, to understand the question of justice in society, and helps us to realize that there is no simply political or governmental (therefore, bureaucratic) solution for the question of social justice without personal acts of mutual mercy and especially of forgiveness.

My conclusions:

* A socially just society is thus a merciful society, one in which all persons can stand in positions of personal and mutual mercy to one another. This “mutual mercy” measure of social justice requires a fundamental transformation in human relations, and should give naive true-believers in any given political / bureaucratic solution to social justice a cause to pause and reflect. Or at least one would hope.

* Political true-believers inevitably, and inescapably, establish in the end bureaucracies which do not bend even to their own political power. Indeed, their own political power merely makes such bureaucratic systems proliferate.

* It is precisely at this point confronting the frozen contradiction of politics, which is the inevitable reduction of political action to mere bureaucracy–the unmasking of what I call the “political illusion”–that Catholic Christians speak to the “real world” of human affairs, since only mutual personal mercy and forgiveness in the end bring justice into action. It is at this moment of “political illusion” that merciful Christian love touches, at least for a time, the world of common sense.

Some of these same great themes of Blessed John Paul II’s Dives in Misericordia were carried forward in Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate. Both are “required reading” for Catholic Christians considering the question of social justice.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Two Unsustainable Political Illusions

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

One point of view of this Sanity and Social Justice blog is that both the public policy program of the Left and the program of the Right present unsustainable illusions. Both distort economic reality with partisan propaganda and spin. Both engage in wishful thinking. The same intensity of criticism should be focused on both the Left and the Right, but rarely is.

When completely victorious, as in the one-party rule of Chicago and Illinois, the Left descends into inefficient corruption and factionalism, fulfills few of its economic promises, and produces disorder if not financial and social ruin. When completely victorious, as for a time in the Reagan Era, the Right similarly lacks the discipline to fulfill its own economic commitments, engages in wishful thinking such as Jack Kemp’s (joined by Democrats) over-extending home ownership to an unsustainable percentage of the population, and descends into cronyism. Neither partisan platform ever fully realizes its economic vision. Each over-promises to critical, if not tragic, proportions.

It thus is something of a puzzle why people continue to believe that politicians can achieve economically what they say they will, when history perennially demonstrates that they consistently do not, and why people continue to treat political belief with a passion that surpasses religious devotion to the point of idolatry.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that our political beliefs do not represent historic or economic fact so much as they represent our own concept of ourselves, our own “identity maintenance,” as I have long called it. Also, since both the Right and the Left have consistently descended into cronyism, one can conclude that political passion depends in the end on that group of political cronies with which one wishes to throw in one’s lot. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in unrealized and probably unrealizable political ideas, but in our own self-concept and self-interest, framed as the public good.

Against a world of illusory political discourse, one can respond with competence and effectiveness, the Aristotelian Ergon and Arete of Work seeking Excellence. The teacher acts as a good teacher, the doctor or nurse as a good doctor or nurse, and by extension the school or university is a good school or university, the hospital is a good hospital, etc., and it is to be hoped that the society is a better society as a result.

For centuries, heady and trendy intellectuals have tried in vain to transcend Aristotle only to confirm him. I’ve said before that Stanley Fish has labored mightily, and brought forth in the end a few two-thousand-plus-year-old lines from Aristotle. Modern political thought has bypassed Aristotle to its peril.

Political economy is grounded on the variable strata of the physical world of natural resources as moderated by meteorological forces, of long-wave demographic trends, of cultural tectonics, of shorter-term markets, of sudden and disruptive innovation and disease and disaster, and of shifting public policy interventions. To a certain extent, politicians must practice the art of taking credit for the weather and for the prosperity that comes from the occasional financial bubble as their own personal artifacts. To do so, they must artfully lie with consistency about both economics and history.

Political partisanship, however, does sometimes fulfill its promises on non-economic issues. The Germans voted in politicians who did in the end kill Jews, and the West has voted in politicians who did in the end kill babies.

For a Catholic like me, the present political choice is sometimes falsely cast as the choice between social compassion (the Left) and Pro-life (the Right), as if the Left could actually deliver on social compassion, or the Right could actually carry through on Pro-life. Both promised political products are highly unlikely.

It is however very likely that the Left will continue to kill the unborn, so in this particular regard the Left must be vigorously opposed. But it is not likely that the Right will endure in consistently defending the unborn, either. Killing the unborn is based upon selfishness, which is an enduring human constant.

My political critique is not naive cynicism, but is grounded in history, science, and common sense. Against the political illusions of both the Right and the Left, I suggest that we concentrate our resources on building a society based instead upon professional and institutional competence and effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability imbued with human compassion, and informed by science. This approach is based upon trust and hope in what truly endures in human society.

Morally-committed and scientifically-informed professions and institutions promulgate order, and outlive politics. I pity the partisan true-believer, who presently lives in a spinning, self-referencing Twitter-cloud-dream uninformed by history or by economic science, or, for that matter, by perennial philosophy and theology.

The first step away from this illusory world-view is to consistently direct one’s critique in one’s own direction to the same degree that it is directed toward one’s adversaries. This is an ancient Christian principle (Matthew 7:3) that extends well to politics.

For more on my analysis of the commonsense propositions that underlay political discourse, please see chapters 2 and 3 of my dissertation.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Treating Alcoholism and Addiction as Diseases of the Brain

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Those of us who have served to assist the homeless in some way may think we are quite familiar with the problem of alcoholism.

But now we must think anew, because in some very important ways, we have been deadly wrong.

Despite the fact that the scourge of alcoholism has been known for centuries, advances in neuroscience have radically changed our understanding of the disease, which kills with the grim efficiency of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Yet the response of society to alcoholism appears almost hopelessly embedded in social, religious, familial, and legal patterns laid down centuries ago.

Alcoholism wounds and reshapes the brain in ways that make recovery from alcoholism very difficult, especially given the fact that the brain needs almost nine (9) months of sobriety to begin making strides in the neurological healing process.

Alcoholism also reshapes social relationships, be they familial or employment-related. It in addition alters the social and even physical dimensions of cities and towns where later-stage alcoholics gather. An amazing amount of physical space in cities is utilized not only to sell alcohol, but to recover from its effects. Many major cities not only have hundreds of locations to purchase liquor, but hundreds of sites for AA and related recovery meetings.

In recent decades, DUI or DWI laws have decreased legal tolerance for driving under the influence, at least in the United States. The establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s, the subsequent founding of Al-Anon and other support networks for families, and the growth in the cultural awareness of what has been called “enabling behavior” or “co-dependency” since the 1970s have helped individuals and society cope in better ways with this disease.

But if scientists are correct that alcoholism is a disease of the damaged brain, and that the brain needs nine months of sobriety before it can seriously begin to heal, then the composite response of law, politics, health care, social work, insurance, employment, labor relations, and religious ministry to the disease of alcoholism amount to a confused and contradictory, ineffective and expensive, harmful mishmosh.

To treat the problem of homelessness as a solely political or civil rights problem, when such a significant dimension of homelessness is connected with public health problems such as alcoholism, addiction, and mental illness, borders on self-indulgent delusion.

Alcoholism is a disease that damages the brain and the rest of the body in certain well-known and predictable ways. It devastates family life and hurts innocent spouses and children, in addition to the alcoholics. In its later stages, it sets those who suffer from it out onto the street in a staggering march toward their own deaths.

But much of this suffering from alcoholism is now avoidable.

If we think we understand alcoholism, we are probably wrong.

We can start learning more by reading Healing the Addicted Brain by Harold C. Urschel III, MD, and by visiting his website, or by accessing the resources at enterhealth.com.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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