Note: This article first appeared at The Bell Towers.
September 25, 2012 (TheBellTowers) – Mitt Romney’s nomination of Catholic congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate has generated criticism from certain members of the “Catholic Left,” who accuse Ryan of being a ”cafeteria Catholic” – a charge more typically levied by the orthodox against those who deviate from church teaching on issues of sexual morality – by ostensibly ignoring the poor.
For his part, Ryan, the architect of the GOP’s budgetary “Ryan Plan,” has engaged Cardinal Timothy Dolan in his role as head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explaining why his budget proposals were consistent with Church social doctrine, with the Cardinal extending the reciprocal courtesy of a thoughtful reply.
This sets up a Left/Right division over which faction bears more authentic allegiance to “Catholic Social Teaching,” or doctrine on social justice issues such as poverty and the right ordering of relations between man, mediating institutions and the State.
Conventional thinking gives Ryan and his party the advantage when it comes to “subsidiarity” – the principle that political and economic decisions are best made at the level closest to those affected by them rather than by a top-down centralized bureaucracy – while crediting the Democrats for their commitment to “solidarity” – acting on behalf of the most poor and marginalized out of an assumed authentic altruism.
Such conventional thinking is only half right, however, for Ryan – at least when not in junior Randian mode – has the better argument not only with respect to subsidiarity, but solidarity as well.
For solidarity cannot be thought of solely in horizontal terms, arms outstretched to the poor who dwell among us – though it certainly does (and should) include that. It is also vertical, extending into the future and touching the welfare of our children and grandchildren and generations yet to be conceived.
That social justice mandates a “preferential option for the poor” is beyond cavil, but does our vision of the vulnerable extend beyond the here and now to include those yet visible? A true notion of solidarity must be multi-layered, and not flat.
What happens to the poor when the public fisc empties? What is the effect of deficit spending counted in the trillions upon our children and their children? What does Standard & Poor’s credit downgrade auger? What about inflationary monetary policy, currency devaluation, and the ineluctable march toward a single-payer health care system? What do events in Greece portend?
One must ask of politicians who count on the continued innumeracy of a citizenry baffled by numbers larger than twenty – the point at which one runs out of fingers and toes – whether it is all “sustainable,” to borrow a cant phrase.
John Maynard Keynes – whose “pump priming” economic theories, more than six decades after his death, animate the Obama administration’s stimulus policy, as does the “fatal conceit” of a command economy characterized by socialized medicine– was once asked whether such policies were sustainable in the long run. Keynes’ famous reply: “In the long run, we are all dead.”
To which the proper rejoinder would be: “But our children and grandchildren won’t be!”
The beggaring of generations yet to be begotten was not an apparent concern of JMK, whose indifference might be attributable in part to sexual proclivities not ordered to the propagation of the species.
Which raises the connection between economic and moral profligacy…
Social issues are profoundly economic, and vice versa; the surest way to ensure that the next generation of citizens be well-integrated and productive is to strengthen the family unit headed by a biological father and a biological mother – see the social science research of Pat Fagan, David Blankenhorn and many others on this point – while the surest way to encourage social dysfunction and economic dependency is to undermine the nuclear family.
Yet when confronted by the cost of a health care plan to be borne by future generations, the default solution offered by President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius is to embrace sterility, pushing birth control to eliminate future generations of government dependents. One might also point out that such a reductionist calculus overlooks the fact that such future citizens, were they allowed to come into existence, might also be productive taxpayers as well. Why the default assumption that they must be tax-consuming wards of the Welfare State?
Catholics who must by moral necessity be concerned with true social justice, balancing the harmonic interplay between subsidiarity and solidarity, should question where authentic allegiance to the common good leads. Is ObamaCare designed to extend health care to those who lack it? Is the push to increase food stamp rolls designed to alleviate hunger? Is the move toward eliminating workfare requirements at the state level an attempt to promote the dignity of those who receive government assistance by removing stigma? Or is the aim to foster a culture of Julia-like serfdom while voicing the rhetoric of compassion (and sternly rebuking “greed”), cynically calibrating things to create a dependency caste of 51% that can give one a perpetual governing majority, while squeezing the productive minority?
Members of the modern day Party of Obama are Keynes’ spiritual heirs in ways that the Party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt never fully were: not only are they economic profligates clamoring for an economic policy which threatens to crush future generations under mountain of debt, but they are also moral libertines who, like Keynes with his sexual dalliances, willingly embrace an anti-Culture of sterility, ne’er thinking of the morrow, for when it comes we shall all be dead. Carpe diem, indeed.
Thus the hootenanny in Charlotte gave us Sandra Fluke and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards touting mandated funding of contraception by churches and citizens who conscientiously object, and a call for the funneling of billions to Big Abortion.
Abortion, of course, is the starkest violation of intergenerational solidarity, Medea and Agave ripping asunder the mother-child bond. But so too is every act of contraception, every act of sodomy, a betrayal of future generations. And, when the top of the inverse pyramid becomes too heavy, due to the children who were never born not being there to help sustain the burden of caring for their elders, the temptation to euthanize – another act of intergenerational violence – arises. What are the implications of the rationing of health care advocated by Ezekiel Emanuel in his 2009 Lancet article? What are the implications of a party platform that is built upon a right to contraception, abortion and “gay marriage,” coupled with massive government debt?
One cannot build, nor sustain, a culture upon such foundations.
As with Ozymandias, it is the “fatal conceit” of theorists of liberal autonomy to think that civilization with all its contemporary trappings – the iPhones, the “carbon neutral” childless vacations, home delivery of the Financial Times – will remain the same fifty years hence.
Yet they persist in their folly, and label it a virtue. A number of years ago The Daily Mail ran an article, in which a young woman who worked for an “environmental charity,” related her rationale for aborting her only child and then undergoing sterilization:
Having children is selfish. It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet. . . . I didn’t like having a termination, but it would have been immoral to give birth to a child that I felt strongly would only be a burden to the world. . . . [We] have a much nicer lifestyle as a result of not having children. . . . Every year, we also take a nice holiday — we’ve just come back from South Africa. We feel we can have one long-haul flight a year, as we are vegan and childless, thereby greatly reducing our carbon footprint and combating over-population.
The mystery writer P.D. James once wrote a dystopian novel entitled Children of Men – the title echoes Psalm 90:3 – where the world was struck by a baffling plague of sterility, and the remnant generations noted the dwindling of humanity each year since the birth of the last Omega cohort, a progression toward the Darkness.
The Children of Keynes, who have chosen their sterility and celebrate it, shout “Forward!”
“Forward,” one asks, “toward what?”
Piero A. Tozzi is Senior Legal Counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, where he practices international human rights law. His areas of responsibility include Latin America, the Caribbean and the United Nations. He also serves as Senior Fellow with the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.