“We are not interested in the market socialism dreams of leftist liberal economists from the East Coast of the United States,” remarks Vaclav Klaus, finance minister of Czechoslovakia. “Right now, the main obstacle to our development is ideological infiltration from the West.” Don’t we in the United States have something better to send those guys than condoms and socialism?
Some weeks ago I took part in a TV discussion with a man who had written a book on corporate responsibility. Something he said stuck in my mind:
The basic purpose of a corporation is to make money. No doubt a corporation which treats its employees well, doesn’t pollute the environment, and deals fairly with consumers will generally be more successful than one which fails in these matters. But still the fundamental reason for which a corporation exits is to make money, not any or all of those good things.
A lot of people probably agree. As far as I can see, however, this view of corporations and their relationship to morality conflicts with the social doctrine of the Church. Other things being equal, corporations should make money; many benefits, to society and to individuals, can flow from that. But ultimately the moral raison d’etre of corporations—as of other social institutions—lies elsewhere.
The human person is the norm. Finally, all social structures and institutions, including corporations, either exist for the sake of human flourishing or they are radically flawed—evil—not just in their controlling vision but, very often, in their functioning as well.
I was reminded of all this at a conference on the social thought of Pope John Paul II organized by a Washington group called the Tenley Study Center. In the keynote talk Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, pointed to the basic tenet of John Paul’s social teaching: the individual human person is “the center of absolute value that can in no way be violated.”
This Johannine emphasis is not individualistic. For according to John Paul, people are only fulfilled in self-giving. As Monsignor Albacete put it: “The human person is realized in and through love.”
Now, personalism and charity may not seem to have much to do with today’s policy debate. In fact, however, personalism and charity are the necessary basis of community and the required starting-points of a just and harmonious social order. They are widely ignored and frequently violated in the United States today.
That happens in numerous ways. Certainly it happens as a result of the mindset that corporations exist ultimately to make money. As a statement of empirical fact, that often may be true; as a moral statement, it is false.
John Paul II says just that in Centesimus Annus, his 1991 social encyclical which was widely, and correctly, perceived as revealing a more positive view of free market capitalism (“the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs”) than he had shown up to that time. Business ventures do indeed have the right to make a profit, the pope observes, since “this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied.”
But that is not the end of it. On the contrary: “The purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society.”
The profit-oriented corporate mentality is not the only offender. The principles of personalism and charity, considered precisely as building blocks of a morally good social order, also are violated by the vicious power struggle waged by self-seeking interest groups. Among these, radical feminists and racist multiculturalists come readily to mind.
Building a community grounded in love and devoted to the flourishing of the human person does not—to say the least—compose a large part of their agenda. Their goal is power, and their unremitting efforts to acquire it constitute liberal democracy’s contemporary version of the class struggle.
In his talk to the conference mentioned earlier, Monsignor Albacete recalled an interesting fact: the opening affirmation of John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, in which he sets out the program of his pontificate, was deliberately chosen in response to the parallel passage in the Communist Manifesto. The latter situates human fulfillment in the class struggle; John Paul finds it in Christ.
“The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history,” he writes. This is to say that, in living the life of Christ, people are fulfilled. And although the Church’s social doctrine is not simply reducible to that fact, still there is and can be no social doctrine worthy of the name apart from it.
With the collapse of communism, class struggle appears not to be the burning question it once was. But perhaps that is only because the same mentality, superficially transformed, now has other outlets: in the loveless struggle for cultural dominance and social control waged by selfish interest groups, and in the amoral entrepreneurism which considers profit the be-all and end-all of business and commerce.
How different the vision and doctrine of the Church, developed and articulated by Pope John Paul! The human person is the measure of social structures, and Christ the measure of the person.
Women and Children Last
If chivalry isn’t dead, it’s just barely treading water. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “Titanic Test” revealed that today scarcely one man in three would give up his lifeboat seat to a woman outside his immediate family. In the actual sinking of the Titanic, by contrast, over 300 of the 490 survivors were women. One can only hope that if the notion of chivalry rises again someday, it will not have to be from the ocean floor.
Everything was working out just right for the “Pro-choicers” as the “March for Women’s Lives” began early on the morning of Sunday, April 5. The brief cold spell that had hit the Washington area was lifting, and despite a stiff chilly breeze, the sun was shining and few clouds were in the sky. It was a perfect day for the Cherry Blossom Festival, but the marchers gathering from all directions were not coming to celebrate new life.
NOW, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood must have been working overtime, for tens of thousands of attractive posters filled the air—”Pass the Freedom of Choice Act”; “We will Decide, November 3rd.” Early on, I could see that the number of pro-choicers would surpass the January march of pro-lifers, who marched on a cold, sunless workday.
My partner and I, seminarians donning our journalistic gear for the day, took up our video camera, microphones, and notepads and went out into the crowd to immerse ourselves in the opposition’s camp. Apparently, a camera and a press pass earn you both anonymity (no one accused us of being women-haters) and attention.
We moved our way through the gathering spot, where we heard aging pop stars Peter, Paul, and Mary sing about “Choice” and another woman singing about the glories of her “womb” as the crowd sang with her, “womb, womb, womb.” Many of the marchers were dressed in white to recall women’s suffrage. Various groups sold buttons, pins, and stickers, promising that the proceeds would go to further the fight for reproductive rights. “Get your RU-486 petitions here,” called out one woman.
The crowd was predominately white. A smaller number of blacks could be seen dressed in their pro-choice paraphernalia, listening to the token black woman speaker. At the pro-life march, children in strollers had been all over the place. Here, they were a rare sight. Most were crying. A few curious Japanese tourists wandered through the Mall, trying to frame a picture that included themselves, the protestors, and a monument or two.
As luck would have it, the first person we saw was Ann Stone, founder of Republicans for Choice. She was dressed handsomely in a white dress, white bonnet, and owl-like dark sunglasses. As we approached, one of her handlers said, “Ann, we have some media here.” She turned and greeted us warmly. I dove right in, “I saw a good article about you in the Post yesterday.” Assuming I was sympathetic, she opened up in a cordial and well-mannered way about the hardships of being a pro-choice Republican and the dangers of flip-flopping on the abortion issue.
With the first interview under our belt, we went more confidently to a group of students from Georgetown Law School. The leader of the group told me confidently about how easily she organized a pro-choice group on the Catholic campus. She spoke of her desire to aid in clinic defense work against pro-life demonstrators. When we concluded the interview, her cohorts applauded enthusiastically.
As we moved to the front of the march, we came across two young girls, perhaps 16-years-old, handing out literature from Refuse and Resist, which she described as a group of anarchists and pacifists. They were imploring the marchers, “Don’t let there be another Wichita in Buffalo!” I asked the more outgoing one her opinion about the Operation Rescue types. “Well, like, they just don’t know the meaning of life,” she began. “I mean, they show pictures of mutilated babies. That’s not what they look like.” Intrigued, I asked her to explain further. “Well, those are babies from the ninth month of the trimester.” I saw an opening, so I pressed further, “Oh, so you’re against abortion in the third trimester?” She replied quickly, “Oh, no, I think a woman ought to be able to abort right up to the day before the baby is born. I wouldn’t have one in the third trimester, though. That would be kind of funky.”
We managed to place ourselves at the beginning of the march and waited for the front line to pass. A truck full of media preceded a line of women holding a sign, “We will not go back!” All the leaders were there—Kate Michelman of NARAL, Eleanor Smeal of the Fund for the Feminist Majority, and Patricia Ireland of NOW. Obviously proud of the large turn-out, they marched by triumphantly. Further on, the Hollywood stars came, surrounded by a phalanx of women keeping everyone away.
In front of the White House, we met our first pro-lifers. They drew the ire of the marchers who chanted louder and confronted them. A few men were dressed in the classic “Death” outfit—black robes, skeletal faces, and scythes that pierced bloody baby dolls. They were silent except for a drum which they slowly beat to resemble a death march. A group of young Catholics from George Washington University spoke to us. “What upsets me most are these people with ‘Catholics for a Free Choice’ stickers on,” one young man told us, “they can’t even claim to be Catholic.” I laughed and whispered to him that we were seminarians. “But don’t tell anybody,” I said, “we’re trying to keep a low profile.” I should have told him to consider the priesthood. We need young men that witness to the truth and stand up to a crowd of hostile pro-abortionists.
As we worked our way back into the crowd, I overheard remarks about the pro-lifers. One woman said, “Did you see how they were all men…. They just don’t understand.” Another, “It just shows that they have no mind. Why don’t they go to church, it’s Sunday, leave us alone!”
I saw another pro-lifer, an unassuming man who stood quietly holding a sign that referred to the Holocaust. I asked him why he came. “I remember when I was growing up, and I asked my parents what they did to stop the holocaust of the Jews during World War II. All I got was a blank stare. Now my kids are growing up, and when they ask me what I did to stop abortion, I don’t want to give them the same blank stare.”
We decided to get back ahead of the march, so we took a couple of short cuts and walked briskly along the sidewalk to get to the Mall. A mother with her son and daughter overtook us, trying to get to the front also. They were arguing. “But, mom, it is murder,” the young girl was pleading. She was perhaps 12-years-old, with long black hair. My partner and I, not wanting to miss this, stepped up our pace to keep up with them. She continued, “I mean, you make the choice when you decide to have sex.” The mother, an Italian-looking middle-aged woman with a thick Brooklyn accent, told her, “just carry the sign.” The signs said something about sexual abuse and the girl’s younger brother was obviously unhappy about carrying the sign and marching. He kept stopping, and the mother kept turning around to keep him going.
I wanted to talk with the young girl, away from her mother, but prudence directed me not to. I approached the mother instead and asked her why she was at the march. Apparently, she was involved in a divorce, another daughter was a victim of incest, and the court costs were driving her into bankruptcy. She was marching for justice, justice for women and victims of sexual abuse. I asked her about abortion. “I don’t believe in abortion but I think it should be our choice. But I wouldn’t. That’s what I teach them.” I turned to the young girl, “What about you?” She replied shyly, “I don’t believe in it either, because it’s another person, a regular person.” We went our separate ways. My partner later remarked that both the mother and daughter were wearing Miraculous Medals.
The marchers began filling the Mall from beginning to end. From the main stage, politicians and activists gave their two-minute speeches, scoring their political points. People reclined on the lawn or gathered under banners. One group was the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. They seemed to be enthusiastic and happy, but no one seemed to be praying.
On the edges, among the line of trees, a large crowd had gathered. They surrounded a lone pro-lifer. We rushed to get closer; people made room for us. A tall man with a bull horn, dressed in cowboy hat and trench coat, was being drowned out by shouts of “Back to jail! Back to jail!” It was Randall Terry, the much-hated leader of Operation Rescue. He eventually broke away and took off with a small contingent of pro-choice “facilitators.” One tried to debate him, “Why don’t you do something to help babies that are already born?” He confronted her, “I have two adopted black boys. How many do you have?” She stumbled for a second, then said, “I have one child on my own.” Terry responded gently, “That’s wonderful. I’m glad that you have a child.” When he took up a spot under another tree, he interacted cordially with his facilitators. One even offered him a bag of trail mix.
This was an interview that we couldn’t miss, so we approached him. We told him that we were pro-life seminarians, surprising his facilitators. We talked about rescues, about fellow rescuer Joan Andrews, and about the march. “I’ve heard you’ve come around to the Catholic view of contraception,” I said. Terry replied, “Oh, yes, I’m more [strict] than the Catholics. We should trust God with how many children we have. We should not limit our children, and that includes natural family planning, which uses the technology of the day to say ‘no’ to children.” Commenting on the marchers and hecklers, he pointed out, “They’re people who hate us, people who hate our God. They’re not rejecting us, they’re rejecting our God.”
As if on cue, a line of women approached and performed a routine. They were dressed in masks, with gags over their mouths, and a sign over their wombs that said, “incubator.” Terry and his facilitators laughed, “This is classic!” The women pointed at him in unison and said, “We love you!” Terry responded, “God did not make you to be lesbians and child-killers; He made you to have children.” They exited as the laughter died down.
Not wanting to listen to the politicians, we searched for the pro-life counter-demonstration. In front of the Capitol, there were about 150 people dressed in purple, for wisdom, and green, for life. They held signs that said, “Pro-woman, Pro-life.” Others pointed out that the original suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony called abortion “child murder.” They chanted sharply, “Not NOW! Not Now!” We spoke with one of the organizers from Feminists for Life, who seemed anxious to get any media attention. She told us that feminist groups like NOW do not represent mainstream American women. I managed to avoid taking one of her media packets, hoping she could give it to the more mainstream media.
In front of the pro-life crowd, I saw a large purple banner with an inverted pink triangle. It read, “Pro-life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians.” Another interview that we couldn’t miss. I approached one of the men who was holding the banner. He had long, curly black hair and an earring. Asked why he was there, he told us about the diversity in the gay community and the purpose of his organization—to protect against threats to human life, rights, and dignity. He spoke peacefully and persuasively, without rhetoric or malice directed at the much larger contingent of protestors on the Mall. I asked the obvious question, “What kind of reaction do you get from religious pro-lifers who tend to be against homosexuality as well as abortion?” He told us about the first time they unfurled their banner in last year’s March for Life: “Most of the people came to us and said, ‘I don’t understand or agree with your lifestyle, but I’m glad you’re here.’ ” After the interview, he asked us where we were from. I told him, “We’re seminarians studying to be Catholic priests.” We both laughed.
The late-afternoon approached. We had been out there for four hours and marchers were still filing into the Mall. Back along the route of the march, we decided to interview a few more pro-lifers and start heading home. One young man, another Catholic who should be a priest, told us that he merely intended to be “a prayerful presence—to pray for these people.” While talking to him, another woman with a gag over her mouth got within camera range. She chided us for interviewing one pro-lifer among the tens of thousands of pro-choicers. She had come all the way from California on donations from friends. Her voice was monotone and her face was lifeless. She asked us where we were from. “Maryland,” I said, not wanting to get into it. The life seemed to be draining from me, too.
More pro-lifers, more hecklers. Some of these guys had been there all day. Then I graphically saw the other side of the issue. A woman held up a poster of a large, naked woman. She was on her knees, bent over with her face on the ground in a pool of her own blood—dead. Obviously a police photo from an illegal abortion gone awry. I experienced the same immediate shock, I imagine, that a woman who has had an abortion feels when she sees a picture of an aborted fetus. Lord, have mercy, I thought. I reflected on the immense destructive power of sin. It destroys women, it destroys unborn children, it destroys our sense of value in life, and it destroys even our revulsion to evil.
Yes, everything seemed to be working out just right for the pro-abortionists as my partner and I headed back to the car. But something was terribly wrong among the hundreds of thousands of smiling, waving, laughing, taunting, chanting people. Exhausted, we collapsed into the car and headed back to the peace of the seminary. We reflected on the day—Catholics on both sides, people singing “womb, womb, womb,” others praying “blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” pictures of dead babies and dead women, people praying, people screaming, politicians getting their points in the polls, movie stars massaging their egos, a third-trimester abortion referred to as “funky.” Yes, something is terribly wrong with our country. I believe we’ve become deaf as well as blind. Blind to the destruction of sin. Deaf to the silent cry of the unborn, “But, mom, it is murder.”
Paul D. Williams, Jr.
Happy Birthday to Me
“An intimate gathering of friends” does not exactly describe the massive celebrations held for North Korean President Kim Il Sung’s eightieth birthday. In addition to myriad honorary parades and spectacles, the communist dictator and defender of the poor received some uncommon gifts, most notably a quilt and sleeping mat constructed from down plucked from the necks of 700,000 patriotic sparrows. Another small token of esteem bestowed upon the aged president was the blood of 1,300 snapping turtles, said by some to be an aphrodisiac. Doubtless such gifts are appropriate for a man who already owns 35,000 statues of himself.
Sixty-nine percent of U.S. adults believe in something like “situation ethics,” reports a recent survey by the Princeton Religious Resource Center. All is not bleak: a similar number—70 percent—say that they think it is important to follow the instructions of God and Scripture. Yet while 91 percent say religion is an important factor in their lives, 63 percent do not accept the notion of moral absolutes but say instead that ethical standards change according to the situation. Although such polls tend to oversimplify people’s views, these figures do suggest that a large segment of society either ignores or misunderstands the fundamental nature of God, a being Who not only provides, but Himself is, absolute love and absolute truth. To deny the existence of all absolutes is to doubt not only God’s presence in the lives of men, but His very existence. Christians who espouse moral relativism seem to want to have their cake and question it too.
The Gallup survey also indicates that 43 percent of adults rely foremost upon their individual experience to discern truth, while 34 percent rely primarily upon the Bible or religious leaders. The most revealing aspect of these statistics is the modern tendency they suggest of placing human reason and religious authority in competition as sources of truth. We could probably learn something from the medievals and their classic idea of “faith seeking understanding,” which by contrast allows reason and revelation to complement one another in the search for knowledge. But perhaps that is too simple a solution for the sophisticated modern mind. And of course, to suggest that truth is so pervasive it may be found through the exercise of both faith and reason would imply that many truths are, well, absolute.
The threat that moral relativism poses to our culture lies not only in its popularity, but also, ironically, in the fanatical certitude of its adherents. If you ask one of them, “Are you convinced of the validity of relativism?” he is likely to respond, “Absolutely!”
As a senior with a strong academic background, I was advised by my professors to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship last semester. For those unfamiliar with the scholarship, Rhodes is one of the most prestigious scholarships in the country; 32 students of high intellectual ability are selected to study at Oxford University for two or three years. I knew that competition for the scholarship was fierce and that I was not a shoo-in, but I thought I had a fighting chance.
In preparing my extensive application, I made a big mistake—I failed to disguise my Catholicity. In my curriculum vita; I included among my many secular extra-curricular activities the several church-related activities in which I had been involved. I was silly enough to believe that involvement in such activities as the church choir, the college Catholic committee, and a Catholic shelter for homeless women would convey kindliness, compassion towards others, and devotion to duty—qualities sought in a Rhodes scholar. In my required personal statement, I described my desire to study and attain a Ph.D. in political theory. I discussed at length my fascination with the development of political thought and the relevance of such thought in contemporary America. I also made reference to the fact that I would enjoy teaching at a Catholic college or university as a career.
When I was chosen for the first round of selection interviews, I was thrilled. This was my opportunity to bring my application to life, to convince the interview panel that I possessed the traits they sought and to convey how my chosen career would relate to Cecil Rhodes’ dream that scholars hold the performance of “public duties as their highest aim.” Little did I know that this was to be a persecution rather than an interview and that I was the Christian to be thrown to the lions.
The first question of the interview asked by the panel of four was, “You make several references to the Catholic Church in your application. What are your thoughts about the teachings of the Church?” The tone for the interview was set. I explained that, as I have matured, my faith and my appreciation of the teachings of the Catholic Church have developed such that I do not embrace the teachings of the Church blindly but with understanding and faith.
With the next question, I assumed I had satisfied their curiosity regarding Catholicism: “What are your thoughts on political correctness?” I explained that I was against the notion of political correctness and that I viewed college speech codes as the imposition of an ideology on students.
The next question sought to trap me in a contradiction. “How do you reconcile your opposition to the imposition of an ideology through speech codes with the Catholic Church’s imposition of an ideology on its members?” Well, I guess I walked right into that one. I explained that the difference between college speech codes that impose political correctness and the teachings of the Catholic Church lies in the free choice Catholics freely make to embrace and live by the ways of the Church, while students have no choice when it comes to speech codes.
With the next question—”What are your thoughts on women’s issues, for example, the fact that women cannot be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church?”—I knew they had me surrounded. I had reached my limit by this point and remarked, “Well, I guess I am really going to be defending my faith today!” They were quick to answer that they were only asking these questions in order to find out more about me and my character, but I was not convinced.
The remainder of the interview included such “softball” questions as “What was the last novel you read?” and “What historical figure has most impacted your life?” St. Joan of Arc came to mind! Fifteen minutes of my thirty-minute interview for the Rhodes Scholarship were spent defending the Catholic Church. Needless to say, I was not selected as a semifinalist.
The guidelines for the Rhodes Scholarship clearly state that “no candidate… should be disqualified on account of race or religious opinion.” While I would not go so far as to say that the Rhodes Foundation discriminates against Roman Catholics, I would say that this experience exemplifies the accepted bias against Catholics that prevails in the U.S. today, at least in intellectual circles. I am sure the panel would not have dared to give a black student, or a Jewish student, for example, such a working over. Why, then, is prejudice against Catholics tolerated?
This tirade should not be misconstrued as a case of sour grapes. I am fully aware of the fact that I may not have been the best candidate for the scholarship on that day. My anger stems from the fact that I was so busy defending my “religious opinions” that I was not given a just opportunity to prove myself worthy of the scholarship.
I strongly suspect that as soon as the panel found that I had attended Catholic schools all my life, that I was involved in numerous Church activities, and that I hoped to pursue a career in the service of the Catholic Church, they assumed I possess such a closed mind that I cannot think for myself. My further admission that I believe in and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church probably confirmed their judgment. Had I said I was Catholic but opposed the Church’s teachings on such matters as abortion and the ordination of women, I am sure I would have been looked at in a different, and far more favorable light.
Faithful Catholics face an uphill battle in contemporary America. Because we hold that certain truths are constant, we are deemed insensitive and reactionary. This experience taught me to be more aware of this cruel fact and to expect it to rear its ugly head in even the most unlikely of places.
Wake Up and Smell the ‘Nineties
Increased sensitivity seems to be the goal of the ’90s man. According to a recent survey by the Roper Organization and Playboy, five out of six men would prefer to be seen as “sensitive and caring,” rather than “rugged and masculine.” Two-thirds of those surveyed preferred to describe themselves with terms like “friendly, trustworthy, and kind,” as opposed to “athletic” or “adventurous.” Over half thought that men should be able to show emotion in public—by crying, for instance. Funny, it’s our experience that ordinary men gain a greater number of kind and trustworthy friends by engaging in traditional masculine adventures and athletic contests than by displaying their emotions ostentatiously. And surely essayist Florence King has voiced a lament common among women today: “I wish Shere Hite or some other feminist would tell me what is so great about male ‘vulnerability.’ Too rich a diet of male vulnerability does things to women, and if you don’t believe it, look at Rosalyn Carter’s mean mouth.”
Why Boys Town Still Works
Boys Town is still going strong after 75 years. In 1917 with a $90 loan, Father Edward Flanagan started Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, to provide emergency shelter for five boys. It now provides room, board, education, and medical care to more than 15,000 boys and girls on the main campus and in branches nationwide. There are 556 occupants of Boys Town in Omaha, ages ten to 18, who live in 75 brick homes. There are chapels for Catholics and Protestants, along with a nearby synagogue for Jewish youths. Female residents were first accepted in 1979. In a recent article, Al Santoli writes that “Judge Colleen Buckley of Omaha’s juvenile court cites the family-style environment as the key to Boys Town’s continuing success.” Married couples, called “family teachers,” are trained to act as surrogate parents for each home, in which six to ten children live. The boys’ and girls’ homes are kept separate, but there is a diversity of ages and races in each home.
Boys Town “parents” stress that because many of the children come from very unstable environments, it is important that there be order and strong supervision in their lives. One of the boys who has been at Boys Town for four years has aspirations of becoming a computer scientist. When he first came, he had been in trouble for fighting in school, never attending classes, and running away from foster homes. He credited the parental supervision at Boys Town as the key to his success.
While a youth is at Boys Town, efforts are made to resolve any family problems that may exist, although many youths stay under the guardianship of a court or social agency until they graduate. “The high school emphasizes career planning through specialized tests and vocational courses,” Santoli writes. “Classes in employment skills are mandatory.” Eighty-two percent of the students have gone on to successful careers. Those who qualify for college are offered scholarship assistance.
“During the last 20 years, we have put our money where our mouth is,” says Father Val J. Peter, the executive director of Boys Town. “Our board of trustees are leaders in the business community who make sure that we spend within our means. The numbers of children crying for help are awesome. But if we break the bank today, we won’t be able to help the kids tomorrow.”
Interesting, isn’t it? In all the various charities, public and private, that make a real difference in the lives of men, women, and children, two words—family and discipline—seem to keep popping up.
Even as we went to press with last month’s editorial on the latest machinations at Georgetown, more revelations were surfacing in the battle over the pro-abortion club G.U. Choice. A student at the group’s meetings said the co-chairmen “adjourn” their meetings after a perfunctory agenda, then proceed with the real business at hand: clinic defense, lobbying, and other advocacy activities forbidden by the university. At the last meeting, for instance, only two people left after adjournment; the rest, including the scheduled speaker, remained to carry on the work.
Still, the administration struggles mightily to obfuscate the facts. Dean DiGioia, charged with overseeing the group’s activities, appeared at a recent student government meeting and said that the latest allegations continued a “pattern of ambiguities” on the club’s part; at this point, he admitted, he could not say that G.U. Choice was merely a forum for the free exchange of ideas. He added that he would either clear up these ambiguities in order for the group to continue as before, or the Free Speech and Expression policy would be revised to take account of advocacy groups. The co-chairmen of G.U. Choice spoke after the dean left and continued to make clear their unrepentant intentions to fight the “pro-choice” fight in every way possible.
At this point, the best guess is that Georgetown will rule the club ineligible for official benefits but rewrite the free speech policy to prevent any hindering of their activities. If Georgetown founder John Carroll and his friends like George Washington had taken the same attitude in 1776, the general’s home might have ended up on the far side of the St. Lawrence River, not the Potomac.
Friedrich Hayek, R.I.P.
At age 92, Nobel laureate Friedrich A. von Hayek died on March 23, at his home in Freiburg, Germany. A prodigious thinker and writer, he foretold the inevitable doom of socialism long before the collapse of the Soviet Union and its global empire.
Once events had proved his prescience, he was mightily honored, by President George Bush and Queen Elizabeth of England, among others. But 48 years ago, when his The Road to Serfdom was first published, he was reviled by a leftish intelligentsia enamored of the socialist dream. His thesis—that collectivism inevitably led to tyranny—was popular neither in academia nor in Washington.
Yet its logic was compelling, and The Road to Serfdom, written while he was teaching at the London School of Economics in Britain, became a best seller. Still, public acceptance never concerned him much on his way to writing more than 50 books and 200 major articles on economics, philosophy, and other subjects. In 1974, he was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Economics, which, explains Eamonn Butler of London’s Adam Smith Institute, “gave him renewed energy to produce yet further books and articles of powerful insight and vigor.” His last major work was The Fatal Conceit, published just four years ago.
Hayek is probably best remembered for his criticism of government economic intervention—not just under socialism, but also in the welfare state. One of his most important arguments was that a lack of official “planning” does not mean social chaos. To the contrary, a spontaneous order naturally evolves in a market economy. Critical for such a natural ordering are free prices, which coordinate the actions of consumers and producers around the globe. And, in his view, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the more complex the society the less effective any attempted government intervention. Only a free market—where increasingly complex information is disseminated through ever-changing prices to every relevant actor of society—can meet the informational challenges of the modern era. The dramatic collapse of communism as the world entered the information age is perhaps the most dramatic empirical confirmation for which he could have hoped.
But Hayek not only attacked socialism; he also analyzed the “free societies” in the West and was not pleased with what he found. For instance, he warned against “majoritarian” democracy, in which interest groups turn the political process into a huge fight for spoils. He went on to explore many of the profoundest questions of law. justice, and politics in Law, Legislation and Liberty and The Constitution of Liberty. The latter, published in 1960, begins with a discussion of the importance of liberty, follows with a look at the Western institutions created to protect freedom, and concludes with a discussion of contemporary political issues. Hayek thought the experiment with democracy until now only partially successful and argued for a second round of experiments, the better to defend liberty. (Hayek’s philosophical bent long coexisted with an interest in some of the more arcane policy debates. He was, for instance, a critic of the government’s monopoly over money even before he wrote The Road to Serfdom, and long supported a gold standard for currency.)
Although Hayek might sound like a conservative today, he called himself a liberal in the European tradition, that is, a classical liberal. Indeed, one of the chapters in The Constitution of Liberty is entitled, “Why I Am Not A Conservative.” In his view, “the conservative opposition to too much government control is not a matter of principle but is concerned with the particular aims of government.” He criticized conservatism’s tendency to use coercion for “religious ideals” and its frequent support for imperialism.
But Hayek, a lapsed Catholic, held some views quite different from those of many of the classical liberals who most honor him today. In particular, in his later writings he emphasized the role of tradition. He saw civilizations evolving, with some social systems triumphing over other ones. Indeed, his commitment to liberty was based not so much on either natural rights or utilitarianism, but more on what he saw as the competitive struggle between different traditions.
“The fatal conceit” of which he wrote in his last book was not just that of government economic planners, though they were the most obvious offenders, but also of those who would rely significantly on rational argument to shape the social order.
Civilization, he wrote in The Fatal Conceit,
arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection—the comparative increase of population and wealth—of those groups that happened to follow them.
In the same book he proclaimed his agnosticism, but simultaneously lauded the role of religion in helping to maintain and transmit “beneficial traditions.” In fact, one reason he expected communism to founder was that it did not respect “property and the family,” as did “the only religions that have survived” over the last 2000 years.
Friedrich Hayek already ranks among both the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century and the most compelling supporters of a free society. But his legacy is likely to grow even more important as the world struggles through the post-communist era.