China-Watching in the Vatican

Whatever its other accomplishments, Henry Kissinger’s new book, On China, ought to cause serious reconsideration of that now-familiar refrain, “China-is-the-lead-country-of-the-future.” Kissinger’s analysis of Chinese history has been criticized, as has his reticence about evils like the massacres at Tiananmen Square. But his conclusion — that China’s future depends on the resolution of the conflict between those of its leaders who want to maintain totalitarian political control at all costs and those who want to complete the country’s remarkable economic development with a genuine opening toward democratic governance — strikes me as a fair summary of the situation. And it should give no comfort to the China-is-inevitably-Number-One crowd. A country that conflicted about its political future is an unlikely contender for world supremacy.

The current division with the Chinese political leadership will also be of interest to the Holy See. In Rome, some Vatican diplomats have long advocated a fast march toward full diplomatic relations with the Beijing government; others have urged a more measured approach, which has been the path chosen by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The latter seem to me to have the better of the argument. Indeed, it is not easy to see any advantage to the Catholic Church in quickly closing a diplomatic deal with the Peoples Republic of China, ruled as it is today, and for three reasons.

1. The current regime cannot be trusted to keep its word. For some time, a modus vivendi was in place between the Vatican and Beijing on the appointment of bishops. It was never codified, but everyone knew the basic rules of the road: no bishops are to be ordained without the tacit approval of the Holy See. The regime brazenly broke that working agreement late last year, going so far as to drag one elderly Chinese bishop by his hair to an illicit episcopal ordination. There is no reason to think that formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the PRC will resolve this bottom-line issue of the Church’s independence to control its own life; that issue has to be resolved before any diplomatic deals are concluded.

2. Diplomatic relations with Beijing means severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Taiwan is the first Chinese democracy in history; the Catholic Church has made clear for three decades now that, under modern conditions, democracy is morally superior to other forms of governance, most certainly including totalitarianism. For the Holy See to throw a Chinese democracy over the side while embracing Chinese totalitarians would raise grave questions about the Church’s commitments to human rights and democracy. The struggle that Kissinger describes over China’s future must be farther along the road toward a resolution in favor of the reformers before diplomatic relations between the Holy See and China make sense — not least because that kind of resolution could render the Taiwan issue moot.

3. Diplomatic relations with Beijing under current circumstances could well impede the Church’s evangelical mission in the China of the future. There is serious persecution of Christians in China. Yet, if and when China finally opens itself fully to the world, China is likely to become the greatest field of Christian mission since the Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere in the 16th century. If the Catholic Church is seen as an ally of the old regime in the period immediately after the old regime falls, the Church’s missionary efforts are going to be seriously compromised. Evangelical Protestants and Mormons, who are gearing up for major missionary efforts in China when that becomes possible, don’t have to worry about such linkages being drawn. The Catholic Church should not put itself at a disadvantage in the missionary China of the future by its diplomatic actions today.

The Catholic Church is 2,000 years old; the current Chinese regime took power in 1949. The Church can afford to wait. Keeping the pressure on, especially about religious freedom and the free appointment of bishops, is more important now than a nunciature and a Vatican ambassador in Beijing.

George Weigel


George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the author, most recently, of The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II⎯The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy.

  • Dennis

    Your article while true, pains me as it should any Catholic and any Protestant. All we can do is slip under the radar and provide a little assistance and encouragement to the suffering faithful … and pray.

  • Keeping what pressure on? Chinese eat pressure for breakfast. US demands on currency issues have gone on for years and there was movement only when it made sense to China. Weigel didn’t mention the mixed Catholic legacy in the 19th century whereby nuns and priests were wonderful within China but at the macro level, the Vatican’s representative in China, France, negotiated privileges for Catholics under extraterritoriality (bishops being carried in the Mandarin chair) that later got many Chinese laity killed during the boxer rebellion. France also militarily helped England in the second opium war which simultaneously forced open all provinces to missionaries and the southern provinces to opium which a Chinese southern provincial leader had pleaded with Queen Victoria to stop as it was destroying Chinese families. She never responded to his
    letter. Matteo Ricci days were pure ones centuries ago for the Church in China and are always referenced by Catholic writers. The 19th century was not pure. Priests and nuns were wonderful…..the macro Catholic rep, France, bullied China at the point of superior guns as did many western
    countries. Catholic writers perhaps fool Catholics…but not the Chinese.
    Then Benedict writes a letter to them in 2007 saying:
    ” As Pope John Paul II stated, recalling what Father Matteo Ricci wrote from Beijing [11], “so too today the Catholic Church seeks no privilege from China and its leaders, but solely the resumption of dialogue, in order to build a relationship based upon mutual respect and deeper understanding.”
    Oops. The privileges obtained for Catholics in the 19th century are forgotten….again by citing the 16th century.

    Forgetting now our Catholic tendency to omit the 19th century in favor of the more pure 16th, let’s move on to the worst revolt within China…evah….20 million dead in a revolt led by a Christian Chinese. I give you wiki:

    “The Taiping Rebellion was a widespread civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan, who having received visions, maintained that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ[1] against the ruling Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. About 20 million people died, mainly civilians, in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history.”

    Duh ya thunk that would make China hesitate about Christian behaviour as a stabilizer. And they had the Taiping rebellion while the Catholic rep, France, was forcing opium on them in the Second Opium War…..which opened the provinces to missionaries thru war….thru killing.
    Ah….those Matteo Ricci references….they’re like those Thomas Kinkaide paintings of dappled sun on paths in a cosy village. Saccharine.
    The Popes need a resident Catholic historian to vet all letters going from Popes to China….an historian not a pretty picture painter.

  • David Howard

    Numbers don’t lie. What makes China a world leader is its economy, not anything else – not inspiring others to Democracy, not drawing others into freedom, but money, money, money.

    They will have economic superiority according to many economists. This will put the U.S. and the rest of the world at a disadvantage. Perhaps there will be a Union of many Countries to overcome China. This is what it will take.

    Recent criticism has been that China’s numbers are inflated. I have only heard a few experts speak on this, but I have heard little dissension to this view.

    About the bishop ordinations, anyone could have seen it. China never keeps its word, the Holy Father was set up. Perhaps the Church hierarchy should reread the “clever as a serpent” statement by Christ.

  • Ms Catholic State

    Christianity…in particular Catholicism… will make China great. Not democracy!

    The 2 should not be conflated.

  • SeanOS

    Why should Weigel, who professes the philosophy of Ayn Rand more than the Gospel for the poor, be considered capable of giving a Catholic view on China?

  • Cord Hamrick


    Your accusation against Weigel is implausible in the extreme. Why did you make it?

    Try as I might, I cannot find any evidence anywhere that George Weigel is an atheist and a philosophical materialist, believes that all virtue derives from human selfishness, and is opposed to almsgiving except where some selfish gain can be derived. And I can find plenty of evidence to the contrary.

    Since you say “the Gospel for the poor” instead of merely “the Gospel,” I can only assume that you believe that, since George Weigel is often associated with politically-conservative causes and probably votes for conservative candidates, he hates poor people…or something like that.

    But since American conservatives give to the poor far more generously than American left-progressives, this too is a deeply implausible notion.

    (They do, you know: Conservatives tend to give around twice as much, both in actual dollar figures and as a percentage of income. This is true at every income level. And they volunteer in the community and donate blood rather more often, too. There are always exceptions of course, but in general, if you show me a person who donated ten percent or more of their pre-tax income last year to church and charity, and who gave blood four or more times last year, I’ll show you a guy who goes to vote wishing his candidates were more Reaganesque.)

    So I don’t really see any justification for what you wrote at all…but I’m willing to be corrected. What evidence do you have that Weigel is some kind of closeted Randian Objectivist?

    • SeanOS

      Thanks for asking. I believe you will find the answer here:
      – this article may also address the questions you raised in your 11:55am submission this morning.


      • Cord Hamrick


        Okay, I read the article.

        I cringed through it, because it was spectacularly wrong, early and often, in all kinds of ways. I wish I could say something complimentary about it, but I cannot, except that I noticed no spelling errors. I hope it isn’t representative of Mr. Gehring’s usual habits.

        Where to begin?

        I myself disagree with Rand where she is wrong, which is often. There is a good individualism, and a bad individualism, and while Rand’s remarks can be used to support the good kind of individualism, her professed ethics (and personal behavior) show that she actually held the bad kind.

        However, she did correctly and famously defend the moral superiority of free market capitalism over centrally planned economies. The reasons she gave are entirely in accord with the Catholic faith. These added moral reasoning to the existing arsenal of free-marketers (who already had efficiency and material prosperity on their side), so free-marketers can be grateful to her for that.

        And while Rand advocated a sort of “bad individualism” which defined selfish desire as intrinsically good, the way she defended this “bad individualism” includes condemnation of collectivism…and collectivism is the enemy not only of the “bad individualism,” but of the “good individualism.” The “good individualism” of moral responsibility (including responsibility to others, which includes almsgiving) and non-violence is compatible with, and (I believe) largely assumed in, the Catholic faith, which rejects collectivism (and often condemns it in the same terms Rand used).

        So when Paul Ryan touts the moral superiority of capitalism over socialist collectivism and expresses his approval of Rand’s moral defense of capitalism, he’s simply correct, and Rand is correct with him, and the Church is correct with him. (Rand is incorrect about a lot of other things, but it doesn’t mean she’s wrong about this. The sky is still blue, even if Rand says that it’s blue. All truth is God’s truth, even the bits that Rand happened to know about.)

        Now, when Paul Ryan touts the moral superiority of individualism over collectivism, he may be in accord with the mind of the Church, or not, depending on whether he is defending the “good individualism” or the bad. So Ryan is on shakier ground, there.

        But I suspect he is defending the good kind, since most conservatives are. (This is made obvious by the fact that conservatives are more generous than left-liberals in almsgiving, by almost a factor of 2:1…something Rand’s kind of selfishness-oriented individualism would not support.)

        This is a little too abstract, so let’s be concrete for a moment. I’ll start with a paragraph which I think you’ll agree with entirely:

        Catholics are morally obligated to help the poor. Catholics are morally obligated to help the poor by morally licit means, but are not permitted to use morally illicit means. And, within the realm of morally licit means, Catholics are free to use various methods, but should ideally to use the method which does the most help with the fewest drawbacks. Finally, Catholics are obligated to believe that persons are not mere animals and their needs are not limited to physical needs, and thus that helping them means helping the whole person, body and soul.

        I don’t think you can possibly disagree with anything in that paragraph.

        Now, with respect to assisting the poor, the debate between conservatives and left-progressives is this: Left-progressives want to do it through government handouts, but conservatives disagree for some or all of the following reasons:

        – Doing so is not a morally licit use of government force;
        – Doing so is unconstitutional and thus unlawful;
        – Doing so doesn’t help the poor physically in the long run;
        – Even the short-term physical help could be done more efficiently privately;
        – The slight amount of short-term physical help is more than offset by the damage to the economy, especially the prolonging of economic downturns, which tend to hurt the poor most of all;
        – Doing so hurts the poor spiritually, fostering dependency and entitlement and undermining the middle-class “moral capital” which helps families escape poverty and enter the middle class;
        – Doing so corrupts the government;
        – Doing so corrupts the voting process;
        – Doing so divides the society and fosters class mistrust and warfare;
        – Doing so undermines the church’s role in society and contributes to the secularization of the public square.

        Now you may not yourself believe that welfare state programs are problematic in all these ways. But conservatives do, and have pretty good arguments for each one.

        It is for these reasons that conservatives support mostly dismantling the welfare state (slowly, over generations) in order to alleviate the great damage it does to the poor (and more broadly, to society in general).

        I would never, for example, have voted for Barack Obama, even had he been pro-life, because to lend my support to his economic ideas would be a dereliction of my responsibility to help my needy brethren.

        For that reason, I can agree — indeed, I think all conservatives would agree — wholeheartedly with this paragraph in Gehring’s article:

        The Catholic worldview stresses personal responsibility along with our collective obligation to care for the most vulnerable. Individual rights must be balanced with responsibility to our families, neighbors, country, and world. Government’s vital role in serving the common good is complemented by the principle of subsidiarity, which recognizes that lower sectors of society (family, church, community organizations) serve as mediating institutions between the state and individual. Markets can help creative ideas flourish but should never be made an idol. Applying these sound principles to debates over government spending and the economy, Catholic leaders and laity are uniquely positioned to advocate for policies that demonstrate fiscal prudence without sacrificing values of basic fairness and solidarity.

        In response to that paragraph, I find myself saying, “Yes, yes yes, that’s exactly what conservatives believe. And that’s exactly the structure which has been so utterly devastated by the welfare state.”

        It’s at once ironic and unsurprising that a person who supports the welfare state would write such a paragraph. Ironic, because he’s arguing on the conservatives’ behalf and doesn’t know it; unsurprising because the reason he thinks that paragraph argues in favor of his own policies, rather than conservatives’, is because he denies all the bulleted items I listed earlier, which conservatives usually affirm.

        It is those items, then, which are the point of contention. If you adhere to some or all of them, you’ll favor conservative policies; if you deny most or all of them, you’ll be a left-progressive.

        The point of contention is unrelated to conservatives’ enthusiasm for Rand; that enthusiasm is limited to the things Rand believed which the Church also believes. The fact that conservatives are twice the almsgivers that left-progressives are demonstrates that the kind of individualism Rand proposed is not the kind they practice.

        So Rand is a red herring in this debate, but left-leaning Catholics who don’t know better (I hope; the other option is that they are writing dishonestly for readers who don’t know better) like to associate Rand with their political opponents. It’s a good strategy: Associate your opponents with the bad bits of Rand’s philosophy, to make them unpopular. But it’s also either ignorant or dishonest, because those bad bits are precisely the bits of Rand’s philosophy that conservatives reject. If they are “Rand’s disciples,” then Rand, if she is aware of their doings, is badly disappointed in them.

  • Tom

    So if democracy is better, why are Ayn Rand Catholics in love with Murdoch’s’ concocted world view? If you look at what they have said, the Murdoch’s and Slims of the world actually really like China (..and don’t seem to give a hoot about clergy being put to jail, infant gendercide at the tune of 100 millions girls and counting, one child policy that killed even more children, etc…). Murdoch just is seeding discord in the US, because it’s part of his business plan to use vaudeville like fake outrage, to make a buck. If along the way this weakens this pesky thing called “democracy”, that’s fine. You know this “by people, for the people” stuff that can be such a nuisance, when creating phony financial “instruments”, dump oil, hack phones, etc, etc, etc…. And yes, democracy is also “inconvenient” to many in the Church, as it forced hierarchy to realize that abusing children is not really “ok”, that it’s not just a little problem to be swept under the rug, because the Maciel’s of the world and their $$$$$ cronies needed cover. But, no Ayan Rand Catholic are still biting Murdoch’s puppeteering, line, hook and sinker. Now we have like-minded doctrines being forced down our throats by the Curia, that there is no need for Prayer, because it’s the same thing as “Work”.[1] Now Escriva’s words trump Christ’s admonition to Martha. What Marxists failed to do to the Church, Ayn Rand Catholics will try to finish.


    • Cord Hamrick


      Who are “Ayn Rand Catholics,” please? And what distinguishes them, in your view?

      Obviously Ayn Rand said some things which were true, and they don’t become false because she said them.

      Obviously Ayn Rand said some things which were false and incompatible with Christianity, also.

      If a Catholic believes the things Ayn Rand said which were false and incompatible with Christianity, then that Catholic either does so knowingly (in which case he/she is not a Catholic), or does so unknowingly (in which case he/she has not thought deeply enough about the Randian statements, or the teachings of the Church, or both).

      But if a Catholic believes the things Ayn Rand said which were true, why should this be cause for concern? …for “all truth is God’s truth” wherever it is found.

      Ayn Rand sometimes had a knack for saying things in particularly pithy or catchy ways, and for saying them at times when no-one else was likely to say them, or to say them as unapologetically. She thereby became famous for saying them. Some of the things she became famous for saying were true, and some false, but she became associated with them for how she said them.

      Now, focusing only on the things Ayn Rand is associated with, which are also true: When a Catholic says the same things, not because Ayn Rand said them, but because they are true, one might label that Catholic an “Ayn Rand Catholic.” For it’s only natural that these ideas might be strongly associated with Rand if she were their best-known popularizer.

      But in that case “Ayn Rand Catholic” would be either a compliment (in that context) or a redundancy, and not a negative label…or at least it wouldn’t make the Catholic saying them less a Catholic. Indeed, he may be unaware that Rand said anything of the kind. He may be simply stating these ideas because they’re true.

      I also don’t know why you’re getting riled up about Murdoch (the News Corp owner, I presume, not the eccentric A-Team character). Nobody mentioned him before you; why did you bring him up?

      • Tom

        Cord, Ok, so what did Ayn Rand say that was true, in your estimation? What is compatible with the Gospels? Can you give some examples to make your point? I don’t know of any. I mentioned Murdoch because his media empire is behind promoting Randian concepts, as a gimmick to make money out of resulting tensions (btw, I am not defending MSM, they are just as bad with their pseudo “causes’, destruction of marriage, adult “rights” for free for all “sexual freedom of expression”, their epitome of “human rights”, etc, etc…) .

        • Tom

          …and because Murdoch and others like him (WSJ editorial board) are admirers of China’s system (..sorry, got to stay on topic a bit!).

        • Cord Hamrick


          So what did Ayn Rand say that was true, in your estimation? What is compatible with the Gospels?

          1. That a system of free market capitalism is morally superior to centrally planned economic collectivism;

          2. That centrally planned economic collectivism, to the extent it is fully embraced, tends to corrupt government and destroy wealth;

          3. That while it is morally permissible to initiate violence against another person to prohibit, deter, or punish his wrongful attack on an innocent person, it is not morally permissible to initiate violence against another person to get him to do whatever you happen to want, or to live off his productivity against his will;

          4. That both a raw-materials theory of value, and a labor theory of value, are false; but that wealth is created by ingenuity applied to the world as a creative act or a truth-learning act.

          Item 1 is true because, while persons in capitalist economies may use their freedom to buy noxious stuff, ranging from porn (which is actually evil) to plastic dashboard saints (merely tacky), this accurately reveals the state of their soul without depriving them of their human dignity. Meanwhile, the collectivist planned economy deprives them of their human dignity from the start, by treating them as cogs in a machine to be pushed about forcibly instead of persuaded rationally. This may force them to do evil (as in China’s forcible abortions) or good (as in Ceaucescu’s limited-time pro-child policies in Romania), but it is unjust oppression in either case. Such states “give to Caesar what is God’s,” and in practice, tend to assume Godlike authority over the lives of their subjects, breaking down all subsidiary units of society (such as family and church).

          Item 2 is true because, as Rand noted, when government regulators can arbitrarily wield more influence over the success or failure of your business than your own productivity or ingenuity, the rewarding of productivity or ingenuity which happens in a free-market system is replaced by “the aristocracy of pull”: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

          And this tends to destroy wealth, which of course hurts the poor worst of all.

          Item 3 is very nearly pacifist, but not quite so, allowing for the use of force in the gravest extreme to prevent worse evils by opposing wrongful attacks. It thus resembles the Church’s own position on the proper use of violence. It extends what the Church teaches about individual self defense (or defense of the innocent, and what the Church teaches about war, and applies it equally consistently to the role of the police power of the government.

          Item 4 is merely economically correct, but Rand states it in such a way as to emphasize human dignity and creativity. As a materialist and atheist, Rand had no intellectually consistent origin for this dignity and creativity. The Church fills in this gap, teaching that man’s creativity is the gift of his Creator who made him “in the image of God,” and that this image is the source of his intrinsic dignity.

          • Tom

            Sorry, I do not see any quotes, those are you interpretations, without documentation. Lets keep it simple. How about an assignment: lets take item number 1. Give quotes from the Gospels and Rand that both support and are against this assertion, review church doctrine on positive and negative subsidiary, with concrete example in real life for and against each one. Then conclude. Then I will give you my perspective, and if we are civilized, we may agree on some points, but at least listen to the points we disagree. Warning, to do this right takes time and effort, contrary to propaganda blah, blah.

            PS: what you say is total bunk, there is nothing in the Gospels that says that children with cancer are better off dying, because 80% of cure rates achieved now days are largely due to collaborative individual initiated, mostly government sponsored systems, in collaborations with charities and the private sector. I don’t think Rand would have supported that concept, because she had no idea how science, in particular medical science works. Its a collaborative effort, that includes highly competitive public sector funding (works ab bit like the Marines), that no church even comes close to matching. Instead, she would have imagined a mad single “genius” that would come up with a “cure” in his secret laboratory (sponsored by an imaginary rich relative), against all odds and despite all these stupid little people that block his genius work. This may be “true” in Marvel comic books, or in Hollywood films she help make, or on as part of Murdoch’s vaudeville pseudo news business plan that you have been brainwashed to believe, but not on this God created planet.
            Cheers man.


          • Tom

            ……just to be fair, God also permits the single geniuses that have to break barriers and suffer, that are many examples of that (Dr Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, for example), but the way things work usually is via collaboration. Subsidiary is the key, if the only way to achieve a goal is by an elected, sound government body, that does not waist money, and is ethical, Catholic teaching says it’s ok, and this is supported by the Gospels. St Paul in particular says to be respectful of legitimate authority, now days, that would include honest elected officials. If the government is dysfunctional, its because we allowed it to be so. If you prefer to be ruled by business oligarchs, move to Russia or China

          • Cord Hamrick


            What kind of quotes are you asking me for from the four Gospels? I won’t be able to find one saying, “free market capitalism is superior to Maoism,” but that certainly doesn’t disprove the statement!

            What I mean is this: One can’t find a quote from Jesus saying, “The monophysites are wrong,” or, “the book of Hebrews ought to be included in the canon,” or “the successors of Peter speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals, but only when exercising their office as teachers to the whole Church” because these, like the issues discussed above, are controversies which arose later. The same is true for a hundred other contested questions.

            With that caveat in place, I accept your assignment re: the Gospels and the Church. (I’ve been through this same process with Joe Hargrave a couple of years ago.)

            As for quotes from Rand? Not being a Randian Objectivist myself, I don’t keep my copy of Atlas Shrugged handy. It may be in some random box in my basement, under layers of other books. I suppose I can find quotes on the Internet if I search hard enough.

            But if you can find a copy of the book (which is Rand’s whole manifesto in fictional form), feel free to flip to any random thirty-page speech by the character John Galt, such as his radio address. You will there find the four points I listed again and again (alongside some other assertions — anti-almsgiving, pro-selfishness, and atheist — which I and other conservatives obviously deny).

            And of course Item 2 makes up most of the plot of the book…when it isn’t getting sidetracked by violent and acrobatic sex scenes peppered with poorly-written soliloquies masquerading as dialogue!

            (The woman needed a competent editor in the worst way.)

            And anyway, I assume you’re willing to stipulate that the four points I listed are among Rand’s assertions. After all, if you thought they weren’t, why would you be calling Catholics who agreed with them “Ayn Rand Catholics?”

            So the issue is really with (a.) Scripture, in the unlikely event that anything apropos can be found, and (b.) the various papal bulls and encyclicals, and the Catechism.

            If these can be shown to say that free market capitalism is morally as bad as, or worse than, command-economy collectivism;

            …or, if these can be shown to say that planned economies are not destructive of wealth and do not produce corrupt relationships between regulators and business;

            …or, if these can be shown to morally require government to collect alms through its compulsory power;

            …or, if these can be shown to teach an economic theory of market value which discounts human demand and creativity in favor of some other basis of value;

            …then these four items, which Rand held, which I hold to be not only compatible with the teachings of the Church but true, will be shown to be incompatible (and thus, for any faithful Catholic, false).

            Please keep in mind the following:

            1. We ought to be careful about terms, such as “free market capitalism.” By the latter I mean an economic system in which persons are permitted to exchange things of value, including money, for other things of value voluntarily without fear that the government will forcibly intervene except to deter, halt, or punish violations of the rights of human beings, or to enforce valid contracts…and which, through contract enforcement and stable property rights, encourages small business entrepreneurialism.

            This is not the same as anarcho-capitalism, or anarchy, or the “corporate-welfare cronyism” which sadly infects the U.S. economy at the present time.

            It is also not the same as “unfettered capitalism,” a term which sometimes is used synonymously with anarcho-capitalism where there are no laws, and other times means a capitalist economy in which people’s decisions are utterly unguided by moral strictures, and other times means an economy in which labor union membership is forbidden by the state.

            2. I do not hold to that portion of Rand’s thinking which equates desire with moral goodness (saying, in essence, that if you want something and can obtain it through consensual means, it’s necessarily a moral good).

            Therefore, I do not hold that free market capitalism is perfect; still less do I hold that it constitutes a whole moral philosophy of life. It is an economic policy recommendation, alone: Like a recommendation to raise or lower tariffs.

            I hold that the free market is superior to price-setting or job-assigning by compulsion, because I hold that unjustified use of violence (or the threat thereof) is evil. Therefore, the command economy actually is evil: It recommends an evil and dehumanizing act.

            Now, the free market recommendation contains within it a rule opposing that evil act. This makes the free market less evil than the command economy.

            But does it make it good? Or neutral? Or still evil (if less evil than command economies)? I think that depends on the virtue of the people: A free market, like a free country, depends upon a virtuous people for its goodness; it has no goodness of its own to offer.

            I hold that the free market is like a mirror: To the extent that persons hold good value systems, their sales and purchases will be good; to the extent that persons have corrupted values, they will buy porn and pot and Britney Spears recordings. This is the fault of the persons, not of their economic system; it is moral evil, but not a moral evil caused by the free market. (When the exterminator peels back your sheetrock to show you that you have termites in your walls, it doesn’t mean he put them there.)

            3. I do not hold that Randian strictures on the kinds of things a government may justly criminalize have yet been dogmatically affirmed by the Church. I hold only that these strictures have not been called erroneous, and that the Church has not taught that governments must violate them. They therefore fall within the range of opinion permitted to Catholics, and that they may yet be dogmatically affirmed in some later century.

            For example, the Church has not, in any encyclical, forbidden the welfare state. I am only saying that she has not required it; and thus, that my view opposing it (which I share with Rand), but encouraging private giving (which Rand does not share) is not incompatible.

            4. I do not think that you will find anything in the teachings of the Church opposing the labor theory of value in favor of demand theory, et cetera. Such a question is well outside her Magisterial charism. It is not her business to opine about it.

            Still, Rand uses this topic as an excuse to wax poetic about the intrinsic dignity of man, saying that natural resources achieve economic value precisely because man creatively applies his mind to their use. Rand says, for example, that fertile farmland has no economic value unless and until a man knows how to farm: That it is the part of man’s dignity that he creates farming techniques through his intellect. I find this view comfortable in that it mirrors the teaching of the Church about man’s intrinsic dignity as a “little creator” in the image of God.

            I offer these clarifications so that you don’t waste your time arguing against positions I am not trying to defend.

          • Cord Hamrick


            My above reply was pretty much in response to the first paragraph of your last reply to me.

            But you said some things after that paragraph, which I can’t make head or tails of:

            …there is nothing in the Gospels that says that children with cancer are better off dying, because 80% of cure rates achieved now days are largely due to collaborative individual initiated, mostly government sponsored systems, in collaborations with charities and the private sector….

            First, don’t indulge in straw men assigning psychopathic motives to me, please. Nobody says children are better off dying, et cetera. That’s like saying that folk who want abortion outlawed “want” women to die in back-alley abortions. (Next you’ll make a television commerical showing a little girl counting-flower petals, followed by a nuclear explosion!)

            As to the substance: Do you believe that science and medicine are impossible without government funding? Well, first keep in mind that I do not oppose government startup funding in such areas as strictly as Rand did. It’s an area where I and most conservatives diverge from Rand, who was absolutist about such things. Large-scale funding for such things outside that associated with defense and homeland security is probably unconstitutional for the Federal government, but I see no reason why the states couldn’t do it, if their people delegated the necessary authority.

            But I think this (saying science and medicine never happen without government funding) is like saying that education is impossible apart from government funding. It isn’t; it predates it, it exists apart from it today, and there’s reason to think it’d sometimes be better off with less intervention…that the funding is often used unethically or wasted. So too with scientific and medical research.

            In reply to,

            If you prefer to be ruled by business oligarchs, move to Russia or China…

            …let me say, that is exactly how I would not wish to be ruled, and I think this is one of the points where Rand would agree.

            There is a very large difference between the crony “capitalism” of Russia and China, where, if you have enough “pull” with a government official, the government will kill or confiscate the assets of all your competitors, and the free-market capitalism which prohibits such interventions and encourages entrepreneurialism.

            What Russia and China have differs from socialism in that it doesn’t interfere as much with pricing mechanisms and thus creates wealth more efficiently. But as long as a Russian oligarch can have a competitor killed or run out of business and not be sent to jail for it, it isn’t a free market.

          • Tom

            Fair enough. The need of a “free market” is like to say one needs to eat: it is self evident. From what I understand, Ayn Rand is not so much about “free market”, but rather about individualistic self-fulfillment for the sake of oneself. This is different, and rather selfish. Neither no food or orgies are good. Being part of the free market can be ennobling (frugality, honesty, fair play, discipline, hard work, etc…), a bit like exercising self control with food. But virtuous behavior does not come from eating food or from the free market per say (as some seem to claim), but ones own disposition to start with, and allowing the Grace of God to operate, it seems to me. There are plenty of fat people/cats out there to prove that point, no? Cheers.

          • Tom

            Or rather “glutinous people” (sorry, I am rather fat myself, hope that I did not offend). Also, if “free market” was such a moral driver, why business oligarch driven countries like Russia or China have also highest abortion rates in the world?

          • Tom

            In response to:
            “But I think this (saying science and medicine never happen without government funding) is like saying that education is impossible apart from government funding. It isn’t; it predates it, it exists apart from it today”

            You see, that is the fundamental problem, a total lack of understanding of what is going on, and advocating dogmas instead. Not everything is a “business”. A lot of what now is used to make new cancer drugs, came from large scale US government funded basic science that no one had an idea would lead to drug discoveries. This did not happen by magic, but because there were visionary individuals after WW2. Industry of course plays a role, there are many collaborations, but it is no the role of industry to fund basic science that may or may not have commercial application. This is not start up money, as much as long term investment into the very infrastructure of this country. The competion for these grants is astonishingly hard. The results is a highly competitive, and yet collaborative system. The younger scientists that survive grueling training and learn to compete, either stay, or end up in industry. China sent over the last two decades hundreds of trainees to the US, and now are copying this. In the mean time, we are shooting ourselves in the feet.

            This being said, that is also a strong need of ethical research. Now, very unfortunately, in part because of the total abdication by conservatives, and the dishonesty of liberals, science has been politicized. There is this ridiculous notion that thing like human embryonic stems cell research is “moral”, because it is “scientific”. The very word science is being high jacked. Instead of undermining the whole process, it would be good if conservatives put the heat on this kind of bs instead.

          • Cord Hamrick

            Hey, Tom:

            The threading software at this website will not allow us to hit “reply” to one anothers’ posts at this point; we’re already too many levels “deep.”

            (Plus if we continued indenting our replies underneath one another, they’d get skinnier and skinnier as the indenting became wider and wider, until they eventually became only a few characters wide…I suppose that’s why the “Reply” option vanishes after a certain point.)

            Anyway, I’m going to reply to your last couple of notes down at the bottom of the response-thread. That way we’ll be back to the full screen-width. So look for my reply there, please.

  • Tom

    Democracy is primarily an anti-tyranny system, thoughtfully designed by people like James Madison. It did not appear by magic. As Catholics, it’s our role to keep it virtuous. That means swallowing a bit humble pie, as this was, after all, a system successfully implemented largely by Protestants. But judging by what is going on, is this the case?

    • Cord Hamrick


      You say,

      Democracy is primarily an anti-tyranny system, thoughtfully designed by people like James Madison. It did not appear by magic. As Catholics, it’s our role to keep it virtuous. That means swallowing a bit humble pie, as this was, after all, a system successfully implemented largely by Protestants.

      I agree with this post of yours, 110%…though I think Madison would have been a stickler about saying that it’s democratic republicanism, not democracy.

      But you’re right: It’s our job to keep it virtuous. The Founding Fathers were very clear: A free country is fit only for the governance of a virtuous people.

      I just thought I should point out my agreement, since we have a debate going on about the Ayn Rand thing.

  • TeaPot562

    When Jesus used examples in Luke 15 and Matt. 24 of those filling the needs of others or those ignoring the needs of others, he was speaking of Individuals. Those who want to use government power to wipe out the “rich” by confiscating their savings are satisfying a lust for power – they want to order others around, rather than encouraging them to voluntarily consider the needs of their poorer brothers.
    The current political administration in the US seems to be trying to wipe out the savings of all middle class people who are not government employees, thus making them all dependent on the government. No amount of pious rhetoric about “choosing an option for the poor” can offset the force of those in political power using taxes to move funds from the wealthy to their own pet projects. This push for govt-enforced equality makes Rand’s philosophy appear attractive by comparison. I don’t buy her thesis that selfishness is a virtue; but the whole community is better off if the authorities refrain from actively handicapping those clever enough to acquire wealth in a legitimate manner.

  • Bob

    @ Tom

    Seriously- you must be joking. Under democracy there have been murders, abuse, gross injustices, genocides (ie mob rule when people in certain areas rose up to murder Jews and the bishops and monarchs had to prevent them). Then there were the Tutsi in Rwanda, Roger’s Raider’s in the Phillipines (we sent them), slavery, segregation, the terror of the French revolution, the expulsion and confiscation of property of many who sided with the British in the revolution (it isn’t honest to consider them traitors and if not what was their crime?) and the list goes on. Since true democracy relies upon might is right in theory (ie the majority) it is just as prone to abuse of the weaker as a monarchy. That is one reason we have abortion so widespread today. Under the rule of some of the Saints (St Louis IX, Elizebeth, and many others) there was comparitive peace and more justice than today. There is the account of the Czar pardoning a man about to be executed at the request of his wife (or fiancee). It is a long story but it would be impossible that it could occur under a democracy. Once the jugernaut of Democracy gets rolling it will crush anyone in its path. Due to the nature of the system humanity is swallowed up- there is no real provision for humanity in democracy since it necessarily relies very heavily upon bueracracy . The more bueacratic it is the less human it is. The weakness of monarchy is the failings of every human. The weakness of democracy is that there is no room for humanity as it is swallwed up by the system.

    Just wait until Europe and the US are throughly secularized. Even Plato realized that democracy isn’t the answer. Fact is no system will bring about utopia by itself. It is heavily dependent upon the people in control. It is much better to have a virtuous monarchy then a dissolute democracy. Besides people should quit trying to fool themselves we don’t really have a democracy and never did. We have a republic complete with the aristocratic senatorial class. If you don’t think so trace the lineage and marriage of most of our influential “representatives” as well as observe where they went to school and their mutual friends.

    Actually instead of thanking the Protestants you should probably thank the Masons instead (PS nearly everyone of the Founders was a Mason as well as most of the politicians in this country for centuries). Besides they didn’t really trust the people. Why do you think the Electoral College has the power to over ride the votes of the people? The Founders set it up just in case the people chose someone they deemed dangerous. Read up and check it if you want. No it was never used but it is there and 100% legal if they did. It was there just in case. Besides with all the possiblities of voter fraud via electronic machines they don’t even need to these days.

    I wish people would read more history and not the “abridged” versions we were taught as children. You know Washington never did chop a cherry tree down- the whole story was a form of primitive propaganda (though perhaps only primitive emulation). Unfortunately there is a lot more to history than the average person realizes.

  • Tom


    I don’t totally disagree with you (…and I am not a historian). The problem from my perspective is that although there were occasional good monarchs, more often, these were/are corrupt power hungry individuals, and succession of power is messy. Unfortunately recent examples of totalitarian or authoritarian systems with a Catholic flavor, either failed or are failing, (contrary to prof Z’s assertions, sorry). Be it Franco, those brilliantly people running some Central American countries, or the current crew at the Vatican. Just follow the ongoing Maciel debacle. It’s mind boggling to see such incompetence in action. Also, twenty years after top officials knew about abuse of children, Church leaders are still fudging. Just read some of the recent Church documents that came out this year.

    So where does that leave us? Well, first there is the Will of God, thank God! Then there is what He wants us to do, and that is simple: Love God and neighbor. It’s more of a plea, since one can not command a human to Love. It’s up to us to choose His Grace.

    Who ever the founding fathers were, they did put in place a pretty clever system. Madison read over 400 books on various forms of government, many brought back from Europe by Jefferson (it would be interesting to look up these books). This system reflects the best knowledge of human nature at the time. So one can argue that the US constitution is a reflection of human nature. But that is not enough. A key ingredient is to ask for God’s grace, and we are not doing this anymore. To me, the canary in the mine is the rate of abortion. More children are dying now than any moment in history, and its all man made. Using this measure, our system of governance is failing horribly. Even Republicans are not mentioning abortion during the debt debate. Now is the perfect opportunity to have it defended for good. What ever leverage US Catholics still have, we should use it to ensure that abortion is de-funded. I don’t mid paying some taxes to fix roads, run schools, clinics for those in need, but not to kill children.

    But unfortunately, the Catholic Church is also in a mess. I am not saying the Church should be a democracy, but there needs to be a system of governance that is accountable and honest, based God’s two commandments, on simple human decency. It is not the case now. Systems of checks and balances in place for centuries, like the office of promoter of faith, we removed. If Grace is important, and it is, Praying should be central. Why is praying being downgraded? Work is important but is not prayer. If I pray while doing my job, I could seriously injure someone. But I also know that I will fail at my job, if I don’t spend some serious kneeling time, and ask for God’s Grace to get me through the day, because I am a slob and a sinner. Work is like eating regular food, we need it. Payer is like taking the Eucharist, prayer gives us access to God’s Grace. But now some Church official in the Congregation of the Clergy, using classic Orwellian double speak, decided that for lay, Work=Prayer (I suppose as long as work=$$$ for some well connected clerics). As Catholic clergy or lay, we need to go back to the roots of our Faith and let go of these 20 century modernism in guise of pseudo orthodoxy.

    Once that is done, the next step is to prop up democracy. Democracy has failed in the past, Hitler was elected. But democracy is the least bad system against tyranny we have. To make it work, we need God’s Grace. Sorry for the rambling, hope this makes some sense.


  • Yankey

    One thing I see that do not agree with the Vatican Catholics is that it insides with politic/media makeup and in general are directed by dirty politics. Nonetheless, the clerics know nothing about what they are siding with is the breast of Babylon. And that make the voice of Vatican elect of priesthood in china invalidated.

  • bill bannon
  • Cord Hamrick

    In reply to Tom’s posts (@ 07/15/2011 3:39 pm, 07/15/2011 7:51 pm, and 07/15/2011 11:55 pm):


    You say,

    From what I understand, Ayn Rand is not so much about “free market”, but rather about individualistic self-fulfillment for the sake of oneself. This is different, and rather selfish.


    When you say, “from what I understand, Ayn Rand…” are you admitting not having actually read Ayn Rand in her own words, or any summaries of what she said which were written by people who agreed with her?

    (If so, be A Good Joe and ‘fess up…!)

    I mean, I think I’ve been pretty fair, if simplistic, in summarizing some of Rand’s views here in this thread. But when you read my rendering of Rand’s views, you are getting your Rand from someone who agrees with part of what she said, and disagrees with another part. So you have to take what I say with a grain of salt: I may not, however inadvertently, be entirely fair to the bits I disagree with.

    But if you get your Rand from a more left-leaning source, who wholly disapproves of Rand from beginning to end and uses her very name as an epithet, then, watch out! For then the sensible bits which anyone would agree with will be left out or conflated with the crazy bits which no-one would agree with, and all of it presented in the most unflattering light.

    If you want to know what Rand thinks, I am afraid your best bet is to read Atlas Shrugged, and then the Afterword she appended to the end of it. I say, “I am afraid” that’s your best bet, because, well, it’s a big, time-consuming book, like a Tom Clancy novel. And it’s a problematic book even judged by fiction-writing standards. And it’s about thirty percent longer than it would have been if a decent editor had forced her to be disciplined about writing plausible dialogue. The characters almost literally converse with one another by trading essay-like soliloquies.

    But despite all that, the book moves the plot forward pretty excitingly most of the time. There are electrifying moments. And it’s almost required reading for engaging in political dialogue with conservatives and libertarians, even though they disagree with much of it. Understanding current political discourse without it is like trying to understand a History of Europe without knowing anything about the Romans.

    And most importantly to this conversation, the book clarifies (I can’t say “condenses” because there’s nothing condensed about it) Ayn Rand’s whole worldview in an extremely vivid way. If there was any doubt that this book is her final word on things, the Afterword would eliminate that doubt when she says, “…and I mean it.”

    Anyway, to respond to you more substantively….

    You are correct that this “selfishness ethic” plays part (indeed, the most objectionable part) of Ayn Rand’s philosophy; namely, it is part of her ethics. But her ethics are only one part of her overall philosophy, called “Objectivism,” which also includes an economics and an aesthetics and a metaphysics and an anthropology.

    LIbertarian-leaning conservatives and conservative-leaning libertarians generally approve of what Rand said in the economic sphere. But the more conservative they are, the more they disapprove of the ethics.

    (And even then there is a distinction, because, as I said above, her “selfishness is good” notion is only part of her ethics. Another, very important part, and the part which touches most closely on her economic views, is her conclusion that compulsion (even in pursuit of selfish ends!) is normally immoral. Conservatives and Libertarians tend to agree with the anti-compulsion parts of her ethics, even when they stridently disagree with the “selfish motives are good” parts.

    Now leftists who like to label certain conservatives “Ayn Rand conservatives” justify their label on two bases:

    Justification #1: The conservative quoted or paraphrased Ayn Rand while arguing a point; or,

    Justification #2: The conservative supports a government policy or restriction on government power which the leftist associates with “selfishness.”

    Now let’s look at those justifications, and ask…to what degree do they justify calling a particular person a “Randian” or “Randite?”

    As for Justification #1, we see that a conservative might quote, paraphrase, or speak approvingly of Ayn Rand’s economics, or of Ayn Rand’s moral judgment against the use of force. (Indeed, a left-leaning pacifist might speak approvingly of the latter!) But that doesn’t make them an unqualified supporter of everything Rand said. They still would disagree with the pro-selfishness ethic, and might disagree with her atheism, and even her aesthetics.

    And as for Justification #2, we see that a conservative might never have read Rand at all, but oppose the welfare state for various reasons, none of them having to do with selfish motives…and yet certain left-liberals would still call them “selfish” (because that’s good propaganda against political opponents), and identify them with Rand’s selfishness ethics, just as a form of name-calling.


    Yes, Ayn Rand’s ethics contains a notion of “selfishness is good.” Conservatives tend to dismiss that notion out-of-hand as silly, and thus cannot be called “orthodox Randian Objectivists.”

    But, no, that’s not all there is to Rand’s views, and the other bits often overlap with conservative and libertarian and classical liberal and war-averse and anti-collectivist views.

    You wrote more than just that little bit I’ve now replied to, but I have things to do this afternoon, so I’ll have to reply to the other bits later. (Sorry!)

  • Tom

    OK, I will fess up. I once saw the “Fountainhead”, a 1949 genre noir movie with Garry Cooper, on our old black and white TV, I think I was in College, about 25 or 30 years ago. I must admit that it was appealing (lone architect, blows up his own work to make a point, still remember the scene). Last year my boys had to read Anthem for school. I also looked up William F. Buckley’s criticism of Rand (he hated her writing, did not hide his disdain, she was upset with him). Did she really say anything new, compared say, to Nietzsche? When you say “includes an economics and an aesthetics and a metaphysics and an anthropology”, what she trained in either? It smells like scientology. Ron Hubbard used similar tricks, it’s the classic “sacred science” (read psuedo science, like Maxist “dialectics”) criteria of “cults”. Small wonders Greenspan lost his objectivity in his job (so much for “objectivism”). Rand had zero training in economics, she was a atheistic screen writer, and people follow her. It’s almost a joke, of it was not sad. Libertarian conservatives, with their long tradition in this country, play an important role. But if they are part of a cult concocted by screen writer, what can one do?

    Coming back to the topic at hand, from my understanding, Saint John’s Gospel is about our relation with the “Divine”, the synoptic Gospels are more about “compassion”, whereas St Paul’s letters are more about “prudence”. The king of cardinal virtues is prudence. This virtue dictates that one has to care for one self first. People that want to “save the world”, but have a family that is falling apart are not of much use. “Love God and love neighbor as self”” expresses to me the need to work on all three, our relation with the Devine, with others and self (or rather self and others). This starts at an individual level. Mother Theresa said to first start with one’s own family and neighbors. However, in addition, most of us don’t live is small isolated villages along a coast, but in interdependent societies. St Paul wrote both to individuals, but also to entire communities. Even Christ said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. My theory is that He knew Romans were building vast infrastructures, roads, ports, and that if His message was to spread, it was along these routes. That is what happened. So the questions is, are we applying our Faith in our daily life?

    In regards to China, they are not stupid. I travel extensively there in 1984, and now work with several colleagues. From what I understand, over thousands of years, they developed similar concepts, where prudence dictates obedience to elders and authority. It is understood that with authority, comes responsibility; when it doesn’t, things fall apart. Its in their blood. That is our competition. That is why the Church has difficulties, because it’s a different authority. If we don’t get our act together, it will be like this commercial, where Chinese hipster in the year 2050 laugh at historical video clips of the US.

    To compete, prudence would dictate that our country needs a reasonably strong government, infrasutures, a well educated society, that values freedom, and does not kill its members. But it seems that what we have now, is a country taken hostage by people that follow irrational cults (both right and left*). Can some one explain Mr. Norquist’s “drown the government in a bath tub” doctrine; drowning of an elected government no less? Like the later failling Roman Empire, our roads, ports and bridges are falling apart. How is such a country to compete? The principal reason to support such a doctrine, to me, is when such a “government” uses its power to kill its most weak members, the children. But that is not being said now.

    In regards to the Church, prudence would dictate in order to help our democracy, the Church should lead by example. But look what is happening in Ireland. How can the Church even start asking for help to defend bishops in China, when they cause scandal in other countries, by not being accountable for something so obvious as the well being of children? I pray Church leaders wake up now, not in the next twenty years. Don’t they realize that “re-evangelization” starts at home, that people are leaving not because of outside pressure, but out of disgust? Copying scientology methods, with the “tres amigos” Catholic movements (OD, LC and NC), is not the answer either.

    The only thing I can say, we need to pray, I mean really pray (and also, separately, work hard), support each other, go to sacraments, keep heads cool in the coming days and months.

    *There are many left cult like beliefs also, including “it is a scientific fact that a child in the womb is like a piece of wood” or “it is a scientific fact that humans are alive only at birth” or “adult rights for free-for-all sexual expression is the most important human right, more important than a child that may result for it” or “it is a scientific fact, thus moral, to rip apart a nascent human life so that aging baby-boomer can live for ever young” or “it is our human right to change the meaning of words to fit our agendas, such as redefining the word marriage, because of our adult human rights described above are the most important in the world” and “we need government funding to promote our dogmas”.

    Hope this makes sense.