The Trouble With Jesuits

Email Print

by Walter Block by Walter Block



I presently teach at a Jesuit University, Loyola University New Orleans, and have done so since 2001. Previously, I taught at another Jesuit University, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, from 1991 to 1997. This, to be sure, does not make me an expert in the Jesuit Order and its contributions to education, although, perhaps, because of these experiences I am more knowledgeable about these matters than most non-members of the Order and most non-Catholics.

Let me say, then, in this regard, that while there are some exceptions, the political economic philosophy of most modern Jesuits is left-liberal, or communitarian. They commonly see their perspective as a "third way," neither advocating the capitalism supposedly of the right, nor the socialism of the left.

What of the exceptions? Well, to my knowledge in the modern era there is Fr. James Sadowsky, S.J., a philosophy professor emeritus at Fordham University in the Bronx, and Fr. James Schall, S.J. a professor of Political Science and Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Another member of this order who does not fit comfortably with the left-liberal, communitarian label is Fr. Kevin Wildes, S.J., president of my own university, Loyola University New Orleans. (If anyone knows of other such examples, I would dearly love to hear of them.) For a very nuanced discussion of the present topic by this author, see this.

Historically, many the early members of the Jesuits, founded in 1540, were members of the School of Salamanca. Paradoxically given what came later, this meant they were libertarians, and actual precursors of the Austrian School of economics. For them, for example, the just price was the market price, the just wage was the market wage, and the just rate of interest was the market rate of interest (see on this the books by Tom Woods and Alejandro Chafuen). Given the vast differences between the early and modern Jesuits, one might go so far as to say that this Order has been hijacked to a great degree by Liberation Theologians (these are scholars who combine the non-atheistic elements of Marxism with Catholicism), left liberals, communitarians, and other opponents of laissez faire capitalism, private property rights and economic freedom.

If this is an accurate way to characterize matters, then the chief high-jacker, at least at Loyola University New Orleans, has been Si Hendry, S.J., who was in residence from 2002 to 2005. Although on a personally friendly basis (he and I very much agree in our criticism of U.S. foreign policy) Father Hendry and I have tangled, often, on matters of economics, egalitarianism, the welfare state, and social justice, the subject of the confrontation between us that follows.

It all began with my unhappiness that Loyola University New Orleans publicly characterizes itself as "social justice university." See on this here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Why, our bookstore even sells a sweatshirt claiming that Loyola University New Orleans is "social justice university." I wear mine every once in a while just for the fun of it.

Part I by Walter Block

There are two ways to define “Social Justice.”

First, this concept may be defined substantively. It is typically associated with left-wing or socialist analyses, policies and prescriptions.

  • For example, poverty is caused by unbridled capitalism; the solution is to heavily regulate markets or ban them outright.

  • Racism and sexism account for the relative plight of racial minorities and women; laws should be passed prohibiting their exercise.

  • Greater reliance on government is required as the solution of all sorts of social problems.

  • The planet is in great danger from environmental despoliation, due to an unjustified reliance on private property rights. Taxes are too low; they should be raised.

  • Charity is an insult to the poor, who must obtain more revenues by right, not condescension.

  • Diversity is the sine qua non of the fair society. Discrimination is one of the greatest evils to have ever beset mankind. Use of terminology such as “mankind” is sexist, and constitutes hate speech.

Secondly, social justice may be seen not as a particular viewpoint on such issues, but rather as a concern with studying them with no preconceived notions.

In this perspective, no particular stance is taken on issues of poverty, capitalism, socialism, discrimination, government regulation of the economy, free enterprise, environmentalism, taxation, charity, diversity, etc.

Rather, the only claim is that such topics are important for a liberal arts education, and that any institution of higher learning that ignores them does so at peril to its own mission.

So that we may be crystal clear on this distinction, a social justice advocate of the first variety might claim that businesses are improper, while one who pursued this undertaking in the second sense would content himself by merely asserting that the status of business is an important one to study.

Should Loyola dedicate itself to the promotion of social justice? It would be a disaster to do so in the first sense of this term, and it is unnecessary in the second. Let us consider each option in turn.

Should Loyola demand of its faculty that they support social justice in the substantive left-wing sense, it would in one fell swoop lose all academic credibility. For it would in effect be demanding that its professors espouse socialism.

But this is totally incompatible with academic freedom: the right to pursue knowledge with an open mind, and to come to conclusions based on research, empirical evidence, logic, etc., instead of working with blinders, being obligated to arrive only at one point of view on all such issues.

This would mean, for example, in economics, the area with which I am most familiar, to be constrained to conclude that the minimum wage law is the last best hope for the unskilled, and that continually raising it is both just and expeditious; that free trade is pernicious and exploitative.

It is more than passing curious that those in the university community who are most heavily addicted to diversity cannot tolerate it when it comes to divergence of opinions, conclusions, public policy prescriptions, etc.

What about promoting social justice in the second sense; not to enforce conclusions on researchers but merely to urge that questions of this sort be studied?

This is either misguided, or unnecessary. It is misguided in disciplines such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, music, accounting, statistics, etc., since these callings do not typically address issues related to social justice.

There is no “just” or “unjust” way to deal with a “T” account, a quadratic equation or an econometric regression; there are only correct and incorrect ways to go about these enterprises.

To ask, let alone to demand, that professors in these fields concern themselves with poverty, economic development, wage gaps or air pollution is to take them far out of their areas of expertise.

It is just as silly as asking a philosopher to teach music, or vice versa.

And it is totally unnecessary, particularly in the social sciences but also in the humanities. For if members of these disciplines are not already conducting studies on issues germane to social justice (and, of course, to other things as well) then they are simply derelict in their duty.

If historians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, philosophers are ignoring poverty, unemployment, war, environmentalism, etc., no exhortations to the contrary are likely to improve matters.

Loyola should cease and desist forthwith from labeling itself a “Social Justice University,” and from promoting all extant programs to this end.

It is unseemly to foist upon its faculty and students any one point of view on these highly contentious issues.

It would be just as improper to do so from a free enterprise, limited government private property rights perspective as it is from its present stance in the opposite direction.

Part II by Fr. Si Hendry, S.J.

In his … (Part I) column, Dr. Walter Block distorted the idea of justice. He described two ways of defining justice, and he never actually defined it.

First he associated justice with caricatures of specific policies of a political economic agenda, which he rejected. Then he identified justice with the study and discussion of various issues. He even threw in a gratuitous, unsubstantiated, and generalized accusation about how people who favor diversity do not respect opinions other than their own.

Dr. Block defined justice with caricatures and distortions, attempted to discredit those who support it, and then, by rejecting the parodies he created, argued to forego giving a value to justice in the university. This process says nothing about actual justice.

Using the same method, I could caricature economics substantively as “the mechanism by which the rich create wealth by taking advantage of the poor,” or procedurally as “the process of deciding how to use scarce resources to meet one’s needs.”

Then, rejecting the first as immoral and the second as superfluous (because everyone already does this when they implement decisions to pursue a goal), I could argue for the elimination of the economics department. I would never do that seriously, but I mention it to provide an alternative example of Dr. Block’s fallacious reasoning.

I expect more from a professor who teaches Catholic Social Thought. The term “social justice” came into the parlance of Catholic social thought with Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno. He defined social justice in terms of the common good, arguing that great disparities in the distribution of wealth and the exclusion of some from access to the benefits of economic and social developments threatened the common good and, therefore, violated social justice.

The basis of his approach was neither advocacy for a specific political agenda nor a desire for study and discussion with no preconceptions, but a concern for the plight of the poor and the well-being of society.

Catholic social thought has used the ideas of social justice and the common good to critique economics and government, capitalism and socialism. Rather than being an ideology, a system, or a set of policies in itself, the concept of social justice is a value framework that provides a basis for evaluating and critiquing ideologies, systems and policies.

I suggest that in discussing justice, Dr. Block use accurate definitions and reasoned argument rather than caricatures, distortions, and faulty logic.

Part III by Walter Block: Reply to Fr. Hendry, S.J.

In part I, I published an op ed in the Maroon, the student newspaper, entitled "Social justice hinders curriculum." In it I argued that our attempt to market Loyola University New Orleans as "Social Justice University" on sweat shirts and the like was highly problematic. If social justice were defined substantively as adherence to a certain set of political economic positions, this promotion was wrong headed in that it attempted to impose a uniformity of belief on issues of economic issues such as poverty, unemployment, welfare, etc. It constituted a denial of academic freedom on our community and imposed homogeneity on us, whereas heterogeneity, or diversity of opinion, is what earmarks great institutions of higher learning. If defined non-substantively, as, merely, interest in issues of this sort but adherence to no particular perspective on them, it is irrelevant to fields such as chemistry, mathematics, etc., and unnecessary for the humanities and social sciences, which would be derelict in their duty if ignored.

In part II, The Rev. Si Hendry, S.J., Director of our campus Jesuit Center, wrote a rejoinder entitled "Block distorts social justice." In it he charges me with failure to define terms, creating caricatures and then attacking them, distortion, opposing justice, faulty logic and fallacious reasoning; I shall resist replying in the same name-calling vein.

He attempts to undermine my position by utilizing a technique in logic called Ad Hominem Tu Quoque or the "you too" fallacy. The essence of this is an attempt to refute an argument by showing it to be inconsistent with either the beliefs or actions of its proponent. For example, Joe Blow opposes killing animals, but eats roast beef and wears a leather jacket. The difficulty with this procedure is that it can at best expose hypocrisy but cannot show fallacy. That is, the animal rights position may still be correct, even though Joe does not (fully) adhere to it.

What is Fr. Hendry’s version of this ploy? He states as a "substantive … caricature" that economics is "u2018the mechanism by which the rich create wealth by taking advantage of the poor,’ or procedurally as u2018the process of deciding how to use scarce resources to meet one’s needs.’" He concludes: "Then, rejecting the first as immoral and the second as superfluous (everyone already does this …) I could argue for the elimination of the economics department."

Why does this fail? First, because it has nothing to do with the unfairness and impropriety of imposing social justice, unless so broadly defined as to be virtually meaningless, on an entire university community. At best it can show that we ought to eliminate the economics department. In other words, it does not even begin to "lay a glove" on my original argument that the social justice marketing maneuver is ill-conceived.

Secondly, it does not succeed because of disanalogy. There are several here. For one thing, in Fr. Hendry’s view, the correct rendition of social justice must be couched in terms of the common good, which is undermined by great disparities of wealth and the exclusion of some from economic benefits. There is nothing in my own description of this perspective incompatible with his own. In other words, my characterization of social justice is correct, but his, of economics, is truly a caricature. For another thing, if anyone were bruiting it about that Loyola University New Orleans were really "Economics University," or should be, then, yes, one of Fr. Hendry’s criticisms would be a telling one. That is, it is just plain silly to think that the entire intellectual output of Loyola consists of economics, or is compatible with economics, or that economics does or should permeate all the rest of our efforts. Namely, he is defending the imposition of an amorphous "social justice," (the content to be determined by whom?) on everyone, and I am decidedly not making a similar claim in behalf of economics.

Fr. Hendry rejects my characterization of substantive social justice as: "… poverty is caused by unbridled capitalism; the solution is to heavily regulate markets, or ban them outright. Racism and sexism account for the relative plight of racial minorities and women; laws should be passed prohibiting their exercise. Greater reliance on government is required as the solution of all sorts of social problems. The planet is in great danger from environmental despoliation, due to an unjustified reliance on private property rights. Taxes are too low; they should be raised. Charity is an insult to the poor, who must obtain more revenues by right, not condescension. Diversity is the sine qua non of the fair society. Discrimination is one of the greatest evils to have ever beset mankind. Use of terminology such as u2018mankind’ is sexist, and constitutes hate speech."

Instead, he describes this concept in terms of egalitarianism and non-exclusion. But just because his description is correct does not logically imply mine is wrong. To prove this, I ask him, which of the claims that I ascribe to social justice does he reject as non-descriptive? He cannot decline a one of them on this ground. It is as if I describe an elephant as a large gray mammal, and he objects on the grounds that it has a trunk and tusks. Neither contradicts the other; both can be correct.

Let us consider each of these aspects, one by one, and see how they stack up against the views of official and unofficial spokesman for the social justice doctrine. I gave nine characterizations; I now reiterate them, followed by similar statements by representatives:

1. … poverty is caused by unbridled capitalism; the solution is to heavily regulate markets, or ban them outright.

"The gap is growing between the rich and poor in Canada and in Ontario. A select group of wealthy Canadians are taking home fat pay cheques sweetened with bonuses and stock options. Meanwhile, a growing number of working people are seeing their incomes drop. Economic inequality is fundamentally tied to our market system." See here on this.

"Socialism is the only possible economic system from the Christian point of view" — Paul Tillich (cited in Wogaman, J. Phillip. 1977. The Economic Debate. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, p. 133).

"The Church must do with Marx today what Thomas (Aquinas) did with Aristotle in medieval times — Dom Helder Camara (cited in Benne, Robert. 1981. The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, p. 4).

"… the contradictions of capitalism are … moral, in that they are due to sin, they are causes of human suffering, they push a wide sector of humanity into misery" — Baum, Gregory.

2. Racism and sexism account for the relative plight of racial minorities and women; laws should be passed prohibiting their exercise.

In "capitalism… every man preys like a wolf on every other man" — Moltmann, Juergen. 1975. The Experiment Hope. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, p. 127.

3. Greater reliance on government is required as the solution of all sorts of social problems.

"NETWORK (A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby) believes the responsibility of government is to provide for the general welfare of the most vulnerable members of society."

"The minimum wage originated from the simple principle that anyone who works full time should be able to support a family above the poverty line. The current minimum wage has deteriorated to a level that leaves minimum wage workers unable to provide for their families or even live above the poverty line. It is now worth less than it was before the last increase and will continue to drop. Congress must increase the minimum wage incrementally to adjust for inflation, and it has not done so in the past six years" (NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby).

4. The planet is in great danger from environmental despoliation, due to an unjustified reliance on private property rights.

"Previous generations of Canadians had struggled to extend their economic, social, and environmental rights. But their efforts to democratically regulate the economic sphere and redistribute national income encountered increasing resistance from corporations anxious to improve their profits. In this new climate of global competitiveness, governments compromise when corporations threaten to leave the country. They offering lower labour costs, lower environmental standards, lower corporate taxes, and lower social spending. The state is thus effectively re-tooled to serve the interests of big business. Increasingly, the prime role of governments today is to guarantee security for profitable transnational investment" (emphasis added; see Centre for Social Justice).

“Although the allocation of property rights sufficient to generate a complete set of current markets may be consistent with momentary equilibrium, it has been shown that this will generate a time path for the resources of the global system that is either infeasible or inter-temporally inefficient and almost certainly ecologically unsustainable.” (Commons, Mick and Charles Perrings. 1992. "Toward an Ecological Economics of Sustainability." Ecological Economics. Vol. 6, p. 30.)

5. Taxes are too low; they should be raised.

"…when governments are in retreat (as they have been for the last decade), this bad dynamic (income inequality) gets even worse (see Centre for social Justice).

"Strictly speaking, a rich Christian is a contradiction in terms." Herron, George D. 1890. Sermon: The Message of Jesus to Men of Wealth. (cited in Reason, December 1986, p. 34).

"Mr. Bush … has certainly been profligate with the people’s money, pushing through his reckless tax cuts…" Herbert, Bob. 2004. "Duty and Privilege." The New York Times. 2/13/04, p. A31.

6. Charity is an insult to the poor, who must obtain more revenues by right, not condescension.

"A prominent anti-poverty group slammed the NDP government yesterday for its u2018shameful’ treatment of poor people through u2018demeaning’ charity programs as Christmas approaches. u2018It’s shameful that the NDP, especially at Christmas, is not promoting justice and is promoting a demeaning form of redistributing wealth through charity,’ said Linda Moreau of End Legislated Poverty."

"All disabled activists know that charity is a dirty word. As David Hevey once wrote, u2018charity advertising serves as the calling-card of an inaccessible society.’ Charities promote medical research and the idea of cure; charities institutionalise disabled people; charities are run by non-disabled do-gooders who think they know best about our lives. No wonder the leading slogan of the disability movement has been u2018rights not charity.’" Source: here.

7. Diversity is the sine qua non of the fair society.

See the recent Supreme Court decision on the University of Michigan affirmative action case, Grutter vs Bollinger.

8. Discrimination is one of the greatest evils to have ever beset mankind.

See on this here, here, here, and, particularly, here.

But discrimination is entirely compatible with the libertarian law code that prohibits, only, physical invasions against person or legitimately owned property. Discrimination, in sharp contrast, is mere refusal to interact with someone, whether personally or commercially. We all, naturally, tend to focus on the latter. For example, we see great evil in discriminating against someone on the basis of race, gender, etc., in terms of employment, service at a lunch counter, etc.

But why do we not have a right to withhold our person and property from those we have no wish to deal with in this manner? The market, in any case, tends to address such issues so that the people who are being discriminated against do not suffer. If group A is not being hired at all, or is paid wages below productivity levels, or is not being served lunch, that implies that great profits can be earned by others from doing just these things. In this way, free enterprise tends to squelch any harm that might be done to minorities.

Moreover, it is a great puzzle why discrimination law works in only one direction. It is illegal for a store owner to prohibit certain types of people from his premises, but not for customers to eschew certain types of restaurants on the basis of racial or ethnic discrimination. True, it might be more difficult to find and arrest someone who refuses to patronize a Chinese or Italian restaurant on the basis of these discriminatory motives, but we’re talking principle here. What is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander.

Let us focus for a moment not on commercial discrimination, but on the personal variety. If discrimination is such an evil, both versions of it, surely, should be prohibited by law. But this would logically imply, among other things, compulsory bi-sexuality, since both homosexuals and heterosexuals are "evil" discriminators when it comes to choosing a bed partner. The failure of the anti-discriminators to advocate arrest of all non bi-sexuals shows that even they do not take their own views seriously. If not they, then why should we?

9. Use of terminology such as "mankind" is sexist and constitutes hate speech.

A venerable politically correct pro—"social justice" newspaper refers to "… that Federal official who’s so eager to banish words with u2018man’ in them. He urges u2018synthetic’ instead of u2018man-made, for instance, and u2018humankind’ instead of u2018mankind’" (New York Times editorial, p. 22E, 6/2/1985).

Needless to say, I am not going to be able to point to a precise "smoking gun" on each of these points. I was paraphrasing the left-wing social justice movement, not directly quoting from their literature, after all. However, I think I have shown enough overlap between my attributions to them, and what they and their close allies actually say, to show that I did not create a straw man, and then knock it down, contrary to Fr. Hendry’s contention.

But, let us suppose, arguendo, that I am entirely incorrect in my interpretation of social justice, and that my learned friend is totally in the right on this matter. Even under these heroic assumptions, still, his thesis that Loyola University New Orleans is and ought to remain a social justice university cannot be sustained. In the substantive sense, why must we all oppose great disparities of wealth? From my perspective, assuming that these disparities are the result of peaceful market interaction, they are to be defended, not opposed. With regard to the exclusion of some from economic benefits, it all depends upon precisely how this is accomplished. If by coercive means, such as unions, or guild restrictions, or through a myriad of other government regulations, I am against it. But if this is defined as rich people keeping for themselves that which they have come by honestly, then, in my view, they have a legal right to do exactly that; e.g., to "exclude" the poor from forcibly taking their possessions (with or without aid from government to this end). The point is, Fr. Hendry’s defense of social justice would impose his beliefs on those such as me who disagree with his solutions for social problems. What, then, of academic freedom, of which Loyola University New Orleans boasts? What, then, of intellectual, as opposed to skin color or gender or other category of non-intellectual, diversity?

Nor can Fr. Hendry be allowed to get away with his claim that his version of social justice is somehow Above It All. No. If he wants to make specific policy recommendations that require, as his do, coercing some human beings to do or refrain from doing things that are not mala in se he must explain why imposing his values on other people against their will is the moral course of action. He must get down into the trenches with the rest of us contenders for truth and justice in political economy; he cannot be allowed his perch on high. His political views are no more "a value framework that provides a basis for evaluating … ideologies" than are mine. Both are ideologies.

Although the argument Tu Quoque does not constitute a knock out blow, logically speaking, it is still a powerful one. It is the rare person who welcomes a valid charge of hypocrisy. Since Fr. Hendry was kind enough to employ it in my direction, let me return the favor.

If social justice really argues against "great disparities in the distribution of wealth," and if he, personally, is a member of the Catholic Church that advocates this doctrine, why, then, does he not argue in favor of this organization selling its palatial estates, and doing something "socially just" with the proceeds, e.g., giving them to the poor, which would reduce these "great disparities." Specifically, with regard to Loyola University New Orleans; this institution occupies very valuable real estate. Why not sell it, locate to a cheaper area, pocket the difference, to these same ends? Or, dare I say it, perhaps the University should start to pay property taxes to help fund local governmental services, including the public schools.

If social justice really argues against "exclusion of some from access to the benefits of economic and social development" why, then, does Loyola University New Orleans insist upon "excellence?" Why, that is, pick the smartest of the applicants for admission? These students will be accepted by other exceptional schools, if not this one. Why, not, instead, purposefully enroll the inept student, who is "excluded" by all and sundry? And why seek outstanding teachers/scholars, on these same grounds? True, increasing the demand for poor teachers may promote egalitarianism, but they will hardly help students. But this is a conundrum for the communitarians to address; I will leave it to them.

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable.

Email Print