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Neo-Conservative? Moi? Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 06 April 2013

A common criticism of my effusions, over the years when I’ve been cast as a newspaper pundit, is that I am some kind of “neo-conservative,” who cares more about downsizing ye olde Nanny State than about anything else, and would leave the poor scrabbling, and take the sick down to the river and shoot them. It is further insinuated that I’m indifferent to the downstream environmental consequences of dumping the bodies in the river, afterwards.

Well, sometimes the criticism is more subtle than that, but not much.

Perversely, anyone who suggests that people – Catholics especially – should be doing something directly for our neighbor, rather than leaving the state to take care of it, may be subjected to such charges. The atheist Left has successfully indoctrinated a large part of the public to believe the states claim to a monopoly not only on force, but also on virtue and benevolence. With this comes the suspicion that any private purveyor of charitable services is getting in its way.

And the state has laws to enforce its monopolies. It has struck me that almost everything Mother Teresa was doing on the streets of Calcutta would be illegal if attempted on the streets of America, and that the comfort her nuns brought to the dying could be sued as medical malpractice.

Indeed, a study just published up here in Canada argues that Mother Teresa was no saint. Her habit of “glorifying human suffering” was at odds with modern clinical procedures; her care with money is condemned as penny pinching on the poor; and the old Christopher Hitchens smears against her character are wheeled out for another airing. Mother Teresa is also chastised for her “overly dogmatic views” on abortion, contraception, and divorce.

The study, though designed for publication in the journal Sciences Religieuses, was done by inmates of the departments of education and psychobabble in the universities of Montreal and Ottawa, and from what I can see, it embodies a view of Catholic Christianity that is perfectly opaque.

Herein lies our problem of communication. Modern secular public welfare and the teaching of the Church come from opposite places. The state has invaded exactly the province where Church, extended family, and Christian community used to operate, and has over the course of the last century displaced and obviated the traditional arrangements, building immense and extravagant bureaucracies to deliver social services, with obviously failed results.

When I write “obviously failed” I must fly in the face of the states apologists, who do not recognize the moral squalor in contemporary American life, having no absolute standard by which to compare it, nor any historical sense of the degeneration of family life over the decades. The ways people live are just “options,” and poverty is measured by the states arbitrary and self-serving statistical methods.

And yet, now that the state has the monopoly, what is to be done? Take away such services as the bureaucracies provide, and there will indeed be terrible suffering. This is because the whole organic order that once took care of the poor, sick, elderly, disabled, has been eviscerated, and the population at large has been de-Christianized and taxed out of its charitable propensities. The poor would indeed starve, the sick would go untreated, the elderly would be utterly abandoned if Nanny State suddenly went over a real fiscal cliff.

Nor, from lack of historical precedent, can we guess how long it would take for something like the traditional order to be restored. That this would eventually happen goes without saying, for intricate arrangements of care have formed and grown within every society, Christian or not. The state was never necessary to them, until it made itself necessary by intervention.

We have forgotten today the arguments made against the spread of “welfare” in earlier decades, when just this result was foreseen. The argument from moral jeopardy was prominent – that even modest old-age pensions would (modestly) discourage people from showing foresight and making provisions; that any kind of public “insurance” must necessarily promote the kind of behavior beneath which it extends the “social safety net.”

These arguments were confronted directly, because they could be easily characterized as mean. More subtle arguments were ignored, about how Church, family, and community were being undermined. It was precisely because they had to cope with the realities of human life, and stand up against misadventure, that the organic arrangements acquired strength. The very foundations of human society were being dismantled and replaced with “theory.”

Educated Catholics have no business forgetting that every large institution now under the detailed regulation or actual ownership of the state was created by the Church. This includes hospitals of every description, housing for the poor, and every kind of social outreach to the needful, regardless of faith, as well as medical and social-work training at every level, and indeed schools and universities generally.

All of these things are part of the mediaeval heritage, all go back many centuries before anything like the modern state came into existence. To speak as if the state invented or is the natural shopkeeper for these things is to lie. The state has been appropriating them.

Similarly, educated Catholics have no business forgetting the size and reach of this Catholic infrastructure until, in historical terms, the day before yesterday. And for that matter, throughout the Western world, the remaining infrastructure was built almost entirely by Protestants on the Catholic model, motivated by the same Scripture and Tradition whether or not acknowledged.

No serious argument was ever made for tearing it all down. The job has been done incrementally, and became inevitable once the premise of state responsibility had been established.

The question for the defender of what I persist in calling the Nanny State is, “Do you accept this premise?” For once it is accepted, there is nothing to argue about. He may characterize my position, falsely, as “neo-conservative.” It is in fact the old Catholic position, to which he is opposed.

 
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
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Comments (19)Add Comment
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 06, 2013
#1 "The atheist Left has successfully indoctrinated a large part of the public to believe the state’s claim to a monopoly not only on force, but also on virtue and benevolence."

An antidote to this delusion is for Catholics to offer free tours of inner city Detroit and the jails of Chicago in order to disabuse the atheists of their claim. Perhaps the "Nuns on the Bus" could offer their vehicle for these tours.

#2 If I had it to do all over again I would have my two sons each do a two-year missionary stint in places like Haiti or Jamaica with the Missionaries of the Poor before starting college. They would have been more serious students and would have been better schooled in what this article gets at.
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written by Chris in Maryland, April 06, 2013
Spot on Mr. Warren.

Think about the total culture war being waged against the Church - the leftist machine is doing an "Alinsky" operation on Mother Teresa. Stage one was the left having their comedians and fringe journalists get the idea rolling, starting about 5 years ago. Stage two is now having "institutes" and "think tanks" do "studies" on it. Stage three will be the mass media campaign saying "studies show Mother Teresa really didn't help the poor and sick, she meant well, but now we know she was inept...because she was a true believer." Stage four = state investigates 'Missionaries of Charity,' finds them in violation, and suspends their activities, until the sisters to attend state-run re-education camp.
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written by Howard Kainz, April 06, 2013
Watch out! This morning I noticed an article: "Defense Department classifies Catholics, evangelicals as extremists." See Washington Times.
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written by william manley, April 06, 2013
Question for Deacon Ed...are you really saying the Left in America is atheist???
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written by Bill M, April 06, 2013
Well done, Mr Warren, as always. In re the comment of william manley, I cannot speak for Deacon Ed, or for Mr Warren. But it is clear that someone who supports the modern state as described in this article supports a state that fundamentally seeks to replace God. So, regardless of whether this or that leftist is an atheist, the suppositions of his arguments are atheist.
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written by diaperman, April 06, 2013
Pope Benedict: (Without Roots)

"In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine."

Yet another TCT author disagrees and substitutes conservative political ideology for the social doctrine of the Church.
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written by maineman, April 06, 2013
A little antidote for what ails diaperman:

“The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person - every person - needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. … In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) - a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, December 25, 2005, n. 28)
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written by pgk, April 06, 2013
diaperman - The article says rather clearly that it is "close to" Catholicism. It appropriated Catholicism. "Close to" is not the same thing as "is" or even "compatible with." Like most heresies, it's a subtle but insidious perversion of authentic Catholic doctrine.
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written by Joseph Wood, April 06, 2013
Well, D-man, you've recycled that quotation again, but I've now found my copy of "Without Roots." Ratzinger indeed writes those words. But before that, he describes a bit more about what he means: "In the 19th century, the two models that I described above [Latin secular model of church-state relations, and Germanic liberal Protestant model of church-state relations], were joined by a third, socialism, which quickly split into two different branches, one totalitarian and the other democratic. Democratic socialism managed to fit within the two existing models as a welcome counterweight to the radical liberal positions, which it developed and corrected. It also managed to appeal to various religious denominations." He goes on to condemn the materialism of the totalitarian brand of socialism. It is clear that he is speaking mainly about models of church-state relations and their implications for religious institutions and freedom, and ultimately for faith itself. As an economic arrangement, the phrase "Democratic socialism" is vague and can mean a range of kinds of government. To the degree Ratzinger was connecting democratic socialism as an economic arrangement to Catholic doctrine, I'd speculate that he was thinking about Schumpeter's 1941 interpretation which Wiki describes as "the growth of workers' self-management, industrial democracy and regulatory institutions" -- a reaction, or humanizing improvement, to the radical liberal models that Ratzinger was criticizing in this letter. That would explain why, as Ratzinger notes, Democratic socialism appealed to Catholics in England and Germany, and why it made a contribution "to the formation of a social consciousness." Ratzinger is not a socialist as socialism is usually understood, nor is he a libertarian. So far as I am aware, he and Mr Warren are in the same ballpark, though perhaps with differing judgments on specific questions of prudential judgment.
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written by DeGaulle, April 06, 2013
"In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine."

And therein lies its greatest danger. Socialism can appear to provide a well-intentioned solution to life's problems, but what seems at first benevolent soon metamorphosises into the moral free-for-all we see before us. It is a consequence of replacing a divine Authority with a merely human one, more particularly the authority of every Tom, Dick or Harry, and 'whatever you feel like yourself'.
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written by Chris in Maryland, April 06, 2013
At the Kennedy School of Govt in Cambridge, MA, luminaries like Gloria Steinem have been invited to speak on behalf of the building campaign that the government should prohibit free exression of religion in public discourse.

From places like this was born the new Trojan Horse of the leftist propoganda machine - that the Federal Government has evolved in its understanding of the U.S. Constitution, and that Americans have "freedom of worship" not "free expression of religion." This is why, when you hear Ms. Clinton and her nemesis Mr. Obama speak about the 1st Amendment, they always say "freedom of worship," which will soon be joined with Mr. Obama's standard certification of his agenda, "that's what most Americans believe the 1st Amendment means."
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written by Chris in Maryland, April 06, 2013
And I assume that all of us who have commented here, on both sides of the political fence, have already heard the refrain from the vanguard of the left, first heard about 2-3 years ago: "The Catholic Church has no business being involved with hospitals and medical care."
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written by Ken Tremendous, April 06, 2013
Boy where to start with this one. Tell you what Mr. Warren. I'll trade you. You can give up the blanket of Canadian single payer health-care and come down to Alabama where I'm from, and then go friends, family and the chancery of the local Catholic diocese and beg for money for medicine you can't afford and then write your "world we lost" articles and I'll take your place in Canada with guaranteed health care coverage? We'll both be happier!!! Deal???
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written by petebrown, April 06, 2013
A provocative piece Mr. Warren. My "prebuttal" ran almost exactly 1 year ago in these very pages called "Limits of Subsidiarity."

Shorter version: health insurance today is a practical necessity--assuming people want to avail themselves of the wonders of modern medicine. This implies large risk pools which have to be at least somewhat regulated and subsidized in order to prevent people from being excluded by adverse selection--by which insurance companies (just like the old friendly societies before) had trouble resisting the temptation to offer much better rates for younger healthier people. (This is great if your young and healthy but bad if you are old and/or sick or even if you are like my wife who had cancer 15 years ago and would be uninsurable without a pretty heavily regulated insurance market.)

And many societies have found that simply enrolling everyone in a universal risk pool eliminates the selection problem completely as well as the free rider problem and allows the government as the monopsony buyer to drive provider rates way down...just as Walmart can get a better deal on TV sets. This is how social insurance has come about. It was not by conspiracy or historical accident.

Naturally there are disadvantages to both the single payer idea as well as the patchwork private/public idea we have in the US. But they are somewhat irrelevant for this discussion because we'll never go back to a world where health care is mainly financed by families, communities, churches friendly societies etc. Modern medicine is just too expensive, communities are too frayed and churches and private institutions don't have taxing power. It's an unfortunate tradeoff of modernity but there's really nothing we can do about it as far as I can see.

Which is why it would probably be more productive to focus on how we can preserve Christian ideals (charity, family, community, responsibility for self and one another) within the logic of a world in which it is inevitable that the state is going to be a big player in financing health care no matter what. For instance, the Catholic Church is still an enormous provider of medical care even though medicare and medicaid are their biggest revenue sources. Could we make hospitals even more Catholic in this world? How? That's what we should be thinking about.

And just because Medicare and Medicaid are here to stay does not mean that more care could not be family based. Could Medicare partly reimburse families, say, for taking care of their own parents with Alzheimers? Would this be better than warehousing the parents in institutions? Let's think about it.

From where I sit this is a more realistic answer to some of the corrosive effects of statism you rightly complain about.

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written by diaperman, April 06, 2013
Thanks for the response Joe.

My short answer is that as a German, Ratzinger (like pretty much all Europeans, even of the center-right) takes for granted the existence of a welfare state.

Does this make make him a socialist? Depends on who you ask. In the fever swamps of the right wing in the days of Obama, any support for governmnet programs gets stamped with a hammer and sickle. But this moment will pass as we both know.

In reality no he's not a socialist. I think he would identify politically roughly with the German Christian democrats. And, given that the welfare state is only controversial in the US (a little bit in the UK too) the political economy debate in the US would strike him as odd, (which it is by world standards). America is exceptional in that there really is a still strong political ideology here that resists expansion of government roles on principle alone.

My take on Benedict is that he would want us to make our existing society and institutions more charitable and humane. But I don't think he would identify with Mr. Warren's criticism at all which is really one rooted more in classical economic liberalism than Catholic social thought.
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written by John 23, April 06, 2013
Mr. warren writes:

We have forgotten today the arguments made against the spread of “welfare” in earlier decades, when just this result was foreseen. The argument from moral jeopardy was prominent – that even modest old-age pensions would (modestly) discourage people from showing foresight and making provisions; that any kind of public “insurance” must necessarily promote the kind of behavior beneath which it extends the “social safety net.”

No, Mr. warren we have not forgotten those arguments. Tune into Fox News and talk radio and one hears them morning noon and night. Your argument is losing because it is not convincing.

Let's stipulate that your argument is right in what it presumes...that when "the state" does more people do less. But the converse does not follow. If the state does less, then not everyone--either through the vicissitudes of life, always putting off to tomorrow, or just plain short sightedness--will in fact do more. Some people are lazy and stupid, others try and fail, while only some succeed.

But what do we do for the ones who don't save enough? Some senior citizens would just have to go without. And what does Catholic social doctrine say we should do in such cases?

Here's the remedy. We are realistic enough to know that very few newly minted BA's right out of college think about how they are going to pay for hip replacements and heart valves in 60 years? So what the government does is compel them to pay 2.9% of their earnings into a Medicare tax pool with the promise that their health care needs will be provided for when the time comes. On top of this there is another 13% that they pay as an insurance against old age poverty. ((We need of course to ensure that the program does not become too generous in the sense that it transfers too much from young to old but that is a secondary concern.))

Assuming the programs are well run, it is not really the state doing more. It is more the case of the state compelling citizens to do for themselves--which in some cases they would not be able to do. Yes, there is a moral hazard problem but there is also the problem of not having enough to sustain you in old age (and not being able to work to rectify things) These programs are not free. You get because you pay.

What's the problem with that? The problem you obsess about is far less serious than the loss of the benefits of these programs.
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written by Sue, April 07, 2013
All a slam dunk, except the implication that neo-cons like small government or are in any way benign. Far from it - from the tippy tip tops of their Trotskyite beginnings to the tippy top toes of their torture-touting totalitarianism and brave new fabian socialist leanings, they are the right wing of the Big Government vulture. They fashioned the label, "neo-con" for themselves like a wolf dresses in sheep 's clothing.
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written by Graham Combs, April 07, 2013
This coming Sunday in the Archdiocese of Detroit tables will be set up in parishes to collect signatures for "increased revenues" to "end hunger" in America. My heart fell as I read it. The Church has learned nothing from Johnson's War on Poverty as, according to a recent report, FIFTEEN TRILLION DOLLARS have been spent and yet as I write nearly 50 million Americans use some sort of food stamps program. And millions are unemployed or underemployed. I had just such an exchange with a young Catholic woman but I don't think my point was well received. Obama's campaign succeeds in part because his tired old ideas appear new when spoken by a youngish president. We keep making the same mistakes. All rights, all charitable efforts, all anything is now "collective." We didn't only lose the culture war, apparently we lost the Cold War as well. A recent MSNBC host rants on about how education will only improve when the "community" takes responsibility for child's education away from the parents. I look just a few miles down the road to Detroit and see what happens when an amorphous, nameless, faceless "community" is responsible for anything. The Church doesn't seem to understand or doesn't care how things are done. No wonder most Catholics no longer see the point of an expensive Catholic education indistinguishable from what the state offers just down the street. It's as if the Church has given up.
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written by Frank, April 08, 2013
@Howard Kainz
Thank you for the heads up. The briefing and the briefing notes can be found on the Internet. I encourage laity and clergy to write the Army Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Army Reserve at the following addresses:


General Raymond Odierno
Chief of Staff, United States Army
200 Army Pentagon

Washington, DC 20310-0200

Lieutenant General Jeffrey Talley
Chief, United States Army Reserve
2400 Army Pentagon 20310-2400
Washington, D.C., 20310-2400

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