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Response to Steve Hayes

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  • theroux_david
    Steve, Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my new article, C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism .
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 30 11:25 PM

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my new article, "C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism".

      1. However, nowhere in my article do I mention "libertarianism" or "classical liberalism," as it is you who is describing the views I have shared by Lewis as "ideological." Lewis would certainly agree with Eric Voegelin that ideologies are modern inventions, secular religious substitutes to fill the vacuum created by the incoherence and emptiness of atheism. Ideologies are utilitarian because they are based on consequentialist arguments that "the end justifies the means." Indeed, a major point of my article, as I clearly discuss, is that Lewis was not just apolitical, he was anti-political and averse to all forms of campaign and partisan politics. However, this anti-political sentiment was based on his own political philosophy that was rooted in Divine, objective morality and deeply opposed any and all forms of government power (by mortal men and women) that defied such moral standards.

      My point is a very simple one. Lewis was a firm champion of the classic natural law principles of individual liberty under a universal rule of law, and he understood that Christianity was the pure embodiment of natural law. Indeed, it is in our understanding of the existence of the natural law that we come to see ourselves as sinners in falling short of this standard. God gave us free will in order to come to know Him, but the choice is ours to make, and in choosing to transgress the natural law, we face the penalty of separation from God. Only Grace provides the door to overcome such fallen-ness, and Jesus taught that in seeking the Good, we are always to submit to and employ the natural law in everything we do in our dealings with others. Justice is not relative or situational: it is based on the natural law.

      2. Your attempt to characterize the classic natural law critique of statism as something concocted by Ayn Rand is profoundly mistaken. Rand's contrived "ethical egoism" (narcissism) based on utilitarian (consequentialist), reciprocal-rights theory to establish a coherent basis for natural rights is deeply flawed and has nothing to do with natural law. Despite her claims to the contrary, Rand's view is utterly subjectivist and denies any objective standard for truth, goodness or beauty above each individual's own self-interest, exactly contrary to the natural law view that all individuals are entirely subject to an overarching reality of natural moral law. In effect, Rand's view boils down to saying that "the end justifies the means" for each individual, which Lewis completely disagreed with. Incidentally, Rand's view also fails more fundamentally because of its naturalistic foundations and Lewis also correctly critiqued naturalism as being self-refuting. Please see the following:

      Economic Science and the Poverty of Naturalism: C. S. Lewis's "Argument from Reason", by David Theroux

      In contrast and as I show in my article, "Lewis drew on the natural-law insights of such thinkers as the apostle Paul, Augustine, Magnus, Aquinas, Cicero, Grotius, Blackstone, Acton, and Locke, and he considered modernist dismissals of such work to be fundamentally erroneous." Lewis admired Acton, Tocqueville, Madison, and other proponents of natural law who sought to radically constrain government power because, as you (and I) quote, "no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others."

      You also properly quote Lewis that the very police power of the State itself is something to be leery of because if unchecked by a natural law standard, tyranny will result: "The worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety. The character in 'That hideous strength' whom the Professor never mentions is Miss Hardcastle, the chief of the secret police. She is the common factor in all revolutions; and, as she says, you won't get anyone to do her job well unless they get some kick out of it."

      But this in fact means that Lewis, like Aquinas and others, was non-ideological because he had a coherent political philosophy based on natural law.

      3. As for "progressives," the further point is that "progressivism" is another modern ideology, and this certainly is the case for such people as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren, who view government power as a sanctified means to create a good society if just the "correct" amount of invasive police power is applied to control people, seize and redistribute their wealth and regulate their lives. And Lewis did not hesitate to critique such situational ethics.

      In the process, Lewis was saying that social and economic problems are not solvable through political power and such power should be opposed because it necessarily breaks the natural law. The natural law itself includes both ethical and economic lessons (what became the "Austrian School" of economics) and by keeping political power to a minimum, all individuals in a civil society have the freedom and flexibility to function through the process making their own choices in a competitive market under a rule of law. As I note, Rodney Stark and others have shown that it is no accident that such insights sprang first from the discovery by deeply devout Christian clerics of Scholasticism in the Middle Ages at universities such as that at Salamanca. There is a wealth of information on this and here is just one excellent book on the subject:

      Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics, Alejandro Chafuen

      Here also are some article references:

      Free Market Economists: 400 Years Ago, by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

      How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and the Success of the West, by Rodney Stark

      Juan de Mariana: The Influence of the Spanish Scholastics, by Jesus Huerta de Soto

      "The Late-Scholastic and Austrian Link to Modern Catholic Economic Thought," by Robert A. Sirico

      New Light on the Prehistory of the Austrian School, by Murray N. Rothbard

      New Light on the Prehistory of the Theory of Banking and the School of Salamanca, by Jesus Huerta de Soto

      Connections Between the Austrian School of Economics and Christian Faith: A Personalist Approach, by Paul A. Cleveland

      4. You are indeed correct that a utilitarian (subjectivist) economics view that all human problems are materially resolvable by economics is deeply mistaken (as Lewis noted), and I discuss this point in my article. Economics is the understanding of the cause-and-effect unfolding of human choice as determined by and subject to the natural law, but such causal knowledge does not tell us what we "ought" to choose. This bigger question is reserved to the theological matter of "right behavior." Hence, as I quote Lewis in my article and he wrote in many instances, being free is not the end goal, but instead we need to be free to seek the Good, and we can only do so if we are free.

      But such an insight does not justify the misconceived concept of "social justice" which presumes that a second standard above the natural law exists that trumps the natural law that determines justice based on the choices of each individual. There are additional and ultimate standards of justice above simply opposing invasive behavior, but to achieve such standards, one cannot do so by trampling on the natural law itself. Those who advocate the mirage of "social justice" are saying that even if one were to follow the natural law perfectly (as in the case of Jesus), that person would still sin (and hence sin and the Fall would have no meaning) and the only way of salvation is to erect government programs of "social salvation" that achieve some societal arrangement based on some unknown collectivist calculus. Lewis was devastating in his critique of such folly, as I note in my article because again the creation of such government machinery is done by flawed men and women who must do so by defying the natural law based on their own utilitarian, subjectivist views.

      5. Finally, your discussion appears hinged by your mistaken belief that a society in which all individuals are left free to make their own choices under a rule of law is necessarily dysfunctional and will create huge disparities of misery and abuse. However, the opposite has been the case, and again, you are saying that utilitarian considerations overrule natural law and should instead be the basis for moral ethics. But, using your own criterion of utility, I will note that societies that are the most free are the most effective in overcoming poverty and all manner of temporal, social maladies, just as the natural law would predict. Contrary to the belief of Nikolai Berdyaev, free markets were the means that overcame massive human misery and it was when the Russian feudal and socialist state controlled the lives of the citizenry that poverty was abject and enduring. Freedom produced the Industrial Revolution which uplifted the lives of entire societies as people flocked from the forests into mill towns to take on jobs that ended starvation and disease, and created an upwardly mobile middle class with the ability to protect and educate their children. Here is one of many books that sets correctly the historical record:

      Capitalism and the Historians, edited by F. A. Hayek

      David J. Theroux
      President, The Independent Institute
      President, C. S. Lewis Society of California
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