Fragment on “Liberty”

What my friends on the Catholic right don’t seem to get is that abortion and gay marriage are social and moral expressions of the same liberalism they champion in economics. The fundamental incoherence of contemporary “conservatism” – and, in fact, the reason that it is not conservative at all, but merely liberal – is its focus on liberty, not virtue; individualism, not the common good; rights, not responsibilities. But the pro-choice argument on abortion is nothing more than a variation on the libertarian argument for inviolable property rights (See Rothbard, “The Ethics of Liberty“). The push for gay marriage is a social expression of the same emphasis on individual choice and personal fulfillment that undergirds capitalist consumer culture (See Mill, “On Liberty“). To exalt a Promethean economic liberalism while decrying its inevitable personal and social expressions is schizophrenic, like the man who feeds a fire with a gas can in his left hand while simultaneously attempting to dampen the flames with a hose in is right.

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  • Ronald King

    That was so clear even I could understand it Mark. The only thing I would change is the term schizophrenic and substitute dissociative disorder in which different operating sub-ego structures are unaware of what the other is doing when in control.

    • Mark Gordon

      I’ll accept your analysis, Ronald, but keep the word because of its popular connotation.

      • Ronald King

        Agree. @PPF I must admit that when I read your comments I must repeatedly read them over and over again in spite of the aching and spinning in my brain. Thank God for plasticity otherwise I would be unable to grow the neural connections necessary to understand what you are writing:)

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        I must give you my opinion. Nothing on any blog is worth reading more than once. And maybe not even that. As someone who has spent the last number of years working in a field where I write scholarly papers, it sometimes has taken me a month to decide the point of one paragraph. No exaggeration. Blogs have something akin to the movie Inherit the Wind, and it ain’t evolution.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    The trouble with this neat argument is that it seems to assume that capitalism was created in the 19th Century. It was already deeply corrupted by then. Like all “isms” one must look at its inception for clues for analysis. In this sense one should look for the roots in the rise of the merchant class in the West, somewhere between the 11th-13th Centuries. And lo and behold, what do we find, the rise of the philosophy of the Schoolmen just at that point, allowing a less local and more international conceptual structure by which the Papacy could still assert control. Thus the roots of the viewpoint are in fact with very un-promethean valences. At the point of the actual efflorescence of capitalism qua capitalism in the modern era, again it was certainly NOT “liberal” interests that were to the fore of the development in actual fact. The facts are that it was often the “more Catholic than the Pope” cultures like Spain and Portugal where the actual grueling realities of nascent capitalism had its rise, closely related to phenomena like trafficking in African bondsmen. It is true that some of the bespectacled theorists of capitalism were “liberal” types in England. But how they could possibly be construed with Niietzschean tropes like a Promothean vibe is a heady anachronism, because, again, that was a much later fashion. So, whatever people want to believe about gay marriage or abortion is one thing. But to imagine that capitalism is somehow at the heart of simple searches for rights, is to forget how deeply capitalism served very “communitarian” religious interests for centuries. Lastly, it is almost a side matter that when these religious interests actually controlled the community and the economy they mostly couldn’t have done a worse job of it. Which makes the argument here , well, perhaps quixotic.

    • Mark Gordon

      The trouble with your neat response is that it a.) assumes the post is about capitalism, per se, and b.) ignores the fact that I’m addressing a particular audience in a particular context.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        maybe it was somehow about the Infant of Prague , and I missed it. silly me.

  • Rodak

    “…rights, not responsibilities.”

    True. The focus is on rights, rather than on responsibilities. But, that said, I would suggest that a study of history will show that it always comes down to a demand for rights–often made with violence–because those *with* power failed to exercise proper responsibility with regard to the powerless. I.e., when one has no power, one has no access to the means of taking responsibility in any area other than that of personal morality.

  • JL Liedl


    I think I agree with Alasdair MacIntyre in this regard: the entire system is the root of the problem. The philosophical underpinnings of American democracy do not lend themselves towards the concept of a singular common good, or to authentic virtue, or to civic responsibility. The values that informed our Founders were those of Protestant individualism. Instead of a society where all men work towards the achievement of THE human good, we have one where everyone is free to determine their own individual conception of “good.” We like to boast that we are the heirs of Athenian-style democracy but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs


      I wish you could go back and live in the Papal States circa 1830. That would learn you about the common good.

  • M.Z.

    Both arguments are really rooted in liberalism. Liberty in this case is just a concept of privilege. For better or worse, in most places and most times, our well being is tied to the well being of the community. The respect for individual prerogative – what liberty is in this case – is little more than a rearrangement of the saying that “the law in its infinite wisdom prohibits both the rich and the poor from sleeping under bridges.” For the privileged, unions inhibit worker freedom because they bind the people represented. For the non-privileged, unions formed the foundation that got Catholics out of the ghetto. This is why people have such difficulty seeing the Vatican on the hand speak of religious liberty and on the other hand complain about the Brazilian gov’t not taking action against the sects and cults (especially Pentecostal) running rampant. The Vatican doesn’t seek a conflict, because in principle the Vatican doesn’t see liberty as a privilege for the powerful. Liberty in its proper incarnation is protection for the poor and marginalized within a stable community.

  • BullPasture

    The argument seems to be that consistency requires that a supporter of liberty in economics must also support abortion and gay marriage. Mr. Gordon seems to be saying that one who supports economic liberty fuels the demand for moral libertinism.

    Mr. Gordon takes issue with the “right” and declares that “contemporary conservatism” is actually liberal. Who is the “right?” Is it republicans? Is it so-called social conservatives? Is it libertarians? Is it the advocates of nation building? To say that conservatism is liberal because it focuses on liberty instead of virtue is to make opposites out of things which are better thought of as aspects of each other. One can exercise liberty in both virtuous and wicked manners. One can be an individualist who serves the common good and one can insist upon both rights and responsibilities.

    I also take issue with Mr. Gordon’s description of the arguments for abortion rights and gay marriage. The pro-abortion argument is quite a bit more than the libertarian argument for inviolable property rights. It is, in fact, an inversion of property rights in that it accrues the highest right to the property (the body) and not the person (the fetus). So, too, the demand for gay marriage is not a demand for liberty but a denial of it. It is a demand to impose a new definition of marriage upon the larger society.

    Economics is concerned with the production and distribution of goods and services. It is amoral. Morality is concerned with virtue, the common good and responsibilities. A society can theoretically be organized with absolute economic liberty and yet be virtuous and mindful of the common good and moral responsibility.

    With regard to politics it seems we have a tendency on one side to want to control what you do with your person and on the other side to want to control what you do with your money. Each end of the spectrum believes they hold the moral high ground. The mistake on both sides is to excuse the use of government force to coerce conformity to their sense of morality

  • Morning’s Minion

    Very well put, Mark.

  • John C. Reneau


    I tend to agree with you, but I would like to add that with a properly ordered hierarchy of rights, one can be coherent within a system of a liberal economy. For example, the proper ordering of rights would place life>liberty>property because the lesser rights depend upon those which are more fundamental or higher in the hierarchy. With the case of abortion, you state, “But the pro-choice argument on abortion is nothing more than a variation on the libertarian argument for inviolable property rights.” This is undone with a proper understanding of the hierarchy whereby the life of the unborn is more fundamental than the liberty of the mother.

    • Agellius


      An excellent point, thank you for that.

      It’s making me wonder though, where do the “right” of people to have as much as other people — or at least some “reasonable proportion” of what other people have (assuming for the sake of argument that such a right exists) — enter in? Does that fall under life or liberty? Or is it a mere property right?

      But I suppose if liberty rights trump property rights, then everyone’s right to keep what he has trumps the right of those who are poorer to a share of the property of those who are richer. The rights of the poor could only triumph if they were understood as falling under the right to life. But that doesn’t seem applicable in this country, where I don’t believe anyone has starved to death in decades.

      Am I making any sense?

      (Please note that I’m not advocating any particular point of view in this comment, only trying to figure out how the principle John enunciated would apply to the idea of “income equality”, “social justice”, etc.)

      • John C. Reneau

        I think you make a good point when pinpointing that the rights of the poor should fall under the right to life. As I think you alluded by placing “right” in quotes, there is no right to have as much as other people or even a reasonable proportion. You do have a right, however, as a poor person to the property of others (through taxation or other means) insofar as it is conducive to the exercise of your right to life. Food, shelter, clothing, and, as many would say, healthcare properly fall under that umbrella. It is also important to remember the right to liberty of those who do have greater material means to do what they please with their material belongings – they could be very freely philanthropic towards the poor if they desire.

  • Darwin

    It seems to me that there are two separate things one would want to think out more clearly in regards to this oft repeated (around here, anyway) line of argument.

    1) It is true that modern American conservatism in many ways is a variant of liberalism, in that if emphasizes rights over responsibilities. However, is this necessarily a bad thing? For instance, this “liberalism” emphasizes the right of the worker to work at an occupation of his choosing for the betterment of himself and his family. A truly traditional view (based on responsibilities) would instead insist that it is the worker’s responsibility to work for his liege lord, and to accept what return the lord chooses to give him in return as his due part of the social order. Oddly, this is also pretty much the view that experiments in (real) Marxism served up in the 20th century: again, it was the duty of the worker to work at his assigned task and to accept what the leaders of the planned economy told him was his due in return. Given the listed alternative, I’m not clear that liberalism in this area is something we should reject (understanding of course that just because someone has the right to do as he chooses in one area, and subject to certain moral limits, does not mean that he has the right to do whatever he wants in all areas.)

    2) While clearly choice/freedom is not the only good nor an absolute good, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be rejected as not being good at all. As such, while clearly an Ayn Rand style insistence that one should be able to do absolutely anything one wishes in the economic realm, regardless of the impact on others, is immoral, just as moral libertinism in relation to “choice” in life issues and sexual morality is immoral, that does not necessarily mean that a comparatively high degree of choice (within certain bounds) is not a good and desirable thing. Indeed, this is exactly what John Paul II said in talking about capitalism within a “strong juridical framework”. Arguably, most of the real arguments about “capitalism” (as opposed to the straw men) are not over whether there should be any limits at all to economic activity, but what exactly the laws of that strong juridical framework would be. One element of determining what those laws should be is determining how restrictive they should be — and this (rather than the question of whether there should be laws at all) is where most of the real controversies in fact lie.

    • Agellius

      Darwin writes, “Arguably, most of the real arguments about “capitalism” (as opposed to the straw men) are not over whether there should be any limits at all to economic activity, but what exactly the laws of that strong juridical framework would be. One element of determining what those laws should be is determining how restrictive they should be — and this (rather than the question of whether there should be laws at all) is where most of the real controversies in fact lie.”

      I think you hit it right on the head. In the real world, people only argue about where the limits should be, not whether there should be limits. Attacking the idea that there should be no limits is attacking a non-existent opponent. Arguing that fewer, or less restrictive limits than the limits your opponent favors, would be better, is not arguing against limits per se.

  • Agellius

    That’s a point I have been meaning to make for a while now — in reverse: Decrying economic liberalism while tolerating gay marriage and abortion — not to mention pornographic movies and literature, divorce, artificial birth control, etc. — is equally schizophrenic, is it not?

    Seems neither side can make up its mind. : )

    Whereas I, for one, have said that I would be much more open to greater government control over the economy, healthcare, education, etc. if the government were to subject itself to the standards of Catholic morality, in all areas in which it involves itself in the life of the nation, not just economics. The more the government declares itself free from Catholic morality, the less I trust it to have control over the life of its people.

  • Bryce Laliberte

    If we take the harm principle as a staple of libertarianism, then I fail to see how murder in the womb doesn’t violate this principle. The approval of abortion then must come from some other view.

  • digbydolben

    It is a demand to impose a new definition of marriage upon the larger society.
    How many times do I and others have to explain to the so-called “conservatives” who write at this site and others that “traditional marriage in America” isn’t “traditional” at all, in the Catholic sense of “sacramental marriage”—that the Protestants of America re-defined it as “serial monogamy” based on the “revolving door” of divorce and the American corporate imperative of the “unit family”? Once you went down that road, Americans , the sacramental marriage of orthodox Christianity was lost to the culture forever. The “gays” have as much right to the travesty American culture calls “marriage” as any of the other free-wheeling “sinners” such as Newt Gingrich. To jointly paraphrase Liz Taylor and John Nance Garner, WE shouldn’t even be able to understand WHY they want it; it ain’t worth a bucket of spit.
    And Darwin always likes to set up THIS straw man, in arguing in favour of Enlightenment values, in place of those of traditional societies like the medieval Catholic one or, say, the Hindu one here in India:
    A truly traditional view (based on responsibilities) would instead insist that it is the worker’s responsibility to work for his liege lord, and to accept what return the lord chooses to give him in return as his due part of the social order.
    No, Darwin, the “traditional view” you like to parody is more like that of the extended family, such as what we have here in India: the “responsibility” is to support one’s children and one’s aged parents, and what one “gets in return” is wisdom and spiritual teachings, such as what the peasants got from the monks of England, before Henry VIII—one of Peter Paul’s incipient “capitalists” if there ever was one—despoiled their monasteries—their refuges for the poor—and butchered the monks and drove their peasant tenants off the now-enclosed land, and then, for the next two centuries, into the cities, to become chattel for the “Enlightened” bourgeois whose “liberty”—liberty to exploit–Darwin so much cherishes.

    • BullPasture


      You might not have to repeat yourself that “traditional marriage in America” isn’t “traditional” at all, in the sense of “sacramental marriage” if you addressed the point made instead of the straw man you set up. However imperfect the practice of marriage in the U.S. may be it is nonetheless true that it has always meant a union between one woman and one man. Therefore it is absolutely correct to say that the advocates of homosexual marriage seek to force a definition of marriage which has never been a societal norm. The failure of many to respect the true definition of marriage does not necessarily give anyone else a right to demand further degradation of the definition. There is nothing in Catholic theology to support your statement that gays have as much right to the “travesty American culture calls ‘marriage’.”

      • digbydolben

        I never claimed there is something in Catholic theology that supports that, but I AM claiming that there IS something in the deistically-inclined American Constitution that supports it, and I predict that you will see, sooner rather than later, Supreme Court justices affirming it.

        • BullPasture

          What is it in the deistically inclined American constitution that you see provides a right ot homosexuals to marry?

          • Mark Gordon

            How on earth do you construe the US Constitution as “deistically inclined?”

          • BullPasture

            Deistically inclined was digbydolben’s characterization not mine.

          • Mark Gordon

            Ah, sorry. My fault for responding from the comments section of the WordPress dashboard and not having read the context. You and digby continue now … I’ll shut up.

      • digbydolben

        Only the anthropology of an Enlightenment, “deistically-inclined” culture with no traditionally religious definition of what a human being actually is would designate a black African to be “two thirds of a human being.” If you actually can’t see that, if it doesn’t resonate with you as being profoundly anti-Christian, then I don’t see how you can claim to be a part of any Catholic culture.

        Secondly, what in the American Constitution gives “gays” the right to marry is “equal protection” because, if you give them the right to “civil unions,” then take the right away, and at the same time give “straight” folks the “right” to be considered “married” (whatever the hell that means in Protestant America with its blithe practice of “serial monogamy”!) if they live together for six years, and then become “common law”-married, then you’re not treating people equally under the “law,” and that’s a violation of that sacred Enlightenment document that refuses to “establish” any religious priorities–including the Catholic definition of “marriage” as being sacramental and permanent.

        • BullPasture

          digbydolben that is, I am sorry to say, very shallow thinking. At the time the constitution was drafted and ratified slavery was common in the world. There was certainly conflict between those who supported the institution and those who opposed it. Your view on how the population of slaves was considered for purposes of determining congressional representation pretends that the conflict didn’t exist. Slaveholders wanted their slaves counted fully so that they would have greater representation. Those who opposed slavery contended to reduce the power of the slave states. One can argue the propriety of the compromise but to assume that it was the result of people with no “traditionally religious definition of what a human being actually is” is to dramatically overstate the facts. Moreover, despite the conceit of modern man, who ignores the present day reality of slavery because the slavers are of the same race as the enslaved, there simply was no long religious tradition of opposition to slavery.

          Your reasoning is similarly defective with regard to gays. Marriage has, until recently, and across virtually all cultures, been regarded as a relationship between man and woman. Not always one to one, but always male to female. It is not discriminatory to apply that rule to homosexuals as well as heterosexuals. It is simply the recognition of reality. Advocates of homosexual marriage seek to force a redefinition of marriage and in doing so do themselves a disfavor. There certainly are problems that homosexual relationships face which are solved for married relationships. Things such as hospital visitation, survivorship, etc. These concerns can be addressed without redefining marriage. Some homosexuals would be content with this. Other seek something else which is forcing the acceptance of homosexual relationships as the moral equivalent of heterosexual relationships. This is wrong and should not be accepted by Catholics just as accommodating the concerns of homosexuals with legal recognition of civil unions should not be opposed by those one the right.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    Since the Enlightenment is perhaps most famous for both absolutism and notions of liberty, one has to agree it was a very conflicted age to say the least. But at least it raised the notion of liberty per se. The US reflects it. But it also of course reflects the opposite pole of the original phenomenon…..creeping absolutism.

    This is also why some, like you, seem to suggest that there might be more authentic and simple social arrangements based on more organic and less rationalized structures which might serve a real sense of freedom better than this highly conflicted one we have. And there indeed might be. But the trouble is, there is no way to know beforehand if the more organic structure will serve that end, or not. If history is to be guide, then it would seem only occasionally good, and sometimes by seeming happenstance like the birth of a good king or ruler.

    My guess is that the future will see the Enlightenment as quite pessimistic, and not optimistic. But a sort of wise pessimism, acknowledging how bad history has actually been. Liberty then was not so much an ideal, as an attempt to de-fang the beast. it didn’t work all that well, but then there was and is a beast to contend with. And in the end, is not a slightly more tame beast better than a feral one.

  • Julia Smucker

    I have sometimes felt like the schizophrenic one for being “individually conservative and socially liberal”, as I’ve put it a time or two despite my general dislike of such terms. This usage of them only makes sense within the paradigm of modern U.S. politics and would be totally inaccurate according to your analysis; the latter shows the inconsistency of the former and makes me think that I may actually be sane in an insane world – or at least that I am not alone.

  • Hieronymus Illinensis

    Everyone this side of Ayn Rand on the one hand and Karl Marx on the other used to understand that a family is not the same thing as a marketplace, which is why, 50 years ago, there was a joke about a stockbroker who came home to find his wife surrounded by eager young men, telling him she’d gone public. (A joke requires incongruity.)

    The demand for gay marriage is not about the liberty of two people of the same sex to violate Lev. 18:22 with impunity. It’s about compelling everyone else in society to recognize their relationship and reward it with the perks—visitation rights, family insurance coverage, immunity from testifying against each other, the right to be put in the same bed in a hotel, etc.—that society granted to a married couple as consideration for the obligation they agreed to undertake toward society to provide a stable and supportive home so as to turn the results of the exercise of the sexual privileges they granted each other into worthy citizens.

    It’s hard to see what society gets in return here. On the other hand, the same is true of opposite-sex marriage now that no-fault divorce, Griswold, Roe, the elimination of the crimes of fornication and adultery and the tort of alienation of affection, and the establishment of rape in marriage as equal to rape outside it, have all reduced the marriage vows, legally, to something that the spouses may keep for the time being if they should both happen to feel like it.

    It’s time to rethink the whole thing. I’m inclined toward the Levada solution myself.

    • digbydolben

      Hieronymus, I was going to respond to Bull Pasture, but you’ve done it better than I. Meanwhile, I think he should go read up on the papacy’s opposition to the enslavement of the indigenous in North and South America in the “Early Modern” period of European colonialism.

      • BullPasture

        Digbydolen, it seems that you are making the leap from the drafters of the constitution not being Catholic to their being deistically inclined with no traditional religious definition of what a human being actually is. Several bridges to far to jump in my opinion.

    • Mark Gordon

      No. The argument for gay marriage is made on the basis of liberty and the autonomy of the individual, and that argument is informed by liberalism’s false ontology. Here’s Paul VI, writing in his apostolic letter, Octagesima Adveniens about economic liberalism. Pay close attention to the last sentence:

      “On another side, we are witnessing a renewal of the liberal ideology. This current asserts itself both in the name of economic efficiency, and for the defence of the individual against the increasingly overwhelming hold of organizations, and as a reaction against the totalitarian tendencies of political powers. Certainly, personal initiative must be maintained and developed. But do not Christians who take this path tend to idealize liberalism in their turn, making it a proclamation in favour of freedom? They would like a new model, more adapted to present-day conditions, while easily forgetting that at the very root of philosophical liberalism is an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty.”

      “… an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty.” That description of the “very root” of economic liberalism is also a succinct description of the spirit at the heart of the social liberalism that has given us legal abortion and gay marriage. And that’s my point. Free markets and private property are things, good things when put at the service of the common good. But liberalism, in both its original economic and later pelvic varieties, is an Enlightenment philosophy fundamentally at odds with the Catholic understanding of man and society. It is a Promethean false ontology that is now on full, florid display. Those who continue to promote economic liberalism and its child, capitalism, are like the man who feeds a fire with a gas can in his left hand while simultaneously attempting to dampen the flames with a hose in is right. As long as they continue to legitimize liberalism’s false ontology in the economic sphere, they will find it rising up in the social and moral spheres, as well.

      Paul VI begins that quote with the words, “On the other side,” meaning the side of economic liberalism. Here’s Ludwig von Mises, high priest of laissez-faire capitalism, deploying the fundamental tenets of classical liberalism in defense of abortion:

      “The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.

      Now, you may refuse to see the connection that Paul VI and Mises do between the false ontology of economic liberalism, on the one hand, and abortion on the other. But if you do I can only conclude it’s because you are blinded by narrow partisan, political, or nationalist reasons.

  • digbydolben

    Yes, I can see that you wouldn’t understand, BullPasture, being undoubtedly steeped, as most Americans are, in the heresy called “Americanism,” but, I do, in fact, consider that the Protestant heresies of the 15th and 16th centuries lead, inevitably, to deism, and then–in our sad epoch–to atheism and secularism. Those “bridges” have been “jumped” many, many times, in fact, by modern philosophers of religion whose “conservatism” is very, very different from yours. Ever heard of Schuon, for example? Even Chesterton and Belloc go in this same direction that I do.

    • Agellius

      Digby writes, “… I do, in fact, consider that the Protestant heresies of the 15th and 16th centuries lead, inevitably, to deism, and then–in our sad epoch–to atheism and secularism.”

      On this we agree. : )

    • BullPasture

      Digbydolben I can see that you are arrogant and rude. You also seem to like make assumptions about people while skipping around points which are inconvenient to the bias you wield like a bludgeon.

      I agree with you that the heresies of the 15th and 16th centuries lead to the humanism and deism that is so destructive. But that was simply a non-sequitor. You have argued argued that the framers of the constitution were deficient because they didn’t have a traditionally religious view of what a human being actually is. When it was pointed out to you that, at the time, there was no traditional religious opposition to slavery you jump to contemporaneous Catholic teaching condemning the extermination, not enslavement, of native Americans. A non sequitor and a dodge.

      You even agreed with Hieronymous that the demand for homosexual marriage is about forcing the larger society to recognize society to recognize and reward the relationship and not about liberty. You thought he was refuting me. That was my original point which tied back to Mark Gordon’s original contention that abortion and homosexual marriage were about liberalism and liberty. I was arguing in opposition.

      Temper your anger and you might be able to follow along.

      • Mark Gordon

        First, digbydolben please stay civil. Second, BullPasture, the push for gay marriage is entirely based on a liberty argument that goes like this: “We should be free to marry whomever we want to marry because our affections and attachments are no one else’s business. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it because we are as free and equal as you are.”

        If you look up “liberalism,” classical liberalism, you’ll see that it is based on two things: liberty and equal rights. Not virtue. Not the common good. Liberty and equal rights. It is on that liberal basis that the argument for gay marriage is made.

        • agellius

          Mark writes, “If you look up “liberalism,” classical liberalism, you’ll see that it is based on two things: liberty and equal rights. Not virtue. Not the common good. Liberty and equal rights.”

          I agree with you here. “Liberty and equal rights” meaning, basically, that no one has the right to tell anyone else how to act or what to believe. Certainly an anti-Catholic notion.

          As a side note, I think this is why Catholic “liberals” are often called by that name: Because they seem to push the idea — or at least lean that way — that Catholics need not be “sheep” blindly following their shepherds, but may decide for themselves whether to do such things as artificially contracept, based on the conclusions of their own consciences, notwithstanding the teaching of the magisterium.

          Not that all liberals entirely usurp the prerogatives of the magisterium, but that their positions tend to fall on the side of emphasizing liberty and equality — for another example, the trend of de-emphasizing the distinction between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the laity, in liturgy as well as church arthitecture; the idea that since both sexes are equal, there can be no valid reason for denying ordination to women; and so on.

          It’s truly a confused mess: Modern “liberals” want increased government control over the economy in the name of morality, but place much less emphasis on government control over such things as indecency in the media, divorce and birth control in the name of liberty; whereas modern “conservatives” want increased government control over the latter things in the name of morality, but in the name of liberty, less control in the case of the former.

          However I would argue that the conservative case is the more consistent, since the specific degree of government control over the economy — i.e. what level of control would be more “moral” in the sense of benefiting the poor, etc. — is a matter of prudence; whereas there is no level of birth control, divorce or indecency in media that is moral. So I submit that all Catholics should be unflinchingly opposed to the latter, whereas there is room for discussion as to the exact amount of increased government control over the economy.

  • BullPasture

    Mark don’t disagree that the push for homosexual marriage can be justified under classical liberalism. We aren’t really far apart. If liberalism is your god you have no grounds for opposing gay marriage. My point is that the push is more appropriately viewed as an exercise in force than liberalism. The reason I say that is because calling homosexual unions marriage would be to redefine the word. If, instead, the push was for recognition of civil unions in order to address legitimate concerns over property and visitation rights, for instance, there would be much less opposition. I contend the demand for homosexual marriage is more about restricting the rights of others to reject the ideas that it is not on the same moral plane as heterosexual marriage. The arguments may appeal to liberalism but the motivation isn’t rooted there. They want identify where it cannot exist.

    • Mark Gordon

      One last note on this. The debate over gay marriage isn’t a debate over your rights or my rights, either negative or positive. It’s a debate about the right of gay couples to be treated equally under the law on the grounds that to deny them marriage restricts their liberty. The argument doesn’t merely appeal to classical liberalism. It derives from it.

      • BullPasture

        That is one way to frame it. Another way to frame it is the right of homosexual couples to be called something they are not. Homosexuals have the same right to marry a person of the opposite sex as anyone else. They are not denied that right they just don’t want to exercise it. They want to do something different and have it be recognized as marriage. It isn’t genuinely classical liberalism there. They aren’t agitating for the same right. They are arguing to change the right.

        • Mark Gordon

          It’s not a frame, and it’s not an angle. It is what it is. Now, since you’re a fan of Reason magazine (“Free minds and free markets”), I can see why you would strain yourself to avoid implicating liberalism in any of this, but take a closer look at Reason. Gillespie, Welch, Stossel and all the others there are big supporters of gay marriage precisely because, as Stossel puts it, “As a libertarian, I think all consenting adults who want to commit to a life partner ought to be treated the same way.” Stossel thinks that way because he shares “an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty” that is the “very root” of the the liberal philosophy, in the words of Paul VI. You may not like it, but please take the blinders off.

          • BullPasture

            Well we disagree Mark. I read Reason and link to it for the same reason that I read and link to Vox Nova: They present a reasoned and articulate defense of their beliefs. It doesn’t mean I am in agreement with every perspective presented there just as I don’t agree with every perspective I read here. I agree with what the Catholic Church teaches, what I write, and whatever else I say I agree with.

            You seem determined to have a fight. I don’t disagree with you that classical liberalism can lead to this error. Maybe unavoidably. But that was never my point. The advocates for homosexual marriage may even believe that they are making an appeal to classical liberalism. I contend that they are mischaracterizing their argument.

            The point I have made, which you have not actually addressed except to deny it, is that the demand for recognition of homosexual marriage is not a demand for equal rights. It is not a demand to be treated the same. It is a demand that the old order change the definition of marriage. Every homosexual has the same right as any heterosexual to marry the partner of the opposite sex they choose and can persuade to consent. That right doesn’t appeal to them and so they want something entirely different to be given the same respect and rewards as marriage. That is not an appeal to liberty. That is a demand for submission.

            If you don’t like that characterization, or framing, I’d be happy to see how you think it is incorrect, hopefully with more substantive reasoning than that you believe I have blinders on. It is a matter of indifference to me whether or not classical liberalism is indicted in the push for homosexual marriage. Every governmental framework will fail to the extent it separates itself from the moral teaching of the Church. Virtually every system could have success if it were governed by Catholic morality.

          • Mark Gordon

            No, I’m not determined to have a fight. You write that the movement for gay marriage “is a demand that the old order change the definition of marriage.” I agree completely. But the demand is being made on what grounds? It’s being made on the grounds that gay people ought to be free (liberty) to marry each other as a matter of equal rights under law. Soon, that same logic will be used to extend civil marriage to polyamorous groups because restricting marriage to two people (gay or straight) is, like gender, an arbitrary restriction on the freedom of the members of those groups and a denial of their equal rights under law. And when that happens, libertarians and other “conservatives” like Ted Olson will line up behind what is an argument straight out of classical liberalism.

            We’ve each had our say. Let’s leave it at that. There’s really nowhere else for this to go. Thanks.

          • BullPasture

            I enjoyed the exchange. I do agree with you that those who support homosexual marriage on the basis of equal rights or liberalism will have no grounds for opposing any other formulation of “marriage.”

          • Ronald King

            Bill and Mark with all due respect for your positions, I support gay marriage on the basis of the partners love for one another and the desire to have that love validated. Love is more than sex and procreation. Plus gay marriage does not change my perception of marriage since I have been married over 36 years and knowing that I was the only one who threatened that marriage, not society.

          • Mark Gordon

            Ronald, we don’t have to get into it, but if love for one another and the desire to have that love validated are the only boundaries for marriage, then I would say we’re on a very slippery slope indeed. Just think about the implications of those criteria for, say, incestuous couples, or polyamorous groups. If you can’t make a case for marriage being reserved to one man and one woman, then you can’t make a case for it being reserved to only two people, or people who aren’t closely related. If the meaning of the word marriage is infinitely elastic then it ultimately means nothing.

          • Ronald King

            I agree Mark that we don’t need to get into it. My reasoning cannot be shortened to a blog. I will state that we first must define what love is and is not. Suffice it to say that we could spend many dinners together sorting out what each of us defines as love. We can do that in eternity. I do know that there is a love that exists with or without sexual expression. With sexual expression oxytocin is released at orgasm which can deepen that love and attachment or if it is not love then it becomes an addiction and substitute for love. I have seen this many times. God Bless.

          • Mark Gordon

            You’re a weird guy, Ronald, but I can’t help but love you! Without the oxytoxin, of course. 😉

          • Ronald King

            Thanks for recognizing my wierdness. That is the only thing I did not have to work hard to achieve. And I love you also without the crutch of oxytocin:)

  • BullPasture


    I overlooked the connection you made between abortion and von Mises economic liberalism. I don’t dispute the connection at all. Any system which rejects Catholic theology will fall into the same basic error. It will deny the individual even as it appears to liberate him.