It seems my last Santorum post has attracted some attention from the American Catholic blog. This blog has become something of a standard bearer for the attempt to merge American liberalism and American exceptionalism with Catholicism. It’s a blind ally.
But I feel the need to respond to some of the points made (by two different authors, I believe).
First of all, I find it astonishing that somebody could equate Santorum’s embrace of American exceptionalism with the virtue of participation in public and political life. Catholicism is by definition universal. It is about restoring lost unity not only between mankind and God, but among all the peoples of the world. As Pope Benedict says, salvation has always been considered a “social” reality. De Lubac is even stronger, noting that “we ought not to speak on man in the plural any more than we speak of three Gods”. You cannot say that one country is divinely ordered above all others, which is the core of American exceptionalism, a theology that has come down to us from Winthrop to the present day.
American exceptionalism does a number of things. First of all, it divinizes liberalism by claiming that the sole “purpose of America was to make sure each and every person was free”. Who said that? Somebody called Rick Santorum. Remember, the US is really the quintessential liberal state. This is negative freedom, not the positive freedom espoused by Catholicism. It springs from the idea that society is a collection of autonomous individuals seeking their own good, not a holistic social order where all people have mutual duties and responsibilities to each other. This is the liberalism condemned strongly by the Church – “an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty” (Paul VI) or “an excessive exaltation of liberty, considered as its exclusive scope the safe-guarding of liberty by the law” (Pius XII).
The second aspect of American exceptionalism is the Calvinist dualism – America is God’s nation at war with the devil (not that different from the way revolutionary Iran looks at the world!). Again, this is Santorum’s main theme. Here he is: “If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.” Dangerous stuff.
But the author equates American exceptionalism with none of this, but with…public participation! This is the quote: “What country offers greater participation for her citizens in public life than America? None that I can think of.” OK, that’s weird. Pretty much every democracy in the world offers the same degree of participation, and the countries with proportional representation tend to produce electoral outcomes that align more closely with public preferences. But we are veering away from the main point now!
The author’s second point: “The claim is that there is no supremacy of individual freedom in regard to economic matters, but in fact, the Church recognizes the right of private property. Any time property is taken against the will of the owner, it is theft..” This is highly misleading. Yes, the Church believes in private property as a natural right, but goes to great lengths to point out that this is not an absolute or unconditional right, and must always be subordinated to common use. Indeed, one function of the state is to bring private ownership into harmony with the needs of the common good. This can be done primarily through a just wage policy (John Paul II), and also through redistribution – “grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution” (Benedict XVI). And while its is certainly true that outright seizure of private property rarely serves the common good, this is not always the case – we can think of examples of granting tenant ownership on large estates or latifundia.
It all goes back to the same point – Santorum’s starting point on economic matters is individual freedom. In other areas, such as his stance on pornography and other sexual matters, he is aligned with the Catholic viewpoint which places the common good over individual freedom. You don’t get a free pass on economics.Important point: Yes, there is scope for wide-ranging differences among Catholics on how best to put Church teachings into practice – the way to structure taxation, social spending, and regulation to help the poor and wage earner and improve the distribution of income. But you have to start from the right premise, which is not economic liberalism.
Third point: “Catholics believe in the material sufficiency of the Bible. That is, everything that is necessary for salvation can be found at least implicitly in the Holy Scriptures. It is not “anti-Catholic” to hold up the Bible as God’s voice to us”. What the author writes is technically correct, but a bit of a fudge. The Church teaches that the union of sacred tradition and sacred scripture together form a single sacred deposit of the word of God (Dei Verbum). The deposit of faith contains the memory of Jesus, and everything that goes with it, and preserving this memory is entrusted to the Church. Catholics are not a “people of the book”, like Protestants or Muslims. We insist that in a primary sense, Jesus the person is God’s Word. The collection of writings labeled the Bible is the Word of God only in a secondary sense, insofar as when rightly interpreted it enables us to get to know Jesus. For examples on the importance of tradition, just look at the formulation of the Creed in 325 – concepts such as homoousias stem from Hellenic philosophy, not Hebrew scriptures.
Fourth point: Santorum is “for using our natural resources in a manner that enhances life”. Seriously? This is a guy who denies and mocks global warming, calling it a conspiracy, when the effects are being felt with increasing gravity, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the world – something the Church keeps drawing out attention to. Santorum’s carbon-first energy stance stands in stark contrast to the Church’s teaching on responsible stewardship and (yet again!) owes more to the Protestantism of people like James Inhofe who believe that God will simply not allow the planet to be destroyed! Simple question: why is global warming denialism a predominantly American problem? Answer – it’s the (phony) theology, stupid!
Here is the pope talking about the crux of the problem: ” Human beings let themselves be mastered by selfishness; they misunderstood the meaning of God’s command and exploited creation out of a desire to exercise absolute domination over it. But the true meaning of God’s original command, as the Book of Genesis clearly shows, was not a simple conferral of authority, but rather a summons to responsibility”. I doubt Santorum accepts there was any such misunderstanding! Nor would he agree with the pope that the United States is called to embrace “more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency”.
Fifth point: “Rick Santorum’s foreign policy is based on defense against nuclear attack on America and defense against other threats”. No, Santorum’s policy is based on a pre-emptive attack on Iran to make sure it never has the capacity to create the very weapons possessed by the United States. This kind of “preventive” war has no place in just war teaching – this is well established. Furthermore, his embrace of war and the language of conflict shows that he is not really “pro-life” at all. How many Iranian children do you think would die in such a war? The consequences are utterly horrific.
Sixth point: “If prisoners have information about threats to the lives of hundreds (or even millions) of people, he supports (and is well within Catholic teaching) using force against them until they provide the information.” This is so wrong it borders on scandal. Otherwise, the Church would not condemn torture so strongly, claiming it to be intrinsically evil, and ranking it among the most gravely evils acts in the moral hierarchy (see Gaudium Et Spes). The author claims not to embrace a consequentialist “end justifies the mean” position, but why then claim that “Rick Santorum supports the use of force against prisoners, not to extract confessions to crimes or to intimidate the individual, but to save lives”? It is either intrinsically evil or it isn’t. Sorry, the Church teaching on this is clear. To say otherwise is just right-wing cafeteria Catholicism of the worst kind.
Seventh point: “he wants to deport those who are here illegally, but as the grandson of immigrants, he welcomes all who seek to come here legally”. The fact is, he is totally out of step with the position of the US bishops on the US immigration issue. Why is that? At their core, the measures supported by Santorum violate the dignity of the person (and sometimes religious liberty too). And they violate the biblical call to “treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself”. This is basic stuff.