Catholic Social Teaching on Lake Garda

Christopher Zehnder has written an excellent post comparing Pope Gregory XVI’s anti-modernism and Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’. I took a similar approach in my own appreciation of Laudato Si’, praising it for its clear eyed opposition to technocratic modernity. I did, however, also write that I thought Pope Francis ignored “some elements of Catholic Social Teaching that ought really to follow from his own position on human society as a part of the order of creation, and his rejection of technocratic liberalism.” What exactly are those elements that I think he ignores? An answer can be found in the concluding statement of the Symposium of the Roman Forum in Gardone in northern Italy, which I have just finished attending.

The main point is that  it is necessary to insist on the integralist thesis. Universal brotherhood among men can only be founded on an explicit ordering of society to God. Pope Francis certainly wants to convert the world to God, but his silence on integralist themes in his teaching is counter-productive in this regard; it encourages the illusion that it would be sufficient for the Church be contributor to a sort of neo-Sillonist universal brotherhood not based on the subordination of natural society to the supernatural society of the Catholic Church. This is what The Lake Garda Statement argues with great force. The statement follows in full below. Continue reading

Is marriage ‘pre-political’?

I remember Marcus Berquist once remarking that the problem with politics nowadays is that all the really important things have already been settled, and settled wrong. Given the developments of recent decades (and indeed centuries), there was nothing surprising about the United States Supreme Court’s decision on homosexual “marriage.” Viewed as a symptom of the general corruption of our time it is a sad thing. Viewed with a bit of detachment though, there is something comical about the court’s “finding” a right to this spectacularly irrational abomination in the terse, 18th century prose of the constitution that it has to pretend to interpret. Justice Scalia’s comparison of the opening line to a fortune cookie is even a bit unfair. Unfair, that is, to fortune cookies; they are not accustomed to apply their banalities to such extreme perversion.

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Laudato Si’ and Charles De Koninck

In a programmatic post on the new encyclical, John Brungardt argues that Charles De Koninck’s philosophy of nature and his anti-personalist account of the common good, both rooted in his rich understanding of the order of the whole universe as the final cause of creation, make De Koninck a particularly suitable instrument for pursuing the concerns of Laudato Si’. Continue reading

Some notable appreciations and critiques of Laudato Si’

Over at The Josias I defend the section of Laudato Si’ on world government, in the introduction a section of Henri Grenier neo-scholastic proof of the necessity of such an institution. At the same time, however, I wriggle out of the conclusion that the UN’s authority ought to be expanded by claiming that such a world government could only be just if it recognized the social kingship of Christ. Continue reading

Mathematics and Scientific Revolution

A comment in an online forum thread on my post on Laudato Si’ notes the following about mathematical science:

the application of mathematics to nature is not a particularly 17th century thing, but it goes to the beginnings of civilization, to the point that we could even say that mathematics is natural to the mind and making maths is of the same cultural necessity as making music (an activity that, although strictly not necessary, is present in every civilization).

This is obviously true, and the brief account of the new-science in my post wasn’t meant do deny it, but I can see how the post could be read that way.

What is particular to the sort of mathematical application found in the new science of the 17th century is the homogenizing character of the mathematical symbolization used, and the elevation of this application to a mathesis universalis, a universal method which becomes, the dominant approach to reality. I have posted a long explanation of what that means (from a dissertation draft) to It’s the fullest account of the scientific revolution that I have written so-far, but it is still only a partial account. I am planning to expand it into a full-blown treatise at some point.


A Magnificent, a Wonderful Encyclical

In his weird and partly brilliant book on infinity, David Foster Wallace writes, “what the modern world’s about, what it is, is science.” That is, the heart of the modernity as a project is the new science developed in the 17th century, which consists in the application of a certain kind of symbolic-calculation to nature through experiments for the sake of technological power over nature. This science was “new” because unlike the old science its goal was not the contemplation of the truth in the forms of things; the goal of the new science was and is practical. As El Mono Liso recently noted, “the attempt to analyze the world as a series of mathematical equations or chemical formulas is ultimately not an unbiased analysis of static essences, but a blueprint by which civilized actors seek to bend all things to their own will, in our case, the will of capital.” The reference to capital is crucial. The new science was wedded to a new attitude toward external wealth: capitalism. For the first for the first time in history “the economy” emerged as self-regulating system aimed at the measureless increase of exchange value. And it was capitalism that provided the main measure of the growth of technological power. Unlimited technological progress is the engine of economic growth, and unlimited economic growth the measure of technological progress. Continue reading

Das Ende der Neuzeit

In the new encyclical, Laudato Si’Pope Francis quotes Romano Guardini’s superb critique of the Baconian program of progress through the technological domination of nature in Das Ende der NeuzeitSadly the Neuzeit (modernity) is far from having reached its Ende.

There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”, [ROMANO GUARDINI, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82)]. because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. Each age tends to have only a meagre awareness of its own limitations. It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing day by day that man will not use his power as he should”; in effect, “power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”. But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint. (§ 105)

The Oppenheimer Principle

I think Alan Jacobs goes to far in his rejection of the sort of account of the decline of the West that put a lot of emphasis on the role of philosophy. But I afraid I have to agree his “Oppenheimer Principle” describes a real thing. From his latest piece:

What I call the Oppenheimer Principle — “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success” — has worked far more powerfully to shape our world than any of our master thinkers.

civil and religious liberty

In the civil wars, the Egremonts pricked by their Norman blood, were cavaliers and fought pretty well. But in 1688, alarmed at the prevalent impression that King James intended to insist on the restitution of the church estates to their original purposes, to wit, the education of the people and the maintenance of the poor, the Lord of Marney Abbey became a warm adherent of “civil and religious liberty,”—the cause for which Hampden had died in the field, and Russell on the scaffold,—and joined the other whig lords, and great lay impropriators, in calling over the Prince of Orange and a Dutch army, to vindicate those popular principles which, somehow or other, the people would never support. (Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil)