Libertarian used slavery to justify dissenting from social teachings

A libertarian on my Facebook tried to justify his disagreement with the Church’s social teaching by saying that since they were wrong about slavery, they could be wrong about economics. What does one say to such things?

Ask him what the Church has said about slavery that he thinks is wrong.

It is my understanding that the slave trade in Europe began in a certain sense in the early 1400s when the Spanish discovered the Canary Islands. They started enslaving the people, and the pope rebuked them in the encyclical Sicut Dudum: “We order and command all and each of the faithful of each sex…[to] restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands…who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free, and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of money. If this is not done [within] fifteen days…they incur the sentence of excommunication by the act itself.” source

There were earlier forms of slavery besides racial slavery. For example, people could sell their labor for a certain number of years in order to obtain some good. I don’t think this was ever condemned, except that the Church said that this was not ideal. There was penal slavery, where a man in prison could be forced to work at hard labor as part of his punishment. I don’t think the Church has ever condemned this either, except to say that prisoners should not be overworked beyond their human rights.

Perhaps the best thing would be to ask him what he means when he says the Church approved of slavery? Because I think the link given above suggests the opposite.

Stuff like this usually goes back to the Archbishop Sheen quote about less than one hundred people in the US truly hating the Catholic Church. Will pray for his conversion and your strength in your time to witness.

Have you ever read Belloc’s “The Servile State”? I keep reading the first eighty pages over myself, trying to process it— but in that first half of the book, it talks about Pagan slavery, medieval slavery, and how the abolition of slavery generally followed as the Church grew and obtained footholds in various cultures, and how the confiscation of Church lands in the Dissolution put Britain back on that path towards the Servile State…

No dogma of the Church pronounced Slavery to be immoral, or the sale and purchase of men to be a sin, or the imposition of compulsory labour upon a Christian to be a contravention of any human right.

The emancipation of Slaves was indeed regarded as a good work by the Faithful: but so was it regarded by the Pagan. It was, on the face of it, a service rendered to one’s fellowmen. The sale of Christians to Pagan masters was abhorrent to the later empire of the Barbarian Invasions, not because slavery itself was condemned, but because it was a sort of treason to civilisation to force men away from Civilisation to Barbarism. In general, you will discover no pronouncement against slavery as an institution, nor any moral definition attacking it, throughout all those early Christian centuries during which it none the less effectively disappears.

The form of its disappearance is well worth noting…

And you can read Belloc to find out how slavery disappeared.

And how it reappeared.

Belloc is arguing against both Socialism and Capitalism. Both paths followed to their end, he asserts, puts one class of people as slaves to another class. An employee might not be slaves-in-name of Wal-mart or McDonald’s, but in all practicality, that’s the life you end up with.

Bringing things back to, say, Jesus and slavery, remember this part from John 8:

31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.b ”

Note that Jesus is addressing spiritual slavery and eternal freedom in this context, rather than economic slavery or political freedom. And historically, that is more where the church has put its focus-- people may physically live in some sort of dictatorship/totalitarian state/feudalistic state/some other form of government with very few protected individual rights, as they have for much of human history, but our job is to be the best people God has created us to be, where God has chosen to place us in time and history, through our love of God and love of neighbor. We have instructions to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s— but to love others as God has loved us. And we can change culture and society if that love is bright and shining enough, rather than being mere revolutionaries for revolution’s sake.

The Church teaching about slavery: God freed Israel from the slavery of Egypt.
This has become the basic inspiration of the teaching of The Church.

After the people of Israel was freed, however, they bought slaves from pagan nations among them. And also some of their own country men who became so poor that they sold themselves as slaves to strangers. God saw this as “a comeback to slavery after being freed (through the passover) from slavery of Egypt”, therfore God spoke to regulate this slavery: that these slaves must be given “redemption right to their nearest willing kin”, or if not, they must be freed at jubelee year.

These verses sounds as if God teaches slavery. However, God regulated slavery in relation to “redemption of hebrew slaves by their closest kin” which later become the bases teaching of Jesus redeeming us from the slavery of our sins.

With regard God allowing the people of Israel to buy slaves among pagans, and take possesion of these pagan slaves: this teaching to signify that the freedom from slavery was given to Israel (only) at first, and then to the pagans later after Jesus was risen. Jesus resurection is to signify freedom for the children of Israel, the pagans, and also the mark of the True Jubelee (the year of The Lord) in which all slaves must be freed.

Leviticus 25
47.* … a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family,
48.* then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him,
49.* or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself.
52.* and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund the amount for his redemption.
54.* Even **if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of jubilee**, he and his sons with him. 55.*For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

God didn’t allow the people of Israel to enslaves their own fellow country men.

Leviticus 25
39.* If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, **you shall not subject him to a slave's service**. 40.*He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee.
41.* He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. 42.*For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale.

Slavery in Europe and everywhere else was not Church teaching. Social Politic of those area at the time still practicing slavery doesn’t mean it was inspired by Church teaching.

In fact, it has always been the most basic teaching of the church is “freedom from slavery”.

That is an ad hominem attack. Even if the Church were wrong about slavery that has nothing to do with its arguments about economics. The Church being wrong about one issue would only be relevant if the subject is infallibility. Is that the subject?

Apparently he thinks that because papal encyclicals on economics don’t define anything as dogma, he doesn’t have to listen to them.

There is somewhat of a point to that. It doesn’t carry nearly the same weight.

Until recently, Papal encyclicals have been unabashedly against a powerful State and proponents of subsidiarity. It will probably take another French and Spanish Revolution for Popes to remember how vicious the ruling class can be.

They can be reconciled with Libertarianism to an extent, not fully. I hardly think libertarians are heretics though.

I think all the recent encyclical have shared the trait of promoting subsidiary at the expense of the large state. One of the most significant themes of Laudato Si, for example, is the desirability of economic freedom.

For every one statement praising the free market in the recent docs, there would be several promoting greater regulation or blaming capitalism for materialism.

Thus the squirming of American Conservative Catholics.

I dobut it. Can you give even one example of just one quote from a recent encyclical where it is critical of capitalism?

  1. Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development. It has also to do with the overall welfare of society and the development of a variety of intermediate groups, applying the principle of subsidiarity. Outstanding among those groups is the family, as the basic cell of society. Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.

Distributive justice the state is obligated to defend…

  1. What happens with politics? Let us keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity, which grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while also demanding a greater sense of responsibility for the common good from those who wield greater power. Today, it is the case that some economic sectors exercise more power than states themselves. But economics without politics cannot be justified, since this would make it impossible to favour other ways of handling the various aspects of the present crisis. The mindset which leaves no room for sincere concern for the environment is the same mindset which lacks concern for the inclusion of the most vulnerable members of society. For “the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life”.[139]

The Free Market will hurt the environment.

  1. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.[33]

Deified market???

  1. The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration.** Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough.**

Straw man attacks of free-market advocates.

. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage.

More strawmen.

Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power.

Should I continue?

That’s because the Church simply doesn’t advocate free market Capitalism as it is practiced in the US. You are absolutely right.

But neither does the Church advocate socialism.

I am glad to see that you actually, as a Conservative, can admit what the Pope and Church are actually saying regarding economics. It’s refreshing as most around here try to explain it away.

Free market capitalism is not practiced in the U.S. It’s freer than many countries, but that’s about it.

You can be a Catholic in good standing and also have Libertarian principles.

Oh, I agree with you.

I don’t think that , doctrinally, the Church has said “you can be or can’t think this way”.

A capitalist state can defend distributive justice, perhaps better than any other kind of government. Therefore this paragraph does not say anything against capitalism.

The Free Market will hurt the environment.

That’s not what the quote says. It says economics without politics will hurt the environment. A free market needs politics just as much as any alternative because if there are no politics, there is not even any way to guarantee that contracts will be upheld.

Deified market???

The quote says that the environment is defenseless against a deified market. That’s true: some people’s highest concern is making money, other people’s highest concern is pleasing God. You can’t please God by destroying His creation, but you can make money by destroying God’s environment. So, if we make the market our highest concern, that’s deifying the market, and it will hurt the environment. And all that has nothing to do with capitalism because you can be a capitalist without making the market your god.

Straw man attacks of free-market advocates.

Not at all, because the things in the quote have nothing to do with free market advocates. It has to do with people who reject any efforts to protect the environment. You can be a free market advocate and still want to change the way states and individuals and everyone treats the environment.

More strawmen.

The quote says that some people don’t want to protect the environment and do focus on rhetoric about the invisible forces of the market. That’s a true statement and not at all contrary to free market principles. You can believe in the invisible forces of the market AND in protecting the environment. The quote merely criticizes those who choose the one without the other.

Should I continue?

You’ll have to if you want to find a quote against the free market, because none of the ones you’ve quoted say anything bad about capitalism. The quote you quoted last does not say the market should not be free, it says it should be. It talks about how we can “ensure economic freedom” in the face of large producers which control a great amount of it. A market in the control of a few producers is not any more free than a market in control of the State, and Laudato Si rejects both. He wants the market to be in the control of “small producers and differentiated production.” That’s free market principles at work, my friend, and it’s not contrary to capitalism unless you define capitalism as “Large companies control the market.”

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