Saturday, April 28, 2012

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and Thomas Aquinas = Exploding Heads

Following up on Paul Ryan's recent repudiation of Ayn Rand and embrace of Thomas Aquinas, Mike Kimel point us to a couple of arguments Aquinas mounts in the Summa Theologica — one against interest, which is also prohibited in Islam, and the other to the effect that the purpose of wealth is to provide aid to the poor. Aquinas also asserts that it is no sin to appropriate the private property of others for survival, if society doesn't provide the means of subsistence.

Interestingly, both Ayn Rand and Thomas Aquinas professed to be followers  of Aristotle in asserting the reason is the defining characteristic of human nature. The assumption that humans are "rational animals" also underlies REH. However, Ayn Rand and those subscribing to REH hold that rationality   equates with individual pursuit of maximum utility economically. Aquinas could not disagree more. He holds that rationality and faith are compatible rather than mutually exclusive, as Rand thought.

The views of Aquinas that Kimel mentions stand in stark contrast to the foundational assumptions of modern capitalism, especially neoliberal economics. However, in the mind of Aquinas he was just providing a solid rational basis for the teaching of the gospels, which is a matter of faith, showing the compatibility of faith and reason.

Jesus was much more direct,however, and cut to the chase:

"...but seek ye first the reign of God and His righteousness, and all these shall be added to you." Matthew 6:33 (Young's Literal Translation)

"...Verily I say to you, inasmuch as ye did it to one of these my brethren — the least — to me ye did it." Matthew 25:40 (Young's Literal Translation)

"Treasure not up to yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust disfigure, and where thieves break through and steal, but treasure up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth disfigure, and where thieves do not break through nor steal, for where your treasure is, there will be also your heart." Matthew 6:19-21 (Young's Literal Translation)

"... 'If thou dost will to be perfect, go away, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.'" Matthew 19:21 (Young's Literal Translation)

These are called "hard sayings." Many either ignore them or else reinterpret them to suit themselves. But the meaning is abundantly clear, and the message is incompatible with what Paul Ryan represents.

The entire Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes (Matthew, chapters 5-7) are considered by most Christians to be the formula for discipleship, and scholars, who often argue over the authenticity of sayings attributed to Jesus, are in general agreement that the Sermon on the Mount represents authentic sayings of Jesus, probably very close to the words he uttered on the occasion. So there should be no dispute over this.

Read it at Angry Bear
Ayn Rand v. Thomas Aquinas in Paul Ryan's Mind
by Mike Kimel


Matt Franko said...

Great stuff Tom,

A commenter over at Angry Bear made the observation that Ryan basically just threw Allison and the Koch's under the bus! LOL!

These morons can spend the rest of their days taking turns screwing each other for all I care as long as they would leave the rest of us out of it... I believe this is probably why the concept of "exile" was invented.


Tom Hickey said...

Interesting effect the Church has had on this debate once it got involved. Ever since Jesus' teaching became Christianity, and then Christianity as a hierarchical normative religion became Christendom as the successor of the Roman Empire, the Church has had power over politicians. It may be only a vestige now, but that power has just be demonstrated again in case anyone forgot about it.

Matt Franko said...

This is what John the baptist said in order to receive his baptism of repentance (change) before Jesus:

"10 And the throngs inquired of him, saying "What, then, should we be doing?"
11 Now answering, he said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him be sharing with him who has none, and let him who has food be doing likewise."
12 Now tribute collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we be doing?"
13 Now he said to them, "Impose nothing more than has been prescribed to you."
14 Now soldiers also inquired of him, saying, "What should we also be doing?" And he said to them, "You should be intimidating no one, neither be blackmailing, and be sufficed with your rations." Luke 3

So you can see the only things that John was imploring for them to do was to make 3 economic adjustments.

1. Correct the problems with economic distribution of clothing and food (basic necessities for subsistence);

2. Stop over-taxing, ie. the deficit was TOO SMALL;

3. End state brutality, state corruption and state embezzlement.


I often feel that the entirety of Christendom is blind to this very simple message from John...


Trixie said...

I don't believe in a god because no one's that bored. Never did, even throughout 12 years of Catholic schooling. Suffice it to say, I spent much of my youth rolling my eyes. And getting sent to the principal's office.

But here is the one thing I learned: If Jesus were alive today, he'd turn Paul Ryan into a pillar of salt and sell him on ebay for $1.78. Aquinas would give him a swirly and upload the video to YouTube. Gotta make a living these days somehow in a world where profit-making is a human right, preferably at the expense of everyone else. Where the only motivation for the rich is to get richer, and the only way to motivate the poor is to make them poorer.

Bob Roddis said...

Rand was an Austrian in economics. "Rational expectations hypothesis" has no application whatsoever to Austrian theory. No Republican other than Ron or Rand Paul has any understanding of Austrian concepts and neither do you guys.

Religion is essentially irrelevant to Austrian economics. Rand was an atheist. Ron Paul is a Baptist. Robert P. Murphy is a Christian. "Murphy is a Christian, and has stated in his writings that 'my ethical beliefs are informed by my Christian faith, and I am a firm believer in natural law.'"

Thomas Woods is a convert to the Roman Catholic Church and author of The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy. He was associate editor of The Latin Mass Magazine, which advocates traditional Catholicism, for eleven years. As a traditional Catholic, he advocates the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and cultural conservatism.

Walter Block, who is of Jewish background, self-identifies as a "devout atheist".

You people simply have no conception of what it is you are discussing. It's creepy.

Bob Roddis said...

The essential point you Keynesians always refuse to understand about both Rand and Rothbardian libertarians is the firm, unflinching and "devout" belief in and insistence upon the non-aggression principle. The main problem of mankind has always been assault, murder, genocide, rape and pillage, not a "lack of aggregate demand". Private property provides the necessary protections for those assaults. Your Keynesian musings completely undermine the essential protections provided to average people by a rigorous private property regime. You then feign shock when your beloved "unconstrained" government plunges headlong down the road to a police state. What else can be expected?

And all this to solve the problem that does not exist, the alleged failure of the market which is instead always caused by Keynesian distortions of the pricing process and thus economic calculation.

Anonymous said...

@Tom Hickey

"It may be only a vestige now, but that power has just been demonstrated again in case anyone forgot about it."

Do you know how many Catholic/Jesuit colleges there are in the US?

Do you know how many people graduate from Jesuit law schools annually?

Do you know how many of those people are practicing Catholics?

Do you know how many of those people are sitting in Congress today? In the military? In the intelligence agencies?

Do you know six of nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic?

If you knew the answer to these questions, you would never doubt the power of the Catholic Church.

Doubt it? Look at the EU and see what the RCC has created...a non democratic federation of nation states. Why? Because only the RCC has authority in the temporal and spiritual spheres. They still believe that; they never stopped believing it. And then look at the legislation the republicans want passed and know there is reason for concern.

And for those of you above who have quoted the Bible, chances are very good Paul Ryan has never read the Bible, like most Catholics. Why? Because Catholics are not allowed to interpret Scripture. According to the RCC only the RCC has that authority and any one else attempting to do so is a heretic. And they very seriously believe that.

Matt Franko said...


"Because Catholics are not allowed to interpret Scripture."

I don't know it that is true... it may be a hasty generalization....

In this tight spot that Ryan got himself into here, the Bishops that were criticizing Ryan were doing their own interpretations and Ryan was using some words from The Pope in his defense....

So it looks like there is some room for debate within the RCC of some sort...


Tom Hickey said...

I don't want to get into arguing about normative religions here but rather confine the discussion to normative religion in politics.

Normative religions that are hierarchical are authoritarian. Goes with the territory. Pressure in non-hierarchical normative religions is social and informal, but the pressure can still be just as authoritarian in its own institutional way. This has political effects and consequences.

For example, to say that Catholics are not permitted to interpret scripture is overstating the case. If this were true, there would be no debates in Catholic theology, and there are contesting schools. However, when push comes to shove, debates are settled hierarchically, with the final say resting with the Vatican. But most controversies are confined to dioceses, where the bishop is the final authority. Bishops do disagree, and in important matters that come to the fore, these matters are settled by the Vatican. One reason, the the Church has been strong politically and continues to be to a degree internationally is due to this tight organization, inherited from Roman Imperial times.

For example, as Matt observes, Paul Ryan was putting forth a particular interpretation that many American bishops disagreed with, but not all. Since he invoked the words of the pope, it is not unlikely that the Vatican will weigh in, although they generally are reluctant to become involved in national politics. But if pushed they will.

But supposedly non-hierarchical normative religions an denominations have a tight organization, too, and can exert significant pressure inside and outside the organization. Religion is still a strong force in politics petty much worldwide, even in formerly Communist countries.

James said...

My comment didn't seem to show, so this is my second attempt, I thought some of you guys might be interested in this video of David Graeber being interviewed by Max Keiser. I didn't know where to post it so I put in here.

Tom Hickey said...

Thanks for the link, James. Promoted to a post.

Matt Franko said...


Look at Murphy here: "Religion is essentially irrelevant to Austrian economics. Rand was an atheist. Ron Paul is a Baptist. Robert P. Murphy is a Christian. "Murphy is a Christian, and has stated in his writings that 'my ethical beliefs are informed by my Christian faith, and I am a firm believer in natural law.'"

You cant say that 'religion' is irrelevant to your economics when Murphy right here states that his religion forms the basis for his ethics... C'mon... Tom has pointed out here over and over again how normative is economics... please...


John Zelnicker said...

Tom and Matt -- One of the best features of this blog is that we have regular participants who are extremely knowledgeable about philosophy and religion. Both have been badly abused by the neo-liberal paradigm and I find your posts to be an important addition to the discussions. The fire and brimstone preachers may be right about America losing it's soul, but they have completely misidentified the devil.

Matt Franko said...


Thanks, a thought came to me the other day that what a lot of the faith community is doing these days is sort of "cleaning up the mess" or "dealing with the mess" created by our moron leaders in the economic policy making positions.

I'd like to think it could be more than that...