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Katie van Schaijik

Mark Shea jumps the shark on Paul Ryan

Aug. 13 at 9:38am

I'm not a fan of Mark Shea's.  He's too snide and sarcastic for my taste. His habit of berating fellow Catholics from a position of moral and intellectual superiority gets under my skin.  He writes as if everyone who doesn't see things exactly as he does must be insufficiently informed.  He lacks grace and nuance and receptivity.

Being aware, though, that we're on the same team, I usually deal with my distaste it by not following his column rather than taking him on directly.  But a post of his today at Patheos on Paul Ryan (linked by a facebook friend) goes beyond the pale.

He begins, as is his wont, with sneering sarcasm:

While everybody is busy having the vapors over exciting, dynamic Catholic Paul Ryan, permit me to throw a wet blanket on the festivities, as is my custom, by pointing out that a) he was (until it became awkward) a fanatical devotee of one of the great enemies of God the 20th century produced: Ayn Rand.  

You see, unlike the above-it-all Mark Shea, most of his fellow Catholics are a bunch of brainfless teeny-boppers carried away by unthinking enthusiasm.

He goes on to charge Ryan not only with fanaticism, but with outright lying.

And when Ryan starts his proclamation of fealty to the thought of St. Thomas with a good solid lie that it is a baseless “urban legend” that Rand has been a huge influence on him, he does not inspire confidence that what he is saying about anything else is going to be honest either.

But, while we're touting the virtue of honesty, let's note that in that NRO article, Ryan doesn't deny that Rand was an influence, he denies that he's "obsessed" with her and that he's a "devotee" of the Randian "gospel."  Here he is, explaining in his own words.

“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says."

It sounds to me like Ryan is a lot more sophisticated a Catholic thinker than Mark Shea.  

Memo to Mark: It's possible to be influenced, even profoundly influenced, by a thinker without adopting her philosophy wholesale.

Let's consider, for a comparison, John Paul II.  Students in Fr. Wojtyla's ethics classes testify that the thinker he dealt with most centrally was Kant.  In his ground-breaking ethical work, Love and Responsibilty, the future Pope makes his own Kant's ethical principle, which he calls "the personalistic norm": "A person is an end in himself, never to be used as a mere means."  In other words, the central insight and foundation of John Paul II's personalist ethics comes from Kant.

So is the late Pope a Kantian?  Is he lying when he rejects Kant's idealist epistemology?

Was Wojtla disingenuous for making important use of Scheler's analysis of shame while at the same time critiquing his deficient metaphysics?

Speaking for myself, I despise and deplore Ayn Rand's philosophy.  I endorse every line of Whittaker Chamber's justly famous take down of her libertarian radicalism. And yet, guess what?  I think there's a lot of truth in her critique of liberalism and socialism.  And her books, wretched as they are both philosophically and literarily, are engaging and influential.  They can wake a person up and motivate him to make more of himself.  Is it so impossible to believe that that might be the case with Paul Ryan?



 

City Mom

Thank you for this post.  My feelings about Mark Shea are the same as yours, although I think he has good thoughts on Gospel readings and their application to our lives.  I am glad to have access to your rebuttal of his Paul Ryan criticism.  It was an enormous relief to learn of Romney's VP choice, since that choice was going to make or break my support for him.  If he chose anyone who was even ambiguous on abortion and marriage, he would have lost my vote.  But now I will vote for the ticket with great enthusiasm.

#1 - Aug. 13 at 1:00pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Thanks, City Mom.  I think all Catholics should be rejoicing over this choice.  How about this line from Romney's speech introducing Ryan the other day:

"Paul Ryan is a faithful Catholic who believes in the value and dignity of each and every human life."

Not only that, but he gets the principle of subsidarity better than most bishops.

#2 - Aug. 13 at 1:16pm | quote

 

Max Torres

Well done, Katie.  I couldn't agree with you more, A to Y, with the small difference that I don't despise and deplore Rand's philosophy.  I just dismiss it.  Selfishenss is neither a virtue nor a healthy motivation for persons, period.  She was one strange woman, which her characters' bloody, passionate encounters attest to. Her critique of the bloodsucker state and the crony capitalists who aid and abet its predations, however, could not have been more prescient.  Obama and Emmanuel's "opportunism," GE and Warren Buffet's profitable complicity, and public employee unions' ceaseless aggrandizements have served to revive her work.  I confess to enjoying Part I of Atlas Shrugged (the movie) and looking forward to Part 2's release this October.  Interesting thesis.  But, in my near-old age, I think the real Atlas is the middle class.  If it shrugs and ceases to bear the burden of funding somebody else's good thing through the agency of government, if enough little producers throw in the towell and choose to go on the dole rather than pay for it, we're toast.  It might happen if "the one" is reelected because, under his regime, persons are losing their motivation to cooperate.

#3 - Aug. 13 at 4:57pm | quote

 

M Mcg

It's heartening to both read this post, and at the same time be reminded of W. Chambers' mighty review of that Rand novel. 

Shea is a curious character. There is something very jarring about the smiling photo, and his self-described "Catholic and enjoying it, juxtaposed with his too-frequent pontifical sneer. But then, I suppose we all look that silly, given the right angle. Still, his 'pick a fight' posts are unreadable, unenlightening, and certainly unpersuasive.

It's almost comic to misunderstand Rep Ryan as a thoroughgoing Randite. Such people exist, and they don't talk, think, or believe much like the congressman. Since Shea's probably sincere, not just repeating this Ryan-Rand thing as a left-wing talking point, you have to wonder just how familiar he is with the followers of Rand.

#4 - Aug. 14 at 10:40am | quote

 

Devra Torres

Well...we're a diverse crew here at the Personalist Project:   I am a fan of Mark Shea.  He makes me laugh, makes me reconsider assumptions, and he regularly apologizes when he goes too far (an unusual quality among bloggers: I've certainly never done it!).  Pllus, every time I ask him and his readers to pray for sick people, they get better.  

None of this means I agree with all his ideas (I don't), but I don't hear a sneering voice when I read him.

I think it's a wonderful and necessary thing, though, that we should have a conversation about the deeply misguided and distasteful ideas of Ayn Rand.  Like the truth about contraception, it's good that it came out.  Now we can address it: what are the grains of truth?  What makes it appeal to people?  Where does she go wrong?  Which parts of it are compatible with a right understanding of the human person, and how we should order our life together? I would like to know how deeply Paul Ryan has or hasn't been marked by her, but more than that, I'd like to examine her ideas.

#5 - Aug. 15 at 7:04pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Whittaker Chambers' review of Atlas Shrugged is the definitive critique of Rand, IMO.

#6 - Aug. 15 at 9:40pm | quote

 

Devra Torres

Katie van Schaijik, Aug. 15 at 8:40pm

Whittaker Chambers' review of Atlas Shrugged is the definitive critique of Rand, IMO.

 That was a pleasure!  It didn't make me want to read Rand again, and it reminded me why I gave up after a few hundred pages.

#7 - Aug. 16 at 6:07pm | quote

 

Thomas Leith

Without defending him, I'm suspicious as Mark Shea is of Ryan's professed conversion from Rand/Rothbard style economics. If this here speech had been given (say) 10 years ago, the "in my youth" thing would be more believable. But ten years ago Ayn Rand was "required reading" for his staff. If it had been five years ago, it would be easier to believe he'd come to see the errors of Rand & Rothbard in light of Catholic Social Teaching, independent of (further) political ambition. But it was only this past October -- less than a year ago and to the Heritage Foundation to boot. I'm not saying he bought into Rand's Objectivism as a philosophy of life, but as a philosophy of government...

Check the Q & A. The speech itself is less Libertarian, but his unguarded comments...

  • Hayek's Fatal Conceit at the beginning, within 1 minute
  • At 5:07 he forgets to add "and send the manufacturing jobs to China"
  • Non-Answer at 16:36 about Caritas in Veritate
  • Ayn Rand's Makers & Takers at 18:29 straight out of Atlas Shrugged

The R-squared ticket is marginally better than the available alternative, but...

#8 - Sep. 2 at 8:29pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Thomas,

I took some time to listen to the speech and the Q & A you link above, but can't find anything worrisome. I even went back to the 4 points you specifically highlight, and still come up empty.

Can you explain a little more what you have problems with?

#9 - Sep. 3 at 9:31am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I listeded to that speech last year.  I've re-listened to the Q&A just now.  I don't find anything in it incompatible with Catholic teaching or social principles.  On the contrary:

1. He makes clear that he reads the encyclicals and conscientiously uses them to shape his understanding and political approach.

2. He explicitly rejects the radical individualism and moral relativism that are the core of what's wrong with Ayn Rand.

3. He frames his concern about "takers" as a concern for human dignity. 

4. He repeatedly mentions that he favors "a safety net."

I've heard him elsewhere reject outright Milton Friedman's call for the abolition of wefare and social security.

To consider such a manifestly decent and morally serious Catholic politician only "marginally better" than the radically statist pro-abortion Obama seems to me (excuse my bluntness) like a kind of moral insanity.

#10 - Sep. 3 at 9:44am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I forgot to mention that he also refers to manufacturing.  He is concerned about high tax rates, because in a global economy, high tax rates threaten to put American manufacturers out of business.  Which means the jobs go overseas.

Democrat Catholics may have a different idea about what causes and what will cure the problem of jobs going overseas, but it would be false to suggest that Ryan isn't concerned about it or serious about doing something about it.

#11 - Sep. 3 at 9:50am | quote

 

Thomas Leith

@Jules -- vocabulary mostly. I'll allow that he may have been pandering to his audience.

@Katie -- I don't believe him. His immediate "but that's not an encyclical" as if only encyclicals carry any weight at all, and then his complete stumble when told that it WAS an encyclical I think is telling. His makers & takers thing says if you're smart you have the opportunity to get very rich, if not you have the opportunity to work in China for Foxconn, and if you're somewhere in between you have the opportunity to buy a gadget made by slaves. Maybe he's read the Compendium but I do not think he's internalized it. And Pope Leo was a "statist".

I did not say Ryan is only marginaly better in a moral sense than Obama is -- I said the Romney-Ryan ticket is only marginally better. The Republicans aren't going to do anything about abortion either. The electorate are being sliced and diced using the techniques of scientific marketing to come up with "bundles" like your local cable TV company has that'll get the most votes. With both political parties, it is about power for the "makers", not about human dignity.

#12 - Sep. 3 at 12:38pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Well, I do believe him.  I believe that he is an outstanding example of a serious and good Catholic lay politician.  I find nothing in his principles, policies or manner of being and acting to suggest that he is anything other than remarkably sincere and conscientious in his application of the fundaments of Catholic social teaching.  

His makers & takers thing says if you're smart you have the opportunity to get very rich, if not you have the opportunity to work in China for Foxconn, and if you're somewhere in between you have the opportunity to buy a gadget made by slaves. 

That seems to me an unjustifiably cynical reading.  An ugly reading, even.  The context makes clear exactly what he means.  Makers are those who are (objectively) contributing more dollars than they're taking from the federal government.  If we have too many "takers," the economic system will collapse, and with it the means of helping those who really need help.

#13 - Sep. 3 at 4:53pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Thomas Leith, Sep. 3 at 11:38am

The Republicans aren't going to do anything about abortion either. The electorate are being sliced and diced using the techniques of scientific marketing to come up with "bundles" like your local cable TV company has that'll get the most votes. With both political parties, it is about power for the "makers", not about human dignity.

First, it's certainly not the case that Obama isn't going to do something about abortion.  He aggressively supports it.  His health care law forces all of us to pay for it.    He likewise aggressively supports "same sex marriage".

For all our justified dissatisfactions with the Republican party, it is false and unjust to suggest that they are hardly better than the Democrats when it comes to "the social issues."

That Pope Leo XIII was a statist I highly doubt, since he first articulated the principle of subsidiarity.

#14 - Sep. 3 at 4:59pm | quote

 

Thomas Leith

Romney has shown he'll say whatever will get him elected, and he's at the top of the ticket. Ryan seems to have taken some trouble lately to distance himself from Rand, but I've told you why I don't quite believe that he's on board with Catholic Social Teaching. Maybe he is -- I hope so -- but he'll have to show me by opposing something the Club for Growth cares about. I shall trust not in a vice prince.

Among other things, Pope Leo called for state regulation of business hours. See Rerum Novarum, around paragraph 40. Maybe you have an especially narrow definition of "statist" but for most people who use the term, this qualifies. When one comes to understand the context of the remarks on this subject by all the the last seven Popes, they're all "statists" on the normal understanding of the word: they all want a strong juridicial framework for commerce that protects the weak and limits the strong. They allow that some laws are better administered closer to the behavior they're meant to control, but they all rely in the end on the coercive authority of the state. Period.

#15 - Sep. 3 at 9:35pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Thomas Leith, Sep. 3 at 8:35pm

Among other things, Pope Leo called for state regulation of business hours.

Glad to hear it. I often wish cities or states had more control in this area (see this post).

But it is a much broader definition of "statism" than I would use. Almost uselessly broad. It's like saying that parents who impose a curfew on their 12 year old are authoritarian.

#16 - Sep. 4 at 7:08am | quote

 

Thomas Leith

They do have control -- they just refuse to use it.

It's like saying that parents who impose a curfew on their 12 year old are authoritarian.

The 12 year olds think the parents are authoritarian, and devotees of Rand & Rothbard are a lot like 12 year olds. You will find I think that they're also the most likely to use the term "statist". They think it makes them sound smarter than the rubes who scream "socialist", the more common over-broad term we throw about like a stone. At least the more consistent of the Rand/Rothbard devotees also rail against "statist" inventions like copyrights, patents and corporations. They get subsidiarity more or less right by drastically circumscribing the state -- if the state exists only to suppress violence and enforce contracts, literally everything else is done by not-the-state. Voila! Subsidiarity. But they deny that the state has a role in actively promoting or protecting the common good beyond this. Few of them are Randian Objectivists though, Deo gratias. Most don't think almsgiving evil, only that the state has no business doing it, or ordering anyone to do it.

#17 - Sep. 4 at 9:53am | quote

 

Mark Shea Attacks!

Hi Katie,

I enjoyed your article very much. I came upon it by accident, while googling Mark Shea, who gratuitously attacked me on a friend's Facebook page. I was rather appalled at his pompous, even vicious behavior, which you also have observed. Of course I blocked him. Who needs such abuse? Reeling from his attack, I still wanted to give you the heads up on your opinion of Ayn Rand's work:

Speaking for myself, I despise and deplore Ayn Rand's philosophy.  I endorse every line of Whittaker Chamber's justly famous take down of her libertarian radicalism. And yet, guess what?  I think there's a lot of truth in her critique of liberalism and socialism.  And her books, wretched as they are both philosophically and literarily, are engaging and influential.  They can wake a person up and motivate him to make more of himself.

That is exactly how her books affected me. Such works of literature are catalysts in one's own philosophical and spiritual evolution. I wanted to add that her position on excellence dovetails perfectly with mine.There is an essay called, "The Mundanity of Excellence," which is very interesting reading. It can be found here.

#18 - Feb. 6 at 11:48pm | quote

 

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