The Personalist Project

In last night's Republican primary debate, candidates were asked to describe themselves with one word. Ron Paul answered firmly: "Consistent." That struck me as both apt and telling. I haven't been paying very close attention to the race, but I gather that Ron Paul is a principled libertarian. His positions hang together in a coherent way and follow logically from the first principles to which he subscribes. He has defended virtually the same positions throughout his political career. He is not beholden to any person or any party, and not swayed by public opinion. He seems to have the integrity so needed and yet so often lacking in a politician. He can't be bribed into supporting things he does not believe.

All that is good and admirable. But consistency becomes a problem if one's first principles are inadequate, as they so often are, especially in politics. A politician has to be able to take in new situations and deal practically with unexpected events. He should be able to adjust his principles as needed—not in the Machiavellian sense of setting them aside because the end justifies the means, but in the Aristotelian sense of realizing that the concrete is often richer and more complicated than the general principle accounts for. Hence, it is not so much logical consistency, as principled prudence that is wanted in a political leader.

My impression is—though I'm open to be being persuaded otherwise—that Ron Paul is consistent to a fault; that his political principles are too narrow, and that he sometimes applies them without due regard for the particulars at stake. A lot of what he says about foreign aid for instance, strikes me as sensible. But to oppose it tout court seems reckless.

One thing that confirms me in this impression is the ease with which Ron Paul decides all sorts of difficult questions. Such ease could be a sign, of course, of having deeply understood the whole problem and knowing exactly what to do. But I rather fear it comes from a tendency to oversimplify matters, and a habit of not recognizing realities that fall outside of his libertarian principles. (This is how we used to solve physics problems in high-school: by ignoring the factors we hadn't covered yet, such as wind-resistance and surface-friction.) Ron Paul sometimes reminds me of what Chesterton says about madness, that its strongest and most unmistakable mark is a "combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction":

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment.

I don't mean to suggest that Ron Paul is mad or even anywhere close. But he does strike me as too committed to consistency for the job he's seeking. A principled but prudent politician, someone who wants to be effective as wel as consistent, and who knows that politics is "the art of the possible," may find it more difficult to come to a decision in a given case. (That explains, perhaps, some of the difficulties Rick Santorum found himself in yesterday, having to defend his voting record in light of his principles and positions, and struggling to do so within the limits of the debate format.)

I have said a lot about Ron Paul just now. More, perhaps, than I should have, given my limited knowledge. But my main point is not really about him at all. I am more interested in the philosophical question: Whether, to what degree, and in what sense, is consistency a desirable quality in a politician? Or, to put the question more precisely: is consistency something that should be directly pursued, or is it rather the natural fruit of a life-long, disinterested dedictation to the civic and common good?

I think the latter. If consistency becomes a goal, it will inevitably degenerate into a kind of dogmatism and inflexibility. An inability to cope with new situations. It is possible to be perfectly consistent and dead wrong. It is also possible to be right and truly consistent, while appearing to be inconsistent. True consistency is the result of being faithful to reality.

Genuine consistency in the realm of politics, can be described in similar words as John Henry Newman uses to explain the lasting identity of a real and living idea:

In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and fall around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

Comments (53)

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#1, Feb 24, 2012 8:50am

This line of thinking accords well with a realization I had recently about the Catholic principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. While so many political 'isms' are prone to reducing the world to suit one or another theory, leading inexorably in one or another direction, the Church has given us two pragmatic lodestars which, by their tension with each other, require us to discern a median path according to our particular circumstances. 

When given a specific, real problem, the libertarian will always tend towards assuming that the answer requires less government action and more individual freedom. But subsidiarity is not a theory which needs to be proven, it is a question we can ask ourselves for which the answer can vary widely according to circumstance: what is the most local level at which that this or that good can be achieved effectively? Similarly, the principle of solidarity: you are responsible to consider the good and dignity of others. In between these principles lies space enough for the world to be encountered as it IS, rather than simplified into unreality.

Jules van Schaijik

#2, Feb 24, 2012 12:55pm

Excellent point, Kate!  (And good to hear from you after so many years.)

I've had similar thoughts but I don't think I could have expressed them clearly.

Stephen Ellis

#3, Feb 27, 2012 1:25pm

Hey Jules, in general I agree with your point. In particular I think Ron Paul does indeed reflect a balanced approach. His pro-life position is a reflection of that truth that "it is also possible to be right and truly consistent, while appearing to be inconsistent." Many libertarians are utilitarian in thought (though most dont know it) and Pauls pro-life position demonstrates that "principled prudence" to which you refer. I also happen to think (and I'd very much like to hear your views on this,) his position on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are more "Catholic" than Catholic candidates Santorum or Gingrich.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#4, Feb 27, 2012 1:56pm

I've been reading here for a bit but this is the first time I felt I had something to say! I'm sadly out of practice when it comes to academic/philosophic discussion.

Stephen - Do you think Ron Paul's pro-life position represents 'principled prudence'? I was of the impression that he would refer the matter to the states, and while I of course agree with him that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, I cannot really agree that the appropriate level at which to establish legal protection for the unborn is the state level. This is why I maintain that subsidiarity is a pragmatic principle - one that has to be balanced by solidarity and concern for the dignity of human life. 

Stephen Ellis

#5, Feb 27, 2012 5:14pm

"Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  I think his approach is sincere yet pragmatic. Though i wish we could just be done with it in one fell swoop to call for a constitutional ammendment just wont fly. We can accomplish much more on the state level. One at a time. Divide and conquer.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Feb 27, 2012 5:59pm

Stephen Ellis, Feb. 27 at 5:14pm

"Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  I think his approach is sincere yet pragmatic. Though i wish we could just be done with it in one fell swoop to call for a constitutional ammendment just wont fly. We can accomplish much more on the state level. One at a time. Divide and conquer.

 I wouldn't mind if he were to favor a repeal of Roe v. Wade as a good beginning in the effort toward dismantling the abortion industry in America.  But that doesn't seem to be his position.  His position seems rather to be that it should be up to the states to decide whether or not abortion is legal. That's an unacceptable position, from a Catholic point of view, and one that I think reflects his consistent libertarianism rather than a right sense of the role of government.

Another place where he seems to me to put political theory ahead of reality is in his treatment of Iran's effort to develop a nuclear weapon.

Stephen Ellis

#7, Feb 27, 2012 9:43pm

Hello Katie great to talk to you. I really like the initiative here. I came across it actually looking for some resource for further developing my understanding of Personalism. Thank you for your efforts.

I dont think Ron Paul is opposed to an effort to repeal Roe. Maybe you are not aware he has delivered 4000 or so babies.  I think he is commited to life just pragmatic in his politics.

Regarding Iran, I side with Pope JP II and I think we made a serious mistake with the second Iraq war it gained US little and cost US as well as the Iraqi people dearly. Once we leave Afghanistan all we've done there will be for naught. I supported both these wars against the advice of the Holy Father and now I am sorry i did.

I think if we are serious christians maybe we need to embrace the pacifism of the early church. I cant promise there wont be suffering but what a witness if we actually said enough to the muslim world and in obedience to our Lord we put away our sword or at least kept it sheathed until we have a just war.

Stephen Ellis

#8, Feb 27, 2012 10:13pm

KWC  i never really addressed your first comment. The tension between the two "lodestars" is compounded or at times relieved by the Presidents oath to defend and uphold the constitution. I do want a politician to be consistent in his loyalty to this founding document.

Jules van Schaijik

#9, Feb 27, 2012 10:22pm

Hi Kate, Stephen (and Katie, sitting across from me as I type),

As I mentioned in my post, my knowledge of Ron Paul is limited. But I am glad you are discussing some of his views here. I've already learned a thing or two.

I can understand the pragmatic reasoning behind Ron Paul's idea of letting the states decide the legality of abortion. But, like Kate, I think that as a matter of principle it ought to be decided on the highest level, by the nation as a whole, rather than by each state separately.

Stephen, what exactly is this "pacifism of the early church" you refer to?

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Feb 28, 2012 11:08am

Stephen Ellis, Feb. 27 at 9:43pm

I dont think Ron Paul is opposed to an effort to repeal Roe. Maybe you are not aware he has delivered 4000 or so babies.  I think he is commited to life just pragmatic in his politics.

I think this may be wishful thinking. Ron Paul is not a pragmatist.  He is better described as a libertarian absolutist.  He favors repeal of Roe not because he thinks the government is responsible to protect the dignity of human life, but because he thinks the right to make laws about abortion belongs to the State governments, not the Federal government.

Personally, I doubt pacifism is legitimate for secular rulers, including Christian ones.  In any case, I think Ron Paul's comments on Iran (not Iraq and Afghanistan) are dangerously naive.  

Stephen Ellis

#11, Feb 28, 2012 12:01pm

Ron Paul has sponsored the "Sanctity of Life Act" on 4 different occasions in the Congress. The act would have defined human life and legal personhood as beginning at conception. He was endorsed yesterday by Paul Maloney, one of North Dakota’s most prominent pro-life leaders. NRTL has given Paul a 100% rating on its website. Because he is playing this issue a little closer to the vest does not cause me concern.

Pacifism may not be a legitimate position for secular rulers however that does not make aggressor actions acceptable. As Catholics do we at least demand the just war priciples?

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Feb 28, 2012 12:06pm

You've told me things I didn't know about his record on life. Thank you.  Still, his libertarian principles, and his libertarian followers generally, call for abortion matters to be settled at the state level.

Of course we should abide by just war principles.  Ron Paul's principles go much further than that, however.  They call for an isolationism that is at odds with our real responsibilities in the world, IMO.

Stephen Ellis

#13, Feb 28, 2012 12:42pm

I admit I can not make the case for pacifism in the early Church. Scholars are divided and i dont think it would be settled here..

"The Lord has triumphed upon the cross. He did not triumph with a new empire, with a power greater than the others and capable of destroying them; he triumphed, not in a human way, as we would imagine, with an empire more powerful than the other. He triumphed with a love capable of reaching even to death . . .This is God’s new way of winning: he does not oppose violence with a stronger form of violence. He opposes violence with its exact opposite: love to the very end, his cross. ...This is a way of winning that seems very slow to us, but it is the real way to overcome evil, to overcome violence, and we must entrust ourselves to this divine way of winning.”  Pope Benedict XVI

Most of the candidates as well as the present administration are sounding the drums of war against Iran. When does it stop? Will it stop?  Is perpetual war preferable to life under a Caliphate?

Stephen Ellis

#14, Feb 28, 2012 12:53pm

I dont think he is isolationist just not an eager interventionist. Regardless,  from a moral philosophical perspective I ask, which is worse the isolationism which you believe he embraces or the interventionism without regard to just war principles which the others represent?

Jules van Schaijik

#15, Feb 28, 2012 1:13pm

No need to settle the issue of pacism here, or even discuss it at great length. Better to start a new post, so people can find it, and jump in if they like.

Let me just say that

  1. I don't find the quote from pope Benedict very helpful on the question of what governments may/should do, when faced with hostile nations.
  2. I agree that many governments, even those that mean well, are too quick to resort to war. And proponents of just war theory are often too ready to provide an intellectual justification. (See Katie's mild criticism of George weigel.)
  3. I am not sure whether perpetual war is preferable to life under a Caliphate. I suppose it depends a lot on the exact nature of both. But, in fact, no war is perpetual. Should we fight a short or longish war to prevent life under a Caliphate. I certainly think so.

Katie van Schaijik

#16, Feb 28, 2012 1:44pm

Stephen Ellis, Feb. 28 at 12:53pm

I dont think he is isolationist just not an eager interventionist. Regardless,  from a moral philosophical perspective I ask, which is worse the isolationism which you believe he embraces or the interventionism without regard to just war principles which the others represent?

I don't know any eager interventionists.  And I reject the alternative you offer.  On what grounds do you say that a President Santorum or Romney would act without regard for just war principles?

All Ron Paul's public statements indicate an isolationism at odds with our real responsibilities to combat evil in the world, IMO.  Another piece of libertarian absolutism (as far as I've been able to glean in very cursory reading) is his wanting to "get government out of marriage."  Disastrous.

Stephen Ellis

#17, Feb 28, 2012 3:18pm

On 1 I think my thoughts were scattered. I hade written something that when I tried to post it it disappeared. I had been reflecting on pacifism more personally. It was an interesting quote though.

On 2 I'll check that out soon.

On 3 I think we will be in perpetual war with Islam because I dont see US waging war to win but rather fighting a PC war that we will tire of and back out of untill the next one. Next stop Iran. Only way I see out of the cycle is if China decides it wants to tame the Muslims then that problem will be solved.

Stephen Ellis

#18, Feb 28, 2012 3:57pm

With the exeption of Paul I do think they all are eager interventionists. They may not be eager in the sense of happy but eager in the sense of not justified

Gingrich "So, I think the world needs to understand, Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon. All the world can decide is whether they help us peacefully stop it or they force us to use violence, but Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon"

Romney "And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon"

Santorum when asked Bomb Iran? "Yes, that's the plan," he replied

Mere possesion of nukes does not meet the demands of justification under Just War principles. But even if it did we are not prepared to meet the other demands of Just War.

I think in this regard Paul is more "Catholic" then the two Catholics. Bombing Iran will not end well. I dont think they will role over like Libya did. It will be war. So I dont clasify his position as isolationist I see it as the only moral.option.

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Feb 28, 2012 4:12pm

Stephen Ellis, Feb. 28 at 3:57pm

Santorum when asked Bomb Iran? "Yes, that's the plan," 

 This is tendentious, surely.  He is determined to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but he would plainly rather do it through robust sanctions and other means, including especially by supporting the democratic resistance movement within Iran.  He means he thinks we have to be willing to bomb Iran if all else fails—if that's what it takes.

Mere possesion of nukes does not meet the demands of justification under Just War principles. 

No, true.  But Iran wouldn't be a case of "merely" possessing nukes, would it?  

I don't argue that bombing Iran would be just.  I only argue that it may be just, and that I think your charge that Gingrich, Romney and Santorum have no regard for just war theory is unjust.

Stephen Ellis

#20, Feb 28, 2012 6:13pm

Katie you may be  correct ....or I may be, only time will tell. But in the meantime we have their words. Iran is bad news and arguably maybe it is they whom we should have went to war with in the first place because it is they and Saudi Arabia who are bankrolling the terror. I just am tired of the wars and am not sure its doing much but bankrupting US and slowing the inevitable.

Kevin Schemenauer

#21, Feb 29, 2012 11:31am

Jules, you raise a thoughtful question about consistency and its value in politics. I agree with many of the concerns raised above about Paul and Santorum and would like to complement those concerns by highlighting what I think are the positive contributions offered by Santorum and Paul. Santorum is strong on marriage and protection of the unborn. He recognizes that government should have limited intervention in the economy and his intervention seems to favor the working class. Santorum will do what he says he wants to do and he will listen to others and find consensus.

Ron Paul seems corrrect in his diagnoses of underlying problems facing the United States. Ron Paul reminds us of the importance of the rule of law, the relevant functions of the executive power, the need to balance the budget, and the negative consequences of our excessive militarism.

Stephen Ellis

#22, Feb 29, 2012 12:06pm

I was going to not comment anymore but I did have a thought. Consider the alternative inconsistency. Had president Bush been consistent in his conservatism we wouldnt have had such an increase in medicare which turned off the conservative base and we would not have had the Patriot Act which not only fired up the libs but also drove many libertarians away from the Republican party.

Santorum had a record as the most corrupt senator at one time. Santorums record on big gov is inconsistent with conservative principles. So people wonder which Santorum will we get if he is elected.

As a gereral rule I am guessing we as parental leaders consider consistency a priority.

Though I see the benefit in being flexible enough to learn and grow overall I would favor consistency.

Kevin Schemenauer

#23, Feb 29, 2012 1:44pm

I would not say that "Santorum had a record as the most corrupt senator at one time." Among other things, he just has too many challengers deserving of the award.

That being said, I think Ron Paul is right to speak against the corruption of big government. It should not be overlooked that the HHS mandate is in part a fruit of too much federal government. Government spending is so out of control that Paul's intention to decrease next years budget by a trillion dollars still ends up adding money to our $15,000,000,000,000.00 national debt. I trust that Ron Paul would decrease the size of government and I think that would go a long way in decreasing government corruption.

Jules van Schaijik

#24, Feb 29, 2012 4:46pm

Stephen Ellis, Feb. 29 at 12:06pm

Santorum had a record as the most corrupt senator at one time.

A record or a reputation? If the latter, is it a just one? I find it hard to believe. Mistaken or wrongheaded maybe. But corrupt?

As to Ron Paul, let me ask you (Kevin and Stephen) this: what role would he grant the government for protecting and nourishing the common good?

Mike Wallacavage

#25, Feb 29, 2012 9:06pm

You offer some fine points regarding consistency and the role of political prudence here Jules. As far as consistency is related to the equal application of the rule of law, I see that as a great positive.  Reminds me of the exchange in A Man for All Seasons between More and Roper in which Roper wants to cut down all laws to get at the devil. More states:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

However, it is also true that Politics is the "art of the possible" in which a politician requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, character and prudence to negotiate, pursuade and achieve results for the common good. I find Ron Paul lacking on both of these fronts.

Mike Wallacavage

#26, Feb 29, 2012 9:20pm

First point of Consistency, Ron Paul seems "arbitrarily consistent" at times.  He is against any military intervention for humanitarian reasons even saying he would have done nothing to help save the million innocent Rwandans massacred with machettes in the 1994 genocide.  He simply says its "unconstitutional" and a violation of "international law." I never hear the mention of JPII's clear moral mandate for humanitarian intervention by Ron Paul.

Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defence prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor. (from Peace on Earth to Those Whom God Loves!)

JPII even pleaded with Clinton to intervene in Bosnia, and Clinton sent troops. Where does RP get his concept of International Law that he randomly applies so liberally as a quick fix to complex problems? Aquinas defines law as "nothing other than a certain dictate of reason (rationis ordinatio) for the common good, made by him who has the care of the community and promulgated." (ST. IaIIae, Q.90, art.4.)

Mike Wallacavage

#27, Feb 29, 2012 9:28pm

However, Ron Paul rejects the possibility of an international community to define and promulgate laws.

The problem is not that the UN is corrupt, or ineffective, or run by scoundrels. The real problem is that the UN is inherently illegitimate, because supra-national government is an inherently illegitimate concept. Legitimate governments operate only by the consent of those they govern. Yet it is ludicrous to suggest that billions of people across the globe have in any way consented to UN governance, or have even the slightest influence over their own governments. –Ron Paul Can the UN Really be Reformed?

Yet Ron Paul refers to "International Law" often as in his recent statements regarding the killing of Bin Ladin, which he held showed no “respect for the rule of law, international law.” Yet again, Ron Paul states "America must either remain a constitutional republic or submit to international law, because it cannot do both." (from "A Court of No Authority," Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk: A Weekly Column, 4/8/2002) This is a very inconsistent and incoherent position to hold on fundamental issues related to national security.

Stephen Ellis

#28, Mar 1, 2012 6:52am

The Church could alleviate a considerable amount of suffering in the world if it sold all it had and gave it to the poor but prudence dictates that it use the resources to grow more resources which would then be given to the poor.  If the US does not in prudence abstain, at least for a time and get its financial house in order then it may never have the ability to offer that aid again. We also have a constitution which is legitimate law and the President is under oath to uphold and obey. By your reason Mike should not the Church then fund a military so that it may meet its obligation in these regards? 

Whether international law is legitimate or not there are still consequences to breaking them that I think a President should consider.

Submitting to and giving consideration to international law are two different things. We did take an enormous risk in invading a sovereign nuclear power. While I am glad Bin Laden is no longer a threat in many respects his assassination was a foolish move that was politically motivated.

Mike Wallacavage

#29, Mar 1, 2012 9:19am

Stephen,  I agree that prudence may certainly dictate that the overextension of the US at present needs to be calculated in the political decision making process.  At least with Ron Paul, he rejects in principle to military humanitarian intervention (he does promote non-governmental assistance) and not on prudential grounds.  While the Church did have use of military force in years past, it does not now nor does that seem very practical at this point. However, as a moral defender of the dignity of persons, it is proper for the Church to engage nations to futher the common good.  Any and all actions at the political level are "politically motivated" to some degree of another.  One would be an incompetent politician not to take such factors into account.  Perhaps this is one of Ron Paul's biggest flaws in my opinion.  After a 14 year tenure in Congress and proposing approx. 500 bills, he past a total of 1.  This reveals a total lack of political skill and ability to compromise and negotiate. Had Ron Paul been able to apply political prudence over these 14 years, perhaps he would have actually affected some change in Washington.

Stephen Ellis

#30, Mar 1, 2012 9:38am

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Santorum one of the 20 most corrupt politicians in 2006. It is a left leaning group but names pleanty of dems as well.

Pauls policies are in line with the principle of Subsidiarity. Regarding positive subsidiarity one must recognize the Constitutional limitations placed upon the president.

Mike Wallacavage

#31, Mar 1, 2012 9:56am

I wonder what Media Matters says about Santorum?  Paul's positions are at odds with almost all of the teachings of Catholic Social Thought from the family to the common good.  While he is partially correct in the first aspect of subsidiarity (i.e. Catechism- 1894 In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies.), he rejects the second which requires the larger social level to step in to aid when lower levels of society break down.  This is so that the dignity of the person can be defended. (1881 Each community is defined by its purpose and consequently obeys specific rules; but "the human person . . . is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions.").

Mike Wallacavage

#32, Mar 1, 2012 9:59am

Ron Paul takes a very radical position on the basic building block of any healthy society. He states in Liberty Defined that “There should essentially be no limits to the voluntary definition of marriage.” “Everyone can have his or her own definition of what marriage means, and if an agreement or contract is reached by the participants, it would qualify as a civil contract if desired…Why not tolerate everyone’s definition as long as neither side uses force to impose its views on the other? Problem solved!” I doubt any civilization can survive with this level of anarchy and what sounds to me like a form of social nihilism. Polygamy, incest, pedophilia and the list goes on. Why does this remind me of that relativistic mystery passage from the notorious Supreme Court "Casey" decision? "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."  

Mike Wallacavage

#33, Mar 1, 2012 10:04am

Don't see how Paul's positions on marriage can be reconciled with "2210 The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society13 entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Civil authority should consider it a grave duty "to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity."14 2211 The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially: - the freedom to establish a family, have children, and bring them up in keeping with the family's own moral and religious convictions;  - the protection of the stability of the marriage bond and the institution of the family;  - .......; - the right to private property, to free enterprise, to obtain work and housing, and the right to emigrate; - in keeping with the country's institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits; - the protection of security and health, especially with respect to dangers like drugs, pornography, alcoholism, etc.; - the freedom to form associations with other families and so to have representation before civil authority."

Stephen Ellis

#34, Mar 1, 2012 10:05am

 I think Paul would argue that we have been overextended for a long time.

"We must follow the Biblical mandate of using honest weights and measures – not printing money out of thin air in almost complete secrecy and then handing it over to oppressive dictators." RP

I might add that all the while we have real needs right here in our own house that are not met.

You said "At least with Ron Paul, he rejects in principle to military humanitarian intervention and not on prudential grounds. " I am not sure what that means.

How convenient for the Church to expect US to intervene militarily while not raising a fingure to lift the load itself. Dont get me wrong I love the Church but if its a moral obligation to police the world then....

You said "Any and all actions at the political level are "politically motivated."' To some extent yes but Bin Laden did not present an actual threat to the US. When we consider the risk that was taken to complete this assassination  vs the benefit minus the political consideration it becomes clear that this was an almost purely politically motivated action.

Stephen Ellis

#35, Mar 1, 2012 10:35am

Mike in a secular nation I dont think we can expect our President to carry our water as Catholics. WE have not made the arguement WE have not educated our people.

If you want every aspect of Catholic Social teaching applied in the US then make your case get the constitution changed and replaced with the CCC. Until then we are legally a secular nation with a constitution that in order to avoid the anarchy that you claim Paul represents must be adhered to.

Unless and until there is a constitutional ammendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman (and that is not going to happen) the courts will continue to inflict gay marriage upon US  we must be proactive instead of reactive. I think we should go one step futher and eliminate govt from recognizing marriage at all. Instead it should only recognize civil unions and leave "Marriage" to the church. I had two great aunts who were sisters in Ireland who would have benefited greatly from the opportunity to have a civil union.



Mike Wallacavage

#36, Mar 1, 2012 11:04am

The Social Thought of the Church is a proposal of natural law that is consistent with America's founding.  One of my biggest problems with Catholic defenders of RP is that they pick & choose what helps them make RP seem in line with the Church (i.e. Iraq & 1st aspect of subsidiarity).  Then when the fact that JPII was supportive of Afganistan & humanitarian intervention (i.e. Bosnia) comes up, I get the standard response that the Church needs set up its own army.  This happens across the board with RP & Catholic thought.  I find these inconsistencies disingenuous.  RP is against humanitarian intervention on principle that it is "unconstitutional" and a violation of "sovereignty" and practical arguements are secondary.  RP states re Rawanda- "So I don't think it's constitutional. I don't think it accomplishes what it's supposed to. And that the Founders were, I think, rather shrew d in giving us advice. Stay outof entangling alliances, stay out of the internal affairs of other nations." I have been attacked for not having been in Rawanda & now in Sudan helping to fight to save lives but is that really realistic?  I recommend watching [url=][/url].

Stephen Ellis

#37, Mar 1, 2012 11:10am a short video that expreses my point well.

Mike Wallacavage

#38, Mar 1, 2012 11:14am

As Catholics in a secular nation, we need to educate ourselves & other Catholics in the social teaching of the Church and through the democratic process, vote in those leaders who are most in line with defending human dignity.  So if Catholics read & reflection on the compendium of Catholic Social Thought [url=, ], [/url]; it is unlikely they will come to remotely support RP's nihilistic libertarian positions.  Regardless, it seems to me that with as dismal a record of accomplishing close to nothing in Congress over 14 years, RP would not magically gain the habitus of political skill or leadership if he were voted in as President. His level of ineffectivenss makes me conclude a vote for him is a vote for the status quo.

Stephen Ellis

#39, Mar 1, 2012 12:07pm

I adore JP II but is it possible that his support of the war in Afghanistan was wrong? He was a human and it was not a dogma of the church that we go there. When we leave there will be much bloodshed. Suffering before,during and after. It will revert to what it was. What good will our soldiers sacrafice have done?

I assume we all trying to merge our loyalty to our country, our faith, our intellect and reality. Thats quite a stew . Each will taste different. I wont question your motive or call you disingenuous because your stew  tastes different. I would appreciate it if you would respect mine.

Is human dignity defended by a law that allows the US military or other police agencies to detain US citizens caught on US soil without trial or hearing indefinately. A law was signed by BO on dec 31, 2011 as a provision within the NDAA that does just that. Ron Paul has spoken out against it Santorum is for it.  
Rick Santorum thinks thinks its OK to ignore the 5th, 6th, 7th ammendments and habeas corpus. And thats the candidate you think best at defending human dignity. Really?

Mike Wallacavage

#40, Mar 1, 2012 1:51pm

I completely agree that JPII was acting in his private capacity when personally applying Just War theory in both Iraq and Afganistan.  However, since he was so vocally opposed to war in general, it does make me think twice.  ""NO TO WAR"! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between States, the noble exercise of diplomacy: these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences" -JPII.  The rules of Jus ad Bellum differ from Jus in Bello. Even ad Bellum has several criteria that must be met.  It here that political leaders have a grave responsibility in collecting and evaluating all the information in making a right decisions.  It is not always black and white unforuntately but such is the tragic nature of war, which can sometimes be necessary.  Paul supported going into Afghanistan originally and voted to give the President the authority to use force there.  We do need to have individuals of character in political positions who have the political and moral duty to make such hard decisions.

Mike Wallacavage

#41, Mar 1, 2012 1:55pm

I agree applying faith principles to decisions of voting is no easy task and I apologies if I am come across as disrespectful.  Re the indefinite detention, if it is unconstitutional, it should and would be overturned.  However, I am not convinced it is not a legitimate defense of human dignity and the common good at this point.  I will have to research more. 

Kevin Schemenauer

#42, Mar 1, 2012 4:28pm

Jules, I am not exactly sure how to answer your excellent question about the role Ron Paul would “grant the government for protecting and nourishing the common good.” I think Paul would say that there are certain tasks that are proper to the federal government, like defending the nation from aggressors, supporting inter-state commerce, and establishing and supporting laws for attaining citizenship.

Some of Ron Paul’s end game policies are problematic (no definition of marriage, unlimited access to guns, leaving states to decide on abortion, free market economy, and no humanitarian intervention).

I like Ron Paul’s apparent attentiveness to the constitution, his concern about the federal debt, and his realization that military spending, including the funding of other nations' military, is one difficult step towards a sane financial position. Our current federal budget spends about 1.2 trillion dollars a year on the military and interest on the national debt alone. That is about $4000/citizen per year or $16,000/family of four. I am not sure what we are doing in the Middle East.

Kevin Schemenauer

#43, Mar 1, 2012 9:12pm

Hello Mike, I was not aware that John Paul II supported our occupation in Afghanistan. Can you point me to a reference on this point? I respect his prudence and would be interested to learn from his line of thought.

Stephen Ellis

#44, Mar 1, 2012 9:35pm

Kevin from what ive gathered he had been asking for intervention prior to 9-11 because of the civil war & humanitarian crisis. The presense of al-Qaeda the agressor in the 9-11 attack was further justification for our action. Unfortunately I do not have a reference to point you to. 

Jules van Schaijik

#45, Mar 1, 2012 10:02pm

Sorry guys, I haven't been able to keep up with this thread.

- I hadn't heard that JPII supported our intervention in Afghanistan either. But it isn't all that surprising from one of the "spirital fathers" of the Solidarity movement in Poland.

- One thing Ron Paul fails to take into account, it seems to me, is that the situation now is very different from when the founding documents were written. The authors of those documents assumed a basic level of virtue in the citizenry. They well knew that without it the system they had devized could not survive. That level of virtue is practically gone, or at least very rapidly declining. Today, therefore, we need to recover not only the constitution, but also the national ethos or character it needs to thrive. This is why a vision of and concern for the common good seems to me so important. Political leaders need to know that virtue is under attack from all sides and have some good ideas for dealing with that issue without unduly interfering with the liberty of people.

That could have been said better.  Oh well.

Kevin Schemenauer

#46, Mar 2, 2012 9:50am

Thank you, Jules - you are right to highlight the need for a clear vision of the common good. In light of our current national ethos, what kind of vision would you like a president to have? I like Santorum's vision on marriage and the dignity of the unborn, two fundamental issues for the common good. I like Paul's vision on the rule of law, descrease in militarism, torture and capital punishment, and concern for irresponsible debt. I like Romney and Obama's pragmatism and I like Gingrich's creative ideas.

The current ethos of our country makes it all the more necessary to follow the rule of law. If Santorum is elected and implements a long list of executive orders and uses his bully pulpit to speak to issues related to marriage and abortion, what is to prevent another Obama from being elected again and reversing it all? If the Constitution is out of date with our national ethos, what should we do with the Constitution in the meantime? I suggest ammendment not neglect. Otherwise, we are subject to those with power, for good or for ill (HHS mandate, indefinite imprisonment of citizens, declaration of war without house and senate approval).

Katie van Schaijik

#47, Mar 2, 2012 10:08am

Kevin, I share your attraction to RP's commitment to the rule of law, his hatred of militarism and his urgent concern over the debt.  But my sense is that his libertarian vision with its legal absolutism is an alien vision.  

Rick Santorum, though not free from imperfections, seems to me to be guided by an essential American and essentially Catholic vision of reality and government.  Whether he can win, I don't know.

I, too, admire Gingrich's creative genius.  And Romney's apparent managerial competence. 

I would not call Obama a pragmatist.  He strikes me as an ideological absolutist.

Stephen Ellis

#48, Mar 2, 2012 10:19am

 I think a part of the loss of virtue is the state displacing the family and church. Often the blame is placed on changes in civil law (i.e. Abortion-contraception etc) yet early in the colonies and later in the "wild west” there was fewer laws regulating people’s lives and yet those persons generally displayed greater virtue.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs has become disjointed. As a result of the government providing the basic physiological needs with no accountability the higher psychological needs develop with an increased narcissistic leaning void of empathy. I liken it to a baby being fed by a machine rather than its mother; as a result bonds are not formed affecting the growth of both mother and child.

I am convinced that to argue for a socially conservative political agenda will not work. We kill the beast by appealing to the narcissism and arguing for limited government, constitutionalism and liberty. Ron Paul’s platform moves US towards that end. Paul’s foreign policy does take me out of my comfort zone, particularly as a guy, but maybe that’s a good thing. As a guy I am not always thinking as a child of God.

Kevin Schemenauer

#49, Mar 2, 2012 11:17am

Katie, I think you are right to express concern about Ron Paul's vision. Can you think of ways this would play out negatively in 4 to 8 years? In some ways, his libertarian vision would be an important corrective to where we are at now. He would tone back our military spending, he would descrease the size of federal government, move to allow states to ban abortion (although I think his libertarian interpretation would promote a complete ban if possible).

I am concerned about Paul's approach to marriage and access to guns. The common good requires the protection and support of marriage. Santorum would use his presidency, in part, to speak to the importance of marriage.

Santorum, however, frightens me when he discusses Iran and the Middle East. He appeals to Evangelicals on the issue. He says that Radical Islam attacks us because we are free and prosperous. In this, he misses the political motivations behind the attacks. Our recent interventions have attempted to undermine those we helped attain power in previous interventions.

Katie, you might be more accurate in your categorization of Obama. I struggled to find something positive to say because I am so angry about the HHS mandate among other things.

Katie van Schaijik

#50, Mar 2, 2012 11:41am


Kevin Schemenauer

I think you are right to express concern about Ron Paul's vision. Can you think of ways this would play out negatively in 4 to 8 years?

I can think of a nuclear attack by Iran on Israel.  I can think of Islamists gaining total control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Even if our interventions in the Middle East over the last many decades have been ill judged and dangerous, they have involved us with responsibilities.  I fear RP's absolutism would make him pull out on principle in a way that would cause real misery for millions.

I read an interesting article some years back. (By George Wiegel perhaps?)  It reminded me that according to the just war theory, the prudential judgments regarding war are a charism of office.  Only the one vested with actual responsibiity and all the special knowledge that goes with it is capable of making the decision.  (He knows things even the Pope doesn't.) This has made me more merciful toward Bush and Cheney and others, even though I have grave doubts about their decisions.

I get no sense that Obama is exercising his powers under a profound sense of responsiblity.  

Mike Wallacavage

#51, Mar 2, 2012 12:03pm

I do agree that the strong medicine of Ron Paul's Libertarianism might be a healthly corrective to get the pedulum to move in the other direction of where we are heading w the Federal government.  I just do not see from his record in office, that RP can get what he says done as President. Although that office has far more power than a congressional seat.  I see RP more of an evangelizer (in a good way) for constitutionalism and other, more skilled politicians, including Rand, may translate that vision into real political change.  I still don't comprehend RP's understanding of the relation of the Fed to the States on abortion.  He wants to pass the Sanctity of Life act at the Federal level stating: "Deems human life to exist from conception, without regard to race, sex, age, health, defect, or condition of dependency and requires that the term "person" include all such human life."  This would overturn Roe & get it back to the states.  But states can individually deny the rights of the unborn.  RP is against using the 14th Amendment for due process for the unborn.  Federal level, unborn are persons under the law without legal enforcement.

Kevin Schemenauer

#52, Mar 2, 2012 1:03pm

Hello Mike, do you have a reference on John Paul II's support for our intervention in Afghanistan?

Katie, I think you are right about our responsibilities in the Middle East and the possible devastation that could result if we were to pull out completely. I do not know what our end game policy should be there. We sure have made a lot of misteps along the way.

Thank you, Jules for provoking this ongoing conversation. My biggest take away from the original post and the discussion has been the need to consider not only possible pragmatic gains but also the longterm vision that a political leader espouses. I wish we could all chat over coffee. I am leaving to visit family for the weekend.


Mike Wallacavage

#53, Mar 2, 2012 1:21pm

I have never come across any direct quotes from JPII supporting the military action in Afganistan but have read many articles which have claimed it.  See [url=,11042],11042[/url] I will keep looking to see if I can find something direct.  Most likely, he may have acknowledged it seemed to meet the Just War criteria but I imagine he still pressed for other more non-violent options, if possible!  Mike

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