Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Paul Ryan and the Catholic Cafeteria

Thomas Aquinas
 Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan is a cradle Catholic.  He attended public schools in Janesville WI and Miami University in Oxford Ohio where he became interested in the writings of liberal Austrian economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the American, Milton Friedman.  Now one of the tricky things is to understand that when you talk about “liberal” and economics, you are not talking about “liberal” in the ordinary sense we use it today—a political liberal.  To the contrary—usually those who espouse economic liberalism (which is unrestricted free-market capitalism) are politically conservative.  Economic liberalism is the foundation for “Big Business” and is geared to the issues of corporate good rather than the interests of the working and consuming classes.  Congressman Ryan is also a devotee of the late philosopher/novelists Ayn Rand.  In a 2005 speech he said

"I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.  . . .the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism."
Congressman Ryan claims that his social and economic philosophy is rooted in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas though it does not appear that he has ever studied Thomas in any depth.  Indeed nothing could be further from Thomas’ vision than the radical individualism of the atheist Ayn Rand for whom the individual was the only focus of “the good” whereas Catholic social theory has held for the “common good,” an idea that Congressman Ryan labels “collectivism.” 
While Congressman Ryan is with the Church on specific issues of the right-to-life of the unborn (he is not consistently pro-life but anti-abortion) and same-sex marriage, he differs from Catholic teaching in other areas such as the rights of immigrants and rights of workers to organize for collective bargaining.  More the point, however, is that he lacks a Catholic understanding of the nature of society and the primacy of the common good over the interests of individuals.  Some of his other stands are troubling as well. 
It is unrealistic to expect a politician today to form his political philosophy totally in accord with his religious faith.  No one else does.  That is unfortunate.  But Paul Ryan shows us that cafeteria Catholicism is the norm. It seems that no one but a bishop eats a full meal these days, and most of those gentlemen could afford to lose some weight.     

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