When it comes to reporting on matters of Christianity and the goings-on in the Catholic Church, few are better than George Weigel. Heralded as the next mantle-carrier from cleric and writer Richard John Neuhaus, Weigel keeps his ear to the ground on everything papal. In a recent First Things article, Weigel brings up the topic of falling attendance rates at Anglican churches in Britain. Outspoken critic Lavinia Byrne recently chastised the Catholic Church for not breaking centuries of tradition and allowing the ordaining of women into priesthood. In an ABC program special celebrating the canonization of Pope John Paul II, Byrne criticized the pontiff for his decision on female ordination and commented that the Church “would look very different nowadays” had it taken a different route.
Weigel vehemently disagrees, and points out that undermining centuries of teaching would have resulted in empty pews. Citing the declining attendance at churches that take a more progressive view of interpreting Scripture, he writes,
Christian communities that know and defend their doctrinal and moral boundaries…survive in modernity; some actually flourish and become robustly evangelical.
Consistency and devotion to principle are what keep the Catholic Church alive. But this principle is also applicable to other areas, namely that of political philosophy. The philosophies with the most consistency often have the most dedicated adherents. It’s hard to convince people of why a certain viewpoint is correct if it contains various gaps in logic. Certainly, those with tangential knowledge of a philosophy may claim to be devout followers, but when pushed to elucidate their reasoning, their arguments often fall to pieces.
It’s only the most serious of thinkers who drive a philosophy forward and into the lexicon. As Hayek laid out in his essay “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” it is the intellectual class that shapes public opinion. If the philosophy makes sense, it has an easier time pervading the masses. It has an easier time being adopted and kept. It’s when the underlying strictures of a theory start becoming distorted by high-minded orators, and conclusions fail to pan out, suspicion emerges. People start mocking the Ivory Tower elites speaking illogical babble. Even Soviet peasants recognized the absurdity of revolutionary communism, and had a litany of jokes to undermine their rulers. Communism in Soviet Russia may have collapsed due to the economic calculation problem, but the inner contradictions were well known by the victims who lived under the system.
There’s an ongoing joke about libertarians that when you put ten in a room, you get eleven different opinions. The statement is supposed to be a kind of epithet against libertarians. The caricature painted is of grimy bookworms arguing over whether traffic lights are tyrannical or soft despotism. And yet, pit any libertarian against a progressive in a battle of ideological supremacy, and it’s glaringly obvious as to who’s in the wrong. Leftists want tolerance but are intolerant to opposing views. They want to lift up the poor, but want economic regulation that cripples opportunity for low-skilled workers. They want to punish the rich yet support measures to embolden those with wealth.
In economics, the contradictions become more apparent. In the wake of the financial crisis, everyone looked for somewhere to point their finger. Professional economists failed to see the collapse coming. The crash and government bailout were largely attributed to wild speculation on Wall Street. When pushed to come up with an explanation, the best clarification found was “animal spirits” unrestrained by government watchdogs.
The simplistic rationale explained nothing, as the entire financial system was already governed by both a central institution and more than a hundred distinct regulatory bodies within the U.S. There was plenty of regulation. There were plenty of eyes in charge of ensuring stability. But even so, the crisis occurred, throwing egg on the face of the economic profession. Unorthodox theories were turned to in hopes of finding some form of truth.
In the end, people desired a theory consistent with reality. When the spokesmen for one philosophy failed to ease concerns, different thinkers were sought out. Ron Paul, the erstwhile Congressman and Austrian economics adherent, took advantage of the black hole in information and filled it with his own theories on a central bank-engineered boom and bust. Likewise, Paul’s ideas on why big, unhampered government is dangerous were just as potent. The infamous clash with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani during a presidential debate over interventionism and terrorism sparked an insurgence in curiosity. Paul was no longer widely seen as a kook – though the mainstream media attempted to treat him as one. Millions flocked to the Paul campaign, donating large sums of money to someone they saw as a real truth-teller.
It’s easy to criticize the vapid interests of lowbrow folks, but even a simpleton can detect when something is amiss. That’s why it’s best to stay truthful and consistent in order to gain the trust of as many as possible. Lies have a way of revealing themselves over time. And once a lie or contradiction appears, it quickly borrows in the back of a witness’s mind, forever casting a shadow of doubt upon the speaker of falsehoods.
When basic understanding is challenged, and given explanations fail to make sense, it creates a kind of discomfort. No one can defend something that doesn’t fit within reality; at least it can’t be defended well without making a total fool of oneself. Libertarianism, relative to other political philosophies, fairs pretty well in the consistency department. The libertarian believes it’s wrong to hurt others and take their stuff – that’s it. Not exactly rocket science. The principle of non-aggression is intuitive enough to be grasped by basically anyone. That’s why it’s so appealing, and why statists twist themselves in rhetorical knots trying to prove it’s okay to hurt innocent people. It’s also why libertarianism keeps dedicated followers, while other political philosophies have wafflers who can’t stay on board due to internal inconsistencies.
No philosophy is perfect. Given the complexity of human interaction, there are always situations the can seemingly present exceptions to every rule. That’s just the nature of philosophy in general. We theorize, apply, and keep applying. It doesn’t always neatly gel together, but we continually get closer to the absolute truth of things. And we stay committed when logic and truth don’t bend away from one another.
James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, where this article was originally published.
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