Skip to comments.The freedom to do God's will, economically
Posted on 03/07/2012 3:39:06 PM PST by gogogodzillaEdited on 03/07/2012 4:33:05 PM PST by Admin Moderator. [history]
TODAY'S Wall Street Journal features an op-ed in which Rick Santorum pledges that "...in my first 100 days as president, I'll submit to Congress and work to pass a comprehensive pro-growth and pro-family Economic Freedom Agenda". No one is more receptive than I to an "economic freedom agenda", yet Mr Santorum's has my ******** detector howling like an air-raid siren.
In a recent speech at the First Redeemer Church in Cumming, Georgia, Mr Santorum said that economic policy focused on the accumulation of wealth is unhealthily concerned with "pursuing stuff".
Property is just stuff. And America isnt just about pursuing stuff. Thats one of the problems I have sometimes with our fellow conservatives, is that all we talk about Oh, Rick, presidential candidates just focus on stuff. Focus on taxing and spending, the economy. Dont talk about anything else. Just focus on stuff. Thats what Americans really care about.
Mr Santorum here is discussing rival interpretations of the idea of "liberty" and "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Though it is nonsense to think that there is any one thing that "Americans really care about", Mr Santorum is surely right that Thomas Jefferson and his fellows in the founding 1% had more than just the accumulation of property in mind. But he is wrong that they were committed to the pre-modern Catholic interpretation of freedom and happiness Mr Santorum invoked in his speech:
America and our founders understood that if we were just a bunch of folks that cared about stuff, we have a very, very narrow view of freedom. We have a very, very narrow view of what Gods call is in our lives. Because thats why He gave us these rights. To pursue happiness.
..Happiness actually had a different definition, way back at the time of our founders. Like many words in our lexicon, they evolve and change over time. Happiness was one of them. Go back and look it up. Youll see one of the principal definitions of happiness is to do the morally right thing. God gave us rights to life and to freedom to pursue His will. Thats what the moral foundation of our country is.
As a matter of historical fact, the dominant conception of happiness at the time of the founding was the empiricist hedonism of John Locke. Locke had it that we are moved by our beliefs and desires, and that the master desire is to enjoy pleasure and avoid pain. As for happiness, Locke said, "Happiness then in its full extent is the utmost Pleasure we are capable of..." "Property" almost took the place of "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration precisely because the founders' notion of happiness was so materialistic. Happiness is pleasure, and property or "stuff" is such an indispensable source of pleasure and bulwark against misery that the pursuit of property and the pursuit of happiness almost come to the same thing. For Christians such as Locke, and many of the founders, it was so important to heed God's will not so much because divine commands are inherently authoritative, but because Heaven's promise of infinite pleasure made Christian virtue a prudent bet.
Anyway, the likes of Jefferson would have agreed that to be happy is "to do the morally right thing" only to the extent that "to do the morally right thing" is already defined in terms of conduciveness to happiness. And the idea that the point of freedom is to do God's will would have been affirmed only to the extent that it is due to God's will that we are constituted to seek "the utmost Pleasure we are capable of..." The big political idea of the Enlightenment is that earthly happiness, not divine authority, is the only credible moral foundation of political authority. The long and short of it is that Mr Santorum is guilty of revisionist history. One only has to remember that John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, tried to make it illegal for Catholics to run for office in New York to get a sense of just how unlikely it is that the founders would have signed on to anything resembling Mr Santorum's interpretation of liberty, happiness, and the role of "stuff".
It's no surprise, then, that Mr Santorum's ten-point plan makes only incidental contact with economic freedom as many free-market-minded folk understand it. It may or may not be a good idea to rig our regulatory structure to make it easier for giant petrochemical companies to frack or build giant pipelines, but it's unclear what it has to do with economic freedom. Do pipelines and fracking have something to do with God's will in Mr Santorum's mind?
Mr Santorum promises to "triple the personal deduction for children and eliminate the marriage tax penalty". What does any of this have to do with economic freedom? If paying people to have children makes them more free, why don't the childless deserve equal freedom? Because freedom is the freedom to do God's will and God wants us to have big families? The "pro-family" elements of Mr Santorum's plan are transparent attempts at social engineering through fiscal policy.
Mr Santorum says he'll "cut means-tested entitlement programs by 10% across the board, freeze them for four years, and block grant them to statesas I did as the author of welfare reform in 1996." This is unintelligible. If subsidising families through the tax code somehow adds to their freedom, then reducing subsidies to the relatively poorto those who qualify for means-tested benefitsmust logically decrease theirs. This is simply upside down. There is a compelling case that individuals require a certain material minimum to ensure that their economic liberties have real worth. If Mr Santorum's cuts would leave Americans below that threshold, they would amount to an assault on the economic freedom of the disadvantaged.
If "economic freedom" means "a system rigged to the advantage of petrochemical companies and large middle- and upper-class families", Mr Santorum's proposal might have a lot to be said for it. I could be wrong, but I suspect it doesn't really mean that.
This article was cogent and timely — thanks for posting it.
Mr. Santorum’s pronouncements never seem to add up as practical policy. Government by “God’s Will” has an obvious flaw: who gets to interpret God’s Will and impose their view on others? Rick Santorum? When Muslim Mullahs and Ayatollahs play this game, many conservatives don’t find it so appealing.
Is Santorum’s astounding level of support due to:
1) sincere agreement with his appeal for theocracy;
2) disgust with the bipartisan sleeze and constant leftist drift of US society, schools, and government;
3) desire to have anyone but Romney because he is insufficiently conservative.
4) belief that Santorum’s specific policies and ideas make sense and would work;