Let them eat cake

September 6, 2013 § 15 Comments

The modern economic order is one in which many businesses, large and small, are required to take on customers that they don’t want.  New Sherwood has a clever idea about how to respond to liberal brownshirts who are using the law to force small business owners to (for example) bake “wedding” cakes for sodomites: pledge to donate all of the proceeds to Courage or similar organizations.

The analysis of material cooperation with evil is correct, as best as I can tell.  As in similar situations, compliance with the law under protest in order to sustain an ability to make a living is, again in my analysis, morally licit.

Nothing says “leave me and my business alone” like funneling all the revenues from your unwanted customers to organizations they find distasteful.

I’d even suggest that a Christian pharmacist ought to donate all of his contraceptive revenues to a big, mainstream anti-contraception organization.  That is, I’d suggest it if one existed.

§ 15 Responses to Let them eat cake

  • Scott W. says:

    I like the idea, but I think Lydia raised some good points however. Making a wedding cake and sticking two “bride” figures on top is a kind of speech act. And one that speaks a lot louder than a disclaimer on a receipt that few or no one is going to see. It reminds me a bit of Bishop Hubbard who endorsed a needle-exchange program for drug abusers and it was defended that if the needle-giver uttered some exculpatory words about how the receiver shouldn’t use drugs, then he was no longer morally culpable.

  • Zippy says:

    If I print a text out on my printer, the contents of that text are not my own speech act.

  • Scott W. says:

    If I print a text out on my printer, the contents of that text are not my own speech act.

    True. If you print out the text of Margret Sanger’s hair-curling statements about black people, that by itself couldn’t reasonably be taken as endorsement of those statements. But I think sticking two brides on top of the cake is more like taking Sanger’s text alone and putting it under the windshield wipers of cars in the parking lot. Many people might be appalled, a few pro-Sanger types would cluck their tongues about quotes out of context, and a few nuts would agree, but I’d think most of them would reasonably take it that whoever stuck this under my wipers agreed with it and any disclaimers he made out there somewhere else would be irrelevant. Now if the baker emblazoned the disclaimer in frosting on the cake itself, we might be getting somewhere, but then that would never fly with the “couple” ordering the cake and the baker would be stuck in the same litigation and may even get a harassment or “hate-speech” suit added for his troubles. As it is, it seems to me the pinch of incense tossed to the pagan gods.

  • Zippy says:

    The baker isn’t distributing the pamphlets. He is printing them, under protest.

  • Zippy says:

    I think there is a tendency for some folks to treat behaviors which are definitely not speech acts as speech acts. Transcribing someone else’s words onto paper or a cake is not intrinsically an endorsement of those words. Putting pamphlets under wipers isn’t either. Someone could do that without ever reading the pamphlets himself: how could it be his speech act if he doesn’t even know the words?

    The legitimate question is at what point does this material cooperation with evil become so proximate that it is immoral. That’s a harder question to answer. But reductive attempts to cram behaviors which aren’t speech into the speech box brings to mind leftists labeling flag burning and pornography as “speech”.

  • Scott W. says:

    I am persuaded. It is not a speech act. At this time I maintain that the bakery in question did the right thing by refusing to be saddled by the homosexual brigade and ridden around like Seattle Slew. Points deducted for their appeal to “religious freedom” but that is easily forgiven.

  • Zippy says:

    At this time I maintain that the bakery in question did the right thing …

    Oh, no question in my mind that they did a good thing. Keep in mind though that doing good has no upper bound, as JPII says in Veritatis Splendour. There is a lower bound, where when we cross that lower bound the commandment is broken. But there are always opportunities to do a greater good, and in this case it seems likely that they did better than they were absolutely required to do.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Only in America where the enforcement of any moral norm is only cognizable in relation to the market.

  • Cane Caldo says:


    But reductive attempts to cram behaviors which aren’t speech into the speech box brings to mind leftists labeling flag burning and pornography as “speech”.

    Justice Scalia has maintained that flag burning (and i think pornography, but I can’t recollect) are legitimate forms of expression. There is, of course a difference between freedom of speech and freedom of expression in that former is contained within the latter. Two brides on a cake is a form of expression; as is handing out pro-whatever flyers. Would you say that expression doesn’t carry the onus of speech; would you say that Scalia is a leftist; something else?

    Would it be morally licit for a guard hired from a firm to protect an abortion doctor to fulfill his superior’s contract?

    How far can we take “under protest” in a country where no one is forced to work; indeed they are actively discouraged from working?

    I struggle with this personally; though not in any of the ways I asked.

  • MarcusD says:

    The National Post, in Canada, did this a few years ago (although, the other way around) – on complaint from a range of organizations due to the NP allowing a pro-traditional marriage advertisement (full page) to be published, the NP turned around and donated the revenue from that ad to the complaining organizations (which were pro-SSM).

  • Zippy says:

    I don’t think Scalia is a leftist, but I do have a low opinion of his judicial philosophy.

    Every act is an “expression” of something in a very general sense, and every evil behavior expresses a falsehood — a “disorder in relation to the truth about the good”, in the words of a recent Pope.

    If expressing (asserting) a disorder in relation to the truth about the good is intrinsic to the behavior one is choosing, we refer to the act as “intrinsically evil”. An act of adultery is (for example) intrinsically evil, unless the acting subject is mistaken in his knowledge — if he for some reason is under the impression that the woman really is his wife, he isn’t choosing the behavior of sleeping with someone not his wife. You have to “get into his head” in order to understand the state of his knowledge of the facts — you can’t just observe as a third party and know what behavior he thought he was choosing. But if he hasn’t made a mistake about the facts, the behavior he is choosing is the behavior you observe.

    His intentions and other subjective stuff can’t turn a wrong into a right – we call the behavior he is choosing the “object” of his act, that is, the objective part of his act independent of his subjective intentions or the circumstances.

    It is always and without exception morally wrong to choose an intrinsically immoral behavior: an act with an immoral object.

    If the subject chooses a behavior which is not, in itself, intrinsically evil; but his act helps along someone else’s evil act and the subject intends his behavior precisely for that reason, that is, to help the other person accomplish his evil act, we call that formal cooperation with evil. Formal cooperation with evil is also always, without exception, morally wrong. If the abortionist’s guard is guarding the abortionist precisely because he wants to facilitate abortions, that would be formal cooperation with evil.

    Shorter (though less precise) version of all the previous: choosing evil behaviors is always morally wrong, and having evil motivations is always morally wrong.

    However, frequently we end up cooperating with the evil acts of others even though our own behaviour isn’t evil in itself, wherein we would actually rather that the other person’s evil act was thwarted, and wherein our own goals would still be accomplished even if the other person’s evil act was thwarted. This is called material cooperation with evil; and it is sometimes morally licit and sometimes not. If the baker puts a figurine on top of the cake (not an evil act in itself) and would be happier if the sodomites repented and didn’t go through with the abominable parody of marriage they propose to do (he doesn’t share in their evil intention), he is engaged in material cooperation with evil.

    This can be justified as long as the cooperation is not proximate and as long as the baker has a proportionate reason under what is called the principle of double effect. The first criteria is a tricky one, and I haven’t developed or discovered any heuristics for testing proximity that I find satisfactory. The second may or may not obtain depending on the consequences he and his family would face if he doesn’t comply with the law, and also the extent to which he protests to make it clear that he does not share in the sodomites’ evil intentions.

  • Cane Caldo says:


    A lot to respond to here, but I’m out the door for church. Cue Ah-nold quote.

    I don’t think Scalia is a leftist, but I do have a low opinion of his judicial philosophy.

    I’ll need to read those posts, but my initial thought is: Scalia’s legal positivism is his equivalent of making queer wedding cakes under duress. Now what?

  • Zippy says:

    Scalia isn’t a legal positivist under duress. He is a true believer.

  • Zippy says:

    My blog is old, and a lot of content was transferred over from blogger to wordpress, so the search function doesn’t always grab the best or most salient stuff. Here is a high-level statement of my view of the judicial problem we face in America that doesn’t show up in the search links I posted in a previous comment.

  • […] How to fight being forced into immorality by the law. […]

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