November 20, 2017 § 1 Comment
Re-posting this since the Parable of the Talents was yesterday’s Gospel reading.
June 20, 2017 § 25 Comments
A fungible thing is something which we habitually treat as interchangeable with different objects of the same kind and in the same amount. A cup of sugar is considered a fungible thing because we typically don’t care whether we are using this particular cup of sugar or that one: any cup of sugar with similar qualities will do.
Scholastics – academics who study the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and other medieval Catholic scholars – tend, like philosophers of any school, to adopt certain habits of mind. One of the Scholastic habits of mind is to reflexively consider the nature of a thing as one argues or dialogs about that thing. This is of course perfectly natural and salutary, but I suspect that it underlies a common error when thinking about usury.
We exhort you not to listen to those who say that today the issue of usury is present in name only, since gain is almost always obtained from money given to another. How false is this opinion and how far removed from the truth! We can easily understand this if we consider that the nature of one contract differs from the nature of another. [Emphasis mine]
Scholastics – unlike Aquinas himself – tend to approach usury as having something to do with the nature of the property lent, qua fungible thing. But a mutuum loan is not, strictly speaking, a loan of a fungible thing: it is a loan of a thing which the contract treats as fungible. Aquinas explains this in his discussions of usury; here he is in de Malo:
As the Philosopher says in the Politics, things can have two uses: one specific and primary; the other general and secondary. For example, the specific and primary use of shoes is to wear them, and their secondary use is to exchange them for something else. And conversely, the specific and primary use of money is as a means of exchange, since money was instituted for this purpose, and the secondary use of money can be for anything else, for example, as security or for display.
He goes on to explain that it is not the nature of the property itself, but the kind of use which is authorized by the contract, which is the essence of the mutuum loan and therefore the essence of usury. A contract which treats the lent property as fungible — as alienable from the borrower — is a mutuum loan; and it is on this kind of loan that making any profit whatsoever is morally illicit:
But if persons lend their money to others for another use in which the money is not consumed, there will be the same consideration as regarding the things that are not consumed in their very use, things that are licitly rented and hired out. And so if one gives money sealed in a purse to post it as security and then receives recompense, this is not interest-taking [usury], since it involves renting or hiring out, not a contract for a loan. And the reasoning is the same if a person gives money to another to use it for display, just as, conversely, if one gives shoes to another as a means of exchange and on that account were to seek a recompense over and above the value of the shoes, there would be interest-taking [usury].
So Thomists and other thinkers who attempt to take the sinfulness of usury seriously would do well to follow the Doctor, and avoid the pitfall of confusing the fact that a usurious contract treats the property lent as fungible with something intrinsically the case about the property itself.
And Aquinas’s correctness on the doctrinal point – that usury consists in the nature of the contract, not the nature of the property lent/borrowed – can be easily confirmed by checking Magisterial sources, such as Vix Pervenit (cited above) and others (see here and here, for example).
May 17, 2017 § 23 Comments
There exist in our world what we might call ‘social beings’: institutions or communities which are composed of individual human beings but which are not reducible to nothing but the aggregation of individual human beings. Social beings transcend individuals in the sense that they are not reducible to individuals. I don’t have an overarching theory of these transcendent social beings, but I know that Italy is not reducible to the collection of all individual Italians, Catholicism is not reducible to the collection of all individual Catholics, etc.
We can refer to the good of these social beings as the common good.
Liberalism is (as a specifically political doctrine), at least in its more advanced forms, an attempt to reduce this transcendent social organ (authority) to nothing but the collected free and equal wills of the individuals who make up a polity. Opposing itself to natural authority as inherently tyrannical, liberalism insists that all authority must be mediated through the triumph of the human will. Authority as a real organ which transcends the consent of the governed is denied.
Liberalism is an attempt to build, if you will, a completely brainless and mechanical society in the name of emancipation from the privileges of natural authority: it is the self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad.
May 13, 2017 § 124 Comments
In the case of usury this failure to perceive the difference between real things and mere ideas shows up in how contracts for profit are secured: as St. Francis Xavier put it, “in the whole matter of security for contracts”. A non-usurious contract for profit is secured by property which actually exists, and only that specifed property. A usurious contract for profit is secured by (sometimes in addition to some actual property) the mere idea of property: by a personal IOU.
A pledge to give an investor a cow next year is not — the pledge is not — an actual cow. It is not usurious to pledge to give an investor a cow next year as part of a contract for profit; but only so long as that pledge is secured by some property which actually does exist, which fully discharges the obligation. The pledge is not to hand over a cow next year simpliciter, but to hand over either the actually existent security or a cow, thereby fully discharging the borrower’s obligation. A well structured contract will incentivise but not guarantee the latter.
The term ‘right’ is (like many terms) multivocal, kind of like the term ‘cow’. A right which actually has teeth is a particular right: a specific exercise of discriminating authority which trumps all other claims in a particular instance, treating one specific claim as superior to all other claims. Bob is the owner and Fred is the trespasser, so Fred must depart Bob’s property or be dragged off to jail.
Other uses of the term ‘right’ include talking about abstract categories of rights as opposed to actual rights. Again, kind of like cows. The idea that everyone has an equal right to (e.g) property is like (indeed is a superset of) the idea that everyone has an equal right to cows.
If this right is actual as opposed to abstract then it pertains to a particular cow or cows; and no particular cow is equal to any other particular cow. If Fred slaughters and eats Bob’s beef, he goes to jail.
Furthermore, many people don’t have a cow (other than metaphorically, when all of this is pointed out). The mere idea of beef is not a meal equivalent to actual beef.
There is nothing more authoritative and discriminatory than an actual right; nothing more empty and unreal than an abstract right with no instantiation. Owning a hypothetical cow is categorically distinct from owning an actual cow. Reality is categorically distinct from fiction.
It is sometimes suggested that my understanding of liberalism is flawed because it relies on a concept of rights which is “absolute”. But what critics see as “absolute” in my criticism of liberalism is simply recognition that the difference between reality and fiction is a categorical distinction, not a matter of gradiation. The difference between the idea of a cow and an actual cow is not a matter of moving along some continuum of compromise with a possible happy medium. Being and non-being are absolutely distinct.
The liberal war on authoritative particularity arises from its commitment to political liberty framed in terms of rights: arises from the fact that nothing discriminates (contra equality) and constrains (contra liberty) like actual, real, existent particular things. And conservative liberalism, as the more sane and commonsensical sphere of liberal societies, makes the mistake of believing that a happy medium is possible between reality and the void.
April 6, 2017 § 28 Comments
57) This all sounds so complicated, and use of the terms “loan” and “interest” to mean so many different things is confusing. Is there a straightforward way to tell if a simple loan for interest is usury?
58) Is there something that the government can do about usury without creating a whole bunch of complicated regulations?
UPDATE: The Typesetter has made the current revision available in PDF here. If you are interested in proofreading the manuscript feel free to post any errors you find in the combox here, or send email to email@example.com.
March 28, 2017 § 11 Comments
Folks who live in liberal societies tend to see having a large number of options as a good thing. The basic idea is that government should mind its own business and allow subjects to live and let live: should do as little as possible to ensure that the rights of free and equal individuals are enforced, and beyond that should “permit” individuals to evaluate for themselves which options they think are substantively good.
This is of course an incoherent mess prone to producing mass slaughter and other degeneracy when it crashes into reality: a doctrinal mashup of contradictory nonsense defended by the modern political monoparty with motte-and-bailey equivocation. A liberal sovereign delegitimizes his own authority, and the authority of his peoples’ traditions to protect and enforce what is substantively good, and adopts a philosophy of quantitatively maximizing choice independent of whether those choices are or are not substantively good. In practice this takes all of the things people really care about off the table, since the things people care about most tend to be controversial and often controverted. What remains is the pervasive presence of disgusting and dehumanizing options.
Liberalism has to abolish politics, has to produce a vast homogeneous bureaucratized managed cafeteria of degenerate, trivial, dehumanizing troughs of slop into which atomized autonomous free and equal human animals can put their snouts.
December 7, 2016 § 166 Comments
Liberalism is first and foremost a political doctrine: an (incoherent) view about legitimate exercise of authority. It is true that once empowered liberalism cannot be contained and ‘leaks’ into everything else. But characterizing liberalism as a grand overall religious or anti-religious worldview, rather than as a specifically political doctrine, is a mistake: a mistake easily rejected by liberals as a caricature which creates a motte and bailey social structure from which escape becomes impossible.
In order to resist our enemy you have to understand him; and if liberalism is not understood as primarily a political doctrine – a political doctrine which by its nature cannot be contained or kept as subordinate by any amount of virtue, moderation, or good intentions – it cannot be adequately resisted.
Almost every conservative or reactionary travels down the same old path, which invariably seduces him into right liberalism. The infinitesimal number of exceptions merely prove the rule: we are all liberals, and the all encompassing gravity well of liberalism will comprehensively dominate human existence until enough people reject it unequivocally.
Liberalism is ‘more than political’ only in a similar sense to which AIDS is more than a virus. By defining liberal commitments as more grandiose and religious than they are in fact, as something greater or more transcendent than specifically political commitments, we can avoid unequivocally rejecting freedom and equality as political principles (principles of authority in action). This gives liberalism a ‘motte’ into which to retreat whenever its own excesses would otherwise lead to self destruction.
Liberalism always starts as specifically political commitments, just as AIDS always starts out as a tiny invisible virus. We can rage against the snot running down the nose of the AIDS patient all we want; but if we hope to actually prevent AIDS we have to adequately grasp what causes it in the first place. Only then can we begin to know what to do about it.