Originally posted at Talk to Action.
Monsignor John A. Ryan was a leader in the development of Catholic economic thought who also greatly influenced the New Deal -- an economic paradigm that a small but influential group of Catholic neocons and economic libertarians has been trying to destroy.
Now, Walter J. Collins and I have started a production company, Social Impact Films in order to create socially conscious documentaries. Our first effort will be to set the record straight about Catholic economic teaching by telling Monsignor Ryan's story. But in order to get this project off the ground, we need your help.
My articles here about the Catholic Right have detailed, among other things, Michael Novak's and George Weigel's infatuation with laissez-faire, Robert P. George's goldbuggery and Deal Hudson's economic libertarianism. I have written about how certain GOP-sympathetic bishops have dissembled on the concept of subsidiarity -- the concept that "issues be treated at the lowest level possible, that is, at the level closest to the individual" -- in order to sabotage the Affordable Health Care Act. Although they seek to present themselves as modeling authentic Catholic economic thought, their views aer actually diametrically opposed to Church teaching on Social Justice. They have jettisoned Distributive Justice in favor of a form of buccaneer capitalism that pummels the middle class and certainly, in Pope John Paul II's words makes no "preferential option for the poor."
Their views have nevertheless entered into the mainstream of the political discourse. In what may have seemed improbable a generation ago, they have made it possible for Mitt Romney to denigrate 47% of the American people as freeloaders and for him to choose in Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) a running mate who at each campaign stop attempts to cloak his Ayn Rand economics within the guise of Catholicism.
Angus Sibley, the Scottish Catholic who writes on economics, may have best described the contradiction of this proposition:
Libertarian economic theories develop and extend the work of "classical" eighteenth-century economists ... Since that time at least, the world of economics has never lacked thinkers averse to state regulation, redistributive taxation, and strong trade unions. But whatever their failings, these institutions have helped us achieve fairer, more civilized economies. Beginning in the late 1970s, libertarian economists saw their opportunity to reinstate the "progrowth" policies of the early nineteenth century, policies that had profoundly harmful consequences. Given the totalitarianisms Hayek observed in his youth, one can understand why he wanted to see the state stripped of as much power as possible.
Sibley then explains the contradiction:
From a Christian perspective, however, many of his ideas seem seriously misguided. We need an economic philosophy that, far from undermining the state, recognizes the vital importance of good government, the need for judicious regulation of capitalism, and the malignancy of extreme inequalities. All these principles can be found in the church's teaching. We Catholics should not be shy about what distinguishes our recipe for the good society from that of libertarian theorists. We should not be afraid to insist that the health of communities and the demands of justice should take priority over the growth of markets.
They view wealth as an end in and of itself, not as a means to living a right, reasonable life.Their is an outlook that defends the economic insatiability of the privileged few while ignoring the needs of the many. They turn a blind eye to the teachings of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke who, while having expounded upon the importance of private property reminded us that it is not an absolute concept, having attached to it a social mortgage. Their's is a paradigm that ignores humanity's social nature, that treats workers as commodities about as dispensable as a bundle of cotton or a pile of bricks. Sadly, these men have the highest visibility in the Catholic world on economic matters.
That must change.
And to help to make that change, Walter and I decided we needed to tell the story of Monsignor Ryan. And to do it, we are going to make a documentary film about Ryan and the Catholic idea of Distributive Justice. We call it Saving Monsignor Ryan. It is a call to save the legacy of a religious man whose often uphill fight for social justice, and to preserve the true history of modern American Catholic economic teaching while serving as a stern rebuke to those who slander reform with the Marxist moniker while giving cover to those who would plunder at the expense of the General Welfare.
Several noted scholars are participating in the film. Dr. Harlan Beckley, Director of Washington And Lee University's Shepard Program and author of Passion For Justice: Retrieving the Legacies of Walter Rauschenbusch, John A. Ryan, and Reinhold Niebuhr; Dr. Maria Mazzenga who has written extensively on Catholic Social Teaching, including a recent article that contrasts Monsignor Ryan's economic teachings with that of GOP vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan; The Difference a Century Makes: A Tale of Two Ryans. Also helping us explain Monsignor Ryan's theories are family members who knew him as an uncle who imbued in them the desire to continue his quest for social justice.
The ideas of a living wage and workers rights have taken a beating for the last thirty years. Any attempt to reform capitalism in a way that empowers labor has been stonewalled by a well-funded barrage of misinformation. But a bigger problem for the goals of economic justice are that those of us who aspire to them, have not been able up to the challenges of making our best arguments. But Walter Collins and I believe that saving the legacy of Monsignor Ryan from obscurity, we can show how the principles of Distributive Justice are as alive and relevant as they were in the halcyon days of the New Deal.
Please help us bring Saving Monsignor Ryan into our national conversation by visiting us at Kickstarter.