Ludwig von Mises versus Christ,
the Gospel and the Church
(An Open Letter to Tom Woods)
Christopher A. Ferrara
|REMNANT COLUMNIST, New Jersey|
When we wrote The Great Façade together back in 2002, I was one of the most ardent supporters of your work. Indeed, I saw you as a big part of the future of the “traditionalist” movement in America. But I did not anticipate your public dissent from the Church’s social teaching in favor of the radically laissez faire “Austrian school” of economics, whose pretensions range far beyond economics to a comprehensive “philosophy of liberty” that cannot be reconciled with the teaching of the Magisterium on the duties of men and societies toward Christ and His Church, or even the duties of men toward each other on the level of natural justice. Nor did I anticipate that you would become a “scholar in residence” for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a radical libertarian cult dedicated to the thought of von Mises and his “anarcho-capitalist” disciple, Murray Rothbard, both agnostic liberals who utterly rejected the role of the Church and the Gospel in the constitution of social order.
Your dissent from the social teaching has spawned a host of articles against you by reputable Catholic commentators, such as those found here, here, here, here, here and here, the last being a just-published five part series in Chronicles magazine under the title “Is Thomas Woods a Dissenter?” At this point, by my count, no fewer than a dozen Catholic scholars have denounced your dissent from Magisterial teaching on such basic principles as the just wage, the moral primacy of labor over capital, the evil of usury and price-gouging, the immorality of the so-called “absolute right” of private property, and the necessity of government, guided by divine and natural law, for the rule of fallen men. (You have even taken recently to advancing Rothbard’s “anarcho-capitalist” fantasy of the abolition of all government and the creation of a “stateless society.”)
The very point of The Great Façade was that “traditionalist” Catholics do not dissent from Catholic doctrine as such, but rather merely exercise their right to prescind from certain liturgical and pastoral novelties unknown in the Church before the 1960s and never imposed on the faithful as binding obligations of our religion. For example, Pope Benedict’s historic proclamation that the traditional Latin Mass was “never abrogated” and was “in principle always permitted” has demonstrated the truth of the book’s basic claim. But there you were, Tom, in the months following publication of our book, declaring your dissent from teaching on faith and morals clearly enunciated as binding by numerous Popes who have taught on justice in the marketplace and the right ordering of the State.
And since it was the very book we co-authored, along with your tenure at The Remnant and The Latin Mass magazine, that gave you prominence as a traditionalist in the first place, you could hardly expect your former colleagues to remain silent as you continued your stream of pronouncements against papal teaching, including the truly impudent remark that the Popes’ “attempt to elevate such principles as the ‘just wage’ to the level of binding doctrine is something altogether different, and indeed is fraught with error”—no stray utterance but something you later repeated between hard covers in your much-criticized The Church and the Market (p. 79). Have you no appreciation of the sheer audacity of a recent convert purporting to lecture cradle Catholics on the “errors” of Church teachings affirmed by Pope after Pope for centuries?
Now it is one thing, Tom, to express your opinion—your erring opinion—that in pronouncing on matters of economic and social justice the Popes have exceeded what you consider to be the limits of their competence, even if the Popes themselves, answering dissenters like yourself, have insisted on their right and duty to pronounce on precisely such matters. But it is quite another thing to claim, as you do, that you are exercising legitimate freedom in the Church—no, you are not—and, far worse, to engage in a campaign to persuade faithful Catholics that what your Institute preaches—a form of economic and social liberalism condemned by a long line of Popes (cf. Pius XI, Ubi Arcano Dei, n. 61)—is “perfectly compatible” with traditional Roman Catholicism. This propaganda has even found its way into an otherwise promising new magazine, “The Traditionalist,” the inaugural issue of which included a full-page advertisement in tribute to von Mises, whose dogmatically anti-Christian worldview is evident in the quotations set forth below.
In a piece that mentioned the circumstances of our falling out over your dissent from the social teaching and your post-Great Facade cooperation with the Southern Poverty Law Center in its witch-hunt of traditionalist Catholics (including me), I mentioned some of the outrageous opinions of Rothbard, who advocated not only legalized abortion, prostitution, drug use, bribery, and blackmail, but also the legal right to starve unwanted children to death, for which he argued in a book your Institute markets to the world as a “classic of liberty.” And you, Tom, have written in praise of that same book without mentioning its morally depraved contentions, stating only that “Rothbard set out the philosophical implications of the idea of self-ownership”—an idea at war with man’s very being as a creature of God. Nor have you ever mentioned Rothbard’s repeated praise of what his whole body of work hails as “the overthrow of the Old Order… by mass libertarian action erupting in such great revolutions of the West as the French and American Revolutions, and bringing about the glories of the Industrial Revolution and the advances of liberty…”
For that matter, Tom, I have never seen you criticize Rothbard’s attack on Catholic “integrism”—yes, he used that very word, that very insult to traditional Roman Catholics you and I wrote The Great Façade to answer. Remember? In that particular article Rothbard imperiously belittled “The Church’s hatred of liberalism in general, from which it proceeds to attack economic liberalism…” In the same article your mentor described Pius XI’s landmark social encyclical Quadragesimo anno as “virulently anti-capitalist and, in fact, pro-fascist. This fascist tendency is revealed by the trend of European Catholicism between the wars…” Your mentor called Pope Pius XI a Fascist, Tom. But then, you too have heaped criticism on Quadragesimo—based on your informal study of economics, a field in which you have no degree or other recognized credential. (In fact, before you joined the Institute you taught history at a community college.)
Here I wish to bring the attention of Catholics to the equally Christophobic and anti-Catholic views of von Mises, recently exposed in an online debate at angelqueen.org in a thread entitled “Unmasking the Austrian School.” These views appear in von Mises’s Socialism, which your Institute touts as a “masterwork” that presents “a critique of the entire intellectual apparatus that accompanies the socialist idea, including the implicit religious doctrines behind Western socialist thinking…”
In the following “baker’s dozen” of quotations from Chapter 29 of Socialism, von Mises attacks Christ, the Gospels and the Church as enemies of freedom and society and fomenters of socialism and slavery, calls Christianity a “religion of hatred,” and declares that the Church must reform herself by embracing liberalism and capitalism. The quotations all appear online here, which is where the Catholic who started the thread at angelqueen.org (someone with a screen name of GordonG) found them.
Tom, since you have rebuffed all private entreaties concerning your campaign to advance radical libertarianism within the Church and among traditionalists in particular, we who once promoted your work feel obliged to protest publicly what you are doing and to call upon you to make amends for the confusion you are causing.
For one thing, you have a duty before God as a confirmed member of the Church (albeit a rather new member) to denounce and repudiate categorically the following quotations from von Mises’s book, and to sever your ties with the Institute that promotes his (and Rothbard’s) anti-Catholic, Christophobic and indeed immoral ideology of “liberty.”
Furthermore, it is time to stop pretending, as you have for years, that the controversy your own words and deeds have aroused among the faithful is a debate about “economics” or such particulars as the wisdom of minimum wage laws. You have allied yourself with an organization whose view of man, society and human liberty is inimical to the law of the Gospel. You must choose between the Magisterium and the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, and no amount of sophistry can hide the reality of that choice.
As your former collaborator and colleague, and as one who admires your gifts and knows what they could bring to a defense of the Church’s social teaching instead of your seemingly incessant attack upon it, I hope you will take this letter, not as a provocation, but as an invitation to reconsider the course you have chosen, turn back, and rejoin your brothers in the Faith.
Christopher A. Ferrara
LUDWIG VON MISES
CHRIST, THE GOSPEL AND THE CHURCH
From Chapter 29 of Socialism
1. Jesus’ preaching of a Kingdom to come destroys all social ties:
The expectation of God’s own reorganization when the time came and the exclusive transfer of all action and thought to the future Kingdom of God, made Jesus’s teaching utterly negative. He rejects everything that exists without offering anything to replace it. He arrives at dissolving all existing social ties….
2. Jesus is like the Bolshevists:
…His zeal in destroying social ties knows no limits. The motive force behind the purity and power of this complete negation is ecstatic inspiration and enthusiastic hope of a new world. Hence his passionate attack upon everything that exists. Everything may be destroyed because God in His omnipotence will rebuild the future order. No need to scrutinize whether anything can be carried over from the old to the new order, because this new order will arise without human aid. It demands therefore from its adherents no system of ethics, no particular conduct in any positive direction. Faith and faith alone, hope, expectation—that is all he needs. He need contribute nothing to the reconstruction of the future, this God Himself has provided for. The clearest modern parallel to the attitude of complete negation of primitive Christianity is Bolshevism. The Bolshevists, too, wish to destroy everything that exists because they regard it as hopelessly bad. But they have in mind ideas, indefinite and contradictory though they may be, of the future social order. They demand not only that their followers shall destroy all that is, but also that they pursue a definite line of conduct leading towards the future Kingdom of which they have dreamt. Jesus teaching in this respect, on the other hand, is merely negation.
3. Jesus despises the rich, inciting the world to violence against them and their property, and His teaching has borne “evil seed”:
One thing of course is clear, and no skilful interpretation can obscure it. Jesus’ words are full of resentment against the rich, and the Apostles are no meeker in this respect. The Rich Man is condemned because he is rich, the Beggar praised because he is poor. The only reason why Jesus does not declare war against the rich and preach revenge on them is that God has said: “Revenge is mine.”
Kingdom the poor shall be rich, but the rich shall be made to
suffer. Later revisers have tried to soften the words of Christ
against the rich, of which the most complete and powerful version is
found in the Gospel of Luke, but there is quite enough left to
support those who incite the world to hatred of the rich,
revenge, murder and arson. Up to the time of modern Socialism no
movement against private poverty which has arisen in the Christian
world has failed to seek authority in Jesus, the Apostles, and the
Christian Fathers, not to mention those who, like Tolstoy, made the
Gospel resentment against the rich the very heart and soul of their
This is a case in which the Redeemer’s words bore evil seed. More harm has been done, and more blood shed, on account of them than by the persecution of heretics and the burning of witches. They have always rendered the Church defenseless against all movements which aim at destroying human society….
4. The Church, not Enlightenment liberalism, cleared the way for Socialism:
…. It would be foolish to maintain that Enlightenment, by undermining the religious feeling of the masses, had cleared the way for Socialism. On the contrary, it is the resistance which the Church has offered to the spread of liberal ideas which has prepared the soil for the destructive resentment of modern socialist thought. Not only has the Church done nothing to extinguish the fire, it has even blown upon the embers….
5. Christian doctrine is destructive of society, prohibits concern for sustenance and work, preaches hatred of the family, and even endorses castration:
…. So it is that Christian doctrine, once separated from the context in which Christ preached it—expectation of the imminent Kingdom of God—can be extremely destructive. Never and nowhere can a system of social ethics embracing social co-operation be built up on a doctrine which prohibits any concern for sustenance, and work, while it expresses fierce resentment against the rich, preaches hatred of the family, and advocates voluntary castration.
6. The Gospel played no part in the building of Western civilization:
The cultural achievements of the Church in its centuries of development are the work of the Church, not of Christianity. It is an open question how much of this work is due to the civilization inherited from the Roman state and how much to the idea of Christian love completely transformed under the influence of the Stoics and other ancient philosophers. The social ethics of Jesus have no part in this cultural development. The Church's achievement in this case was to render them harmless, but always only for a limited period of time….
7. Because it opposes liberalism, the Church is an enemy of society:
The fate of Civilization is involved. For it is not as if the resistance of the Church to liberal ideas was harmless. The Church is such a tremendous power that its enmity to the forces which bring society into existence would be enough to break our whole culture into fragments. In the last decades we have witnessed with horror its terrible transformation into an enemy of society. For the Church, Catholic as well as Protestant, is not the least of the factors responsible for the prevalence of destructive ideals in the world today…
8. Liberalism is superior to Christianity and has restored humanity by overthrowing the Church, which is why the Church hates it:
Historically it is easy to understand the dislike which the Church has shown for economic liberty and political Liberalism in any form. Liberalism is the flower of that rational enlightenment which dealt a deathblow to the regime of the old Church and from which modern historical criticism has sprung. It was Liberalism that undermined the power of the classes that had for centuries been closely bound up with the Church. It transformed the world more than Christianity had ever done. It restored humanity to the world and to life. It awakened forces which shook the foundations of the inert traditionalism on which Church and creed rested. The new outlook caused the Church great uneasiness, and it has not yet adjusted itself to even the externals of the modern epoch.
9. Christianity has become a religion of hate, seeking to destroy the “wonderful new world” of liberalism:
True, the priests in Catholic countries sprinkle holy water on newly laid railways and dynamos of new power stations, but the professed Christian still shudders inwardly at the workings of a civilization which his faith cannot grasp. The Church strongly resented modernity and the modern spirit. What wonder, then, that it allied itself with those whom resentment had driven to wish for the break-up of this wonderful new world, and feverishly explored its well-stocked arsenal for the means to denounce the earthly struggle for work and wealth. The religion which called itself the religion of love became a religion of hatred in a world that seemed ripe for happiness. Any would-be destroyers of the modern social order could count on finding a champion in Christianity.
10. Because they follow the Gospel and have not been “inoculated” with liberal philosophy, priests and monks are the enemies of society:
Priests and monks who practiced true Christian charity, ministered and taught in hospitals and prisons and knew all there was to know about suffering and sinning humanity—these were the first to be ensnared by the new gospel of social destruction. Only a firm grasp of liberal philosophy could have inoculated them against the infectious resentment which raged among their protégés and was justified by the Gospels. As it was, they became dangerous enemies of society. From the work of charity sprang hatred of society.
11. The Church and the Papacy seek to enslave men by depriving them of reason and the spiritual freedom of capitalism:
The Church knows that it cannot win unless it can seal the fount from which its opponent continues to draw inspiration. As long as rationalism and the spiritual freedom of the individual are maintained in economic life, the Church will never succeed in fettering thought and shepherding the intellect in the desired direction. To do this it would first have to obtain supremacy over all human activity. Therefore it cannot rest content to live as a free Church in a free state [the very slogan of Cavour, the great Masonic enemy of the Church and Blessed Pius IX - CAF]; it must seek to dominate that state. The Papacy of Rome and the Protestant national churches both fight for such dominion as would enable them to order all things temporal according to their ideals. The Church can tolerate no other spiritual power. Every independent spiritual power is a menace to it, a menace which increases in strength as the rationalization of life progresses.
12. Christianity needs socialism in order to maintain theocracy against the threat of “independent production”:
Now independent production does not tolerate any spiritual over-lordship. In our day, dominion over the mind can only be obtained through the control of production. All Churches have long been dimly aware of this, but it was first made clear to them when the socialist idea, rising from an independent source, made itself felt as a powerful and rapidly growing force. It then dawned upon the Churches that theocracy is only possible in a socialist community.
13. The Church must “transform” itself by embracing capitalism rather than papal teaching, such as that of Pius XI:
If the Roman Church is to find any way out of the crisis into which nationalism has brought it, then it must be thoroughly transformed. It may be that this transformation and reformation will lead to its unconditional acceptance of the indispensability of private ownership in the means of production. At present it is still far from this, as witness the recent encyclical Quadragesimo anno.