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August 04, 2004



Thanks you and Bill for the link. Of the rights in Locke the one that stands out over and over is the right to property. To see it defended by the WSJ or Hudson does not strike me as surprising. Sadly, it seems to trump all others. Not paradox at all, but hegemony. Private property as the god-term. Now if the WSJ had come out in defense of public parks, public protest, or the subordination of property to any other principle, that would have been news.

Lenore, you are right, the latent issue is public benefit from anything other than private vices and private property (Mandeville). How do we create and maintain open spaces, commons, clean air, debate and peaceful protest? Can a case be made for those?

I see so much here and in your group that seems to take the fight against communism as still un-won. You are still fighting totalitarianism of that order. When will you address the ills of neoliberalism? The limits of the private, as it grows corporate and over-weening? Surely, in your stuff on Jesus you cannot avoid the "body of Christ," a polity that is more than atoms.

Don't mean this to be rhetorical or controversial. How in your view do you get from individuals and private property to public goods, public life, and the "leviathan" of the polity? Don't you need some version of the social contract, an understanding that includes all, rather than a market that sorts winners and losers, and discards the losers?

Given that beneficence is your theme, as opposed to the myriad benefits of selfhishness, when do you get around to the philosophical basis of our obligations to one another and to the greater good? When do you subordinate selfishness to caritas? And how can you blog Jesus one day, and the self-sufficiency of markets the next? Seems like a mind divided. Two programs running on the same hard disk, but without communication between them.

"Friends hold all in common." In Athens as in the Primitive Church?

I can understand you, Hein and Schambra getting hired by some selifsh SOB of a self-made billionaire to write paens to private property. To construct a "science of liberty" based on his freedom to use his wealth and power as he pleases. I can see why he would want you to work round to saying that the EPA and the IRS are like communists in some way. And I can understand why, seeking tax breaks, your funder would want to discredit progressive social programs. And I can understand that he would want you to say (or straight-facedly pretend) that private philanthropy will take up the slack, as long as no one asks him for a gift. But to make this stuff on beneficence plausible, you need a theory of caritas, altruism, compassion, public goods, the gift, and of the obligations of wealth.

Every time your theory, based on Hayek, falls to its knees, you sound the trumpets and trot out Christ. But you have not reconciled either the theory or the prose styles. Christ is the purple patch on your Roman toga.

Would love to see you, Jay, and Bill write a piece in the style of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Montaigne, Pascal or Bacon, entitled, "On the Obligations of Wealth," or "The Uses of Riches."

If your funders object, do it under an assumed name. Or, tell them that you mean other people's oblgiation, that you are going to encourage the poor to give one another, as Christ said.

Lenore Ealy

Great questions and challenges, Phil. And ones on which I am working as we exchange notes today. I'm writing now an introduction to the first volume of Conversations, the journal I'm creating for The Project for New Philanthropy Studies, which begins to take up some of these challenges.

I'll quickly pass by the paragraph on the funders of conservative think tanks for now, since I think it is the flip side of the coin you point out. If conservatives continue to struggle with the red herring of failed communism, you progressivists seem to continue to sling arrows at this right-wing conspiracy of the wealthy. Why, for instance, would you presume any such funder to be automatically an SOB? I don't take Marx that way, though the case could be made I suspect for both Lenin and Stalin.

Hope you'll go over and read my post on original sin, in which I begin to take up the questions you pose on eccleciology seriously. And I've been doing so in more than one circle today!

And while I don't have time to get everything translated into the blog, I have just been in correspondence with an Austrian economist friend of mine about our conversations in Chicago. From which conversations I am beginning to think about property rights not in absolutist, Lockean terms but largely as a form of decision rights that are socially constructed--by the rule of law in the best instances (rather than merely by power). I would think you would find comfort in the fact that the WSJ, in applauding the court's limitation of eminent domain, was here defending the right rather than the powerful.

This issue of public benefit is a slippery slope. But to acknowledge that does not mean that there are only private, atomized interests. I look forward to unveiling the forthcoming publication, in which I have invited several authors to begin reflecting on these very questions. This is the invitation you turned down, remember!! Not to worry, you won't escape contributing to this non-satirical conversation in the end!

Hopefully I don't trot out Christ to rescue Hayek, nor Hayek to rescue Christ. I see all these voices in conversation one with another. In the end, I have no doubt which is most authoritative to me--but ultimate authorities are often conversation stoppers rather than starters.

I'm hopeful that my theological contributions can be taken as extending and deepening the conversation, not stopping it. But this brings us back to that discussion of the Areopagitica and the virtues of civil discourse.


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