Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and the Neo-Confederate Catholic Right
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:38:58 PM EST
Thomas Woods is an increasingly influential  player on the Catholic Right. In this and a subsequent post, we will consider how his world view is   incompatible with both Catholic Social Justice principles and American history.
Over the years, this column has looked at the many facets of the Catholic Right, including neo-cons, paleo-cons, Bill Donohue, Opus Dei, and more. We now come to the Neo-Confederate Catholic Right, a peculiar variation of libertarianism, which focuses almost exclusively on economics while maintaining most, if not all of the social conservative culture war issues such as opposition to reproductive rights and marriage equality. Indeed, this movement employs the long discredited states' rights theory of nullification -- the notion that any state has the right to ignore any federal court order or law which that state has deemed unconstitutional.

Among the Catholic Rightists beating the drum for nullification are Pat Buchanan, Thomas DiLorenzo, Thomas Fleming and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.  All four advocate states' rights, a seething resentment of Abraham Lincoln, and as Rachel Tabachnick recently highlighted, Woods is a key member of the pro-secession League of the South, Traditional Catholicism (save possibly DiLorenzo) and Austrian-school, libertarian economics.

Woods is a convert to the type of Catholicism sought by many on the Catholic Right. As such, he is a vocal proponent for a return to a pre-Vatican II mindset. He is extreme in his economic libertarianism as well as secession and nullification.  While nullification has a long and dark history on matters of race in the U.S., it is also looming as an issue for reproductive rights and marriage equality.

It is therefore no surprise that among Woods' admirers is the influential Opus Dei priest C. John McCloskey. The former Ivy League-Wall Street laissez-faire apostle-turned-prelate has himself ruminated on the appeal of secession to achieve theocracy.  In his infamous futuristic dystopian essay 2030: Looking Backwards he gleefully imagines a violent separation from the United States:

The tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the Faith in North America were indeed the "seed of the Church" as they were in pre-Edict of Milan Christianity. The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize the natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith. With time and the reality of the ever-decreasing population of the states that worship at the altar of "the culture of death," perhaps we will be able to reunite and fulfill the Founding Fathers of the old United States dream to be "a shining city on a hill."

What McCloskey describes as "by no means an ideal solution" has a more accurate, more commonly-held description: Treason.

And yet there is more than a hint of hypocrisy in McCloskey's admiration of Woods - especially his libertarian economic outlook.  Catholic writer Angus Sibely has observed, Woods is a devotee of über-libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard. A closer examination of Rothbard beliefs reveals why this is problematic.

First, Rothbard is the father of anarcho-capitalism, the basis of Woods' economic philosophy.  It is such an extreme philosophy that even law enforcement and the courts would be privatized; taxation would be replaced by either private payments or insurance settlements. Rothbard is on record saying "the entire theory of labor unions is deeply flawed." As Angus Sibley explains, it is the very antithesis of Catholic economic teachings:

Most practical methods of reducing inequalities are repugnant to libertarians. Labor unions are hated because they obstruct the worker's freedom to agree his own contract with his employer. ... Redistributive taxation (higher tax rates on higher personal incomes) "is a mode of disguised expropriation of successful capitalists and entrepreneurs" according to Mises, while his admirer Murray Rothbard stated that "Taxation is Robbery" and that "the libertarian favors the right to unrestricted private property and free-exchange".

Hayek rejected outright the principle of distributive justice: "the results of the individual's efforts are necessarily unpredictable, and the question of whether the resulting distribution of incomes is just or unjust has no meaning."  Catholic teaching flatly repudiates such nonsense. Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum, §45) spoke of "a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner", and he strongly commended (#49) workers' associations, of which "the most important of all are workingmen's unions." John Paul II (Centesimus Annus, §20) observed that "unions... are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people."

But what is all-too-conveniently glossed over by Woods, McCloskey and others -- is Rothbard's shocking and idiosyncratic view on abortion.  It is a view that is consistent with extreme libertarianism, but is very far from any other pro-choice thought I have ever heard. Rothbard's view suggests a deep fissure on the conservative spectrum that they would rather we not see.

Most fetuses are in the mother's womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother's freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic "invader" of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as "murder" of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother's body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.  [Emphasis added]

We need to understand why Woods and McCloskey's Neo-Confederate philosophy of nullification and secession is so appealing to some on the Catholic Right so we can not only better answer them, but sharpen the contrast with just alternatives. Those tasks will be tackled in subsequent posts.

In Robert Lichtman's book, White Protestant Nation, he notes that in the 1950s and 1960s the nascent Catholic Right abandoned Catholic social teaching in favor of libertarian economics. See pp 213-4. Just a flavor of what he wrote: William F. Buckley was a Knight of Malta with close ties to Opus Dei; conservative Catholics wanted to "suffuse the state and culture with Christian principles" (ME: like soft dominionism); "Conservative Catholics found another home in the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation....It rejected Catholic social teaching, opposed welfare and civil rights as communist-inspired plots, and charged that liberals were aiding the growth of communism." I would say that these views were entirely compatible with the dominant white supremacist thought of the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, Buckley openly sided with the white supremacists in the 1950s on the grounds of cultural rather than biological supremacy and racism. This would evolve into the neo-Confederate movement which would eventually link up the Christian Reconstructionists--who share the economic radicalism of libertarianism, though not necessarily Rothbard's version. I'm not sure because Gary North is the linchpin of their economic thought. But, North does stray into anarcho-capitalism. But, I think there is where you find common economic ground.

by James Estrada Scaminaci on Thu May 02, 2013 at 12:45:23 PM EST

His retrograde thinking ought to be an embarrassment, but it's the sort of thing that has received the official approval of the Vatican and undermined the message of Vatican II. Thomas DiLorenzo wrote an embarrassingly stupid critical article on Abraham Lincoln that could have just as easily been written by a die-hard Confederate fire-eater. Pat Buchanan's neo-Confederate sympathies are well-known, and he never met a Nazi he didn't feel sorry for.

by khughes1963 on Thu May 02, 2013 at 04:03:47 PM EST
given a massive megaphone by the various TV stations to spew his nonsense to millions, long after most of his opinions were seen as toxic. It's one thing for drunken Uncle Leo to puke up bile and nasty opinions at the family BBQ, but those entities that turned a blind eye to his words because of the controversy and added eyeballs, for years, shows just how contemptibly they view the majority of viewers.

by trog69 on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 12:30:21 AM EST

As has been stated before Economic Libertarians as in Cato Institute Koch brother plutocratic economics is favored by many of them. Any disagreements there are smoothed over in the free to give clause. As for Cultural they have many places of intersection and overlap. And White Supremacy suffuses through out many of their ideological and theological points-of-view. Whatever disagreements they have are very small next the the disagreements they have with the rest of us. And they are legion. Now if the American Plutocrats fully take over (Constitution/Bill of Rights suspended indefinitely) we will see that while the militarists and Right Wing Libertarians take over the govt they will let the more religiously inclined will still have free reign over the rest of us who survive the purges and mass movement into their bantustand homelands for American Blacks, Jews, Latin Americans etc. That will only work if they don't fumble and let us fall passed level three destruction of our society which they seem to want but only at their time. (2008 wasn't it but we are primed for the next one.) Such is my own analysis.

by Nightgaunt on Mon May 13, 2013 at 05:58:49 PM EST

But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic "invader" of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as "murder" of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother's body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.  [Emphasis added]

Obviously, this derives  from the great Jewish Sage, Maimonides (of blessed memory and also an Aristotelian, like his younger near contemporary St. Thomas Aquinas) who taught  in his Guide for the Perplexed, that a like a rodefa (brigand ) that threatens a traveler. a fetus that endangered the life of its mother was subject to the mother's right to self-defense (including using lethal force), although there is an obligation to do what must be done to preserve life.

by John Minehan on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 09:55:33 AM EST

Matt Delahunty, in a debate with a pro-life opponent. As a fellow nonbeliever, I'm not willing to give myself a headache parsing my thoughts on that line of reasoning, though I do want women to regain control over their bodies, and I support birth control being ubiquitous and available to all who need it.

by trog69 on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 12:24:03 AM EST

"Rothbard is on record saying 'the entire theory of labor unions is deeply flawed.'"

Labor unions, if you refer to the collective bargaining of wages, don't work at all.  That is probably why they are increasingly irrelevant.  Everyone's contribution to the bottom line differs and an individual's contribution varies over time.  There is NOTHING collective about this and it must be an individualized determination.

However, as a way for groups to bargain for discounts on, for example, health care, their potential is being ignored.  For more insight into this and the necessary return of the voluntary association,  I recommend Kevin Williamson's The End Is Near and It's going to be Awesome and Niall Ferguson's  The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die

by John Minehan on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 10:14:04 AM EST

the idea that labor unions dont work at all sounds like a typical right wing ideological position. it's odd that you would be interested in posting here.

by H Herman on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 06:19:44 PM EST

"First, Rothbard is the father of anarcho-capitalism, the basis of Woods' economic philosophy.  It is such an extreme philosophy that even law enforcement and the courts would be privatized; taxation would be replaced by either private payments or insurance settlements."

Given the on-going hemorrhage of legitimacy from government at all levels, which is increasingly seen by people on all parts of the political spectrum as arbitrary and extractive, this seems more "incisive" and "profound" than "extreme."  

by John Minehan on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 10:18:51 AM EST

wow! you really are going out on a limb here. I think for most people the loss of credibility of government derives from republican intransigence and their policy of zero cooperation, not their droning mantra that government is too big.

by H Herman on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 06:24:22 PM EST

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