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6. Antimarket Ethics: A Praxeological Critique

15. The State and the Nature of Man

Since the problem of the nature of man has been raised, we may now turn briefly to an argument that has pervaded Roman Catholic social philosophy, namely, that the State is part of the essential nature of man. This Thomistic view stems from Aristotle and Plato, who, in their quest for a rational ethic, leaped to the assumption that the State was the embodiment of the moral agency for mankind. That man should do such and such quickly became translated into the prescription: The State should do such and such. But nowhere is the nature of the State itself fundamentally examined.

Typical is a work very influential in Catholic circles, Heinrich Rommen's The State in Catholic Thought.25 Following Aristotle, Rommen attempts to ground the State in the nature of man by pointing out that man is a social being. In proving that man's nature is best fitted for a society, he believes that he has gone far to provide a rationale for the State. But he has not done so in the slightest degree, once we fully realize that the State and society are by no means coextensive. The contention of libertarians that the State is an antisocial instrument must first be refuted before such a non sequitur can be allowed. Rommen recognizes that the State and society are distinct, but he still justifies the State by arguments that apply only to society.

He also asserts the importance of law, although the particular legal norms considered necessary are unfortunately not specified. Yet law and the State are not coextensive either, although this is a fallacy that very few writers avoid. Much Anglo-Saxon law grew out of the voluntarily adopted norms of the people themselves (common law, law merchant, etc.), not as State legislation.26 Rommen also stresses the importance for society of the predictability of action, which can be assured only by the State. Yet the essence of human nature is that it cannot be considered as truly predictable; otherwise we should be dealing, not with free men, but with an ant heap. And if we could force men to march in unison according to a complete set of predictable norms, it is certainly not a foregone conclusion that we should all hail such an ideal. Some people would combat it bitterly. Finally, if the “enforceable norm” were limited to “abstinence from aggression against others,” (1) a State is not necessary for such enforcement, as we have noted above, and (2) the State's own inherent aggression itself violates that norm.27

  • 25. Heinrich Rommen, The State in Catholic Thought, a Treatise in Political Philosophy (London, 1950).
  • 26. Thus, see Leoni, Freedom and the Law.
  • 27. Rommen, State in Catholic Thought, p. 225.