Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Salamanticenses on Economics -An Open Question.

Share/Bookmark I read articles posted on the Mises.org website every-so-often. Seeking to advance the economic principles of the Austrian School, it claims an intellectual heritage that goes back to the late Scholastics:

The story of the Austrian School begins in the fifteenth century, when the followers of St. Thomas Aquinas, writing and teaching at the University of Salamanca in Spain, sought to explain the full range of human action and social organization. These Late Scholastics observed the existence of economic law, inexorable forces of cause and effect that operate very much as other natural laws.Over the course of several generations, they discovered and explained thelaws of supply and demand, the cause of inflation, the operation of foreign exchange rates, and the subjective nature of economic value--allreasons Joseph Schumpeter celebrated them as the first real economists. The Late Scholastics were advocates of property rights and the freedom tocontract and trade. They celebrated the contribution of business tosociety, while doggedly opposing taxes, price controls, and regulationsthat inhibited enterprise. As moral theologians, they urged governments toobey ethical strictures against theft and murder. And they lived up to Ludwig von Mises's rule: the first job of an economist is to tell governments what they cannot do"

My question is, to what extent does the Austrian School represent a legitimate flowering of the Scholastic tradition? While I know that a good many traditional Catholics such as Thomas Woods supports the economictheory of the Austrian School, I also know that the Austrian School is typically identified with a Libertarian political philosophy, namely that not only ought the government practice a laissez faire relationship with respect to the economy but also with respect to "personal morality" (e.g. abortion). While I hesitate to lump all Libertarians -- there are many kinds such as anarcho-libertarians and conservative libertarians, for example--together, I am hesitatant to affirm too strongly the Austrian School. Have you any insights?

I'm afraid this one's way beyond my field! I do know that the Salamanca theologians (also known as the Salmanticenses) are one of the most eminently faithful Thomists of all history. Not that they were fundamentalist Thomists ("Sola Summa")--in fact, they are known for going beyond Aquinas in many ways, especially for asking more minute questions relating to the issues of modernity. But their reputation as faithful to the principles of the Master remains unsurpassed to this day. Here's what Garrigou-Lagrange has to say about them in his book Reality:

In their methods the Carmelites of Salamanca, the Salmanticenses, resemble John of St. Thomas. They first give, in summary, the letter of the article, then add disputationes and dubia on controverted questions, discussing opposed views in detail. Some of these dubia on secondary questions may seem superfluous. But he who consults the Salmanticenses on fundamental questions must recognize in them great theologians, in general very loyal to the teaching of St. Thomas. You may test this statement in the following list of subjects: the divine attributes, the natural desire to see God, the obediential potency, the absolute supernaturalness of the beatific vision, the intrinsic efficaciousness of divine decrees and of grace, the essential supernaturalness of infused virtues, particularly of the theological virtues, the personality of Christ, His liberty, the value, intrinsically infinite, of His merits and satisfaction, the causality of the sacraments, the essence of the sacrifice of the Mass.

In fact, back in the old days, their authority was so eminent in the theological world that if you could show that your theological argument was supported by the Salmanticenses, that automatically made your argument probabilior (more probable than the opposing argument). So I would be inclined to trust their orthodoxy and faithfulness to the principles of Aquinas in all their doctrines. In my view, they're "innocent until proven guilty."

But, specifically with regards to the question on economics, I put it on the table as an open question for anyone to offer an answer. Informative comments are most welcome!


berenike said...

Re Woods

(the original page on the Chronicles website is no longer available)

berenike said...

And also, tres useful for clearing up some at least of the confusion apparently not discouraged by Mises, Acton and so on:

Belda Plans, J. "Hacia una nocion critica de la Escuela de Salamanca"; Scripta Theologica (1999) 31, 461-489

Vonier also sings the praises of the Salmanticenses, but remember, always distinguish!

Odd Langholm has written several studies worth looking at, the most recent "Economics in the Medieval Schools" - you'll need to find it in a library. He's an economist, so you may find fault with his way of writing history.