Appraisal Vol. 11 No. 4, Spring 2018 Book Review
Two Books by Bogumil Gacka:
Stowarzyszenie Naukowe Personalism, Warsaw, 2014, 235 pp.
Personalism in Economy
Stowarzyszenie Naukowe Personalism, Warsaw, 2012, 121 pp.
I was surprised not to see our friend Bogumil Gacka, Chairman of the Department of Christian Personalism at the Cardinal Wyszynski University in Warsaw and a stalwart of the Internal Conferences on Persons, at the 14th Conference held at Cosenza-Rende in Italy in May. But a student from his Department was there and gave me as a present from him copies of these two books. Each is in both English and Polish on facing pages.
In European Personalism two or three persons are selected to represent each of English, French, German, Polish, Russian and Italian Personalism, though the Introduction does mention some others. As only to be expected, in such a short work (60 pages in each language and a rather large font for the size of the pages) the treatment of each author is inevitably brief. I was somewhat surprised at the actual choices. For example, in the Introduction, as well as Newman, and Macmurray, who are selected for English Personalism, John Grote is rightly listed but also H. Wildon Carr (1857-1931) for his The Unique Status of Man (1928) and J.M.E. McTaggart. I vaguely remember Wildon Carr but not that book, and McTaggart, though a personal idealist in fact was never numbered among the others who dissented from Absolute Idealist, probably because his a priori and atemporal metaphysics was too divergent from them. A much more representative of that school would be its initiator and leading light, Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison. Some of us would also suggest Michael Polanyi or Austin Farrer. Again, Renouvier, Maritain and Mounier represent French Personalism, though Descartes, Maine de Biran, Ravaisson, Marcel and Bergson are also mentioned, of which Marcel should have been featured, and to which Nédoncelle and Ricoer could have been added. This does show that the author knows that not even French Personalism began with Mounier, let alone Personalism in general. German Personalism is represented by Scheiermacher, W. Stern and Max Scheler, but no one else, such as Dietrich von Hidlebrand and Edith Stein, is even mentioned. American Personalists, on which the author has already published a book (Lublin 1995), are listed in the Introduction, along with Juan Manuel Burgos as the leading Spanish Personalist.
It is easy to be critical of the selections in a short introductory book on such a theme, and for those who are unaware of the existence, let alone the extent, of personalist philosophy in Europe, this book does serve to make it and some of its notable contributors, more widely known.
As far as I know, economics has been rather neglected by personalists, and some who have dealt with it have make serious mistakes (see my article in Appraisal Vol. 9, No. 4). In Personalism in Economy the author identifies with personalist economics with Roman Catholic Social Teaching, and especially with John Paul II. This unfortunately excludes the work of such as Michael Polanyi, a undoubted personalist though not by name, who contributed significantly both to economic theory and economic policy. It is gratifying to see that John Paul II, when he denounced ‘capitalism’ as much as he did Marxism, use the word in its original Marxist meaning of the ideology of laissez-faire, almost wholly unregulated business and industry along with the dominance of those with capital, as experienced in the industrialisation of Britain in the early decades of the 19th C. It is very unfortunate that even the most ardent advocates of a free economy use this Marxist term. Roman Catholic Social Doctrine is quoted as explicitly recognising markets and free trade as the most efficient ways to generate resources, and that a centrally planned economy to be destructive and a denial of personal freedom. Thus by and large the principles and policies outlined in the book are genuinely well meant to smooth the inevitable ups and downs and disruptions of any economy, and to provide, as all economists have recognised, those public goods which a market cannot or should provide, though how they could be implemented does require some more specific examples, otherwise they could be interpreted as requiring serious over-regulation of the economy. There are, I suggest, serious worries about this that need to be addressed. Furthermore it is not enough these days simply to recognise the need for a free market and free trade, but also to defend them. Personalists, believing in the importance of personal freedom and self-responsibility, ought especially to master and promote the basic of economic theory and prime policies, such as supply-side policies and the Laffer curve, which shows how reducing and simplifying taxation generates more remove while raising taxes has the opposite result. Still, we can never everything at the same time, and this short book does make a real contribution to the serious consideration of economic policy which, along with that of economic theory, personalists urgently need to undertake.