Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner was recently invited to give the commencement address at the Catholic University of America. Boehner himself is a practicing Catholic. But some professors both at Catholic U. and other “Catholic” colleges wrote a public letter upbraiding Speaker Boehner for violating Catholic social teachings by proposing major cuts to entitlements. The letter treats the Speaker like a five-year-old, one who is ignorant and hard-hearted, neither knowing about the social teachings of the Church (they sent him a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church) nor caring about the poor. They repeat the old complaint that “it [the budget] carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.”
While there are a few recommendable passages in this letter—such as, you cannot cut the budget in a way that is a disproportionate sacrifice of the benefits that the poor get—most of it shows a very poor understanding of Catholic social teaching, such that my undergraduate students could write a better letter than this one. In fact, there are so many problems with the letter that one does not know where to begin. So let’s examine just a few points.
First of all, it turns out that Professor Schneck, the first signer of the letter, and hence, probably its author, is a board member of both Democrats for Life and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. The fact that he is a Democrat tells us a lot, in that most Democrats have major socialist tendencies, and bow down to the Obama agenda. Secondly, I even question the “life” title. Remember Professor Kmiec (see my articles in this forum about him), who, in supporting Obama’s presidential run even though Obama is the most anti-life presidential candidate we have ever had, justified his support by lumping together concern for the poor with the overt act of murdering an innocent baby, holding that Catholics who concentrate on abortion take away from the other life issues, as if these could be compared. For his loyalty to Obama in suppressing a major moral teaching of his faith, Kmiec was rewarded by the president by being nominated to be the Ambassador to the Vatican. The Vatican rejected him. (Gee, maybe that tells you something.) He then was appointed to be Ambassador to Malta—remember, the island converted by St. Paul (“[i]t profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world but for Malta?”). He got that position, but resigned soon after because basically the Inspector General reported that he was incompetent, used his office for his personal agenda, and did not take directions from the State Department, his immediate superiors. The always whiney Kmiec, of course, denied everything, just as he blamed those who wrote against his questionable life position as being mean.
The second organization of which Professor Schneck is a board member is funded by George Soros, the billionaire businessman-socialist-atheist, who also funds many of the most leftist organizations in America. While I do not know the personal thinking of Professor Schneck or the other academics who signed the letter, board membership in these organizations does put some questions up for discussion as to the sincerity of the letter and the interpretation given to the social teachings of the Church.
On the sincerity front, Professor Schneck says that he was shocked that the public letter “became viral” so quickly. This man who calls himself a political scientist did not know that a public letter attempting to embarrass the Speaker of the House prior to his speaking at Catholic University of America would cause a stir? This strains the bounds of credulity, to say the least. If the signers did not want the publicity, if they were that concerned with the Speaker’s moral understandings, why did they not just send it to him privately, even handing it to him after the commencement ceremony, to make sure he got it? The signers of this letter just became shills for the Democratic agenda, hiding behind their version of Catholic social teaching in the process.
Since Professor Schneck is a board member for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, let us take a look at the nature of the common good. Vatican II defines the common good as “the entirety of those conditions of social life under which men enjoy the possibility of achieving their own perfection in a certain fullness of measure and also with some relative ease, [but] it chiefly consists in the protection of the rights, and in the performance of the duties, of the human person” (Dignitatis Humanae, #6). Notice that this definition has no specific content, but specifies a certain “habitat” in which the human person can develop. The specifics are decided by the laypersons with the guidance of the Church. Nevertheless, the specifics of all this are generally prudential, not moral. Part of this common good is helping the poor. How this is done is part of the virtue of prudence, and includes actions about which there will be disagreements among well-meaning persons. But remember, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As a Catholic economist, this writer is concerned with things that will actually help the poor, and save the most souls. The writers of this letter seem not to care about the poor or souls, and here’s why. The best way to help the poor is your own personal actions, either alone or in concert with others. Mother Teresa correctly pointed out that Jesus sometimes comes to us in distressing disguises. Personal contact with the poor is where Jesus is met. We, you and I, have the responsibility to help the poor, and when we do it personally, we sanctify ourselves, as opposed to having the government take the money out of our wallets to do that which it thinks it can do better, and buy votes in the process.
Also, the question should be asked, “Who are the poor?” Are they only those short of cash? Is there a reason why they are short of cash, like, say, just hard luck, or is the cause mental problems, addictions? Are they working poor who never got any skills? Did they have parents who never imparted to them a work ethic? Are they crippled, or seriously depressed? And what about rich people who live in a bubble and never think of the serious questions of life? All these are poor, and money is not always, and frequently is not, the solution.
What about the principle of subsidiarity, which Schneck mentions toward the end of the letter? Subsidiarity was annunciated first as a concept by Leo XIII, although it appears in many other Catholic thinkers, but not by name. Pope Pius XI gave it its name. Subsidiarity holds, first, that nothing should be done by a higher social level that can be done by a lower social level, and secondly, that nothing should be done by a government agency that can be done privately, by either individuals or their groups. As Leo points out, the state is the last resort, not the first. This begs the question, “What has the human race done all these centuries without government welfare programs?” How much of the “lower” and “private” has been destroyed by government doing everything, leading to a cynical approach to the poor by the citizen? How much is this attitude encouraged by statist Catholics who never really stress subsidiarity?
Lastly, what about the enormous budget deficit that threatens the very future of this country? If this is not taken care of soon, we will all be poor. That’s the reality that the letter takes no care to pursue. What about the question of taxes on business slowing the growth of those businesses or driving marginal ones out of business, and contributing to unemployment? It figures that these signatories would not even think of these things. The list of signers has only one economist on it, and he is from Catholic University. He seems like the odd man out, seeing that he is there with a lot of theologians, nursing professors, and directors of vaguely named institutes, and even the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a notoriously leftist and even heterodox organization of non-habit-wearing Catholic sisters.
The answer to the question as to why this even happened is contained in this video, which is very informative. It is really sad that our Church has become so politicized, that we have to beaten over the head with Democratic party themes disguised as Catholicism by folks who have very little idea of the nature of the world, and who have no problem putting Catholics on a guilt trip for trying to find prudential solutions to economic problems their kind of thinking caused in the first place.
Two recent events struck me as significant in enlightening me as to the status of Catholic thinking regarding government. The first was a seminar I conducted recently with Catholic theology graduate students on Pope Benedict’s social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The other was an article published in the latest edition of Markets and Morality, a scholarly journal published by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
In the first event, we were discussing the section in Caritas where the Pope advises that the United Nations be restructured to be able to regulate the world economy, and to make the world more into a family of nations having real teeth. I brought up what I thought was very well known, the nature of the United Nations, which is merely to represent the interest of each nation in a common body. The representatives to that body receive instructions from their governments as to what positions to take, and the only things that are really accomplished are those where there is widespread agreement among the nations of the world. I reminded these students that for a long time, the majority in the General Assembly was controlled by the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union frequently exercised its veto power in the Security Council, preventing anything from being done on most serious issues. To my surprise, a number of the students, not all, were shocked that I just did not think that the Pope’s idea for a reform of the UN was workable. When I brought up the UN’s history, one of the students argued that we can hope that this revision can occur, and that success would follow. What this response means is that the students, and in some way, the Holy Father, are not living in the real world. Not that I think that Catholics need to settle for evil, but are all remedies for social problems institutional remedies?
The next event was the reading of an article, which came from a paper delivered at the Society of Catholic Social Scientists meeting, where the person was clearly trying to give government a larger role in people’s lives. The author termed “liberal” institutions, such as the United States’ separation of powers, a reflex of free persons rather than a government of responsibility in a political community as natural as the individuals who compose it. Interestingly, this article has no analysis of the founding documents or writings of our founders, which would give the writer the whole context of the American founding, and thus the reason for our governmental setup. Not only that, this writer has no notion of the dignity of the person—that is, the idea that our government was founded to allow the individual to pursue his life calling in the way God has revealed to that person. He correctly complains about the modern tendency of governments such as ours to act as brokers for interests, corporate, union, and so forth, for favors and advantages, but his remedy, as in the previous case, does not take into account the reality of government, nor the results of the Public Choice school of economics. The writer wants a government of responsibilities, one that will protect the public square. Really? Since when did government ever do that? As the Public Choice school contends, every person acts in their own interest, and generally, in private life, this ends up benefiting the common good. But in public life this ends up enhancing government power by promising to do things in exchange for votes. It does not matter what it is that the government promises—its goal is power. And that is dangerous because the government has a monopoly on force. Our founders knew this well, and their purpose was protection from the abuse of power unless a large number of folks could convince both the House and Senate of the need for this or that. Even so, the bill of rights says that there are some things that the government may never do, and these rights protect persons, so that they can live their lives.
Again, this is another piece of naiveté, and this is no help to the society that the author is allegedly trying to help. The truth is that, because of the danger of the abuse of power, government has to be limited to providing a habitat in which the citizens can pursue their lives. The Church is the soul of society, not the government. A free society and a free market are spontaneous orders that flow from our God-endowed personhood, and the remedy for the problems brought up by this article is to make sure government cannot interfere in the market to such an extent that companies or unions, etc., can use government power to get their way, because contrary to the naive views of the theological graduate students and the author of this article, original sin is real.
Some people treat Catholic Social Teachings in the same way that the Church treats revealed dogma—as mostly unchanging, but that there can be some expansion to our understanding of those revealed dogmas, but no change in Social Teaching. But Catholic Social Teaching has three aspects. The first is eternal principles. Catholic teaching of any kind has to be founded on eternal principles, or else there would be no solid foundation at all. In point of fact, beyond those eternal principles, especially justice, prudence and charity, the Church applies those eternal principles to changing circumstances, which means that the teaching changes. There is no such thing, for example, as pure justice. Justice must be applied to an actual circumstance. In addition, the Church, as Church, has no particular expertise or divine commission in the particular, non-theological sciences. This means that it accepts the opinions of scholars of the sciences prevalent at the time of the writing of an encyclical. Of interest to us is economics. As I have shown in many papers, for many years the Church accepted the conclusions of the German Historical School of Economics as its paradigm for understanding economic reality. That School is totally discredited, and slowly, but surely, popes have backed away from its worldview, despite the fact that many Catholics tend to quote past encyclicals like Protestants quoting “proof-texts” from the Bible to prove their anti-Catholic views.
There is no space here to go into the teachings of the German Historical School but here I would just like to demonstrate briefly the case for development with a few quotations.
Gaudiam et Spes of Vatican II:
“It is necessary that the voluntary initiatives of individuals and of free groups should be integrated with state enterprises and organized in a suitable and harmonious way.”
This reflects Pius XI’s corporatist suggestions, originally propounded by the German Historical School. Indeed, Pius saw competition as an evil:
[T]he right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. From this source . . . have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social or moral character of economic life, it held that economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority . . . free competition, while justified and useful provided it be kept within certain limits certainly direct economic life—a truth which the outcome of this application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated.” (Quadragesimo Anno)
But John Paul II shows the developing view of capitalism even during his own papacy:
In Laborem Exercens, he agrees with the Marxist and German Historical School’s understanding of Capitalism in saying that any system in which primary attention is paid to the “objective dimension of work,” where man’s status as “the effective subject of work and its true maker and creator” is not recognized, is capitalist.
In other words, any system in which the person is trivialized is capitalistic. Here, men are seen as mere means of production. Of course, this applies both to an approach to a free market and to socialism and communism as well.
But more recently, he says new forms of capitalism have developed. Workers rights have been recognized, and where more worker control over aspects of productivity and aspects of the business have been recognized.
In Solicitudo Rei Socialis, he recognizes the right of economic initiative and says that this right is not only important to individuals but for the common good. The attempt to limit this right in favor of so-called equality suppresses or destroys the spirit of initiative or “the creative subjectivity of the citizen.”
In Centesimus Annus, the Holy Father points to the complexity of the subject. Asking the reader if capitalism should be the goal of the countries recently freed from Communist domination, he writes:
If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom and its totality and sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
Pope John Paul II is right is expressing reservations here, but his reservations are not about the free market but the social context in which that market, or, quite frankly, anything else, operates. Everything in society functions in an environment of ethical/religious, political/juridical and economic reality. For the free market to work, there needs to be a moral society, backed up by revealed religion, and a system of just law, respected by the people and enforced justly by the courts. Economists have created a whole body of literature on the effect of institutions on economic life. If there is a problem with how the market operates, the first place to look is the society and the government. Obviously Pope John Paul II realized this. Now if only other Catholics would be as informed.
Ann Coulter recently published a book entitled Guilty. I have not read the book, but what I do know is that it has generated some controversy on at least two TV shows, namely, The View and The O’Reilly Factor. The essence of the controversy, at least as it was shown on these shows, had to do with statistics Coulter cited in the book about social problems and single mothers. It turns out that many if not most of social offenders, that is, criminals, delinquents, druggies and others, were raised by single mothers. The women on The View and an actress who is a single mother interviewed on The O’Reilly Factorseemed to be accusing Ms. Coulter of blaming single mothers for this social aberration of their children, as if they intended bad outcomes for their children. I do not believe that Ms. Coulter defended herself well verbally. That being said, let’s analyze the situation.
1. There is such a thing as statistical correlation. For instance, 95% of the time I hit my head when getting into my wife’s car. This statement is a fact (it’s really an estimate). The data correlates. If you took count of the times I got into my wife’s car, you would see that 95 out of 100 times I hit my head getting in.
2. Statistical correlation does not prove cause and effect. In the example of my wife’s car and my head, one cannot point to the cause of the hitting of my head merely from the data. More is needed.
3. Folks who talk about these things usually fail to make proper distinctions. To say that Coulter was blaming the single women for poor parenting skills is insufficient to be meaningful. Do some mothers (single or not) have bad parenting skills? Of course. Do some single mothers try their best to raise their children properly? Yes. Do all single mothers succeed in raising good children? No.
The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Are the children of single mothers more likely to become socially aberrant than the children raised by a mother and father both permanently present in the home?” Ms. Coulter’s data seems to say yes. But why is that true?
Firstly, children need the role models of both a male and female in the home. The mother and father show different complimentary strengths which benefit the upbringing of any child. In a single-parent home, half of this influence is missing.
Secondly, when children get to those difficult teenaged years, the mothers frequently have difficulty handling unruly children, where most fathers would have no problem, purely because of their size and temperament. Countless talk shows have shown that when teenagers get out of control, the mothers get physically intimidated by children who are having obedience problems. I was over 6 feet tall at an early age, and my mother was a skinny 5' 1¼". I was a good kid, raised by a mother and a father, but if it was my mom vs. me, there is no way she could stop me from going out, or whatever. Now my father was a skinny, athletic 5' 10" World War II veteran. Even though I was much bigger than he, he had no fear of anything, and I would not have succeeded in my plans.
Thirdly, being a single mother is one of the biggest causes of poverty. Men are the ones who pursue careers and generally get the credentials and experience to advance in jobs, which means in salary as well. Mothers frequently put off career and/or education to start a family. If the husband leaves, and especially if he is not paying proper child support and alimony, the mother has to go to work at low-end jobs. Children end up in day care or with babysitters who are not the mother. This is a further drain on funds, and on the bonding between mother and child. This might not be so bad if there were still extended families, where the mother could leave the children with her sister, or grandma, especially if the relatives shared the same dwelling with the mother and child in question. But these extended families are less prevalent all the time.
Fourthly, a big result of the sexual revolution is promiscuity and illegitimate pregnancies. There was an article in Newsweek years ago where black teenagers were interviewed about their illegitimate children. The boys were proud of fathering, not just a child, but children all over the neighborhood, of different mothers. Many of the fellows did not even care to be around the mothers or their children. The young mothers were almost as bad; they gave in to the desires of these men and to their desires to father children. It is almost as if the girls were so desperate for children at their young age that they would do anything to have them, and to heck with the consequences.
Lastly, the desire to have a man in a woman’s life does not die with the flight of the irresponsible father of her child. This leads many women to have serial boyfriends, many of them sleeping with her, and playing the role of temporary father. This produces confusion in the mind of the child, and frequently worse consequences, where the man is only interested in the woman.
It should be understood that many single women have heroically overcome these barriers, but the data seems to indicate that heroism, because it is heroic, is not that common. The actress who was on The O’Reilly Factor seemed to be saying that because she was successful, anyone can be. The fact that actresses are wealthy, while most single moms are not, pokes a big hole in her argument. Most single mothers obviously could not afford to give the time and care to their children that this actress could.
All of this points to the main issue here. God intended children to be conceived in love, by a male and female parent, both of which are committed for life. Falling short of the standard is a sad fact of life, but has been exacerbated by promiscuity, lack of understanding or even desire for monogamous marriage, irresponsibility, selfishness and heartlessness. To assert that this thinking will not be an influence on the children is foolish, if not outright stupid. Children need love and stability from their mother and father. Not adhering to God’s plan for families will produce aberrations, and the aberrations will be passed on from generation to generation, because the children will think that the aberration is the norm. This will produce misery for parents, children and the society at large, not to mention, put countless souls in jeopardy.
Many people cannot get the idea into their heads that society was not created nor is run by a single authority. Now someone objected to this idea once by saying that since God created everything, He is effectively the creator of society as well. That is true in a sense, but one thing I have insisted on, along with the late Pope John Paul II, is that God made man a co-creator with him. This applies to inventions, etc., but also applies to society and the market as well. Remember, John Paul II held that we humans have self-possession and self-governance which give us self-determination. Men are in control of their actions (assuming they are not a slave to their passions or public opinion, or something else), and therefore are responsible for those actions. This includes the setting up of institutions, usually occurring over long periods of time, and resulting from trial and error. These institutions serve the function of human flourishing. For example, look at the way universities evolved since the later middle ages. They went from monastic schools, meant for monks, to being open to others, to the great universities in the major cities, to the institutions we have today. Are they perfect? Of course not—nothing man does can be so. But one cannot argue that they have not been centers of great learning and progress for the benefit of the human race.
The same is true of the growth of markets. Agricultural inventions in the middle ages allowed more than minimal food to be grown, thus allowing people to travel. They traveled to the great trading cities and brought back things never available to people in the medieval non-costal areas before. These folks set up bazaars, which the people visited and bought things which enhanced their quality of life. These turned into towns when the patterns of trade became habitual. The towns became cities, etc.
The great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek uses the Greek terms “cosmos” and “taxis” to describe the difference of worldview between those who see the spontaneous order of society and the market and those who do not. Cosmos describes the self-governing order of things—like the cosmos. Did you know that the Andromeda galaxy and our Milky Way galaxy are on a collision course—and there is nothing we can do about it? This is an example of cosmos in the area of space. Think of taxis in the sense of hailing a taxi cab, and then telling the driver where to take you. In this case, you are directing the cab. In the first instance, the cosmos is self-directing.
Society and the market conform to the cosmos rather than the taxis. Both are self-generating by the billions of interactions between thinking human beings all over the globe and those interactions are based on the interactions yesterday and those are based on the interactions on the day before that, etc. No one controls this. This does not mean that large institutions can’t influence the society and market. But there is no control here. Even with President-elect Obama’s economic “stimulus” plan, no one is really sure how the market is going to react to it. How did it react to the original issuing of money to free up loans? Well, Donald Trump put it this way the other day: “No matter what your credit rating or your track record, you still can’t get a loan.”
The implications are clear. Those who say that they can fix this, that, or the other thing, in society or the market are blowing smoke. Even if they can influence things, this influence might not be for the better, because of the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is founded on the fact that people will act in their own perceived best interest, regardless of what a government program will try to accomplish. This is why it is better to let the economy deal with circumstances than try to tweak it. It was that constant meddling with the economy which caused the problems in the first place. More meddling can’t remedy the results of the original meddling—at least if we are not in some kind of dream world.
PUBLIC CHOICE I—THE MEDIAN VOTER RULE
During the election season, many Catholics wonder why so many Catholic politicians do not vote according to their professed beliefs. It is disheartening to have one famous Catholic politician say publicly that he takes his faith very seriously and a woman’s right to choose abortion very seriously as well. The answer can be found in a relatively new school of economics called Public Choice. Since economics studies the actions of people in general, the laws of economics, logically, apply to the actions of persons in public office as anywhere else. In this case, we will study what is called the “median voter rule.”
A normal statistical curve looks somewhat like a camel’s hump with a line straight up the middle. That middle line is the average. Assuming that this is a curve of voters, 68.2% of all the voters fall within one standard deviation of either side of this average voter. This is the majority. Now, the United States, not being a Catholic country, cannot boast of the average voter agreeing with the most of the tenets of the Church on moral-political issues. So unless the candidate is from a state or district where the mean (or median) voter agrees with the Church on public issues, he will not be able to get majority support. This is why, at times, a candidate will speak to religious groups and assure them that he agrees with them, and then, if he happens to get elected, votes inconsistently—if he wants to keep his job. This politician might have gotten elected the first time by avoiding any controversial stands, so that even the median voter liked him. But in office, a stand must be taken on issues that appear in legislation. This becomes public record, and that is when we see a movement to the “center,” i.e., waffling on serious issues. After all, who wants to come home and tell his wife that after moving all the way to Washington, they now have to go back home and he has to get a real job?
PUBLIC CHOICE II—PUBLIC SERVICE
Now let us talk about the notion of public service—the idea that governmental people are in their jobs only to help others.
One of the basic premises of economic theory is that people generally act in their own interest. Contrary to what you may have heard, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If we did not act in our own interest, we would not be able to put food on the table, or go to the doctor when ill, or go to school, or marry the person with whom we are in love. The world would be topsy-turvy. We would work for no pay and starve to death; we would die of a curable illness, and our married life would be a living hell. This does not preclude working for others—as any legitimate occupation is automatically done for others, or no one would pay you for it.
But things change when it comes to working for the government, and especially on the margins. Self-interest leads men to produce products and services their customers need or want. In government, self-interest produces programs that some people want at the expense of others, with one main beneficiary being the one who administers the program for pay. In the market, when a product or service is no longer wanted or needed, people stop purchasing it, and the business fails, or produces another one that people are willing to buy. In government, if a program no longer works, it does not go away, but continues year after year, wasting more and more of peoples’ hard-earned money, and, in some cases, such as welfare dependency, ruining peoples’ lives. On the margin refers to when a politician gets stuck in a dilemma. Suppose a politician takes a strong stand in favor of issue A. Suppose then his district changes its views and generally opposes issue A. If he continues his strong stand, he will get voted out. This means he will have to change if he wants to stay in office, or he will have to waffle on it to make his stand acceptable to the new demographic in some way. This will lead him to make distinctions, subtleties, etc., which will make him seem to support both sides. His new stand will depend on how you read his remarks.
Why, then, do so many Catholics look to government as the solution for social problems? The answer seems to be that they have fallen for the “racket.” Politicians would not get elected if they admitted what they were up to, so they must persuade the population that they are out for the public interest. Since most of the people have never studied these things in any serious fashion, they believe the propaganda. This is not to say that there are not any sincere politicians out there, but, again, on the margin, they will be exposed.
I cannot tell you how many times Catholics have used “the common good” as an excuse for more government involvement in peoples’ lives and the installing of socialistic, “spread the wealth” programs. This version of the common good is the foundation for some people’s idea of distributive justice, but actually it is based on the “Robin Hood fallacy” of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.
How did I come to this conclusion? I did so merely by reading Aristotle and St. Thomas. Both of those great thinkers say that government must rule for the common good, but both of them oppose “common good” to the “particular” or “private” good. This means, as Aristotle writes, that any law must be good for not a ruler alone, or his cronies, or even the majority, but for the state as a whole. To use the analogy Plato makes in the Statesman, a physician gives a medicine to a sick person even if the sick person finds it distasteful. When he leaves the scene, he leaves behind a prescription containing his instructions. The instructions are not for his good, or the family’s benefit, but for the health of the sick person. BUT . . . nowhere in Aristotle or St. Thomas does it say that the common good is the exclusive or even main province of the government. They merely give a negative prohibition that the state cannot make laws which are good for only one segment of society.
The Church, as opposed to some Catholic writers, recognizes this. The Church holds to the principle of subsidiarity, originally enunciated by Leo XIII and actually named as such by Pius XI. Firstly, this principle states that nothing should be done by a higher level of society that can be done by a lower level. This means that, say, in my profession, the professor in the classroom is presumed to be doing his job unless some serious problem arises. His department chairman is not to be breathing down his neck and nitpicking his work. Certainly, the chairman’s boss, the dean, has no business butting into the professor’s work. If a problem arises, and the dean hears about it, he should ask the chairman to investigate it and take care of it, assuming the chairman has not done so already, which is an unlikely assumption. Secondly, the principle of subsidiarity says that nothing should be done by a government agency that can be done by a private agency. This means that government is a last resort, when all private possibilities are exhausted and the problem is a serious violation of justice or something that only a government can resolve, like an invasion.
Take a look at how Vatican II defines the common good: “The common good of society consists in the sum total of those conditions of social life which enable men to achieve a fuller measure of perfection with greater ease. It consists especially in safeguarding the rights and duties of the human person.” The fact that the Church does not have a list of specific positive programs here is that it is clearly stressing the notion that the common good is a “habitat” in which the human person can flourish. The onus is on the person to do the flourishing, with the assistance of the spontaneous institutions arising in a free society which are there for that purpose. On the other side of the coin, the onus is also on the individual to make sure that his fellows have that environment to flourish, with the government as a last resort remedy for that which individuals and social groups cannot do to provide that habitat.
Therefore, we can conclude with Bertrand de Jouvenel that a healthy society has many social organizations, and that the role of these groups should not be usurped by government. If government participates in this usurpation, it is rejecting the human person’s duty and ability to help himself and his brothers and sisters. Remember what we wrote about John Paul II and personal responsibility? (Maybe you should review it). Personal responsibility is founded on self-governance and self-governance leads to self-determination. Surely, self-governance of a social being like man leads him to take responsibility for the success of ourselves and of our fellows who cannot succeed by themselves, but it should never substitute for the action of the persons themselves. Neither should government. Nor should the citizens demand that government take over the responsibility for themselves or their fellows, except when they CANNOT succeed in doing so. Not only does this have dire consequences, which are not part of this essay, but—and this is the most important reason—it violates the person’s dignity.
The Catholic News Agency reported an exchange of letters between Catholic and pro-life Law Professor Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University and Archbishop Chaput of Denver. In a speech, the Archbishop chided Kmiec and other pro-Obama Catholics for producing confusion among the faithful by supporting the radically pro-abortion Obama. By doing this, the Archbishop said, among other things, that these Catholics are confusing the “natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermining the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.”
Kmiec responded in a letter made public that “the Archbishop’s approach to the abortion issue ‘will lead many in parishes around the country to neglect what they can do to build up the culture of life through the promotion of the social gospel in its fullest sense’” (emphasis added).
The key to Professor Kmiec’s view is seen in the emphasized words above, the social gospel. One can see his point. He is saying that the culture of life is broader than abortion, which is very true, and is very obvious. What he fails to see is that the killing of the unborn human person is the most serious and barbaric aspect of the decline of the culture of life. The term “social gospel” is generally never used by the Church. The reason for this is that traditionally the expression was used by those who saw Christ as a kind of divine social worker, and the only really purpose of the Church was to help the poor and downtrodden. This is a total twisting of the mission of the Catholic Church, unfortunately bought into by many Catholics today, thanks to the number of priests who received their training in the 1960s and ’70s.
The primary mission of the Catholic Church is to produce sanctity in people so that they can be admitted into the indescribable loving relationship with God that we call the beatific vision. St. James tells us that faith without works is dead, so Catholics show their love of God by showing love of their brothers and sisters in Christ. As Mother Teresa said, “Christ comes to us in distressing disguises.” God told St. Catherine of Siena that He owns the whole world, so that the faithful can not give Him anything, but our neighbor was given to us so that we could do for him what we would want to do for God. This is why Jesus said that what you do for the least of His brethren, you did for Him.
But while these two things, love of God and neighbor, go hand in hand, a clear moral and common sense principle is that the most serious problems have priority. The legal and systematic killing of innocent unborn children has a higher priority than that of taking care of the poor, which in the United States are not that poor compared to many parts of the world, seeing that the number of people living below the poverty line had drastically declined over the past two years, and government and private charities provide assistance to almost anyone who needs it. This is not to mention that over 90% of Americans have televisions, once considered a luxury item.
Anyway, who says that the government actually helps the poor in a meaningful way? Jesus did not say that anyone who gets the government to help one of these little ones does it to Me. He clearly said it is our personal responsibility. Pope Pius XII bemoaned the fact that the modern welfare state does not give personal aid to the poor as a private charity would. The government has “caseworkers” who take no personal interest in the people whose records they review. Private charities have trained social workers, who not only take a personal interest in the people they assist, but help them in other areas: moral, budgeting, psychological, etc., very much in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul.
I have written elsewhere that this thinking that the government is the main vehicle to help the poor has derailed many Catholics into the party of abortion, and that this should create a moral dilemma for them, but apparently not in the case of Professor Kmiec.
While it is true that we all must work to produce a culture of life in every area, to neglect, or encourage the killing of the unborn is a grave evil. It is almost like saying that we should vote for Mussolini so that the trains can run on time. It is important that the trains run time, but hardly as important as basic human freedom. So, to come full circle, it is important to help the poor, but not to encourage the death of the innocent in the process.
FOR THOSE CATHOLICS WHO THINK THAT THE STATE HAS TO RUN THE COMMANDING HEIGHTS OF THE ECONOMY TO ACHIEVE THE COMMON GOOD--CONGRATULATIONS! WITH THE ELECTION OF OBAMA, YOU GOT YOUR WISH!
The other day I had what I consider a disturbing conversation with another man regarding a passage of Scripture. It was about the passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus calls Matthew. Jesus saw Matthew at the tax collector’s table and said to him, “Follow me.” He did. In the next scene, Jesus is eating dinner with the much hated Matthew and his other despised cronies. The subject came up in our conversation as to where these people came from. My interlocutor felt that Jesus’ reputation was so great that Matthew probably invited him to come and invited his friends to a special dinner for the purpose of hearing Jesus’ words. While we really do not know how this dinner came about, I felt that this was highly unlikely. Folks like Matthew were despised by the Jewish authorities, and it shows when the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why He was associating with these people. Matthew probably lived a less than admirable life and was not enthusiastic right away about Jesus, impressive as He was.
At this juncture I made the point that too often we Catholics have a “prissy Catholicism.” We don’t want to get soiled by “hanging around” with those who need us most, i. e., the crude, dirty, low-class, uneducated people because we either might be influenced by them, or we secretly look down on them. In either case, we really do not care about their salvation, when we might be the one who would need to get close to them to bring them to God. I suggested that this was what Jesus was doing in going to Matthew’s house, and probably Matthew was not enthusiastic in the beginning, hence, he might not have invited these people to his house merely to listen to Jesus.
My conversationalist then revealed his notion of Jesus. He, despite repeated denials by myself that this was what I meant by “hanging around,” kept asserting that Jesus did not “hang around” with these types which he interpreted as co-operating in their sinful activities. He said that Jesus probably taught 16 hours a day, and getting to know, being a true friend and being kind to one, was just not done. Jesus was so focused, he said, that he would not care to do this.
I find this vision very disturbing, and I think conservative Catholics are prone to this error. Does this man’s view of Our Lord sound to you, dear reader, like the same man who told the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the father waits day after day on the road looking for his son, and when he sees him, runs out to him, puts his arms around him and kisses him, gets a fancy robe and shoes and holds a big party; the father who did not give the son a big lecture on how horrible he was? Does this sound like the same Jesus who looked at the rich young man and “loved him?” Does this sound like the same Son of God who we worship in the form of His Sacred Heart—the symbol of his burning and very inexplicable love for us; the same Savior who told St. Margaret Mary that he would gladly suffer his passion and death again, were it possible, for only one bit of return of love from men? Does this sound like the same second member of the blessed Trinity the very nature of the persons of which the famous Richard of St. Victor says is total, self-giving love, and who commanded us to love each other as he has loved us.
Or does this Jesus sound more like a person trying to get you to sign up for his organization; a person who has no particular care for you or me; who is finds principles more important than people; who when he went through His passion and death, did so as a Stoic, but without love?
This type of Catholicism feeds on “the right thing to do” and breeds a legalism and a certain snootiness which forestalls bringing the Gospel to the outcasts of society. The Jesus I pray to is deeply in love with me with a real, personal love that cannot be fathomed by me. It is a love greater than that of my wonderful parents, my lovely wife or my wonderful children have for me combined. He is the One, who if I was Him in person, would look into my eyes and soul with a glance of such love, that I could not help but follow him, and in that glance I would see an abyss of love.
True, Jesus came to teach, but he came for much more, and anyone who attempts to portray him like a type of guru does not know him. One of the Church fathers, I believe, said that no one will die for a mere conclusion. They die for love. Jesus came above all to show us the limitless love of the Father for each and every one of us. The teaching is there because if we do not become like Christ we can never be allowed in to this presence, but Jesus did everything He could to make sure that if we wanted this, we could have it. He is the one “Who stands at the door and knocks, and if anyone opens to him, we will come and sup with him,” not give a theology lecture. This is the God “whose delight is to be with the children of men.”
This is why we are called to go to the less desirable to society—to love them as God loves them. Not just to give them the Faith, but to be a true friend to them; to show that you love themselves, not just to fill pews. It is this that fires the missionary spirit that the Church has insisted since Vatican II that ALL members of the Church should have.
At the end of the evening, after the friars sang the office of Compline, they went off to their cells. A few stayed behind to see what St. Dominic did, who did not go to bed. They would see him leaning on the tabernacle moaning and crying to Jesus, “What is to become to these poor souls.” Here, one of the most learned men of his time still loved with his heart!
Praised be the Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of love!