Conservatism and Christianity

Conservatism and Christianity January 29, 2008

Yesterday, I argued that the American political system is underpinned by liberalism, rightly understood, and that tendency crosses the political divide. Liberalism is predicated on the notion that morality is determined by self-interest rather than the law of God. We ourselves can determine right from wrong without reference to the enternal moral law. Society is reduced to a social contract between individuals striving to attain their own desires. As is clear, this attitude underpins support for abortion and changing the definition of marriage as well as for belief in the virtue of the free market.

It becomes patently clear that this philosophy is at odds with Catholicism. The core revealed truth at the beginning of Genesis is that original sin resulted from this very notion of trying to assess right from wrong independently of the will of God. In some sense, authentic conservatives are those who believe morality must always remain in accord with God’s law. Morality, and moral derivatives such as public policy, should be in full accord with God’s law, the entirety of God’s law. Notice again how this is distorted in American political labels, where the “conservatives” pay lip-service to the transcendent but at the same time embrace individual freedom in a way that makes sense only in the framework of Enlightenment-era liberalism. A true conservative would respect the will of God in matters of abortion, in matters of marriage and family, in matters of sexuality– but also in matters of social justice, war, and environmental stewardship. God’s law is rational, it is not divided, it is not schizophrenic.

Another aspect of conservatism is its respect for tradition, its sense that change can only come from evolution, not revolution. Over the past few centuries, authentic conservatives have watched in horror as utopian attempts to re-fashion in the world in man’s (not God’s) image led to unmitigated disaster— from the French revolution to Soviet terror. And yet some American pseudo-conservatives today embrace a similar messianic mission– to carry Enlightenment-era ideals of free markets and liberal democracy (with similarly flawed philosophical underpinnings) to every corner of the globe.

Is that the answer then, that Catholics must become “conservative” in the sense of respecting tradition and the status quo? Not quite. If that were the case, the perfect Christian society would look like the Confucian ideal of cosmic harmony between heaven and earth, emphasizing stability in a very static sense. And indeed, the early Jesuit missionaries to China like Matteo Ricci (Li Madou) found much to admire in Confucian culture. But Christianity is far, far more than that. As noted by Pope Benedict in his highly insightful Europe Today and Tomorrow, when early Christians were looking for a term in the Roman world to express what Jesus the Christ meant to them, they considered the term Conservator, “which has designated in Rome the essential duty and highest service necessary to render to mankind”. From the perspective of the Roman empire, the highest duty was to protect against internal and external threast and uphold peace and justice. This fits very nicely with the Confucian conception of society. But Christians could not accept something so static, so rooted in the present. Instead, the term chosen was not Conservator but Salvator, a choice which, as Pope Benedict noted, “indicated the limits of mere conservatism and pointed to a dimension of human life that goes beyond the causes of peace and order”.

Pope Benedict goes on to argue that “salvation is located, not in what is eternally motionless, not in a today that is always the same, but rather in tomorrow, in the future that is not yet present.” From the Book of Daniel to Revelation, Christianity has a deep apocalyptic theme, where events will be fulfilled in history. God the Creator united cosmos with history through the Incarnation. So, as Christians, it is not simply enough to remain attached to the stability of the present. We need to focus on the promises of the future, immanentizing the eschaton in the person of Jesus the Christ (as Henry might say). The problem is that focusing on the immanent world devoid of God’s law leads to horrors like Marxist experimentation. But if we place the transcendent over the immanent, we tilt toward Gnosticism. Simple conservatism is never enough. It all goes back to responding to the will of God– in all aspects of life, public and private.

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  • Zach

    You write that “Liberalism is predicated on the notion that morality is determined by self-interest rather than the law of God.”

    What thinker agrees with you in that definition?

  • Zach

    You write that “Liberalism is predicated on the notion that morality is determined by self-interest rather than the law of God.”

    What thinker agrees with you in that definition?

  • jonathanjones02

    Excellent question Zach.

    MM, your definition of liberalism – like Calvinism – is far too encompassing an epithet.

    Classical liberalism is moral-neutral and opposed to the coercive imposition of values by the use of state force.

    Liberalism, historically, has encouraged voluntary cooperation and collaboration between individuals. Pseudo-“cooperation” and the cult of state unity it is opposed to.

    One important reason this overlaps with modern American conservatism is that both are – rightly – anti-utopian.

    Bush is sympathetic to social conservatism, but at heart his instincts are Wilsonian, which is not American or continential conservatism.

    And there is nothing whatsoever conservative about the concept of “social justice.” Nothing. When I hear that phrase, I become very afraid for my wallet. Someone’s got some grand project in the wings.

  • jonathanjones02

    Excellent question Zach.

    MM, your definition of liberalism – like Calvinism – is far too encompassing an epithet.

    Classical liberalism is moral-neutral and opposed to the coercive imposition of values by the use of state force.

    Liberalism, historically, has encouraged voluntary cooperation and collaboration between individuals. Pseudo-“cooperation” and the cult of state unity it is opposed to.

    One important reason this overlaps with modern American conservatism is that both are – rightly – anti-utopian.

    Bush is sympathetic to social conservatism, but at heart his instincts are Wilsonian, which is not American or continential conservatism.

    And there is nothing whatsoever conservative about the concept of “social justice.” Nothing. When I hear that phrase, I become very afraid for my wallet. Someone’s got some grand project in the wings.

  • Morning’s Minion

    A definition of liberalism must be encompassing precisely because it encompasses so many disparate trends. When you say “voluntary cooperation”, you are playing down the underlying social contractarian element. One could say that the Thomist idea of the common good is also based on “voluntary cooperation”– your usage, rather than mine, is (I would contend) the true source of vagueness. There is little in American so-called conservatism that is actually conservative, whether it is Wilsonism or what masses for social conservatism. As for your comment on social justice and your wallet, I fear that reflects your very liberal instrincts (self interest above all….).

    Oh yes, as for thinkers, I am being deliberalely vague as I am trying to lay out the key tenets of Enlightenment -era liberalism: morality independent of God’s law, and the overwhelming importance of self-interest. I am thinkiing of Hobbes and the morality of self-interest, as well as the utilitarism that underpins the moral “sentiments” of Hume and Smith.

  • Morning’s Minion

    A definition of liberalism must be encompassing precisely because it encompasses so many disparate trends. When you say “voluntary cooperation”, you are playing down the underlying social contractarian element. One could say that the Thomist idea of the common good is also based on “voluntary cooperation”– your usage, rather than mine, is (I would contend) the true source of vagueness. There is little in American so-called conservatism that is actually conservative, whether it is Wilsonism or what masses for social conservatism. As for your comment on social justice and your wallet, I fear that reflects your very liberal instrincts (self interest above all….).

    Oh yes, as for thinkers, I am being deliberalely vague as I am trying to lay out the key tenets of Enlightenment -era liberalism: morality independent of God’s law, and the overwhelming importance of self-interest. I am thinkiing of Hobbes and the morality of self-interest, as well as the utilitarism that underpins the moral “sentiments” of Hume and Smith.

  • Zach

    It seems to me you are overstating the influence of modern philosophy on the Constitution of the United States.

    Yes, the founders incorporated certain elements of modern philosophy; that is not the whole story. The founders were great students of ancient political wisdom.

    e.g. They make an explicit recognition of the natural law most obviously in the Declaration of Independence. The idea of natural law is also present in many other founding documents. Surely natural law is not a modern idea nor one incompatible with Catholicism?

  • Zach

    It seems to me you are overstating the influence of modern philosophy on the Constitution of the United States.

    Yes, the founders incorporated certain elements of modern philosophy; that is not the whole story. The founders were great students of ancient political wisdom.

    e.g. They make an explicit recognition of the natural law most obviously in the Declaration of Independence. The idea of natural law is also present in many other founding documents. Surely natural law is not a modern idea nor one incompatible with Catholicism?

  • jonathanjones02

    In this and other threads, you don’t address the important distinction on topics such as these. Or perhaps I should strive for greater clarity.

    The issue is state-organized “common good.” Should the coercive power of government be harnessed so as to “build the common good?” I understand the abstract attraction (we’re all good and decent people with beautiful intentions, right?), but consider this notion rather destructive given the fallen morality of man and the significant pulls of totalitarian temptations. Finally, one need not be enamored with “laissez faire” to say that state-organized “unity” is wrong. Community and the common good is organic and begins locally, and must have personal and family morality as its foundation. The government should foster this, not centralize. This point, evidently, can’t be made enough.

    If you believe the coercive power of government should be harnessed so as to “build the common good” – ok. But let’s not suggest those who don’t do not care about Catholic social teaching, or is really about ‘self-interest.’

  • jonathanjones02

    In this and other threads, you don’t address the important distinction on topics such as these. Or perhaps I should strive for greater clarity.

    The issue is state-organized “common good.” Should the coercive power of government be harnessed so as to “build the common good?” I understand the abstract attraction (we’re all good and decent people with beautiful intentions, right?), but consider this notion rather destructive given the fallen morality of man and the significant pulls of totalitarian temptations. Finally, one need not be enamored with “laissez faire” to say that state-organized “unity” is wrong. Community and the common good is organic and begins locally, and must have personal and family morality as its foundation. The government should foster this, not centralize. This point, evidently, can’t be made enough.

    If you believe the coercive power of government should be harnessed so as to “build the common good” – ok. But let’s not suggest those who don’t do not care about Catholic social teaching, or is really about ‘self-interest.’

  • jonathanjones02

    “As for your comment on social justice and your wallet, I fear that reflects your very liberal instrincts (self interest above all….)”

    No, it reflects my instinct to not trust large, bureaucratic entities. Grand projects sometimes hurt those they were intending to help, no? There is a long list of those, just since the 60s. More money, less problems! We care! Nope. Look at Kansas City schools, New Jersey schools, LA schools, New York City schools, DC schools……and that’s just since 2000.

    Let’s look to Christ first on social problems: love your neighbor as yourself, love the Lord God with all your heart. Not obeying this is our biggest problem.

  • jonathanjones02

    “As for your comment on social justice and your wallet, I fear that reflects your very liberal instrincts (self interest above all….)”

    No, it reflects my instinct to not trust large, bureaucratic entities. Grand projects sometimes hurt those they were intending to help, no? There is a long list of those, just since the 60s. More money, less problems! We care! Nope. Look at Kansas City schools, New Jersey schools, LA schools, New York City schools, DC schools……and that’s just since 2000.

    Let’s look to Christ first on social problems: love your neighbor as yourself, love the Lord God with all your heart. Not obeying this is our biggest problem.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Zach: but is this the natural law of Aquinas, or of the Scottish Enlightenment?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Zach: but is this the natural law of Aquinas, or of the Scottish Enlightenment?

  • Zach

    In the first place, the source of a proposition has nothing to do whatsoever with its truth.

    That being said, I would argue that the source of the ideas that underlie the founding is not limited to one source or another as you would have it. There are some ideas of the founders that can be traced clearly back to Aquinas and further back to Aristotle and further back to Plato. There are some ideas that can be traced to John Locke. But the founders’ composition is not entirely reducible to one thinker’s ideas about the nature of morality, as you would have it.

  • Zach

    In the first place, the source of a proposition has nothing to do whatsoever with its truth.

    That being said, I would argue that the source of the ideas that underlie the founding is not limited to one source or another as you would have it. There are some ideas of the founders that can be traced clearly back to Aquinas and further back to Aristotle and further back to Plato. There are some ideas that can be traced to John Locke. But the founders’ composition is not entirely reducible to one thinker’s ideas about the nature of morality, as you would have it.

  • Jonathan nails the issue, I think. Clearly as Catholics we must recognize the common good as above our individual desires. However, as rational beings (and especially looking back at the events of the last 100 years) I think we may very well question whether a national government (especially one with the sheer size of the US) is the best way to administer the common good.

    Thanks to Bush’s tax cuts, I was able to give five times as much of my income to Catholic-run charities last year as I did to the Federal government (once they return all the extra they witheld). I consider it very much to the common good that I be able to keep or expand that ratio, rather than having someone confiscate more of my income to serve whatever the congressional majority imagines to be the common good.

    MM will doubtless agree with this, as back in the day in pre-enlightenment Europe, most “social programs” were run by the Church, in part with the money collected via the (generally mandatory) tithe. In our modern secular society, giving a portion of one’s money to the Church has become voluntary. This allows those who are greedy to not give to religious/private charities at all. Some seek to solve this by shifting the burden to the government, and having the government provide those services (in a highly beaurocratic fashion) which in more traditional societies would have been dealt with by the Church. Myself, I consider that a rather poor idea.

  • Jonathan nails the issue, I think. Clearly as Catholics we must recognize the common good as above our individual desires. However, as rational beings (and especially looking back at the events of the last 100 years) I think we may very well question whether a national government (especially one with the sheer size of the US) is the best way to administer the common good.

    Thanks to Bush’s tax cuts, I was able to give five times as much of my income to Catholic-run charities last year as I did to the Federal government (once they return all the extra they witheld). I consider it very much to the common good that I be able to keep or expand that ratio, rather than having someone confiscate more of my income to serve whatever the congressional majority imagines to be the common good.

    MM will doubtless agree with this, as back in the day in pre-enlightenment Europe, most “social programs” were run by the Church, in part with the money collected via the (generally mandatory) tithe. In our modern secular society, giving a portion of one’s money to the Church has become voluntary. This allows those who are greedy to not give to religious/private charities at all. Some seek to solve this by shifting the burden to the government, and having the government provide those services (in a highly beaurocratic fashion) which in more traditional societies would have been dealt with by the Church. Myself, I consider that a rather poor idea.

  • Some questions, Darwin. Do you think the Church or other non-government institutions are today sufficient to administering the common good? If not, how would you remedy this?

  • Some questions, Darwin. Do you think the Church or other non-government institutions are today sufficient to administering the common good? If not, how would you remedy this?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Look, we should not deny that good has come out of the Enlightenment. One of all all-time favorite Vox Nova posts was a very early one from Anxietas who argued that (if I remember correctly) post-Enlightenment philosophy had the benefit of focusing our attention on the dignity of the human person (I’m sure Anscombe would disagree!). But that does not mean we should become cheerleaders for liberalism. After all, as the pope noted , democratic socialism is also compatible with Catholic social teaching– but that does not mean we should accept the philosophical underpinnings of socialism. And yet, that is exactly what some of you seem to be doing with the liberal experiment. And, by the way Jonathan, the whole “bureaucracy” point is a straw man sideshow, completely unrelated to the point of this post.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Look, we should not deny that good has come out of the Enlightenment. One of all all-time favorite Vox Nova posts was a very early one from Anxietas who argued that (if I remember correctly) post-Enlightenment philosophy had the benefit of focusing our attention on the dignity of the human person (I’m sure Anscombe would disagree!). But that does not mean we should become cheerleaders for liberalism. After all, as the pope noted , democratic socialism is also compatible with Catholic social teaching– but that does not mean we should accept the philosophical underpinnings of socialism. And yet, that is exactly what some of you seem to be doing with the liberal experiment. And, by the way Jonathan, the whole “bureaucracy” point is a straw man sideshow, completely unrelated to the point of this post.

  • Zach

    I don’t think that giving a defense of liberalism (or advocating liberalism over socialism) necessarily entails unqualified or uncritical examination of liberalism’s failings. Intellectuals should work to counteract the defects of all human things – but also have a clear grasp on what is actually possible.

    Any human system is going to get things wrong, and politics is, in many ways, about choosing the best out of the bad. But a choice about how we ought to order our lives together must be made, and I think the “third way” between liberalism and socialism is an academic dream.

    Liberalism, better than socialism, appreciates the fundamental dignity of mankind’s freedom. It also realizes how rare freedom is in history, and how the biggest threat to mankind’s freedom is the concentration of power.

    This concentration of power is, especially on a national or federal level, is what conservatives or classically minded liberals are opposed to. Indeed, any believer in original sin will admit how quickly human things become corrupted. What happens when the good guys go wrong, eh?

  • Zach

    I don’t think that giving a defense of liberalism (or advocating liberalism over socialism) necessarily entails unqualified or uncritical examination of liberalism’s failings. Intellectuals should work to counteract the defects of all human things – but also have a clear grasp on what is actually possible.

    Any human system is going to get things wrong, and politics is, in many ways, about choosing the best out of the bad. But a choice about how we ought to order our lives together must be made, and I think the “third way” between liberalism and socialism is an academic dream.

    Liberalism, better than socialism, appreciates the fundamental dignity of mankind’s freedom. It also realizes how rare freedom is in history, and how the biggest threat to mankind’s freedom is the concentration of power.

    This concentration of power is, especially on a national or federal level, is what conservatives or classically minded liberals are opposed to. Indeed, any believer in original sin will admit how quickly human things become corrupted. What happens when the good guys go wrong, eh?

  • jonathanjones02

    Your understanding of the “liberal experiement” is flawed, to say the least, for reasons already stated. Would be happy to address your address to those points if you care to offer them.

    Second, no strawman. Is not your vision of the common good reliant upon the coercive power of government harnessed so as for unity toward a vision of the common good?

    Could you address the points instead of throwing around labels?

  • jonathanjones02

    Your understanding of the “liberal experiement” is flawed, to say the least, for reasons already stated. Would be happy to address your address to those points if you care to offer them.

    Second, no strawman. Is not your vision of the common good reliant upon the coercive power of government harnessed so as for unity toward a vision of the common good?

    Could you address the points instead of throwing around labels?

  • David Raber

    To Jonathan, Darwin and the whole crowd:

    Is government good or bad?

    As Dirty Harry said once when criticized for using his service revolver to excess, There’s nothoing worng with shooting as long as the right people get shot. Just so, there’s nothing wrong with government as long as it is doing the right thing, i.e., using its “coercive power” for the right ends. Who is to say what ends are right? Democracy is all about deciding that, and perhaps we can all agree that democracy has a fair shot, in the long run, of deciding the matter more or less fairly.

    While our government can do a great deal toward achieving social justice (unless it is run by Republicans, apparently), achieving social justice does not necessarily depend upon government, does it?

    We could ask, for instance, why the Catholic Church in American (which is bigger than Walmart!–as I heard the other day)–why this great and powerful and presumably charitable organization does not seek to provide its members with a reasonable health care plan. The Amish manage that for their people. If a kid needs brain surgery, for example, her parents pay for as much as they can and the neighbors handle the rest.

    No one would blame the Church if its system was somewhat more complicated than deacons going around by horse and buggy to collect contributions for those in need.

  • David Raber

    To Jonathan, Darwin and the whole crowd:

    Is government good or bad?

    As Dirty Harry said once when criticized for using his service revolver to excess, There’s nothoing worng with shooting as long as the right people get shot. Just so, there’s nothing wrong with government as long as it is doing the right thing, i.e., using its “coercive power” for the right ends. Who is to say what ends are right? Democracy is all about deciding that, and perhaps we can all agree that democracy has a fair shot, in the long run, of deciding the matter more or less fairly.

    While our government can do a great deal toward achieving social justice (unless it is run by Republicans, apparently), achieving social justice does not necessarily depend upon government, does it?

    We could ask, for instance, why the Catholic Church in American (which is bigger than Walmart!–as I heard the other day)–why this great and powerful and presumably charitable organization does not seek to provide its members with a reasonable health care plan. The Amish manage that for their people. If a kid needs brain surgery, for example, her parents pay for as much as they can and the neighbors handle the rest.

    No one would blame the Church if its system was somewhat more complicated than deacons going around by horse and buggy to collect contributions for those in need.

  • jonathanjones02

    In no way am I opposed to the principle of government using its coercive power. That is a foundational definition of what government is.

    Now: size and scope. To generalize: I believe that government is an instrument that should do its limited and clearly defined things as well as possible. To the extent that it “empowers” people, this is to support the very foundation of a good society, which is the nuclear family. To generalize about the opposing view: to care is to empower us to redistribute in the way that we see fit. Government can be a substitute for mom or dad. It can care, it can love, it can “move” (in President Bush’s phrase).

    I find that view dangerous and believe there is ample evidence as to why.

    The “common good” cannot come about by a grandish, utopianish scheme of centralized, coercive governmental power. First, this takes the space and the oxygen of the person who is to follow the Greatest Commandment. Second, the blunt instrument of such power – regardless of intentions – can be quite counterproductive (the aforementioned examples of schools, for starters).

  • jonathanjones02

    In no way am I opposed to the principle of government using its coercive power. That is a foundational definition of what government is.

    Now: size and scope. To generalize: I believe that government is an instrument that should do its limited and clearly defined things as well as possible. To the extent that it “empowers” people, this is to support the very foundation of a good society, which is the nuclear family. To generalize about the opposing view: to care is to empower us to redistribute in the way that we see fit. Government can be a substitute for mom or dad. It can care, it can love, it can “move” (in President Bush’s phrase).

    I find that view dangerous and believe there is ample evidence as to why.

    The “common good” cannot come about by a grandish, utopianish scheme of centralized, coercive governmental power. First, this takes the space and the oxygen of the person who is to follow the Greatest Commandment. Second, the blunt instrument of such power – regardless of intentions – can be quite counterproductive (the aforementioned examples of schools, for starters).

  • Morning’s Minion

    No, Jonathan, my view of the common good is in accord with how it is seen in Catholic social teaching. As for the coercove power of government, I follow the Murray standard that it should be strictly limited. That extends by the way, to the state engaging in war– I assume you are completely and utterly opposed to what the US is doing in Iraq?

    As for the view that the state has a role in economic life, I am saying no more and no less than what is laid down in Catholic social teaching. To deny the latter is to place a liberal ideology above Catholicism, and throwing around allegations about big bureacracies stealing moneyt from your wallet does not let you off the hook.

    And by the way, the coercive power of the state is the source and legitimacy of the state (see Anscombe). It has nothing to do with bureacracies. Let go the Rush Limbaugh nonsense, willl you?

  • Morning’s Minion

    No, Jonathan, my view of the common good is in accord with how it is seen in Catholic social teaching. As for the coercove power of government, I follow the Murray standard that it should be strictly limited. That extends by the way, to the state engaging in war– I assume you are completely and utterly opposed to what the US is doing in Iraq?

    As for the view that the state has a role in economic life, I am saying no more and no less than what is laid down in Catholic social teaching. To deny the latter is to place a liberal ideology above Catholicism, and throwing around allegations about big bureacracies stealing moneyt from your wallet does not let you off the hook.

    And by the way, the coercive power of the state is the source and legitimacy of the state (see Anscombe). It has nothing to do with bureacracies. Let go the Rush Limbaugh nonsense, willl you?

  • jonathanjones02

    Geez, what’s with the all the name calling? Talk about an annoying distraction. Also, you strike me as rather presumptuous on these points, especially in your last comments. Who am I to dare to disagree? Hmmm…..onto the merits.

    State-organized conflict is the primary means of extending and sustaining state power. It is an inherently unconservative enterprise. Sometimes, of course, it is necessary. Thus I am not completely and utterly opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq and am now as I was in 2003: agnostic on the issue in the present, broadly sympathetic to the aims as a matter of human rights and protection in the face of uncertainity given a rather troubling track record, and willing to let history be the judge with regard to necessity.

    As for your assumption that I am denying the state has a role in economic life: false. As for your assumption that Catholic social teaching fits so neatly into your particular worldview, however incompletely expressed, presumptuously false. If you disagree, bring the substantial reasons and leave behind the cheap rhetoric.

    Catholicism is not political. It transcends politics, only occasionally including the political. Our religion is radical in its insistence that everything has meaning because everything was redeemed by Christ.

    One that would rather follow the Golden Rule – Christ’s Greatest Commandment – as the foundation for the truly Christian society than harness state power for the building of the common good does not place “liberal ideology above Catholicism.”

  • jonathanjones02

    Geez, what’s with the all the name calling? Talk about an annoying distraction. Also, you strike me as rather presumptuous on these points, especially in your last comments. Who am I to dare to disagree? Hmmm…..onto the merits.

    State-organized conflict is the primary means of extending and sustaining state power. It is an inherently unconservative enterprise. Sometimes, of course, it is necessary. Thus I am not completely and utterly opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq and am now as I was in 2003: agnostic on the issue in the present, broadly sympathetic to the aims as a matter of human rights and protection in the face of uncertainity given a rather troubling track record, and willing to let history be the judge with regard to necessity.

    As for your assumption that I am denying the state has a role in economic life: false. As for your assumption that Catholic social teaching fits so neatly into your particular worldview, however incompletely expressed, presumptuously false. If you disagree, bring the substantial reasons and leave behind the cheap rhetoric.

    Catholicism is not political. It transcends politics, only occasionally including the political. Our religion is radical in its insistence that everything has meaning because everything was redeemed by Christ.

    One that would rather follow the Golden Rule – Christ’s Greatest Commandment – as the foundation for the truly Christian society than harness state power for the building of the common good does not place “liberal ideology above Catholicism.”

  • “Is government good or bad?”

    I’m not sure. Perhaps it is a dangerous necessity.

  • “Is government good or bad?”

    I’m not sure. Perhaps it is a dangerous necessity.

  • Kyle,

    Indeed, government is doubtless a dangerous necessity — though the dangerous part makes me prefer it larger rather than smaller.

    In reference to your question: I think that whether the Church and NGOs would be capable of providing sufficient social services in the modern world is a rather tricky question. The modern world, as we are familiar with it, came about in every case either after most of the Church’s properties and priviliges had been confiscated, or in “mission” countries in which the Church had never had the resources that it did in pre-Enlightenment and pre-Reformation Europe.

    Another question, I think, is: What constitute the “social services” that need to be provided at a systematic level, and which are the ones which are best handled by local communities within themselves? There is little history to guide us on this, as the level of medical care (and general living standard) available in modern society is vastly above anything that was available in the world to day. In our modern world, we have seen Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity, who provided much the level of care for the suffering that mendicant orders always have, attacked as a heartless organization which celebrates suffering and provides inadequate care.

    I hope no one was expecting a quick, pat answer to that one…

    MM,

    Catholic teaching has always held that the secular government serves a purpose towards the common good. However, that by no means suggests it is a slam dunk that we must assume it is best for the secular government to provide a huge swath of state paid services from schooling to welfare to healthcare to wealth redistribution. It may be your interpretation that this is best done by the state, but simply claiming that your interpretation _is_ Catholic social teaching makes conversation impossible. Unless that is your intent…

  • Kyle,

    Indeed, government is doubtless a dangerous necessity — though the dangerous part makes me prefer it larger rather than smaller.

    In reference to your question: I think that whether the Church and NGOs would be capable of providing sufficient social services in the modern world is a rather tricky question. The modern world, as we are familiar with it, came about in every case either after most of the Church’s properties and priviliges had been confiscated, or in “mission” countries in which the Church had never had the resources that it did in pre-Enlightenment and pre-Reformation Europe.

    Another question, I think, is: What constitute the “social services” that need to be provided at a systematic level, and which are the ones which are best handled by local communities within themselves? There is little history to guide us on this, as the level of medical care (and general living standard) available in modern society is vastly above anything that was available in the world to day. In our modern world, we have seen Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity, who provided much the level of care for the suffering that mendicant orders always have, attacked as a heartless organization which celebrates suffering and provides inadequate care.

    I hope no one was expecting a quick, pat answer to that one…

    MM,

    Catholic teaching has always held that the secular government serves a purpose towards the common good. However, that by no means suggests it is a slam dunk that we must assume it is best for the secular government to provide a huge swath of state paid services from schooling to welfare to healthcare to wealth redistribution. It may be your interpretation that this is best done by the state, but simply claiming that your interpretation _is_ Catholic social teaching makes conversation impossible. Unless that is your intent…

  • Morning’s Minion

    Again, Jonathan, you were the one who raised the issue of the coersive power of the state. And when pressed on the ultimate use coercise power– the unilateral invasion and occupation of a country that had not attacked you, you remain “agnostic”. Excuse me? You constantly briing up “state bureacracy” as an evil to be avoided, but haev no opinion on the state and bombing and killing people? And for the rercord, I am fully acquainted with and supportive of, teaching on subsidiary and I am more-than-familiar with the issue of economic incentives. But I’m tired too of liberals (and yes, I use that world in its true meaning) raising this straw man simply because they don’t want the government touching their wallets.

  • jonathanjones02

    “but haev no opinion on the state and bombing and killing people?”

    I gave you my opinion, an opinion which has been stated on this site on several occasions in the past 8 months or so.

    “But I’m tired too of liberals (and yes, I use that world in its true meaning) raising this straw man simply because they don’t want the government touching their wallets.”

    Since when is it a straw man to point out – and correct me if I mischaracterize – that we appear to have different views concerning the legitimate use, size, and scope of state power? I am against the concept of utopian state-organized unity, in favor of organic and local community unity toward the common good founded upon personal and family morality, and in favor of using the state within its necessary uses, defense first among them (and again, history will judge the properity of this conflict).

    No straw man, no contradiction. Now, why is it so hard to admit sympathy for state-organized “common good,” where the coercive power of government is to be harnessed so as to “build the common good?” Once again, if I mischaracterize, bring the substance.

  • jonathanjones02

    “but haev no opinion on the state and bombing and killing people?”

    I gave you my opinion, an opinion which has been stated on this site on several occasions in the past 8 months or so.

    “But I’m tired too of liberals (and yes, I use that world in its true meaning) raising this straw man simply because they don’t want the government touching their wallets.”

    Since when is it a straw man to point out – and correct me if I mischaracterize – that we appear to have different views concerning the legitimate use, size, and scope of state power? I am against the concept of utopian state-organized unity, in favor of organic and local community unity toward the common good founded upon personal and family morality, and in favor of using the state within its necessary uses, defense first among them (and again, history will judge the properity of this conflict).

    No straw man, no contradiction. Now, why is it so hard to admit sympathy for state-organized “common good,” where the coercive power of government is to be harnessed so as to “build the common good?” Once again, if I mischaracterize, bring the substance.

  • David Raber

    There may be a lot more agreement here than seems immediately apparent:

    That governement is a legitimate (even necessary) instrument for doing certain things promoting the common good.

    That action at the local level, or as close as possible to it, is usually best.

    That “government” is capable of truly horrendous large-scale “utopian” projects that tend to go badly (the examples of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, etc., with possibly George III in there as a junior member of this Hall of Shame).

    That the social justice job needs to get done, whether by the state or otherwise, and we Catholics should do our part in getting it done–and for most of us that means doing more!

    Again, are we letting attitudes and perspectives of secular political ideology–the ongoing diologue all around us–seep into our Catholic thinking? As has probably been pointed out on this blog many times, Catholic political thinking is neither Democratic or Republican, statist or libertarian.

    Which is why we need a Christian Democratic Party.