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.
You can visit his blog entitled Catholic Truths on Economics at: http://www.drwilliamluckey.com/
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.