Catholic Social Doctrine: Priority of the Good over Right
The Church's social and political doctrine is classical, not modern. It is therefore timeless
Just how should we understand our lives, our purpose and the path to human flourishing?
To recover our classical and Christian heritage, which is ever ancient ever new, we should turn to the Catholic social doctrine. And I do not mean the Catholic social doctrine as filtered by left-wing (or right-wing) ideologues, dissenting theologians, or others who are wolves in sheep's clothing. I mean the Catholic social doctrine as proposed by the Church's Magisterium. The real thing. Get it from the source: Read the Bible, then read the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Most of what you need to get started is within the covers of those two books.
Standing far above the thinkers of modernity and seeing much further and clearer than them, in the Compendium, the Church offers a personalist vision of politics and a personalist theory of authority. The Church's personalist political philosophy is based upon the nature of man, i.e., the fact that he is a person and that he operates under a natural law. She therefore holds to a theory that good has priority over right, and not that right has priority over the good. For the Church, it is the good that defines right. It is not the right that defines the good.
The progressivist blogger Jeremy C. Young hit the nail on the head when he said, "If you want to understand President Obama's soul, read his books. But if you want to understand his beliefs, read John Rawls."
John Rawls--the political philosopher of secular liberalism par excellence--somehow thought that giving right the priority over good would end the interminable squabbles over what was good. Personally, Rawls was driven to this because he despaired of man's ability to know the good, whether through reason or revelation. Raised an Episcopalian, as a young man Rawls--overcome by the horrors and accidents of war which ruins some but brings the best in others such as St. Maximilian Kolbe--rejected the God of his fathers, the Christian God. He despaired of knowing the truth and ended up hating the God of his fathers and the God of his countrymen.
Rawls hated our God. Catholics ought to know that before they read him.
Read Rawls's early book A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith and his much later and posthumously published "On my Religion," and you will be saddened by the descent of a soul which looks like Michelangelo despairing, condemned man in the Sistine Chapel slowly being drawn into Hell. The Liberal guru Rawls's last thoughts on the subject were that he saw Christian moral teachings as "morally wrong in some cases even repugnant." Taking Christianity seriously, the chief theoretician of liberalism opined, "could have a deleterious effect on one's character."
Christianity's ethics repugnant? Christianity ruinous on one's character? Really?
Moved by this anti-Christian animus, the brilliant but misguided Rawls--who epitomizes the modern American political philosopher--created a political theory based upon indifferentism to truth and moral relativism (and one, though draped in the words of neutrality, was really biased in favor of liberalism and against natural law, which means against Christianity).
In one way Rawls was certainly right. His theory kept us from arguing about the good, but in consequence, all that happened was that we are interminably squabbling over rights.
The ethical and so also the political worlds are divided into two: those who give priority to the good over the right, and those who give priority to the right over the good. Classical ethics and political philosophy emphasizes good over right. Modern ethics and political philosophy emphasize right over good.
The classical view is virtue-based. It relies on such luminaries as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Hooker, Suarez, Vittoria, Bellarmine, and the American Founding Fathers . . . oh . . . and also the Popes.
Since the modern view is not based upon the good, it has to find a substitute for it. Therefore, the modern view--where just not simply Epicurean and built around self-pleasure or self-fulfillment--is either duty based (e.g., Kant), utilitarian-driven (e.g., Mills and Bentham), contractrarian (e.g., Locke, Rousseau), ...
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