Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/8/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Church's social and political doctrine is classical, not modern. It is therefore timeless

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. 

Just how should we understand our lives, our purpose and the path to human flourishing?

Just how should we understand our lives, our purpose and the path to human flourishing?

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/8/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: classical, virtue, progressivism, virtue, the good, happiness, world view, social doctrine, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Relying on reason and guided by Revelation, the Church has her own political philosophy, or perhaps better, principles of political philosophy.  The Church rejects the political visions of many upon whom the modern State is founded: of Machiavelli, of Hobbes, of Locke, of Hume, of Kant, of Rousseau, of Marx, of Rawls, and of a large list of others.  These have led us to a dead end, and it is time to recover our classical and Christian heritage, for it is the most human of all others out there.

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), value-based (Scheler), or based on emotivism (e.g., Hume, Moore, Ayer).

The Church's social and political doctrine is classical, not modern.  It is therefore timeless.  The Church teaches the timeless truth that the modern penchant of holding the priority of right over good is wrong.  It is bad for man.  It is bad for his societies.  It is bad for his political institutions.

Here's the thing: in order to hold that good takes precedence over right, one has to have a conception of what is good for man.  That means one has to know what is man's purpose, what is his end (in Greek, his telos).  This means before we can speak about justice (right), we have to know what's good for man, what is due him.  It's silly to talk about rights when we don't even know what is good for man, for there is no right if there is no good to support it.  We cannot talk of justice if we do not know what is due man, what is his good, for justice is giving a man his due.

Someone who believes in the classical view of things--that the good precedes the right--will find all this talk about rights without having knowledge of the good as silly.  Modern politics is silliness, silliness handled as if it were serious, but silliness all the same.  And will always be silliness, until we get down to talking about the good.

The classical construct fell apart for a variety of reasons, including the religious divisions caused by the Reformation, the efforts of the thinkers of the Enlightenment, the Darwinian materialistic pseudo-philosophy that so effectively captured our intellectuals in the 19th century, the rise of Pragmatism, and the influence of Liberalism which viewed society as a group of individuals, each of whom had interests, ends, and conceptions of the good that were equally valid, and among which visions government had no business of choosing.  The abandonment of the notion that man had an end (telos), that man's good was defined by his nature and its inclinations, and that we could discover it, led to a prioritization of the right over the good and this required a re-definition of justice.

Since moderns have abandoned any good for man and rely only on rights without any basis in the good, what this means is that justice in the modern liberal order is essentially procedural.  Justice has no substance, since if justice is to have any substance there must be an understanding of the good.  Without a substantive basis in an objective good, justice becomes conventional--a matter of agreement or a matter of the positive law of the State alone.  In jurisprudence, we call this positivism.  This means rights are given to us (posited for us) by the majority or by the government, since they are not based upon our good, our nature, but on our wants or the wants of others.  Ultimately, this leads to what Pope Benedict XVI has called the tyranny of moral relativism.

In the final analysis, the notion of the priority of the right over the good is self-defeating.  It is a slogan intended to avoid the hard thinking that is required to know the good.  Either that or a cover for libertinism.  In either event, it is a cowardly retreat into skepticism, into moral agnosticism.  As Charles Taylor put it in his Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, "the good is always primary to the right" if for no other reason because "the good is what, in its articulation, gives the point of the rules which define the right."

The modern refusal to face the good, to ask those tough questions--what man is made for, what is his end, and what inclinations and order are built within the nature that is given to him by his Creator--is what is at the heart of its reversal of the classical and Christian principle that the good has priority over the right, and not that the right has priority over the good.

In short, put away Rawls's A Theory of Justice, Political Liberalism, and Justice as Fairness.  Instead, open up your Bible, the Compendium and, if you really want to feel like a counter-cultural radical, break open the Papal social encyclicals and let them inform your thinking. 

It may be one of the most patriotic and freeing thing you do.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for September 2014
Mentally disabled:
That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life.
Service to the poor: That Christians, inspired by the Word of God, may serve the poor and suffering.



Comments


More Living Faith

Pope Francis asks new bishops to avoid self-promotion, to love their congregations instead Watch

Image of Pope Francis meets with bishops for an audience. The Holy Father had important advice for a group of new bishops yesterday.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has admonished a new generation of bishops against seeking promotion and instead asked them to look after and love their congregations. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - During an address at the Vatican yesterday, Pope Francis spoke to 138 ... continue reading


POPE IN ALBANIA: Pope Francis denounces religious militants during one-day trip Watch

Image of On his first trip as pope to a European country outside of Italy, Pope Francis made no direct reference to Islamic State militants who have seized territory in Syria and Iraq.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In his one-day trip to the chiefly Muslim nation of Albania, Pope Francis soundly denounced religious militants, declaring that no one act as the "armor of God." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Let no one consider themselves the 'armor' of God while planning ... continue reading


If Christ Has Not Been Raised Our Preaching and Our Faith is Empty Watch

Image of We too,you and me, will be raised from the dead. Only then will our redemption be complete. We are works in progress. However, that new life can begin even now for those with eyes of living faith, hearts filled with His presence, and minds renewed by the Light of the Truth which Jesus has fully revealed and imparts to those who love and follow Him.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

When we learn to embrace the implications of that empty tomb, and allow grace to work within us, we are made ready for eternity - by living differently every day. The Resurrection provides a framework, a hermeneutic, a lens of meaning, for everything that happens ... continue reading


You Go Into the Vineyard Too! Every Christian Has a Vocation Watch

Image of Priesthood, Diaconate in Christ,consecrated or religious life,lay ecclesial movements, consecrated Christian marriage - every Baptized Christian has a vocation. We just have to learn to live it!

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The Church is a seed, sign and beginning of the kingdom, making the kingdom present in a world which is wounded by the effects of sin but waiting to be born anew. The Lord continues His work through us. We are the workers in His vineyard. It matters little what ... continue reading


Pope Francis at risk of an assassination attempt by Islamic State Watch

Image of There was an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 by Turk Mehmet Ali Agca. That Pope later forgave his attacker.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis at risk of an assassination attempt by ISIL'Band of criminals' could have Pope Francis in its sights prior to his visits to Albania, TurkeyCatholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See warns that there are credible threats against ... continue reading


Patriarchs ask faithful to help 'save Christianity in the Middle East' Watch

Image of Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan prayed during an ecumenical service in Washington last week.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Five Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs from the Middle East urged Westerners to take action to help ensure that Christians and other minorities can remain in the region. "Christians are not (just) looking for humanitarian aid. They are looking for humanitarian ... continue reading


With just six months to live, news anchorman finds comfort with God Watch

Image of Dave Benton announced on his Illinois show that he had only six months left to live after a long battle with brain cancer.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

An Illinois news anchorman with Champaign WCIA-TV shared heartbreaking news with his viewers on September 11, revealing that after a lengthy battle with cancer, he had only six months to live. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The 51-year-old anchorman, Dave ... continue reading


Did a Catholic Online candle contribute to a miracle? Here's a yes!

Image of Did a prayer candle have a role in a recent miracle?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online has received many comments thanking us for sharing the prayers of the faithful. Catholic Online has a vibrant prayer community and we are happy to report another miracle. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Mika T.* sent an email to Catholic Online ... continue reading


Pope Francis denounces ongoing global conflict as 'piecemeal' World War III Watch

Image of Pope Francis, who has often condemned the concept of war in God's name, said it would be legitimate for the international community to use force to stop

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In his visit to the Redipuglia monument, the resting place of 1000,000 Italian soldiers killed during World War I, Pope Francis condemned ongoing conflicts across the globe. "Humanity needs to weep and this is the time to weep. Even today, after the second ... continue reading


Fr Peter M. J. Stravinskas on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Watch

Image of Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D. is the Executive Director of the Catholic Education Foundation.

By Fr Peter M. J. Stravinskas,Ph.D., S.T.D.

Every cross borne by any believer in history gains meaning and becomes life-giving when it is brought into a relationship with the Cross, the Cross from which Jesus reigned as the King of Love and over which He triumphed in His glorious Resurrection.  The ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Proverbs 3:27-34
27 Refuse no kindness to those who have a right to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
2 Whoever lives blamelessly, who acts uprightly, who ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 8:16-18
16 'No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Thomas of Villanueva
September 22: Augustinian bishop. Born at Fuentellana, Castile, Spain, he was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter