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By Deacon Keith Fournier

12/8/2011 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

The first question we should ask is whether government is good, in a dual sense of the word, meaning both moral and efficient.

We need to ask whether the exercise of governance respects the family first and then the other proper mediating institutions - and defers first to them before assigning the task it attempts to accomplish to a higher level of government. The last level of governing should be the federal government. When the mediating institutions are bypassed, the common good is not served and subsidiarity is not afforded its rightful place.

On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, I heard Glenn Beck's radio interview of Newt Gingrich

On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, I heard Glenn Beck's radio interview of Newt Gingrich


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

12/8/2011 (3 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, socialism, collectivism, conservative, liberal, progressive, subsidiarity, freedom, campaign 2012, government, health care, Deacon Keith Fournier

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, I heard Glenn Beck's radio interview of Newt Gingrich. I knew that Glenn Beck was not a fan of the Republican primary Presidential candidate, so I listened closely. What I heard in the exchange revived a long held concern I have with some aspects of what is being called "conservative" politics these days. 

What is needed in campaign 2012 is a discussion of whether there can be such a thing as "good" government. Clearly, from the tenor of the interview, Glenn Beck seems to think not - while Newt Gingrich disagrees.  After Beck's interview of Newt Gingrich he interviewed Michelle Bachmann who called Gingrich a "frugal socialist". Though that comment will garner sound bites in the press, it was inaccurate. 

We need a discussion of the social ordering principle of subsidiarity. Many Catholics do not even know that there is such a principle within the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church. Instead they join in the charged rhetoric from both the political left and the political right concerning the role of government. They too often end up adopting it as their own - instead of offering the Nation an alternative which includes the principle of subsidiarity.

The current administration is rapidly expanding the role of the Federal Government in the United States. The most recent example was the passage of what is wrongly called "health care reform". In addition to obvious dangers within the legislation which threaten human life in the womb - and its failure to respect conscience and religious freedom - the federalized approach to health care delivery itself raises important questions concerning the nature, size and role of government.

Yes, we should acknowledge our obligation to one another in solidarity - we are our brother/sister's keeper. However, we should then ask, is the centralizing of the delivery of needed health care services through a federalized bureaucracy the best response to that obligation? Or is it a violation of the principle of subsidiarity?  

It is time for Catholics to propose an alternative to the "government is always bad" notion which is prevalent in some conservative circles as well as the collectivism model of governing  being called "progressive" by the left these days. We should propose a model of good government; an alternative to the mistakes of both the left and the right.  

To view government as a "problem"- in and of itself - is at odds with the insights which are summarized in the Catholic Catechism concerning the human person, the family and human society: 

"All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God. The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.

"A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and prepares for the future. By means of society, each man is established as an "heir" and receives certain "talents" that enrich his identity and whose fruits he must develop. He rightly owes loyalty to the communities of which he is part and respect to those in authority who have charge of the common good.

"Each community is defined by its purpose and consequently obeys specific rules; but "the human person . . . is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions. Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him. To promote the participation of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary associations and institutions must be encouraged "on both national and international levels, which relate to economic and social goals, to cultural and recreational activities, to sport, to various professions, and to political affairs.

"This "socialization" also expresses the natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps guarantee his rights. Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative.

"The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

"God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

"The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order. (CCC, Article 1, #1878 - 1885)

Some on the political right sound as though any government is the problem. That is how I heard Glenn Becks' comments Tuesday morning. Michelle Bachmann's quick characterization of Newt Gingrich as a "frugal socialist" did not help the discussion. There is much about both Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann I admire. However, in this area, they are not addressing the real issues. When the right views all government as the problem, the right goes wrong.

Yet, even worse, are the many on the political left who want to federalize everything. They question the empathy of anyone who disagrees with their collectivist and statist model of big federalized governance. Such an approach is a disaster waiting to happen morally, politically, socially and economically.

An overly centralized or collectivized approach to government threatens human freedom, stunts human flourishing, stifles creativity, can discourage and even punish initiative and fails to understand the proper governing role of mediating institutions, the first of which is the family, the smallest governing unit and first vital cell of society.

As Catholics seeking to enter this discussion we should begin with the positive; governing is something good. God governs and invites us all into this effort. We were made to give ourselves in love and service to the other; to form societies and communities of interest and association where we can flourish in authentic human freedom. They must be governed.

The first question we should ask is whether government is good, in a dual sense of the word, meaning both moral and efficient.

Does it recognize the existence of a higher law and fundamental human rights which have their source not in civil government but in the very nature and dignity of the human person as created in the Image of God?

Does the model and means of governance respect the dignity of every human person, recognize the primacy of the family and truly serve the common good? Does it promote genuine human freedom, creativity and initiative?

Is the means of governing "good" in the sense of being effective, efficient and just? Does it respect the individual human person? Does it defer to the smallest governing unit of the family? Is it closest to those being governed and include them in the process by participation?

The first society is the family wherein we learn socialization and are schooled in virtues. It is also the first government. It must always be the guide and measuring stick for any broader social and governing structure. When another government usurps its primary role, injustice and disorder result, the common good is not served and subsidiarity is not afforded its rightful place.

We next ask whether the other exercise of governance respects the other proper mediating institutions beyond the family and defers first to them before assigning the task it attempts to accomplish to a higher level of government. The last level of governing should be the federal government. When the mediating institutions are bypassed, the common good is not served and subsidiarity is not afforded its rightful place in our social order.

Good government recognizes fundamental human rights, the first of which is the right to life. These rights are not conferred by the State but, as properly affirmed by the American founders, endowed upon us by God. The role of the State is to recognize and protect those rights and not usurp them.

Good government acknowledges the primary role of the mediating institutions and associations beginning with the family in the process of governing and supports their role as the best place for governance to first occur. Then, it fosters government from bottom up to top, looking last to the federal government.

For example, such a model of good government would foster a vehicle for the delivery of services such as health care which defers to the family and the mediating associations while also respecting human and economic freedom. It can be done.

Notice, I come to the conclusion that the Federal Government should be the last place, not the first place, to which we look in our efforts to fashion an effective model of self government. However, getting there is what matters most. Does it have a role? Yes - but the principle of subsidiarity must be carefully applied.

It is time for a discussion on good government. The dialogue between Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich prepared the ground for such a discussion and the election of 2012 might depend upon it.


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