Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/27/2012 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Church has traditionally maintained that no form of civil government is imposed upon man by God.

Like all other forms of government, democracy is but a form of government.  It is a means, and not an end in itself.  Like all human government, democracy has been de-divinized by Christ.  Democracy has no more claim to worship than did Caesar.

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/27/2012 (4 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Democracy, moral values, government, civil government, Catholic Social Doctrine, Andrew Greenwell


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The Church has traditionally maintained that no form of civil government is imposed upon man by God.  The traditional doctrine is found, for example, in Leo XIII who stated in his encyclical addressed to the bishops in France in 1892 entitled Au Milieu des Sollicitudes that,
 
"in truth it may be affirmed that each of [the forms of government] is good, provided it lead straight to the end--that is the common good, for which social authority is constituted,--and finally, it may be added that from the relative point of view, such and such a form of government may be preferable because of being better adapted to the character and customs of such or such a nation. In this order of speculative ideas, Catholics, like all other citizens, are free to prefer one form of government to another, precisely because no one of these social forms is, in itself, opposed to the principles of sound reason or to the maxims of Christian doctrine."

In line with this traditional stance, the Church has not hesitated to point out the benefits of a democratic form of government, while yet pointing out the dangers of such a system. The benefits of a democratic form of government are perhaps summarized best by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus annus, which the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, describes as containing "an explicit and articulate judgment with regard to democracy." (Compendium, No. 406):

"The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.  Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends."

"Authentic democracy," the Pope continues, "is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the 'subjectivity' of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility."  (Compendium, No. 406) (quoting Centesimus annus, 46).

The Church distinguishes between "authentic democracy" and one that is not authentic. The most significant distinction between an "authentic democracy" and an inauthentic one relates to substance: does it promote the common good, the rule of law, the dignity of the human person properly understood?  Does it recognize objectively-informed human rights based upon the natural moral law?  Does it advance the good life based upon a proper understanding of man?  Or does it put right over the good?

If viewed as a mere procedure, devoid of substantive values, democracy may be more a hindrance to the good life than a benefit to it. So the Compendium warns us: "An authentic democracy is not merely the result of a formal observation of a set of rules but is the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures: the dignity of every human person, the respect of human rights, commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life. If there is no general consensus on these values, the deepest meaning of democracy is lost and its stability is compromised." (Compendium, No. 407)

Democracy as a form of government, in fact, is no panacea.  It can become intolerant, dangerous, even inhuman if it does not build upon the notion of an objective moral order.  If democracy is built upon a people who have rejected an objective order--so that all morality is conventional, a matter of agreement only--then there is great danger of a form of tyranny.

In fact, the problem of "ethical relativism" is what presents democracies in the West with the greatest threat.  "The Church's social doctrine," explains the Compendium, "sees ethical relativism, which maintains that there are no objective or universal criteria for establishing the foundations of a correct hierarchy of values, as one of the greatest threats to modern-day democracies."

Quoting John Paul II's Centesimus annus, the Compendium continues: "'Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life.  Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends.  It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political action, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power.  As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.'"  (Compendium, No. 407)

Like all other forms of government, democracy is but a form of government.  It is a means, and not an end in itself.  Like all human government, democracy has been de-divinized by Christ.  Democracy has no more claim to worship than did Caesar.

Being but a means of government, democracy needs something extrinsic to it so that it may have an end.  Though written constitutions and statements of rights attempt to impose such an extrinsic order, there has to be a law above these, what Constitutional Law Professor Thomas E. Cronin called the "Higher Law."

In fact, traditionally, the notion of this "Higher Law"--the natural moral law--was a central value held by all the signers of the Declaration of Independence and all the ratifiers of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The founders of our form of government recognized what the Compendium states is essential for democracy to recognize: that there is a law outside process, there is an objective realm of morality to which it must answer:

"Democracy," the Compendium states again drawing from John Paul's encyclical, "is fundamentally "a 'system' and as such is a means and not an end.  Its 'moral' value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs." (Compendium, No. 407)

For a variety of reasons, the moral consensus of the good behind our democracy has collapsed.  We no longer hold to a central core of objective moral truth.  A radical individual autonomy--freedom for freedom's sake--where we define what we want to be and what is to be our good has replaced any notion of an objective moral order.  Indeed, there has been a revolution of sorts, and it has infected even the highest institutions who have institutionalized this ethical relativism.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the majority of the Supreme Court refused to overturn Roe v. Wade.  In that case, Justice Anthony Kennedy defined the "heart of liberty" to be this radical autonomy where each individual defines his or her good, where each individual has "the right to define one's concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."  A few years later, that passage was referred to in the Supreme Court case which overturned all laws that criminalized homosexual sodomy.  In a scathing dissent, Justice Scalia referred to this "sweet-mystery-of-life" passage, as the "passage that ate the rule of law." Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 575 (2003).

In his book Liberal Purposes, the liberal political philosopher William Galston--who was critical of his liberal colleague John Rawls--insisted that there had to be a minimum level of consensus regarding the good--a minimal perfectionism--for a liberal democracy to function.  Such a consensus had to disavow secular nihilism, Nietzschean irrationalism, and barbarism.  The "sweet-mystery-of-life" passage which has entered our Constitutional jurisprudence courtesy of Justice Kennedy comprehends all three of these demons.

Let us not be fooled by the "sweet-mystery-of-life" passage.  It is nothing other than a pleasant way of saying: "Evil, be thou my good."  And by these saccharine words we have justified as good--for the mere reason that they were chosen as good and for no other reason--and institutionalized such moral enormities as contraception, abortion, and sodomy, all of which are sins which cry to heaven for vengeance. (Gen. 4:10, 18:20).

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. (Isaiah 5:20)  It presents a real danger to our democratic way of life and to the political patrimony our fathers bequeathed us.

-----

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'


Copyright 2016 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for SEPTEMBER 2016
Universal:
Centrality of the Human Person: That each may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center.
Evangelization: Mission to Evangelize: That by participating in the Sacraments and meditating on Scripture, Christians may become more aware of their mission to evangelize.



Comments


More Politics & Policy

A Catholic guide to Clinton and Trump - which candidate is closer to the Church in their stated positions? Watch

Image of With 20 percent of the population, Catholics represent a major voting bloc in the United States.

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Tonight Hillary Clinton will debate against Donald Trump in the first of three presidential debates. There are plenty of debate previews to read, but none are tailored for Catholics. What should Catholics look for in tonight's debate? LOS ANGELES, CA (California ... continue reading


SMART MOVE: Donald Trump appoints 33 Catholic leaders to advise him on policy matters Watch

Image of

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Donald Trump has named a list of 33 Catholics to a Catholic Advisory Group to offer him ongoing policy recommendations on matters of concern to Catholics and other Christians. Included on the list is Deacon Keith Fournier, the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online. LOS ... continue reading


Donald Trump commits to fight abortion! Letter sent to Pro-Life leaders Watch

Image of Donald Trump has described his position as

By Catholic Online

Donald Trump has issued a statement to pro-life leaders explaining his plans to protect and preserve the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. As leaders in this fight, we would like to share his words with you in our community. Please keep the unborn in mind ... continue reading


What Wells Fargo did to you, how Senator Warren is defending you, and why the Law Code of Hammurabi is better than our pathetic system of justice today Watch

Image of Elizabeth Warren skewered Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf during a Senate inquiry over the massive fraud perpetrated by the company.

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Senator Elizabeth Warren tore into Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who claims he is "accountable" for a massive scam that impacted millions of the bank's customers. However, Stumpf has not resigned, returned any money, or faced criminal prosecution. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


Why did George H.W. Bush say he is voting for Clinton? Because he's part of the globalist establishment, that's why Watch

Image of Is George H.W. Bush voting for Clinton? According to Kennedy-Townsend, yes.

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

George Herbert Walker Bush is a Clinton lover. It doesn't matter that Bill Clinton trashed him in the polls in 1991, his vote is going to Hillary Clinton. The reason behind the surprising endorsement is simple: globalism. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) ... continue reading


Catholics have the power to shape America's political future Watch

Image of Catholics may very well decide who the next president will be, and more.

By Marshall Connolly, (California Network)

Archbishop Chaput isn't too excited about the upcoming presidential election. In an interview with CNA, the Archbishop expressed deep disappointment at the quality of the candidates on offer. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Archbishop Chaput has seen plenty of ... continue reading


This one clever turn of phrase has everyone questioning Hillary Clinton's medical report Watch

Image of No other person running for office in the primaries of general election has coughing fits, dizziness spells, seizures or faints. No other person travels with a team of doctors.

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both released medical reports yesterday. According to the reports, both candidates are healthy and fit for office. But there's quite a catch in Clinton's report. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Hillary Clinton's doctor released a ... continue reading


Liberals hate everyone different: Hillary Clinton calls you a deplorable, are prison camps next? Watch

Image of What will Hillary Clinton do with all those deplorables?

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Hillary Clinton regrets the backlash she's received after declaring half of all Trump's supporters to be "deplorables." The episode demonstrates that even she is prone to gaffes, something she has criticized Donald Trump for previously. LOS ANGELES, CA (California ... continue reading


Hillary Clinton's fatal mistake - why lying she has pneumonia will cost her presidency Watch

Image of Is she choking from pneumonia? Or on her lies?

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Hillary Clinton has painted herself into a corner, claiming that she has pneumonia. Now she must either get well, or face the public over questions of her health. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - At first it was nothing but a conspiracy theory. Hillary Clinton ... continue reading


Clinton passes out and loses shoe at 9/11 memorial ceremony Watch

Image of Hillary Clinton faints at 9/11 memorial in New York.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Hillary Clinton's press team reported the Democratic nominee felt faint at the 9/11 ceremony due to "overheating" but what is really going on? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Footage of Clinton leaning back against a stone pillar before collapsing entirely was ... continue reading


All Politics & Policy News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Job 1:6-22
6 One day when the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, among them came ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 17:1, 2-3, 6-7
1 [Prayer Of David] Listen, Yahweh, to an upright cause, pay attention to ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:46-50
46 An argument started between them about which of them was the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 26th, 2016 Image

Sts. Cosmas & Damian
September 26: Sts. Cosmas and Damian were brothers, born in ... Read More