Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/27/2012 (2 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 (2 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'


© 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 Politics & Policy

Why did Obama lie to the American people about ISIS? Watch

Image of Obama blamed his failure on ISIS on the intelligence community.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Obama has found someone to blame for the rise of the Islamic State, and it's the intelligence community that supports him. According to Obama during a 60 Minutes interview, the intelligence community failed to warn him of the rise of the Islamic State. LOS ... continue reading


From the Values Voter Summit: Values, Citizenship and Hope Watch

Image of The birth certificate of this nation was called a Declaration of Independence because it declared independence from an unjust civil ruler. It did not declare independence from a just God.

By Keith A. Fournier

I write from Washington DC where I have been participating in the Values Voter Summit cosponsored by numerous organizations, associations and alliances dedicated to the moral values which ensure a truly free society. I was invited to participate by my friend, a ... continue reading


As the Election Season Begins, Time for a New Christian Social Movement Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

As the political season in the United States of America moves into full gear with the midterm elections opening up into the 2016 presidential campaign, my mind turns again to political and social participation. I will attend the Values Voter Summit this weekend ... continue reading


Too hot in the kitchen? Eric Holder resigns Watch

Image of Eric Holder may be fleeing the heat he's feeling for his refusal to cooperate with Congress.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Eric Holder is preparing to announce his resignation as attorney general, following a five-and-a-half year stint fraught with controversy. WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Eric Holder, 63, will be announcing his resignation as attorney general after more than five ... continue reading


'The alarm bells keep ringing' says Obama at climate change summit in New York Watch

Image of Actor Leonardo DiCaprio was among the hundreds of international leaders and spokespeople who attended the global climate change summit held in New York.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

During the United Nations Climate Summit meeting in New York on September 23, President Obama appealed to the international community to make greater strides towards creating and enforcing carbon caps, explaining that climate change is happening at a faster pace ... continue reading


Rockefellers to sell investments in fossil fuel to switch to 'clean energy' Watch

Image of From left to right: Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, the chair of the fund, and Steven Rockefeller, a son of Nelson Rockefeller and a trustee of the fund, in New York, Sept. 16, 2014.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In a bold move that illustrates just how far climate change has reached the public's consciousness, heirs to the Rockefeller family have announced that they intend to sell investments in fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy. The announcement is a ... continue reading


CAN'T KEEP UP: So many employees leaving Department of Homeland Security, it poses risk to U.S. Watch

Image of The vacating of those in top management positions in the Department of Homeland Security has helped slow the rollout of key cybersecurity initiatives.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS has seen an exodus of employees over the past four years. According to officials, this is leaving the United States open to potential terrorist strikes and cyber-attacks. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Employees ... continue reading


Shell game in Kansas - why Democrats don't have to win Kansas to win the Senate Watch

Image of Independent investor Greg Orman seems to have the advantage in the newly-reshaped senate race.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The race for Senate in Kansas may suddenly be the most crucial contest in the nation as Republicans scramble to protect their longtime incumbent, Bob Dole is back on the campaign trail, Democrats are being as quiet as possible about not having a candidate, and a ... continue reading


Are they on to something? Judicial Watch says terrorists are operating in Mexico Watch

Image of Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat who represents El Paso in the U.S. House of Representatives, called the area offices of various government agencies in response to a report that Middle Eastern terrorists were operating across the border in Mexico.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Judicial Watch, a controversial Web site that maintains that Middle Eastern terrorists are operating just cross the border from the United States from Mexico is evidently stirring up waves. Federal law enforcement sources in El Paso, Texas say that a United ... continue reading


CLOTHES HORSE: Wasserman Schultz losing confidence among Democrats Watch

Image of Stylish  Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman has alienated members of her own party by reportedly demanding that the party pick up the tab for her wardrobe!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Two "faux pas" have alienated Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her party. Her criticism of the White House's handling of the border crisis and comparing tea party members to abusive husbands have alienated her constituency at ... continue reading


All Politics & Policy News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Job 9:1-12, 14-16
1 Job spoke next. He said:2 Indeed, I know ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 88:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
10 Do you work wonders for the dead, can shadows rise ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:57-62
57 As they travelled along they met a man on the road ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 1st, 2014 Image

St. Therese of Lisieux
October 1: Generations of Catholics have admired this young saint, called ... 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