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 October 2014
Peace:
That the Lord may grant peace to those parts of the world most battered by war and violence.
World Mission Day: That World Mission Day may rekindle in every believer zeal for carrying the Gospel into all the world.



Comments


More Politics & Policy

Let the Battle begin. China wants to control the Internet. Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Elected secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU at a high-level meeting in South Korea this week, Zhao Houlin told reporters that while everyone supports the idea of freedom of speech, what constitutes censorship is open to ... continue reading


Obama's trusted senior advisor Valerie Jarrett revealed to be a key player in cover-up Watch

Image of Trusted senior advisor to the president, Valerie Jarrett, has been revealed to be a key player in the effort to cover up that Attorney General Eric Holder lied to Congress about the Fast and Furious scandal.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Trusted senior advisor to the president, Valerie Jarrett, has been revealed to be a key player in the effort to cover up that Attorney General Eric Holder lied to Congress about the Fast and Furious scandal. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Recently obtained ... continue reading


Are Ebola patients being 'disappeared?' Several sources warn 'yes' Watch

Image of What is the truth about this deadly disease and its presence in our country?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A news report published yesterday on the sensational website, "Infowars" asks if patients with Ebola are being "disappeared" to prevent panic in the United States. The claim cannot be dismissed because there are several matching reports from across the country. LOS ... continue reading


So this is how they win? Democrats caught red handed in Illinois voter fraud! Watch

Image of President Obama casting his early vote in Illinois for the 2014 midterm.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The city well known for its leftist-leaning voter corruption is at it again, after a Republican candidate found that all his votes were being handed to Democrats. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Jim Moynihan, a Republican state representative candidate, ... continue reading


Blank 'green Obamacards' - up to 34 MILLION - issued prior to promised amnesty Watch

Image of Obama's high numbers of illegal immigration

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Thirty-four million blank work permits and "green cards," which authorizes illegal immigrants to live and work in the United States are currently in the works. In the meantime, the White House prepares to issue an executive order after the November 4 midterm ... continue reading


North Carolina's Tillis stumbles during televised debate Watch

Image of While Thom Tillis has a dominant lead among whites (50 percent to Kay Hagan's 37), he is getting trounced among black voters: just seven percent are in his camp, compared with 83 percent for Hagan.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Congressional candidate State Legislature Speaker Thom Tillis stumbled badly during a televised debate with his Democratic rival Senator Kay Hagen earlier this month. During the televised debate on October 7, Tillis appeared at a loss for words when it came to ... continue reading


Houston: First Amendment Does not apply to Christian ministers? Interview with Keith Fournier Watch

Image of As at the tower of Babel, the confusion spreads until no progress is possible.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Houston officials fired a shot across the bow of Christian ministers, pastors and priests who they think may be encouraging their congregations to oppose the city's controversial "bathroom bill." The request is chilling and violates the First Amendment, but it also ... continue reading


New York law strips 34,500 law-abiding citizens of their lawful right to bear arms with ZERO due process Watch

Image of A New York law could be too restrictive and features virtually no due process.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A New York law may be infringing on the rights of many Americans and undermining mental health efforts in that state. The law, known as the Safe Act, requires, as part of its implementation, for mental health professionals to report the names of any people who could be ... continue reading


Why build a school when you can buy a senator! North Carolina race tops $100 million

Image of America is no longer for sale, it has already been bought.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The nation's most expensive Senate race in history is topping $100 million as the entire nation looks to a critical election in North Carolina. The money poured into the race reveals that elections are coming down to money and outside influencers have substantial ... continue reading


167,000 convicted criminal immigrants walk free within the United States Watch

Image of Deportations from the interior of the United States declined 34 percent this year from last.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

With both Islamic State and Ebola posing an imminent threat to the United States through people entering the country illegally, it's distressing to note just how lax the nation's deportation laws have become. According to Breitbart, there remain nearly 167,000 ... 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, Ephesians 4:7-16
7 On each one of us God's favour has been bestowed in ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
1 [Song of Ascents Of David] I rejoiced that they ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:1-9
1 It was just about this time that some people ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 25th, 2014 Image

St. Daria
October 25: There is very little known about them. Chrysanthus was an ... 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