Isn’t It Time We Asked: What Kind Of Government Do Catholics Want?

I think it’s fair to say that everyone is tired of election politics. The political process in America ensures this. For many months before the election, we are inundated with advertisements, we suffer through debates, we watch endless coverage of campaign stops and stump speeches, and with the addition of social media, we see endless posts and discussions about the election from family, friends, coworkers, and colleagues.

And when the election is finally done, we’re exhausted. We don’t want to think about it again for a long time. Particularly when our “side” has lost an election, we may be especially inclined to feel defeated and discouraged.

But now is the time to start working toward what comes next. And that means that as Catholics, we need to take some time and really figure out what we want from our government. And then, we need to act to see that insofar as possible, we get candidates who support that vision. We haven’t had much of that lately, so we need to do some soul-searching.

We should all be asking ourselves certain questions:

  • Do we want a bigger, more centralized government that has the power to legislate moral issues? Or should we worry that once the government has that power, it will eventually use it to legislate against the moral issues we believe in, and use this power against us?
  • Do we want a government that ignores just war doctrine in its military activities and pays no heed to the Constitutional requirements to authorize war, or do we want a more humble foreign policy that both respects ethical principles and human life while still maintaining the strength we need to defend ourselves?
  • Do we believe that government knows what is best for us, and should meddle excessively in our currency, in our commercial transactions, in our educational system, our healthcare, and our right to make our own choices about what is best for us and our families? Or do we believe that according to the American framework, the power comes from the people, and as such the people should have as much liberty as possible, and the principle of subsidiarity should be respected?
  • Do we believe that on issues as important as abortion, that the power over whether it is legal to kill the unborn or to save them should rest in the highest, unelected branch of government, or that the people should be allowed to vote on it directly at the most local possible level, thus ensuring a debate that has the chance to change hearts and minds and carry out the will of a society that is more pro-life than not?

This list is far from complete. But the considerations I’ve mentioned are certainly critical. We have been given one presidential candidate after another who is less than the ideal, and many of us have dutifully voted for them, hoping that at least they would slow the onslaught of the creeping leftist secularism that has infected this nation and is threatening its very existence. But they can’t stop it. And if they can’t win, they can’t even slow it. And the reason they can’t win is because they don’t stand for anything sufficiently unique, compelling, or different to inspire passion, confidence, or hope. We’ve been betting on mediocrity, and we have been surprised by our mediocre results. We need desperately to rethink our strategy.

Noted Catholic writer John Zmirak made a persuasive case back in 2008 that while the Catholic philosophy of government is not inherently libertarian, in our current context, it makes more sense for Catholics to support this approach to government than the alternative:

Given our constitutional heritage and the large body of legal decisions solidifying its interpretation, on nearly any issue, Christians of any denomination should reject the assistance of the State. Our efforts to capture it, the courts have made it clear, will always fail. Any attempt to infuse the activity of the government with the moral content of a revealed religion will be rejected, in the end. Indeed, the more our own institutions cooperate with the government, the more they will be compromised; hospitals which take federal funds will be subject to secular ethics on issues like contraception, end-of-life, and even abortion. Religious colleges accepting federal grants will eventually be federalized, and so on.

It seems clear that the public sphere in America is irretrievably secular. So the only logical response of Christians must be to try to shrink it. Instead of attempting to baptize a Leviathan which turned on us long ago, we’d do much better to cage and starve the beast.

[ … ]

This is not to endorse the universal claims of doctrinaire libertarians, and assert that every State in history has been a tyranny (except perhaps medieval Iceland). It’s not to deny that any community anywhere has the moral right to employ the State to pursue its vision of the Good. (There’s nothing wrong with Kaiser Franz Josef endowing a monastery here and there, or the Israeli government helping educate rabbis.) In many cultural contexts, the State can fruitfully employ its power to promote the faith and morals held in common by a community. But that can’t happen here. Not in America. Several of our Founders, and generations of our lawyers, have seen to that. We have no more reason to cooperate with the secular state than Irishmen have to trust the British Crown.

Our government is out of control, and we need to reign it in before we no longer have the ability to do so. If we don’t do something dramatically different, I believe we’re going to continue to lose elections. And even when we don’t lose elections, the results we’re going to get will be far from satisfying. Meanwhile, our liberty will continue to evaporate, and the America we knew will be just a nice bit of history.

It’s time for a paradigm shift in our politics. Some would argue that it’s too late, but I believe that (in the words of Ben Franklin) we still have the last vestiges of “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

So let’s keep it. If you believe we can, let’s talk about what it’s going to take. We need ideas, and then, we need actions. Let’s start now. We can’t afford to wait.


Categories:Featured Politics

  • Rob

    How do you reconcile what kind of government Catholics want vs. what kind of government other religious groups want?

    According to writers on this site, Catholics should want no government recognition of same sex unions. The Unitarian Church want the opposite (note: Unitarians are, of course, free to dissent from their Church’s completely unofficial teachings).

    How do you reconcile this?

    • NOM lies

      Due to the lack of response, I assume that they don’t. They are happy to use the laws to force their religious beliefs on others. They only like small government when it’s staying out of their decisions. If it’s gay people, they are more than happy to write more laws to oppress THEM!

    • Randall

      The Unitarians are not a real Christian organization. Hell, they aren’t a real religion – they welcome people of all “faiths.” Go observe one of their “services,” you’ll see atheists, Protestants, Katholyks, hippies who are “spiritual but not religious,” etc etc. There’s no actual dogma and therefore it’s not a religion. They are lucky they get any consideration as such.

  • Reality Bytes

    It doesn’t matter what you guys think or do. Surely, you will endorse Rick Santorum, again. But a more moderate chicken hawk Republican with phoneypro-life views will win the nomination. You will all rally behind his candidacy but Hillary will win. You will all get even more depressed than you all are now.

    • Patrick

      Meanwhile, what will you do, Reality Bytes, to promote the Gospel of Life and confront the Culture of Death?

      • NOM lies

        There is only a “Culture of soundbites that mean nothing”

    • Joe M

      Yeah. I remember similar types of comments in 2008. Then 2010 happened.

  • Madeline K.

    Amen! Figure out WHAT you want and stick to it, rather than picking WHO you want and standing on diferent sides of the same issue.

  • John Traceski

    Government at all levels must defend Natural Law . . . that cannot be left to individuals to vote on or legislate. There really is no point to government if they can’t do this at a minimum.

    • Steve Skojec

      You’re wrong, John. Our government can’t — won’t — defend natural law at its highest levels, until we support it at the lowest ones. To have a chance to make that change, these issues have to be put to the people, so they have a reason to have the debate.

      We’ve been dumping untold resources into this fight for 40 years, and we keep losing. We’re doing it wrong.

      • John Traceski

        Can’t and won’t are two different things. The government can, but won’t. The government should support the Natural Law even if we “minions” don’t believe it. In the end, the people make the decision to go against the Law or not, but the government must defend it – that must be obligatory. The government should refuse us the “right” to go against Natural Law, even if we choose against it.

        • Steve Skojec

          Actually, the government can’t. Not as the legal framework stands. Abortion is (sadly) a non-Constitutional issue, and it’s not going to become a Constitutional issue through the mechanisms in place to change the Constitution. The votes aren’t there.

          This is a simon-pure 10th amendment case. Has been, ever since Roe decided to read into the Constitution something that wasn’t there. It’s the best argument we’ve got. The Sanctity of Life Act might — might — be able to get some kind of federal personhood definition in place, but even if it did, the federal courts would never recognize it. Which is why they have to be stripped of jurisdiction on the issue.

          There is simply no conceivable way to get this done at the federal level without a change in the form of government, or the Constitution upon which it’s built.

          • John Traceski

            Sorry, I think you misunderstood me. This is what I felt government in general SHOULD do, not necessarily the United States’ government specifically.
            But speaking of our Constitution, there is absolutely no reason against the 14th Amendment arguement for pro-lifers. The 10th amendment (that this is a states issue) can’t apply when it comes to life and death – or else there may not be anyone left to argue for it. For the dead unborn, there is no bill of rights, of course. It might be easier to get abortion recriminilized under a different system, but I will argue you if you want to say it can’t be done in ours. =)

          • Steve Skojec

            The 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to pro-lifers because it was claimed by the other side. It’s such a vapid, vague claim, there’s no way to disprove it. And as our sitting Chief Justice has said, it’s the “settled law of the land.”

            As for the 10th, this absolutely applies to life and death. Which is why murder — the good old fashioned kind, not the dissection of babies in the womb kind — is not a federal offense.

          • John Traceski

            The 14th Amendment isn’t vague . . . our refusal to define when life begins might be, but the amendment is just fine. It doesn’t matter what “the other side” says or whether they use it; we have the right to live.

            If states ever decriminized more murder, the federal government has an obligation and the duty to step in and stop it. They can’t throw up their hands and say, “Sorry, wish we could help . . . but, that amendment, it’s in the way.” In that way, the Tenth Amendment doesn’t apply when it’s a matter of life or death.

          • Steve Skojec

            The judicial interpretation of “right to abortion” in the 14th Amendment that happened in Roe is incredibly vague. It determined a specific outcome from an entirely non-specific clause.

            In any event, the only part of the 14th amendment that would apply is the “due process” clause; unfortunately, citizenship (and thus, Constitutional protections) is defined as “born or naturalized” so the legal argument isn’t there. Not technically. You have to be born to be a citizen. It says it right there, clear as crystal. And the abortion-loving-folks of America have exploited that.

            In terms of your argument about the states, they never did decriminalize abortion. The federal government took that power out of their hands. It was the precise opposite of that. And you might argue from moral principles that the federal government of a given nation SHOULD legislate what the states fail to, but there is no legal principle of negation of the 10th amendment just because you think that it should be ignored on important issues. On that front, you’re back to doing Constitutional gymnastics to try to give the federal government the power to legislate, and that means you need the political will to do it. Which isn’t there.

            We’re dancing through hypotheticals when we talk about these supposed obligations. We have a system of laws in this country, and as Catholics we either believe we’re supposed to win within that framework, or we believe we have to change the government, but we can’t have it our way when it’s our issue and then cry foul when our opponents do the same thing and usurp Constitutional authority when it’s their turn.

          • John Traceski

            Steve, St. Thomas More is one of my patron saints! Good quote.

            The due process clause is exactly what I’m talking about. It is an independent clause from the first part of the sentence talking about citizens. It doesn’t say “citizens” have the right to life, but “persons”. There is no conditional “If, then” statement there either, just a pure independent clause with a very obvious change in nouns.

            There doesn’t need to be legal principle of negation of the 10th amendment anymore than there doesn’t need to be specific legislation saying holding hands during the Our Father is bad. The tenth amendment is not there so when California nukes Oregon the federal government sits back and watches.

          • Steve Skojec

            Fair enough, John. I see the distinction made between “citizen” and “person.” But then you need, still, to define personhood at the federal level so this could be enforced – and if it’s not defined as “beginning at conception” then you’ve excluded any other child from that legal protection. It’d still be progress, but how would you go about getting such a definition, and then once again getting it before the SCOTUS for a decision?

          • John Traceski

            People have tried to argue that when Justice Blackmun wrote the following in the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade, he was being ironic. “”The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a ‘person’ within
            the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the (Fourteenth) Amendment.”

            He then goes on in the opinion to say why an unborn child is not a person. To answer your question, we attack that – head on. We need to have a pro-life state define a person and human being at conception and tell ram it down the throat. Bring up all the medical evidence we have now in the 21st century that wasn’t there in 1973. South Dakota came close to doing this in 2006 . . . until certain Pro-lifers became afraid and actively campaigned against it (which is why I will never for the rest of my life support the National Right to Life organization).

          • Steve Skojec

            Put another way, one of the cleverest bits of dialogue ever uttered on film:

            “Alice More: Arrest him!

            More: Why, what has he done?

            Margaret More: He’s bad!

            More: There is no law against that.

            Will Roper: There is! God’s law!

            More: Then God can arrest him.

            Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!

            More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

            Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

            More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

            Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

            More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

    • Philip D’Agostino

      It seems that this site is against Natural Law:

      The second Law of nature is that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth, as for peace, and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself. (CatholicVote advocates that gay people should be denied their right to religious liberty by banning them from marriage).

      The fifth Law is complaisance: that every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest. The observers of this law may be called sociable; the contrary, stubborn, insociable, froward, intractable. (CatholicVote argues that Catholic should not have to accommodate others, in fact, they should be able to refuse to serve them cupcakes).

      The ninth Law is that every man acknowledge another for his equal by nature. The breach of this precept is pride. (CatholicVote argues that gay people are not equal, and should be denied the right to work and marry the person that they love),

  • Mochamud

    Why not Distributism?

    • Steve Skojec

      I understand the idea of Distributism, and even what’s attractive about it. But I don’t see the mechanism by which it would be accomplished (unless, again, you put more power in the hands of a central government to help regulate the means of production and the growth of industry) and I can’t imagine it flourishing in the current socio-economic context.

      We’ve got to work with what we’ve got. You might have a shot at implementing Distributism if you were to start over with a fresh society, but now? I think it’s impossible.

    • rightactions

      Q. Why not Distributism?

      A. Because the existence of natural economies of scale and the productivity gains from natural divisions of labor.
      Until a universal technology of economic production is invented that (a) is far more productive than what currently exists, (b) has no economy of scale and (c) cannot be improved by applying a division of labor, Distributism will remain an impractical dreamer’s wish.

  • Dandee

    Our government passed the point of being out of control. The cafeteria Catholics can live with their decisions.

    The Church waited too long to take a stand, now half it’s flock is confused. You can’t take back this nation until you start making examples of right and wrong and how dangerous it is to equivocate.

    • Steve Skojec

      I’m tempted to agree with you, but giving up isn’t in my nature. Keep fighting.



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