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.
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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.