[I should know better than to post something at 1 a.m. without letting myself read it with fresh eyes in the morning. Corrected a few errors and unclear thoughts and fixed the problem with the embedded video. — Tom Crowe]
During the Democrat National Convention today a video played in which the speaker said, “government is the only thing we all belong to.”
Here’s the clip:
Lots of people went a little nuts over this line, and I can’t say I blame ’em. But on this one I’d say that they’re protesting over the wrong thing.
If you listen to what the voiceover says, what he means is really more like “we all belong to this country club” rather than “all your yous are belong to us!”
Now, that doesn’t mean I’m okay with the line. It’s still problematic, just not for the reason most think.
Country clubs are voluntary, while involvement in the government in this country is not voluntary if you live here—even if indocumentado. Especially when we’re all expected to live the Life of Julia. shudder.
See, the mindset that believes we “belong” to government such that the government is the primary means we are in contact with each other and help each other out conflates society and the state. We’re all members of the society of Americans, the people who are designated by “We The People” at the opening of the preamble to the Constitution, and while that society gives rise to the government set up by that constitution, it simply is incorrect to say we belong to the government.
We Catholics recognize this difference in our social justice. We recognize that we the people of society are morally obligated to help each other, but that does not mean we are required to do this through the agency of government. Indeed, according to the teachings of subsidiarity and solidarity, we are supposed to help people as locally as possible, relying first on our own efforts and those of the local community—e.g., neighbors and civic organizations—before ever looking to government programs. Relying first or even primarily on government as the explicit means to make “charitable” support happen is an abrogation of our duty. Through our history this has worked: the Catholic Church has been the world leader in establishing schools, hospitals, orphanages, social service agencies, and the like.
When government takes over social justice roles such as these it is because the society has failed to provide them organically. Even when government does take these over for disaster relief purposes—happenings which would tax the ordinary capabilities of societal social relief resources—that takeover should be temporary. That, at least, was the take of Blessed John Paul II in Centesimus Annus.
So this is the problem with what the Dems seemed to mean with that voiceover. They seemed to mean that the government presently in place precedes the society that chose it; that we are all members of the government first before we are members of the society. That we are member of the government before we are inheritors of the common history and the cultural legacy that gave rise to the government. That is exactly wrong.
It has always been wrong. The people do not “belong” to the government in any sense if it is a consensual government as ours is: the people precede and give rise to the government. When that balance legitimately goes the other direction there is a major problem.
It’s a typical problem of the Left: to identify state and civil society, have the state swallow the role of the society, thus blurring (at best) the line between what is owed to God and what is owed to Caesar, and see the state arrogate to itself powers and responsibilities that are not properly its.
Bottom line: I am my brother’s keeper. My responsibility for that does not end when my tax dollars go to supporting another program, no matter how much the government purports to do for my brother.