[Edited] The Dems get it wrong: ‘Belonging’ to the Society versus the State

[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.

The Good Samaritan did not wait for the state to come by and help out.

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.



  • MLsouth

    PSS: If you belong to the government, so does your money, your children, your life. I thought America was the land of the FREE!! And Liberty was a great part of this wonderful country!

  • MLsouth

    PS: On a postive note, I knowt Mitt and Ryan will have a great time with this one! Thanks demoncrats for providing yet again another great talking point as to why the Obamination Administration needs to go now. And by the way, why is the Obama movie not being talked about? If people saw this movie they will know that voting for Obama will be the end of democracy as we know it.

  • MLsouth

    Tim, “govmnt” jobs are the most ineffective and fund waisting engine in this country. Less govermnet programs means less government jobs, and that’s a good thing.

    • Tim

      But, most of ya’all are complaining because there is a lack of jobs under Obama…and that Romney will create jobs…so all of this doesn’t really make sense to me. IF its the government’s job to make sure that we all have jobs–which you all seem to imply in your talk of the recession and job loss–then why is government job creation bad?

      • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

        Tim — When conservatives talk about government involvement in job growth we mean “ways in which the government can spur private-sector job growth, mostly by getting out of the way.” Hope that helps.

        • Tim

          But Tom…Shouldn’t that responsibility fall upon the small business owners and NOT on the government? I don’t think you want the government to get out of the way, and if they did, isn’t that what got us into this recession mess anyway? Unregulated greed and a government which was more worried about buying bombs and spreading ‘Democracy’ than helping it’s own citizenry?

          Sorry, just trying to play devils advocate here…

          • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

            Tim— You’re not just playing devil’s advocate if you really believe the government “was more worried about buying bombs and spreading ‘Democracy’ than helping its own citizenry.” You’re being a hack when you say something like that. But I’ll respond to the rest of your comment nonetheless. When the small business owners are being squeezed by onerous and unnecessary regulations and extreme taxation they are less able to hire people because they have less money with which to do so. The government can spur private-sector job growth through smart taxation (lower cap gains taxes, e.g.) and reducing the costs of doing business. The recession was caused by a web of things, but especially by the housing bubble that burst when government agencies over-extended themselves guaranteeing loans that should never have been extended and would not have been extended had the government not insisted that those loans be extended and had guaranteed them. No, it was not caused by too little regulation, but by too much regulation in some areas, and very poor regulation in some areas where regulation is justifiable.

          • Joe M

            It was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of the last century that Barney Frank and others walked free from the damage they caused this country through Fannie and Freddie.

  • Tim

    But I’m sure you’re okay with the government giving people jobs…seems a bit skewed, no?

    • Joe M

      Tim. What does the government needing employees to function have to do with criticizing the concept that people “belong” to the government? — And why do you assume that anyone is ok with the government giving people jobs? After all, those of us who do not work for the government have to pay the salaries of government workers. So, why would anyone applause having to pay more for government work?

  • MLsouth

    What king of a screwed up idea is this, belonging to government!!And much less an Obama government for that matter. This is outrageous. I hope and pray people wake up before they get brainwashed with this nonsense. Is “government” planning on branding us next? UGH!!!

  • Serena Rainey

    Problem with the distinction in intended meaning is, for just the reason you state — i.e. that we did not voluntarily join a club called government — belonging-as-in-a-club inevitably becomes belonging-as-a-captive. So it’s an academic distinction at most.
    Good post.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      Thanks. Exactly.



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