Tag Archives: Campaign 2016

Catholics and Campaign 2016

Serious Catholics bring to American politics a distinctive way of thinking about public life that’s built on four core principles, drawn from the Church’s social doctrine.

George Weigel

George Weigel

The first principle is personalism, or the human rights principle. It teaches us that protecting the inalienable dignity and value of every human life is the first requirement of a just society. The second principle is the common good, or the communitarian principle. It teaches us that our individual rights should be exercised so that all society benefits from our labors.

The third principle is called, technically, subsidiarity; we can call it the free association principle. It teaches us that all concentrations of power are dangerous; that political responsibility should be exercised at local levels, not just nationally (or globally); and that the free associations of civil society (like the family and the Church) are the first schools of freedom.

And the fourth principle is solidarity, or the principle of civic friendship. It teaches us that the free and virtuous society is bound together by more than legal contracts — it must be bound together by a sense of mutual obligation, care and concern.

These principles are expressions of two more basic Catholic convictions: that freedom is not mere willfulness (“I did it my way”) and that human beings are more than twitching bundles of desires that the state is obliged to help fulfill. In the Catholic view of things, human beings are capable, with the help of grace, of choosing the right thing for the right reason, and doing so as a matter of habit — all of which makes for freedom rightly understood. Moreover, the Church teaches that human happiness is found through making our lives into a gift for others, rather than merely asserting ourselves and our willfulness against others.

This view of what makes for human flourishing and these bedrock principles of the Church’s social doctrine suggest that there are three priority issues that Catholics should promote in Campaign 2016 — and at every level: local, state and federal.

The first of these, of course, is the right to life from conception until natural death. Ours is now a society in which entire classes of people can be subjected to lethal violence because they’ve been declared beyond the reach of the law’s protection. That’s what the Supreme Court declared in its 1973 and 1992 decisions creating and then reaffirming the abortion license; that’s what various states have done in permitting euthanasia; and we can be sure that pressures are going to increase for removing the “burdensome” — those who are physically disabled or cognitively handicapped — from our midst. Against this culture of death, Catholics must propose a culture of life that cherishes life at all stages and in all conditions, and that cares for those who are experiencing crisis pregnancies or the burdens of age, illness or handicap.

The second priority issue is religious freedom in full. There have been unprecedented assaults on religious freedom over the past seven years at every level of government. Catholics must insist — and must persuade all people of good will — that religious freedom is not simply freedom of worship (although it surely includes that). Religious freedom includes the freedom of religious institutions to be themselves and to conduct their educational, charitable and social service ministries according to the standards set by their conscientiously held religious convictions. Absent a robust renewal of religious freedom, Catholic institutions risk becoming mere extensions of the state. That would be bad for the Church and bad for American democracy (click for a related story).

The third priority issue is the restoration of limited, constitutional government. The modern state seems to have an inexorable tendency to expand the reach of its power and to swallow up both free associations and smaller governmental units. Pope Pius XI recognized this tendency in the 1920s and addressed it in his landmark social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno in 1931 when he cemented the principle of subsidiarity into the foundations of the Church’s social doctrine. In American terms, our federal system is an expression of that principle. That is why Catholics are called upon to defend the prerogatives of state and local government over the encroachments of federal power and to resist the rapid expansion of the administrative state — those bureaucracies that increasingly govern our lives.

In promoting these principles in American politics, Catholics should bring to Campaign 2016 the Church’s longstanding conviction that voting is an exercise in moral reasoning and moral judgment, not an exercise in raw emotion. In doing so, Catholics can elevate our politics and help rebuild our increasingly tattered culture, proving once again that U.S. Catholics are the best Americans they can be when they’re the best Catholics they can be.

GEORGE WEIGEL is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

A freedom, a duty, a privilege

Some years ago I recall Warren Buffett confessing his gratitude for having been born in the United States in the 20th century. He acknowledged that mankind has never before enjoyed the level of cultural, scientific and physical advances Americans enjoy today.

John Hunt

John Hunt

During Legatus’ 2008 pro-life conference in Washington, D.C., we were privileged to have an audience with recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In the Q&A that followed the justice’s remarks, a question lamented the fact that the courts, and in particular the U.S. Supreme Court, too often fail to confirm the Christian virtues we treasure.

Scalia’s response reminded the questioner and all present that the citizenry would be better served if it elected representatives at the local, state and federal level who exemplify ethical and moral norms consistent with our Catholic Christian faith.

Of course, Justice Scalia was correct that we, in the first instance, elect those representatives who will infuse the culture with a Christian tone and conduct. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes [and] to exercise the right to vote” (# 2240). A moral obligation! But isn’t the exercise of the right to vote more than an obligation?

I’ve been privileged to vote in local, state and federal elections for more years than I care to remember. However, I have always been struck by the sense of privilege, if not downright joy, with which voting citizens address this responsibility.

I had this experience in March as I waited in line to cast my ballot in the Florida primary.

The tone of the conversation among my fellow voters was one of shared responsibility for the task at hand — to elect representatives who will be responsible for serving the common good. It was clear that my fellow voters considered it an honor to have a role in the future of this great country. After all, the right to vote is an extension of all the freedoms we enjoy.

While the process of campaigning is often arcane, cumbersome and inefficient and while the public officials to whom we entrust our well-being are all too often found lacking, the freedoms we enjoy — including the right to vote our conscience — should be treasured as gifts worthy of our appreciation to God for continually blessing us. Truly, God has blessed America.

JOHN HUNT is Legatus’ executive director. He and his wife Kathie are charter members of Legatus’ Chicago Chapter.