That one compact statement raises a question I thought we had settled quite some time ago: Are we a people who has a government, or a government that has a people? Pretty much the whole of Western political history is the story of becoming the former and fleeing the latter. And our pursuit of freedom, and flight from government’s proprietary embrace, has traditionally been something on which we have been of one mind.
But is that as true now as it has been in the past? The gentleman’s statement, as well as others made at the national conventions, suggests we ought to explicitly revisit what it is that holds us all together, what it is that has traditionally made us “one people.” Here are a few.
We don’t belong to the government. Government belongs to us. That is the gist of Abraham Lincoln’s formulation that ours is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This is not a merely semantic quibble. We are fond of saying we are a sovereign people in this country. And that is quite true, which is why our Constitution’s preamble explains that it is “we the people” who established a more perfect union. The government did not arise of its own accord, nor did it create its own authority. It does not exist except by our consent, and cannot operate but through the authority we choose to delegate. We could be said to belong to a government only if it was totalitarian and tyrannical – at which point even John Locke would throw a flag and declare a revolution.
Subsidiarity, the idea that those closest to a problem should be the ones to solve it, plays a particular role in development. However, it can be an idea that is a bit “slippery”: who does what and when? What is the role of faith-based organizations? What is the role of government? Susan Stabile, Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law, has written “Subsidiarity and the Use of Faith-Based Organizations in the Fight Against Poverty” at Mirror of Justice blog and has a succinct view of subsidiarity:
Faith-based organizations have tremendous advantages over the provision of direct benefits by the federal or state governments, being capable of steering a course between welfare as an entitlement for all and state based determinations as to what general criteria make one worthy of receiving governmental assistance. The fact that they are closer to the problem allows them to better tailor aid and solutions to the situations of those they serve. The fact that they are community-based allows them to better facilitate the full development of the human personality of those who they touch. The fact that they are faith-based allows them to capture benefits of attempting to address some of the behavioral contributors to the difficulty of improving the lives of those they serve.
However, subsidiarity emphasizes action at the level most suited to address a problem, not merely action at the lowest level. It is thus important that subsidiarity not be used as an excuse to merely devolve responsibility downward without assurance of effectiveness, that it not be used as an excuse for the federal government to abdicate responsibility to provide for the social welfare of its citizens, viewing social welfare as the responsibility of states and localities, aided by private actors. Doing so would be inconsistent both with the concerns underlying the principle of subsidiarity and with subsidiarity’s context within the broader body of Catholic social teaching, and would be little more than merely a ruse for simply reducing federal expenditures. It is thus important to recognize that the effective provision of social services requires multiple actors. While it is desirable that faith-based organizations play a significant role, the federal government must also retain a significant role both in enabling faith-based organizations to do their job and in doing those things that can not be done effectively by such organizations. Ultimately, the government must remain the ultimate backup to ensure that no one is left behind.
Ms. Stabile goes on to say that, “…addressing people’s spiritual needs, helping change their lives rather then just providing for their material needs, empowers them.” By focusing on the empowerment of people on the local level, both those in poverty and those trying to alleviate poverty, we remain centered on the human person, created in God’s image and likeness, with creative power to serve and solve.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
Do We Give Laws Too Much Credit?
Isaac Morehouse, Values & Capitalism
It is true that fires have declined over the last 35 years (at least), but is it true that government fire codes are the reason?
Towards A Moral Amorality?
Kyle Ferguson, Hang Together
Consider that both major Presidential candidates have attacked the other’s view of economics using the word “immoral,” which is ironic considering the morality of manipulating the truth is not addressed. Yet these various economic positions have little to do with the realm of morality.
The Constitutionalism of The Federalist Papers
W.B. Allen, The Imaginative Conservative
The constitutionalism of The Federalist Papers directs our attention away from its scientific and historical roots and toward its particular ambitions.
How to Get a Do-It-Yourself MA in Political Philosophy
Greg Forster, Between Two Worlds
I am grateful for his extensive recommended reading list below, which also functions as a nice overview of the big brush strokes of political philosophy.
Most of the time we spend on this planet we are looking down. Down at our desks . . . down at our feet . . . down at the dishes. Life is full of little details that require us to look down, put our backs into the work and get things done.
But the problem with this common posture, as C.S. Lewis puts it, is that “…as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” Of course you say! But think about that for a minute. If you are always focused on the details of the day, then you never see the scope of the world above and around you.
This is a problem. Too often those whom God has called to bless the world have their faces focused squarely in this world’s dirt and cannot get a sense for what they are about and what God is doing through their work.
As a leader, your role very difficult. You have to vigorously affirm the dirt that each of those in your church or organization is plowing and at the same time you must lift their eyes to see why they are doing their work.
You see, the “why” gives inspiration to the “how” of the everyday. Your efforts to lift their eyes above the kitchen sink, the office desk or the path, will allow them to see how their efforts to be On Call in Culture are blessing the world and making a difference.
We have created a new resource along these lines for pastors and spiritual leaders seeking to Lead Up in their congregations. Click here to download it.
From the video vault, a classic presentation by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, based on his monograph The Entrepreneurial Vocation.
I thought this piece in BusinessWeek last month from Mark Oppenheimer was very well done, “The Rise of the Corporate Chaplain.” I think it profiles an important and under-appreciated phenomenon in the American commercial sphere. One side of the picture is that this is a laudable development, since it shows that employers are increasingly aware that their employees are not merely meat machines, automata whose value is only to be calculated in terms of material concerns, and that spiritual matters cannot simply be ignored or factored in as a variable included in the cost of doing business.
But this rise in corporate chaplaincy also reminds me of the comment by Walter Rauschenbusch (noted in this recent article from Hunter Baker) that “business life is the unregenerate section of our social order.”
If by some magic it could be plucked out of our total social life in all its raw selfishness, and isolated on an island, unmitigated by any other factors of our life, that island would immediately become the object of a great foreign mission crusade for all Christendom.
In his latest column at Forbes, Fr. Robert Sirico discusses his memories of 9/11 and the end of freedom:
One might also be tempted to imagine that the answer to bin Laden’s religious mania is a morally neutral public square. But all the great and successful battles against tyranny, all the efforts to build flourishing free societies in the first place, teach a different lesson. Freedom, as indispensable as it is, is insufficient for constructing a society and culture appropriate to man, much less for defending it. If it is to flourish and endure it must be a freedom oriented to something beyond itself, oriented to Truth — the truth of man’s origin, the truth of man’s nature, and the truth of man’s destiny. It must meet envy and the will to negation with an opposite and more than equal force — with the kind of virtue that drove Smagala and his fellow firefighters toward danger that fiery September morning, a virtue that also works in quieter circumstances to knit together the countless ties of a free society.
The paradox of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, James Joseph explains, is that her defense of individual freedom provides a “self-defeating apologia for the American welfare state.”
Here we have Ms Rand’s answer to the murder-fueled regimes of mid-century communism: The Individual is the sole scale of value, individual freedom is necessary to the individual survival, she says, and my survival is the sole end of my existence. Community, in this scheme of values, is entirely without meaning, or at least without objective claims upon the individual.
Rand’s reasoning has utility when arguing with Stalin, but the claims of the American state are not those of Soviet Russia – not that an American Leviathan is good, but it defends itself on different grounds. In fact, American statism’s apologia is the individual freedom so touted by Ayn Rand, complete with her denial of the claims of the community on the individual. One need look no further than the ‘Life of Julia’ campaign to see that American statism is built around the idea of highly independent, atomized individuals that cannot be bothered with claims from direct community.
‘Julia,’ a hypothetical American woman, is shown to be independent from birth to death. She needs no husband, no father or mother, no connection with adult children in her old age. None of these people are necessary to her survival and flourishing, and none of these people are obligated to her for their survival or flourishing. The ad-campaign shows that, with a bit of government help, she is more independent than anyone has ever been able to be.
To truly understand what a conservative believes, you must know what it is they want to conserve. Like many other Christians who identify as conservatives, my own answer to that question would be the same as that of Russell Kirk: The institution most essential to conserve is the family.
Wherever you look—whether in the streets or the social science research—you’ll find confirmation that the breakdown of the family is correlated with societal ills such as children living in poverty. We know the cause and we know the cure. Yet rather than effectively encouraging marriage, our government pretends that welfare can be a suitable substitute for the absence of mothers and fathers in the home. As the Heritage Foundation reports:
The collapse of marriage, along with a dramatic rise in births to single women, is the most important cause of childhood poverty—but government policy doesn’t reflect that reality, according to a special report released today by The Heritage Foundation.
Nearly three out of four poor families with children in America are headed by single parents. When a child’s father is married to his mother, however, the probability of the child’s living in poverty drops by 82 percent.
The Problem With Modern Economics
Elise Amyx, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics
Economics has become a field for academia snobs and policy wonks, not everyday people. Why is it so confusing? Might it be because we are only looking at a very small part of the picture?
Timothy Terrell, Economics for Everybody
It is only in a free market that Christians are able freely to follow their consciences as they serve the Creator.
Are Entitlements Corrupting Us? Yes, American Character Is at Stake
Nicolas Eberstadt, Wall Street Journal
What is monumentally new about the American state today is the vast empire of entitlement payments that it protects, manages and finances.
How One Economist Created the Most Realistic Fantasy Football League Ever
Jason Plautz, The Atlantic
Fantasy football has tens of millions of fanatical players. But only one league requires its members to negotiate broadcasting rights and labor agreements.