This section will include various essays that did not easily fit in an earlier category.
Here I will include three essays: 1) "Truth as a Democratic Project"; "Democracy and Religion: On the Existence and Non-Existence of Nations"; 3) "Friendship and Political Philosophy"
1) From Modern Age, 1998.
James V. Schall, S. J.
TRUTH AS A DEMOCRATIC PROJECT
"Without truth there must be a dissolution of society. As it is, there is so little truth, that we are almost afraid to trust our ears; but how should we be, if falsehood were multiplied ten times? Society is held together by communication and information; and I remember this remark of Sir Thomas Brown's, 'Do the devils lie? No; for then Hell could not subsist.'"
-- Samuel Johnson, 1778.
"Res autem non dicitur vera nisi secundum quod est intellectui adaequata; unde per posterius invenitur verum in rebus, per prius autem in intellectu."
-- Thomas Aquinas, 1256.
During the Presidential Campaign of 1996, in California, President Clinton said that democracy is "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" (October 18, 1996). Clinton recalled that this phrase was in the Constitution. When later reminded that it was not in that famous document, he corrected himself to say that it was in the Declaration of Independence. As it turns out, of course, this oft-repeated passage, the validity of which, no doubt, does not depend on who said it or where, is found in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address of 1863, wherein the hope was expressed, in time of civil war, that this democratic form of rule shall not perish from this earth.
The question is at least worth asking, however, about whether the democratic form of rule, for all its historic hope and importance, can become a dangerous form of rule through its own instruments and processes? The classical writers thought democracy was most dangerous because, in addition to neglecting the standards of virtue, it was also most susceptible to being taken over by a tyrant, who would constitute the worst evil or regime to which political affairs could tend. The question, in other words, is whether we must include, in any discussion of democracy, either as a regime or as a general philosophy of life, not merely the origin, purpose, and instrument of rule, that is, the people, but also the element of truth about its understanding of what man is. The last question to be asked, then, is not, "Was this law democratically enacted," but, having been democratically enacted, "Was this law invalid on other grounds; does it promote or destroy the objective good of man?" Truth is defined as the conformity of what is, of what is right, with our minds. We are not free if we do not ask this latter question about the truth of our deeds and actions, if we do not know what is and whether we according to its exigencies.
"The word democracy, as it is used by modern peoples," the French philosopher Jacques Maritain wrote during World War II, recalling more accurately the same famous phrase from American political history,
has a wider meaning than in the classical treatises on the science of government. It designates first and foremost a general philosophy of human and political life and a state of mind. This philosophy and this state of mind do not exclude a priori any of the "regimes" or "forms of government" which were recognized as legitimate by classical tradition.... The dynamics of democratic thought leads, as though to its most natural form of realization, to the system of government of the same name, which consists, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, in "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
Awareness that the term, democracy, can have several meanings, not all good, that must be sorted out requires careful attention.
Maritain took for granted that the term "democracy" used as a "general philosophy of human and political life and a state of mind" is usually a noble term in modern usage, though he was aware, as was Sir Thomas Brown in the case of the rule of devils, that a certain ambiguity can remain if a people's "general philosophy of human and political life" is itself disordered. That "the people" are always good and virtuous can, in experience and in theory, be legitimately doubted. And it is not enough wittily to respond that democracy is the worst form of government, except in comparison to all others. Ultimately, order and disorder are located in individual human souls, not in human regimes reflective of these same souls.
If, in other words, democracy is but another form of the answer to the classical question of "What is the best regime", it must tell us how it has derived the content of the word "best" with regard to the various forms of regime available to us. Democracy cannot merely be a word for the process by which citizens reach decisions. It must have some criterion by which it can judge the moral worth of the content of its own decisions. Without this latter judgment, we can give no reason why democracy might not also be the worst regime, might not also include a depth of disorder that not even the classical authors contemplated. There is, in fact, an order to the worst regime, which is why it is called worst, why it is intelligible in terms of political philosophy as precisely the worst.
Thus, if we look carefully at this famous definition of Lincoln, we see that it reflects several, but not all, of the elements in St. Thomas' noted definition of law -- "An ordination of reason, by the proper authority, for the common good, and promulgated" (I-II, 90, 4). Both definitions, that of Lincoln and that of Aquinas, touch on the notion of the end or purpose of authority, its final cause, that is, the common good, the people; both locate law's immediate origins in legitimate government, in its popular mode of operation. The people are its immediate efficient cause. Promulgation touches the material cause, the people's intelligently receiving and living by the law. But, again, given modern theoretic presuppositions about the autonomous human will, its complete independence from any natural or divine law, no good reason can be given on this basis of procedure or end, about just why a so-called "democratic tyranny" could not validly be deduced from Lincoln's phrase in a way that it could not be associated with St. Thomas' definition.
Lincoln did not mention, as Aquinas did, that reason, not will, was the heart of rule, even though this "reason" still had to be grounded in what is and chosen to be put into effect. Lincoln had no stated "formal" cause that would distinguish anything substantial about the content of any law or legal system. Thomas, however, specifically rejected the famous Roman Law dictum that "Whatever pleases the prince, is the law" (I-II, 90, 1, ad 3). The democratic rule of modernity, by contrast, in courts, legislatures, and executives, has come to mean, in effect, that "Whatever the people will, is the law." If democratically enacted, following proper procedures, there is no such thing as an "unjust law". All laws become "just" laws simply because they are laws. To maintain that a law is precisely "unjust", we must have a notion of justice that is not totally identified with what is willed, even willed democratically.
We might still, in fairness, argue that Lincoln presupposed the distinction between just and unjust laws, otherwise there would have been no moral point to the Civil War. But as the definition stands, it could justify a very terrible sort of regime, a kind of regime that seems to be more and more on the horizon for presumably free societies, societies free to do what the people "want", whatever it is they want. In other words, we could have a presumably democratic society faithful to democratic structure in every way but lacking in any understanding of the truth that already lies in human nature as it has come to be in existence apart from any specifically human will. To the question, 'What caused the human being to be a human being in the first place?", the unavoidable answer is that it was not political man himself. It was caused by whatever it was that caused man to be man in nature. Democracy, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, implies, but does not explicitly state, that what the people want is, by that very fact, just and right, that what is wanted by the people is true to their being and to the order of the world.
The most pressing question that democracy must ask itself in the Twenty-first Century is not, then, "What is liberty?", but rather, not forgetting that first question and its history, the perplexing question, with its literary origin in a First Century A. D. Roman Governor, "What is truth?" If there is a theory of truth that stands contrary to the theory of self-sufficient democracy, then either democracy must achieve its own autonomy by denying the existence of any independent nature on which truth is based or some democratically willed laws must be seen to be unjust, must be seen to be against what is good for man, even if enacted by a democratic majority. In this latter case when democratically enacted laws are themselves seen to embody injustice, democracy will presuppose a truth about human nature and life that it did not itself formulate and cause in the first place.
When we look in Aristotle, no doubt, we are, or pretend to be, scandalized by the discovery that for him "democracy" had a pejorative connotation. It represented the best of the three worst regimes. Its rule was not for a "common good" but for the good of the ruling principle, which was the will of the morally undisciplined majority. Democracy's end or defining purpose was not honor or wisdom or virtue, but "liberty" or freedom. At first sight, to be sure, this purpose seems to us to be praiseworthy, exactly what we want for a democracy. "Give me liberty or give me death!" But the meaning that Aristotle gave to this idea of democratic liberty was not complimentary, though it was realistic. He did not think that democracy was the absolutely worst regime, to be sure, but he saw in it defects of such a serious nature that they would militate against true human good, against "a general philosophy of human and political life," to use Maritain's phrase.
Socrates himself taught that death is sometimes to be preferred to the liberty of the democracy in which we live. And the point at which it is to be preferred is precisely where political will, democratically achieved, conflicts with truth. Socrates knew that the only reason he lived as a philosopher for as long as he did in democratic Athens, some seventy years, was because he remained a private citizen. He implied that there always remains a certain incompatibility between philosophy and politics, between truth and undisciplined opinion and habits. His motto, as it were, was not "Give me liberty or give me death," but rather "Give me truth or give me death." If liberty simply meant not dying, all Socrates had to do was to cease being a philosopher in search of truth. He would have continued to live but at the cost of denying what he was.
The liberty of Socrates depended on his search for truth. There appeared to be two kinds of liberty, the liberty to do what we want, whatever it is we want, and the liberty to do what we ought. What we ought to do depended, in turn, on what was true about us, about what it is we were. In Socrates, as well as later with Christ, these two liberties fatefully clashed. Socrates' real freedom, his freedom to witness to the truth, was not jeopardized by the politicians and citizens who choose, in a democratic trial, to kill him for not ceasing to seek the truth. He refused to give up his truth in exchange for his life. Thereby, in dying at the hands of the state, he preserved the truth in a way that he could not have accomplish by choosing to live at the cost of denying the truth. His death taught us that there must be a certain correspondence between how we think and how we live, a correspondence that does not derive its truth from how we live, but from how we ought to live.
A democratic regime, the rule of many by the many, is one that is so structured in its constitution that it fosters a kind of freedom that neither knows nor wants to know truth or limits. It implies a kind of random liberty guided by no serious purpose other than desire. The liberties found in democratic regimes in the classical sense are those deriving from a lack of order and internal discipline in the souls of the citizens who seek to do what they "want", not what it is right or noble for them to do. Statecraft is soulcraft; that is, the structure of the state is designed to reinforce the structure of the soul's choices about how it decides to live. Indeed, the very notion that there is, in objective reality, something that can be described as right, true, or noble seems to contemporary opinion to be itself somehow "anti-democratic". We are reluctant to conceive of a liberty that implies discipline, especially self-discipline, a liberty that requires truth, not will.
The first principle of modern democracy has come to be not liberty or truth but "tolerance", something very different from either. Tolerance, as a speculative position, means not just the practical agreement to allow certain arguments to go on in relative peace, but the dogmatic position that no truth can be possible in any sense, that truth as such is, in theory and practice, impossible. The only sin in modern democracy based on this view seems to be "intolerance". The first victim of this very theory is, paradoxically, truth itself. If what is, is, then all things are not possible. As democratic politicians and citizens, we may want all things to be possible to us because we do not want to admit that any truth can limit our wills and hence our political actions or ways of living. The democrat of this persuasion can be intolerant of only one thing, that is, the philosophic argument that there is truth. The autonomous wills presupposed in this sort of democratic theory of absolute tolerance must embrace in principle what is implicitly self-contradictory: the theoretic position that it is true that there is no truth. The modern democratic man lives uneasily on this paradox, if it is a paradox.
The great and fundamental passage in Scripture that has been, more than any other, understood in our civilization to establish the proper relation of freedom and truth is, however, that which reads: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John, 8:32). Here, reason, revelation, and liberty are joined, not opposed. Truth is not hostile to liberty, but provides its essential condition and foundation. Can one be a democrat and, at the same time, a non-skeptical seeker of the truth? This is our question. How does knowing the truth make us free? Why am I not "freer", as it were, if there is no truth and hence no danger that I might be wrong or in error, no obligation to right myself?
The answer is, of course, that liberty follows upon truth; it does not constitute it. If I know as a fact, say, because I put it there, that there is poison in this apple, I am still free to throw it away, eat it, or give it to someone else to eat. I am technically free to tell someone else there is poison in this fruit. Also I can lie and say it is simply a ripe apple. But knowing this truth, that there is poison in the apple, and still choosing to eat the apple -- caveat our Mother Eve -- I am not free to continue to live. The liberty that the truth gives me, in this case, is the liberty to stay alive, or, for that matter, the liberty to die.
My liberty thus depends both on the truth of what is and on my knowing this truth. If the apple contains the poison, but there is in my theory no possibility of any objective truth in things, then I cannot know for sure whether there is any difference between a good and a poisoned apple. On the hypothesis of theoretic skepticism, not even the reports of science will help me. The fact is, that I cannot live as my theory implicitly demands that I live, not knowing the truth of anything. The logical conclusion from the view that there is no truth, would, in practical terms, be to eat no apple at all, assuming that I did not want to die, or, even if I did, of not knowing how to do so because I cannot be sure of what in fact might cause my death..
If, however, I choose to die, implying that I do know what poison does, then the poisoned apple is quite as good as Socrates' hemlock, which he himself ironically took as an oblation to the God of healing. The problem remains, none the less, that if there is no truth, I cannot know whether the apple is or is not poisoned and no one can tell me, one way or another, about the fact; hence, I really cannot act. Socrates, however, was not a skeptic. He knew the hemlock he was ordered by the state to consume would kill him. So did his good jailor who instructed him in its usage and all the citizens of Athens. That is why they gave it to him to drink. His freedom consisted in his philosophy, in his not knowing whether death was the worst of evils, as the power of the state seemed to imply. His freedom was in his knowing that doing something wrong was an evil. It was not to be done even at the threat of death. Denying the power of death as the greatest evil, he denied the power of the state over truth.
The democratic regime, however, is formed in its institutions and way of proceeding so that it fosters this erratic choice of its citizens. The democratic regime in the classics was designed to let any choice exist, irrespective of any truth that might limit it. Merely to recall this principle is to remind ourselves of how close our current democratic practice is to classical theory. The question of what is the true life of man does not arise in such a democratic regime because that would imply that some standard of life worth living needs to be identified and upheld by the regime itself. Classical democracy was hostile both to the notion of what is good and of what is true, except in the sense of what is good or true for me, of what is good or true as defined by me. Yet, what is good or true depends on what is, even for me.
Many modern men are vaguely aware of this background to the notion of democracy. Indeed, democracy, even in the early modern era, still had about it the notion of the turbulent rule of the demos, the mob, the rule of those who have no interior rule of soul. In all classic discussions of the differences of regimes, then, even into early modern times, democracy was associated with a dangerous form of rule. Indeed, in Plato, Thucydides, and Aristotle, democracy often proved to be the seed ground for the tyrant, so that tyrannical regimes most often arose from the moral failures of democratic freedom. Democracy and tyranny were seen to be intimately related.
To be sure, Athens was a democracy and was praised by Pericles for its liberty and style. Yet, this praise came within the context of the very war that ruined Athens for ever. The man most accredited with destroying the democracy of Athens was Alcibiades, the handsome young man who was said by Plato and Thuydides to have loved the people the most, who took his standards from what he perceived that they wanted. American founding fathers for the most part shared this distrust of democracy and preferred the Roman idea of republic to that of democracy.
Western public opinion in the modern ear, however, has come to believe that truth is the cause of fanaticism, itself the most terrible of the disorders of soul, so it is said. Only a "fanatic" can maintain that something is true. Liberty is opposed to ideology, which, in turn, is a product of liberty. Ideology itself is based on the idea that there is no truth, so that we are free to choose our own "truth" and impose it on the world to make it better. If there is no truth over against which we might judge the ideologies, then we cannot judge too harshly those ideologies who seek to project on the social world their vision of order. The wars of the modern era have come to be wars of contrasting visions of purely man-made orders. Their cruelty does not arise from barbarism, but from intellectual sophistication. After all, if there is, in principle, no truth to which the human intellect is open, why is it so wrong for one erroneous vision to try to replaced another erroneous vision? Where there is no truth, there is no compromise, or no need to compromise. But compromise is not the definition of truth. Truth itself can be compromised. As Sir Thomas Brown remarked, in Johnson's recollection, the devils do not war against one another. Even the house of Satan has a certain standards, one of which is that it stands for its own order. That is, in some definite sense, there is an order of good as well as an order of evil.
"Without truth, there must be a dissolution of society," Samuel Johnson said. Perhaps it might be worth the trouble to wonder why this great Englishman might have pronounced this startling sentence? It is immediately evident that if no one ever told the truth about anything, we simply could not communicate. If someone tells me, aside from joking, that my hat is on backwards, when, after my checking, it isn't, I begin to lose confidence in my ability to discourse with this person. If everyone tells me it is on backwards, when it isn't, I begin to lose confidence even in my own senses. Yet, the truth is that it is on straight. The problem is even more complicated if we tell a baseball catcher, and hence all the modern adolescents who imitate him, that his hat is on backwards. We have oaths to assure us that, at least in some circumstances, we will tell the truth. We justly condemn liars and know that they cause great damage to exchange of goods and to reputation. There is an old sentimental song that begins, "Be sure it's true when you say 'I love you,' for it's a sin to tell a lie...." Somehow, on recalling this line, we are sure that the song has it right, for in matters of love, lying to one another, however common, is indeed the greatest and most destructive of sins, for it corrupts the most intimate of communications.
Moreover, there are two sorts of truth, called in classical literature, theoretical and practical truth. The distinction is important. A speculative or theoretical truth is, as St. Thomas says, "the conformity between mind and reality." We tell the truth when we say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not. Ultimately, all of our actions, what we put into existence, depend upon our willingness and ability to state the truth of things. We act, presupposing that we know and what we know. Moreover, the very highest of our human powers is simply the power we have to know the truth. This is the faculty of intellect towards which all other faculties and institutions are ultimately aimed. It is also our highest pleasure, the delight in knowing the truth of all that is. It is indeed our destiny.
We cannot fry an egg, for instance, unless we know what an egg is, probably unless we know what a chicken or a duck is. The primitive man who first came upon an egg, we can imagine, did not immediately put it in his beer or on his frying pan until he figured out what it was. We are not free to drink a cup of coffee if we do not know what coffee is. If we think that arsenic is coffee, we are in trouble, even though it is good that arsenic is arsenic and coffee coffee. But whether we ought to eat an egg or drink a cup of coffee, these are practical truths depending on our relationships to ourselves or others. If our doctor, again assuming he knows what he is talking about and is telling us the truth, assures us that eating an egg will give us mumps, we are in a different position than if he tells us that it will make us big and strong. In both cases, we remain free to eat or not eat the egg. And if the egg we eat is stolen from our neighbor's chicken house, we are in an even more perplexing practical situation.
Practical truth does not refer directly to what is but initially to what it is that comes into existence through our own human causality or power. Practical truth depends on the quality of our theoretical truth, including the theoretical truth about what sort of beings we ourselves are. In so far as we do not know what it is to be a man, we cannot know what it is that a man ought to do with those powers he is given in nature, powers he did not give himself. Practical truth, however, is still truth but it looks at truth in the process of something's coming to be. When St. Thomas spoke of truth being found in things and being found in intellect, he had this background in mind. The truth that is found in things, including natural things, means that in being what they are, their existence as this thing or that is fixed. A turkey is not a tree. Moreover, there is intelligibility in things by which we call them what they are, because they have a formal cause that makes them a this rather than a that. My mind is said to be true when what I know and say is in conformity with what actually exists and about which I am consciously knowing. My being changes when I know something other than myself. I become more than myself because I have a mind that knows something else that is not me. Indeed, my mind is capable of knowing all things, of all that is. This capacity of my know is what makes me different from other beings in the universe.
But once I know things, I can also do things, make things. This capacity that I have to do or to make asks a related but rather different question to truth. And it is in this area of practical truth that politics and ethics exist. Let us suppose that I choose to do or make something. Everything that any human being does or makes is absolutely different from every other action in the history of the world. In this sense, the realm of things that are put into the world by human choice to do something or make something constitutes a distinct reality subject to different conditions than other things that already exist but not through human causality. The realm of art or craft refers to those artifacts that are put into existence as the result of human making, paintings, bicycles, hammers. The realm of prudence refers to those actions of my own whereby I change myself.
Artistic truth asks whether what is made is that which the maker intended to make, whether what he conceived in his mind before making came to be as he wanted it to be when it finally existed in reality. Ethical and political truth differs from artistic truth, not in the sense that it is not a result of human putting into existence something that was not previously there, but in the sense that the object of doing is the man himself in one or other of his aspects or capacities. Practical truth asks the initial question about what it is that I am putting into the world by my own deeds and actions. My actions are true not only when my actions correspond with what I want to do, but with what I ought to do.
This effort to establish practical truth in my actions means that there can be a conflict between what I want to do and what I ought to do. This sort of conflict can exist on the personal level and on the political level, on the level of human persons acting together. If we argue that the right thing to do is merely what we want to do, with no comparison of that to what we ought to do, it means that we are using an artistic criterion for a moral or ethical action. This is, indeed, the source of Machiavellianism in politics. A good craftsman can be bad man in his personal or political actions. If the only criterion that we allow for our ethical or political actions is what we want to do, the conformity between our idea of what we want to do and what we in fact do, then whatever we do is right. Obviously, this conclusion cannot be correct. Moral and political actions that we put into the world take their ethical criterion from some understanding of what we ought to do, even if we do not do what we ought to do.
What does practical truth have to do with the democratic project? What is wrong with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, no matter what it is, in the end, that a people "want" or choose to do? Or, to put it differently, are there things that ought not to be chosen, even if they are popularly "wanted"? The Declaration of Independence says that men have a right to life, liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. Do the words, "life", "liberty", or "happiness" mean anything in themselves? Or, is their meaning itself political and defined only by positive, that is, human-made, democratic law, as seems now to be the case? Strictly speaking, if the "truth" of a positive law is merely its proper procedural formulation and passage, no matter what its content, then we can have no such thing as an unjust or immoral law. A legislature or other law-making body could pass intellectually contradictory laws both of which would be correct and moral if nothing but the statement of the law is law.
In his Encyclical on truth, Veritatis Splendor (1993), John Paul II wrote about the need of liberty to be settled in truth.
Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction of doctrines which have lost the sense of transcendence or which are explicitly atheistic. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one's conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one's moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way, the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity, and "being at peace with oneself," so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment (#32).
This is a description of the moral philosophy that largely governs our democratic times. The source of "values" is "freedom", which has no other criterion than itself. What results is that no truth can be called upon over against the newer virtues, now elevated to the highest positions. These virtues are sincerity, authenticity, and "being at peace with oneself," virtues with no intrinsic content These criteria are wholly subjective. To claim that there is a truth over against them strikes at the basic prejudice of modern thought, namely, that nothing that is can be over against the individual conscience and freedom.
To save democracy from subjectivism, truth must become a democratic project. The greatest of crimes can be enacted in the name of sincerity, authenticity, and "being at peace with oneself." Each of these criteria looks to one's own estimate of oneself. The classical notion of conscience was that of an ultimate judgment of reason about the objective goodness or badness of each of our acts or deeds. But this judgment was not conceived to be merely the fact that it was our last judgment before we acted, hence the one that determined the morality of the act. It was rather the judgment that compared what we proposed to do with what we ought to do. The criterion of morality was not simply what we choose to do because that is what we choose, but what the good man would do in these particular circumstances. The criterion was never subjective, hence it was not merely a projection of our own uninhibited "values", itself a subjective word, onto the world. This meant that the deed was good by virtue of an artistic, not prudential, judgment of moral things, that is, namely, that what we did was what indeed we intended to do, no matter what it was.
Is truth, then, anti-democratic, or is there no democracy with no truth? If we understand democracy in the Greek sense, already contained within its concept is a criterion of deviation from the law, from the common good. Aristotle held that most regimes were in fact disordered, usually either oligarchies or democracies. He did not maintain that it would ever be otherwise, though there could be a few cities with genuine virtue as their criterion of rule. Modernity sought to refute Aristotle on this point, by lowering the sights of what we could expect of human nature, so that we could call, with some ambiguity, more regimes "democratic" because we did not expect as much of human nature as Aristotle did. Or else we could propose that we could so increase the material conditions of man that we could erase or minimize the supposedly basic reasons about why men did not choose virtue. This modern assumption implicitly held that it was material goods as such that caused virtue and not moral choice and discipline, even though Aristotle and Aquinas both recognized a certain amount of goods were indeed needed for a minimum of virtue.
The fact is, however, that the worst regimes are not rooted in a paucity of material goods. The worst regimes are the result of reason gone wrong under the guidance of will, particularly the result of the intelligentsia gone wrong. If we can assume that in modern democracies, with their higher levels of education and prosperity, this same principle holds, we might conclude that without truth, modern democracies are the most dangerous forms of regime that have ever been theoretically considered. This position would not deny the thesis of Maritain that one meaning of democracy, hopefully its best meaning, is that general form of understanding and principle that undergirds all good regimes because it is the principle of all true human living rooted in reason, nature, and revelation.
However much we may want to save the word "democracy" to describe the "best regime" and to insist that, because of the development of technology and the general accumulation of knowledge that we have a better chance of bringing this regime into existence, the fact remains that the best regime exists in speech, not in reality, not even in democratic reality. The only possible location for the best regime is the City of God, in St. Augustine's sense. This realization means that all actual regimes, including the democratic ones, will be imperfect regimes in which the pursuit of truth remains a critical project for the validity of the lives lived in them. It has been said that Socrates lived for seventy years in a democratic regime, a relatively long time. He lived there because a democratic regime cannot tell the difference between a fool and a philosopher. Only when it was forced to decide between the fools and the philosopher, did it choose to kill the philosopher. Modern democracies, it is said, do not do anything so rash as to kill philosophers. What they do is deny truth any status in public so that all philosophers who do not subscribe to this political skepticism must be considered fools whose opinions bear no relation to reality, to a reality that has, in itself, no intrinsic form or cause other than unguided will.
Modern democracy has become the graveyard of philosophers because it has denied truth any legitimate place within its structure. This is why the natural order of good is being replaced within them. In a regime in which truth is declared to be politically dangerous, the philosopher who seeks the truth has no public or private space. He appears to be a fool or a madman when he affirms that there is an order in things including human things. On the hypothesis that there is no order, truth will appear as a threat to the constitution because it claims that there is a criterion by which we can distinguish what we do and what we ought to do.
The democratic project proposed itself as a political movement whereby the potential in man could be brought to actuality and that, in bringing the multiplicity of talents to reality, the regime would be richer, more complete. Intelligence as such tends first not free but to truth, to what is. In itself, intelligence has no choice but to affirm of reality that it is what it is. Human beings are free because their intelligence, in knowing things, in knowing what is, can select what they will do or not do in the pursuit of their end. In choosing what we do, we define ourselves. We are given our first nature, the nature that causes us to be men and not turtles. But we choose our second nature, the pattern of choices and habits whereby we are called good men or bad men. A democracy that is indifferent in practice or in principle to these choices whereby we are in fact good or bad will ever be a classical democracy. But there can be a form of democracy worse than that conceived by Aristotle and the classics. That would be a form of rule of relatively intelligent citizens deliberately choosing that there is no order, no good, no truth for them. It is possible for a whole people, or most of a whole people, to choose against the good, to deny its obligation to what is true. This is the threat of our time and indeed is the nature of our time.
The democratic project must now include, with freedom, truth, the truth of what we are and what we ought to be. It is quite true that we need a regime that fosters and allows us to seek and to know the truth, a regime of liberty. Nothing can impose the truth except itself, except what is. The freedom to allow reality to confront our intellects with what is is most precious. The witness to truth must be a free witness. But the validity of truth does not principally arise from the fact that it is seen in freedom, but that it is seen as what is. If we understand democracy as the best regime, we must understand that it includes the notion that what we choose is also what is true, what is in conformity with the reality of things, including ourselves, that we did not make to be what they are. "Without truth," to recall Samuel Johnson once again in conclusion, "there must be a dissolution of society."
2) From The World & I, 8 (March, 1993), 398-417.
James V. Schall, S. J.
DEMOCRACY AND RELIGION
On the Existence and Non-Existence of Nations
A nation, he (Marcus Antoninus the Orator) went on to say, does not exist at all, or at the very least finds itself in an extremely poor moral situation, unless it is furnished with a lot of things like religious and educational institutions, and qualities such as justice and endurance and moderation.
-- Cicero, On the Orator, I, 19, 85.
The deepest spiritual root of Western democracy is to be found neither in the blood brotherhood of warrior tribesmen nor in the civic privileges of the city state, but in the spiritual reversal of values which caused men to honour poverty and suffering and to see in the poor man the image of Christ Himself.
-- Christopher Dawson, The Judgment of the Nations (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1942), p. 22.
Each human being is a political being and more than a political being. His ultimate meaning is not exhausted by the meaning of his civil life. This higher, transcendent purpose limits the state, every state. In the order of principle, religion is more important than democracy. This principle does not deny that democracy is important, but it does affirm that if democracy is not in fact compatible with true religion, then it is democracy, not religion that must be tempered. Democracy is not itself a self-evident truth, but its validity must be argued to, made clear on rational grounds. Our dealings with God are more important than our relationships to one another in any civil society. The civil society is not and should not be thought of as an alternative to God.
Thus, it seems likely that if our relation to God is not proper and valid, our relationships with one another will be most likely to be skewered. Soulcraft and statecraft are intimately related, as Plato taught in the second book of The Republic. If democracy is to be made the test of the validity of religion, this criterion can only mean that democracy itself claims the status not merely of politics but also of religion. That is to say, on these grounds, democracy is not democracy, a question of the right ordering of the civil society. It is a doctrine that itself claims to be the criterion of what it is to be religious. Democracy can itself become idolatry. Before one can be a "democrat," one must first know the purpose of the human will. A multiplicity of empty wills does not constitute a democracy rightly founded.
Ever since the time of the Roman Empire and St. Augustine, moreover, historians and philosophers have been pondering the rise and fall of the nations, including democracies, their existence, their vigor, and their disappearance. Thinkers look for signs and portents of decay or degeneracy that result from the way life is habitually lived in the nations. They even seek a "science" of decay or decline. This analysis becomes especially difficult because, in point of fact, corrupt regimes can live on for quite some time.
We know, in any case, that no stable constitutional order, good or bad, lasts very long in terms of historical time. All regimes change, as Plato acknowledged near the end of The Republic, speaking of even the best regime in speech. The United States, whose founding bears some almost providential claim to historical uniqueness, appears to be fortunate and relatively isolated in its geography. It occupies but a small part of the world's surface and constitutes a tiny fraction of its population. Today this country is almost the oldest of the continuously organized nations; it is by no means certain of itself, of its inner moral stature.
We wonder, moreover, if that relatively enduring national longevity is due to virtue, to accident, to shrewd institutional arrangement? Perhaps the very principles of the founding are becoming a judgment on our actions and on the evolution of our institutions. No one can fail to notice what we have done to our much celebrated "right to life" of the Declaration of Independence. We replace the "right to life" with the "right to choose," as if it makes no difference or as one is the logical expression of the other. We replace a noun with a verb. And we are beginning to lengthen our list of objects of this choice, from incipient human lives, to aging human lives, to "defective" human lives.
A verb like "choose," consequently, always has to have an object. It is not an object of itself. We do not "choose" to have the power of choosing. Rather we understand that we simply have such a power. It is given to us, our free will, as an essential element in our make-up, whatever it is that causes us to exist as human beings in the first place. In the case in which we most often hear of "the right to choose" spoken today, the object of choice is always the existence of a living human life already begun in the normal way all humans have always begin. A good national founding then may be one thing; a faithful living according to this good founding is another. Good foundings do not necessitate good endings. We must always choose to be good. It never just happens.
Many, and not just the pro-life cassandras who sense a momentous rejection of the principles of life has just taken place on a national scale, profess to see signs of civilizational crumbling about us everywhere from sea to shining sea. Other societies, like France or Britain or China, that have lasted much longer than America's two to four hundred years, nevertheless, have changed their regime often, sometimes most radically, as in the case of the French Revolution and the Chinese Marxists. The Greek philosophers maintained that when a regime changed its root principles of purpose and organization, it was no longer the same nation. Again many wonder if this changing of fundamental principles is not what we are now involved in. We are in the process of becoming a people quite different from our founders.
The most difficult -- and often the most personally dangerous -- of philosophic exercises in politics, moreover, consists in accurately describing, in terms of moral insight about purpose and aptness of institutional organization to achieve it, just what a regime is. Few peoples will allow themselves to be called accurately what they have come to be. All existing regimes today want to be called "democracies" or "republics," no matter what they actually are in terms of their actions.
Pride, as St. Augustine knew, remained the great political problem, the great vice, the great self-deception. Pride meant admitting of no standard of truth but our own, the standard we construct from our own intellectual or moral resources. But even to be able to engage in such an exercise of stating what we are come to be, we must have standards of worth and outlines of crime that are not simply arbitrary, not simply what we define with no grounding in reality. We must have some agreement that mankind is locked in a universal discourse about what it is and what it ought to do, a discourse that exempts no one and no nation from its rigors, a discourse that excludes no source of order and truth even if it be revealed by God.
The question often arises in this context, moreover, about whether at any given time there is a providential order to the sequence and relative power of nations. "Our intellectual striving aims at realising the conviction," Hegel wrote early in his Philosophy of History, "that what was intended by eternal wisdom, is actually accomplished in the domain of existent, active Spirit, as well as in that of mere Nature." Such words remain awesome. "For the history of the world is the world's court of justice," Hegel also majestically affirmed at the end of Philosophy of Right. That is to say, what happens is what is right, a proposition of the greatest perplexity since so much that is not right in fact happens.
No wonder Nietzsche, in his almost blasphemous, Ecce Homo, would say that "The whole of history is the refutation by experiment of the principle of the so-called 'world-order'." That is to say, the history of the world is not a court of justice, after all. Much that went on there, as Plato understood in the last book of The Republic, was not just at all. If there be a judge, it is not the historical record that justifies itself nor the world that bears this record. Both the propositions that the world is determined to be what happens in it and that the world has no meaning seem equally unsatisfactory. We think we have a right to know why the world is as it is, yet we know that we do not know. We do not easily comprehend why the good suffer and the wicked seem to triumph. We know we do not dissolve this dilemma by denying any distinction between good and evil. Hence, men often try to impose their order rather than face the fact that they do not know the mysteries that do happen in the history of the world.
Thus, on this point, Nietzsche would seem to be on the side of the angels. Neither the evolving Spirit nor the dialectic world-order of Hegel was the providential sequence about the purpose of man and world found in revelation. When the transcendent order of the nations is apparently and delicately hinted at, as in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, when the whole world was "at peace," under Augustus Caesar, there was a providential reason why one political power was preeminent at a given time. But the reason had little to do with the political power itself. At the time, the Roman authorities did not know anything at all extraordinary had happened. God seems to claim a higher freedom that would allow Him to accomplish His purposes in any civil polity were He to choose to do so. In the Old Testament, the nations that fought with Israel seemed to be themselves unwittingly instruments of a providence of which they were not aware.
Are the hundred and eighty or so national political units we see in the organized world today then merely a congeries of accidental arrangements with no more meaning than the patterns in which dead leaves fall on the streets in the Autumn? Is the history of the sequence of the nations in the peak of their power also their "judgment," as Hegel postulated? Or perhaps God deals with the nations not as themselves unique but as aspects of their religion, of Islam, of the Hindu states, of the Protestant states, of the ideological states.
Did the world-historic struggle with the Marxist states, furthermore, to cite only the most recent example, mean nothing but passing chance? Was it a happy ending or a lucky break? Why was religion, particularly the Mother of God, Fatima, and the Holy Father, so apparently involved in it, as if what was happening was not solely under human guidance, as if what was happening was not happening by some determinist, dialectic necessity? The sudden collapse of Marxism was predicted by no social science, the methods of which do not seem adequate to detect all that goes on in the spiritual world.
At the end of their amusing 1066 and All That, William Carruthers Sellar and Robert Julian Yeatman brooded over which was the "Top nation" in the context of World War I, "the Great War," as it was known at the time. To the two Englishmen, it began to look pretty much like America had replaced Britain for this dubious honor. Sellar and Yeatman wrote in their final satirical excursus entitled, not "The War to End All Wars," but "The Peace to End Peace":
Though there were several battles in the War, none were so terrible or costly as the Peace ... which was caused by the only memorable American statesmen, President Wilson and Col. House, who insisted on a lot of Points, including, 1. that England should be allowed to pay for the War ...; 2. that the world should be made safe for democracy i.e. anyone except pillion-riders, pedestrians, foreigners, natives, capitalists, communists, Jews, riffs, R.A.F.S., gun-men, policemen, peasants, pheasants, Chinese, etc.; 3. that there should be a great many more countries: this was a Bad Thing as it was the cause of increased geography....
This delightful, yet incisive passage is followed by a final, very short Chapter LXII, entitled "A Bad Thing." This is the brief entry in its exact literalness: "America was thus clearly top nation, and History came to a."
No wonder after World War I, the Great War, the most popular intellectual book, perhaps after All's Quiet on the Western Front, became Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlands, the decline of the West. And fifty years after World War II, some, like Francis Fukuyama, who also spoke of history coming "to a.", to an end, in a rather persuasive thesis heavily influenced by Hegel, maintain that democracy and capitalism have conquered over want and tyranny. Socialism as a way to these laudable ends simply will not work. Now the real and more dangerous threat to our successful culture is boredom. We have nothing much of a serious purpose to propose to ourselves any more. "Wine, women, and song" is no longer a kind of Epicurean philosophic parody, but an agenda, literally all that is left with any possibility of inspiring us. But the results of such a philosophy have never been exactly happy ones and remain sadly evident all around us. Unfortunately, we know this dire consequence also in our cities and in our lives.
This same boredom that worried Fukuyama was frequently seen as one of the intrinsic causes of the internal decline of Rome, an event that has since become the model and motivation for all thinking on the subject of the fate of empires and successful regimes. Indeed, even corruption itself becomes boring. Comparisons abound. The boredom that leads to or follows from corruption, furthermore, was itself defined in terms of a moral order that distinguished good from bad. Knowing what this order was from the prophets or the philosophers or from normal experience of living, decline and vice consisted in not living according to the moral law, in not being open to the virtues. St. Augustine had even argued that the Romans had understood and known about such virtues in their philosophic writings but did not themselves practice them.
Thus, Cicero said to Brutus at Tusculum, at the very beginning of Book Five of the Disputations, that "to live a happy life the only thing we need is moral goodness."
"What is evil" the Emperor Marcus Aurelius asked himself at the beginning of the Seventh Book of his Meditations.
A thing you have seen times out of number.... For everywhere, above and below, you will find nothing but the selfsame things; they fill the pages of all history, ancient, modern, and contemporary; and they fill our cities and homes today. There is no such thing as novelty; all is as trite as it is transitory.
We catch here not only the boredom, but a kind of resignation before evil, an almost Hegelian subsumption of it into the normal pattern of things about which we can do nothing.
Ancient Israel, on the other hand, which remains something of a paradigm here, was chosen not because of its virtues, but because it was the least nation and Yahweh loved it. Its books maintained that the well-being of its life had something to do with its observance of the Law of Yahweh. It was punished by other neighboring nations by military defeat when it failed to live according to the Commandments. Evidently, it was not that the nation's prosperity causes its spiritual contentment, but that spiritual worthiness causes it to be protected by Yahweh in whom alone is any contentment. The question was not whether Yahweh was safe for Israel, but whether Israel obeyed Yahweh.
In the Roman Empire, on the Cross, we relearn the lesson of Socrates, that the best man is killed by the best existing city. A wicked and adulterous nation were said to receive no sign but the sign of Jonah. The Good Thief acknowledges that he suffers justly for his crimes, but he cannot understand the suffering of Someone who has done no crime. Is it possible that individuals and nations suffer for crimes of others? Is it possible, even more mysteriously, that this suffering can be undertaken voluntarily and that without it, no "novelty," to use Marcus Aurelius' word, nothing new will occur?
It was Sophocles who said that "man learns by suffering." The Cross proposed the question of whether God could suffer and why? Surely not for Himself. Among the last words we hear from the Roman Governor who finally approved Christ's Crucifixion, the man ultimately and legally in charge, were "What is truth?" Must empire be indifferent to truth? And when it is, must God suffer? The suffering of God must have to do with a truth the civil order does not want to know. And what might this truth be? That every state is responsible for something besides itself, even in its being itself, even in its own freely chosen judgments.
Are there successors to Israel among the nations? Certainly the Pilgrim founders of the United States, diligent readers of the Hebrew Bible that they were, thought they too were chosen to found a New Order, a New Land flowing with milk and honey. Is this simply mythology? Or does it make no difference, humanly or divinely, to what polity we might belong? Is there any relation between a nation's soul and its destiny? Could not the Puritans have accomplished the same spiritual deeds at home in England or Holland?
Do the good win and the evil lose? But we know that the opposite more often happens, at least if we are willing even to acknowledged that there be a distinction between good and evil and that this distinction can also be applied to the nations. Both Machiavelli and Nietzsche maintained that turning the other cheek was a formula for political disaster. A nation's strength, they suggested, depended on its leaders being free to use evil means when necessary, to be free of the moral law to accomplish the political law. Only armed prophets succeed. Many of our kind are particularly fond of this doctrine, of this sort of liberty.
Readers of St. Paul, who himself lived in the early stages of the same Roman Empire, moreover, are increasingly uncomfortable with his description of the local situation of his time, of his "multi-cultural" environment.
The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds and reptiles. That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyments and the practices with which they dishonour their own bodies, since they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshipped and served creatures instead of the creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen
That is why God has abandoned them to degrading passions: why their women have turned from natural intercourse to unnatural practice and why their menfolk have given up natural intercourse to be consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameless things with men....
In other words, since they refused to see it was rational to acknowledge God, God has left them to their own irrational ideas and to their monstrous behaviour. And so they are steeped in all sorts of depravity, rottenness, greed and malice, and addicted to envy, murder, wrangling, treachery and spite. Libellers, slanderers, enemies of God, rude, arrogant and boastful, enterprising in sin, rebellious to parents, without brains, honour, love or pity. They know what God's verdict is: that those who behave like this deserve to die -- and yet they do it; and what is worse, encourage others to do the same (Romans, 1:22-32).
Needless to say, it is practically unconstitutional and definitely not polite to cite such a passage in the United States today.
If this position in St. Paul founded our culture, then, in current cultural terms, we must change the passage to protect what we actually do and are. We begin to worship not men and animals, but species and earth, more sophisticated notions of the same sort of thing St. Paul wrote about. In the philosophic roots of the animal rights and the environmental movements, there is a desire to overturn the relation of individual man to his species, and of the relation of man to the dominion over the earth that was articulated in Genesis. Indeed, there seems to be a desire to change the very nature of man and woman.
Most of the things St. Paul chastises, in fact, seem to have suddenly become, in a most extraordinary feat of intellectual sophistry, "natural rights." We are engaged both in education and in the media to change St. Paul's words of horror and scandal to those of compassion and acceptance. St. Paul is said to be the origin of intolerance and heartlessness for specifying these things. The argument is no longer whether these things happen on a wide scale in our society. No one can doubt this. Nor does anyone deny that some of the consequences of such activities have reached epidemic proportions, even though the problem is said to be primarily the fault of the scientists and medical profession and especially government for not finding cures.
What is at issue, at bottom, is how we name what is going on. Whether we affirm of what is good, that is good, and of what is bad, that it is bad, depends on whether we are to follow a political definition of good and evil or one rooted in nature and revelation. The blood of the Cross was said to be our salvation, and now we fear our very blood is contaminated so that the only blood we can trust is our own and even this depends on our virtue. We do not want to call what we do by its real name. At the foundations of our civilization, we read in The Republic, "Doesn't knowledge depend on what is, to know of what is that it is and how it is?" This is the civilizational principle by which we ultimately stand or are condemned, even if we last in time.
Under the guise of rights and liberty, we are engaged in a public discourse, more and more backed by coercion and public opinion, that permits us to speak only that good that conforms with the political definition of what is good, and of that evil with the political definition of what is evil. The old sins were well listed by St. Paul and the Commandments. The new sins, racism, sexism, and other forms of group isms, explicitly call what St. Paul said to be wrong to be right. The only personal sins are class sins. We are a society of victims, not personal sinners. We have not only a "right" to be wrong, but to insist that our wrongs are "rights." To call them anything else is contrary to the civil good or law. Calling things by their real names becomes verbal harassment, punishable by law or disdain, or both.
What is important is not whether such things as St. Paul described go on. Some degree of this sort of deviant activity, no longer described as anything other than as "natural," has always occurred, and our moral or religious understanding of human nature has never led us to think otherwise. When such actions were recognized in their natural moral categories, they could properly be called errors, or sins, or moral disorders. They could and should be called what they were, both in speech and in the law. The actual deviations in this framework did not uphold disorder. Reform and penitence could be called for because the disorders were seen for what they were in one's own nature and life. But with our "rights" talk, with our "compassion," we are no longer able to call things by their proper names. Either such things are done because of some genetic or psychological necessity, and therefore, are not culpable, or they are said to be "rights" to be chosen and supported by quotas, recruitments, subventions, protections, and promotions by the state, precisely in their activities.
What is new today, and what is perhaps therefore more momentous for civil society, is that the differences of understanding and judgment about these issues can no longer be posed as constituting the difference between politics and church, between religion and democracy. We find on every side elements and leaders of religion that identify themselves with what the democracy "chooses," so that in fact little if any distinction exists between religion and democracy. Scripture is searched to come up with exactly what the democracy comes up with. Put this way, one could argue that the crisis of this civilization consists not in the "separation of church and state" but the collapse of their historic and theoretic differences. The state is not being absorbed into religion but religion into the popular will of the state. Religion has little to say to the polity except in terms of approval. Rather it is found all to often speaking most harshly mostly to those who still maintain its own classical distinctions and practices, those found in St. Paul and the Commandments.
The subject of whether religion is compatible with democracy or not requires, initially, a clarification. First of all, there are many religions. Their similarities and differences are questions of great interest and importance. The religions are not the same, and their differences not insignificant. The question of what truth is contained in each religion is one that cannot be avoided nor ought it to be avoided. No more important issue exists in the world today than the question of the truth of the religions and of the philosophies that substitute for it.
Not only is it important to think rightly about God, but, it is becoming more clear, that some intrinsic connection exists between the good of civil society and the right thinking about God by its members. This position has nothing to do with prejudice or with lack of respect for the opinions and beliefs of others. Rather it is the only way we can really respect the views and opinions of others, that is, to take them seriously as claims to be true. One of the unfortunate results of democratic theory with respect to the highest things is that it has obscured the importance of the truth of the various religious and philosophical explanations of the meaning of God, world, and man. A civil society that tolerates religions -- and not all do -- and their differences need not be one that has to deny the differences that in fact do exist and the difference they make.
Thus, what is the best society or situation in which such differences can be reasonably discussed can be a quite delicate one. Certainly wars of religion are not edifying spectacles. On the other hand, they testify to the fact that something serious is at issue. Thomas Sowell's remark that "if you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism" remains valid. Modern political theories of tolerance, which have become identified with the essence of democracy, can themselves become theories of intolerance in their philosophic underpinnings.
Democracy has come to be a word used to identify the best actual political regime. Democracy originally among the Greeks meant the rule of the many for the good of the many, but not for the good of all. For this reason, it was considered a bad regime. It had the advantage of enabling many to participate in judging and legislating, but its end was said to be "liberty." It was this end that caused the most problems. For liberty meant not just law, nor rightly choosing the good, but it meant choosing whatever one wanted, presupposed to no norm, divine or natural, about what one ought to want.
The democratic regime thus was not only a description of the rule of the many, but more essentially it was a rule according to the choice of the citizens no matter what the citizens might choose. The democratic regime professed indifference to questions of the validity of choices. It only served these choices. It is at this point that the classical theory of democracy has reunited with the contemporary notion of democracy as one in which the purpose of popular rule is to facilitate and foster the choices of the many no matter what they are. What is true and what is democratically chosen are identified. This is by definition the best regime and there can be no other. "To make the world safe for democracy," to use that venerable expression, has come to mean that the democratic regime can allow for no theory of choice, religious or natural, that would recognize some standard of right acting for human beings other than the choice itself.
Neither Roman nor American founders used the word democracy to describe their regime. They preferred the word republic though often the two words are used as if they were interchangeable. The word republic clearly distinguished between the public thing (res publica) and the private thing. Family and philosophical things were private things, not in the sense that they were unimportant, but in the sense that their reality was something different from what was done in public. Without the family or without the things devoted to God, the state could not be itself. When the state tried to be or substitute for God or the family, it became itself incompetent and disordered.
Cicero also spoke of a civil religion. This phrase, at first sight to us unacceptable, made a specific point. The civil religion was what the city did for its gods. Liturgy meant the public worship of the gods of the city. Every city recognized that it needed a common agreement about the gods it would worship. The Roman "Pantheon" was a place that collected all the gods of the many peoples conquered by Rome so that all could live under the same gods. The idea was, in fact, a noble one as far as it went. Essentially it meant that so long as the cities conquered by the Romans lived peacefully under Roman rule, each city could retain its gods and their peculiar liturgy. Effectively, it means not that the gods were higher than the city, but that they were subject to the city. What needed to be formulated, something the American republican founders attempted to do, would be a regime in which the importance and primacy of the gods was not subject to the laws of the state. What was needed was a religion that did not think its primary task was this worldly but whose effect was to teach human beings about right living no matter what the regime.
But civil religion also had the task of supplying what general explanation about the order of the world and man's place in it that most people could not understand by themselves. Religion supplied a mythological, unscientific understanding -- the descriptions of its poets or prophets -- of what was to be done that would due for most people who did not have the time or the intelligence to be philosophers. In a sense, both philosophy and polity would understand the need to do and hold certain things but the manner of understanding these things would differ in profundity and clarity. In this sense, the classical notion of civil religion was a political device to prevent the wars of religion while at the same time providing a place of privacy and seriousness for the ultimate questions to be confronted and resolved. The American founders in their dealings with religion tried to develop a constitutional arrangement that would protect both religion and polity in their proper spheres without denying the mutual influence each had and ought to have on the other.
The question of democracy and religion today has become one of more than passing importance. In much of the secular world, those who have become upholders of an absolutist understanding of democracy see religion or metaphysics as a threat to any social order. Holding as a first principle that nothing is true, all religion, especially Christianity, is fanatical because it maintains not only that something is true by virtue of natural philosophy but that revelation is compatible with this natural reasoning, including reasoning about politics in its proper limitations. This claim implicitly is seen to mean that the democratic processes of liberty, seen as having no criterion of value or truth but itself, are to be themselves judged. This claim to judgment is what is accused of being "fanatical," with the result that no religion not agreeing with the higher authority of the democratic process in the area of truth is compatible with the regime.
The seriousness of the religious question is reinforced, in one sense, by the freedom that is typical of democracy when democracy becomes itself the theoretical criterion of truth. Socrates had maintained that he had to lead a private life in democratic Athens because his ideas would lead him to death, that is, to execution by the state, were he to pursue them in public by teaching or speaking. Within the history of political philosophy lies this intrinsic conflict between politics and philosophy, a conflict itself also intrinsic to the trial and death of Christ.
Socrates, since he did not know whether death was evil, therefore chose to die rather than to do the wrong that the state required of him. The state's actions against him, moreover, were entirely legal and proper. Democracy was at work. Once the philosopher does not fear death, however, the state has no power over him. The state, since it has the power of coercion, can enforce conformity to its laws but only among those people who fear death as the greatest evil. But if death is not to be feared, then the power of the state is radically lessened. The history of martyrdom teaches the same lessons.
On Easter Sunday, April 19, 1778, James Boswell went to the services at St. Paul's in London. After this, he dropped in to see Samuel Johnson. Boswell "expressed a wish to have the arguments for Christianity always in readiness, that my religious faith might be as firm and clear as any proposition whatever, so that I need not be under the least uneasiness, when it should be attacked." To this worthy wish, Samuel Johnson responded in a surprising fashion:
Sir, you cannot answer all objections. You have demonstration for a First Cause: you see he must be good as well as powerful, because there is nothing to make him otherwise, and goodness of itself is preferable. Yet you have against this, what is very certain, the unhappiness of human life. This, however, gives us reason to hope for a future state of compensation, that there may be a perfect system. But of that we were not sure, till we had a positive revelation.
The question such a passage still forces us to consider is whether, should such a positive revelation been given, there is civilizational danger in refusing it or rejecting it? The likelihood of a conflict between religion and democracy at its deepest level lies here, not merely in the rejection of revelation but in rejecting those philosophical principles and standards that might enable us to recognize the possibility of what Johnson called "a positive revelation."
The central issue about democracy and religion, in conclusion, is which comes first, democracy or religion? It might be argued that what has happened in the history of American politics (and other regimes have followed this model) is that a theory of tolerance and democracy, a methodology about their functioning, has substituted for or replaced the content or natural law of what human beings are. The mechanism in place becomes itself the content of value and action. It is one that judges what is right by what is chosen.
After the election of President Clinton, in a reflection directly related to our topic of the relation of democracy and religion, Charles Krauthammer, a generally responsible and careful observer, wrote:
The great abortion debate is over. With the courts overturning a Guam law criminalizing abortion and with the election of a down-the-line pro-choice President, November 1992 marks the end of the 20 year abortion wars.... One can reasonably declare a great national debate over when all three independently (s)elected branches of government come to the same position.... The moral of the story is that democracy works. In a democracy, the law comes to reflect the people's basic mores.
The conclusion of this position, which clarifies the problem with democracy, is that the choice of the people and the law that reflects this choice now rules. The phrase "democracy works," however, may not mean that democracy is right. In fact it may mean that the working is precisely against the right.
Krauthammer himself perceptively noted the embarrassment of "pro-choice" people actually to name what they choose -- "the reluctance of many to speak the name of the procedure they are defending." The law from now on, however, is going to enforce and finance the continued and more liberal pattern of killing the unborn and obscuring from ourselves what is done. "Democracy works" means at least this result. Paradoxically, "democracy works" means that it does not work, that something intrinsic to the way we understand it is at odds with what we ought to do. Far from religion and democracy living in articulate harmony as the classic medieval and American thinkers had proposed, we live in a world in which the truth of religion or even reason is decided in practice by agreement with the three branches of government. This leaves us not with religion or reason but history to teach us the consequences. We are back to the question of the decline of state in the record of their actions, even those democratically conceived and carried out. We are back with the problem that the legal execution of Socrates by democratic processes leaves us with, namely, a corruption of soul on the part of citizens and its leaders impedes their recognition of what is right and worthy. The civil disorder is ultimately a personal disorder.
One needs to reflect on this abidingly embarrassing fact that institutional disorder is itself ultimately caused by and borne by personal disorder. We democratically choose to accept as legal the abortion of already begun human lives. We decide not to argue about it any more in our polity. Scientifically what are aborted are and can be nothing else but actual human lives begun as every human life begins. The issue is not and never has been "religious." In fact, this issue is now the primary place where science and religion are in agreement with each other, against the polity. It thereby reverses the status of the religion and science controversy of the early modern era.
This issue then is the most current and poignant illustration of the problem with democracy. It is possible, in the Rousseauist tradition, for a whole people -- and not just the American people, the British in many ways enlightened our paths in this unhappy practice -- by proper democratic methods, using all three branches of government, to choose what is not right and cannot be made right by the method which justifies the claim to rightness. Again, "democracy works" means that it is not working. There is some intrinsic fault in the system, a fault that is probably related to Johnson's point about revelation and to Plato's point that the order of personal soul is ultimately what enables us, even in a democracy, to understand and do what is right.
Josef Cardinal Ratzinger was inducted into the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences on November 6, 1992. Ratzinger, though a German, is a long-time and acute student of French culture and philosophy. He took the place in the French Academy of the Russian scientist Andrej Sakharov. Ratzinger took the occasion of his induction into the Academy to speak of democracy and religion. The essential question, Ratzinger thought, was "how can the free world assume its moral responsibility?" This question becomes especially anguished in the light of a democracy choosing to make legal what is not morally responsible. Uncannily, this is precisely the very problem that the question of the rise and decline of states presents in our era and the problem with the nature of democracy.
Ratzinger reflected on how difficult it is to see how democracy, which rests on the principle of majority rule, can, without introducing dogmatism which is foreign to it, maintain moral values which are not recognized by the majority" Ratzinger maintained that the implicit optimism of the 17th Century about progress is no longer valid on the basis of intervening historic evidence. Totalitarianism is a 20th Century invention. The fact is that "the decision of the majority can destroy freedoms." The importance of deTocqueville to this issue is basic because he thought, in Ratzinger's view, that some basis for moral values must come from some source, most likely religious ones, if a democracy is to be safe even when it "works."
In this sense, there is a "public mission of the Christian churches in the world today." Ratzinger's conclusion was not wholly unlike that of Krauthammer who remarked that "antiabortion activists should redirect their energies to try to change the climate (of opinion) of the country." Ratzinger himself concluded:
It is in conformity with the nature of the Church that she be separate from the State and that her faith not be imposed by the State, but rest on freely acquired convictions.... It also belongs to the Church to know she is responsible for everything and that she cannot limit herself to herself. She must, with the liberty that is proper to her, address herself to the liberty of all, in such a way that the moral forces of history remain the forces of the present and that this evidence of the values without which common freedom is not possible arises ever anew.
To the notion that "democracy works" and works legally when it works to eliminate so many members of our kind, there must be counterposed the notion that "the moral forces of history remain forces of the present."
Freedom is not possible, consequently, without certain principles. When democracy chooses to reject these principles, the question of the worth, the rise and decline of nations, becomes pertinent and pressing. It has long been the contention of religion that mankind is called to something beyond itself, to the life of God in fact. Homo non proprie humanus sed superhumanus est. The "purely human" life, the life in which only humanly conceived and established principles are allowed to be constructed in the state, is what is proposed as the alternative to the principles of reason and revelation to which men are by virtue of their calling and intelligence ordained. What happens historically when this higher vocation is rejected in practice is not the appearance of an exalted human alternative, but the reappearance of those forms of life and deed described by St. Paul and Aristotle as alternatives to right living. Plato, in the end, had remarked that the worst tyranny was not to do the worst deeds, but to do the worst deeds -- by objective standards -- and to have them praised as good. This living and praising are what democracy and religion are dealing with as we see democracy "working" to substitute its standards for what is.
The 20th Century has produced, to conclude, by virtue of certain philosophic and political principles, the very worst regimes of history. But these regimes have been products of philosophical politicians imposing their ideas on the world with the aid of force and controlled propaganda. The present question posed by religion and democracy is more subtle, more frightening. It is whether, contrary to all the assumptions of democratic theory in the modern era, free and tolerant democracies will continue to choose principles lethal to human life and dignity and insist on calling them good and noble, rights and liberties?
3) From The Review of Metaphysics, L (September, 1996), 121-41.
James V. Schall, S. J.
FRIENDSHIP AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
They (the statesmen and lawgivers of old) shouldn't have legislated great ruling offices, or unmixed authority; they should have considered something like the following: that a city should be free and prudent and a friend to itself, and that the lawgiver should give his laws with a view to these things.
-- Plato, The Laws, 693b.
Friendship seems too to hold states together, and lawgivers to care more for it than for justice; for unanimity seems to be something like friendship, and this they aim at most of all, and expel faction as their worst enemy; and when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality.
-- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1155a22-28.
When "friendship and political philosophy" was first proposed as a topic to present for a social science conference (Southwest Social Science Association, Dallas, 1995), some evident concern arose about just where such a consideration might fit into the academic structure of such disciplines, or indeed whether it had a place at all? The problem was graciously, if not curiously, solved by placing the paper on a panel entitled, "Love, Friendship, and the Great Books," in the political science section of the conference. Needless to say, friendship is an aspect of or kind of love. We are not automatically used to seeing that it is a proper and legitimate topic for consideration in political philosophy. As C. S. Lewis, among others, has pointed out, friendship (philia) is to be distinguished from and related to other kinds of love, to eros, to storge, and to caritas. Political philosophy, no doubt, may have to deal with every sort of love, including these days the love of animals, but its classical context is amicitia or philia. St. Thomas had already related caritas to amicitia as its natural basis, while the tractates on marriage, even in Plato and Aristotle, bring up the relation of eros to philia, as well as of both to some end or purpose.
Friendship is prominently mentioned, to be sure, in the great books, including very often the great books in political philosophy. In addition to Aristotle, whose treatise on friendship remains unsurpassed as a philosophic examination of this exalted topic, we recall Cicero's great essay De Amicitia, Plato's Phaedrus, plus numerous references in The Republic, The Laws, The Symposium, and many other central dialogues. The Gospel of John contains the great tractate on friendship at the Last Supper just before the Trial of Christ, an intellectual association between politics and friendship that is itself cause of the deepest human reflection. The topic of friendship is most familiar to Augustine and Aquinas and later to Montaigne and Francis Bacon. In short, if we moderns and post-moderns might perhaps have difficulty in associating the notions of friendship and political philosophy, our intellectual tradition did not.
Some systematic reflection about the relationship between friendship and political philosophy seems a worthy one and especially about why we find this topic generally missing as a normal aspect of what we have come to call political philosophy. Initially, let us propose that friendship is missing in political philosophy because in modernity nothing is conceived to be higher than the state. The ancient tyrant, as Aristotle told us, worried lest there be good friendship among his citizens, something on which alone could be mounted a successful attack both on his regime's validity or truth and on its strength.
If we reflect on the reasons that Aristotle gave for including friendship as a more important topic that justice, the political virtue, we should at first not be surprised that Aristotle is most forthright with us. "For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all, for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends?" (1155a6-9) Aristotle frankly acknowledges that it is the rulers who need friendship, apparently for their own private contentment, almost as if to say that if rulers do not have friends, they will be dangerous to themselves and their polities.
No one, rich or poor, with or without political power, would chose, in Aristotle's view, to live without friends. To be human in the fullest sense and to have friends are synonymous. Aristotle took this relationship between being human and having friends to be self-evident, as it is. He even thought it so important that he wondered on this account if there were not something wrong in the First Mover, in his God, who did not seem to possess friendship, even though he moved the world as a final cause by knowledge and desire? The notion of what it is to be a man, a human being, is not complete without the reality of friendship contained in that same notion. Hence, no one would choose a full life, with honors, riches, power, and pleasures, on the supposition that, at the same time, it lacked friendship. The case of the rich or the powerful lacking friends is even more poignant since apparently they have everything; they can buy or take whatever they want or need. Yet, Aristotle seems to think these latter still need friendship most of all. At first sight the rich or powerful seems to need friendship for selfish purposes; that is, so that he can be benevolent to friends, show off what riches and power can do.
Yet, this does not seem to be exactly what Aristotle had in mind, even though the ability of the rich or powerful to help friends is something worthy in itself, a use value, something that equalizes, but still in Aristotle's terms something of worth, if not of the highest worth. Those citizens with abundant means recognize that their riches cannot just sit there. Riches' only real worth is revealed in the extent to which they can manifest or effect something else. The rich and powerful are called precisely "laudable", that is, praiseworthy, when they are benevolent to others. And praise has something of the connotation of Aristotle's things beyond use. The highest things are beyond use, even when they require things of use. Aristotle does not imply that we should accumulate a huge pile of goods or powers so that we can go around all the time being benevolent to the not so fortunate. He merely meant that if we have wealth or power, we can, but need not, use them well.
Modernity, since it lacks its own internal moral principle, has often turned to the poor and the benighted as its last source of moral justification for its actions. These less fortunates whom we supposedly benefit with our laws or programs, however, would not, in all likelihood, be our own personal friends who presumably have their own share of goods and powers. Our friends are not really the poor or the weak, unless we ourselves are poor or weak. On the other hand, the possession of wealth or power does seem to suggest that we might want to give or bestow something on others. We choose not what has come to be considered today almost the only criterion of moral worth, namely the needy, but our friends.
Aristotle thought that the highest form of friendship had to do with virtue and knowledge, without at the same time denigrating or denying the value and usefulness of other forms of friendship, those of use or pleasure. Indeed, Aristotle thought that all human relations, in so far as possible, needed to be made more gentle, more pleasant, more considerate with the addition of a depth better described by friendship than justice. Nevertheless, whatever can be said about friendship as useful or needed by the destitute or by the polity, its highest forms were found elsewhere. The existence of these more virtuous forms of friendship was, however, as such non-political. Yet, they were the very foundations of polity and right order even though they were beyond politics, as it were. The living, as opposed to the abstract, integrity of reality to be itself was upheld in true friendship. Thus, if a Socrates had to remain a private citizen in order that he might be a philosopher, this choice meant that what Socrates did was ultimately more important than what the polity did, even for the polity and especially for the activation of man's highest potentials in friendship.
Aristotle had affirmed that if man were the highest animal, politics would be the highest science. But there were beings higher than mortals so that we should, in so far as we can, imitate these higher beings because what we shared with them, our reason, was the best or most divine part of us. Plato himself said that human affairs as such are not intrinsically serious, at least in comparison with the seriousness of God. To make political glory the most serious part of human life, the mistake of both Alcibiades and Callicles, was to introduce disorder into both soul and polity. Discourse about the gods and what the gods had wrought, together with the singing, dancing, and sacrificing that were our only proper responses to them, was, as Plato said in The Laws, of much greater fascination to us, of much greater importance to us than the order of polity. This good or best order of polity was itself a good and noble thing, but not of the highest importance. A disordered polity, as a disordered soul, meant that we were deflected from considering what really was important. Because of this failure to know and love what was of the highest significance, our disorders appeared in the form of laws and institutions in society that supported our particular disorder of soul..
But we cannot by ourselves alone carry on this enterprise of examining our lives, of pursuing the highest things. In the beginning of the Third Book of the De Officiis, Cicero, in a wonderful passage, had cited Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Elder as saying that we are never less idle than when we are by ourselves nor ever less alone than when we are alone. This is the same Cicero, of course, who writes the De Amicitia, who understands that a contemplative life, even when carried on by ourselves, also for its full flourishing, requires or delights in friendship. Why is this?
From the viewpoint of political philosophy, there are two perplexing elements in Aristotle's discussion of friendship. One element has to do with Aristotle's remark that we cannot be friends with God, even though our intellects are what is divine in us and what we should, in so far as we can, devote our lives to developing. This goal is the knowledge of what is, to which intellect, including our own particular intellect, is ordained. For Aristotle the fact that we could not hope to be friends with God is conceived to be a statement of fact. Aristotle does frankly remark, as I mentioned, that it is quite strange that friendship, as the highest of our own activities, should be denied to God or to our relationship with Him. We know, of course, that Aquinas entered into his discussion of this problem precisely at this point because revelation did appear directly to respond to these perplexities already found in the powerful mind of Aristotle. The doctrine of the Trinity did indicate that there was a communication or diversity within the Godhead that implied a paradigmatic relationship of love or friendship, while the Incarnation intimated that man and God could be friends, again contrary to what seemed evident to Aristotle.
The second problem that Aristotle had about friendship was that we could not really have many good or virtuous friendships in our lives. This reflection of Aristotle also deserves our full attention, I think. At first sight, it seems to violate our sense of equality. Often, initially, we would want to be friends with everyone. But as the old adage went, "a friend of everyone is friend of no one." If we are just with everyone, as we should be, it is not because everyone is our friend. Indeed, as I often put it, justice is the most terrible of the virtues for this very reason, that it requires us to render what is due to everyone no matter what his character or relationship to us is. Justice looks upon another not as an individual or unique person, as friendship does, but precisely as abstracted from his own uniqueness. Justice relations are impersonal relations, necessary and virtuous, but wholly lacking in the qualities we ascribe to friendship. This is why we must also be just to our friends, but we are not necessarily friends to all those with whom we are just, which includes potentially every person in the world with whom we might come into contact. The maximum extent of justice is everyone; the maximum extent of friendship is one or two.
Yet, here we have the same Aristotle telling us that we should be just, that we should have friends, that justice needs to be softened by friendship, that we can have only a few good friends, and that friendship is higher than the activities of justice, to which latter politics is more directly devoted. Clearly, these observations in Aristotle harken back to that perplexing passage at the beginning of the Fifth Book of The Republic that troubled Adeimantus and Polemarchus, when they recalled Socrates' apparently off-handed remark that "friends should have all things in common." Socrates knew that this topic was one that had to be spoken of carefully, out of the glare of public opinion. Yet, all writers on friendship, including Aristotle, agree that friends should have all things in common.
We know, however, that this same Aristotle is most dubious about the communality of wives, children, and property precisely because of the strong likelihood that this same communality will diffuse and destroy the meaning of wifehood, parenthood, and one's proper care of property. Aristotle's best possible world turns out to be opposed to the extremes of the proposals of The Republic because the commonality of friendship in which everyone would be our friends destroys the intimacy or lifetime concentration in which we could be only a friend with one or a few. The effort to protect what is common by destroying what is private turns out to have disastrous consequences even for the common.
Thus, Aristotle was not opposed to the idea that everyone should be friends with everyone else on the grounds that this would not somehow be a noble thing. Rather he objected on the grounds that we did not have, in this life, enough time and occasion in which to actualize all the depths of the communication of truth and virtue that is implied in friendship. One complete lifetime did not allow for the highest form of friendship with everyone, almost as if to suggest that the effort to overcome this intrinsic limitation of time would be a matter of hubris for mortals and an impossibility for the gods. We are confronted at all turns with our very mortality, with our limited time among the mortals.
It was this situation too that gave Aquinas some intimations about the need for and meaning of eternal life and of the importance of the doctrine about the resurrection of precisely the body, each particular body, which he conceived to be with Aristotle the principle of indivuation whereby each one was precisely himself. Aristotle on this score remarked that we want happiness precisely for ourselves, for Socrates, Xantippe, and Plato himself. And we do not want this happiness or virtue so much to be in the form of immortal souls, conversing with the gods in the Isles of the Blessed, as Socrates depicted them after his Trial in The Apology. Something about the integrity of Aristotle's analysis explains his own inability to see any theoretic conclusion that would not retain the finiteness of human beings as something more than simply souls. Ultimately, this attention to the wholeness of a human person is what grounds Aquinas' alternative to Aristotle's own positions as proper questions about human nature. That is, resurrection of the body and friendship of the whole human being retain the essential elements of Aristotle's own tendencies even when he could not see how they might work themselves out.
In some sense, this question about friendship and political philosophy is related to the reason why Aristotle and his famous pupil Alexander were at odds about the best regime in which to live. To Alexander's notion that all men should be brothers, should intermingle, should be under the same law, thus that there should not be boundaries separating one polity from another but all should be in the same rule or empire, Aristotle replied that we should all be within much smaller city-states, wherein the possibility of the exercise of real virtue and friendship would be more likely to take place. It is noteworthy that Leo Strauss in our own time took up much the same position that Aristotle did. The only question really is whether modern nation states are themselves more like Alexander's empire or like Aristotle's city-states?
Aristotle thought that the random sort of personal freedom typified by the empire would prevent or militate against any real political order, the lack of which would impede that sort of leisure in which the highest things were possible to exist. But in all cases, the polis was not the locus for the proper existence, as it were, of the highest things. Rather it was the occasion for them to exist freely beyond politics. Those regimes that were less than the best, that were organized according to principles explained in Book One of The Ethics as to their ends, would themselves be regimes in which the highest things would not exist, except by accident.
In the best regime, the politician is not likely to kill the philosopher because the politician is charmed by philosophy. Nevertheless, even in the best regime, the politician remains too busy to participate directly in the highest metaphysical things, however much he realizes their charm and necessity. Thus, to go back to Aristotle's problem with the paradox of having only a few friends in each life time, we can see that the best actual regime, a term I use here to distinguish it from Augustine's City of God, is composed of a multiplicity of separate and unique households and of virtuous citizens each with a few good friends, but all of whom recognize that justice is necessary among them, though insufficient for making real or actual what the life of the mind is about.
Let me at this point go on to a perplexity I have with regard to Montaigne's famous essay "On Friendship" (1580). Montaigne's essay cites both Aristotle and Cicero, as well as Horace, Catullus, and Plutarch. Indeed, this famous essay is a veritable common-place book of citations on this topic from ancient and modern authors. The essay concerns Montaigne's friendship with a young Huguenot, Estienne de la Boétie. Montaigne stands at the very beginning of the question of modernity, of whether there is an order to which the human will is subject and to which politics is ordained. Montaigne lived after Machiavelli and Luther but before Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Is the discussion of Montaigne on friendship in essential agreement with Aristotle, or is there something new? Is there something in Montaigne that would, as it were, deviate in the probable direction of modernity, in the direction of Rousseau's "intimacy"? Is there a drift away from Aristotle's sense that the highest act of friendship concerns not just the friends themselves, in their own uniqueness, but their relation to truth, to what is? Aristotle's friends, the few or one that one can have, are not, as I understand it, creating the truth or the world. Rather they are discovering it, deciding whether they live in the same world. They want to know whether what they communicate reveals something outside of themselves, something they have in common, something that is the origin of what they already are.
At first sight, Montaigne seems to live in Aristotle's world. We should note, however, that Montaigne does give the name of his friend, whereas Aristotle does not, except casually to mention certain friends of his, not by name, with whom he had to disagree at times because he preferred the truth to his friend's position. Obviously, Aristotle was referring to Plato here, but he does not name him. Montaigne examines friendship with women and wives, with brothers, with parents, none of which measures up to his highest standards. He likewise, as does Socrates in The Symposium, rejects what he calls the Greek problem, that is active homosexuality, as not worthy of friendship, indeed as corruptive of it.
Let me cite what Montaigne does remark precisely when he recalls the passage from Aristotle about legislation and friendship that I cited in the beginning:
There is nothing to which nature seems so much to have inclined us as to society; and Aristotle says, that the good legislators had more respect to friendship than to justice. Now the most supreme point of its perfection is this: for, generally, all those (friendships) that pleasure, profit, public or private interest create and nourish, are so much the less beautiful and generous, and so much the less friendships, by how much they mix another cause, and design, and fruit in friendship, than itself. Neither do the four ancient kinds (of friendship), natural, social, hospitable, venerian, either separately or jointly, make up a true and perfect friendship.
Aristotle, to be sure, was also concerned about distinguishing true friendship from those friendships based on utility or pleasure, even though he did call these latter precisely friendships and for the good reason that I have indicated about the inadequacy of justice. What we notice about Montaigne is that in his theory there is a kind of subtle shift from friendship based on exchange and activation of the highest things to an emphasis on the other friend as the exclusive subject. Though there seems to be nothing untoward in Montaigne's friendship with Estienne de la Boéte, its thrust or emphasis seems quite different from that we find in Aristotle. This is a subtle and delicate point, no doubt, but it does seem to be part of the struggle of ancients and moderns.
Yves Simon, in his reflection on friendship, refers to this very essay of Montaigne. Simon is arguing about the nature of a person, his ability to give gifts, to transcend himself because he loves a friend. Simon is concerned with the problem of whether we love a friend because of his quality or because of the friend as a person. That is, if we love someone because of beauty, what happens when it is destroyed by disease? Marriage vows suggest that these changes are to be considered to be part of the friendship of marriage, for better or for worse. So if we are asked what it is in a friend that we are related to in friendship, we respond that it is the person, the being of the friend.
It is here that Simon cites Montaigne famous remark, "If I am entreated to say why I loved him, I feel that this cannot be expressed except by answering 'Because it was he, because it was I.'" Simon went on to remark that Pascal (#323) was probably commenting, somewhat wrongly, on this very passage, when he thought that all love was rooted in qualities not person. Simon thought that Pascal did not adequately distinguish between being a ground of love (beauty, intelligence, character) and an object of love (the person). Simon asks then how friendship can be independent of its own grounds?
The only thing that human love cannot do is create out of nothing the goodness, the desirability of its object. Divine love alone causes the beloved to be good, independently of any goodness antecedent to love. In order to be an object for the love of a creature, a thing must already be good: in that sense it is true that no one is loved or liked by his fellow men except for his qualities. But, although many of these qualities are subject to destruction -- the first example of Pascal is beauty -- a human being will never be totally be devoid of qualities. There will always be in him a ground, or a multiplicity of grounds, for disinterested love. Even though a lady has been loved for her beauty, smallpox does not necessarily cause her to be neglected. Under the worst of circumstances, the excellence of human nature, considered in actual existence and in relation to its end, would still be a perfect ground for loving a person without measure.
A human being's ground for being loved, even by other human beings, is most clarified when we understand his mysterious relation to God.
Love can, therefore, transcend qualities. It reaches to persons in whom qualities themselves subsist and which are revealed through these same real qualities. Thus, what binds us together at the highest level is this capacity of love and friendship to see in reason and freedom the goodness that is there by divine love in the being of every existing person. Without this goodness that is there not from a finite person's own making, Simon remarked, friendship and civic virtue would not exist. The highest purpose of civil society thus is to make possible that human persons can exist and live in and with the goodness of other persons, each of whose goodness is rooted in the creative goodness of God. Society at its highest, then, is composed of a multiplicity of friendships each of which, to exist, requires time, mutual exchange, full awareness of the uniqueness of others in their relationships to the highest things.
The problem that arises because of the relation between friendship and political philosophy was best posed, I think, by Ernest Fortin in a little essay that he wrote about Augustine. Fortin's essay harkens back to the reason that Aristotle gave for being cautious with some of the principles he found doubtful in Plato -- the famous amicus Plato, amicus Aristoteles, magis amicus veritas. The implication is that we cannot be friends unless we place truth higher than, or constitutive of, friendship, that friendship is also a communication of and life in truth. To begin with, Fortin had remarked that Augustine did not disagree with the classical writers either about their initial definition of happiness or of virtue. Nor did Augustine follow Machiavelli and the moderns. When discovered the enormous difficulty that most people in all societies and in all times had with actually being happy or virtuous, they decided to lower the standards of virtue. They wanted to maintain that everyone could be said to be happy and content with, say, a sufficiency of power or goods, but without achieving the highest of the virtues of ethics and thought as proposed in the classical writers. The difference between Augustine and the moderns was that he preserved the exalted definition of virtue and truth established by the classical writers. Where Augustine differed from the classics was in their estimate of the possibility of virtue for everyone, even for those who were not philosophers. The classical writers argued that only a few could be expected to be philosophers or eminently virtuous. The Christian thinkers, on the other hand, argued that there were means, non-philosophical means, that could supply what the classics did not know about how, in practice, to be virtuous.
It is against this background that Fortin approached the question of friendship ancient and modern. There is a passage in the Acts of the Apostles that, curiously, is quite similar to Book Five of The Republic. That passage describes the early Christian communities as selling their property and living a communal life. They were bound together "with one heart and soul" (4:32). Fortin discovered that most frequently when Augustine cited this particular passage, he did so by adding that these early Christians were bound together because they were at the same time "bent on God." The point of this addition is that human beings become friends by being at the same time bound to one another and "by looking together in the direction of something outside of and higher than themselves." Thus, true friendship about the highest things is itself related to a common good to which the parties in a friendship orient themselves towards what is. Ultimately, friendship of human beings is ordained to, related to God as the ultimate good to which each person is oriented and about which he searches in all that he does and knows, including especially his friendships.
What is of particular interest in this consideration, I think, both in the light of Montaigne's essay and that of Aristotle is that friendship in modernity seems to have taken on a subtle emphasis that, on the surface, seems to exalt Aristotle's friendship in the direction of intimacy but which in fact undermines it. Fortin sees Augustine as the key here because, if we examine Augustine's own friendships, of which he had several -- Alypius, Nebridius, and one must add, in spite of Montaigne, Monica, if not the mother of Adeodatus -- they always recognize the importance of their relation to his own "restless heart". That is to say, if I might put it that way, the human friend that we have in Aristotle's sense is not God. Thus, for Augustine he is either a help or a hindrance to something beyond himself, yet without making friends merely instrumental or functional to something else. Each friend is in exactly the same condition of having a restless heart that will not rest except in God. Such is the intrinsic and metaphysical nature of friends related in God, the truth of which reality grounds the relation of one human friend to another so that neither is exclusively closed in on himself alone.
Fortin noted the frequency with which modern discussions of friendship seem to be posed in terms of an "I-Thou" relationship, a phrase made popular by Buber but which in modern philosophy goes back to Feuerbach, to an effort to see in man's relation to himself, especially the relation of love and friendship, only an anthropocentric projection, not a relation to an existing God. "As the use of such unnatural words as 'I' and 'Thou' reveals," Fortin observed:
... the new understanding is the product of a process whereby one prescinds from the actual end or ends to which individuals or communities are dedicated. It presumes that there are no pre-established, naturally knowable, or divinely ordained ends in the attainment of which human beings find their perfection, and it dismisses as meaningless any talk of such ends.
In the light of my concern about Montaigne, what this passage connotes about friendship is that the friend is not the world or the sole object of one's concern with him, even when, or especially when, he is actually our friend in the Aristotelian or Thomistic sense. When the friend does not exist in truth, that is, when both friends do not have a common good in which each exists, they become laws unto each other, precisely what they cannot be in friendship as Aristotle understood it.
Clearly, the love that is friendship is going to be exclusive. If it is not, it is not going to be friendship, based on the amount of time and exchange that Aristotle realized was intrinsic to its reality. Yet, when we look at the New Testaments, we are not merely told that Christ calls us friends, but that we are to love both our neighbors and our enemies, neither of whom is necessarily or obviously our friend. Is the New Testament commanding us to do something that contradicts human nature? We have already seen that Augustine has maintained that the classical discussion of virtue was a valid one, but that it took something else, what came to be called grace, for even natural virtue to be practiced in its fullness at least by the actual human beings of our experience.
Fortin wants to know whether the New Testament itself does not violate the possibilities and metaphysical nature of friendship as it appears in the classical authors. "It is characteristic of the New Testament commandment of universal love that it ignores all the limitations that nature imposes on us in this matter," Fortin wrote.
One is summoned to love others without discrimination and independently of their personal merits or qualities. But this could amount to little more than a tyranny of every individual over every other individual. The pitfall is avoided only if the love that unites human beings has its ground in the one good that can be shared by all of them without partition or diminution, namely, God himself.
What is important about this comment is that in practice the Christian commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself is not to be immediately identified with friendship, the dignity of which is not lessened but made more exclusive and important by this same commandment to love our neighbor.
"I-Thou" relationships and friendship in their differences, as I have indicated, are to be seen as aspects of the question of modernity and classical philosophy. The difference between friendship in the classics and in modernity depends on whether friendship is itself ordered to anything beyond itself. The modern emphasis on human rights and values, for instance, both of which in modernity are rooted in a subjectivity presupposed to no being, is the theoretical grounding of the idea that modern friendship is concerned primarily with the friend, no matter what the friend is in his moral status or no matter what he holds with regard to truth, whereas friendship in the classical and Christian writers contains the "magis amicus veritas" principle. Rights in the modern sense from Hobbes are presupposed to nothing but themselves, so that there is no necessary theoretical context in which they exist. They exist because they are posited. Values in modern culture mean what we choose to hold or do, not our affirmation of what is good or true. This position, as I see it, means that a friendship based on modern rights or value theory would not need theoretical rectitude for its highest manifestation, but only agreement on what is willed. That is to say, the other as other, the "I" and the "Thou" are not pointing to some other good but only to the other as if each did not have his own destiny and both the natural law which neither gave to himself.
In this context, it is worthwhile to look at Karol Wojtyla's new book in which this very topic of "I-Thou" is employed seemingly in the modern manner. It is characteristic of Wojtyla to know and account in his thought for modernity without compromising the validity of either classical reason or revelation. This effort to seek what is valid in modern theory does not mean, I think, that he would necessarily disagree with a Strauss or a Voegelin about the intellectual need of the classics precisely because of the results of many trends in modernity, but he does seem to take modern usages and ideas, test them for their truth, and modify them for his own statement of their worth in the light of an acknowledgement of the truth which man did not himself make. In this sense, Wojtyla has tried to employ the notion of "right" in a modern way, to define absolute human dignity, yet without allowing its relativist origins to dominate. Confusion about the subjective meaning of the words "value" and "right", however, still causes much puzzlement about papal positions.
In the case before us, that which concerns Wojtyla's use of the "I"-"Thou" relationship, we notice that the first time that he refers to this expression in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he is in fact referring to man's relation to God, something in its own way very Augustinian. Karol Wojtyla initially talks of prayer that is defined to be a "conversation." He explains that in a conversation there is an "I" and a "thou" or "you". Usually, the "I" is considered more important, but not in the case of prayer wherein the "Thou" is more important as it begins in God. The very orientation of this relationship already contains some transcendent context.
In his other two references to this relationship, Karol Wojtyla refers to Jewish thinkers influenced by the way that man and God address each other in the Old Testament. "The philosophers of dialogue, such as Martin Buber and ... (Emmanuel) Lévinas, have contributed greatly to this experience," Wojtyla observed.
And we find ourselves by now very close to Saint Thomas, but the path passes not so much through being and existence as through people and their meeting each other, through the "I" and the "Thou". This is a fundamental dimension of man's existence, which is always a coexistence. Where did the philosophers of dialogue learn this? Foremost, they learned it from their experience of the Bible. In the experience of the everyday man's entire life is one of "coexistence" -- "thou" and "I" -- and also in the sphere of the absolute and definitive: "I" and "THOU". The biblical tradition revolves around this "THOU", who is first the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ..., and then the God of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the God of our faith.
Wojtyla's point of view, that of the person "in act", his famous "acting person" and not directly that of the same person's existence and being, does stand on the side of modernity, of consciousness.
Yet Wojtyla's is not a consciousness that is divorced from being and existence, but rooted both. Rather the "coexistence" that is characteristic of human persons reaches its highest expression in friendship because that is where the activity of two human beings is real, mutual, and dealing with the highest things. Moreover, the model for understanding the "Thou" of God is prayer wherein God does not exist so much as a cause or an origin but as a person listening and responding. The Christian God, apparently unlike the philosophical First Mover or Good of the Greek philosophers can not only have an inner life that might be described after the manner of friendship, but can also have a direct relation with finite persons.
Later in his insightful book, Karol Wojtyla returned to these same philosophers of dialogue -- Buber, Lévinas, Franz Rosenzweig, to the relationship between the human "I" and the divine "THOU". Interestingly, Wojtyla cites this particular usage in connection with the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill". He relates this admonition wherein we human persons are addressed as "thou" by God to our desire to see one another, including God, face-to-face. The philosophy of the face is also found in the Old Testament. "It is through his face that man speaks, and in particular, everyman who has suffered a wrong speaks and says the words, "Do not kill me." Wojtyla notes how Lévinas in particular weaves together the philosophy of face and the command not to kill. Wojtyla recalls the Holocaust but also refers to the governments of our age, even democratic ones, that "sanction executions with such ease." He no doubt thinks here too of abortions wherein every precaution is taken that no one sees the face of the child killed.
Are Wojtyla and Fortin at odds in this matter of the relation of friendship and "I"-"thou" presentations? It seems clear that for Wojtyla the existence of human beings is always "coexistence". He is looking at the highest expressions of human existence as such, not its mere standing out of nothingness as what it is. His remarks on the human face, at first sight, might seem to suggest that a personalist philosophy is limited to the face, that his position might recall Montaigne's and modernity's seeing the human person as the highest being. Yet, the face reveals more than the face by revealing itself. This sense of some common good or purpose, this coexistence, is the caution that Fortin had in mind when he cautioned about the strangeness of the usage of the "I"-"thou" relationship.
In the context of this discussion of friendship and its highest expressions, I should like to recall the remarkable book of Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World, since I think this book, more than any other, makes the point about friendship and political philosophy that most needs to be made. de Rougemont considers the strange situation, in classical opera and drama, of the hero whose love ends in death, in tragedy, in its pursuit of purity, of a desire to have nothing "between" the lovers but themselves. That pure love should end in tragedy seems distinctly odd. Yet, as de Rougemont examines the literature on this topic, some of the great literature of our culture, he discovers that the tragic hero or heroine has made love into a kind of impossible burden, an idol even. Love that is exclusively "face-to-face" or "I"-"thou", with no opening to what is beyond the lovers, is a love that is self-destructive. The only love that can complete itself, in de Rougemont's view, is that love that ends not in death but in marriage, wherein "until death do us part" is itself part of a common good, of off spring and family, for which the "face-to-face" is naturally ordained. If we can put it another way, it is precisely in fulfilled, faithful loves that friendship achieves its highest purpose. There is here, I suggest, something that is distinctly Christian. If we recall Montaigne, marriage was not seen to be the location of the highest form of friendship. Aristotle himself asks whether husbands and wives can be friends in the highest sense. He affirms that they can be, though he thinks it is rare that they are.
Yet, if we take Aristotle's criteria for friendship, one or few friends in a complete life, the communication of the highest goods and virtues, for better or worse, with a common project, we can see that the focus we found in de Rougemont seems correct and a needed completion to the tractate on friendship. Moreover, as Aristotle had intimated in the First Book of the Politics, the condition of the household is the cornerstone of the structure of the polis. It cannot be otherwise. Perhaps it can be argued that the condition of friendship in the household is, in a sense, more important than the discussions of friendship in the polis. It is more important perhaps because the sort of friendship that was proposed in the classical authors can in fact only be realized fully in the household as it transcends itself so that, in a sense, the primary location of that leisure in which are exchanged the highest things among friends is found first and last in the household and in its mission. All through modernity, we have sought to remedy our ills through the state in a process that has more and more destroyed the family, that more and more claimed that our ills were structural and not moral and religious.
Thus, we return to Fortin's remarks on Augustine about friendship needing for its own good some sense of transcendence in its own very activity, for it to be itself. This transcendence is also present in the "face-to-face" or "I"-thou" encounter typical of the household, with its intrinsic awareness of what lies beyond itself. The point is clear from The Confessions (VI, 14), wherein Augustine speaks of forming with his friends precisely that common form of life that in Christianity must take either the form of marriage or a monastic or religious life. With this in mind, we can perhaps begin to realize that Aristotle's tractate on friendship, his advice to legislators to remember that friendship is more important than justice, is the key for the complete rethinking of modernity. This rethinking should be conceived not so much as a return to virtue, as we would have it in Strauss and Voegelin, though this is a worthy cause, but as a return to friendship, to those few lifetime and virtuous friendships upon which everything else noble and good depends.
The purpose of the polis is to allow for these friendships in the family, to multiply them as authentic and protected unities as widely as possible. This purpose should be promoted even for the polity's own interest. But how this is done, the strength for it, the love for it, this consideration, in the light of the chaos that in fact exists in this area, takes us back to Augustine, to the notion that the classical writers were correct about the nature of virtue and happiness but were somehow unseeing when it came to the revealed means whereby these ends that we could understand by reason might be achieved in this life. But no consideration of human life, its mortality, face-to-face, denies that in this life we are pilgrims and wayfarers. Our highest friendships intimate "I"s and "thou's" that are permanent. This sense of permanence, intrinsic to the highest activities of our kind, is itself something that takes each of our restless hearts to a "Thou" that is found through all that is, but to a "Thou" who is not Himself, any of these "beautiful things" that we do see.
Personal existence is a coexistence, even in the Godhead, wherein all existence is in act, in mutual consciousness. The tractate on friendship in political philosophy and the tractate on charity in revelation are not two unrelated treatises. They are tractates that pose questions one to another that, when sorted out, suggest that they are part of the same tractate in spite of their apparently different origins. The highest discussions in political philosophy, those on the best regime and on friendship, suggest that the best regime is composed in its parts of a multiplicity of friendships that bear the marks of those things, metaphysical and revelational, that transcend all political regimes without denying that mortals are by nature social animals and need them. Human lives remain lives of coexistence in the highest things, the things that transcend politics but do not deny the necessity or limitations of politics. The highest things exist also in word, in conversation, the exchange of which in act constitutes that friendship to which existence itself is ordained. In friendship, what is and what is revealed reach active consciousness in finite beings whose nature is specifically political, for others, and whose intellects are capable of all that is.
4) From Notre Dame Jouunal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy, 11 (#2, 1997), 467-86.
James V. Schall, S. J.
ENTITLEMENTS: UNINTENDED PARADOXES OF THE GENEROUS STATE
There will always be a wide range of difficult situations, as well as hidden and grave needs, which the manifold providence of the State leaves untouched, and of which it can in no way take account. Wherefore, there is always widespread scope for human action by private citizens and for Christian charity. Finally, it is evident that in stimulating efforts relating to spiritual welfare, the work done by individual men and by private civic groups has more value than what is done by public authorities.
-- John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, #120, 1961.
A cartoon in The New Yorker (Hendelsman, April 1, 1996) puts us in the living room of an uppity, probably Manhattan apartment. We see a reading lamp and, on the wall, a painting of what appears to be an odalisque. A father in his reading glasses and comfortable turtle-neck sweater is sitting in the sofa-chair paging through what looks like nothing so much as The New York Times. Beside him at the chair's right arm is his young son, about age five. The son is stationary holding in his hand the cord of a toy fire truck that he has obviously been pulling around the room while his father was reading the paper. The boy is now, however, standing alert, looking wide-eyed at his parent who has momentarily turned aside to speak to him in a most fatherly fashion, as if he were revealing the secrets of one generation to the next. The father, with a bemused, if not devilish, look on his face, off-handedly addresses the astonished boy. "By the way, Sam," he tells him, "as someday you'll be paying for my entitlements, I'd like to thank you in advance."
This cartoon, in fact, is as good an introduction to entitlements as any more scholarly one could be. We have here both the name "entitlement" -- you know it is an "in" word when it appears in a New Yorker cartoon -- together with current intimations about what it means. The lore about entitlements is that the younger generations will, much to their chagrin and expense, have to support, at rapidly increasing cost, the tremendous economic burden that the aging generations are going to cost. Notice here that we find implied nothing of the old-fashioned notion that families support each other in youth and old age via their own provisions and foresight. The son, whether he likes it or not, will take care of the father through the intervention of the all-powerful state. The son is expected, precisely, to "pay" for his father's entitlements.
The father, be it further noticed, is not working to leave his son an inheritance so that his son can have a better start in the world. Nor is the father saving for his own retirement. The father expects to be provided for by the mandatory entitlements that his son's generation will have to work to finance. And lest he, the father, seem ungrateful for this bounty, he is giving Sam, his son, an advanced word of appreciation while he (the father) is thinking of it. Sam, needless to say, stands bug-eyed before this inexplicable information that dooms him to slave away all his life to provide for his own and others' of his age parents. The father is obviously pleased at this ironic turn of events as it lets him off the hook for providing for his declining years. Probably the only cloud on his horizon is mandatory euthanasia when the entitlements' burden becomes too high for keeping dottering old men alive.
The morning I began these considerations, to continue these introductory remarks, I boarded the D.C. Metro Subway at Rosslyn, in Virginia, to go to Metro Center in the District of Columbia. I had to go there to buy four $10 senior citizen Metro tickets, to which I am entitled, having duly proved and registered my chronological age at a local Library on Wisconsin Avenue and R Street. The only place where I can buy these tickets, however, is at Metro Center. If I am out of pre-purchased tickets, I cannot use the normal fare kiosks at Metro stations for the special senior ticket. Without my entitled, pre-purchased ticket, I have to pay the regular steep fare. With these tickets, I cut the cost of a regular Metro fare more than half. Whether I am rich or poor does not make any difference in acquiring these tickets. Age, not need or merit, alone counts. Similar reductions exist for children. To use another word, I might say that I have a "privilege", a private law or arrangement to cover a special case that the legislator deems worthy. Presumably, the regular fares on Metro or general taxes are levied to pay for my less expensive ticket. Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, so there is no such thing as a reduced Metro fare for which someone does not have to pay the difference, though I grant the free enterprise possibility, to which public entities are notoriously blind, that lower fares may in fact induce more to use the system and thus increase revenue!
On coming back from Metro Center, moreover, I took another line and got off at Dupont Circle, a stop that enabled me to use a bus transfer without having to pay extra. When I walked over to P Street, I noticed that several people were waiting for the G-2 Bus, which, as my good luck would have it, had just pulled up. As the first lady in line started to get on the bus, the driver asked her to stand back. Suddenly, noise of whirring machinery indicated that the lift for disabled passengers, installed by law in every city bus, was in operation. When it had extended itself, a gentleman in a wheel chair was efficiently lifted down to the sidewalk. He proceeded to wheel himself away and we all boarded the bus after the lift had been replaced. This man was again entitled to have the same ease of transportation as normal citizens, whatever the added cost of installing the lift mechanism on every bus might be.
These somewhat random but common incidents of humor and every-day existence serve to call our attention to the meaning and problems that occur in a political society in which entitlements have come to play an unexpectedly large role. At first sight, entitlements appear both as rights and as gifts from a generous state honorably seeking to provide for everyone. On the other hand, someone must pay for this generosity. What appears to be free usually is not. And secondly, entitlements, particularly those administered by the government, seem to undermine personal initiative and responsibility so that they become but another example of the growth and extent of the control of modern state in the lives of its citizens. Clearly, entitlements deserve serious examination.,
The word "entitlement" cannot be found in Aristotle's Politics or in St. Thomas' discussions of natural law, jus gentium, or justice, though one might argue that hints of it can be found in certain aspects of their discussions of distributive justice and epichia or equity. It does not appear in the Ten Commandments, in the Declaration of Independence, in the Constitution, or in the first Ten Amendments. One searches in vain for it in the 1935 Edition of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, nor is it in the 1968 International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. The word is not in the Spell-Check of Word Perfect 6.0, but it is in the Random House College Dictionary of 1975, where "entitle" itself means "to give a person or thing a title, right or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying a claim." Evidently the "title" is "given" not "due" or "earned". The verb "entitle" has overtones of giving titles of nobility, of something to do with honor more than justice or debt. Entitlement first appears in the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature in 1988 with no specific journal entry, but with this interesting note, "See Economic Assistance, Domestic". As a technical word, the term has been in the courts since the late 1960's. Only after 1991 does it appear with any regularity in the Periodical Indices.
Interestingly enough, what we can learn from this brief survey is that in the beginning of its recent development, "entitlement", for the index classifiers at least, seemed to be understood as a domestic variant of "foreign aid". And "aid" in any form usually had the connotation of something temporary, something supplied to get some project or work started, something supplementary or helpful, something due to largess. The first entitlement entry in the Social Science Index was in 1991, in which an article from The Economist of London was listed with the instructive title, "The Entitlement Mentality", as if it were some sort of mind-set, if not a disease. At first the word seemed to be merely a budgetary term, a way to account for the disbursement of certain government monies, without any implied philosophical implications about the theoretic grounds to explain why such monies should be offered. In its usage all along, the word hovered very close to the word "right", itself a word of some considerable ambiguity in modern thought and one always in need of clarification about how it is being used.
The Latin word for "right" in pre-modern thought was jus, a word that meant something objective, something apart from human will, some norm of reason which the will searched out and to which it was obligated. Jus meant what was objectively right or due in an exchange or relationship, what one was obliged to whether he liked it or not. Jus called us because of what it was, because of its rightness. After Hobbes, however, the word "right" in most modern thought lost its objective grounding and became, following perhaps Suarez, subjective. It began to mean what was thought to be due to someone, what someone else owed us. Jus had an otherness and objective emphasis; "right" has an individualist and subjective stress. "Right" was not correlative to anything objective. Right was what was "owed" to us whether we did anything about it or not. For Hobbes in the state of nature we literally had a right, no restriction, to everything and anything. And as the list of "rights" began to expand to cover more and more aspects of life, modern thought began to search for someone or something to give us our due, our rights when we could not simply "take then" by our own powers..
Man has a natural "right" to everything, to repeat the view of Hobbes and his modern followers. Eventually this "right" came to be guaranteed by the all-powerful state that took over, by an incontrovertible logic, the dire consequences of everyone having a right to everything -- the war of all against all. From its subsumption of all rights into itself, the state took on the the duties of assigning rights according to its own purposes. Rights became what the state enforced with effective penalties. Hobbes was subsequently considered one of the main founders of modern liberalism because his all-powerful state took away all reasons for theological and philosophical controversy or warfare. As a result of its imposed peace, the state became richer and richer. There was more and more to distribute. The state's contract with its citizens decided their rights, apart from which, having abandoned the state of nature, no rights in effect existed. The last vestiges of the classic natural rights which limited the state were almost totally subsumed into the unlimited state as itself a rights defining and dispensing institution. The negative state that prevented strife and war and guaranteed justice became the welfare state, or what I will call "the Generous State", the one that distributed benefits according to its own perception of what citizens want and need..
Legally, rights were often originally "liberties", a stated freedom from certain laws and customs, a limitation on government. Government was seen initially as an institution preventing individual liberties from coming forth. But it soon came to mean the institution that "guaranteed" and fostered rights and liberties and eventually the institution that defined and made rights possible. Rights were also originally considered to be consequent on duties. Rights look at what is due to an individual or what someone cannot be prevented from doing or having. Duties, on the other hand, refer to what someone ought to do. If we only had rights but no one had duties to us, we would profit nothing from them. If I have a "right to life" but no one has a moral or legal "duty" not to kill me, the "right" really profits me little. Governments existed to enforce the rights that free will and voluntary negotiation could not effect.
Classic "bills of rights" from the English, French, and American Revolutions did not talk of entitlements, but the lists of "rights" that came into fashion with international organizations after World War II did have "economic and social" rights, notions that come pretty close to what we mean by entitlements. Economic and social rights were much more ambiguous than classical natural rights, themselves also denied any ontological status in modern philosophy. With economic and social rights, it is much more difficult to identify just who owes what to those said to be entitled. Obviously, a poor society cannot entitle its citizens to benefits it cannot produce. Economic or social rights or entitlements had something vague about them, something whose existence depended on something else, the existence of which it did not profoundly concern itself. This something that provided a rational and definition of rights due was more and more the all-powerful state. Human flourishing and well-being were not so much the responsibility of the individuals but of the state. Paradoxically, claims against the state were made in the name of definitions about individual welfare formulated by the state itself.
"What are entitlements?" Peter Peterson and Neil Howe ask in their 1988 study On Borrowed Time.
The term entitlement usually refers to those benefits -- whether in cash or in kind -- that the federal government automatically pays to qualified individuals. As a rule, entitlement programs ostensibly contain some strong social welfare dimension, though in the case of Social Security and Medicare, this is obscured by the insurance metaphors commonly used to describe payroll taxes and benefits. As defined by the House and Senate Budget Committees, entitlements consist of any federal outlay that either requires no annual appropriation by Congress or must be appropriated by Congress according to the terms of some underlying statute or program legislation. Thus, as long as a given law remains in force, an "entitled" beneficiary can sue the government for failure to pay benefits. If the underlying statute were to be amended or abolished, however, program participants ... would have no legally enforceable right to receive their payments.
Similar provisions are found in most modern states and in most state governments in the United States.
Certain benefits thus are due to certain defined classes or types of citizens or oftentimes to all citizens. The origin of these benefits is founded in legally enacted public purpose, one that the courts have generally expanded in liberal fashion. It is assumed that these benefits help and do not hinder the recipients or the polity that distributes them. Very often it takes some time to evaluate the effects of such entitlements. Aid to dependent children, clearly well-intentioned, may, in fact, end up undermining the integrity and existence of a two-parent family and the well-being of children themselves. Good intentions alone do not always or even usually make good laws. No doubt the least studied aspect of the modern state system is the analysis of the dire effects of legislative and judicial good intentions. Once one falls under the defined categories, in any case, he can expect his benefit and can sue the state if it or some other entity under its jurisdiction fails to provide for what it has promised. If rights, privileges, and liberties were originally conceived to be limits to or exemptions from state jurisdiction, entitlements seem to emphasize rather what the state "owes" to its citizens, wherein the state keeps the power both to define what the citizen is, no matter what his existential status as a human being from nature, and what benefiting him means. Rights and entitlements do not come from outside of but from within the state.
Politically, most states have found that they cannot easily restrict entitlements once their citizens have come to "expect" them from their government. Entitlements come close to defining and spelling out what states "owe" to their citizens. The purpose of entitlements often is to bring everyone up to a certain minimum judged to be necessary for human well-being. All the resources of the state are commanded to meet this need to which someone is entitled. Conceived in this fashion, the state claims a moral purpose, a compassionate or paternal purpose. The state assumes into itself more and more the private aid-giving institutions when their moral or religious impetus or inspiration flags or fails. Behind this notion of entitlement we must at least ask about where this principle that the state "owes" anything to its citizens comes from? What might entitlements imply about human nature and the state? Is the state the only or major source for confronting the needs that entitlements are designed to meet?
The discourse of entitlements is almost always lofty and noble in intention. The results of their enactment into law, however, frequently seem less exalted, often appearing to to foster laziness, dependence, and state control of all phases of human life. On the obvious assumption that whatever the state distributes must come from someplace other than itself, from what citizens produce or earn, entitlements, unlike say the original Homestead Act of the last century, emphasize not the producing aspect of public life or the principles and attitudes that are required for it but the distribution aspect. It takes no great subtlety to see how such differing mentalities that emphasize distribution or production can come into conflict in practice.
Aristotle's famous virtue of munificence (The Ethics, Book 4) saw great virtue in allowing the very rich to distribute their wealth privately in the form of things that foster the good, the true, the beautiful, or help for the needy. This Aristotelian virtue recognized that wealth, legitimately acquired, could be used for good or evil purposes. The virtue sought to orient the soul those things that were noble and worthy, that provided for a level of living and worth attained only by those who understood the value and purpose of higher things in the community. While this virtue still exists in free societies, the fact is that high taxing policies, often caused by needs to pay for entitlements, minimize this capacity and resource of munificence in the population. Moreover, with increasing control of the definitions of good, beautiful, true, and what is needed, the state gains more and more control of the culture. It is no accident that higher education, humanities and arts policies, shows in museums reflect this concentration of distribution capacities in the hands of the state.
Obviously, the term "entitlement" has been fashioned to cover a phenomenon of the modern state, one almost has to say, of the "welfare state". The dictionary definition of the welfare state is, interestingly, "a state in which the welfare of the people in such matters as social security, health, education, housing, and the working conditions is the responsibility of the government." Presumably, a non-welfare state would be one in which the "social security, health, education, housing, and working conditions of the citizens were not the responsibility of the government" but of the citizens themselves or of some other social body. At least some people in modern political thought have seen such a welfare state as a "servile" state, a state in which well-being is exchanged for government control, even if the government be democratic and supposedly benign in form. The essence of the "servile" state is one wherein the citizens must work for those who do not work productively, be they capitalists or bureaucrats. Dependency on entitlements can be looked on from this angle as a means to make the vast majority of citizens incapable of any free movement because it would jeopardize their welfare. Their entitlements, in other words, far from freeing them, have tamed them; they have no independent liberty, such as property was originally designed to give them, from the taxing or coercive power of the state.
Entitlements refer to the distribution of society's benefits, usually financial but also benefits in kind, like Food Stamps, to those who fall into this or that legislatively defined category. Entitlements seem to be products of what I am calling here not the welfare state but "the Generous State", for they do not merely address dire, temporary conditions but long-range ones that need not always exist but which are nice or helpful when they do exist. The citizens of the Generous State are often well-off, presumably because of the benefits they receive. That is, in terms of average income, compared to other societies, those on entitlement income seem rich in terms of goods and services. Generous states in the modern era, however, are running into increasing public debts and concerns about bankruptcy because, following a principle already found in Plato, desires for benefits, once set in motion, seem unlimited. Since the state itself produces nothing, its so-called "generosity", a name properly used of individuals in their personal relations to others, comes from others, from monies garnered through the taxing process. The irony of being "generous" with someone else's money does not lessen when the state itself is said to be generous.
Some entitlements are for everyone; some for this or that group within society, often initially perceived to be given on a "need" basis. It is clear that organized and active societies can and do produce enormous wealth precisely because they are so organized with an enterprising population. The principle of specialization is also a principle for societal wealth production. The world is not really a zero-sum game, wherein everyone has to produce everything or wherein there is a fixed amount to be distributed such that if we give to some, we must take from others. Belief in such a position, such as we often find in modern ecologists or environmentalists, is one of the major causes for the increased power of the state in recent times.
The ultimate source of wealth, however, is not material goods or things in the ground but the human brain, intelligence, which to all practical purposes is unlimited. If we add the human brain and its innovative capacities to the gifts of the earth, unexpected, enormous riches result. Entitlements are based on the share of this wealth that is commandeered and distributed by the state on some public basis defined in its law. Entitlements can thus be conceived as incentives, rewards, compensations, and free givings, but their cost can also be burdensome and counterproductive so that they actually are a drag on society, especially when they are looked on independently from the problems and conditions of production and the nature of human intelligence.
In their present form, entitlements could not exist, however, if the state did not exist and did not command some portion of what is produced by citizens to be distributed on its (the state's) and not the citizen's own criterion. The state as such is rarely, if ever, a producer of wealth. This is, among other things, the lesson of modern socialism and communism. Payments to a states' own bureaucrats and administrators, moreover, can turn out to be a huge cost, especially in states wherein the well-being provisions themselves require a large voting bureaucracy to distribute the entitlements. Indeed, the entitlements of state employees in terms of vacations, retirement benefits, health care, and other privileges often are far in excess of those available to non-state employed citizens. The employees of the state become major political actors seeking to protect or extend their benefits and their own entitlements.
What the state has to distribute, however, must be taken from what is produced by someone other than its own employees. The experience of modern states is that, however necessary a stable public order may be, these states are themselves notoriously poor producers of wealth and often fail to understand how wealth is produced at all. Poverty in the modern world is often caused, not by lack of resources, but by the state's selecting the wrong intelligence about wealth and the conditions of its increase. The ability of a state to offer entitlements is always jeopardized by its taking, usually through taxes, of much too high a percentage of the wealth of its people. This is why the best entitlements policy must always be that which leaves as much as possible with those who produced the wealth in the first place for their own provisioning of their needs. It is not just a question of the volume of money collected from the productive citizens but of resultant lowering or destruction of incentives. In this sense, the claim to entitlements brings us straight to profound questions in economics and political philosophy.
Perhaps the oldest efforts to distribute benefits came from the wars, from pensions and allotments of land or money, later to G.I. Bills and guaranteed benefits on retirement, payments, PX privileges, Veterans' Hospitals and Homes. Here, in the case of the military in all societies, there was the relation between military compensations to distributive justice and to the unequal bearing of others' burdens in war and defense. Soldiers in the Roman legions looked for grants of land on being mustered out of service. Those who fought in battles or served in armies were considered to be entitled to special rewards or benefits, in many cases to lifetime care, from a grateful citizenry whose freedom the armies had defended or preserved. Failure to carry through promised recompense was in many societies a course of civil disturbance if not governmental overthrow.
On retirement from the military, which happened by comparative standards at quite an early age in recent times, the veteran could go to work and make whatever sort of income he could garner. Aside from income tax totals, his military income was simply a regularly received payment or allotment. The veteran considered that he was entitled to it, even that he earned it. If he did not want to do another thing the rest of his life, that was fine too. This distribution of benefits was looked upon as a matter of justice. And that word justice brings us back to the classical discussions of general and special justice, of commutative and distributive justice, of equity and fairness. Entitlements did not seem to have quite the aura of justice or right connected to them.
All forms of justice had the connotation of "rendering what was due". Justice relationships needed to be defined in terms as clear as possible to be understood, preferably in mathematical or proportional terms. It needed to be evident that someone was not getting something for nothing, but for a title, a reason. Getting something for nothing was indeed a very high form of exchange, perhaps the highest, something we call gift or benefice, but it was not justice and did not fall under the aura of the state. A world of only justice was a terrible world since it only looked to exchanges, to abstract relationships, not to the persons who did the exchanging in their particularity. But still justice was a reality and could not be overlooked except, again, voluntarily or freely. Notions of forgiveness and repentance were designed to mitigate the rigidities of justice. There was something particularly noble about not demanding justice. One could accept another's burden or give of what was justly his without demanding anything in return. Justice indeed seemed to exist for something beyond itself; it seemed limited.
Entitlements somehow appeared to recognize that this something beyond justice can be articulated even by the state, though one might still argue whether what is being gotten at by entitlements is the best way for a society to meet its problems, even its peripheral problems. "Rights talk", as Mary Ann Glendon called it, or "entitlements talk", as I will call it here, seems to bear the connotation of a demand that something be given freely, an obvious contradiction. If something is given freely, and that is our perfection in a way, it is not by way of right, which has the implication of something due, that is, something not given freely but given because something objective obliges.
Commutative or rectificatory (making right) justice was that exchange that took place either because of damage done by accident or deliberation, such as skidding into another car because of a flat or because of stealing, or because of advantages gained by voluntary agreement. What is characteristic of all forms of justice is the mutual and equitable exchange. What is owed is what is to be returned. Justice enabled damage to be repaired or it enabled something new to enter the world through entrepreneurship. Careful accounting of who did what, of who was responsible for what, was in effect in commutative justice. On this basis of surety, one could go ahead and plan rationally and expect results of one's foresight and work to be apportioned out fairly. Justice wants rewards to be assigned exactly and with reason, with title.
Insofar as the state entered into these agreements or exchanges, it was primarily to hold the contractors to their pledged word. Without the assumption of justice, very little would be undertaken. In the case of distributive justice in which the common goods or burdens of society were assessed and meted out, however, the principle of exchange was after the manner of proportionate contribution or proportionate burden. Civil disturbances or unrest, Aristotle had told us in the Fifth Book of The Politics, occurred when those who contributed more felt they were rewarded less or when those who had no distinction thought that everyone ought to be treated absolutely equally, no matter what more they did. The polity, in any case, was recognized as an arena in which there was a common good, that is, where many different private and individual goals and institutions could flourish because there was a settled order so that everyone did not have to do everything. The state did not "do" everything but provided the settled order in which myriads of individuals and their organizations could operate to do what they saw fit. If the state tried itself do everything, it would violate its own common good. The Platonic undercurrent to this principle simply meant that spiritual and material riches of the whole required that many different talents be allowed to flourish. Not everyone could or had the time to do everything.
In his book, Thoughts on Machiavelli, Leo Strauss remarked that one of the causes of disorder in the modern state was precipitated by Christianity in a rather paradoxical fashion. Strauss' point is a subtle one. He argued that revelation had caused an elevated expectation about what human nature by itself could and would be able to accomplish. That is, ideas of charity, mercy, forgiveness, and sacrifice, which came into existence by virtue of doctrines and inspirations resulting from grace, from revelation, began to evaporate in modernity. What did not change so much, however, were the ideals or goals that these teachings put into existence. That is, the elevated expectations were still in the souls of the populace so that, even with the decline of belief and moral virtue, the accomplishment of these ideals became the duties not of charity or church but of the modern state, whose instruments of action did not include mercy. At the foundations of the modern state is a sense of compassion divorced from grace. Compassion apart from grace in practice is pride, the claim that what is not within our powers is capable of being accomplished by us by non-revelational means, by our own capacities, in other words. For our purposes here, this means that the state has come to be responsible for goals that were not conceived possible by normal political or economic institutions, but which were anticipated by grace. In a sense, the Kingdom of God came to mean something happening primarily in this world through political means.
A further element in this consideration has to do with the modern idea of rights. The modern idea of rights has its origins in Hobbes and his state of nature. Rights, contrary to the older natural law thinking, were presupposed to nothing. Man had a natural right to everything, a right that required no natural or divine law. Rights came to mean, as we have indicated, what the government, the Leviathan, granted to us. The modern notion of rights had connected with it a kind of arbitrariness. Rights were not "natural" but "civil". The state was designed to define and protect rights, but rights in the first place were what the state granted. Rights were created by legislation. We knew what was a law because we could see what the state enforced. Once we gave up our natural right to everything by entering the state, we did not have a right to anything but what the state
enforced or defined. No one had to bother about some sort of "higher law".
If we put these several ideas together, we can begin to understand what is behind the question of entitlements. "Rights ... are demands for government goods and services," R. Shep Melnick has written, "rather than for demands for protection against government intrusion -- entitlements, rather than liberties.... The traditional American emphasis on individual rights has melded with the modern welfare state. If the older view of rights as individual liberty delayed and stunted the growth of the welfare state, then the newer view of rights as entitlements has helped it to flourish." We have here stated in clear terms the problem that entitlements present. The earlier view of rights was a means to restrict the state. This was Locke's idea that that government governs best that governs least. The government was conceived to be primarily an impediment to individual liberty. The government was designed to protect this individual liberty. It is with Rousseau and Mill that individual liberty becomes social liberty, that what we want is what the state wants for us.
Why have entitlements enabled the government to flourish? One aspect of this question would be that the size of government increased to administer the entitlements themselves designed to provide for the people. Government itself became a major cost. Those who worked for the government, in terms of vacations, health insurance, retirement, conditions of labor, turned out to be the most protected group in society. Entitlement programs also became the vested interest of those who administered the program. Government workers did not work for good will or charity. The service structure to administer politicized compassion was itself a great independent cost. A certain significant percentage of every sum spent on compassion and entitlement went to those who administered the program. Thomas Sowell has pointed out that in terms of foreign aid, the amount of money returned to the Third World from families of immigrants or guest workers exceeded all the public foreign aid of all the nations. We can wonder whether some analogous system not on the state level might not be a better one to achieve the purposes that entitlements were designed to accomplish.
From the viewpoint of political philosophy, in conclusion, how does one take the measure of entitlements? There is an ancient argument about the state and its justification. The first argument stems from Aristotle and Aquinas, both of whom understood the darker side of human nature, especially the tyrannical tendencies that are often found in human experience. Their positive argument maintains that, in spite of the admitted defects of actual human nature, the state is a natural institution. Man is by nature a political animal, but not only a political animal. Or better, it can be argued that in being a political animal, man is still a being whose end and purposes transcend anything limited to the state's purposes itself. This means that by the very fact of his following his given nature, man should set up a civil polity to enable him to do many things that could not be done or done as well outside of this formal organization. But it also means that even with the state institutions in effect, these civil institutions do not exhaust or define man's highest purposes.
This state could be organized according to various ends, not all of which were noble. The question of the best regime and its location was a crucial one, even though the best regime that could be expected in politics in this world existed only rarely. All actual regimes were in practice less than the best. Man's disordered soul could reflect itself, as Plato knew, in his political organization The Republic, Books VIII-IX). But implicitly, the state existed that the myriad forms of good that man could cause and ought to cause could come to pass. The state existed, in other words, that the highest things might exist, things that were mostly beyond the state. Human actions, however, were legitimate and their expressions in terms of habits and laws were the proper, if limited, arena of the state.
The second view of the state, one associated with Augustine, held that the state was primarily a remedial institution; it only existed because of sin or the Fall, which itself ought not to have existed. Man is not by nature a political animal in this view. The fact is, as any minimally observant person knows, that there is a wide scope for evil and greed in the world that constantly manifests itself, even in terms of law and political institutions. This situation was discussed in the classic authors in terms of decline of regimes or disordered regimes. The kings and princes, senators and rulers, that organize and rule the state are themselves subjected to the consequences of the Fall.
That is, the state can be the most dangerous of human institutions, multiplying evil as well as good. Not infrequently in history the state has been the most dangerous enemy of human dignity. The best the state can do is to keep disorder at a minimum without ever promising anything approaching perfection. This is the sort of realism that greets us with any historical knowledge of human existence. And in terms of the topic of these reflections, of entitlements designed to benefit citizens and the operations of the Generous State, we can expect that such arrangements will be subject to abuse and in fact may serve to corrupt, in some unexpected but easily identifiable fashion, a whole society in the name of something that seemed like a worthy enterprise.
In examining the mechanisms of entitlement legislation over the years, it is not difficult to see the Augustinian side of what seemed to be a worthy proposal working itself out. In civil life as in personal life, it remains true that we judge legislation by what we intend it to do, but we must be honest enough to see that we must also examine it in the context of what it does do. Entitlement proposals seem to be a product of efforts to guarantee a stable and prosperous life for the citizens of modern states. The state sees itself as dispensing good things to its citizens, as fulfilling its obligations to them in terms of distributive justice.
The question remains, however, whether the state should be the institution that is primarily responsible for this otherwise laudable purpose. Certain minimal things must be granted to the state both as a directing and as a remedial institution. On the other hand, the state is one institution among others. It is, if we can put it this way, that institution that makes it possible for other institutions to exist and flourish. Likewise, it is, because of its coercive monopoly, that institution that can prevent their developing. The most important things are not found in the state. The temptation of all modern states is to deny this proposition, to assume into themselves those elevated expectations that were implanted into the soul of man by revelation but to assume that these expectations could be provided by means other than those indicated in that same revelation.
Once man is no longer seen as someone whose ultimate purpose and destiny transcends the state, his sights are lowered to this life. When this lowering takes place in the minds of individuals, then the relative rank of the state is elevated to that of the most important institution available to man. It has subsumed into itself those things formerly held to belong to something higher than the state. Aristotle had said that politics is the highest practical science, not the highest science as such. One could argue, as I do argue, that the modern discourse of rights and entitlements is the result of this subtle displacement of the position of the state from that of a natural institution subject to the nature and ends of man to that of the highest institution itself. The function of the state comes to be the defining and providing function for all that is needed for human life, a provision that conceives its task in primarily this-worldly terms. The state expresses itself in terms of laws, rights, entitlements, and benefits. The growth of entitlements, of the state's increasing control of human well-being in all its phases, including primarily its very definition, is the case of a well-intentioned proposal going wrong because its authors' understanding of what it was about is motivated by ideas and provisions that work against human nature and destiny as that is understood in its fullness.
The redress of this growing control of the state through its benefit giving, generously motivated activities, it would seem, lies, at the institutional level, with a re-emphasis on the production side of human well-being, on what produces wealth and the virtues and essentially private but still social institutions that result when people are given the freedom and duty to provide for themselves. Movements such as home schooling, removing education from state bureaucracies, innovative business generated through small capital beginnings reflect the vitality of a free and responsible people allowed to provide for themselves. Again here we need to be reminded that there is no substitute for accurate understanding of human purpose and human vice, of what resources are available to us in both traditions of virtue and in traditions of revelation. What has caused the modern state the freedom to incorporate into itself ideas and institutions that have worked against human worth has not originally been the state itself. The first disorders of a society always originate in the minds and hearts of the dons, academic and clerical. It is true that we can suggest, as I have done here, the consequences of these disorders in political terms. The fact remains, following a suggestion of Edmund Burke, that a virtuous people can make even bad institutions plausibly work for worthy projects and an unvirtuous people can ruin even the best of political or economic arrangements.
Entitlements are in fact political and economic realities that most often were proposed and enacted with the best of intentions. As their purposes worked themselves out, however, it became clear that they had the effect of transferring much wealth and independence of the citizen over to the state. Theoretically, the state assumed the responsibility not only of well-being but of defining well-being. The Generous State treated its citizens and especially those who directly worked for it exceedingly well. Somehow, it also corrupted the whole social order because it did not attend to the productive or innovative side of human reality and the vast reaches of intelligence and organization that were located there. This is why the remarks from John XXIII cited at the beginning of these reflections remain so pertinent. The secret sources of grace and human energy need to be allowed to work, need to be fostered through the principle of leaving things at the lowest level as possible, through not wanting the state to provide for all ills and the righting of all wrongs.
The state as the primary substitute for divine providence and bounty is a dangerous entity precisely because it has lost contact with the true destiny and nature of man as he exists in this world. We have, so to speak, been blessed with an "entitlement" that always limits the state and elevates us to a higher level than the state can provide for us. When this higher level is restricted, unrecognized, not allowed to grow, the state will see human life as a failure on its own terms. It will come to see its own task as that of replacing those energies and forces that are no longer encouraged or allowed to exist in human society.
The generous state easily becomes the all-caring and all-powerful state, seeing itself as acting in the highest and most noble motives. Entitlements that reduce us to wards or subjects of state largess as the proper and only ambiance for out actions and security are not neutral either in theory or in practice. Reflections on entitlements, like all questions of politics and economics, can and should bring us to confront the conditions and nature of the highest things. When we do not have these latter considerations in proper order, we will in all likelihood end up corrupting even those institutions, such a entitlements, that we proposed and put into effect with the most noble of intentions.