Swapping “Rights” For the “Common Good”
The Church State Council, a regional affiliate of the North American Religious Liberty Association, maintains a “Speaker’s Bureau” list and because I am one of the professionals listed, I have been asked on many occasions to preach the morning sermon and present an afternoon seminar. As a consequence, I have developed a seminar which deals with current events economic, social and religious.
The seminar focuses on the content of the recent Papal Encyclical, both to its economic and social policy. It considers the role “coercion” is currently playing in the shaping of our nation vs. the role freedom of conscience and individual rights play. A careful examination will show that the platform our President ran on is now being shaped by “other” forces. The Seminar points to the rise of new forces which will dramatically affect our future. I think it can safely be stated – our nation is currently embarking on a new adventure to which everyone should give careful consideration.
Following are highlights of some of the historical and economic material which, when combined with issues raised in the recent Papal Encyclical, and Manhattan Declaration have led to the creation of my seminar material.
James Madison wrote: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom by gradual and silent enactments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” From Madison’s perspective, following the American Revolution, still looking back at England and yet ahead, he viewed gradual and silent enactments as a future threat – and he was right. Times have changed now but Madison would be quite beside himself watching the Republic which was built on the trust of “We the People” unravel through both silent enactments and social chaos.
It’s not only that we live in a time when the economy has hit a new low. It’s more – much more. A truly capitalistic society (Adam Smith style) would have said to big business and big banks – “sooo long – it’s been good to know ya”! But in the eyes of politicians and the financial sector that couldn’t happen – so the rest of the story looks a lot different. What has transpired has opened the door for rapid social and economic changes. Milton Friedman experimented for three decades “methodically exploiting moments of shock.” The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, pg.14
What Friedman discovered was that a national “shock” event opens up a nation for immediate social change. Politicians and governments have become keenly aware of this fact and have, waiting in the wings, a litany of changes for society the moment a disaster strikes. Such was the case with 9-11. The Patriot Act made an immediate appearance, followed soon by the Homeland Security Act and next by the Military Commissions Act. I think we will all understand that some changes were in order. Yet, it is interesting to note that the Patriot Act was created with a sunset clause - upon which the sun has not yet set.
The past administration evidently had a falling out with the American public due to its secrecy, Executive orders, overkill with the right to “wage war”, excessive exercise of “Unitary” power and the diminishing of Habeas Corpus Rights. Americans, who listened to campaign rhetoric seemed, by a sizable percentage, to believe that a house cleaning was in order. The American public however, appears to be oblivious to the fact that power once established is rarely jettisoned.
So, in the current administration, we discover that secrecy (not transparency) still abounds. We discover that the sun still has not set on portions of the Patriot Act. To the dismay of many, the power of the “Unitary Executive” still continues to grow. This is clearly visible in the bail out of manufacturing firms and financial institutions. To be fair, it must be noted that the current Administration inherited a near impossible social/economic situation. So, the key to what we are seeing develop today is definitely found in the word “crises” - economic crisis. This definitely opens the doors for a peaceful coup - a movement from our past heritage to a new “empathetic” future. To help us comprehend what is transpiring we will focus on some specifics.
Recently I attended a medical forum. To my surprise, the question of “Rights” and “Common Good” both surfaced. At least one of the attendees raised the question of where the “Right” to mandate health care for every American came from. Now the media keeps reminding us that we must act for the “Common Good.” In fact, these were the words used in the presidential campaign to capture many votes. As I considered the meeting, it put me to work searching for the source of the “Right” which is currently being exercised to mandate health care. Nowhere in the Constitution was it apparent to me that such a “Right” was either inherent, implied or might be assumed. What I discovered, instead, was that we are facing a movement away from “individual” rights to the “Common Good.” This loss of “Rights” may, in time, affect both our freedoms and the systematic transfer of wealth. After much wrangling in the Congress and Senate over the Constitutional legality of the health care bill new research has surfaced. The American Constitution Society is currently distributing a brief by Simon Lazarus entitled: “Mandatory Health Insurance: Is It Legal?” Mr. Lazarus argues “That multiple provisions of the Constitution permit Congress to enact an individual mandate as part of the health care reform legislation. He claims that the ‘Supreme Court decades ago, in 1944, held that the business of insurance fell within Congress’ regulative authority under the commerce clause.’” “Mandatory Health Insurance: Is It Constitutional?” An issue brief by Simon Lazarus, American Constitution Society, email: email@example.com
Now I think that most of us favor some form of Health care reform. The facts are, however, in order to comprehend what is transpiring we must understand the relationship between Socialism and the Social policy of the Catholic Church which describes the “Common Good.” The outcome of the recent Presidential election indicates that many voted for “change.” Now the “Common Good” sounds like a good new social policy. Let’s face the facts – it is a good sounding concept and after all, am I not my “Brother’s Keeper”?
Frederick Engels, 1820-1895, was the father of modern Socialistic theory. The aim of Socialism is to have an equal distribution of the wealth based on economic planning for the common good. Several other factors however, are currently shaping the direction of our national movements. Saul Alinsky was a Chicago activist. What our President learned from Mr. Alinsky’s methods about community organizing seems to be shaping his Presidency. Mr. Alinsky clearly delineated his goals. “What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. ‘The Prince’ was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. ‘Rules for Radicals’ is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.” Know Thine Enemy” by Noam Cohen, The N.Y. Times, August 22, 2009 www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/weekinreview/23alinsky.html
Now the term “Common Good” has a long pedigree before Engels or the Vatican “running from Aristotle through the “Angelic Doctor,” St. Thomas Aquinas, to Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which declared the “Common Good” the foundation of Catholic social thinking” George Marlin, “The Democrats: The Party of the Common Good?” The Catholic Thing. 29 September 2008. Web 24 May, 2009 www.thecatholicthing.org/content/view/576/41
“The Catholic Church, in its social teaching, explicitly rejects belief in the automatic beneficence of market forces.” The Common Good and the Catholic Churches’ Social Teaching; Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 1996, Part II: Application to Contemporary Questions, #77. /Catholic Social Teaching/. Office for Social Justice. 24 May 2009 www.osjspm.org/majordoc_statement_0f_note_common_good.aspx <http://www.osjspm.org/majordoc_statement_0f_note_common_good.aspx>
Since 1878, the Catholic Church has issued more than 250 Encyclicals related to Social Thought and Doctrine. No other government, political entity, or university has produced such a voluminous tradition of Social Thought and Doctrine. The previous President maintained close ties to the Vatican and it was the “Common Good” policy of the Vatican, especially with regard to labor unions, which helped to elect the current President. So that the reader can make some judgments for themselves, the following will be quotes from the “Key Principles of Catholic Social Teaching” published by the Office of Social Justice, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Mn.
“The principle of human dignity is grounded in the idea that the person is made in the image of God. . .”
*Community and the Common Good*
“. . .The obligation to “Love our neighbor” has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment. EVERYONE HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE GOOD OF THE WHOLE SOCIETY, TO THE COMMON GOOD”
*Option for the Poor and Vulnerable*
“. . . The obligation to evaluate social and economic activity from the viewpoint of the poor and the powerless arises from the radical command to love one’s neighbor as ones’ self”
“All people have a right to participate in the economic, political, and cultural life of society. It is a fundamental demand of justice and a requirement for human dignity that all people be assured a minimum level of participation in the community.”
*Dignity of Work / Rights of Workers*
“The economy must serve people, not the other way around. . .”
“. . . People have a right to economic initiative and private property, but these rights have limits. NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO AMASS EXCESSIVE WEALTH WHEN OTHERS LACK THE BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE.”
“. . . Solidarity (is) a virtue. . .by which we demonstrate ‘a firm and persevering determination to commit ourselves to the common good. . . because we are really RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL.”
Sounds interesting and answers the question as to the Social directives of the Vatican - Is it a superior form of Socialism? Most of us clearly understand that we have an obligation to alleviate suffering and work to eliminate poverty – we also understand the words of Jesus, “The poor you have with you always.” So is a society to be judged solely by the elimination of poverty?
The question citizens have been individually responsible to settle in the past is the role one personally could play in the relief of suffering and poverty. What the “common good” demands, however, may radically change our future personal and financial freedoms. The argument is not that “Common Good” social policies will not work but that “Individual rights” will be dramatically altered. One thing has become increasingly evident the nation is presently experiencing traumatic social, economic and religious changes. The recent Manhattan Declaration recommends “civil disobedience” as a possible reaction to “conscience” coercion. It is these issues which the seminar considers.
If the seminar would interest you contact Pat Silvia at 916-446-2552, firstname.lastname@example.org.