Skip to comments.Federal Social Programs and Catholic Principles
Posted on 11/11/2005 10:52:44 PM PST by Coleus
Federal Social Programs and Catholic Principles
One of the fundamental differences between the liberal and conservative mentalities, at least in the United States, is the penchant of one for glorifying social programs and the other for glorifying capitalism and a free market system. Over the decades, but particularly today, politicians on both sides court the Catholic vote.
The Catholic who votes liberal because of the social programs that are the legacy of 60-plus years of American socialization does so out of a sense of obligation. The argument is that the welfare system and other similar systems promoting social equality are more in line with Catholic teaching on the grounds that we, as a society, are obligated to consider the poorest of the poor before we consider ourselves. They believe the federal government to be the best (though not necessarily the only) vehicle for accomplishing these social goals.
The Catholic who votes a conservative ticket in order to quash these programs also does so out of a sense of obligation. He believes several things, listed here in order from ethical to preferential. First, he believes in the self-determination of man that in both giving and receiving the individual should be able to exercise a freedom of conscience that is compatible with his beliefs. Second, he believes in the principle of subsidiarity; that which is possible to do on a local level should be done on a local level. Third, he believes that he knows better how to dispose of his money than does the federal government.
Conservatives paint left-leaning liberals as being socialist, teetering on the edge of advocating a system that has led to outright socialism (and economic problems of significance) in Europe. Liberals paint conservatives as being unconcerned with the plight of the poor.
The question is: which group is right?
Pope John Paul II wrote a considerable amount against socialism and in favor of individual freedom. But at the same time, he also spoke of the responsibility of the state to be mindful of the poor and less privileged.
However, earlier than that Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum helped to establish the blueprint which has been largely followed by his successors. He commented, It is not right for either the citizen or the family to be absorbed by the state; it is proper that the individual and the family should be permitted to retain their freedom of action, so far as this is possible without jeopardizing the common good.
Those who follow politics in the United States know that our country, while still far from being a socialist state, has developed alarming socialist tendencies. One of the most egregious examples of the citizen or family being absorbed by the state is the federal welfare system, which is to a large degree emblematic of the problems behind our federal social systems. For the sake of brevity, in this article Ill focus on it as my primary example and allow the reader to apply the expressed principles to other federal social programs.
I believe that our federal welfare system violates Catholic principles on two central points. First, that it diminishes the individual citizens right to exercise discretion in charitable giving according to his conscience. This is true both because he may find the federal programs to which he is contributing immoral, and also from a financial standpoint. Second, it violates the principle of subsidiarity because it deprives particular communities of dealing with their poor in a case-by-case manner.
In a piece titled Subsidiarity at Work: a Catholics Vision of Social Policy, Senator Rick Santorum points out the progress that has been made in the past two decades to reform the welfare system in the United States. In advocating further change, Santorum points out the negative effect of a welfare state that does not sufficiently respect subsidiarity by quoting John Paul II in Centesimus Annus:
By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than concern for their clients In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need.
The current welfare system is a self-perpetuating problem that regards the poor purely from an economic standpoint. It is a system that cannot hope to treat the person as a unique individual in order to genuinely encourage self-reliance or self-determination. By providing a wide safety net that does not discriminate in a meaningful manner, it removes the effect in cause and effect and therefore disintegrates accountability.
I am not taking the perspective that the federal government should have no involvement in helping the poor nor do I suggest that it should surrender the necessity of apportioning some tax dollars expressly for that purpose. The argument could definitely be made in favor of the federal government possessing the ability to assist in dealing with multi-state national disasters that cripple local abilities as is the case with Hurricane Katrina. In this case it is difficult, if not impossible, to provide timely aid to the poor without federal involvement.
However, the Church makes a point of the rights of the individual citizen and family because it knows that decisions made closer to home are likely to value the person more, and are therefore more likely to be ethical and appropriate decisions. When it comes to helping the poor, this is particularly true. An organization such as the Saint Vincent de Paul society operates much more effectively than does the federal system in providing necessary income and encouraging personal growth and development. It treats both the symptoms and the causes of poverty in a manner impossible at the federal level. For this reason, Catholic social teaching traditionally holds that building a strong society requires that responsibility for the care of the poor be given primarily to private charitable organizations and secondarily to local government.
There is another argument to consider: without the federalization of charitable giving to the poor, most people would not exercise their freedom in the proper manner. This means that left to our own devices, we will be selfish with our money and not assist the poor.
I agree that this might be a concern. One of the foremost problems with our citizenry is that it regards freedom as the power of self-determination (purely and simply) rather than the power to do the will of God. This is logical to a certain extent: despite an undoubted faith in God, our founding fathers left the legacy of a constitution that favors a highly enlightened definition of the words freedom and liberty. Inevitably, the constitution is a fairly good guide on how to build a decent government, but philosophically it cannot be looked to as a moral compass.
One could write books on the subject of which economic principles are more in line with Catholic teaching (and many have been written). My goal is to point out that the Kennedys and Kerrys of this world do not successfully represent a socialist form of government (for that is what it is) as being more in line with authentic Catholic teaching. The fact of the matter is that many of our countrys social systems do not pass the litmus test for approval by Catholics, and many more can be properly debated from either perspective as we struggle to define the common good in relationship to individual freedom and the principle of subsidiarity.
Ultimately, some social responsibilities may be best handled on a federal level, and some on a state or local level. Equally, there are some areas of the country in which a purely capitalist, free-market system may not be in the publics best interests. Catholics of good will can certainly deliberate and support different policies.
We live in a flawed society with flawed members. In principle a free-market economy that values subsidiarity offers the best chance for meaningful personal liberties exercised in an ethical manner. Moreover, it would be proper to state that the Church, though careful not to make policy judgments except in extreme circumstances, favors this perspective as well.
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Socialism is evil. It is the opposite of Christian charity. It turns productive citizens into slaves, and unproductive citizens into domestic animals.
To the extent that Church leaders encourage "society" or "the state" to take over the duties of individuals, families, churches, and private organizations, they are not on the side of God but of Marx.
("Government is not God" ping, y'all)
Yep. I was just thinking about the the anti-family nature of the welfare system and the problems it spawned.
You must have been on some of the threads where the conjunction of "poor" and "children" brings out a few dozen people yelling, "They're just like animals ... sterilize them!"
Socialism destroys the humanity of everyone involved.
I wish I could believe that it is "socialism" which brings out these responses. I think it's something more fundamental in our nature itself--more like Original Sin. To mention just one example, Rick Santorum's really thoughtful discussion of subsidiarity and social justice is the sort of thing some FReepers cite as evidence that he is a crackpot. What other sort of politician would take seriously the religious principles he professes to believe?
Well, that's certainly true at the rock-bottom level. However, there are some social structures that are more conducive to the operation of Grace upon nature, and some that are less so.
What other sort of politician would take seriously the religious principles he professes to believe?
LOL! Many people have bought the idea that a society can function without reference to moral, that is religious, principles. The outcome in France would be instructive for them, if they're looking closely :-).
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
I have to take issue with Pope Leo (and the author) on one small point, though:
...it is proper that the individual and the family should be permitted to retain their freedom of action, so far as this is possible without jeopardizing the common good.
Christ said, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." He did not say, "except where it suits the common good." There can be no exceptions: secular government must be excluded from the construct of the family and from the enforcement of charity. Any other condition is non-Christian and immoral.
I think you're right about the "common good" point, except in the most general sense, since individuals' or families' "freedom of action" has to constrained by general laws against murder, theft, assault, etc.
" I think it's something more fundamental in our nature itself--more like Original Sin."
Well, yes, certainly socialism is a reverberation of Original Sin. "You shall be as gods," the serpent said to Eve. IOW, you need not consult God as to matters of right and wrong; you can decide these things for yourself. Using your godlike intellectual powers you can design a utopia.
Surely "we are as gods" is the uncanny wail of the socialist.
"We can decide for ourselves how people should act, what is moral and immoral, who should have his property taken away and to whom it should be given." (Never mind that "Thou shalt not steal" stuff and that bit about not coveting. That's for the superstitious.)
"We can decide for ourselves what forms marriage should take and what types of sexual activity should be endorsed." (Every form of utopianism for at least the past 500 years, most especially including socialism and communism, has held out a promise of increased sexual license.)
The whole thing positively reeks of Original Sin, which is why I always say that leftism, whatever label it happens to be claiming at any given time, is of and from Satan.
Now, it is to the interest of the community, as well as of the individual, that peace and good order should be maintained; that all things should be carried on in accordance with God's laws and those of nature; that the discipline of family life should be observed and that religion should be obeyed; that a high standard of morality should prevail, both in public and private life; that justice should be held sacred and that no one should injure another with impunity; that the members of the commonwealth should grow up to man's estate strong and robust, and capable, if need be, of guarding and defending their country.
This indicates he takes the common good to be founded on peace and order rather than some elitist vision of "equality." And, of course, Pope Leo cites natural law in his defense of "the common good." The left has hijacked parts of this language to press their agenda, knowing that most of the unwashed masses will not take the time to critically examine the point.
A democracy cannot survive without a free market because the competition between business and government ensures protection of private property rights; limits the government's ability to write restrictive laws and fosters a desire within citizens to create wealth by creating businesses. The creation of wealth results in the creation of legitimate jobs.
Individuals have an overwhelming, innate desire to perform in a job that actually contributes to society.
Off topic, but it had to be said.
Thanks for following up on that. I've always thought Pope Leo XIII was a cutie :-).
I disagree. Capitalism, or let us say, "a free-market economy" is based on the majority of people's making free decisions regarding economic ends and means. Because people are limited in their knowledge and often flawed in their intentions, there is indeed scope for evil. However, the system is not, in itself, based upon immoral premises, as socialism is.
Socialism, as I observed in my earlier post, ultimately removes from people even the opportunity to act out of genuine Christian charity toward their neighbors.
Thanks for saying it :-).
later read/maybe pingout.
This is a good companion article to the one about the government trying to get Amish people enrolled in the food stamp program. They don't accept government largesse; one said the reason is that the consider that they are their brothers' keepers. I'll find a link and post it.
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Here's the companion piece:
Counties caught in conundrum: getting Amish to take food stamps
"We believe that we are our brother's keeper," Miller said.
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