Saturday, March 12, 2011

Is Government Really Necessary?

I was born in the Truman administration, and spent my adolescence in the '60s. There was quite a lot of idealism going on then: folks around my age wondering if there wasn't a better way of living than what we saw. Sometimes it felt as if just about any change would be an improvement.

Don't expect a rant, by the way, about 'those crazy kids.' I was one of them, and I still believe that there is more to life than 'buying things you don't need, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't like.'

Not everything about the age of grooviness made as much sense as rejecting materialism as a core value, though. Not to me, anyway. Like the idea that government was bad.

This wasn't the notion that all the world's ills were America's fault. A fair number of folks, as nearly as I could tell, really believed that having a government - any government - was a bad idea. It's like the song said:
"...Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace....
John Lennon, "Imagine" (1971) (
About that "and no religion too" thing: the same folks tended - strongly - to also assume that "organized religion" was a bad thing. Some sort of vague, dreamy "spirituality" - preferably with an east-Asian theme - was groovy. It was the "organized" part that seemed to rub them the wrong way.

I can see their point, sort of. I don't particularly like living by someone else's rules - and I became a Catholic?! I've written about that before.

Wrenching myself back on-topic. - - -

Do We Really Need These Guys?

I do not assume that 'the government' is run by flawless folks who are wiser than I am because they're on the federal payroll. And I certainly don't assume that our system of choosing leaders based on how they look on television, and how good they are at manipulating our emotions, is the best of all possible systems.

Take Daylight Saving Time, for example. Back in 1918 it might have been a good way for Congress to make it look like they were 'doing something.' By now, I see it as an annoyance we have to go through twice a year, because the government says so.

And yes, I know: Daylight Saving Time protects our strategic reserves of candle wax. I've written about the biannual nitwittery before:It's times like this when I'm most apt to wonder: do we really need some gaggle of bureaucrats and politicos?

The short answer is, yes.


Again, the short answer: The Catholic Church says so.

As a practicing Catholic, I accept the authority of the Church.

Being the sort of person I am, it's easier to accept specific teachings if I understand why the Church teaches something.

Subsidiarity, Exercise of Power, and Government

Here's part of the explanation for why we need government. Even when the nincompoops in charge saddle us with Daylight Saving Time.
"Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which 'a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.'7

"God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

"The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1883-1885)
That opposition to collectivism doesn't mean that the Church is a lackey of capitalist oppressors: any more than "the establishment of true international order" and paragraph 2432 in the Catechism mean that the Church is part of a commie plot.

Is There One 'Correct' Form of Government?

On the whole, I like living in America. And, despite my belief that our system of government isn't the best possible: I think it generally works fairly well for us.

I also think that other forms of government can be okay. But never mind what I think:
"If authority belongs to the order established by God, 'the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens.'20

"The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed."
(Catechism, 1901)
Despite the impression some folks seem to have, the Catholic Church does not teach that we should be good little subjects and do whatever our masters tell us to:
"Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility":21
"A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.22
"Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, 'authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.'23"
(Catechism, 1902-1903)
There's a discussion of the principle we call 'checks and balances' in 1904 - and that's almost another topic.

Here's a list of links I adapted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church's index:Somewhat-related posts:My take on America:

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.