21 March 2010

Political Authority

In our class on Catholic Social Teaching we have been reading an immensely frustrating piece of work called The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, penned by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I don't know precisely what magisterial weight this Council has, but I'm guessing (and hoping) that it's "slim to none".

Last Wednesday we came to paragraphs 393-395, under the heading, "The Foundation of Political Authority."

393. The Church has always considered different ways of understanding authority, taking care to defend and propose a model of authority that is founded on the social nature of the person. "Since God made men social by nature, and since no society can hold together unless some one be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently, God for its author" [Pope John XXIII, Pacem in terris, 46 (1963).] ....

394. Political authority must guarantee an ordered and upright community life without usurping the free activity of individuals and groups but disciplining and orienting this freedom, by respecting and defending the independence of the individual and social subjects, for the attainment of the common good...

395. The subject of political authority is the people considered in its entirety as those who have sovereignty. In various forms, this people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects as its representatives, but it preserves the prerogative to assert this sovereignty in evaluating the work of those charged with governing and also in replacing them when they do not fulfil their functions satisfactorily. Although this right is operative in every State and in every kind of political regime, a democratic form of government, due to its procedures for verification, allows and guarantees its fullest application. [cf. Pope John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 46 (1991).] The mere consent of the people is not, however, sufficient for considering "just" the ways in which political authority is exercised.

My summary: The Compendium asserts that political authority moves like this: God - people - rulers. Now, read Pope St. Pius X's condemnation of Sillonism, in Notre Charge Apostolique (1910):

[Pius X:] The Sillon places public authority primarily in the people, from whom it then flows into the government in such a manner, however, that it continues to reside in the people. But Leo XIII absolutely condemned this doctrine in his Encyclical Diuturnum Illud on political government in which he said:

[Leo XIII:] "Modern writers in great numbers, following in the footsteps of those who called themselves philosophers in the last century, declare that all power comes from the people; consequently those who exercise power in society do not exercise it from their own authority, but from an authority delegated to them by the people and on the condition that it can be revoked by the will of the people from whom they hold it. Quite contrary is the sentiment of Catholics who hold that the right of government derives from God as its natural and necessary principle."

[Pius X:] Admittedly, the Sillon holds that authority - which first places in the people - descends from God, but in such a way: "as to return from below upwards, whilst in the organization of the Church power descends from above downwards." But besides its being abnormal for the delegation of power to ascend, since it is in its nature to descend, Leo XIII refuted in advance this attempt to reconcile Catholic Doctrine with the error of philosophism. For, he continues:

[Leo XIII:] "It is necessary to remark here that those who preside over the government of public affairs may indeed, in certain cases, be chosen by the will and judgment of the multitude without repugnance or opposition to Catholic doctrine. But whilst this choice marks out the ruler, it does not confer upon him the authority to govern; it does not delegate the power, it designates the person who will be invested with it."

[Pius X:] For the rest, if the people remain the holders of power, what becomes of authority? A shadow, a myth; there is no more law properly so-called, no more obedience. The Sillon acknowledges this: indeed, since it demands that threefold political, economic, and intellectual emancipation in the name of human dignity, the Future City in the formation of which it is engaged will have no masters and no servants. All citizens will be free; all comrades, all kings. A command, a precept would be viewed as an attack upon their freedom; subordination to any form of superiority would be a diminishment of the human person, and obedience a disgrace. Is it in this manner, Venerable Brethren, that the traditional doctrine of the Church represents social relations, even in the most perfect society? Has not every community of people, dependent and unequal by nature, need of an authority to direct their activity towards the common good and to enforce its laws? And if perverse individuals are to be found in a community (and there always are), should not authority be all the stronger as the selfishness of the wicked is more threatening? Further, - unless one greatly deceives oneself in the conception of liberty - can it be said with an atom of reason that authority and liberty are incompatible? Can one teach that obedience is contrary to human dignity and that the ideal would be to replace it by "accepted authority"? Did not St. Paul the Apostle foresee human society in all its possible stages of development when he bade the faithful to be subject to every authority? Does obedience to men as the legitimate representatives of God, that is to say in the final analysis, obedience to God, degrade Man and reduce him to a level unworthy of himself? Is the religious life which is based on obedience, contrary to the ideal of human nature? Were the Saints - the most obedient men, just slaves and degenerates? Finally, can you imagine social conditions in which Jesus Christ, if He returned to earth, would not give an example of obedience and, further, would no longer say: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" ?

My summary: Pius X, citing the doctrine of Leo XIII, condemns the Sillonist assertion that political authority moves like this: God - people - rulers.

Has the Compendium re-introduced the condemned doctrine of the Sillonists? Or am I missing something? If I'm not, then I'd love to know what happens to the asserted superiority of the democratic form of government, since paragraph 395 bases this assertion on the aforesaid condemned doctrine.


big daddy said...

Does the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace have the same authority as the papal birth control commission that Pope Paul VI relied on in preparing Humanae Vitae?

More and more I think that the just authority society has in the lives of its members is analogous to, and in some manner derived from, the authority that parents, firstly the father, have in the family. That is analogous to the authority God the Father has over creation, particularly as being the source of its being. Humans being what they are, there needs to be a visible locus of society's authority. Republican democracy (with notable counterexamples such as Sunday's vote - working on the Lord's Day?!) has been fairly successful as a means of determining what members of a given society should exercise governmental authority and the manner in which that authority is exercised. And that success, I think, confuses some observers and prompts them to think that therefore the 'demos' IS the 'archos' of authority. That, and the historically verifiable fact that at a certain level of no 'consent of the governed' the government either changes or it gets changed without its consent.

John said...

The same Compendium asserts that the family is not just the fundamental building block of society, but also the "prototype" of society, which I would take to be basically an affirmation of what you are saying about the analogy between God, human fathers, and human rulers.

Despite my distaste for it, I guess I can't disagree with you that republican democracy has been "fairly successful" as a means of determining who should rule. But at least as much could be said for the old monarchies. To me the really funny thing in a democracy is how much emphasis is put on the question as to who gets to rule. In a hereditary monarchy one rarely had to mess with such trivial questions, and hence the rulers could spend their time ruling instead of campaigning.

Although, I'll grant you that with some rulers we'd much rather they had something permanently to distract them from the actual business of ruling...