MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 27

Pope Leo XIII Catholicism and the State

by Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

Part Six:

Libertarianism or Anarchy?


   Catholics need to speak as Catholics, especially in the midst of religious indifferentism and cultural pluralism. The Apostles proclaimed the truth of the Catholic Faith on Pentecost Sunday. They did so to the consternation of the Jews and the irritation of the Roman authorities. The first Catholics proclaimed the truths of the Faith to the barbaric and pagan peoples of Europe in the First Millennium. The Incarnation has occurred. The Redemption has been wrought on the wood of the Holy Cross. The Great Commission has been given to the all baptized Catholics by Our Lord to proclaim Him at all times to all peoples until the end of the world. We do not have to reinvent the wheel philosophically. We have the Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Spouse of Christ. We need to have the humility to understand that that Deposit of Faith, as explicated by Holy Mother Church, is binding on all consciences. And we have to articulate the Deposit of Faith as the basis of personal and social order. Again, Pope Leo XIII in Sapientiae Chrisitianae:

       "The chief elements of this duty consist in professing openly and unflinchingly the Catholic doctrine, and in propagating it to the utmost of our power. For, as is often said with the greatest truth, there is nothing so hurtful to Christian wisdom as that it should not be known, since it possesses, when loyally received, inherent power to drive away error. So soon as Catholic truth is apprehended by a simple and unprejudiced soul, reason yields assent."

   God in His essence is simplicity. We need not make complexity out of simplicity. And the simple truth we are called to understand from the Papal encyclical letters on the State is this: a State not founded on the Social Kingship of Our Lord as exercised by Holy Mother Church will degenerate into some form of tyranny. Plain, and quite simple. Alas, those who believe that all we need is the right interpretation, say, of the United States Constitution are generally the same people who believe that all we needs is the right interpretation of the Novus Ordo and all liturgical abuses will cease in short order. What these good people do not realize is that the defective nature of both is what leads ultimately to the multifaceted manifestation of their inherent flaws over the course of time. We need the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ as the precondition of order in society. And we need the stability and permanence of the Traditional Latin Mass as the precondition for safeguarding the Deposit of Faith in unbloody re-presentation of the Son's Sacrifice to the Father in Spirit and in Truth.

   There are some who might protest that it is not possible to re-establish the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ. Some commentators have been known to roll their eyes when this concept is mentioned to them. However, it is no less possible today than it was during the First Millennium. The obstacles are many, to be sure. The only thing that will prevent such a restoration from being realized, however, is a lack of Faith on the part of ordinary Catholics in the graces won for us on Calvary to be used as instruments in the making of moral miracles here in the Church Militant on the face of this earth.

   Pope Pius XI noted this well in Quas Primas in 1925:

       "Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration [of the Feast of Christ the King] that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. It will call to minds the thought of the Last Judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenged these insults; for His kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the Commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education."

   Again, this is either true or false. The history of the world from the Incarnation to our present day shows that it is true. Furthermore, the history of the past 500 years shows the catastrophic consequences of its rejection for the right ordering of the State.

   Pope Pius XI went on to note:

       "The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives about the true Christian ideal. If to Christ Our Lord is given all power in Heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by His Precious Blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from His Empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to Him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, 'as instruments of justice unto God.' If all these truths are presented to the faithful for their consideration, they will prove a powerful incentive to perfection."

   Not one of our faculties is exempt from the Empire of Christ, including the national life of States. All men are called to make a perfect assent of the will to the doctrines of Christ. Those doctrines are not matters of opinions, mere debating points subject to the arbitrary whim of individuals. They are binding on all human consciences. Their rejection was noted by Pope Pius XI in Urbi Arcano and Quas Primas.

       "The Empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ Himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the State and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were some nations who thought that they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and States against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences. We lamented these in the Encyclical Urbi Arcano; we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin."

   This is quite a catalog of problems caused directly the rejection of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to ameliorate those problems, most of which have worsened exponentially over the course of the past seventy-seven years since the issuance of Quas Primas, than by praying and working for the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ.

Why Not Libertarianism and/or Anarchy?

   As noted at the beginning of this reflection, there are some who believe that libertarianism and/or anarchy are the solution to the problems caused by the monster State that has arisen in the wake of the various revolutions against Christ the King. These are loaded terms that signify different things to different people. Some of their adherents get indignant when a meaning they do not intend is used to describe the term they use to describe themselves. Alas, such is the confusion engendered when one attempts to resolve the problems of the world on naturalistic terms without referencing the Deposit of Faith expressed so well in the great social encyclical letters.

   There are libertarians who reject all limitations on almost on human activity, admitting that the State may have the right only in the rarest of circumstances to restrict human behavior (murder, violent crime, crimes against property). These libertarians embrace contraception and abortion and sodomy and other forms of licentious behavior contrary to the Sixth and Ninth Commandments as being beyond the power of the State to curb. Some of these libertarians would even endorse suicide and euthanasia as matters of personal "choice" that the State has no right to restrict.

   Other libertarians believe that the State does have the right to enforce the binding precepts of the natural law, although most of them do not understand that the Catholic Church has been appointed by God as the authoritative arbiter of the natural law and that no State can have legitimately an "interpretation" of the natural law contrary to that taught by Christ through His Church. They believe that a written document, such as the Articles of Confederation, can limit the powers given to a central government, safeguarding liberty in the states closest to the individual citizen. These libertarians believe that all government is of its nature a threat to individual libetrty, and must therefore be kept as weak as possible in order to curb its appetite for power. Thus, even though state governments in a confederation are more powerful than the central government, strict limits are placed even upon their action so as to preserve the practice of human liberty within the bounds of the natural law and right reason.

   There are many other permutations of libertarianism. As is the case with many political philosophies (such as conservatism), there are as many branches of thought found within them as there are Protestant sects that have multiplied since 1517. Different people follow different oracles, making the terms themselves so fluid as to defy accurate description. One adherent of a certain interpretation might claim that a critic of his philosophy is inventing a "strawman" to knock down, beating his breast rather righteously that his definition of, say, libertarianism, is different than the one critiqued.

   Pope Leo XIII critiqued the libertarian approach in Libertas Praestantissimum, issued on June 20, 1888:

       "Liberty, then, as We have said, belongs only to those who have the gift of reason or intelligence. Considered as to its nature, it is the faculty of choosing means fitted for the end proposed; for he is the master of his actions who can choose one thing out of many. Now, since everything chosen as a means is viewed as good or useful, and since good, as such, is the proper object of our desire, it follows that freedom of choice is a property of the will, or rather is identical with the will in so far as it has in its action the faculty of choice. But the will cannot proceed to act until it is enlightened by the knowledge possessed by the intellect. In other words, the good wished by the will is necessarily good in so far as it is known by the intellect; and this the more, because in all voluntary acts choice is subsequent to a judgment upon the truth of the good presented, declaring to which good preference should be given. No sensible man can doubt that judgment is an act of the reason, not of the will. The end, or object, both of the rational will and of the liberty is that good only which is in conformity to reason.

       "Since, however, both these faculties are imperfect, it is possible, as is often seen, that the reason should propose something which is not really good, but which has the appearance of good, and that the will should choose accordingly. For, as the possibility of error, and actual error, are defects of the mind attest its imperfection, so the pursuit of what has a false of appearance of good, though a proof of our freedom, just as a disease is a proof of our vitality, implies defect in human liberty. The will also, simply because of its dependence on the reason, no sooner desires anything contrary thereto than it abuses the freedom of choice and corrupts its very essence. Thus it is that the infinitely perfect God, although supremely free, because of the supremacy of His intellect and of His essential goodness, nevertheless cannot choose evil; neither can the Angels and Saints, who enjoy the Beatific Vision. St. Augustine and others urged most admirably against the Pelagians that, if the possibility of deflection from good belonged to the essence or perfection of liberty, then God, Jesus Christ, and the Angels and Saints, who have not this power, would have no liberty at all, or would have less liberty than man has in state of pilgrimage and imperfect. This subject is discussed by the Angelic Doctor in his demonstration that the possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery. It will suffice to quote the commentary on the words of our Lord: 'Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.' 'Everything,' he says, 'is that power which belongs to it naturally. When, therefore, it acts through a power outside itself, it does not act of itself, but through another, that is, a slave. But man is by nature rational. When, therefore, he acts according to reason, he acts of himself and according to his free will; and this is liberty. Whereas, when he sins, he acts in opposition to reason, is moved by another, and is the victim of foreign misapprehension. Therefore, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.' Even the heathen philosophers clearly recognized this truth, especially they who held that the wise man alone is free; and by the term 'wise man' was meant, as is well known, the man trained to live in accordance with his nature, that is, in justice and virtue."

   Would all "libertarians" accept this discourse on human liberty? Well, some would, but certainly not all. Using the "reasonable man" test, the phrases libertarian and libertarianism are most associated with people who reject all external constraints on raw physical freedom. Certainly, as I noted a short while ago, not all who call themselves "libertarians" embrace this position. However, the construct put on the phrases by a reasonable man are eminently justifiable. Most libertarians reject constraints on physical freedom, which is why many of them believe that laws against the trafficking and use of hallucinogenic drugs are a violation of personal liberty.

   "Ah," some libertarians might object, "neither Saint Augustine nor Saint Thomas Aquinas believed that all moral evils had to be - or even could be - eradicated by the State. True enough. Human nature is irreparably wounded by the vestigial after-effects of Original Sin and by our own actual sins. Sin will be with us until the end of time. Granted. There are, however, gradations of evil. No evil can ever be promoted under cover of law, although some evils may have to be tolerated in society, as Pope Leo makes clear in Libertas, quoting extensively from Saint Thomas Aquinas. One of these evils, as Pope Leo noted, is the existence of false religions. As man cannot be coerced into the practice of a particular religious faith, the existence of false religions has to be tolerated. That is not the same thing, though, as saying that the State must place all religions as equal, nor does it mean that the true Church does not have the right to insist that the civil laws of the State be subordinated to her explication of the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law.

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 27

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