Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

Order 'Evolution for the Catholic Student' - Click on the image above

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Seeking the Redeeming Value of Modern Liberalism

Seeking the 
Redeeming Value
of Modern Liberalism

          I read a particularly bad book last week.  To be honest, I actually read part of a very bad book; then I literally tore it in two (it was a thin paperback) and threw it in the trash.  It was the story of why some presumably famous media personality whom I had never heard of, is a Democrat.
          Anyone who reads this blog or knows me, knows that, for all my conservatism, I am concerned with being a faithful Catholic, not a faithful Republican, and I am interested in hearing from people on the other side of the political aisle.  Though I am at no risk of becoming a DNC member, I know and respect people that are Democrats.  And though I have no inordinate attachment to the Republican Party, I have developed a solid disdain for the Democrat Party.  So I often wonder, “What am I missing here?”
          Last year I spent some time watching MSNBC in the hopes of finding the redeeming quality of modern liberalism.  However, that only reinforced popular stereotypes.  I recognized that the world view and “morality,” not to mention the crassness, that was presented, was repugnant to me.  Of course, I don’t suspect that MSNBC is a fair portrayal of the majority of Democrats.  So the search continued.
          Last week’s book, I’m sad to say, only served to confirm the picture I’m developing.  The argument essentially went like this: Republicans want to get rid of all public services; they only care about tax cuts, for the purpose of serving the rich; and would do away with all government if they could, leaving everyone to fend for themselves in a state of general anarchy.
          On top of that, the religious positions on issues like life and marriage are disingenuous, only adopted to exercise control over the common man.  It was this last slander, along with the repeated foul language and sexual innuendo, that led to the book lying in two equal pieces in my trash can.
          The author essentially claimed that the Republican Party is the party of “the 1%,” while Democrats are for “the 99%.”  I’ve always found this argument absurd.  Elections are about numbers.  It doesn’t take a PhD to figure out that 99-1 does not make for a competitive election.
          Why would anyone pander to the richest 1%?  What would be gained on election day?  Wait, it’s the money, right?  This would give the Republicans a financial edge to be able to buy elections.  Nice theory, perhaps, but reality kills it.  First of all, Republicans don’t typically have the financial edge, not to mention they are fighting the mainstream media, who see themselves as an essential wing of the Democrat Party.  Second, records consistently show that the Republican Party gets far more donations of moderate size, under $1,000.  The largest donations regularly go disproportionately to the Democrats.
          The argument about religious issues doesn’t even deserve comment, except to say that the Democrats’ universal support for the wrong side on these most essential issues is the reason no Christian, with a truly well-formed conscience regarding politics, can support the Democrat Party.
          What about the claim about the size of government, though?  The author’s accusations against Republicans in his book were meant to be outrageous, but also to point to what he considered a reality – that the limited government position of Republicans harms people, especially the poor.  This is the most common argument in favor of the Democrats from liberal Christians.
          First, it should be noted that many people complain that we currently have two parties in the United States: the party of big government and the party of bigger government.  But what about the claim that a limited government approach is mean-spirited or lacks compassion?
          I believe quite strongly in limited government and I am also deeply concerned about the poor and vulnerable.  So this is an issue I want to consider seriously.  Are my positions inconsistent?
          For all my studies, I am not an expert on either government or moral theology, but I do not think I am being inconsistent.  We live in an age of extreme secularism, and the more power the state has, the more it imposes its will.
          As a Catholic, I believe in the principle of subsidiarity, as well as the place of the Church in building society, and the family as the primary building block of any culture.
          We have seen big governments rob people of religious liberty, direct family life according to their own wills, and destroy economic freedom.  This is happening in Asia, Africa, Europe, Canada, and now the United States.  Big government has always tried to supplant God in the lives of its citizens, from ancient Rome, through the scourge of Communism, to modern socialist “democracies.”
          The United States was founded on the principle of a limited, unobtrusive government.  I think it is very important that the government not overstep its bounds.  Of course, I think that the functions that are proper to the role of government should be exercised according to Catholic social principles, such as the dignity of the human person and the preferential option for the poor.
          What, really, is the difference between Republicans and Democrats?  With a country more polarized than ever, and our differences stemming mainly from world views rather than prudential policy matters, we could give many answers.  I think at a foundational level it comes down to the answer to this question: What is the fundamental institution on which a society is built?
          Set aside for a moment the Church.  It is true that the intimate relationship between Church and state during Christendom led to arguably the highest cultural moments of our history.  But, though the Founders would have said religion is essential to a well-ordered society, I don’t think the Church as an institution was what our nation was founded on, nor is it likely ever to be.
          Back to the question, then.  What is the fundamental institution on which a society is built?  If you are a Republican, you probably answered, the family.  If you are a Democrat, you probably answered, the government.  This characterizes the parties and not every individual member of each party, but if you disagree, you are probably in the wrong party.  That is the key difference.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party is far less devoted to the family than the Democrat Party is to the government.
          As Catholics, the answer is clear.  This is the main reason most practicing Catholics are now Republicans.  This characterization of the parties has not always been true, but the divide is widening every election.  The issues that we so passionately oppose the Democratic Party on – life, marriage, government usurpation of religious liberty, parental rights and individual freedoms – are symptoms that stem from this difference in world view.
          Every healthy society is founded on a strong family.  Societies founded on large governments become dominated by interest groups that run society into the ground morally and economically (sound familiar?) until dictatorship emerges.
          So where are we?  Without a fundamental change in our culture, we have two likely futures.  If we’re lucky, we’ll become Spain.  If we’re unlucky, we’ll become Pakistan.  Of course, Spain may also become Pakistan.  Is there time?  In natural terms, I would say, no.  This November may have proven that we have reached critical mass, and that the wrecking ball will only swing faster.  Of course, as a Christian, I don’t see things through a purely natural lens.  Supernaturally, there is always hope, even for natural institutions like nations.  With God all things are possible.  So we Catholics had better fight as hard on a spiritual level as on a political level.
          And if nothing else, we need to make our homes and families places of refuge.  Little islands of sanity in an insane world.  And may the Lord give us guidance as we traverse these treacherous times and seek to be a light in the darkness.