Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

“One Political Party Is Dangerous and the Other Is Stupid”

In a recent article in Our Sunday Visitor, Russell Shaw (here) quotes an anonymous American cardinal: “This is the situation now .  .  . One political party is dangerous and the other is stupid.”

Terry Mattingly at the blog Get Religion (here) says that this very well “might be the religion-beat quote of the year.” 

Mattingly praises Shaw for the depth of his post-election analysis of the Catholic electorate – an analysis that shows “why it is unwise for journalists to keep pinning current-day political labels on the foreheads of people whose lives are defined by centuries of religious doctrines.”

Shaw’s story doesn’t identity the cardinal, and the cardinal doesn’t identify which party is which – but MOJ readers might have some ideas.

So here’s the question:  From a Catholic point of view, which of the two major American political parties is the “dangerous” one and which is the “stupid” one, and why?  Comments open.


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I'm not sure whether this meets the criteria of "Catholic point of view", but I tend to associate the Democrat party with the dissenting progressives in the Catholic Church who are convinced that they are smarter and more sensitive and up-to-date than the magisterium and desire to make the Church at least relevant, if not avant guard. They take the Church's teaching on social justice, and leave the rest, including the mystery and otherworldliness behind. They are enthralled by the idea of progressing towards radical equality. Their self-confidence (pride) and zeal render them dangerous.

At the other end of the spectrum would be the Republican Party who might be compared with the "rote" Catholics who memorized the words and gestures, and who attend Mass and identify with the Catholic herd, but have not been curious or moved enough to study or question or engage in discernment about the vast and beautiful deposit of faith of their Church. They take comfort in the habitual orderliness and sentimental attachment to their Church, and do not really know what is beneath the shell of their practice -- so are ill-prepared to respond to challenges to the Church. Their self-satisfaction (pride) and inattentiveness renders them stupid.

Posted by: Amelia | Dec 4, 2012 11:02:52 AM

The conservatives are, in JS Mill's memorable phrase, "the stupid party," so I will say in an American context that the Republicans are the stupid ones. The Democrats -- particularly regarding human life & religious liberty issues -- are dangerous and getting more and more dangerous by the second.

Posted by: Mark in Spokane | Dec 4, 2012 4:51:47 PM

I view purely political associations with a skeptical eye. I believe that both modern parties have forgotten their Augustine (or their Solzhenitsyn, to use a relevant example which I recently read here - http://www.imaginativeconservative.org/2012/12/men-have-forgotten-god.html).

In terms of foreign policy, we should not expect to be able to "nation build" any form of democracy or republic (those forms being long organic developments of Judeo-Christian tradition). Therefore, as we have seen from the Bush-era policies the current president has carried forward (e.g., Libya and Egypt), attempts to influence via allying ourselves to, or otherwise assisting, the party of "freedom" seems to leave us on the wrong side of history far too often. Perhaps we should live by Washington's ideas: "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop."

I think it can be seen from the actions of the last two administrations that neither political party is interested in restraint and neither has considered greatly the dangers of our long-term commitment in being the world's police force, arbiter, bully, or what have you. The actions of both have been dangerous to our fiscal and political health, and therefore, such actions have been stupid. And doubly stupid, since neither party seems to be aware (or is politically capable of heeding?) of the lessons of history, whether ancient (Roman), Renaissance (Burke and the French Revolution), or in our own modern history.

In terms of domestic policy, the idea of separation of powers and restraint is similarly absent from the actions of both parties. Since the inception of the fourth branch of government in the administrative agencies, only the Supreme Court has sought to restrain their actions with any regularity or power. Congresses come and go, Presidents are elected and serve, but the codes grow lengthier and the regulations increase in volume.

Moveover, we are governed now by incomprehensible (to the average citizen) law. I am working on a paper discussing the idea that legislation which binds every citizen, but is incomprehensible, violates the natural law requirement of promulgation. Thomas Aquinas noted that "Those who are not present when a law is promulgated, are bound to observe the law, in so far as it is notified or can be notified to them by others, after it has been promulgated." But who can know how the thousand pages (or 12,000+ regulations) of the PPACA affect them, and whether any statutory rights they have are being preserved? Burlamqui, read by the Founders, argued in his work "The Principles of Natural and Politic Law":

That the laws may be able to impose a real obligation, and reckoned just and equitable, it is necessary the subjects should have a perfect knowledge of them; now they cannot of themselves know the civil laws, at least those of an arbitrary nature; these are in some measure facts of which the people may be ignorant. The sovereign ought therefore to declare his will, and to administer laws and justice, not by arbitrary and hasty decrees, but by mature regulations, duly promulgated.

Or, as in Federalist 62:

The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessings of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood: if they be repealed or revised before they are promulg[at]ed, or undergo such incessant changes, that no man who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed.

Along those same lines, many of the political philosophers both of the Renaissance and among the Founders believed that order and stability were extremely important. Again, Federalist 62:

In another point of view, great injury results from an unstable government. The want of confidence in the public councils, damps every useful undertaking; the success and profit of which may depend on a continuance of existing arrangements. What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce, when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?

Both parties are, and have been, responsible for massive growth in such legislation, and whipsawing laws - not just minute details in laws applying to the smallest regulation of large trucks on interstates, but wholesale changes to the tax code and fiscal regulation - with built-in expiration (or not?) dates, changed back and forth depending on the Congress, the national mood, and the party in power. I argue that the prolonged recession in which we find ourselves is at least as much due to the constant changes in laws, leading to a massive feeling of national instability, as anything contained or not contained within the laws themselves. This is dangerous to our political stability, both now and in the future. Moreover, it is stupid that neither party realizes this, or has the will to act. The conservatives who point fingers at Rousseau are surely right to see in these massive changes, often in the name of some abstract right, a great danger to a stable polity.

Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 6, 2012 9:51:09 AM