Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A quick response to Stephen Schneck on "How Catholics Should Vote"

A few days ago, Stephen Schneck posted this reflection at U.S. Catholic.   Although I agree with most of what he writes, I have a few quibbles, too.  

First, under "Practice Politics," he writes "Catholic teachings insist on the importance of voting."  True, but I'd want to clarify that voting's "importance" does not mean that, in every election, Catholics are morally obligated to vote.  Not only are there many other ways to effectively "practice politics," it could also be the case that one communicates an important point by not voting.

Second, under Reflection 3 ("Discern the Common Good"), he writes:  

The measure for the common good is not military prowess, technology, or the Dow Jones Index; it is instead the quality of life of the least among us. In Catholic teachings citizens should vote with the least among us foremost in their minds.

It strikes me that this way of putting things is running together two distinct ideas:  First, it seems right that, as a matter of solidarity, we should take special care to practice politics in such a way as to protect the vulnerable.  The "common good," though, is usually defined in the Catholic Social Tradition (See Catechism para. 1906-09):

 "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily."26 The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements:

1907 First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its members to fulfill his vocation. In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as "the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion."27

1908 Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.28

1909 Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense.

So, one of the conditions that makes up the common good is "the stability and security of a just order" and, relatedly, effective "collective defense."

Finally, Schneck writes that "[i]n Catholic teachings citizens should vote for the virtuous."  Not necessarily.  For starters, we don't always (to put it mildly) have that option.  It seems that this reflection is running together the importance of "policies that inculcate virtue" with a policy of "voting for the virtuous."  It could easily be, in any given election, that the prudent course -- the best way to secure policies that inculcate virtue and protect the common good -- is to vote for a particular candidate who is not particularly commendable in terms of his or her character.  Now, to be clear:  I do believe, and have for as long as I can remember, that "character matters."  (As I discussed about a year ago, here.)  A candidate's lack of virtue or a candidate's bad character will often be good reasons to vote against him or her.

Like I said . . . quibbles!     


Garnett, Rick | Permalink