Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Good government pleases God": Shutdowns, budgets, and the common good

In the October issue of First Things -- which includes the as-one-would-expect-from-Michael-McConnell outstanding 2013 Supreme Court Round-up -- David Mills quotes New York City councilman Fernando Cabrera's observation, during a recent speech, that "good government pleases God."

Mirror of Justice is not a "politics" or "current events" blog, and so I have not imposed on readers my as-a-citizen reactions to the antics in Congress during the few weeks.  But Cabrera's statement helps me to see an important connection between our subject here at MOJ and the whole shutdown-debtceiling-defund-budget business, as does Mills's follow-up statement that "complex societies have to be governed, and God and man want them governed well."

Catholics who engage closely and conscientiously with the Church's social teachings are -- despite that engagement -- (in)famous for disagreeing about the policy and political implications of those teachings.  So, and just for example, while I am pretty sure that I agree entirely with Michael Sean Winters in disapproving of the recent conduct and decisions of those members of Congress who are identified with the "Tea Party" -- I think it was both foolish and wrong to condition necessary appropriations on the defunding or delaying of "Obamacare" -- I do not think that opposition to the Affordable Care Act, as a particular piece of legislation, puts one "outside traditional Catholic teaching" or reveals bad values.  (Opposing school choice does, but that's another matter . . . .)  

But, these disagreements notwithstanding, it is important for Catholics to take seriously -- as Catholics -- the importance of the enterprise of governing, that is, of making and executing good laws, in accord with the rule of law, in the service of the common good.  (I know, I know -- invocations of "the common good" can be and often are little more than lacy trimmings on whatever policy it is that one, for whatever reason, prefers.  The idea and its achievement are more complicated vague assertions about the importance of "community" and the dangers of "individualism."  Still, correctly understood, it has to be the touchstone.)  And, even if it is true that there is more blame to go around than some commenters suggest -- I'm thinking, for example, of the Senate Democrats' apparent lack of interest in ever actually passing a budget, which contributes to the ridiculous practice of jumping from one continuing resolution to another -- there is no denying that, in recent weeks, we have seen bad government, not good government, and also that the groups and individuals associated with the "Tea Party" have made bad decisions and arguments.  (I gather that this observation means, to many in the blogosphere, that I am a squishy-RINO-surrender-monkey and not a real "Republican" or "conservative" but . . . whatever.  I'm just trying to be a Catholic.)

Lawmakers have a vocation and they are holders of a trust.  Part of that vocation, and one of the things we trust them to do, is to actually make (good) law (and, just as important, not-make bad laws).  Not only that, but because the "rule of law" is itself part of the common good -- i.e., it is one of those "conditions" that is conducive to human flourishing -- it is part of lawmakers' vocation, and something they are obligated to do, to make law in accord with the rules-laid-down.  "Governing" by brinksmanship, continuing resolutions, debt-ceiling increases, and (I would insist) over-aggressive executive orders does not count as "good government."  So, I fear that God is not pleased.    


Garnett, Rick | Permalink


                                                        Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Given that the Senate passed a budget back in March, what is your evidence for "the Senate Democrats' apparent lack of interest in ever actually passing a budget"?

Posted by: Tim H | Oct 22, 2013 1:13:26 PM