Friday, April 4, 2014
Following up on our friend and good colleague Robert George’s contribution addressing the firing of the Mozilla Chairman, Brendan Eich, for exercising his Constitutionally protected rights to the detriment of no one, I would like to offer a simple complementary follow-up today to reawaken the responsibility of public duties held by Catholics and all people of good will. History informs us of our duties in public life.
In the law, history plays a prominent role as it does in so many other human enterprises. Members of society in general, and this includes Catholics, must keep in mind the lessons of the past so that the same mistakes and tragedies will not be repeated in the present day. In 1947, Christopher Dawson (about whom I have written before) discussed the issue of Catholics (and, I think, all people of good will) and the dangers of their remaining passive in the face of public duty. As he said, “they prove false to their own temporal mission, since they leave the world and the society of which they form a part to perish.” There is growing evidence that over the years we Catholics and other people of good will have trusted our leaders, neighbors, and fellow workers with their agendas about the nature of public life and have failed to respond out of right and duty. A part of this evidence is that the teachings of the Church that advance the common good and therefore the commonweal are no longer not only not welcome but not permitted. Timidity rather than embracing the counsel of Sacred Scripture, “be not afraid,” describes us accurately. The Eich firing is an illustration of the totalitarian juggernaut which indecorously brands him “anti-gay” when, in fact, he made a contribution to a particular political cause joining the ranks of many other fellow Americans who concluded that Proposition 8 was a cause they wished to support out of right and duty as citizens.
The law is a part of politics and public life in our society, but there is also mounting substantiation that not all views are welcome in public debate concerning the progress of law and legal regimes; moreover, there is clear indication that some views will be stamped out because they stand in reasoned opposition to the views held by others. In the current political and evolving legal climate that is taking our nation and our world in a dangerous direction, Dawson has further wisdom that serves as a catalyst to reawaken our public duty. Although he was speaking principally of developments in the academy of the late 1950s, his words apply to public life (including politics and law) as well:
[I]f Christians cannot assert their right to exist in the sphere of higher education, they will eventually be pushed not only out of modern culture but out of physical existence. That is already the issue in the Communist countries, and it will also become the issue in England and America if we do not use our opportunities while we still have them. We are still living internally on the capital of the past and externally on the existence of a vague atmosphere of religious tolerance which has already lost its justification in contemporary secular ideology. It is a precarious situation which cannot be expected to endure indefinitely, and we ought to make the most of it while it lasts.
Totalitarian juggernauts are malevolent, but they have a powerful will and they can prevail, even if only for a time, and eradicate any and all opposing views. This is why it is all the more important for all people of good will today, including faithful Catholics who believe and live what Christ’s Church teaches, to take seriously the thought of Edmund Burke that for evil to prevail in the world, all that is necessary is for good people to do nothing.