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Harold Fickett | 03.11.08


God, Government and Freedom—A Response to ‘None of the Above’

When we discuss the role of government in protecting the common good, especially the poor and the weak, Catholics can and do have differences, as evidenced by Angelo Matera’s recent article and its comments.

I’d like to lay out a few principles in order to take a somewhat different tack. There’s no doubt that capitalism is the greatest force for wealth creation the world has ever seen.  It accords with Catholic social teaching in respect to the right to private property, and personal freedom. We are meant to be co-creators with God and to extend his creation personally. Individual freedom—not merely in terms of conscience, but in all dimensions, including economics—must never be so subordinated to the collective so as to destroy freedom or make its exercise futile. Pope Benedict emphasized this in his recent encyclical, Saved by Hope.

At the same time, capitalists (and so capitalism) are subject to original sin and therefore the free hand of the market place is not a magic wand against all social ills, as libertarians are tempted to believe. Order—the rule of law—is essential to a just society.

The conversation among Catholics seeking a just government centers in how we reconcile order and freedom: the competing interests of individuals, their various forms of legitimate association, particularly the family, voluntary associations, trade unions, intermediary governing bodies (such as states in the U.S.), and the common good. Each has an integrity which must be respected.

The Catholic Church does not have—nor should it—a politics per se; just as it does not have a philosophy per se, although Thomism came pretty close for a long time. Rather, our faith calls us to recognize principles that are obvious inferences from the Gospel and then apply these, as well as we can, in our own social situations.

My own decisions on voting and the various issues that have come up in relation to Angelo’s article are more tied than some to the importance of order, or the rule of law.

My travels and experiences at home have taught me just how important this is. Every lower-middle class neighborhood in Mexico City, for example, is virtually an armed camp, with its own guard house, access barriers, and heavily-barred homes. When Hurricane Rita struck East Texas not too long ago, people in a local town shot each other over disputes at the gas pumps. That didn’t happen in our town only because the police set-up checkpoints all over town.

This is one of the great lessons of Iraq as well. Donald Rumsfield succeeded in knocking over Saddam Hussein’s government with a quick, highly-technological force, but maintaining public order proved far more difficult. Once the rule of law breaks down civilization can disappear overnight.

Because the rule of law is so valuable, I believe more in the importance of the nation-state than our new friend Joe Shriner seems to (see www.voteforjoe.com.)  As part of immigration reform, he suggests instituting a North American alliance similar to the EU. Given Mexico’s history of statist economics, which has contributed so much to the poverty there, such an alliance would be disastrous in my opinion.

I’m also more worried about the Supreme Court and other federal appointments than Angelo seems to be—at least, I think getting two more pro-life Supreme Court justices and other conservative appointments to the federal bench makes up for a world of sins. I acknowledge that John McCain’s pro-life position doesn’t runs very deep; I know such appointments are not a lock. On the other hand, the pro-abortion position of Clinton and sadly Obama are so firmly embedded that the character of their potential appointments is a dead certainty, and such appointments will continue to affect the culture long into the future. That weighs heavily. (So if McCain is in fact the Republican nominee, I’ll be voting for him.)

What I really want to say here, as a response to Angelo’s article and all the comments it’s generated, is that while we know the broad principles of Catholic social teaching, particularly solidarity with the poor, and subsidiarity, as Angelo has ably adduced, we have only begun the conversation about how these ought to be applied to the contemporary American scene, especially in terms of what reforms would be valuable.

Before I end this post, let me say a word on behalf of liberty. That’s the great American idea, and it has a profound correspondence to the freedom of conscience and freedom of initiative that God has granted to the human person through making us in His image.  I don’t want to be so intent on guaranteeing outcomes in our society—however just we take them to be—that we over-reach and institute a well-intentioned tyranny. This is Hillary Clinton’s problem, and it’s very much the result, in her case, of embracing a deracinated social gospel—one that has long forgotten and in fact become indifferent to its historical origins in Christianity. Her politics have now become a substitute for religion and thus unwittingly totalitarian.

God has given us freedom to the extent of letting us perpetuate great evil, while calling us to join God in redeeming the same. I think there’s an analogy there, if an imperfect one, for government; government is an agent of justice, but government’s coercive powers must be used as sparingly as possible so as not to destroy the free character of the people it serves, nor other vital social structures, such as the family.

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TOPICS:    freedom | hillary clinton | law | mccain | order

By chassup AT 03.12.08 02:26PM Not Rated


Brilliant! Thank you.

By freethinkingtheist AT 03.12.08 09:52PM Not Rated


So we have two pro-choicers, one (Obama) who based on historical voting records appears to be more pro-abortion than the other (Clinton who maintains that abortion be ‘rare’), and one very weak self proclaimed pro-lifer (McCain who may be right on par with Clinton here).  What are the real chances Roe v. Wade will truly be overturned under McCain?
Not likely.
So on to the next ‘life’ aspect of this election.  The unnecessary war and continuation of losses of innocent lives overseas.  We have our weak self-proclaimed ‘pro-lifer’ (McCain) who staunchly insists that this unnecessary war be continued (for decades apparently) and we have two pro-abortionists who want this war to end yesterday.  How is the continued loss of innocent lives, and remember, we’re talking about an UNNECESSARY WAR… destruction of soldiers, if not physically then mentally and emotionally, not to even mention their families, not deserving of the same life-honoring consideration as the abortion aspect?  This is why, though I respect some of McCain’s platform, I will not vote for him.  It’s been a real tug-of-war, but as of right now, Clinton is where I’m ‘settling.’

By Joe Schriner AT 03.12.08 10:00PM Not Rated

Joe Schriner

Some of our research travels for our position paper on immigration took us to Juarez, Mexico, where we saw some of what you said you saw in Mexico too, Eric.  In addition, we saw some 200,000 people living in cobbled together shacks with no running water, no electricity and the children were extremely hungry.  My thoughts didn’t turn to statist economics, or American protectionism, or…  They turned to tears.  And a drive to sacrifice every American comfort I could think of, while taking the savings to help these people.  What’s more, using running for president as a bully pulpit, I have often shared these alarming Juarez scenes in talks, in the media… with the hopes that other Americans would start to sacrifice more as well.  Not only for the benefit of these poor—but for the eternal benefit of the souls of those who choose to help.  The root of the “Northern American Union” I propose is not about furthering the First World corporate version of globalization or trying to undermine law and order, or a One World Order agenda, or…; but rather it is about relaxing man-made boundaries in order to bring us closer together to build more cammarderie, empathy and help.  One has to ask: “Was it God’s intention for these artificial boundaries between countries?”  Note:  I find it interesting that when a candidate that lines up almost across the board with Catholic Social Teaching appears, the first thing that happens is a criticism of part of one platform point, as opposed to at least a modicum of support.  Especially given the overall orientation of what this publication seems to be about.

By Harold Fickett AT 03.13.08 12:03AM Not Rated

Harold Fickett

Joe, I see your effort as noble and would like to support you.  When I went to your website, I was a little disappointed, though, that your thinking didn’t seem as rigorous as your compassion was deep.  As I’m sure you’ll agree, both faith and reason have to combine to address such problems.  That’s not to say I don’t appreciate your call to a radical identification with the poor, or that it doesn’t make me examine whether I’m too comfortable in a delusional Zion. You are putting your life on the line so that the love of Christ will be extended to “the least of these” and nothing is more praiseworthy. 

Freethinkingtheist, I think you are being too dismissive of McCain’s inclination to appoint pro-life judges.  For one thing, the Harriet Miers near-debacle proved that the pro-life community will scream long and loud when a Republican administration advances a less than stellar appointment.  McCain will have to pay attention to these voices, whether he likes it or not. 

The influence of the pro-life community counts for absolutely not

By freethinkingtheist AT 03.13.08 12:31AM Not Rated


He will I’m sure pay attention to those voices, but whether he actually does anything about it is still an unknown.  What IS known is that we are on the constant verge of a bloodbath in the M.E., innocent lives are still being lost everyday (btw, our media suffers greatly in relating the true picture/statistics to the American public), our military is tapped and drained and McCain suggests that this war could continue for decades.  There is alot of personal ego and bravado tied up in McCain’s approach in my humble opinion.

By Harold Fickett AT 03.13.08 12:40AM Not Rated

Harold Fickett

I was cut off in mid-sentence.  The rest.

The influence of the pro-life community counts for absolutely nothing with Democrats, as they have proved time and again, most recently in regard to their immediate and unqualified condemnation of the Supreme Court’s upholding of the ban on partial-birth abortion. 

I know that Hillary Clinton has said she would like abortion to be “rare.” I’m afraid I can only regard this as one of many examples of Mrs. Clinton indulging in Orwellian double-speak.  In her much-touted 35 years of experience, she has never done anything but work to make abortion-on-demand the law of the land.  In her husband’s administration, she seems to have been responsible for the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the two most liberal members of the Court.  Do you really want to double-down on such appointments? 

Also, from the very beginning of Hillary Clinton’s public life she’s worked to undermine parental authority, for the sake of making all children more subject to the tender mercies of the state.  To this end she has argued that every child born is immediately “in crisis.” (See Jonah Goldberg’s LIBERAL FASCISM.)

I could go on, but I think I might spontaneously combust.  Please see what commentators from Christopher Hitchens to Peggy Noonan have to say about Hlllary Clinton. 

No, I can’t help myself, I will go on. 

I’m glad that Hillary Clinton did not divorce Bill Clinton, in that she kept her covenant with him.  But she knew, long before he was president, that he was a philanderer and that his judgment could be seriously compromised by these actions.  Instead of saying, “Maybe foisting your sexual addiction on the country isn’t such a good idea, Bill,” she did everything in her power to conceal his liaisons.  When his trysts couldn’t be concealed, she villified the women involved. How can anyone regard her as a feminist? 

Neither Bill nor Hillary have any shame, and there is a point in honor.  I just dont’ get why people don’t understand that.  Take away the impeachment and all the legalities: Honor counts.  If Bill had retired to a life of penance and prayer, we could forgive him, but he actually seems to think his problems were mostly others doing.  That is insufferable. 

Bill and Hillary Clinton are about one thing: Power.  Period.  End Stop. 

Sorry FreeThinkingTheist, please excuse this as a Dennis Miller rant.  (Wish it were funnier.) I know that in addition to being Lady MacBeth in a pants suit, Hillary Clinton is very bright, more experienced than Obama, a political pragmatist, and I imagine the nation would survive her presidency.  But I do hope we will be preserved from her. 

As to the Middle East, that’s another column, or several, although I certainly recognize the horror there.  But one quesion: Who is most responsible for the killing?  We have our share of the guilt for destablizing the country (which was, in its former incarnation, an institutionalized killing machine), but we are not pulling the triggers for the death squads—we are doing everything we can to stop them at great cost of American lives.  As I say, this is a long discussion.

By freethinkingtheist AT 03.13.08 01:16AM Not Rated


Lady MacBeth in a pants suit IS pretty funny!  And, I 100% agree with you that Hillary is way too intrusive when it comes to family life and what is best for our children…I’m not an “it takes a Village (by her definition)” advocate and this is another of the reasons it’s been a total tug-of-war for me and others I’m sure.  That being said, do we endure a possible 4-8 years of Lady MacBeth or do we sit and watch McCain continue this war (that we cannot afford!)for decades (which I don’t doubt could happen) with a flailing military in light of an energy crisis and more loss of life and ultimate weakening of our country’s integrity?  As far as the Clinton marriage, let’s face it, none of the candidates or some of their spouses are angels.  We’re not voting for angel of the year here.  Regardless of how this election ends, I’ll not be satisfied.  It’ll be interesting though.

By Rick AT 03.13.08 02:38PM Not Rated


The economy, immigration, the environment, health care…all very important issues.

But the killing: It has to stop. Vote for Clinton and/or Obama? They’d ensure an expansion of the abortion state, and they’d probably expand our overseas warmaking as well (despite their rhetoric to the contrary).

And McCain? He has practically promised us tremendous growth in the US market share of military adventurism overseas with its concomitant death and poverty and destruction. Plus, as pointed out by freethinkingtheist, there is very little chance that McCain would make good on his pro-life promises once he got into office, and we’d probably end up with more Kennedys and Souters on the Supreme Court rather than more Alitos and Roberts’.

Me? I’m going to write in my plumber’s name in November. He’s a nice guy, sensible, and would probably not mess up the country and the world too much in four years.

By chassup AT 03.13.08 03:25PM Not Rated


The next president will not overturn Roe v. Wade, he can’t.  He CAN appoint one or more judges to replace the aging liberals on the court hanging on, waiting for a liberal president to fill their liberal slot.  Because of the unconstitutional ruling in 1973, Roe will only be overturned by the Supreme Court, who will send the question back to the states, at least half of which will keep abortion legal.  This is, of course, is a lesser evil that we endure today and light years better than a liberal president appointing 1 or 2 new liberals to the court to block any attempt to undo the evil done 30+ years ago, not to mention all the other progressive encroachments to our system these judges will decide by judicial fiat no matter who’s president.  4-8 years of conservative-lite (McCain) vs. a 20-30 year legacy of unchecked progressive socialist tyranny ( Hillary/Obama) seems like a simple choice to me and makes the war-argument seem small. 

I have it easy though, I don’t have to wring my hands over this election, my choice is even simpler… on May 3rd my son will be commissioned as a US Army officer assigned to a combat division.  By this time next year he will, most likely, be leading men into harm’s way somewhere on this planet.  I also have a daughter who will be commissioned in 2 years, most likely serving under the same president.  Who do I want as their commander in chief?  There is no question.

By Bill Christensen AT 03.13.08 03:31PM Not Rated

Bill Christensen

Hi, FreeThinkingAtheist ...

Your passion is clear in your statements about McCain & Iraq. The invasion was definitely wrong on many, many levels. But now that we have broken the place and its people, the question is what do we do? Responsibility, charity and justice must be at the heart of our considerations – placing the needs of the Iraqi people at the fore of our actions. Sadly, that inevitably demands more sacrifice from us. Please take a look at the article by Gerald Powers posted in the Feb. 18th online edition of America Magazine. It’s titled “Our Moral Duty in Iraq”. Powers is director of policy studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and former director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network. Here’s the link to the article: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10618
If you are not a registered user of the site it is worth registering just to read this one. Let me know what you think.

Kind Regards,


By Joe Schriner AT 03.13.08 04:00PM Not Rated

Joe Schriner

Harold… My platform was developed as a result of 15 solid years and 200,000 miles of extensive cross country research.  It is well reasoned in my thinking, just not apparently in yours.  The platform is also simply stated on the site because, well, we have a tremendously diverse mix of readership, as you can imagine.  Also besides materialism, another part of the delusional Zion you allude to is being sucked into perhaps too much reasoning and rationalizing—and not enough doing.

Rick… Before you write in your plumber’s name (not that I have anything against your plumber), consider writing in my name (http://www.voteforjoe.com)

By freethinkingtheist AT 03.13.08 04:15PM Not Rated


Hi Bill,
Yes, thank you for that, I will check it out when I get the chance.  Btw, it’s ‘freethinkingTHEIST,’:)...just a few quick thoughts…
-For now, not only Iraq but let’s not forget Afghanistan!, and all of the resulting damage IS a problem and yes, I totally agree that responsibility, charity and justice are in order. That requires a military ‘surge?’ However, about the current administration being perpetually poised for war with Iran.  Now we have Fallon, the one working to quell the war-with-Iran fever, resigned/fired? 
-Also, regarding the Catholic just-war/limited-war doctrine and how it might have applied to the Iraq war, the prepackaged surface story presented to the American public may have successfully met all of the doctrinal requirements as a ‘moral’ war.  However, as time goes by, and the facts continue to be revealed pertaining to 9/11 and the resulting mid-east invasions and bloodshed, the picture changes and morality flies out the door…the doctrine no longer seems applicable…

By freethinkingtheist AT 03.13.08 09:09PM Not Rated


I reviewed the article from American Mag. and an excellent argument is made.  Yes, we do have moral obligations to the Iraqis.  However, we have moral obligations to Americans as well as the rest of the global scene.  Our obsessive focus on Iraq to the neglect of the rest of the world is depleting our nation, our economy, our security, our military, and weakening our status on the world scene and the response of constantly deploying troops and extended tours of duty simply are failing and may very well be worsening things for Iraqis and ultimately causing more harm than good.  Whatever the case, I, for one, as well as many of my colleagues opposing this war, DO care and in Power’s own words DO have “a deep sense of anguish, remorse and foreboding over our nation’s failure to live up to its obligations to the Iraqi people but also the American people,especially our military, who have suffered in their own ways.  I think that Power’s definition of the anti-war position as “self-righteous calls to “end” an immoral war” is in itself a pretty self-righteous dismissal of a position that actual does care, perhaps in a broader sense.  Self-flagellation does not necessarily equate to a higher level of care or concern or anguish.  So, I would probably reword Power’s moral question in a way that we could ask: What policies and strategies best serve the interests of not only the Iraqis but Americans and the rest of the world?

By eric AT 03.14.08 07:45PM Not Rated


I think the following article would be of interest on the subject of subsidiarity: http://www.acton.org/publications/randl/rl_article_200.php

By Harold Fickett AT 03.15.08 05:47PM Not Rated

Harold Fickett

Eric, terrific article.  Thank-you for posting the link!

By Joe Schriner AT 03.16.08 07:43PM Not Rated

Joe Schriner

In regard to one aspect of subsidiarity in America…  To move from centralism and the current Welfare state, we must have way more people of faith who are willing to step up and really help those in need.  For instance, our family has intentionally moved to the inner city of Cleveland to live side by side with poor who have been caught in generational poverty loops and abandoned by white flight.  We live among a group of Catholic Workers who have put their lives on the line in a gang war zone to help the poor, to coach Rec Center teams with kids that don’t have a father at home, to provide micro-loans and gifts to their neighbors…  In this one small part of the city, decentralism (to at least a degree) is working.  Now, there would naturally be a shift to a subsidiarity orientation en mass in America, if, say, Christians (middle class and up) were really willing to sacrifice a lot more of their comfort (material stuff, personal safety…), slow their upwardly mobile climb, and really take the time to systemically help those caught in these poverty loops.  Problem is, we’d rather have yet another dinner at Bob Evans, some comfortable furniture, the wide screen TV, the car with more options…  It’s not just the American Bishops who are short sighted on this (according to the article Eric alludes to), it’s us and all the priests (who should be inspiring us in this direction) who themselves are eating out at Bob Evans then coming back to the Rectory at night in their new Honda where they sit in the easy chair and watch Sports Center.  It’s not all that difficult to argue for ideological constructs like subsidiarity—from the easy chair.

By freethinkingtheist AT 03.16.08 09:28PM Not Rated


Congratulations for intentionally moving your family to the inner city even putting your lives on the line to live in voluntary poverty, although, why would a parent knowingly put their children in harms way?  Is it something that everyone should do?  I don’t think so.  Does that make those who will not pick up and move their families to the inner city, who eat at ‘Bob Evans’, (not my choice, I’ll take Olive Garden wink have some comfortable furniture, a wide screen TV, a car with more options etc. etc…OR! OR! even an ‘economical’ Honda!! short sighted?  I’ve noticed this among many sacrificial martyrs, the ‘Robin-Hood’ types.  They claim to be doing good deeds for others and then totally negate their supposedly charitable acts with an open and forward sanctimoniously intolerant condemnation and at times even scathing hatred of those who may, in their opinions, live ‘too well.’ They sit on their impoverished judgmental throne (maybe mat on the floor), with a gavel in hand just waiting to come down on those who don’t do as they do. So, rather than lifting up the poor to become better functioning members of society and aiding them in lifting themselves out of their poverty, it seems as if you’re choosing to commiserate with the poor in some sort of judgemental bitterness toward ‘the rich’ or even those driving simple Hondas or eating at one of the most modest of restaurants, Bob Evans!  Is it possible for folks to eat out, drive functioning cars, have wide screen TVs, etc. etc. and still be charitable and involved in assisting the plight of the poor?  I mean, your position seems so riddled with judgment that at what point do you draw the line?  At the point whereby someone is living exactly as you and your family?

By LarissaL AT 03.17.08 01:07AM Not Rated


Charity and living with the poor-

Well you bring up an interesting issue: where do you “draw the line” at being charitable and giving to the poor. Do you simply do 10% and not worry about the rest? Many Christians in America don’t even reach this. Do you give to the point of your own poverty? I’ve known some who do. I think giving out of love and not obligation or reaching some “line” is important.

I think it is important to have solidarity with the poor because that is a major way in which we interact with Jesus and obey our call to charity. Finding ways to identify with them and increasing empathy I think is important.

I don’t think there is any exact answer for your question. We may all be called to give in different ways and give different amounts. However I think American Catholics should be more open to giving beyond their comfort zone…there are more than a few condemnations of enjoying opulent and comfortable lives in the Bible. It’s a hard thing to do, sometimes i have been successful at it, other times not.

I think I might read up in the catechism tonight about charity…

By Joe Schriner AT 03.17.08 01:39AM Not Rated

Joe Schriner

Freethinkingtheist… Robin Hood? Perhaps.  Actually, I give talks all over the country (often in suburban venues) where I say pretty much what I wrote in the post.  Some people will hear it, re-assess their comfort zones in comparison to, say, little children daily dodging drugs, needles and bullets in our inner cities, or little children starving to death in the Third World, and say to themselves: ‘Boy, I could cut back a lot more to help.’  Then there are others who want to hold on to their stuff, tight, and they get: angry.  Note:  Our children, like other children in the Catholic Community we live in, are growing up seeing the real needs of the world and the heroic acts of Christians trying to meet those needs.  What’s more, the children here are also actively involved with helping as well.  They are not so much in harm’s way, as they are on the way to Christ’s way.

By damon AT 03.18.08 01:02AM Not Rated


Wow, what a great conversation, I honestly got teary-eyed just reading all these posts (my computer has been down a few days, I had to catch up), these are the discussions I hope to have with my adult children someday around the dinner table. And if I can make that dream come true, then I may consider myself a success as a father.  An absolute beautiful display of critical, compassionate thinking.  An intellectual art gallery.  Love it.

I’m going to support, and vote for, Joe.  I not quite in the same place as he is on immigration, yet - give me time he makes a good point, idealistic, but then, so am I.

I will boldly argue that as a Catholic it is more acceptable to allow the compromise in your vote to be about issues that do not directly compromise human life.  And if that is not enough I will further argue that Abortion should be given more weight in the spectrum of life issues because it carries the double duty of being a civil rights issue, and holds the most potential to change the way people think all life issues.

However imperfect my voting may be, I am sure that my actions will mean much more, and I respect Joe’s leadership on this.

Right now we live in a country where poor people are beating down the door to get in, and the rich are beating down the door to get out.  We are doing something right.

By GTN AT 05.17.08 10:18PM Not Rated


I’ve been keeping up with this for a while, but I’ve just now got a chance to comment. The problem with the war in the Middle East is no longer about nukes or tyrants like Hussein, the problem is that we’ve already gone in and destabilized it. I’m quite aware that many of the better reasons for going in have been proven false, but the fact is that we are there and they need help pulling themselves together, and we ought to fix what we broke. We owe them that at the very least. The movie Charlie Wilson’s War makes a good argument for this position. Anyways, that’s my two cents for now.

By carmel AT 07.21.08 07:54AM Not Rated


I don’t think we can assume that a conservative president will necessarily appoint justices who will vote to overturn roe v wade.  Look at what Nixon did to the Supreme Court, and my case is made.  But if we oppose Obama because of Abortion, but McCain is not really all that different, do they cancel each other out on this point—and then are we not free to choose between the two because they are equally as bad on the abortion issue?

By chassup AT 07.21.08 03:27PM Not Rated


“...but McCain is not really all that different, ...they are equally as bad on the abortion issue?”

You are horribly mistaken on this issue.  These two candidates have very different positions and voting records regarding abortion.  Please seek better information about candidates before voting, we desperately need a well informed, intellectually honest electorate if we are to select good leaders.


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