Thursday, April 26, 2007

Catholic political theory in a nutshell

Here it is, from the (then future) Pope himself (p. 129 of Without Roots:
The Catholic will not and should not, thought the making of laws, impose a hierarchy of values that can only be recognized and enacted within the faith. He or she can only reclaim that which belongs to the human foundations accessible to reason and the therefore essential to the construction of a sound legal order.
Don't know yet if I fully agree with it (though I'm inclined to at least in result if not in foundational assumptions about epistemology), but it is pretty coherent, eh?


Ryan said...

It's delightfully coherent, it just doesn't mean it has anything to do with the world in which we live. Hegel too has a beautifully coherent system, but it's beautifully coherent nonsense.

"Human foundations accessible to reason"? That's the kind of language I expect to hear from Descartes and Locke, not a theologian. It's certainly nothing Paul or Moses seem all that excited about.

The Bard said...

The problem is that his statement presumes that there is one source of human reason. I used to believe that but I'm not so sure any more. I do believe in universal human nature, but does that necessarily presume a universal human reason?

The appeal to a universal reason strikes me as too close to the endless appeals to some universal, unbiased science that will somehow answer our questions. Abraham Kuyper demolished that idea.

The Bard said...

I think that (minus the word "Catholic") Dr. Silvester would love this quote. I also think (she may challenge me if I am wrong) Camille would disagree.

Playing Devil's Advocate with Ryan, I would say that Paul *does* talk about this role of reason in Romans 1. The question is how far we take that, and whether a knowledge that serves to condemn is also a knowledge that serves to construct.

Ryan said...

If anything, I see Romans 1 as indicating that reason is futile, darkened, and that men in "their unrighteousness suppress the truth." Paul seems to indicate that apart from revelation all we can muster is sufficient knowledge to know what shouldn't be done, but that doesn't stop anyone from doing it. And though revelation shows us what ought to be done, it's only through regeneration that we're able to turn ourselves toward it and establish some sort of common ground.

Anonymous said...

Josiah says:

I think the Pope is saying something far more limited than Ryan's comments suggest. He isn't saying that human reason is sufficient for us to do what is right. He isn't even saying (necessarily) that it is sufficient for us to always know what is right. He's only saying that the knowledge human reason provides is sufficient for the making of laws. Human reason may not be perfect, but it's good enough for government work.

Does that mean the Pope is a Rawlsian? That's a scary thought.

Becca said...

"good enough for government work"


Camille said...

Yeah, David. You guessed right. I disagree with him. The Pope is pretty much a Modernist (Rawls, too, yes?). **yawn** Been there. Done that. Then read the Scriptures. Ho-hum.

ryan said...

What to me is most disappointing about this whole affair is that the Catholic church's best efforts at engaging contemporary culture sound like they've been pitched to engage 17th century culture. Ratzinger may have an answer to Kant, but no one cares. Nietzsche is the real challenge. And I really don't think that the church in general, let alone the Catholic church in particular, has anywhere near dealt with him.

The Bard said...

The real answer to Nietzsche is to take him seriously and ride his philosophy all the way to its conclusion. One nation-state did that. Sadly, most people live in denial of where Nietzsche takes them, so we should look for other answers.

I have to chuckle at Camille's post. Would she care to explain more? BJU professors are expected to issue statements disagreeing with the Pope, but Camille is the most gracious towards Catholicism, and the last thing one would expect a BJU professor to call the Pope is "modernist!" :-) My Catholic friends would certainly bristle at the suggestion; they would argue that the Catholic idea of Natural Law/Reason has been around much longer than modernity (is St. Thomas a modernist?).

I grant that human beings (and by implication human cultures) have enought Reason that they can establish a societal structure that beats anarchy. I must admit that non-Christians can see the benefits and inate justice of certain laws, and I make such arguements myself at times in the "public square."

But I am not sure how much of Reason is universal, and I do not believe that Reason alone can come close to building a "sound legal order" that Ratzinger suggests.

ryan said...

Nah, the real "answer" to Nietzsche is to hijack his system by allowing an omnipotent being into the will to power game. If ethics is based on power, and there's a player with absolute power, you've got absolute morality. Cue command-based ethics, stage left.

This also has the added benefit of preserving most of Nietzsche's critiques of contemporary Christianity, which is, let's face it, pretty simpering and bloodless.

Though most Catholics would indeed object to the idea that the Pope is a modernist, insisting that he is more Thomistic/Aristotelian than modern, it's worth pointing out that the modern project was significantly an attempt to recapture the rationalism of antiquity. Peter Gay describes the Enlightenment as a "recovery of nerve", the rediscovered willingness to rely on reason which was present in the Greeks and Romans but was depreciated with the ascendancy of Christianity and its troublesome insistence upon original sin.

The Bard said...

I am going to pass on any connection between Catholicism and Modernity until I have more time on my hands to read something more than FedTax.

But I'm uneasy with your answer to Nietzsche. It's a nifty way to turn the tables on him, sure. Reminds me of the "God is Dead--Nietzsche" followed by "Nietzsche if dead--God" quip. While I take a back seat to noone in a belief in the sovreignty of God, I my faith is rooted in His entire character, not just his power. The Jesus I read about in the New Testament is the God-Man, not the Overman.

ryan said...

I'm not positing a difference, but I would point out that without sufficient power, God's character wouldn't be all that important.

I think Nietzsche has simply realized what Scripture has been teaching all along: there really is a problem with mankind, and the only solution is to have a God rule over us. Unlike the most of the West--including the many Christians, and from what I can tell most Catholics--who believe that authority is the problem, Nietzsche sees it as the solution.

Nietzsche thinks this can be accomplished by a return to ancient concepts of nobility, and he's right insofar as those reflect the relationship between God and his people. But the only real possibility for justice and peace is for God alone to rule directly. Thus we take encouragement from the fact that God promises good things but even more from the fact that he can fulfill with his hand what he has spoken with his mouth.

Anonymous said...

If God is anything like Nietzsche, then we're all in a lot of trouble.