Once again the press of business (you knew we had to do something other than tell everybody else how to fix What's Wrong with the World) has prevented completing our series on Welfare Blackmail. You can probably guess where we're headed with it, but that's not the same as actually telling you.
In any event, we came across a couple of passages in our research for a shorter article on Welfare Blackmail that show our concern with the whole HHS contraception mandate is neither sectarian nor trivial. It is, in fact, a symptom of a much deeper problem, one that has been sending its roots deep into American culture ever since the effective closing of the frontier with the end of the "free" land under Abraham Lincoln's 1862 Homestead Act.
A lot of people think that the issue is one of religious liberty. That is, admittedly, an important aspect of the problem. Limiting the discussion to religious liberty, however, is a little like saying that the problem with chattel slavery is that slaves are generally treated badly. Treat the slaves well, and there's no problem . . . right?
Wrong. Just as the problem with wages is not the wage contract, but the wage system, the problem with slavery is the entire slave system, not how the slaves are treated within it. Similarly, it's not just one right — religious liberty — that is threatened, and not just of Catholics and members of other faiths opposed to being forced to violate their consciences in this matter. All liberty of all types and all forms is threatened by the State's assumption that it can legislate morality and force people to go against what they believe is right in any matter, not just religion.
When the State undertakes to be the guarantor of every individual good, it also undertakes to define what "good" is, and enforces it by making the citizens economically dependent on the State. When the State says "frog," you'd better start hopping — or else.
Ironically, not only Catholic, but Jewish, Islamic and even pagan social teaching is very clear on the dangers of letting the State have so much power, especially over our subsistence. Even Leo XIII, often erroneously cited along with subsequent pontiffs to justify ever-increasing State control of the economy to ensure material benefits, warned in the beginning of Rerum Novarum, "There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body." (§ 7.)
Dr. Heinrich Rommen, one of Germany's leading jurists before escaping from the Nazis, made the dangers of State control explicit. He knew what he was talking about. Not only did he experience the Nazi tyranny first hand, he was also a member of the renowned Königswinterkreis discussion group composed of students of the great Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., and headed by Father Oswald von Nel Breuning, S.J., who drafted Quadragesimo Anno under the direction of Pius XI. As Rommen explained,
"Economic society with its innumerable free associations and groups rests upon initiative and self-responsibility and an ethical code of just equalization of interests which is absolutely necessary for the good functioning of production and distribution of material wealth. In this realm the State may regulate but not command; . . . If instead of this initiative and self-responsibility, of trusteeship and liberality, the command of the bureaucratic State is heard, then these virtues wane while the passivity of State serfs and the insolence of bureaucrats triumph in the emergence of the Slave State." (The State in Catholic Thought. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1947, 357.)
Shades of Hilaire Belloc's The Servile State, first published 100 years ago this year.
How, then, can citizens regain the power they have surrendered to the State in their quest for material security? Do we continue to protest and demonstrate against those laws that we believe to be unjust, hoping thereby to change the hearts and minds of our leaders?
Protests and demonstrations are very useful and sometimes productive of much good. The civil rights movement is a case in point. The problem is that once you've organized and gained "people power," you had better make certain you demand the right things — and that what you demand can be delivered without material harm or even inconvenience to others. The civil rights movement, by and large, gained great power . . . and then frittered it away by demanding jobs and welfare rather than access to the means of becoming — and remaining — owners of capital.
Jobs and welfare do not empower anyone except employers and the State. They do not empower people — or the whole issue of the HHS contraception mandate would be moot. If people had power instead of the State, the "insolent" State bureaucrats could make all the demands they wanted, but would lack the means of enforcing them.
"Power," as Daniel Webster observed in the Massachusetts constitutional convention of 1820, "naturally and necessarily follows property." If people are to have the power to resist "the insolence of bureaucrats" and "the emergence of the Slave State," they must demand the right that was presumably guaranteed in the first section of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776: access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property.
If those who are opposed to the HHS contraception mandate want to take quick and effective action against the intrusive power of the State and restore liberty to the American people, they should join the annual Rally at the Federal Reserve in Washington, DC, on Friday, April 20, 2012, and demand reform of the tax system and the central bank to open up access to the means for every child, woman and man to become a capital owner.
Otherwise, you had better start limbering up.