Surprisingly for a society that prides itself on the intelligence of its members — or perhaps not, considering that a high IQ is the only common denominator — no one bothers to ask the obvious question and settle the primary issue. It is, in fact, an exercise in futility to discuss whether God does or does not exist until you have settled the issue whether God can exist.
You see the problem? If one side in the debate accepts as a given even before the debate begins that God cannot exist, and the other side accepts without question that God does exist, there can never be any real debate or argument, merely name-calling and sneering.
We've seen the same thing with respect to "debates" about binary economics and the Just Third Way. The three mainstream schools of economics, the Keynesian, the Monetarist/Chicago, and the Austrian, are firmly established on the assumption that it is impossible to finance new capital formation unless you first cut consumption and accumulate money savings.
This necessarily results in concentrated ownership or control of capital, either in the hands of a private elite (capitalism), or the State (socialism), with fundamental natural rights continually redefined in order to try and force the system to work. Anybody who says anything different is automatically a knave or a fool, usually both — which seems to present no logical problem, as the accusation comes from people who have built careers on both eating and retaining their cake.
Binary economics, on the other hand, takes as a given that new capital not only can be financed without first cutting consumption and accumulating money savings, given that the purpose of production is consumption and not reinvestment, new capital must be financed in that way if the economy is to be in equilibrium. Using "future savings" is the only feasible and just means of financing widespread capital ownership and eliminating the business cycle without using the dishonest expedient of redefining natural rights, especially freedom of association/contract (liberty) and private property. Keynes redefined both in both his Treatise on Money (1930) and his General Theory (1936) to try and make his system work. Academics have, in fact, become so accustomed to "re-editing the dictionary" (as Keynes put it), that they truly can no longer conceive of absolute standards of anything.
It becomes clear, then, that the real issue is not being addressed in the debate about the contraception mandate, or in the larger debate between those who are concerned with which individual goods the State should provide and in what manner, and those who want to limit the role of the State. Nor is it a simple "all or nothing" situation as many attempt to frame it, as there is really no "pure" position, except for those who believe that whatever the State does is necessarily right without question, and such ideologues are very rare.
Even, e.g., supporters of Roe v. Wade, who chant the mantra that the Supreme Court established abortion on demand as the law of the land and therefore all resistance or protest is [pick your pejorative], in almost the same breath declare that if abortion were to be outlawed, the law would not be obeyed! Thus, on the one hand they insist that abortion be supported with all the resources of the State and any and all protest silenced for the simple reason that it is the law, and your opinion is irrelevant. On the other, they declare that if abortion were to be outlawed, the law would be disobeyed because our opinion, not a presumably unjust law, determines what is right. At one and the same time they reject the idea of an authority higher than the State to dismiss their opponents' argument, and rely on it to clinch theirs.
So, what is the real issue here? As we have seen, it's whether the State is guardian of the common good, or guarantor of all individual goods. This is the question that confronts the American Catholic bishops, the Catholic laity, as well as Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others of faith or ethical philosophy who oppose the growing intrusion of the State into matters of personal conscience.
Many of these groups and individuals are on the horns of a dilemma they created for themselves by insisting that the State's responsibility to care for the common good means guaranteeing every individual good. By accepting gradually increasing State-funded social programs, they have been forced to accept the price: a growing dependence on the State that provides the funding and that necessarily dictates how the funds are to be used.
Nevertheless, the common good is not the aggregate of individual goods, but the network of institutions within which each individual exercises his or her natural rights and thereby acquires and develops virtue, becoming more fully human. The State is not to try and provide or guarantee individual goods, except in extreme need.
That being the case, the State (civil society) does not have the authority (at least legitimately) to set standards of morality. This provides a check against the State deciding for its own advantage or those of favored supporters or clients to change or "improve" moral standards . . . for everyone's good, of course. The State cannot, therefore, redefine natural rights such as life, liberty or property, however much it is charged with defining their legitimate exercise within the bounds of the natural law. (We won't discuss today the widespread modern confusion over the difference between having a right and exercising a right.)
Nor can the State redefine basic institutions outside its own sphere of competence, e.g., changing "marriage" (an institution in domestic society) to mean something other than what it is. The State's proper role is to regulate the social order through enforcement of moral standards, not control the social order through redefinition of those standards, despite what John Maynard Keynes said about the power of the absolutist State to "re-edit the dictionary."
Similarly, religious society, which discerns and defines virtue, and domestic society, which transmits those definitions to children, have no power outside their own purview to enforce moral standards. Parents may not punish other people's children for violating rules they have set for their own children within their own family, nor may a Presbyterian minister sue a Methodist neighbor for not contributing to the Presbyterian Church or have the State impose a fine, any more than a Rabbi can impose a penance on a Muslim for not going to Temple on Saturday or send the sheriff to arrest him and force him to attend. All of them, however, can legitimately discern the truth of the natural law and teach that murder, theft, adultery, and so on, are wrong, and demand that the State enforce these moral standards within reason and as appropriate.
We can therefore understand that the traditional separation of Church, State and Family — properly understood — operates as a kind of "social Glass-Steagall." With the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the financial services industry was able very effectively to eliminate all systemic checks and balances in pursuit of financial power. In addition, the industry itself as experts set the standards of ethical behavior and, by and large, enforced them . . . so to speak. It was, in effect, like asking a thief to define burglary and then relying on him to make certain nothing was stolen, only holding him accountable if he was dumb enough to violate his own rules and get caught. No, allowing the State both to define and enforce virtuous behavior is a very bad idea. It's just as bad as allowing a religious body to impose civil penalties and enforce them for violations of faith-based teachings.
That's not to say that authorities in all three societies — domestic, religious and civil — don't often try to extend their power far beyond their legitimate spheres. These days, of course, when the authoritarian State has managed to take over large areas formerly recognized as the purview of religious and domestic society, people have been whipped into a frenzy of fear over the dangers of too much power in the hands of parents or clergy.
This should probably make people more suspicious than it does — there is a natural tendency to condemn anything that opposes what you happen to want to do, especially if it's particularly harmful. We see, for example, chain smokers chanting about the dangers of quitting cold turkey, libertines about the unhealthiness of chastity, while alcoholics can recite at great length the benefits of a wee nip now and then — the list is endless.
All of this, of course, leads directly into the dilemma in which Catholics and members of other churches and faiths find themselves when confronted with the contraception mandate. For over a century Catholics and others have demanded and, since at least the 1930s, have received increasing levels of State intrusion into and control over the lives of individual citizens in an at best marginal — and extremely expensive — effort to guarantee everyone's individual good.
This includes even — or especially — such groups as the distributists, who (as we might expect) want to have their cake and eat it, too. They have no problem with State control — although some, admittedly, claim with Karl Marx that the State will wither away . . . and be replaced by something that is the State in all but name. One distributist enthusiast claimed that the State would largely be replaced by groups of people in free association, which, while membership would not, strictly speaking, be voluntary . . . that's when we stopped reading. "Involuntary free association" is a concept far beyond our intellectual capacity.
No, State control of every aspect of life is not the problem as far as the cake-eaters-and-keepers are concerned. The problem occurs when those in power order us to do things with which we disagree. That shows that they just aren't the right people, and they're probably evil, kicking puppies, and pinching babies in their spare time. To the guillotine! (With love, of course.) Then we can replace The Evil Ones with people who will Do The Right Thing All The Time . . . like us. Aw, what the heck. Us.
We're afraid we have to disagree on that one. The reason that people in power can get away with such things is that the system allows it. No, we're not saying that the system forces anybody to do wrong. A badly structured system just makes it easier and more advantageous to do wrong, especially if you're one of the lucky few who have figured out how to manipulate it. What is needed is not more and more regulations to try and control every act within the system, or an unending debate over which individual goods a State should guarantee — thereby making those receiving them into permanent dependents (slaves) of the State — but a restructuring of the system to allow it to operate for the advantage of everyone.
Any such restructuring must take into account the need to implement proper internal controls. This is so that the system normally runs properly without relying on every act being dictated, or on a key person who will try to coerce virtuous behavior.
Separation of function is a primary component of proper internal control. Separation of Church, State and Family builds internal controls into the system, as does separating the common good — the vast network of institutions within which we acquire and develop virtue — from individual goods: the actual development and acquisition of virtue through the exercise of our natural rights. Some of the elements of a "social Glass-Steagall" would be:
• The State limited to its proper role as guardian of the common good, not the guarantor of all individual goods. Except in cases of extreme need, and even then as the final, not first recourse, after individual and group efforts have been exhausted and private charity cannot handle it the State should not intrude into domestic or religious society, unless required to do so to protect the civil rights of individuals. This necessarily requires:
- A limited economic role for the State, especially a prohibition against money creation by emitting bills of credit,
- Free and open markets within an understandable and just legal system as the best means of determining just wages, just prices and just profits,
- Restoration of the rights of private property, especially in corporate equity and other forms of business organization, and
- Widespread direct ownership of capital, individually or in free association with others.
• The individual citizen as a member of society recognized as having primary responsibility for the structuring of the common good. Ordinarily this responsibility is delegated to duly constituted political authority, but when that authority becomes flawed or corrupt, or institutions no longer serve their primary function of assisting individuals to acquire and develop virtue, citizens must organize and restructure the social order through acts of social justice.
• Church (religious society), Family (domestic society) and State (civil society) recognized as discrete societies within the social order, each with its special role to play. This does not address the primary meaning or purpose of religious or domestic society, just their relations to civil society:
- The role of organized religion with respect to the social order is to discern the precepts of the natural law and guide both domestic society and civil society in applying them.
- The family's job with respect to the social order is to "rear children," that is, teach them to be fully functioning adults — non-dependents — in both religious and civil society.
- The job of the State is to maintain institutions so that the social order operates in accordance with the precepts of the natural law within acceptable parameters.
One of the most serious problems today, however (and what ties the hands of the American bishops and others of good will), is the belief that, worthy, even necessary as these elements of social internal control may be, people do not see any way that they can be implemented. This seems to justify the silence over these issues and the continuing debate not over whether Welfare Blackmail is in any degree acceptable, but how much slavery we can tolerate before the pot boils over or the country goes bankrupt.
In the next posting in this series we hope to show that there is, in point of fact, a way out — and one that can be implemented without disrupting the social order, or taking anything away from anyone except a monopoly over opportunity.