In the previous posting on this subject — the Core Values of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) we looked at the issue of sovereignty . . . and had to present a great deal of information on what we mean by the term as applied in “liberal democracy,” or “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We discovered that many people had so many different meanings for “people” and even “government” that “liberal democracy” effectively had no meaning at all!
We decided that in the Just Third Way of Economic Personalism (okay, maybe we could come up with a snappier way of saying that) the “American” form of liberal democracy, that recognizes the sovereignty of the individual human person, is normative. Just saying that, however, leaves quite a bit up in the air, so to speak, such as the question how the sovereignty of the human person is to be recognized and respected. That, of course, leads into the sixth item on the list of CESJ’s Core Values:
|Msgr. Ronald A. Knox|
The essential means to achieve the sovereignty of the person include such inalienable human rights as the right to life, liberty, and access to productive property and free markets, equality of opportunity, and the secret ballot. These rights—including the rights of property—are not ultimate ends in themselves, but they are intermediate ends or fundamental means to enable each person to pursue Truth, Beauty, Love and Justice.
This — as we might expect — comes into direct conflict with how many people think today. (Notice how we resisted going all Mark Twain and saying most people don’t even bother to think?) As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, as far as most people are concerned “democracy” means either rule of the “rest of us” by a government élite or a private sector élite, never rule of people by and for themselves. Even the so-called anarchists and libertarians inevitably drift into some form of elitism when they discover (or think they discover) that the unenlightened masses aren’t buying in to anarchy or libertarianism.
This is what Monsignor Ronald A. Knox addressed (among other things) in his magnum opus published in 1950 toward the end of his life, Enthusiasm. It was not a good thing in religious or philosophical terms, enthusiasm, that is.
|And (surprise!) He doesn't need your help.|
To explain, as far as the enthusiast is concerned, anyone who refuses to go along with or — worse — opposes the enthusiast’s corrective action for the Betterment of Society places him- or herself beyond the Pale. As a result, by presumed stupidly or stubbornly not participating enthusiastically in the program to create or recreate the perfect society, a Kingdom of God on Earth, (other) people can be classed as “ungodly.” Such people can either be deprived of rights or not recognized as persons or even as human.
“Ungodly,” of course, must be taken in an extremely broad sense. In this context, enthusiastic atheists and agnostics as well as Jews, Christians, Muslims, and pagans can — and do — make the determination regarding the supposed ungodliness of others. This turns the others into “outlaws” (literally), against whom any and all action is appropriate and justifiable.
|What happens when you go "contrary to sound popular feeling."|
This is a key point, for identifying as “ungodly” or “contrary ‘to sound popular feeling’” (George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, Third Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961, 918.) someone who disagrees with a position or claim may have nothing to do with traditional religious forms or even recognition of a God or gods on the part of whoever is doing the judging. It depends solely on what whoever is making the determination recognizes as the supreme power in the universe.
Rights, however, are essential for two reasons. One, people acquire and develop virtue (i.e., become more fully human) by exercising their rights, chief among which are life, liberty, and private property. Two, rights protect people from others. If rights were only for people you accepted or liked, they would be unnecessary. No, rights are essential to protect you from the people who Just Don’t Like You or who want your stuff, or any other reason to deny your common humanity and dignity.
So that is the meaning of the sixth of CESJ’s Core Values. Rights in and of themselves are not really meaningful, nor can they be considered in a vacuum. It’s what rights are for that is important, to protect me from you, and to help us both become more fully human by acquiring and developing truth, beauty, love, and justice.
The next time you hear anyone say that someone’s rights can be taken away or ignored for any reason without due process and just cause, just remember that anyone whose rights have been taken away has been deemed non-human. Socialists, take note.