THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Reply to a Relativist, Part II

      As we saw in yesterday’s posting, some people think that taxing an estate or gift is unjust by its very nature.  Others — as we found out from some vocal readers of this blog — insist that an income tax is inherently unjust, and yet others declare that all taxation is unjust.  Of course, it’s not exactly clear from the, er, thoughtful remarks we received where government is supposed to get its funding or whether we’re supposed to have government at all.  After all, if government funds itself we get a tyranny, if there is no government we get chaos.


Anyway, the next point of contention was the meaning of “person.”  We use the legal definition of person, since we’re dealing with organized human civil society and not a theocracy.  That boils down to meaning a person is that which has rights, and the corollary, that on which duties may be imposed.  As it clearly states in Black’s Law Dictionary (a standard legal reference),

PERSON.  A man considered according to the rank he holds in society, with all the right[s] to which the place he holds in society entitles him, and the duties which it imposes.  The word in its natural and usual signification includes women as well as men.  [The t]erm may include artificial beings, [such] as corporations.


Our relativist claims to be an attorney, so we found his continued insistence (he’s made the assertion repeatedly, interrupting speakers to do so) that in matters pertaining to natural law “person” does not mean “that which has rights” troubling.  He keeps insisting that, “A ‘person’ is an ‘individual substance of a rational nature’, not some thing the supreme court says, ‘has rights’.” [sic]

Our relativist is clearly mixing apples and oranges, performing what Fulton Sheen called an “inversion” of the natural and supernatural orders that is at the heart of modernism.


Specifically, he is taking Boethius’s theological and philosophical definition of person relating to how man relates to God, naturæ rationalis individua substantia (“individual substance of a rational nature”) and imposing it on the natural and civil order, i.e., that which involves how man relates to man.  In effect, our relativist is insisting that we live in a theocracy, or that we should be, an idea we reject.

In form, the relativist’s claim is an example of the logical fallacy of equivocation, in which a word that means one thing in a specific context is improperly applied with the same definition in a completely different context.  Wesley Hohfeld warned against this very error in Fundamental Legal Conceptions (1919).

Our relativist is correct in that in man’s relations to God it is ridiculous to speak of rights and duties, and thus persons in a legal sense.  Human beings have no rights against God and God has no duties to human beings.  We are not, then, persons in the legal sense in our relations to God.  We are persons because we have an “individual substance” and a “rational nature,” and God by gift chooses to recognize us as adopted children and thus persons despite our slavery to sin.

The case is otherwise in the temporal order based on natural law.  In our relations with other human beings our personality manifests not in our substance (essential being) and rational nature.  Rather, it is in the application of that substance in every human being’s use of reason and the analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue (become more fully human) by the exercise of our natural rights of life, liberty, and private property.

Dr. Heinrich A. Rommen


To insist on the theological and philosophical definition of person in matters pertaining to natural law is to commit the same error as the modernists, socialists, and New Agers.  Modernism would abolish the natural law of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice as defined and discerned by reason (cf. Canon 2.1 First Vatican Council, the first article in the Oath Against Modernism, and § 2 of Humani Generis), in favor of the supernatural law of faith, hope, and charity . . . as determined by whoever has the most power; “might makes right.”  (See Heinrich Rommen’s discussion of this in his book on the natural law and in The State in Catholic Thought).  The proper order, of course, is that the supernatural law fulfills and completes the natural law, it does not abolish it.

Even more troubling is the relativist’s apparent claim that the Supreme Court somehow grants rights and thereby creates persons.  On the contrary — as the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution clearly implies, rights come from the people and are granted to the State.  The State has the task of defining exercise of rights and retaining certain rights for itself — such as taxation, declaring war, and punishing criminals — for its exclusive exercise, but it only does so by grant from actual human beings who are persons by nature and with their express or implied consent, as stated in the Declaration of Independence.


Robert Cardinal Bellarmine

This, by the way, was the theory of Robert Cardinal Bellarmine whose political theory as detailed in De Laicis, the Treatise on Civil Government, influenced Locke and Sidney (although only Sidney dared acknowledge it), and thus the American Founding Fathers, particularly George Mason of Gunston Hall (see Father John Clement Rager, The Political Philosophy of Blessed Robert Bellarmine, 1926).  Bellarmine’s theories as corrected by Pope Pius XI are an integral part of that pope’s social doctrine, particularly the discernment of a particular act of social justice.

William Winslow Crosskey’s book, Politics and the Constitution in the History of the United States (1953) examines the drift away from the personalist vision of the Founding Fathers that acknowledged natural law and the origin of all natural rights in the human person, and the evolution of the theory that rights come from the State in an effort to preserve and extend slavery.  This coincided with the “Second Great Awakening” that advanced the “New Things” in the United States.

According to Crosskey, the opinion in Scott v. Sandford (1857) conflated citizenship and personality and claimed that since citizenship is granted by the State, so is personality, i.e., rights, instead of the State merely defining their legitimate exercise.  Following the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment was in part an effort to restore recognition of natural rights and overturn Scott but was nullified in the opinion in The Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873, which reasserted the claim that rights come from the State.  The analysis in Slaughterhouse was the basis for the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), although it was not specifically cited.