Sunday, October 14, 2012

Limited Government

We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death. But it is possible for us not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21). It is to this conversion of heart that we are called. Without it, all our coveted human “liberations” prove disappointing, for they are curtailed by our human narrowness, harshness, intolerance, favouritism and desire for revenge. A profound transformation of mind and heart is needed to recover a degree of clarity of vision and impartiality, and the profound meaning of the concepts of justice and the common good.

Address to Government and National Leaders, Lebanon, Sept 15, 2012

Reflection – Well, yesterday I certainly got lots of eyeballs looking at the blog, as I decried the quickening slide into tyranny of my home province of Ontario. Yesterday was all about freedom of speech and conscience, the absolute necessity for a peaceful society to engage in peaceful disputation, in a free and non-violent exchange of opposing views on any and all subjects.

Today this theme of freedom goes deeper. We see here the Pope reflecting very profoundly on the fundamental issue in every society, every civilization, and every human heart.

It is the conflict between good and evil that each of us engages in only and absolutely as individuals. Social programs can help people have opportunities, or save them from starving to death on the streets. Economic recovery plans, tax code reforms, stimuli of various types can all work, at least potentially, to encourage investment and entrepreneurial risk-taking. Legal reforms that protect minorities or outlaw discrimination do what legal reforms can do: punish and thus curtail bad behaviour.

But every revolution, every social program, every reform, every external change of law and policy is doomed to fail, utterly and completely, without this ‘profound transformation of mind and heart’ to justice and charity in the individual.

As Pope Benedict says so well, without this, we human beings are susceptible to simply lapse into narrowness, revenge, harshness, intolerance, falsehood, envy, sloth… all the usual suspects, eh? Without conversion of heart, there is not a legal system, a social program, an economic arrangement that can produce human happiness and a flourishing of human civilization.

Well, we have to know that, and know the limitations of law and the structuring of civil society. It can curtail outrageous excesses of cruelty and injustice; it can prevent people from starving to death; it cannot make society thrive and flourish in a vibrant human way.

That is the role of cultural, religious, educational, individual human formation in virtue and goodness. This is why government needs for the most part to basically stay out of the way of the very bodies that provide that formation: churches, schools, the whole network of clubs and service organizations and mediating institutions that daily call people out of their own self-interest and self-sufficiency into a communal shared project of care and help. In our modern world we take it for granted that the government needs to have a finger in every pie, be both underwriting and supervising and, increasingly, micro-managing the work of all these groups. I think we need to question this assumption and return to a much smaller government with a much more focussed role. In our day of spiralling national debt and fiscally over-extended governments living on credit, we have to find another way to organize things.
We are seeing in Canada and elsewhere that an overwhelmingly huge government, a government that pays for all services and supervises all aspects of life, is not conducive to the delicate play of freedom and human formation in virtue and goodness. Government is a blunt instrument of coercion and compulsion; what is needed for society to flourish are free men and women freely choosing to love and serve and care for the body of mankind out of their own freedom. Only thus is evil driven back and a clear space for goodness and justice to thrive in created.

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