The modern world is a “rights” world. This comes largely from Hobbes. The logic of a “rights” world is curious. It basically means that what we “ought” to be by “right” is owed to us. If we do not have what we ought to have, we are victims. Someone has the “duty” to give us our “rights.”This and more good thoughts from Fr. Schall in his annual Easter interview with Ken Masugi. The above could have come straight from Benedict XVI, with his insistence on "the law of gratuity," or from Francis and his recognition that even a "good" system cannot replace the need to "see" people. You can't just set up a good system and no longer worry about human interaction.
This “rights” world is a world in which the notion of gift can no longer exist. Christianity is rooted in gift, not rights. If I do not have what is my “right,” then, when it is supplied to me, it is because of someone else’s “duty.” In a way, such a world bears out the problem that I have always associated with justice, namely, that it is the most terrible of the virtues. When we treat someone “justly,” we return what is “due.” It does not depend on that person’s charm or character. He can be the worst of men and, if we “owe” him something, we must return it. A thoroughly “just” world is a world of cold impersonality. The great things of life—friendship, honor, sacrifice, love, praise—are beyond justice.
Aquinas thus said that the world was created in mercy, not justice. In a paradoxical sense, in a completely “just” world, Christianity itself would have no place to exist. It could not really talk about “giving” or “sacrificing” because what is given is “due.” This is the classical problem with socialism and such forms of “rights”-oriented systems. In the name of justice, they get rid of all the real institutions of love and sacrifice that really deal with individual people in their particularity. The greatest things are beyond justice. When we politicize all the human activities, we really end up with a world in which no one can possibly love another because everything is already “owed.”
It was actually this that caught my eye, however:
Without care, it is relatively easy to turn political philosophy into a theology or theology into a political form. It is, I think, the primary effect of revelation to allow politics to be just what it is, and only what it is, that it, politics. Politics is not itself, as Charles N. R. McCoy used to say, a “substitute metaphysics,” or as Voegelin and Benedict XVI say, an attempt to achieve Christian ends by political, economic or scientific means within this world by human means—the famous “immanentization of the eschaton.”A little more:
It is out of this background that political philosophy came up in the first place, over the issues of the death of Socrates and later the death of Christ, both issues of the best man killed in the best existing state of his time by an essentially “legal’ process. It was precisely this experience out of which the issue of the best regime arose.This is the problem I'm thinking about lately. It's difficult to have a sensible conversation with anyone about politics. Lefty Catholics have made politics their religion (see here -- or maybe don't as what is seen cannot be unseen and this is obscene, at least morally), but righty Catholics don't leave any space for what Benedict XVI called the "legitimate sphere of secularity" -- or, ironically, for the lay vocation. So you can't have a real discussion about politics, because no one any longer has a sense of what politics is.
It has been my constant position that politics to be what it is cannot be a substitute religion or metaphysics and still be politics as Aristotle understood it. This is why most of the politics we know today are really, as Chantal Delsol noted in Icarus Fallen, covert ideological efforts to resolve what are essentially Christian ideas by man within this world. No sense of the transcendent and its relation to each existing person remains. This is the significance of the last chapter in Reasonable Pleasures on eternal life.
This is good too. Masugi asks about a passel of contemporary questions -- the HHS mandate, religious liberty, Putin's "defense" of Christianity-- and Schall says to take each issue individually would take time, but there's a general observation to be made.
If we compare notions of individualism, relativism, freedom, and equality, we see quite clearly that we live in a regime that is rather described rather accurately by Aristotle. A regime is a political order that is formed to facilitate the kind of virtue or vice that the citizens have chosen for their way of life. Thus, I think that the proper title of the present American regime is a classical democracy that has seen its ruling authority to be taken over by a tyrannical type ruler. In the Greek sense, such a ruler is not a brute or madman, but a suave, rather sophisticated, eloquent operator who is personally rather disciplined. But he has no internal principle of order but his own will.
Now we do not and probably cannot bring ourselves to use these classical Greek terms even when they do describe the souls we see. But if we look at the reality, we can see that the Greek idea of a democracy as a deviant regime, that is, one that has no common good, but a “good” that is defined by the actual ruling principle in the souls of the citizens. The key is a concept of virtue that held that the citizens lived in a regime of “liberty.” It sounds rather attractive. But here the word “liberty” means precisely that no standards or norms exist. Freedom does not mean follow reason, but follow whatever we want. Each person chooses his own definition of happiness or the good, as one of our Supreme Court justices is fond of telling us. No one agrees on anything except that no good requires human beings to live according to reason, a reason that is found in human nature itself as expressive of its good. The purpose of the ruling principle is to guarantee that this form of “liberty” be protected and expanded. Equality means that no criterion of excellence or good exists. The regime then comes to be a systematic dismantling of any residue of a claim in nature that a proper way of man to live can be found.
Read what he says about whether Pope Francis is unnecessarily confusing.