Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Santorum and the Truth About Kennedy's Religion Speech

There has been much ado in the past few days about Rick Santorum's comment on JFK's famous 1960 speech on religion in public life. When asked about his thoughts on the speech, Santorum told ABC News that the speech made him want "to throw up."

Now I respect Rick Santorum and I agree with him most of the time. I admire his earnestness and his willingness to engage in dialogue on complex and controversial topics. His manner when addressing religious and social issues, however, can come across as sanctimonious and pompous. He also tends to treat any question, no matter the subject, as an opportunity to provide a seminar on the given issue and correct foolish conventional wisdom.

And so it was with his crude and politically unwise description of his feelings about the JFK speech. The media, of course, was scandalized by Santorum's reaction. After all, the JFK speech is regarded as a thoughtful exposition on church-state relations and a politically-savvy move to put to rest fears about the influence that the Roman Catholic Church might have upon the Catholic Kennedy.

While it may not have been in Santorum's interest to delve into the matter, in truth, the Kennedy speech was a sad political pander. Worried about anti-Catholic prejudice, Kennedy basically disavowed the Church by insisting that his faith was wholly irrelevant to his political life and would have nothing whatever to do with his conduct as president.

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him."

The point was to convince southern Protestants that he was no papist. His faith and its Roman masters would have no role in his governance, rest assured. He certainly was not going to aid those subversive Catholic schools!

What is great about this? Kennedy wanted the votes of the people in his audience and their followers, so he told them what they wanted to hear. The speech was supposedly politically necessary due to anti-Catholic bias and so it is celebrated for smartly allaying prejudicial fears. But would we similarly celebrate a 50 year-old speech of a black candidate to a white audience in which the candidate distanced himself from the civil rights movement in order to secure election? Or the speech of a Jewish candidate in which he felt compelled to promise that the Israeli government would not set U.S. policy?

The answers are clear. The Kennedy speech should not be viewed as a serious analysis of the role of religion in public life or the place of "faith" in political decision-making. It was a calculated attempted to remove an perceived obstacle to election--anti-Catholicism. Fifty years on, we ought to see the speech as a sad example of the prejudice that a Catholic once had to endure in order to win the presidency, and not as a sharp political maneuver and brilliant rumination on religion in the public square.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Religion and Apologies: Through the Looking Glass

Did you miss this story in your local paper?

AP--Washington: President Obama announced today that he will rescind his administration's policy of forcing Catholic institutions to cover birth control and abortafacient drugs for their employees.

The president's move came after days of rioting by Catholics that followed a speech by newly-minted Cardinal Timothy Dolan. In the speech, Dolan called on Catholics throughout the country to launch a "new Crusade" against the Obama policy. In response to Dolan's call, Catholics across the nation took to the streets, blocking traffic, harassing government workers and throwing bricks and stones through the windows of federal offices in major cities.

"I deeply apologize to the Roman Catholic Church and to faithful Catholics everywhere," President Obama wrote in a prepared statement. "The policy that my administration announced last month contradicted our most important values. I fully respect the right of Catholic institutions to refrain from providing or paying for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs as part of their health insurance plans. I am sorry and I have cancelled the policy."

Obama planned an investigation into the formulation of the offensive policy. "We will hold responsible those who committed this terrible error and I will not rest until this administration respects the right of all Americans to practice their faith without intrusion by the government."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maureen Dowd and the Greatly Exaggerated Death of Conservatism

This Sunday, a friend of mine brought to my attention Maureen Dowd's latest offering in the New York Times. Had it not been for my friend's interest in my thoughts on Miss Dowd's piece, I am sure I wouldn't have read it. The column is a warmed-over, hearty liberal chestnut that has been circulated in some version or other since at least heyday of Barry Goldwater. To wit, the Republican party is represented by puritanical nuts, competing in "the Hester Pyrnne primaries", to see who can be the most extreme and who is able to put across the most out-dated ideas.

Suffice it to say that the evidence for her conclusions is barley presented and consists mostly of standard-issue mockery of Rick Santorum as a religious zealot. The column is a recycled yawn, but it does provide a useful lens through which to view the contradictions and intellectual poverty of modern liberalism.

First, let us consider the manner in which liberals like Dowd apparently perceive Republicans-conservatives. In concluding her piece, Dowd writes: "The Republicans, with their crazed Reagan fixation, are a last-gasp party, living posthumously, fighting battles on sex, race, immigration and public education long ago won by the other side. They’re trying to roll back the clock, but time is passing them by. "

As is typical of liberals, Dowd sees herself as an enlightened "progressive", while conservatives are backward bigots. However, one might ask, what battles are Republicans fighting against "sex" or "race"? I am not aware of the Romney plan to re-institute Jim Crow and perhaps I missed Gingrich's speech on the innate inferiority of blacks. As for sex, is there a war on procreation? If there is, it is obviously waged by liberals and their minions at Planned Parenthood. But, rest assured, liberals like Dowd will continue to trot out these silly conclusory statements over and over, just as they have for at least 50 years.

And exactly what is the settled consensus on immigration that we troglodytes resist? Was it not President George W. Bush and Republican presidential nominee John McCain who pushed for "comprehensive" immigration reform? There is a debate among the present GOP contenders over how to best handle illegal immigrants and the leaders of both parties have spoken in favor of a "secure border". I've heard Barack Obama tout his record as a vigorous deporter of illegals.

Most ludicrously, Dowd poses the Republicans as fighting a pointless battle on "public education." In fact, to the extent that there is a consensus on education issues, it holds that the present education system is woefully inadequate. To their great credit, conservatives have fought to break the teachers unions'  strangle-hold over the government-monopoly education complex. Conservatives have pushed for choice and competition, for charter schools, vouchers and accountability standards. Liberals like Michael Bloomberg and, yes, Barack Obama, have adopted portions of the conservative agenda and certainly used conservative language in describing their reformist policies. But perhaps Miss Dowd would have preferred that House Republicans abandoned this insane "battle" against history's march and permitted her fellow liberals to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C., thereby sentencing scores of  minority children to failing and violent public schools.    

The point here is not merely to dispatch a Maureen Dowd column, but to make a larger statement about conservatism, liberalism and the future. In spite of Miss Dowd's self-regard, the truth is that modern liberalism has strikingly little to offer in terms of a vision of America in the 21st century. In spite of their application to themselves of the term "progressives", liberals oppose progress and reform. While liberals imagine that conservatives are waging war on "sex", they apparently cannot wrap their minds around the actual problems we face as a society or answer the conservative position on critical issues.

Consider perhaps the most obvious present example of liberalism's backwardness: We are a nation with a mounting debt crisis. Our 20th century social programs, social security, Medicare and Medicaid are consuming ever more of our national budget and cannot be sustained in their present forms. Republican-conservatives have offer reform solutions, as have various bi-partisan commissions and groups. But Obama-liberals ignore the problem at best and, at worst, deny its existence. As such, programs created in the 1930s and 1960s must maintain their original forms, no matter the vast changes in society that have occurred since their creation, period. 

Much more can, and will, be said on this subject, as I believe that the disparity in vision is the defining difference in our current the political divide. Conservatives may be tempted to dismiss the Dowd rhetoric as nonsensical, but the Dowd narrative does pose a challenge. We conservatives must frame our policies as forward-looking and reform-minded, formulated through an understanding of the lessons of history.

We ought to make clear that history didn't stop in 1968. The causes of America's problems and failings in the mid-20th century are not the same as those we face today. The political party and ideology that can squarely address our actual challenges and their causes and that can craft a message to bring the country along into this new era, with all its demands and possibilities, will be triumphant.

Conservatism has the intellectual basis to do so--now it needs the right messengers to convey its ideas and principals. If we can develop the message and the messengers, Maureen Dowd's obituary for Republican-conservatism will appear even more laughable in the future than it does today.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Idiocy of Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is a political idiot, and his incompetence is placing in jeopardy the ability of our side to defeat President Obama.

I don't know whether Romney is the only candidate in the current GOP field who can beat Obama. In my view, it is possible that any of the entries could defeat the president. It is also possible that none can. No one knows whether any of the current contenders is "unelectable".

But Romney in particular seemed to have great potential as a candidate, despite his past sins against conservatism. He was the long-heralded front-runner, the man with the resume, top flight political and business acumen, looks, organization and money. It is not good for the cause to see the Romney campaign careen towards disaster, with the prospect that Rick Santorum, once dismissed as a marginal joke, could defeat Romney in his native Michigan. A weak and embarrassed Romney, still very much a possible nominee, will not serve us well come the fall.

Everyone knows Romney needs to "connect" with conservatives. It's plain as day--so why can't he just do it? Even if Romney is a principle-free shape-shifter, winning conservative support under the present circumstances should have been a breeze. Read the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Listen to Larry Kudlow's radio show. Take a glance at a Krauthammer column. Lift some ideas, add some flowery rhetoric, bake for 15 minutes and, wa-la, you've got a conservative message.

Instead, in addressing the conservative issue, Romney talks incessantly about two things: himself and his past. In the first place, conservatives are not interested exclusively, or even substantially, in one's resume. Yet Romney speaks about his background constantly and with emphasis. Romney has an impressive resume. Great. Unlike liberals, we admire people who have earned success.

But there are thousands successful businessmen whom conservatives would never support for political office, such as, for example, Warren Buffet. There are plenty of rich liberals who are good managers in their respective industries. In the end, Romney's resume has nothing to do with conservatism. His resume is not a principal or an idea.

Romney also tries to make the case for himself as a conservative by rehashing his record as Massachusetts governor. This tactic is simply ridiculous. No one believes that Romney was a conservative governor. At best he was a moderate, resisting the most frivolous excesses of the Massachusetts liberals. But every time he recites his talking points--how many bills he vetoed and so forth--conservatives shake their heads or ruefully chuckle. When Romney evokes the past, we think mainly of his remarks describing himself as a "progressive", disowning Reagan, lauding Ted Kennedy and, of course, we remember his signature achievement as governor, Romney-care.

So it's not all together wise for Romney to forever drudge up the past, as if he is endlessly seeking to validate the record of which he says he is so proud. Moreover, we conservatives don't really care about the past at this point. We are looking for a leader to challenge the president on the issues of TODAY and defeat him NOW.

As such, Mitt Romney needs, more than anything else, a conservative theme. Many have offered him ideas, but the best was sketched out by Gov. Mitch Daniels in his brief rejoinder to the president's Castro-like State of the Union.

The theme might be titled "Progressive Conservatism." Conservatism is the path on which the nation will fully and finally embrace the 21st century. Conservatism will make us a competitive leader in the modern world economy. It will overhaul the long out-dated programs of the welfare state to save them from bankruptcy and will bring to bear upon them the lessons of the eight decades of history that have elapsed since the dawn of the New Deal.  It will strengthen the Pax Americana, not destroy it. It looks forward with optimism, with faith in free individuals.

The liberalism of Barack Obama stands athwart history. It is dour and pessimistic, looking to a mythic, vanished past. It seeks some way, any way to preserve in stone the ideas and programs of the mid-twentieth century, ignoring the reality of the society in which we now live and the nature of the problems we now confront. It wrings its hands and bemoans the world's unfairness. It is hopeless--at least without an all-powerful state to save us from ourselves.

To combine two famous political remarks: It's the vision thing, stupid. Bizarrely, Mitt Romney has taken to saying that he didn't learn conservatism from readings great conservative thinkers. He might want to take up a book or two, or perhaps peruse the offerings on Real Clear Politics one morning, and then consider why it is, exactly, that conservatism is superior to Obama's statism.

More on Conservatives as Progressives in the Next Entry....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gaudeamus! And Welcome to the Fight, Your Eminence

Today the whole Church, especially the Church in the United States, rejoices as Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, has been named a cardinal.

Among the Mass-attending Catholics to whom I spoke at my parish outside of New York City this week, expectations for Dolan's tenure as cardinal-archbishop, and de facto leader of the American Church, could not have been higher. Upon his return to New York, Dolan must take up a heavy and challenging burden. Most obviously, he must face down a president determined to marginalize the Church and tame it under the whip of the state.

The most immediate issue before Cardinal Dolan, of course, is the Obama health insurance mandates for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. Much has been said about the need to argue against the mandates on the basis of the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment, and rightly so. But for the man to whom many will look to make the case against the mandates, it is essential that Dolan craft a broader message.

Although Dolan's principal concern is obviously the prerogatives of the Church, the challenge to the mandates cannot appear simply to be an effort of Catholics to secure a special privilege, granted at the discretion of the state, for the Church's institutions to avoid a policy that is objectionable only in so far as it offends religious idiosyncrasy.

Rather, Dolan ought not concede the legitimacy of the policy in any regard. Of course, he should push for "conscience protections" for religious organizations, but he must bear in mind that religious liberty itself is merely a form of individual liberty, ordained by natural law and promised in human law by the Constitution.

The Church has long been the guardian of the natural law and the freedom and dignity of the individual human being. As such, in the face of the aggressive statism of Obama, the Church cannot acquiesce in the general infringement on the right of individuals to craft employment and contractual arrangements as suit their needs. It is not enough that Catholic institutions are, in general, left alone.

The Obama Administration should remind Dolan, and all of us, that "limited government" is not simply a theoretical good, but a practical virtue. Allowing the government to disregard the dictates of natural law and the strictures of the Constitution threatens the liberty of the entire society, even if, for a little while, the state suffers the institutions of the Church a beneficent reprieve from its control.

Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and the Holy Apostles, to whom he is successor, may God grant Timothy Cardinal Dolan the grace, zeal and wisdom to lead the Church in America.

Gaudeamus et Deo Gratias!

Coming Next: The Incredible Political Idiocy of Mitt Romney

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Obama Logic: The Healthcare Mandates

The president is good at very little, but he is a master of demogagory and deception. It is useful, therefore, to look carefully at the logic proffered by the president and his allies in support of his various policy prescriptions, beginning now with the health care mandates.

Much has been said these last weeks about Obamacare's infringement on religious liberty. And indeed the religious liberty issue is an important one. However, the insurance mandates do far more than trample on the right of Catholic institutions to decline to carry certain kinds of insurance plans for their employees.

Obamacare's governmental control of the healthcare market is easily the grandest intrusion of the state into the private sector in American history. These mandates curtail the right of private parties to enter into contracts that suit their particular needs and permit the government to dictate to private business the cost and nature of the product it must offer--a product that it then, in turn, orders the public to purchase.

Specifically, on the contraception mandate, the Obama/Left argues that the mandate is necessary to secure access for women to birth control. In short, women need, and should have access to, these kinds of products; ergo, it is wrong for some employers to deny it to them.

Now consider the implications of this argument and its logical underpinnings. Commonly, when one discusses "access" to a good or service, one means the ability of an individual to obtain such good or service for himself. That is distinguished from ordering another party to provide such good or service to the individual who desires it.

In other words, an individual can obtain contraception if she wishes through her doctor, over-the- counter at a drug store or by purchasing an insurance policy that covers these types of products. But, when seeking or accepting employment, does that person have a right to demand that the prospective employer provide her with this insurance coverage for birth control pills?

If so, does a man have a right to demand that his employer provide coverage for anti-baldness treatment? Is there a fundamental right to a dental plan? After all, everyone has teeth and if we let them rot, we will have to spend untold billions caring for them later. Better to require a dental plan now.

And why not mandate other forms of employee benefits as matters of right--paid vacation or, perhaps, even require that nurses be paid as much as surgeons? Pay disparities are awfully unfair and if a nurse earned as much as a surgeon, she would have more money to spend and would enjoy an easier time supporting her family. Presto! It'd be great for the economy!

The entire line of argument is absurd. When an employer makes a job offer, the employer informs the prospective hire of the proposed salary, the types of benefits it offers and lays down the terms and conditions of employment. The prospective employee then decides, based upon the offer, whether to accept it, reject it or attempt to negotiate it. These are basic and essential private interactions where individuals and organizations freely decide whether to associate with one another and on what terms.

In considering the Obamacare justifications, it is helpful to remember that no one forces an individual to work for a Catholic school or hospital. If Miss X. wants her abortofacients covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, she is free to seek employment from an organization that offers such a plan.

Women can obtain birth control should they wish to do so; in fact, thanks to the Obama/Left, we live in a society where women have a constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies if they so desire. But there is no "right" to a particular health care plan from your boss. There is no "right" to insist that your employer give you things that it cannot afford or does not wish to purchase, for whatever reason. If you don't like your pay or benefits, change jobs. In the real world, this has been known to occur without government intervention. Once, we called it a "free marketplace".

The liberals invented the constitutional "right to be left alone", yet they leave us alone only for those moments when we destroy innocent human life in the womb. Once we step outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, Obama and his progeny are our constant companions. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Christianity by State Command and the Social Teaching of the Church


President Obama’s somewhat overlooked remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last week offer a revealing glimpse of his actual governing philosophy. In those remarks, Obama explained that his core policies—Obamacare, financial and consumer regulations, higher tax rates and various and sundry government programs and subsidies—are an expression of his Christian virtue and the means by which he lives the Gospel. For example, in speaking of taxes, the president said, “And I think to myself, if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’”

If one is able to cut through the grammatical incoherence and understand the intended meaning of the president’s remark, one should be rather stunned at both the underlying logic and the application of Christ’s teaching. The president wants to raise taxes. He claims that his planned tax increases “make economic sense.” But, in addition, because the tax increases, commanded by force of law, would affect him, he conceives of himself as selflessly sacrificing out of his bounty for the common good. As such, Obama lives the Gospel through the mediation of the state.

Similarly, Obama actually justifies Obamacare and his financial regulatory actions—contained in the 1,000 page Dodd-Frank bill—according to second Great Commandment. He insists that these humongous expansions of the administrative state are merely ways to implement the exhortation “love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Much could be said of the president’s logic and theology, but perhaps the most salient point to come out of these statements concerns Obama’s determined statism. For Obama, the state mediates even the way we live the Gospel. That is, we build the Kingdom of God primarily through a powerful, redistributive, highly regulatory administrative state. And so when we stand before the Lord at His Judgment, we may answer that, although we did not feed the hungry or cloth the naked personally, we did support insurance mandates and price fixing for credit card interest rate charges. “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

To be fair, later in his remarks, as he typically does, the president offers some pablum to mildly offset his vigorous statism. So after describing his policies as manifestations of the teachings of Christ, he admonishes against politicians claiming their policy preferences are “biblical.” Additionally, noting that government is important, but not all-important, he praises the small acts of daily kindness by individuals that “will somehow sustain us in these challenging times.” Yes, “somehow”, undirected by central authority, countless individuals, cooperating with Grace to live their faith, can improve the world. To Obama, this seems as mysterious a reality as the relations of the Trinity.

Yet there is no doubt that, for Obama, the state is the prime mover for the betterment of the world. So the Gospel itself is subordinated to the state. The state lives the Gospel for us through its fine-tuning of human activity; its subjugation or vilification of those person and institutions deemed harmful or malevolent; its favor and subsidies for the persons and institutions it wishes to promote for the good of all; and its provision of benefits to select members of the citizenry. The minders who set the values of the state, of course, insist that state’s values are coordinate with those of the Gospel.    

Contrast the Obama approach to the Gospel and the state with that suggested by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, the papal encyclical that forms the foundation of Catholic social teaching. For decades, the social teachings of the Church, flowing down from Rerum Novarum, have provided liberal Catholics with a purported justification for favoring a big government welfare state; that is, in some respect, liberals have read the social tradition, with its concern for the poor and the weak, as grounds to endorse an Obama-statist approach to the Gospel, the Gospel implemented by a big government of good intentions. However, Rerum Novarum, the “Magna Charta” of Catholic social thought, hardly encourages such a vision of the relations between the Gospel, the state and the just society.

Instead, Rerum Novarum proceeds from the Church’s natural law tradition that, first and foremost, recognizes the inalienable God-given rights the individual and the family. Before Pope Leo reached any other issue, he firmly established the right of the individual to own private property and flatly rejected socialism as contrary to man's nature. He proffers the family as the primary and inviolable social institution, "anterior to the state." 

"Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal. The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property."

It is not Leo's position that the state has no role in securing a just society that conforms to the values of the Gospel. But the state’s role is limited to directly addressing only those matters that individuals, families and private associations cannot effectively address themselves and is restricted by the natural rights of ownership and free association.
The exhortation of Rerum Novarum is not to the government, but to individuals and to the Church. The remedy to the social ills that Leo wished to cure—exploitation of workingmen, “wage slavery” and poor working conditions—is principally achieved by the Christian conduct of both business owners and workers. He calls upon members of each “class” to conduct their affairs according to the Gospel. He does not demand that the state take and redistribute the wealth of the “those whom fortune favors”, but instead urges those of means to give generously out of their duty of Christian charity. Such giving is not commanded by “human law” but by the individual’s fidelity to the Gospel.

Nor is the justice of Rerum Novarum seduced by the cheap appeals to Obama-style “fairness”, as determined, of course, by the minders of the statist Gospel. To the contrary, Leo accepts the reality of the human condition, acknowledging that there will be degrees of inequality as a result of the differences in the luck, talent and effort of men. The idea for Leo is not the illusion of perfection guaranteed by various systems of the all-beneficent big government, but a society oriented towards the common good that allows the poor to live in dignity and, by dint of hard work and thrift, improve their station in life.

And the role of the Church is paramount. The prerogatives of the Church are those of the Gospel. It is the duty and the desire of the Church, through its members, the Body of Christ, to build up the Kingdom of God, bringing the message of the Gospel to rich and poor alike and relieving suffering wherever it is found. “At the present day many there are who, like the heathen of old, seek to blame and condemn the Church for such eminent charity. They would substitute in its stead a system of relief organized by the State. But no human expedients will ever make up for the devotedness and self sacrifice of Christian charity. Charity, as a virtue, pertains to the Church; for virtue it is not, unless it be drawn from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ; and whosoever turns his back on the Church cannot be near to Christ.”

The difference in the vantage of the Obama-statist approach and that of Rerum Novarum is no mere matter of theory. At present, the implications of the Obama outlook are forcing a serious conflict in relations between the Church and the state. The Obama administration’s determination to require, by force of law, the institutions of the Church—schools, hospitals and charities—to provide their employees with health insurance coverage for birth control and drugs that induce abortions demonstrates the ultimate and inevitable perversion of the statist Gospel.

In the name of “rights” and of the common good, the state massively intrudes upon not only the religious expression of the Church in its various ministries, but also imprudently interferes with the right of free association between employers and employees. The perverse state Gospel creates a “right” to these sorts of “treatments” and imposes an artificial duty upon employers to satisfy this “right” on behalf of those who voluntarily agree to work for those employers.

Up until now, liberals in the Church were sympathetic towards, or even openly supportive of Obamacare, with its mandates, taxes and quasi-nationalization of health insurance. For the liberals, including some bishops, the alleged ends of Obamacare—quality health care for all—obscured the obvious dangers that accompany such tremendous bureaucratic intervention into the private sphere. Obamacare is the perfect example of the statist Gospel in action, trammeling natural law rights and disregarding prudence and restraint in a vein search for system of total equality managed by the mediators of the statist Gospel. 

But now the whole American Church is alert to the excesses of the Gospel of Obama. The Church must not only unite in its opposition to this particular policy, but it must also re-examination the commonly-held understanding of the social teaching. As a Church, we need to return to the first principles annunciated in Rerum Novarum. A just society cannot arise from unjust acts that are contrary to man’s natural rights. While Church and state may share a noble goal, the Church must remind the state that, in reaching the desired end, the state must respect the God-given prerogatives of the individual and the family. It must follow the principal of subsidiarity and allow the private associations of the civil society to flourish and to cooperate freely with each other and with the government in reaching the goal.

And, like Pope Leo, the Church must warn against the folly and harm of utopianism, recognizing both man’s imperfection and his indomitable independence. The judgments we make must be truly prudential; that is, made upon due consideration of the man’s true nature and of the world as it actually operates, flaws and all, in a spirit of restraint and humility.  

Finally, the Church must make clear that the state is not equivalent to the society as a whole. The government is a component of the society and is the servant, not the master, of individuals and families. As we seek after a just society, we must remember that justice is achieved not only by human law and government programs, but by a virtuous and charitable populous infused with religious and moral values. For too long, the Church herself gave too much deference to the state’s efforts to form the just society. Yet in every age, it is the Church, through its teaching and its ministry, through its vowed religious and holy laypeople, that builds up the Kingdom of God. Long before the age of the welfare state, it was the Church that looked after the poor, the orphan, student, the aged and the sick. The Church continues these missions today and it need not subordinate itself to the state in order to further “social justice.” In fact, the Church should excel the state in this regard. In the end, the social teaching is a call to each individual to live the Gospel in his daily life and a restatement of the very purpose of the Church Militant.

The challenges of creating a just society today are different in character from those that faced the Church of Leo’s pontificate. But the principals that Leo set forth for the way in which the Church should engage the world endure and are, in fact, all the more critical for addressing the present situation. All Catholics should unite around these principals, infused with personal zeal for the Gospel and dedicated to the protection of the natural rights of free individuals, created in the image of God.