Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Democracy: Separation of Powers, Rule of Law, Representation, and Bureaucracy

THE CHURCH IS LESS CONCERNED about form than substance when it comes assessing any kind of government, including democracy. However, there are some natural procedural components of democracy and some which through history have been found to be valuable. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church mentions some of these institutions.

One important principle is the division of powers in a State. As John Paul II states in his encyclical Centesimus annus, "it is preferable that each power [legislative, executive, judicial] be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds." The check and balances caused by the separation of powers promotes the rule of law. (Compendium, No. 408) (quoting Centisimus annus, 46)

The "rule of law" is also an important feature of democratic systems. The notion of the "rule of law" is the notion that "law is sovereign, and not the arbitrary will of individuals." (Compendium, No. 408) (quoting Centisimus annus, 46) Of course, the law here must be based upon reason--as Coke called it, "artificial reason and judgment of law"--yet one not repugnant to the natural moral law. It "rule of law" was famously described by Chief Justice John Marshall who, in the famous case of Marbury v. Madison stated that there ought to be "a government of laws and not men."

But the branches of government are not only limited by checks and balance and the rule of law. They ought also to be answerable to the people in a democracy. In this case, particularly the legislature, the representative body, "must be subjected to effective social control." The principal means by which such "social control" is exercised is through elections. These must be free and meaningful in that they allow "the selection and change of representatives." Thus the representatives are to be held accountable to their constituents for their work.

Legislators are not merely passive agents of their constituents. Nor are they independent agents entirely unresponsive to their constituents. As John F. Kennedy summarized it in his Profiles in Courage, a legislator must "on occasion lead, inform, correct and sometimes even ignore constituent opinion, if [he is] to exercise fully that judgment for which [he was] elected." The Compendium recognizes this tension in the role of the legislator:

Those who govern have the obligation to answer to those governed, but this does not in the least imply that representatives are merely passive agents of the electors. The control exercised by the citizens does not in fact exclude the freedom that elected officials must enjoy in order to fulfill their mandate with respect to the objectives to be pursued.

(Compendium, No. 409)

They therefore have duties to the common good above and beyond their specific constituents:
In their specific areas (drafting laws, governing, setting up systems of checks and balances), elected officials must strive to seek and attain that which will contribute to making civil life proceed well in its overall course.
(Compendium, No. 409)

There is always the danger of special interests. While the concerns of special interests are something that must considered, these must be assessed--not based upon the needs of the special interest as against the common good--but in relation to the common good. As the Compendium puts it, the mandate and objectives to be pursued by legislators "do not depend exclusively on special interests, but in a much greater part on the function of synthesis and mediation that serve the common good, one of the essential and indispensable goals of political authority." (Compendium, No. 409)

The Church reminds politicians that they must engage in their "art of the possible" in a virtuous, moral way. Here there is an insistence of personal morality.

Those with political responsibilities must not forget or underestimate the moral dimension of political representation, which consists in the commitment to share fully in the destiny of the people and to seek solutions to social problems. In this perspective, responsible authority also means authority exercised with those virtues that make it possible to put power into practice as service (patience, modesty, moderation, charity, efforts to share), an authority exercised by persons who are able to accept the common good, and not prestige or the gaining of personal advantages, as the true goal of their work.

(Compendium, No. 410)

This notion of a virtuous legislator of course would exclude any notion of political corruption, something which the Compendium recognizes as being a deformity, a blight on the democratic process:
Among the deformities of the democratic system, political corruption is one of the most serious because it betrays at one and the same time both moral principles and the norms of social justice. It compromises the correct functioning of the State, having a negative influence on the relationship between those who govern and the governed. It causes a growing distrust with respect to public institutions, bringing about a progressive disaffection in the citizens with regard to politics and its representatives, with a resulting weakening of institutions. Corruption radically distorts the role of representative institutions, because they become an arena for political bartering between clients' requests and governmental services. In this way political choices favor the narrow objectives of those who possess the means to influence these choices and are an obstacle to bringing about the common good of all citizens.
(Compendium, No. 411)

Whether we are dealing with the executive, legislative, or judicial branch, any organ of public administration--national, regional, or municipal--must recognize that they are "oriented towards the service of citizens." They are the "steward of the people's resources, which [they] must administer with a view to the common good." (Compendium, No. 412)

One evil which seems to be endemic and which must always be fought against is the problem of excessive bureaucratization. Excessive bureaucratization occurs when "'institutions become complex in their organization and pretend to manage every area at hand.'" (Compendium, No. 412) (quoting Christifidelis laici, 41). Excessive bureaucratization works against the common good and against efficient stewardship of public resources. "In the end," excessively bureaucratic agencies of government "'lose their effectiveness as a result of an impersonal functionalism, an overgrown bureaucracy, unjust private interests, and an all-too-easy and generalized disengagement from a sense of duty.'" (Compendium, No. 412) (quoting Christifidelis laici, 41).

"The role of those working in public administration is not to be conceived as impersonal or bureaucratic, but rather as an act of generous assistance for citizens, undertaken with a spirit of service." (Compendium, No. 412).

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