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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Political Community and Inalienable Rights and Duties

THE POLITICAL COMMUNITY is directed to the promotion of the common good. Intimately tied to the common good in a manner that the two cannot be separated are fundamental and inalienable human rights. It follows that the political community has as one of its principal purposes the defense and promotion of these fundamental and inalienable human rights. Here the American Declaration and Catholic social doctrine are in perfect agreement and accord:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men . . . .

Considering the human person as the foundation and purpose of the political community means in the first place working to recognize and respect human dignity through defending and promoting fundamental and inalienable human rights: "In our time the common good is chiefly guaranteed when personal rights and duties are maintained."

(Compendium, No. 388) (quoting John XXIII, Pacem in terris, 273)

Draft of the Declaration of Independence

Though both the Enlightenment thinkers and the Church agree that inalienable or unalienable rights pre-exist the State and relate to the common good,* the Church's social doctrine is broader as it includes not only inalienable "rights," but also the other side of the rights equation: inalienable "duties."

The rights and duties of the person contain a concise summary of the principal moral and juridical requirements that must preside over the construction of the political community. These requirements constitute an objective norm on which positive law is based and which cannot be ignored by the political community, because both in existential being and in final purpose the human person precedes the political community. Positive law must guarantee that fundamental human needs are met.

The political community pursues the common good when it seeks to create a human environment** that offers citizens the possibility of truly exercising their human rights and of fulfilling completely their corresponding duties.

(Compendium, No. 388, 389)

The political community is not a "necessary evil," but it is a positive good and required both as part of the nature of man, who is a political animal. This notion of the political community is as old as Aristotle who taught in his Politics "that the city belongs among the things that exist by nature (τῶν φύσει ἡ πόλις ἐστί), and that man is by nature a political animal (ὁ ἄνθρωπος φύσει πολιτικὸν ζῷον)." (1253a1-3) The political community civilizes man, makes him a man, for a man without a city would in reality either be a beast or a sort of god, and certainly not man. "He who is without a city through nature (ὁ ἄπολις διὰ φύσιν) rather than chance is either a mean sort [beast] or superior to man [god] (ἤτοι φαῦλός ἐστιν, ἢ κρείττων ἢ ἄνθρωπος)." (1253a4-5)

Not only is the political community something that is natural to man, it is, as a matter of experience, something practically required to prevent might--political, economic, or social--from gaining the upper hand over right:
Experience has taught us that, unless these [political] authorities take suitable action with regard to economic, political, and cultural matters, inequalities between citizens tend to become more and more widespread, especially in the modern world, and as a result human rights are rendered totally ineffective and the fulfillment of duties is compromised.

(Compendium, No. 389) (quoting Pope John XXIII, Pacem in terris, 274)

The relationship of the political community to these fundamental human rights and duties is two-fold if it is to accord with the common good.

First, it must defend and promote these inalienable rights and respect the inalienable human duties an equal manner so that one group is not given preeminence over another with respect to these fundamental rights. "It should not happen that certain individual or social groups derive special advantage from the fact that their rights have received preferential protection." (Compendium, No. 390) The political community and its organs are not a res privata, a private thing, but they are a res publica, a public thing.

Second, in exercising its fundamental function--to protect the political community and its organs of government should not interfere with, or inhibit the full expression of these inalienable rights and duties. Indeed, it ought not disrupt the moral ecology of a people. The State must not become a sort of officious and high-handed intermeddler so that "in seeking to protect these [inalienable human] rights," it becomes an obstacle "to their full expression and free use." (Compendium, No. 389)

*On inalienable or unalienable in the Declaration of Independence see Obviously, unalienable rights are placed in opposition to alienable rights. The distinction between alienable and unalienable rights appears to have come from the moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson. In his Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue first published in 1725, Hutcheson clearly anticipates the language eventually selected in the Declaration of Independence: "For wherever any Invasion is made upon unalienable Rights, there must arise either a perfect, or external Right to Resistance. . . . Unalienable Rights are essential Limitations in all Governments." Though unmentioned in the Declaration of Independence, but stressed in the Compendium, Hutcheson also linked these unalienable rights with the common good, stating in the same book, that "there can be no Right, or Limitation of Right, inconsistent with, or opposite to the greatest publick Good." Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue in Two Treatises (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Press 2004), 192, 193.
**In other words, governments are instituted to protect the "moral ecology" or the "social ecology" of a people. We might borrow from Robert Bellah who defined "moral ecology" or "social ecology" as "[t]he web of moral understandings and commitments that tie people together in community." Robert N. Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 335. Allen D. Hertzke defines "moral ecology" as the "philosophical, empirical, and practice construct" that forms the moral environment in which people live their civil or social lives. Allen D. Hertzke, "The Concept of Moral Ecology," Review of Politics, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Autumn 1998), 629.

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