Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Helping Earthquake and Tsunami Victims

If you would like to help with those suffering from the earthquake and tsunami, please go to www.worldvision.org.

Roots of Liberty

Here is an essay I wrote during the fall on the problem of violations of human dignity and what should be the foundations for liberty, for a free society. Enjoy. Feel free to give feedback. I was limited to the number of words/pages, so some of the argument may seem sparse since it was condensed.

Dignitatis Humanae: Root Words for a Free Society

Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.[1]

Liberty has long been regarded a precious good. Some have even recognized its nobility in proclaiming liberty “the highest political end of man.”[2] Yet, liberty has had a rocky time of things: sometimes protected and fostered, other times ignored and even outright denied. The history of man is replete with examples of the struggle over the meaning and place of liberty. Implicit in these conflicts is the question: What precisely is the ground, the foundation, of liberty? In order for liberty to retain its force and survive over time, it must be grounded in something objective, something beyond the whims of man. It must be grounded in something deeper than a governmental fiat. Bastiat was right: Liberty does not exist because men have made laws. Rather, laws exist—just laws, at least—to recognize and then protect the already existing liberties of man. As J. Budziszewski points out, in summarizing Aristotle, “the proper aim of the state is ... to support a life which was there before it.”[3] What source, then, prior to a temporal state government is the root of liberty? The answer resides in human nature, in the dignity of being human. However, tragically enough, this answer is also one that has often been jettisoned, not only in other parts of the world but even in the United States.

The dignity of the human person, dignitatis humanae, is at the very core and essence of being human. Without it, all liberties are uprooted. And as liberties are taken away by a tyrannical regime, it is quite often a further vicious violence against human dignity that follows: “Where the transcendent source of human dignity is denied, the way lies open for totalitarianism and other forms of despotism, in which naked power takes over, so that the interests of a particular person or group are imposed on the rest of society.”[4] Many attempts to deny the rights of a people, even their most basic liberties, have been tied to this denial of human dignity. This typically happens in one of two ways. The first begins with a stripping of liberties and then there usually are attempts to defend such actions through a denial of the victims’ dignity as fellow human beings. This descends further into more acute violations of rights. The second way is rooted initially in an outright denial of the equality or full humanity (thus the dignity) of those in question, and once this is somewhat accepted by enough or the right people (those with power and influence) what follows here is violence upon those belittled persons as there is increasing abrogation of liberties and of legal protections (all because of a belief that these individuals are not worthy of such rights). In both scenarios, the end result is often the same: persecution and even death, sometimes on a mass, genocidal level.

Though attempts are made to justify such episodes of evil, all such sophistry comes up empty. In these situations, words have lost their true meaning. They have fallen to the arbitrary whims of men allowing evil, some of whom were usurping God’s domain. However, “[m]an simply is not God,” the dissident turned statesman Vaclav Havel warns, “and playing God has cruel consequences.”[5] These cruel consequences come about through acts that are rooted in a power which operates “outside all conscience, a power grounded in an omnipresent ideological fiction which can rationalize anything without ever having to come in contact with the truth,” or so they hope. This power attempts to make “thought, morality, and privacy a state monopoly and so dehumanizes them.”[6]

Yet, the state is not the arbiter of humanity. One either is human or not, and if so he shares in a universal humanity.[7] There are no gradations or degrees in being human. The fact of being human, of humanity itself, ensures such inviolability. Without this, we would be prone to some who think that since some humans are “more” of a person than others, the value which the lesser person possesses would also be less. From this, we would see, as we have, certain governments attempting to rid groups of people from society in an effort to cleanse the world of an “inferior race.” This is the line of thought that drove the Nazis: “Since the Jew is not a person, he does not have the rights of a person. If he does not have these rights, these liberties, we can disregard a supposed dignity and treat him as we would any other material waste infecting the body of mankind.” Thus, the importance of an objective grounding of rights and dignity, as Pope John Paul II has argued:

If there is no transcendent truth ... then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people. ... Thus, the root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate--no individual, group, class, nation or State.

Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. ... [I]f there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism. ... In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and people are exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden.

Sadly, this manipulation “for reasons of power” is still prevalent today, even by people of faith. Throughout the Islamic world, those who are not Muslim believers in Allah are deprived of liberties, and as a result they are assaulted in their dignity as humans (being regarded as second-class citizens) and sometimes assaulted violently in their bodies through torture, beatings, enslavement, mutilations, rape, and murder. This is clearly seen in today’s Sudan, where Arab Muslims are taking part in genocide at the expense of African Christians and tribal animists.[9] In some other places run by totalitarian Islamists, the savage custom of sawing off the heads of innocent civilian foreigners is celebrated; this all because these victims are members of the “infidels.” Even so-called “protected” ones are persecuted. The dhimmis, protected peoples in an Islamic society, are supposed to be protected under shari’a because of their status as People of the Book (the Holy Bible). However, as those in power have ignored the rational dictates of natural rights rooted in a common and inviolable human dignity, as they have redefined what it means to be a “protected” one, and as they have sought to propagate their own version of Islam, these dhimmis have been subject to some of the most cruel violations of human dignity: an inferior status, which exacts a special tax for their continued “protection” (which is no longer a protection but a call for persecution) and which also allows for institutionalized humiliation, poverty, and violent disregard for basic rights.

Islamists, Nazis, and even American defenders of slavery all understood that to get what they wanted—the denial of basic liberties—they had to deny the personhood or human dignity of the people in question.[10] They understood that if the one in question is not considered a “full” person or human, then this individual would not enjoy the full recognition and exercise of natural rights, such as a right to life and a right to individual liberty.

Where do rights come from? Not from the state, which is an instrument to serve and protect certain prior goods of the human person. The state exists for the human person, not the human person for the state. This should be key to all political considerations. As a result, the state must respect who this human person is, must respect the truths of his dignity. Who is he? The human person is a creature endowed with many powers, most notably, reason, free will, love, and self-gift.[11] To aid in the human person’s development and use of these gifts, the state enacts certain limitations on the intervention from others, including itself. It does so through “background conditions--the most important of which is simple justice.”[12] Justice provides the basic protections for each person in demanding that he is given what is due him. What is due the human person? To be able to live a life he is called to live. The human person has both free will and the use of his reason to pursue liberty. This freedom does not mean a Jacobin liberté, a “freedom from tradition, from established social institutions, from religious doctrines, from prescriptive duties.”[13] This is more aptly termed license than liberty. What the human person is called to is true freedom, true liberty: “not the power of doing what we like,” Lord Acton reminded us, “but the right of being able to do what we ought.”[14] Though he is free in the sense of freely willing his own acts, he is also called to this higher freedom. The human person is called to a freedom for excellence, an excellence which means living well in accord with the demands of his nature: in other words, virtue.[15]

Human dignity—striving towards a freedom for excellence—calls for certain restraints from other persons: some of the most basic being not to unjustly take his life, not to unjustly place him in servitude, not to unjustly violate his conscience and choice of religion, and not to unjustly take or damage his property. These are all known as rights for the person against encroachment from others. These rights are all rooted in his dignity as a human person. Thus, it is true that the foundation which serves “as a basis upon which man’s rights can flourish” is “[w]ithout doubt ... the dignity of the human person.”[16] Since the rights of the human person are rooted in his dignity, then this same dignity is the foundation for a political society, one which should be just. And any society worthy of the name “just” must be one that gives the human person his due, the freedom from illicit restraints by others in order to pursue the deeper freedom for excellence in living well. This society of freedom—this free society—is not only that but with the recognition of true human dignity and the ensuing partnership that manifests,[17] this society edges ever more closely toward being a free and virtuous society, as more of its citizens freely choose the good in line with their dignity.

To view the individual human in such a manner as “not a human being,” as “a parasite,” “personal property,” “partially human,” “life unworthy of life,” or as an “infidel” is to participate in the time-old wickedry of “semantic gymnastics.”[18] It is to call the truth a lie and a lie the truth. It is to enter into a world of subjectivity and thus a world of insecurity and greater danger just as Humpty Dumpty alluded to in his conversation with Alice in Wonderland:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is, “ said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Which is to be master? Subjectivity? Each individual? A good prince? An evil tyrant? Or an objective reality independent of and greater than each of us, yet knowable by all? Dignitatis humanae. A human dignity rooted in man’s inviolable nature and expressed through his most basic liberties. Dignitatis humanae. It is the root and foundation for a free society. This reality, this fact, existed before any human governments were established and laws were enacted. In truth, Bastiat was right, “it was the fact that [such rights as] life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” They did so to protect those precious goods. Any system that denies such weakens itself and endangers its weaker citizens. It puts them at the risk of modern-day sophists. When these charlatans invert the moral universe, they also unleash hell upon their victims. They usually do so through manipulations of language, and any endeavor to partake in semantic gymnastics is an attempt to be master, to redefine the meanings of things that one did not create. It is to deplete words of their value and force. And, as Confucius so wisely said, “When words lose their meaning, peoples lose their liberty.” I might add, as we recall the Holocaust, slavery, abortion, and the ongoing genocide in Sudan, that peoples also lose their lives.

[1] Frederic Bastiat, The Law [New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1974 (1850)], 6.
[2] John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Essays in the History of Liberty, Vol. I (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1985), 22. In so far as we speak of man as “citizen,” his end is political, namely liberty; speaking of man as man, the entire being with consideration of all his faculties and his deepest or highest callings, we can say political liberty is not his ultimate end for he has a spiritual one: contemplation of and union with God.
[3] J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 17. Emphasis added.
[4] Avery Dulles, S.J., Truth as the Ground of Freedom (Grand Rapids, MI: Acton Institute, 1995), 13.
[5] Vaclav Havel, “Politics and Conscience,” Open Letters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1991), 255.
[6] Havel, 260.
[7] If space allowed, it would be worthwhile to discuss Yves Simon’s argument on how St. Thomas Aquinas’s solution to the problem of the one and the many provides a solidly rational foundation for universal human rights, having demonstrated that human nature can exist in the modes of universality and individuality. Cf. Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993) 197-203.
[8] John Paul II, Encyclical Centesimus annus, 44, 46 (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1991).
[9] In 1992, the following fatwa was issued by Sudanese imams: “An insurgent who was previously a Muslim is now an apostate and a non-Muslim is a non-believer standing as a bulwark against the spread of Islam, and Islam has granted the freedom of killing both of them.” Notice the lack of a further distinction for Jews and Christians from their pagan counterparts.
[10] Even James Madison, the father of the Bill of Rights, acknowledged this crime: “[I]t is admitted that if the laws were to restore the rights which have been taken away, the Negroes could no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants.” The Federalist Papers, No. 54. Emphasis added.
[11] Cf. Avery Dulles, S.J., op. cit, and the numerous works of Pope John Paul II. To develop the relation of truth setting us free, Christ being truth, and Christ’s revelation of man to himself (Gaudium et spes, 22) in this context would be fascinating. A much deeper anthropology could result.
[12] Budziszewski, 17.
[13] Russell Kirk, Beyond the Dreams of Avarice (Peru, IL: Sherwood Sugden & Company, 1991), 166.
[14] Lord Acton, in The Rambler, Second New Series 2 (January 1860), 146. Quoted in Dulles, 5.
[15] Cf. Servais Pinckaers, O.P., Morality: The Catholic View (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2001), 65-81 and Budziszewski, op. cit., 16-25.
[16] John Paul II, “Religious Freedom,” Essays on Religious Freedom (Milwaukee: Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 1984), 31.
[17] Cf. Budziszewski, 16-17.
[18] William Brennan, Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1995), 8.
[19] Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1924), 124.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Kerry on Abortion

Ok, Sen. Kerry did it again. He called the Catholic Church's teaching on abortion an "article of faith." Regardless of your position on abortion, it is important to note that abortion is not an "article of faith" to Catholics. And Senator John Kerry should know that, especially since this faith is apparently so important to him: "Now, with respect to religion, you know, as I said, I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I know that throughout my life, this has made a difference to me. ... Now, my faith affects everything that I do and choose." Everything?

Articles of faith is a term designating those teachings that are held to on grounds of faith. A Catholic accepts them out of belief. For example, that Christ is God is accepted through faith; it is not something that can be demonstrated or proved solely through the use of reason.

Abortion, on the other hand, is a moral teaching, not an "article of faith." Moral teachings are rooted in natural law (see paragraph 1954 ff. in link) and the mind's ability to reason to such conclusions. The intentional killing of an innocent human person is wrong. Catholics think so. They should, but not solely because they are Catholic. They should because they are humans, and the human's mind can and should reason to such moral conclusions.

Abortion is not a teaching we will come to solely through faith. In fact, Nat Hentoff is one prominent atheist, liberal writer who agrees that abortion is wrong. No faith guiding him to do so. Just the penetrating analysis of reason as it probes what it means to be human all the while considering the findings of science. Real rational, human grit.

Faith may help someone come to moral conclusions. However, a Catholic's faith is not what makes abortion wrong. The morality of abortion is arrived at independent of one's faith. At least it can be. This is one quality the Catholic Church has time and again stressed. Moral teachings are for all human persons. This is because they are rooted in what all human persons have and can use: their nature upon which reason reflects and arrives at judgments. This is not just for believers. It is for all members of the human family. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, pagans, non-believers, agnostics, and even atheists. They all are called to a morality rooted in their own nature, their own being, not one rooted in aspects of faith which many people do not accept. Thus, we are talking about teachings that are moral teachings and not articles of faith.

In addition, Kerry also said, "There's a great passage of the Bible that says, 'What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith, if there are no deeds; faith without works is dead.' And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That's why I fight against poverty, that's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this Earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith." How is one to make sense of this? Everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith...but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That's why I fight ... That why I fight for equality and justice. Ok, now he fights for equality and justice because of his faith, but he does so without transferring any of his faith or its moral implications to other people? Huh? Isn't equality, isn't justice precisely the moral implication of his faith that he says he will not transfer to other people? Fallacious or fantasy? Or both?

How do you arrive at any justice if no other people are affected? Justice implies others. What are you fighting for if you do not want any other people to be affected by your cause? You cannot have it both ways, Senator Kerry. You either do let your faith influence your public acts or you don't. Attempting to convince the American public of both sides only is an insult to the people you seek to lead. By the way, how would you fight segregation laws without putting your "beliefs" upon others, especially since you link faith and belief with moral convictions? Why have laws at all if we are not to transfer any of our "beliefs" in any official ways to other people?

Perhaps this is just the incoherency his critics charge him with. Or perhaps he is trying to have it both ways, kind of like he has with Iraq, with the Kyoto Treaty, with middle-class tax cuts, and on and on and on.

Agree with the teaching that abortion is wrong or not, but at least get it straight, Sen. Kerry: abortion is as much an article of faith as rape, murder, and stealing are. They are all wrong, not because one believes God became man and died for you but because our nature is such that each and every human has certain natural rights no one may intentionally do violence to or infringe upon. No one. Not even a Senator who employs his faith selectively in acts of political opportunism.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Presidential Debate

The debates just finished. I know which candidate I am voting for. I knew already, though. Do you know yet? I think many people are looking for their candidate to say what they want them to say. If it is done, then I think most people think their candidate won. Just a thought.

Style. What effect does style or delivery have? If a candidate is really good at speaking and rhetoric, then what significance does the content have? How important are the debates, especially considering that the candidates cannot use notes (for statistics and to back up their arguments)?

I do not think either candidate did poorly. That does not mean, though, that both said what is best for our country. Different visions. Different priorities. Do they match with what you value? Is there any truth to the claim that Kerry's statements prevent most folks from deciphering what he really believes? Is he coherent?

Our safety is of top concern. Which candidate is going to do what is best for our country's safety and security? That does not mean just responding to attacks once they happen. That does not mean merely defending against further attacks. That should mean finding those who are a threat to us and taking care of business. I would rather have the fight over there than here.

However, as I was listening to the debate, I had some thoughts on the significance of debates to how we will actually vote.

Would you change your mind about which candidate to vote for if he did not do as well in a debate? I would not. I already know what policies he would push and what vision would be driving his administration. A poor showing in a debate would bother me a bit, but the policies and vision are more important. What I am going to get in January and not how it is said in October is what I am most concered about.

President Bush had his "not-strong" moments in the first debate (at least with regard to efficiency at responding to the opponent). Sen. Kerry has made his mistakes, even contradicted himself in the debates. But to the supporter, these "mishaps" are explained away. Do they matter? Should they matter?

For the record, I think both candidates had their moments, though I think overall there was a clear winner: If you are a Kerry supporter, I would think your clear winner is Kerry; and if you are a Bush supporter, Bush was your clear winner. As a debate, it seems a tie, both did what they wanted to do (I think). As far as substance goes, it all depends on what policies and vision you want from a U.S. President for the next four years. For me, I heard what I wanted to hear. As Gov. Arnold said, "Four more years!" Let me know what you think. Comment below.

Economists Against Kerry

368 economists, including the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics, have published a letter warning Americans about the dangers that Sen. Kerry's economic policies would have if elected president.

Here is an article about the letter. It is called 368 Economists Against Kerrynomics.

This comes just a week or so after another letter was published by a different group of economists (169 of them) who criticized President Bush's economic policies. Who's throwing the spin?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Kerry and the First Debate

Most said Sen. Kerry won the first debate. Here is Dennis Prager's take on how the senator did it: How Kerry Won.

Terrorists in Iraq?

In his latest essay, Dennis Prager poses an intriguing question, What would Zarqawi be doing if he weren't in Iraq?

Pre-emptive War

Should we conduct pre-emptive war? Can it be justified? Those against the war, can you think of a scenario where a pre-emptive strike is a possibility, where it is a morally permissible option in going to war or is all "pre-emptive" war unjustified because we have not yet been actually or directly attacked? Or some other reason?

Let's also keep in mind Sen. Kerry's words.

He no longer believes Iraq was a sufficient threat to go to war. Though he did not think that last year:

"Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction. So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real ..."Jan. 23, 2003 in a speech at Georgetown University

It seems that he was arguing against the attempts of the French and the Russians to soften a UN Security Council resolution directed against Iraq.

Sounds familiar. Hmmm.

Support Our Troops

To support our troops in battle zones, go to SoldiersAngels.

Truth and Politics

"... if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism." -JPII