December 11, 2009

"Totalitarian in the strict sense"

From a talk by Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Expressing the Good

...A second example: That everyone should have access to health care would seem to be –and is– a very good thing. However, we must keep in mind that universal health care is not a good, but an ideal. Therefore, there has been little discernment of why it is a good thing, and little clarity concerning what we are attempting to achieve. There is no consensus concerning what we might mean by "universal" (should the health of all children be included, even those of illegal immigrants?) and no consensus concerning what we might mean by "health" (does health involve access to abortion?).

The role of government is regarded as one that proposes new social possibilities –posits ideals– and therefore the government has the task of legislating the ends, along with the means to fulfilling the ends. Therefore there is an urgency that "universal" and "health" must not be too closely defined; they must have the character of an ideal that we are striving for, so that everyone remains free to insert his or her private notions, founded upon previous social constructions, of what that ideal might look like in realization.

I do not suggest that government is bent upon tyranny or that those who govern are not attempting to seek good things; I do suggest that, willy-nilly, this process is totalitarian in the strict sense, in that it must relativize the particular communities that were once subsidiary societies –families and churches, for example– in order to create consensus around an ideal. I do hold that a totalitarian state is one that admits of no subsidiary societies, and that a government that presumes to define what is a family is precisely totalitarian....

I think that the way Catholic opposition to the healthcare bills has focused on abortion is a grievous mistake. Abortion is just one particular outcome of the much deeper problem of letting government define and control ever-increasing amounts of what we do and what we are. Tomorrow abortion may go out of fashion, and government-controlled health-care may be implanting genes to make us more healthy and..... cooperative. Or the court may decide that our "right to privacy" lets us kill red-headed stepchildren. Or any number of helpful things, with "helpful" decided not by us, but by the the "helping bureaucracies." Or the popular fad of the moment.

I'd guess that if the Founding Fathers had dreamed that in the future people would be re-defining morality by whim, or re-defining who is human and who is not, they would have instantly and firmly enshrined in the Constitution traditional Judeo-Christian moral beliefs. All of them in fact just assumed that those beliefs would continue as part of normal culture, even if individuals did not have any Christian faith.

Posted by John Weidner at December 11, 2009 11:40 AM
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