Monday, September 1, 2008

Fr. Zuhlsdorf, human rights and the State

Rev. Fr. John T. Zuhlsdorf has posted some interesting remarks regarding human rights and the State on his blog. I reproduce them here in full:
I am irritated by something I have heard over the last couple days.

The pols and newsies keep talking about the anniversary of "giving women the right to vote" in the USA.


Women always had the right to vote.

Their right to vote was finally recognized.

We must avoid, in discussing human rights and government, falling into the trap of thinking that the state grants rights.

We have rights because our Creator made us in His image and likeness.

They are written into our being.

We grant the state its rights and obligations.
The subsequent discussion abounded with confusion; I even saw Fr. Maritain and the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights being cited. In any discussion on rights and the State we need to keep the following principles in mind:

1) All authority is from God (Romans 13:1, Douay-Rheims version: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God: and those that are ordained of God.”)

2) The State is the juridical and moral person that exercises God-given civil authority over a given populace in a given territory.

3) The State’s proper end is the common good. (This end is indirectly subordinate to the Church’s end, the salvation of souls.)

4) The State’s laws shall conform to God’s Laws; when they contradict God’s Laws they are not binding on the citizen.

5) A natural right is the moral liberty justifiably to claim some entitlement. Therefore the object of a natural right can only ever be that which is true and good. And for every right there is a corresponding duty.

So with these principles in mind, it is clear that no-one has a natural right to vote, though it might be the case that, in certain historical circumstances, it might be conducive to the common good for the State to grant a civil right to its subjects to vote, i.e., to grant universal or partial suffrage. This will depend on things like the moral and intellectual development of the populace, the sophistication of the means of disseminating information, and so on. And man's ontological dignity (his orientation towards a higher end, namely God) is no basis for a supposed 'right to vote'; this is clear from the fact that the State can deprive convicts and the insane of their right to vote, while those same individuals can never be deprived of their ontological dignity by the State.

Note that I spoke of ‘universal suffrage’ rather than democracy. Universal suffrage is just a means for choosing a government, whereas democracy is a principle of government according to which authority is held to originate in the people (from the Greek demos, or ‘the people’, and kratia, or ‘power, rule’). According to this principle, as Leo XIII put it in Immortale Dei (though without naming it as democracy), the populace delegates to the government “not the right so much as the business of governing, to be exercised, however, in its name.” This is incompatible with a Catholic sensibility, since the State is, whether it likes it or not, a delegate of Christ the King, not a delegate of the populace.

A theme running through the discussion at Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s blog is the notion of some kind of requirement for popular consent, whether expressed through a vote or not. But it is not clear to me that the people’s consent really has any part to play in the matter. So long as the State acknowledges Christ as the source of its authority, so long as it upholds the common good, and so long as it translates God’s Laws into civil laws and never defies them, it rules justly.

As for the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, when it states, as someone quoted it, that “[t]he will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”, this is clearly un-Catholic when compared with Romans 13:1, and in fact it has much in common with the principles of the French Revolution. And as for Fr. Maritain, Mr. Michael Davies showed quite clearly in The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty that Fr. Maritain’s theory of the State as merely a specialised portion of society concerned with upholding public order (the theory underpinning his ‘Integral Humanism’) rather than as a juridical and moral person upholding the common good (a broader category than mere public order) is erroneous.

Reginaldvs Cantvar


Anonymous said...

Americans just can't help themselves.

It is absolutely amazing that even US catholics have no qualms about their country's acting as Judeo-masonry's golem.

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eboracensis

Card. Presb. Sae Caecilae trans Tiberim

Legatus a latere

Anonymous said...


I also noted Fr Z's little slip into americanist St Democratica assumptions in this piece!

It must be so difficult for an American to think outside the received democratic paradigm. A national virus of sorts infecting most denizens, perhaps!

The Tone