Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The State as a mirror

I was reading the transcript of the debate on Victoria’s new abortion laws in the Upper House (downloaded via Mr. Schütz’s Sentire cum Ecclesia) when I came across this revealing little thought from pro-abortion Member Mr. Shaun Leane M.L.C.:

I think some people who want to maintain these provisions in the Crimes Act want to say to women who want to have an abortion or are thinking of having an abortion, ‘Thou shalt not’. That is what they want to say. It is not the state’s role to do that. The state’s job is to reflect modern-day conditions and to reflect what real people are actually doing and what is acceptable for the majority.
Now in the traditional Catholic theory of the State, the State is the juridical and moral person that exercises God-given temporal authority over a given populace in a given territory. The State’s proper end is the building-up of the common good, and with it the upholding of justice—it must legislate in accordance with the eternal moral law, discernible by the light of natural reason. ‘Thou shalt not’ is exactly what the State should be saying sometimes, perhaps even most of the time. But for Mr. Leane, the State wields not a sword, as St. Paul put it, but a mirror—it simply serves the populace directly rather than serving God or serving the common good directly, and the populace only indirectly. Thus the very meaning of the State’s authority is subverted. What Mr. Leane is advocating here is a naked positivism whereby the State simply indulges the populace in whatever debauchery takes its fancy, so long as a majority can agree on it.

One can hardly be surprised at this sort of madness taking root in the corridors of power, though, when many of Mr. Leane’s electors no doubt would agree with him. One suspects that this sort of positivism and utilitarianism is rampant among Westerners, and one wonders, then, whether universal suffrage is really the best way to choose a government. Look at the recent comment of MgS when I begged her to give me some clue as to what she understands by justice:

justice is largely a part of the broader social contract that is the society in which one lives.
(http://cardinalpole.blogspot.com/2008/10/on-revenge-and-retribution-plus-request.html)
So justice, far from being a virtue on which all other goods hinge (hence its status as a cardinal virtue), itself hinges on the whim of society. Justice becomes whatever the majority (or whatever decision rule is used) wants it to be; there is no longer any question of trying to discern unchanging moral standards against which to evaluate right and wrong. Positivism, utilitarianism and relativism are the order of the day, even to the extent of forcing people to disobey their consciences. This is what we are up against.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Callistus, Pope, Martyr, 2008 A.D.

4 comments:

Louise said...

‘Thou shalt not’ is exactly what the State should be saying sometimes, perhaps even most of the time.


"Thou shalt not" is exactly what it is saying to the conscientious objectors. Anyone who disagrees with "The New Morality" as I call it is forever being told "thou shalt not".

Anonymous said...

The reason the state doesn't deign to involve itself in these moral issues is that in a pluralistic society - and like it or not we live in such a society - there would be effectively civil war if people were going to start legislating on really important things, because, they're important, we all have strong feelings about them, to the point that if people tried to force us to act against our feelings there might even be literal blood in the streets.

And from a relatively peaceful (in this part of the world) vantage point of history its easy to think "it's worth it, I'd die for what's right and I am only disrespecting my opponents not to extend that same honour to them should they demand it - bring on the war" I know I am tempted by such thoughts at least.

Would there be war if abortion was made illegal, no, at least if there are people willing to die for their right to kill unborn children things are worse than I thought and I am a dreadful pessimist, but the issue is the idea of objective values and objective truth about what constitutes the "common good" - we may admit them, but if the state admits it may legislate on them then suddenly all the very real gashes that divide people on the question of what those values, what they actually are - and, even though no individual issue may lead to explosion and the direct and bloody consequence of those very real and frankly intensifying divisions in society - the change of governmental role probably would, if not immediately, within a generation.

The individualist worldview which was enabled by political pluralism has almost itself made pluralism a necessary.

The whim of society does not make right and wrong, justice or injustice, truth or lie - but the practical changes that could make governance which is firm on those points rather than some sort of managerial economic watchkeeper (for all the good that seems to have done...) ...well they frankly seem like the kind of changes that take centuries whilst at the same time being the kind of changes that would not be naturally emergent from the status quo.

In short I can't imagine how it could happen.

Louise said...

The reason the state doesn't deign to involve itself in these moral issues is that in a pluralistic society - and like it or not we live in such a society - there would be effectively civil war if people were going to start legislating on really important things, because, they're important, we all have strong feelings about them, to the point that if people tried to force us to act against our feelings there might even be literal blood in the streets.

Which accounts, I suppose, for the fact that the parliament is more than willing to enact "gay marriage" laws, here in Tasmania, for example.

The plain fact is that in voting for this legislation, the Victorian MPs *have* involed themselves in the moral issue of abortion.

Cardinal Pole said...

Anonymous,

I agree that ideally change should be gradual and organic. That is why the Hierarchy needs to get its education system in order, and laymen and women need to have bigger families.