Pope Leo’s Ideal Was Not State Control

From Crisis Magazine
by Anthony Esolen

Pope Leo XIII affirms that a well governed State will promote the material and moral prosperity of its citizens, will honor private property and free association, and will protect the poor from abuse or depredation by the rich.

How to do these things? Leo lays down four principles.

The first is what I’ll call the Principle of Moral Health. “A State,” he says, “chiefly prospers and thrives through moral rule, well-regulated family life [family life directed from within by the moral law], respect for religion and justice, the moderation and equal allocation of public taxes, the progress of the arts and of trade, [and] the abundant yield of the land.” The emphasis is on direction from the objective moral law, and on a combination of self-restraint and industriousness.

This self-restraint, when practiced by the State, suggests a second principle, what I’ll call the Law of Sufficient Generality. A well governed State will assist the poor primarily by establishing an environment wherein people of common decency and assiduousness can raise healthy children to become good citizens in their turn: “The more that is done for the benefit of the working classes by the general laws of the country, the less need will there be to seek for special means to relieve them.”

That leads to the third, what I’ll call the Principle of the Home. It’s often called Subsidiarity. We must never confuse a true beneficence, which honors the prime society of the family, with the false beneficence that barters goods in exchange for the family’s soul: “The State must not absorb the individual or the family; both should be allowed free and untrammeled action so far as is consistent with the common good and the interests of others.” The same holds true of free associations. The State must “not thrust itself into their peculiar concerns and their organization.” There are practical reasons for this restraint. It is absurd to suppose, for example, that a flock of bureaucrats two thousand miles away, or nine judges from Harvard, should have anything to say about the Order of the Moose in Anytown, when the members of that Order best know their needs and the needs of their community, and how to address them according to their neighbors’ sense of the common good.

But the more fundamental basis for the Principle of the Home is not utilitarian, but human: “To enter into a [free association] is the natural right of man; and the State is bound to protect natural rights, not to destroy them; and if it forbid its citizens to form associations, it contradicts the very principle of its own existence.”

Suppose—I’m dreaming wildly—that an arm of the government were to dictate to the Kiwanis Club that it must admit women as members. There are plenty of free associations for men and women both; The Salvation Army, Alcoholics Anonymous, Common Cause, and so forth. What’s at issue is not whether there may be associations of that kind, but whether there may not be associations of the other kind. Pope Leo would find it appalling that any State should forbid men from coming together for the common good, or dictate the terms of their union. We can say the same thing about the Boy Scouts. Should the government compel the Scouts to organize themselves as the archons on the bench determine? Should we live in tyranny? Should we deny the fundamental right of free association?

I dwell upon the Principle of the Home because it helps to clarify the wisdom of the first two principles, and to show how they all work together. Laws cannot, alone, make people good. They do have an instructive value; they restrain vicious actions, and may, much less reliably, foster virtuous actions. But the moral law requires a human face. It’s in our human associations, and not by our subatomic status as citizens of a sprawling State, that we learn virtue. The State can address a few specific troubles, with middling effectiveness, and at great strain—disaster relief, for instance. Beyond that the State must not try to go, because the State should not usurp the roles of the family, the fraternity, and the town, even if the State could assume those roles effectively—which it cannot do: its arrogant attempts have wrought more harm than a hundred hurricanes ever could. The State’s role is to observe the moral law, to promote by general laws the conditions wherein people of ordinary virtue and industry can thrive, providing assistance “in extreme cases,” and to restrain its ambitions, honoring the independence and the interdependence of human beings in families, parishes, churches, guilds, fraternities, sororities, and other unions created for mutual help and the common good.

All this implies the fourth principle, what I’ll call the Principle of the Human Person. Man, made free, in the image of God, must not be subordinated to abstractions. We accept no fatalisms. We will not subsume human commerce under a law, whether Marxist or Benthamite, socialist or capitalistic, which “determines” what is good and bad. We obey God, not man.

It is not right for the strong man to squeeze concessions from his weaker brother. Mutual consent is insufficient. A desperate man may accept ten dollars a day to go down a coal mine, but he has no moral right to do so, nor does the owner of the mine have a moral right to suggest it. A desperate woman may offer her body for money, but she has no moral right to do so, nor does the bawd on the corner have the right to be her broker. We must remember what people are, what (and Who) they are for.

Natural justice trumps consent:

Let it be taken for granted that workman and employer should, as a rule, make free agreements, and in particular should agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that remuneration ought to be sufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage earner.

That just wage implies an intricate set of human interchanges. The worker and the employer must treat one another fairly; if the employer does not bow in homage to the labor market, the employee does not do as little as he can to preserve his job. The employer must find worthwhile and feasible work for the workman to do—for he too must stay in business. The employee must use those wages wisely. They are meant for him in his capacity as a social being: for the family he is supporting or will someday support. “If he be a sensible man,” says the Pope, he will not find it hard “to study economy; and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a small income. Nature and reason alike would urge him to do this.”

Leo’s ideal is not State control, with individuals as wardens, but a society built up of societies; a culture truly social, based on human friendships and family ties and alliances. “The law,” he says, “should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the humbler class to become owners.” Again, we must resist the tendency to abstraction. It will not do for the State to seize all property and parcel it out again according to some mathematical formula. The virtue of ownership is akin to the virtue of the family, of the self-governing town, of the free association. It arouses a love the State cannot command: “Men always work harder and more readily when they work on what belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields, in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat but an abundance of good things for themselves and for those that are dear to them.”

We Americans allow trade unions. We protect workers from various forms of abuse. Those battles were fought and won long before I was born. What we’ve done lately, though, in the so-called “social” issues, is to violate every single tenet of Catholic Social Teaching as proclaimed by Pope Leo XIII.

Leo could not have foreseen that “the State” would become an interest in its own right, a new aristocracy, but utterly detached from locale and tradition and unknown to their subjects. The true State thrives by moral rule. But “the State,” the cancerous Metastate, thrives by immorality. It helps to cause the chaos it then pretends to ameliorate. Strong and self-reliant families hurt the Metastate, so the Metastate rewards profligacy and licentiousness, and promotes the easy severance of father from children. The Metastate knows that if people but make an earnest attempt to govern themselves by the Ten Commandments and the Gospel, they will be free and prosperous, and the Metastate will shrivel. Perish the thought.

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13 Responses to Pope Leo’s Ideal Was Not State Control

  1. Toad says:

    “We will not subsume human commerce under a law, whether Marxist or Benthamite, socialist or capitalistic, which “determines” what is good and bad. “

    This is excellent and unquestionable, as far as it goes, but I suggest…
    We will not subsume human commerce under a law, whether Marxist or Benthamite, socialist or capitalistic, Christian or Muslim, which “determines” what is good and bad.
    …might be even more salutary?

    …In other words, Toad suspects that what certain power groups really want is the freedom to push around people who don’t share their point of view. This has been known to happen.
    But a pope wouldn’t do that. Would he?


  2. NEO says:

    Super article.

    There is much in what Toad adds but, I’m sure he recognized that unlike the others Christianity has no explicit beliefs which conflict with Leo’s teaching while the others do. Which to me, anyway, makes his point rather superfluous.


  3. Toad says:

    Christianity almost certainly doesn’t have “…explicit beliefs that conflict with Leo’s teaching,” Neo, but – to some folk – certain aspects of Leo’s teaching might be anathema.

    What, say, if Leo’s ideal State made homosexuality a crime? Not out of the question.
    Thinks Toad.


  4. Roger says:

    The Popes from Leo XIII wrote on what is called Social Justice. Writing in the late 19th Century and we must consider the French Revolution and in 1858/9 Marx. Reason spawned Social Engineering and the State become God because that spawned reason was atheist.
    Have we seen the principals before?

    Well the rigours of the common Law led to many injustices because of Power and Money and in Commerce the brutal Law of Contract. It was the Church that brought Conscience into this Law (this was exercised by the Church) The Authority of the Church and Sanctuary was respected!

    Today the State places itself above Conscience and Law is replaced by Authority under Power. Marxism and Capitolism see labour as chattels under contract, conscience is replaced by the utter madness of the compendium of Health and Safety.

    Toad again has completely misunderstood Christianity! The Jews applied the literal Letter of the Law which if transgressed was punished!
    But Our Lord expressly said the Spirit Of The Law!

    The distinction that Leo XIII is making is from this aspect of the Spirit which of course is a Principal. This is completely in accord with Conscience and indeed Social Conscience. Pope Leo XIII and the later Popes who wrote on Social Justice are the champions of Mans Freedom In Conscience!

    Today atheism doesn’t believe in Conscience but instead we have the modern equivalent of the tryanny of the Letter of the Law!

    Man as a Child of his Heavenly Father isn’t a chattel of the State! Russias evils that have spread are this Tyranny of the Letter Of The Law it is Caesar again demanding that he be worshipped and denying Gods Rights. Gods Rights are those of Love for His Creation.


  5. Frere Rabit says:

    “What, say, if Leo’s ideal State made homosexuality a crime? Not out of the question.
    Thinks Toad.”

    Toad, as frequently these days, thinks at the margins and the extremities, seeking the maximum problematic. If Leo, in his wisdom, governed a state by biblical and Catholic tradition, you would be unlikely to see homosexuality flagged up as a “crime” (Toad tends to see the Catholic Church in increasingly Orwellian terms – or maybe he always did, but I notice his paranoia more than before !), but as a doctrinally sanctioned practice. We would have a society in which a family oriented social unit was favoured, in accordance with all that biblical and traditional Christian religion teaches. So does the Muslim tradition but you would expect that. They only got their tradition from us, the Johnny-come-lately tossers.


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    “If Leo, in his wisdom, governed a state by biblical and Catholic tradition, you would be unlikely to see homosexuality flagged up as a “crime” (Toad tends to see the Catholic Church in increasingly Orwellian terms – or maybe he always did, but I notice his paranoia more than before !), but as a doctrinally sanctioned practice.”

    Don’t you just hate not being privileged with an edit button? I do, too. Nice comment on the “Wenesday General Audience” thread, btw.


  7. Frere Rabit says:

    Yes, I saw the contradiction as soon as I posted it, but without any edit function (as you say) there is nothing to be done.

    Thanks for the comment on the other post, JH.


  8. Roger says:

    Why would a Pope classify a Crime?

    You are totally confused over what a Pope is and what the Church exists for! It is drag man out rom the tyranny of Sin.

    The Pope isn’t the author of Christianity merely Christs Vicar. The tyranny is coming from a deification of the State. There is no such thing as Conscience with an Athiest State. It is Masonry that proposes the separation of the State and the Church.

    But the State is the Earth and the Church the Spirit which is a reflection of the duality of man who is fallen earth and spirit. The State is of the Earth and therefor subject to the tyranny of Self centred dictates of the senses. The spirit is of God who is Love unselfish. The Earth is the slave of its senses and appetites and these are the causes of envy , hatred and wars. Masonry is enslaving man.

    Since the Fall of Adam and Eve there has been this conflict between Earth and Spirit in Man. The madness and spiritual blindness of the world seeks to subjugate the spirit of man to this Earth. The only possible outcome of the Self centred is tryanny, slaverty and conflict.

    Tradition and Holy Scripture condemn homosexuality.

    Sodomy takes its name from Sodom and its destruction by comet debris
    There is plenty on the Internet about this. Ties in with Abraham.
    “..A number of astronomers believe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah involved comet activity. Dr. John S. Lewis, a retired professor of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona and Co-Director of the NASA Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona, is one scientist who believes that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was caused by cosmic bombardment (Rain of Fire and Ice: The Very Real Threat of Comet and Asteroid Bombardment) ..”

    Epistle Of Saint Paul To The Romans 1 verse
    [27] And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error.

    In the case of homosexuality please direct your arguments to the Creator who made male and female.


  9. johnhenrycn says:

    Roger, I think you’ve misread the comment to which you are replying. But at least you’ve managed to refrain from mentioning “Salvific History” for once.


  10. Frere Rabit says:

    Roger, I never cease to be amazed by your capacity to misread everything and respond with a disproportionate stack of unreadable paragraphs. But hey, this is the internet and nobody reads this stuff anyway, so who cares? Zzzzzz…


  11. There is more Reason in the Catholic Church than was ever dreamed of in Voltaire’s philosophy.


  12. Toad says:

    And no particular reason not to appreciate both, eh, Robert John?


  13. Roger says:

    Johnhenryen commented on Salvific History but there is a reason for this that is immediate and relevant to this age and the future. We start with the Rose window at Chartes cathedral which depicts salvific history from the Fall to the Last Judgment.
    Pope Leo’s principles these are not opinions but significant teachings appropriate for his and our time. Leo XIII also taught the study of Aquinas.
    Faith is a relative stance, relative to what has been revealed and defined. In other words Faith is appropriate where ignorance is a defence. But not when authoritive teaching has been given.
    That word Reason did apply to a world that didn’t know or had no knowledge of Truth but Aquinas took the knowledge of Reason and synthesised this with Revelation.
    Aquinas is a Doctor of the Church. In other words Pope Leo XIII was teaching in 19th century NOT Voltaire but Aquinas. Why because Aquinas was the Saint chosen by God the soul created for this express purpose. St Jerome is an example of a Soul created by God for a specific purpose the preservation and formulation off the Bible.
    Aquinas and Jerome were created souls for this work as required within Salvific History.
    Now the growing clash from 17th century onwards has been Reason versus Revelation and the Faith. More expressly between materialism and reasoning expressly outside of and ignoring Revelation (which is treated as myth and fable).
    Leo XIII principles were and are just treated as private opinions.
    Today the State and Business expressly exclude Christianity which is treated as myth and unreal. In other words God is excluded from His Creation.
    Now Fatima is very important because it was a Publical announced miracle and during the Hellish slaughter of a world War.
    Fatima in October 1917 ” .. in the END my Immaculate Heart will Triumph”
    The problem is not the End its what is and has happened between 1917 and this END.
    We know that the promise of Fatima is within Salvific History!
    The growing collapse of countries economies! the generation of youth that cannot get work! A generation brought up under the REASON and RATIONAL minds of a generation that expressly dumped Christianity!
    The FOOL says there is NO GOD! Behold a generation of FOOLS


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