Monday, June 18, 2007

The Purpose, End, and Means of Society

Trick questions are fun.

You ask: "Do we have any alternatives to defining society, the common good, the whole project of human life as lived in common, on the basis of individual liberties?"

I ask: do we have a need to? Why would we? What would be the end of doing so?

Any societal structure, including the family, is not an end in itself. Nor (except for the family) does it have a teleological end that is distinct from the individuals that give it structure. Societal structure of any kind is the product of freely-willed human interaction, and is formed by the free actions of the individuals within it.

The family is an institution formed by God: it is a voluntary society of a man and a woman, and any children with whom God chooses to bless them. The children are naturally bound to obey the parents. No one outside of a family is naturally bound to obey anyone besides God. The family received its order from God: love and support each other, and be fruitful and multiply.

A particular society of man is not instituted by God. It is instituted by men who freely choose to cooperate with others. Therefore, no one in society has a natural right of authority over another person. That is why I believe that government is an unnatural institution: governments exist to enforce an already extant order. Because there was no disorder before the fall, there was no reason for any institution to preserve order. I know I'm going to catch a lot of flak for believing that, and I know I am once again disagreeing with St. Thomas, but I'm throwing it out there to see if I can defend it.

Society is a natural, free association of individuals. The purpose of society is therefore synonymous with the purposes of the sum of the individuals who comprise it.

A prison camp could be called a society, but only if the prisoners decided to interact with each other. Individual freedom is a basic and necessary aspect of any society.

Should society help us get to heaven? Yes. Because society (individuals) should be good, because being good and a good example is conducive to getting to heaven. But you can't force society (individuals) to be good. You can only punish actions that are manifest violations of the equal rights of other individual human beings.

Society is only as good (or as bad) as the sum of the individual people that comprise it.

By freedom, I assume we all mean "the right to pursue that which we ought." Now certainly, nobody ought to pursue working on a Sunday. In the sense of our duty to God, we are not "free" to work on a Sunday. Hence, a law against working on Sunday would only be trying to uphold the rights of God, not man. Again, you would need a theocracy to enforce that, because it would be an attempt to force people to believe something/be morally good. Such a law would not protect the equal rights of individuals within a society. People should be free from constraint of other individuals with equal rights: free to enter into whatever voluntary contracts they choose.

If people really wanted it, there is no law stopping them from forming supra-natural societies of their own. A gated community. A morally "safe" place, where everything from mail, to television, to the internet, to speech, to behavior, is centrally monitored and screened for that which is immoral. Where people volunteer to be punished for any infringement of any of the commandments. Even hard-core Catholics don't form this totalitarian kind of community. Why not?


-Geoff

11 comments:

bakerstreetrider said...

You hypothosize that without the Fall, government would have been unecessary; therefore it is unnatural. I don't think anyone can say for sure whether or not this is true. It might be. What I want to know is why you think something that is present only because we fell is unnatural. I think that is the connection you're making (if it isn't, please say so. I'm not exactly sure how your premises fit together). Are you saying then that the Church is an unnatural society?

It seems to me that you are contradicting a 2000 year Catholic tradition, which is that government gets its authority from God when it is in accord with morality. Why are you doing this?

Geoff said...

Geoff said...

The Church is definitely unnatural: it is supernatural. A directly-willed gift of God to restore men to their proper spiritual standing.

Civil government (which does not include the family) was not ordained by God. On the contrary: like a consumptive disease, it is merely allowed by God. Samuel told the Jews they were insane to want a king. He told them what a king would do to them:

"This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen...

And he will appoint him captains over thousands...and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots

...And he will take your daughters ...

And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants... and give to his officers, and to his servants.

And he will take...your goodliest young men, and your goodliest asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles."

These are not complimentary statements Samuel is making! And judging by the words of the prophet, this is "the manner" of :every: government. The Jews were infinitely better off under the judges. I'm working off of 4,000 years of Church tradition, here. We inherited the Old Testament, and I'm simply making use of it.

I'm very curious: what does government do for us that we could not arrange for ourselves? The people selected arbitrators for themselves before kings.

Governments have perennially shown themselves to be violent, wasteful of property and lives, and to have a voracious appetite for growth that cannot be checked until it is too late. No one person or society can wreak as much havoc as any government.

Samuel said, "They shall take a tenth of your property." He is affirming the property rightly belongs to the owner, who labored to attain it. Samuel does not say the government has a "right to do this because it has certain responsibilities." He is speaking in a negative way about this action.

Some people say that we have a duty to support the state in "fulfilling its responsibilities." Where did the government get these "responsibilities?" In a country that does not yet have a government, there is no state that exists to have responsibilities in the first place. Again, where does it get those responsibilities? Individuals have responsibilities, and they foolishly delegate those responsibilities to coercive third parties.

To say that you have any duty to the state is to say you have a duty to some individual to give him your money for services you don't necessarily want or use, and a duty to lay down your life for those individuals. Unless one believes in Rousseau's Social Contract, you have no such duty. No one can have a duty to lay down one's life for another, unless he has freely entered into a contract to do so. There is no social contract. Being born (or even staying in a particular place) is not a signature, or necessarily assent.

Say that you're standing on a plot of land, and someone comes up and says, "You have to give me five dollars if you want to stand there," and threatens to kill or imprison you if you choose not do so. Do you have a "duty" to pay him?

If you're working on a farm, and minding your own business, and someone comes along and says, "Because I built a road I compelled you to use because there is no need for an alternative while there is the road we built, you have to go overseas and lay down your life for me." Are you bound to do that?

Consider the mafia coming to your place of business. They say, "You must pay us a third of your income every year, because we provide services you didn't ask for, but will certainly benefit from." Do you have a duty to pay them?

Don't get me wrong. I pay the taxes they tell me I owe. It would be stupid to be thrown in prison for not paying them. I consider it "turning the other cheek": suffering an injustice that is not life-threatening, but would unnecessarily escalate if you did refuse to tolerate it.

Geoff said...

Regarding the authority of government in accordance with the will of God: you and I have as much moral authority as any government, if we are in conformity with the truth and the will of God. And, like the government, we don't have any right to force other people to pay for services they could get from a different source.

It is not my intention to scandalize anyone. I hope I am not scandalizing anyone by saying that governments are unnatural and are not necessary to salvation. In fact, the balance of evidence, including Scripture, seems to say they inhibit that end. More people have died in the 20th Century than have ever lived in the history of the world because of coercive governments. As I said, no individual or society could accomplish what these governments did without the power to tax and conscript: this is something no man has a right to do to another man.

healthily sanguine said...

I would like to quote briefly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1879 The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.2

1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

1897 "Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all."15

By "authority" one means the quality by virtue of which persons or institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.

1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it.16 The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.

1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."17

1900 The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.

healthily sanguine said...

Sorry, a few more...

2236 The exercise of authority is meant to give outward expression to a just hierarchy of values in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom and responsibility by all. Those in authority should practice distributive justice wisely, taking account of the needs and contribution of each, with a view to harmony and peace. They should take care that the regulations and measures they adopt are not a source of temptation by setting personal interest against that of the community.42

2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes (my emphasis), to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country:


Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.45
[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.46

The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way."47

2248 According to the fourth commandment, God has willed that, after him, we should honor our parents and those whom he has vested with authority for our good.


I know this is a bit lengthy, but please read and reflect on it. This is our patrimony, our inheritance of the wisdom handed on by our Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Geoff said...

A law is a law when it is in accord with right reason. Right now, you're forced to pay taxes for certain unjust things, 90% of which are not even in accord with the Constitution, which was generous with other people's money to begin with. You're paying to sustain military bases in two-thirds of the world's countries, and all the upkeep and weaponry of the troops overseas, pursuing policies that will end up hurting the U.S. even more than its existing policies already have.

You're paying for welfare, which in fact keeps people poor, increases the absence of fathers in poor families, and increases abortions.

You're paying for Social Security, which Reagan called "the biggest Ponzi scheme in existence." It's going to tank before you or I see a dime of it.

You're paying for prisons in which, due to the government forcing you to pay for them, has no accountability to the "consumer." Prisoners are treated like garbage. I'd be happy to supply you with a documentary on the subject.

You're paying for "extraordinary rendition" (a fancy way of saying kidnap and torture) of human beings.

You're paying for other people's kids to go to school, where they're educated poorly, educated about sex, and held in a God-free environment.

You may try to justify all this by saying that you are a remote material cooperant, and that you're forced to do it, and that it's not your will to subsidize these things. But you have a duty to at least speak out against it. A duty to government? No. A duty to God.

Here is another paragraph.

1903: "Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. [It attains it only through taxation. What is taxation but taking your property through force or threat thereof? Robbery? I am all in favor of submitting to true authorities. But authorities to whom I am forced to pay tribute, therefore lending credibility to their morally illicit means of attaining the common good, are by their definition not exercising authority legitimately, and hence cease to become authorities. I will still follow the moral law, and, de facto, any just edicts that are in existence.]

If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, [robbery, forced servitude in the military] such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."

That is where we are at with any government that taxes people. Shameful abuse built right into it.

Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Jesus seems to be saying, "I don't care who forces you to give them money. It doesn't matter. They don't own you. You belong to me. Follow the commands of anyone, as long as they tell you to do what is good."

As I said, insofar as there are people who tell people to listen to God's law, I will obey God, through them. I respect all true authorities. I just happen to think that government "authorities," based on the taxation they force on the people, have undermined whatever authority they might otherwise had.

When Jesus told Pilate, "You would have no authority over me unless it were given you from above," is Jesus telling Pilate he really does have the authority (the right) to put an innocent man to death? It seems that Jesus is saying, "You could do nothing without my allowance." This allowance does not turn his power (what he really exercised over Jesus) into authority, just as God allowing us to sin does not transform it into the authority to sin.

Tell me this: Is a taxation-based government necessary to salvation? Is it necessary to believe that to be saved?

Andy Bodoh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andy Bodoh said...

Don't let the libertarian get away! I will try to have a post after work tonight
-Andy

Geoff said...

The Church taught that it was morally obligatory for slaves to "seek in all things to please your masters." (St. Paul.) The Church never said slavery was not a horrible crime against human nature.

Likewise, it taught that usury was wrong. It still does. But in the Middle Ages, because the nature of money was not understood, usury was considered to be asking :any: interest on a loan.

I think we're coming to a recognition of the nature of taxes, very soon.

healthily sanguine said...

I think you are playing fast and loose with your argument here, Geoff. You would strongly protest if I put forth the notion, with many poignant examples of rich capitalists exploiting poor laborers (which DOES HAPPEN every day, and continues to happen especially in third-world countries), that since these people have MISUSED their property it should be stripped from them and given to others. Much more would you think my argument illogical if I said that since so many people with lots of money engage in these exploitative practices, private property is bad! Oh, I have to go, more later!

Geoff said...

Geoff said...

How are rich capitalists exploiting third-world workers? By not paying them wages the same as those that Americans would get if they worked the same job here? American wages (or near-American wages) would mean those jobs wouldn't be exported in the first place. That means third-world workers would not have jobs at all, but would be back to tilling the soil, making ten times less than they would if they were working their "underpaid job." That situation would not be not better than their current situation. Even if they were paid American wages, such high wages would leave millions of other people there unemployed! The market :must: set the wage, if everyone is to work. That's the way Dinesh D'Souza, a Catholic economist, sums it up.

Asia in particular is in an uncomfortable situation right now, no doubt about it. Most of that is caused by the communist government. Another part is caused by the fact that these jobs are so popular and more profitable that the countryside is being deserted, flooding the labor market, just like it happened in the U.S. 120 years ago. If their government would back off, they would find an economic equilibrium with us much more quickly. As it is, it's going to take time, as long as their particularly egregious government is in power.

The comparison you make between taxation and economics doesn't seem to mesh. A free exchange of labor for wages is the foundation of an economy. The coerced taking of private property is the foundation for a coercive government that supplies services you can get from another source, but, by gum, you have to pay for the ones that already exist and that they make you pay for.

An example of forced services: Say you wanted to cross a river. There are many ways you could do it. You could swim, take a boat, or set up a zipline or a cable car. But someone has built a bridge, [read: police force, fire department,inflationary and steadily devalued currency] which he forces you to pay for or use, even if you didn't want to cross that bridge. Is that just?

Let's say it's economically infeasable to build another bridge while he has his bridge up and is forcing you to pay for its upkeep and to subsidize the other people who actually use it. If you and a few other people could save the money you're forced to pay to the bridge owner for its upkeep, you could build your own bridge. You would manage your bridge and its upkeep more efficiently, and therefore you could ultimately charge less for using it. The construction and maintenance costs of the bridge would also be paid for by the people who actually use it. Your services would have to be good enough to please the customers to ensure cash flow and keep them from building their own bridge. You would have to please them, because your customers aren't being held at gunpoint, unlike the "customers" of other entities, which shall remain nameless. Would not the privately-owned bridge be a better and fairer system?