Monday, November 12, 2007

Towards a Catholic Democracy

For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

-Galatians 3:28

The following post deals with a very messy topic: politics.I am not an expert on political science, but government is a subject that has always intrigued me. It has taken me a lot of days to write this, partly because I am so very busy, and partly because I haven't had the right 'moment' to start it.

Some of my readers may recall a certain post which I blogged way back in December of last year, wherein I expressed my main gripes with democracy. It shouldn't be too hard too find, as it is the only post for that month. Back then, I was still very much a self-confessed 'radical traditionalist'; my concerns were still very much political, and most of the time I wanted to turn this blog into a little corner where all my rants and gripes could be expressed. The only thing that stopped me from doing so was that I didn't really like controversy.

Today, I am a very different person-- I am a lot more sober and realistic in dealing with things, and I am a lot more 'level-headed', compared to my overly-impassioned self eleven months ago (not that this is entirely bad, mind you). Part of this change involves my own political views, which have, interestingly enough, been more 'leftist', in that what some of us might call 'Catholofascism' started to lose its appeal to me. Perhaps it is because I am currently in the university that this has happened; perhaps this change is due to myself alone, the external factors helping only slightly. Needless to say, I have beens saying a lot of things lately which would have made my blood pressure climb through the roof just over a year ago. What a difference a year makes!

To tell the truth, I am still sort of suspicious of democracy, at least the version of it that we are all familiar with. I stand by my earlier convictions that it is a system which can be heavily prone to abuse, from both far-leftists and far-rightists. It is a thing of incredible, indelible irony, indeed, that many governments could justify their totalitarianism under the guise of the people's will; it has been so abused that democracy has practically been stripped of any political significance. Be that as it may, I have begun to rethink my earlier position, namely, that democracy is an inherently flawed, and evil political system.

The seeds of this process began some moons ago, when my parents, out of the blue, began to reminisce on the Martial Law days of the Philippines from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. Adding to the growing bonfire was the spate of high-profile murders of journalists and leftists, which reached a feverish peak in May of this year, when the senatorial elections took place. I guess what really prodded me to be suspicious of far-rightists was the pregnant silence of the Philippine government on the matter of these killings. It was the kind of silence that one would expect from a cabal, or an anti-clerical entity like the Freemasons. I won't go into details here, but I seem to have lost much of my trust in the government.

Romanticism can be a very dangerous thing: what the freedom fighter is to one group could very well be an anarcho-terrorist extraordinaire for another. An excess of the romantic spirit could just as well be dangerous as a deplorable lack of it. It all comes full circle, as the adage goes. That is why legislation can be a very dangerous thing: it reduces problems into a set of propositions, and by the might of a majority, proclaims it as gospel truth. In fact, I think the gravest problem of democracy is its ability to provide too many answers for a single question.

But then again, to say that democracy is in itself an inherently evil thing would be just as wrong as saying that it is God's best gift to mankind after silly string. As is well known to all, democracy comes to us form the Greeks, a term which means 'the rule of the people'. Going back to the Greeks, we have Plato and his student Aristotle, both intellectual titans of the ancient world. Plato, of course, is more idealistic and poetic, while Aristotle's though focuses on the pragmatic and the scientific. To cut a long story short, Aristotle disagreed with his master's positions. Plato mentions in his Politeia that there are roughly three types of government: tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. Aristotle differs from his master in that he classes these different systems in a somewhat hierarchical manner: first, monarchy, then the aristocracy, and lastly, polity. He cites these three systems for their pragmatism and efficiency.

Given the intelligence of the Greeks, one would expect the kind of liberal socialistic-democracy we have today to be the same rule of law as back then. But, as it turns out, this is not the case. Aristotle still endorsed slavery and reserved education to the ruling class; Plato believed in a totalianarian absolutism, where all power rested in the reigning, 'enlightened' monarch. This democracy, then, is just as elitist as the aristocracy. Mob rule would be a more fitting term.

The arrival of Christianity brought about an unprecedented change in European civilization, a very radical one, indeed. We see how it was necessary for the arrival of the Christian religion to develop democracy as we know it today: without Galatians 3:28, Europe could still very well be composed of barbarians, reavers and slavers. Without that verse, we would not have the concept of human rights, fair trial, dignity, freedom or a transcendent happiness. The concept of a People of God was not yet established; but with its establishment came the sense of entitlement we have today. Thus we can demand our rights to free speech and a fair trial because of the radical notions of Christianity, which liberated entire peoples from slavery to the pagan gods. We can shout for our dignity at the behest of others because Christianity taught that all peoples were equal in the eyes of God: kings and bandits alike were of the same substance, and would one day be subject to the same judgment. But whither each shall go, remains to be seen.

Would we really want to live in a world without free speech or thought? Would we really want to live in a world where a commoner can never question the infallible words of a monarch? Would we really want to worship in a Church where the word of a corrupt bishop are heard as the voice of God? None of us would like to do so. The danger in idealizing monarchy as an infallible ideal is that we run the risk of associating God with a certain politics, effectively confining Him under the limits of a few zip codes. This is in marked contrast to what the Church has always taught about God: that He is everywhere, being confined by neither time nor space. He is not a provincial, back water deity, but the God of the Nations, the Lord of Hosts.

The problem with today's praxis of democracy is the overwhelming lack of responsibility on our part. Consequently, legislation loses all its meaning and morphs into a whimpering paper tiger, which can be freely challenged at anytime. We patent laws and statutes which have no meaning at all other than to serve as witnesses to our own decadence and sin. In due course, we arrive at the democracy envisioned, or at least taught, by Aristotle: a veritable anarchy, where the rule of the mob is law. We thus arrive at the old elitisms and cease to progress.

The danger of assuming that God has certain politics is that we eventually make that god contingent to our own politics; it is a god that ceases to exist outside the confines of Republican or Democratic territory. This god, then, is an elitist god, that hogs all power unto itself. We lose the light, and are slaves to the darkness once more.

"Their gods were sadder than the sea,
Gods of a wandering will,
Who cried for blood like beasts at night
Sadly, from hill to hill."



Andrew said...

I think democracy is stupid. It might look good on paper and even sound reasonable, but it does not sufficiently take into account one important thing, one universal truth.

People (no offence intended) are stupid.

By and large, this is true. People let their passion rule their reason and this nullifies democracy as in the democratic ideal, people are expected to think before they vote. People tend to believe what they wish to be true or what they are afraid would prove to be true.

The ideal voter is knowledgeable, passionate, caring altruistic, puts the common good before his own and gives a damn. How many voters do you know, amongst the hoi polloi, who fit the bill?

You would not allow your family to vote on which medicine to prescribe to yourself or which part of your car is making that noise. No, you allow professionals to do it. Not that it's a good thing, for they often overcharge and cheat. But that's what you do.

But you would suddenly allow the masses to choose who would lead the country, put your lives in their hands. When did the people become such experts in governance? Each coup, each impeachment proves that the voters were very very wrong. Bhutto is back now and is making a serious bid on power. Have the voters forgot that it was they who removed her because of corruption in the first place? People are stupid. They let their passion rule their reason.

Democracy in ancient Athens is not the democracy of today and neither were the voters. They were landowners who talked and argued the whole day in the public square, listening to political speeches and philosophy.

Almost all the dictators we know were voted into power. Hitler, Mussolini, heck, even Lenin came to power on the back of a popular 'vote'.

Now, I'm not sayin that monarchy is a great idea. But democracy is stupid because voters are stupid and that's a fact.

Archistrategos said...

This reminds me of an adage popular within traditionalist circles: 'For monarchy to succeed, one person must be good; for democracy to succeed, millions must be good.'

I agree that people for the most part can be especially stupid. We have a former convicted president here, for example, who is mulling plans to run again for the same position in 2010, and God knows he, at least, has a loyal fan base. People are capable of tremendous stupidity that sometimes it is tempting to think if we are even worth saving or redeeming at all.

You are right that democracy as a whole has been so thoroughly abused that one would find it hard to differentiate from elitism. Yes, Mussolini and Hitler both rode to the top on popular votes, and certainly, there is a tendency too for an over-emphasis on a personality cult in many democracies. However, my main point was that the democracy we know today is precisely the democracy in ancient Athens-- a latent elitism hiding under the guise of popularity. If there is any reason why I think many democracies today can turn so ugly is because they have lost all sense of the Christian element which made it so radical in the first place. St. Thomas Aquinas, if I remember correctly, describes tyranny as the worst form of government-- but what is tyranny but a monarchy gone wrong? Hence the need for an aristocracy to temper the authority of the monarch. And to prevent this aristocracy from degenerating into an oligarchy (rule of the most powerful), the people need to be empowered. Empowerment, strictly speaking, is not the socialist -do-what-thou-wilt-shall-be-the-whole-of-the-law paradigm of today's 'enlightened' men and women. True empowerment, I think, recognizes the people as valid parts of the society-- they are not just sheep to be herded, and neither are they the be-all-end-all of the society. The version that we have today is one that has been heavily French-ified, in that the hallowed activity of legislation is subordinated to the will of a people that cares not whence this entitlement came-- with much blood, sweat and tears shed on the part of countless, nameless saints, who have suffered persecution for their 'radical' ideas.

It is a sad thing that the principles that Catholicism worked so hard to give us would be muddled by the French Revolution and its ideas; we live in a Catholicism today where social justice seems to be the odd one out, as it were, as if it had no place at all in the grand scheme of things. Granted, social justice, too, can be taken out of context and blown out of proportion-- thus we have liberation theology and a spineless ecumenism more concerned with interpersonal relations than the divine command of Christ to bring the good news of salvation to all men.

I'll post on the subject of monarchy soon, if and when I have the time. Needless to say I will have a lot of interesting things to say about it.

Archistrategos said...

Also, I would like to add that the very Christian concept of man being the stewards of creation was influential in shaping the concept of human rights, social justice, the whole shebang. Greek philosophy was more interested in running the state-- it was Christian belief, however, that firmly planted the common good of the people as the goal of every government.

And as I've said, if there is any disillusionment to be found with democracy, it is because what we have today is an entirely different animal. The liberalism espoused by Montesquieu, Rousseau, et al., free from any mention of God, and which idolized absolute equality absolutely, is far from the ideal envisioned by Catholic thinkers like Francisco de Vitoria, St. Robert Bellarmine, or the Angelic Doctor. It is a thoroughly human society, that took what was best from Christian thought, and turned it into a subjection of human fads and fashions.

I am tired and hungry now, and must eat my Cheetos.

Andrew said...

As I have aged over the night, and over a full belly, I've come to reconsider my position. No, just kidding =)

Haha... like I said, I don't really know which system of governance is best. Each and every system has its own flaws. The ancient Israelites had it good when God Himself was their king. But they elected, pardon the pun, to have a human king instead, just like the nations surrounding them. And look where that got them. But even under the direct monarchy of God, it wasn't all hunky dory either as the pages of Exodus, Joshua and Judges testify. Perhaps the monarchy of God lacked the consent of the governed? =) I don't know.

In Malaysia, the Malay majority uses the democratic process to perpetuate a system of legalized discrimination because they believe it upholds their rights when the opposite is true and in actuality it just keeps them down and makes them angry which is turn feeds their fears and prolongs the corrupt system already in place. The Prime Minister is supposedly the leader of the party holding the parliamentary majority resulting from a universal vote. But in actual fact, it is the 1000 or so delegates from the divisions of the ruling party which elect the party leader and determines who leads the country. And this is true everywhere with minor variations. Though the people might have the illusion of choice, the fact often is that the choices out before them are the choices of others and they can but choose among those already chosen, be it by the Politburo or the various party congresses.

I don't know which is the best system. I truly don't. I know the failures of monarchy as well as the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I have no illusions about that. But I just really reeeeallly don't think that democracy, as practiced, is such a good idea.

But I'm opened to be convinced otherwise =)