Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/13/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

the Church's social doctrine includes not only inalienable rights, but also the other side of the rights equation: inalienable duties.

Though both the Enlightenment thinkers and the Church agree that inalienable or unalienable rights pre-exist the State and relate to the common good, the Church's social doctrine is broader as it includes not only inalienable "rights," but also the other side of the rights equation: inalienable "duties."

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/13/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: inalienable rights, inalienable duties, Social Teaching, Social Doctrine, Common Good, American founders, Right to Life, Duty to defend life, Andrew M. Greenwell


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The political community is ordered to the promotion of the common good.  Intimately tied to the common good--in a manner that the two cannot be separated--are the fundamental and inalienable human rights.  No political community is promoting the common good where these fundamental and inalienable human rights are trespassed or not enforced. 

It follows that the political community has as one of its principal purposes the defense and promotion of these fundamental and inalienable human rights.  Here the American Declaration and Catholic social doctrine are in perfect agreement and accord.

Compare the words of the Declaration of Independence with the words of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

First the Declaration: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men . . . ."

Now the Compendium: "Considering the human person as the foundation and purpose of the political community means in the first place working to recognize and respect human dignity through defending and promoting fundamental and inalienable human rights: 'In our time the common good is chiefly guaranteed when personal rights and duties are maintained.'  (Compendium, No. 388) (quoting John XXIII, Pacem in terris, 273)

The distinction between alienable and unalienable rights in Jefferson's Declaration appears to have come from the moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson.  In his Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue first published in 1725 and highly regarded by the Founding Fathers, Hutcheson clearly anticipates the language eventually appearing in the Declaration of Independence: "For wherever any Invasion is made upon unalienable Rights, there must arise either a perfect, or external Right to Resistance. . . . Unalienable Rights are essential Limitations in all Governments."  

Though unmentioned in the Declaration of Independence, but stressed in the Compendium, Hutcheson also linked these unalienable rights with the common good, stating in the same book, that "there can be no Right, or Limitation of Right, inconsistent with, or opposite to the greatest publick Good."

Though both the Enlightenment thinkers and the Church agree that inalienable or unalienable rights pre-exist the State and relate to the common good, the Church's social doctrine is broader as it includes not only inalienable "rights," but also the other side of the rights equation: inalienable "duties."
 
"The rights and duties of the person contain a concise summary of the principal moral and juridical requirements that must preside over the construction of the political community.  These requirements constitute an objective norm on which positive law is based and which cannot be ignored by the political community, because both in existential being and in final purpose the human person precedes the political community.  Positive law must guarantee that fundamental human needs are met." (Compendium, No. 388)

Natural right and natural duty-the natural law-comes before the State and is what should inform our laws.

In this regard, the political philosophy underlying the Declaration of Independence and the philosophy underlying the Church's Social Doctrine are aligned.

The role of political authority is to assure that its citizens can pursue the good life.  "The political community pursues the common good when it seeks to create a human environment that offers citizens the possibility of truly exercising their human rights and of fulfilling completely their corresponding duties." (Compendium, No. 388, 389) 

In other words, governments are instituted among men to protect the "moral ecology" or the "social ecology" of a people.  We might borrow from Robert Bellah who in his Habits of the Heart defined "moral ecology" or "social ecology" as "[t]he web of moral understandings and commitments that tie people together in community."

If this is indeed the case, our government has unquestionably failed in its fundamental task.  The "web of moral understandings and commitments" that tie Americans together, including commitments to the right to life, to marriage and family life, to modesty, to respect, to self-sufficiency, seems to be unraveling at breakneck speed. 

The political community is not a "necessary evil" in its best state, as Thomas Paine called it in his book Liberty and Great Libertarians (though he was certainly right that in its worst state it is an "intolerable evil").  Rather, the political community is a positive good and required both as part of the nature of man, who is a political animal. 

This notion of the political community is as old as Aristotle who taught in his Politics "that the city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and that man is by nature a political animal." (1253a1-3)  The political community civilizes man, makes him a man, for a man without a city would in reality either be a beast or a sort of god, and certainly not man.  "He who is without a city through nature rather than chance is either a mean sort [beast] or superior to man [god]." (1253a4-5)

Not only is the political community something that is natural to man, it is, as a matter of experience, something practically required to prevent might of any kind from gaining the upper hand over right:

"Experience has taught us that, unless these [political] authorities take suitable action with regard to economic, political, and cultural matters, inequalities between citizens tend to become more and more widespread, especially in the modern world, and as a result human rights are rendered totally ineffective and the fulfillment of duties is compromised." (Compendium, No. 389)

The relationship of the political community to these fundamental human rights and duties is two-fold if it is to accord with the common good.

First, it must defend and promote these inalienable rights and respect the inalienable human duties an equal manner so that one group is not given preeminence over another with respect to these fundamental rights.  "It should not happen that certain individual or social groups derive special advantage from the fact that their rights have received preferential protection." (Compendium, No. 390)  The political community and its organs are not a res privata, a private thing, but they are a res publica, a public thing.

Obviously, our government has failed abysmally in this area-most poignantly by failing to do anything to stop the massive assault on the right to life of the smallest of its citizens-to the point such a judicious mind such as the natural law philosopher Russell Hittinger's has suggested the government is suffering a "crisis of legitimacy." 

Second, the political community and its organs of government should not, in the name of protecting or promoting those rights, become a sort of officious and high-handed intermeddler so that "in seeking to protect these [inalienable human] rights," it becomes an obstacle "to their full expression and free use." (Compendium, No. 389) 

What is even worse is when the government becomes an obstacle to the full expression and free use of real inalienable rights, when it promotes and protects the interests of a special interest and their false rights whether it be such "rights" as the abortion "rights" demanded by the radical feminists or the homosexual marriage "rights" of the LGBT groups.  This is the trap a government falls into when it promotes the right over the good.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for August 2014
Refugees:
That refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes, may find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights.
Oceania: That Christians in Oceania may joyfully announce the faith to all the people of that region.



Comments


More Living Faith

You Go Into the Vineyard Too! Every Baptized Christian Has a Vocation and Mission Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The Church is a seed, sign and beginning of the kingdom, making the kingdom present in a world which is wounded by the effects of sin but waiting to be born anew. The Lord continues His work through us. We are the workers in His vineyard. It matters little what ... continue reading


Friendly overtures to Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) met with mixed response Watch

Image of LCWR presidents welcome the approximately 750 members to the assembly.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or LCWR is comprised of Catholic women religious who are leaders of their orders in the United States. The group represents about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the U.S. However, relations between the ... continue reading


POPE: 'It is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor' Watch

Image of Pope Francis said that

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Answering a wide array of questions, which included the proper response to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities by fundamentalists of the Islamic State in Iraq, Pope Francis said that "it is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor." ... continue reading


POPE IN SOUTH KOREA: 'Peace is not simply the absence of war, but the work of justice' Watch

Image of Pope Francis told 200 South Korean government officials that the two Koreas, halved between North and South since the end of the Korean War in 1953,

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis, in his first trip to Asia, addressed South Korean political and civic leaders and encouraged them to stay on a steady course towards social justice and democracy. "Peace is not simply the absence of war, but the work of justice," the Pope said in ... continue reading


Will Suffering, Struggle, Failure and Pain Make us Bitter or Better? Watch

Image of Because of his close communion with Jesus Christ, the Risen One who had called him in the desert, Paul cultivated an interior strength which made it possible for him to walk through the pain, to even embrace the pain, and to experience failure itself as a path to the Cross where he found comfort in the wounded side of Jesus the Savior.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

St. Paul was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary Christian. An Apostle, raised up out of the ordinary course, he accomplished great things for the Lord as he eagerly responded to His calling to build the Church and, through her, to help change the world. A ... continue reading


The Assumption: The Virgin Mary goes before us in the Order of Grace Watch

Image of

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

What God has promised on the last day for those he loves, he has already accomplished in the Virgin Mary. Let us turn to Mary and love her as our spiritual Mother in the order of grace; let us open our hearts to her Immaculate Heart, that she may illuminate her ... continue reading


The Assumption or Dormition of the Mother of the Lord: What Does It Mean? Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

This event is a part of the naturally supernatural  progression in the life of the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth. Her Yes, her Fiat of surrendered love, brought heaven to earth. This exercise of her human freedom, responding to the invitation of God, as sent through ... continue reading


Making bad situations worse in the Middle East

Image of Only by following the non-violent Christ can our world that seems so steeped in violence be converted.

By Tony Magliano

The heart wrenching tragedies throughout the Middle East are not the United States' fault, that is, at least not entirely. The fact that many Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims distrust each other, that the Allies established artificial national boundaries to suite their ... continue reading


Pope Francis sends greeting to Chinese president en route to South Korean trip Watch

Image of The Pope's South Korean visit marked the first ever papal flight across China.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

On his way to South Korea, Pope Francis bid China a friendly greeting. "Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation," the Pope said in ... continue reading


Pope Francis Calls for Prayers and Action Watch

Image of

By Joseph J. Klock

In a series of tweets over recent days, Pope Francis has raised an alarm to the international community pleading for us to protect and pray for "all those suffering violence in Iraq," and to live in solidarity with them. VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - In a series of ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ezekiel 37:1-14
1 The hand of Yahweh was on me; he carried me away by ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
2 So let them say whom Yahweh redeemed, whom he ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 22:34-40
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Andrew the Scot
August 22: Archdeacon and companion of St. Donatus. Andrew and his sister, ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter