Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

4/11/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Often, voluntary associations cause social reform or promote charitable causes in an efficient manner, without the need of cumbersome government mechanisms

"The political community is responsible for regulating its relations with civil society according to the principle of subsidiarity." (Compendium, No. 419)  Government's role should be hands-off unless the various associations of which civil society is composed are unable responsibly to handle the matter, and any intervention should be one in aid, and not in replacement of, the activities of that part of civil association.

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/11/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Common Good, social doctrine, State, Statism, colectivism, conservative, liberal, Andrew Greenwell


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The political life is not all there is.  The political community finds itself within a greater reality, what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church calls "civil society."

The Compendium defines civil society as the "sum of the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groupings, which are the first relationships to arise and which come about thanks to 'the creative subjectivity of the citizen.'" (Compendium, No. 185) (quoting JP II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 15). 

It also defines it a little more broadly as "the sum of relationships and resources, cultural and associative, that are relatively independent from the political sphere and the economic sector." (Compendium, No. 417) 

Civil society is, in a sense, an organic and therefore "messy" reality. That's why social scientists want to "rationalize" it, which usually means Statism and a loss of freedom.

"Civil society is in fact multifaceted and irregular; it does not lack its ambiguities and contradictions.  It is also the arena where different interests clash with one another, with the risk that the stronger will prevail over the weaker." (Compendium, No. 418)

Civil society, the greater, more fundamental reality, should therefore be distinguished from political and economic relationships, and its influence in the life of a people is frequently referred to as the "third sector."

The Compendium states: "The activities of civil society--above all volunteer organizations and cooperative endeavors in the private-social sector, all of which are succinctly known as the "third sector," to distinguish from the State and the market--represent the most appropriate ways to develop the social dimension of the person, who finds in these activities the necessary space to express himself fully." 

"The progressive expansion of social initiatives beyond the State-controlled sphere creates new areas for the active presence and direct action of citizens, integrating the functions of the State.  This important phenomenon has often come about largely through informal means and has given rise to new and positive ways of exercising personal rights, which have brought about a qualitative enrichment of democratic life." (Compendium, No. 419)

In our penchant for Statist solutions to our social problems, we seem completely to neglect the possible role of the "third sector" as a more humane, less bureaucratic, more responsive, and more efficient solution.  It is also a solution more in line with notions of subsidiarity.

Without some sort of ordering, civil society would proceed with an autonomy that may work at cross purposes with the common good.  Hence, civil society needs a political community, a political order, ultimately formalized into a State. 

The relationship between the political community and civil society (and hence the State and civil society) is threatened by two extreme ideologies, extreme individualism or atomism, on the one hand, and collectivism, on the other hand.  Though their view of the relationship between the individual and civil society are at opposite poles, they lead to the same practical result: the absorption of civil society into the political community.

The Church warns us to steer clear of these two ideologies and advocates a "social pluralism" which rejects both extremes, accepts that which is true in both, to the end of "bringing about a more fitting arrangement of the common good and democracy itself, according to the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and justice." (Compendium, 417)

This area is a very broad area, and it presents a fertile area for the exercise of prudence.  We rarely have clearly right or clearly wrong answers.

Several truths must be kept in mind in understanding the relationship between the political community and civil society.  First, one should keep in mind that the political community "originates" from civil society. (Compendium, No. 417)  Second, the "political community and civil society, although mutually connected and inter-dependent, are not equal in the hierarchy of ends." (Compendium, No. 418)  In the hierarchy of ends, the political community is clearly subordinate to civil society.  The political community is "at the service of civil society."

Holding a proper understanding between civil society and the individual, helps us see that "in the final analysis" the political community will be at the service of "the persons and groups of which civil society is composed." (Compendium, No. 418)  Because the political community is subordinate to civil society, it is an error to see civil society as "an extension or a changing component of the political community."  To the contrary, it is civil society that "has priority" over the political community, "because it is in civil society itself that the political community finds its justification." (Compendium, No. 418)

The State is the formal expression of the political community, and it is charged with the task of providing an "adequate legal framework for social subjects," what we call its citizens, "to engage freely in their different activities."  The State and its agencies "must be ready to intervene, when necessary and with respect for the principal of subsidiary, so that the interplay between free associations and democratic life may be directed to the common good." (Compendium, No. 418).  To this degree, one might view the state as a "night watchman state," but, as we shall see, it is more than a "night watchman state" since it should promote the virtue of its citizens.

"The political community is responsible for regulating its relations with civil society according to the principle of subsidiarity." (Compendium, No. 419)  Government's role should be hands-off unless the various associations of which civil society is composed are unable responsibly to handle the matter, and any intervention should be one in aid, and not in replacement of, the activities of that part of civil association.

The Church discourages Statism, insists on the principle of subsidiarity, and its social doctrine actively supports and encourages the role of the "third sector" as the means of humanizing, de-bureaucratizing, de-politicizing and advancing the needs of persons within civil society.  It sees the third sector as the means also of removing the plague of extreme individualistic competition (dog-eat-dog) too often found in a disordered economic sector, and replacing it with more personalist notions of cooperation and solidarity.

"Cooperation, even in its less structured forms, shows itself to be one of the most effective responses to a mentality of conflict and unlimited competition that seems so prevalent today."  (Compendium, No. 420) 

In a special way, voluntary associations seem to "overcome ideological divisions, prompting people to seek out what unites them rather than what divides them."  Anyone who has had experience with voluntary associations knows how these tend to promote dialogue, cooperation, and bonds of solidarity.  (Compendium, No. 420) 

Often, voluntary associations cause social reform or promote charitable causes in an efficient manner, without the need of cumbersome government mechanisms.  For that reason the Church asks that we "look with confidence to the potentialities that thus present themselves" in such voluntary alliances, "and to lend their own personal efforts for the good of the community in general and, in particular, for the good of the weakest and the neediest.  In this way, the principle of the "subjectivity of society" is also affirmed." (Compendium, No. 420)

-----

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 September 2014
Mentally disabled:
That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life.
Service to the poor: That Christians, inspired by the Word of God, may serve the poor and suffering.



Comments


More Politics & Policy

CAN'T KEEP UP: So many employees leaving Department of Homeland Security, it poses risk to U.S. Watch

Image of The vacating of those in top management positions in the Department of Homeland Security has helped slow the rollout of key cybersecurity initiatives.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS has seen an exodus of employees over the past four years. According to officials, this is leaving the United States open to potential terrorist strikes and cyber-attacks. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Employees ... continue reading


Shell game in Kansas - why Democrats don't have to win Kansas to win the Senate Watch

Image of Independent investor Greg Orman seems to have the advantage in the newly-reshaped senate race.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The race for Senate in Kansas may suddenly be the most crucial contest in the nation as Republicans scramble to protect their longtime incumbent, Bob Dole is back on the campaign trail, Democrats are being as quiet as possible about not having a candidate, and a ... continue reading


Are they on to something? Judicial Watch says terrorists are operating in Mexico Watch

Image of Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat who represents El Paso in the U.S. House of Representatives, called the area offices of various government agencies in response to a report that Middle Eastern terrorists were operating across the border in Mexico.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Judicial Watch, a controversial Web site that maintains that Middle Eastern terrorists are operating just cross the border from the United States from Mexico is evidently stirring up waves. Federal law enforcement sources in El Paso, Texas say that a United ... continue reading


CLOTHES HORSE: Wasserman Schultz losing confidence among Democrats Watch

Image of Stylish  Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman has alienated members of her own party by reportedly demanding that the party pick up the tab for her wardrobe!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Two "faux pas" have alienated Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her party. Her criticism of the White House's handling of the border crisis and comparing tea party members to abusive husbands have alienated her constituency at ... continue reading


Supreme Court justice Sotomayor warns about drones encroaching on American way of life Watch

Image of Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that she's particularly troubled by the potential for commercial and government drones to compromise personal privacy.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Unmanned surveillance planes called drones pose a threat to the privacy of American citizens, warns Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. Speaking to students at Oklahoma City University's law school, Sotomayor says that frightening changes in technology ... continue reading


Obama says Islamic State 'is not Islamic' - what are they, then? Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Obama vowed to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq and Syria, He intends to do so with airstrikes and a minimal military presence on the ground. The president also declared that the Islamic State terrorists "are not Islamic." ... continue reading


Obama vows to attack Islamic State militants 'wherever they exist' Watch

Image of There has been some progress made against the group. After more than 150 U.S. airstrikes in Iraq in the past month, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have halted the Islamic State advance.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Barack Obama has vowed to attack Islamic State militants "wherever they exist." Obama will be sending a limited U.S. military presence of 475 personnel. The president also declared that the United States will act in concert with a broad coalition ... continue reading


Opinion: We Need a Blue Collar Conservative like Rick Santorum in the 2016 Presidential Campaign Watch

Image of Rick Santorum is not an establishment candidate. He threatens establishment leaders in both major political parties. he has always played the role of the underdog and been counted out by the many self professed experts. That is one of the greatest assets he would bring to the 2016 Presidential campaign. He has the potential to draw voters from across party lines and help to forge a new governing coalition which can resuscitate the American dream and set us on a course to brighter future. I sincerely hope he runs.

By Keith A. Fournier

Rick Santorum is a statesman in an age of salesmen - and women. He is a man with a chest.  I will be watching his movements over the next few months. If he decides to run, and I hope he does, he will bring along with him into his presidential campaign a ... continue reading


Pelosi favors sweeping regulations to save net neutrality and ban Internet 'fast lanes' Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It's an unpopular stand for many Republicans, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she wants to give federal regulators sweeping new powers over Internet access. It's a necessity in order to save net neutrality and protect Internet users, she says. ... continue reading


READY TO STRIKE: President Obama prepared to use airstrikes in Syria Watch

Image of President Obama believes he needs formal congressional approval to take that action, according to people who have spoken with the president recently.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

From admitting that he had no policy in regards to Syria, U.S. President Barack Obama is now ready for some clear decisive action. The president says that he is prepared to use U.S. military airstrikes in Syria in order to defeat the militant jihadist group ... continue reading


All Politics & Policy News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Proverbs 3:27-34
27 Refuse no kindness to those who have a right to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
2 Whoever lives blamelessly, who acts uprightly, who ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 8:16-18
16 'No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Thomas of Villanueva
September 22: Augustinian bishop. Born at Fuentellana, Castile, Spain, he was ... 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