Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In, But Not Of: The Paradox of a Catholic Political Philosophy

Zenit has a two-part interview (here and here) with Fr. James Schall re the necessity of an authentically Catholic approach to political philosophy in contrast to a Western civilization that often links its rise to the separation of philosophy and natural science from theology and dogma.

Here is a truffle passage:

Question: How is Roman Catholic political philosophy different from Catholic social thought?

Father Schall: Roman Catholic social thought is a body of particular analyses and responses that the popes and the various hierarchies from the middle of the 19th century have given to central economic and political issues in which Catholics have found themselves involved.

Catholic social doctrine seeks to combine what it knows from natural law, reason, experience and Revelation so that it might address itself coherently to ongoing issues in any sort of polity in which Catholics find themselves. It seeks, too, to elaborate the general principles of these issues but it desires to leave the particular applications to the laity and citizenry.

When it comes to practical matters of politics and economics, most things such as laws and policies could be otherwise, even though we must select some reasonable way to act. This very complexity cautions us not to give more certitude to something than its subject-matter allows, as Aristotle remarked in the first book of the "Ethics."
Roman Catholic political philosophy operates at a more fundamental level. It wants to know what is the reason that Revelation can presume to speak to reason, such that philosophy, on its own grounds, needs to pay attention to what is proposed.

Today, political philosophy is one of the few areas in which all things come together and must be sorted out. To understand political things we need to understand history, religion, ethics, science, manners, and all pertinent aspects of culture. Yet, politics looks at what is to be done but done for a good.

Revelation has long recognized that its most dangerous opponent is the city closed in on itself, using the coercive powers of the state to define reality.

This danger is why Revelation has recognized that it first must deal with politics on its own grounds, grounds which recognize that human disorder can be identified and accounted for.

Contrary to the tradition of Machiavelli, itself already criticized in Plato, politics does not just look to what man does do, but to what he ought to do. And what he ought to do can, in some basic sense, be understood by the philosophers.

This possibility is why Roman Catholicism has regularly insisted that there is such a thing as philosophy and that philosophy can both ask the right questions and propose at least some basic and correct answers. Moreover, it can at least recognize the meaning of answers coming from Revelation.

Catholic Analysis has more on Catholic social teaching, including John Paul the Great's contribution, based on a recent exposition by George Weigel.

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