The Agony of Chris Christie, and The ideal government in the mind of Aquinas

News Item: NJ governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie is embroiled in a political scandal. It appears that aides to Christie engineered lane closures of roads leading to the George Washington Bridge, causing major traffic tie ups in the town of Ft Lee New Jersey. This was done to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, for not supporting Christie in his bid for reelection. Christie claims he did not know this was done on his behalf and has fired the responsible aides, but on the other hand its not the first time someone supposedly has “lied” to the Governor, and now various and sundry investigations are underway, regarding “Bridgegate”. Some no doubt motivated by desire to damage Christie politically, and some perhaps with the intent to understand whether or not the Governor is thuggish enough to use political power as a weapon. If you are interested in reading more about this story you can check it out here, and here . Of course this sort of political news is nothing new. On the federal level, the executive branch has been operating like the mob for quite some time.  Consider that the Obama administration, during the manufactured government shutdown late last year, deliberately made decisions designed to amplify the pain in order to gain political talking points. They therefore made decisions on how to curtail services designed to harass elderly Vets visiting DC war memorials as related here , or consider the recent tormenting of the Little Sisters of the Poor, by forcing them to violate their conscience as discussed here .

So what does this sordid display have to do with Catholicism you ask? Well it has to do what kind of government and society a Catholic concerned about the culture should seek to promote. Obviously as many in the Catholic press like to point out there is corruption and misuse of public power in both political parties, so what is a good Catholic to do?

When in doubt it’s often useful to refer to St Thomas Aquinas. As it happens Aquinas expressed some thoughts about the structure of government. In the abstract St Thomas thought that government by a just monarch ( although not necessarily a hereditary monarch)  was best, but monarchy per se could also be the worst form of tyranny since the evil of the monarch would be unlimited.  So if we could be governed by St Louis IX it might be ok but not so much Henry VIII. In the Summa, Aquinas recommends something else as he puts it :

“Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rules are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.

Such was the form of government established by the Divine Law. For Moses and his successors governed the people in such a way that each of them was ruler over all; so that there was a kind of kingdom. Moreover, seventy-two men were chosen, who were elders in virtue: for it is written (Dt. 1:15): “I took out of your tribes wise and honorable, and appointed them rulers”: so that there was an element of aristocracy. But it was a democratical government in so far as the rulers were chosen from all the people;”

It seems Aquinas envisioned something like a central leader (call him the chief executive, prime minister or President  if you like) counterbalanced by some sort of multiple member governing body, (maybe like a legislature, or parliament,) with all  of the leadership elected by the people and with the people eligible to hold the leadership.  Aquinas thought while not perfect in the abstract this combination of monarch, aristocracy and democracy was the most likely to mitigate the flaws in each form of government. In fact Aquinas though that a direct democracy with power in the masses directly was the worst form of government in the abstract ( slow, cumbersome, ineffective) but the least “bad” if corrupted because ( get this) if the people were evil its very slowness and clumsiness  would limit the evil it could do. It is intriguing that the government created by the United States Constitution is similar to what was envisioned by Aquinas as ideal. ( in that we have a president counterbalanced by a legislature, limits on direct democracy and so forth). Perhaps in addition to John Locke, some of the founders read their Aquinas as well, or at least their Aristotle. This is a topic for another day.  Still it is clear Aquinas was as concerned as the founders about the excessive power in the hands of those who might be immoral, even the populace at large.

So what does this have to do with Gov. Christie or President Obama? Well obviously we clearly are not being governed by St Louis IX.  Moreover our culture is clearly debased, as large numbers of people accept, defend and even embrace things which are gravely evil. In the United States we have enshrined as a constitutional right, abortion, which Vatican II rightly calls an unspeakable crime.  This evil is present without much objection by the average person.  As such, if Aquinas was around today I think he would urge that the power of the government to do evil be restrained. Individual leaders and the citizenry at large are not imbued with a deep respect for natural law, and thus many if not most of the laws made in such a society may be in conflict with natural law. Aquinas of course would say a law in conflict with the natural law is not a real “law” at all. In these circumstances it seems probable He would be in favor of limiting the power and reach of  government. If Aquinas was concerned about corrupt moral leaders in the middle ages he lived in, when the Church was closely linked to the state and Christendom was in full flower, how much more he would be concerned about it , in a world were Church and state are fully separate and many overtly reject the claims of Christianity?

Would Aquinas be a member of the Tea Party?  My guess is that the answer is a qualified yes.  Not in the sense that he would agree with the economic priorities of the Tea Party, but it seems obvious that such groups are the political instruments that can be useful in serving the common good in our present situation in the United States. In our immediate situation when the government is attacking the natural law, witness the event concerning Obama and the Little Sisters of the Poor, limiting the scope of power of self evidently corrupted political institutions would be a desirable goal.  Right now those of us who seek to preserve traditions, who are conservative in the sense that we would conserve what has been handed down, need to play defense.

The anti-Christian secularist agenda is aided and abetted by an expansionist and leviathan government. For example, radical feminists in colleges are teaching students that abortion is a human right, and are funded by a system that funnels large amounts of tax payer dollars to colleges via , multiple mechanisms. It would take multiple blog posts to discuss the details of how the secularist left is being funded by your tax dollars and uses government power to further its own aims,  but for now I would conclude with two thoughts:

1)      It is necessary when someone in the Church suggests that the government do X, Y or Z to help some group, like the poor, we ask who now in government can be entrusted with such power? Even if the goal is a worthy one, are there very many elected officials who will not use the immense power to tax, and regulate, even ultimately to imprison for only worthy ends or will such power also be used to do evil?   Chris Christie’s administration used the power to control traffic to deliberately cause a traffic jam ( the exact opposite of what the common good requires) and Obama is using his new-found control of health care to force nuns to pay for contraception and abortifacients. In such a world can a Christian turn over more power to those who do not respect the natural law? It seems rather we would limit the power of such individuals, in the same way Aquinas saw the inefficiency of democracy as being a positive feature in limiting evil if the democracy was corrupt. The founders of the United States deliberately made our government cumbersome with its tripartite system and checks and balances among the branches for identical reasons.

2)      What can be a good idea in a world in which the President was someone like Padre Pio and Congress was run by the Sisters of Charity is a very different world in which the President is a disciple of Saul Alinsky. ( see what Alinsky is all about here. ) So when we read that Pope Francis said we need government to do this or that, we should remember that it is implied that those in government have a change in heart. As long as we have political leaders that close bridges to cause traffic jams, or compel nuns to fund what they believe is sin, it might be better to limit the power of these leaders to do harm.

Until next time, it always worth asking for the prayers of St Thomas:

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