dimanche, octobre 05, 2008

Politics according to St. Thomas

Notes for the lecture of Saturday October 4th

Man is by nature a social and political animal who lives in a community (De Regimine Principum)
Animals can survive with what nature gives them according to each species. But it seems that nature does not give so much to men. A baby has no chance to survive by himself and it would be very difficult for an adult to survive alone in a hostile environment.
Man is supplied with none of these things by nature (means of defense and abilities that animals have). Rather, in place of all of them, reason was given to him, by which he might be able to provide all things for himself, by the work of his own hands. One man however, is not able to equip himself with all these things, for one man cannot live a self-sufficient life. It is therefore natural for man to live in fellowship with many others.

Charles Maurras says that a little man would quickly perish if he had to face alone the rough nature. But he is received in another nature: the attentive and mild human nature. He lives only because he is one of its little citizens. At the moment of his birth, and even before, the little man attracts on him and concentrate all the efforts of a group of people on which he is totally dependent, as well as he was totally dependent on his mother when he was in his womb.

The notion of nature is fundamental in order to understand man well, but not only regarding his biological aspects but also his social and political characteristics. For Aristotle, art has a creative capacity equivalent to that of nature. Art models itself after nature. The reason is that human intelligence, which is author of arts, has a certain similarity the Divine intelligence which is the Creator of nature. We consider ‘art’ in a large sense as a set of rules and principles founded on knowledge in order to produce a human work.

Knowledge --> Sciences
- speculative sciences: they are concerned with the scientific knowledge of truth.
- practical sciences: Every practical science is concerned with human operations (Ia Q1 art4)
Politics is a practical science, or an art if you prefer. This science is necessary because there is a science for each thing that human reason can reach. Each science contributes to the development of wisdom. Wisdom is necessary for the organization of social life among men, so that they can live in harmony and achieve their goals.
It is a practical science because its end is the realization of a human work. The city - today we would say the state - is a human work realized by human reason.
It is a moral science because it concerns the organization of men within the city. We say that it is a moral science but we make a distinction between
- morals (ethics): concerns the personal good of a single person
- politics: concerns the common good of a community.

Politics is the highest practical science because of its object. The city is the most important work that human reason can do. All the others human realizations are supposed to pertain to the common good. For Aristotle, Politics is the achievement of philosophy.

The city (state) is a perfect society. It offers to men all they need to live and we would add, to live well in society. In fact, it is its role to provide everything that men need to live as men (material and spiritual good). And ultimately, it should provide happiness.

According to Aristotle, it is the end of Morals and Politics. St Thomas agrees but he also brings essential elements. The perfect happiness does not exist in this world and is essentially supernatural: beatific vision. Yet it is true that men can know a certain relative happiness on earth if the good principles of Morals and Politics are followed. Natural virtues are still good even though they cannot give eternal life. And they are not only good, but they must be followed.
Happiness is the joy given by the possession of things that can satisfy our desires. The closer the desires are from the Good (Truth), more perfect is happiness. For this reason there is no greater happiness than the one given by the possession of God who is the Absolute Good and Truth.
But what is the greatest good we can enjoy on earth ( on a natural level)? Is there any thing greater than a human person? So the greater happiness is given by the “possession” of human beings. Of course not possession as for any other things. ‘My’ does not have the same meaning when you say “my car” or “my house” and when you say “my country” (community of persons - or more than this), “my wife” or “my husband” etc…
“Possession” of persons means that I belong to you and you belong to me and it is what we call friendship. This friendship provides the greatest happiness.
It is also true on a supernatural level. The Divine grace is what allows us to “possess” God and it is according to St. Thomas a certain friendship with God. And God wants also friendship among men: love of God and love of the neighbor are the same thing.


Aristotle: friendship is a community of life founded upon the desire of what his good for others. (and not for myself)
- it presupposes a community of good (consumer good, properties…): what is mine belongs to me, but you can use it if you take care of it. And I can use your good that belongs to you.

- it presupposes a community of sentiments: friends share same pleasures and same grieves. I rejoice when you rejoice and I am sad when you are sad. We find this is the Holy Scripture when St Paul says: Rejoice with them that rejoice: weep with them that weep, Being of one mind one towards another.(Rm 12,15)

- it presupposes a community of action: friends meet together for the same activities.

There is a fourth element that might not be so evident, and yet it is very important: it presupposes a community of contemplation. It is founded on admiration. It our appreciation for a cause that is superior to us, a certain ideal. It allows people to be friends beyond the divergences or differences of good, sentiments or actions.

The four elements should be present for a perfect friendship, otherwise this one might be fragile and temporary.
Ex: During German occupation in France, we have seen “Gaullists” and Communists fighting together against the invaders. They shared a community of contemplation, which was the idea of a country free that could recover its sovereignty. But the friendship between both sides disappeared as soon as the German were gone.
A friendship is a delicate and fragile harmony and balance. A strong friendship requires a deep altruism founded on mutual confidence. Its enemy is selfishness.
Thus Aristotle says that true and strong friendship is only possible with the perfect practice of virtue. This is important because a community of good, of sentiments, or actions or/and ideal which is not based upon virtue would be more complicity rather than friendship. There are communities that share many ideas, activities and other things but their goals or means are evil. In fact their seek their own interests, not the common good. (Criminal organizations, mafia..)

Tonight we have just given the great general principles of Politics. They are not sufficient in themselves in order to rule a country and obviously we need to go further in the details. But these principle are necessary as they are the foundations of any solid political organization.
A political system that would not seek the common good of citizens through the practice of virtues - even simply natural - must be rejected. Our duties, as Catholics, is to not participate to such a system and to fight against it. Now, how do we collaborate to a good system or do we fight against a bad one depends on the level of goodness or evilness of this system. It requires a great prudence and the docility to the Magisterium of the Church, which is very rich in this matter, especially since the XIX century. More than ever, the knowledge of the Social Doctrine of the Church is necessary among the faithful who are also citizens. They belong to two different societies: the Church, and their country.

We, Catholics, do not see any oppositions. One can be a good Catholic and a good citizen of his country. No opposition but distinction based upon the words of Our Lord: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.
But Caesar himself has to render to God the things that are God’s. The problems come when he does not.
As the first Christians of the Roman Empire, we want to be faithful to God and to Caesar. But we also have the duty to tell Caesar when he is wrong. In the worst case, capital penalty can be our reward. But worst case for whom? The martyrs who give their life for God… or for Caesar who unjustly condemns them?
The true, perfect, and imperishable happiness is given only by God. We can taste it already on earth by enjoying His friendship and sharing it with our brothers, because we are already members of another city, which is still in realization in this world, but not from this world.

1 commentaire:

Anonyme a dit…

Not willing to repeat myself, (I usually say "Thank you" to your posts),today I would simply say: Marvellous.
And thank you.