Monday, July 17, 2006

Politics, as better defined by St. Thomas Aquinas

I hadn't known St. Thomas Aquinas as a political commentator until I was reading my recent Crisis Magazine,and crossed The Political Philosophy of Aquinas Rev. James Schall, S.J.  It was a real treat to learn Aquinas's writings without straining my limited attention span reading directly from his writings.  What was even more rewarding was understanding them as they expound on law and politics so well.

The first four points Schall makes are how politics and the state (polity) are not the ultimate end.  Kinda like the Sabbath was made for Man, not the Man for Sabbath; so was the state made to serve Mankind, not the other way around.
By number eight, the meat is served. 
Law, defined as "the ordination of reason, for the common good, by the proper authority, and promulgated," is the context in which Aquinas discusses most political things.  An unreasonable law is no law, as Aquinas cites from Augustine; it lacks one or more elements from this definition.
I could think of a few laws that don't qualify as laws by this definition.  Whenever the courts cross into creating laws rather than ruling on them would fail the "by the proper authority" test.  Many could be questioned on the "common good" and how often do we wonder what complete lack of reason lead to certain laws being enacted?
On to nine and ten,
"the polity is an end, but it ordains those within it to a higher purpose.  The polity does not itself define the higher purpose, but only recognizes it."  And it needs "to contain within itself at least some who are wholly oriented to what is beyond politics."   
Perhaps that is our biggest problem in the U.S.  Many a good statesman is ruined by the thought of re-election.  Lofty ideals get discreetly set aside when they conflict with that coming November.  And they get wholly tossed into the trash as the career path sets in.  But this is explained well by number eleven. 
"The life of politics is worthy but dangerous.  The Fall is a factor in each individual life, including that of the politician.
Thirteen must be a favorite of Pope Benedict as it puts aside all possibility of moral relativism.
Law ought to be a standard of what is right or wrong even if it is not fully observed.
And the founding fathers of our once great country must have been versed in Aquinas as fifteen illuminates.  It is also a favorite of mine.
Private property is the best way to meet the purposes for which the world is given-i.e. that the generality of men can provide for themselves.
How many of us realize that the "pursuit of happiness" refers to ownership of private property?  With the right to own property, we can pursue our own good and provide for ourselves, not depending on others to provide our "happiness."
I am sure this is a brief, abridged version of Aquinas's thoughts on politics, but it makes me thankful that I live in a free country, still able to pursue my happiness and that we have a say in what laws are promulgated.  Even at its current state, our country is still freer that what you can find elsewhere.

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