Those Catholic Men has decided to publish an astoundingly awful article by Mr. Doyle Baxter: Why We Must Overcome Catholic Political Apathy. The view expressed concerning man and politics is so negative that it makes me think Jansenism just might be returning. In fact, I have never read such an alarming theology and its political application by a Catholic. You’ll have to read it for yourself. I am so dumbfounded that I am not quite sure how to address it in a comprehensive way. Perhaps the best place to start is with the fundamentally stupid.
We need to remember that the State’s sole purpose, in St. Augustine’s analysis, is to keep the peace: government isn’t about justice or even about virtue.
I wonder just how Mr. Baxter expects the State to strive for, attain, and maintain a true peace when justice and virtue are not part of its equation. Perhaps he wouldn’t say that justice and virtue are not part of the equation.
The State is not meant to be an arbiter of justice, social or otherwise, but rather to be a bulwark of law, order, and peace.
In Mr. Baxter’s view, justice comes from another source and not from the State. In this, I wholeheartedly agree with him. However, I wonder how Mr. Baxter thinks the State is supposed to act as a bulwark of law, order, and peace in our particular circumstances of a modern, western, secularized, materialistic country permeated by an extreme individualist pop-philosophy and a strong divide between religion and government. When our government and laws (of which the government is supposed to be a bulwark) have drifted so far from the One who is Justice and the fount of justice, we are dealing with a system that is not just flawed, for that is inescapable, but broken.
Alistair MacIntyre in 2004 said, “in this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.” Mr. Baxter understands these words to mean “not being politically involved” and, in the context of his title, to be politically apathetic. He says, “He is basically arguing that when there are no good options, the best choice is not to choose. As Catholics, this is unacceptable: both our faith and indeed our fallen nature call us to political involvement.” The problem is that this essentially reduces political involvement to voting. Mr. Baxter makes an even greater reduction by later rejecting not just choosing not to vote, but also rejecting voting 3rd party. If a Catholic does not vote or if they vote 3rd party then they are not politically involved in any real way despite anything else they may be doing to work for truth, justice, and peace in our society.
One of the problems (and, oh, there are so many) with his response to Mr. MacIntyre is that he fails to address that the problem isn’t just the choice of candidates but more fundamentally the system itself. He fails to adequately address this because he believes the system doesn’t really matter (I assume he would say it does, but following his line of thought such an assertion really is not tenable). According to him, politics are imposed on us by God as a punishment for Original Sin. Ergo, as faithful Catholics, we do not have the option to abstain or give our vote to someone who has no chance of winning because this is tantamount to rejecting God’s just punishments as well as to run from “redemptive suffering.” The practical applications of such thought as Mr. Baxter puts forth are incredible in their foolishness – being neither wise in the eyes of the world nor in the eyes of God. He speaks of being in the world, but not of the world, and then says that we have to bow to whatever the world gives us because… punishment from God. Let’s take a look at one practical application.
Armchair, self-righteous political philosophizing neglects a fundamental aspect of the life that the Church calls us to. It’s not enough to preach about subsidiarity or solidarity or any other social principle without explaining what they mean for me right now in these political circumstances.
As Mr. Baxter would have it, though, what those principles mean for him and all of us right now in these political circumstances is not one darn blasted thing. If I preach about subsidiarity, solidarity, or any other social principle and then am presented with two candidates who will both work against those principles, then by Mr. Baxter’s view I am morally obligated as a Catholic to vote for one of those candidates and so take an active part in working against the very principles I profess as founded on the apostolic faith. If I work politically to strive for a particular economic and social system and then vote for someone who will work against those very things then my work is for nothing. Yet, it must be this way because… punishment from God.
Perhaps, I will write a post later to address the decrepit theology behind Mr. Baxter’s political ideas, but for now I would like to address one more glaring flaw in his presentation. Above he said that “the State is not meant to be an arbiter of justice.” This is patently false. Two examples will serve to illustrate this. The judges and later the kings of Israel were the arbiters of justice for the Israelites. They were not the heads of the Jewish religion. The judges participated in the government of the people and the kings were the heads of State. The disputes that were brought before them were not always spelled out in the Law. It was for them to make the just decision, not the priests. In Christian medieval Europe, there were ecclesiastical courts and secular courts, the arbiters of justice for each were maintained in each sphere. When a dispute arose that did not pertain to ecclesiastical law, the kings and their judges did not bring it to ecclesiastics and wait for their official judgment in the matter. They handled it themselves as was proper to their sphere of government.
It’s one thing to dispute about the merits and demerits of a particular candidate and whether or not one should vote for them. It is quite another matter, however, to insist that one must vote for one of two particular candidates. I truly hope we never find ourselves in a situation in which Mr. Baxter comes to realize that, and I wonder just how bad it would have to get for him to come to that realization. As for those Catholics who chose not to vote or to vote 3rd party, it is a mistake to assume that they have not been politically active or have been doing a great deal of work to promote truth, justice, and peace in our society.