Myopia (Ancient Greek: μυωπία, muōpia, from myein "to shut" – ops (gen. opos) "eye")In St Thomas Aquinas' writings on the law (jurisprudence), he develops the classical Western view of the central purpose of government: namely, to establish and uphold the common good:
A law, properly speaking, regards first and foremost the order to the common good. Now to order anything to the common good, belongs either to the whole people, or to someone who is the viceregent of the whole people. And therefore the making of a law belongs either to the whole people or to a public personage who has care of the whole people: since in all other matters the directing of anything to the end concerns him to whom the end belongs. (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 90, art.3)
|St. Thomas Aquinas|
This is, in fact, the very raison d'être of government: a government finds its very validity and legitimacy in establishing, promoting, and defending the common good. Aquinas shows that the coercive powers of the government: the moral ability to wage war, punish criminals, and extract taxes from the population: are legitimate in respect to the common good, the establishment of justice and the defense of the people. Without justice, without the intent to maintain the common good, Aquinas agrees with Augustine that, "If justice be disregarded, what is a king but a mighty robber? since what is a robber but a little king?" (City of God, 4.4). But within the bounds of justice and in defense of the common good, the government is entitled to do so:
As regards princes, the public power is entrusted to them that they may be the guardians of justice: hence it is unlawful for them to use violence or coercion, save within the bounds of justice--either by fighting against the enemy, or against the citizens, by punishing evil-doers: and whatever is taken by violence of this kind is not the spoils of robbery, since it is not contrary to justice. (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 66, art.8)
Now the common good is not some mere aggregate of all the personal and public material goods in a nation -- the "stuff" that we hold in common -- but something much more basic: it is the very condition of civil order that allows us all to live in peace and tranquility with our neighbors: free to walk the streets unmolested by criminals, free to gain impartial justice in the courts of law, free from coercion or bribery by petty state bureaucrats, safe within the borders of the country, able to transact business and to act morally and lawfully without fear, and such.
The common good is so essential for human flourishing that this is not only a most solemn obligation of the government (and its sole ultimate duty), but it is morally incumbent on all members of society to work toward the common good while pursuing their own private goods. And Aquinas further shows the centrality of this in his consideration of sedition, where people act against the common good by seeking to overthrow the government. Aquinas considers sedition a "special sin" since it strikes against "the unity and peace of a people" (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 42, art.1). But interesting, and to the point, Aquinas does not consider all acts against the government to be seditious (or more precisely in Aquinas' parlance, where acting against the government is not a mortal sin):
Reply to Objection 3. A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5; Ethic. viii, 10). Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant's rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant's government. Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler, and to the injury of the multitude. (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 42, art.2)In short, when the ruler seeks his own good and not justice for the nation and the maintenance of the common good, the ruler commits sedition against his own people. Whether through love of power, corruption, hubris, ineptitude, vanity, or whatever, when the ruler acts contrary to the common good, when the multitude are injured by the acts of the government, there is legitimate moral grounds for opposition to the government.
Now, there is a great deal of latitude in the prudential acts of any government to do bad things, stupid things, pass bad laws, even be rather corrupt and inept without offending the very basic task to maintain the common good. Even where the government actively pays for and protects by legislation extreme personal violence against human beings (obviously, abortion), this does not even rise to the level of sedition against the people. The bar for maintaining the common good is properly low -- basically that we can walk the streets safely, gain impartial justice in the courts, be free to pursue our individual goods in harmony with our neighbors, raise our families and enjoy proper freedoms to act as moral agents... Indeed, for Aquinas this is a matter of prudential judgment -- we can only disturb the tyrant's rule short of inflicting greater harm on the people governed: a civil war, for instance, is a terrible thing that destroys the common good such that the consequent massive death, destruction, famine, lawlessness, and disorder predictable of civil war should give serious pause to anyone who thinks a tyrant should be overthrown. From this ethic, the entire "War of Northern Aggression" as the South would have it, even casting Lincoln as a tyrant, was a profoundly problematic decision.
The notion of the common good, properly understood, is hardly alien to the American political experiment. Rather it is enshrined in the very foundational document of our nation:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (United States Constitution, Preamble)So what precipitates this examination of the proper role of government and the meaning of the common good?
While sending Park Service Rangers to close access to public trust lands, "barrycading" stretches of highway so that passersby cannot even stop on Federal Highways to take in the majesty of Mount Rushmore, refusing the offer of the State of Arizona to pay to keep the Grand Canyon open, and of course closing the World War Two monument and the Lincoln Memorial to visitors, Obama inexplicably also has ordered the US Border Patrol to "stand down" from securing our nation against illegals, drug cartels, gun runners, and terrorist infiltration.
I defy any of Obama's supporters to present a coherent defense of this sort of policy manipulation.
Even businesses that provide positive cashflow to the Federal coffers are being harmed -- jobs and livelihoods of US citizens are being threatened by the decisions made by Obama's policy wonks. Ordinary citizens living their lives are suddenly subjected to intimidation by the government.
If Obama was intent on upholding the common good (and it should be noted that trust in the government to act justly and to care for the common welfare of the citizens is an essential component in the common good), he would be letting us all get on with our lives as best as possible. If anything, while Congress is working through the budget issues, it seems reasonable that as far as possible the Executive Branch should see to it that the civic life of ordinary citizens is uninterrupted, not inconvenienced in petty ways and much less that issues of public safety should be actively harmed.
But it just gets worse.
The nation's Amber Alert program was adopted through Congressional legislation in 2002-2003 to help protect our nation's children.
President Obama and Attorney General Holder apparently think that this is not an "essential service." Try to visit the AmberAlert.gov website and we are told that "Due to the lapse in federal funding" the website is down. We can only ask, are they really willing to use missing children as bargaining chips in their political games? This seems just another chess piece in a slow and steady erosion in the faith of our government to even uphold the security of the nation. The President keeps his military golf course open, but shuts down a website that helps us protect our children? Really, Mr. Obama?
|WWW.AMBERALERT.GOV (retrieved 8:30PM MST 10/6/2013)|
(Can't GoDaddy underwrite this for us while Congress and the WH get their collective act together?)
This is not just "bad optics", it's at best myopia or worse craven and callous disregard for the common good of the nation that they have been entrusted to care for while in office.
Again, I'd be really interested in having one of Obama's supporters explain to us how this sort of action is the least bit congruent with Obama's sacred duty to uphold and promote the common good of the nation.