The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Friday, July 14, 2006

Happy Bastille Day?

The French Revolution is such a mixed bag. The Declaration of the Rights of Man is cut basically from the same cloth as the Bill of Rights (both were accepted at almost exactly the same time), but there's this caveat in the French version absent in the American:

"provided that [...the] manifestation [...of their religious opinions] does not trouble the public order established by the law".

That provides a lot of leeway. It wasn't too long before priests were being imprisoned and even massacred. Why this inverted inquisition is not thought to discredit secularism in the eyes of those who think the Spanish Inquisition (I've said a few things about that here) discredits the Church is beyond me.

They knew just how to attack the Church, though, making Priests and Bishops locally elected state officials--(regardless of religious affilication! I think there were a few Protestant and Jewish "Catholic priests"). This was eliminated on paper by Napoleon, but the structure of the Church in France remained in the grip of the State.

It is now almost universally agreed that separation of Church and State--in the sense that the Church and State have no official overlap in autority, not in the sense of a naked public square where religion must not peek out of homes or parishes--is much to the benefit of the Church. This is actually a regular theme in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI.

It is not abundantly clear to me that democracy is to be preferred to monarchy. They each have their advantages and disadvantages and my principled objections to monarchy apply in large part to most democracies as well. And my arguments for the validity of democracy are also convertible into arguments for monarchy.

Revolutions remind us that governments are created by men (which of course God must allow, but that raises a host of new issues), and that should remind us to think about where our rights come from and why we should surrender them to governments. In Political Philosophy this is called the Problem of Political Obligation: When do I have to obey the State? "Always" and "Never" are nice answers from a theoretical viewpoint--"sometimes" always implies some line which is hard to draw--but have had dire consequences. There's an interesting discussion of political obligation here.


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