Thursday, June 02, 2005

Stickin' It, Part II


So, under what circumstances are we obliged to obey the secular government? Should we deny ourselves proper nutrition if the law mandates it? Was the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's sinful?

The answer to this lies in the relationship that exists between the individual and the State, specifically: 1) What is owed by the individual to the State? 2) What is owed by the State to the individual? 3) Proper methods of redress when one or the other fails to provide what is owed.

The first part is well examined by Socrates in Plato's brief dialogue Crito. In it, we see Socrates the day before he is to be executed. His friend Crito comes to visit him and informs Socrates that there is a stealthy ship waiting nearby if he wants to make a quick getaway. After all, Socrates was imprisoned under trumped-up charges, and so departure would be easily justified.
Socrates turns him down. He has lived in Athens his whole life, he explains. Their laws have always provided for his well-being. They enabled his parents to marry, to raise him, to educate him. They kept him safe from those who would do him harm, and because he voluntarily chose to remain in Athenian society and benefit from Athenian laws, he says that he is obligated to obey even the ones that he doesn't like. "Fish or cut bait", as the saying goes. To place it in modern times, if you are going to live in the U.S. and enjoy the freedoms and benefits that come with the laws of the land, then you yourself must also obey them.

The second part is dealt with by Aristotle over the course of his Nicomachean Ethics. At several points in the work, he explores issues related to governance, such as justice, contracts, etc., but it is in Book I, chapters 2-5, that he explores government in general. Because of the government's broad and general authority, to it belongs the higest directive, namely the good of man.

Each thing undertaken is done with some particular good or value in mind. Now, the less particular the activity undertaken, the less particular the good sought. The activity of government, by Aristotle's estimation, is the most broad and general of all. It directs education, the military, provides for transportation, and sees to all other earthly needs. Because of this, the function of government is for the good of man in general, and to provide for the common welfare. With this, the political sciences are determined to be a branch of ethics (Nic. Eth. I:ii). Since this is the case, it is apparent then that those who govern are obligated to do so in an ethical manner.

When the contract between governor and governed is broken by the governed, the State has the authority to arrest the person. But what of a violation by the State? It was said earlier that to violate the laws was a sin against peace and the general welfare. How, then, could a person morally stand up against the state for a redress of grievances?

If the State is behaving unethically and in a manner where the only method to change the situation is through either a non-violent resistance (such as the Civil Rights movement) or an armed rebellion (such as the Revolutionary War), then the sin against peace would be on the head of the State, for bringing about such a condition. Like a just war, however, a just rebellion must be the final option open, whose ultimate aim is one of peace.

The obligations of obedience to rulers (or to be more specific, when that would not apply) are summed up by Aquinas here:
There are two ways […] that a subject is not obligated to obey the command of his superior. First, if it is contrary to the command of a higher power. […] Secondly, a subject is not obligated to obey his superior if he commands something over which he has no authority[…] One man [may be] obligated to obey another in outward
bodily actions, but in matters relating to human nature, for example, those
relating to bodily sustenance and the procreation of offspring, a man is bound
to obey God alone, and not another man, because by nature all men are equal.
(Sum. Theol. II-II:civ:1)

In other words:

1) if higher authority contradicts with lower authority, then the lower is in error for not obeying the higher, an error which you should avoid, so obey the higher authority. To use Thomas' military analogy, it is preferable to obey the orders of a general than a sergeant.

2) if I have no authority in an area, there is no obligation to obey me in an area.

Things relating to the common good which are neither commanded or forbidden by God (or His Son's voice on Earth, the Church), such as alcohol consumption and its regulation, are fair game for the government. This would not relate to "bodily sustenance" because while there is some nutritive value, it can be obtained very easily from other sources, as was pointed out in the last post.

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloram+

"And so I go about the world obedient to god. I search and question the wisdom of anyone who seems to be wise. And if he is not wise, then to clarify the meaning of the oracle I show him that he is not wise. My occupation completely absorbs me and I have no time for anythng else. My devotion to the god has reduced me to utter poverty."
-Socrates, The Apology


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