Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Dr. Frederick Liewehr

9/5/2013 (10 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The extent to which a government aligns itself with the moral order determines its legitimacy, no matter how it came to power.


To any American, at least of my generation, the word "democracy" has a familiar and almost theophanic connotation. America is certainly the most successful political experiment in history, and the fact that it is a democratic republic is credited with much of that success. So, the mention of democracy tends to elicit a knee-jerk unquestioningly positive response from most of us. Being elected by a majority does not make a government legitimate. In fact, being elected by 100% of the population does not make a government legitimate. Only to the extent to which governmental actions are consistent with God's law and the moral order is a government legitimate.

Highlights

By Dr. Frederick Liewehr

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

9/5/2013 (10 months ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Democracy, American Experiment, Muslim, Islam, Sharia law, human rights, religious liberty, Syria, government, public policy, human rights, morality, Dr. Frederick Liewehr


RICHMOND, VA (Catholic Online) - To any American, at least of my generation, the word "democracy" has a familiar and almost theophanic connotation. America is certainly the most successful political experiment in history, and the fact that it is a democratic republic is credited with much of that success. So, the mention of democracy tends to elicit a knee-jerk unquestioningly positive response from most of us.

Americans have long been aware of their favored status, and particularly since their successful prosecution of the Second World War, they have encouraged their government to export our system of government to nations considered less fortunate than we are. Although there were never a set of principles that defined Manifest Destiny per se, it was nonetheless keenly felt in the 19th Century, along with the notion of American exceptionalism.

Andrew Jackson spoke of "extending the area of freedom", and used the concept of manifest destiny to increase the size of the Continental United States. Other Presidents used it to annex Texas, annex Indian lands, and annex Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines overseas. In more recent times, the United States has had no desire to annex foreign nations, but rather to export our system of government, believing it to automatically guarantee that the recipients would become as free and prosperous as our own citizens. 

The flaw in this thinking is that the means are confused with the ends. Saying that the goal of a nation is to have a democratically elected government is like saying that the goal of our vacation plans this summer should be to have a car. The car may get us to our vacation destination, assuming it is in good repair, but sitting in a car does not a fun vacation make. The real goal, of course, is to get to our vacation destination and enjoy ourselves.

Thus it is with government. What is the real goal of government? To elucidate that issue, we turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. CCC #1897 says, Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.(italics added)

CCC #1901 then defines what consists of a morally acceptable political regime: The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.

Thus, man has need of government to organize society and enable it to operate efficiently, which serves the good of all. There exists a "diversity of political regimes" that are morally acceptable, so long as they serve the good of the people they govern. Democracy is not unique in being able to accomplish that end.

There is no reason why a monarchy or an appointed benevolent leader could not do as well. One has only to think back on the reign of St. Louis in France or St. Wenceslaus of Bohemia, about who the term rex justus was coined to realize that a sovereign could be a saintly man and a just ruler, which is far better than many democratically elected leaders could ever hope to be.

Recently, the deposition of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, an ostensibly democratically elected official, has caused many, particularly in Egypt, to have second thoughts about the results of this democratic election. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections a year ago by promising reform, freedom, and economic progress.

What they actually did was to rewrite the constitution, institute sharia law, and further impoverish the people. Notably the attacks on Coptic Christians increased dramatically, either perpetrated or at least sanctioned by the government. Seeing that Morsi was not what he promised, the people took to the streets, and ultimately the army stepped in and deposed him.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, however, claim that he is the legitimate head of Egypt. Obama and his group agree, because Morsi was "democratically elected." It is instructive to note that on March 6, 1933, the Nazi party received 44% of the vote in Germany, making them the largest party in the Reichstag, or parliament.

When President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Hitler's cabinet passed a law transferring the power of the presidency to Hitler as both Chancellor and Führer (Leader). In mid-August a plebiscite was held, and 85% of the people voted to sustain Hitler as supreme leader of the state, people and military. Thus though not technically elected, once he was in place he was democratically ratified. Did that make his government legitimate?

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood do not depend on his democratic election, however, when they speak of him as the legitimate ruler. Democracy means nothing to Muslims, a fact of which our government does not seem to be aware. It is, in fact, anathema to them because it would subvert the authority of Islam. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, leader of Al Qaeda, weighed in on the "legitimacy" question saying to Morsi supporters, "We have to admit first that legitimacy does not mean elections and democracy, but legitimacy is the Sharia . which is above all the constitutions and laws."

Although our secular administration would argue that any government put in place by a vote of a majority of the people is legitimate, Muslims believe that legitimacy comes from Sharia law and their interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith. But if Morsi was legitimate, what about the persecution of Christians that his government fomented? What about the myriad human rights issues that only became worse under Morsi that made the people finally revolt?

To understand what any clear-thinking person would intuit, let us turn again to the Catechism. CCC #1902 says, Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a 'moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility'. A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence. (Italics added)

CCC #1903 says further, Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, 'authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse'. (Italics added)

Thus there is no support theoretically, or in the specific case of Morsi, for the assumption that someone who was democratically elected is automatically a good legitimate leader. Democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his "Democracy in America", is nothing but a tyranny of the majority. Consider a lynch mob; does the fact that the decision to hang someone was reached democratically by the mob make it just?

Being elected by a majority does not make a government legitimate. In fact, being elected by 100% of the population does not make a government legitimate. Only to the extent to which governmental actions are consistent with God's law and the moral order is a government legitimate.

What is the #1 reason you hear people give for why the Third Reich was not legitimate? The leaders were in fact chosen, as we have seen, democratically. The judgment of history, however, is not based on that fact. It is based on the fact that the Holocaust resulted in the deaths of some 6,000,000 Jews, not to mention Slavs, gypsies, Christians, mentally defective people, homosexuals, etc.

If the taking of those innocent lives was a great crime against humanity, then what about the legitimacy of our government sponsoring, encouraging, and bankrolling the ongoing slaughter of over 54 million innocent babies since Roe v. Wade in 1973? What about the legitimacy of Muslim governments that either practice and condone, or at best turn a blind eye, to the torture and slaughter of Christians in their countries?

With the denial of the existence of objective moral values, often associated with a contemporary form of secularization, we are witnessing in our own nation, a loss of religious and human rights which we thought were set in stone - and it is happening through our democratically elected officials.

In Syria, a group of so-called "rebels", consisting of Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaida soldiers and other assorted terrorists, are committing horrible atrocities as they wage a war of genocide on Christians, other religious minorities, Kurds, and anyone who does not actively support them in that beleaguered country, and our government wants to support their rise to power.

Ultimately a government is judged not by the type of political system it incorporates but by the extent to which it conforms with and to God's law. The respect for human dignity and life must always and everywhere be the foundation of any society and the protection of life must be the mission of any legitimate government.

The extent to which a government aligns itself with the moral order determines its legitimacy, no matter how it came to power. As Matthew 7:16ff says, By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.

----------

Dr. Frederick Liewehr is an endodontist who teaches and works in private practice. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1983, having been drawn ineluctably to Christ's Church by the light of Truth. He is a member of St. Benedict parish in Richmond, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus and a Cooperator of Opus Dei. 

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for July 2014
Sports:
That sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.
Lay Missionaries: That the Holy Spirit may support the work of the laity who proclaim the Gospel in the poorest countries.



Comments


More Politics & Policy

As hundreds of bills languish on his desk, push is on to 'fire Harry Reid' Watch

Image of The GOP now hopes to use those examples to build a case against Harry Reid and argue that his procedural stranglehold is the reason for the Senate's painful levels of gridlock.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The GOP is now calling for either the resignation or firing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Republican National Committee is launching a two-week "robo-call" campaign in efforts to nationalize Senate races across battleground states, arguing that each ... continue reading


DOES the President have the unilateral power to legalize illegal aliens? Hoyer: No Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Does U.S. President Barack Obama have the unilateral right to convert countless illegal immigrants to legal status? House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that President Obama "can't legalize" the illegal aliens, but added that the president "can ... continue reading


RATCHETING UP SANCTIONS: U.S. Europe increase sanctions against Russia Watch

Image of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that he is not considering adding new sanctions. Australia lost 28 citizens on Flight MH17. Abbott said that at the moment

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

New economic sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy have been announced by U.S. President Obama. It's all part of Washington's latest efforts to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his support for Ukrainian rebels. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


'Achievements and contributions… to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy,' Obama celebrates achievements of Muslims Watch

Image of A recent survey found that 72 percent of Muslim-Americans approve of the President, more so than any other religious group.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

As the persecution of Iraqi Christians at the hands of Islamic jihadists continued, President Obama and First Lady Michelle released a statement this past weekend thanking Muslim Americans for their many "achievements and contributions...to building the very ... continue reading


U.S. Bishops say Obama's executive order 'implements discrimination' Watch

Image of Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, pictured, and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo in a statement noted that the executive order, which will impact a fifth of the U.S. workforce, discriminates against faithful Catholics.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A new order by U.S. President Obama that forbids federal contractors from discriminating "on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity," has been denounced by U.S. bishops as "unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed" and, in effect, ... continue reading


Israel harshly critical of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, called 'an Alien' Watch

Image of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's apparent decision to use Qatar as a conduit through which to communicate with Hamas, effectively ditching an earlier Egyptian proposal which the group had rejected has stirred the pot.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The United States and Israel have been the staunchest of allies since Israel reached statehood following World War II - but this doesn't mean that the nations have always seen eye-to-eye. Indeed, the right-wing faction of the Israeli government are harshly ... continue reading


President Obama is 'mailing it in', bought the farm - spending lots of time golfing and goofing off Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Lackadaisical. That word is used to define "lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy." Lackadaisical appears to described U.S. President Barack Obama as of late. The president is pending an awful lot of time playing golf while the nation and the ... continue reading


In President Obama's war on religious freedom the people suffer another loss Watch

Image of A July 21 executive order has dealt a huge blow to the cause of freedom of religion in the United States.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Barack Obama's July 21 executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual-self-identification has lead to strong criticism from several prominent U.S. bishops, calling the executive order "unprecedented and extreme." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading


Efforts against female genital mutilation could be thwarted by population growth Watch

Image of Due partly to community activism and legislation, the prevalence of FGM, which involves the cutting away of the external female genitalia, and the marriage of girls under the age of 18 has decreased slightly over the last 30 years, UNICEF said.

By Lisa Anderson, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Advances in fighting female genital mutilation, or FGM and child marriage could be offset by population growth unless the rate of progress increases, according to new data released Tuesday by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). (Thomson Reuters ... continue reading


FREE SPEECH VIOLATED: Tea party groups' lawsuit against IRS proceeds Watch

Image of Among the individuals named in the lawsuit is Lois Lerner, who headed the division that processes applications for tax-exempt status at that time.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

They're not going to take it - and they're taking their claims to court. A federal judge has allowed a lawsuit by 10 tea party groups to move forward against the Internal Revenue Service. The judge rejected a request by the federal government to dismiss all the ... continue reading


All Politics & Policy News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21
10 A disaster for me, mother, that you bore me to be ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 59:2-3, 4, 10-11, 17, 18
2 rescue me from evil-doers, from men of violence ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 13:44-46
44 'The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 30th, 2014 Image

St. Peter Chrysologus
July 30: St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter