Chapter 4

Civil society

The family is one society that a person can't help belonging to; civil society is a society that a person must belong to. The reason is that, if there are people around you who can interfere with your self-determination, you can't really defend yourself against them all and protect all your rights. That is, if the condition of mankind really were the Hobbesian "war of everyone against everyone else," then life would not be livable (as of course Hobbes held). Even if others were well-intentioned, it doesn't follow that they would be aware of all your rights (or be convinced by you that you had them and weren't making empty claims), and so might interfere with them without knowing they were doing so; and you can't fight everyone.

Hence, people must cooperate with each other to see to it that everyone's rights are respected. And this is the function of civil society.

Civil society is the society whose common goal is the common good of the members.

You will recall that I said that the common good is the rights that the members didn't freely give up upon entering the society, not some "benefit" or "welfare" of the members collectively (any benefits beyond those necessary to prevent violation of rights belong within the common goal (not the common good) of a society which bestows them).

Every society must have the common good of its members in view, of course, or it would be dehumanizing its members; but this is civil society's sole purpose. Any further purpose for it would be something that is not necessary for human existence, and therefore it would be contradictory to force people to be in the society; because that would make it necessary for the members to cooperate for something that was not necessary for them. There is nothing wrong with people's cooperating for some non-necessary goal; but it would be morally wrong to coerce a self-determining being to do more than what is necessary to avoid harm to other people.(1)

But, as I said, it is necessary for people to cooperate to see that no one is dehumanized; and therefore, people must, morally speaking, belong to the society whose common goal is this. Hence, if civil society had any common goal in addition to this, the members (a) would have to belong to it, and (b) would then be forced into cooperating toward a non-necessary goal.


Conclusion 27: Civil society can have no common goal beyond seeing to it that the members cooperate to prevent dehumanization of any member (the common good).

Given what we said above, if this is the common goal of civil society, it follows that

Conclusion 28: Every person who lives among a number of other people must belong to civil society.

Presumably, Robinson Crusoe wouldn't need to declare himself a civil society of one; and the Swiss Family Robinson could make do as a family (though you could argue that it became a kind of civil society also). But in all other cases, rights cannot be protected without cooperation among all the members.

Some terms:

Government is the authority of civil society.

A citizen is a member of civil society.

Of course, "government" with a qualification can refer to the authority structure of any society; but when it is simply "the government," one is talking about civil society.

Traditionally, the family is called the "unit" of civil society, as if it were the "atom" of which the civil society is composed. But this isn't quite accurate, because, using the Double Effect, this atom is splitable, and government can sometimes step in and take children away from their parents (if they are harming them) or force separation of spouses (if one is harming the other). Clearly, then, the individual is the member, not the family, because civil society is (rightly) concerned with the individual's rights, and only secondarily with the family's rights as such (i.e. insofar as functioning families are necessary for the human existence of the members). And this makes sense, because it is the individual who is self-determining and a person, and therefore the one who actually possesses rights. Rights of groups or societies are not human rights, but follow from the rights of the people who make them up.

The family is the "unit" of society in the sense that society, as we will see, must protect and foster family life, because without protection, the family will collapse, and various rights of the members of the family will be trampled upon. In our society now, for instance, economic pressure is such that it makes it difficult for one parent not to work, even to the detriment of their children. Recognizing "living together" as the equivalent of marriage, recognizing "gay marriage," and recognizing divorce, militates against the commitment necessary to secure the rights of the spouses, particularly of women, and children. And so on. Hence, though civil society is not an organized aggregation of families (which is what "the unit of the society is the family" sounds like), it is still true that protection of the family is one of civil society's prime duties--one that it is failing miserably to fulfill in the present-day United States. And if the family rather than the individual were the "unit" of civil society, what would we do with adults who do not belong to families? So the theory that the family is the unit of civil society can't hold water.

Since every human being in contact with those around him needs his rights protected, then it follows that every human being in this situation who can engage in cooperation for this goal must do so if called upon. But presumably, this would exclude those who are just passing though the society. They can, of course, be forced to do nothing to interfere with anyone's rights; but it doesn't seem reasonable to enlist them to help in securing the rights of the people they happen to be visiting.

This allows us to define who a citizen is:

A citizen in the fullest sense of the term is any adult who was born into the society and has not become a citizen of some other country.

By being "born into" the society is meant being born of parents who are citizens, not necessarily being born within its territorial limits. I should immediately say, however, that, though this is the traditional formulation, it includes fetuses and embryos. A judge has recently ruled on a custody case of frozen embryos, for instance. Hence, rights protection must extend even into the womb, as it does not in the United States today, I must say to our lasting shame.

But a child who happened to be born within the borders of a country as his parents were passing through could not be expected, on reaching adulthood, to cooperate for the preservation of the rights of the citizens if he never even saw the place since a week after his birth. He might, if the country desires, be recognized as a citizen in the sense that, if he later chose to join the country, it would not exclude him.

The full citizen is an adult, of course, because he can be expected to cooperate for the society's common goal. Children born into the society are beneficiaries of the society's action on their behalf, but are not expected to cooperate. Some societies may prohibit giving up membership (in some, this means that if you join another country, you still retain your citizenship; in others, this means you can't join another country), because in fact there is no human right to belong to whatever country you want to belong to, since no damage is done you by belonging to any given country unless it is failing in its purpose--and rights claims, as I said in Chapter 4 of Section 1 of this part 6.1.4, can be made only if damage in not doing the act can be shown. But in societies which permit leaving, then a person loses his citizenship when he joins another country.

A given country can as a privilege grant citizenship to those not born into the society. This is called naturalization. Once the person has been naturalized, then he possesses practically all the rights and the obligations of any native citizen (though he may be excluded from belonging to government, for instance). Since this is a privilege, then obviously the government can make whatever rules it wants in granting it. Similarly, government can extend resident alien status to other people, giving them as a privilege some of the things that citizens have as rights, and withholding others, and imposing on them some of the duties of citizens and not others. Resident aliens in the United States, for instance, are not allowed to vote, but must serve in the armed forces if there is a draft. Lesser privileges are granted to visitors and others who may be in the country for a time; visitors to the United States are not allowed, in general, to be employed here, for example.

Now then, since the common goal of civil society is solely the protection of the rights of the members, then Two Great Principles determine how it is to do so:

The First Great Principle of civil society: the Principle of Subsidiarity: If an individual or smaller society within civil society can perform some function for himself or its members, then civil society must not take over that function.

That is, civil society must let the citizens fend for themselves as much as possible. The reason for this is, of course, that citizens are fundamentally self-determining beings who have their own lives to live, and civil society (as necessary) forces them into cooperating (i.e. doing things which do not promote their own goals); hence, civil society must let them alone unless it is necessary to enlist their cooperation because someone's right would be violated without their cooperative activity.

Now then, I part company with libertarians in not defining "protection of the citizens' rights" as narrowly as they do. Libertarians tend to think that the only way you can violate a person's rights is to do something active to harm him; but it is also, as I said in Chapter 4 of Section 1 of this part 6.1.4, possible to violate a right by not doing something for him. For instance, parents who don't give a child enough education so that he can read well enough to function with ease in adult society are violating his right to be brought up intellectually.

Here too, civil society's duty is not merely to see to it that no one murders anyone else or steals from anyone else, or rapes or fights with or cheats anyone else. Each of us is born with different physical, emotional, intellectual, and economic resources available to us; and in some cases, these resources are so meager that we can't really function as human beings in the society. You will recall that in speaking of dehumanization in Chapter 3 of Section 7 of the fourth part 4.7.3, I said that it occurs below the minimum that would be taken for granted that "everyone" can do in a given community: the lower limit for what we in the community call "human existence." This, as I said, varies from community to community. I mentioned also in that chapter that a person needs at least something more than the bare minimum in order to live a human life; because if all he can do is survive, then he is incapable of doing the main thing that distinguishes human beings from all other animals: choosing a goal for himself and moving toward it.

Thus, for example, if people cannot find work near their homes, they need transportation available to them (and at a price that is not going to eat up all they earn just getting to and from work); if there are rivers in the way between home and work, there have to be affordable ways of crossing them.

But in practice, roads and bridges are just too expensive to be able to be supplied by private societies, in most cases; and so it is a legitimate task of government to supply such things to the citizens; and since not everyone can afford an automobile or taxi, government also must see to it that public transportation is provided at a cost which is affordable. And so on.

No one denies that there has to be a police force and a fire department; and almost no one says that government's role is to supply bread and circuses to the citizens. But between these, there is a rather broad area where it is not perfectly clear whether supplying the necessity is the government's task, or whether it should be left to the private sector, with government only stepping in to see that the private companies do not take advantage of the fact that they are supplying necessities. For instance, can garbage collection be better done privately or publicly? What about sewage disposal? The purification and supply of water? Electricity? Home heating? Communication, such as mail? Libertarians contend that all of these can be done more efficiently by the private sector--and there may be some truth in that; but the problem is not whether it can be done most efficiently, but whether the service is available to all who need it, and at a cost that doesn't force them to give up other necessities to get it.

That is, if ninety per cent of the population can send and receive mail when competing private companies manage it, and these ninety per cent pay little enough so that none of them are deprived by it; but if the other ten per cent either are not served at all, or are served at a price that makes it prohibitive for them to send or receive mail, then government must do something to see that these ten per cent can also have affordable mail service.

One of our problems today is that this also applies to health care services. At present we have private health care service; but the price is outrageous; While I was writing this in the 1990s, I heard on the radio that the cost of high-risk care for a pregnancy is a hundred thousand dollars! That (for any of you readers who don't live in the century I write in) was more than three years' quite good salary at the time. Obviously, people on any normal living scale would be wiped out by just one bill like this. Government must do something to see to it (a) that those who are gouging the public and making themselves rich be prevented from doing so, and (b) when costs are down to merely decent living for the providers and waste and duplication is reduced to reasonable levels, those who still can't afford health care are able to receive enough to avoid dehumanization.

It is not my purpose here to try to say where to draw the line. If you think that I incline toward the libertarian side, you are right (or should I avoid that word in this context and say "correct"?). Having been rather on the left in my youth, and having seen as I grew up what a disaster comes from government's management of things and especially from government's benevolence, I am personally convinced that government does far, far less damage if it stays as close to the absolute minimum than it does when it interprets "dehumanization" so broadly that government must intervene to supply cures for hangnails. But I am perfectly willing to admit that there is room for wide disagreement here on what constitutes dehumanization; and within reason, there is no way of making an objective assessment of it. The reasons for this realization should have been clear from Chapter 10 of Section 5 of the first part 1.5.10, on goodness, and Chapter 2 of Section 7 of the third part 3.7.2, on values and goals.

The point is that government's attitude must be that of avoiding harm to the citizens, rather than doling out benefits to them. That notion of "giving from compassion" is insidious for three reasons: First, insofar as government gives things to citizens that they could get by their own efforts (even if by considerable efforts), it creates incentives for them to do nothing and just receive from government--and thus they abdicate their self-determination (their very selfhood) for a mess of pottage. When I asked the retarded man who lives down the street from me if he'd found a job (he's had jobs before, and there are plenty he can do), he said, "I can't work, because then they'd cut off my social security payments." So he sits at home and listens to music, he told me, and occasionally mows lawns.

Secondly, this sort of thing feeds on itself. The more people government gets dependent on itself, the more "compassionate" it gets, because we like to help out those who "can't" help themselves; it makes us feel our lives are really worth while. And the more people it tempts into dependence on it, the more insistent it gets that it needs more and more from the rest to supply their "needs," because "look at how many people depend on what we are doing even now!" But, as the Communist countries have shown in the very year of my original version of this book, this progression is a classic "catastrophe curve," in which things go around in the spiral up to a certain point, and then suddenly fall back to the lowest level, and the whole economy collapses. It is sad, because it is a corruption of our noblest instinct.

Thirdly, this increasing "entitlement" by the lower classes in the society to things that they could with difficulty get for themselves takes more and more from those who have by their own efforts (or those of their parents) raised themselves up to their standard of living, and gives the impression that they by working and earning more than they need have "taken it away" from the poor. This is not so, as I said; value is created by entrepreneurs; they are not engaged in an invidious "distribution" of the available wealth; they are making wealth where there was none before. They have, as I said in discussing the right of ownership in Chapter 3 of Section 2 of this part 6.2.3, an obligation to give some of their surplus to prevent dehumanization of the needy; but they have the obligation only to this extent. To force them into giving more than prevents dehumanization because of some notion of "equalization" or "redistribution" of the wealth of the society is a violation of their rights. Yes, they have rights, which must not be violated for the "good" of anyone whatsoever; it is only in the name of protecting the unwitting violation of others' rights that the cooperative act of taxation can be justified. It is here where "the politics of envy" rears its ugly head.

Hence, wherever one stands on how much government must do for the citizens, one stands in the wrong ballpark if he thinks that government must promote the "common good" or the "welfare" of the citizens in the sense of giving them benefits. Any benefits government gives anyone are taken away from someone else; and to the extent that the beneficiary is not dehumanized by not having the benefit (and how are the elderly who have hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank dehumanized by not receiving a social security check?), to that extent the government is guilty of extortion.

That's the First Great Principle. Here is the other one:

The Second Great Principle: The Principle of Least Demand: When government makes demands on some citizens to prevent dehumanization of others, it must make the smallest demands on the fewest citizens possible.

This is just the opposite of the utilitarian principle of "the greatest good of the greatest number"; it is the "least bad to the smallest number" consistent with getting the job done. This may mean that the job doesn't get done most efficiently; but efficiency isn't the point of civil society (certainly this would seem to be empirically verified), but the fact that people must be left alone except to the extent necessary to prevent dehumanization. Since people are forced to be in civil society willy-nilly, then there is no reason for them to engage in cooperative activity just for the sake of establishing solidarity, but only when that cooperation is necessary to ensure the minimal human living of every member. Hence, it might be that some members (the crippled, for instance) might not be called upon to engage in cooperative activity at all--even though they might receive assistance from the other citizens through government. The point is that the richer citizens should be taxed more, not to "redistribute the wealth," but because their activity is curtailed least by taxation; and the fewer people and the less they are taxed, the better.

It is because the function of government is preventing dehumanization that the "distributive justice" I spoke of in the preceding section applies mainly to civil society. I said there that distributive justice amounts to the fact that government takes most from those who need government least (because they have more than enough to get by on their own and by the Principle of Least Demand are inconvenienced least) and gives most to those who contribute nothing to society (because these, of course, are the people in a dehumanized condition). That is, you can't contribute if you are yourself below a human level of existence; and so you are the recipient of government's help--and this is just, since it fits your reality. But because people are to be left alone as much as possible, then it follows that it is just to demand that the most capable (it fits their reality) do most for the others, rather than having those do it who would be hurt more by doing so.

Since people are self-determining and therefore to be left to their own devices as much as possible, it does not follow that a person who is starving because he refuses to work and who can by working earn a decent living must be kept from starving by government, on the "compassionate" grounds that he will die if someone doesn't help him. I mentioned this in dealing with the right of ownership in Chapter 3 of Section 2 of this part 6.2.3. Nor must government intervene to protect a person from any other self-destructive behavior such as taking drugs if he knows what he is doing and freely chooses it. Government may have an obligation to disseminate information about dangerous behavior so that citizens don't unwittingly bring damage on themselves; but if they want to destroy their lives, then it's their lives. This always supposes, of course, that what they do to themselves is not simultaneously violating some other citizen's right.

Conclusion 29: Government may not intervene to prevent self-destructive conduct on a citizen's part unless this conduct violates someone else's right. This includes refusing payment for necessities to those who can work but refuse to do so.

This also means that government can't "legislate morality." That is, if there is some conduct that is morally wrong, but engaging in it doesn't violate anyone's right, then government can't pass laws to stop it. It can perhaps pass laws to prevent the promotion of it, on the grounds that morally wrong conduct is self-destructive and people should not be allowed to tempt others into doing harm to themselves; but it can't legislate against the behavior itself unless it can show that by allowing the behavior, someone's rights are in fact violated.

For instance, government can't pass legislation prohibiting contraception, even if it is known that contraception is morally wrong. True, the "contraceptive mentality" is socially destructive in all sorts of ways, and inevitably leads to violations of children's rights and the destruction of the family; and so government can suppress organizations and people who promote such a thing, just as they can suppress drug pushers. But they can't try to prevent people from using contraceptives, or from using drugs, for that matter. Similarly, if two homosexuals want to engage in sex, even sado-masochistic sex, and they know what they are doing, and they are not trying to "recruit" others to the practice, then government has no business prohibiting this by law.

On the other hand, if a woman wants to have an abortion, government can prevent her from getting one, because, no matter how much she may think she is only "doing what she wants with her own body," in fact there is another person within her body whose rights she is violating; and that other person must be protected to the extent that government is capable of protecting him. "Back alley abortions" are no excuse for not doing this, any more than "back alley murders" are any excuse for repealing the laws against murder.

Sometimes people can't do what they want on their own, but can do it if they get together into a society whose common goal is the task they want to accomplish. Since such free association leaves them more in control of their own lives, government must not step in to fulfill the function, and must let such societies exist, as long as they do not violate any citizen's rights.

Conclusion 30: Government must allow formation of lesser societies inside it, as long as these societies violate no one's rights.

The relation between government and other societies within it is negative: government is to leave them alone as long as they are not violating anyone's rights (as long, in other words, that what they are doing is lawful); and the societies are not to try to subvert government's function. That is, something like the Communist Party, one of whose aims is revolution against the government and its replacement with a Communist one, may be outlawed, as may organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, whose purpose is the degradation and disenfranchisement of Black people.

A word about the relation between church and state. The "separation of church and state" has been interpreted in a stupid manner (to be charitable about it; it looks invidious on its face) by Supreme Courts recently, as if government had to be so careful to keep away from religion that in effect it had to promote secularism to the exclusion of all religion.

The point is that government may not establish one religion that all citizens must belong to, or promote a religion in such a way that a person is pressured into giving up the religion he holds and adopting the one that is in government favor. This would violate a person's conscience. But this does not mean (a) that government cannot recognize that various religions exist, (b) that it cannot hold a religion in deep respect, (c) that it cannot make references to the religion that most citizens hold--as long as it does not show contempt for any other religion. But, for example, allowing Christians to set up a crêche on public property simply acknowledges that Christians form a significant part of the community, and does not pressure people into being Christians, especially if Jews can set up a Menorah on public property and other religions can use public property to call attention to their own solemn days as well. To the atheists who are offended, my answer is that no damage is done them by acknowledging that those who disagree with them may speak out in public also.

What government must not do is hinder the free exercise of any religion, unless the exercise of that religion violates someone's rights. That is, using the Double Effect, government can prevent a religion from practicing polygamy, since this is dehumanizing to women, who in effect are made slaves to the husband. It cannot, however, forbid a religion from using peyote or alcohol or some such drug in its ritual or practice, unless this behavior is (a) self-destructive, and (b) the worshipers are the dupes of the leaders of the religion and think that the harm will not come to them. For instance, snake handling can be forbidden, once it is established that the handlers are not immune to being killed by the venom.

But avoiding "entanglement" with religion in effect stifles the free exercise of religion. For instance, ensuring absolute secularism in public schools ensures that those children whose parents cannot afford to send them to religiously oriented schools will have their faith undermined--and violates, as I said, the right of the parents to educate their children according to their conscience.

One final note. "Religion," technically, does not involve a belief in God, since Buddhism and Confucianism do not require a belief in God, but a set of rules that must be adhered to, such as a required moral code. And it turns out that contemporary secularism, with its demands to protect the environment, its strictures against discrimination (the whole complex called "political correctness" nowadays, which even forbids the "masculine" pronoun in its generic, neutral sense), is in fact a religion. And so the Supreme Court, in its insistence on separation of Church and State, is in fact establishing a religion in this country: the religion of atheistic secularism. That particular religion is favored to the expense of all the others at the moment, as can be seen from the insistence that it be taught in our schools rather than, say, the philosophical view that proves that there is a God, and that evolution is not blind.

On the other side, the church has no business involving itself in purely political matters. This is not to say that it has no right to try to defend the citizens of the country against some assault on their morals or beliefs because of some misguided view of those in government. For instance, if government allows abortions, then the churches have every right to put pressure on government to get the law revoked; because this is not only a moral issue, but an issue of human rights. But a religion has no business trying to get laws passed against contraception, say, on the grounds that allowing contraception allows something which is against the principles of that religion. Even if the religion were powerful enough to succeed in getting such a law forced through the government, it would be morally wrong for it to try, because it would be using the power of government beyond its authority, which is solely the protection of rights, not the creating of virtuous (or even prosperous) people.(2)

The church-state dilemma, then, is not resolved by trying to decide which is "more important" than the other, so that one can supersede the other; or even in trying to define "spheres" in which one has absolute say and the other doesn't. Insofar, for instance, as people have a human right to what we might call "access to the Infinite," then government has an obligation to see to it that citizens have means with which to worship, even though this is not the "temporal sphere"; and insofar as the Church thinks that education is not education unless all aspects of it are related to God, then the Church is not solely involved in the "eternal sphere." Neither's function overrides the function of the other, in the sense that one's "sphere" allows it to violate a function of the other; as is the case with all rights, each can do what it pleases as long as no right of the other is violated.

Let me now spell out a little more specifically the basic functions of civil society:

First, there is the protecting of the human rights of the citizens against attacks by other citizens. Beyond stating that this should be a protection, not only against actually battery or overt attack, but also assault, or threat of the use of violence, this needs no comment.

Secondly, there is the protecting of citizens against economic exploitation by other citizens. I said in Chapter 3 of Section 2 of this Part 6.2.3 that it is possible to violate a person's right by depriving him of necessities as well as by physical violence; and so government has the obligation of protecting citizens against this sort of harm also, as well as the coercion of citizens by means of threats of deprivation.

Thus, government has the right to pass laws against cheating, against charging inhuman prices for necessities, and against offering inhumanly low wages for work. Since these laws are to prevent dehumanization only, they must legislate no more than the minimum necessary for this purpose; with respect to setting a minimum legal wage, for instance, the strictures I mentioned in Chapter 3 of Section 2 of this part 6.2.3 would apply.

Also in the economic sphere, government has the function of defining what is to be used as money and of keeping its value stable, so far as is possible. I mentioned in Chapter 6 of Section 2 6.2.6 also how necessary this was for transactions to be meaningful; and it is only government which can see to this task.

Government, of course, has the task of seeing to it that contracts are enforced; and since people can be dehumanized by being held to contracts when conditions change making it unreasonable to be held to them, government can pass laws regulating the conditions for bankruptcy.

Government must also supply necessities to those who cannot get them for themselves or by joining other organizations which can supply them. Government is in one sense the supplier of last resort here, actually, to be used when individual effort fails. I did say , however, in discussing economic necessities in Chapter 3 of Section 2 of this part 6.2.3, that government should be the one which hands out the minimum necessities, because these are what people have a right to against the population at large, and that this is the only way that the necessities can be supplied without the recipient's being placed in the invidious position of having to be grateful for receiving what he has a right as human to receive. But government must not do what is beyond the minimum, because it creates, as I said, disincentives for people to advance by their own efforts and violates the rights of the more affluent citizens.

Government must provide certain things that are necessities, but are not usually recognized as such. There is a certain minimum recreational opportunity below which people are dehumanized; and so government must make public parks and also such intellectual services as libraries available to those who cannot afford to pay for entertainment. Government, of course, must supply enough education to be able to function decently in society; but it must do so, as I mentioned, in such a way as not to force education on children which violates their parents' conscience. Insofar as public worship is a necessity for human beings, as I mentioned in Chapter 2 of Section 2 of the fifth part 5.2.2, then government must supply means of worshiping to citizens who cannot find the means for themselves or by lesser societies. In any society I know of, this function is in fact adequately taken care of by religious groups within the society, and is only a function government has in theory.

As to the rights civil society has, it can be seen that, since if it can't function, the citizens can't lead human lives, it has the right to exist and to function according to its constitution. The damage done in violation of this right is at least as serious as the damage done in killing a number of people, because in effect if civil society cannot function, it is likely that a number of its citizens will in fact die.

Therefore, civil society has a right to defend itself and its form of government against attacks both from within and without.

As to attacks from within, this means that if the only way to defend itself and its citizens is by passing laws with the death penalty attached, it has a right to impose the death penalty, and to carry out the sentence if someone is duly convicted. I discussed this earlier.

With reference to attacks from without, civil society has a right to go to war to defend itself, and therefore to demand that citizens serve in the armed forces for this purpose.

Here is where the famous "just war" controversy arises. This has for centuries been confused by people's talking about it in terms of "the good," when in practice they have been saying that the nation cannot go beyond the minimum necessary to defend itself.

To clarify the issue, a nation may take any action necessary to block an attack on itself, choosing, by the Double Effect, solely its own defense and not any harm to anyone on the opposing side. Of course, this would also include defense of allied countries, or even of a country with which one does not have a particular alliance, if it is being overrun by some other country. But, as I mentioned earlier in discussing defending rights Chapter 5 of Section 1 of this part 6.1.5, a nation may not go to war unless some attack on it (whether military or even something like economic) has actually begun. A preemptive strike to make another country incapable of attack is not justified even if it has spoken belligerently, because then the harm of the country is the means to the safety of one's own country.

Secondly, the nation can only take military action against what makes sense in the context of war, and not against activity which would also be done in peacetime. Thus, you can destroy attacking armies and their supply lines, and you can bomb munitions factories; but you can not morally bomb whole cities or destroy the food supply of the other nation, however efficient this might be in bringing the war to a speedy close. The reason is that these aspects of the other society don't constitute the other society as attacking you; and so the statement "I was only trying to defend myself and block their attack" is a sophism; you also want their harm, if only as a means to your defense. Remember, the other nation does not "deserve" harm even if it attacked you for grossly immoral reasons; certainly the other nation's citizens don't deserve harm, and that's who you would be harming.

Note that a nation may not refuse to go to war to defend itself if this is the only way that it can be defended. That is, as I mentioned earlier, a nation is not allowed to "turn the other cheek" as an individual is, and have its rights trampled on for the sake of peace. The reason is that the moral obligation of the society is to protect the rights of its citizens, and to the extent that it is being harmed, its citizens' rights are being violated. An individual may use the Double Effect to accept personal harm for the sake of avoiding the harm to his attacker that would come if he defended himself; but a government does not have this luxury, because it has no right to demand that its citizens submit to the violation of their rights as long as it has means to prevent this.

So much for the society's right to exist. Obviously, if it has the right to exist, government has the right to pass laws and impose sanctions for their violation, insofar as these laws are necessary to avoid dehumanization of the citizens. Hence, it can pass laws dealing with all of its functions above, and require cooperative action, using the Principles of Subsidiarity and Least Demand, from its citizens.(3)

Connected with these laws and government's function of supplying necessities to those who cannot get them for themselves, government has the right to tax the citizens, and this implies the right to assess their ability to be taxed, so that it can know how much to exact from each citizen so that it can apply the Principle of Least Demand to taxation.

I might remark that the money levied in taxes becomes the government's money, to be disbursed as it sees fit; it does not remain somehow the citizens' money. Citizens have a right to protest the government's performing illegitimate services, but not really on the grounds that "you're using my money to do what I have an objection to." The government isn't using your money, any more than the man you bought your computer from is using your money to visit a brothel, or you used your employer's money to buy the book you are now reading. Once the money changes hands, it becomes the money of the new possessor, and the one who had it now has no claim on it whatsoever.

Government has the right of eminent domain over the property of the citizens, insofar as that property is necessary for some public function. This does not mean that government "really owns" the property and it is loaned out to the citizens, or that government has a kind of lien on it, which allows it to foreclose when it needs the land for a road, say; citizens really own the property which they own, and not at the sufferance of government.

What eminent domain means is that, as a cooperative act, citizens can be forced to sell their property at a fair price to government if government needs the property for some necessary public function. Obviously, this right should be exercised as little as possible; evicting people from their homes is not to be done lightly, even if you pay them handsomely for it. Only the Double Effect allows this sort of act. The recent (as of 2006) cases of government seizure of property to hand over to developers for the "public purpose" of increasing the tax base is a flagrant violation of eminent domain.

Government also has the right to regulate marriages, even though the marriage is in itself a private covenant between the parties; and the reason for this is that knowing who is married to whom and who is therefore responsible for whom (including children resulting from the union) is essential for government to be able to fulfill its function of seeing to it that no citizens are dehumanized.

In connection with the family, government has the right to protect children from their parents if the parents are doing them damage (or are not protecting them from their brothers and sisters). It can take children away from parents and care for them in other ways, if the Double Effect indicates that greater damage to them would be incurred if they were left with their parents.

In general, government has the right to set regulations for social order, such as determining on what side of the street to drive, what is the maximum speed for driving (considering the state of the roads, not the gasoline supply), where cars can be parked, what minimum standards of safety for buildings and products must be adhered to, and so on.

These regulations, however, must be kept to a minimum, leaving the citizens free to do what they please as long as no real harm is going to come to anyone else. This should be kept in mind; once the regulating craze hits government, there tends to be no stopping it; and the attempt to avoid all possible abuses is perhaps the greatest abuse of all.

Obviously, government has all the rights that any authority in any society has, as I enumerated in earlier chapters of this section.

Just as with society in general, I spelled out the functions of authority and its rights, and then went on to the duties and rights of the member, so here, there are several duties the member has to civil society.

The first duty is to love and respect his country. This is all the more imperative for the very reason that the country was not, in general, freely joined; and yet one must obey government. But it is much harder to obey an authority which you have not given free consent to than to obey one that you freely submitted yourself to; and hence there is all that much more reason for taking the opposite tack and not creating obstacles in the way of obedience by despising the nation or its government. Criticism of government's actions is one thing; contempt for them is quite another, insofar as it implies contempt for the nation itself, to which you owe your existence. It is not for nothing that the ancients (and some moderns too) call the nation a "second mother."

Now this does not mean that the chauvinistic sense of "My country right or wrong" is in order. Insofar as this means closing one's eyes to injustices the government is perpetrating, it is even morally wrong. But there is a sense in which it is justified and even necessary. Right or wrong, my country is my country and deserves my respect, just as my mother deserves my respect even if she is an alcoholic; and my country has a right to my service unless what she is asking me to do is something morally wrong.

If the country is a blatant tyranny, and there is hope of success from a revolution (and hope that the revolution will result in a less oppressive regime), then a citizen may even have the obligation to revolt against his country and destroy its form of government. Obviously, this must be a very last resort, and can only be tried when all legal means of correcting the injustices have failed, and the injustices are blatant, serious, and widespread. Otherwise, a citizen is obliged, using the Double Effect, to obey the laws, even if they are to some extent unjust.

As to citizens' rights, they have all their human rights, even the relatively inalienable ones. The reason is that they did not freely join civil society, and so government may not make as a condition for being in the society the cession of any of a person's human rights. Obviously, since its function is to protect the citizens' rights, it would contradict this if it demanded that they give any of them up. Thus, for instance, demanding that people give up the right to their property is morally wrong. In certain special cases, using the Double Effect, government may use a kind of "eminent domain" over all the property in the society--if, for instance, this is the only way to correct its being used for the blatant exploitation of large numbers of citizens--and even institute a communistic society for a short time. But this must only be a stopgap toward a situation in which private ownership is reinstated, allowing unequal distribution once again, as long as it does not result in the dehumanization of some of the citizens.

That, at least, is possible in theory. The problem is that every time it has been tried in practice, the last state has been worse than the first; because once government gets its hands on the property and begins "giving" it to the people, the misplaced benevolence I spoke of earlier takes over, and the result is distribution of misery more or less equally to everyone but those in government.

Within a society, a citizen has the right of self-determination and its implied rights: the right to associate with others of his choosing, the right to privacy, and the right to choose his own work and his own style of life, as long as none of these involve the violation of anyone else's rights.(4)

A citizen has the right to be supported by government if he cannot support himself and has no one responsible for his support (such as parents)--or if they will not discharge their duty. As I said, if he can support himself, he cannot claim support from government on the grounds that he finds the work available to him "beneath his dignity."

Depending on the constitution of the society, the citizen has all the civil rights granted to citizens, or to his status in the society. In some nations, for instance, every citizen has the right to vote for those in government; in other nations, only some do, and in some, none do (as, for instance, in hereditary monarchies). The ability to determine who is to be in government and how it is to function is not a human right; because if society is performing its function properly, it is leaving the citizen alone to live his own life as he pleases insofar as this does not interfere with anyone else's life; and this is all any human being can ask. The only time any damage would be done in citizens' not having a say in government is if government is exceeding its authority or shirking its legitimate function. It is perhaps practical for citizens to have a say in government because it is so easy for government to fail in these two areas; but if it is not failing, then the fact that it is autocratic is not really a sin. Autocracy does not automatically mean tyranny; and in fact, given the spirit of the people, some civil societies can only function as autocracies.

As a final remark about civil society, let me just say that the reason civil society is popularly supposed to "bestow freedom" on its citizens is that its job is to allow citizens to be as free as possible consistent with not dehumanizing anyone else, because human beings are basically persons, and so free. But of course, government actually takes away some freedom, because it demands cooperative action which must be done in order to ensure the greatest freedom for the greatest number. So there is a relation to freedom; but it is not a perfectly straightforward one.



1. I suppose what is behind the Scholastic notion of the "common good" as the "welfare" or "benefit" of the members is, first of all, the notion that "good" is something objective that someone can know for someone else (whereas it is the freely chosen goal of the person himself), and that people can't live "really human" lives without civil society. Hence, civil society has a function of conferring benefit on its members. But when society confers a benefit, it tends to force it on the members, and they have to take it willy-nilly, which means it diminishes their self-determination, and so is dehumanizing. Practically speaking, even if it does not force members to accept benefits, the fact that they are there for the taking creates the pernicious incentive in the members a) to accept them without bothering to do anything to deserve them, thinking they have a human right to more than the minimum, and b) to rest content with them rather than exerting themselves to develop themselves further. This last we see all too often in members of welfare states. No, St. Paul was right: "If a person does not want to work, he is not to be fed."

2. On the Catholic Church itself as a society, it is a peculiar one, in that it is not an organization, but the visible aspect of a person. That is, everyone who believes in Jesus as God and in his teachings shares in his life, as Paul said, and becomes a cell in his body (because parts of a living body live with the life of the whole, and this supernatural life--the life of Jesus--is the same for all Christians). Hence, the Mystical Body is one person, whose name is Jesus, not a society of people working for a common goal. Further, each Christian is under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is his internal supernatural life, and so is not as such under orders from any human authority.

But then why are there churches with their organizational structure? Because it would be absurd to say that this collective person who all Christians are is totally invisible, even though the cells that make up this collective body are visible. There must be a sign, a sacrament of the unity of all these believers to indicate that they are all united through their faith. But the uniting of many persons, as something visible, is a society. Therefore, there must be a Christian community, which has a society, with its common goal the preservation of the facts about Jesus and his teaching. And this society, I believe, is the Catholic Church. Thus, the Catholic Church must exist.

Those who recognize that there must be a visible society, and who see that the Catholic Church is that society, must belong to the Catholic Church, under pain of refusing to unite themselves with the other members of the mystical body. Those who do not see this particular society within Christianity as the true preserver of Jesus' teaching of course are absolved from this duty.

For those within the Catholic Church, the authority of the hierarchy is a teaching authority only. That is, the presumption is that the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself; and so no private inspiration to a given person is going to contradict what is publicly taught by the Church itself; and private inspirations will not be necessary to duplicate what is taught publicly. That is, a person baptized as a Christian is not going to get the Holy Spirit whispering in his ear everything he ever needs to know about how to live life as a good Christian--not when he could get it by listening to other cells in the body whose function is precisely the dissemination of that teaching. That's one function the Church has through its hierarchy. The other is to act as a check on inspirations that the person thinks he is getting from the Holy Spirit. Since Satan dresses up often as an angel of light, any prudent person needs help to distinguish which spirit is inspiring him. The Church performs this function. If it says that a given doctrine a person thinks is true is false, then this means that the doctrine was not inspired by the Holy Spirit. If it says that a given action must not be performed, this means that the Holy Spirit does not want it done. But if the Church says nothing, then it is the indwelling Holy Spirit who inspires the Christian, and he doesn't have to wait for orders from his Bishop. In that sense, the Bishop acts by way of vetoing things, not ordinarily as a conduit for orders from the Holy Spirit.

3. 3As to commanding the citizens to defend it, then it would seem to me that the Principle of Least Demand would imply that not all citizens need be conscripted into the military, but only those whose conscription would cause the least disruption to the fewest number of people. This would seem to mean that it would be most reasonable to take disproportionate numbers of young unmarried men who have not yet got established in careers. The notion that women "ought" to serve in the military too is one of those equality fetishes that simply makes no sense. Supposing that women are equally capable as men of combat (a supposition I see no special reason to deny in our mechanized armed forces), it does not follow that having both men and women fighting together involves the smallest expenditure of personnel and resources consistent with getting the job done. Fighting a war is by no means an "opportunity" which should be offered equally to men and women, according to the "capacity" of individuals (or their "vocation") to do it. Any person who wants to engage in military service, which involves killing people, probably shouldn't be in it, because he'd be using it to satisfy blood lust. War must be engaged in as reluctantly as possible consistent with its success, and using as few resources of the society, both human and non-human, as feasible.

4. Does this imply the right not to associate with types of people you don't like? Yes, as long as this does not deprive those in the group discriminated against of any of their rights. If, for example, discrimination against Blacks in housing is widespread, so that a Black person cannot in practice live in the kind of housing he would be able to live in if he did not have that color, then people can be forced to open up their neighborhoods to such people. If not, then if the Black person cannot live next to Jones because of his prejudice, he can live somewhere comparable, and he is not in fact harmed (however justly insulted he might be).