On Political Responsibility: Initial Reflections after Indiana

In the obscurity of this year’s presidential politics, can the pro-life movement offer the American Republic some clarity?

The result of the Indiana primary leaves the future of the Republican Party very much in doubt.

This matters, though our pro-life loyalty will always transcend party membership. The essential electoral requirement has been and will continue to be to vote in a way that best advances the cause of the most powerless human life.

But it is a fact that in a two-party system, ignoring where the major political parties stand with regard to state sanctioning of the private execution of the most vulnerable would be a simple failure of prudence and therefore of morality. The same goes for ignoring the relation between the Republican Party and conservatism, by which I mean classical liberalism thoroughly inflected by pietas and therefore determined by solidarity.

Will the two-party system break down? Maybe. That’s fine too. We certainly need a realignment. Whatever is best for the weakest.

This must be an ongoing reflection as we approach November. I just want to plot a few coordinates.

1) God the Father is sovereign. Providence, though mysterious, is trustworthy. We must entrust ourselves yet again to its irresistible waves.

Are our hearts broken contemplating the possibility of losing an election that not a year ago was simply there for the taking? We had hoped that wounds inflicted by the most radically pro-abortion president ever could begin to be healed, that a different Supreme Court might emerge. Are we dejected?

Of course. We must pray more, worship more, trust more.

We also do not know how this will end. There is still time before the end of the primary season. And then, who knows? All we know is that the first requirement of solidarity and social justice is to act in a way that favors the most vulnerable given the actual circumstances we must contend with.

2) We cannot blame “the political classes” or “the system” or some subset of our fellow Americans for this predicament. It is our nation. Solidarity doesn’t just kick in with the good stuff. We are solidary in our failures also.

In any case, this is a democracy! We get a government that reflects the character of the people. That’s exactly what we’ve gotten and will continue to get. The only solution is for us to become better as a people. And that starts with me.

We all must embrace personal conversion: more thinking, more study of the facts, more simplicity of lifestyle, more cultivation of mind and heart through the elevation of high culture and contemplation of nature rather than the coarsening of sensibility through consumerism.

3) Excoriating people for supporting any particular candidate is rash and morally repugnant. This disastrous Indiana primary should have the good effect, at least, of spiritual chastisement of our tendencies to run hot in our reactions to those who support candidates we do not prefer. Unless the inner temperature decreases, civility is impossible. Without civility, there can be no common life.

The supporters of Bernie and Hillary have grievously ignored the priority of the claim the unborn make on our responsibility. Yes. But they are fellow citizens and fellow humans, and we only debase ourselves and undercut the cause of life when we let anger determine our response. As for all this name-calling with regard to Trump supporters: it must stop. It betrays a certain social positioning insulated from the shocks to which the working poor are exposed. I have made no secret of my assessment of the threat Trump poses to the future of the conservative movement and therefore to the future of the Republican Party. But berating our neighbors because of a political difference? Is that something any thoughtful person should be doing?

A corollary: calling people, even Hillary and the Donald, “evil” is fatuous and unchristian. I understand frustration, but Jesus is very clear on the impossibility of such existential judgments on fellow humans.

4) It is not intrinsically evil to vote for a pro-abortion candidate. To do so is morally permissible, if there is no other choice and as long as our first criterion continues to be: “what choice best serves the cause of the most powerless.” I might have to expand on this technical moral-theological point about the principle of material cooperation, depending on your feedback.

5) Abstaining from voting seems to me morally impermissible. This is clear under the principle of “participation” in Catholic social doctrine, itself a sub-principle of subsidiarity, but it’s simply an obvious entailment of the fact of personal responsibility set within the context of a democracy.

Abstaining from voting seems to me to aim a deathblow at the whole notion of republican self-government. It feels like secessionitis. Lincoln correctly pointed out that secession means the end of liberal democracy: you can’t take your ball and go home when the game starts going the other team’s way. We agree to play ball according to a certain set of constitutional rules. We have the means to reverse the momentum: more emphatic political engagement.

Part of the problem is too many of us have reduced our sense of political participation to voting. Politics has its vital roots, as Aristotle makes clear, in mutual deliberation on the common good. We must have a habit of making a thoughtful case to people who think differently from us about the matters that are most important in common life. We must be involved in local political races, perhaps running as candidates ourselves. We must personally lobby legislators. The “system” gets away from us only if we let it.

We must vote, and we must always vote with the preferential option for the most powerless human life as the determining factor. I don’t know what that will mean come November. A lot of things can happen between now and then. But the pro-life exigence must carry all before it, as it streams in crimson from every victim slain since Abel.

When making my personal endorsement before the Massachusetts primary months ago, I laid out a full conservative vision based on the preferential option for the poor. Obviously, much has changed since then, but the principles remain the same. They matter more than ever, even if you and I might disagree on how they apply to certain candidates.

From that blog, I offer this:

“Only where prudence, piety, mercy, and graciousness hold sway can there be a rejuvenescence of America. Conservatism is committed to these things in principle. We need to be committed to them in lived existence. Let’s be joyful, open to the wonders of nature and culture and the beauty of our neighbor, relishing that beauty, and relishing conversation, eager for dialectic (an intentional and shared pursuit of the truth), voracious to know and love, zealous for the common good, for the life of republican citizenship, for the cause of the poor, the immigrant, the unborn, all the powerless.” 

[The latest “From the Chairman” post for Massachusetts Citizens for Life: http://www.masscitizensforlife.org/political-responsibility-initial-reflections-indiana/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork.]