Thursday, December 20, 2018

"The Challenge of Good Politics"

The annual "World Day of Peace," invented by Pope Paul VI and observed every January 1 since 1968, is one of several such little known and hardly noted 20th-century accretions to the Catholic calendar. Some - for example, the "World Day of Consecrated Life." the "World Day of the sick," and the "World Day of Prayer for Vocations" - have significant constituencies and are thus more likely to get noticed and maybe mentioned in a parish bulletin or even a homily. I suspect the "World Day of Peace" has fans too, although it has the added misfortune of being observed in tandem with one of the calendar's high points - on January 1, which is already the Octave Day of Christmas, the ancient (and now restored) festival of Mary's Maternity, and New Year's Day!  Its cause might well have been better served had it been assigned to a less noteworthy and busy time of year. There are, after all, some 30+ "Ordinary" Sundays, whose very title - and boring green color - cry out for distraction.

That said, Pope Francis' brief Message for Tuesday's 52nd "World Day of Peace" is well worth the few minutes it takes to read. Basing himself on Luke 10:5-6 - in which Jesus , in sending his disciples out on a kind of training mission for their later lifetime vocation, instructs them Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace be to this house!" - the Pope proposes that "Bringing peace is central to the mission of Christ's disciples."

Pope Francis then addresses what he terms the "challenge of good politics." Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction. ...Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. ... Every election and re-election, and every stage of public life, is an opportunity to return to the original points of reference that inspire justice and law.

It seems noteworthy to me how conventional this description is. Aristotle could have said the same or similar words. The Pope notes that politics is essential for human community and institutions, which community and institutions are presumably likewise essential for human well being and flourishing. Christ's peace-bringing disciple remains Aristotle's zoon politikon with all that entails.

In the modern world, of course, this fundamental, human, political vocation is fulfilled not in a polis but in a national state, which, given the way the Pope characterizes "good politics," presumes a constitutional state, the sort of state which seems increasingly threatened from both ends of the contemporary political spectrum.

In contrast to "good politics," the Pope highlights corresponding "political vices." 

Sadly, together with its virtues, politics also has its share of vices, whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions. Clearly, these vices detract from the credibility of political life overall, as well as the authority, decisions and actions of those engaged in it. These vices, which undermine the ideal of an authentic democracy, bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony. We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’├ętat and the refusal to relinquish power. To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile.

Now whom might we know in American politics that this sounds like? What political party in American politics does this sound like?

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