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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Limits of State Power (Geocities Rescue)

Originally, the moral nature of society was based on hierarchy and the divine right of kings. The Western Enlightenment replaced this with the recognition of God-given Free Will. We now believe that all citizens have God-given rights of self-determination. Extremists on both sides of any debate on public morals resist liberty, which they see as giving individuals a license to do anything and everything. Calmer heads know that this is not the case and admit that respect for Free Will does give individual liberty a certain amount of deference unless an activity is particularly harmful, and the restriction of that activity does not cause more harm than good.

Ideally, a truly free society is based on the rational will of all, which Rousseau called the General Will. The General Will is thought to be present when all in a society agree on a policy, when it is unanimous. When this is not the case government policy is carried out by the majority against the wishes of the minority. For the majority to carry out these wishes some form of police power is created, turning society into a police state to varying degrees. This is why enlightened societies set forth and guarantee basic rights for minorities in an attempt to limit the advance of a police state and to guarantee freedom to violate the moral prejudices of one's neighbors.

This is where the Christian Left embraces liberty in matters having to do with public morality and social issues. However, this embrace of liberty is not an abandonment of either Christian principles or Christian charity. Making public policy is always a moral balancing act. The Christian Left prefers that the coercive nature of the state be lessened while the charitable nature of the state is increased. Instead of jailing individuals for immoral or dangerous behavior, we prefer that they be treated, especially when the moral question at issue does not garner 100% agreement, such as in cases of victimless crime.

The power of the state is also limited by its inability to effectively deliver compassionate services. From foster care to mental health care to education, religious institutions such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and the parochial school system seem to consistently perform better.

In this chapter, the most interesting and most divisive political and moral issues are discussed. All of them are simply dripping in controversy. We will tackle welfare, religion in the schools and religious schools, the War on Drugs and the treatment of criminals, racial justice, gay rights, and reproductive rights and abortion.

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