The Function of Civil Authority

By Raphael Waters, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: The eminent Thomistic Philosphoer, Dr. Raphael Waters, founder of the Aquinas School of Philosophy, presents a much-needed basis for understanding what is truly the function of civil authority.

Governments around the world are venturing into state absolutism, socialism, statism, totalitarianism, Communism, Fascism or whatever you like to call it. They apparently do not know that, in trying to take over several social functions and ownership or partial ownership of productive enterprises, they are offending the following arguments which determine the function of the state:

It is not the function of a government to conduct the following:

• give pensions (e.g. social security);
• give food stamps;
• give health care;
• own instruments of business, transportation, etc. except public goods to aid its governance of common goods
• conduct a public education system; if it finds it necessary to establish public schools.

If a government finds itself in the position of having to establish a school system, or give health care or establish some other community aid, it should be moving towards divesting itself of the system right from the start.

It certainly is not the function of a government to make war on its own citizens, for example, by abortion, euthanasia and so on. Indeed it has a grave obligation to preserve and protect its subjects, the future of the extremely young and the frailty and wisdom of the elderly.

It is the function of a government:

a) To govern, that is, to see that the citizens are able to obtain these things for themselves.

b) The practical principle of reason governing civil authority is this:
The end is principle in practical matters. But what is the end of any society? It is the common good. Government is, above all, guardian of the common good.

c) Moreover, according to the principle of subsidiarity,
what can be done by the lower ought not to be done by the higher. In other words, if the people can perform some function, the government ought not do it.

The common good consists of immaterial goods in society, e.g. civic friendship, peace, order, freedom, justice, a well informed public opinion, love of the law, love of the heritage of the nation, love of its cultural goods (those goods which are the object of the speculative intellect), love of the health and welfare of the citizens, and a healthy religious state in the nation. The common good of civil society is the following: What the citizens have in common, not what belongs to them as private goods.

The state should concern itself with what we have in common—the common good,
not private goods. Note that the common good is not the sum of private goods. For example, the public funds are not the same as the sum of the private funds and the public health, the function of government, is not the sum of private healths.

The government does not obtain the common good; the people by cooperative effort obtain those goods. The legislators govern the people by watching over the nation and guiding the people so that all can share in these things that are perfectly divisible. Each of us by contributing towards the CG gets more out of it; yet by anyone sharing in it causes us not to lose anything since being non-material goods, they are perfectly divisible.

However, in an emergency, certainly a government should help the needy but also urging the rest of us to help them. But this should not lead to the establishment of a permanent national health scheme, educational system and so on. People are easily fooled by the economic mess in which we live as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. They think in terms of jobs, working for a master, but not realizing that citizens should be owners of their homes and owners of the means of production—or, at least, shareholders in the means of production, not wage slaves.

The government should govern, that is, it should guide the community towards the common goods. This is done by means of informing the citizenry, that is, its function is an educative function.

We can determine the function of the legislature by the natural moral law which is discovered by means of an adequate understanding of human nature and, therefore, the nature of civil society and the function of government. What is proper to civil society and its government is determined by means of its end, which is the good we all have in common, the common good.

We must reject socialism as the following principles show:

1) The function of a government is to govern. That is, to shepherd society’s move towards the common good.
2) What can be done by the lower ought not be done by the higher (principle of subsidiarity);
3) A step towards dependence is a step away from independence (freedom).

It is quiet obvious that many governments have thrust socialism upon their citizens with many manipulations of the body economic and granting of so-called stimulus payments. Therefore, steps have been taken contrary to the welfare of the citizenry.

Dr. Waters is head of the Aquinas School of Philosophy

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