Action Alert!

Going Local

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 26, 2012

We hear with horror of the actions of the Chinese government to force bishops and their staff to take “learning classes” until they become “intelligent enough in their learning” (see Chinese officials detain bishop, compel him to attend ‘learning classes’). But how different is this from laws in the West against “hate speech”.

Unfortunately, nearly the entire world now lives under high and mighty political authorities that seek to control not only classical criminal behavior but also how people act in every way, including what they write and what they say. This is a grave danger not only in regimes strongly committed to a particular ideology (Communism, for example, or theocratic Islam) but also in regimes committed to secular liberalism, which philosophically denies both God and the natural law.

As we have seen again and again in the West since the late 18th century, whenever God and the natural law are proscribed by the ruling class, that class decides it is called to fill the resulting vacuum with its own utopian ideas. And when the ruling class believes that this life is all there is, utopian ideas take on a sense of urgency. The mindset may be described thus: We are on the verge of creating the perfect world. Our time is limited. There is no future life in which wrongs can be righted. Therefore, it is necessary to eliminate whatever stands in the way of utopia now.

This is why the modern secular State always—yes, always—ends up trying to control how people think, both through State-mandated educational programs and, in the end, through the criminalization of “bad thoughts”. France went down this road in the Revolution, as did Russia and other Communist nations, and as did Germany under Nazism. The same trend is now universal in the West: The European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and increasingly the United States all attempt in innumerable ways to marginalize religion, replace the natural law with positivist judicial pronouncements, and exercise ever greater control over the thoughts, words and actions of all who are as yet mercifully free of the reigning prejudices du jour.

These ever-tightening controls are currently most evident in the area of sexual ethics, from which they inevitably extend into marriage, family, and therefore the social order as a whole (for the family is the bedrock unit of society). But this particular access point is most prominent now only because the abandonment of God and the natural law is so closely tied, in our own particular age, with sexual gratification. Tomorrow, the key point of vulnerability could just as easily be in another area. For example, at some times in the past it has been assumed that those who are religious focus too much on the “next life”, and so impede the rise of prosperity.

Ultimately, in a culture in which only the prejudices of the elite form the theoretical framework for the public order, all rights and duties cease to exist except the right and duty to uphold the party line. And without authentic rights and duties, there can be no liberty. So much is clear. The question is what to do about it.

It ought to go without saying that, ultimately, conversion is the key. We must bear witness to a lifestyle rooted in Christ—a whole and attractive lifestyle which will attract many others as the bankruptcy of their own values leaves them in ever-increasing misery. But it can often take a long time for people to recognize their own misery for what it is, especially if they are wealthy and can afford endless distractions. So in addition to living and preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified—which includes a deep willingness to suffer the misunderstanding and animosity that this necessarily entails—what particular strategy might be helpful?

The strategic answer is actually quite simple: Reduce the size of government, especially the top levels of government. It has long been observed that the highest levels of government tend to be most populated by “leaders” desiring to remake society according to utopian visions, whereas the lower levels of government are naturally more immersed in finding real solutions to the real problems of real people. It therefore makes eminent sense to do everything in our power to reduce the ability of high levels of government to operate in as many spheres as possible. And it just so happens that the present moment gives us a greater opportunity than usual to do just that.

As I argued in Budgetary Reform: Opportunity Knocks and Toward a Viable Political Strategy for our Times, widespread economic problems provide a motivation for reducing the size of government that even morally obtuse citizens can understand. It is important to take advantage of the opportunity this presents.

But note that to be successful, this strategy requires a certain willingness to cut government across the board for our own good, rather than bogging down in endless debates over particular programs. We must restrain ourselves when it comes to those few things that we might actually like government to do more of. Since on average deeply committed Catholics tend to be more conservative than their counterparts, let me offer two examples that may cut to the bone. In addition to being dangerous and foolhardy, it is strategically disastrous for Catholics who dislike governmental intrusions into health care, education, marriage and family life to turn around and advocate massive military interventions or immigration policies which permit the government to document and control every person all of the time. If, in our time, high levels of government have—with nearly universal predictability—become the enemy of a healthy culture, then it is folly to advocate massive government power in any area.

In short, we must have confidence in three points which show the way out of our current Statist box: (1) While no solution is perfect, the reduction of government wherever possible will do far more good than harm; (2) Assuming greater responsibility for problems in our communities through lower levels of government, churches, and public service organizations will both strengthen our communities and dramatically reduce their manipulation by secular utopians; and (3) Increasing involvement in the community by churches and people of faith will not only do enormous good but also showcase the Christian life, build respect for religion, and make conversion more likely.

Remember that all real problems are local problems. Sometimes higher levels of organization are needed to coordinate solutions to problems that affect large numbers of localities. But in comparison with our current stratospheric forms of governance, it is imperative for social, economic and religious reasons to do everything we can to whittle away at high levels of government. We must go local. We must go local now.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Mar. 27, 2012 8:30 PM ET USA

    I'll try to keep it within 500 characters. Link ( Look at this detail report of federal expenditures by county for Ohio. I think what Dr. Mirus is saying is, essentially, why should the Federal government tax people and then tie strings to the money when, *if the programs were locally necessary*, the county could find the funding on its own? A ham-fisted summary, but I have 500 characters. :-)

  • Posted by: - Mar. 27, 2012 3:13 PM ET USA

    We have better odds of being killed by a lightning strike than death by a terrorist. Terrorists are 1/10 legitimate threat and 9/10 overblown justification for Big Brother. The number of souls lost to terrorism is very small and all of us would do well to fear death less and damnation more. Truly effective means of combating evil comes not in the form of fired missiles but acts of charity and penance.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Mar. 27, 2012 10:01 AM ET USA

    bkmajer3728 has uncovered a potential point of misunderstanding. When I say that all problems are local, I mean it in the sense that everything that affects people affects them locally or not at all. As human persons, we have only a local presence. Remembering this helps us to examine issues in the proper perspective: that is, to ask what must really be done about real problems which affect real people, rather than what must be done to implement some grandiose conception of ourselves. But of course it would take a book to sort out all the implications of this statement, and people can certainly disagree in their analysis of any given issue.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Mar. 26, 2012 7:40 PM ET USA

    Your point is well made and taken. I simply don't agree all problems are local. Terrorism is here because we allowed people wanting to destroy us into our nation. The Nazi's plundered and murdered thousands and the world stood by; just as today in Serbia and the Sudan. We are not the world's police force by any means. Same token, they will destroy us if allowed to do so. We don't live in a perfect world. Let's pray for God's mercy on those elected to make decisions for the USA.

  • Posted by: Defender - Mar. 26, 2012 7:27 PM ET USA

    Recommended reading for China: 1984. Ban books, read only what is approved, the truth will be hidden and government controls by "inflicting pain." Recommended reading for the U.S. and the West: Brave New World. Information overload, our culture becomes insignificant, and government controls by "inflicting pleasure."