Catholic University Law Hosts Constitution Day Lecture Given By IHE Fellow

On September 17, 2018, Dr. Daniel Burns, Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Dallas and Visiting Research Associate in Politics and Fellow, Institute for Human Ecology, delivered the Constitution Day lecture entitled “What Makes Freedom of Religion Different from Freedom of Speech?”

In his lecture, Dr. Burns contrasted the First Amendment’s two guarantees: the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. He argued that free speech is central to our political process while religion, when politicized, is an impediment to it.

“The First Amendment is about two different things: freedom of religion and freedom of speech…We have free speech because every citizen has the right and obligation to contribute to common deliberations about the good and the bad; the just and the unjust,” Burns said. “We protect freedom of speech because we want speech to remain at the certain of our political activity. We protect freedom of religion, in part, because we want religion not to be at the center of our political activity.”

He concluded that the questions of ultimate meaning are best settled outside of law.

The event was co-sponsored by the Columbus School of Law, the Department of Politics, and the Institute for Human Ecology. Following the lecture, students, faculty, staff, and guests were invited to a reception in the Keelty atrium, where they had the chance to speak with Dr. Burns.

You can watch the lecture by clicking here.

Reposted from Columbus School of Law.

A New Master of Arts in Human Rights

The Catholic University of America is proud to announce a new Master of Arts program in Human Rights, available through the Institute for Human Ecology (IHE). Catholic University will join a handful of select schools that offer this degree and is the only school that has designed such a program to incorporate the rich teachings of the Catholic faith.

William Saunders, director of the master’s program and the Center for Human Rights in the School of Arts and Sciences, said he believes the new program will provide “a robust Catholic voice” in the field of human rights.

“The term human rights is so widely accepted and ingrained in the way people think. We want to help people think about it clearly, and that can’t be done without the Catholic perspective,” Saunders said. “The Catholic voice should be present so that human rights can develop in a way that is true and in service of the common good and the human person.”

Aaron Dominguez, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences where the program will be housed, added “I am pleased to be able to support this program; it is an example of the kind of world changing impact we can have with our faithfully Catholic research university.”

An interdisciplinary degree, the master’s in human rights, will draw from five schools at Catholic University: the schools of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Law, Canon Law, and Arts and Sciences. Upon completion of this program, students will be prepared to articulate and advocate for a sound understanding of human rights in both the domestic and international fora, greatly advancing the University’s mission of developing citizen leaders in the light of Christian faith. Their degrees will be issued by the School of Arts and Sciences.

For more information, please contact IHE fellow William Saunders, director of the Master of Arts in Human Rights program and director of the Center for Human Rights at


Summer Human Rights Lectures in Europe

As part of the new program in human rights at the IHE, Law Fellow William Saunders taught in Europe for several weeks this Summer, in both Romania and Slovakia.  In Romania, he gave lectures on human rights at several international conferences and seminars. In Slovakia, he taught in the Free Society Seminar, which was launched by the late Michael Novak after the collapse of communism. It explores the principles and institutions necessary for a free society, and is aimed at graduate students from both the USA and Central Europe. Saunders taught on human rights, religious liberty, bioethics, and the rule of law.

Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of a Landmark

What was the most devastating event in human history?  While, sadly, there are plenty of candidates, I would propose World War II.  It was a truly worldwide war, extending far beyond Europe as it involved international empires as well as nation states.  Not only did it wreck the economy of Europe and much of Asia, but it took the lives of millions. Estimates vary, but as many as twenty-five million military personnel died, and twice as many civilians.  The civilians were not only accidental victims, but were often the intended targets of military action. Further, millions perished in concentration camps, or were victims of torture or cruel medical experiments, in both Asia and Europe.

It is sobering to contemplate this carnage.

And it sobered world leaders after the war.  They formed the United Nations to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and to do so, among other things, by recognizing “fundamental human rights,” the “dignity and worth of the human person,” and “the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small” (UN Charter).

On December 10, 1948, they issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to further clarify and specify the “rights” that flowed from the dignity of the person.  The Preamble, referring to the atrocities of World War II, noted that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.” However, the sure foundation for “freedom, justice and peace” is the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”

I think it is fair to say that (although a few nations abstained from the vote to adopt the Declaration) “the world” resolved to prevent a third world war by respecting and protecting the dignity of each and every human being.  The Declaration declared itself to be “a common standard of achievement for all peoples…”

While the Declaration is not a legally binding document, it is a strong declaration of principle, of a shared determination not to repeat the atrocities of the past.  For instance, remembering not only the slave trade but also the enslavement of entire populations during World War II, article 4 declares that “slavery…shall be prohibited in all its forms.”  Likewise, recalling the torture and mistreatment of political opponents, it asserts that “no one shall be subjected to torture” (article 5) and “all are equal before the law…” People are not to be thrown into prison or concentration camps at the whim of the powerful for “everyone is entitled…to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.” (article 10)  Innocent civilians may not be targeted and killed for “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person.” (article 3)

The Declaration is not perfect and few perhaps would agree with all its provisions.  But in this its 70th anniversary year, it is well worth our time to contemplate its provisions, and, as it urged, to “strive…to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.”

William L. Saunders is a Fellow and Director of the Program in Human Rights at the Institute for Human Ecology. He is also Director of the Center for Human Rights in the School of Arts and Sciences, and Co-Director of the Center for Religious Liberty in the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America.


Civitas Dei Summer Fellowship: Young Scholars Discuss Morality and the Law

What is the role of religion in society? And how can Catholic scholars draw upon the wisdom of the Church to make sense of today’s economic, cultural, and moral challenges?

Those were the questions at the heart of the Civitas Dei Summer Fellowship, a week-long seminar held July 15 through 20. Sponsored by Catholic University’s Institute for Human Ecology (IHE) and the Thomistic Institute, the program introduced young scholars to foundational themes in the natural law tradition. Speakers during the week included Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology and executive director of IHE;  Father Dominic Legge, director of the Thomistic Institute; Adrian Vermeule, professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School; and Robert Royal, editor in chief of The Catholic Thing.

The seminar, open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates from top universities around the world, included lectures and discussions on the political and moral theories of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and modern constitutional jurisprudence, as well as outings to D.C. landmarks including the Supreme Court and the National Portrait Gallery.

Capizzi said the seminar was intended to “introduce the beauty and the depth of the Catholic intellectual tradition to a group of young scholars who we hope will invigorate our universities.”

Throughout the week, the conference included many discussions on religious liberty, the nature of political communities and pluralism, and how the writings of Augustine and Aquinas remain relevant in today’s society.

Capizzi said he hoped that the seminar provided attendees with a sense of community, introducing them to like-minded people “who care about the Church, who care about the faith, and who care about the good of American society.”

“We want them to know that they are not alone in doing their work and that there are resources available to them through the members of this community as well as here at the institute and Catholic University,” Capizzi said. “We hope that they will become outstanding scholars, some of whom may end up teaching here at Catholic.”

The next fellowship will be held July 7-12, 2019.

This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on July 24, 2018.

Photos by Deirdre McQuade/DMcQuade Studios.

Breakingviews – Hadas: Vatican asks the right financial questions

By Edward Hadas

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) – The Roman Catholic Church rarely responds speedily to anything. By its standards, the decade that passed between the 2008 financial crisis and last week’s publication of an official study of finance is the mere blink of an eye. Unfortunately, so little has changed in the interim that the Vatican’s advice, approved by Pope Francis, is as pertinent as ever.

Little about “Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones” (“Economic and Financial Issues”) is explicitly Christian. That approach is intentional. The Church’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development wants to help “all men and women of goodwill” create “a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and a new regulation of financial activities that would neutralise predatory and speculative tendencies and acknowledge the value of the actual economy”.

That hard-to-digest mouthful is sadly typical of the style of this often awkward and poorly translated document. Much of the initial attention focused on the Vatican’s criticism of trading in derivatives. However, the ethical agenda is both clear and helpful. There are three major themes – society, reality and history.

First, society. Something crucial is missing in the financial world when every investor thinks only about maximising their own returns and bankers strive solely to capture the highest possible income for themselves. Even if all these individuals forswear instant gratification in favour of long-term greed, a collection of selfish agendas cannot sustain a healthy society.

On the contrary, shared flourishing requires a conscious commitment to the “common good”. That little phrase appears 20 times in the 18-page document. That dedication is often lacking, as the Catholic Church’s own record makes clear. The Vatican’s banks could have avoided a series of scandals if its bankers were less rapacious. However, advice can still be good even if the giver does not always take it.

The document dismisses the argument, much loved by some economists, that amoral market mechanisms will somehow do the necessary ethical work automatically. To start, markets cannot exist without a great deal of mutual trust from everyone involved.

In finance, there is another problem. Even when participants are “animated by good and right intentions”, they too often end up in “forms of oligarchy” or “asymmetrical situations”. In other words, the strong end up taking unjust advantage of the weak.

Such exploitative arrangements do not promote a “world that is more equitable and united”. On the contrary, the finance business is diverted from its virtuous vocation of helping investment into what economists call rent-seeking. In the Catholic vocabulary, greed is allowed to flourish.

The moral problem of an inadequate commitment to the common good often takes the form of products and practices which are detached from economic reality. The Vatican sets a high standard: financial arrangements should always be based on “a real value, not one which is imputed or difficult to verify”.

Without such an anchor to the real world and without moral guidance, immorality inevitably creeps in. Take complex derivatives. “Questiones” presents them as instruments which exist at an inherently dangerous distance from anything that can be evaluated ethically.

Speculative transactions both distract business people from their true work and subtract money from the “virtuous cycle of the real economy”. It is a “bad financialisation”, which often takes the form of financial instruments that amount to unfair gambling. The document singles out credit default swaps, for enabling investors to bet on bankruptcy regardless of their exposure to the underlying borrower. The ultimate loser is the common good.

Financial workers themselves may struggle to understand what they are doing to the economy and society. Outsiders – regulators – are better placed. However, the authorities can only succeed with the whole financial system’s active and full cooperation. “Quaestiones” plausibly claims that offshore arrangements, tax minimisation and regulatory arbitrage tend to undermine the needed commitments.

Finally, there is history. Christians believe that forgiveness is the only way to get over past sins. That moral insight is relevant to the discussion of the “untenable financial burdens” created by years of unjust and corrupt sovereign borrowing. “From an ethical point of view”, the right policy for these debts is often a “politically mediated … reasonable and agreed reduction”.

In other words, the morally best way forward can be a rewriting of the faulty financial past. That thought is as relevant in Rome as in its Vatican City enclave. At 132 percent of gross domestic product, the Italian government’s debt burden is the second-highest in the euro zone.  Forgiveness, though, is not on offer. The two political parties trying to form a new government had to abandon their proposal to eliminate some of the nation’s debt.

The hard-hearted creditors are certainly in the right legally, and in accord with current European politics. The moral and practical case may be more doubtful, especially when there is widespread resentment against entrenched elites. A thorough examination of financial consciences might help restrain the destructive forces of political populism. Even a decade after the financial crisis, the Catholic Church’s guide is a good place to start.

This article was published on Reuters Breakingviews here.

Pope Francis: Human ecology begins with accepting the body

.- A healthy human ecology begins with a respectful and holistic view of the body as God created it, Pope Francis told participants of the 24th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“In a holistic view of the person, it is necessary to articulate with ever greater clarity all the concrete connections and differences in which the universal human condition dwells and which involve us, starting from our body,” the pope said.

Pope Francis delivered the address on Monday at the beginning of a three-day assembly hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Life at the Vatican. The assembly, focused on human ecology, reflected on the theme, “Equal Beginnings. But then? A global responsibility.”

In his comments, the pope discussed the importance of understanding the human body as a starting point for further reflections on human ecology.

“The acceptance of our body as a gift from God is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy an absolute power over creation,” he said, citing his 2015 encyclical Laudato si.

“Learning to accept your body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.”

This acceptance of the body also recognizes the differences between persons, he said.

“It is therefore necessary to proceed with a careful discernment of the complex fundamental differences of human life: of man and woman, of fatherhood and motherhood, of filiation and fraternity, of sociality and also of all the different ages of life.”

“Valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different,” he said, again quoting Laudato si.

In recognizing the inherent dignity of the human person, the pope said, we learn to see the need to defend the sanctity of all the vulnerable, including the unborn, elderly, sick, impoverished, and trafficking victims.

“When we deliver children to deprivation, the poor to hunger, the persecuted to war, the old to abandonment, do not we ourselves, instead, do the ‘dirty’ work of death? Where does the dirty work of death come from? It comes from sin,” he reflected.

“Evil tries to persuade us that death is the end of everything, that we have come to the world by chance and we are destined to end up in nothingness. Excluding the other from our horizon, life folds back on itself and becomes a consumer good.”

With this in mind, the Pope said, a Christian-inspired bioethics “will engage with more seriousness and rigour to defuse this complicity with the dirty work of death, supported by sin.”

“This bioethics will not take illness and death as a starting point in deciding the meaning of life or defining the value of the person,” he continued. “It will rather start from the profound conviction of the irrevocable dignity of the human person, as God loves him, the dignity of every person, in every phase and condition of his existence, in the search for the forms of love and care that must be addressed to his vulnerability and fragility.”

Pope Francis encouraged those present to root their understanding of human ecology in a true understanding of human dignity.

“We need to reflect more deeply on the ultimate destination of life, capable of restoring dignity and meaning to the mystery of its deepest and most sacred affections,” he said. “The life of man, enchantingly beautiful and fragile to die, refers beyond itself: we are infinitely more than what we can do for ourselves.”

This article was published on the Catholic News Agency page here.

March for Life and the President

William Saunders gives readers an up-to-date account of developments in Washington, DC – at the March for Life, in Congress, in the Trump administration, and at the Supreme Court – regarding law and policy that affect the defense and promotion of the right to life. This article is a must-read for all Catholics, as many of these developments have a direct impact on abortion, assisted suicide, freedom of conscience, and related issues..

View the column here. From The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 1 (Spring 2018). © 2018 The National Catholic Bioethics Center. Reprinted by permission.

William L. Saunders is the Director of the Program in Human Rights, Institute for Human Ecology. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School, who has been involved in issues of public policy, law and ethics for thirty years. A regular columnist for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Mr. Saunders has written widely on these topics, as well as on Catholic social teaching. He has given lectures in law schools and colleges throughout the United States and the world.

Virtue and Science

by Paul Scherz, Ph.D.

Evidence from many sources suggests that there are problems in the current practices of scientific research. There is a growing concern over the trustworthiness of the scientific literature because a number of studies have demonstrated the inability of independent investigators to replicate the results of published experiments. These studies, along with anecdotal and survey-based data, have led to investigations and reports not only by journalists but also by prestigious bodies like the National Academy of Sciences. The problems discussed in these publications do not arise from the actions of a few bad apples, but seem to reflect broad issues related to carelessness in experimental design, testing, and statistical analysis.

Commentators have traced these issues to problems in the institutions and culture of science such as a competitive culture that emphasizes speed over accuracy or evaluation mechanisms that prize the number of publications over their contribution to the advancement of knowledge. While these discussions can identify such issues, they rarely point to good solutions, frequently simply encouraging more training in research ethics of the type scientists have undergone since the 1980s or an intensification of evaluation mechanisms. These current discussions lack an adequate picture of the human person that would illuminate how and why the person acts and how a person forms good dispositions.

It is here that moral theology can be helpful. While the relationship between science and religion is often framed only in terms of conflict (either as science opposing religion or religious ethics trying to constrain science), the Christian ethical tradition provides resources for confronting current problems in the moral education of researchers that science desperately needs. By engaging classical and medieval sources on virtues, one can come to a better understanding of how a person develops certain vices that can lead to problems like those found in contemporary science, as well as how a community can foster positive character traits that will aid the search for scientific truth.

In recent articles and a book manuscript, I have used the Catholic virtue tradition to develop resources to identify virtues that scientists need and practices that would form these virtues. My work further seeks to help Catholic scientists to understand how to live their lives as a Christian vocation. By focusing on developing the virtues of individual scientists, this project hopes to reorient science by encouraging a richer human ecology in science that would better serve the common good.

Paul Scherz, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of moral theology and ethics and an IHE Fellow. Dr. Scherz researches the moral theology of biotechnology. He examines how the daily use of biomedical technologies shapes the way researchers, doctors, and patients see and manipulate the world and their bodies.

Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religion Freedom

Pope Paul VI characterized the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom — Dignitatis Humanae — as one of the greatest documents of Vatican II. It is also perhaps the most intensely debated document of the Council. Both the drafting of the Declaration on Religious Freedom and its reception have been marked by deep disagreements about what this teaching means for the Church.
In their book, Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom*, David Schindler and Nicholas Healy promote a deeper understanding of this important document. Recalling the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae on its 50th anniversary, this book provides a new translation, redaction history, and interpretation of the document, while clarifying the Church’s distinct contribution to the understanding of political order in modern democracies.​


by David L. Schindler and Nicholas Healy


Between November of 1963 and December of 1965, six distinct drafts of a text on religious freedom were presented to the Council fathers. The book makes available in Latin and English each of these six drafts (together with the interventions of Bishop Karol Wojtyla), to allow for a better understanding of the document’s continuity with and development of Catholic doctrine. Broadly speaking, there were two important debates: the first concerned the very legitimacy of the right to religious freedom (associated, for example, with the name of Archbishop Lefebvre); the second occurred among those who supported the right to religious freedom, but differed regarding the foundations and nature of the right. The latter differences were expressed in two opposing approaches, termed “juridical” (represented by the Americans and John Courtney Murray), on the one hand, and “ontological” (represented by the French, Polish, and Karol Wojtyla), on the other. These approaches differed significantly on three main points, each of which concerned at root the question of the pertinence of truth to the exercise of freedom in the political order. We will outline here the distinct principles of each of the approaches, while highlighting the significance for the present cultural situation of the principles affirmed in the final document.

(A) The juridical approach (which mostly guided the third draft of the document) (i) The nature of the right to religious freedom consists in immunity from coercion and is thus “negative.” Freedom is understood for all legal-constitutional purposes as a structurally neutral or indifferent act of choice. (ii) The foundations for this “negative” right lie in the human act’s exigence for exercising initiative. Relation to the transcendent order of truth (God) remains important for private individuals and institutions but is juridically irrelevant, not a matter of principled concern for the state. (iii) The criterion for any political limitation of the expression of freedom lies in the notion of “public order.” The legal adjudication of perceived violations of rights is understood in terms of a justice or fairness conceived formally in terms of the balancing of conflicting interests, rather than in any objective (natural) ethical good.

(B) The ontological approach (which mostly guided the final draft): (i) The “negative” right to immunity from coercion flows from the (positive) relation to truth implied by the human being’s natural desire—and moral exigence—for truth, ultimately about God. This relation/obligation to truth (God) gives an original positive direction and form to the negative sense of a right understood in terms of immunity. (ii) The foundations for the right to religious freedom lie in this natural desire and obligation to search for the truth and God. (The crucial point here regarding foundations was formulated in an intervention by Bishop Ancel of France during discussion of the third draft of the document. The intervention so impressed Pope Paul VI that he instructed that Ancel be included in the commission tasked with revising this draft.) (iii) The criterion for adjudicating the proper limits of the exercise of freedom lies in the concept of “public order,” which is affirmed while being tied to a “substantive” (natural) common good (i.e., a  just or ethical public order). The Declaration thus retains the ancient idea of the purpose of the polity, while it now emphasizes freedom as a distinct good intrinsic to the administration of political power (legal justice).

In sum, the approach to religious freedom adopted by the Church in Dignitatis Humanae, rests on the mutual implication and thus indissolubility of truth and freedom. (1) Truth implies the interior activity of the human subject (interiorization by the mind), and so far the subject’s freedom. A “truth” forced on a human being fails—insofar as it is forced—to meet the criteria for a proper definition of truth as an interior conformity of the mind with what is (Aquinas). (2) Freedom at root is never simply indifferent to but on the contrary naturally (implicitly) knows and loves the truth about God (Augustine, Aquinas).

In light of the above, we see that the Church in her affirmation of the right to religious freedom in DH did not merely come abreast of what had already been realized in liberal societies. On the contrary, the Church affirmed human rights while interiorly re-forming their foundations and meaning in light of the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition. The Church recognized rights as immunities from coercion (negative) even as she rooted this immunity in—saw it as an implication of—man’s (positive) natural love of truth, ultimately the truth of God. In the face of developments in modern democratic societies, the Church renewed by deepening her traditional understanding of the mutual implication of truth and freedom, insisting that the appropriation of either demands the appropriation simultaneously of both. Truth itself demands the interiorizing participation of the human subject/mind, even as the interiorizing activity of the human subject contains a natural love of truth and God to which is tied the moral obligation to realize the truth. The Declaration, in a word, renewed the Church’s understanding of the human being and freedom, in a way that recognized while transforming developments in the modern liberal political order.

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of DH’s distinct contribution regarding the right to freedom. Consider, for example, the burgeoning of rights’ claims to include abortion, euthanasia, same-sex unions, and the like. Proper adjudication of such claims cannot be made on the basis solely of formal fairness between competing exercises of freedom of choice; rather, it demands coming to terms with an adequate understanding of the human being. The Church’s task in this light is indicated in DH, rightly interpreted: to work for a universal right to religious freedom, in the broader and deeper context of proposing a substantive vision of the human being—of his true nature and dignity (which flows from the mutual implication of freedom and truth in relation to God).


Dignitatis Humanae, far from making the truth-question moot, invites us to recover its universal pertinence. The point is that this question now comes with a deepened awareness that truth itself intrinsically requires freedom for its own realization as true. The Declaration is not an invitation to neutralize the truth question, but to retrieve it in terms of a method that recognizes that “truth can impose itself on the mind of man” finally only in keeping with its own nature as truth (DH, 1)–as communicated by God in creation and finally as revealed by God in Jesus Christ.

*By David L. Schindler and Nicholas J. Healy (Humanum Imprint, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015)


David L. Schindler is the Dean Emeritus at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute. He is the editor-in-chief of the North American edition of Communio: International Catholic Review, a federation of journals founded in 1972 by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Henri de Lubac, and other European theologians. He serves as editor of the series “Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought” with Eerdmans Publishing Company. Professor Schindler has published over seventy-five articles (translated into nine languages) in the areas of metaphysics, philosophical issues in biology and biotechnology, and the relation of theology/philosophy and culture. He is the author of Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (T&T Clark and Eerdmans, 1996); and also of Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God (Eerdmans, 2011). His most recent edited collections are Love Alone is Credible: Hans Urs Von Balthasar as Interpreter of the Catholic Tradition (Eerdmans, 2008); and (with Doug Bandow) Wealth, Poverty, and Human Destiny (ISI, 2003). Other edited collections include Beyond Mechanism: The Universe in Recent Physics and Catholic Thought (1986); Act and Agent: Philosophical Foundations of Moral Education, with Jesse Mann and Frederick Ellrod (1986); Catholicism and Secularism in America (1990); and Hans Urs Von Balthasar: His Life and Work (1991). Professor Schindler was appointed by Pope John Paul II as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 2002 to 2007.

Nicholas J. Healy is an associate professor of philosophy and culture at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute. Since 2002 he has served as an editor of the North American edition of Communio: International Catholic Review. His book The Eschatology of Hans Urs von Balthasar: Being as Communion was published by Oxford University Press. Recent articles have addressed the doctrine of providence, the question of “Christian philosophy,” and the theological anthropology of Thomas Aquinas and Henri de Lubac. Currently he is working on the theology of the Eucharist and Christian states of life.

Duty To Protect

by Lucia Ann Silecchia, Ordinary Professor of Law


Next month will mark ten years since Pope Benedict XVI addressed the United Nations General Assembly, following in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II who also spoke hopefully, cautiously, critically, and passionately about their aspirations for the family of nations.

In the decade since, there is one phrase in Pope Benedict’s address that strikes me as particularly worthy of reflection both in the international law context in which he expressed it but, perhaps even more so, as a succinct guide for a life lived well.

Pope Benedict spoke eloquently of a concept called “the duty to protect.” He did this in the context of international human rights law, noting, “[e]very state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises.” He went on to say that there is an important role for the international community to play should individual states be unable – or unwilling – to offer such protection.  Likewise, he affirmed that the duty or responsibility to protect has, since ancient times, been regarded as an essential function of government. He observed that it “was considered by the ancient ius gentium as the foundation of every action taken by those in government with regard to the governed.”

In his statement to the United Nations, Pope Benedict’s message was clear: the obligation to protect the dignity of the human person against all that may threaten it is the raison d’etre of national governments and international organizations. When they fulfill this function, governments serve their noble purposes.  However, when they are indifferent to this obligation – or worse – they can justly be regarded as failures.

Yet, on the personal level, the “duty to protect” might rightfully be seen as a guide to life itself — not merely a guide to good governance. To each person, many opportunities are given, each and every day, to serve as “protector.” In a single day, a person may be called to protect the innocence of a child, the safety of a frail elder, the hope of a friend in despair, the life of an infant in the womb, the faith of a stranger battered by life’s sorrow, or the soul of a brother facing temptation. That same person may be called to protect the reputation of one who is slandered, the beauty of God’s creation, the fragile peace of a volatile truce, the truth when it is distorted or mocked, or the sacred bond of a marriage in crisis. That person may also be asked to protect the freedom of someone enslaved by circumstances or choices, the dreams of someone who is discouraged, the dignity of someone who is vulnerable, and the courage of one who is fear-filled.

This duty to protect is a weighty responsibility that calls for a courageous selflessness and a willingness to put one’s strength at the service of others. Yet, Pope Benedict’s words of warning to the family of nations are also words of inspiration to the human family: “it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage.”


Professor Silecchia, IHE Faculty Fellow, has taught at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law since 1991. She has been an ordinary professor since 2004, and served as the law school’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in 2004 and 2005. She also directs Catholic University’s Summer Law Program in Rome. From September 2015 to August, 2017, she served as Catholic University’s Vice Provost for Policy.

Author George Weigel Shares Thoughts and Stories on Pope John Paul II in Book Q&A

By Thomas Dompkowski

Acclaimed Catholic author and NBC News Senior Vatican Analyst George Weigel addressed a group of about one hundred students, faculty members, and visitors about his newest book on Pope St. John Paul II, Lessons in Hope. The lecture, Q&A, book signing, and reception took place on Monday, January 22nd, at 6 PM in Heritage Hall, and was sponsored by Catholic’s Institute for Human Ecology

Weigel, best known for his acclaimed biography of Pope St. John Paul II, Witness to Hope, wanted this new book to tell the stories of the saint rather than provide another analysis of his life and teachings. Weigel, however, never intended to write the book he discussed before the audience. As the pope’s biographer, Weigel became the closest of friends with John Paul II and the two had an annual Christmas dinner. On December 15th, 2004, the last dinner he shared with Pope John Paul II passed away, Weigel promised the pope that he would continue to tell his story. This book, Weigel hopes, is the fulfillment of that promise he made to the pope more than thirteen years ago.

As a completely anecdotal work, Lessons in Hope is meant to “illuminate facets of this extraordinary life.” The book itself is divided into two sections based on statements by the Holy Father. The first section of the book is organized around what Weigel calls “an extraordinarily rich interior life.” In March of 1996, Pope St. John Paul II and Weigel were discussing a book about the history of the pope’s pontificate. In a fashion Weigel described as “whimsical,” the pope said to him, “I can only be understood from the inside.”

Weigel told the audience that all of Pope John Paul II’s actions and decisions were the fruits of his powerful prayer. The pope’s bold ecclesiastical appointments and his proposal of a World Youth Day, which is attended by many Catholic University students annually, were just some of these fruits. The pope could not just be understood by looking at his actions and prayer life, so Weigel needed to seek out John Paul’s friends to fully understand the pope’s “inside.”

While the pope was a priest in Stalin-era Poland, he befriended young Catholics from his area. He took them into the mountains so they could discuss Catholicism, away from the ever-listening Communist authorities who were determined to stamp out religion from the culture of Poland. It was in this “network of friendship” that some of the pope’s major ideas and initiatives were born, some of those being Theology of the Body, the book he would later author called Love and Responsibility, and the concept of World Youth Day. Weigel summarizes, “as he formed them, they formed him.”

The second section of the book came from a statement by the Holy Father to a gathering in Fatima, Portugal, on May 13th, 1982, exactly one year after the assassination attempt in Rome which almost took the pope’s life. Pope John Paul II stated, “In the designs of providence, there are no mere coincidences.” This was a direct reference to the assassination attempt, as the Holy Father believed that one hand fired the shot, but another hand, that of the Blessed Mother, guided the bullet; if the bullet had been mere millimeters in a different direction, the pope would have died. Weigel states that the pope viewed the attempt on his life as a “facet of divine providential plan.”

Weigel closed his lecture with advice to students and the need to reject the “tyranny of the possible,” the restriction that people feel to accept the status quo.

“Trust the instincts that seem right and after you’ve prayed over them, still seem right,” Weigel said. On the topic of vocations, he tells young people not only to pray, but to seek the counsel of friends and family. He ended the evening with a question and answer portion that involved questions about the current state of the Catholic Church and the role students can play.

This article was originally published in The Tower, The Catholic University of America’s Independent Student Newspaper.

Civitas Dei: The Most Glorious City

By Dr. Chad C. Pecknold

Long before St. Peter was martyred there, Rome was called “the eternal city.” Rome was founded by refugees who had fled fallen Troy, and with the neighboring Etruscans, the legendary twins Remus and Romulus founded a city which would rule the world for millennia in one way or another. Against the Roman idea of an eternal City, Augustine spoke of the city of God, the true eternal City.

While Rome had become Christian, it’s sack in 410 caused many elites to long for a restoration of the old order, convinced that Rome’s decline owed something to a betrayal of the gods, and the official turn towards Christianity. Augustine argued that God had blessed Rome most when it observed laws of nature more than the gods, and that even Rome’s best philosophers could see that the gods were fictions, and that there was only one cause of all existence, which we can call God.

Like Aristotle, Augustine observes that the human person is a social animal, and that this primary good of human nature causes every man to enter into fellowship with his neighbor to keep peace. (City of God, 19.12). This law, observable in human nature, is also tied to our conscience, our innate awareness of a distinction between good and evil acts, which is a good in us that “not even the iniquity of sin can destroy.”

What is also observable, however, after the mysterious loss of an original justice, is the tendency to move towards or away from the highest good. This can be seen in the household, in cities, in associations, in kingdoms, nations and empires. Sin pulls down our social and political nature, whereas God’s grace has come down in order to elevate us. Famously, Augustine calls these two tendencies “cities” (civitates). And what he tells Romans, over some 22 books and 1,100 pages, is that it is only by ordering her laws and her life to the city which is perfectly and justly united to the highest good that Rome will be truly “eternal.”

Whether every Roman elite longing to throw off Christianity was convinced by his argument or not, Augustine transformed the western political dynamic. He showed us how Catholic wisdom stands above, as revealed truth, to enlighten and illumine the direction of every actual human city. When Pope St. John Paul II spoke of the Church as “expert in humanity,” he spoke to this same truth that the Catholic vision is hydraulic. It raises the human person, the human family, the human city, even nations, up towards to City of God.

As some of our own elites long for a return to some invention of gods we make for ourselves, but who do us harm, it is this elevating wisdom from the City of God that the world needs again.

C.C. Pecknold is Associate Professor of Theology and Fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America.

Natural Law and the Civitas Dei Program

What is the “natural law”? We sometimes hear this term batted around, especially in Catholic or politically conservative circles. But when we begin to think about objective grounds for moral judgments, things appear complicated. Is there a clear foundation for society’s moral norms or are they conventional? Can we make ethical judgements universally applicable to all or are they typically expressive of a particular culture or time in history? If there are such universal norms, how do we determine their content? Evidently such questions are essential to our practical lives. Civic and familial justice, common law, and political consensus are all based on the premise that we can deliberate about and identify shared moral norms.

When Thomas Aquinas discusses the foundations of the natural law (in Summa theologiae I-II, q. 94, a. 2) he characterizes these primarily in terms of basic human tendencies that are inherent to our nature as rational animals, ineradicable, and therefore common to all persons. Every human being has a natural tendency to desire existence, and health, that is to say to thrive as a living being. There are deep inclinations in human nature toward sexual reproduction, and the education of children. Human beings desire to live in community according to norms of friendship, justice and civic polity. They desire the truth and the pursuit of understanding. They desire knowledge of God, or of the absolute origin and source of their existence, so as to gain perspective on all things in light of what is primary.

Based on these basic human tendencies, all human beings and societies derive a set of responsibilities and rights: the responsibility to protect innocent life, to support and protect the family, to establish civic justice, to seek the truth through education and common deliberation, and to support the religious pursuit of knowledge of God and corporate worship. Of course, this is only the beginning: Aquinas goes on to details the virtues and vices, laws and practices that help human persons pursue a life of happiness in accord with the natural law. His vision is classical, and some would say quite traditional, but it also reflects well what one finds in most societies across the ages. How can we make sense of that vision in our own time, characterized by the constitutional framework of modern democracy, and in the service of our cosmopolitan world of the 21st century?

This coming summer in July 2018 the Institute for Human Ecology will begin a new collaboration with the Thomistic Institute to initiate the Civitas Dei Scholars program. Named for the “City of God” of St. Augustine, this program will invite graduate students and advanced undergraduates to apply for a fellowship to study for a week in Washington, D.C., in a collaborative program at the Catholic University of America and the Dominican House of Studies. This year’s theme is on The Foundations of Natural Law: An Introduction, and will feature Prof. Joseph Capizzi (Catholic University of America), Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., (Dominican House of Studies), and Prof. Adrian Vermeule (Harvard Law School). The seminar will be inter-disciplinary, considering the topics of moral knowledge and the natural law tradition as they appear in the thought of Augustine, the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, and traditions of interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Expenses are provided by the fellowship. To apply, students can find more information here.

Rep. Francis Rooney Joins Professors for a Conversation on Subsidiarity

What is subsidiarity and why does it matter in the world today? That was the topic up for discussion during a recent symposium hosted by the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America.

The symposium, “Subsidiarity in Politics, Culture, and Economy,” took place on Oct. 23 and included a round-table discussion with U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, as well as Catholic University professors Joseph Capizzi, executive director of the Institute for Human Ecology; David Cloutier, associate professor of moral theology and ethics; Bradley Lewis, associate professor of philosophy; and Andreas Widmer, director of the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship.

Rooney, who served as the ambassador to the Holy See from 2005 to 2008, began the discussion with his definition of subsidiarity in the context of government and civil life as “the preservation of power to the people” and “devolving the solution back to the closest unit at which it can be solved.”

(left to right) Dr. Capizzi, Executive Director of The Institute for Human Ecology and Rep. Francis Rooney, former Ambassador to the Holy See

In the United States, Rooney said, subsidiarity often supports the concept of states’ rights, which advocates for most major decisions and policies to be decided at the state level.

Lewis spoke about the theological background of subsidiarity, which dates back to Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, drawing inspiration from writings by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Sometimes subsidiarity is seen as an opposite of solidarity, said Cloutier. In reality, he believes, the two principles should be used in cooperation.

“Subsidiarity is the means to real solidarity,” he said. “Solidary can’t come about from the top down, instead it has to come about from various associations at the ground level.”

As the conversation continued, the group debated if and how the idea of subsidiarity should be applied to current challenges facing the United States, including the insurance market, education policy, poverty relief efforts, and environmental regulations.

Attendees included a mix of students, academics and individuals from the local community.

While determining who should be in charge of particular decisions at any given moment is difficult to ascertain, Lewis said the main purpose of subsidiarity is helping human beings flourish by allowing them to determine their own actions.

“There’s a kind of freedom exercised with general human reasoning,” he said. “Subsidiarity allows people as much as possible to make their own decisions, even if it entails a certain loss at some point.”

As Cloutier said, subsidiarity is a call for people to exercise “freedom with responsibility” rather than relying on those above them to take control.

Where Are the All-Star Teams in Academia?

By Dr. Michael Pakaluk

The 1992 Summer Olympics remains famous today for the United States “dream team” for men’s basketball – Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Dave Stockton, and others.   It still seems incredible in retrospect that these extraordinary athletes were brought together to play on the same team.  If you were privileged to watch the games, or you have gone back now to look at the old videos, you know that these stars even surpassed expectations with their amazing, brilliant play.

That great team raises the question: What is it about all-star teams in general that is so appealing?  Why do we want so much to see top, skilled experts brought together and cooperating for a common goal?  The phenomenon is quite general.   One sees it not only in sports—golf is perhaps the best example, with its Ryder Cup and President’s Cup—but also in stories of the stories about the military (The Dirty Dozen), heroism (The Magnificent Seven, The Seven Samurai), or even scams (Ocean’s Eleven).  Entire TV series have been based on the idea (Mission Impossible). 

In part it is the brilliance of execution that astonishes us; in part the complementarity of skill; in part the sheer wonder of the unlikely assemblage (as when it seems amazing that all the great works of some famous artist have been brought together in a single exhibition); in part the sense that these “teams” express, with great intensity, some deep truth about how human beings are meant to associate and cooperate with one another.

These reflections raise a parallel question:  What are the all-star teams in academia?  Where are they to be found?  Once in a very great while, an academic department is like that.  These cases are so rare, that they become famous and well-know, such as physics at Princeton in the 1950s, or philosophy at Harvard in the 1900s.  But it is too hard to draw that kind of talent together; and colleagues are often contentious and break off into quarreling factions; and now hyper-specialization keeps professors, even in the same department, from collaborating. 

Academic conferences don’t even work like that, because each presenter has his own findings to argue for, and the scholars generally talk past each other, or they argue against one another.

But there is a kind of all-star team in Aristotelian ethics, which gets together each year, and which this year gathered at The Catholic University of America, under the auspices of The Institute for Human Ecology.  This group calls itself the “Aristotle Workshop.”  Its organizing committee comprises scholars from three continents: Marco Zingano, from the University of São Paulo in Brazil; Pierre Destree from the Université catholique de Louvain; and Michael Pakaluk, from The Catholic University of America.  Its meetings rotate among those continents, sometimes convening in Brazil, sometimes in Europe, sometimes in the United States. 

Here is how it worked this year.  On Thursday evening, a group of ten top scholars began arriving in Washington from around the United States and the world: Panos Dimas (Oslo); Susan Sauvé Meyer (U Penn); Jakub Jirsa (Prague); Hendrick Lorenz (Princeton); Krisanna Scheiter (Union College); Don Morrison (Rice); Jessica Moss (NYU); Mitzi Lee (Colorado, Boulder); Adam Beresford (U Mass, Boston) and Marco Zingano (São Paulo). On Friday morning, they were joined, in a seminar room on the Catholic University campus, by local scholar Rachel Singpurwalla (U Maryland) and professors from the host university (Jean de Groot, Stephen Ogden, Ignacio de Ribera Martin, Herbert Hartmann, and Paul Radich).  Students were welcome, and many participated.

Then commenced two days of intensive reading and discussion, of Aristotle’s account of justice in the Nicomachean Ethics.  The scholars would take turns translating the Greek and raising questions starting from a careful analysis of the text.  As is the explicit ethos of the Workshop, they worked together in a collaborative spirit of good will, not attempting to “score points,” but earnestly striving to reach the truth as regards many difficult problems, such as: 

  • What does it mean for justice to be the virtue of an individual, for Aristotle, rather than a trait of institutions? 
  • How does natural justice differ from conventional justice, and how is this difference manifested in law? 
  • Is it possible for a person deliberately to suffer injustice?  –If he wills the injustice, doesn’t the unfair portion which another enjoys into a gift?
  • Is suicide wrong because it is an injustice, and, if so, is it an injustice which a person commits against himself? (But generally one cannot commit an injustice against oneself—for example, no one can steal from himself.)
  • What is the virtue know traditionally as epikeia (“equity”), which leads a person in a friendly spirit not to claim what the letter of the law allows him when he can see that it would be more just in substance for him to claim less?
  • Can justice really be found in social units less than political society, such as the family?  Or are members of families not sufficiently “free and equal” for their relationships to exemplify justice—that they must look for love and friendship as the standard for relating?

Truth is in the details.  Fortunately, Aristotle is one of those great figures for whom a focus on details, and a consideration of big questions, always seem to go together.  In scrutinizing the Aristotle’s text carefully, these scholars raised for themselves and participants such big questions, and they gave careful consideration too, to Aristotle’s proposed answers.

And why does any of this matter?  Provost Andrew Abela greeted the Aristotle Workshop at the start of its first session, saying that “this kind of gathering is exactly what The Catholic University of America wishes to encourage; the earnest search for truth is what a genuine university stands for.”  The search for truth in goodwill along with fellow experts should be at the very heart of a university.  As those who participated in the Aristotle Workshop became even more deeply aware, in the course of this year’s amazingly profitable meeting, the question is not so much why this Workshop is valuable by why such gatherings are not replicated throughout ever unit of a university.

Why Should American Intelligence Be Ethical?

Double Lives & Moral Lives

Posted by The Institute for Human Ecology on Monday, October 30, 2017


Why should American intelligence be ethical?  The short answer is that it’s American.  And Americans, whatever their religious creed or background, have generally expected that our democratic government will be guided by ethical standards in all its activities and functions.  Intelligence, despite the misleading portrait of it offered by popular culture, is not, nor can it be, a “values-free zone.” 

For Americans to flourish, they need to be free from undue anxiety about their security, even at a time when there are so many potential threats to that security from beyond our borders:  North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, ISIS, the list goes on.  For American democracy to flourish, the US Intelligence Community needs to do its job identifying and understanding foreign threats.  At the same time, the American people expect that the clandestine collection and covert operations conducted to accomplish these national security goals must not threaten or diminish democratic liberties and values and will reflect as much as possible the ethical standards of the people for whom and in whose name these activities are conducted.

How do we determine the right balance between security and liberty?  What moral dilemmas do US intelligence officers encounter in their work?  Are the various mechanisms of accountability over intelligence, especially congressional oversight, working?  Most fundamentally, can a Christian (or an ethical person) serve as an intelligence officer?  These and other relevant questions will be explored at a symposium sponsored by the Intelligence Studies Program of The Catholic University of America, in partnership with the Institute for Human Ecology in order to illuminate the ethical dimension of US intelligence.

Featured participants include the main speaker, former CIA director Michael Hayden, and a distinguished panel with diverse backgrounds in journalism, the law, and the intelligence profession.  This unique discussion promises to bring insight and understanding regarding the moral challenges facing the men and women who serve in US intelligence. 

For more information on the event “Double Lives and Moral Lives: An Exploration into the Ethics of Intelligence,” please visit

Nicholas Dujmovic, Ph.D. is Director of the Intelligence Studies Program at The Catholic University of America.

Bishops Call for Nuclear Elimination but Forget Need for Modernization and Maintenance

By Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D.

On July 6, 2017, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions issued a joint declaration calling upon the international community to “map out a credible, verifiable, and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The statement explains its reason for being: the “multipolar” nature of geopolitics today raises a different catalogue of threats than encountered when there were two nuclear superpowers.

Click here to read the full article, originally published by Providence Magazine.

IHE’s Executive Director Teaches Ethics in Mexico

This summer, IHE’s Executive Director Dr. Joseph Capizzi taught a course on “Ethics and Natural Law” in the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Universidad del Valle de Atemajac (UNIVA) in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In addition to teaching ethics at UNIVA’s main campus he also gave a lecture on ethics and media, “La Etica en los Medios” to the University faculty.

The Universidad del Valle de Atemajac is a Catholic University guided by the spirit of Pope Saint John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae. It contributes to rigorous teaching and development of human dignity and cultural heritage through research, teaching, and a variety of services offered to local, national, and international communities.

The Institute for Human Ecology is proud to be part of a multicultural ethical formation of professionals and is committed to the service of the community, through the search of truth, freedom, and an understanding of the human person and culture as the driving force behind the way we form human relationships.


Unlikely Twins – On similarities between Communism and Liberal Democracy

By Ryszard Legutko

Let me start by expressing my gratitude to The Catholic University of America for inviting me and giving me a floor to present my ideas. It has been, indeed, a very flattering invitation and I feel honoured to be here. I really am.

I have come here to talk about my recent book, or rather about the main thesis of the book which says that despite enormous differences, clear to everyone with elementary intelligence and knowledge, differences which in no way should be minimized, there is a considerable resemblance between communism and liberal democracy. This thesis meets immediately with two contradictory counterarguments. The first states that the thesis is simply nonsense: those differences are so great that no sane person can seriously think that a totalitarian regime responsible for the deaths of millions of people is even remotely similar to modern liberal democracy with its multi-party system and a thriving civil society. On the other hand – and this is the second counter-argument – calling political arrangements totalitarian, or fascist, or Stalinist, or authoritarian, or Orwellian, has become a cliché in today’s discourse and the reductio ad Hitlerum has been a standard rhetorical weapon used to excess by all and sundry. The thesis of the book may, therefore, seem to be both an outrageous absurdity and a political cliché.

And yet, unsurprisingly, I believe my book is neither. But before summarizing the book’s argument, let me describe the personal experience which made me arrive at the ideas that constitute the backbone of the book. Then I will try to explain how I arrived at the thesis and what it means. Afterwards I will present some arguments that support it, and finally, I will make some additional concluding comments.

For a person like myself living in a communist society but being born in a radically anti-communist family and becoming later consistently hostile to the communist system, it was obvious that Western liberal democracy was the opposite of what Ronald Reagan called the Evil Empire—a name we, the East European anti-communists, wholeheartedly welcomed. Western liberal democracy was thought to be the opposite of communism not only because it offered people freedom and dignity which we in the Eastern part of Europe were deprived of, but also because it was believed to be an outcome of a long civilizational and cultural process. The Western system we thought reflected – not literally, but not only symbolically either – the best what the West created, from Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian religion, to the spirit of scientific inquiry, technology and a culture of civility. In short, living in a communist country was for us like living outside the West; liberating oneself from communism was like re-joining the West, not only politically and economically, but also intellectually and spiritually. The West had its problems, to be sure—particularly its soft spot for communism—but we thought this was just a minor problem, soon to disappear.

But after the old regime collapsed I experienced several major disappointments which made me rethink and soon revise my enthusiasm for the theory and practice of liberal democracy. A brief period of joyful expectations ended, and then came critical reflection. The direct stimulus was a harrowing feeling that gripped me, a feeling that the mental world I was beginning to live in was not much different from what had surrounded me in the past. The expression “mental world” is, I admit, somewhat fuzzy, but I cannot find a better one. Perhaps it will become clear when I will tell you more about the disappointments which made me reject my initial position.

First, I discovered that the new system had, like the old one, a strong sense of the enemy. As soon as liberal democracy began to take root in my country, I noticed that the dualistic pattern I remembered from the old days continued to exist in the new conditions: good guys with good ideas against bad guys with bad ideas. The former were to be respected; the latter were not only to be criticized but condemned. I am not talking about many different local divisions and conflicts; I am talking about the dualism that was intended to tear apart the entire society or even, in a more sweeping version, the entire modern world. What astonished me was not that the house continued to be divided, but that many of the bad guys in liberal democracy were the same people, groups, organizations that had been bad in communism. Mostly these were conservatives, traditionalists, anti-communists, patriots (called nationalists), and in particularly Catholics and the Catholic Church. A lot of the new good guys were the old good guys, including the communist intelligentsia. The very same people who for decades had been calling for the workers of the world to unite against reactionaries were now calling for all the liberal democrats to unite, also against the very same reactionaries. There emerged a new and strong alliance – surprising, even shocking to many – of some of the former oppositionists and former communist intellectuals and politicians – who together immediately declared themselves to be the midwives of the new political system and its only legitimate guardians.

Second, what I found disturbing in the liberal democratic society was that the political language we used was not that of freedom, but that of necessity. One would have thought that after the fall of the regime, freedom would be the first principle to embrace, primarily freedom to think, to build institutions, to create, to discover, to search for the truth. But this was not the case. From day one we were made to accept that there already exists a blueprint for a good liberal democratic society, tried and generally agreed upon, which should be implemented. No more inventions, no more eccentricities: one has to follow the path that others have already passed and showed us the direction. I remember a debate among my colleagues about which direction our university should go once the communist yoke was shaken off, and the answer was almost unanimous: we should not try to discover America, but be like any other university from Vancouver, Canada to Auckland, New Zealand. The new system has its imperatives to which we have to give our assent, not only as regards university but also in law, in education, in morality, in family life, in entertainment. We were told: now that you are free, you must do this, this, and this. The internal contradiction within this language – “because you are free, you must…” – went almost unnoticed.

Third, I also was surprised and then shocked by the degree of social engineering that from the start the new system set in motion. And again, the language was most revealing. One could not help seeing an analogy between what was said right after the World War II when the communists seized power in Poland coming on the Soviet tanks, and what was said in Poland when the liberal democratic system was being installed. Each time the architects of the new order as well as the intelligentsia that supported it talked of “a new man,” “a new Pole” that had to be moulded because the vast majority were, as it was then called, “men belonging to the past” who no longer fit the new situation and the new challenges. The new times – it was said both then and now – needed new thinking, and new thinking required getting rid of old thinking. The modern mind had to be reshaped, educated (or re-educated), corrected, raised, and even recycled to be able to work in the new order that was being built. What was particularly astonishing in this attitude at the birth of a liberal democratic society in Poland was that it was the “man belonging to the past”, not “the new man” that should have been given credit for abolishing the old regime, and for this reason he should have been given a rightful place in liberated Poland instead of being humiliated and made an object of derision and then recycling. The Solidarity movement in 1980-1981 that shook the communist empire in Eastern Europe was composed of “men belonging to the past” – workers, priests, patriots, church-goers, respectable men and women strongly attached to tradition and national culture. About ten years later all of them were thought of as living anachronisms either to be mentally reformed or thrown into the dustbin of history.

These three—and several other experiences—I found disconcerting the more so that I knew they were not limited to my country or to the former Soviet colonies but were characteristic of the entire Western world. And since what was going on reminded me of what I had been exposed to during the communist rule, I, after a period of hard thinking, became ready to consider a hitherto hard-to-believe possibility that the two systems – communism and liberal democracy – might have something in common. And this was how I wrote an essay, and then a book. When the essay was published, it met with extreme reactions – some called it eye-opening, others dismissed it as ravings of a mad mind.

The book’s thesis is simple, but it has rather complex arguments to support it. If I were to give a shortest possible summary of the argument, I would say as follows.

What makes communism and liberal democracy akin, or consonant with each other is that in each case the political system is so predominant that it permeates the entire social fabric, all institutions, norms and human minds. Just as communism provided the ultimate frame of reference for everything that was happening in a communist society, so does liberal democracy provide such a frame of reference for everything that is happening in a liberal democratic society.

To put it differently, it was in the nature of the old regime that everything had to be communist and be called communist. There was not a family, but a communist family, not education, but a communist education, not society, but a communist society, not morality, but a communist morality, not art, but a communist art. Much later in the new conditions, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that also a liberal democratic society it is expected that everything should reflect the liberal democratic logic: family should become liberalized and democratized, so should schools, morals, social norms. It is even assumed that religion and churches will become more liberal and more democratic, both in their practice and in doctrines; even God has come to resemble a liberal democrat, just as in communism God, though he did not exist, was nevertheless a good communist. In communism, the adjective “communist” was a trump word: whatever was communist was superior to anything non-communist. I noticed that also in modern democracy “democratic” has become a trump word, just as “non-democratic” became one of strong condemnation.

All this led me to formulate a thesis that both systems have an inexorable tendency to politicization, that is, that both systems tend to impose their structures, procedures, principles, presuppositions on every aspect of society, on people’s lives, thoughts, actions. And not only do those systems impose their own structures, procedures, principles, presuppositions, but they believe this imposition to be beneficial, necessary, desired by people, and also being in accordance with the general current of the civilization.

The communist politicization was indeed comprehensive in scope and painfully intrusive. No wonder that for some it was unbearable. Therefore, those people who defied it looked for areas not yet touched by politics in which they could find refuge from political aggression: these areas could be private life, art, intellectual activities, religion. But in reality, finding refuge turned out to be most difficult: the communist authorities were, of course, aware of these escapist strategies and did their best to annex those areas and incorporate them under their political dominion.

Family and private life seemed to be the obvious fortresses within which one could find peace and security from the ubiquity of official ideology and propaganda. There were other fortresses – historical memory, or individual memory preserved in narratives shared among friends. Likewise, art and beauty – people were seeking asylum from the ugliness and stifling tedium of the ideology in classical poetry, or music, or the works of the masters, and were escaping from the reverberating vulgarity of the communist newspeak by memorizing old poems or reading classical literature, or going church with its liturgy, the word of the Gospels, mystery and spirituality. The existence of the Catholic Church in my country was a reality of paramount importance for saving the soul of the nation.

But the communists, as I said, were aware of these strategies and did everything they could to conquer those territories. It was particularly true in the early stages of their reign when the new ideology had a deafening volume and stultifying intensity. The attack on the private life and the family life was then particularly strong. The communists were in the world’s avant-garde of change – the first to have divorces easily obtainable and accessible; the first to introduce abortion on demand; the first to empower the young against the old, students against teachers, children against parents. But later the communist party let it go and its grip on politics was loosening. After the period of the tyranny of the so-called socialist realism, art became freer; the humanities, at the beginning being entirely in the service of the system, later gained some independence; language, from the beginning being under a special surveillance and having deteriorated into a newspeak, later considerably emancipated itself from the chains of ideology.

The communists’ method for exercising control over these realities – family, private life, art, morals, language – was to introduce and then to enforce a criterion, in fact, the criterion, of correctness. Since everything was political and because politics was regulated by ideology, it was obvious that everything had to be compatible with the basic principles of this ideology, and no dissonant notes were allowed. There were no innocuous remarks or acts because everything was clearly congruent or clearly incongruent with the ideology. As the communist system was falling apart, this criterion of correctness was replaced by that of non-contradiction. Words and deeds – it was assumed – must not be in contradiction with the communist ideology. This marked an important change, as initially, the criterion was stronger – congruence is a more demanding criterion that non-contradiction. Congruence with doctrine was called correctness, and correctness replaced truth, beauty, elegance, style. Every time and in each case – whether it was a private experience, or a thought, or a speech, or a poem, or a philosophical statement – this congruence had to be evident, clear, easy to perceive to all. This meant that everybody, in whatever he did or said, had to make an effort to show this congruence, to prove it – by a phrase, a gesture, a symbol – in order to pre-empt all possible doubts and accusations. And precisely because people were obliged to prove their correctness, many saw in it an opportunity to trace and then to hunt down those who were too lazy, or too reckless, or too naïve to make their correctness manifest, or, horribile dictu, deliberately ignored it.

Now let me say a few words about liberal democracy. If what I said about the omnipresence of liberal and democratic principles in today’s western societies is true, it would be natural to ask how strong are possible fortresses within which some of us could try to hide, being put off by the new tides of liberal-democratic political offensives. How strong, for example, is the private sphere and a family life against liberal democratic political crusades? Are our private lives more secure now than they were, say, twenty or thirty years ago? To what extent are our thoughts imbued with the liberal and democratic ideas when we think of family, or try to organize our own family life, or give advice to our friends on family matters? Are we more inclined or less inclined than before to speak of family, using such political words as “power”, “empowerment”, “equality”, “rights”, “gender”? Is law more involved or less involved in regulating family relations? Or take sex which is, one would think, the most private intimate of all private intimate matters. Has sex become over past decades more or less a matter taken up and regulated by governments, legislatures, courts, and all sorts of agencies? Or let us take other possible fortresses or places of refuge – art, religion, language, history, memory – are they providing, today, more protection against liberal-democratic politics or less? Is language free from political intervention or is it more and more politically controlled? Can one easily publish a book or an article that does not accord with the regulations of the politically acceptable jargon? Are the restrictions more severe or less severe than those in the past? Are our universities the monuments of academic liberty and openness, ruled by Cardinal Newman’s gentlemen, or have they been moving away from these standards? Is the language taught in schools a language of English and American literature or is it the language more and more resembling the gobbledygook of current political ideologies?

There are at least three possible relations between liberal democratic orthodoxy and those places of refuge. The first is that of neutrality. The liberal democratic system simply ignores what sort of ideas are being pursued and upheld: they may be monarchic, or aristocratic, or anarchist, or communist, or conservative, or nihilist. This possibility seems to me rather hypothetical than real. I seriously doubt whether a liberal democratic system can be neutral with regards to many such fortresses. Democracy contains an inherent mechanism of politicization because it involves in the political process more people than any other system. There is nothing in the nature of democracy that could prevent the demos from imposing a stamp of politics on the private matters to make them subservient to their current political pieties. With liberalism, it is even more obvious. Liberalism has always had two features which make it resistant to neutrality, also in the matters which were traditionally regarded as non-political. First, its concept of human nature is that of a private person, as contrasted with the political man, to use an Aristotelian concept. Secondly, liberalism is essentially political – its declarations to the contrary notwithstanding – because its aim is to impose its order on the entirety of human arrangements; it always positions itself above other types of arrangements because it considers itself to be more spacious, larger and all-encompassing, a meta-system, a system of the second order, best suited to organize life for others. It is also intensely political because it is built on and takes its force from a dichotomy – freedom versus authority, liberty versus despotism, individual rights versus the government’s prerogatives. This paradoxical combination, a liberal man as a private person concerned with individual pursuits – money, property, career, private pleasures – and the inherently political nature of the system, could not but break the ramparts surrounding the private realm and impregnate it with political content. It is then my contention that liberalism, from John Locke onwards, was the major vehicle that brought private matters to the public square and made it highly political. This, I think, explains why liberal democracy is unlikely to tolerate non-liberal and non-democratic enclaves.

The second possible relation is that of non-contradiction. This means that the liberal democrats ignore those non-liberal and non-democratic enclaves as long as those enclaves do not explicitly contradict the principles of liberal democracy. This is a rather obscure statement because we do not really know what does and what does not contradict the liberal democratic principles. A typical liberal democrat, if asked, would reply that we cannot tolerate fascist ideas, but as the word fascist long ago lost any concrete meaning, this does not move us far. If asked again whether we should also be ban communist ideas, the same liberal democrat will hesitate and will probably evade a clear answer. There are more and more Protean concepts denoting things that are believed to be incompatible with liberal democracy – nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism. One cannot resist a feeling, indeed, something more than a feeling, that what is not permitted has been growing in recent decades, what is permitted seems to be decreasing. Toutes proportions gardes, one could paraphrase a well-known statement known from the history of communism: the class struggle intensifies with the development of the communist society. Today we would say: the closer we are to the ideal of liberal democracy, the more menacing are the dangers it has to stand up against and the fiercer are the battles to fight.

The third possibility is that of congruence. We tolerate only those ideas that are congruent with liberal-democratic orthodoxy. This by no means – it is argued – implies limitation of liberties because liberal democracy is the freest, most open, most pluralistic, most tolerant system, and enforcing this orthodoxy we, in fact, enforce freedom, openness, pluralism, tolerance, equality. This argument sounds rather suspicious, but it is something I often hear in a slightly more camouflaged form in the European Union. The gist of this argument is semantic, not empirical – if liberalism means being in favour of freedom, and if democracy means being in favour of the power of the people – then imposing liberal democracy means by definition making the world freer and the people more empowered. The possibility that liberal democracy may curtail freedom and be against people is ruled out on the level of the definition. To speak more philosophically, this proposition is true as an analytical proposition: you define liberalism as a theory and a movement upholding freedom, just as the proposition “every bachelor is an unmarried man” is true analytically because bachelor is defined as an unmarried man. As an empirical proposition, however, describing the actual policies or political agendas of parties, governments, and organizations, it need not be true; in fact, it is often false. By analogy, nationalism defined as a movement upholding the interest of a nation upholds the interest of the nation on the level of definition; in practice, however, this or that nationalist group may do a great disservice to the nation. Or aristocracy defined as a rule of the best and the virtuous is, on the level of the definition, a system in which the best and the virtuous rule, but in reality, this or that elite claiming to be an aristocracy may be a gang of thugs.

Now the question is: where are we now in western societies as regards those possibilities. I will not venture to make a statement about the United States, but in Europe, and particularly in the European Union, we are somewhere between the second and third option, the third appearing to be stronger every day. If so, the main thesis of my book seems, unfortunately, to have another corroboration.

Once we agree that what makes communism and liberal democracy similar is an unusually high degree of politicization, we are faced with two possibilities. The first possibility is that the communists were right in their belief that a political system should dominate our lives and permeate the entire social fabric, but they made an error – a costly one, to be sure – indicating communism to perform this role. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the omnipresence of politics as long as the political system is good. Since communism was not good, the pervasiveness of communist politics was not good either. The second possibility is that the communists were wrong on both counts. Not only the system was bad, but politicization as such is also bad whatever the system. If we choose the first possibility, the thesis of my book crumbles. We can then say that there is nothing wrong with these similarities because they are merely formal, not substantive. The forms may be similar – omnipresence of ideology and politics – but the substance is in each system different: democratic politics is good and communist politics was bad.

If we choose the second possibility and say that the invasion of politics into every nook and cranny is bad, regardless of the nature of the political system, then we are in a position to raise a serious objection against liberal democracy accusing it of totalizing ambitions. This, in turn, opens a serious theoretical and institutional problem, namely, how to curb these ambitions and what instruments the liberal democratic system has – if any at all – to do the job. The problem is indeed a fundamental one. Liberal democracy is a system which seems to meet all the criteria of a good order (the criteria which, needless to say, the communist system failed to meet): plurality of political parties, a constitutional freedom of the press, a constitutional liberty to form associations, separation of powers, parliament, elections, and yet all these seem to produce adverse results. It has proved unable to engender any form of self-restraint. Therefore, it may very well be that the problem is not structural and does not have a structural solution, but lies deeper in those parts of human experience that are far more resistant to human action.

It seems that what joins communism and liberal democracy intellectually on a deeper, more philosophical level are certain general assumptions, rarely questioned, to which most of us have accepted as self-evident, but which are far from obvious. In fact, they are a major part of the problem.

  1. Communism and liberal democracy have been the greatest political dreams of modern history. No other political projects have been so universally hailed as the ultimate realizations of people’s aspirations. The human race – it was believed – could not go any further in political evolution than communism in one case, and liberal democracy in the other. What united the minds of the adherents of both systems was the logical and historical absence of any alternative form of political arrangements now or in the future. And with the disappearance of all alternatives, there are no good reasons why the systems cannot be extended everywhere and why this ever deeper and ever wider extension should not be claimed to beneficial and sensible. In other words, the dedicated communists and the dedicated liberal democrats suffer from the same error, the error of big dreamers, which one might call a misplacement of perfection. The real perfection lies elsewhere, not in politics, and certainly not in political arrangements.
  2. Since both systems are considered ultimate and having no alternative, there is no room for a compromise with their critics. The critics are not just critics, but enemies. One does not seriously enter into a debate with a non-liberal or with a non-democrat, as a communist did not seriously enter into a debate with a non-communist. But the consequence of this is the emergence of something like a united front. We had the united fronts in communism built around the communist party. We have something like it today. This is particularly true of the EU ruled by the same permanent majority which is political (grand coalition), teleological (common goal to be achieved – an ever closer union), and ideological (composed of all leftist ideologies that are around today). This, in turn, undermines or makes irrelevant the classical division between the Left and the Right, which has been replaced by the mainstream politics, the modern equivalent of the leading role of the Party. This mainstream politics has monopolized the political scene and has formed a ruling orthodoxy, thus making a mechanism of a democratic pendulum obsolete and redundant, sometimes even harmful. Whoever does not belong to the mainstream is either a fool or a fascist. For that reason, the EU does not like dissenters. But this is not only the EU. In most West European countries, we also have a de facto mainstream politics, dominated by the political Left as the political Right has lost the war of ideas and capitulated.
  3. Both systems were considered to be the great experiments in modernization which one group identified with communism, the other with liberal democracy. Both were against the old in favour of the new. Both take their legitimacy from overcoming and surpassing the past. The past is something to be looked at with suspicion mixed with contempt. If the old-new dichotomy is sufficiently deeply embedded in people’s minds, they are apt to apply it not only to technology and machines, but also to their own social and cultural environment, to social structures, morality, education, thinking, art. Everything has to be modernized, and modernisation allows a deep intrusion into the existing social arrangements, into people’s way of thinking. It is therefore tempting to create not only new type of society, but also a new type of human being and new types of human relations. The communists and the liberal democrats, like all enthusiastic modernizers, are hubristic, feeling nothing but disdain for barriers, limits, natural restraints, taboos, historically grounded norms. The communists tried to reverse the current of the Siberian rivers; the liberal democrats redefine marriage and family.
  4. Both stem from a similar anthropology that reduces human beings to simple characteristics – creatures who are rather flat with no metaphysical dimension. In both systems anthropology is egalitarian. Equality is believed to be a natural condition, not only equality of people, but also equality of human consciousness, or human soul, where there is no longer a distinction between the higher and the lower parts. This is a philosophy of a common man as contrasted with a philosophy of a noble man which one can find in Aristotle or in Ortega y Gasset. Commonness means that no higher aspirations are inscribed into human nature; if such aspirations characterize some people, it is a matter of contingency, not a necessary criterion of humanity. The problem of commonness thus understood is that it leads to conformity and uniformity. Tocqueville was one of the first in modern times to have noticed it: see his description of the democratic man. Commonness in turn usually generates narrowness of the perspective. And the narrowness of the perspective entails self-satisfaction which precludes taking any other external factor into account and consulting any other tribunal but one’s own. Communism and liberal democracy, in other words, were the systems of the common man. This does not contradict the hubristic propensities of the two systems. The common man may be as hubristic as a tyrant especially when he believes that he lives in the best of political systems and that this system, not anything else, is the highest authority of what is right and what is wrong.

The final question – what is to be done, and how to change the system which seems to have all the instruments for self-improvement but which makes all of them inefficient – was not addressed in the book because I do not think it is an interesting question for a historian of philosophy like myself. It is far more interesting for a politician like myself. As a historian of philosophy, I can say, very generally, that if one is dissatisfied with what I called the liberal democratic mental world, should start by challenging the four assumptions just described. To make a political change is much more difficult. I cannot talk about it now because my time is up. Anyway, this is a different subject for a different occasion when I may be more voluble. And on this note of suspense, I rest my case.

1 3 4 5 6