Truth the Foundation of Just Government

In my treatment of social justice, after discussing religion, marriage, and work, I have finally turned my attention to the role of the government. Over the past two Sundays I argued that the protection of rights – at least according to the modern understanding of rights – does not provide an adequate foundation for government.

Using the experience of the United States and the radical nature of the divisions that torment our pluralistic nation, I showed that rights require a principle of limitation.

We could put it this way: freedom of religion does not exist for its own sake, but that men might worship God; freedom of speech does not exist for its own sake, but that men might learn the truth and teach the truth; freedom of assembly does not exist for its own sake, but that men might work together to achieve what is good.

In the measure that right religion is known, where truth is known, where the good is known that common knowledge will put just limits on rights. Deviations in matters of religion, speech, and assembly may be tolerated, but only insofar as they do not unduly interfere with the practice of right religion, the communication of the truth, and collaboration for the good. In this context, freedom of religion, speech, and assembly presuppose two things: first, that religion, truth, and the good must be freely adhered to; second, that as much as these things might be known, in this life they are always imperfectly known and imperfectly realized, so freedom in these matters is necessary for growth in perfection.

This, however, is not the modern basis for freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Quite the contrary, the modern basis for these freedoms is despair of truth and fear of being dominated by the imposition of another’s will.

I remember once talking to someone about these matters and the person replied: “Who’s to say what is true?” A good question, because so long as it is only one person’s assertion of what is true, then truth can only be an imposition by one person on another.

“Gaslighting” has recently become a very popular expression. The expression comes from a 1938 British play, “Gas Light”. In the play the husband tries to convince his wife and others that his wife is insane. He slowly dims the lights in the home, while insisting that nothing has changed, in order to get her to doubt her own perception of reality.

The expression has become popular because there is a lot of ‘gaslighting’ going on, both in personal lives and in the realm of politics. The major news media and big tech have become specialists in gaslighting. In this world of ‘gaslighting’, ‘spin’, ‘fake news’, and ‘alternative facts’, one could well fear the imposition of another’s ‘truth’.

Nevertheless, without a common recognition of the truth, each person is left isolated in his private world. Without a common recognition of truth there is no standard of judgment and therefore no justice, of any kind. Without a common recognition of truth, human life becomes a perpetual warfare of conflicting interests governed purely by the law of ‘survival of the fittest’, or better ‘survival of the strongest’.

So, we must not despair of truth, but seek to know the truth and grasp the criteria by which a common recognition of the truth can be attained.

Speaking here of the truth, there are three principal truths to which freedom of religion, speech, and assembly point us. The truth about God (freedom of speech), the truth about the right relationship to God (freedom of religion), and the truth about how God wants us to live our life and for what purpose (freedom of assembly).

These truths must be the basis of any healthy political life and any just government. These truths are the foundation for a true ‘rule of law’. Anything else, however it is ‘colored’, if it is called ‘democracy’ or if it is called ‘communism’ or if it is called ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’, is nothing but the rule of the strongest. That means that whoever is charge, the people will most surely end up with the short end of the stick.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.