The options for dealing with the national debt presented in the Report mentioned my last post quietly highlighted a hard reality. There is no way to prevent the debt level of the United States from crushing the nation's economic prospects without addressing the public financial burden associated with Social Security and Medicare benefits for the elderly. Such programs are part of our society's efforts to address the age old challenge of all human societies- how to care for children, the infirm and the elderly. However, since the original Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security transmitted to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, U.S. efforts have been based on the assumption that, "in this man-made world of ours", the God ordained natural family is inadequate to deal with the challenge.
This inadequacy purportedly relates to the fact that in the "man-made world" the family's material sustenance depends on the income individuals derive from participation in an artificial economy, characterized by large scale industrial and other human enterprises. This income dependency has largely replaced reliance on what they can produce by activities such as agriculture that involve direct interaction with elements of the natural world. According to this reasoning, even with the best intentions and cohesiveness, the family unit cannot secure sufficient income to be proof against the vicissitudes of life in the "made-made world." Government therefore has to replace the family as the locus of provision against misfortune.
That original report claimed that the "task of reconstruction" the nation faced as a result of the misfortune we call the 'Great Depression' "does not require the creation of new and strange values." In the American context this was, at the very least, a disingenuous declaration. The United States of America was not founded on the notion of a "man-made world" but that of a world made by the Creator God who endowed all men with certain unalienable rights. The aim of government is to secure these individual rights, not the individual's material welfare. To be sure, the idea of right includes the individual's responsibility to care for God's gift of life, including all that is necessary to sustain the body, which is its material form. But the idea of human welfare was not confined to meeting its material requirements. It involved, above all, the individual's responsibility to do right, i.e., to carry out the actions required to fulfill the natural law, which encompasses all the determinations of the Creator's will that make human existence possible.
The natural family, as defined by the predisposition toward procreation (to be fruitful and multiply) is the primordial focus of this individual responsibility. Though its activities involve actions indispensable for the material security of its members, the bonds of family are not simply ties of material selfish interest. They involve the active acknowledgment of obligations that subordinate material self-interest to the good of other members of the family and the family as such. Given the sacrifice involved in fulfilling these obligations (up to and including giving one's life for their sake) material calculation cannot ultimately be the motive for doing so. Rather it flows from the conformation of the individual's will to the overall will of the Creator as it relates to the life of each family member, but also to human life as such. This conformation of the individual's will to the benevolent will of the Creator, (as well as the feelings or emotions associated with it), is the true essence of family life, which we call love.
As expressed in the life of the natural family love is not simply an emotional connection between individuals, though it cannot exist apart from the determination of the individual will. Nor does it simply involve the reflexive subordination of the individual's will and existence to that of the family as a whole, for that would invalidate the individuality of each person's loving commitment to the family. As the individual accepts and respects what is required for the existence of the family as such (and that of each of its members,) so the family respects what is required for the existence of each individual as such, including its uniqueness. Though somewhat paradoxical, this mutual respect is the essence of true family unity. This unity is a covenant of love constituted and sustained by the will of the Creator. It emerges as all members of the family come together to accept and carry out the Creator's benevolent provisions for the possibility and sustenance of human life.
Love thus informed by respect for the will of the Creator substantiates the culture of voluntary self-sacrifice that contributes to reliable fulfillment of the mutual obligations family life entails. What people do for the sake of love they do of their own free will, even while preserving the natural bondage that defines and characterizes the family as a whole. This unique fusion of bondage and freedom, of individual choice and natural obligation, is the essence of the distinctly human community. Like the distinctive atomic structure that marks the molecules of a material substance, it marks the family as the indispensable building block of all the more extensive communities that, because they respect the prerequisites of humanity, are properly understood to be human communities.
In this sense the natural family is literally the building block of human society. If, as the original Social Security report implies, the "man-made world" strains the family beyond its capacities, then by threatening the family the "man-made world" poses a threat to the humanness of society (i.e., that which is distinctively human about it.) In response to that threat, the "welfare state" (socialist) approach started during the New Deal substitutes the coercion based activity of the man-made institutions of government for the love based actions of the God endowed natural family. That is to say, it simply surrenders to the threat. The surrender is couched in terms of material necessity. But since the necessity is "man-made" it is contingent upon the human choices responsible for what has been made. Those choices therefore give rise to the threat to the family and the consequent dehumanization of society.
In response to a man-made problem the socialists propose reliance on man-made institutions that cast aside the distinctively human basis of the community. The destruction of the family is therefore not an accident of material circumstances, but a purposeful sacrifice of human being as it comes from the hand of God (human nature) to make way for a world of human making. In the "man-made world" humanity is no longer recognized as such because man has superseded himself, asserting God-like responsibility for the nature of all things, including, of course, his own.
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that man is the matter and maker of the state. Though for rhetorical purposes the socialists present the exaltation of the state as a function of compassion, it appears more accurately to be a function of self-idolizing pride. It allows man to believe that he is indebted for what he is to no one but himself. But a debt owed to ourselves is no debt at all. It represents no external constraint upon the will, and involves no acknowledgment of the limits or boundaries of our potential. For the sake of what we will ourselves to be we may therefore expend ourselves without limit, becoming on our own account all that we wish to be, no matter what the cost.
In keeping with this arrogant assumption of limitless potential, socialism dissolves the loving bondage of family life in order to unleash a tidal wave of self-worshipping pride that culminates in hateful bondage and self-destruction. The assumption of human self-sufficiency replaces the acknowledgement of our dependency on God's love for us. Mechanisms of coercion and fear replace the willingness to be the agents of that love toward one another. The self-sacrifice that is naturally the free gift of love becomes instead the coercive imposition of sacrifice, by one human being upon another (abortion, starvation of helpless innocents like Terry Schiavo, etc.); and one generation upon another (abortion, death panels for the elderly, the imposition of livelihood destroying debt upon future generations, etc.)
This prospect of fear and coercion, though desperately tragic, is not without hope because it is of our own making. What we are doing to ourselves, we can yet and still undo. We can turn away from (repent of?) the ideologies, policies and actions responsible for it and let our God-endowed nature once again take its course. In the next and last article of this series, I will offer some thoughts about what this might involve.