Tea Party Catholics

Tea Party members have been taking a beating in the public square the last few months. They suffered a black eye for supporting the government shut down in early October, which took the spotlight off the disastrous Rube Goldberg roll out of Obamacare.

Closing the Federal government was not only a bad tactic, it also gave the radical left – particularly the talking heads on MSNBC – another opportunity to denounce Tea Partiers as illiterate slobs and racists who hate the poor and the downtrodden.

Smearing Tea Party folks is misguided. I have been a guest speaker at several of their New York chapters and have found them to be mostly hardworking, well educated, middle-class citizens.

On Long Island, where I live, a vast majority of Tea Party members are Catholic and Jewish taxpayers who are tired of paying the highest combined federal, state, and local taxes in the nation, and who resent the expanded reach of the government Leviathan.

I have found, however, that they often go off half-cocked and in different directions because they do not have a consistent public philosophy that serves as the foundation of their civic activism.

To help fill this void, there’s Samuel Gregg’s new book Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing.

Mr. Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute, is a remarkable young man, Born in Australia, he earned a MA in political philosophy at the University of Melbourne and a Ph.D. from Oxford University in moral philosophy. At Oxford, he studied under the renowned natural law expert, John Finnis.

Since 2000, his literary output has been remarkable. He has produced eight books, numerous monographs and co-edited three volumes. His articles have appeared in a score of periodicals including Foreign Affairs, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, and the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy.

Earlier this year I read Gregg’s fine work Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. In that book he describes how America, particularly since the Great Recession of 2008, has been abandoning its “commitment to economic liberty, rule of law, limited government, and personal responsibility,” and has been drifting towards “soft despotism” that undermines our cultural foundations and imposes a European-like nanny state.

Gregg, an heir to the Michael Novak school of democratic capitalism, believes that Catholic economic and social thought has made an important contribution to “the shaping and uplifting of American life and culture.” He further argues that the Church’s “robust commitment to religious liberty. . .is quite applicable to the development of a morally ‘thick’ case for free economy and limiting the government’s economic role.”

Tea Party Catholic spells out the Catholic vision for personal and economic liberty and how “prudential application of the principles of Catholic social teaching can help alleviate the needs of the materially least among us” and help people flourish in society.

The author writes of his hero, Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. Well-educated in Catholic philosophy and the classics by the Jesuits in their College at St. Omar in Flanders and the College Louis-le-Grand in Paris, Carroll understood that the American Credo was rooted in the tradition of the natural law and the common good.

         Samuel Gregg

A student of thinkers such as Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, and Montesquieu, Carroll included in the Maryland Constitution (which he drafted) three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – “forever separate and distinct from each other.” The 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention adopted Carroll’s mixed government approach. We also owe the creation of the U.S. Senate and presidential selection by the Electoral College to Charles Carroll’s influence.

Carroll, Gregg points out, was also a hard-working entrepreneur who not only built up his family’s fortune, but became a noted philanthropist, He was an example of how one could succeed in a system that appreciates and promotes “freedom and the habits and institutions of economic liberty.”

To restore the economic liberty that existed in the early years of the Republic, Gregg provides some of the philosophical fodder Tea Party folks need, In readable prose, he defines the concepts of subsidiarity and the common good. And he explains how they apply to public policy issues and relate to freedom, limited government, and a free economy.

Gregg stresses that economic liberty and religious liberty are “in many respects indivisible.” This was evident when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services empowered by Obamacare – the largest economic intervention by the Federal government in America’s history – instructed the Church in January 2011 that it must supply coverage for medical services and products it considered intrinsically evil:  “The inevitable diminution of economic freedom associated with the move, was now undermining the Church’s liberty to live in accordance with some of its core moral teachings . . . .Just as freedom in one sphere redounded to the well being of another, so too did an attack on one diminish the other.”

Tea Party Catholic also explains that the sine qua non for the successful integration “between the social and economic dimensions of free societies” is the recognition of the human person’s inherent dignity, To reject the truth that man is created in the image and likeness of God “permits the rights to economic liberty, private property, and free association to be diminished in the interests of promoting grand economic plans presided over by governments that pretend to possess a capacity for knowledge that God along possesses.”

Catholics who wish to contribute to the Tea Party’s call for rebirth of liberty should consult Samuel Gregg’s book as a reliable and enlightening road map.

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.