Without a revelation from God to confirm that man’s end transcends this world, politics will dominate our life and make hell on earth. But in its proper place, politics can do great good. As Fr. James Schall reminds us, the “abiding problem” of the “political enterprise” is to grasp this “limit of politics.” From Public Discourse.
Judeo-Christian revelation confirms that the cause of humanity’s unhappiness is not social disorganization, but personal sin: the free refusal of God. Every being is good, because God created it so.
But the human person has freedom to change himself and the world. When someone chooses evil, the sin cannot be undone. But God permits sin, despite its evil, because to eliminate evil is to take away human freedom and so to destroy virtue and happiness. Sin can be forgiven now, and partly healed, but perfect joy is reserved for heaven—and punishment for hell.
We need to live better—to put ourselves in order, cooperating freely with our Creator. No one else can do it for us. The state can help, but only in a secondary role. The more honest and humane we are in business, family relations, and civic life, the less we need the state to police us, the more freedom we gain to develop our potential, and the wiser we become to craft laws and institutions that serve human dignity and the common good. The external order of society begins in the internal order of each individual person.
Non-religious conservatives, Schall notes, appreciate many of these points and the contributions of biblical thought to western political life. But they wrongly think that merely a return to the Greco-Roman tradition of “moderation” could restore society. They fail to see both that grace “has deepened the seriousness of [the] actions and aberrations” of political life, beyond what moderation can direct, and that “the right understanding” of the Greco-Roman tradition has come “largely, not through itself, but through revelation.”
We need good government. But no government can do what our society needs most: to convert your will and mine, to change our hearts. Only you and I—and God—can do that. And that’s the hard political reality.