Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader asks:
I was curious as to your take on Ron Paul as a candidate for 2012. Prior to my conversion, I was a mega-libertarian, who only had started to become more socially conservative. I now hold rigorously to the tenets of the Catholic Church.
His views are here: http://www.ontheissues.org/ron_paul.htm
He’s not a Catholic candidate, but I definitely think he’s leagues above Obama.
The reason I ask this is that if we find him solid enough, and were able to get some sort of reply from the USCCB or other official Catholic responder, we could begin making a move in the online front. That is, we could work to get Obama out and Paul in.
I am by no means advocating this standpoint, but rather inquiring as to your thoughts as a more learned and outspoken Catholic. I know the Catholic swing vote has done quite a bit in past elections, and with the growth of the Internet, we would be in a good position to start making moves early on.
Let me know your thoughts.
Thanks for your time and consideration!
I regard Ron Paul as one of the only people in Congress whom I would call an honest man. I think he is somebody of obviously good character who has a simple, clear dedication to his particular worldview and a principled unwillingness to depart from that worldview for the sake of political expedience. I can’t help but like him for that.
As to what that worldview entails, there is much I find admirable about it. He is pro-life and puts his money where his mouth is: helping to deliver countless babies for free when unwed mom could not afford it. He is an advocate of patriotism over nationalism and understands that love of country is at the heart of the former while arrogant pride—the pride that made the devil the devil is at the heart of the latter. He is full of common sense about our absurd obsession with Empire and the ruinous effects it is having on our civilization. So, for instance, looking at spending like this:
... he does not hesitate to point out that if we, you know, stopped fighting 6(!) wars and withdrew our “military presence” (aka “empire”) from the over 100 countries in which we are currently acting as globo-cop, as well as got the Feds out of the Nanny State business, we could use that money for sane things, like letting families keep their earnings and build with it. He is a “radical” (that is to say, common sense) believer that human beings are actually created for liberty and that subsidiarity is a good thing. (Subsidiarity is the basic principle of Catholic social teaching which holds that the people closest to the problem are typically the ones who are best equipped to deal with the problem.)
More than this, he is, virtually alone as far as I can see, the one figure on the national stage who has never asked us to support grave and intrinsic moral evil. He is equally opposed to abortion (the left’s favorite grave evil) and torture and unjust war (runaway favorites of the right). That does not make him a saint or a perfect politician, mind you. It means he passes the Minimal Decency Test by not asking me to support something I believe will make me worthy of the Everlasting Fires of Hell (which is, you know, what “gravely and intrinsically immoral acts” like abortion and torture do).
So Ron Paul is somebody that I could at least entertain voting for without fear that I am sinning gravely against God.
On the other hand, I do not confuse my politics with my religion, so I do not imagine that Paul is somebody who is thinking with the mind of the Church, nor that a lack of enthusiasm for Paul signifies hostility to God, America, Mom, truth and apple pie (a delusion that seems to strike not a few supporters of, say, Bachmann, Cain or Santorum—and sometimes the candidates themselves). Like the current occupant of the White House, a ... how to put it? ... robust sense of messianic destiny seems not to be in short supply anywhere in our Ruling Class on both sides of the aisle, such that I feel no obligation to add to the surfeit by supposing Ron Paul to be God’s Man for the Hour, nor an obligation to denounce as heretics or enemies of God those who would prefer not to support him.
Indeed, my own interest in him is fairly tepid, as it is for all things political and all those who, at the end of the day, seek power. Paul’s virtues, which shine out in comparison to the rest of the reek and stench of our Ruling Classes, are greatly helped by comparison with his fellows. We regard it as a marvel and a prodigy that a man in D.C. should be faithfully married for decades, live according to his principles and not grab other people’s money and spend it while posturing about his social conscience as he stands atop a heap of dead babies and/or the skulls of foreigners. But surely that is a very minimalist standard of greatness, isn’t it? When we think of a St. Francis or St. Paul, we tend to say something more than “He wasn’t a spendthrift whoring drunk with the blood of millions on his hands.” Something more positive is involved in sanctity than that.
So while I like Ron Paul, I’m not looking for holiness. Just minimal decency and, more than that, competence. He seems to me to have the former, but when I comes to the latter, I’m not so sure. The simple fact is that he will never be elected. That’s not a reason not to vote for him if, by some miracle, he ends up on the ballot in my state. I likely will, since I am done playing the stupid game of sacrificing my conscience so that some corrupt corporate shill can lie to me that he cares about abortion every four years. I will use my tiny voice to do what voices are made for: speak. I will say to the Duopoly of Republicrats that I opt out of the game and will vote for somebody who does not ask me to vote for grave evil. I will actually hope for change, not vote for people who do nothing about abortion while laboring to commit war crimes, followed by people who do nothing about war crimes while laboring to commit abortion.
Ron Paul, to his credit, stands against both these evils. Like a good revolutionary, he knows what is wrong with the current system.
I’m not so sure, however, that he knows what is right. For he is a Libertarian, and Libertarianism is, generally speaking, a philosophy for people with no children. He is, alas, almost right, but not quite. His sacred text is not Scripture but the Constitution, and his magisterium is the authors of the Federalist Papers, some libertarian economists, and the odious Ayn Rand, whom only Paul’s personal decency keeps from exerting a more baleful influence than she already does on his thinking.
Ron Paul is appealing because Ron Paul is an antidote to current statist and collectivist ills of a metastasizing corporatist and national security state. He’s quite incisive about what is wrong. The trouble, as is often the case with revolutionaries, is that his solutions are as blind to some essential aspects of Catholic teaching as are the things he criticizes. Just as they forget subsidiarity, so Libertarianism tends to forget solidarity and conceive of the individual—atomized, isolated, unbeholden to all communal ties—as the the basis of civilization.
But, in fact, it is the family (something Ayn Rand hated) that is the basis of civilization. So the Church emphasizes both subsidiarity and solidarity in a balance our demented age finds nearly impossible to strike. For this reason, I am cautious about Paul, while still honoring his many virtues—particularly in contrast to the rest of the Parliament of Whores who constitute our Ruling Classes.