The inalienable right of Luigi Taparelli

When I read this, I wrote: “What the FUCK did His Holiness mean?” I’m sure that it’s a sin to have the f-bomb and “His Holiness” in the same sentence. And it’s definitely bad form to swear on somebody else’s Facebook page (sorry, James). But James is a confirmed Democrat and is perfectly comfortable with enforced-charity theocracy, but not enforced-chastity theocracy, and having gone around the barn there several times, I am not as patient as I should be to another Christian and human.

Quoting from a slightly less biased site, I see a less definitive pronouncement than at Think Progress, and I also notice that this is very old news. I haven’t yet found Benedict’s exact words, but it is by no means certain that he actually called health care “an inalienable right”.

But let’s pretend that he did, and that such a position is actual Church doctrine (remembering that not every word that falls from the Pope’s lips is infallible). Here are the problems. First, this “inalienable right” does not exist in a state of nature, so how can it be a natural and inalienable right?. Second, if the right exists, it has been violated through most of the world through most of history. Third, if it is a right which is an obligation of government, it is one that the Church has been silent on through most of its history. Was there ever a Church campaign to get the Holy Roman Emperors to provide free leeches and midwives for their subjects? Did anyone say of Diocletian, “He hates Christians, but at least he supports public nutrition programs”?

Now, this is not to say that medical care is no concern of the Church. Jesus healed people (go thou and do likewise). And the Church has provided medical care through history. It’s only now, in the face of the HHS mandate, that the Church has suggested that it will stop doing what it has done since the beginning. Either that’s a bluff, or the Church is abandoning a core historical practice in the face of politics…which is virtually unheard of. No right exists without a corresponding responsibility, and it can be argued that we are obligated to the corporal acts of mercy. But to make that obligation binding on the non-Christian through force of arms is a very Muslim thing to do. It also seems that the US pre-Obamacare was providing the sort of basic medical care under discussion.  Regardless, it’s very confusing to have to pick the social teaching of the Magisterium  from the social teaching of the Comintern.


6 Responses to The inalienable right of Luigi Taparelli

  1. kishnevi says:

    Actually, even ThinkProgress doesn’t say he called it an “inalienable right”–he called it a “moral responsibility”.

    And everything you’re saying about natural rights and natural law is completely irrelevant, because the Pope isn’t coming from that. He’s coming from the foundation of Scripture–supernatural or supranatural law, if you will–in the eyes of which your right to your personal property (including your very own person) is only conditional, based on you using the property gifted and entrusted to you by God with the aim of using that property to fulfill God’s will. And since that goes as far back as the laws given to Noah, it applies not only to Christians but to all mankind.

  2. jeffreyquick says:

    “Saying access to adequate medical care is one of the “inalienable rights” of man, the pope said…” per ThinkProgress, which certainly sounds like that’s what he said. That’s why I have the clickthrough link; if TP said the sky was blue, I’d look up to make sure it wasn’t red and that they were just using anti-conservative boilerplate. Though in this specific case, CNS is no clearer.

    It’s not clear either that the Pope is speaking about positive law here. There’s no commandment like “Thou shalt treat thy neighbor’s diseases”, though that’s readily derivable from any number of Scriptural passages. And he’s using natural law language (“inalienable right”), which is not surprising given that Aquinas pretty much invented natural law theory as we know it. Given that the right has been alienated for millennia before Taparelli, perhaps it’s not in fact inalienable, and therefore not a right.

    James objects to my description of him as a theocrat on the basis that “universal health care is not charity”. I can conceive of a universal insurance system that is not charitable, where everyone contributes the same amount (with possible variance for risk factors). But the minute that contribution level becomes means-based, you’ve got a charity.

    Here’s my problem with Catholic social teaching: I am confronted with 2 pieces of bread with something brown and smelly between them. Is it liverwurst, or is it a shit sandwich? I know that my Father won’t give me a shit sandwich. So Magisterial teaching gets the benefit of the doubt. But there IS a natural resemblance, and there ARE people out there who would take a turd and smear liverwurst over it. And given the ubiquity of shit-sandwich peddlers, I’m suspicious that the fecal coliform levels in my liverwurst sandwiches are slowly and inexorably increasing.

  3. kishnevi says:

    If you read the actual quotes provided by TP, you’ll see he actually doesn’t call health care an inalienable right, just a moral responsibility. He mentions it together with inalienable rights. Hermeneutically that suggests health care is not an inalienable right in Papa B.’s view. The problem is to decide what is the best method of carrying out that moral responsibility–the best oeconomy (in the theological, especially the Greek Orthodox theological sense)–in practical terms. And it’s not at all clear that government is better or worse than private efforts in this regard.

    And there would a natural rights argument for Catholic style “social justice” or just plain charity if you will–your property is yours if it is justly earned. It is not justly earned if you do not give to others appropriate payment in some form for what their efforts allow you to do.

  4. jeffreyquick says:

    Well, yes, I did read them, and I did notice that he didn’t say that. So what’s CNS and TP doing conflating the two? That’s like reading my last comment and then claiming that I favor eating feces. As for your second paragraph, it implies that there need to be more markets so that we can decide what appropriate payment is.

    I’m not trying to make the Church Objectivist (at the thought of which Ayn takes a big whirl on her spit in Hell). But I suppose it’s possible that I’m trying to sanctify my remaining Randian baggage.

  5. kishnevi says:

    You might be. But remember when Jesus asked for that coin and said Render unto Ceasar, etc. he was implying that money was in Ceasar’s realm, not God’s. And that treasure being laid up in Heaven probably can’t be measured in bullion, much less FRNs.

    This is one of those places where the Crucifixion happens, because you’re trying to incarnate Love into the World. So there will always be a problem until the end of time, when the World will itself become the incarnation of Love, and never will be a perfect solution until then.

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