Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Are Rights Right?

Good morning! I rushed out at 7 AM to unburden my vegetables from their newspaper and cardboard blankets. They look fine.

I washed the remaining unwashed dishes, made a coffee, and sat down with Fr. Crean's and Dr. Fimister's Integralism, Chapter 2.  This is a fun but also challenging chapter. It is fun because the authors use such homely examples as cake and football (soccer) to illustrate private and common goods and such concepts as chess and backgammon to illustrate the extrinsic and intrinsic ends of society. It is challenging because the authors discuss authority and rights and I am, in my meek and feeble way, an anarchist.

Whether or not you can be both a Catholic and an anarchist is something I have been arguing with Benedict Ambrose for eight years or so, and the underpinning for my argument involves concepts of freedom and rights that Fimister and Crean thoroughly attack in Chapter 2 of Integralism. Their (and so I suppose Aquinas') concept of human rights is necessarily attached to "the notion of the common good." They consider the idea that rights are an inherent property of a person to be a "fatal inversion." Rather shockingly, they use the right to life as their first example.

The last three paragraphs of Chapter 2 are like an unexpected roller-coaster ride during a hitherto pleasant and peaceful journey by train. My mind is blown. I seem to be more of a modernist than I thought, and I didn't as much as blink when F&C wrote that God ordained husbands to be the rulers of their wives. (That said, I congratulated myself on my broadmindedness.)

I am reminded, incidentally, of my maternal grandfather, who permitted my maternal grandmother to earn some pin money at Charlie's Smoke Shop on the condition that it not interfere with her household duties, i.e. having dinner on the table shortly after he got home. This was, I believe, in concert with Catholic teaching about working women at the time (work not interfering with one's vocation as wife and mother) although my grandfather was certainly not a Catholic.

I wonder what my grandfather's reaction would have been had my grandmother come home and said that Charlie had asked her to become the manager of his Smoke Shop, and perhaps other Smoke Shops, at a wage higher than my grandfather's, thus more than doubling the family income. Would he have been pleased or would have have found this against the natural order of things?

I must admit that, although my grandfather died at 65, my grandmother survived and thrived (despite having smoked most of her adult life) into her eighties without having had to work outside the home for her necessities of life since 1945, doing good works, visiting friends, child and grandchildren, playing cards and doing exercises at the local seniors' centre, enjoying excursion to Kmart for bargains, and occasionally going with friends to a resort in Muskoka where she, usually a non-drinker, enjoyed cocktails. Apart from the "Births" and "Deaths" section, she kept her name out of the papers, and yet has a monument in a local government building today.  Her obedience to my grandfather did not blight her life; in fact, I sincerely find it enviable.

But to return to F&C's attack on the modern conception of rights, here is the section that stabbed my anarchist and pro-life heart:

"...Persons are [now] taken to possess inherent claims to certain goods, claims to which are inevitably conceived us as being in themselves unlimited--for they supposedly exist independently of a person's ordering to the end of any society. Whereas in the former view, an innocent man has the right to life because anyone kills him is harming the common good, of which an innocent man is an important part, on the latter view, a man's 'right to life' flows from his human nature without reference to any society, somewhat to do with his intellect, will, sense-powers, etc. The difficulty with this latter view is two-fold..."

But I have to stop here, for I must go to work.   


  1. You are tempting me to buy this book, although I cannot commit to reading a chapter a day in it right now. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    1. It's great. If you cannot stump up the hardcover fee (a tad steep and no doubt meant for universities and seminaries), there is a paperback version!

      When I am done the whole thing (9 more days?), I will write a slap-up review for a general readership.