Aficionados of the Star Trek franchise well know the frequency with which Captain Kirk, Spock, Captain Picard, Captain Janeway, refer to the “prime directive”, which in essence means that the United Federation of Plants, seeing itself as the big kahuna of the universe, mandates itself, through a principle – the prime directive - more often honoured in the breach than reality, as the higher power/civilization, not to interfere with less developed species.
Seems to me, even with its flaws, the actual, or at least a serious notion of the ‘prime directive’, would have been a good idea for the American Congress and President during the latest gridlock in American political, indeed cultural/social/economic life and if applied to the gerrymandering way congressional districts are allocated the American people might actually begin to experience, in an undiluted fashion, ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’.
As an non-American viewing things from the outside I am well aware that those of us, in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, for example, who have parliaments more closely rooted in the traditions of the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’, suffer as well from the same detached arrogance of our political elite as did any hapless society confronted by the arrogance of the Federation, the ‘prime directive’ notwithstanding.
While the fratricidal warfare within Islam, not to mention the global carnage wrought by Islamist extremists, paints a pretty stark picture of life for ordinary people under the jackboots of religious fanatics when they have power, thus not an attractive alternative to the current flaws of democratic systems, there lies within the chaos of the Islamic world a cautionary tale for the rest of us, namely weather by bullet or ballot, if ordinary citizens allow too much power to be controlled by the hands and agendas of too few, the people, you and I, will suffer and suffer grievously.
Perhaps not by bombs and bullets, but certainly by such damaging things impacting our daily lives as political correctness run amok, erosion of universal rights by the persistent intrusion of the nanny state into family life, the slaughter of the unborn through abortion, the threat to the elderly and severely handicapped as euthanasia gnaws away at beginning and ending of life within natural law, that is within God’s loving design for humanity. Then too there is the ever more invasive reality of government surveillance, economic policies which trigger more homelessness, unemployment, under employment, just to name a few problems, and within this chaos grow two trends which should make us all uneasy: homegrown terrorism and the growth of militia groups claiming to be in the main anti-government but scratch them and they bleed hatred of everyone deemed not to be like them.
The behaviour of congress, the president, indeed of most parliaments, assemblies, whatever name is used, throughout the so-called democratic countries and indeed the very whimsies of the United Nations, all strike me as various flavours of the philosophy behind the ‘prime directive’, namely: we are IT and you are not!
[IT here means we have the power, the big weapons, the utopian ideas and the will to implement them. Here might be a good point to stop and watch the silent era classic film; Metropolis or actually read Les Miserables!]
When it comes to reflecting on such matters as the emergence of nation states, both after the era of medieval feudal lords and kings, and reflecting too on the emergence of modern democracies, the totalitarian states of the late 19th century and the recent 20th century, no philosopher/ theologian impresses more than Jacques Maritain [1882-1973], his works, his biography and the works and life of his wife Raissa, are a treasure trove about life, faith, history and perhaps someday, the process is underway, we will see this couple canonized by the Catholic Church.
Meantime, for our purposes here, a few extracts from a series of lectures Jacques Maritain gave in the United States in the late forties while the world was barely emerging from the tsunami of hatred and blood which had engulfed the human family for the second time without the century being even half journeyed through – indeed as we all know much horror remained to be experienced through revolutions and civil war, in the gulags of Russia and other camps, wars in Korea and Vietnam and just when it seemed with the end of the Cold War humanity was beginning to achieve some small degree of peace 9/11 would usher in the 21st century and the unending era of Islamic terrorism and hatred.
It is well then to consider these words from Maritain, some I will quote directly, mostly I will paraphrase his ideas.
Noting his opposition to Hegel’s ideas of the state as neither the ultimate incarnation of an idea, or some form of superman, but rather that the state is simply an instrument for public wellbeing, Maritain stressed that “putting man at the service of that instrument is political perversion.”
In almost an echo of Christ’s teaching about the Sabbath being made for us and not we for the Sabbath [cf. Mk. 2:27], Maritain stresses that “…man is by no means for the State. The State is for man.”
Clearly when politicians at any level of government, such as happened recently with the gridlock in the US Congress, make choices that ultimately are for their own agenda[s], they are by implication, if not direct action such has happens in dictatorships, forcing human beings to be ‘for the State’ and this is indeed an outrageous perversion – yet, let’s be honest here, either by directly voting them into office, or indirectly by failing to vote, the latter the more common reality, we ‘the people’ are responsible such state supremacy and those running the State have such immense and virtually all encompassing power over our lives.
Further Maritain stresses the stark reality of how “power tends to increase power” – look for example at how what began in post-war Europe as a means of equitable coal distribution morphed into the Common Market and then into the European Union with the power of the union’s ‘parliament’, not to mention the required staff, growing exponentially. Or in the US the growth of outfits like Lehman Brothers.
How’s all that been working?
The full thought of Maritain as regards the state and we the people can be read in his 1951 book: Man and the State.
I agree with Maritain’s idea how urgent it is for modern democracies to develop ‘social justice and improve’, among other things, economy and protection from what he saw as totalitarianism, in our day it would be terrorism and the Islamic push for world dominance to force every human being under the jackboot of Sharia law.
Trouble is while – for example in 60’s Canada, the US and indeed in similar fashion in the post Vatican II Church – ‘social justice/human rights’ ascended, at the same time extreme, often selfish, demands flourished, allegedly from ‘the people’, but in truth from small self-interest groups and so under the guise of good governance, but in reality the political choice has been/is a variant on ‘bread and circuses’, we find ourselves awash in ceaseless demands for ‘right’s which are contrary to the God-given authentic human dignity and freedom: abortion on demand, homosexual marriage/adoptions on a par with natural marriage, daily life constantly pressured by extreme environmentalists, the corporate world making local, national, international choices based on profits to the extent workers have become an easily disposable commodity, only the well-off can afford non chemical laden so-called organic food, etc., etc. The list of disorders in human life is pretty extensive.
The State, of course, will only be converted and restored to what it should be in a real democracy, if we individuals are converted – and that’s the rub in the so-called post-Christian era.
Maritain, though not using the word ‘conversion’ in his argument for what needs occur for the State to “achieve its true dignity, which comes not from power and prestige, but from the exercise of justice” – would I am sure agree conversion/metanoia, a radical change of heart will only occur when we the people become anew people of faith, people in the words of Bl. John Paul, of the “Gospel of life.”
Authentic justice, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches  “..is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour.”
Only a truly just society can render to God what is His and actually know what is ‘Caesar’s’ and what is not!
I believe we can only emerge from the current chaos not only through necessary conversion but also, critically, for a true re-discovery of, and implementation of, the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ – which is about as far from the ‘prime directive’ as you can get, in the real world!
In the next post I will reflect on subsidiarity.
Here I conclude with a word from the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty: What the world needs today is saints – hundreds, thousands, and millions more saints! Hate, fear, bombs vanish like mist in the sun before men and women in love with God, men and women of sanctity.