Pell Pot’s ‘democratic’ vision

One of the remarkable aspects of the high profile achieved by conservative Christians as a result of the recent US and Australian elections has been the claim that they represent a reassertion of much-needed “values” in western society. The tacit assumption inherent in that claim is that today’s liberal democratic society lacks “values”.

Cardinal George Pell’s op-ed piece in this morning’s SMH is an example par excellence of that conservative Christian claim to a monopoly on values (and hence morality). Pell makes a series of spectacular leaps of logic in order to stake that territorial claim.

Liberal democratic society (or “secular democracy” as he prefers to call it) lacks any normative element, he implies. It is purely “procedural” and its “claims are minimalist: democracy should be regarded as nothing more than a mechanism for regulating different interests on a purely empirical basis“. Liberal democracy is nothing more than “a constant series of “breakthroughs” against social taboo in pursuit of the individual’s absolute autonomy“.

Pell asserts that “[d]emocracy is not a good in itself. Its value is instrumental and depends on the vision it serves“. He then proceeds to lay out his own vision for a new form of democracy that he calls “normative” democracy or “democratic personalism“, which he says is based on the “transcendent dignity of the human“. Well, that sounds alright, doesn’t it? But what does it actually mean? Apparently, “transcendence” means “our dependence on others and our dependence on God“. And what does God require us poor dependent creatures to do? Prohibit pornography, abortion, divorce, euthanasia, IVF births and embryonic stem cell research!!! What a loving, inspiring future the good Cardinal has in store for us under his ‘vision’ of ‘democracy’.

Possibly the most offensive assumption in Pell’s article (among many contenders) is that liberal democracy doesn’t embody any positive values or vision. In fact, at least in its Australian version before John Howard started trying to undermine it, it involved a “fair go” for everyone; equality of opportunity; helping your mates, especially the poor and disadvantaged; tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity in the world’s most successful and harmonious multicultural society; and a conviction that adults are entitled to make their own choices how they live their own lives, free from the strictures of wowsers as long as others aren’t unduly affected without their informed consent. These are all positive, transformative values that involve a clear vision of the sort of society in which we want to live. And it’s a vision which manifestly doesn’t mean “the individual’s absolute autonomy”. It necessarily involves reciprocal social obligations which acknowledge our mutual interdependence (not servile “dependence”) in a complex post-industrial information-based society.

Moreover, these values stand in contrast to Pell’s repellent vision of hatred, intolerance, coercion and prohibition. I’m confident that these liberal democratic values still have the support of the vast majority of Australians, despite the attempts of John Howard and conservative Christians like Pell to demean and undermine them. It’s time for liberal democrats to get assertive in defence of our core values. They’re under serious attack by a small but determined and well-resourced enemy. I don’t have a problem with Pell or the Pentecostalists practising their beliefs. They’re free to reject pornography, abortion, divorce, euthanasia, IVF and anything else they don’t like. What they’re not free to do is to inflict their beliefs and choices on everyone else against their will. To claim the right to do so under the guise of ‘democracy’ is to utilise that term in a manner every bit as Orwellian as the commissars of the old German Democratic Republic (communist East Germany).

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

I think Moaist China is perhaps the ideal that Pell is striving for.

Moaist China had both the family oriented patriarchal ethic of traditional Chinese society, overlaid by a comprehensive social idealology that brooked no dissent.

Pell is so far to the right that he’s gone full circle and now resides at the extreme left.

Philip Gomes
2022 years ago

Dunno if anyone missed it but there was a little story in the SMH this week on the Pell troopers behaviour at our little church in Redfern. Life in Pellworld can be found at http://church-mouse.lanuera.com, no corner of the world is too small for them to administer their tender mercies.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Eek! Diemist Vietnam more like it, Rex – Diem ruled brutally with a bizarre personalist ideology that was a hodgepodge of Catholicism, faux Confucianism and 1930s French ultra right wing philosophy.

“Democracy is not a good in itself” – for Christ’s sake!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

And hear, hear, Ken – a well argued and spirited defence of values that do seem to need defending in these odd times…

observa
observa
2022 years ago

As far as I’m concerned in a democracy, Pell or anyone else is entitled to state his views and what he and his church stand for. He is entitled to actively campaign for the democratic govt imprimatur for those tenets. In fact there are some damn good empirical reasons why we should evaluate carefully many of those tenets, particularly after the breast beating and hair tearing over the results of overdosing on secular liberalism, for aboriginals in the previous post. A healthy dose of secular liberal govt sit down money also completes the tale of woe, according to the flip flopper commenters assembling here now.

Perhaps people like Pell do have some empirical back-up for their beliefs here
You might like to read all about the values being dissected there but the money conclusion is

“To stay out of poverty in America, it’s necessary to do three simple things, social scientists have found: finish high school, don’t have kids until you marry, and wait until you are at least 20 to marry. Do those three things, and the odds against your becoming impoverished are less than one in ten. Nearly 80 percent of everyone who fails to do those three things winds up poor.”

Of course Pell and co do have something to say about the values that encourage positive outcomes. Perhaps what he’s saying is in order to achieve positive outcomes we all need to ESCHEW “pornography, abortion, divorce, euthanasia, IVF births and embryonic stem cell research!!!”

David Tiley
2022 years ago

I really want them to run on this. A Church resurgent, demanding the right to flog the devil lust out of the children in their charge, hammering to ban comics and throw rap CD’s into furnaces, pushing for federally funded laundries staffed by the fallen with “Mutual Obligation” in wrought iron above the gates.. compulsory showing of ultrasounds in biology classes.

Bring it on. Because that is how we will win. This is what the Fifties really means – the mean beast of sectarianism trying to keep its claws on a secular age and a multicultural society.

How dare they try and bring in back. Even the ghost of Santamaria, summoned by Ouija board in the Bishopric, would tell them that is a bad, bad idea. The separation of Church and State ranks with univesal suffrage as one of the great solutions invented by modern society. History was slippery with blood until we worked that one out.

observa
observa
2022 years ago
Flute
2022 years ago

George’s moral mixup.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Philip, I’ve just read the Church Mouse website – a very sad but moving story. Best wishes…

David Tiley
2022 years ago

An interesting point, Observa. I am not actually arguing againt Christians digging in and going political – in fact, just the opposite.

I am saying that democracy depends, very fundamentally, on religions per se as institutions NOT trying to make other people live by behaviours (mostly negative) which they think are right as a matter of faith.

It stops us killing each other.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Philip, you could all consider moving to Brisbane. There’s a similar Catholic Community to the Redfern mob at St. Mary’s, South Brisbane, with its very own Father (Peter) Kennedy, a strong social justice mission, a democratic liturgy and a close involvement with the Indigenous community.

I think I mentioned in a comment on the letter by Cardinal Pell and the other Archbishops in the lead up to the election that Brisbane is lucky to have one of the few remaining Vatican II style prelates in Archbishop Bathersby. Although I’m a semi-lapsed occasional Catholic, the sort of work for justice and genuinely inclusive community that can be built in the church often despite the hierarchy is inspiring to me. It’s tragic to see Cardinal Pell willingly destroying this.

Robert Merkel
2022 years ago

Pell is advocating theocracy – and doing an extremely poor job of it, as you’ve pointed out. But, essentially, his view of society is not that different to that of, say, the Iranian mullahs; “democracy” but with all the moral positions dictated by religious authorities.
As for observa, Pell can advocate his positions all he wants. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat his advocacy with the contempt it deserves.

Link
2022 years ago

I thought it was an OK article, I think he feels he’s gotta say somethin. Not because of the personal tragedies of foibled humans and their errs but because he’s inavertenly supporting the most immoral act (one of many) now occurring here on the planet, and feeling bad about this it is instead time to remind we the people, just how fucking despicable we reallly are. This said, reminding us of ourselves certainly doesn’t hurt, but in this case given the current climate of ‘terror’ it is particularly galling. Why are these God praisin, God lovin Church top dogs able to string together our depravities so readily and with such flair.

Top down morality will never work. imho. I agree with David and probably everyone here, that the Church and the State should not meddle in each other’s mad corruption. Churches are not political parties and while they should be freely able to push their agendas from the pulpit, they should never directly influence legilsation. TImes have changed and I could start my own church and a political party at the same time. (I could also top myself), but we still live in largely Xtian society with a Xtian government and I’m glad of that, so at least that when they do something absolutely abhorrent, and completely against ‘their religion’ I can at least remind them, if they are not there already, that they will most certainly be going to hell. Hah rhymes with Pell.

I’m not sure about Maoist China. Though I do like the idea of being governed by a really, really enlightened, visionary wise, person. What are my chances? Buckley’s and none baby.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

There is a bigger picture here of which Pell is just a bit player. The rise of the threat of Islamic Fundamentalism is scratching deep below the surface of the core values of secular liberalism of the West. Pell and others like him are really pointing out that reason or rationalism has now been properly exposed for what it always was- a myth. Scratch deep enough below the surface of any secular liberal rationalist and you will eventually strike core belief. They may think they live in a cultural and rational vacuum, but it is largely self deception. Pure adherence to rationalism and reason will eventually run into the stargate of empty nothingness if pushed to the limit. Sooner or later you gotta believe, just like the fundies! What’s more you have to be prepared to fight and argue for those values, unless of course you like the values of the fundies.

The question is, in what should we believe? Enter Pell and Co with what they believe should be our core beliefs or prescriptive values. Now one of the implicit notions in their value set is that it could be likened to the undelying source code of your computer. If that isn’t ‘right’ or ‘true’, then any fancy 2nd,3rd, 4th… generation program you overlay on it will be fatally flawed. For example all the rational programs like ATSIC, DIMIA, Centrelink,Ken’s lots Mabo decision-making, etc will all come to nowt, if overlayed on a fundamentally flawed source code. Hence Ken and Cos dilemma with the results of their 4th generation programs. Pell would argue Ken should look to the source code for the answers to his human problem.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

From Vatican II’s Declaration on Human Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae.

(Link courtesy of C.L..)

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

observa, what your argument comes down to is that belief is ungrounded in reason. This also implies that there is no reasonable basis (for instance – a calculation of the greater good) on which to choose among competing beliefs – it’s just a matter either of emotion or habit. How would this serve as a basis for a democratic (or any other) society?

It seems to me also that you’re conflating beliefs and values.

Philip Gomes
2022 years ago

Sorry for the lack of clarity in my comments Mark, I’m a fully lapsed catholic myself, I’m not a parishioner but the church is right around the corner from me and I know it did good work. You couldn’t miss it.

This community is being squeezed by developers, pollies and now the church. John Brogden wants to bulldoze the block, Gaza style, and they’re singling out this precinct for special management. It’s scorched earth from every direction.

I’m amazed that they always seem to attack the poor. The churches like that in Brissie can only survive for so long, eventually these outposts of sanity will be overrun by a Pellmell assault on reality.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Pell doesn’t have the talent to run his own theocratic state, but in the capacity of archbishop he would be a godsend as an apologist for some Franco or Pinochet who purports to to represent solid values.

Good work, Ken. I bet Gummo Trotsky would do a pretty good close reading of that article too.

I’m marking exams too, by the way. Which is why I can’t keep off the blogs.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Sadly, Philip, I think you’re right. Give St. Mary’s 7 years – when Bathersby reaches the age of 75 and has to retire – already there’ve been complaints that appointments to vacant sees in Australia aren’t being filled according to custom (consultations with other Bishops, the diocesan clergy and lay people and submission of a shortlist of three to the Vatican) but by Papal fiat on Cardinal Pell’s say so.

I was last down in Sydney in July last year and drove through Redfern and wondered how long such a prime piece of inner city real estate (according to the predominant “values”) could hold out against the developers.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

James, I think Ken must actually be doing some marking given that he’s not around at the moment! I’ve given in and decided to leave it all to Monday…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I think Ken must actually be doing some marking

Yes, I am. And supervising an exam as well. But it’s time to begin escapist procrastination. I might knock off 8 or 10 more papers before calling it a day, but I’m almost ready to leave it until Monday as well. I’m actually more advanced in my marking than usual at this stage of the exam period, so I don’t need to feel even slightly guilty (not that I would anyway).

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Pell accepts religous based absolutes, and points to the fact that his opponents tend to accept secular absolutes. His critics tend to reject the former, while accepting the latter.
One major difference between the two camps, is that Pell seems more aware than many of his critics that both sides are accepting their own versions of dogma.
In our current relativist age, all too many non-theistic “true believers” seem completely incapable of understanding that they too are caught up in the sort of dogmatic “certainty” which they ascribe [all too often with amusingly ironic savagery] to the God-botherers.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Mark, I probably am conflating belief and values somewhat, but they may be inextricably linked. For instance it would be hard to imagine anyone holding beliefs that conflicted with their values, although rationalism should make the connection. For the conservative then, belief is based upon reason, which in turn is grounded upon values. Those very values are probably inextricably linked to the reason and wisdom of the ages. Certainly christian religious values have been impacted by reason down the years.

I don’t think I’m particularly religious(although others may judge differently) but I’m not anti-religious either. If religious beliefs and values concur with my own, I’m comfortable with that. However it is true that new externalities will need me to apply my value set and presumably form rational beliefs, based on them. The same is true for the religious or so-called secular rationalist.

Take the new medical technologies of IVF, stem cell research and genetic engineering. Pell can look to God’s grand plan for the answers, while this conservative will turn to his ‘natural is best’ value set for answers. We may well come up with the same rational beliefs. Yes I can see the reasons for wanting to cure a Christopher Reeve, or satisfy the desires of barren couples, even to satisfy homosexual parenting desires and the like. However it seems to me that this rational belief may create more problems than it cures. Opening Pandora’s Box. What if we can control and manipulate fertility to the point where prospective parents can screen out bearing a Reeve, a homosexual child or females? Will not our society be the poorer for these choices? Wasn’t the way a Reeve coped with his life challenge an inspiration to all, if not a calling from God? What if we can choose designer babies and eventually for some(the wealthy?) achieve immortality for them with our medically generated spare parts? How do those who advocate IVF for gays, who could not naturally be parents, balance these challenges to their values? They seem to be the most ardent supporters of Pell’s God’s natural forests, but not the observa’s overall fondness for human naturalism.

In the end govt policy will come down to what the majority collectively believe, although we may get there by different ‘rational’ paths.

Alan Green
2022 years ago

At least Pell can see his position isn’t universally popular… “To speak of normative democracy, however, especially if one is a Catholic bishop, is to provoke panic in some quarters and derision in others.”

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks, observa, your position’s clearer to me now.

mark
2022 years ago

Wait, Norman, we’re relativists *and* victims of dogmatic certainty? That’s quite a trick. Wonder how we pull it off?

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Good post Ken.

While everyone is defining their positions, I don’t have any problems with god-botherers being involved in politics, or even directly involved in government for that matter (although this is not preferable). Who cares what kooky or therwise stuff people believe? And of course everyone should be permitted to express their beliefs and worship how they choose and participate in public life on whatever basis they wish, and so on. As far as I’m concerned, people are perfectly free to believe and say whatever they like within the usual civilised bounds. And I’m perfectly free to completely ignore them.

The danger zone is only approached when questions of public policy and laws that affect everyone, including me, are at risk of being decided according to unprovable, unquestionable, religious beliefs that many of us, or at least I, certainly don’t share. This is the doorway to theocracy, to the voodoo land that leads back to the darkness we’ve spent the last 300 years escaping.

Link
2022 years ago

Observa, this is a great sentence, thank you, Pure adherence to rationalism and reason will eventually run into the stargate of empty nothingness if pushed to the limit.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Ken, the problem with your original post, imo, is not that you shouldn’t be criticising Pell – I don’t have any problem with that. It’s just that the tone of your post is – I was going to say too shrill, but given the name of this blog, “overheated” might be the better word. I’m not sure whether to put this down to the wet season, too many late nights marking, or a chip on the shoulder from a lapsed catholic background. Go Troppo!

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

“The separation of Church and State ranks with univesal suffrage as one of the great solutions invented by modern society. History was slippery with blood until we worked that one out.”

David, I found this statement to be perfectly hilarious, until I realised you were absolutely correct. In those nations which soundly rejected the church, the killing stopped! Especially in Russia and China, where, if you round down to the nearest billion, nobody died at all!

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Ken;

As you know I’m an atheist, so I don’t derive meaning from God or Church. However I think people may been a little shrill about Cardinal Pell’s article.

I think he correctly points out that democracy is not a self-contained virtue; rather than it is an institution or process for choosing governments. There is nothing mystical or transcendent about democracy in and of itself.

It’s true virtue is that, in countries where it is accepted, it provides a generally peaceful way to transfer the power of the State from faction to faction. That’s it. That’s all it does of any worth.

The virtues you rung in – fair go, she’ll be apples, prawns on barbies, I skimmed a bit – I think predate democracy in Australia by some period. More to the point, I think they would survive a tyrant, a committee for public safety, or come to think of it, even John Howard.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

“Wait, Norman, we’re relativists *and* victims of dogmatic certainty? That’s quite a trick. Wonder how we pull it off?”

Isn’t the relativists’ dogma the statement that there are no absolutes?

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Absolutely not.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jacques

I suppose you could define liberal democracy as consisting of nothing more than the electoral system. That seems to be how Pell self-servingly views it. Most people, however, look at it rather more broadly as including the sorts of values and prnciples that Locke, Mill, Bentham et al discuss in their writings. That’s the sense in which I use the expression, amplified and adapted to encompass Australian values like “fair go” etc. However, feel free to define it as narrowly as you like, and I’ll defend to the death your right to do so while defending equally strongly my own right to prevent you from coercively imposing your values on me.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Ken;

It is because I wary of anyone imposing values on anybody else that I am wary of assigning values to “democracy” that don’t exist.

Spiros
Spiros
2022 years ago

Islam as the new communism?

Secular liberal humanism as undermining true democracy?

I would say the rot started in the culturally decadent 60s, when Cassius Clay converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammed Ali, and refused to fight in Vietnam.

See! The threads all come together. Pell has probably been agonising over this for 40 years.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Democracy certainly meant something different to the Athenians – too bad if you were a slave. The question of what democracy means really needs to be examined in conjunction with an analysis of the role of the state. Eg, see the post by Mark on another thread, qouting Nietzche on the relationship between state and people. Democracy at its most elementary implies that the people control the state, which exists to serve them, rather than the other way round. In an autocracy, the people are controlled by, and exist to serve the state, personified by the sovereign. Ditto with totalitarian states, with the sovereign replaced by the dictator. With a theocracy, its slightly more complicated – the people serve the state (and the state religion) and consequently (in theory) serve God. Of course,in practice it’s much more complicated than this. For a brilliant analysis of the development of different ways of organising societies, and the interaction between people and leaders, I recommend Robert Wright’s book Non-Zero, which analyses history in terms of game theory. A compelling an entertaining read. Also sheds a lot of light on development of state/religion relationships.

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

I finally get a few ideas together on the damn thing and what do I find? James Farrell expects me to be doing a “close reading” of it.

Bastard! Now I’ll have to produce a second draft.

In the meantime, conspiracy theorists might like to have fun with the fact that Pell’s article was taken from an address to the annual knees-up of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Freedom. Which event took place on October 12th.

So while it’s being trotted out now more or less in the guise of post-election comment, Pell’s call for a new vision of democracy based on Catholic theology came in the context of the US presidential campaign.

saint
2022 years ago

I’m rather…er..curious about Pell’s closing statment about “the salvation of democracy”
(Actually, my reaction was more like: What the…?)

Can any of the lapsed Catholics or otherwise posting on this thread explain that one to me?

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Re “the salvation of democracy” – I suspect Pell means to imply that he thinks democracy itself is under threat, presumably from an excess of individual freedom (pornography, abortion etc which he referred to earlier in the article). The links aren’t exactly clear, but perhaps the line of thinking is 1. the obsession with personal freedom in the West is leading to people being more likely to ignore the rights of others (eg the unborn) 2. respect for the rights of others is necessary for democracy to function effectively 3. in the long run, selfish obsession with personal freedom will undermine popular support for democratic institutions.
However, given the above, I’m not clear on how “personal democracy” (whatever that means) is going to lead to an improvement.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

That should read “democratic personalism”

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

Pell’s description of democracy as a mechanism is OK. It’s just the rules of the game whereby we choose which party’s values we prefer on any given day.

Pell’s prescription, which is entirely undemocratic, is to embed his values into those rules.

So we can choose any type of government we like as long as it agrees with Pell’s moral position.

Unfortunately his speech is just empty wind as without a mechanism to change the rules of our democracy his dreams are deluded.

Of course, the real intent of his speech is just a bit of partisan spruiking for the moral majority and is thus harmless and fair enough. It’s probably intended to fan the flames in an in-house debate and god knows why it gets a run in the mainstream papers.

Or maybe the editor just knows it’s the type of thing to set people chattering.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

wbb

To my way of thinking, Pell’s article was obnoxious on at least three counts:

(1) the claim to be entitled to redefine democracy to integrally include his own preferred moral values irrespective of either process or majority will;
(2) the claim that liberal democracy is value-free;
(3) his reasoning that (a) many people are yearning for a renewal of strong, clear societal moral values; and (b) if we don’t all accept the set he and his cronies are offering we’ll probably end up with the set that the islamo-fascists are peddling. This is actually the most peculiar aspect of his article, because it seems implicitly to concede that many people may find his values repugnant, but counters that by suggesting that at least they’re not as bad as those of Osama Bin Laden!!

That said, Pell has every right to raise values and moral issues and provoke discussion about them. The discussion is potentially valuable too. Pell even has a couple of substantive points where I think he’s at least partly justified. For example, I argued earlier this week that some tighter rules surrounding late term abortions might conceivably be justified. And I also think there would be a respectable argument in favour of ISP-enforced filtering of porn sites to protect children, if the technology was sufficiently effective and reliable (which it isn’t).

And on an even broader level, I would agree with the point I assume Pell was trying to make (however poorly) that an extreme libertarian position is potentially dangerous and socially destructive. The French Revolutionists had it right: liberty, equality (of opportunity) and fraternity are all critical and fundamental liberal democratic values. There are some aspects of modern western society that seem to acknowledge only the first. But I regard extreme libertarianism as a perversion of liberal democratic values.

Incidentally, this also answers a point Niall Cook made about this post on his blog. I regard social democracy ( at least the moderate strain thereof) as a subset of liberal democracy (e.g. see the later writings of JS Mill, which are indistinguishable from a social democratic position).

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

“tighter rules surrounding late term abortions might conceivably be justified” – particularly in the ACT, where there are now actually *no* rules on late term abortions – you could have your baby aborted and killed the day before it was due, for whatever reason, and there would be no comeback.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I was reading somewhere in the papers about the days 30 years ago when a stream of ACT women used to head to Sydney for terminations… I think the mooted changes to Commonwealth policy are another example of overheated symbolism in politics. Removal of the medicare rebate – the only thing the Commonwealth could do which would have effect Australia wide would only contribute to the current trends enabling only those with money to have access to the options they need in the health system.

wbb may have a point in saying that Pell’s intervention is (in part) in house stirring. Certainly his absurd proposal a few years ago that divorced people pay a higher rate of income tax would have to fall into that category.

Ken – I agree wholeheartedly on the inseparability of liberty, equality and solidarity for social democracy.

TJW
TJW
2022 years ago

I was just reading an interesting article which is to some extent related to this topic (particularly Part II).

The Study of Law and Religion: An Apologia and Agenda (PDF file)

TJW
TJW
2022 years ago

Ken

I didn’t read the article in the same way you appear to have.

In regards to point (1), I read him as saying the exact opposite: “It is a work of persuasion and evangelisation, more than political activism. Its priority is culture rather than politics, and the transformation of politics through revivifying culture.” How can that be interpreted as asserting his values “irrespective of either process or majority will”?

In regards to point (2), he says: “This is especially true in the case of secular democracy, which some insist is intended to serve no moral vision at all.” Firstly, something that isn’t intended to serve a moral purpose can still serve one. Secondly, he said that “some insist” it serves no moral vision. He didn’t state the he believes it doesn’t.

In regards to point (3), he suggests that people have some kind of need and if that need is not found within Western culture, they may look for “other possibilities” outside of Western culture. I don’t think that he is implying that the only two alternatives are Islam or his views.

Anyway, I’m no expert on this issue so perhaps I’ve misread what was said. The thing that confuses me is that people are reacting with such hysteria (not you Ken) to such a simple point of view. I’m not suggeting anyone is being dishonest and misrepresenting his views, but the criticisms don’t seem to match the content of the article (of course I’m reading it with my own pre-conceptions and giving him the benefit of the doubt).

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

I wasn’t going to comment on this, but I think that TJW is right: I think perhaps Pell’s point needs to be assessed more coolly than simply insulting him and refusing to engage with the fullness of what he says. As TJW points out he does say ‘some think’ not ‘I think’. The idea that our secular democracy is too materialistic and spiritually empty is one that’s been canvassed by many people, certainly not only Catholic archbishops. Many people in the Left appear to think exactly the same thing, only their targets are Bush, or capitalism, or whatever you like–a great deal of the reaction to both Howard’s and Bush’s victories, for instance, stressed the supposed fact that we’re now such a hollow, greedy, indifferent lot that we’re prepared to leave ‘values’ behind and vote for such people.My feeling is that Pell himself is actually comfortable in the democracy in which he lives, but that he sees it as his duty to challenge all kinds of assumptions and comfort zones. And his is one point of view. Nowhere does he advocate the setting up of a theocratic state, as some excitable people seem to be suggesting.I would suggest he might be trying to remind people of the Christian heritage of the West–a heritage every bit as important in its formation as the Enlightenment. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate it–indeed, you can be atheistic and still understand that. However as he is an Archbishop not just a philosopher, it is ridiculous to expect him to endorse an atheist’s understanding; he’d be failing in his duty, not to speak of his conscience, if he did so.
the other point that seems to have been missed by many commenters is that he is saying Islamism is like Communism in that a/it is a political challenge to social democracy b/it provides another ‘values system’ that is more upfront than those inherent in a secular democracy–something that better suits people who prefer to have a strict, clearly-defined ideology rule them, whether of a religious or atheistic kind, than the muddles, compromises and vagueness of a secular democracy, which tries to include everybody and thus can be less upfrontabout its values(which are real but much less obvious–they exist in our ordinary lives, rubbing along decently as citizens together); c/the appeal of Communism in the West was never a mainstream thing, just as Islamism won’t be–most people were simply not interested in it, being more interested in those private, decent lives, and shrinking from the rage and hatred within communism and islamism, not to speak of its revolutionary potential to cause chaos and misery. The Islamists will never take the West over by force any more than the Communists could–but they make take over by sheer inertia. and the ruthlessness of those who yearn to impose their utopian vision on the rest of us has to be opposed by a clarity, a force and an understanding of what it is we truly are, and what we believe in, as a society. In this, George Pell and others like him are doing everybody a service, by articulating out loud what might be some of the answers to those things, of who we are, and what we believe in. You don’t have to agree with him; but surely it’s better to engage with the whole of what he says, in a courteous, honest manner, willing to actually examine it all, except of resorting to insults and things which simply do nothing to advance discussion.

goangod
goangod
2022 years ago

The title of this post says it all – Pell Pot. Comparing everyone on the right to Hitler of Pol Pot is infantile in the extreme – but if that is the intellectual level you operate on then so be it. It’s amazing your so called ‘tolerance ‘ and ‘diversity’ doesn’t extend to Christians.

You say “Christians shouldnt impose their beliefsa on others” – but that statement in itself is a BELIEF which you seek to IMPOSE on THEM.

Turn it up.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Sophie

Your reading of Pell’s article is a very generous one. He does indeed preface his initial statement about the value-free nature of democracy with the anonymous “some”. But he goes on to say:
Democracy can only be what it is now: a constant series of “breakthroughs” against social taboo in pursuit of the individual’s absolute autonomy.”
This too is couched in the form of the views of some liberal proponents. But it’s abundantly clear when you read the whole of Pell’s article that he is indeed asserting that he (not just the amorphous “some) believes that western liberal democracy in its present form is value-free.

And the most depressing thing is the values he lists as most important in his vision of a normative democracy. Not love, peace, charity, social justice and the other qualities that lie at the heart of Christ’s teaching, but prohibition of abortion, divorce, pornography and the like. And it’s not just that he apparently regards those sexual issues as more important than Christ’s central teachings, but that he appears to actively oppose social justice policies. Recall Pell’s strategic intervention in the recent election campaign, apparently at the urging of Tony Abbott, to undermine Labor’s egalitarian education funding model and implicitly endorse that of the Coalition, which massively favours the wealthiest schools over those in genuine need (including most Catholic schools). I can’t help thinking that if Christ were to return to earth now, he would eject Pell from the temple along with the moneylenders and the selfish “greed is good” Pentecostalists.

That said, I agree a civil, careful discussion about the role of values in western liberal democracies is needed, and that Pell’s article in some senses made a useful contribution to that debate (as I’ve said in an earlier comment). You may have noted that both Don Arthur and I have been blogging about questions surrounding values in civil society for quite a few months now. I don’t think my robust response to Pell’s unfairly misleading characterisation of western liberal democracy exceeded the bounds of civil debate in any sense. I do concede, however, that his references to Islam might reasonably be interpreted in the way you argue rather than in the markedly less charitable way I suggested in an earlier comment.