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A course in Roman Catholic Political Philosophy is rarely found in any academic institution, including those sponsored by the Church. We do find courses titled Religion and Politics, Social Doctrine of the Church, or Church and State but Roman Catholic Political Philosophy is something different. Going back to Plato, it is common to find that most people consider philosophers and academics, not to mention clerics, to be rather foolish and naïve when it comes to dealing with the practical affairs of this world. Philosophers are notorious for studying everything else but politics and when they do, they insist on studying them as if their object were like that of the physical sciences and not free human agents. Aristotle already warned us not to use a method that was inappropriate to the nature of the object studied. But there are two questions combined in that title: First, what is political philosophy? And second, what is Roman Catholicism?
The two are not to be confused. They are, if possible, to be related in a coherent, non-contradictory whole such that each retains its essential nature while relating to the other. Whether we like it or not, both are present in the actual human world in which we live. Philosophy, to be itself, cannot, by its own methods, exclude any consideration of what is, of what claims to be true. Roman Catholics, during their time on earth, live in the polities to which they belong or dwell in. Like everyone else, they too are political animals, as Aristotle said. In a famous essay, What Is Political Philosophy? Leo Strauss indicated that specifically political philosophy inquires not about the philosophic understanding of political things, but about the political understanding of philosophical things.
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Politics itself, as Aristotle said, is a practical knowledge and activity. What is it that politics needs to know about philosophy to let it be itself? The politician, if he wants, has the raw power to eliminate the philosopher or prophet. Thus, the proper question is: Why should the philosopher be left free to philosophize in the polity? In some sense, philosophy must also be a political good. Such a question clearly implies that philosophy, be it good philosophy in a bad regime or bad philosophy in a good regime, may be dangerous to any existing regime. From outside its immediate context, it casts doubts on the foundations of existing political regimes.
The philosopher s insight into things is not merely political. The philosopher seeks to know the whole, all things that are, including political things. He seeks to relate one thing to another and each to the whole. He seeks to distinguish, to clarify what is true. The politician who, as Aristotle said, is always overly busy needs some understanding of the reality that is not just political. He needs to leave space for what does not belong to Caesar. The highest things are not Caesar s, but those who pursue them dwell in Caesar s lands. The reduction of all things to politics, at bottom, is tyrannical.
But philosophy must itself be a good in the polity for the sake of the polity.