It wouldn't take much convincing these days to get people to agree that our current political system seems like a mess. If you ask ten different people to explain the difference between a Democrat and a Republican you may not be surprised that you receive as many different answers. When I was in grammar school we were taught that Democrats favored a strong central government and Republicans favored strong states rights in opposition to an overly powerful central government. As it was explained to us innocents (at the time) the result of this was a dynamic tension between the two parties. This, along with the checks and balances of three separate branches of government, helped the ship of state to maintain a steady course. It was like there were some invisible hands on the tiller. That all seemed quite reasonable back then but since that time the ship of state has been zigzagging quite a bit like the helmsman is asleep at the wheel.
Liberty should be connected with order and any political movements that undermine either liberty or order should be challenged at all costs. What set of rules or basic assumptions did the founding fathers use when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights? Are we still following those basic assumptions? The basis for these rules is called “ethics” and ethics is based on four natural virtues that philosophers going back to ancient times agree are common to the continuous welfare of human beings. The four cardinal or "natural" virtues that perfect the soul can be found in Plato. They are also found in the biblical book, Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 8, verse 7: “And if a man love righteousness her labors are virtues: for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude: which are such things, as men can have nothing more profitable in their life.” The Roman philosopher Cicero popularized the four virtues as such: "Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind (animi) in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.” Let's take a look at these four virtues one by one.
Prudence is the habit of proper decision making. It is the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid. It is the acceptance of the possibility of uncertainties or things unforeseen and making allowances for them. Prudence is more than animal instinct or habit. It is a continuous effort to see things as they really are and act accordingly. It is a responsibility to seek the truth always and make rational binary decisions rather than simply follow instinct or habit. It is knowing the difference between subjective emotion and objective fact or between inductive conjecture and deductive certainty.
Justice is giving each being or entity their due. This includes includes family, friends, community, leaders, nations, and especially our Creator. Offenses against justice include murder, injury, theft, gossip, cursing, vengeance, lies, and cheating. Justice means to be fair in relationships with others and to be grateful to benefactors. Justice requires us to be friendly and generous. If we draw undue attention to ourselves it is an offense against justice because we diminish others by enlarging our own image without justification.
Fortitude is a virtue that perfects the appetites of our irascible passions including fear and daring (which is an over-extension of our bravery). All acts that do not observe a definite line between being cautious and being foolhardy are contrary to fortitude. A person with the virtue of fortitude is courageous, responsible, and trustworthy and their life is marked by patience and perseverance.
Temperance is the virtue that perfects the concupiscent desires for food, drink, and sex. It involves control over the lust for pleasures involving the five senses. Offenses against temperance are the most disgraceful because they lower us to the level of irrational beasts. These offenses involve such things as gluttony, drunkenness, seduction, rape, adultery, fornication, incest, and sodomy. Temperance includes the avoidance of even thinking about immoral or unnatural sexual relations.
A person who makes good decisions (prudence), gives everyone their due (justice), proves to be courageous(fortitude), and moderates their drive for pleasure (temperance), is a virtuous person. This is the type of person that would be ideal as a candidate for political leadership because their integrity would be beyond approach and the four natural virtues are something that we can use as a guide to see how our particular candidate measures up.
Now, for those politicians who prefer to be identified as Christians there is another set of virtues, three in number, that are the supernatural virtues. They are faith, hope, and charity. They are called "supernatural virtues" because they exceed man's natural capacities. They are also called the theological virtues. In the Catholic Church in which I grew up and in other Christian denominations we learn from the scriptures that they come by way of Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. However, these virtues are known to all religions that believe in One God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”(Hebrews 11:1) Faith is the belief or trust in all the teachings of Christ given to the twelve Apostles. These teachings are summarized in the Apostle's Creed.
Hope is an indication of certainty. “Hope” in Scripture means a strong and confident expectation that our faith is correct and justified. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)
Charity is the virtue of love for God, with our whole mind, our whole heart, and our whole soul, and the love of our neighbor as ourselves. Charity is sacrificing ourselves for others in the same manner that Christ sacrificed Himself for us. Charity means to humble ourselves and to have the patience to tolerate others. Jesus said: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. The second is: Love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no other command greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)
How many politicians these days follow what we (and they) learned as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts? A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. Those would all be good qualities to look for in a candidate for any public office, and that brings me to the point of why I wrote this. First of all, I wanted to record my thoughts on how I could best evaluate a candidates character objectively. Then I wanted something that I could give to others who might be helped by following a guideline of suggestions on how they might evaluate a candidate based upon some observed character traits. I looked for the answers in philosophy, theology, and the ethical and moral guidelines with which good citizens in a democracy are brought up from childhood. It may not be a perfect guide but it is a good place to start. Amen.
Steady as she goes Helmsman. Aye, aye, Captain!
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