Today is Independence Day and it is time to take a deep and difficult look at our country. We have to be honest with ourselves and see that our self-image no longer corresponds with reality. We are a country in decline. A deep disagreement arises between those who judge our downfall in simple, materialistic terms and those who see cultural degeneration as the primary cause that led to this crisis. The date when the U.S. started to decline as a hegemonic power is no longer debated, it started with the 1973 recession. There were two strategies the United States could pursue to recover and both were difficult. The first involved sacrifice and a re-investment in education and infrastructure. Manufacturing would remain in the United States and wages too would remain high. The second option was to ignore the cultural aspects and simply allow business to correct this deficit on its own terms. We selected the second option and moved capital outside our national borders and set our country on the path of decline.
Culturally, this seemed like an irrelevant option. What was the domestic price we were asked to pay? We saw the ability of workers to organize, which Leo XIII acknowledges is a human right in Rerum Novarum, threatened and unions became unpopular and powerless. The result was the end of a living wage for workers and the ‘economic’ necessity for both parents to work. This destroyed a natural order where one spouse provided economically and the other spouse stayed at home with the children. Politically, the pro-life movement cooperated with policy that brought about the end of a living wage. This is a cultural problem in that we attempted to affirm human life while politically aligning with those who had an interest in paying lower wages. How could we not see that the policies we were sponsoring served the culture of abortion by forcing both parents to work and increasing the difficulty for spouses to bring children into the world? My argument is not that government should have stepped into the process to provide money to families; it is that unions should have been able to guarantee a living wage for workers. This observation will strike at the hearts of those who confuse conservative economic policies with the culture of life. You unintentionally served the culture of death and increased the financial hardships that destroy families. We accepted the reasoning of economists who argued that there was no other way. This case in retrospect was a lie. You also dismissed a human right recognized by the Church for politically expedient reasons.
We cannot affirm a culture of life that places economic reasoning above the family. In his last encyclical, Pope Benedict shows that the financial calamity is primarily a moral crisis. It is no coincidence that the decline of the United States as a hegemonic power started in 1973. This was also the year when the Supreme Court made abortion legal. One could say that from this moment the success of our largest corporations was a higher national priority than human life and, as a result, we allowed a new culture to emerge that sub-ordered the family and the person to the economy. Our civilization became self-destructive and our problem was that we did not see reality in its fullness. As Catholics we need to be politically wiser today than we have been in the past. We cannot cooperate with those who use our pro-life positions to destroy families (and it is inconceivable to support pro-choice politicians). Are we then left to be passive in the political system voting for the party that presents the less-evil position? We should not be resigned to this.
(Originally posted on July 4th, 2009)