‘Catholics can bring something to the political and economic agenda of America’s limited government movement often considered marginal by many libertarians and viewed as metaphysical day-dreaming by others,” Samuel Gregg writes in his new book, Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. “This is the rich conception of human flourishing.”
This concept, Gregg writes, is “at the very core of the Church’s robust commitment to religious liberty,” as the Second Vatican Council articulated it in its 1965 declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae. It is “quite applicable,” Gregg adds, “to the development of a morally ‘thick’ case for the free economy and limiting the government’s economic role.”
But Gregg’s point doesn’t stop there. The Catholic social teaching he tries to bring to light would not have us satisfied with liberty merely for liberty’s sake. Individual autonomy should have as its end “the excellence rooted in our very nature as the imago Dei: a being called to freely embrace all those goods that make us flourish precisely as a human being rather than embrace mediocrity.”
Gregg talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about what Tea Party Catholic is and isn’t, and why it matters.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Tell us about the title of the book. Does the Tea Party have anything to do with the Catholic Church?
SAMUEL GREGG: Tea Party Catholic itself has very little to say about the contemporary tea-party movement. But for those Americans who haven’t imbibed Progressivist ideology and who don’t think that the real America began when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president, the expression “tea party” is an especially evocative phrase. It immediately conjures up in people’s minds the American Revolution, the American Founding, and the American experiment in ordered liberty.
Of course it’s true that the American Revolution and Founding weren’t Catholic affairs. Both were primarily shaped by various forms of Protestant Christianity and strands of moderate Enlightenment thought, especially that of Montesquieu. But within this context the title “Tea Party Catholic” seeks to highlight two things.
First, it underscores that Catholics have been involved in the American experiment from the very beginning, most notably in the person of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his family. If there’s anything I’d like readers to take away from Tea Party Catholic, it’s the profound role played in the American Founding by this devout Catholic layman. Unfortunately the fact that Carroll was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last signer to depart this world has actually distracted attention from his other contributions. Carroll was a tremendously successful entrepreneur, a sophisticated market-orientated economic thinker, a member of several legislatures, and a serious student of political thought. He was also deeply attached to human liberty, especially economic and religious freedom. It has always struck me as odd that more Catholic Americans don’t know about him.
Second, the title — particularly the subtitle, “The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing” — is meant to suggest that Catholics today can play a significant role in deepening the intellectual and moral ballast of the limited-government movement in America. Many people in this movement talk about the idea of human flourishing as the key to such a transformation. That’s great, but some who use this expression often seem unclear about what it means. By bringing the insights of natural law and the Catholic faith to bear on this question, “limited government” or “free enterprise” Catholics can add compelling content to the idea of human flourishing in ways that are attractive to other Americans, not least because these ideas resonate with the tradition of republican virtue the United States was founded on and which was so important to Charles Carroll.