CHAPTER VII: A FUNDAMENTAL ERROR OF OUR DAY
S. We have touched on many truths not always admitted in our days. There exists widespread misunderstanding of these basic doctrines.
T. Unquestionably the most pernicious error, and at the same time the hardest to overcome, is the view that there neither is nor can be, for the individual or for society, any binding, that is, any objective truth. Thus, neither in theory nor in practice is there any such thing as either truth or error. The strictly logical consequence is that there is neither good nor evil, neither right nor wrong, neither justice nor injustice. Rights are granted to error and truth, to good and to evil, as if the claims of both were equal.
S. That is not so clear. Would you explain what you mean by rights being granted to error?
T. All official social organisms, and especially and particularly national constitutions, have adopted as their practical foundation the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" of 1789. The rights of man are absolute: he is master. Everything, even truth, depends upon him and is made by him.
S. Quite so, but what meaning do you attribute to the "Declaration of the Rights of Man," considered from the point of view of modern social ideas?
T. It is very simple: formerly, God was the centre, the origin and end of all things, both for the social organism and for the individual. At the root of national constitutions was to be found, as the nature of God's rights undoubtedly demands, the recognition of God, of Christ and of the Church's mission. With one blow God's rights have been suppressed, so that wherever God was Ruler and reigned as such, He has been replaced by man, whose ideas and will take the place of God's ideas, of Divine Truth, of the Will and of the Law of God.
S. How exactly do you find these theories offered to the world?
T. In the guise of those false affirmations concerning liberty upon which the constitutions of all countries are based, as upon sacred and inviolable principles. These are: freedom of conscience, freedom of teaching, freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of worship. This freedom is moderated by law, which law is the expression of the general will.
S. "Freedom": you use a very ambiguous word! What is the exact meaning of this freedom? Does it not mean that man must be absolutely free to teach what is true and to do what is right?
T. It might be understood in this sense, but, unfortunately, this is not the meaning actually given to it. Modern liberalism has understood and applied these great principles quite differently. They mean this, in point of fact, that man is free to live as he likes and to teach what he will. He may write and publish whatever he pleases, he may join in associations for a good end or for a bad. Finally, every man is free to worship whom he will: God, Christ, Mohammed---Satan if he chooses.
S. I know, but what is the connection between these modern liberties and the fundamental error pointed out above?
T. For the societies and nations of today and for men formed according to the principles of '89, truth no longer exists---there remains only man---that is to say, the thought and the will of man. Each man has the definite right to conceive and cherish whatever thoughts he chooses and to direct his life by them. This clearly proves that the only reality which exists for man and of which he ought to take account, is his own thought as conceived and moulded by himself. Outside himself truth is non-existent. It follows from this that each one has a perfect right to teach what he likes in speech or writing. For the same reason the law itself by which countries are governed is of value, not according to the degree in which it expresses the Divine Truth and Will, but according to the degree in which it expresses the general
will, as made known by the election and by votes. In short, modern law does not recognise or profess any truth: it bows down before human thought alone.
S. You would seem to attribute the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" a very far-reaching influence on modern mentality and on the errors of today.
T. Undoubtedly. If in virtue of a right, man may think what he chooses, he may, in virtue of the same right---and this is particularly serious---choose whatever he wants and act on his own ideas. For him there exists only himself and the "rights" of deified man, independent of all authority and all truth. This doctrine lends authority to all manner of errors in all departments. In philosophy, theology, politics, economic and social questions, human thought and fancy are to predominate and to serve as guides. But what gives exceptional weight and importance to this doctrine is that every "right" demanded by the Declaration of '89 is held to be due to man in strict justice, and must be officially recognised and proclaimed as so due. Every thought, every word, every action based on these "rights" is of necessity legitimate.
S. But the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" surely puts some limit to the licentiousness of men's actions?
T. According to the principles of '89 the "rights" of man are limited by the "rights" of his fellow-man. Thus my "right " to seize on another's goods is limited by my neighbour's "right" to his property. My " right" to kill is limited by my neighbour's "right" to live. All these limits are consecrated and are given binding force by law.
Anyone can see how illogical they are, for if on principle my "rights" are absolute, no one can lay down any sort of limit to them. What ever restrictions the law lays
down, the fundamental dogma of man's unrestrained liberty and unrestricted "rights", will always prevail against the law. Already we can see in this the licence allowed to every form of doctrine and teaching. Under cover of the "Rights of Man" the most pernicious and monstrous errors may be introduced into all social organisms, and claim as a right the protection of the authorities, whose mission it is to protect, not truth but human thought.
S. I am afraid that you contradict all admitted ideas and sap the principles on which modern law is based
T. Certainly. We thereby reject all the so-called modern principles; and in the matter of modern law I cannot give you a better description of it than the one given by Pope Leo XIII in his splendid Encyclical "Immortale Dei": "Amongst those principles the main one lays down that as all men are alike by race and nature, so in like manner all are equal in the control of their life; that each one is so far his own master as to be in no sense under the rule of any other individual; that each is free to think on every subject just as he may choose, and to do whatever he may like to do; that no man has any right to rule over other men. In a society grounded upon such maxims all government is nothing more or less than the will of the people, and the people, being under the power of itself alone, is alone its own ruler. It does choose, nevertheless, some to whose charge it may commit itself, but in such wise that, it makes over to them not the right so much as the business of governing, to be exercised, however, in its name.
"The authority of God is passed over in silence, just as if there was no God; or as if He cared nothing for human society; or as if men, whether in their individual capacity or bound together in social relations, owed nothing to God; or as if there could be a government of which the whole origin and power and authority did not reside in God Himself. Thus, as is evident, a State becomes nothing but a multitude, which is its own master and ruler. And since the populace is declared to contain within it the source of all rights and of all power, it follows that the State does not consider itself bound by any kind of duty towards God. Moreover, it believes that it is not obliged to make public profession of any religion; or to inquire which of the very many religions is the only one true; or to prefer one religion to all the rest; or to show any form of religion special favour; but, on the contrary, is bound to grant equal rights to every creed, so long as public order is not disturbed by any particular form of religious belief.
"And it is a part of this theory that all questions that concern religion, are to be referred to private judgment; that everyone is to be free to follow whatever religion he prefers, or none at all if he disapprove of all. From this the following consequences logically flow: that the judgment of each one's conscience is independent of all law; that the most unrestrained opinions may be openly expressed as to the practice or omission of Divine worship; and that everyone has unbounded licence to think whatever he chooses and to publish abroad whatever he thinks."
In short, according to Leo XIII, the principles of modern law are the following:" 1. All power and all authority proceed from man; this is the first thing that follows from the "Declaration of the Rights of Man."
2. This power finds expression in the acceptance and practice of the most complete liberty; If all rights belong to man he cannot submit to constraint or obligation.
3. As the rights of one man may conflict with the rights of another, modern law lays down a restriction in the use of absolute liberty: my right is limited by the rights of others. However illogical, this arrangement is necessary to the avoidance of conflicts and abuses that would otherwise be inevitable. For all organised society there must be legislation. This legislation will derive, not from God or Christ, or the Eternal Law, but from the general will of the men belonging to a certain community. Individuals send to Parliament their representatives, charged with the expression of their will.
Legislation is nothing else but the expression of the will of the masses. It is, therefore. the resultant of the rights of man.
We must lay stress on this main point: the common will, having nothing to consider beyond itself, may impose laws which are evil and contrary to justice. These laws
then become "right" by the very fact that they are law---that is to say the expression of the common will. 
S. Quite clearly there is a fundamental difference between modern law and Catholic law based on God's authority?
T. You are right: the difference is fundamental. Modern law is based on man. Catholic law is based on God. Catholic law looks at things from the angle of man' s supreme and last end---that is to say, God in Three Divine Persons; modern law from that of man as his own self-sufficing end. Catholic law begins by taking account of the dependence upon God of every created thing, and especially of every community and every State. Modern law bases that union of wills, on which a community is founded, merely on the will of each of the component individuals, independent of the Divine Will. Catholic law is the establishing of the reign of God by His Own Divine right over the individual and over society. Modern law is the practical negation of Catholic truth and of all Divine truth. It is the official establishment, sanctioned by law, of laicism, atheism, and all other errors. In short, Catholic law is justice; it is the power and authority which spring from justice put at the service of truth, which alone can save men and nations.
Modern law is the authority and power of justice put at the service of man to degrade legally---and, therefore, it is thought, legtimately---intelligence and wills, communities and societies to the level of deified man, that is to say, of man considered as the beginning and the end of all things. Compare the constitutions of nations proceeding from modern principles, with those proceeding from Catholic principles, and you will get some slight idea of the disasters produced
by modern law. 
S. Without embracing this concept of modern law, perhaps a good Catholic can effect a compromise. Is there not a form of liberalism which establishes a quite legitimate distinction in these matters?
T. There are various kinds of liberalism of which we cannot here speak at length. We shall confine ourselves to the substance of the doctrine, which shows itself under two different aspects. First, there is that liberalism which attributes the same rights to error and sin as to truth and goodness. This is, as we have said, the beginning of all sorts of disorders. In the words quoted, Leo XIII rightly stigmatises this liberalism as impious and heretical. There is also a more modified liberalism which, by a strange aberration, assumes the name of Catholic liberalism. In its results it is no less harmful than the other. Without affirming that error and evil have rights, this liberalism does not state that they have not. It decides, on the contrary, that it is in conformity with the spirit of tolerance and of Christian charity to live side by side with modern errors and those who profess them, as if these errors had rights. According to this view everyone has his own opinions and has a right to them and no one must be interfered with on account of his opinions and ideas,---no matter how erroneous and subversive they may be. This is in practice to place error and truth, good and evil, on an equal footing.
The results of this teaching are to the last degree unfortunate, for it asserts that not only those who profess a certain doctrine are to be treated with respect, but also the doctrine itself which is condemned by God.
S. But after all is it not better to act thus in the interests of peace and good citizenship?
T. There are two conclusive reasons for not conforming to the ideas of that liberalism which is called Catholic. The first reason, is that by this liberalism God and Jesus Christ are deprived of their glory in the social order, which ought to be impregnated with God and with His Christ. Because of this attitude of "Catholic" liberalism God will never be known, loved and glorified, as He ought to be. The second reason is the danger which people run of losing their souls in a social order formed upon the principles of "Catholic" liberalism. Catholicism is necessarily absorbing and educative, and if it does not absorb it cannot educate according to the spirit of Christ. This liberalism forms groups, of which the atmosphere becomes fatally non-Catholic and even atheistic. In this way the liberalism which is called Catholic contributes to the loss of an incalculable number of souls.
S. But the Pope speaks of the ravages caused by "laicism." Why proceed to blame "liberalism" for these?
T. That is just where you make the mistake, my friend. It is beyond denial that laicism has gained its footing in the social order because of so-called liberal principles. Whatever be the precise meaning attached to the word "laicism," it is clear that the doctrine it upholds sets man in the place of God. Man must reign where God Alone has authority. Now all theories of this sort are traceable to the "Declaration of the Rights of Man," and to the liberty it accords man towards everything and against everything---especially against God. Laicism is the logical conclusion of liberalism. Liberalism is its strongest support in its justification of every rebellion against the Supreme Being.
1. "Democracy, as Rousseau understands it, the religious myth of democracy is something very different from the legitimate democratic form of government ... The legitimate form of government, as understood by Aristotle and St. Thomas and exemplified in the ancient Swiss democracy, is considered by the Church and philosophy as one of the possible forms of government (de jure). The democracy of Rousseau forms one with the 'dogma' of the Sovereign People, perpetual and exclusive legitimate depositary of Sovereignty. This 'dogma,' together with those of the Will of the People and of Law as the expression of Number leads on to the error of political pantheism (Multitude of God)." Jacques Maritain in Primauté du Spirituel, pp. 207, 208.
2. In his Encyclical Letter Libertas Praestantissimum, Pope Leo XIII describes liberalism as follows: "The form, however, of sin is manifold; for in more ways and degrees than one can the will depart from the obedience which is due to God or to those who share the Divine power."
"For, to reject the supreme authority of God and to cast off all obedience to Him in public matters, or even in private and domestic affairs, is the greatest perversion of liberty and the worst kind of liberalism; and what We have said must be understood to apply to this alone in its fullest sense.
"Next comes the system of those who admit indeed the duty of submitting to God, the Creator and Ruler of the world, inasmuch as all nature is dependent on His Will, but who boldly reject all laws of faith and morals which are above natural reason, but are revealed by the authority of God; or who at least impudently assert that there is no reason why regard should be paid to these laws, at any rate publicly, by the State. How mistaken these men also are, and how inconsistent, we have seen above. From this teaching, as from its source and principle, flows that fatal principle of the separation of the Church and State; whereas it is, on the contrary, clear that the two powers, though dissimilar in functions and unequal in degree, ought, nevertheless, to live in concord, by harmony in their action, and the faithful discharge of their respective duties.
"But this teaching is understood in two ways. Many wish the State to be separated from the Church wholly and entirely, so that with regard to every right of human society, in institutions, customs and laws, the offices of State, and the education of youth, they would pay no more regard to the Church than if She did not exist; and at most, would allow the citizens individually to attend to their religion in private, if so minded. Against such as these. all the arguments by which We disprove the principle of separation of Church and State are conclusive, with this superadded, that it is absurd the citizen should respect the Church, while the State may hold her in contempt.
"Others oppose not the existence of the Church, nor indeed could they; yet they despoil Her of the nature and rights of a perfect society and maintain that it does not belong to Her to legislate, to judge, or to punish, but only to exhort, to advise and to rule Her subjects in accordance with their own consent and will. By such opinion they pervert the nature of this Divine Society, and attenuate and narrow its authority, its office of teacher, and its whole efficiency: and at the same time they aggrandise the power of the civil government to such an extent as to subject the Church of God to the empire and sway of the State, like any voluntary association of citizens. To refute completely such teaching, the arguments often used by the defenders of Christianity, and set forth by Us, especially in the Encyclical Letter lmmorlale Dei, are of great avail; for by those arguments it is proved that, by a Divine provision, all the rights which essentially belong to a society that is legitimate, supreme and perfect, in all its parts, exist in the Church.
"Lastly, there remain those who, while they do not approve the separation of Church and State, think, nevertheless, that the Church ought to adapt herself to the times and conform to what is required by the modern system of government. Such an opinion is sound, if it is to understood of some equitable adjustment consistent with truth and justice: in so far, namely, that the Church, in the hope of some great good, may show Herself indulgent, and may conform to the times in so far as Her sacred office permits. But it is not so in regard to practices and doctrines which a perversion of morals and a warped judgment have unlawfully introduced. Religion, truth and justice must ever be maintained; and, as God has entrusted these great and sacred matters to the care of the Church, she can never be so unfaithful to Her office as to dissemble in regard to what is false or unjust, or to connive at what is hurtful to religion."