An excessive desire for liberty at the expense of everything else is what undermines democracy and leads to the demand for tyranny. —Plato
In a 2022 lecture at Notre Dame, Alasdair MacIntyre argued that the claims and conceptions of universal and inalienable human dignity as reflected in documents such as the 1948 United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in various post-war European constitutions are puzzling, since this dignity requires a duty of respect to everyone just for being human, no matter their behavior or character, so Stalin the mass murderer has as much dignity and deserves as much respect as Mother Teresa. Aquinas’ view of dignitas as interpreted by Charles De Koninick is a challenge to this view, for it assigns human dignity, not to the mere fact of being human, but to the end to which we are called, which is supernatural, union with God, which might not be attained due to one’s choices on earth against those common goods which enable our attainment of the supernatural end, and so human dignitas could be lost. According to this view, the 20th-century concept of human dignity is much too individualistic, and because it is not based in justice and the common good, can only provide negative prescriptions against the undignified treatment of humans. It is unable to provide positive prescriptions that enable persons to obtain the common goods and the virtues they need to attain their supernatural end. For MacIntyre, we need to speak of human dignity in terms of justice, what we owe to each other for the sake of enabling persons to attain their personal and common goods and final end, which is the knowledge and love of God in this life and the next.
I would like to use MacIntyre’s lecture as a springboard to talk about the current situation of the world. Since March of 2020, we have suffered an all-out, deliberate, and planned assault on both human dignity and justice. To see this, I cite the Catechism of Catholic Church’s section on “Respect for the Dignity of Human Persons” which is a kind of synthesis of the Thomistic justice and common good-oriented and the modern rights and dignity-oriented views, presenting a set of both negative proscriptions and positive prescriptions for what this respect requires. It will be shown that every one of these has been violated to the core under the pretext of public health. I think the reason for the success of this assault, waged by billionaire globalist elites with the complicity and cooperation of national governments, is the lack of popular resistance to it, indeed, the popular acceptance and even celebration of it. And I think the reason for this malignant effect upon souls is the ideology of secular Liberalism.
David Walsh in his 2016 book Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being argues that the secular liberalism that produced the 1948 United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various post-war European constitutions, although not founded on any particular theology or metaphysics or anthropology, indeed, not founded on anything other than a consensus and commitment to the rights and dignity of the human person, is worth preserving and celebrating for its wonderful achievements. He writes:
Liberal constitutions have emerged from the competition of modern political forms to outlast and surpass all rivals. Not only did they supersede monarchical and aristocratic forms to establish commercial republics, but they have overcome the far more formidable challenges posed by collectivist and authoritarian rivals in the last and present centuries. Despite their weakness and unpreparedness, liberal democracies found within themselves the resources necessary to defeat fascism and persevere through the long confrontation with communism. Now they stand as the exemplars not only of economic and political success but as the model of moral legitimacy the world over, even as they are challenged by the lingering assertion of authoritarian models. No higher aspiration prevails in the contemporary world than to create a political order that is derived from and ordered toward the preservation of individual dignity and respect. The moral and political authority of liberal democratic forms may be ironic, given their own inner self-doubt, but it can hardly be denied as a global reality.
Well, the irony, I am afraid, is much deeper than mere “inner self-doubt.” In the section on the Fifth Commandment, under the heading of “Respect for the Dignity of Persons,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents five norms that must be obeyed and upheld by persons and societies. Far from fulfilling these norms, virtually all the governments of Liberal democracies in the world, those with “no higher aspiration . . . than to create a political order that is derived from and ordered to the preservation of individual dignity and respect,” have attacked the dignity of persons on a scale never before seen in human history. The Catechism states:
Respect for the souls of others: scandal
Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.” This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.
Respect for health
Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.
If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports.
Respect for the person and scientific research
Research or experimentation on the human being cannot legitimate acts that are in themselves contrary to the dignity of persons and to the moral law. The subjects’ potential consent does not justify such acts. Experimentation on human beings is not morally legitimate if it exposes the subject’s life or physical and psychological integrity to disproportionate or avoidable risks. Experimentation on human beings does not conform to the dignity of the person if it takes place without the informed consent of the subject or those who legitimately speak for him.
Respect for bodily integrity
Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
Respect for the dead
The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God.
How have the “models of moral legitimacy” called Liberal democracies lived up to these five norms? In March of 2020, we witnessed the emergence of a global totalitarianism the scope and gravity of which has no precedent in history, replete with monstrous scandals (laws allowing abortion mills and liquor stores to stay open while schools and churches are shut down), domestic terrorism (fear-porn propaganda and state-sanctioned violence against peaceful protesters), horrific medical experimentation with no informed consent, and a wanton disrespect for health (outlawing effective life-saving medicine, mandating immune-system destroying injections), bodily integrity (mandatory masks, and vaccinations known to cause sterilization and death), and the dead (forcing the dying to die alone in nursing homes and hospitals).