4.1.3 This unit’s question: how should government be constituted?

Back to 4.1.2

Unit 4 Contents

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At the end of Unit 1, I introduced three basic questions that can be asked about what should be done in politics (1.4.2):

1.  What should government do?

2.  Why should people accept government’s claim to authority at all?

3.  How should government be constituted?

These questions have organised much of our study since that point.  This was so in the part of Unit 2 on the ‘just government strand’ in Scripture.  The first question was the subject of the whole of Unit 3.

In studying democracy in this unit, we are focusing on the third question.

In fact, ‘democracy’ is one of the main answers that can be given to this: government should be constituted as a democracy, whether direct or representative.  But democracy is not the only possible answer.  Ever since the origins of Western political thought, in ancient Greece, a small number of different forms of government have been distinguished.  You will probably recall that, in Unit 2, we looked at the four main forms.

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Reflection

Can you recall what the four main forms of political constitution are?

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As quick revision, read again the page on which these were introduced.

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Re-reading (2pp)

VPlater Module B, 2.2.8 ‘How should government be constituted? Clarifiying the question’

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That screen sums up four forms of government in this way:

Kingship:                       rule by one

Aristocracy:                   rule by a few (the best)

Republic/democracy:    rule by many

Mixed constitution:     rule by a combination of one, a few and many

We went on in Unit 2 to examine what there is in the Bible that relates to this question (2.2.9).  The main thing relevant to Unit 4 that emerged there is this: overall the Bible does not present a very positive picture of monarchy.  In Israel’s history, at the end of the period of the ‘judges’ and the beginning of the Israelite monarchy, monarchy is portrayed as not what God wanted (1 Sam. 8).  Jahweh himself is the Israelites’ king and favours distribution of power among a larger number of people than just one monarch who takes his place.  Once the monarchy exists, the record of the kings of Israel and Judah is, in the main, bad (1 and 2 Kings).  At the end of the monarchy, when the people are taken into exile, the prophet Jeremiah commends an alternative to it, two cities, Jerusalem living in Babylon, and that even in these circumstances the people can find shalom (Jer. 29).

Nevertheless the text presents Jahweh as conceding to the people’s demand for a monarch, and there emerges a vision of the ideal king who mediates God’s judgment and justice to the people (Ps. 72, Isa. 11).

You might wish to remind yourself more fully of this discussion of how forms of government are portrayed in the Hebrew Bible:

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Optional re-reading (4pp)

VPlater Module B, 2.2.9 ‘How should government be constituted? Forms of government in Scripture’

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In addition to what that screen brings out, there are one or two other parts of the biblical story of God’s relationship with his people which are significant for the question of forms of government, and we shall identify them in the course of this unit.

The rest of Unit 4

In the next part of the unit (4.2), we shall place the topic of democracy in historical context.  In the third part (4.3), we shall examine what we find on democracy in the work of Jacques Maritain, a scholars whose work contributed to CST’s development in this area, and then, in much more detail, in the documents of modern CST. Finally (4.4), we shall seek to assess CST’s stance on democracy overall and to identify the picture that emerges of political participation in the pluralist societies of the twenty-first century .

To conclude this introduction to Unit 4, here are its learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes for Unit 4

By the end of this unit, you should be able:

*   to discuss the historical background to the emergence of modern democracy, in relation to both major events and different forms of government

*   to outline how CST answers the question of the best form of government

*   to summarise the main line of argument in support of democracy found in CST documents

*   to explain the inherent connection between freedom and truth, and why it matters

*   to discuss critically Catholic Social Teaching about democracy

We shall return to these at the end of the unit.

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End of 4.1.3

Go to 4.2 DEMOCRACY IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT 

Module B outline

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