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The Three Necessary Societies
I just digested a rather dense essay that speaks to some of the themes running through my forthcoming book, Displaced: A Darkening Path. In this essay, Russell Hittinger, who holds the Warren Chair of Catholic Studies and is Research Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa, traces Catholic teachings on how people live in the contexts of family, polity, and Church, and how these teachings have responded to competing ideologies. You can find it here.
Hittinger explains that the Church has long held that a person must live justly within the domestic, political, and ecclesial societies to achieve human happiness. He then traces the threats posed to family, political life, and religious institutions by the French Revolution and – in our times – by both the cultural revolution of the 1960s and what Pope Francis has called the techno-economic revolution of the global economy and global communications.
The former revolution shook the ground under the three necessary societies, upending political forms, subverting the Church’s authority and slackening familial ties with measures like no-fault divorce (yes, Napoleon started that).
The revolutions of the last 50 years have made out these necessary societies to be all but optional. Marriage and children, political action and affiliation, and religious devotion are now seen as mere lifestyle choices rather than frameworks within which a person may discover and then become what he was made to be.
Throughout these events, the Church has sought to teach “in light of a non-negotiable principle . . . that we are domestic, political, and ecclesial animals who achieve perfections by rightly dwelling in the perennial societies.”
“But,” Hittinger concludes, “sowing and harvesting the daily bread of this social principle remains a difficult labor.”
For Frank Smith, the protagonist of the Displaced series, these ties are at best duties he begrudgingly fulfills. At his worst, he disregards or wantonly violates them.
And that’s only before his world falls apart.