Home About International University Project Conferences Courses Lectures Projects Publications Readings Contribute Contact      

home \ Thomas International Center \ obiter dicta \ october 2005 - glass houses

McInerny Center Home


Chair in Public Philosophy

Annual McInerny Banquet

Program in Philosophical Studies


Obiter Dicta


In The Press

Thomas International Center
October 2005


Ralph McInerny


Glass Houses



It is sometimes necessary to think of the United Nations as an invention of Evelyn Waugh in one of his more perverse moods. I can remember the exalted hopes expressed for this organization after the San Francisco meetings which brought it into being. The victors of World War II sought to form an organization insuring world peace. Later one learned that a Russian spy was a member of the American delegation and it soon became clear that the main threat to peace arose from the antagonisms among the founders of the UN. The UN involvement in Korea was only possible because the USSR was temporarily boycotting the organization. But of course it remains the fundamental hope of many that nations will fade away (like the state in Marxist fantasy) and there will remain what might be called the dictatorship of the common good.

The attraction of the United Nations is the lure of the abstract. Consider. The good of the individual is subordinated to the common good of the family, the common good of the family to that of the city, that of the city to the nation, so why not the subordination of all these to the good common to all nations? Isnít this merely a logical progression so that resistance to the final step is explainable only as a culpable fault? One could counter this by pointing to the hilarious ineptitude of the UN as well as to the many immoral policies of which it has become the champion and chief agent. But to this it could be replied that such flaws are eliminable and the ideal realizable.

In Catholic social thinking the principle of subsidiarity is stressed. Subsidiarity dictates that issues should be dealt with by the government or societal arm closest to it. Only in this way will a solution be proportionate to the particular problem. Underlying the principle is celebration of diversity, not in the current sense of issuing licences to the perverse, but in the profound sense that individuals, family, cities, countries differ and that this is a good intended by providence. To seek to eliminate these layers and hierarchical goods by homogenizing the human race is to destroy the only true vehicle of the common good properly understood. Thomas Aquinas asked why God made things many. It remains a good question.

Ralph McInerny