193. Men, we know from observation, are not by nature isolated individuals. They are associated in many ways: as members of families, as belonging to a tribe, as dwelling close to one another in hamlets and towns, as fellow-citizens of a political State. This relation of men to one another gives rise to a most important class of rights and duties, which we shall study in the present book.
A society is the union of several or many persons for the purpose of obtaining a common end by the use of common means. Sociality, in the strict meaning of the term, is distinctive of man, since only rational beings can direct means to an end. Brutes can never be social, though they may sometimes be gregarious; some species may simulate society by instinctively acting in concert for a common good.
194. The nature of each society is specified by the end for which it was established. Religious society, the noblest of societies, because its end is noblest, promotes the worship of God; domestic society was, instituted for the sake of family life; the end of civil society is the welfare of the nation; international society forwards the prosperity of many nations bound together for the protection of their common interests. Besides, there are innumerable societies of less importance than the far-reaching associations mentioned above, such as benevolent, commercial, literary and scientific societies. It need hardly be mentioned that no society is lawful that is detrimental to the common good, or to the welfare of a higher society.
195. We may ascertain the rights of any society in particular by examining the end for which it exists. If the end is lawful, the means to that end are lawful, provided such means violate no prior right. Hence, an obvious right of a society is to direct its members in the use of the proper means. Moreover, since the society is either necessary for the members or is entered of their own free will, it has the right to enforce upon its members the use of the common means.
196. Thesis I. Authority is necessary to society.
Proof. Authority is the moral power of directing men's conduct and of enforcing such direction. Now, such a power is necessary for the end of society. For the members must often be informed regarding the nature of their duties and the manner of performing them; men are free and are naturally inclined to seek their own individual advantage, often to the detriment of the common good; they may sometimes find it advances their own selfish interests to hinder others from performing their duty. Hence, unless a society has the power to direct its members and to enforce such direction, it cannot attain its end.
197. From these explanations it is clear that authority is to be exercised only for the good of the society. The office of a person in authority is a public trust, and not merely a personal privilege; it demands, therefore, prudence and fidelity. The extent of his authority depends upon the nature of his trust, and the importance of the end and of the several means required to attain the end. The application of compulsion beyond just limits is called tyranny.
198. All mankind constitute a universal society, of which God Himself is the founder, ruler, law-giver, and judge. This universal association fills all the requirements of a society (No. 193): it is (a) a union of rational beings placed here upon earth, (b) for the common purpose of rendering glory to God and securing their own eternal happiness, (c) which purpose is to be accomplished by the observance of the same natural law under the authority of the one Supreme Law-giver.
199. Thesis II. Society is natural to man, and therefore the institution of God.
Proof 1. The constant and universal fact of human society must have a proportionate cause, which can be no other than the human nature which God has given to each and every man. Moreover, the need which all men have of assistance from other persons in order to attain the end of their existence is an unmistakable sign that this need or exigency of human society is natural to all men, and consequently has been implanted in human nature by the Sovereign Author of nature.
1. The infant needs its parents for its very existence and for the preservation of its life.
2. The child must be sustained and educated by others.
3. The youth requires the guidance and control of maturer minds.
4. The full-grown man and woman generally need each other's assistance to lead a life of intelligence and comfort, of mutual love and abiding happiness.
5. Old age would be miserable indeed without the support and love of a younger generation.
Proof 2. Man's higher powers, his splendid faculties of intellect and will, were surely not bestowed upon him to lie dormant and neglected, but to be developed and put to use. Now, even if man could, unassisted by his fellows, preserve his life against wild beasts and the elements, yet without the society of other men he could rise only a little above idiocy. Long and intimate association with polished minds is indispensable for advance in the sciences and arts. Besides, in the normal state of things, man's wonderful powers of speech and hearing make society a necessary element of human happiness.
Proof 3. Some of man's noblest tendencies, which were certainly given to him for a purpose, find no exercise except in human society; such are benevolence, pity for the unfortunate, admiration of virtue and of heroism, self-devotion to the common good, and similar dispositions, which are called the social virtues. Nor will the general society of human kind afford proper play for these tendencies; a closer association in particular societies is evidently required, in which mutual example and encouragement incite to generous deeds of self-sacrifice and of devotion to a great cause.
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