“If protecting individual rights (including the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’) is not the main task of a government, what is? Older governments, including the government of what is now called Byzantium, would have replied, “justice”, including as one of its main components the promotion of virtue. That is, rulers were concerned to discover what was just and virtuous behaviour and then to outlaw unjust and unvirtuous behaviour. Obviously since rulers were fallen, they often made a mess of it, like all men make a mess of everything. But attaining virtue remained the goal. The question for them was not, ‘What are my rights as a citizen?’, but rather, ‘How should I live as a citizen?’ The focus was on the promotion of virtue and the elimination of vice.
“I am not saying, of course, that there is no overlap between the two approaches to law, or no commonality between the ancient way of looking at society and our modern one. And I am as happy as anyone else living in the west to have the freedom to speak (or blog, like I am now) and not fear the policeman’s knock on my door. But I am aware that our modern American way is not universal or of any great antiquity.”
Fr. Lawrence Farley
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