A Decent Society

Robert George Addresses Leaders Forum

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SYDNEY, Australia, AUG. 27, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Any healthy or decent society rests on three pillars, professor Robert P. George of Princeton University told a group gathered in Sydney earlier this month.

George spoke at the John Paul II Australian Leaders Forum on Aug. 11.

The first pillar, he explained, is respect for the human person. This respect means that every member of the human family, regardless of their race, sex, ethnic background, age or stage of development, will be treated as a person.

“A society that does not nurture respect the human person—beginning with the child in the womb, and including the mentally and physically impaired and the frail elderly—will sooner or later (probably sooner, rather than later) come to regard human beings as mere cogs in the larger social wheel whose dignity and well-being may legitimately be sacrificed for the sake of the collectivity,” he said.

George warned of a utilitarian ethic that can lead liberal democratic countries to view the human person as a means instead of an end. Abortion, he commented, is the result of an idea that dismisses the idea of natural rights.

Rights are also threatened in countries where religious fanaticism has taken hold, he warned, where, “the dignity of the individual is typically sacrificed for the sake of tragically misbegotten theological ideas and goals.”

The second pillar of a decent society, he continued, is the family, a family based on the commitment of a husband and a wife. No family is perfect, he noted, but “no institution matches the healthy family in its capacity to transmit to each new generation the understandings and traits of character — the values and virtues — upon which the success of every other institution of society, from law and government to educational institutions and business firms, vitally depends.”

Without families, he observed, there is no transmission of the virtues which underpin society and which also ensure respect for human dignity. Political and legal institutions cannot function without people who respect the fundamental virtues that bind society.

“Indeed, the effective working of governmental institutions themselves depends upon most people most of the time obeying the law out of a sense of moral obligation, and not merely out of fear of detection and punishment for law-breaking,” he said.

The third pillar is a fair and effective system of law and government. Law, George noted, coordinates human behaviour for the sake of achieving common goals and the common good.


In addition to the three pillars of a decent society George went on to add another two pillars, which he said help form a dynamic society.

The first of these two pillars are institutions of research and education. The second is formed of businesses and institutions through which wealth is generated and distributed.

“The university and the business firm depend in various ways for their well-being on the well-being of the others, and they can help to support the others in turn,” he said.

Threats to these five pillars are common today, he observed. Attacks on the family are common and also represent threats to religious freedom to the extent to which religious seek to defend marriage and the right to life.

Attacks on the family and religious freedom are linked to threats to the market-based economic system, George asserted. The failure of family life, he warned, leads to disastrous social consequences with considerable economic costs.

Business, he affirmed, has “a massive stake” in families being healthy and it should do all it can to strengthen family life.

“The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage,” George concluded.

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On the Net:

Full text of address – http://jp2alf.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/JP-II-Australian-Leaders-Forum-August-2012-.pdf

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