WELCOME! CrossCurrents aims to provoke thought and enrich faith by interpreting current events in the light of Catholic tradition. I hope you find these columns both entertaining and clarifying. Your feedback and comments are welcome! See more about me and my work at http://home.comcast.net/~bfmswain/onlinestorage/index.html or contact me directly at bfswain@juno.com NOTE: TO READ OR WRITE COMMENTS, CLICK ON THE TITLE OF A POST.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

#467: We CAN do Better than Fake Facts

  In an age where virtually all our nation’s public institutions have fallen into distrust, perhaps it is time to look beyond our borders. Perhaps a focus on some basic facts that are beyond dispute can provide a basis for public debate. 

We live in distempered times.  The general public, surveying the current events landscape, reacts with a wide range of troubled emotions: anger, embarrassment, fear, frustration, ridicule, disdain, even disbelief and shock at what is no longer shocking.  No matter our zip code, economic class, or political stripe, almost no one is happy with the current state of public affairs.
The climate for civil discourse is the worst I can remember--and I am a child of the 1960s, when U.S. cities burned and the nation’s capital was repeatedly besieged by impassioned demonstrators and three national leaders were assassinated.
I shared my Boomer generation’s desire for change, a desire to create a better world.  I saw many of our institutions--the government, the military, the police, the church, even the family--in crisis.  I found our country drifting into a spiritual malaise that sapped the moral energy we needed to revitalize our national values.  I saw the need for strong guiding values in the face of war, racism, and poverty, but by 1969 I had lost confidence in our established political parties.  I felt that, rather than providing visionary and moral leadership, the GOP and Democrats simply reflected the materialist and war-like values of their political bases.  Our leaders were following conventional wisdom of public opinion, rather than leading in a better direction.  I had lost faith in the system.
So I chose to abandon my own ambitions for a political career and to promote better values by working “outside the system.” For me, activism for a better world took the form of local action focused on faith-based communities. This was my response to that era’s crisis of values.
But 40+ years later we seem to face, not merely the crisis over values, but even a crisis over facts.  We are not merely divided by what we value, by what matters, we are even divided over what is real, what is true.
We see the signs everywhere as people dispute reality on a issue after issue.  We argue whether climate change is real or a hoax. Whether elections are rigged or fair.  Whether the current investigations are legitimate or witch hunts. Whether immigrants are a threat or a benefit.  Whether a travel ban means better security or unjust discrimination.
This begs a question: what relevance can faith have here? When people struggle to achieve common values, as happened in the 1960s, it made sense to look to faith-based institutions for moral guidelines—churches were prominent in the civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King was an ordained minister, not a public official.
But when people are reduced to fighting over facts--what use are faith-based institutions?
I am convinced our religious institutions can help us achieve common ground about basic facts that can renew our civil climate and revive the possibility of a productive public debate.  If we can agree on what’s true, we can then argue civilly and constructively about what should be done.  But how to agree on what’s true?
First, we step with a primary fact behind all others facts: Facts are mostly a matter of good sources.
None of us can verify every fact for ourselves.  We rely on GPS to know where we are going¸ and the speedometer to tell us how fast we are getting there.  We rely on meteorologists tell us a storm is on the radar, on clocks to tell us the time, on green lights to tell us it’s safe to go, on the Internet for nearly everything.  Every hour of our lives we depend on facts, but we get those facts, not from our own direct observation, but from sources we trust. We know the facts only because we believe those sources.   A wise philosopher once said that 95% of the most brilliant person’s knowledge is based on such belief.
It stands to reason, then, that our current crisis over facts is actually rooted in a crisis over sources.  In a word, what we believe depends on whom we believe-- and right now, our country cannot agree on whom to believe.
This is especially true when we speak of facts about public affairs.  Where people once prized freedom of the press, many now dismiss the mainstream media.  Where people once relied on “the fourth estate” of reporters and commentators, many (even our leaders) now turn instead to social media.  While the previous generation counted on investigative journalist to dig up the truth, we now turn to cable news panels to hear what we want to hear.
It makes sense, then, that to restore common facts we need to search for sources we can count on.
And forgive my career-shaped bias, but I find the Catholic Church a helpful source in the search for common facts.  I know this institution has been scandal- plagued for nearly a generation now (see CrossCurrents #442 https://swaincrosscurrents.blogspot.com/2015/11/442-spotlight-gets-story-right.html to see how persistently that scandal has crossed my own career path).  And last week’s allegations against Australia’s (and the Vatican’s) Cardinal George Pell once again has stained the church’s credibility.
Nonetheless, there is a case to be made for paying attention to the Catholic Church on public affairs--and if one does pay attention, the results are significant.
Let me cite two sets of well-established facts that could become the basis for a much wider discussion.
Fact Set One: Why pay attention to the Catholic Church?
Fact #1: the Catholic Church is the world’s largest organization of any kind, with more than a billion members and worldwide coverage. 
Fact #2: Its membership includes roughly 20% of all Americans, and these American Catholics have become an important swing vote in recent elections.
Fact #3: Despite the toll of the sex abuse scandal on the Church’s public reputation, the election of Pope Francis in 2013 brought a huge public relations boost to the Catholic Church.  Francis is among the planet’s most visible and respected—even beloved--public figures.  When he talks, people listen, and when he talks, he speaks for a consistent tradition of the Catholic Church’s vision for a better modern world dating back to 1891.
Fact #4: That vision presents a comprehensive analysis of world affairs, as well as set of principles for addressing our major challenges.
In my opinion, that vision, typically called Catholic Social Teaching (CST), represents the best single perspective on the crises facing our world and how they might be solved.  In particular, I believe that Francis is speaking to our time with a focus, a breadth, and a wisdom unmatched by any of our nation’s public figures. That’s why I pay attention.  And this leads me to a second set of facts. 
Fact Set Two: Facts about what Catholic Social Teaching (CST) actually says.
Fact #5: CST says promoting the common good is more important than pursuing personal benefit.

Fact #6: CST says people have a right to private property--but all our property must serve the benefit of others.

Fact #7: CST says that the market system must serve people, rather people serving the market.

Fact #8: CST says that healthcare is a human right, not a commodity or a privilege.
Fact #9: call CST says that immigration is a human right; while governments may protect their borders, they must respect the right of people to migrate.

Fact #10:  CST says that climate change is a reality, that it is a threat to God’s creation, and that the entire human family—but especially wealthy nations—face the moral imperative to address it.

Fact #11: CST says that economic inequality is the unacceptable sources of many evils, and must be fixed.

Fact #12: CST says that, while war may be justified under some conditions, the conditions of modern warfare make such justification rare or impossible.

Fact #13: CST says that religion is not to blame for terrorism. Rather, terror emerges from poverty, injustice, and fanaticism.
Fact #14: CST says that Islam, like Judaism, worships the same God as Christians.

Fact #15: CST says that taxation must serve the common good--even if that means redistributing wealth

Fact #16: CST says the world’s population comprises one human family and that this planet is our common home, so our goodness must be judged by our embrace of that family and our efforts to care for that home.

We’re all entitled to our opinions, but not to our own facts. So anyone can disagree with the statements above--but no one can say that these are not in fact the teachings of the Catholic Church. 
And those facts matter. For those of us who are Catholic, or those of us who admire Pope Francis, or those of us who simply seek a vision of a better future, these facts can be--as they are for me—a starting point for any discussion of public affairs. Even if we disagree with the positions they express, we cannot deny they represent the worldview of the world’s largest organization. And on that basis alone, they deserve our attention. They certainly deserve more attention than the fake facts flying all around us. We can do better than that. 
© Bernard F. Swain PhD 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

#466: A Surprisingly “catholic” Encounter

  Catholic spirituality is much like a vast global forest. This is the story of just one tree.
I spent part of the 2016-2017 academic year leading a group of young participants through the RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).  They were preparing to become Catholics, and my role was to familiarize them with the core elements of Catholic tradition.  One topic was the multiplicity of customs, beliefs, and practices that comprise the rich tapestry of Catholic spirituality. They were amazed to learn how Catholics through history have attached themselves to small practices that shape their faith life in hundreds of varied ways.

My recent trip to France with my wife Anne offered a perfect opportunity to explore one striking example of such practices: the blessing of throats on the feast of Saint Blaise (February 3).

During a day trip south of Paris, we drove to the small town of Milly-la-Forêt to visit a tiny chapel celebrated for its décor, painted by Jean Cocteau. 

We were not even sure the chapel would be open on a weekday afternoon, but as we approached the parking lot I noticed an older man walking away from the chapel carrying a ring of keys to his car.  We stopped and, as I walked toward him, I called out “Monsieur, would it be possible for us to visit the chapel?”

He began walking to us with an apologetic look on his face.  “I am very sorry,” he said.  “I am afraid that will be impossible. The chapel is undergoing renovations, and the technicians are just now at work inside while it is close to the public.”

Even before I could express my own disappointment, our local host Françoise spoke up: “But surely, Monsieur, you cannot refuse these two visitors, who have come all the way from the United States to visit this chapel!”

At this point the man got the first of several surprised looks on his face.  “You are visiting from America?” When we nodded, he went on. “You know, the Americans came through this very village during the Liberations on their way to Paris from the south.  And after the war I became friends with one of the GIs, because he married a local girl and took her back to live in Boston.”

When I quickly observed that we also live in Boston, the man’s face showed surprise a second time.  “No, really? I have always felt attached to the Americans because of Patton’s army coming through here.” I offered the further information that General Patton himself was a resident of the Boston area, and that there is a park named for him on the North Shore where to this day there sits a genuine Patton tank.

The man’s third surprised look was accompanied by a shrug.  “In that case, Madame is correct,” he said, nodding to Francoise. “I cannot refuse you your visit to the chapel.  Follow me.”

As it turned out, the chapel in question is in fact the chapel of Saint Blaise, who was Bishop of Sebastea (in historical Armenia, now modern Sivas, in Turkey) in the 4th century.  When I recalled my childhood experience of the blessing of the throats on the feast to Saint Blaise, the man shifted gears.  From that moment on he would not simply be opening the door to the chapel.  He would be providing a detailed guided tour of the chapel and the surrounding garden.

“Of course, that blessing was done with two candles on the throat,” he said, demonstrating with his fingers set into the shape.  “At the same time the following blessing is given: ‘May Almighty God at the intercession of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, preserve you from infections of the throat and from all other afflictions.’ That’s because of the legend: Saint Blaise was supposed to have saved a choking child by touching his throat.”

We wondered why the name over the chapel was Saint Blaise des Simples. Our guide explained. “That’s because, in French, “simples” refers to medicinal herbs, plants that promote health.  And that explains the link between the saint and the chapel.  You see, due to his legend, he became a patron saint of good health, especially of healthy herbs--and this village of Milly-la-Forêt has, since the 10th century, enjoyed a wide reputation for the medicinal herbs grown here.  So the link between Saint Blaise and this place made a dedicated chapel a natural idea.”

It turns out that the garden around the chapel is still planted with such herbs, each in a separate plot well tended by the village’s committee of volunteers, of which this man is a leading member.  And each plot is marked with a small sign indicating what herb it contains.

The renovation was necessary to save the paintings that Cocteau was commissioned to make in the late 1950s as a way of providing symbolic imagery for the plain interior of this old stone chapel, which had been abandoned for some years.

Cocteau used simple bold strokes, herbal designs, and earth-tone and plant-tone colors to symbolize the veneration of Saint Blaise.

There is a small statue of the saint with a plant-like bishop’s staff in his hands,
and Cocteau’s own tomb is in the middle of the chapel floor with a simple inscription “Je reste avec vous”--I remain with you.  There is also a small framed photograph of the artist.

Outside the building, our guide took us from one plant to another, explaining what each might be used for.  And at the end of a tour that lasted nearly an hour (during which Anne took the photos featured here), he accompanied us back to the parking lot. Francoise suggested that we might get in touch with his friend after we returned to Boston. 

“Unfortunately,” he said, “I don’t have his contact information with me.” Francoise replied, “Why don’t you give me your e-mail address, and then we can pass that information on to our American friends.”

As he dictated his e-mail address to Francoise, and I watched her writing, I realized I was about to provoke yet another surprised look from our new friend.

“So you are Bernard?” I asked.

“Yes, my name is Bernard.”

“Well, I am also Bernard.”

“”Ah non!  It’s not possible!” his face suggested that we had presented one too many coincidences.  But he also looked very pleased.

After that Anne proposed a picture of Francoise standing with the two Bernards, and then we drove off as he waved his farewell.
The Two Bernards and Francoise (Anne Connaughton photos)

It struck me, as I reflect upon this visit, that a sort of instant bond between total strangers had sprung up simply due to two converging factors.  First, was the fact that a war had brought someone from my hometown to his hometown, thus creating a physical link that none of us knew in advance.  Second was the fact that, as Catholics, we strangers already shared--before we even talked about it--a tradition that included one particular spiritual practice, which had in turn given birth to this chapel and created a common interest among us. 

We call that war "World War II" precisely because it engaged people from such far reaches.  And we call the Church “catholic” because it aspires to be a universal community that embraces the entire human race across the globe. 

In the final analysis then, it is actually not so very strange that a 4th century bishop from what is now Turkey would inspire a modern artist’s work in a building in what is now central France, and then trigger a new friendship between a resident of the village and two visitors from across the sea. In that sense, it is not too surprising, after all, that someone who spent his life in a small French village, volunteering his time to attend a small herbal garden around an ancient stone chapel, would one day come across two visitors from 3000 miles away who shared his interest in honoring a saint who himself had lived long ago and far away.  It's a very catholic (and Catholic) thing.

© Bernard F. Swain PhD 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

#465: Time Is Running Out for Roe v. Wade

  Roe v. Wade was always a ticking time bomb, and although it’s had a very long fuse, it’s about to go off.

No, I’m not talking about the prospect of a conservative SCOTUS majority overturning the case. I’m talking about the natural outcome of the case itself.

Two major features characterized the legal argument of the majority in Roe v. Wade.  First was the idea that privacy was an implied right under the US Constitution which protected women from the intrusion of government.  Second, it determined that the “viability” of the fetus was the dividing line between the woman’s private interest before viability, and the state’s interest after.

Of course, there were two risky implications in using the idea of “viability.” First, determining when was “before” and when was “after” might prove to be difficult.  And in fact the court chose an arbitrary method: it divided pregnancy into trimesters, and determined that the first was “before,” the third trimester was “after,” and the second trimester was someplace in between.

The second risk is that the very idea of “viability” was, in reality, a sliding scale, a moving target.  The court decided Roe v Wade in 1973, when fetuses rarely survived outside a mother until the third trimester--that is, after 24 weeks.  A fetus born prematurely at six months almost surely died.

As time passed, however, and medical technology and prenatal care evolved, early births received better and better treatment, and premature babies survived at younger and younger ages.  By the 21st century, it was common for babies born at 24 weeks and even younger--that is, in the second trimester--to survive.  Babies born at 24 weeks now have a 40% chance of survival, and babies born at 23 weeks still have a 17% chance of survival.  This represents a remarkable shift in “viability” in the 44 years since Roe v. Wade.
 But now comes a much more dramatic development, with the recent report of the invention of an artificial womb. (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/04/preemies-floating-in-fluid-filled-bags/524181/) Until now, the device has been used only with baby lambs, but the inventors reported it would soon be available to assist “premature babies.”

To be this seems to be a case of under-reporting.  For if we’re really going to have an artificial womb, the implications go far beyond what we now think of as premature babies.  Such a device potentially offers the prospect of bringing fetuses to term in pregnancies much shorter than the current “viability” limit:

Within a decade or so, babies born between 23 and 25 weeks might not be thrust into the harsh outside world at all. Instead, they may be immediately plunged into a special bag filled with lab-made amniotic fluid, designed to help them gestate for another month inside an artificial womb.

--the Atlantic April 25, 2017

The current device is quite primitive, but will surely evolve. Dear reader, imagine the practical impact of a device that could, for example, offer survivability to a fetus in mid-or even early second trimester.

This impact was explored long ago in a hypothetical discussion that was part of a popular Boston TV show called “Miller’s Court.”

Arthur Miller, a Harvard law professor (now at NYU law school), used the program from 1979-1988 to discuss legal issues in a quasi-courtroom forum, usually cross examining several panelists at once.

On the occasion I have in mind, the issue under discussion was abortion.  The panel included then- Congressman Barney Frank and feminist writer Gloria Steinem.

Miller posed this hypothetical question: suppose that an artificial womb could be used to bring a fetus to term AFTER the pregnancy was terminated by abortion. Would that mean that the mother would lose her legal standing, and the state would gain a legal interest in preserving the child’s life? Both Barney Frank and Gloria Steinem agreed that to be the case. They said yes: at that point the state could act to save the child, and the mother’s right to decide would be gone (presumably because her privacy right had ended).

Two noteworthy points here: first, Frank and Steinem were answering a really hypothetical question, which at the time (the mid-1980s) had no practical importance.  Second, it was nonetheless stunning to hear two such prominent pro-choice advocates take the position they took. In effect, they were limiting the women’s control over the effects of her choice, once the fetus was outside her body.

You see, this discussion revealed a generally overlooked element about abortion itself.  It demonstrated that an abortion is really two events at once: it is the termination of a pregnancy, and it is the death of a fetus.  Generally, these two events are inevitably connected; one cannot choose one without the other.  And so most discussions about abortion jumble the two together, with pro-lifers opposing the killing, and pro-choicers defending the woman’s right to end her pregnancy.  In such discussions, the two sides inevitably talk past each other--which is exactly what has been happening for more than 40 years.

But Miller’s hypothesis opens the possibility of speaking of these two elements separately.  In other words, what if women could terminate a pregnancy without killing the child?  Then what?

What Frank and Steinem were essentially agreeing to was the idea that, if it were possible to terminate pregnancy without causing a death, then the resulting life would become a matter, not of the mother’s privacy, but a matter of public interest.  At that point, the state could take over the attempt to save the child.

But if Miller’s hypothesis highlighted the basic fact that abortion does 2 things (terminates a pregnancy, but also kills the fetus)--now it seems the hypothesis itself may soon become real. For now we DO have an artificial womb, and now it may soon be possible to terminate pregnancy yet save the fetus!

What this means that the artificial womb completely explodes the notion of “viability” built into Roe v. Wade.

It opens the prospect that women can retain the right to choose an abortion, but lose the right to kill their fetus.  Since that latter right depends on the location of the fetus within the woman’s body, the artificial womb opens up the entirely new horizon of allowing the fetus to survive outside woman’s body, where a mother no longer has legal jurisdiction.

Depending on how effective the artificial womb is, and how quickly it evolves, this could mean that many abortion cases which are currently treated as private under Roe v. Wade could become legally controversial under the same case.  For example, what if a woman’s partner (or mother or father or sister or brother) sues to save the child using an artificial womb?  What if a state attorney general sues to enjoin any pregnancy longer than, say 12 weeks, to be subject to state review and intervention? 

None of this would require a reversal of Roe v. Wade.  Theoretically, it could lead to cases where the woman has her abortion but the child survives. 

Not only would this prevent many deaths, but it would also pose a new challenge for both the pro life and pro choice communities.  For pro-lifers, it would mean reconsidering their attitude to abortion itself, recognizing a woman’s right to terminate the pregnancy as long as someone else takes responsibility for saving the child.  For pro-choices, it would pose a difficult challenge: acknowledging that a woman’s right to choose extends only to the termination of pregnancy, not to the fate of the child produced by the pregnancy.  In individual cases, this could mean that a woman might choose to abort with the knowledge that her child survive, and grow, and live in the same world she does, without her consent, and without any legal recourse.  In other words, this could mean that choosing abortion means relinquishing any voice over the future life of one’s own child.

None of this represents a change in abortion itself.  None of this represents a change in Roe v. Wade.  This would simply be a long-term final outcome of a time-bomb decision that has been ticking away for more than 40 years.  And it would finally bring to surface the long overlooked reality that abortion is two things at once, and that each side of this long and anguished debate has been arguing about only one of them, and ignoring the other.

Would this mean the end of the debate?  I suspect not.  Would it make people happier?  I suspect neither side would be fully satisfied, since one side would continue to object to the first trimester abortions, and the other side would feel that somehow a woman’s freedom was being curtailed.

But even if the debate continued and both sides remain unhappy, one thing is sure: Sunday, somewhere, each of us might well meet someone who owes their life to an artificial womb, and who can say to us “I am an abortion survivor.”
 © Bernard F. Swain PhD 2017

Thursday, May 4, 2017

#464: Is the Common Good the Enemy of Sovereignty—or Vice-Versa?

  A recent Harvard discovery suggests why this Sunday's French Presidential Elections French should interest Americans, and especially American Catholics.
"France for the French" vs. France, member of Europe
The French Election
Some observers have said the 2017 election for president of France is all about sovereignty, since Marine Le Pen wants to pull France out of the European Union and Emmanuel Macron wants to stay in the EU but reform it.
Le Pen’s supporters believe the EU Impinges on France's sovereignty as a nation; they want their country back, their money back, their borders closed, their industries protected, their immigrants expelled. They want “France for the French.”
Macron's supporters often do not actually support his politics or agenda, but they support France's continued membership in the EU. They know this means sacrificing some of the nation’s sovereignty: the Euro replaced the Franc, trade is subject to EU "free trade" regulations, the borders are open to anyone from the EU, even the traditional French license plates have been replaced by euro-style plates. But those prepared to vote for Macron believe that giving up some national sovereignty serves the common good of both the French people and Europe as a whole, especially in bringing peace to a chronically war-torn continent (see CrossCurrents # 463).
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) acknowledges the dilemma here. On the one hand, CST makes promoting the common good a top priority, which leaves little room for a self-serving agenda that ignores the effects on others. Pope Francis in particular has decried the “Exclusion” of others that occurs when policy is set to benefit some narrow part of any population.
On the other hand, CST also values “subsidiarity”—the principle of keeping decisions at the most local level possible, and solving problems by the participation of those closest to the problem.
The EU clearly aims to serve the common good of Europeans, but that means decisions get made, not at the local or regional or even national level, but at the international level which sometimes is far removed from the people affected. So common good and subsidiarity sometimes clash. How can this clash be addressed?
Some, like Julius Krein, editor of American Affairs, take a hard line view of sovereignty. He argues that internationalism of any kind cannot really achieve the common good: for him, the real common good comes only with national sovereignty:
“The only democratic institutions that we have are national institutions.  So if you get rid of the nation-state, what you’re really doing is getting rid of democracy.”
In other words, Krein considers that, to serve common good, all sovereignty must be national.  This is exactly what Le Pen is proposing in her campaign, and it is exactly what Macron is opposing.
Wednesday Night's Debate
But it strikes me that such a hard line is completely arbitrary and also completely contrary to our experience as Americans.  That’s why last week’s Harvard discovery is so interesting.
The Harvard Find
Two Harvard researchers, Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, have recently reported the discovery of an early handwritten parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence--only the second such copy in existence.  They call it the “Sussex declaration” after the location of its discovery in England. 
The significance of the discovery is that this version is slightly different from the one in the national archives.  That original in 1775 reflected the practice of the Continental Congress of having state delegations sign official documents as a group, with state labels for each group.
But the Sussex declaration dates from the 1780s.  By then the War is over, and war debts have led to conflicts among the states, especially farming states vs. the coastal mercantile states.  Eventually these conflicts would lead to a constitutional convention, but already the clash was between federalists (who saw the new nation as a single united people) and anti-federalists (who saw it as a collection of states).  The issue here was whether sovereignty would belong to the nation as a whole, or whether each state would retain its own sovereignty. 
The Sussex Declaration
This newer version shows the balance shifting to the federalists. Allen points out the key difference:
“The Sussex Declaration scrambles the names so they are no longer grouped by state. It is the only version of the Declaration that does that…This is really a symbolic way of saying we are all one people.”
Of course, during the time between these two versions, the US was governed by the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1777 and ratified in 1781.  The guiding principle here was to preserve the independence and sovereignty of each state.  It legalized the Continental Congress, but gave that Congress very little power. There was no president, no judiciary, no executive agencies, no tax base--which meant no way to pay off the war debts.  Even the Congress had only one body, comprised of state delegations.
Shifting Sovereignty
The Articles of Confederation failed, because the national government lacked enough power to perform its essential duties.  This provoked a Constitutional Convention and eventually led to the U.S. Constitution which governs us today.  The essential difference is that the U.S. Constitution shifted much of our sovereignty from individual states to the nation as a whole.  But the shift involve major compromises, including a Congress split into two houses; Senate representing the states, and the House of Representatives representing the people by proportional vote.
In other words, US history is rooted in a compromise which recognized that sovereignty needed to be shared between the nation and its member states.  When Krein says that our only democratic institutions are national institutions, he is simply ignoring our own history.
What is happening in Europe follows a direct analogy to U.S. history.  If we think of France as a member state of the European Union, we can see that the issue of sovereignty, and the conflict over how much sovereignty France should sacrifice to the common good of Europe, is precisely the same issue as the argument over States’ rights vs. Federal power in the US.
From the point of Catholic Social Teaching, this means that American history can help show us how the tension between the common good and the principle of subsidiarity can be resolved.
We don’t need to look into the distant past to observe this history.  Recent events provided ample examples.  These show that debates over shifts in sovereignty reflect a tension that still exists in American Life.
Current Examples
1. Death Penalty. When Dhzokar Tsarnaev was tried for his role in the Boston marathon bombings, his trial took place in Massachusetts, which rejects the death penalty—and yet he received a death sentence, because his crime was determined to be a violation of Federal law.  Thus Massachusetts could not control the judicial process because the authority of the Federal government prevailed. The state does not enjoy absolute sovereignty
2. Sanctuary Cities. When Donald Trump attacks the notion of sanctuary cities, he is pitting the rule of local law enforcement in preserving public safety against the interests of the immigration authorities to locate and detain illegal immigrants.  Most states that have sanctuary cities are claiming that their law enforcement officials cannot be forced by the Federal government.
3. Healthcare. The current struggle to repeal Obamacare involves the question of whether the U.S. government will continue to mandate coverage, or the states will have the option to seek alternative plans.  Obamacare relied on the sovereignty of the Federal government; the repeals are pushing for state sovereignty.
4. Border Wall. Donald Trump’s border wall involves the Federal government imposing construction in many border states that oppose a wall.  Here again, the common good becomes the rationale for overruling local decision-making.
5. Tribal Sovereignty. When the Wampanoag Tribe tries to establish a casino on Martha’s Vineyard, this pits the tribe as a sovereign nation vs. the power of the local community, and invokes both state and Federal power to resolve the issue.  In this case, the dispute is about sovereignty on four different levels.
6. Gay Marriage. In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage, exercising its own authority to regulate marriage on the state level.  But when the US Supreme Court imposed its Federal authority over state laws and regulations, gay marriage became legal across the US. 
7. “Romneycare.” Obamacare’s rules for health care were remarkably similar to the rules that already existed in Massachusetts under the program supported by a Republican Governor Mitt Romney. Romneycare reflected the state’s sovereignty, Obamacare reflected the federal government’s sovereignty
The Moral of the Story
In all of these cases, the question of sovereignty has been resolved on a case-by-case basis.  It is true that some people would prefer the Federal government to always impose its will over states, while others would prefer that states always get to decide all matters for themselves without any Federal interference.  But the vast majority of Americans accept a constant balancing act between two (or more) levels of legitimate authority.
Thus life in “these United States” involves a chronic but healthy tension between the sovereignty of the nation and the sovereignty of the states.  Neither sovereignty is absolute, so a Federal System like ours requires repeated negotiation to redefine the shifting limits of each sovereignty.
And that is exactly what Europe is going through today, especially if we think of each country as something like our states. 70 years after the Treaty of Rome established the idea of a united Europe, its federal system is still being formed.
The European Union has reached a moment much like the crisis caused by the Articles of Confederation.  In other words, its governing treaties are failing to provide the right mix of sovereignty between the European Union itself and the member states. 
It seems that, if Europe is to serve both the common good and honor the principle of subsidiarity, it will need to find ways to democratize its operations and reflect comment local and national interests and preferences rather than make all decisions by some remote process that does not reflect public will.
But the failure of the Articles of Confederation did not lead to the failure of the United States; it required instead a reformed federal system. Europe faces the same challenge, and France’s commitment to meeting that challenge (rather than quitting to protect its own sovereignty) will say much about Europe’s future prospects.
 © Bernard F. Swain PhD 2017