Separation of church and state: speaking truth to power

Thomas Becket gave Henry II the chancellor’s ring back when the king made him Archbishop of Canterbury.  Henry was at that time engaged in a good enterprise, making a national state (also with a bad enterprise, messing around in France) and furious that Thomas didn’t see the church as having a duty to advance Henry’s program. I think Thomas understood, as Henry did not, that independent moral guidance from things like churches is indispensable to good governance, and that the enduring scarce resource for managers is not only honest counsel, uncomfortable or not, but also honest counsel that others can see that you have received.

That kind of honest advice and comment is also one of the things universities are supposed to give us,  even when we don’t like what some tenured prof doing his own thinking says, so it’s a good day when a bunch of academic clerics, rejoicing in the religious freedom our founders put in place and stepping up to accept the duties it entails, play Thomas to John Boehner and his band of freebooters.  You rock, profs and padres. (HT Digby)

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

11 thoughts on “Separation of church and state: speaking truth to power”

  1. So the church should be behind big social welfare programs? I thought the church was a big social welfare program. You give to the church and they give to the needy. The government has replaced the church as our welfare state, and I don’t think the outcome has been good.

  2. I think this is a misunderstanding of the political context around Becket’s appointment as Archbishop. Henry may have stashed him there in order to get rid of him at court, as he had served the prior Archbishop and Henry thought Becket had never been aligned with the monarchy.

  3. “Henry was at that time engaged in a good enterprise, making a national state (also with a bad enterprise, messing around in France)..”
    This is hindsight. Henri was a Frenchman (I follow Norman Davies in giving him the Anglo-Norman-Angevin kings the names they went by). The state he tried to build was a cross-Channel empire run by a French-speaking élite. His family is buried at Fontevrault near the Loire, the heart of his realm. The way things worked out was that the French half collapsed – partly because his sons were incompetent, partly because their Capetian rival Philippe-Auguste was anything but. Henri’s great innovations – especially trial by jury – had no particular national character. English national identity grew to occupy his framework: you’d never guess from Magna Carta that trial by jury was invented by Jean’s foreign dad.

    The framing of the quarrel with Becket as over the freedom to criticise is also anachronistic; it reflects Eliot’s and Anouilh’s free interpretations of the quarrel for the 20th century. The main thing at the time was Henri’s desire to bring clergy – an awful lot of people once you counted minor orders – who had committed common crimes like theft and murder within the reach of the royal courts and not the easier-going church tribunals. Becket was defending the Church as a legally autonomous state-within-the-state. On this one, most of us would back Henri.

  4. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor.

    Michael O’Hare…
    Speaking of few in power looking out for the poor…
    Did you see Robert Reich’s 30 minute address to the CA Dem Party?

    Call it his “Connecting 5 dots speech”…
    Every progressive politician, voter, and pundit should have the arc of that argument inculcated.

    It’s brilliant in its simplicity and laser focus:

  5. Shakes, it is a bold counter-factual, but just try and imagine for a moment all of the social welfare that the government does (including public education – at least that which emphasizes added services to poor children), and then imagine it vanished. Now try and imagine the extent to which religious organizations would be able to step up and accomplish those (assumedly) worthy goals. I work with poor children everyday and believe me, in your universe they would be surely destroyed in your social-darwinist vision, their access to freedom and the pursuit of happiness severely curtailed.

  6. If I recall correctly, “Catholic Charities” gets about 90% of its funding from the Federal government.

  7. Henri? Thomas never aligned…? Oh, you guys are talking about the historical figures! I meant (and should have made clear) the characters in Murder in the Cathedral. Here at the _Artistic Reality_-Based Coalition, we…oh, never mind 🙂 .

  8. It is nice to see some of the lefty Catholics speaking up. We hear a lot from the other ones.

    Now they need to go after capital punishment.

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