In a hard-hitting article printed in the issue of Leħen is-Sewwa of June 25, 2011, lawyer Albert Camilleri questions the risky precedent that has been established where values, especially values that underpin the family and the common good, are determined by a majority of votes in a referendum. He was referring to the referendum result over the issue of divorce held in Malta four years ago on May 28, 2011.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a man of matchless intellectual ability, has pointed out that it is becoming glaringly obvious that if moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than arbitrary social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident.
Here, he is referring to honourable politics, where politicians strive to promote the common good and safeguard human values. He is not referring to the shabby political decisions that seem to be the outcome of pre-election deals done behind the back of the electorate. Nor is he referring to the Machiavellian politics that pander to special interest groups or to powerful financial lobbies that lavishly grease the wheels of political campaigns.
Too often, the political class, backed by the media and vested interests, use the political process to influence public opinion and advocate laws that promote populist and individualistic interests.
A week ago, Ireland voted in favour of granting marriage rights to homosexual couples.
Needless to say, the results, which favour the secular agenda, will be ironically greeted from certain quarters with the invocation of vox populi, vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God). They overlook the fact that in many referendums the number of voters who do not even bother to vote reach staggering levels. In Malta’s referendum on divorce, abstentions reached almost 30 per cent; in Ireland, on gay marriage, 40 per cent, and in Portugal, on abortion, circa 56 per cent.
It is not even a question of vox populi, let alone vox Dei.
The drift from traditional wisdom should make us reflect on the values that have underpinned our democracy. Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? This is a very serious question that politicians should ask and act upon with great responsibility and after reasoned, fair and public debate.
With his inimitable wisdom, G.K. Chesterton wrote the following in 1929: “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox.
“There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away’. To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’”
As we jettison time-honoured values, we will soon be faced with unforeseen consequences.
Sadly, on certain vital issues, our politicians fail to show that their ethos and values have any legitimate relevance in the public sphere. This shortcoming has been highlighted by the recent gender vote in Parliament. Despite the expression of very grave concerns over the superficiality of the law, no politician had the integrity to respect the logic of his or her concerns and vote no.
With the looming danger of laws that further redefine marriage and laws that will fail to recognise the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, one cannot but be disheartened by the inability of politicians, particularly those who profess to uphold Catholic beliefs, to promote and articulate policies that are genuinely in the interest of society.