One of the primary principles of Rosmini's political philosophy is what might be called a rational pluralism of societies:
It is high time for us to realise that civil society is not a universal society in the sense that it embraces all other societies and their rights. It is a particular society which exists alongside others, as it does alongside everything individual which cannot be absorbed by civil society without losing individuality. Civil society, far from being able to appropriate or encroach upon the rights of other individuals or societies, is intended to protect them, not destroy them or weaken them, nor tie them down to harm them in any other way. (AAS, p. 28)
The most obvious examples of societies in which human beings participate independently of civil society are the household and the Church. The Church, therefore, as an independent society has rights on which civil society (and therefore the state, which is erected by civil society) cannot encroach.
There are two kinds of rights: connatural and acquired. Connatural rights arise directly from the kind of society involved; acquired rights are rights to which it has title not from its very structure or nature but from some particular kind of action it performs. When it comes to the Church, Rosmini holds that there are two classes of connatural rights, those that pertain to the Church's relation to human beings generally and those that pertain to the members of the Church. There are five rights pertaining to human beings generally:
(1) The Church has a right to exist. The Church has a right to exist as a society that is constituted for the good of the human race, as well as being a society in some sense superior to other societies because of its ordering to the ultimate good of the human race and because its membership from the unalienable right of individuals to pursue truth, virtue, and happiness. This is a connatural right, not a positive right; the Church has a right to exist simply in itself, which we can recognize even before we consider the fact that it has a positive right to exist from its divine mission. Because of this it naturally has the right to defend itself and maintain its own integrity in doctrine and governance.
(2) The Church has a right to recognition as a society. The Church as a society, and the bond constituting it, is a jural fact; failure to recognize this inevitably is an injurious action against that society. To refuse to recognize, for instance, that priests, by the nature of the jural bond of the Church, cannot testify to what they have heard in the confessional itself is equivalent to an attack on the Church itself, because it is a refusal to recognize the Church as a society with its own rights and obligations. This right follows closely from the right to exist.
(3) The Church has a right to freedom in its activities. Being a member of the Church cannot reduce one's right to liberty. Therefore in its activities, the Church is free in a way that arises out of the freedom of its individual members. It also means that in its internal workings, the Church must be allowed freely to exercise rights associated with the internal jural powers that constitute it as a society -- the power to distribute the sacraments, the power to preach the word, and the power to organize itself in a way appropriate to both of these.
(4) The Church has a right to propagate itself. All human beings have the connatural right to communicate truth to others, so the Church does; all human beings have the connatural right to encourage each other in virtue, so the Church does; all human beings have the right to do good to each other, so the Church does; and the primary way in which the Church does this is by bringing in new members. Again, this is connatural; it follows just from the fact that the Church is a society with its own jural character. But, of course, the Church also has a positive right to propagate itself, arising from its divine mission.
(5) The Church has a right to ownership of property. All societies have a right to own property in such a way as is appropriate to their ends, so the Church does, as well.
There are corresponding rights of human beings that arise from the fact that they live in a human society in which they can be in relation to the Church: they all have the right to learn of the Church; they all have the right freely to join it; they all have the right to protect it from intrusion. These are, again, rights that human beings have with regard to every actual society, in some form or other.
The connatural rights of the Church with respect to her members are the rights to use the jural powers mentioned above, and to do what is required to use them appropriately. This includes the right to punish by penance, excommunication, etc.
Every legitimate society may, in addition to its connatural rights, acquire additional rights through its normal activities. For instance, the Church can have rights that it receives through its ownership of property. Rosmini notes that the modern age has been an age in which the acquired rights of the Church have been heavily trampled, its property and endowments stolen by states (Rosmini specifically mentions examples from Russia, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, and Switzerland). But the fact that they are acquired does not mean that they can be canceled at whim. And connatural rights, of course, cannot be canceled at all.
Antonio Rosmini, About the Author's Studies, Murphy, tr., Rosmini House (Durham: 2004) [AAS].
Antonio Rosmini, Rights in God's Church, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1995).
Various Links of Interest
* The National Council on Disability recently released a report concluding that current euthanasia laws in the United States do not generally have the safeguards required for protecting the rights of the disabled from violation.
* Justin E. H. Smith, Aristotle on the Generation of Birds, Lizards, Sharks, and Fish (GA 3.1-7)
* Rabbi Gil Student, Is philosophy kosher?
* Matthew Wills, Wild Rice's Refusal to be Domesticated
* Erich Przywara, Newman: Saint and Modern Doctor of the Church?
Charles Williams, All Hallows' Eve
John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent
Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism
Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation