Catechism of the Catholic Church

464 Part Three 1901 If authority belongs to the order established by God, “the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens.” 20 The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed. 1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a “moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility”: 21 A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence. 22 1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.” 23 1904 “It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the ‘rule of law,’ in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men.” 24 II. T he C ommon G ood 1905 In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person: 20 GS 74 § 3. 21 GS 74 § 2. 22 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 93, 3, ad 2. 23 John XXIII, PT 51. 24 CA 44. 2242 1930 1951 2242 801 1881