Prof. Rahe's post yesterday arguing that duties toward the nation trump duties toward family (in which he directly addressed an earlier comment of mine) calls for a more complete response than can be given in the comments section.
Let me begin with an analogy. Every Catholic has duties toward the Church: to accept her teaching authority, obey her moral and positive laws, promote her welfare, defend her from attack, support her with time and money according to his talents and ability, die for her if necessary. Some men become priests, and in so doing take on themselves extra duties—spousal duties. They are (at least in a sense) no longer their own; everything they are and have belongs to the Church, forever.
The Church needs priests to fulfill her mission in the world. It follows that some men have a duty to become priests. But it does not follow that any given Catholic man has a duty to become a priest, much less that those of us standing on the outside of his discernment have a right to claim he has that duty, no matter how well-suited we may think he is to the task. Why? Because the call to priesthood is an inward call, addressed by God to a man's personal subjectivity.
Some men who are so called answer with immense interior joy--like a bridegroom marrying the woman of his dreams. Others say yes with sorrow and fear and doubt and dread, like Washington answering the call to the Presidency. It's not what they would have chosen for themselves; they may not feel at all up to it, and yet, they feel called to it and they trust God to give them the grace they need to live it faithfully.
Likewise, some men may take up the call to public service gladly and readily and with a lot of personal satisfaction. (I'm speaking of the kind of man who generally lives under a sense of duty, not the kind of man who seeks public office for the sake of its rewards in money and power.) Others do it with reluctance and misgiving and awareness of the sacrifices involved for them and their family, but nevertheless with a feeling of ought.
Either way, they alone are in a position to judge whether they can and should seek office, because they alone are in a position to duly weigh the myriad factors involved.
Where duties are objective, we are justified in admonishing one another. We can blame a man who commits adultery or who dodges the draft, or a woman who lets her children go hungry while she feeds her appetite for fun, or a citizen who shirks jury duty or fails to vote.
But some duties are subjective. They are addressed to the inner man; they are individual, and not open to public scrutiny and critique.
A married man has duties toward his wife and children of both the objective (fidelity, provision, protection) and subjective (concern for their particular, individual welfare) kinds. (For an example of a subjective duty: a man seeing that his wife is exhausted ought to cancel his golfing trip, or cut back on the hours he spends at the office, or hire a housekeeper to help her.) Similarly, a man has duties toward his nation that are both objective (pay taxes, obey the law, register for the draft, go to war when called) and subjective (volunteer work, military service, elective office, etc.)
How a given person sorts and weighs all these possibilities in the circumstances in which he finds himself (both personal and historical), taking into account his own "interior configuration"--his strengths and weaknesses, his hopes and aspirations, etc., and shakes them down to concrete judgments and decisions, is complex and inscrutable. It's the purview of what Newman calls the illative sense. (Cf. chapter 9 of A Grammar of Assent.)
...how does the mind fulfil its function of supreme direction and control, in matters of duty, social intercourse, and taste? In all of these separate actions of the intellect, the individual is supreme, and responsible to himself, nay, under circumstances, may be justified in opposing himself to the judgment of the whole world...
We may think that a particular man--Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie--is perfectly suited to the present need. We may bring all our rhetorical skill and persuasive powers to bear to urge him to see as we do. But in the end, he must decide. Only he can decide. And if he decides—citing his own inner sense of responsibility—against what we hope, we have no right to accuse him of dereliction of duty.
We are up against the heart of the mystery of personal existence. And, by extension, inter-personal (or political) existence. (Excuse me for waxing philosophical. I can't help myself.)
This is from Karol Wojtyla (the future John Paul II) in his great book on sexual ethics, Love and Responsibility. [Emphasis added again.]
The incommunicable, the inalienable, in a person is intrinsic to that person’s inner self, to the power of self determination, free will. No one else can want for me. No one can substitute his act of will for mine. It does sometimes happen that someone very much wants me to want what he wants. This is the moment when the impassable frontier between him and me, which is drawn by free will, becomes most obvious. I may not want that which he wants me to want—and in this precisely I am incommunicabilis. I am, and I must be, independent in my actions. All human relationships are posited on this fact. All true conceptions about education and culture begin from and return to this point.
I am all in favor of cultivating in the body politic a much greater sense of civic duty. But one of the prime duties we have toward one another is surely the duty to refrain from interfering in deeply and essentially personal matters, even when those matters have grave public consequences.