Saturday, May 10, 2008

Catholic Social Justice and the Free Market, Part III

When we last left off in our discussion of Thomas Woods article on this subject, the question was do the opinions expressed in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno necessitate high-level government redistribution of income? I responded that it did not. Here's why I think that.

As Mr. Woods correctly points out, there has long been a strong defense of private property rights throughout Church teaching. It is an often forgotten point of Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum. Considering the Church's historical role as communism's greatest and most implacable foe, this is understandable.

What has happened in the last 40 years or so is that a certain aspect of the Church's teaching, namely, solidarity, has swallowed up and completely buried its sister principle, subsidiarity. If you don't think this is a realistic portrayal of things, check the index to the Church's Compendium of Social Doctrine. Solidarity has around 81 references. Subsidiarity has 15, and at least 3 of those are also references for solidarity. This is imbalance due to the infiltration of Marxist ideas into the Church as I mentioned previously in this series of posts.

I'm not really going to discuss solidarity, as we currently get preaching and public statements about solidarity out of our collective wazoos. In a nutshell, it "is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” (Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis).

Subsidiarity, on the other hand, is described in QA with the following terms:

"Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them."

The Compendium of Social Doctrine expands on this:

"The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties. This principle is imperative because every person, family and intermediate group has something original to offer to the community. Experience shows that the denial of subsidiarity, or its limitation in the name of an alleged democratization or equality of all members of society, limits and sometimes even destroys the spirit of freedom and initiative."

Basically, social justice problems should be taken care of on the most local level of authority possible.

It is easy to understand these points and why they are so important. One only need look at the current status of American schools to see precisely the effects that top-down monopolization of resources can have. Sure, providing a free education to everyone was a very noble aspiration. Unfortunately, as the system has become increasingly federalized, quality has gone into the crapper. I suggest that those in favor of a similar solution for health care problems take note of this.

Anyways, when you take the combined teachings in defense of private property and the need for subsidiarity, it's pretty difficult (for me, at least) to envision Church doctrine as promoting the sort of forced redistribution that seems to be emphasized by so many Church leaders and laity these days. The Compendium itself cautions against the formation of the "Welfare State"

Frankly, I think we like to ignore subsidiarity. God forbid that we actually be taken to task for solving these issues at the local level. It's much easier to pass the buck down the road to Washington (or wherever) and expect them to take care of our problems. Why should we folks be expected to (gasp!) exercise virtue ourselves?

Anyways, that's my shpiel for this. Next time, we'll take a step back to see what the Early Church Fathers had to say on the subject and then we'll close out with a review of some modern papal pronouncements in light of the rest of the discussion.


Haskovec said...

Also on the Subsidiarity principle it is brought up by Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est 28 b)

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person – every person – needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.

Throwback said...

Absolutely. I'll be getting to that and some items from JPII in the next couple of installments.