Monday, May 26, 2008

Catholic Social Justice and the Free Market, Part V

Closing out our discussion on this topic, I wanted to look at some of the more recent magisterial items on the topic and maybe get a better idea of how subsidiarity got to be the stepchild when it comes to social justice discussions and a bit on how deformed notions of solidarity have taken hold.

I've seen lots of folks try to pin this stuff on Blessed Pope John XXIII. I am not quite sure where this comes from. He deals heavily with social justice topics in Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, but it's not like there's anything really wacky (on this issue, at least) in either document.

I think that the door got nudged open with the closing document of Vatican II, a not-so-little ditty called Gaudium et Spes aka The Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World. Quite a mouthful, yes? Anyways, you have some lines in G&S that start pushing man and man's development in ways that would allow later folks to get a bit carried away (trying to be charitable here). For example, consider this statement:

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.

And then contrast it with the first sentence of JPII's first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis:

The Redeemer of Man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.

What with Jesus being the center of the universe and history, it would seem much more appropriate to say that all things on earth should be related to God as their center and crown. Moreover, G&S mentions subsidiarity a grand total of once and without any real elaboration. There are some other elements that go into this same equation, but I'm trying to be brief(er). My point is that you have a point of emphasis on man rather than God. This has the unfortunate tendency of starting down the slippery slope of the temporal being exalted over the supernatural. On top of that, you've got this huge emphasis on what I feel is the easy side of the equation, solidarity. Even the secular humanists will buy into this. Subsidiarity has been pushed into the background, though.

Then comes Populorum Progressio and things start to get a little weird.

When Paul VI discusses social justice, he seems to fall into the same rut as G&S. He seems to pay some lip service to subsidiarity (actually quoting from John XXIII in the process):

Hence programs are necessary in order "to encourage, stimulate, coordinate, suplement and integrate" the activity of individuals and of intermediary bodies. It pertains to the public authorities to choose, even to lay down the objectives to be pursued, the ends to be achieved, and the means for attaining these, and it is for them to stimulate all the forces engaged in this common activity. But let them take care to associate private initiative and intermediary bodies with this work. They will thus avoid the danger of complete collectivization or of arbitrary planning, which, by denying liberty, would prevent the exercise of the fundamental rights of the human person.

He makes the further point, though, that "However, local and individual undertakings are no longer enough. The present situation of the world demands concerted action based on a clear vision of all economic, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects."

First, the encyclical does not delve much into those "spiritual aspects." They are back-burnered. The rest of the sentence results in comments like:

This international collaboration on a world-wide scale requires institutions that will prepare, coordinate and direct it, until finally there is established an order of justice which is universally recognized. With all Our heart, We encourage these organizations which have undertaken this collaboration for the development of the peoples of the world, and Our wish is that they grow in prestige and authority.

It's easy to see how subsidiarity gets thrown out with the bathwater with comments like this, which I think are illustrative of the encyclical as a whole. I don't want it to seem like I'm piling on Pope Paul here, but this is the same guy who said that the United Nations was "the last, best hope of mankind." It's enough to give you the willies.

Anyways, these are the sorts of things that you hear when folks are looking for authorities to back up their twisted views on social justice.

JPII and Benedict XVI went a ways to restoring subsidiarity to the mainstream of Church thought. Of course, this means that they largely ignored by those looking to push agendas. For JPII, a lot (but not all) of this was a natural outgrowth of his battle with communism. Anyways, he did a much better job of addressing solidarity and subsidiarity in proper order:

The State must contribute to the achievement of these goals both directly and indirectly. Indirectly and according to the principle of subsidiarity, by creating favourable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth. Directly and according to the principle of solidarity, by defending the weakest, by placing certain limits on the autonomy of the parties who determine working conditions, and by ensuring in every case the necessary minimum support for the unemployed worker.

In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called "Welfare State". This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the "Social Assistance State". Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

Centesimus Annus

As was ably pointed out by Haskovec below, Pope Benedict has picked up this ball in his own pontificate:

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.

Deus Caritas Est

The idea of man-centric thinking seems also to be squarely in Pope Benedict's cross-hairs:

If progress, in order to be progress, needs moral growth on the part of humanity, then the reason behind action and capacity for action is likewise urgently in need of integration through reason's openness to the saving forces of faith, to the differentiation between good and evil. Only thus does reason become truly human. It becomes human only if it is capable of directing the will along the right path, and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself. Otherwise, man's situation, in view of the imbalance between his material capacity and the lack of judgement in his heart, becomes a threat for him and for creation. Thus where freedom is concerned, we must remember that human freedom always requires a convergence of various freedoms. Yet this convergence cannot succeed unless it is determined by a common intrinsic criterion of measurement, which is the foundation and goal of our freedom. Let us put it very simply: man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.

Spe Salvi

The points made by these recent papal pronouncements returns us to the core issues of this series:

1. Man is responsible for his fellow man.
2. God is the source of this obligation. We love our fellow man because we love God Who created him.
3. This does not mean paternalism or economic domination by the state.
4. Temporal stuff is inferior to supernatural stuff.
5. In an extension of #2, God must be the source of all that we do on this scale to avoid exploitation or neglect of the supernatural in dealing with persons.

So that's what I got. Hope you enjoyed the series. If so, thank you. If not, please comment on what I got wrong.

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