A Blog of the Global Justice Movement

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"It's All About the Human Person"

In An Essay on the Restoration of Property (1936) — on which CESJ expands in its recent publication, The Restoration of Property: A Reexamination of a Natural Right,  Hilaire Belloc highlighted the fact that many programs of social reform miss the boat. Belloc pointed out Major Douglas's social credit "scheme" (as Belloc labeled it) in particular as falling prey to the idea that income and benefits, not our natural rights to life, liberty and property, are paramount in civil society. The same, however, applies to Keynesian economics, as well as to socialism in all its forms.

By concentrating on security of income instead of security of our natural rights to life, liberty and property, we have managed to get ourselves into a position in which neither our income and benefits, nor our rights are secure. That, however, is not the worst of it. As Pope John Paul II reminded people constantly, "It's all about the human person."

"The human person," "economic personalism," and so on, are not simply empty catch phrases. Nor are they merely admonitions that we are to "be nice" to other people (after they agree with us, of course). No, the term "person" has a very specific, even precise meaning: that which has rights. If a thing has rights, it is a "person," for that is the definition of person. If a thing does not have rights, it is . . . well, a thing.

A person has rights. A natural person has rights by nature, that is, as a part of its very being, its definition or essence. Human beings are natural persons, having rights by our very nature, that is, inherently or inalienably. When we go against these principles, we offend against human dignity at the most profound level. We also go directly contrary to the very religious principles we claim to be implementing.

"Human non-person" is an oxymoron. Keeping in mind that "potential being" and "actual being" are both stages of being, denying that a human being at any stage of development or condition is not a person with inalienable rights to life, liberty and property is to deny that he or she is a human being.

The necessary corollary to not having the status of person at any particular stage of development is that "personality," i.e., having rights, is not natural, that is, it is not inalienable or inherent, a part of nature. This gives someone or something else the power to decide if someone or something is a person. In ancient Rome, the pater familias decided if his children were persons. If he rejected them, they were disposed of, usually exposed or thrown into the sewer. Today the State (and, in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court) has taken on the responsibility of deciding who or what is a person.

Persons have dignity. "Human dignity" is also not a catch phrase, vested with whatever meaning we find useful at the moment. Human dignity, too, is something very specific: respect for the rights of the human person. (And "respect" is another word that has been badly diluted, even abused, along with "rights.")

The bottom line here is that when John Paul II said "It's all about the human person," he was not mouthing a nice-sounding phrase to make people with a general good feeling toward their fellow man feel good. He was saying something specific: that recognition and protection of each human being's natural rights to life, liberty and property must be paramount.

The question then becomes how. The financial and economic principles of the Just Third Way, especially as embodied in Capital Homesteading, allow us to respect human dignity to the fullest by recognizing and protecting the full spectrum of those essential — natural — human rights integral to respect for human dignity.

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