Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy (Late) Birthday, Francis!


Yes, we know.  Pope Francis’s birthday was yesterday.  He was born December 17, 1936, making him seventy-eight years young (see? we can be diplomatic at times).  So, what do you want?  CESJ is not a Catholic organization, nor is the Just Third Way a Catholic movement.  We didn’t get him a cake, either, or tug 78 times on his earlobe (yes, that’s the Argentinian tradition, we looked it up).

Is that a face?
We did, however, get him a present: a common sense approach to understanding Catholic (and Jewish and Islamic) social teachings:

The Papal Social Program

The liberals are blind to individual ethics.  The conservatives are blind to social ethics.  As these two groups slug it out, the rest of us are left wondering what the heck it all means, what the heck they mean, and why are they being so mean?

Anyway, the endless acrimony about who is faithful and who is not ensures that nobody is reasonable — reason?  Reason?  We don’t got to show you no stinkin’ reason!

It also ensures that the papal program for social reconstruction is misunderstood.  Specifically, both sides in the debate fail to realize that the popes have been calling for a two-pronged or a two-phase approach to address the problems of the modern world.

The First Prong

Justice AND Charity
The first phase of the papal program addresses immediate individual needs of natural persons and families, and thus comes under individual ethics.  When some are in need and others have the means, those with the means are under a moral obligation to succor those in need.  This is charity.  (Rerum Novarum, § 22.)

When the need is extreme and there is no other recourse, duly constituted authority is justified in redistributing wealth sufficient to meet the emergency. (Ibid.) This comes under the State’s responsibility to care for the common good, and is permitted in individual ethics under “the principle of double effect.”

The State’s object in cases of extreme need is not to meet the needs of individuals and families, however, at least not directly.  It would be a grave injustice for the State or anyone else as an end in itself to take from some simply because they have, to redistribute to others who have not.

Rather, the goal of redistribution as an expedient in an emergency is to prevent harm to the common good by ensuring that extreme cases do not disrupt the social order.  The intended overwhelming good of preserving the common good inviolate outweighs the limited and unintended evil of redistribution.

"It is expedient that one should die that the nation perish not."
It is, however, essential to keep in mind at all times that objective evil is never permitted, even under the principle of double effect.  It is not expedient that one innocent man should suffer so that the nation will not perish. (Cf. John 11:50.)

The Second Prong

The second phase of the papal program addresses the most important of individual needs as it applies to human beings as human beings.  This is the obligation of every human being to acquire and develop natural virtue so as to become more fully human and lay the foundation for the supernatural virtues, and thus humanity’s final end.  This involves establishing and maintaining a proper environment within which people can meet their own needs through their own efforts, preferably through widely distributed ownership of capital.

The Act of Social Justice
The second phase of the papal program therefore comes under social ethics.  As Pius XI explained,

"What We have thus far stated regarding an equitable distribution of property and regarding just wages concerns individual persons and only indirectly touches social order, to the restoration of which according to the principles of sound philosophy and to its perfection according to the sublime precepts of the law of the Gospel, Our Predecessor, Leo XIII, devoted all his thought and care." (Quadragesimo Anno, § 76.)

Confusing Ends and Means

Unfortunately, both liberals and conservatives have assumed that the first phase of the papal program is the only phase.  Both liberals and conservatives incorrectly construe redistribution of existing wealth, wages in excess of a market-determined rate, welfare, and other measures as the proposed permanent solution under social ethics, not correctly as an expedient under individual ethics to buy time and preserve the common good (albeit indirectly) on the way to developing a permanent solution.

Knox Unenthusiasic
Consequently, liberals assume that individual ethics involving the natural rights to life, liberty, and property, and the natural virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice, because they appear when exercised by a few to inhibit or prevent the attainment of material wellbeing on the part of many, are no longer, or never were, valid. (Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion, with Special Reference to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1961, 586-587.)

In the liberal view, those who claim the inviolability of the natural law are going contrary to God’s law, the supernatural law that supersedes the natural law, and lose all justification for their position.  Only the godly have rights, whether individual or social. (Ibid.)

That, or the natural law has been subsumed into the supernatural law.  The effective negation of the natural law in modernist thought is an example of what Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957) called enthusiasm or ultrasupernaturalism. (Ibid., 1-2)  This is what Knox termed “the logic of enthusiasm” (ibid., 586), a more accurate description in this instance than the misuse of the term the logic of gift.  Knox defined enthusiasm as "an excess of charity that threatens unity."

Conservatives correctly assume that individual ethics are permanently valid, but make the mistake of assuming that social ethics are therefore naive, prudential, or contrary to nature.  It is obvious that a viable system cannot be based on distribution on need, however necessary that may be as an expedient in an emergency.  Where the faith of the liberals tells them that individual ethics are contrary to nature, that of the conservatives tells them the same thing about social ethics.  None of them truly consider a just, third way.

#30#

No comments: