Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Solidarism, IV: True Solidarity

We had one more posting in last year’s series on solidarism that we interrupted in order to present the series on Thomas à Becket.  It’s a bit of a tag-end, but here it is:

The Thomist concept is that solidarity does not consist of subsuming individual consciousness into the group mind, but that it is a characteristic of groups as groups: a common acceptance of the principles that define a particular group as that group and no other.  People in groups achieve solidarity by accepting and internalizing the natural law principles that define the group as that group, and organizing the structure of the group to achieve optimal exercise of individual rights in a manner consistent with the common good. (Richard E. Mulcahy, S.J., “Heinrich Pesch, S.J., 1854-1926” Social Order, April, 1951, 166.)

With Leo XIII, Pesch believed that private property in capital is essential to vest people with the power to exercise individual rights, particularly liberty, that is, free association and contract.  This is to enable people to acquire and develop virtue individually, but also to organize effectively for social change so they can meet their own needs through their own efforts within a justly structured common good maintained by the State. (Ibid.) As explained by Jacques E. Yenni, S.J. (1911-1994),

The attainment of their private material welfare by individuals and private social units, such as families, is a matter of double causation.  It must be the immediate product of their own self-responsible efforts and initiative.  And it is, secondly, the mediate product of the public material welfare.

Thus, individuals and non-public social groups have the direct responsibility for realizing their private material welfare.  (Heinrich Pesch, S.J., Lehrbuch der Nationalöconomie. Freiburg i. Br., Herder, 1924, 2.289, 2.316, 3.286. [Note in text.]) To allow for self-responsibility, social economy must be organized on a basis of private enterprise and considerable freedom to compete in productive activity and in the determination of one’s consumption pattern. (Ibid., 2.316, 5.123.  [Note in text.]; Jacques Yenni, S.J., “Pesch’s Goal of the Economy” Social Order, April 1951, 172.)

As did Leo XIII, however, Pesch simply assumed individual ethics and social ethics are equally true, and true in the same way, and that individual life and social life, including economics, can therefore be reconciled.  He did not, however (any more than did Leo XIII), explain how they were to be reconciled.  Nor did he explain how people without past savings can become capital owners without redistribution, other than by having employers pay higher wages — which is a convoluted form of redistribution. (Vide Michael D. Greaney, “Heinrich Pesch on Property: Solidarism and the Just Third Way,” Parts I and II, Social Justice Review, March-April 2004 and May-June 2004.)

Consequently, after the first generation of students of Pesch was dead, commentators reverted to a form of solidarism that conforms more to the thought of Durkheim than to that of Pesch. (Vide Rupert J. Ederer, Economics as If God Matters: More Than a Century of Papal Teaching.  Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2011.) Pesch’s work is now used in many cases chiefly to support concepts directly at odds with the natural law and explicit Catholic teaching. (Cf. James Hitchcock, “Abortion and the Catholic Right,” Human Life Review, Spring 2007.)


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