Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pope Francis and Property, I: What is It?


Pope Francis seems to be in the news a lot lately, say, the last couple of years or so.  With the world the shape it’s in, he’s been saying one or two things about economics that seem to baffle a lot of people, liberal and conservative alike.  With that in mind, we thought we’d put in our two cents, especially since we wrote a response to someone in a forum that wouldn’t take postings in excess of a certain length . . . a sure way to ensure that confusion continues, surely . . . and we didn’t call you, Shirley.

Property is the right to own, and the rights of ownership, not the thing owned.
At the heart of the discussion is massive confusion about what is meant by the teaching that property is a right, but not an absolute right.  Once we understand property and the underlying principles of the natural law, however, the confusion abates.

First off, property is not the thing owned, but the right to be an owner, and the bundle of rights that define how ownership may be exercised.

Pope and Mike . . . not an Irish bar joke.
Next, we have to realize that the Catholic Church (Pope Francis is head of the Catholic Church, if you’ve forgotten) teaches that the natural law is based on God’s Nature, self-realized in His Intellect, and therefore discernible by the force and light of human reason alone.  This is not exactly open to discussion.  Canon 2.1 of the First Vatican Council condemned anyone who denied this: “If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.”

Now we have to distinguish between principle, and application of principle.  Thus, there is the right to property, that is, the natural right every human being has to be an owner, and then there are the rights of property, that is, the socially determined use or exercise of ownership.

No one may be deprived of the right to be an owner, the right to property.  Nope.  Can’t do it.  This “generic right of dominion” is inherent in every single human being by nature, and thus by definition.  As a reflection of God’s Nature, substantial human nature cannot be changed, however much in Catholic belief it may be corrupted by sin.  (Again, keep in mind that Francis is the pope, so it doesn’t make sense to discuss what, say, Buddhists or Holy Momzers believe about this stuff; we’re commenting on Pope Francis, remember?  And, if the Wall Street Journal can do it, so can we.)

"I'm a Perfect Being, guys, got it?  I can't change."
In Catholic belief, then, to say that human nature can be changed, and the natural rights to life, liberty, and property taken away, abolished, or nullified, is to say that God’s Nature can also be changed.  God being defined as a Perfect Being, He cannot change or contradict Himself or His Nature, or He would be “not-God,” the one impossibility for God; God is a “necessary being,” and cannot “not-be”;  “I AM” would otherwise become “I AM NOT,” which is kind of stupid.  (Did we mention that this whole post is on Catholic beliefs?)

Just as no human being may be deprived of the natural right to own, the right to property, the socially determined rights of property may never be defined in any way that negates or nullifies the underlying right to be an owner.  In general, the rights of property are necessarily limited by the wants and needs of the owner, and the obligation not to use one’s property (exercise rights) in any way that does material harm to one’s self, other individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole.  This is the “universal destination of all goods” that applies the social justice principle that all actions must “look” not only to the immediate individual good to be realized, but to the anticipated effect on other individuals, groups, and the common good as a whole.

We’ll finish this off next week by demonstrating how and why, in Catholic belief, socialism is all wet.  And capitalism isn’t much better.

#30#

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