Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pope Francis and Property, III: Property Is Not An Absolute Right


Now we come to the heart of the matter: what, exactly, did Pope Paul VI mean about property not being an absolute right?  The socialists have used this to substantiate their claims that people have no actual right to own capital, or, in extreme forms, anything else.  The State owns everything, including your children.

"Okay, ONE more time, guys. There's access, and there's use. . ."
This is actually a very easy question to answer.  We don’t need to go to others.  We can go to Paul VI himself.  As he declared in § 23 of Populorum Progressio,

The Use of Private Property

“He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?” Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: “You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.” These words indicate that the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.

No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, “as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” When “private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,” it is for the public authorities “to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.”

"You shouldn't get it wrong when you're given the answer. . ."
If you read last Thursday’s posting on this blog, you didn’t have to read past the subheading of the quote from Populorum Progressio.  You got your answer right there: “The Use of Private Property.” Some of the language is, again, a little sloppy, and you have to read carefully, but you know that no pope is going to contradict another pope or the age-old teachings of the Catholic Church.  Keep that in mind, and you'll be okay.

To explain, last Thursday we noted that “property” has two parts.  One, there is the natural right to be an owner inherent in every human being who has ever existed, exists, or ever will exist.  This is the “generic right of dominion” and is by definition a part of human nature and cannot (that means “can not”) be changed.

Two, there are the socially determined and limited rights that define how an owner may exercise or “use” what he or she owns.  This is the “universal destination of all goods” that guides us in what we do with what we own.  In general, we may not use what we own to harm ourselves, other individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole.  The one stipulation about defining how what one owns may be used is that use may never be defined in any way, shape, or form that nullifies the underlying right (Evangelii Praecones, § 52).

So in papal teaching we have “access” — the right to property, inherent by nature in every single human being, and “use” — the rights of property, which are necessarily limited by many factors.

Quiz time: to which aspect of property did Paul VI refer under the subheading, “The Use of Private Property”?  (Careful — it’s a trick question.)

That’s right!  To USE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, that is, to the rights OF property, not to the underlying right to be an owner!!!!!!

In other words, plain common sense, not the abolition of private property.

Fr. Habiger: "Got it? The right TO, and rights OF are different things."
These are the same points Father Habiger made in his doctoral thesis, Papal Teachings on Private Property, 1891-1981 (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1990, 15-17).  Again, it's just common sense.

Thus, we necessarily conclude that neither the generic right of dominion nor the universal destination of all goods justify socialism, the belief that rights inhere in the commonality or collective, but not in individual human persons.  The socialist understanding is most commonly applied to the right to private property (access) . . .

. . . that Pius XI called a “concept of society . . . utterly foreign to Christian truth” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 117).  God built rights into human nature, His own creation, not into the collective, a human construct.  The collective is an abstraction, a generalization, and (as St. Thomas explained) God being omniscient and knowing all things completely deals only in particulars; abstraction is not a divine attribute; in a sense, the abstract does not exist for God, as Jesus made clear by universalizing the Jewish Covenant to every human being.

So, unless the popes are so confused that they have no idea what they are talking about, nothing any one of them has said in any way denigrates or abolishes the right every child, woman, and man has by nature itself to own capital — or anything else.

Tomorrow we’ll close by looking at what is meant by “not absolute” — with respect to use (exercise) . . . for you can’t take away the underlying right to be an owner in the first place without being a socialist.

#30#

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