In the previous posting in this series, we noted that Fabian socialism — a combination of an expanded georgist agrarian socialism and the tenets of Madame Blavatsky’s theosophy — received a fresh impetus in mid-twentieth century. This came from the ease with which modernist elements were able to seize control of the situation following the Second Vatican Council and expand their previous hijacking of Catholic social teaching to all teachings of the Church. To a lesser degree this was also the case with Marxist communism and certain aspects of “Liberation Theology.”
|Pius XI's social doctrine is not well understood.|
A large part of the problem was that few people were in a position truly to understand the situation and what led up to it. Two key elements of the Just Third Way, the use of future savings to finance new capital formation, and the act of social justice to reform the institutions of the common good, were hardly understood at all in Church circles . . . or anywhere else, for that matter.
Part of this, of course, is the fact that the common good itself is not understood very well, or at all in many quarters. Both individualists and collectivists view it as an abstraction, rather than as something specific and concrete: that vast network of institutions within which human beings acquire and develop virtue, thereby perfecting their human-ness (virtue) and preparing themselves for their proper end.
It necessarily follows that if the common good is a mere abstraction, as both the collectivists and the individualists maintain, then there can be no such thing as an act of social justice, and social justice is not a particular virtue. “Social justice” is just a new term for “legal justice,” a general virtue with no particular act. Instead, both “social justice” and “legal justice” are two terms for the same thing: the indirect effect that the practice of individual virtue has on the social order.
Thus (given that the common good is an abstraction), individualists assume that there is only individual good, not a common good. To the individualist, the common good is an invention of the collectivists to justify inroads on the individualist’s rights.
To the collectivist — again given that the common good is considered an abstraction, a point that cannot be overstressed — there are no individual rights. There are only social rights that belong to all humanity in common, to be assigned to actual human beings as expedient. The rights of humanity as a whole, not the rights of individuals (which are negotiable), are the only things that matter.
|Fr. Ferree: the common good is not an abstraction.|
Because the common good is not an abstraction, however — a point to be stressed even more than the fundamental error that assumes the common good is an abstraction — and has a concrete existence, both the collectivists and the individualists are wrong. Members of neither group understand that every human being has inalienable rights by nature. “Humanity” — the abstraction of the collective, which both individualists and collectivists automatically conflate with the non-abstraction of the common good — has no rights at all, except what actual human beings may choose to delegate to it.
Two important facts must be understood clearly at this point. One, all individual rights are necessarily exercised with reference to the individual rights of all others and the social structures within which human beings as political animals carry out the task of living and developing. Two, there is a type of right in addition to individual rights: social rights.
Social rights are not, however, rights that the group — an abstraction — has that individuals do not. Rather, a social right is one that an individual exercises not as an individual, but as a member of a group. Thus, where individual virtues are directed to individual good, social virtues are directed to the common good, that is, to institutions, concrete and specific things and not an abstraction (have we said that often enough, now?).
Not understanding this, however, individualists have insisted that any interference with the exercise of their individual rights based on a concern for the common good are tyrannical intrusions on their God-given rights. In turn, the collectivists have insisted that presumed individual rights must give way to the social rights of all humanity, that is, the collective.
|Past savings are not the sole source of financing.|
Combining this misunderstanding of social justice with the slavery of past savings was a disaster for the orthodox understanding of the natural law, not only in the Catholic Church and other religions, but everywhere. As the reasoning went, if past savings are the only source of financing for new capital formation (which is demonstrably not the case), then only rich private individuals or the State can own capital.
Given, then, that private ownership only by an élite clearly violates the universal destination of goods (which it does; the universal destination of all goods means that the exercise of property must look not only to the individual benefit of the owner, but be exercised for the individual's benefit without materially harming the interests of others or of the common good as a whole), Catholic social teaching must be a form of socialism: State ownership (“the main tenet of socialism, community of goods” — Rerum Novarum, § 15) — which it definitely is not. Using future savings to finance new capital formation and acquisition of capital by propertyless people resolves this paradox easily, but with the dominance of Keynesian economics and other past savings-based schools since the New Deal, this was not seriously considered except by Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler.
|Adler: don't make small errors bigger by making more errors.|
Instead of correcting these errors and going back to the beginning to start over, both the collectivists and the individualists in academia did what Adler noted is one of today’s most damaging philosophical mistakes: they inserted additional contradictions into their thought to try and avoid the consequences of their original errors. The collectivists insisted that private property is not an individual right inhering in every single human being, thereby contradicting the generic right of dominion. The individualists insisted that private property is an individual right, but that only an élite has the ability to exercise it, thereby contradicting the universal destination of all goods.
What this meant following Vatican II was that anything that appeared to circumvent the slavery of past savings and return society to its moral underpinnings — almost inevitably some form of socialism, usually of the Fabian, New Age variety (although the Marxists got their licks in as well) — was looked on as being the “obvious” interpretation of Catholic social teaching. From the Church’s social teaching, it was a very short step to applying contradictions of this nature to all Catholic teaching. The fact that others could (and did) look at the same teachings and reach diametrically opposed conclusions was taken as “proving” that anyone in disagreement must be a dissenter from “authentic” Catholic teaching, whether or not it was supported by empirical evidence or logical argument.
But where did all this come from, and how did it spread so rapidly?