Monday, November 7, 2016

Solidarism and the Common Good

Today we start to look at how to restore solidarism to comply more closely with the vision of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., whom we have decided is not the founder of solidarism, but its redeemer, so to speak.  To do this we have to understand the whole point of solidarism, at least from the natural law, “Christian” (or Catholic) perspective: to enhance the dignity of the human person under God.
If our restoration or understanding of solidarism does not enhance the dignity of every human being, or (worse) goes contrary to it, we have accomplished nothing.  That is because respect for the dignity of each and every human being — no exceptions — is the whole point of the social vision of Leo XIII and Pius XI, and should be the concern of every other pontiff, priest, parent, or president that is, was, or ever will be.
This brings in a discussion of the common good.  This makes perfect sense.  Solidarity is a characteristic of groups per se.  The common good of all mankind consists of the analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue (“human-ness”).
Man being by nature a political animal, this capacity manifests in the world as the vast network of institutions (groups) that form the social order.  This institutional network provides the environment within which individual children, women, and men carry out the “business of living” (Volkswirtschaft) within the family unit.
Pesch was careful with language
(Interestingly, the word Volkswirtschaft, which is literally “people’s home business,” and which signifies “household or domestic economy,” is invariably translated these days as “national economy” . . . which is not what it means, as that would imply that the State has the duty of running everyone’s lives at the level of the family and even, as happened under the Third Reich, every aspect of individual life.  Father Pesch was very careful about this.  He titled his great work on national economy, Lehrbuch Der Nationalökonomie (1905) — “Textbook on the National Economy” — but his short work on domestic economy, Ethik und Volkswirtschaft (1918) . . . yet the later has been mistranslated as “Ethics and the National Economy,” merging the interests of the collective and the individual together without distinction, and making the common good the aggregate of individual goods!)
People ordinarily acquire and develop virtue by exercising their natural rights within prescribed limits.  They become more fully human in the process.
As the confusion between what Father Pesch clearly distinguished as Nationalökonomie and Volkswirtschaft demonstrates, it is critical to understand that the common good is most definitely not the aggregate of individual goods.  That would turn the State, the guardian of the common good, into the provider of all individual goods, requiring complete control over everyone’s life, from cradle to grave.
No, the State is a mere social tool.  Its primary job is to establish and maintain the institutional (not individual) environment within which individuals meet their own wants and needs through their own efforts.  Only in extreme cases can having the State take care of individual or family needs be justified, and even then, it is not to be a usual thing, but an expedient in an emergency.
It is also critical to understand that the common good is strictly differentiated from goods owned in common, i.e., common goods.  The common good is the institutional environment within which individuals exercise their natural rights and become more fully human.
Jacques Maritain
Common goods, however, are those things that the community, whether out of perceived necessity or expedience, owns in order to be able to carry out its job of establishing and maintaining the common good.  Confusing the common good with common goods, as even Jacques Maritain did in his discussion on the human person and the common good (Jacques Maritain, The Person and the Common Good.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966, 52), is to make a serious error, with respect to both the nature of the common good and the true character of the State.
The bottom line here is that misunderstanding the nature and function of the common good is to misunderstand solidarism.  If you assume that the common good is the aggregate of individual goods, the tool of the State becomes the master, and people become “mere creatures of the State,” that is, tools themselves.  If you assume that the common good consists of or includes goods owned in common, you have made the same error in a different form, subsuming all individual interests into the collective, man becomes made for the State, not the State for man.
No, the true character of the common good is that it is truly common to every single human being, being “possessed” in its entirety by every person, individually.  That would not be possible with common goods or an aggregate of individual goods, for that would utterly destroy private property and freedom of association, completely undermining human dignity.  As Father William J. Ferree, S.M., explained,
Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M.
Every higher institution depends on all those below it for its effectiveness, and every lower institution depends on those above it for its own proper place in the Common Good. It is precisely this whole vast network of institutions which is the Common Good, on which every one of us depends for the realization of our personal perfection, of our personal good.
It is wrong to conceive of the Common Good as a sort of general bank account into which one “deposits” when, for instance he pays his taxes to the State; and “withdraws” when he is appointed public coordinator of something or other at a hundred and fifty dollars a week, or when the State builds a road past his farm and thus raises its value. It is surprising how many people think that distributive justice is the virtue that assesses taxes and Social Justice is the virtue that pays them. Both of these actions are distributive, that is, individual, justice; and become Social Justice only in a secondary way as they promote the Common Good.
Nor must we think of the Common Good as something which we can “share with another” like a candy bar or an automobile ride. Rather it is something which each of us possesses in its entirety, like light, or life itself. When the Common Good is badly organized, when society is socially unjust, then it is each individual’s own share of personal perfection which is limited, or which is withheld from him entirely.  (Rev. William Ferree, S.M., Introduction to Social Justice.  New York: The Paulist Press, 1948, 29-30.)
What, however, are we to do when “the Common Good is badly organized”?  Such “structures of sin” (flawed institutions) offend against human dignity, for they limit or prevent people from attaining their “own share of personal perfection,” i.e., from becoming more fully human by exercising one’s natural rights — for what are laws but the most obvious institutions of the common good?  The law is so pervasive that Aristotle somewhat misleadingly called the virtue with the common good as its indirect object “legal justice.”  (Pius XI, following a hint given by St. Thomas Aquinas, gave the name “social justice” to the virtue that has the common good as its direct object; for a more comprehensive outline of legal versus social justice, read Father Ferree’s pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice.)
Thus, as Pope St. John Paul II explained,
John Paul II: heed sin and structures of sin
If the present situation can be attributed to difficulties of various kinds, it is not out of place to speak of “structures of sin,” which. . . are rooted in personal sin and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them, and make them difficult to remove.
And thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people’s behavior. “Sin” and “structures of sin” are categories which are seldom applied to the situation of the contemporary world. However, one cannot easily gain a profound understanding of the reality that confronts us unless we give a name to the root of the evils which afflict us.  (Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, § 36).
Does, however, the existence of “structures of sin” mean we are helpless?  By no means.  By applying the laws of social justice and the principles of economic justice properly, the social order can be restructured in ways that enhance the dignity of each human person.  As Father Ferree explained,
When it is realized that the Common Good consists of that whole vast complex of institutions, from the simplest “natural medium” of a child’s life, to the United Nations itself, then a very comforting fact emerges: Each of these institutions from the lowest and most fleeting “natural medium” to the highest and most enduring organization of nations is the Common Good at that particular level. Therefore everyone, from the smallest and weakest child to the most powerful ruler in the world, can have direct care of the Common Good at his level. This is a far cry indeed from those social philosophers who before Pius XI could say with complete sincerity and conviction, “the Common Good is not something which can be directly attained.”  (Ferree, Introduction to Social Justice, op. cit., 30.)
The next posting in this series will begin demonstrating the congruity of Father Pesch’s corrected Christian solidarism with CESJ’s Just Third Way.

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