In yesterday’s posting we looked at the basic definition of social justice — that it is not a replacement or substitute for individual justice or charity, but a “particular” virtue in its own right and with its own focus ("directed object"). That focus is to restructure society’s institutions (it’s “social habits”) to make individual justice and charity possible, not to try to focus on what the individual virtues are supposed to be directed to.
|"The common good must be inviolate."|
Having settled that (at least for the purposes of this discussion), we can go on to the laws and characteristics of social justice, the first of which is, “That the common good be kept inviolate” —
First Law: That the Common Good Be Kept Inviolate
The first great law, the one mentioned in Paragraph 57 [of Quadragesimo Anno] itself, is “that the Common Good of all society be kept inviolate.” The meaning of this law is that in all private dealings, in all exercise of individual justice, the Common Good must be a primary object of solicitude. To attack or to endanger the Common Good in order to attain some private end, no matter how good or how necessary this latter may be in its own order, is social injustice and is wrong. The Common Good is not a means for any particular interests; it is not a bargaining point in any private quarrel whatsoever; it is not a pressure that one may legitimately exercise to obtain any private ends. It is a good so great that very frequently private rights — even inviolable private rights — cannot be exercised until it is safeguarded.
Thus, in a time when the Common Good of a whole nation is threatened by military attack, every man in it has an inviolable right to live in his own home with his wife and children — and none of them who are drafted can do it.
Thrown at you like that, however, Father Ferree’s explanation raises more questions than it answers. Some people might not even understand what “inviolate” means, as it has passed out of common usage. (It means “must not be violated.”)
The more important question, however, is What is the common good? a question that has baffled people for quite some time, especially when social justice is the main topic under consideration. After all, social justice is the particular virtue that looks directly to the common good, and only indirectly to individual good.
|"Legal justice along directly looks at the common good."|
This comes from what amounts to a throwaway line in the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Legal justice alone directly looks to the common good” (1-2: 61: 5, 4m) . . . which raises another question: weren’t we discussing social justice?
Well, yes. Skipping over all the pages and explanation in Father Ferree’s doctoral thesis, The Act of Social Justice, Pope Pius XI realized that Aquinas used the same term for two related, yet profoundly different things: “legal justice” as the effect that the practice of individual virtue has indirectly on society, and “legal justice” as the direct effect that some unspecified type of virtue has directly on society!
Very confusing, no?
Very confusing, yes!
So Pius XI took a look around, and decided that a term that had popped up in the previous century might be useful: “social justice.” As first used by Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli in the 1840s, “social justice” meant the “uplift” of society, with special emphasis on the needs of the poor and oppressed, but firmly within the framework of the natural law and scholastic philosophy, of which Taparelli was one of the leading proponents.
Taparelli’s idea, evidently developed at the instigation of Pope Pius IX based on the work of Gregory XVI, was to counter the allure of what had recently (1833 or thereabouts) become known as “socialism”: the “democratic religion,” also known as “the New Christianity” or “Neo-Catholicism.” As articulated by Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the guiding lights of the New Christianity, the chief precept of which is,
The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.
|Henri de Saint-Simon, socialist, New Christian|
As construed by Saint-Simon and later socialists, all things — even the natural law (which in Catholic belief IS God) — are to be subordinated to this goal. Whether we’re talking about life, liberty, or (especially) private property, nothing is to come between people and the achieving the goal of uplifting society . . . even other people, if those others have been deemed unworthy (ungodly) for some reason. In short, the collective becomes God, and God becomes secondary to “the People.” (In orthodox belief and thought, the natural law applies to EVERYBODY: NOBODY gets excluded, however unworthy others might think them or anything else. PERIOD. If someone has committed a crime and there is proof — not opinion, but actual PROOF — the case is different, but that proof had better be there. Otherwise, the presumption is that someone is innocent, regardless how much we dislike them or disagree with them.)
What Pius XI did was take the somewhat vague term that Taparelli had used and apply it to the type of legal justice that works on the common good directly, which would now be known as social justice. For the type of legal justice that works on the common good indirectly, he kept the old term, legal justice. As Father Ferree put it,
Here also we might note the great breadth of Pope Pius XI’s vision. The older “Legal Justice,” both because of its imperfect beginnings in Aristotle and because of the suggestiveness of its name, always tended to be reduced to its narrowest possible meaning, for which we might invent the term “courtroom justice.” There is evidence to support the belief that Pope Pius XI recognized this tendency, and its almost complete triumph in modern times, and deliberately decided to throw off this weight of tradition from his own teachings. At the beginning of his Pontificate, in the Encyclical Studiorum Ducem, occurs the phrase in re sociali et in jure recta principia ponendo de justitia legali aut de sociali:” — in social life and in jurisprudence laying down correct principles for Legal Justice as well as for Social Justice.” After this he abandoned “Legal Justice” entirely to the jurists and never used it in his social teachings. The older theory did not recognize the confusion in the term because, for it, Legal Justice was somehow bound up with law; but in the completed theory of Pius XI, Social Justice, far from playing any subordinate role to Law, actually makes the law itself: “It is most necessary that it establish a juridical . . . order.” The Law in all its majesty is simply one of the institutions which Social Justice creates for the Common Good!
Now we can answer the question, What is the common good? Perhaps the best way to answer that is again simply by quoting Father Ferree:
The Nature of the Common Good
|Fr. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.|
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.
Everyone Can Do It
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.”
In other words, the common good is the institutional environment within which people realize their individual goods. It is not itself an individual good!
Thus, the first law of social justice is necessarily that the common good must remain inviolate, or attaining individual goods becomes, for all intents and purposes, impossible.
But are there other considerations? Most certainly — and that is what we’ll look at in the next posting in this series.