Last week we looked at the “wrong” way to go about “doing” social justice. That is, you do not organize with other people and work with each other to fix the broken institutions of the common good. Instead, you bull on through, trying to go it alone, and ending up accomplishing nothing because you tried to “attack a social evil with only individual means,” as CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. put it.
|Fr. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.|
This was something Fr. Ferree felt very strongly about. In Introduction to Social Justice, most of the laws and characteristics of social justice he covered in a few paragraphs at most. Perhaps this was the result of his seeing firsthand the problems associated with both individualism and collectivism but realizing that in his day (the late 1940s), the dangers of collectivism were pretty much accepted, but many people thought of individualism as a virtue.
The situation is almost entirely reversed in the modern world, but Fr. Ferree’s analysis holds as true for the collectivist of today as it did for the individualist of yesterday — and vice versa. The fact is that neither individualism nor collectivism has the answer, and that’s the case whether we’re talking politics (real politics, as in living together in organized communities), or economics.
Thus, as Fr. Ferree was very careful to note, social does not mean socialist, but more what Aristotle meant by political. As he explained,
The Right Way: Social
How should he have gone about it?
First of all, he should recognize frankly that he, as an individual, is helpless before the accumulated evil of the unjust system in force. Then he should go out for help. If he is wise he will not tackle the whole community at once, but will look around among his friends or acquaintances and try to find other people who are as dissatisfied as he himself is with the poverty ridden condition of their community.
|Pope Pius XI: the right way is social.|
With these chosen souls he would sit down to study the sad condition of their community and to see what could be done about it. When it became clear that dishonesty was the big obstacle in the way of a good life in the community, they could very well begin to study the necessity of honesty in their own relations, especially with each other. When all of them are convinced that honesty is absolutely essential to a good life together, it will become possible for them to agree among themselves that they will trust each other. Furthermore, they can agree to stand together against anyone of their number who goes back on his promise to be good. Once this is accomplished they can begin helping each other out, lending money when necessity arises, or joining forces when big jobs come along that they cannot handle individually. Furthermore, since they recognize that it is a social problem which affects the whole community they will be careful not to help anybody outside their “reform” group (which can be trusted to be honest), unless this outside person joins the group and himself takes the obligation to meet his just debts.
And since they know very well what false ideas the community has on honesty, they will make it a condition of joining their group that the newcomers study the necessity of honesty as much as they themselves studied it when they started out — in other words, they will attempt to form their new members to honesty. Actually they are setting up a new “social conscience” to take the place of the old falsified “social conscience” which had made dishonesty a normal thing.
Without going further into this example, it is already evident that in this social way of action — this organization of the community — something can really be done. These organized men are going to show to their disorganized community an example, not of going heroically broke as a testimony to honesty, but of arriving at economic security by the operation of honesty.
This example will attract imitators — in fact, the smaller group will deliberately go out to look for imitators and train them to imitate.
Here you have the difference between individual action and social action and it is clear that Social Justice is never done by an individual as an individual, but only by an individual in cooperation, in organization with others.