Many people today, regardless of their religious or philosophical persuasion, cannot tell the difference between a principle, especially an absolute principle, and the application of the principle. For example, in the Catholic Church the former is doctrine and cannot be changed even to meet greatly changed conditions, while the latter is discipline and must be changed to meet changing conditions.
|Pope Benedict XV|
This is something that Pope Benedict XV stated rather explicitly in § 25 of Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, his first encyclical in 1914. As he said, you must do “[o]ld things, but in a new way.” Surprising many people, the pope was not just talking about changes in principle. He was also talking about the mindset that leads people to think that it is okay to change things as long as you think it can and ought to be changed — what he called “the Spirit of Modernism.” As he explained,
Nor do We merely desire that Catholics should shrink from the errors of Modernism, but also from the tendencies or what is called the spirit of Modernism. Those who are infected by that spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savors of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.” In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: “Old things, but in a new way.”
Now, the “bad” part about this is that it is from a religious authority who seemed to be talking only about religion, and only a specific religion, at that. This allowed people with religious allergies to ignore the basic truth, and religious people to reinterpret it to mean whatever they wanted it to mean. As a result, people ended up believing or non-believing whatever it was they started with in the first place, and are doing exactly the same thing today.
|Maybe there needs to be a little rethinking. . . .|
For example, a standard doctrine in mainstream economics is that it is impossible to finance new capital formation without cutting consumption and accumulating the surplus in the form of money savings. The different schools of economics all have different ways of accumulating savings, but all of them rely utterly on the assumption that you cannot produce anything until and unless you have saved something out of production with which to produce.
They all ignore the logical absurdity that assumes you can’t produce something until you have produced something. The idea that you can purchase the means to produce by promising to pay for it out of what you produce in the future is completely alien to people enmeshed in the mainstream schools of economics. Even the so-called individualists assume that if an individual does not have something, he can never have anything unless he produces enough to save as well as consume. Obviously, when human labor is in direct competition with advancing technology, this is impossible except in extraordinary cases.
As a result, the socialists assume that abolition of private property and redistribution of existing wealth are essential for a just economy. Private property must go because it allows individuals to appropriate what the socialists claim belongs to everyone. Redistribution is mandatory because it is the mechanism by means of which private property is usually abolished.
|Pope Leo XIII|
The problem with the socialist assumptions, of course, is that they deny the right of every human being to be an owner, and the rights of ownership that make ownership meaningful. Under current assumptions about production and finance (that turn out to be wrong), most people cannot be productive except through their labor. The experts, therefore, insist on changing the principle — private property — instead of how the principle is applied. Instead of figuring out ways more private people can become owners, then, they try to eliminate private ownership.
In Catholic teaching, for example, there is an exception made to the inviolability of private property in “extreme cases.” And extreme means extreme: people must be in actual danger of death or permanent harm unless they receive material aid immediately. In extreme cases, under the principle of double effect, duly constituted authority may redistribute goods to keep people alive and in reasonable health as an emergency measure. That is the sense of what Pope Leo XIII said in § 22 of Rerum Novarum,
[W]hen what necessity demands has been supplied, and one's standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. “Of that which remaineth, give alms.” It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity — a duty not enforced by human law. [Emphasis added.]
In the most absolute extreme cases, when all other recourse has been exhausted, it is even permissible take what one or one’s dependents need immediately to stay alive. The caveats are that the need must truly be dire, only what is absolutely needed is taken, all other recourse really has been exhausted, and what is taken comes out of another’s “superabundance,” i.e., out of what another could not possibly use for himself or his dependents. There is the further caveat that what was taken must be restored at such time as it becomes possible.
And then there’s what the socialists do, which we will cover in the next posting n this subject.