As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, in response to the “new things” of socialism, modernism and the New Age, in 1891 Pope Leo XIII proposed a program of expanded capital ownership. This would empower people and families, giving them the opportunity and means to overcome the growing social alienation that had led to the development and growth of the new things in the first place.
|Judge Peter S. Grosscup|
Nor was this a “religious thing.” A little over a decade after Leo XIII presented his recommended social program in Rerum Novarum, Judge Peter Stenger Grosscup of the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, Illinois, began writing a series of articles advocating widespread capital ownership both as an economic measure and to secure a stable political order.
Grosscup, one of Theodore Roosevelt’s “trust busters,” thought that replacing the various state laws of incorporation with a single federal law, reforming anti-trust legislation (for years he had been warning about weaknesses in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 and may have influenced the Clayton Act of 1914), and permitting workers and others to purchase corporate shares would “people-ize” American corporations and reunite the country, starting to be torn apart by — not surprisingly — the conflict between capitalism on hand that allowed only a few people to own capital, and socialism on the other, in which only the State (bureaucrats) owned capital.
|Archbishop John Ireland|
Evidently acquainted with Archbishop John Ireland, considered America’s leading expert on Rerum Novarum (Grosscup and Ireland served on the same committee in a 1907 conference on trusts), Grosscup made the same assumption as Leo XIII that effectively nullified their respective proposals for expanded capital ownership: that the only way ordinary people can become owners of capital is to save out of consumption income.
With the pontificate of Pius XI, however, one of the missing pieces in Leo XIII’s thought was addressed. This was through Pius XI’s development of a doctrine of social virtue explaining how the human person gains direct access to the common good.
In Pius XI’s thought, traditional individual virtues benefit individuals directly, and society indirectly. Social virtues, on the other hand, benefit society directly, but individuals indirectly.
Through acts of social virtue, human persons can effect necessary changes directly in the social environment — “the system” — conforming the institutions of the common good more closely to human nature. This establishes and maintains the proper environment for the acquisition and development of virtue. People can more easily become more fully human, because the system encourages them to become virtuous.
|Pope Leo XIII|
Through organized action directed at building or perfecting the common good, people can secure their natural rights and restructure institutions to conform to human nature as far as possible. The work of social justice never ends, because institutions as human creations can never be perfect.
This is in sharp contrast to the principles of socialism that seek to absorb or subsume the human person into the State or collective. Socialism tries to change human nature by abolishing natural rights and conforming it to “ideal” institutions as defined by some élite.
Leo XIII’s program in Rerum Novarum took for granted what individualists and collectivists alike did not even consider possible: that people can directly access and reform the common good. Pius XI’s breakthrough in moral philosophy was the recognition of social justice as a particular virtue directed to the common good with a defined act of its own. This resolved one of the major difficulties with the social program (as distinct from the social doctrine) of Leo XIII.
|Pope Pius XI|
Building on Leo XIII’s thought in this manner was a major advance in developing a sound theory of personalism consistent with natural law and Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy. Personalism being any school of thought or intellectual movement that focuses on the reality of the human person and each person’s unique dignity, it demands that the institutions of the common good be equally accessible by every natural person, i.e., by every human being, and thus that every person have power.
Full and direct access to the common good in turn requires more than every person being able to exercise the full spectrum of the classic individual virtues and rights. This is because individual virtues and rights only grant indirect access to the common good. A holistic understanding of rights and virtues at both the individual and social levels, however, requires that each person have direct access to the common good and all its institutions through the free exercise of the social virtues, especially social charity and social justice.
Pius XI, however, left one question unanswered: how to pay for the restructuring of the social order and turn people into capital owners without redistribution or any other form of injustice?