THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Economics, Part II: The Problem

We discovered yesterday that the confusion over "access" (opportunity) and "use" (exercise) with respect to private property allows sincere and well-motivated people to support socialism (albeit under many names) as the "only" alternative to the injustices prevalent in society.

Confusing access and use, however, is why Pope Pius XI and other popes condemned socialism. It is not because socialism abolishes private property (although that is the hallmark of what it means to be socialist), but because socialism is based on "a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity." (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120) That is, socialism, by redefining natural rights, destroys the very thing that makes the human person "social," and undermines the foundation of the social order. Socialism shifts the focus from the human person to that of a vague "collective." Socialism thereby directly offends against the dignity of the human person under God.

Thus, the statement, "no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist" (Ibid.) is a simple statement of fact. This is because Catholicism relies on accepting a philosophy of natural law based not on Will, but on Intellect. Socialism, on the other hand, takes away the very thing that defines us as human: participation in God's Knowledge reflected in the human person through adherence to the principles of the natural law discerned not by faith, but by reason.

Briefly to reiterate what we have explained many times before, the "universal destination" ("access") of the goods of the world refers to the right each and every human being has to acquire and possess both consumer and capital goods — equality of opportunity. This is the natural right to private property, as St. Thomas and the popes explain carefully and at great length, and which is repeated in Article 17(1) and 17(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property." Thus, no one, absent just cause and due process, can be prevented from becoming an owner of either consumer or capital goods without thereby offending against his or her human dignity at the most profound level.

"Access," however, is distinct from "use." "Use" refers not to the natural right of private property, embedded in human nature by God Himself ("access," which we just described, consistent with natural law principles, as the right to property, or the right to acquire and possess consumer and capital goods), but to the exercise of property, or what one may do with what one owns, how much can be acquired, and even (based on the needs of the individual, groups, and society as a whole) what kinds of goods may be owned . . . as long as the important caveat is observed, reiterated by Pope Pius XII, that the exercise of the rights of ownership may never be defined in any way that negates the natural right to be an owner.

That is why, for instance, even if we decide somebody else owns "too much," we cannot simply and arbitrarily take it away. That would be to take away that individual's right to be an owner, thereby negating his or her natural right "to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one's family," which the constant teaching of the Catholic Church assures us is inherent in everyone, not just those whose behavior, race, religion, degree of wealth, club membership, or anything else we approve.

In practical terms, of course, isolating one group (usually "the rich," but more and more these days "the Jews," "the Neo-cons," or any other group against which those doing the complaining have an animus) and confiscating their goods for redistribution to achieve what we imagine is a more equitable arrangement makes possession less secure for everyone. Confiscating and redistributing from any individual or group, whatever the justification or pretext, virtually dissolves all security in property, for the next group that comes into power will, naturally, confiscate from the recipients of the previous confiscation for redistribution among those whom the new people consider more deserving, and so on. Undermining security in property undermines the stability of all of society, for the maintenance of which St. Thomas teaches that we must be willing to tolerate even hideously unjust conditions and laws if the attempt to correct them would destroy the social order, the social order being considered necessary to humanity's social and individual development.

That is why, regardless of the injustice of the system, conditions, or even particular laws, unless the system, condition, or law forces us as individuals directly to perform or not perform some act that violates our conscience, we cannot simply force or coerce others into doing what we believe to be right. We must be prepared to accept the existence of concentrated wealth, poverty, slavery, even abortion, and not take the law into our own hands, as long as we are not forced or be willing personally to participate directly in concentrating wealth, keeping someone poor, enslaving others or owning slaves, or procuring or assisting in the procurement of abortions.

This is why the clear teaching of the Catholic Church is that we cannot simply confiscate and redistribute wealth, kill slave owners, or bomb abortion facilities. Whether we personally believe something to be morally right or wrong, if, in order to correct a situation, we violate the rights of others — which constitutes their human dignity — we become worse than those whom we regard as immoral, the presumption being that, having put ourselves in place as judges over our fellow man, we should know better.

Within the traditional framework of individual morality and Keynesian economics, there is no answer to this dilemma. We are forced either to go along with an unjust or intolerable situation, or become worse than those whom we regard, rightly or wrongly, as criminals. Fortunately, however, the Just Third Way has a solution to this otherwise insolvable conundrum. That will be the subject of the next posting.