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, August 4, 2009

Response to Dr. Michael Novak

We interrupt William Cobbett to bring you an important news bulletin. Due to our not having received the forwarded e-mail until last week and as a result of our e-mail being down, we were not able to respond to Dr. Novak's concerns in a timely manner — but better late than never. Dr. Novak's note to Dr. Robert Moynihan, editor and publisher of Inside the Vatican magazine, was called forth in response to a "newsflash" sent out by Dr. Moynihan on the new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. What follows are Dr. Novak's thoughts, and our response. Except for the e-mail addresses that have been removed, the text of Dr. Novak's e-mail is as he sent it.

From: Michael Novak
To: Robert Moynihan
Subject: Re: Encyclical, Background, Corrected/Amended

Thanks for this?

What is the meaning of "wealth" in talking of concentrations of wealth? How many families in the US amassing one million or more dollars in their estate keep that wealth for as long as ten years after the death of the principal? Rockefellers happen, but are rare. Things seem different in Europe, with great families going on and on.

Did Anglo-American economists get a voice?

You mention poor Americans in trailer camps. How much do trailers cost? How much do they receive monthly in welfare, including medical care?

Wealth has a cause. Poverty is what you have naturally.

Just a few thoughts.

Also, "justice," -- according to some historical precedent? Or some utopian ideal? Or ---

"Common good," of course (or "public interest" as the American founders preferred); but who defines what the common good is, and how is it imposed upon recalcitrant materials? Does common good entail government action? Which branch of government discerns the common good? Or is that decided by public debate?

August 4, 2009

Dear Dr. Novak:

Please excuse the delay in responding to the questions you raised in your e-mail to Dr. Robert Moynihan. Our e-mail has been down for a week, and a copy of your e-mail was not forwarded earlier.

Most of your concerns are addressed in the orientation book (Every Worker an Owner) and report (High Road to Economic Justice) prepared by the Presidential Task Force on Project Economic Justice in which you participated in 1986 under the Deputy Chairmanship of Norman G. Kurland, president of the Center for Economic and Social Justice ("CESJ"),

I believe you became acquainted with Dr. Kurland while you were a professor at Syracuse, and it may have been Dr. Kurland who introduced you to the work of Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler. Dr. Kurland may also have suggested the term "democratic capitalism" to you, although he has subsequently abandoned it as inaccurate and misleading. Copies of Every Worker an Owner and High Road to Economic Justice were presented to President Reagan and received his endorsement. Later, the books were presented to His Holiness Pope John Paul II in a private audience in 1987, and the principles and programs detailed in them received his gracious encouragement.

A more up-to-date treatment of the principles and proposals from the Task Force can be found in Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen (2004), while we published a treatment of the philosophy and principles as In Defense of Human Dignity (2008).

Your question regarding the common good is answered in Introduction to Social Justice (1948), a pamphlet by Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., a co-founder of CESJ who, at his death in 1985, was described as "America's greatest social philosopher" by Father Andrew F. Morlion, O.P., Ph.D., founder of the International University of Social Studies in Rome, and papal confidential secretary. I believe that Dr. Kurland may have been present when you first met Father Ferree in your home.

Father Ferree's pamphlet presents the "common good" in a manner consistent with Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas as the network of institutions within which we as human persons acquire and develop virtue, thereby becoming more fully human. Each person, consistent with the "analogy of being," thus has an "analogously complete" capacity to acquire and develop virtue, and therefore fully possesses the common good within him- or herself.

"Common good" (the complex network of institutions, including the rights defining exercise of life, liberty, and property — cf. the Summa IIa IIae, q. 90, a. 2 on whether the law is always directed to the common good) is carefully distinguished from common goods — that in which the State exercises property as an expedient on the assumption that private individuals cannot or should not own such goods, e.g., infrastructure, military arms, and so on. As St. Thomas explains,
Community of goods is ascribed to the natural law, not that the natural law dictates that all things should be possessed in common and that nothing should be possessed as one's own: but because the division of possessions is not according to the natural law, but rather arose from human agreement which belongs to positive law, as stated above (IIa IIae, q. 57, a. 2). Hence the ownership of possessions is not contrary to the natural law, but an addition thereto devised by human reason. (Summa, IIa IIae, q. 66, a. 2)
That is, the natural law merely states that the goods of the earth are not common property ("Thou shalt not steal"), not how goods are to be divided, which is left to human reason. Thus, if human reason deems it expedient that certain goods (weapons of mass destruction, roads, bridges, utilities, and so on) should be owned in trust by the State, and thus in common by all the people instead of individually or in free association with others, this is allowable — as long as individual private ownership of other goods is not thereby obviated.

Every individual has, inherent within him- or herself the power to act directly on the common good by organizing with others in order to correct flaws in our institutional environment and lower barriers to full participation in the institutions of the common good. This is "the act of social justice," described in detail by Father Ferree in his 1941 doctoral thesis, The Act of Social Justice. The State, as Albert Venn Dicey explained in Lectures on the Relation between Law and Public Opinion in England during the Nineteenth Century (1905), passes and enforces laws that the citizens, through acts of social justice, have, in effect, already accepted or are prepared to accept. The State, in a manner that respects personal sovereignty and individual human dignity, thereby acts in accordance with the popular will.

CESJ has developed some proposals that would change common goods currently held in trust by the State for the people, to being private property directly-owned by people, individually or in free association with others. This would be accomplished by devolving ownership through "Natural Resource Banks" and Community Investment Corporations, or CICs, also called "Community Land Cooperatives," in which each citizen would have a defined and direct private property stake in the land, natural resources and infrastructure that many people erroneously believe can only be owned by the State on their behalf. (The "Natural Resource Bank" is not to be confused with the completely unrelated "Land Bank" proposal of John Law in 1705 or the Rentenmark program implemented by Dr. Hjalmar Schacht that operated in Germany, 1924-1948.)

Once you have reviewed these items on the CESJ website, I invite you to give Dr. Kurland a call if you have any further questions or concerns. Contact information is on the website.

Thank you. We look forward to hearing from you.