In the previous posting in this series we claimed that personality — personhood — and the natural right of private property (along with the full spectrum of other natural rights) are inextricably linked, and provide essential support for the dignity of the human person. Respect for individual natural rights is, in fact, an integral aspect of human dignity — dignitas. Further, we found that private property is not the only natural right under assault these days. Most people recognize (at least to some extent) when the natural right of free association — liberty — is being attacked, although there is a strong tendency to equivocate and downplay the implications of violations of our natural right to liberty.
Property, however, is just as important as life and liberty. This is because ownership of the means of production vests the owner both with the means to sustain life for him- or herself and his or her dependents. Property also empowers the owner with the means to resist unjust inroads on life and liberty by other individuals, groups, or even (or especially) the State itself. Life, liberty, and property are thus essential to empowering each individual with the ability to acquire and develop virtue, thereby becoming more fully human and fitting each human being for his or her proper end.
This is, in fact, why Pope Pius XI condemned socialism. It is not because socialism seeks to abolish private property per se, but because the justification for abolishing private property results from an orientation and a philosophy that attacks and undermines the dignity of the human person. Socialism is based "on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist." (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.)
The abolition of private property is simply the most obvious and sure indication that a proposal is socialist, and constitutes an attack on essential human dignity and the natural law. You could have a socialism that permits private ownership, but does not recognize that ownership as a natural right. In moral philosophy it is the failure to recognize private ownership of the means of production as a natural right that is the basic problem, not the fact of private ownership or lack thereof — an economic problem, albeit an extremely serious one.
The rights to life, liberty, and property however, have been under continual assault since the sixteenth century, when there was a rebirth of an idea rooted in one of the very few mistakes Aristotle made, and which Aquinas went to great lengths to correct. Not coincidentally, this error experienced its renaissance at the same time that the basis of the natural law shifted from Nature (that is, Intellect or reason) to Will — that is, personal faith in something that a believer accepts as a revelation of the truth, and is, as Mortimer Adler pointed out, one of the bases for the establishment and maintenance of a totalitarian State.
Aristotle's error was to conclude that not all human beings have the same ("analogously complete") capacity to acquire and develop virtue. Thus, most people lack the full ability to conform themselves to the dictates of the natural moral law. Instead (according to Aristotle), each individual has a different capacity to acquire and develop different kinds of virtue. Some creatures, "human only in appearance," do not have any capacity to acquire and develop virtue at all. Aristotle called these human-appearing creatures, "natural slaves." Natural slaves require others to take care of them, whether the caretaker is another individual who is a full or partial human, or (as is the case with barbarian nations) the State itself.
The bottom line to Aristotle's thought — and the reason Aquinas worked so hard to correct the problem — is that, carrying this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, some people end up being considered less human than others, while still others are thought of as not human at all. Full, even "partial" humanity becomes conditioned on something other than mere existence, that is, something other than being. If someone is strong enough to force acceptance of the case that certain individuals or even types or classes of people are not human or are not fully human, you can do anything to them that you want.
Thus, the unborn, the crippled, the mentally deficient, those who believe in the wrong religion or no religion, those with unacceptable political ideas, are social misfits, have the wrong sexual orientation, etc., etc., are thus subject to control or elimination at the will or whim of the majority, or suffer imprisonment or death.
How does this relate to the personhood of every human being? We will start to look at that in the next posting in this series.