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, November 17, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part XIII

In the previous posting in this series we noted that, according to Rev. William Ferree, eulogized on his death in 1985 as "America's greatest social philosopher," even super-heroic individual virtue has little if any chance of ameliorating a social evil. As the paraphrase of the passage from Introduction to Social Justice pointed out, "Her [Jane Jones'] mistake was to attack a social evil with only individual means." The question becomes, "How should she have gone about it?"

The Personhood Movement and the Pro-Life movement could, of course, continue to do exactly what they are doing: stage public demonstrations and distribute propaganda (in the good sense) with the end of enacting a law or adopting a constitutional amendment the object of which is to prevent abortion. We have seen, however, that simply passing a law or even amending the Constitution is, absent public support, ineffectual and can even bring about greater evils than the one presumably being eliminated.

The ineffectiveness of the usual approach (aside from its implicit denial of individual sovereignty within the social order and its reliance on the coercive power of the State to impose desired ends) is evident once we internalize the basic principles of social justice. Primarily, as Father Ferree points out in his unfinished ms., Forty Years After . . . A Second Call to Battle (c. 1985), such demonstrations, necessary and useful as they might be to raise public consciousness of an issue and even in saving infants' and mothers' lives on an individual basis, all have one fatal weakness: they are all inevitably demands that somebody else do something, i.e., stop having, performing, supporting, or promoting abortions. The demonstrator is, socially speaking, completely ineffectual, although left with a feeling of great virtue and vast superiority over other, less enlightened people who "don't get it." The institution of abortion as a socially acceptable thing is left unchanged, except perhaps to strengthen the resolve of Pro-Choice adherents to resist the efforts of the "antis" to take away their right to choose.

We find the answer to this seemingly insoluble situation in the laws and characteristics of social justice. As Father Ferree explains in Introduction to Social Justice (52),
Another corollary of this characteristic of Social Justice (that it is never finished) is that it embraces a rigid obligation. In the past when it was not seen very clearly how the duty of reform would fall upon the individual conscience, the idea became widespread that reform was a kind of special vocation, like that to the priesthood, or the religious life. It was all very good for those people who liked that sort of thing, but if one did not like that sort of thing, he left it alone.

All that is changed! Since we know that everyone, even the weakest and youngest of human beings, can work directly on the Common Good at the level where he lives, and since each one "has the duty" to reorganize his own natural medium of life whenever it makes the practice of individual virtue difficult or impossible, then every single person must face the direct and strict obligation of reorganizing his life and the life around him, so that the individual perfection both of himself and of his immediate neighbors will become possible. This idea should not be taken alone, it should be held only in conjunction with the characteristics we have already seen, namely, that one cannot practice Social Justice alone as an individual, but only with others; and that the realization of Social Justice takes time.
That is, when individual virtue cannot function, or does so partially or inadequately, the solution is to organize with others, and work directly not on the specific problem itself, but on the surrounding institutions of the common good that are "allowing" the problem to continue or, in extreme cases, causing the problem.

With respect to abortion and the effort to get the fetus recognized as a person in conformity with the principles of the natural moral law on which the United States was founded, this is a two-step process, which we will begin examining in the next posting in this series.