For some unaccountable reason some sources have re-titled this radio broadcast "The Internal Order of States and People," a change that seems to disparage somewhat the importance of basing the social order on the inalienable rights inherent in each human person. The rights of the human person are a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching and of all religions and philosophies based on the natural moral law.
We only have space for a relatively short extract from "The Rights of Man," but we believe that this passage highlights critical concepts. As we might expect, the selection first gives the reason for having a social order: the perfection of the human person — in Aristotelian terms, the acquisition and development of virtue through the exercise of rights, or (as America's Founding Fathers put it), the "pursuit of happiness."
The second part of this particular selection focuses on the importance of institutions: the social tools designed and intended to assist each individual in the acquisition and development of virtue by protecting basic human rights and making their exercise possible. The section labeled "Common Life in Tranquility" emphasizes the importance of a well-structured social order that provides the environment within which individuals acquire and develop virtue. "Tranquility and Action" is a reminder that everybody is called to organize with like-minded others to carry out acts of social justice with the goal of providing that "tranquil environment."
Our selection closes with "The World of Labor," which — in common with all the popes since Leo XIII and political scientists throughout history — emphasizes the social importance of widespread direct ownership of the means of production. As Daniel Webster pointed out in 1820, "Power naturally and necessarily follows property." Without property to vest each individual with the power to exercise rights within the common good and thereby acquire and develop virtue — becoming more fully human in the process — the primary task of the human person becomes much more difficult, at times almost impossible.
Selections from "The Rights of Man"
1942 Christmas Message of Pope Pius XII
The Development and Perfection of the Human Person
The original and essential purpose of social life is to preserve, develop, and perfect the human person, by facilitating the due fulfillment and realization of the religious and cultural laws and values which the Creator has assigned to every man and to the human race, both as a whole and in its natural groupings.
A social doctrine or structure which denies or neglects the internal and essential link connecting God with all human concerns is an aberration; those who follow such a doctrine build up with one hand but with the other they are providing the means which sooner or later will undermine and destroy the structure. If they fail to acknowledge the respect due to the human person and to the life of the human person, if they give human personality no place in the social system, in legislative and executive activity, then, far from benefiting society, they damage it; far from fostering and enlivening the social sense and realizing its aspirations and hopes, they deprive it of all intrinsic value, making it a mere catch-phrase which in ever-increasing sections of the community is being resolutely and frankly repudiated.
If social life implies internal unity it does not on that account exclude the differences between men which are grounded in reality and in nature. But so long as we hold fast to God as the supreme controller of all human concerns, both likenesses and differences find their proper place in the absolute order of being, of values, and consequently also of morality. If that foundation is attacked, however, ominous fissures appear in the structure: the various spheres of culture become dissociated from one another; outlines, boundaries, and values become blurred and uncertain; with the result that the decision between opposing policies comes to depend, according to the prevailing fashion, upon merely external factors, and often even upon blind instinct.
During the past decades a damaging economic policy subordinated the whole of civil life to the profit motive; today a conception rules which is no less detrimental to society, regarding as it does everything and everybody from the standpoint of utility to the State, to the exclusion of all ethical and religious considerations. In either case we have a travesty and a misconception pregnant with incalculable consequences for social life, which is never nearer to losing its noblest prerogatives than when under the illusion that it can with impunity repudiate or neglect God, the eternal source of its dignity.
Reason, enlightened by faith, assigns to each person and to each particular association in the social organism a definite and noble place; above all it tells us that the purpose of the whole of the State's activity, political and economic, is the permanent realization of the common good: that is to say, the provision of those external conditions which are needful to citizens as a whole for the development of their qualities and the fulfillment of their duties in every sphere of life. material, intellectual, and religious — in the supposition, however, that the powers and energies of the family and of other organisms which hold natural precedence over the State are insufficient, and also subject to the fact that God, in His will for the salvation of men, has instituted another universal society, the Church, for the benefit of the human person and for the realization of his religious ends.
In a social conception inspired and sanctioned by religious thought, economic and cultural activities are seen as a vast and admirable forge of energy, richly various and harmoniously coherent, in which the similarity of men as beings endowed with reason and their functional diversity receive just acknowledgment and find adequate expression. In any other conception labor is oppressed and the worker is degraded.
The Legal Structure of Society and its Purpose
If social life, such as God wills it, is to attain its end it needs a legal structure for its support, defense, and. protection. The function of this structure is not to dominate, but to serve; to encourage the development and vital growth of society in the abundant variety of its aims, promoting the full achievement of private enterprise in harmonious collaboration, and protecting it by suitable and legitimate means against anything detrimental to its full expansion. Such structure, in order to secure the balance, the security, and the concord of society, has also the right of coercion against those who cannot in any other way be restrained within the honorable discipline of social life; but no authority worthy of the name can fail to feel, in the just exercise of this right, an anxious sense of responsibility in the sight of the Eternal Judge, before whose tribunal any unjust sentence, and especially any reversal of Divinely established principles, will receive inevitable punishment and condemnation.
The ultimate, deep-rooted, lapidary principles which lie at the foundation of society cannot be abolished by any effort of human ingenuity; they may be denied, ignored, disregarded, or disobeyed, but they can never be deprived of their juridical validity. Admittedly conditions change with the passage of time, but there is never a complete gap, never entire discontinuity, between the law of yesterday and the law of today, between the disappearance of old forms of government and the introduction of new constitutions. Whatever happens, whatever change or transformation may take place, the purpose of all social life remains the same, ever sacred, ever obligatory: the development of the personal values of man, who is made in the image of God; whatever legislator or authority he may obey, every member of the human family remains bound to secure his immutable ends. He has therefore always the inalienable right — a right which no opposition can destroy and which all, friends and enemies alike, are bound to acknowledge — to a constitution and an administration of justice inspired by the conviction and understanding that it is their essential duty to serve the common good.
The legal structure has also the noble and arduous task of securing harmonious relations between individual citizens, between various associations within the State, and between their members. Legislators will accomplish this task successfully if they avoid dangerous theories and practices which are detrimental to the community and to its cohesion, and which owe their origin and wide diffusion to false postulates. Among these is to be counted a juridical positivism which invests purely human laws with a majesty to which they have no title, opening the way to a fatal dissociation of law from morality. Likewise to be banned is the theory which claims for a particular nation, or race, or class, a juridical instinct against whose law and command there is no appeal. Finally, all those theories are to be shunned which, though in themselves divergent and deriving from opposed ideologies, have this in common that they regard the State, or a group representing it. as an absolute and supreme entity exempt from all control and criticism, even when its theoretical and practical postulates result in open and clashing contradiction with essential data of the human and Christian conscience.
Those who clearly perceive the vital connection between genuine social order and a genuine juridical structure, those who appreciate that interior unity in multiplicity depends upon the primacy of the spiritual, upon respect for human personality both in oneself and in others, upon a true love for society, and upon attachment to the ends for which God has ordained it, cannot wonder at the unhappy results of juridical conceptions which have departed from the royal road of truth to follow the slippery paths of materialism; and they must immediately see how urgently necessary it is to return to a conception of society which is spiritual and ethical, earnest and profound, instinct with the warmth of a true humanity, lit by the light of Christian faith which reveals in the juridical structure a reflection of the social order as God has willed it, a luminous product of the spirit of man, which in its turn is an image of the spirit of God.
This organic conception of society, the only vital conception, combines a noble humanism with the genuine Christian spirit, and it bears the inscription from Holy Writ which St. Thomas has explained [IIa IIae, q. 29. 3. 3.]: 'The work of justice shall be peace'; a text applicable to the life of a people whether it be considered in itself or in its relations with other nations. In this view love and justice are not contrasted as alternatives; they are united in a fruitful synthesis. Both radiate from the spirit of God, both have their place in the program which defends the dignity of man; they complement, help, support, and animate each other: while justice prepares the way for love, love softens the rigor of justice and ennobles it; both raise up human life to an atmosphere in which, despite the failings, the obstacles, and the harshness which earthly life presents, a brotherly intercourse becomes possible. But if the evil spirit of materialism gains the mastery, if the rough hands of power and tyranny are suffered to guide events, you will then see daily signs of the disintegration of human fellowship, and love and justice will disappear — presaging the catastrophes which must come upon a society that has apostatized from God.II. Common Life in Tranquility
The second fundamental element of the peace towards which every human society almost instinctively tends, is tranquility. Tranquility has nothing in common with a hard and childishly obstinate contentment with the state of things as they are; nor with a reluctance, begotten of a lazy and selfish spirit, to confront the problems and questions to which the progress of time and the succession of generations give rise, and which urgently demand an immediate solution. For the Christian, conscious of his responsibility to even the least of his brethren, there can be no such false tranquility; he does not run away, he throws himself into the fray; he is all for action, action against apathy or desertion in the great spiritual war in which the structure, indeed the very soul, of the society of the future is at stake.
Tranquility and Action
Tranquility, understood in the sense of St. Thomas, is not opposed to intense activity; for one who fully appreciates the beauty and the necessity of a spiritual foundation for society, for one who understands how noble is its ideal, tranquility and action are associated in perfect harmony. And this leads Us to address a word of special affection and fatherly good will to you, young people, who are inclined to turn your backs upon the past and to place all your hopes and aspirations in the future: Enthusiasm and courage in themselves are not enough; they must be placed at the service of a good and untarnished cause. Feverish activity and anxious labor must all come to nothing, unless you find stability in God and in His eternal law. You must be inspired by the conviction of fighting for the truth, of devoting to that cause all your own desires and energies, all your yearnings and your sacrifices; you must be conscious of fighting for the eternal laws of God, for the dignity of the human person and for the attainment of the ends which the human person is destined to achieve. It is in the eternally active tranquility of God that mature age and youth will both find safe anchorage and so effect the truly Christian co-ordination of their differences of temperament and of activity. There, so long as driving power and the curb of restraint are coupled together, the natural difference between the older and the younger generation can give rise to no danger; on the contrary their collaboration will contribute powerfully to the implementing of God's eternal laws throughout the changing course of time and circumstances.
The World of Labor
There is one section of the community, for the past hundred years the scene of violent agitation and conflict, in which tranquility, at any rate to all appearance, reigns today; We mean the vast and ever growing world of labor, the great army of workers, wage-earners, and dependents. Viewed from the standpoint of present conditions with their war-time needs, this state of peace may be said to be an objective necessity; but if we consider it from the point of view of justice, from the point of view of an orderly and legitimate labor movement, we cannot but conclude that such tranquility will continue to be no more than apparent until that movement achieves its purpose.
Guided always by religious motives, the Church has condemned the various systems of Marxist socialism, and she condemns them still today, for it is her permanent duty and right to save men from currents of thought and from influences which jeopardize their eternal salvation. But the Church cannot fail to know and to perceive that the worker, in his efforts to improve his condition, finds himself confronted by a system which, far from being conformable with nature, is contrary to the order established by God and to the purpose which He has assigned earthly goods. The methods used may have been, and may still be wrong, dangerous, and deserving of condemnation; but no one, least of all a priest or a Christian, can possibly remain deaf to the cry that rises out of the depths, calling for justice and for a spirit of brotherhood in a world which a just God has made. To be silent in such circumstances would be wrong and inexcusable in the sight of God; it would be contrary to the inspired preaching of the Apostle, who, while insisting that we must be resolutely opposed to error, knows also that we must be full of sympathy with those who go astray, and full of understanding for their aspirations, hopes, and motives.
When God blessed our first parents He said to them: 'Increase and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.' [Gen. i. 28] And to the first father of a human family He said later: 'In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread.' [Gen. iii. 19] Therefore the dignity of the human person normally demands the right to the use of earthly goods as the natural foundation for a livelihood; and to that right corresponds the fundamental obligation to grant private property, as far as possible, to all. The positive laws regulating private property may change and may grant a more or less restricted use of it; but if such legal provisions are to contribute to the peaceful state of the community, they must save the worker, who is or will be the father of a family, from being condemned to an economic dependence or slavery irreconcilable with his rights as a person.
Whether this slavery arises from the tyranny of private capital or from the power of the State makes no difference to its effect; indeed under the oppression of a State which controls everything and regulates the whole of public and private life, which encroaches even upon the sphere of thought, conviction, and conscience, this lack of freedom may have consequences even more disastrous, as experience shows.
The bottom line, of course, is that man was not made for the State, nor for the convenience of an economic, political, and certainly not spiritual elite. The social order, as Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson hinted in his short apologetic work, The Religion of the Plain Man (1906), "is intended for the 'man in the street,' who, after all, has a certain claim on our consideration, since Jesus Christ came to save his soul."
The State is a tool made by man for man, to assist the ordinary individual in the acquisition and development of virtue. Until and unless the State fills that role adequately, it is a hindrance, not a help to humanity in becoming more fully human. The Just Third Way, particularly in its application called "Capital Homesteading," is one possible means of achieving the goals for which Pius XII called nearly three-quarters of a century ago, when it seemed that the Nazi tyranny, based on the positivist triumph of the Will, could very easily take over the world. The world stands in the same danger today. The time to act, to implement Capital Homesteading at the earliest possible date, is now.