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THE Global Justice Movement Website
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Political Animal, Part XXIV

In 1923, soon after his election to the papacy, Pope Pius XI declared the long-neglected (one might even say ignored) Robert Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621) a "Beatus." Beatus is one step away from canonization, or official recognition as a "saint." A saint is an individual whom the Catholic Church as a matter of faith certifies to be in Heaven. (Canonization does not "create" a saint. It is a certification or recognition process, not a creative one. In Catholic belief, someone makes him- or herself a saint by cooperating as fully as possible with God's grace.)

This "beatification" was nothing if not surprising. Bellarmine, as we learned earlier in this blog series, was a champion of democracy against the divine right of kings. To this day many people, even sincere Catholics, remain convinced that some form of royal (or State) absolutism is the only legitimate "Catholic" form of government — hence the persistent belief that Pius XI, who condemned fascism on a number of occasions in no uncertain terms, was actually endorsing it!

For example, in Reverend Eamon Cahill's The Framework of a Christian State (1932) explicit papal condemnations of fascism are toned down to such an extent that a reader gets the distinct impression of approval of fascism, except in its more extreme elements. As we have seen, the American Catholic bishops in the Antebellum South did the same thing in assuaging the consciences of Catholic slaveholders after centuries of papal condemnation of the institution of human chattel slavery.

Even more surprising, in 1925 Pius XI issued an encyclical, Quas Primas ("On the Feast of Christ the King") that seemed to contradict Blessed Robert's "promotion" by being widely interpreted as endorsing the divine right of kings as authentic Catholic teaching. Why this understanding of Quas Primas is incorrect is covered in this writer's "A Just Third Political Way: The Concept of Sovereignty in Quas Primas," In Defense of Human Dignity (Arlington, Virginia: Economic Justice Media, 2008, 149-190.) Briefly, Christ reigns as "king" in the universe through humanity's adherence to the divine Nature reflected in human nature. Christ the King does not rule States or nations as political sovereign, but the human heart through compliance with the precepts of the natural moral law "written in the hearts of all men."

Then, in what seemed yet another about-face, Pius XI canonized Bellarmine and a year later vested him with the supreme honor of being named a "doctor" of the Church. A doctor of the Church is an ecclesiastical writer of eminent learning and sanctity who, although his or her writing is not necessarily free of error in all respects (i.e., "infallible"), has been given the title because of the great advantage the Church has derived from his or her work.

Anyone in certain Catholic circles who has an animus against democracy thus has an "out" — or so it would at first seem. Even though named a doctor, that doesn't necessarily mean that Saint Robert's teachings on democracy and the transmission and vesting of the sovereign power are infallibly correct . . . right? Technically, that is true. That is why the embodiment of Bellarmine's ideas in Pius XI's social doctrine as announced in his first encyclical, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio ("On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ"), 1922, is important as an affirmation and endorsement of Saint Robert's views on democracy. Referring to the civil strife that had afflicted many countries since the end of World War I, Pius XI stated,
These political struggles also beget threats of popular action and, at times, eventuate in open rebellion and other disorders which are all the more deplorable and harmful since they come from a public to whom it has been given, in our modern democratic states, to participate in very large measure in public life and in the affairs of government. Now, these different forms of government are not of themselves contrary to the principles of the Catholic Faith, which can easily be reconciled with any reasonable and just system of government. Such governments, however, are the most exposed to the danger of being overthrown by one faction or another. (Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio § 12)
The encyclical stresses two things as being of the greatest importance in restoring true peace to the world. These are, one, the restoration of the natural law as the foundation of and protection for a just social order, and two, widespread direct ownership of the means of production ("private property") as the foundation of and protection for the family.

There remained a problem, however. The "Great War" had so disrupted the social order throughout the world that even the most promising model of a just society, the United States, was suffering from many of the same evils that afflicted Europe and elsewhere. Ownership of the means of production was becoming increasingly concentrated at an accelerating rate. At the same time, "new" political models of State absolutism, notably fascism, were making great strides even in America. The reconciliation between the individual and the collective that de Tocqueville and Brownson had seen as America's special characteristic and mission in the world was falling apart in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Bellarmine's views on democracy, however, do contain a flaw that is not consistent with Catholic teaching. They rely on inserting the collective between God and the individual. This is not conducive to promoting the dignity of the human person. Leo XIII had, to all appearances and possibly influenced by the writings of de Tocqueville and Brownson, circumvented this flaw in Bellarmine's thought by holding up America as an example to be followed. Why, after all, worry about a theoretical flaw when you have a working, practicable model to guide your efforts? De Tocqueville had even stressed the fact that Americans were impatient with theory. Americans were interested in what worked, and the American system not only worked admirably, it promoted widespread direct ownership of the means of production and was clearly based on the natural moral law.

Leo XIII, however, didn't have the effects of the Great War to worry about, nor had the Panic of 1907 yet revealed the serious weaknesses in the American financial and monetary system. Pius XI was therefore faced with the daunting task of developing a sound and consistent theory as to why the American system had worked so well and seemed destined for such great things, and yet, along with Europe, had fallen victim to degenerating social conditions caused by the decay or corruption of the institutions of the common good.

Obviously, then, the old ways of doing things were no longer adequate. As Pius XI explained, possibly consciously echoing de Tocqueville nearly a century before, "The pastoral theology of another day will now no longer suffice." (Pius XI, Discourse to the Ecclesiastical Assistants of the U.C.F.I., July 19, 1928. Quoted in Civardi, Manual of Catholic Action, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1936, 178.)

Alexis de Tocqueville's approach to understanding democracy in America — "A new science of politics is needed for a new world " — seems to have exercised a particular fascination for Pius XI. As Father William Ferree pointed out in his landmark study of the social doctrine of Pius XI, The Act of Social Justice (1943),
It would be an interesting study in itself to go through all the utterances of Pius XI to pick out the recurrences of the phrase "now no longer." The title of this section is one of the most interesting — and perhaps startling — examples, but there are others: "The personal apostolate can no longer suffice, if indeed it can be so much as maintained that it ever did suffice . . . . " (L'Action Catholique, 422.) "We simply cannot ignore the fact that to repair the evils or ruins of modern society the action of the clergy, no matter how active and earnest it can be, is no longer enough . . . " (Letter to the Philippine Hierarchy, 6.) And to these must be added all the reiterations of the phrases of "in our times," in the "changed conditions of the present day," and so forth. ("Appendix B," The Act of Social Justice.)
What Pius XI achieved was not only a solution to the practical problem of how to reconcile the interests of humanity as both individual and social creatures, but provided a sound theoretical foundation for restructuring the social order into a just, sustainable, and (above all) practicable living social organism, flexible enough to conform a particular society to its special wants and needs, and yet firmly grounded on the universal precepts of the natural moral law, especially the inalienable — absolute — rights to life, liberty (free association), access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in the means of production, and of acquiring and developing virtue ("pursuit of happiness"). Pius XI's achievement was a completed doctrine of social virtue, with special emphasis on the "highest" social virtues of social justice and social charity.

As we discovered when we examined the difference between Aristotle's and Aquinas's concept of the common good, and Aquinas's partial reconciliation of individual rights and social needs, one of the chief difficulties (as Pius XI noted) is that individuals are frequently helpless to ensure justice when faced with a social or institutional problem. This agrees with Aquinas's puzzling analysis that claims the common good is directly accessible — only not by individuals as individuals.

Pius XI, however, realized that the common good is made up of institutions, "institutions" being essentially organized groups, that is, individuals acting in a structured manner in free association. In common with de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, he emphasized the natural right of free association thirty-eight times by name in Quadragesimo Anno (see especially §§ 37 and 87) and countless times by implication.

Pius XI then realized that if the common good is directly accessible (as the Thomist analysis assures us must be the case), then there must be a type of virtue directed not at individuals, as is the case with the classic virtues, but at institutions, that is, at the common good itself. The common good, however, is a "thing," that is, not a natural person. The nature of a virtue is that it can only be directed at a person, not a thing.

There is, however, a special case in which a thing behaves in society just as if it were a person: Aristotle's "natural slave." As we saw, as a quasi or artificial person, a slave somehow receives a delegation of its master's virtue, and can thus, in a sense, be the directed object of a virtue and thus have a social identity through its master. Pius XI concluded that the act of organizing, of forming a structured group at some level of the common good, is in effect "incorporating" that group or institution as an artificial person, and it can thus be the directed object of a virtue. As Pius XI explains, directly contradicting Thomas Hobbes's theories in Leviathan that would make all organized bodies — "corporations" — subject to direct State control and eliminate all freedom of association (liberty),
If, therefore, We consider the whole structure of economic life, as We have already pointed out in Our Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, the reign of mutual collaboration between justice and charity in social-economic relations can only be achieved by a body of professional and inter professional organizations, built on solidly Christian foundations, working together to effect, under forms adapted to different places and circumstances, what has been called the Corporation. (Divini Redemptoris, 1931, § 54)
Thus, the common good can be directly accessed . . . only not by individuals. Instead, because the common good is itself made up of these "artificial persons" or corporations, only individuals who are members of such organized groups can work directly on the common good to establish "the reign of mutual collaboration between justice and charity." Aquinas's baffling omission of a particular act of legal justice was now made up. Pius XI had identified the specific means by which humanity realizes its full potential as a political animal. The act of particular legal justice does not merely allow people to be both individuals and social at the same time, it requires that these two sides of human nature work together in concert.

Another problem surfaced, however. It was not a particularly critical one, except in an age obsessed with positivist word games and an understanding of the natural moral law based on the Will rather than the Intellect. The fact is, using the same term, "legal justice," for two different virtues (one general, the other particular) was bound to be confusing. Pius XI therefore took a term that had previously been used in a vague fashion to describe carrying out acts of individual virtue with a general intention to the common good, "social justice," and "promoted" it to the name of particular legal justice, and restricted the term "legal justice" to what Aristotle meant.

Here, then, was the means Pius XI taught to establish "the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ," and thereby implement and maintain the "Reign of Christ the King." Through "acts of social justice," individuals are to exercise their liberty (free association) and organize socially. Then, with the power thereby gained, they are to act politically directly on the common good as members of groups. Free association, an aspect of our free will, is absolutely necessary to this process. As Pius XI explains,
Moreover, just as inhabitants of a town are wont to found associations with the widest diversity of purposes, which each is quite free to join or not, so those engaged in the same industry or profession will combine with one another into associations equally free for purposes connected in some manner with the pursuit of the calling itself. Since these free associations are clearly and lucidly explained by Our Predecessor of illustrious memory, We consider it enough to emphasize this one point: People are quite free not only to found such associations, which are a matter of private order and private right, but also in respect to them "freely to adopt the organization and the rules which they judge most appropriate to achieve their purpose." The same freedom must be asserted for founding associations that go beyond the boundaries of individual callings. And may these free organizations, now flourishing and rejoicing in their salutary fruits, set before themselves the task of preparing the way, in conformity with the mind of Christian social teaching, for those larger and more important guilds, Industries and Professions, which We mentioned before, and make every possible effort to bring them to realization. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 87)
By this means humanity has the ability to restructure the institutions of society to bring them into closer compliance with the divine Nature as reflected in human nature. Christ "reigns," but only through the natural law, written in the hearts of all men and discernible by reason alone unaided by faith. It is thus not necessary to be a Catholic, a Christian, or even to have ever heard of Christ in order to be bound by the precepts of the natural moral law and so come under the suzerainty of Christ, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The question that remains is, What are the specific goals for which we are to strive when we work to restructure the social order so as to establish and maintain this "reign of Christ the King"? We will start to look at some particulars in the next posting in this series.