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.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Political Animal, Part XXV

In the previous posting in this series we discovered that Pope Pius XI had discerned a new type of virtue, social virtue. Social virtue is directed not at any individual good, but at the whole of the common good, that is, the network of institutions — the social order — within which we as political animals acquire and develop virtue. Restructuring the social order to conform more closely to the natural moral law is not a question of being more individually virtuous with a general intention to the common good. Instead, we must be socially virtuous. Not that individual virtue is thereby negated. As Emmanuel Mounier explains,
That moral improvement, radically necessary for the good health of institutions, cannot by itself provide technical competency and historical efficacy and, finally, that institutions are capable of more rapid transformation than men and must as far as possible offset the deficiencies of men while waiting for the fruits of their good will to ripen. (The Personalist Manifesto, op. cit., 106)
By this means we conform ourselves ever closer to our true nature, which is itself a reflection of divine Nature. Pius XI's achievement was like turning on a light in a dark room. As Reverend William Ferree put it in his pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice (1948), there is,
. . . something tremendously new and tremendously important in this work of Pope Pius XI. The power that we have now to change any institution of life, the grip that we have now to change any institution of life, the grip that we have on the social order as a whole, was always there but we did not know it and we did not know how to use it.

Now we know.

That is the difference. ("Conclusion," Introduction to Social Justice)
Pius XI called this desired state of society "the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ," to be achieved through the "Reign of Christ the King." Admittedly, these are not the best nor the clearest terms to use to express the concepts to non-Catholics, or even (such is the decay of the understanding of the role and basis of the natural moral law in the modern age) to many Catholics. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it might have been better to make the link to the natural moral law based on Intellect (Nature) more clearly the basis of a just social order. Nevertheless, we should also keep in mind that we are dealing with the doctrine taught by the leader of a global religion, and his teachings will, obviously, be expressed in terms of the faith for which he has the burden of responsibility.

We should be prepared, then, as rational human beings, to discern the universal truths in those teachings, and apply them as justice and prudence dictate. Consistent with the theory that Christ the King rules society through the compliance of individuals and the institutions of the whole of the common good with the precepts of the natural moral law, the goals necessarily to be sought through acts of social justice are:

A limited economic role for the State. If State absolutism is rejected and democratic principles are acknowledged as consistent with Catholic teaching, then both common sense and the principle of subsidiarity dictate that much of what people have allowed the State to usurp, especially in matters of personal economy (what the Germans call "Volkswirtshaft," sometimes misleadingly translated as "National Economy"), is now the responsibility of individuals, either alone or (more usually) in free association with others. The State's proper role is limited to ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity and the means to meet his or her material needs and those of his or her dependents adequately and securely. As an expedient in an emergency, the State may undertake to guarantee individual welfare, but this must be regarded only as a last resort, and must cease as soon as private means of succor become available, especially through an individual's own efforts.

Free and open markets as the best means of determining just wages, just prices, and just profits. In his social doctrine, Pius XI emphasizes seemingly to the point of redundancy the principle of "free association," that is, liberty. If we are as individual human beings charged with the responsibility for the common good, and we can only affect the common good through acts of social justice that can only be carried out by organizing with others, then it necessarily follows that not the State, other individuals or groups, nor society as a whole can interfere with the right of free association, except as required to prevent material harm to individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole. Free and open markets, of course, are essential to making the institutions of money and credit operate for the good of all rather than exclusively for the State or the State's favored individuals or groups — understanding "money" as whatever anyone will accept in settlement of a debt, not limited to State-issued or authorized purchase orders. Further, the dignity of the human person demands that, as soon as someone gains the status of adult, he or she must have an equal opportunity to participate freely to the fullest extent possible in the common good, of which economics constitutes an important part.

Recognition and protection of the rights of private property. With the rapid economic disenfranchisement of the great mass of people through being stripped of both private property in the means of production, and the means of acquiring that property in the first place, it would be more accurate to rephrase this necessary goal as "restoration of the rights of private property," and (in recognition of the fact that the business corporation is the predominant form of economic organization) add "particularly in corporate equity." From the early 20th century, due largely to misleading definitions of money and credit and methods of corporate finance employed, minority shareholders had been stripped of their natural right of control and the enjoyment of the fruits of ownership. Thus, even when people owned a moderate stake of income-generating assets, the ownership was in many cases so attenuated as to be effectively meaningless. "Property," however, is not the thing owned, but the right to be an owner, as well as the bundle of rights that define how an owner may use what he or she possesses — particularly with respect to how what is owned can be used, and receipt of the income the asset generates.

Widespread direct ownership of the means of production. If the general necessity of restoring the natural moral law based on the Intellect (Nature) as the basis of a just social order and the foundation of respect for the dignity of the human person can be said to have a "rival" on the list of papal goals, it is the particular necessity of ensuring that "the law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners." (Rerum Novarum, § 46) The sheer number of papal statements regarding the importance, even necessity of widespread direct ownership of the means of production render it incredible that anyone could possibly reinterpret the clear teachings of the popes as advocating some form of socialism, that is, the abolition of private property. That, however, is the case in an overwhelming number of instances. Despite the hysteria with which papal teachings on private property are opposed, reinterpreted, ignored, and so on, however, there is no more effective means of empowering the human person to carry out acts of social justice and therefore assume his or her responsibility for the care of the common good at his or her level, than ownership of the means of production. Ownership also serves to protect and maintain all other rights, especially life and liberty. As William Cobbett declared, "Freedom is not an empty sound; it is not an abstract idea; it is not a thing that nobody can feel. It means, — and it means nothing else, — the full and quiet enjoyment of your own property. If you have not this, if this be not well secured to you, you may call yourself what you will, but you are a slave. (A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, 1826, §456.)

Within the framework of Pius XI's social doctrine, Father Ferree discerned a number of "laws" of social justice. Consistent with Pius XI's emphasis on institutions and free association, these are remarkably consistent and correlate almost perfectly with the "rules" of democracy of American life as discerned by de Tocqueville, even though, surprisingly, Father Ferree does not appear to have been familiar with the work of either de Tocqueville or Brownson. The "laws" of social justice as discerned by Father Ferree are,

One, That the common good remain inviolate. This is analogous to de Tocqueville's observation that an orderly society is of the utmost importance. Classic moral philosophy also makes this demand — but does not offer any way out when a social order is structured unjustly, other than a change of ruler or government.

Two, Cooperation, not conflict. This, too, has an analogue in what de Tocqueville claimed was a strong tendency of Americans to subsume or at least integrate their private interests with those of others, join with those others, and cooperate in order to achieve a desired end.

Three, One's First Particular good is one's own place in the common good. As de Tocqueville observed, Americans had integrated into their social habits the principle that, in order to optimize one's particular good, they first had to secure the common good.

Four, Each is directly responsible. De Tocqueville claimed that every American believed him-or herself to be personally responsible for the condition of society.

Five, Higher institutions must never replace lower ones. De Tocqueville believed that Americans had realized that the agency to handle social situations is not automatically the highest or the lowest level of society, but the one closest to the situation. This is the principle of subsidiarity, that situations are to be handled primarily by those who subsist within particular milieux.

Six, Freedom of association. The most striking characteristic of American life as far as de Tocqueville was concerned was the incredible proclivity to organize and form associations.

Seven, All vital interests should be organized. The habit of forming associations was so great that Americans, according to de Tocqueville, couldn't even imagine doing things differently. If something needed to be done, and it was at all important, it was crucial that people organize and form themselves into associations in order to accomplish whatever end they had in mind.

From these "laws" and a general understanding of social as opposed to individual virtue, Father Ferree drew up a list of six characteristics of social justice so that we can more easily discern whether what we are doing is truly "social justice." Of course, the primary characteristic that Father Ferree takes for granted is that our organization, means, and goals are all fully consistent with the precepts of the natural moral law, or we are betraying ourselves and others by acting contrary to our own nature. The whole idea of the act of social justice is to act consistently with our own nature, both individual and social, that is, politically.

The most obvious characteristic of social justice, then (aside from conformity to the precepts of the natural law), is that only members (individuals) of groups (social institutions) can perform acts of social justice. That is, acts of social justice are, above all, political acts.

The second characteristic of the act of social justice is that it takes time. This is, no doubt, shocking to the short-attention-span 20th and 21st centuries, when people demand fast, fast, fast relief, but it's true. Whenever you have individuals organizing for a common goal, they first have to reconcile their individual interests, and then start to work changing social habits. Even individual habits can take a long time to change, so we should not be surprised when changing our institutional habits can take even longer.

The third characteristic of social justice is that, in social terms, nothing is impossible. The State, the whole of the common good, in fact, was made by man for man in conformity with human nature. That being the case, there is no such thing as a social problem that cannot be remedied — if we act politically, both as individuals and as members of society.

The fourth characteristic of social justice is eternal vigilance. Pius XI noted that society is in such a state of constant flux as to be termed radically unstable (Discourse to Diocesan Congress of Catholic Youth, May 16, 1926; Cath. Action, 107-112). That being the case, each human being is personally responsible for keeping an eye on things. When the situation deviates too far from the norm set by the precepts of the natural moral law, it is a signal to organize for the common good and correct matters.

The fifth characteristic of social justice is effectiveness. Frankly, martyrdom as an end in itself is not and has never been a teaching of the Catholic Church or any sane religion or society. What is done must have a reasonable probability of success, or it is a waste of time. Killing ourselves or others, or expending effort just to make a point is futile and a waste of God's gifts for which we shall probably be held strictly accountable if or when we face judgment, if only the judgment of history.

The sixth characteristic of social justice is that you can't "take it or leave it alone." If we see a situation that needs correction, and we fail to organize with others to act for the common good and bring matters back as far as possible into conformity with the precepts of the natural moral law, we are shirking our responsibility both as individuals and as members of society.

We now have (at least in outline) all that we need to realize our human nature both as individuals and as members of society. The act of social justice is the social tool by means of which we can realize our political nature and act together in solidarity for the mutual advantage of ourselves as individuals, and everyone else as members of society. As Orestes Brownson put it, we must strive to attain "the sovereignty of the people without social despotism, and individual freedom without anarchy."

In the next and final posting in this series, we will take a look at Capital Homesteading, a proposal that appears to have the potential to effect the restructuring of the economic order — and thus the political order — so as to start the process of bringing the whole of the common good back into material conformity with the precepts of the natural moral law.