They do seem to keep coming, don’t they? The questions from distributists, that is. We’d prefer if they were accompanied by checks with large numbers of zeros to the right of the other digits, but we’ll take what we can get. Anyway, we just got this question:
To what extent does the Just Third Way incorporate Catholic social teaching and distributist thought?
The Just Third Way incorporates Catholic social teaching in two ways, one indirect, and one direct.
Indirectly, because Louis Kelso’s and Mortimer Adler’s work is based solidly on the natural law principles found in Aristotelian-Thomism, and Catholic social teaching is also based on the natural law, there is a fundamental consistency between the Just Third Way and the Church’s social Magisterium. The three principles of economic justice (participation, distribution, and social justice), and the four pillars of a just market economy (1. Limited economic role for the State, 2. Free and open markets as the best means of determining just wages, just prices, and just profits, 3. Restoration of private property, and 4. Widespread capital ownership), are therefore “naturally” consistent with Catholic social teaching, and it is fairly easy to correlate specific passages in the encyclicals with them.
Directly, one of CESJ’s principal co-founders, Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., was an acknowledged expert in the social doctrine of Pope Pius XI, and he brought his insights into Pius XI’s breakthrough in moral philosophy into the Just Third Way. Very briefly, this is that there is a direct “act of social justice” by means of which everyone can (and must, as a moral obligation) organize to gain access to the institutions of the common good, reform them so they work to enhance instead of inhibit or degrade human dignity, and thereby provide the proper environment so that everyone can acquire and develop virtue, preparing one’s self for his or her proper end. Before Pius XI, there had been a very slight hint in Aquinas that the common good was somehow directly accessible, but most people just assumed that our institutions are beyond our reach, and the best we can do is to be individually virtuous, and hope for the best.
To oversimplify grossly, Kelso and Adler showed us what to aim for, and Ferree/Pius XI showed us how to get it. Perhaps Ferree summarized it best in his remarks on September 11, 1984 when he and Norm addressed the Lay Commission on the Economy, the group organized by former Treasury Secretary William Simon, to present an alternative to what they saw as a flawed document during the preparation of what became the U.S. bishops’ pastoral on the economy in 1986, Economic Justice for All. Ferree’s language may be less than pastoral (it’s a little hard to be diplomatic when you’re telling people everything they think they know is wrong), but if read carefully, it gets the point across:
I will explain this topic more in detail in Washington at your hearing of September 17; and have distributed a position paper for your perusal before that date — but after this meeting. Here my preoccupation is to underline the unique and enormous significance of what Mr. Norman Kurland will have to say to you here.
1. Your present dialogue with the Episcopal Committee is a “dialogue of the deaf,” not really being heard by either party for neither side is factoring in the two fossil remains of the old and universal Subsistence Economy which is now being replaced everywhere by the Developed Economy of Capital tools.
2. This first forgotten fossil is a “Subsistence” legal Definition that is festering at the very heart of the Organization of our Developed Economy — namely in the Business Corporation. Its effect is to make labor relations a battlefield and to give credibility to the massive State Intervention that often threatens to swamp both economic enterprise and even the State itself.
3. The second overlooked fossil is a “Subsistence” mechanism festering at the very heart of the Dynamics of our developed economy — namely in the creation of Equity Growth by Capital Credit. Its effect is to project into the incredible increase of wealth in the Developed World the same relative distribution which had constituted the injustice of the Subsistence World through all History.
4. These have come under analysis only in the last quarter century and have begun to influence national policy only within the past decade.
5. This beginning national policy has the obvious potential of removing both mortal wounds from Developed Civilizations, thus making a Historical Breakthrough in every way comparable to the breakthrough of the Industrial Revolution itself.
6. This discovery that we are on the threshold of a new breakthrough in history makes incalculable our present potential to influence the future.
7. Meanwhile, the closest thing to an adequate reply to the Modern Challenge to develop as specifically Social Morality for Developed Civilization has been made by the Business Community in what is known as “Management Theory”; but without any general recognition of its historic achievement. This also must find a place in your dialogue, since it is far and away your greatest claim to credibility in crossing the threshold that has opened up.
In a word, our “Center for Economic and Social Justice” wants to reorient your entire dialogue from recriminations and defenses for the injustices we have all inherited, to the justice we can all pursue in this truly historic opportunity. [Emphasis added.]