The three great natural rights are life, liberty, and private property — and the “laws” of social justice take this into account. Social justice is the virtue directed to the common good, and the common good is the “medium of life,” that vast network of institutions within which people subsist socially, what Aristotle called the politikos bios, the life of the citizen in the State. “Life” in social justice is not merely being alive, but living “politically,” i.e., institutionally while at the same time retaining your individuality.
|Webster: "Power follows property."|
Private property is, of course, obvious. “Power,” as Daniel Webster noted, “naturally and necessarily follows property.” In order to lead the life of the citizen in the State, i.e., be what Aristotle called “a political animal,” ownership of a sufficient capital stake is essential. Power is defined as “the ability for doing,” and without power it is impossible to “do.” To be a full member of society, then, someone needs power to be able to participate in social life, defined and circumscribed by the vast network of institutions that constitute the common good.
And liberty? That’s freedom of association and contract. Pope Pius XI put freedom of association at the very heart of social justice. All the social virtues require organization, which to be virtuous must be through free association. Further, the shift from status to contract, i.e., everyone legally equal means that all social relationships must be freely entered into (although not quite the way some libertarians understand that — you can’t choose to remove yourself from society and still demand the benefits of belonging to society, e.g., recognition and protection of your natural rights), and all contracts must be entered into freely or they are not true contracts.
That is why Pius XI stressed freedom of association in his social doctrine. As Father Ferree explained,
Sixth Law: Freedom of Association
Another great law of Social Justice is that of freedom of association. This derives from the hierarchical organization of the institutions of society which we have already examined. If every natural group of individuals has a right to its own Common Good and a duty towards the next highest Common Good, it is evident that such a group has the right to organize itself formally in view of the Common Good. In times past, as both Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI pointed out, capital tried to deny this right of association to labor. In our own lifetime, we have seen governments deny this right of association to large groups of their citizens. Totalitarian systems of government, whether fascist or communist in character, live by the denial of the right of association to anyone but the party in power.
It is interesting to see how Pope Pius XI insists upon the word “free” in the following passage of Quadragesimo Anno which sets forth this principle:
|Pius XI" Free association is key to social justice.|
87. 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 fully. 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 rule 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.
|Tactics of the communists|
Social Justice demands this freedom not only in order that each social group may be properly organized to make its own unique and necessary contribution to the general Common Good, but also so that the group may constantly safeguard the welfare of those who make it up. If effective control of any group ever escapes from its members, then that group no longer is responsive to the needs of its members. Rather it satisfies the ambitions and the plans of the individuals who have “captured” the group for their own private ends. The well known “boring from within” tactics of Communists who seek control of organizations in order to use them for their own political ends, are examples of such usurpation of groups for purposes other than their natural ones.
Any group which would find itself thus “taken over” by agitators or gangsters for their own ends, would have an obligation in Social Justice to shake off such leadership and make the group once more representative of its members’ common interests.
But it is not only by such usurpation from without that groups can fail to perform their proper function of safeguarding the interests of all their members. Since all human institutions are in constant flux, as we have seen, it is essential that their members keep constantly on the alert to make the changing organization of the group correspond to the changing circumstances as time goes on. If this is not done, then every change which disturbs the balance of the Common Good, will throw unwarranted advantage to some individuals or groups within the institutions, and by the same fact will withhold their proper share of the Common Good from the others. This state of things is another reason why groups must be free, for without such freedom they cannot readily adapt themselves to new situations.