Continuing our series of postings on the laws and characteristics of social justice — with occasional postings on other subjects for rest and refreshment — today we look at what CESJ co-founder Father William Ferree called the “Third Law of Social Justice.” That is, “One’s First Particular Good Is One’s Own Place in the Common Good.”
|Fr. William Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.|
Now, lest one (or two) be baffled by this, let’s look at Father Ferree’s explanation. Again, this is taken directly from his pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice, which is available as a free download from the website of the interfaith think tank, the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ). As Father Ferree said,
Third Law: One’s First Particular Good Is One’s Own Place in the Common Good
The first particular good of every individual or group is that that individual or group find its proper place in the Common Good. This is readily seen in Paragraph 85 of Quadragesimo Anno:
It is easily deduced from what has been said that the interests common to the whole industry or profession should hold first place in these guilds.
Notice that what is here under consideration is what we would call a “particular” good, even though it is “common to the whole industry or profession.” It is indeed common to the individual members of the industry or profession, but in relation to the great Common Good of the country, it is a good only of that particular group, therefore a “particular” or private good. Now the Holy Father goes on to explain what the first and most important “particular” good for that group is:
The most important of these interests is to promote the co-operation in the highest degree of each industry and profession for the sake of the Common Good of the country.
|Pope Pius XI|
This is an interesting statement: The first particular good of any group is the Common Good above it. But is this really surprising? Haven’t we already seen that every single action of every person is social and must be directed towards the Common Good? This simply says the same thing for groups. In the light of this principle, the first interest of every labor union should be the Common Good of the whole country; the first interest of the National Association of Manufacturers should be the Common Good of the whole country; the first interest of the Farm Block should be the Common Good of the whole country; the first interest in any industry, in any factory, in any department, at any bench; is the Common Good.
And, to enter a larger field and give our “isolationists” the most unkind cut of all, the first of those “national interests” they are continually telling us to safeguard should be the Common Good of the world!
It must be admitted that this is not the way most of us think at the present time, but that is because we have been badly educated.
It must be admitted also that to carry out such a principle in practice looks like too big a job for human nature as we know it; but that is because we are individualists and have missed the point. Of course it is too big a job if each one of us and each of our groups is individually and separately responsible for the welfare of the human race as a whole. But the point is that the human race as a whole is social. Its welfare is preserved by the fact that it is the first interest of every single nation of which it is composed. Those nations are preserved by the fact that they are the first interest of every group: civic, political, social, industrial, religious, cultural, etc., of which they are composed. And these groups are safeguarded by the fact that they are the first interest of every subordinate group of which they are composed. And finally, these subordinate groups are safeguarded by the fact that they are the first interest of every individual who makes them up.
Can we add to what Father Ferree said? Possibly not; if you’re satisfied with his explanation, you don’t need to read any further — today.
|Thomas Aquinas, O.P.|
To elaborate a little, however, social justice is not a virtue that any institution, group, or society as a whole has. Only actual people — individuals — can have virtues, at least in the Aristotelian-Thomist sense of the term (i.e., the sense used by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas).
The difference between individual virtue and social virtue is the “end” to which the act of the virtue is “directed” — it’s focus, so to speak. In individual virtue, the individual performs a virtuous act for his or her own benefit and that of the other individuals directly dependent on him or her. In social virtue, the individual performs a virtuous act in association with others (in an “organized way”) for the benefit of a specific group, institution, or the whole of the common good.
Do you see the difference? In both individual and social virtue, individuals are acting — but they are acting (directing their efforts) in different directions, so to speak, depending on the type of virtue they are dealing with. Individual virtue is directed to the good of individuals, while social virtue is directed to the good of institutions, those “social habits” that make up the common good.
|Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli, S.J.|
Thus, we say that individual virtue is directed to the individual good, while social virtue is directed to the common good. Consequently, social justice is not a replacement or substitute for individual justice or charity, but a “particular” virtue in its own right and with its own focus (“directed object”). That focus is to restructure society’s institutions (it’s “social habits”) to make individual justice and charity possible, not to try and focus on that to which the individual virtues are supposed to be directed.
What becomes increasingly evident as we learn more about Pius XI’s concept of social justice is just how profoundly different it is even from previous “Catholic” usage of the term, much less that of the socialists, modernists, and New Agers. Where what in the 1840s Msgr. Taparelli presented as a principle of social justice — a guide to the exercise of the individual virtues within the framework of the common good — Pius XI explained as an actual virtue of a new type, social, with its focus on the common good, even though the capacity for it is still necessarily inherent in actual human beings, and can only be effected by those people who organize for the common good.#30#