As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, two great perils faced the Church of England in the early nineteenth century, capitalism and its near-twin, socialism. Not that the prime movers in the Oxford Movement saw it that way, of course. It would never have occurred to any of them, then or later, to give that much importance to the things of this world . . . which made the problem even worse — there is, after all, no problem so bad that it cannot get worse by ignoring it.
|Belloc: Beware the Servile State
At the same time, it is a truism that identifying and defining a problem is more than halfway to a solution. The effectiveness of the Oxford Movement, however, was hampered from the beginning by the fact that it simply did not occur to any of the people involved that the common good of the Church of England — its institutional culture and environment — was a virtual mirror image of the common good of the surrounding culture: the established institutional environment of early nineteenth century English civil society. The Church of England was both in the world and of it.
Early nineteenth century English civil society was in turn formed by the development and rapid spread of capitalism. This was necessarily accompanied by the alienation of ordinary people from the means of leading productive lives except at the behest of others. This is what Hilaire Belloc would a century or so later term “the Servile State,” a system characterized by concentrated economic and thus political power, established, supported, and maintained by the wage system.
The paradox, of course, is that capitalism, which exemplifies English type liberalism, was threatened by socialism, which is based on French or European type liberalism — and capitalism and socialism are more closely related than adherents of either system care (or are able) to admit. At the same time, the system of the Church of England was also based on English type liberalism and was therefore threatened by the spread of European type liberalism through the actions of a Whig (liberal) government, as demonstrated to the satisfaction of the prime movers of the Oxford Movement by the suppression of a number of Irish bishoprics.
For it must be kept firmly in mind that socialism, which is the highest expression of European type liberalism, is not and never was merely an economic theory. Nor is it purely a political system.
|Ireland: Secularism is a religion of sorts
Socialism — whatever its particular creed or sect — is, was, and always will be a religion, and as Archbishop John Ireland (1838-1918) said of secularism, a particularly intolerant one. It was invented specifically as a materialist alternative to traditional forms of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. That is why Pius XI declared,
If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, the civil powers did not realize that the European liberal attack on the established church — which strengthened the English liberal civil control over religious society — was the same thing that was wreaking havoc in the economic and political spheres in civil society. One form of liberalism was undermining another form of liberalism and was shifting economic and political power from the monarchy and aristocracy to the new capitalist plutocracy.
|Gladstone: the Queen was not amused.
That is, they did not seem to realize it consciously. Still, Queen Victoria (1819-1901, ascended the throne in 1837) always found herself for some reason unable to tolerate the liberal William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) as prime minister. She always favored the conservative Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), even though — or because — Gladstone’s liberalism tended to the American type (“Gladstone,” The Atlantic Monthly, July 1898, Vol. 82, No. 489, 1-22) that was directed toward breaking up concentrations of power, whether political or economic, with a heavy dose of religious toleration thrown in for good measure. In English liberal (Tory) eyes, anything that threatened the status quo was a danger on the level of anarchy.
Nor did the powers-that-be in the Church of England realize just how much conditions in civil society, especially the economic disenfranchisement of ordinary people and the forcing of so many people into the wage system, were affecting the interpretation of religious doctrine. It was, of course, only a matter of time — scarcely a decade from the closing of the Oxford Movement — before the government began dictating religious doctrine as the established church came increasingly under civil control and its influence on civil society in matters of faith and morals declined to the vanishing point.
|Pope Pius XI: social justice defined precisely.
In the meantime, however, those who loved the Church of England made a heroic effort to restore it and strengthen it for what they viewed — with a great deal of wisdom, even of prophecy — as the beginning of the end if nothing were done. And what they did, although none of them would have used the term, was an almost textbook example of social justice a century before Pope Pius XI defined the term with scientific precision.
Before we can appreciate or even understand what the Oxford Movement accomplished, however, we need to know more about social justice. The definition used by the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) is a good place to start:
Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others, at whatever level of the “Common Good” in which we participate, to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.
It is important to realize that social justice operates within strict parameters, “laws” if you will, and has certain characteristics by means of which it can be identified. To summarize briefly, the “laws” are:
· That the Common Good Be Kept Inviolate. However great our desire or need, we may not usurp the institutions of the common good to serve our private ends. We may not, for example, redefine a natural right such as private property or violate even an unjust law on our own initiative. (William J. Ferree, Introduction to Social Justice. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Social Justice, 1997, 35.)
|Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.
· Cooperation, Not Conflict. Given the uniqueness of each human person, the particular good of each individual is different. Any particular good that is falsely made into an ultimate principle and exercised without any limits whatsoever must necessarily be in conflict with every other particular good. (Ibid., 36.)
· 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. The human race as a whole is political, and not merely social. Many animals are social, while humanity seems unique (at least on earth) in that we ideally structure our particular societies so as to combine respect for individual rights within a social context, not individualistically.
· Each Directly Responsible. Pius XI explained that the individual is frequently helpless when confronted with socially unjust situations. That being the case, putting personal responsibility for the whole of the common good on each and every individual is an unconscionable burden. Given humanity’s political nature, however, when confronted by a situation that is impossible for the individual, the solution is first to organize at that level of the common good, even all the way up to the whole of the common good itself, if that is what is required to bring the proper forces to bear on the problem.
· Higher Institutions Must Never Displace Lower Ones. No institution in the vast hierarchy of institutions that makes up the common good can take over the particular actions of an institution or person below it. This is the “principle of subsidiarity.” It is not that the lower order(s) are always right, or the State taking over when individuals prove to be helpless in an unjust situation. Rather, it is a case of action being carried out by individuals and groups at the most appropriate level of the common good. This is the individual or group that is “closest” to the problem, that which “subsists” within the milieu or institution, hence “subsidiarity.”
|Liberty a fundamental human right.
· Freedom of Association. “Liberty” or “freedom of association” is a natural right, so important as to be ranked with the triad life, liberty, and private property as the means whereby each individual pursues happiness, that is, acquires and develops virtue, fulfilling the purpose for which the social order exists.
· All Vital Interests Should be Organized. All real and vital interests of life should be deliberately made to conform to the requirements of the common good. Since man is a “political animal,” all actions are in a sense social, bound up with the lives of others. When he neglects to see to it that his actions contribute to the common good of those others with whose lives they are bound up, he does not change his nature. He remains a political animal, and his actions are bound up with the lives of those around him. The principle that every vital and real interest of life must be organized for the Common Good does not impose a new way of life upon anyone but does impose a new purpose in life upon all; namely, the purpose of promoting the Common Good of one’s neighbors, of those with whom one’s life is bound up.
Having the “laws” of social justice, we need to know the characteristics of the virtue so that it can be properly implemented. First and foremost, of course, it must clearly be understood that social justice is something specifically social, and this fact must be kept in mind at all times.
· Only by Members of Groups. Social justice cannot be performed by individuals as individuals, but only by individuals as members of groups.
|Social justice takes time.
· It Takes Time. Social justice moves slowly and gradually. It requires organization, consensus building, more organization, solidarity, attention to the principle of subsidiarity — all the details of working with actual human beings rather than abstract concepts such as the collective.
· Nothing is Impossible. In social justice there is never any such thing as helplessness. “No problem is ever too big or too complex, no field is ever too vast, for the methods of this social justice. Problems that were agonizing in the past and were simply dodged, even by serious and virtuous people, can now be solved with ease by any school child.”
· Eternal Vigilance. Because human situations and conditions change, institutions must constantly be restructured and reformed to meet the new conditions.
· Effectiveness. Work for the common good must be effective, that is, actions must result in an improvement in society as a whole. A mere “good intention” that the common good be benefited is not sufficient.
· You Can’t “Take it or Leave It Alone”. Each person is directly and individually responsible for the common good and must organize with others for the common good.
|The usual suspects, the pre-Oxford Movement, 1832.
This, then, was the framework within which the members of the Oxford Movement were operating, even it they did not actually articulate it. It is not, after all, essential to know a detailed philosophical analysis of why you are doing the right thing. What matters in the end is that you did the right thing in the right way. As Father Ferree noted a century after the Oxford Movement ended,
None of the elements of this theory are new. Institutions, and institutional action, the idea of the Common Good, the relationship of individual to Common Good — all these things are as old as the human race itself. There is nothing more new in those things than in the school boy’s discovery that what he has been speaking is prose; nor must we ever believe that God made man a two-legged creature, and then waited for Aristotle to make him rational. Moreover, much of the actual application of these principles to practical life is to be found in older writers under the heading “political prudence.”
When all that is admitted, there is still 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 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. (Ferree, Introduction to Social Justice, op. cit., 56.)