As we noted in the previous posting on this subject, society is in chaos. People are, frankly, scared to death. They know something is wrong but can’t seem to be able to put their finger on the problem. They know key definitions of concepts have been changed and their institutions have somehow been transformed at a fundamental level, although the powers-that-be keep insisting otherwise.
|Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
Still, as Archbishop Charles Chaput noted in No,, “Americans aren’t fools.”
. . . [t]hey have a good sense of smell when things aren’t right. And one of the things wrong with our country right now is the hollowing out and retooling of all the key words in our country’s public lexicon; words like democracy, representative government, freedom, justice, due process, religious liberty and constitutional protections. The language of our politics is the same. The content of the words is different.
Thus, as Abp. Chaput said, “People feel angry because they feel powerless. And they feel powerless because in many ways they are.” From a Just Third Way perspective, people are powerless — and angry — because they have been dispossessed of or prevented from acquiring ownership of the means to lead productive lives and meet the “lowest” but most urgent needs of human life and personal survival. Robbed of that, is it any wonder that they are increasingly alienated from traditional political, religious, and even domestic institutions, and that State, Church, and Family are in chaos?
The problem is what to do about it. In The Benedict Option (2017), author Rod Dreher advocates withdrawing from corrupt mainstream culture and forming communities. These can either be within existing communities, or the establishment of entirely new ones.
There is some merit to this. America was founded by people often seeking “the City on the Hill” where they could leave what they believed evil behind them and take only what was good.
|Founder of New Harmony, Indiana
The problem, however, was that all of the communities eventually became assimilated into the mainstream culture, which was either viewed as corrupt to begin with, or had become so. Who today lives in a Fourierist Phalanx or follows the teachings of Father Rapp? People found themselves living in communities that had become the very things from which they had fled in the first place.
In Out of the Ashes (2017), Anthony Esolen advocates reforming fundamental institutions such as academia, politics, art, craftsmanship in production, even basic truthfulness to re-personalize life and make it more human. Instead of going off into the wilderness or isolating the group from the surrounding community, Dr. Esolen advocates just doing what is right, “one outdoor procession, one public lecture, one parish picnic at a time.”
There is even more merit in this prescription. Social justice, after all, does not involve abandoning or rejecting the institutions of the common good. Rather, it requires that we love our institutions as we love ourselves (social charity) — enough that we organize and work to reform them.
The problem with Dr. Esolen’s program, however, is twofold. One, it is not true social justice, but legal justice. Both are directed to the common good, of course. The difference is that legal justice is a “general” virtue, while social justice is a “particular” virtue.
|It's neither social nor justice, and they're not warriors.
Legal justice therefore only operates “indirectly” through the acts of other virtues. This means that legal justice has no particular “act” of its own. Instead, the practice of the individual virtues such as truth, beauty, love, justice, and so on, has a beneficial but indirect effect on the surrounding institutions, the culture.
In contrast, social justice as a particular virtue does have its own act. The act of social justice is not, however, the act of an individual virtue with a good intention to benefit the common good. That is legal justice.
No, social justice is a genuinely social virtue in that it cannot be carried out by individuals as individuals. The act of social justice can only be carried out by an individual or individuals as members of an organized group. It is directed at the institutions of the common good, not the individual actions that take place within institutions. Social justice enables individual virtue, it does not replace it.
|CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.
Thus, the processions, picnics, and even general truthfulness for which Dr. Esolen calls are examples of individually virtuous acts. Social justice would involve making it possible to have processions, picnics, and to be truthful to be individually and socially beneficial without harming anyone. Father Ferree illustrates this point with the example of a community in which everyone is dishonest, and no one pays his debts:
Suppose for instance, that John Jones’ and Bill Smith’s society have a long tradition of not paying debts. As a result of this fact that nobody ever pays debts, everybody is suspicious of everybody else, and no one will let out money or goods even in an emergency of his neighbor.
Emergencies, however, have a habit of coming up, and people suffer. Likewise, all jobs that are too big financially for one person, go undone, because no one will trust another sufficiently to go into partnership. The consequence is that the economic life of the community as a whole is suffering more and more; and the people are gradually being reduced to destitution.
We will suppose that John Jones notices this condition, and sees what the cause of it is: the whole group is not honest. He sets out, then, to change the group — to reorganize it into an honest community.
The question is: What can John Jones do as an individual? He might, for instance, decide to give the community “a good example” of honesty. That is, he might lend out all his money to others, thus showing that he trusts them, and undertake always to pay his debts exactly on time. It sounds good; but, remembering that what is wrong with that community is that everyone considers it normal to be dishonest, we might readily calculate the chances that John Jones’ heroic honesty and trust would have of reforming the community. When he starts handing out his money freely, it is rather obvious that most of his neighbors will try to grab off as much of it as they can while the grabbing is good. When he is finally reduced to poverty, it is unlikely that his example will attract many followers.
His mistake was to attack a social evil with only individual means.
How should he have gone about it?
|"But all the guys are doing it!"
First of all, he should recognize frankly that he, as an individual, is helpless before the accumulated evil of the unjust system in force. Then he should go out for help. If he is wise he will not tackle the whole community at once, but will look around among his friends or acquaintances and try to find other people who are as dissatisfied as he himself is with the poverty ridden condition of their community.
With these chosen souls he would sit down to study the sad condition of their community and to see what could be done about it. When it became clear that dishonesty was the big obstacle in the way of a good life in the community, they could very well begin to study the necessity of honesty in their own relations, especially with each other. When all of them are convinced that honesty is absolutely essential to a good life together, it will become possible for them to agree among themselves that they will trust each other. Furthermore, they can agree to stand together against anyone of their number who goes back on his promise to be good. Once this is accomplished they can begin helping each other out, lending money when necessity arises, or joining forces when big jobs come along that they cannot handle individually. Furthermore, since they recognize that it is a social problem which affects the whole community they will be careful not to help anybody outside their “reform” group (which can be trusted to be honest), unless this outside person joins the group and himself takes the obligation to meet his just debts.
And since they know very well what false ideas the community has on honesty, they will make it a condition of joining their group that the newcomers study the necessity of honesty as much as they themselves studied it when they started out — in other words, they will attempt to form their new members to honesty. Actually they are setting up a new “social conscience” to take the place of the old falsified “social conscience” which had made dishonesty a normal thing.
Without going further into this example, it is already evident that in this social way of action — this organization of the community — something can really be done. These organized men are going to show to their disorganized community an example, not of going heroically broke as a testimony to honesty, but of arriving at economic security by the operation of honesty.
This example will attract imitators — in fact, the smaller group will deliberately go out to look for imitators and train them to imitate.
Here you have the difference between individual action and social action and it is clear that Social Justice is never done by an individual as an individual, but only by an individual in cooperation, in organization with others. (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., PH.D., Introduction to Social Justice. New York: Paulist Press, 1948, 42-46.)
Two, meritorious as the practice of individual virtue is, there is one problem Dr. Esolen does not address: who is going to pay for all this? It is all very well to say with Fulton Sheen that “right is right if nobody does it, wrong is wrong if everybody does it” . . . but somebody still has to foot the bill; institutions do not reform themselves, and people have to eat, no matter how virtuous they may be.
|"Private property is essential for a good life."
Archbishop Chaput’s book, Strangers in a Strange Land (2017), which seems to agree in substance with Dr. Esolen’s book, appears to answer the question of where the money is to come from. He does this, however, in a way that stops short of specifically advocating widespread capital ownership as a means of supplementing or even replacing wage income with ownership income.
Abp. Chaput points out the most important aspect of private property, of course: the fact that it connects people to the social order. No Aristotelian-Thomist — and Abp. Chaput appears to be one — could ignore this. He does not, however, make an explicit recommendation for widespread capital ownership, leaving what he said open to other interpretations.
So, what is to be done? Dreher, Esolen, and Abp. Chaput give or at least hint at two-thirds of the solution. They need, however, the final third that, crudely put, is “Show me the money”:
· Restore Structures of Virtue. “Man is by nature a political animal.” In order for individuals to be virtuous as a matter of course, the institutions of the common good need to be in conformity with the natural law, that is, with human nature. If institutions are in need of reform before they can provide the proper environment within which people can acquire and develop virtue, members of those institutions must organize and through acts of social justice introduce changes into the system to restore the proper functioning of their institutions.
· Restore Education. Academia (when it does anything at all) is geared toward producing various sized cogs in the machinery of the Servile State. Colleges and Universities are essentially trade schools to train people for jobs that do not exist. Originality of thought is frowned upon, unless it is directed to getting a Ph.D. . . . and isn’t too original. Understanding social justice, however, requires basic knowledge of the natural law that is simply not taught in schools, not even in the best law schools. Even the concept of natural law has been transformed into something more acceptable to generations of students and leaders in society conditioned by socialism, modernism, and the New Age. There is therefore a crying need for a curriculum that covers basic principles of natural law, especially justice. CESJ’s “Justice University” is not conceived as a place, but a concept, a new (actually a return to) fundamental concepts that once underpinned civilization.
· Restore Security of Income. Actually, this is more “restore personal power through a program of expanded capital ownership, thereby securing both independence and the foundation of virtue in addition to an adequate income,” but “Restore Security of Income” sums up the immediate goal. CESJ’s “Capital Homesteading” proposal is intended to do just that, by making it possible through essential monetary and tax reforms for every child, woman, and man to purchase capital that pays for itself with the future profits of the capital, and thereafter provides consumption income.
In other words, implement and maintain what CESJ calls “.”