As we saw in the first posting on this subject, there are four primary aspects of socialism: philanthropy, communitarianism, reform or abolition of religion, and abolition of private ownership. We noted that a particular form of socialism may not include all or even any of these aspects, and yet still be true socialism.
There is, in fact, nothing in these aspects or “accidentals” of socialism that need be in any way contrary to a natural law approach to ordering society — as long as they are not taken as ends in themselves. Philanthropy is a noble thing to do, but it doesn’t correct an injustice or change society at the institutional level, e.g., Carnegie’s libraries made libraries accessible to many more people, but didn’t change libraries.
Reform of religion? A religion may be perfect, but few adherents of a religion are. Any religious faith must be constantly reforming to make certain that unchanging truth remains while the manner of presenting it is adapted to the times. As Pope Benedict XV said, “Old things, but in a new way.”
Abolition of private property is a bit more difficult to see any good in, but there are emergency situations in which the temporary suspension of private property (although certainly not its actual abolition) is permitted for the greater good under the principle of double effect.
Today, however, we’re looking at communitarianism, which is a fancy way of saying that in all our actions the common good should be a matter of primary concern. As Father William Ferree put it in his discussion on the laws of social justice derived from the social doctrine of Pope Pius XI,
|Father William J. Ferree|
First Law: That the Common Good Be Kept Inviolate
The first great law, the one mentioned in Paragraph 57 [of Quadragesimo Anno] itself, is “that the Common Good of all society be kept inviolate.” The meaning of this law is that in all private dealings, in all exercise of individual justice, the Common Good must be a primary object of solicitude. To attack or to endanger the Common Good in order to attain some private end, no matter how good or how necessary this latter may be in its own order, is social injustice and is wrong. The Common Good is not a means for any particular interests; it is not a bargaining point in any private quarrel whatsoever; it is not a pressure that one may legitimately exercise to obtain any private ends. It is a good so great that very frequently private rights — even inviolable private rights — cannot be exercised until it is safeguarded.
Thus, to protect the common good, exercise of individual rights may be suspended as a temporary measure, but the nature of the common good itself is such that when properly structured, its primary mission is to safeguard the functioning of individual rights. And this goes both ways: the common good is so important that when we exercise our individual rights, we must do so in a way that conforms to the demands of the common good.
|Pope Pius XI|
Again — concern for the common good does not mean that individual rights are unimportant or somehow “lower” than the common good. It does mean, however, that a justly structured common good is essential in order to safeguard the exercise of individual rights.
It necessarily follows, then, that there will arise circumstances in which individual rights cannot be exercised until the common good is secured. As Father Ferree put it, “Thus, in a time when the Common Good of a whole nation is threatened by military attack, every man in it has an inviolable right to live in his own home with his wife and children — and none of them who are drafted can do it.”
Of course, persons can only completely fulfill their duty to the common good when they are capital owners, and thus full participants in society — in other words, when they actually can exercise those natural rights that the common good is supposed to protect and enable. As Father William Ferree noted,
Man is a social being and is bound to aid and support the Common Good of himself and his fellows. He can best discharge this obligation when he is owner of the things he administers and is thus free to direct them to the Common Good in his use. An agency responsibility is always narrower than the responsibility of ownership; so a full preoccupation for the Common Good can exist only in one who has the broad responsibility of ownership. (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., “A Turning Point in History,” Every Worker an Owner, 1987.)
The problem with socialism is that it takes this essential law of social justice and twists it so that concern for the common good doesn’t merely demand the temporary suspension of individual rights when warranted in an emergency, but in all cases. Socialism insists that the demands of the common good override individual rights as a matter of course, not as an unavoidable, last-ditch — and temporary — measure.