THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Death and Distribution, Part II

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, there are some things, such as redistribution, that are permitted in an emergency, but not as a usual thing.  Unfortunately, many people like to take the exception, and turn it into the rule.

Socialists, for example, take what is permitted in extreme cases in an emergency, and they turn it into the general rule for distribution.  That is, they take what is permitted under extremely limited circumstances, and turn it into a mandatory rule in all cases.  Religious people even twist what Jesus said in order to justify this, i.e., Jesus’s response to the rich man who asked what he must do to be saved: “Keep the commandments.”
When the wealthy man asked what more he could do, then (and only then) did Jesus answer, “Go and sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and come and follow Me.”  Salvation does not require that anyone give up worldly goods, just worldly evils, otherwise Jesus is a liar.
Something similar occurs with the death penalty.  Normally, you may not kill another human being, even one who is guilty of a crime.  In extreme circumstances, however, and when all other recourse has been exhausted, it is permissible to execute a criminal.
Pope Francis
Obviously, some people have taken this to mean that the death penalty is or should be a standard penalty for certain offenses.  The caveat (that many people forget) is that there must be no other recourse available.
When read closely, Pope Francis’s “controversial” statements concerning the death penalty actually adhere to the traditional understanding of capital punishment as an extraordinary measure.  All he has said is that, given the current state of society, it does not appear that the death penalty is admissible.
Now, whether the current state of society really does render the death penalty inadmissible is a matter of opinion, nor does it preclude the possibility that circumstances can change.  Those who insist that Pope Francis has changed Catholic doctrine in this matter are therefore mistaken.  He has done no such thing — nor could he.  All he has done (and which he is obliged to do) is change the application of a doctrine, not the doctrine itself.
Frankly, this is the same sort of thing we see in other areas of Catholic social teaching.  For example, the “just wage.”  It is a matter of doctrine that a just wage must be paid.  The question is, what constitutes a just wage?  That depends almost exclusively on social conditions and the institutions of the common good.  As Pope Pius XI pointed out,
Pope Pius XI
In determining the amount of the wage, the condition of a business and of the one carrying it on must also be taken into account; for it would be unjust to demand excessive wages which a business cannot stand without its ruin and consequent calamity to the workers. If, however, a business makes too little money, because of lack of energy or lack of initiative or because of indifference to technical and economic progress, that must not be regarded a just reason for reducing the compensation of the workers. But if the business in question is not making enough money to pay the workers an equitable wage because it is being crushed by unjust burdens or forced to sell its product at less than a just price, those who are thus the cause of the injury are guilty of grave wrong, for they deprive workers of their just wage and force them under the pinch of necessity to accept a wage less than fair.  (Quadragesimo Anno, § 72.)
What many people miss in this discussion is that it applies only to those workers who have only their labor to sell, and therefore are utterly dependent on wages for their total income.  Co-owners and partners are not considered.  It would, after all, be ludicrous to assert that a worker-owner who receives five dollars a week in wages, and $1,995 in profit-sharing is somehow being cheated for not receiving $15 per hour for a 40-hour work week.
That is where social justice comes in, as Pius XI stated repeatedly.  When it is impossible under current conditions to pay a just wage and workers have only their labor to sell, people must organize not to be paid more anyway, regardless of the consequences, but to make it possible to be paid more.
Even that is only a distant second best, for the real goal is to make it possible for workers — and everybody else — to become capital owners:
Social justice, or socialism? Is there a difference?
The redemption of the non-owning workers — this is the goal that Our Predecessor declared must necessarily be sought. And the point is the more emphatically to be asserted and more insistently repeated because the commands of the Pontiff, salutary as they are, have not infrequently been consigned to oblivion either because they were deliberately suppressed by silence or thought impracticable although they both can and ought to be put into effect. And these commands have not lost their force and wisdom for our time because that “pauperism” which Leo XIII beheld in all its horror is less widespread. Certainly the condition of the workers has been improved and made more equitable especially in the more civilized and wealthy countries where the workers can no longer be considered universally overwhelmed with misery and lacking the necessities of life. But since manufacturing and industry have so rapidly pervaded and occupied countless regions, not only in the countries called new, but also in the realms of the Far East that have been civilized from antiquity, the number of the non-owning working poor has increased enormously and their groans cry to God from the earth. Added to them is the huge army of rural wage workers, pushed to the lowest level of existence and deprived of all hope of ever acquiring “some property in land,” and, therefore, permanently bound to the status of non-owning worker unless suitable and effective remedies are applied.  (Ibid., § 59.)
The bottom line here is social justice.  Does social justice consist of redistributing wealth, ending the death penalty, paying higher wages, or turning workers and others into owners?
No — and that is where most social justice advocates come to grief.
Social justice consists of this, and only this: making it possible to be individually virtuous.  Thus,


1. Redistribution as a way of life.

2. Ending the death penalty.

3. Paying a just wage.

4. Turning people into owners.

1. Making it possible to live without redistribution.

2. Making it possible to end the death penalty.

3. Making it possible to pay a just wage.

4. Making it possible to turn people into owners.

Oddly enough, there are people who will fail to see the distinction between what social justice is not, and what social justice is.  If so, they might find it useful to read CESJ co-founder Father William Ferree’s pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice (1948).