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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Few Questions

As we may have mentioned once or twice, we like to get questions, if only because it saves us the labor of trying to think up ones ourselves.  The other day we got three questions that, slightly edited, we’ll post on today’s blog:  We were asked,


·      Why ignore interpersonal justice when touting institutional relationships?
Way too vague...

·      What kind of group are you?

·      Is “BE” a new name for distributism?

Answering the questions in order, we do not ignore “interpersonal justice” when discussing “institutional relationships.”

We assume by “interpersonal justice” the questioner meant the classic individual particular virtue of justice, which refers to rendering to each what each is due.  Within the Aristotelian-Thomist framework, particular justice is divided into commutative or strict justice (which governs contracts), and distributive or proportional justice (which governs inputs and outputs, or rewards and punishments).

In the classical framework, in addition to particular justice, there is also “general” or “legal” justice, which does not, despite its name, refer to the administration of the legal system or codes of laws, but was Aristotle’s “catch-all” for the general sense of justice or fairness.  To Aristotle “legal justice” meant the general sense of justice that must infuse all other virtues, whether natural (prudence, temperance, fortitude and, of course, justice) or supernatural (faith, hope and charity).



Where particular justice has a defined act (viz., fulfilling the terms of agreements in commutative justice, distributing to each the proportional result of one’s inputs in distributive justice), general or legal justice does not have a defined act.  Instead, as the general virtue directed to the common good, the quasi-act of legal justice consists of the indirect effect that the practice of individual virtue has on the social or institutional environment within which human persons as moral beings become more fully human, i.e., “virtuous.”  The common good consists of that vast network of institutions or “social habits” within which human persons as “political animals” conform to their own nature, i.e., “seek the good” or become more fully human as Aristotle put it.

As analyzed by “Great Books” philosopher Mortimer J. Adler and ESOP inventor and lawyer-economist Louis O. Kelso within the classic Aristotelian framework (albeit corrected and modified by Aquinas), binary economics is solidly grounded on “interpersonal justice” as you put it.  This is explained in detail in Chapter 5 of one of CESJ’s “founding documents,” The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) by Kelso and Adler.  The entire book may be downloaded free by clicking on the link, although only Adler’s Preface and Chapter 5 may be of immediate interest.

Mortimer Adler


So, as can be seen, we do not “ignore interpersonal justice” nor do we consider our analysis vague.  The Just Third Way of Economic Personalism relies on the classic individual virtue of particular justice as understood within the Aristotelian-Thomist framework as the essential foundation of binary economics, binary economics being the economic component of the Just Third Way.

But it doesn’t stop there.  In Chapter 5 of The Capitalist Manifesto, it will be seen that the three principles of economic justice include the “principle of limitation.”  In CESJ we have expanded this principle to “social justice,” using the analysis of the social doctrine of Pope Pius XI developed by CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., chairman of Dayton University, Rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and President of Chaminade College (now University), at different times, of course.

As explained in Father Ferree’s pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice (1948), “above” the classic individual virtues directed to individual good, and distinct from general or legal justice directed to the common good, there are particular virtues directed to the common good, viz. not directed to the good of individuals per se, but to the good of institutions.

Pope Pius XI


To get the full philosophical argument explaining social virtue versus individual virtue, anyone can download Father Ferree’s doctoral thesis, The Act of Social Justice (1942), which is also available free, but we do not recommend it for someone who is just beginning to investigate the subject.

To summarize Father Ferree’s analysis of Pius XI’s accomplishment —the pamphlet will give more than this brief summary — the practice of individual virtues such as commutative and distributive justice make the individual more fully human or virtuous.  The practice of the social virtues, however (and this is important) such as social justice and social charity make it possible for people to practice the individual virtues to become more fully human: a different entirely than actually becoming virtuous.

Social justice and social charity are not, repeat, not substitutes or replacements for the individual virtues.  Rather, the job of social justice and social charity is make it possible for the individual virtues to function; they do not in any way try to do the job of individual justice or charity, although that is probably the most common misconception of social justice in the modern world.

G.K. Chesterton


Thus, in philosophical terms, individual virtue has a direct effect on human persons, but an indirect effect on the common good, the common good being composed of institutions or “artificial persons”.  In contrast, social virtue has a direct effect on the common good, but an indirect effect on human persons or individual good.

So, it is not a question of ignoring one or the other, but of understanding and employing each one in its proper sphere.

The second question can be answered more briefly.  CESJ is an interfaith research and educational “think tank” registered under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The third question can also be answered fairly briefly, although more can be found about economic personalism/binary economics in the book, Economic Personalism: Property, Power and Justice for Every Person, also available as a free download by following the link.

Whether “BE” or binary economics is a new (or, more accurately, an alternative) name for distributism depends on which distributist(s) you ask.  People will have to decide that for themselves from how they understand distributism, which is not generally consistent, even among distributists.

G.B. Shaw


We believe that while economic personalism/binary economics is compatible with how G.K. Chesterton defined distributism, they are not necessarily the same.  When it comes to the particulars as advanced by Hilaire Belloc, there are a number of details wherein economic personalism/binary economics differ, while agreeing on substance.  If you accept (as some distributists do) G.B. Shaw’s assertion — rejected by Chesterton and Belloc — that distributism is simply another name for Fabian socialism (and that Fabian socialism is simply another name for Stalinist communism! — yes, he said it), then there is no similarity between economic personalism/binary economics and distributism.

For the record, we can agree with Chesterton when he defined distributism as a policy of widely distributed private property, with a preference for small family-owned farms and businesses, and that the real issue (as he insisted to Shaw) is personal empowerment to help people grow and develop as human beings, not just material wellbeing.

The preference for small enterprises is, as Chesterton stated explicitly, a preference, not a mandate as some would have it.  He had no problem with worker-owned large enterprises, and he specified direct ownership through equity shares, not a collective ownership arrangement like “the Scott Bader Commonwealth.”  We do say that every person should be a capital owner, not just workers, but we have a hunch that neither Chesterton nor Belloc would raise any objection to that, particularly in light of Belloc’s The Servile State (1912), which explicitly countered the Fabian and Keynesian insistence that the only valid income derives from human labor, not capital ownership.