As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Fulton J. Sheen in the United States, and G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc in the United Kingdom locked horns early on with the forces of socialism and moral relativism, and were in many respects neutralized. If you asked most people what it was that the American Chesterton and the English Sheen were most concerned with, you would very likely get quite a number of answers, few of which would mention socialism or moral relativism.
Our third Defender of Common Sense and Natural Law gets short shrift only because he was never as well-known as either Chesterton or Sheen, although he was their intellectual equal, and his social thought is on a level with theirs. Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J., however, has suffered from not being published in English while he was alive, and by having his thought surpassed by developments in doctrine almost before it was published in the original German.
Many authorities believe Pesch made the most original contribution to Central European Catholic thought before 1918. Often credited with being the founder of solidarism, he should more accurately be viewed as its redeemer, at least from a Catholic perspective.
Pesch began with the modernist-socialist version of solidarism developed by Durkheim, based in part on the positivism of Comte and the New Christianity of Saint-Simon. Bringing Durkheim’s concepts into conformity with the principles of Aristotelian-Thomism — particularly private property as a natural right (Gustav Gundlach, S.J., “Solidarist Economics, Philosophy and Socio-economic Theory in Pesch” Social Order, April 1951, 185.) — Pesch transformed solidarism from a statist/totalitarian philosophy, into a natural law, “person centered” system, but without making it a form of individualism. (Richard E. Mulcahy, S.J., The Economics of Heinrich Pesch. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1952, 6.)
In Pesch’s solidarism, the human person is at the center of the social system, and thus also at the center of economic activity. For Pesch, society is neither a mere voluntary aggregate of individuals, nor an amorphous collective, a “substance” or abstraction independent of the individuals who compose it. (Alfred Diamant, Austrian Catholics and the First Republic: Democracy, Capitalism, and the Social Order 1918-1934. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1960, 161.)
Rather, Pesch explained that society is a union of individuals all working toward common goals, but without prejudice to individual goals; the human person is not to be subsumed into the collective. (Cf. Wojtyła, “Thomistic Personalism,” Person and Community, op. cit., 174.) Keeping in mind that Pesch was an Aristotelian-Thomist, and thus recognized that God’s Intellect and Will are not separate acts, Pesch defined solidarism as “[t]he reciprocity and mutuality of human interests . . . based on the rational nature of the human personality and ultimately on God’s will.” (Diamant, Austrian Catholics and the First Republic, op. cit., 161.)
Although Pesch did not recognize a particular act of social justice that was at the center of Pope Pius XI’s social doctrine (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., The Act of Social Justice. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1942 (© 1943), 84-85), the Holy Father did incorporate some of Pesch’s concepts into Quadragesimo Anno and Divini Redemptoris. This was through the Königswinterkreis discussion group composed largely of Pesch’s students, two members of which, Father Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J. and Father Gustav Gundlach, S.J., were called to the Vatican in 1931 for consultation.
Despite the profundity of his thought, Pesch has suffered egregiously from latter day disciples who fail to see the distinction between his Christian solidarism and Durkheim’s fascist version. Similar to what happened to the work of both Chesterton and Sheen, the tendency has been to impose a socialist and modernist interpretation on Pesch’s solidarism, turning it into the very thing it was intended to counter.
In sum, ensuring that the real importance of their work would be ignored, Chesterton, Sheen and Pesch all had two serious omissions from their thought that militated against their being truly effective foils to the new things of socialism, even in many cases having their thought reinterpreted as socialism and modernism. These were, one, the failure to recognize a particular act of social justice. This meant that no one had direct access to the common good and full participation for anyone was out of the question.
Two, they had no feasible way to finance expanded capital ownership as a means of opening up full participation in the common good to all. As we will see in the next posting on this subject, these two omissions allowed modernists and socialists to control the development of economic and social justice, and turn it in ways that they wanted them to go.