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.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Right Tool for the Job

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the possibly confusingly-named “Reign of Christ the King ain’t exactly what it sounds like.  It begs for a bit of explanation — which is what today’s posting is about.


Admittedly, Pius XI’s language may not have been the best way to convince people, especially non-Christians, of the universality of Catholic social teaching.  It seems to smack of triumphalism and, worse, to exclude anyone who is not Catholic.

A moment’s reflection, however, helps us realize that Pius XI really had no choice.  From his perspective, it was the only language he could use.  To counter the socialist Kingdom of God on Earth that was intended to establish a material earthly paradise, he had to present an alternative.  It was essential to present one that would not only guide the establishment and maintenance of an environment within which material needs can be met, but also encourage and even assist the full development of every human person, regardless of faith or philosophy, and prepare them for their final end.  To Pius XI, the answer to the New Christianity was a proper understanding of the old Christianity.

Pope Pius XI


This may be difficult to grasp at first, but it is essential to understand the goal of Catholic social teaching.  The Church’s religious doctrine is for the salvation of souls and is intended for those who accept Catholicism.  Catholic social doctrine is for the restructuring of the social order and is for every human being, regardless of faith or philosophy.  In Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI stated many times explicitly and by implication that natural law-based Catholic social teaching is for everyone. (Quadragesimo Anno,., §§ 15, 21, 27, 147.)

This brings us to what Leo XIII omitted from his social doctrine — or, possibly, what he seemed to think was so obvious that it did not need any explanation.  That was a specific body of theory and practice that would enable the required reform of institutions to be carried out.  He simply hinted that organized action based on sound principles of natural law would do what is necessary.

Pope Leo XIII


Unfortunately, most people did not realize the implications of Rerum Novarum.  They assumed that the pope was taking the usual course of urging them to a greater degree of individual virtue.  In accordance with traditional philosophical thought, acting in an individually virtuous manner would indirectly improve the institutions of society.

As had been evident for some time, however, being individually virtuous is not sufficient.  This gave the socialists their greatest weapon against traditional politics and religion.  As they reasoned, since individual virtue clearly no longer functions properly or at all in some cases, society itself needs to be torn down and replaced with something that in their opinion would work: the Democratic Religion.  This was why Rerum Novarum had either been ignored or reinterpreted as a socialist manifesto for the New Christianity.

Albert Venn Dicey


Pius XI, however, seems to have grasped the underlying problem — that it is impossible to solve a social problem by individual means, any more than individual problems can be solved by coercive government control.  Individually, you cannot fight city hall, any more than socially the community can force people to be virtuous by passing laws.  As the English constitutional scholar Albert Venn Dicey explained in Lectures on the Relation Between Law and Public Opinion in England During the Nineteenth Century (1905), that unless “public opinion” supports a law, it will either be disobeyed, or be obeyed in ways contrary to the intent of the legislators.

In traditional philosophy, people become virtuous by exercising rights that directly affect their individual good and that of others and that have an indirect effect on the common good.  These are the natural rights of life, liberty, and private property exercised in ways that develop the “particular” natural virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, and the particular supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity.



Practicing these particular individual virtues has an indirect effect on the common good, that is the institutions of society.  Aristotle called this indirect effect “legal justice,” a “general virtue,” because the common good benefits most often when the State passes good laws and citizens obey them.  Thus, individual virtue affects individual good directly, and the common good indirectly.

Logically, Pius XI seems to have assumed that if individual virtue affects individual good directly and the common good indirectly, there must be a social virtue that affects the common good directly, and individual good indirectly.  Any job requires the right tools.  To restructure the social order, then, the answer is not a more intensive application of individual virtue, but the judicious and appropriate application of social virtue.

That is why human persons have the capacity for both individual virtue and social virtue.  We must always keep firmly in mind, however, that individual virtue and social virtue are two very different things and must not be confused.  Getting them mixed up is one of those seemingly small errors in the beginning that leads to great errors in the end, (Aquinas, “Introduction,” De Ente et Essentia; cf. Aristotle, De Caelo, 1, 5: “The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.”) and is one of the most serious problems with the Great Reset and similar proposals.