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Chapter 6: Love, Justice, Mercy, and Social Responsibility

Question E: How Does the Social Situation Shape One’s Responsibilities?

Love of neighbor and the principles of justice (treated in A and B) underlie all Christian responsibilities toward others. But these responsibilities also have another starting point: the actual human condition occasioning many of them and frequently giving rise to temptations not to fulfill them.

If everything in the world were as it should be, questions about social responsibilities could be answered relatively easily. They are especially difficult because injustice is rampant. Nevertheless, conditions are quite different in the affluent countries of the West and in the rest of the world. Since most readers of this book are likely to be Catholics in the United States and other English-speaking countries, most of them affluent, the following description concerns the contemporary social situation considered from this point of view, taking other parts of the world into account only insofar as people in the affluent countries have responsibilties toward everyone else.44

As this is written, great changes are taking place in the world. Most Marxist governments have fallen, and the Soviet Union no longer exists. Nevertheless, it still is worth comparing and contrasting Marxism and Western secularism, both for the light this sheds on the latter and because even today Marxism remains a significant factor in some nations and in the thinking of some intellectuals.

1. Secular Humanism Undermines Social Order

Both Marxism and liberal secularism deny the reality of God and, in doing so, deny that there are meanings and values prior to human thinking, desires, and choices. According to both these forms of secular humanism, the ultimate source of the distinction between good and evil must be found within human beings themselves—in their thinking, desiring, striving, and social consensus. While the various forms of pragmatism which dominate philosophical thinking in the United States and other affluent nations differ greatly from Marxism in their details, they agree with it in reducing morality to effectiveness in bringing about desired outcomes—“good” results.

a) Justice loses objectivity, and the ultimate appeal is to force. This relativity of morality to human agents leaves no objective basis for resolving conflicts among groups with mutually incompatible goals. As John Paul II points out, many today assume that democracy presupposes agnosticism and relativism:

Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.45
Secular humanist parties or societies cannot rationally ground appeals to justice, but they can and often do appeal to “justice” for rhetorical or propagandistic purposes. John XXIII teaches:

 Yes, both sides speak of justice and the demands of justice, but these words frequently take on different or opposite meanings according to which side uses them. Hence, when rulers of nations appeal to justice and the demands of justice, they not only disagree on terms, but often increase the tension that exists between their States. And so the belief is engendered that if a nation is to assert its rights and pursue its own interests, there is only one way open to it: to have recourse to violence; ignoring the fact that violence is the source of the very greatest evils.
 Mutual trust among rulers of States cannot begin nor increase except by recognition of, and respect for, the moral order.
 But the moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate.46

b) The hope that motivates justice and mercy is rejected. The consequences of original sin are real: suffering and death, whose prospect leads to insecurity and disorderly emotions (see CMP, 14.G). Yet despite these consequences, men and women, helped by grace, can live uprightly, provided they have an adequate motive. Hope for heaven is that motive. When the relationship between the heavenly kingdom and life in this world is rightly understood, that hope provides a fresh incentive for fulfilling social responsibilities (see GS 21, 34, 39, and 43; CMP, 34.D–G). But all forms of secular humanism mistakenly reject hope for heaven as if it were an obstacle to human welfare in this world. More than a century ago, Leo XIII pointed out the result:

The supernatural truths of faith having been assailed and cast out as though hostile to reason, the very Author and Redeemer of the human race has been slowly and little by little banished from the universities, the lyceums and gymnasia—in a word, from every public institution. In fine, the rewards and punishments of a future and eternal life having been handed over to oblivion, the ardent desire of happiness has been limited to the bounds of the present. Such doctrines as these having been scattered far and wide, so great a license of thought and action having sprung up on all sides, it is no matter for surprise that men of the lowest class, weary of their wretched home or workshop, are eager to attack the homes and fortunes of the rich; it is no matter for surprise that already there exists no sense of security either in public or private life, and that the human race should have advanced to the very verge of final dissolution.47

2. The Roots of Sin Take Special Forms in the World Today

Underlying all social injustice is personal sin. When people deny God and objective moral limits, they tend to become selfish and to regard others as mere means to their own ends. The contemporary magisterium clearly explains the dynamics:

 Having become his own centre, sinful man tends to assert himself and to satisfy his desire for the infinite by the use of things: wealth, power and pleasure, despising other people and robbing them unjustly and treating them as objects or instruments. Thus he makes his own contribution to the creation of those very structures of exploitation and slavery which he claims to condemn.48
Power, wealth, and pleasure become idols. Sin’s roots are in the quest for status, possessions, and enjoyment—in pride, avarice, gluttony, and lust (see CMP, 18.D). But these perennial roots of sin assume particular forms in contemporary, materialistic culture, which leaves little or no room for heaven and assigns ultimate value mainly to things which here and now mitigate painful feelings or provide sentient satisfaction.49

a) Pride takes the form of self-assertion and individualism. By clarifying the dignity of human persons and the crucial importance of each one’s free choices, the gospel itself fosters regard for human individuals and provides a solid basis for their self-respect. Of course, the gospel also calls individuals to mortify their sinful selves and serve others out of love. Removed from its evangelical context, the Christian insight into each individual’s worth is perverted to rationalize sin. Thus, post-Christian humankind is susceptible to a distinctive moral pathology: egoistic individualism, which exalts the well-being and satisfaction of individuals above every community, even the family.50

When colored by this pathology, pride is not expressed exclusively by the quest for positions of social superiority; also, and even more arrogantly, it is seen in every individual’s effort to be his or her own sovereign. Thus, the contemporary attachment to liberty to do as one pleases: “No one can tell me what to do.” This attitude leads to rejection of authority generally as well as unwillingness to accept any social responsibility toward people for whom one has no personal feelings. Other people are to be ignored except to the extent that they are relevant to one’s own purposes or can be made so. Then they are to be dominated and manipulated, so that at least they will allow one to gain one’s ends and at best will serve one’s purposes.

b) Avarice takes the form of consumerism. Material goods should be used as means to pursuing and serving basic human goods. Avarice is the will both to have material goods beyond those needed to achieve one’s good purposes and fulfill one’s responsibilities, and to use the excess for emotional gratification—to compensate for a sense of insecurity or personal inadequacy—or for some other illegitimate goal (see S.t., 2–2, q. 118, aa. 1, 6).

Avarice has been an engine of modern socioeconomic development. Artificial needs are created, that is, demands for goods and services which give transient emotional gratification but provide little or no real benefit to the consumer in terms of fulfillment in any basic human good.51 Consumerism involves wasting resources without regard for the needs of others.52

Rejection of authority facilitates avarice, since those who do not acknowledge their responsibilities toward the common good are less inhibited in seeking to satisfy their individualistic cravings without regard to others’ misery. At the same time, avarice reinforces rejection of authority, since waste, unlimited consumption, and the accumulation of possessions incline people to disregard the social responsibilities whose fulfillment authority coordinates.53

c) Pleasure seeking serves pride and avarice and also uses them. Natural pleasures have their limits, and the quest for them is the same today as always. But modern technology offers new opportunities for pleasure seeking, not least by providing more resources and leisure. Moreover, the abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal, offers new sensory satisfactions and makes it possible to suppress feelings which ought to motivate realistic efforts to deal with guilt and other evils.

Avarice uses pleasure seeking as a means, for example, by playing on this motive in advertising.54 Rejection of authority facilitates pleasure seeking, since it enables people to set aside responsibilities that would limit self-indulgence. Pleasure seeking also reinforces rejection of authority, for self-gratification which has become habitual must be defended against any claims beyond the self.

3. These Forms of Sin Explain This Culture’s Characteristic Features

Afflicted with the same moral evils, the affluent countries of the West have common features in their social trends and conflicts, as well as in their anxieties. While every age and culture have their own moral defects—human history knows no golden age or paradise—the contemporary situation calls for a Christian response, and the magisterium sketches it in somber but accurate tones.

a) The moral quality of life is deteriorating in many ways. Among these social and cultural trends are the increasing incidence of violence against persons, including killing of the innocent (especially by abortion), sexual assault, and child abuse; decline of family life and abandonment of faithful relationships (indicated by increases of cohabitation and divorce); failure to care for the needy, even by their own families; the widespread abuse of mind-altering substances; the overwhelming of rational discourse by sophistry and outright lying in politics, the media, and even in supposedly scholarly works; the lowering of academic standards in many places; and decline in levels of skill and performance, as almost everybody wants more pay but few care about doing fine work and providing excellent service.55

b) Disregard of justice generates intractable social conflicts. Writing in 1922, Pius XI observed that disregard of justice causes “war between the classes, a chronic and mortal disease of present-day society, which like a cancer is eating away the vital forces of the social fabric.” Likewise, he pointed out that political conflicts often originate in “desire for power and for the protection of some private interest which inevitably result in injury to the citizens as a whole.”56 True, in the United States and some other affluent nations whose economies support a large middle class, social conflicts do not occur in their classic form. Replacing such conflicts, however, are other injustices as great or greater: the urban poor are crushed or brutalized by wretched living conditions, people yet unborn are saddled with a huge public debt, many potentially poor people are exterminated in the womb, and the working poor at home and abroad who contribute what they can to the nation’s wealth are not paid a family wage as justice requires.57

c) Anxiety is fueled by awareness of complicity in evil. People in the affluent nations not only fear the potentially cataclysmic consequences of world politics based on mere power, but are anxious because their wealth and progress come about through morally defective economic structures (on sinful structures, see 4.A.3.e). Having described the former source of anxiety, John Paul II speaks of the latter:

 All this is happening against the background of the gigantic remorse caused by the fact that, side by side with wealthy and surfeited people and societies, living in plenty and ruled by consumerism and pleasure, the same human family contains individuals and groups that are suffering from hunger. There are babies dying of hunger under their mothers’ eyes. In various parts of the world, in various socio-economic systems, there exist entire areas of poverty, shortage and underdevelopment. This fact is universally known.
 The state of inequality between individuals and between nations not only still exists; it is increasing. It still happens that side by side with those who are wealthy and living in plenty there exist those who are living in want, suffering misery and often actually dying of hunger; and their number reaches tens, even hundreds of millions. This is why moral uneasiness is destined to become even more acute. It is obvious that a fundamental defect, or rather a series of defects, indeed a defective machinery is at the root of contemporary economics and materialistic civilization, which does not allow the human family to break free from such radically unjust situations.58
While not everyone in the affluent nations of the West shares in their wealth and power, anyone who does so enjoys advantages resulting from unjust social structures and should reflect conscientiously on the situation, in order to identify special responsibilities he or she may have to help rectify it.

d) This somber analysis can be defended against criticisms. The preceding analysis will be criticized by those who say it goes beyond the boundaries of moral theology and involves an overly pessimistic reading of sociological data. The contemporary social situation, some argue, is in general no worse, and in some ways is measurably better, than those of earlier times. The answer is that the recent magisterium (especially John Paul II) supports the main lines of the analysis, which, after all, is only a rough sketch, not a detailed description of all aspects of the current situation. The point of this sketch, moreover, is not to compare the state of the contemporary world with earlier situations, but to criticize the contemporary situation by Christian principles, in order to make it clear that many contemporary phenomena are morally defective.

4. The Church Rejects Individualism and Criticizes Capitalism

Individualism is a characteristic feature of the liberal secularism of the affluent nations of the West, and it has strongly influenced their capitalistic economies, while Marxism is characterized by collectivism. The Church’s social doctrine analyzes these opposing ideologies and provides specific reasons for rejecting both as equally false, even if not always and in every respect equally pernicious in practice.59

The basis of the Church’s social teaching is the requirement of love of neighbor and respect for the dignity of each human person. From this flows the anti-individualistic requirement of social solidarity: everyone should contribute to the common good, and private property entails social responsibility. From it likewise flows an anticollectivist requirement: individuals and small communities should be allowed to realize themselves by exercising their freedom, owning property, and fulfilling their responsibilities.60

This section deals with the Church’s social teaching bearing on individualism and capitalism, the next with her teaching regarding Marxism and the socialist approach to economics.

a) Individualism involves an inadequate notion of society. Modern individualism is rooted in an ideological affirmation of freedom, according to which the free person should be a self-sufficient individual whose life is directed to getting what he or she wants in this world.61 Individualism gives individual rights priority over social responsibilities. Political society then becomes either a mere arrangement lacking any common good whatsoever or, at best, something resembling a business partnership, whose participants primarily pursue their individual interests and have a common good only insofar as they share the commitment to be fair to one another.

In reality political societies are not like business partnerships, and they are not constituted by their members’ mutual consent. Rather, any political society exists because families and groups of families live in proximity to one another, share many interests and other things in common, and therefore must recognize themselves as a community and accept their responsibility to cooperate for the sake of mitigating potential conflict and promoting other common goods, especially justice in their society itself (see 11.B.2.a).

Therefore, while citizens have many rights which political society ought to safeguard, including political and civil rights which set moral and legal limits to public authority itself, a political society’s members should not regard it as a mere instrument for promoting their private interests. Rather, they should accept and fulfill their social responsibilities as an irreducible part of their true fulfillment as human persons living together in their national community.

b) Liberalism absolutized private property. In the economic field, eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century individualism was called “liberalism,” because its proponents believed those engaging in economic activities should enjoy as much liberty as possible from social regulation, with government’s main responsibility in the economic sphere being to protect the freedom of private enterprise and transactions. Liberalism tended to absolutize the right of private owners freely to use and dispose of property for their individual advantage, regardless of the needs of people toward whom they have no contractual duties. Liberals held that there are no natural economic entitlements for political society to recognize. They maintained that society should recognize only those entitlements corresponding to free undertakings in relationships established by mutual consent, and that laws should protect and facilitate the fulfillment of those rights and duties.

These theories provided the ideology underlying laissez faire capitalism and shaped its practices well into the twentieth century.62 Still, some participants in capitalistic economies have recognized and tried to fulfill the social responsibilities of business, and a significant evolution of capitalism gradually occurred due to the pressures of opposing social and political forces.

c) Catholic social teaching requires social solidarity. The Church responded to economic liberalism by teaching that people have some natural entitlement rights. These include rights to a living wage, education, and so forth. Catholic social teaching urges that these rights be taken into account in social policy making. While defending private property, Catholic teaching also insists that God created material goods to fulfill the needs of every human person. As a result, ownership entails responsibility for the care and right use of material goods. Vatican II sums up this teaching:

 God has destined the earth and all it contains for the use of all human individuals and peoples, in such a way that, under the direction of justice accompanied by charity, created goods ought to flow abundantly to everyone on a fair basis [note omitted]. One must always bear this universal destination of goods in mind, no matter what forms property may take, as it is adapted, in accordance with diverse and changeable circumstances, to the legitimate institutions of peoples. For this reason, in using those goods, people should consider the exterior things which they legitimately possess not only as their own but as common, in the sense that their possessions should benefit not only themselves but others as well [note omitted]. (GS 69)63

The ultimate aim of a just property system in allocating ownership—that is, responsibility for the right use—of material goods is to satisfy fairly the needs of all insofar as that can be done. Thus, Catholic teaching, while defending private property, at the same time undercut what individualists regarded as their absolute right to private property and freedom of contract, and called on the state to make a special effort to defend the rights of the poor and disadvantaged.64

d) Classical capitalism did not yield the benefits it promised. Apologists for laissez faire capitalism claimed that it was justified by its good fruits. Noting the economic progress of capitalist nations, they attributed their achievements to free enterprise and competition in free markets. In response, Catholic social teaching pointed out that the ideal of free competition tends in practice to give way to economic domination. As the prosperity of the 1920s collapsed in the face of the economic crisis of 1929–31, Pius XI made the point: “Free competition has destroyed itself; economic dictatorship has supplanted the free market; unbridled ambition for power has likewise succeeded [that is, followed after] greed for gain; all economic life has become tragically hard, inexorable, and cruel.”65

Recent Church teaching continues the critique of the laissez faire system. Paul VI, for example, points out that voluntary trade carried on only with a view to the immediate interests of the parties concerned often increases the disparity between rich and poor nations, and adds: “Market prices that are freely agreed upon can turn out to be most unfair. It must be avowed openly that, in this case, the fundamental tenet of liberalism (as it is called), as the norm for market dealings, is open to serious question.”66

e) The Church still regards capitalism with reserve. While capitalism has evolved in some respects, even today libertarians (now often called “conservatives,” although not all conservatives are libertarians) still maintain an individualistic ideology. Defending capitalism as the best way to satisfy people’s needs while respecting their rights, they dislike both public regulation of economic activities and the Church’s social teaching insofar as it calls for redistributive taxation, welfare programs, and so on. Consequently, while endorsing a free economy for the nations recently liberated from Marxism, John Paul II restates (in May 1991) the Church’s critical evaluation of capitalism.

The Pope approaches the subject by pointing out that with Communism’s failure a question arises: whether “capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society?” The answer, he says, is affirmative, insofar as capitalism means “an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector.”67 But John Paul also makes it clear that the answer is negative insofar as capitalism means something else: “a method of upholding the absolute predominance of capital, the possession of the means of production and of the land, in contrast to the free and personal nature of human work”;68 a system which results in the alienation found in consumerism as well as in work “when it is organized so as to ensure maximum returns and profits with no concern whether the worker, through his own labour, grows or diminishes as a person”;69 “a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality.”70

5. The Church Rejects Marxism and Criticizes Democratic Socialism

The nineteenth-century stage in the development of the affluent nations provoked Marxism as a protest and counterproposal. It promised a better world in which injustice and alienation would be eliminated, people would enjoy peace and plenty, and other human interests would be facilitated. But Marxism is atheistic, deterministic, and materialistic; it denies God and rejects free choice, and with it the dignity of persons, and so the Church condemned it.71 Moreover, its wonderful promises proved empty, and instead of liberating people, it enslaved them.72

In the social and economic sphere, the Marxist alternative to individualism and capitalism is collectivism and state socialism. This approach has influenced parties on the left in the democratic nations, although they downplay Marxism’s philosophical foundations and distance themselves from totalitarianism.

a) The Church rejects collectivism or state socialism. Inasmuch as the Church rejects individualism and laissez faire capitalism, it might seem that she supports the opposite ideology. However, the Church steadfastly rejects collectivism as well as individualism, state socialism as well as laissez faire capitalism.

State socialism attacks private property, which the Church’s teaching defends, and tries to overcome its abuses with a system of public ownership. Collectivism eliminates the multitude of independent socioeconomic communities—corporations, trade unions, cooperatives, and so on—and replaces them with centralized management of productive goods and undertakings.

Contrary to this ideology, the Church holds that, besides the family and the state, there is need for many intermediate communities of various kinds and sizes; for a community directed toward some modes of cooperation for some goods will be more or less unsuited to organize and integrate cooperation in other ways and toward other goods, and indeed no society short of God’s kingdom can integrate all possible ways of cooperating for all the goods of persons. Consequently, without a complex socioeconomic structure, including a variety of intermediate communities, people cannot pursue their whole human vocation and fulfill it.73

b) Every society should respect the liberty of its members. State socialists argue that political society not only should regulate the economy but should itself be the economic agent, whenever it can play that role efficiently, even though that will eliminate private enterprise and collectivize the means of production. The Church rejects this conclusion. The material results of economic activity do not exhaust the good it serves; economic activities also are important because individuals, families, and voluntary associations participate as agents in achieving those results, and so engage in intrinsically valuable human deliberation, choice, and action (see GS 34–35). Thus, even if political society could satisfy all needs for material goods and do it efficiently—and the experience of societies which tried this approach indicates that it cannot—the Church resists that approach for the sake of the greater participation possible when diverse communities pursue goods by organizing and integrating cooperation in various ways.74 Consequently, every society must respect those liberties of its members—both of individuals and of smaller communities within it—which fall beyond the society’s fair claims on them (see DH 1, 7).

c) Larger societies should help smaller ones attain their ends. Insisting on social solidarity, the Church proposes a nonindividualistic alternative to collectivism. It is that larger societies, with resources (such as revenues from taxation) unavailable to the smaller communities within them, can and should help these smaller communities survive and pursue their own good purposes. The ideal relationship is analogous to that of good parents to their growing children: rather than trying to live their children’s lives, the parents provide the regulation, support, and encouragement that children need to live their own lives. This relationship of political societies to the smaller communities within them, which involves both respecting their liberty and helping them, is called “subsidiarity.” The principle of subsidiarity, which resists centralization and excludes collectivism, can be formulated this way: the larger society should not absorb the functions of smaller communities when the latter, given suitable help, can fulfill these functions; rather, the larger society should help smaller communities within it to carry out their proper functions.

Here subsidiarity (drawn from the Latin word subsidium, which means help) does not mean the smaller community is politically or juridically subordinate to the larger, although that may be so. Rather, it means that the larger community supports smaller ones within it in their proper activities (in practice, supports often means subsidizes with grants of money, but in principle it refers to any kind of help, including regulation and coordination with other segments of the society).75

d) Even democratic societies violate the principle of subsidiarity. While rejecting Marxism as such, the democratic governments of the affluent nations of the West have used some of the questionable methods of socialism in dealing with the socioeconomic problems of public welfare. Thus, John Paul II points out that the so-called welfare state (also called the “social assistance state”) tends to violate the principle of subsidiarity “to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom”:

 By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.76
Thus, the politicizing of the economy characteristic of even democratic socialism is unacceptable.

e) In the poorer nations, Marxism retains its appeal. In the world’s poorer nations, governments fail to vindicate many people’s rights to the minimum necessities for a decent human life. Their suffering is extreme, and promises of amelioration through social and economic development have not been fulfilled. Knowing that affluent people are immeasurably better off, that the technology exists to meet everyone’s basic needs, that international economic arrangements going back to colonial times—and perhaps even earlier—have been unjust, and that huge resources still are being devoted to armaments, such people long for liberation with a hope grounded in a genuine sense of their own dignity. This sense often is inspired at least in part by the gospel and the ideal of human communion it proclaims. Such people will no longer passively submit to crushing poverty and its wretched consequences.77 But desperate people naturally grasp at almost any chance of rescue. Thus, liberationist movements influenced by Marxism retain their appeal in some parts of the world.

6. The Church Rejects Egalitarianism

Collectivists have always idealized absolute equality: nobody a king, everybody a comrade. Noting that inequalities limit individual freedom, many individualists also have endorsed egalitarianism. The Church, however, rejects it, because some of the differences which result in inequalities are essential to the complementarity of persons united in genuine community. Moreover, denying that equality is an absolute value, the Church condemns the use of inherently immoral means to eliminate even unjust inequalities.

Egalitarians idealize absolute equality as a standard of perfect justice. But the Church, while holding that all persons are equal in dignity and fundamental rights, also teaches that “rightful differences exist among people” (GS 29). She rejects the ideal of absolute equality and affirms the legitimacy of differences among people in rights which are not fundamental, because she sees the positive value for human community which is present in the existence of many persons with different gifts to be used for building up the whole.78

While egalitarians idealize equality in the belief that all differences in social status offend the dignity of persons, the Church holds that not only what human persons have in common but also what is proper to each, sin and other evils excepted, belongs to personal dignity. God’s good creation embraces both common human nature and diverse personal gifts, and both are necessary to interpersonal communion. Moreover, the Church denies that subordinates are inferior as persons to their superiors. Hence, the Church’s position is that injustices resulting from differences in social status cannot be overcome by disregarding or circumventing differences in people’s gifts, but only by reforming practices which wrongly exploit such differences.79

7. Catholics in Affluent Nations Should Work for Social Justice

The preceding sketch makes clear the need for justice in the world and the great difficulties in the way of doing anything constructive about it. But the contemporary situation also has other features. People today have an altogether new degree of awareness of the situation. The problems are discussed daily in the mass media, and it is easy to learn a great deal about any specific problem if one cares to. Moreover, many Catholics in affluent Western nations have more gifts and capabilities for action than ever before. These include education, material means, leisure, some influence on government, and the ability and freedom to organize. They also have at their disposal modern transportation and communication, modern statistics and social analysis. Thus, it is hard to excuse ignoring the misery of many people in their own nations and throughout the world, as if all of them were well and happy (see AA 8). The world in effect has shrunk, and it is harder than ever to ignore the hundreds of millions of neighbors who lie injured or dying in various sorts of ditches.

Still, all too many Catholics in the affluent nations are lulled by individualism and self-satisfaction into a general and pervasive indifference to their responsibilities with regard to social justice. This indifference is sinful, and the sin is extremely serious, even if it falls short of being a mortal sin for those who never actually choose to ignore their responsibilities contrary to a conscience sufficiently aware of the matter’s gravity.

44. Catholic social teaching often refers to “the social question.” Pius XII, Sertum laetitiae, AAS 31 (1939) 642 and 653, PE, 223.34, succinctly clarifies the meaning of this expression: “The fundamental point of the social question is this, that the goods created by God for all men should in the same way reach all, justice guiding and charity helping.” Thus, for Catholics today who live in the affluent nations, consideration of the social question must focus on responsibilities toward those both in their own nations and throughout the world who lack the basic necessities of life.

45. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 46, AAS 83 (1991) 850, OR, 6 May 1991, 13.

46. John XXIII, Mater et magistra, AAS 53 (1961) 450, PE, 267.206–8. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 19, AAS 79 (1987) 561, OR, 14 Apr. 1986, 2, likewise teaches: “When man wishes to free himself from the moral law and become independent of God, far from gaining his freedom he destroys it. Escaping the measuring rod of truth, he falls prey to the arbitrary; fraternal relations between people are abolished and give place to terror, hatred and fear.”

47. Leo XIII, Quod Apostolici muneris, ASS 11 (1878) 370–71, PE, 79.2.

48. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 42, AAS 79 (1987) 571, OR, 14 Apr. 1986, 4.

49. For a summary of twentieth-century materialism: Pius XI, Ubi arcano Dei consilio, AAS 14 (1922) 681–82, PE, 192.21–24.

50. A sociocultural critique of a widespread mode of individualism: Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978).

51. For instance, advertising—often morally questionable on other grounds—frequently leads people to purchase new fashions or new models, when they could as well take care of and continue to use their serviceable clothing, appliances, automobiles, and so on. See John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society, 4th ed. rev. (New York: New American Library, 1985), 121–28.

52. See John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 28–29, AAS 80 (1988) 548–51, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 7.

53. It might be objected that the avaricious, rather than rejecting authority, strongly support law and order as safeguards of their wealth. However, the avaricious reject regulation of their own activities in accord with the common good; their selective support of the use of governmental power is not the same thing as submission to the moral claim of the common good, which alone is true acceptance of authority (see 11.B.3).

54. On the use of sex in advertising, see Eric Clark, The Want Makers: The World of Advertising: How They Make You Buy (New York: Viking, 1989), 113–18.

55. Papal documents repeatedly deplore the deterioration in the moral quality of life, and point to the link between self-indulgence and social injustice. Benedict XV, Sacra propediem, AAS 13 (1921) 38–39, PE, 189.18, calls unlimited desire for riches and thirst for pleasures the “stigma” of the epoch, and remarks that the wealthy “seem to wish to further excite the hatred of the poor by an unbridled luxury which accompanies the most revolting corruption.” Pius XI, Ubi arcano Dei consilio, AAS 14 (1922) 678–79, PE, 192.14, laments “the morbid restlessness which has spread among people of every age and condition in life, the general spirit of insubordination and the refusal to live up to one’s obligations which has become so widespread as almost to appear the customary mode of living. We lament, too, the destruction of purity among women and young girls as is evidenced by the increasing immodesty of their dress and conversation and by their participation in shameful dances, which sins are made the more heinous by the vaunting in the faces of people less fortunate than themselves their luxurious mode of life.” John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 28, AAS 80 (1988) 548, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 7, similarly condemns “consumerism” for waste which deprives the poor of their fair share of goods and services originally meant for all: “This superdevelopment, which consists in an excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of ‘possession’ and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better.”

56. Pius XI, Ubi arcano Dei consilio, AAS 14 (1922) 677–78, PE, 192.12.

57. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 47, AAS 83 (1991) 852, OR, 6 May 1991, 13, teaches: “Even in countries with democratic forms of government, these [basic human] rights are not always fully respected. Here we are referring not only to the scandal of abortion, but also to different aspects of a crisis within democracies themselves, which seem at times to have lost the ability to make decisions aimed at the common good.”

58. John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 11, AAS 72 (1980) 1213–14, PE, 279.113–14.

59. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 41, AAS 80 (1988) 571, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 11, explains the relationship between the Church’s social doctrine (a “set of principles for reflection, criteria for judgement and directives for action”) and the conflicting ideologies: “The Church’s social doctrine is not a ‘third way’ between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another; rather, it constitutes a category of its own. Nor is it an ideology, but rather the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church’s tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with, or divergence from, the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behaviour. It therefore belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology.”

60. See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 73, AAS 79 (1987) 586, OR, 14 Apr. 1986, 6.

61. See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 13, AAS 79 (1987) 559, OR, 14 Apr. 1986, 2.

62. Paul VI, Populorum progressio, 26, AAS 59 (1967) 270, PE, 275.26, describes this ideology: “These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations. This unbridled liberalism paves the way for a particular type of tyranny, rightly condemned by Our predecessor Pius XI, for it results in the ‘international imperialism of money’.” (The reference is to Quadragesimo anno, AAS 23 [1931] 212.)

63. On this Christian conception of property, see 10.D.1, below. For the background in prior papal teaching, see Calvez and Perrin, The Church and Social Justice, 190–225. A concise summary of this teaching from Leo XIII on: John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 30, AAS 83 (1991) 830–31, OR, 6 May 1991, 10. John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 18, AAS 73 (1981) 623, PE, 280.82, says that the “principle of the common use of goods” is the “fundamental principle of the moral order in this sphere,” and (19, AAS 626, PE, 89) that this principle is “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.” Also see John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 42, AAS 80 (1988) 573–74, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 11–12.

64. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 658–59, PE, 115.37, having pointed out that public authority should defend everyone’s rights, says: “Still, when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State.”

65. Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, AAS 23 (1931) 211, PE, 209.109.

66. Paul VI, Populorum progressio, 58, AAS 59 (1967) 285–86, PE, 275.58.

67. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 42, AAS 83 (1991) 845, OR, 6 May 1991, 12.

68. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 35, AAS 83 (1991) 836, OR, 6 May 1991, 11.

69. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 41, AAS 83 (1991) 844, OR, 6 May 1991, 12.

70. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 42, AAS 83 (1991) 846, OR, 6 May 1991, 12. See also John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 20–22, AAS 80 (1988) 536–40, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 5, where the “system which is historically inspired by the principles of liberal capitalism” is treated as the ideology of the bloc in the West, and the Church’s continuing “critical attitude” toward it as well as toward Marxist collectivism is explained.

71. Vatican II, without using the word Marxism, firmly rejected it by saying: “In her loyal devotion to God and to humankind, the Church has already repudiated and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those pernicious doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone human beings from their native excellence” (GS 21), and by appending to this a note—n. 16 (Abbott n. 47)—containing references to encyclicals of Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI in which Marxism is condemned.

72. See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”, 11.10, AAS 76 (1984) 905–6, OR, 10 Sept. 1984, 4. For an earlier brief and scathing summary of Marxist praxis, see John XXIII, Ad Petri Cathedram, AAS 51 (1959) 526, PE, 263.130.

73. See John XXIII, Mater et magistra, AAS 53 (1961) 414–18, PE, 267.53–67.

74. See, for example, John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 13, AAS 73 (1981) 608–12, PE, 280.58–62.

75. Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, AAS 23 (1931) 203 (DS 3738/—), PE, 209.79 (translation amended), formulates the principle and characterizes its violation as a grave evil: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is a wrong and at the same time gravely harmful and disruptive to right order to assign to a larger and higher association what smaller and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of a social body, and never destroy and absorb it.” See Calvez and Perrin, The Church and Social Justice, 121–24, 328–37.

76. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 48, AAS 83 (1991) 854, OR, 6 May 1991, 13–14.

77. See GS 63; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”, 1.1–9, AAS 76 (1984) 878–79, OR, 10 Sept. 1984, 1.

78. Leo XIII, Quod Apostolici muneris, ASS 11 (1878) 372, PE, 79.5: The socialists’ habit “is always to maintain that nature has made all men equal, and that, therefore, neither honor nor respect is due to majesty, nor obedience to laws, unless, perhaps, to those sanctioned by their own good pleasure. But, on the contrary, in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel, the equality of men consists in this: that all, having inherited the same nature, are called to the same most high dignity of the sons of God, and that, as one and the same end is set before all, each one is to be judged by the same law and will receive punishment or reward according to his deserts. The inequality of rights and of power proceeds from the very Author of nature, ‘from whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named’ (Eph 3.15).”

79. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 648, PE, 115.17, teaches: “It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such unequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition.”