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Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching Paperback – 19 Oct 1993
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Each essay is by an different author and comments on a particular social encyclical. This isn't to say the essays are merely summaries; each one critically examines the strengths and weaknesses of the encyclical it addresses.
I found the essay on the Declaration on Religious Freedom especially helpful. The author distinguishes three stages in the Catholic understanding of Church-State relations:
Stage 1: The Throne and Altar arrangement. This is the time of religious establishment as the Monarch and Church both endorse each other. The French called it the Ancien Regime, the Old Order. The problem with this arrangement, from my perspective, are twofold. First, the monarch ends up wanting to control the Church e.g. investiture controversy. Second, the Church's fortunes are tied up with the existing regime. If the monarch makes a mistake, then in the eyes of the people the Church is guilty by association. This is what happened in the French Revolution.
Stage 2: Continental Liberalism. This is the worldview of the thinkers behind the French Revolution: Democracy, autonomous individualism, and human rights. In the name of these ideas, the Revolutionaries unleashed the Reign of Terror and De-Christianization. It was these atrocities which were in the minds of churchmen when they opposed liberalism until Vatican II.
Stage 3: American Liberalism. A Jesuit, John Courtney Murray, argued that there was another form of liberalism which respected religion and would not lead to atrocities associated with Continental Liberalism. The Catholic Church had done well in America, even though it was a primarily Protestant Country. This occurred because the state did not establish any particular religion in the United States. Murray urged the Church to embrace this form of liberalism and in Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae, she did.
The battle between the American (Personalist) and Continental (Liberal Individualist) meaning of democracy continues. It is occurring within America and the rest of the world generally. The first meaning views human beings as persons: social beings with rights AS WELL AS corresponding duties. Moreover, Personalist Democracy presupposes a transcendent reference point which is the source of our moral obligations. In contrast, the Liberal Individualist model sees humans as autonomous, self-interested beings. The source of moral obligations is either consent or utility.
The collection of essays is filled with interesting discussions like the one above. It was a difficult, but helpful, book to read.
Pope Pius XI's most definitive encyclical was Quadragesimo Anno issued 15 May 1931, 40 years after Rerum Novarum (thus the name, Latin for 'in the fortieth year'). Written as a reactionary response to the cultural and economic wasteland that befell Europe and America amidst the Great Depression, it calls for the establishment of a social order based on the principle of subsidiarity. The encylical observes, "We once had a prosperous social system which owed its development to the wide variety of associations, organically linked together. That structure has been overturned and all but demolished. Individuals are left alone with the state."
I personally detest the contemporary American political culture and its inflationary entitlement state. Collectively the middle class takes the biggest hit. The super-wealthy benefit by the inflationary state, and multiple their wealth by illicit gain and monetary manipulation to the detriment of the working middle class. The downtrodden urban masses are placated by the state that plunders the rest to appease them. Collectively, the middle class takes the biggest pinch. Ironically, the social conditions for a nation to achieve a humane economy requires a broad-based distribution of private property, and these social conditions are best realized in societies that embrace subsidiarity and structural decentralization in its political edifices and organizations. Coerced redistribution is not the desirable means of achieving this end; but rather a slow natural development over the course of time within a decentralized polity.
Contemporaneously, all of the useless politicians that pander to the base instincts of human nature, promising the spoils of legal plunder to be given to the downtrodden are part of the problem. The Robin Hood state destroys character, inculcates idleness, stifles individual initiative, saps the nation of its economic and social vitality, and ultimately makes slaves of its dependents. The potential for a more prosperous social order is realized by a society that embraces subsidiarity, not socialism. Welfare-statism is utterly incompatible with human condition. That housing projects have a revolving door with penitentiaries should be no real surprise. In the years ahead, when the managerial regimes of America and Europe inevitably implode in a miserable morass of stagflation, public sector indebtedness, there will be a need for order to fill the vacuum left by the managerial regime's collapse. Sober-minded socially conservative thinkers might suggest letting the intermediary institutions between the individual and the state return to their former prominence: these are the voluntary civil associations, the benevolent societies, private charities, and especially the church. "To love the little platoon," declared Edmund Burke, "we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of publick affections." The little platoons are animated by the spirit of voluntarism and charity. We need a humane economy, and social order like that advocated by Wilhelm Roepke in his book The Humane Economy. Understanding the social conditions ideal for this humane economy can be discerned by the study of Catholic social thinking, so reading this book might prove helpful. There is an old saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
The penchant of the articles is to give historical and political underpinnings to papal social teaching that robs the texts of their true meaning and re-interprets them in the light of the ideological biases of the authors. I would guess that the book was written in the wake of the founding of the Acton Institute by Robert Sirico in 1990 and is certainly a doctrinal manual for the critics of the papal social encyclicals.
There is no doubt that Methodological Individualism is at the heart of this critique of Catholic social teaching - and the effort to link Catholic efforts for social and economic justice to Socialist International is a ploy that simply does not work.
Methodological Individualism is not only amoral of its very definition, it is immoral in most of its applications.
It is the hint, woven through the whole text of this book, that Catholic social teaching is "left-leaning".
The authors interpret classical papal documents to further their own political agenda, wrapping that agenda in the garments of Faith, to disguise their true political intent.
Their belief in Gresham's Law has replaced their belief in economic justice, and their politics seemss to override their Catholic faith.
They are convinced, in keeping with the Austrian School, that the purpose of money is the market, and not the providing of human needs.
Father Clifford Stevens
Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska