Friday, May 19, 2006

"Benedict XVI underscores urgent need for tenacious, lasting and shared efforts to promote social justice"

See the article: Benedict XVI underscores urgent need for tenacious, lasting and shared efforts to promote social justice
"The Church - as I wrote in the Encyclical 'Deus caritas est' - aims 'to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run.'

The pope concluded his message by calling them to "perform your 'direct duty to work for a just ordering of society,' because 'charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as social charity'."
Social Justice is a phrase that used to make my stomach turn, filling my mind with images of red Marxist banners, feminist witches, and angry shouting mobs, leading to extreme edicts being passed down by the Supreme Courts.

The words have been taken over by the Socialist Left, and have been twisted to a narrowed agenda.

Supporting trade unions are a part of social justice, but so is upholding private property rights. Relieving poverty is social justice, and so is opposition to abortion. The decision either to raise or to lower taxes can be social justice, based on pressing social need or as a relief from government oppression.

Justice, after all, is giving individuals their due. Social justice is giving individuals their due within society. Rather than being just a radical cause, social justice deals with all aspects of public life, and should be the concern of everyone.

The notion of justice as a virtue comes from the ancient Greek philosophers, while the concept of social justice comes from the Catholic Church, incorporating the Gospel. From the Wikipedia article on Social Justice:
The term "social justice" was coined by the Jesuit Luigi Taparelli in the 1840s, based on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. He wrote extensively in his journal Civiltà Cattolica, engaging both capitalist and socialist theories from a Catholic natural law viewpoint. His basic premise was that the rival economic theories, based on subjective Cartesian thinking, undermined the unity of society present in Thomistic metaphysics; neither the liberal capitalists nor the communists concerned themselves with public moral philosophy. Pope Leo XIII, who studied under Taparelli, published in 1891 the encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes), rejecting both socialism and capitalism, while defending labor unions and private property. He stated that society should be based on cooperation and not class conflict and competition. The encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (On the Restoration of Social Order) of 1931 by Pope Pius XI, encourages a living wage, subsidiarity, and teaches that social justice is a personal virtue: society can be just only if individuals are just.

Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) of 2006 teaches that social justice is the central concern of politics, and not of the church, which has charity as its central social concern. The laity has the specific responsibility of pursuing social justice in civil society. The church's active role in social justice should be to inform the debate, using reason and natural law, and also by providing moral and spiritual formation for those involved in politics.

The official Catholic doctrine on social justice can be found in the book Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004 and updated in 2006, by the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax.
I feel that I can quote freely from this article section, because I wrote it.

The Church views social justice as a virtue—that is, a good habit—like courage and prudence. It is not an attribute of society or government, but instead of individuals that make up society.

In the Old Testament, God gives Moses his law, Who in the commonplace view, is dictating social justice by Divine Command. The traditional view, however, is that God is Good and only Wills as law what is Good. We need to follow the law not just because God demands it, but because God demands what is Good.

Quoting Bible verses to a nonbeliever is usually fruitless, so the Church uses reason to develop its doctrines of social life, for the truths of faith and of reason do not conflict, for they have the same source. The philosophical debate on social justice in the Western world began in Plato's Republic; in this book we have Socrates arguing that justice is an objective moral virtue, while the Sophist argument is that justice is determined by the strong against the weak.

This later argument, that justice is whatever the strong says is just, is the same argument given by proponents of unfettered capitalism and by the socialists. Both groups, often at each others' throats, share this same amoral intellectual basis. Both theories are materialistic, for they seek struggle and competition, whereas spiritual goods do not decrease when shared.

Catholic thinking follows the idea that justice is an objective virtue, that applies to all peoples in all times, and that any society's opinions of justice can be judged against these objective standards. The Catholic view of social justice comes from the Natural Law, which not only includes the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, but also those of human nature, with the understanding that we humans are good, but flawed creatures, who have a purpose or end.

From this Natural Law theory, the Catholic view of social justice has these conclusions:
  • A society can't be just unless individuals are just. Individuals should be given a strong moral education and should be encouraged to do good and avoid evil. Government cannot replace morality.

  • The traditional family is the basic unit of government in society. The mutual love of a man and woman and their offspring is a natural nucleus for society. Bonds of kinship for most people are stronger and more natural than any ideology.

  • Private property is required for good order in society. Use of private property is rightly regulated by law, and can only be disposed of by law for the common good.

  • Everyone has equal objective value. Some, due to talents, wealth, or power, have greater responsibility.

  • Because of our status as creatures of God, who made us all, individuals should cooperate responsibly with others in society.

  • Because people are ontologically good, they can govern themselves and freely form associations.

  • Because man has a fallen nature, a society needs checks and balances, and must avoid concentration of power.

  • Because matter is inherently competitive, governance should be arranged so that naturally competing groups can instead deliberate differences without violent conflict or the use of force.

  • Governance should be local. If one particular leader becomes unjust, at least other groups in society are not directly harmed.

  • Positive law, that is, man-made law, must not conflict with natural law.

  • Stability and consensus are highly prized, this is encouraged by adhering to living tradition and long-held custom. Change comes from reason and deliberation, not through power.

European society before the 19th century, especially at the level of the peasantry, tended to be traditional, with very many societies, guilds, merchant associations, and other organizations, interacting with government, the Church, and business owners. Often dealings at local and regional levels were based on time-tested and generally accepted customs. This wasn't efficient, but it gave society a great stability. Under this order, it was not just individuals who had rights and duties, but intermediate organizations had rights and duties also: this is similar to our modern concept of the business corporation, but in the old order there were many other types of organizations that also had corporate governance. These older types of corporations were smaller and more numerous.

Starting with the rise of Absolutism in government, and ending with the Industrial Revolution, all of this changed. Central governments built vast conscript armies, the structure of society changed, and landowners dramatically raised rents on farms, driving men off of the land and into the cities for factory work, where conditions were harsh and constantly changing. The system of tradition and cooperation was now ended, and socialism filled the void. The demands of the capitalists, to be free of custom and tradition, for the sake of efficiency, led to the rise of communism, which wanted to take over the entirety of society with the elimination of all competing ideologies.

Most conservative Catholics, myself included, tend to be pro-business, but certainly we don't want complete economic freedom. Should pornography be made widely commercially available? Liberal capitalists say yes, while socialists say it ought to be shown in grade schools. The same goes with drugs like cocaine and heroin: Libertarians, both left and right leaning, say they should be freely available, for a price, while sellers of "nutritional supplements" often sell dangerous or useless drugs, putting the burden of safety and efficacy on the shoulders of consumers, who are the least able to judge these matters. Should property be taken by eminent domain for private purposes? These kind of freedoms can be easily shown to be objectively harmful and even immoral.

Likewise, we can't be satisfied with a society that wrests the power of education from parents, concentrates power at high levels, taxes exorbitantly, redefines the traditional definition of marriage, and reorganizes culture at will.

Ultimately, freedom is power, and those who claim freedom are actually seeking power. How freedom and power should be distributed in society is the central concern of social justice.

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