A Missing Piece of the Puzzle
As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the idea that many people have of social justice today is not entirely accurate. It does not mean replacing individual justice and charity with redistribution, even if you call it social justice. Social justice means, rather, reform of institutions of the common good to enable the individual virtues once again to function as intended.
Here, then, was what was missing from Leo XIII’s social doctrine: a specific theory that, when applied to social problems makes it possible to effect institutional reforms directly and achieve specific results, rather than be limited to the practice of individual virtue and just hope for the best. No longer could the socialists claim that their proposals were any kind of solution, however much they might be needed as short term expedients.
Neither could socialism any longer be considered in any way compatible with Christianity. While it tried to present itself as the only true Christianity, the Democratic Religion was not Christian at all, or Jewish, Muslim, or pagan, for that matter. It was not even democratic in any acceptable fashion. Pius XI stressed this point particularly in Quadragesimo Anno, and declared,
|Pope Pius XI
We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth. . . . If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist. (Quadragesimo Anno, §§ 117, 120.)
This is all very interesting — and essential — but one point was not entirely clear: where and how every human person fit into it. Read from the socialist perspective, the social encyclicals appeared to limit participation in the common good to workers. It was as if workers are the only economic and social factor to consider, and that only the ability to work makes someone a person.
|Karol Józef Wojtyła
There are, of course, clear indications in the encyclicals that everyone is equally a person, and thus with an equal right to participate in economic life through ownership of both labor and of capital. These, however, can easily be brushed aside by anyone who thinks the whole of life is economic and directed exclusively to material betterment, and who considers human labor the only real factor of production.
Personalism as developed by Karol Józef Wojtyła— John Paul II — clarified Catholic social doctrine by making explicit the fact that it applies to everyone, not just workers. Operating within the framework provided by the natural law, (Wojtyła, “The Human Person and Natural Law,” Person and Community, op. cit., 181-185) Rerum Novarum, and Quadragesimo Anno, Wojtyła formed his thought within the unique situation of Poland.
Divided between Prussia (and later a united Germany), Russia, and Austria-Hungary in the eighteenth century, Polish national identity had been suppressed for much of the nineteenth, with even the name of the country prohibited at times. Popular Catholicism was a major factor in preserving the culture but had been largely shaped by the Democratic Religion through the series of socialist influenced or inspired uprisings to restore independence, and the forged encyclical, Złota Książeczka (“the Golden Book”).
|The Strange Case of the Disappearing Country
Successive occupation by the Nazis and then the Russians dimmed some of the enthusiasm for socialism. Still, the belief lingers to this day in many quarters — and not just in Poland — that the real problem was that National Socialism and Marxist Communism are not “real socialism.”
Church, State, and even national identity in Poland were imbued with socialist principles. (Norman Davies, Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1984, 341.) Wojtyła therefore had the task of reconciling Polish popular Catholicism with traditional orthodox thought without offending Poles’ legitimate national aspirations.
Understanding Wojtyła’s Thomistic personalism therefore begins by identifying what to him would be the chief errors of socialism and moral relativism. These were, one, the shift of sovereignty away from the human person, and to the abstraction of the collective. Two, the substitution of changeable human opinions based purely on faith, for the absolute reality of God and the natural law discerned as far as possible by human reason.
And then there’s solidarism, which we will look at in the next posting on this subject.