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A Book Review… Reconstructing The Entire Social Order

May 21, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

An Economics of Justice and Charity: Catholic Social Teaching, Its Development and Contemporary Relevance, by Thomas Storck; Angelico Press, 182 pages. Buy from Amazon.com; $24.00 hardcover, $16.95 paperback.

An Economics of Justice and Charity looks at Catholic social teaching from the time of Pope Leo XIII, that is the end of the nineteenth century, up to the present day, and focuses on papal teachings in particular.
This book is thus, in essence, about the papal response to the modern economic, social, and political theories — and practices — which have very much shaped our modern world, and which are part of the “liberalism” which the Church has struggled with since the Reformation.
One of the main contentions of the author, Thomas Storck, in line with the teaching of recent Popes, is that our modern economic situation and system cannot be seen as separate from a general consideration of culture, politics, and religion, and that Catholics should be on their guard against the liberal ideology which asserts that economics is a self-sufficient realm.
Storck defines Catholic social teaching as “that teaching that deals with the rights and duties of men, organized into society,” and criticizes the approach which sees it in the narrower sense of just being about the Church’s teaching about the morality of the economic aspects of human life and society.
Although the beginning of modern Catholic social teaching is identified with Pope Leo XIII, and his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), as Storck points out, it is actually rooted in the teachings of Christ, the Church fathers, and in the work of Catholic thinkers such as St. Thomas Aquinas. But it has undergone a great development over the last century or so, given the tremendous changes in society worldwide.
Pope Pius XI issued his own encyclical on this subject, Quadragesimo Anno, in 1931, and stressed that while the Church did not offer any technical criticisms of economic policies, it did have a duty to speak out about the moral impact of such policies. As Storck points out, this means that Catholic social doctrine is neither liberal nor conservative, but rather has a unique position of its own.
And far from being impractical (as some critics, even within the Church, maintain), such teaching, argues Storck, can create a far more just society, and one in which “social charity could be the cement that holds society together.”
Certainly Pope Leo XIII believed this and he did everything he could to encourage the Church to respond to the new problems which had grown up in the world as the Industrial Revolution, and the upheavals following the French Revolution, began to radically change society.
He maintained that it was a duty of the rich to give liberally to the poor, but he defended private property against socialist criticism, while also advocating the principle that every man should be paid a just wage such that he could support his family “in reasonable comfort.”
However, to achieve this he wasn’t advocating a struggle of workers against capitalists — class conflict — but rather a situation where workers and employers would come together in mutual agreement and sort out their differences in the light of a higher standard, that of justice and equity, one involving both rights and duties. This was a teaching elaborated by Pope Pius XI, and indeed Rerum Novarum has been a very influential papal document down to our own day, and has formed the basis of much subsequent papal teaching in this area.
In short, what recent Popes have been proposing is not a tinkering around the edges of our present system, but rather, in the words of Pius XI, a reconstruction of the entire social order — which, as Thomas Storck points out, is clearly a “gigantic task.”
For Pius, this reconstruction comprised the “reform of institutions and the correction of morals.” To this end, he promoted the idea of subsidiarity, that is, that functions and tasks in society should be done at the appropriate level and not directed and managed from the top down.
He condemned the idea that totally free competition should be the ruling principle of an economy; rather, this should be a combination of social justice and charity, which requires that society be organized so that it promotes the good of the whole, and of each of its parts.
He condemned socialism because it “conceives human society in a way that is utterly alien to Christian truth,” and Pope St. John Paul II would later say that this was the case because socialism conceives man wrongly, and thus it necessarily also conceives the state, society, and the economy wrongly.
Storck points out that in the West generally, the promotion of orthodox Catholicism has been mainly focused on remedying a limited class of evils such as abortion, but without really very much sense of Pius XI’s desire to see the entire social order reconstructed — this in no way, of course, questions the seriousness of abortion as a pressing moral issue.
And this reconstruction is not an impossible or Utopian dream, since this is exactly what the Church achieved in the creation of Christendom after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
The rest of the chapters are taken up with a discussion of the thinking of the Popes from Pius XII to Pope Francis on Catholic social teaching, with an emphasis on that of Pope St. John Paul II, all done against a background of a rapidly developing world economy. This explains the emphasis from Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Populorum Progressio on justice and charity for the poor of the whole Earth.
Pope St. John Paul II issued a number of social encyclicals in which he emphasized the priority of labor over capital, and argued that human work was in fact a sharing in the work of God the Creator. He also said that, “true development must be based on the love of God and neighbor, and must help to promote the relationships between individuals and society.”
Storck denies that this Pope’s last social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, written in 1991 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, can be seen as a repudiation of past social teaching doctrine, or that it is supportive of a free-market liberal or libertarian view of the state as a neutral force, one where market forces alone will always tend toward the common good.
John Paul II saw the proclamation of the Church’s social doctrine teaching as an essential part of the New Evangelization, and argued that merely political or social systems could not fulfill the transcendent aspirations in the heart of man.
Storck also has a chapter on the authority of the Church’s social teaching, and sees it as part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, and thus as something which is binding on Catholics.
An Economics of Justice and Charity has a number of appendices on various topics including usury, which the author maintains is illicit, arguing that Catholics really ought to be working to promote organizations such as credit unions which are not based on usury. He concludes that while difficult, reconstructing the world economy is not an impossibility, and compares it to the problem of persuading the world to become chaste.
For the present, though, given the polarized state of the Church, he thinks the best thing is that people should become educated about the issues, and thus lay the foundations for future reform and reconstruction.
This is a balanced and informative book, which rightly highlights a — at times — neglected aspect of Church teaching, and as such is well worth the time of any serious Catholic.

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(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related website at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also a written two time-travel/adventure books for young people — details can be found at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk/.)

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