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My take on Caritas in Veritate published in Christianity Today

Christianity Today just published my take on Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Here is an excerpt.

Although mainstream media outlets have already spun this encyclical as one that focuses on the global economic crisis—and it most certainly does address that—that is clearly not the pope’s point of departure. For those who have eyes to see, the animating principle of this encyclical is virtually on every page of it: theological anthropology is the only proper starting pointing from which we can come to know the common good....

The categories that dominate our public discourse in the United States—left, right, liberal, conservative, etc.—play no role in illuminating the Church's social doctrines or the message of Caritas in Veritate. This is why it is a fool's errand to attempt to artificially divide Catholic social teachings into its left and right wings....

Benedict does argue in this encyclical that free markets and the ownership of property are the best way people can produce the wealth that is necessary for a just regime. But free markets will not result in integral human development if they are bereft of sound ethical constraints and not directed toward the common good. This is why in Catholic social teaching the state has an obligation to protect, nurture, and help sustain the natural development and proper ends of certain governmental and private institutions. These include the family, civic and political associations (such as labor unions), organizations of social welfare (administered privately and/or by the state), and schools. According to Benedict, such institutions make morally sound markets possible because they provide the social infrastructure for the achieving of integral human development. So the Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from “Honor thy Father and Mother,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not steal.” Thus, the “justice” in social justice refers to a rightly ordered community, not to the ideologies of a Ludwig Von Mises or a Karl Marx. In Christian theology, you can gain the whole world and lose your own soul (Luke 9:25). To paraphrase St. Paul, that’s a stumbling block to the Austrians and foolishness to the Marxists.


You can read the whole thing here.
(Originally posted on First Thoughts)

Comments (52)

The claim that Austrians do not pay attention to the moral and cultural presuppositions of economic flourishing is just wrong. There are numerous examples, particularly from Austrians at George Mason, but you get it from Mises Institute people as well. (And I mean, Marxists talked about this stuff too.)

Also: aren't lots of Acton Institute guys Austrians? And lots of Mises Institute guys believe in the common good, like Tom Woods, so what exactly is it about Austrians that prevents them from affirming Catholic social teaching? Why can't they hold that justice-with-respect-to-coercion is best characterized by deontological libertarianism and that justice-broadly-speaking-and-as-the-Church-understands-it is best characterized in the way you describe?

Now it is true that most deontological versions of libertarianism - with which Austrians are commonly associated - do not have a role for the common good playing a part in justifying coercion. But when it comes to the Aristotelian-Thomistic idea of general justice, they don't have to disagree with you.

If you want to go after Austro-libertarians, you could go two ways, as a Catholic Thomist: (a) attack the view that one can separate the culture required to sustain markets from a coercive state that is required to maintain it, or (b) attack the general deontological accounts of rights that they typically defend.

I think you can make a go at (a) but it is tough because it relies on inconclusive social scientific evidence. (b) would be interesting. Ed Feser has worked on this stuff, since he moved from a deontological conception of rights to a interest-based theory that he believes is more congenial to Thomism (I actually think that Thomism is compatible with a deontological conception of rights, but that's for another day).

In fact, that was one of the things that made Ed Feser's '04 talk at the Mises Institute so controversial, because he claimed that Catholicism is wedded to an interest account of rights, and that as a result, Catholicism and deontological libertarianism common among many modern Austrians, are incompatible.

So anyway, those are some ways to go, but the idea that Austrians don't address the institutional presuppositions of the market is just a mistake. I'm happy to throw some citations your way.

This is NOT to say that a traditional natural law Thomist conservative like yourself can't critique the Austrians - far from it. But most Austro-libertarians are pretty interested in moral theories and culture as part of economic science. Further, while they focus primarily on justice-with-respect-to-coercion and think less about general justice, there is no conceptual incompatibility between the property rights regime advocated by Ludwig von Mises and the Church's account of social justice broadly speaking - unless you construe the church's teaching on social justice as essentially including a theory of when coercion is justified.

If you do think that the notion of justice as a rightly-ordered community really does entail a theory of the justification of coercion that is incompatible with libertarian property rights, then I'd be interested in hearing your argument.

Well done, Frank.

I second that.

Section 67 is horrific. The call for a global political government with ‘teeth’ as the solution to economic injustice and suffering couldn’t be more incompatible with traditional Catholic doctrine. How this could be reconciled with Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno or Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, (let alone natural law), is beyond me.

I wonder whether the Pontiff recognizes the true source of these problems, viz., the protestant reformation and the rejection of the role of government in promoting the natural end of man. So long as governments not only avoid, but ban the promotion of man’s natural end as part of the promotion of the common good, said governments will be working at odds with divine law.

That nowhere in this document does B16 call for the nations of the world to embrace the Social Kingship of Christ evidences how little he understands of the problem (or, worse, how little he understands of traditional Catholic doctrine).

Clearly he is a brilliant man, so not to have mentioned any of this seems to me an implicit rejection of them.

The call for a global political government with ‘teeth’ as the solution to economic injustice and suffering couldn’t be more incompatible with traditional Catholic doctrine. How this could be reconciled with Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno or Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, (let alone natural law), is beyond me.

Well Mark, I've read all the documents in question. How you can claim the above is, itself, beyond me. For one thing, the Pope did not offer the recommendations in §67 as "the" solution, but only as one among many solutions. Since proposals of that sort are not secured by the charism of infallibility, he could be wrong about the practical value of what he proposes. But so what? The important question is whether everything he says in CV is logically compatible with the irreformable doctrine of the Church. I don't see you making an actual argument for the claim, if anybody makes the claim, that is it not. Care to produce one?

So long as governments not only avoid, but ban the promotion of man’s natural end as part of the promotion of the common good, said governments will be working at odds with divine law....That nowhere in this document does B16 call for the nations of the world to embrace the Social Kingship of Christ evidences how little he understands of the problem...

Since much of CV elaborates a Catholic theological anthropology as the necessary basis for true social justice and sustainable development, I don't understand why you say the above—unless, of course, you mean that an adequate understanding of Catholic social doctrine would require the Pope to go beyond just recommending such doctrine to the nations and call for imposing it across the board by force. Leave aside the impracticality of restoring the temporal power of the papacy. The notion that the Church should seek to impose her social doctrine by force, or have others so impose it across the board, is not an irreformable moral doctrine. It has neither been formally defined as such nor, unlike the teaching against contraception, held by diachronic episcopal consensus since the beginning. Hence the question to what extent "the Social Kingship of Christ" should be spread by coercive as well as non-coercive means is a matter of opinion. The Pope is not obliged to share your opinion.

Golllllyyy! I just read through to # 25, in which we have this beauty: " Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum[60], for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured.

So, if I understand this right, because GM can outsource parts manufacture to Honduras, unions have lost power. What we need, then, is to discover how to re-empower the auto unions - the same unions which (in conjunction with short-sighted leadership in management) helped to plow GM & Chrysler into the ground. The same unions which negotiated, through the 50s and 60s, a system under which they receive pay and benefits equal to (at a guess) @ 20 times what the Honduras worker receives. It is, in addition, difficult to put a finger on any governmental restraint on these unions' capacity to negotiate - much the reverse in places that do not have "right to work" laws.

If the Pope is pointing to some vague and cloudy notion of giving the workers in Honduras equal power WITH the auto unions here so that they negotiate together, he is singularly ineffective at stating this. Surely he does not think that a truly human solution is for the government to forbid outsourcing the jobs to Honduras altogether, since that would deprive the Honduran workers of their rights to development.

And then there is this odd one in 27: Hunger is not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional. What is missing, in other words, is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water for nutritional needs, and also capable of addressing the primary needs and necessities ensuing from genuine food crises, whether due to natural causes or political irresponsibility, nationally and internationally.

Against this I would pose India. At the time of Paul VI's encyclical, India was still undergoing yearly crises of food - and nobody foresaw a clear end to it. Now India, with at least twice as many people as then, is a food-exporting nation. The difference is that the leadership buckled down to a priority of fixing the problem, accepting the help of Western nations and not posing unnatural and irrational barriers to external aid (while doing everything they could internally). A significant portion of the countries which have not undergone similar transformation are so because they have, for political reasons, (or corruption) rejected appropriate efforts at development. Are we somehow supposed to force

them to accept our aid, and force them to use it without corruption? Surely B16 is not suggesting we take over other countries' development programs.

What possible "economic institutions" can he be thinking of that will succeed in doing an end-run around political interference in such countries, capable of "guaranteeing" regular access to food, when the problem is political - with armies to back them up? Why does he even remotely think "economic institutions" have anything to do with fixing the problem?

I am going to read the rest, but so far I have not read one thing that makes one hopeful that any of these systemic problems have fixes that will ever be undertaken by any major segment of a 'people'.

Tony:

I too am often skeptical of the specific policy proposals made in papal and episcopal documents addressing issues of direct economic significance. I remember having all kinds of problems with the proposals the US bishops made in the 1980s with their "pastoral letter" on the economy. Today I am skeptical of the proposal in CV §67 that Mark complains about—although, unlike his, my skepticism is about its practical workability rather than its doctrinal implications. But I don't see the evident fallibility of such proposals being as much of a problem as the one we'd face if such documents stuck to abstract principles. Some concrete proposals have to be made in order to illustrate how the principles could be implemented in practice. They should of course be assessed for their workability, and a faithful Catholic as such is free to reject many of them on such grounds. But if the Church's social teaching is to have much real-world impact, such proposals are needed.

Best,
Mike

I think he would be better off identifying smaller problems and thus smaller solutions that (a) really could be implemented, and (b) have a much closer connection with sound principles and therefore are more likely to be sound proposals. Take 38: While in the past it was possible to argue that justice had to come first and gratuitousness could follow afterwards, as a complement, today it is clear that without gratuitousness, there can be no justice in the first place.

Well, no, it isn't "clear" at all that this is true. In fact, it is not even clear what he is talking about. What in heavens is he talking about? He might have given some concrete examples here, instead of high-faluting generic language that could include everything from kickbacks (ahem, excuse me: gratuities ) to party favors.

But far more bothersome is his descent into what I would suggest is a positively dangerous specific proposal, for a whole host of reasons: # 67 there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth...To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority,

Blessed John 23 may have been forgiven a certain naive hope in the UN, today there is no excuse for including in the same document the concept of a world government and the UN, unless to explicitly and utterly reject the possibility of the UN being it. I won't recount all of the destructive and horrific evils that the UN is intent on these days. My only consideration is this: the UN simply is not constituted to understand, much less respect, subsidiarity. The only "reform" that could be accepted is one that started from scratch. (It is not surprising that this should be the case: at the time it was initiated, at least 1/3 of the world's 'nations' only had a tenuous idea of the meaning of nationhood and government for the common good of every person). Unless and until the entirety of the other improvements in world peace and development mentioned previously have already taken place, there is no way we want a world government in charge of the global economy. Certainly not while specialists in the field cannot understand the bases for the problems that are moral as much as anything else. And certainly not while it is a given fact (as now) that control of the economy would be used as a tool to browbeat peoples into submission on other matters. Usually to the detriment of faith.

This passage is going to give aid and comfort to those intent on world tyranny (in the name of solidarity of course, they ain't stupid), the PC crowd, the UN convention on the rights of children crowd, the neo-communists who want to regulate the world economy in detail (to drive it into oblivion as they did Russia's), and, finally, to the World Council of Churches crowd. It is positively deranged to posit a future world government and mention the UN. (By the way, I am not opposed to a world government in principle, unlike some here - I just think that until the world embraces subsidiarity (and Europe is going in the wrong direction), any attempt will doom us to bitter oppression.)

So, if I understand this right, because GM can outsource parts manufacture to Honduras, unions have lost power.

Tony,
Actually American workers have seen their income decline as their jobs became exportable to the lowest bidders. We've covered up this fact by encouraging moms to experience personal "liberation and self-fulfillment" by joining the workforce, turning our homes into speculative financial instruments and taking on a massive amount of personal debt. Our current economic crisis has been brewing for a long time and B16 talks of the anomie that can't be alleviated by political pablum;

Nevertheless, uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage. This leads to situations of human decline, to say nothing of the waste of social resources.

Seems pretty apparent. So too the need for unions and intermediary associations to serve as counterweights in the relationship between employee and the rootless, corporation unburdened by borders and local loyalties. CV will be very difficult for those who through sheer mental habit decouple general policy proposals from the spiritual insight that is the basis of this document. For instance, before we get to #25 a clear anthropology has emerged;

To regard development as a vocation is to recognize, on the one hand, that it derives from a transcendent call, and on the other hand that it is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning.

Work is something far, far greater than the mere accumulation of wages in exchange for tasks performed or services provided. B16 is asking all actors to dramatically reorient their thinking and behaviors. That includes union members.

Are we somehow supposed to force them to accept our aid, and force them to use it without corruption? Surely B16 is not suggesting we take over other countries' development programs.

Clearly not unless B16 strikes you as a garden variety empire builder. Come on, it sounds like you are skipping around and gravitating to passages that might fit into a political pigeon-hole.

I am going to read the rest, but so far I have not read one thing that makes one hopeful that any of these systemic problems have fixes that will ever be undertaken by any major segment of a 'people'.

Wow, I think you should go back and read Spe Salvi first! When any encyclical, a certain disposition has to be present for one to benefit from it. Hope is essential. It is pointless worrying about the response of the so called "masses", since the invitation is addressed to us personally and it is our direct engagement that is being requested. If I embrace CV then a small miracle has already occurred that prepares the ground for greater ones. That I think is how we approach not only CV but B16's entire papacy.

B16 has said elsewhere, that the Kingdom of God is the Person of Christ and that we extend that Kingdom whenever we become Christ-like in our daily lives. CV is a monumental elaboration on that truth and not a party platform.

Today I am skeptical of the proposal in CV §67 that Mark complains about—although, unlike his, my skepticism is about its practical workability rather than its doctrinal implications

Mike,
All I can say is, B16 seems to be calling for something that were it allowed to come to term would go by the name of Christendom;

Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good[147], and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights[148]

Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good[147], and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth.

Yes, he says that. But he also says to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result;

Which implies that he is thinking of (or at least imagining) a world government erected on the UN in the very near term - to help deal with the "present crisis". Surely any kind of expectation of such development in the short term is reasonable only if you think the distance between what we have now and what we need is not miraculous in a degree that the world has not seen since Christ walked this Earth. Is he counting on that degree of quick miraculous intervention?

Is he counting on that degree of quick miraculous intervention?

He sees many things;

The actors and the causes in both underdevelopment and development are manifold, the faults and the merits are differentiated. This fact should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways, and it should lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the problems.

In our own day, the State finds itself having to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which is characterized by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production, material and immaterial. This new context has altered the political power of States.
The global market has stimulated first and foremost, on the part of rich countries, a search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost with a view to reducing the prices of many goods, increasing purchasing power and thus accelerating the rate of development in terms of greater availability of consumer goods for the domestic market.
Above all, the intention to do good must not be considered incompatible with the effective capacity to produce goods. Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another.

And all the time, he comes back to one basic, but admittedly miraculous proposal, directed at the individual;

...the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order,...matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.
Section 67 is horrific. The call for a global political government with ‘teeth’ as the solution to economic injustice and suffering couldn’t be more incompatible with traditional Catholic doctrine. How this could be reconciled with Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno or Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, (let alone natural law), is beyond me.

I'm suspicious, to say the least, of any call for a "global political government," too, but I wonder if this sort of thing really is all that incompatible with traditional Catholic social doctrine? Is such a call really inseparable from the doctrine of "subsidiarity" or does the doctrine of subsidiarity assume some such notion? Or is it that what "subsidiarity" giveth, "solidarity" taketh away?

And I wonder if there is not a serious and profound difference between Roman Catholic social thought and Protestantism on this particular point. Is a "global political government" of some sort an ideal to be sought short of the eschaton? Here, just off the top of my head, I recall Helmut Thielike's (Lutheran) and Oliver O'Donovan's (Anglican) extremely negative theological assessment of world government. (I'm inclined to think that these negative views of world government are fairly representative of non-liberal orthodox Protestantism, but would stand to be corrected on that point.)

If these Protestant rejections of such world political order are the theological point of departure, then talk about the "prudence" of working for global governance in the short term or the longer term, or the really, really longer term is misplaced because it is not something to be pursued in the first place. Coming to grips with that prior question, it seems to me, is the first order of business between believing Protestants and believing Catholics.

Interesting commentary, worthy of deeper exploration.

When would "coercion" become an exercise of "gratuitous" Love in Truth?

Which Divine Person of the social relation "Trinity" is the agent of the power and might? Not Christ on the Cross, he was just being an obedient Suffering Servant, so Pater? Consider Sandro Magister's interview with Fr. Thomas Berg, The Legionaries' Last Stand, "They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God's will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity." or to be even more damning, the kind of paternalistic conservative tradition that Mohammed's clique inculcated in their adherents via Shari'a's infantilization of wise men (homo sapiens) of good will (arbiter voluntas) (the Dehellenization Papa Benedetto decried at Regensburg).

Wow, good luck with that as 'Balm in Gilead to heal a sin sick world'!

No, I rather think the "vivificantem" of "relation" is the work of the Holy Spirit, magisterially taught as gratuitous gift of grace of awe, piety, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, understanding, and wisdom. Where the State to be "vivified" by its acknowledging a debt for such a deposit of awe, piety, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, understanding, and wisdom in faith, by mutual reciprocation there would be no need for educational organizations, political parties, judiciary and military armies, or social welfare agencies, we'd all live in a Utopian bliss of gratuity. But the State isn't "vivified," only man is. The fruits we so ardently desire cannot be created by artificial insemination, and even if they could they'd be theologically invalid and illicit and not Catholic in the True sense of Love in Truth. You may not do evil that good may come of it.

Is it me, or is the air tinged with a bit of jingoistic conservatism today?

I really do adore the scent, but it is so very misplaced in this thread.

Hat tip #1: to Francis for making that a starting point. It's only too bad that when the gun was fired everyone raced off in the wrong direction.

Hat tip #2: to Michael and Kevin. You receive top marks for practicing charity in Truth, exemplified by how kindly you have behaved yourselves in this thread. Michael, I expected no less. Kevin, you get most improved for the day.

Brett:

Kevin, you get most improved for the day.

HILARIOUS!

Thanks for this -- that spark of humour truly made my day -- especially when it concerns an ole curmudgeon as our much beloved Kevin, who although much eloquent and even noble at times nonetheless applies a common sense that is unfortunately all too rare in most folks (including myself)!

Aristocles,

I'm both heartened and humbled that I had some small contribution to your happiness today. My camping excursion this weekend renewed my spirit. I nearly decided to skip work and stay out there--it is only love of this blog and its commentators that beckoned me out from my hermitage : )

Cruel temptation!

Brett,

I wonder what you would have said about my first (conservative) impressions. I deliberately chose to withhold my comments until I took a good stab at trying to overcome and get past my conservative 'prejudices' and see what there is behind, or above, those 'limitations' and see what B16 is really saying. It was only after my inability to make certain of his statements come out to mean anything at all (when they were not tautological), or mean anything that Leo XIII and Pius XI would have been able to agree with, that I posted my comments.

If Mike is right that what he is primarily trying to do is lay out are principles, and his descent into particular offerings of possible attempts are merely suggestions, then I am merely taking his suggestions and submitting them to critical analysis. If that is out of order, then Mike was wrong too.

I personally think that much of the ills in the wider world cannot be wholly solved, even in the standard human sense short of the eschaton, without a world government of a sort . So talk of a world gov. does not bother me in principle. Do you really honestly think that the UN is a suitable platform for that eventuality? Do you doubt that people of ill will towards B16's goals will use # 67 for damaging purposes?

So talk of a world gov. does not bother me in principle.

"World government" is not proposed by B16, unless you think a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, constitutes a blueprint for one. In which case, we already have a "world government".

Do you doubt that people of ill will towards B16's goals will use # 67 for damaging purposes?

Do you think people of ill will might manipulate the Gospels?

There were 78 other sections to CV and this one may be consuming an inordinate amount of attention and producing too much misunderstanding. I liked what Ross Douhat said today;

… Catholics are obliged to take seriously the underlying provocation of the papal message — namely, that our present political alignments are not the only ones imaginable, and that truth may not be served by perfect ideological conformity.

So should all people of good will. For liberals and conservatives alike, “Caritas in Veritate” is an invitation to think anew about their alliances and litmus tests.

Brett & Ari,
Most Improved. I'll graciously accept, as long as we all agree that backsliding is not only allowed, but inevitable.

Kevin,

For liberals and conservatives alike, “Caritas in Veritate” is an invitation to think anew about their alliances
and litmus tests.

Aren't these grounds for conviction of some modern version of praemunire and, therefore, would essentially make those submitting to and, even further, asserting papal primacy as in secular matters as these guilty of treason?

Shouldn't we employ that (in)famous John F. Kennedy civic model that is ever the more appropriate to an American Catholic living in these here United States?

Kevin says: " 'World government' is not proposed by B16, unless you think a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, constitutes a blueprint for one. In which case, we already have a 'world government'."

I quote B16: and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth ...true world political authority ...such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights[148]. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties

First of all, you are right that he does not use the exact phrase "world government". But do you seriously mean to maintain that an international political entity "with teeth", called "political authority", that is "universally recognized", that is capable of "effective power to ensure security for all" and uses coercion to "ensure compliance" can be something other than a world government? Let's be real here, please. Yes, B16 is proposing a world government. He is the one who used the word "teeth". He is the one who says it needs to have coercive power and authority, and is political.

And surely you do not actually want to go on record of suggesting that the UN is already the thing he is pointing to, that right now it has teeth, and effectively has power to ensure security for all. What about Croatia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tibet, and Burma, just to look at the last 20 years? Or that the same organization that promotes the Convention on the Rights of Children has an iota of understanding of the "principle of subidiarity" that B16 says is required.

… Catholics are obliged to take seriously the underlying provocation of the papal message — namely, that our present political alignments are not the only ones imaginable, and that truth may not be served by perfect ideological conformity.

I take it seriously. To the extent that the world still does not begin to approach the outline of social depiction laid out by Leo XIII and Pius XI, it is obvious that "our present political alignments" are in need of grave change. If you want to suggest that my desire to conform to the message of Rerum Novarum and Quad. Anno is "ideological" then you would have to allow that B16's message is also. Is that beneficial?

Yes, B16 is proposing a world government.

By the time one gets to #67 isn't it clear that B16 is calling for a radical spiritual transformation of the individuals that form social, economic and political structures rather than calling for new systems? The internal content of a reformed UN and the criteria for its governance (subsidiarity and solidarity) would make it unrecognizable from anything we've experienced and shouldn't become the idee fixe that it has for you.

When the former Chief Economist of the World Bank and now Director of the White House's National Economic Council, Larry Summers can conceive the scheme below, there is a legitimate need for a humane form of globalization. How we get there requires a softening of hearts and a new consensus as to what it means to be human, first and foremost;

"Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons...I've always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted... I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
http://www.whirledbank.org/ourwords/summers.html

You seem to be suggesting that CV breaks from Rerum Novarum and Quad. Anno. Could you elaborate, since I am open to understanding in what ways it might do so?

"By the time one gets to #67 isn't it clear that B16 is calling for a radical spiritual transformation of the individuals that form social, economic and political structures rather than calling for new systems?"

Right. And this is even more clear if you take the two previous encyclicals into consideration.

I personally think that much of the ills in the wider world cannot be wholly solved, even in the standard human sense short of the eschaton, without a world government of a sort . So talk of a world gov. does not bother me in principle.
First of all, you are right that he does not use the exact phrase "world government". But do you seriously mean to maintain that an international political entity "with teeth", called "political authority", that is "universally recognized", that is capable of "effective power to ensure security for all" and uses coercion to "ensure compliance" can be something other than a world government? Let's be real here, please. Yes, B16 is proposing a world government. He is the one who used the word "teeth". He is the one who says it needs to have coercive power and authority, and is political.

There is a contradiction here Tony, which, until it gets resolved, hinders our proceeding. If the first is true, then your concern in the second box is only a technical one and isn't a disagreement with the CV--whose heights are obviously far loftier than the current UN. If the second is an inherent objection to a world cooperation (for the immediate future, cooperation is a better word even if it would still have binding authority) then you really do have an irreconcilable objection to the encyclical. The rejection of the eventual organic development of a world state is tantamount to a rejection of solidarity which undergirds the encyclical--and most Christian social teaching.

That said, I enormously sympathize with concerns about our recent experience with "world organizations." But honestly, the similarities between what our current organizations are and what the pope has outlined ends at the designation "world organizations." Both the tyrant and the pope are concerned with the world. Let us not erroneously be led into thinking that because of this they make great companions.

I would also say to be careful about the parsing of the encyclical. I take you to be an honest man--all of the Tony's I have ever known have been quite honorable--but you really can't take the passage about the "world authority" in earnest while disregarding that the rest of the encyclical makes very demanding claims for reform upon all existing political bodies. In essence, B16 very evenly spread criticism of current political realities (a bit too evenly for just about everyone) so it is then a very uncharitable thing to interpret 67 as though it means bowing to the U.N.

There are two seemingly contradictory elements in the encyclical, and when separated they look individually to be incomprehensible. The pope chastises existing political authorities very harshly. If you read these passages on their own it would seem to be an anti-political document in that government has failed. Yet, the pope also urges a radical expansion of a world authority animated by solidarity. This seems to be in complete contradiction to all of the failures of the state! But you cannot understand the urge for expansion if you don't understand that it presupposes a reformation of current politics. Truly, Kevin was very correct to urge that this is a radical document.

Lastly, I apologize that it took me so long to respond. I've fortunately been away from my computer for most of today and yesterday.

but you really can't take the passage about the "world authority" in earnest while disregarding that the rest of the encyclical makes very demanding claims for reform upon all existing political bodies. In essence, B16 very evenly spread criticism of current political realities (a bit too evenly for just about everyone) so it is then a very uncharitable thing to interpret 67 as though it means bowing to the U.N.

B16 says a "reform" of world institutions like the UN in calling for a world government. If what he means, and you have a point here, is a reform of such a nature that subsidiarity is given its proper place, and coercion and use of binding power is relegated to minor and unusual events due to vast levels (hitherto never seen even in smaller scales) of solidarity and cooperation, and in addition the development of wisdom regarding the invention of and application of forms of cooperative structures not yet dreamed of (in detail), then yes, I think that is is keeping with both CV and the earlier Popes' encyclicals. But this sort of reform is so vast and so deep as to amount to a completely new system - kind of like calling the 1787 new Constitution a "reform" of the Articles of Confederation. A reform in the nature of a substitution. Yes, that would be fine.

In normal human terms such a reform would take at least 5-10 years, even granting immense changes in people's willingness to seek such a solution. (Even development of our Constitution took 2 full years, and then had to be voted into force over a couple more years - a much smaller undertaking).

But B16 also throws in the bit about limiting the effects of the current economic crisis. So he is obviously talking about a relatively near term solution. That doesn't sound like a "reform" in the nature of a complete substitution. So who is being inconsistent here? Or is he just being "optimistic"?

I grant you that B16 seems to be aiming for truly radical changes, so that eventual forms of international cooperation (and national authority, corporations, and charities as well) would come out extremely different from what they look like now. And I have no problem seeing that such an eventuality could be very much in keeping with everything Leo XIII and Pius XI said.

Tony,

But B16 also throws in the bit about limiting the effects of the current economic crisis. So he is obviously talking about a relatively near term solution. That doesn't sound like a "reform" in the nature of a complete substitution. So who is being inconsistent here? Or is he just being "optimistic"?

In fairness to you and as a caution to myself, I should say that there is a temptation for "defenders" of encyclicals to overly sublimate them. This is a cheap and easy thing that must be resisted, because it is no defense; in fact, sublimating the encyclical to the point that it demands nothing from us now renders it cheap.

I agree that the encyclical does speak to the current crisis, though it interprets everything in light of true progress; every immediate concern is interpreted in light of the last, and the advised first steps are chosen to prefigure the destination. The balance is somewhere in between lofty goals and immediate demands. In this, I again suggest that the immediate demands can only be understood in light of the radical solidarity which animates the entire encyclical. But if something concretely suggested by the pope, outside the Church's magisterial authority, does not serve that solidarity, we are justified in jettisoning it. In this task, I like Michael's tone and tenor; there shouldn't be too much eagerness to look for excuses to dismiss the suggestions which make us uncomfortable, and these suggestions should be taken seriously and dealt with honestly.

Hey, but speaking of optimism...

In normal human terms such a reform would take at least 5-10 years, even granting immense changes in people's willingness to seek such a solution.

And I thought I was the hopeful one! Sadly, I thought the ballpark was more 20-40 : /

Let us look at passages that put the bogeyman of world government in context and hopefully to rest;

Political authority also involves a wide range of values,...we must also promote a dispersed political authority, effective on different levels. The integrated economy of the present day does not make the role of States redundant, but rather it commits governments to greater collaboration with one another. Both wisdom and prudence suggest not being too precipitous in declaring the demise of the State. #41

In addition to extolling subsidiarity, B16's long-time criticisms of the U.N., World Bank and I.M.F. are interspersed throughout CV;


"broaden our concept of poverty and underdevelopment to include questions connected with the acceptance of life, especially in cases where it is impeded in a variety of ways."

"some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion.
"
"In economically developed countries legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress,"

We have a global political and economic artifice made up of States, interlocking transnational agencies, corporations, trade partnerships and geopolitical treaties. We will have this architecture until the end of time. B16 wants us to supplant the godless and anti-human entity we have now, with one that will;

promote a person-based and community-oriented cultural process of world-wide integration that is open to transcendence.

The inimitable John Zmirak says it all;

Taken out of context, without the countervailing statements in the rest of the document, and removed from the organic whole of Catholic social teaching, it is being trumpeted by many as the Pope's call for an international government -- one with sovereign powers akin to those the U.S. federal government wields over the 50 states, or the European Union (some fear) will soon exercise over member nations.
The Pope states as a mandatory condition that any such projected government: a) respect subsidiarity, and be delegated the power only to intervene when every other level of government had failed; b) accept what Benedict calls the "Truth" of the human person -- in the person of Jesus Christ as preached by the Church.

http://www.zenit.org/article-26456?l=english

Kevin,

I admire your energy.

most sincerely,
Brett

Brett, rescuing CV from misinterpretation means simply reading and reflecting on it, so the "burden" which we've both shared has been enjoyable.

Maybe the Anglo-American is mind just too steeped in practicality, or overly marinaded in ideology to be able to grasp the themes of B16. Michael Novak's baffling response is a good example;

The Father of Lies seems to own so much of the real world.

What are the most practical ways of defeating him? The Catholic tradition—even the wise Pope Benedict—still seems to put too much stress upon caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions, and not nearly enough on methods for defeating human sin in all its devious and persistent forms.
http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/07/07/the-pope-of-caritapolis/

Not nearly enough on methods for defeating human sin. Oh.

In alerting us to an apparent 2000 year old institutional omission, does he propose supplementing the sacraments with sterner stuff like new social constructs and political structures imposed from above? Perhaps a mission to "eradicate evil", a la Operation Iraqi Freedom is the Plan?

I'm hoping he's just miffed that B16 hasn't signed-up for the democratic capitalist revolution and will soon recover both his equilibrium and sense of humor.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.

In alerting us to an apparent 2000 year old institutional omission, does he propose supplementing the sacraments with sterner stuff like new social constructs and political structures imposed from above? Perhaps a mission to "eradicate evil", a la Operation Iraqi Freedom is the Plan?

Kevin, in a sense I am with you, and I think Novak's comment is ridiculous. After 6000 years of trying without caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions, maybe its time to give those things their innings, hmm?

On the other hand, caritas, virtue, and good intentions alone won't actually produce a reformed world society. We need concrete goals and at least a possible avenue toward reaching those goals. I think what Novak is pointing to is that while B16 seems to indicate a few of the characteristics of what a reformed order would look like, it does not seem (for the most part, anyway) definite or specific enough to become the concrete goal for a plan of action. And in the few places where B16 does get specific, he seems unrealistic in the extreme, or to assume a pre-existence of something that simply does not exist: universal good will.

For example, he wants the world government "to manage global economies": as I said before, even granting that we achieved universal good will (OK, this sounds possible only in the eschaton, but hypothetically) and universal acceptance of the basic thrust of B16's overall concept of cooperative world order, there is STILL no reasonable basis for believing that we understand (or would understand) the field of economics sufficiently to "manage" the global economy in any sort of top-down manner. Part of the problem of Communism (aside from the obvious problems of being in denial of human nature and subsidiarity) is its assumption that "sufficiently" wise and knowledgeable men are better able to manage the economy for us than allowing men to work out their choices themselves. It would also require clear knowledge of the future, something God has not granted mankind and (so far as we can say) never will grant to men. All past experience indicates that men have never been sufficiently wise, and never have been sufficiently informed, to successfully manage a global economy. This also presumes that such men remain men of good will and don't succumb to the corrupting influence of power.

And let's not forget this little gem.

Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

So, political action is conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

Please tell me I am wrong in reading this as saying that it belongs to the nature of the state as such to use redistribution of goods as an inherent, fundamental function of its being.

Or, to take the other end of the bull by the horns, is there anything in the encyclical that tells us how to short-circuit the basic problem with state-led "justice through redistribution": as soon as you attempt to use the state to do it, you ipso facto interfere with men doing it out of individual free acts of charity and with the recipients exercising the virtue of gratitude toward specific charitable individuals? And the resulting problem, which is that as soon as you make a law about it, you create the sufficient outward circumstance for the recipient of these redistributed goods to believe - or at least feel - that he has only received what he has a right to; and the dependency that this tends toward?

Until human nature itself is changed, is there anybody who proposes that if you give a man a meal today, and again tomorrow, and again for 23 days in a row, that he will not begin to believe he has a right to expect it the following day? No matter what you do to reform the system?

Tony,
Benedict has always held that Capitalist individualism and Marxist collectivism falsify reality because God is absent in both accounts.

Authentic human development is a vocation each of us must embrace. To do so requires a transcendent view of the human person which can only come about through an encounter with God.

This leads to an entirely new way of thinking, or as Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi said about the totality of B16's encyclicals; "They invite a new way of thinking, and a new praxis, that takes account of the systematic interconnections between the anthropological themes linked to life and human dignity, and the economic, social and cultural themes linked to development."

I suspect Benedict's holistic approach that dismisses ideological projects explains why many like Novak, are perplexed and weakly clinging onto their pet causes. CV is just too big and jarring. B16 calls for interior conversion and bemoans an extrinsic religiosity that allows for the dividing of life into tidy, isolated ideological compartments, lest we are awakened from our conformist slumber.

The passage below takes a awhile to digest, but as you can see is far more potent than any partisan "plan";

The second truth is that authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension[16]. Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space. Enclosed within history, it runs the risk of being reduced to the mere accumulation of wealth; humanity thus loses the courage to be at the service of higher goods, at the service of the great and disinterested initiatives called forth by universal charity.

Man does not develop through his own powers, nor can development simply be handed to him. In the course of history, it was often maintained that the creation of institutions was sufficient to guarantee the fulfilment of humanity's right to development. Unfortunately, too much confidence was placed in those institutions, as if they were able to deliver the desired objective automatically.

In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone. Moreover, such development requires a transcendent vision of the person, it needs God: without him, development is either denied, or entrusted exclusively to man, who falls into the trap of thinking he can bring about his own salvation, and ends up promoting a dehumanized form of development.

Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature[17], to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that "becomes concern and care for the other."[18]


More insight;
http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/pope-proposes-christian-humanism-global-economy

So, political action is conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

Sorry, Tony, but the State will always have a say in the Market and the Market will always have a say in the State. Redistribution of wealth often travels upstream as it does in the case of Goldman Sachs, the arms and munitions industries, litigators, etc. etc.

Any institutional solutions worthy of us must first be preceded by a change in our interior lives and the shaking off of old and dangerous mental habits.

It is new wineskin time.

First the lesser point:

Sorry, Tony, but the State will always have a say in the Market and the Market will always have a say in the State. Redistribution of wealth often travels upstream as it does in the case of Goldman Sachs, the arms and munitions industries, litigators, etc. etc.

Kevin, I have no objection to viewing the state's use and management of resources both in the upwards, and downwards, and lateral angles as significant and in need of reforming. But you sidestep my question: is the nature of the state as such an institution whose very purpose is pursuing justice through redistribution? Is there no other more fundamental aspect to political action than this? Is that a beneficial mode of understanding political authority?

Now to the larger point: Are you suggesting that once B16's program is in place, people will no longer be beset by temptations of lust, greed, anger, hatred, and fear? No, no, of course not - these are the human condition until Christ returns.

But as long as such temptations abound, so long then will we have people mis-using wealth, status, and power. And therefore so long will we have people utilizing the government for selfish purposes, or for purposes it is not designed to manage well.

Will B16's hoped for reform of people's hearts also, by that very fact, make them immune to error about complex and difficult matters, matters in which human psychology affects as much as any physical constraints? No, no of course not - people will always be subject to error about complex matters. In this life God does not give even the holy perfect understanding of all things: even in the holy many of their undertakings founder.

So, while this state of fallen nature obtains, there will be people who in greed and selfishness will see a way to use authority to further their own ends, and who will be able to disguise their plan under an appearance of benefit to the common good. They will be able to convince others partly because the the complexity of the matter, and partly by using small and subtle temptations to use the public trough for things outside its proper use but which appeal to the many.

Not one of the iota of the above appeals to any one "side" or stripe of political view. It appeals solely to human nature. Does B16's encyclical stand for the view that human development and reform of cultural, political, and economic institutions can eradicate human frailty? To me, it sounds like the picture he is painting is that of a world order of those who have already, and permanently, risen above sin and temptation.

Is it more humanly appropriate to aim for a heavenly state here on earth, since that is what the human person is really made for, or to aim for a reasonably attainable status which is far from ideal of itself but is intended only to prepare us for the afterlife? Now, what if the aiming for the ideal condition here is fraught with the danger that if you aim for it and miss, you are likely to institute a program far worse than anything we have yet seen?

In the absolute ideal, all of mankind would be under the authority of one ultra-intelligent and benevolent ruler. Shooting for that before Christ returns might not be best the way to help as many as possible get to heaven.

Let's look at this quote:

27 The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination[65].

Appalling, that's what I call it. A passage that puts "food and access to water" as a "right" without first making explicit and totally clear distinctions about what is meant by the term "right" in this context, and indeed grossly running over important distinctions between "rights" to food and "rights" to life as if they reflect exactly the same sense is just plain reckless.

There are good philosophical reasons, grounded in Christian theology, for shying away from the term "rights" altogether. But if one is going to use the term, there is NO good reason for refusing to use the term with the distinctions necessary to render it capable of pointing clearly toward truth instead of obscuring truth.

Until the Church decides that the injunction "feed the hungry" is so absolute an imperative that it eradicates the right to private property, and that all persons shall receive X amount of food per kilogram of weight, it is impossible to use the term "right" to food in the same sentence as the "right" to life without making a critical distinction. But this is just what he does.

Tony your discourse proves just how beholden moderns are to ideologies. Only in your case, doubly so. You've been desperately reaching for any argument, no matter how self-contradicting, to criticize CV.

On one hand you assert CV does not deviate from previous encyclicals, yet on the other hand display nothing but s sneering suspicion ("like this little gem") and now implacable hostility ("appalling") towards the document. Tell us; exactly where does CV breaks from Catholic Social Teaching? Explain with quotes from any Church document you can find to support your combative and caustic reaction to this encyclical.

First you criticize CV; it does not seem (for the most part, anyway) definite or specific enough and then turn around and insolently dismiss the encyclical as a Gnostic blueprint to immanentize the eschaton. What is it, too airily vague and obscure, or too utopian in intent and detail?

Holiness runs against our natural inclinations, but you suggest that until human nature itself is changed, CV is best forgotten. A really stunted insight, made worse by this condescending riff; But as long as such temptations abound, so long then will we have people mis-using wealth, status, and power.

No kidding, but why not add; young men will always encourage their mates to abort the fruits of their illicit unions, desperate individuals will always seek solace in drugs, and disordered souls will seek social affirmation of their same-sex attractions? You can then melodramatically put your hands up in the air and renounce all political and cultural resistance to these spiritual pathologies. At least you would have the benefit of consistency. Instead your stoical resignation only extends to the economic sphere. I wonder why? Again, B16 isn't the one launching a crusade to "defeat human sin", ideologues like Novak are and you draw more insight from him. Just another contradiction in a, throw everything at the Vatican walls and hope something sticks approach.

Not surprising I guess since your corrections of Benedict culminate in this Randian crescendo;
Until the Church decides that the injunction "feed the hungry" is so absolute an imperative that it eradicates the right to private property, and that all persons shall receive X amount of food per kilogram of weight

The Preferential Option for the Poor sure can rankle can't it? But what is amusing, is your disdain only came into the open after you found this apparently odious statement;

It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings

Imagine that. Natural resources are goods to be shared, not possessions to be hoarded or weapons to be withheld from starving peoples. One shudders. Surely a New World Order of armed food and water redistributionists will emerge from the shadows of this encyclical.

Before you presume to lecture B16 on man's fallen state, the impracticality of the Gospels, the unsettling idealism of his life's work and subject his thoughts to the purported rigor of your own, you might want to try the reverse and instead place your "conservative prejudices" under the scrutiny of his intellectual and spiritual brilliance, as well as the rich and timeless gaze of Catholic Social Teaching.

At least have the humility to stop and ask; is the Spirit the source for B16's leadership of which CV is a part and how can I spiritually benefit from the challenges posed by his teachings?

Imagine that. Natural resources are goods to be shared, not possessions to be hoarded or weapons to be withheld from starving peoples.

Kevin, I should prefer that you limit your attacks to my positions and arguments, you might actually get somewhere. But it would be better still to actually read and understand my arguments first.

I did not say that B16 gave no particulars. I said (to paraphrase) that he mainly gives what appear to be platitudes and near tautologies, insofar as he deals with the Church's social principles, the things that the Church is on solid ground with: love, and commit to the truth. DO good, and avoid evil. Cooperate rather than beat into submission. Well, it seems to me that men of good will have already accepted that message. The next part of his message goes a bit further, and is probably the only truly original part: we need a new world order founded on gratuitousness. (By the way, does anyone know what B16 used in the original - I am not confident that "gratuitousness" really captures in English what he wants here. It unfortunately has overtones coming from phrases like "gratuitous sex and violence". Are there any other words that would help clarify just what he intends?) The additional developments he makes seem pretty much proposals in the form of the negative: the standard economic model of pure competition is not OK, the standard political model is no longer OK, the old social forms are not doing OK any more. It's not "private" or "public", but both/and. Well, yeah, anyone with a shred of sense and acumen saw that a while ago, including my 19-year-old daughter.

And then finally he gets down to a few particular proposals that don't seem to make sense, like a world government that has gone through enough reform and enough soul-changing to respect subsidiarity, and is founded on a brand new wisdom of cooperation and gratuitousness, but is in place soon enough to deal with the current economic crisis.

I guess the thrust of my complaint here is that he seems to skip over the middle area that is the area that really needs fleshing out: what are the forms of international government/union/capital development that might work? We walk away having no clue what such a development might look like. What are the outlines of a form of social nets that both do a better job of catching the poor, without taking away personal initiative? He doesn't say. We have known for decades that pursuing one automatically places the other in tension, nothing in the encyclical shows us a way around that difficulty.

Now, about food and water. You say Imagine that. Natural resources are goods to be shared, not possessions to be hoarded or weapons to be withheld from starving peoples.

Did you mean that natural resources are not to be treated as private property? I hope not. B16 asks us to consider the human person as having a vocation to gift. But one cannot make a gift of what one does not have.

IN any event, you did not really address my argument: if people have a right to food the in the same sense that they have a right to life, then every time a person eats at a feast, he has sinfully denied a hungry man his rights. If rights really mean rights, then the fact that there is a starving man someone in the world today while I have food on my shelf for tomorrow means a direct repudiation of his rights. If rights don't really mean rights, then he should have said so.

All in all, your comments reflect on my tone and tenor, but not my actual points. Instead of showing how my points are in error, you say that I am not sufficiently respectful of the Universal Pastor of the Church. You may be right, but only if my arguments are wrong.

Tony
So, where does CV diverge from previous encyclicals, or is this how you react to all of them?

You now say B16 is a dull recycler of cliches, but entirely fail to engage his anthropolgy. Until you do, I suspect you'll find reading him
perplexing, boring and unnerving, as your escalating hostility confirms.

As for the relationship of water and food to the right to life, the latter is dependent on the consumption of the former. To deprive those living in Gaza or a hospice in Florida of either is a crime. Water and food are gifts from God. We are obligated to be as generous with others as He has been with us. Does that upset our wordly assumptions and proclivity to possess, exploit and dominate? Sure. B16 is saying we must make a gift of ourselves and see what we "own" through the eyes of Christ instead of the logic of the exchange.Unoriginal? Or a well-delivered threat to our moral complacency and self-centered conception of "rights" and neurotic fear of obligations

Your tone is a match for your substance and in sincere charity suggest you consider the distinct possibility that any failing here lies with you and not Benedict. I'm at the Jersey shore, grateful to those who rescued the ocean from sinful abuse and hope you get to celebrate Creation as well today.

Kevin, after meditating on my posts after Mass and Communion today, I will agree with you so far: what the Pope is proposing is not likely to be quickly and easily digested and disposed of. Perhaps I should give him more time, and wait longer and study more before forming decided, final conclusions.

I will not accept your accusation that I am unable to get beyond my partisan understanding of politics in grasping his statements. I have, since my teens, regularly feasted on works proposing dozens of novel forms of political, cultural, theological, and social arrangements - everything from Heinlein's line-marriages, to C.S. Lewis's martian tri-racial harmony. I can imagine lots more unusual proposals than the Pope's suggestions. I have, regularly, argued for novel solutions to others that defy both conservative and liberal attitudes on a given problem. If a solution really solves, I don't care where it lands on some artificial spectrum of thought.

To deprive those living in Gaza or a hospice in Florida of either is a crime. Water and food are gifts from God. We are obligated to be as generous with others as He has been with us. Does that upset our wordly assumptions and proclivity to possess, exploit and dominate? Sure.

Let's take out the word "deprive" and see if you can go back to answer my question. I have food in my house sufficient for today and tomorrow. The fellow in Sudan whose crop failed because the military did maneuvers on his field has no food for today, much less tomorrow. I did not "deprive" him of anything. Is that Sudanese right to food a right that of itself implies that I am obliged to take tomorrow's food off my shelf and send it to him? Let's make it more stringent: I did have food for a whole week, but I gave Saturday's food to a family down the street, and I gave Friday's food to a family in the next county, and I sent Wednesday's food to some flood victims. Am I somehow engaged in "exploitation or domination" if I fail to send Tuesday's food to the Sudanese?

More generally: in the context of life, a "right" to life reflects the fact that a life will continue on unless someone deprives them of it. In the context of food and water, the term "right" is ambiguous, because food must be consumed to be any use and does not of itself become refreshed and renewed, and it does not do this but through someone's effort (along with God's providence). There is a fundamental difference between "depriving" someone of life (or food) and "not providing" someone with new food with my effort.

The other unmentioned categorical notion here is the concept of sufficiency and surplus. While we ought to be generous with our surplus, and we may be gratuitous with even what we need, we sometimes must not give away what those dependent on us need.

Tony
You forget that the Pope's audience is a global one where access to food and water is often denied on the basis of national, racial, religious, or tribal identity. Such practices pass for geopolitical strategy for post-Christian world powers.

You misread the text as there is no need to tell Benedict that charity that results in the starvation of one's dependents is disordered. I think your scenario is overwrought given the huge disparity in wealth and use of resurces between the North and South hemispheres. Water and the land capable of yielding food constitute a spiritual commons. Neither hoarding, nor a perverse paternalism that cripples the development of local economies are allowed.


Again, your initial reaction was framed by a demystified First World paradigm of property rights.Take a giant step outside modernity's false consciousness and think with the Church. The root of our crisis is too few saints.Read Ratzinger's earlier works and tackle CV anew. Right now a sitdown between the 2 of you might be awkward.

Again, your initial reaction was framed by a demystified First World paradigm of property rights.Take a giant step outside modernity's false consciousness and think with the Church.

That's just exactly why I asked you to begin with whether you thought the Church's position is that you don't have private property rights, or (to be more on point) you don't have property rights about food when someone else is starving.

I take it as exceedingly annoying that you constantly harp on the "huge disparity" between North and South, and "paternalism" and "hoarding" as if I was guilty of them, or defended them. None of my posts provide a position that supports any of that. You have no idea how much money I have sent to Africa to support efforts to feed the destitute, whether out of my surplus or out of my need. You have no idea how much effort I have expended to help others see the need for same. How can you possibly lecture me on it without incredible presumption?

There is more to this than whether I personally, or you personally, do or do not participate willingly in the injustices that are common in developed nations. There are principles involved, one of which is private property as such. Are you suggesting that food is not a matter subject to private property ownership, according to the Pope's teaching?

I take it as exceedingly annoying that you constantly harp on the "huge disparity" between North and South, and "paternalism" and "hoarding" as if I was guilty of them, or defended them.

I didn't accuse you of supporting practices of which you are apparently unaware. Your ignorance of their prevalence was excusable, if disconcerting. The manipulation of Food and water when referenced to in CV, invoked your instinctive reaction of; "Oh my God this utopian world planner is coming after our groceries" Oh well.

I have no interest in answering what I consider to be absurd insinuations about a hidden agenda to establish a New World Order antagonistic to private property rights. Benedict, like his predecessor, has been challenging established modes of thought for some time now and howls of resistance typically occasion the release of encyclicals.

Thanks for taking the time to alert me to what you perceive to be appallingly malign strains lurking within CV. I will, as you gathered, now happily disregard them, confirmed in both the wisdom of Catholic Social Teaching and the difficulties it presents to all of us.

I will, as you gathered, now happily disregard them,

Yes, but will you happily retain the Catholic social teaching on private property as well? If so, perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten us as to how to get around the conceptual difficulties between allowing for private property while asserting that people have a right to food. (If you don't see the conceptual problem, then you haven't thought through the issue - or my comments - very well.)

If you can manage to do so without making a distinction about rights that has not yet been made in this context, I will immediately apologize profusely (and, honestly, as well).

Tony:

St. Thomas Aquinas defended private property while also insisting on the right of the starving man to steal food. Perhaps you should examine his arguments.

Best,
Mike

Mike, I did years ago, with some depth, and with complete satisfaction. I had no problems with the way St. Thomas delves into the issues.

If memory serves, St. Thomas does not employ a premise that the starving man has a "right" to food. Perhaps you can remind me where to look so I can refresh my memory.

Look, there are lots of ways of trying to describe the inter-dependent involvement we have with each other as persons together with the world God has given to us to use. One of them is to talk about possession of private property. Any good Catholic who reads the encyclicals knows that the natural law that is embodied in private ownership of property is not the ultimate law regarding the stewardship of the natural world. I don't disagree with that. I accept it quite happily.

If one is going to talk about "rights" though, one is automatically entering into a sphere of discussion in which many have tried to warp the concepts and distort the natural law to fit another paradigm. That troubled discussion CANNOT be avoided if you start throwing around the word "rights", and you cannot be clear in your meaning without making distinctions in different modes of "right". For example, the starving man example does not give the man a "right" to simply take whatever food he comes across to avoid starvation - what if he (unknowingly) takes the food from someone equally in dire straights. And what if 3 different starving men try to take the food? Even in the face of need, the proper owner retains some rights of choice over allocation of the food. Furthermore, even in need, the starving man has no right to take food from one specific individual without first giving that specific individual an opportunity to gratuitously make an act of charity and give him the food he needs (assuming the owner is available to be asked).

The semantic problem is on the front page today with the "right" to health care. It is claimed that people have a "right" to health care in a similar sense as people having a "right" to life, intending to be understood to mean that people have a right to have the state pay for health care the same way the state pays for protection of life. But that sort of smearing of distinctions will damage the common good rather than aid it. Even if it is socially worthwhile for the state to pay for some health care (which I am willing to entertain), arguing for it by saying that people have a right to that arrangement is not a way of clarifying the truth.

Tony:

I agree that the problem you've identified is semantic unclarity about the notion of a "right." It seems to me that CV by itself does little to clear up the problem. That's why it has to be read with an unprejudiced mind in the overall context of prior social teaching. I'm not saying you refuse to do that; the task is, after all, one for which few people have both the time and the ability; and even though I think you have the ability, you may not have the time. The lesson I'd stress is one that I stress in other areas of theological controversy: it's a lot easier to harp on apparent inconsistencies than to follow the more demanding path of harmonization. That's why so many more people do the former than the latter.

Best,
Mike

Now Tony you keep insisting you've read previous encyclicals while acting shocked at this one, leading me to doubt whether you have read any.

Worse, you invoke the lexicon of the materialist in order to assail CV; the concept of sufficiency and surplus and traipse out wonkish sounding phrases warning of; the conceptual difficulties between allowing for private property while asserting that people have a right to food.

Every year since our ancestors made their way out of the primordial muck, wise men have been holding conferences with clever variations on the same theme:
"There has to be Less of Them, if there is to be Enough for Us". And every year, the food supply increases even as its distribution and consumption remains scandalously uneven.

Making the case that the right to property trumps the right to sustenance is made by solipsistic libertarians (redundant, I know) And obsessing about the looming food shortage is a pastime of misanthropic liberals put out by lines at the Aspen airport and offended by the propensity of our little brown brothers to propagate and pray to a God that their betters know to be dead.

I don't see the right to food and the right to property as being in opposition, but instead hold each as being inextricably and sacramentally linked. If a conflict does arise between two, well your real beef (no pun intended) it is not with me, but with guys like this;

At the same time it differs from the programme of capitalism practised by liberalism and by the political systems inspired by it. In the latter case, the difference consists in the way the right to ownership or property is understood. Christian tradition has never upheld this right as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.
John Paul II http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exerce


I will immediately apologize profusely (and, honestly, as well).

No need Tony, really. Not to me anyways.

Worse, you invoke the lexicon of the materialist in order to assail CV; the concept of sufficiency and surplus

Gee, I thought a standard Catholic manual from the 30's, along with St. Thomas, and the Bible (see the parable of the widow's mite), were not likely to be guilty of being written in the lexicon of a materialist, but apparently I was wrong. OK, I will stop using those sources.

Kevin, how is it that I can be said to have a beef with JPII's On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.

when I explicitly acknowledged just this very point: Any good Catholic who reads the encyclicals knows that the natural law that is embodied in private ownership of property is not the ultimate law regarding the stewardship of the natural world. I don't disagree with that. I accept it quite happily. Indeed, JPII's thought was in my mind when I wrote that.

Kevin, are you even aware that there is a stream of Catholic philosophy, relatively well respected and wholly orthodox, which maintains that the notion "a right" is not viable mode of understanding of reality: that what we have are duties and obligations, which make a given action right to do for example? And when a given action is not 'right to do' one cannot possibly have "a right" to do it.

In any case, (whether they are entirely correct or not, that is - I am not totally conversant with the underpinnings of the theory), there is no question that bandying about the term "right" without stating your precise meaning, and relying rather on 'past teaching' to clarify the point, is fraught with difficulty. Even when your precise intention /i> is exactly and perfectly in conformity with the earlier teachers' intentions, to the extent that the current document presents new, original development, or even new expressions, there cannot but be doubt among people as to how to understand the old concepts in light of the new presentation. Especially among people who have only imperfectly absorbed the earlier teaching to begin with. And if the current document intends to push the understanding of the concept to a new level, relying on the old document to clarify the meaning is, perhaps, odd, isn't it?

It puts me in mind of the occasion the relator for Vatican II's Dignitatis Humane, the person responsible for explaining the meaning of the document in troublesome places, and making sure its meaning was in conformity with Tradition, when asked how the document is to be squared with traditional teaching on a certain point, said (apparently with satisfaction) that the reconciliation of the new document with traditional teaching is something that will have to be worked out with future study [my paraphrase], as if this were an acceptable sort of answer. Doesn't that sound to you kind of like an accountant telling you after completing an audit that "the reconciliation of the books is something that will be established at some later date, after I think about it some more." It does to me. Hopefully the books can be reconciled, but until the reconciliation is explicit, there is some concern about the validity of the audit.

You are telling me that B16's teaching is in conformity with the Church's prior social teaching. I am not denying this. I am saying that his presentation of same presents issues: expressions where there are many easy and likely ways to misunderstand the Church's teaching.

Tony,
I am not much interested in "streams of Catholic philosophy", especially if they lead to an interminable and tortorous deconstruction based on convoluted and often casutic sophistry. Even now, maybe due to mental whiplash, or failure to actually read the 30,000 word document you've been crticizing, you miss Benedict's stress on obligations.

“Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves. They are concerned only with their rights, and they often have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other people's integral development. Hence it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence[106]. Nowadays we are witnessing a grave inconsistency. On the one hand, appeals are made to alleged rights, arbitrary and non-essential in nature, accompanied by the demand that they be recognized and promoted by public structures, while, on the other hand, elementary and basic rights remain unacknowledged and are violated in much of the world[107]. A link has often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres.
Why you've taken the tact you have is baffling and known only to you and perhaps you're extremely patient family. As for myself, I worry less about how the Pope's words will fall on the ears of others than I do about my own inner receptivity and try to accept instruction from those who have earned their authority. Anything less risks becoming a sophisticated and self-deceptive flight from Truth - the hallmark of this age.

Kevin,

What's "casutic"?

Did you mean instead 'caustic' or something having to do with 'casuistry'?

Ari, I meant caustic. Thanks.

I am not much interested in "streams of Catholic philosophy",

Quite. Especially if in submitting to an actual endeavor to respect them because they at least attempted to respect 2000 years of Catholic development, they might lead to a deeper understanding of the Pope's document than you would otherwise have glibly passed over without effort.

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