Saturday, 25 July 2009

CONTROVERSIES: 6. Justice

Love that moves the sun and the other stars...

One of the most remarkable discussions in Caritas in Veritate concerns the notion of justice. There are three main places where justice is discussed – first where it is compared to love, secondly where the notion of “rights and duties” is introduced, and finally in relation to the market. How the Pope’s treatment of this subject will end up influencing the development of “justice and peace” groups is anyone’s guess, but it has a close relationship to the more radical things he is saying about the economy.

Justice consists in giving to everyone what is due to them, what they have a right to, what “belongs” to them. The question is, what is due? And how do we know what is due?

Free-market liberals prioritize an understanding of freedom based on the assumption that all moral obligations stem from individual acts of will. In a contract, each party voluntarily binds itself to do or give something in exchange for something else. In a market-dominated society, the contract becomes the basic paradigm for all human relationships. Opposed to this is the traditional understanding that obligations (i.e. duties and rights as twin aspects of responsibility) are often prior to acts of will, because they flow from the relationships constitutive of our identity as creatures in society, creatures who are called to self-fulfilment through love; that is, self-gift.

Obligations such as the duty to pay one’s workers a just family wage, or to allow time for worship, or to preserve human life, are rooted in our constitutive relation to God, not in any decision to grant those rights in return for some advantage to myself. As the Pope says, “if the only basis of human rights is to be found in the deliberations of an assembly of citizens, those rights can be changed at any time” (43). Human rights are based on the needs of each person to fulfil himself according to his nature – that is what is “due” to us as persons – and on the duty of others to permit that fulfilment.

Henri de Lubac SJ brilliantly traced this back to a failure to admit the “natural desire for God” taught by Aquinas. If human nature has to be made to desire God by a supernatural influence upon it, it must have a natural fulfilment outside God. But the assumption of a natural order separated from the supernatural order proves to be the first step in establishing the autonomy of the natural and the total irrelevance of the supernatural (and of theology) to anything in the “real world” – a truly secular order, a novus ordo saeculorum.

In Caritas in Veritate the Pope insists that justice is “inseparable from charity” (6). It “demands justice”, in the sense of “recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples,” as a first step. For “I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them.” (Note the Pope’s emphasis on “legitimate” rights, which is clarified in chapter 4. Not everything we want is a right.) But there is also a sense in which justice demands charity, for the Pope adds elsewhere: “today it is clear that without gratuitousness, there can be no justice in the first place” (38).

De Lubac’s understanding of nature and grace helps us to understand this point. If justice is giving what is due to another in the integrity of their humanity, it must ultimately mean giving to them more than they have a right to expect. After all, I have no natural right to the vision of God, yet I am called to that vision nevertheless. In a sense we can only do “justice” to the integrity of their humanity by loving them (and that is perhaps why at Matt. 5:40 Jesus says, “if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well”). There is no purely natural man whose “due” is determined solely by his natural needs. For in fact our natural needs include the need for love, which is supernatural.

This is why the Pope insists that the market itself be governed not simply by commutative justice, “which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction”, but by distributive and social justice as well (35), and why he concludes that while “Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value…. it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift” (37). Thus the Pope’s new synthesis of justice and love leads directly to his proposal for a new “economy of fraternity”.

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