Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Although it is not a major theme of Caritas in Veritate, education is not unrelated to the “integral development” of homo socialis, of man in society, and what the Pope says about it is significant. He ties it in to the search for a wisdom capable of integrating the different aspects of our divided culture – a chaotic cultural state which reflects our degraded and fragmented image of man.
“Paul VI had seen clearly that among the causes of underdevelopment there is a lack of wisdom and reflection, a lack of thinking capable of formulating a guiding synthesis, for which ‘a clear vision of all economic, social, cultural and spiritual aspects’ is required. The excessive segmentation of knowledge, the rejection of metaphysics by the human sciences, the difficulties encountered by dialogue between science and theology are damaging not only to the development of knowledge, but also to the development of peoples, because these things make it harder to see the integral good of man in its various dimensions. The ‘broadening [of] our concept of reason and its application’ is indispensable if we are to succeed in adequately weighing all the elements involved in the question of development and in the solution of socio-economic problems” (31).
The broadening of reason is, of course, a theme not just of this encyclical but of his whole pontificate. Here he emphasizes that it must involve collaboration between the various separated academic disciplines under the umbrella of charity (which implies an important role for theology, correctly understood). In fact it is the nature of love as the highest form of knowledge that makes the new synthesis possible.
“In view of the complexity of the issues, it is obvious that the various disciplines have to work together through an orderly interdisciplinary exchange. Charity does not exclude knowledge, but rather requires, promotes, and animates it from within. Knowledge is never purely the work of the intellect. It can certainly be reduced to calculation and experiment, but if it aspires to be wisdom capable of directing man in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends, it must be ‘seasoned’ with the ‘salt’ of charity. Deeds without knowledge are blind, and knowledge without love is sterile” (30).
But all of this implies an adequate anthropology. The Catholic faith gives us an understanding of the human person in which all the divided pieces fit together, but the world around us continues to divide, and therefore to promote systems of education that erode and corrode our very humanity.
“The term ‘education’ refers not only to classroom teaching and vocational training — both of which are important factors in development — but to the complete formation of the person. In this regard, there is a problem that should be highlighted: in order to educate, it is necessary to know the nature of the human person, to know who he or she is. The increasing prominence of a relativistic understanding of that nature presents serious problems for education, especially moral education, jeopardizing its universal extension” (61).
There are, of course, many books that I could recommend for a deeper study of this question. (I have had a go at writing one myself, called Beauty for Truth’s Sake.) The one I want to single out here is a wonderful little book of essays by Thomas J. Norris called Getting Real about Education from Columba Press. Influenced by Newman, Balthasar and Lonergan he writes, very much in the spirit of Pope Benedict,
“The human being is in fact an image of infinity, being made in the image and likeness of God, and being born with an insatiable hunger for communion with mystery, love, truth and beauty. To disconnect the education of the human being from the integral identity of the human being is to deform and not to educate. Such a person may have everything he or she needs, except a reason to live and a reason to die! If the university project is severed entirely from the moral and spiritual, then the weight of knowledge, scientific technique and technology will crush out of existence the springs of love that are in the world – the family, the community, the volunteers” (p. 12).
By the way, a recent book by James Tooley looks interesting. Called The Beautiful Tree, it tells the story of private education among the world's poor - not mission schools for the rich, or government schools, but co-operative, community schools. This connects with our item above, dated 1 August, which concerns the cooperative movement. Tooley's book is recommended by

Saturday, 25 July 2009


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”.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

CONTROVERSIES: 5. A Distributist Manifesto?

On 11 July 2009, the international conference of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture took place at St Benet's Hall, Oxford, on "Distributist responses to the global economic crisis". A full report by one of the four speakers, Allan Carlson, can be read here. As the report mentions, the first speaker, Phillip Blond, wasted no time in claiming the new papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, as "a decisive repudiation of neo-liberal economics and an open embrace of Distributist principles", perhaps even a Distributist manifesto. At the same time, he urged Distributists "to give more thought to how their goals can be made relevant to urban majorities."

Writing in the Guardian, Adrian Pabst, a colleague of Blond's, outlines the Pope’s radical call for a new political economy “that transcends the old secular dichotomies of state vs market and left vs right.” He concludes that “Taken together, these and other ideas developed in the encyclical go beyond piecemeal reform and amount to a wholesale transformation of the secular logic underpinning global capitalism.”
“The state enforces a single standardised legal framework that enables the market to extend contractual and monetary relations into virtually all areas of life. In so doing, both state and market reduce nature, human labour and social ties to commodities whose value is priced exclusively by the iron law of demand and supply.

“However, the commodification of each person and all things violates a universal ethical principle that has governed most cultures in the past – nature and human life have almost always been recognised as having a sacred dimension. Like other world religions, Catholic Christianity defends the sanctity of life and land against the subordination by the ‘market-state’ of everything and everyone to mere material meaning and quantifiable economic utility – an argument first advanced by Christian socialists like Karl Polanyi and his Anglican friend RH Tawney."
That is why we find the Pope writing in the encyclical that "the exclusively binary model of market-plus-state is corrosive of society". According to Pabst, instead of defending civil society in its current configuration, Pope Benedict wants to see the market-plus-state "embedded within a wider network of social relations and governed by virtues and universal principles such as justice, solidarity, fraternity and responsibility."
“Concretely, the pope encourages the creation of enterprises operating according to mutualist principles like cooperatives or employee-owned businesses, for example the Spanish-based cooperative Mondragon which has over 100,000 employees and annual sales of manufactured goods of over $3bn. Such businesses pursue both private and social ends by reinvesting their profit in the company and in the community instead of simply enriching the top management or institutional shareholders. Benedict also supports professional associations and other intermediary institutions wherein workers and owners can jointly determine just wages and fair prices."
In section 39 the Pope picks up on the teaching of an earlier encyclical, Rerum Novarum, to the effect that "the civil order, for its self-regulation, also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution." (This is something Pabst downplays.) But Pope Benedict adds that this redistribution of wealth by the State is today "evidently insufficient to satisfy the demands of a fully humane economy." Thus he is led to propose something more radical, which Pabst calls a "third way". His summary: "labour receives assets (in the form of stake-holdings) and hires capital (not vice-versa), while capital itself comes in part from worker and community-supported credit unions rather than exclusively from shareholder-driven retail banks." Furthermore, "the world economy needs to switch from short-term financial speculation to long-term investment in the real economy, social development and environmental sustainability."

Those on the free-market side of the social debate are grasping at straws when they dwell on the fact that the Pope has not condemned markets as such (why would he?). They tend to quote the passage where he says “it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility” (adding “it is man's darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se”). But these sentences in section 36 are sandwiched in between some of the Pope's strongest assertions of the need for structural reform of the economic sphere to include ethical concerns from the outset.

We may want to avoid the term “third way”, with all its complicated associations, just as we may wish to avoid the term “Distributism”. No doubt a new term is needed – perhaps we should speak of an “integral” or “fraternal” economy. But whatever we call it, the Pope is certainly pushing for a “new humanistic synthesis” and a “new vision for the future”, because he says so (in section 21).

More on Distributism here.

The picture shows a true "Distributist manifesto" - a new collection of essays by some of the best contemporary writers in the Distributist tradition, published earlier this year by IHS Press. See also this new edition of the best book on "evolved Distributism", Jobs of Our Own by Race Mathews.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

CONTROVERSIES: 4. The Rise of the Machines

We seem to be haunted by the fear of our machinery and what it is doing to us, or what might happen when it goes wrong. According to landmarks of popular culture such as the Terminator and Matrix movies and Battlestar Galactica, sooner or later the machines will turn upon us. They will use us as a source of energy, or treat us as a biological infection to be expunged. At best they will regard us with disdain. J.R.R. Tolkien dramatized the dangers of technology and the dark side of globalization in his novel The Lord of the Rings. In his letters he refers to the Ring of Power as “the Machine” – a symbol of the attempt to gain power over the world. Sauron “exteriorizes” himself in the form of the Ring in order to bind others, but in so doing he paradoxically makes himself weaker, just as we have done to the degree we have become dependent on our technology. C.S. Lewis described the same process more philosophically in The Abolition of Man.

Pope Benedict offers an unprecedented papal critique of the “technocratic mindset” in his 2009 encyclical Charity in Truth. On the one hand, “Technology enables us to exercise dominion over matter, to reduce risks, to save labour, to improve our conditions of life” (69). On the other hand, it can become “an ideological power that threatens to confine us within an a priori that holds us back from encountering being and truth. Were that to happen, we would all know, evaluate and make decisions about our life situations from within a technocratic cultural perspective to which we would belong structurally, without ever being able to discover a meaning that is not of our own making” (70). That is a perfect description of the premise of The Matrix.

Benedict’s critique rests on a profound Christian anthropology, a sense that we receive our own existence from God, that truth is a “given”, and that our true freedom lies in respect for the “call of being” (70).
“Our freedom is profoundly shaped by our being, and by its limits. No one shapes his own conscience arbitrarily, but we all build our own ‘I’ on the basis of a ‘self’ which is given to us. Not only are other persons outside our control, but each one of us is outside his or her own control. A person's development is compromised, if he claims to be solely responsible for producing what he becomes. By analogy, the development of peoples goes awry if humanity thinks it can re-create itself through the ‘wonders’ of technology, just as economic development is exposed as a destructive sham if it relies on the ‘wonders’ of finance in order to sustain unnatural and consumerist growth. In the face of such Promethean presumption, we must fortify our love for a freedom that is not merely arbitrary, but is rendered truly human by acknowledgment of the good that underlies it. To this end, man needs to look inside himself in order to recognize the fundamental norms of the natural moral law which God has written on our hearts.” (68).
We have come to rely on “automatic or impersonal forces” to improve our lot, but this is a mistake. “When technology is allowed to take over, the result is confusion between ends and means, such that the sole criterion for action in business is thought to be the maximization of profit, in politics the consolidation of power, and in science the findings of research” (71). There must be “moral consistency” between ends and means. That is to say, technology must be at the service not of our desires and intentions, but of truth, and in particular the truth of the human person who is made for love.

The implication of all this is radical. The Pope is calling on us to change the way we think and act.
“Technologically advanced societies must not confuse their own technological development with a presumed cultural superiority, but must rather rediscover within themselves the oft-forgotten virtues which made it possible for them to flourish throughout their history. Evolving societies must remain faithful to all that is truly human in their traditions, avoiding the temptation to overlay them automatically with the mechanisms of a globalized technological civilization” (59).

Saturday, 18 July 2009

CONTROVERSIES: 3. Homo Economicus

What is all this about "gratuitousness" in the market? The Pope's Caritas in Veritate has planted several little bombs under conventional economic thinking. One of the most important is an attack on homo economicus. In section 34 the Pope writes that “Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension.” Thus “economic, social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity.” Over and over again the Pope insists that “in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity” (36). This is why he calls for new types of economic entity and wealth-creation that do not seek profit as an end in itself (38).

The idea that we are made for self-gift is more familiar to Catholics in the context of papal teaching about marriage and the family. Its most famous reference point is in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially section 24 of Gaudium et Spes, which states that man “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself”. This was unfolded by John Paul II into a theology of the body. Pope Benedict applies it to economics, rejecting the idea of “economic man” – the individual acting always in his own interest, a model favoured in business schools the world over – in favour of homo socialis, whose “self-interest” is actually the interest of others and of the group. We are made in such a way (he argues) that our true self-interest is served by giving of ourselves to others. He deepens this point by a “metaphysical interpretation of the ‘humanum’ in which relationality is an essential element” (55) in chapter 5.

This changes everything – but we may not immediately see how. One place to look for clarification is a brilliant 2003 essay by Dr Adrian Walker (an editor of Communio and translator of the Pope's book Jesus of Nazareth) called “The Poverty of Liberal Economics”, now published online for the first time on the Second Spring site. It can be found in Doug Bandow and David L. Schindler (eds), Wealth, Poverty and Human Destiny, which brought together writers from different points of view to discuss the triumph of capitalism. Walker argues precisely for the point made by the Pope – that the market is not morally neutral, and that (in his words) “the best, most central paradigm for understanding free economic exchange is not contract among self-interested strangers, but gift-giving among neighbours” (p. 23). In fact, only a “communion of giving and receiving… can unlock for the individual the wealth of his being as a person” (p. 33). By contrast, the market of pure exchange, far from generating genuine wealth, engenders the “ontological poverty” expressed in boredom, stress, alienation, misery.

Walker also shows how liberal economics is based on an inadequate sense of economic freedom, profit, justice and value. Liberal economics guarantees neither real freedom nor real prosperity. He calls for us to address the “necessary task of developing an economics of gift” (p. 42), to reconsider the well-being of local economies, and to decentralize economic power according to the principle of subsidiarity. Like Pope Benedict, he offers a humanistic critique of technical “efficiency”, and claims that “conventional economics, deeply shaped by the liberal tradition, gets economics itself wrong by separating it from theological considerations” (p. 46). For the “neutral” economy that takes no stand with regard to God or the nature of man is a pure illusion.

For further study: Lewis Hyde, The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World (Random House, 1979); Kenneth L. Schmitz, The Gift: Creation (Marquette University press, 1982), and The Recovery of Wonder: The New Freedom and the Asceticism of Power (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005); and especially Joseph Ratzinger, Chapter 5, Introduction to Christianity (Ignatius Press, 2004), where he talks about Trinity, person, and relation. See also my article "The Theology of Gift".

More notes on controversies sparked by the encyclical to follow. For an overview of the document itself see below.

Friday, 17 July 2009

CONTROVERSIES: 2. Population control

Is there a population problem? Yes and no. The Zenit news service, which has been running a helpful series of commentaries on the new encyclical, recently interviewed the president of CESPAS (the European Center for Studies on Population, the Environment and Development). Riccardo Cascioli points out that the Pope rejects the view that population increase is the cause of underdevelopment. There is a demographic crisis, but “it is that of the developed countries, which for more than 40 years have a birthrate lower than that of the generational replacement level. In many countries, he says, attempts to reduce population have
“diverted important resources needed to promote true development projects. Moreover, the savage application of these policies – as in the cases of China, India and other Asian countries – has caused grave social disequilibrium, of which the absence of hundreds of thousands of women is merely the most striking aspect. It is no coincidence that this encyclical does not use the concept of ‘sustainable development,’ which is based precisely on a negative view of population.”
Some care in needed here. The Pope does talk of, and advocate, sustainability – for example when he says in section 21 that “The economic development that Paul VI hoped to see was meant to produce real growth, of benefit to everyone and genuinely sustainable,” or when he speaks of “investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology that can make the best use of the human, natural and socio-economic resources that are more readily available at the local level, while guaranteeing their sustainability over the long term as well” (27), and by implication elsewhere when he argues for taking a long-term view, and for “inter-generational justice” (48).

As far as population control is concerned, the Pope rejects coercive population policies and the fostering by developed nations of an “anti-birth mentality” which is too often confused with cultural progress, arguing instead that “Openness to life is at the centre of true development” (28) and “Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource” (44). He points out the disastrous economic consequences for developed nations of a population failing to replace itself, as well as the positive contribution that a youthful population and large families can make to economic as well as social development. The Church has to remind the world that sexuality “cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the ‘risk’ of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality”. But he is speaking of “responsible procreation” (44), for he trusts human beings, couples and families to make the right decisions if they are educated and informed.

There are certain technical controversies the Pope does not venture into. One of them is the question of “carrying capacity” – whether of particular countries or of the earth itself. But what has become increasingly clear to everyone in recent years is that population growth, even if it causes problems in many areas and will cause more in the future, is less of a problem than the technology with which it impacts on the environment. More on that another time.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

CONTROVERSIES: 1. Global governance

The Pope’s comments in his new encyclical on the “urgent need of a true world political authority” that would have “the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums” (67), have attracted a great deal of concerned comment. Could this be a recipe for global tyranny? But the Pope adds: “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, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth.” In section 57, he has already said:
“In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together. Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued. This authority, however, must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way, if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice.”
What does this imply? The Pope does not think that international law should be determined by “the balance of power among the strongest nations” (67), but nor should it be dictated by some arbitrary authority. The authority should not be arbitrary but governed by the principles he has outlined. Furthermore, its only role is that of serving and coordinating the other “layers” of political authority. How this could be done – if it is possible at all – is for others to work out. “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States.’ She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation” (9).

Also read John Zmirak on "The Pope and Global Tyranny" at Zenit, and Robert A. Gahl Jr's summary article on the encyclical on MercatorNet. Professor Gahl usefully clarifies the point made above concerning global governance by noting:
"some infelicitous translations in the preliminary but official English translation of the encyclical (for instance, 'polyarchic' is rendered as 'stratified', 'polycentric' as "many overlapping layers', and 'Monti di Pietà' as 'pawnbrokers'). The use of 'stratified' rather than 'polyarchic' might seem to imply a clumsy addition of bureaucratic layers of statist government agencies. In contrast, Benedict advocates polyarchic authorities of governance so that a higher, or simply complementary, authority may safeguard the pursuit of a globalized common good while also fully respecting the principle of subsidiarity. By proposing polyarchy, the Pope offers an innovative principle while entrusting its detailed policy implementation to technical experts capable of adjusting the principles in accord with our rapidly changing world."
See also a helpful piece in First Things by Douglas Farrow. More notes on controversies sparked by the encyclical will follow soon. For my own overview of the document see below.

Monday, 13 July 2009

SUMMARY of the Encyclical

Love in Truth is uneven in style - not uncommon in such documents - and has been roundly criticized for incoherence by George Weigel, but I find it an extremely impressive text. It naturally has to cover a vast field, but it does so brilliantly, consolidating and updating the teaching of previous popes (particularly Populorum Progressio and Centesimus Annus) in the light of changed circumstances, but also boldly advancing strong arguments that take Catholic social teaching to a whole new level. As anticipated in previous posts, there are echoes of John Milbank's point that "we need a new sort of market, and a new sort of politics, in which economics and politics are no longer defined in isolation from each other (exclusive regard for the power of money, or the power of law)." Similarly, Michael Sandel had spoken of the fundamental importance of remembering life as a "gift", and stated that "Economics is not a 'value-neutral science'." While avoiding reference to certain specific controversies around “capitalism” (he prefers to speak of the “market economy”) and “climate change” (he speaks of our responsibility to preserve natural resources), the Pope maps out the principles that must guide us in engaging with these controversies and others.

Closely related to the Pope’s two previous encyclicals, on Love and on Hope, this one starts from the fact revealed in Christ that “God is love”. Love is the heart of the Church’s social doctrine and as such is applicable to everyone, Christian or not. But what gives meaning and value to charity, saving it from sentimentality, is truth. Love is not merely a mood or a feeling, but “Logos”, intelligible order. This is what gives the encyclical its teeth, in line with the Pope’s appeal elsewhere to the need for us to broaden our concept of reason, rather than confining it to purely material concerns (31). In chapter 5 he describes the deepest foundation of human solidarity and subsidiarity, namely the nature of the human creature as spiritual, being “defined through interpersonal relations” (53), in the image of the Trinity (54), and growing to maturity by living these relations properly. The Trinity is the basis for diversity at every level within an overall communion. Thus the Pope calls for the social sciences to work with metaphysics and theology in order to do justice to “man’s transcendent dignity” as a social and therefore relational creature. We need “a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation” (53). Connected with this emphasis on wisdom and metaphysics is an insistence that God and theology cannot be excluded from the public realm (cultural, social, economic, political) without damaging or seriously distorting human development (56).

At a practical level, in response to the new circumstances – “global interrelations, the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing, large-scale migration of peoples, often provoked by some particular circumstance and then given insufficient attention, the unregulated exploitation of the earth's resources” (21) – the Pope advocates sustainable and holistic development that takes account of all the dimensions of the human person and remains open to the transcendent. In chapter 4 he examines several threats to the integrity of human development. One of these is the proliferation of rights detached from duties, which takes place when rights are no longer understood as rooted in the nature and authentic needs of the person. Another is the impoverishment of sexuality and the imposition of materialistic ideas and policies with regard to the family. Human development on every level will be thwarted by continued attacks on marriage, the unborn, the elderly. He mentions also the excessive centralization of certain development programmes, which take little account of the need for subsidiarity and effective local management. Finally, he stresses the enormous range of duties that arise from our relationship to the environment, which is bound up with our relationship to the poor and towards future generations. Nature is a gift of the Creator containing an inbuilt order which we must respect. Once again, stewardship of the environment cannot be separated from respect for human life, sexuality and the family – “the book of nature is one and indivisible” (51).

One important theme that runs through the encyclical is the inseparability of justice and charity (6). Giving and forgiving transcend justice but also complete it. This is developed further in chapter 3, which establishes the priority of the “gratuitous” (including truth as gift) over the contractual arrangements of the market (35). With this the Pope overturns the model of homo economicus – the self-interested individual who plays such a central role in textbook economic theory. Economic action and commercial logic cannot, he says, be detached from political action and the principle of the common good (36), for the economic sphere is never ethically neutral (36). Economic life depends on three “logics”: not only contractual exchange, but also political justice and unconditional gift (on which justice today depends). Flowing from this is a call to create space within the market for economic entities aiming at a higher goal than pure profit. The “principle of gratuitousness” is not to be confined to civil society or delegated to the State. It is to be fully integrated within the market through the presence (alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and various types of public enterprise, and hybridizing with them) of commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends – for example, by taking account of the interests of all the stakeholders and not just the shareholders (38, 40).

The Pope has opened the door here to the “new economics”, or the development of new economic entities that do not fit the old distinction between for-profit and non-profit enterprise, which perhaps make a profit but treat this always as a means to a social end, including cooperatives, credit unions, micro-finance, and the “economy of communion” (46) – not to mention new “hybrid” forms of economic activity that must be encouraged to emerge in the future (38). He has integrated this with a strong vision of human and environmental ecology, while purifying the latter of materialist ideology, and goes on in chapter 6 to tackle the whole question of technology, in which the distinctive problems of modernity come to a head. There many of these threads come together in his claim that “the development of peoples goes awry if humanity thinks it can re-create itself through the ‘wonders’ of technology, just as economic development is exposed as a destructive sham if it relies on the ‘wonders’ of finance in order to sustain unnatural and consumerist growth. In the face of such Promethean presumption, we must fortify our love for a freedom that is not merely arbitrary, but is rendered truly human by acknowledgment of the good that underlies it” – the fundamental norms of the natural moral law (68).

Technological progress is a legitimate response to God’s command to “till and cultivate” the earth, but this must be comprehended within the “covenant” between human beings and the environment which “should mirror God’s creative love”. Otherwise technology becomes an “ideological power” holding us back from being and truth. (There are important paragraphs on social communications and biotechnology in this connection.) Here as elsewhere, integral human development is prevented by a confusion between ends and means, as if our goal could be limited to the attainment of scientific knowledge, the consolidation of power, or the maximization of profit.

Human development, the Pope concludes, depends on our “rising above a materialistic vision of human events” to include the spiritual dimension, the “beyond” that technology cannot give (77), in a “humanism open to the Absolute” (78). In other words, we must become aware of our constitutive relation to the transcendent, our “calling” towards God for the common good of all, in love and truth.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Charity in Truth

The text of the new social encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI on globalization and 'integral human development' is called Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). The text can be read in English by following the link from the title. My own first comments follow, and a more detailed summary will be added in the next few days. (These comments were solicited by the Zenit news agency, which has also posted the official Vatican summary here. There is also an interesting new blog on social teaching by Andrew Abela of the Catholic University of America here.)

Without claiming that these are the most important features, there are four particular elements of this encyclical on “integral human development” that are worth mentioning because they have so far not been widely noticed.

1. It is closely interlocked with the Pope’s two previous encyclicals, on Love and on Hope, and forms with them a triptych on the Christian faith, in both its theoretical and its practical dimensions – Love and Hope grounded in Truth.

2. It takes Catholic social teaching to a new level by basing it explicitly on the theology of the Trinity and calling for “a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation”. Metaphysics is back.

3. It introduces a new principle – that of “gratuitousness” and “reciprocal gift” – which enables us to break the “hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State” (38, 39, 41). Economics as a human activity is not ethically neutral and must be structured and governed in an ethical manner; that is, in accordance with the highest ends of man. Economics and politics are not to be separated, because justice must enter into the economy from the outset, and justice is made perfect only in “giving and forgiving”. The radical implications of this principle for the market economy will need time to unfold.

4. Those in the Distributist, Green, and “alternative economics” movements will be encouraged that the encyclical opens the door to the development of alternative “economic entities” that act on principles other than pure profit, or which treat profit merely as a means to a social end, including cooperatives, credit unions, micro-finance, and the “economy of communion” (46). In fact it hopes that new “hybrid” forms of commercial behaviour will emerge in the marketplace in the future (38). It insists that the “weakest members of society should be helped to defend themselves against usury” (65), and insists that use of technology be subordinated to the “holistic meaning” of the human (70). It consolidates the strong environmentalist emphasis of John Paul II within Pope Benedict’s vision of integral human development, linking human to environmental ecology and the natural law (51). Man is called to be the wise steward of creation. The Church must defend earth, water and air as “gifts of creation that belong to everyone”, and help to prevent mankind from destroying itself (51).

In fact the Pope writes that it is “incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet” (50). But all this is set against a spiritual horizon, for we cannot achieve true solidarity with others without transcending our own selfish and material concerns in the “experience of gift” (34).

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Reith Lectures completed

Now that Michael Sandel has completed his four Reith Lectures on the BBC it is possible to look at them as a whole. (Transcripts and podcasts are available on the BBC Radio 4 website, and see below for comments on the first Lecture.) In some ways Sandel, whose religious allegiance is Jewish, has prepared the ground admirably for the forthcoming encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

Sandel was arguing, overall, for a 'better kind of politics', one oriented 'less to the pursuit of individual self-interest and more to the pursuit of the common good.'

First he showed that our present politics is too influenced by the ideology that allows markets to intrude where they do not belong - we have drifted 'from having a market economy to being a market society'. In fact not all values are quantifiable or economic, and not every good should be treated as a commodity.

In the second lecture he showed that the right way to value things (for political or other purposes) is to 'figure out the purpose, the end of the social practice in question'. This took him into Aristotle's theory of justice. He concluded that we cannot and should not avoid substantive moral questions in politics - questions of what we mean by the 'good life', which determine the nature of justice. We need a much more open and robust debate about this.

In the third, he applied all this to the question of genetics, and the growing threat of a new 'liberal' or non-coercive eugenics movement, which erodes our fundamental sense of human life and of our own talents and abilities as 'gift'.

Finally, in the fourth lecture, he spoke of the end of 'market triumphalism' and the need for a new philosophy of public life. We need to return to traditions of solidarity and civic virtue instead of trying to avoid moral questions by relying entirely on the mechanism of the market. Economics is not a 'value-neutral science'. The attempt to empty politics of moral controversy (by always trying to be 'non-judgemental') is actually 'corrosive of democratic life'. We should regard ourselves less as consumers and more as citizens.

'So rather than focus on access to private consumption, a politics of the common good would make the case for rebuilding the infrastructure of civic life; public schools to which rich and poor alike would want to send their children; public transportation systems reliable enough to attract commuters from all walks of life; public health clinics, playgrounds, parks, recreation centres, libraries and museums that would, ideally at least, draw people out of their gated communities and into the common spaces of a shared democratic citizenship.'
And he concludes that 'the virtues of democratic life - community, solidarity, trust, civic friendship - these virtues are not like commodities that are depleted with use. They are rather like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise.' 'A politics of moral and civic renewal depends... on a more strenuous exercise of these civic virtues.'

Well, it seems a bit like wishful thinking in some ways. Very true though! Lets see if the Pope can do better.