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Separated Shoulders, Part II: A Detailed Critique of “On all of our shoulders”

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Part II:

The following is part II of my detailed critique of the primary claims made in “On all of our shoulders”

Once again, I will quote many statements from the document in the order in which they are written, and then follow with a critical assessment. The quotes from the document will be preceded by Oaoos:, and my comments will be preceded by OVV:

Oaoos: “5 Principles of Catholic Social Doctrine Most in Danger of Being Forgotten or Distorted

1. The Catholic view of the human person is social not individual.”

OVV: On the contrary, the Catholic view of the human person is both individual and social, with a primary emphasis on each person made in the image of God. This claim by Oaoos is a serious distortion of Catholic Social Doctrine, and the signatories should be ashamed of themselves for claiming their distortion is a principle of Catholic Social Doctrine. It does, however, reveal their biases toward Paul Ryan and other supporters of more free market and less government to best serve the common good.

More importantly, throughout the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, many clear statements of the Church’s balanced view are set forth, but for purposes of this critique, consider the following wisdom of section 106:

106. All of social life is an expression of its unmistakable protagonist: the human person. The Church has many times and in many ways been the authoritative advocate of this understanding, recognizing and affirming the centrality of the human person in every sector and expression of society: “Human society is therefore the object of the social teaching of the Church since she is neither outside nor over and above socially united men, but exists exclusively in them and, therefore, for them”. This important awareness is expressed in the affirmation that “far from being the object or passive element of social life” the human person “is rather, and must always remain, its subject, foundation and goal”. The origin of social life is therefore found in the human person, and society cannot refuse to recognize its active and responsible subject; every expression of society must be directed towards the human person.

Oaoos: “Congressman Ryan has stated that he learned from Rand to view all policy questions as a ‘fight of individualism versus collectivism.”

OVV: Since Paul Ryan made the comments cited above in 2005, he has clarified his position on many occasions to indicate his rejection of the kind of individualism the Church rightly condemns. Moreover, all of his actions in Congress, including his proposals to save Medicare, Social Security, and so on make it abundantly clear to all who wish to objectively judge Paul Ryan’s positions and proposals that he does not espouse the kind of individualism the Church opposes. If he did, he would call for the elimination of almost all government programs instead of proposing ways to reform them.

Oaoos: “2. Government has an essential role to play in protecting and promoting the common good.

The error of individualism leads to a mistaken understanding of the role of government. For too long politicians have echoed Ronald Reagan’s misleading mantra ‘Government is the Problem.’”

OVV: This is not a misleading mantra, especially when taken in context that the Oaoos refuses to provide. Reagan’s statement, very similar to Paul Ryan’s and the Church’s teaching, is based on the idea that the government is the problem when it unnecessarily interferes with private and voluntary initiative that can actually serve the common good better than the government can.

The essential role to play by the government does not mean ever more government spending and programs. It could even include tax breaks to organizations to help the common good. Do such things ever occur to the signatories of the Oaoos?

Oaoos: “Catholic apologists for small government repeatedly invoke a single paragraph from John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus which cautions against the excesses of a ‘social assistance state’ ignoring the decades-long papal consensus supporting social insurance and welfare systems.”

OVV: So dismissive and so wrong, and perhaps intended to diminish Centesimus Annus because it does not agree in large part with the views of Oaoos. Catholic advocates of small (and wiser) government accept All of the wisdom contained in Centesimus Annus (1991), and it is Oaoos that selects but one small section of Centesimus Annus while falsely chastising small government advocates by claiming they are limited to referencing one single paragraph from the document,…as if they do not accept any others. Below is a fairly extensive sampling of some of the excellent statements found in Centesimus Annus that Oaoos either ignores or dismisses or otherwise tries to diminish. Upon reading and appreciating the wisdom contained in these statements, you’ll understand why Oaoos avoids almost all of them:

If Pope Leo XIII calls upon the State to remedy the condition of the poor in accordance with justice, he does so because of his timely awareness that the State has the duty of watching over the common good and of ensuring that every sector of social life, not excluding the economic one, contributes to achieving that good, while respecting the rightful autonomy of each sector. This should not however lead us to think that Pope Leo expected the State to solve every social problem. On the contrary, he frequently insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the State, and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them. (Centesimus Annus, #11)

OVV: Note in particular the last sentence above. It dovetails in quite easily with Paul Ryan’s social views. Also note the true emphasis on the Catholic view of the human person.

Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order. From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property. A person who is deprived of something he can call “his own”, and of the possibility of earning a living through his own initiative, comes to depend on the social machine and on those who control it. This makes it much more difficult for him to recognize his dignity as a person, and hinders progress towards the building up of an authentic human community. (Centesimus Annus, #13)

OVV: Hone in on the reference to attaining some ownership that Paul Ryan also promotes in order to help people become less dependent on a social machine.

It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are “solvent”, insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are “marketable”, insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market….It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. (Centesimus Annus, #34)

OVV: Helping those in need acquire expertise is the smaller government approach that desires true development for all people.

Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (Centesimus Annus, #42)

OVV: Wow! An endorsement of the market economy tempered by just laws, along with religious and moral considerations. This is precisely what Paul Ryan and other Catholic small government advocates believe, and it is at the core of their proposals.

These general observations also apply to the role of the State in the economic sector. Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principle task of the State is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labours and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly….Another task of the State is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the State but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society. The State could not directly ensure the right to work for all its citizens unless it controlled every aspect of economic life and restricted the free initiative of individuals….

In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called “Welfare State”. This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the “Social Assistance State”.

Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending….Centesimus Annus, #48)

OVV: A devastating critique of the excesses of the Social Assistance State. This is precisely what Paul Ryan also criticizes.

During the last hundred years the Church has repeatedly expressed her thinking, while closely following the continuing development of the social question….Her sole purpose has been care and responsibility for man, who has been entrusted to her by Christ himself:….We are not dealing here with man in the “abstract”, but with the real, “concrete”, “historical” man. We are dealing with each individual, since each one is included in the mystery of Redemption, and through this mystery Christ has united himself with each one for ever….(Centesimus Annus, #53)

OVV: Note the special emphasis on “each individual.” Is Blessed Pope John Paul II guilty of individualism by emphasizing the Church’s proper focus on each individual?

Conclusion of the Critique to Follow Soon.



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