Positive Law Must Guarantee Fundamental Human Needs Are Met

 I think that I am caught between a rock and a hard place in trying to find somewhere to rest my weary head in the combative American political landscape.  There are those who believe that Government is pretty much inherently incompetent in dealing with economic interventions of any sort.  There are those who see multinational corporations as ruling the world and hiding behind “free market” rhetoric, and politicians serving their interests primarily over and above the interests of the common good. There are those who see Trade Unions as parasitic entities siphoning money away from innovation and investment in more work and workers in the future. Others see Environmental groups as part of the Leftist Movement away from Christian theology and ethics. Still others see the Church as just another large Institution, trying to impose a brand of morality on all people- or speaking out on areas it has no business advising- like business-, while not doing very well at cleaning up their own messes.

I do think that I tend in a more statist direction than most self-described conservative Catholics I encounter. I fear government’s power more because of the characters who are running the show, than because of an innate fear of government itself.  It’s like the throwing the baby out with the bathwater scenario- because of all the bad apples making bad decisions regarding our common governance, it is tempting to say the heck with it- burn the parliament building down! I suppose I am more of a ‘mend it don’t end it’ sort in the way I interpret Catholic social doctrine on the proper role of governance and political authority. I think that you have to have the ability to respond with representative governing authority to the largest threats to the common good- be they from corporate sources, unionist sources, internal or external threats of a violent nature.

I don’t agree with the corporate welfare strategies of pouring public monies into huge bail-out offerings to failed institutions that created their own demise through incompetence or destructive greed. I would love to have an audit of the Federal Reserve Board, and even wean us off the Fed entirely at some stage.  But I am in favor of huge public investments in big projects like the Space Program, Game-Changer High-Tech research like Fusion Energy, Coordinated Management of Environmental Resources, National Guard for Homeland Security and Emergency Response, National Electrical Grids, High-Speed National Train Transport Routes, and Assisting the Social Work of America’s Church communities- providing funding for the human services, not interfering with the Gospel message.  I see the role of our political authorities at every level, in setting a high bar for the Right to Life, and related human rights- all in the context of our personal and social responsibilities to serve the universal common good. 

In short, I believe in Truth/Freedom- freedom alone won’t cut it- freedom without truth is no freedom at all- there has to be a very clear link to the Natural Law at every strata of society- in governance, in business, in unions, in communities,  in the schools, and by way of promotion and public assistance where necessary- in our homes.  All of this takes money- governance and all it entails takes money- we can’t simply print money and make everyone a millionaire- obviously. But we don’t always have balanced budgets in our homes- we take loans that are affordable and bring long-term benefits- like in our university educations, our homes, our transportation, and we invest some of our money in private and public ventures- to pool our money with other people for our common protection, our common good in many areas of need.  I don’t see a way to becoming an enthusiastic supporter of any of the major ideologies and political parties right now. So, I just stick close to the Church and such gifts as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church- and I take in passages such as these from Paragraphs #388 and #389

b. Defending and promoting human rights

388. Considering the human person as the foundation and purpose of the political community means in the first place working to recognize and respect human dignity through defending and promoting fundamental and inalienable human rights: “In our time the common good is chiefly guaranteed when personal rights and duties are maintained”.[787] The rights and duties of the person contain a concise summary of the principal moral and juridical requirements that must preside over the construction of the political community. These requirements constitute an objective norm on which positive law is based and which cannot be ignored by the political community, because both in existential being and in final purpose the human person precedes the political community. Positive law must guarantee that fundamental human needs are met.

389. The political community pursues the common good when it seeks to create a human environment that offers citizens the possibility of truly exercising their human rights and of fulfilling completely their corresponding duties. “Experience has taught us that, unless these authorities take suitable action with regard to economic, political and cultural matters, inequalities between citizens tend to become more and more widespread, especially in the modern world, and as a result human rights are rendered totally ineffective and the fulfilment of duties is compromised”.[788]

The full attainment of the common good requires that the political community develop a twofold and complementary action that defends and promotes human rights. “It should not happen that certain individuals or social groups derive special advantage from the fact that their rights have received preferential protection. Nor should it happen that governments in seeking to protect these rights, become obstacles to their full expression and free use”.[789]

21 Responses to Positive Law Must Guarantee Fundamental Human Needs Are Met

  1. Joe Hargrave says:


    Thanks for balancing out the perspectives around here. We may not agree quite so much anymore, but I don’t think your views are unreasonable at all.

  2. c matt says:

    I didn’t find too much to disagree with. I certainly agree that the problem lies more with the cretins who run things rather than the institutions themselves. Perhaps the only thing I may quibble with is the likelihood of meaningful reform. I see very little chance of it.

  3. Tim Shipe says:

    Thanks Joe and Matt- I would only add that while I support going into debt for some important development projects as mentioned above- I think the problem is that we get into spending that is wasteful and corrupted as in earmarks, and the foreign aid programs that act counterproductively- either by destroying local producers or by providing corporate welfare whereupon the foreign “aid” must be spent on donor nation’s corporate products- be it food, military or other. So- this is why I can’t just support blind faith in Big Government and deficit spending- it all depends on what action “Big” Government is taking and what particular investment is being made using the public trust and funding. I just don’t want to be caught out with a representative political authority that is too weak to enforce a natural law-based juridical system on large corporate and/or union interests. For corporations are not set up to be dedicated to the common good- they typically focus exclusively on maximizing profits for their investors- and unions often take an interest in maximizing their own power over that of the common good. Governing authority or civil authority is in existence for one thing if properly understood- to ensure the universal common good- which is best approached by embracing the total package of social teaching themes which comprise our Catholic social doctrine- that’s the blueprint- we can and must get creative and adapt to conditions- but that is the mission of government.

    I know that Libertarians and Republicans will have more differences on economics than is commonly assumed- I know many libertarians call mainstream Republicans “corporatists”, and I’ve seen a few things by libertarians that challenge the notion that corporations should be considered as legal persons under law, with limited liability and ability to provide massive subsidies to failed executives of failed corporate enterprises. So- there seems to be a few differing ways to get to some of the same end effects which allow for a business economy, but prevent socialism and neo-liberalism from taking over system-wide.

  4. Elaine Krewer says:

    Occasional deficit spending by governments wouldn’t be a bad thing at all PROVIDED that those same governments ran surpluses during periods of prosperity and set those surpluses aside in a “rainy day” fund. An OCCASIONAL budget hole/deficit isn’t the end of the world.

    The problem is that our federal government, and many state/local governments, have gotten accustomed to constant deficit spending over many years and just keep digging a deeper and deeper hole. At that point, only very drastic action will stop the hole-digging, and the only people prepared to take that kind of action seem to be the ones chanting the “government bad, private enterprise good” mantra.

  5. Blackadder says:

    I fear government’s power more because of the characters who are running the show, than because of an innate fear of government itself.

    Yes, but you have to ask yourself: why is it that governments always seem to end up being run by those sorts of characters? Is this just a coincidence? A run of bad luck? Or is there something in the nature of government that will either prevent the best from running things (as in Hayek’s Why the Worst Get on Top), or will corrupt them once they do (as in Acton’s Power Corrupts).

  6. Tim Shipe says:

    I will say that a big part of myself will be pleased to see the dominant secular humanist/pro-abortion/pro-Gay=Race rights Dems pushed out of power- but when you get folks who think government has no role in directing anything but national defense in power- not much actual good is going to happen- the fact is that we need leadership, we need visionaries with political power- the common good isn’t served well by taking on the ideology that absolute freedom in pursuing personal monetary profit is the greatest good we can expect from our civilization. Again, freedom is not the end game- Adam and Eve are the poster children for “Freedom”- true leadership requires more – prudence, just laws, the seeking of a civilization of love from the top-down and bottom-up- these are areas where our Catholic social doctrine gets it right, and the Right and Left in American politics is tone deaf- the clanging gongs are everywhere, on every side from my observation. I feel like I am watching a national championship game where both top teams are hateful, spiteful, cheaters with amoral coaches and administrations, and “me first” star players- with maybe one of the teams being a bit more despicable, so if that team loses, I may feel just a wee bit better- but not good, not even close.

  7. Joe Hargrave says:


    I think we have to accept that the state cannot force men to be charitable with their property. This is to remedy one injustice with another.

    Some things must be left to God to judge. A person who is selfish with their goods during their time on Earth, will undoubtedly be judged for this sin in the next life. Meanwhile the poor man, like Lazarus of the Gospels, will be comforted and fulfilled.

    This isn’t to say that there is NOTHING the state can do, but it is clear to me that the preference, at least for Leo XIII and Pius XI, is for voluntary social organizations organized on the basis of Christian charity.

    It’s to our great detriment that many of us live compartmentalized and anti-social lives; but the antidote to this evil can’t be a regime of forcible wealth redistribution, massive bureaucracy, and restrictions of just and legitimate liberties.

  8. Elaine Krewer says:

    “This isn’t to say that there is NOTHING the state can do, but it is clear to me that the preference, at least for Leo XIII and Pius XI, is for voluntary social organizations organized on the basis of Christian charity.”

    I personally think the main reason big government got so big is due to the weakening/collapse of the family and “voluntary social organizations” such as churches and private charities. Someone had to take up the slack they left behind, and guess who that was.

    I also note that Utah was recently rated as the nation’s most “fiscally responsible” state; it also enjoys a growing economy and no (or a least a very minimal) budget deficit. Hmmm, what does Utah have that other states don’t…. could it be a predominant religious culture (Mormon) that stresses family, industriousness, preparing for emergencies, and helping out your fellow believers in time of need?

  9. Tim Shipe says:

    From osjspm.org:

    Answers to Questions 16 to 20
    about Catholic Social Teaching

    The following questions and answers are from an excellent introductory work on Catholic social teaching entitled Responses to 101 Questions on Catholic Social Teaching by Kenneth R. Himes O.F.M. This material is used with the kind permission of Paulist Press. For more details on this book and information on how to order it follow this link.

    16. Among the key social institutions is the state. What is the role of the state according to CST?

    CST has a high view of the state because the state is understood first as an institution that serves the common good. Few things are so clearly expressed in CST as the claim that the state is to protect and promote the common good. Pius XII made the point that “the state, then, has a noble function; that of reviewing, restraining, encouraging all those private initiatives of the citizen which go to make up national life and so directing them to a common end” (“Address to Eighth International Congress of Administrative Sciences,” August 5, 1951). John XXIII saw this role as the rationale for the state’s very existence: “the whole reason for the existence of civil authorities is the realization of the common good” (Pacem in Terris, #54).

    Viewing the state this way then leads to a more positive evaluation of its role in social life rather than an outlook that envisions the state as a necessary evil or even an oppressive authority stifling individual freedom. That said, one can still discuss a host of other matters such as the proper role of the state vis-a-vis other social institutions, what form of government is best, what the power of the state is. CST has expressed itself on these matters and has further specified the role of the state. But the key idea is that the state must serve the common good of society.

  10. CatholicLawyer says:

    “Positive law must guarantee that fundamental human needs are met.”

    But how do we go about guaranteeing that fundamental human needs are met. To me, this is the fundamental issue. The solution cannot be based on injustice. As has been stated before by many on this site, Joe, et al., you do not fix one injustice by instituting another injustice. I think Elaine hinted at a possible solution to the issue – Family. Until we promote the family – until the family becomes the focus of society (second only to God), we will continue to have serious social, political, and economic issues. I am not talking about “it takes a village” – this is progressive speak for socialism. We all know the problems society is having because of the destruction of the family and devaluating the natural roles of males and females. Look towards the issues many minority groups are having because fathers have been removed from the family. Research on elephants has shown that when there are no older male elephants in the group the young male elephants become violent, destructive, and disruptive to the good order of the group. This is similar to inner cities. I do not profess to know the solution but I do enjoy reading everyone’s input on this site.

  11. Joe Hargrave says:

    Yes, I understand, Tim, how one could argue that “CST has a high view of the state” – but you also should understand how the word “state” has changed over time, and how it is used in different contexts.

    To just assume that a Christian state, and a purely secular state, hold the same status in CST is to blatantly disregard Leo XIII.

    Rerum Novarum, 32: “By the State we here understand, not the particular form of government prevailing in this or that nation, but the State as rightly apprehended; that is to say, any government conformable in its institutions to right reason and natural law, and to those dictates of the divine wisdom which we have expounded in the encyclical On the Christian Constitution of the State.”

    Is this our state?

  12. Tim Shipe says:

    It is the business of Christian citizens to create a State that has a government conformable in its institutions to right reason and natural law- that is my complaint- neither the Right or Left, Republicans, Democrats, Tea-Partiers or Libertarians seem fit to create such a State- they either want a more powerful government in order to things against right reason and natural law, or they want to dismantle the political authority creating many mini-state or anti-state governing bodies pushing the Church back into the role She assumed when the Barbarian (our collective moral fiber at present isn’t much to brag on) tribes ran amuck- which led the Church into more dubious political entanglements-

    In any case- here is more from the osjspm.org source- the Diocese of St.Paul Minnesota seems to have a ton of resources relating to social doctrine thought- http://www.osjspm.org/25questons.aspx

    Here is a lot more from their 25 questions section:

    11. When I hear language like “serve the common good” I begin to worry about personal freedom. Some talk about the common good sounds an awful lot like socialism. Isn’t the common good a socialist idea?

    No, not at all. Of course, a lot depends on how you define your terms but CST draws upon classical sources like Aristotle as well as patristic and medieval sources such as Augustine and Aquinas for the idea of the common good. These far predate the advent of modern socialism. What CST reflects, as I have mentioned previously, is a communitarian outlook which highlights the claims that arise out of social life. It is a way of thinking as old as the prophets when they called upon Israel to care for the “widow, orphan and alien” or Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in which the neighbor is a category broader than most of us would define it.

    In the culture of a nation like the United States, where individualism is the ruling presumption, any rival perspective which upholds personal duties and obligations that accrue from the experience of shared life defies the conventional wisdom. As such it can be branded as socialism. Doing so may permit some to dismiss CST as being part of a failed social philosophy like the discredited approaches of twentieth century communism. That is why it is important to be clear about what we mean.

    Extreme renderings of personal freedom or unregulated markets are at odds with appeals to the common good. When properly understood, however, democratic freedoms or market-based economics are not antithetical to the common good. Indeed, the argument of CST is that neglect of the common good leads to the undermining of such political and economic arrangements. Calling attention to the common good is simply a way of pointing out that human beings are not meant for isolation but are essentially social creatures who achieve their perfection in and through the creation of genuine community where pursuit of the good is a shared endeavor.

    14. Could you say more about social justice and how it relates to the other forms of justice?

    CST relies upon a traditional three-fold distinction of legal, distributive and commutative justice. Legal justice pertains to the common good and covers those aspects of determining what an individual’s responsibility is to the community, be that society or the state. So the obligation to obey laws which serve the common good arises from legal justice. Or the obligation to contribute one’s fair share of time, talent and/or money to the common good is due to legal justice. Recently, some have used the expression contributive justice rather than legal justice. The reverse side of legal justice is distributive justice, which addresses the relationship of the community’s responsibility to the individual. How are we to apportion the benefits and the burdens that exist in the community? Distributive justice is the aspect of the virtue which rules these decisions. Various approaches to distribution exist, but generally speaking, CST gives prominence to the category of need as the first for assessing fair distribution and one’s ability or resources when assessing burdens. So only after the basic needs of all are taken care of should other factors be permitted to influence distribution of goods, and with regard to burdens those who have more are expected to bear more.

    Commutative justice is that realm of justice which governs the relationships of individuals to one another. We should remember, however, that a modern corporation is frequently understood as a moral person. Thus, the relationship of an employee to a business may be directed by norms of commutative justice. So fair dealing between employer and employee, between consumer and vendor, between borrower and lender is the sort of relationship which fall under the rubric of commutative justice.
    Although the term “social justice” was given passing reference in some Vatican documents before Pius XI, it was that pope who made it a common term in CST. Subsequent popes have frequently appealed to social justice. While exact precision in the way the term is used in CST is not to be found, one theologian has suggested we think of it as a “political virtue,” having to do with the “creation of patterns of societal organization and activity” whereby human rights are respected and participation in social life is guaranteed for each person (David Hollenbach, “Modern Catholic Teachings Concerning Justice” in Justice, Peeace, and Human Rights, pp. 16-33). This corresponds with the revised Catechism that sees social justice as governing “the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1928).

    Social justice is necessary if we are to have communities where commutative, distributive and legal justice flourish. To assess a topic through the lens of commutative justice requires that we acknowledge also the setting in which the moral actors are situated. For example, the late Monsignor John Cronin, an advisor to the American bishops on economic matters, described a controversy in the late 1950s when he argued that according to commutative justice payment of a living wage was a requirement of all employers. If correct, this argument placed a huge burden on some employers in industries where profit margins were slim or in business sectors that were in recession. Cronin records how he was challenged to rethink his position once he understood the requirement of a living wage fell under the principle of social justice, not commutative justice. (John Cronin, “Forty Years Later: Reflections and Reminiscences” in a collection of essays on CST edited by C. Curran and R. McCormick, Readings in Moral Theology: Official Catholic Social Teaching).

    Thus, it was not the individual employer acting in isolation who had to pay a living wage. Rather, it was a duty of society to reorganize economic life so that payment of a living wage was possible by responsible employers and social assistance would be available to supplement the income of those workers who could not earn such a wage due to inadequate productivity or economic hard times. Similar sorts of examples about the misreading of obligations could be given about legal justice (requiring an unemployed person to contribute monetarily to the common good) or distributive justice (treating the duty of feeding the hungry as if it fell to an individual acting alone). Without consideration of social justice the burdens placed on individuals or groups to act justly become unwieldy and unrealistic. Social justice is an essential dimension to the moral life since it makes other forms of justice feasible as norms to obey.

    17. What are those norms governing the state’s role?
    Two norms are especially important: subsidiarity and socialization. Regarding subsidiarity, the classic text is from Quadragesimo Anno. Plus XI wrote: “It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by lesser and subordinate bodies” (#9). Put more concretely, the person in need looks to the family for help; if the family is in need one looks to the neighborhood or local community; if it is the town in need one looks to the county; if the county requires assistance one looks to the state; and if the state cannot meet the need one tums to the national government. Thus, recourse for assistance should not automatically be to the national government but there is no opposition to such recourse if circumstances require it.

    Subsidiarity reflects CST’s opposition to the reduction of human association outside the family to just one form. Subsidiarity prevents any sort of collectivist or totalitarian outlook that permits the state to dominate all other forms of communal life. It is a norm that warns against any state assuming too great a role in public life, but it also warns a state not to fail in fulfilling its duties to promote the common good.

    For this latter reason subsidiarity must be balanced by another procedural norm, socialization, described by John XXIII (Mater et Magistra, #59-67) and adopted by Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes, #25). Socialization notes that the growing complexity of modern life and the experience of various forms of interdependence result in a tendency to form new organizational structures both public and private. A larger role for the state, then, while not without its dangers, is not wrong in principle, Indeed, it may be necessary to achieve “an appropriate structuring of the human community” (Mater et Magistra, #67). The error is to rely upon a single ideological premise to settle all cases (either a simple opposition to government action or the consistent appeal to national government for intervention). Rather, the proper balancing of the two procedural norms of subsidiarity and socialization is to serve solidarity (see Q. 33).

    18. Can we summarize subsidiarlty to mean that “smaller is better” or “the less government the better”?

    Not exactly, although some have tried to use it that way, as an argument against government. That would, of course, contradict what has just been said about the state being a highly prized social institution in CST. The Latin root of the word is the noun subsidium which means help, aid or support. In other words, the principle of subsidiarity has to do with the degree of aid or assistance needed in order to accomplish a task or meet an obligation.

    In CST the idea is that one should seek assistance at the closest level to the agent or agency in need. When a smaller social unit is either unable or unwilling to meet the obligation it becomes necessary to turn to the larger social unit. Some agents are simply overwhelmed by a need or a problem and require the resources of a larger social entity. For example, it is doubtful that even extended families can address social problems such as street crime or drug trafficking. Larger social institutions must be utlized.

    At other times, an agent is able but simply refuses to satisfy reasonable expectations and a larger social agency must intervene. This is precisely what happened in the U.S. civil rights struggle when some southern states refused to enforce desegregation policies. In response the federal government stepped in to correct unjust practices.

    Instead of “the less government the better” the principle might be better summarized as “no bigger than necessary, no smaller than appropriate.”

    20. Among the basic rights of labor which CST has proposed is that of a just wage. What is meant by a just wage?

    This expression, a just wage, is also termed within the tradition a living wage, a family wage or just compensation. It is a fundamental teaching of CST for it is closely linked to human dignity. People have a legitimate claim based on their dignity to those essential material goods that meet basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, health, education, security and rest—this is the minimum condition of wage-justice. Ordinarily, it is to be expected that an able-bodied person will obtain the basic goods through labor, either as the fruit of one’s work or in exchange for it. This is a long-standing presumption within the tradition.

    By the time of Leo XIII, however, this presumption had been undercut due to the working of the labor market in the emergent industrial order. Classical liberalism’s defense of free markets included the principle of free contract, that is, a just contract was one that the signees entered into freely. In practice, this meant many workers desperate for a position took jobs for paltry wages that were inadequate for meeting basic needs for themselves and their dependents. Leo forthrightly criticized such an approach and challenged the doctrine of free contract by asserting that justice, not freedom, is the governing norm of contracts. And justice, rooted in human dignity, meant that a just wage is one which allows a worker and family to live in “reasonable and frugal comfort” (Rerum Novarum, #34).

    Later popes such as Pius XI and John XXIII have acknowledged that determination of a just wage entails assessment of specific and concrete social conditions: the fiscal health of the business, the cost of living, market forces, the role of other actors–local, national and international. There is no fixed, one size-fits-all approach to defining a just wage. But the conviction is that wages must be determined by more than free consent of the contractual parties. As such, concern for justice and rights must be factored into determination of what constitutes a just wage.

    21. Is the church’s teaching on capitalism one of approval or disapproval?

    This is one of those questions where the answer can only be given once it is clear what is meant by capitalism. John Paul II put the question to himself about whether capitalism is a model to be followed. He answered: “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…” (Centesimus Annus, #42). So clearly there is an understanding of capitalism that the church approves.

    On the other hand, John Paul also stated: “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” (Ibid.). Very much in keeping with the legacy of CST, John Paul is wary of a capitalism which exalts freedom to the extent that justice, rights, the common good and human dignity are sacrificed. This is why he stipulates that economic freedom be understood in the context of a “strong juridical framework.” A false capitalism takes one part of human freedom, economic liberty, and makes of it the whole story.

    Within CST there is an appreciation for the utility and virtues of a market economy. But this fundamental acceptance of a free market economic model is always tempered by concerns that self-interest not override the common good, that unregulated freedom not lead to exploitation of others or of creation, that appreciation for material prosperity not create false understandings of human development and well-being.
    Perhaps a fair summary of the position of CST on capitalism is that it gets a conditional approval; it is not inherently wrong but false renderings of capitalist economics, which have existed in the past and continue in the present, must be opposed.

    One can comb through the documents of CST and find a list of ills in capitalism to be remedied. It is possible to arrange the list of papal concerns under four headings: (a) establishment by the state of a juridical framework to regulate market operations, (b) communal provision of basic goods/services for all, (c) promotion of personal and group morality, and, finally, (d) protection of voluntary associations and other elements of civil society (Daniel Finn, “John Paul II and the Moral Ecology of Markets” in Theological Studies, vol. 59 [1998] pp. 662-79).

    Juridical framework means that government must establish fair and wise regulations that permit markets to function optimally for human well-being while still respecting individual freedom. Second, any economy must see to it that no one is deprived of essential goods or services because of not having sufficient capital. However the economy operates, it must have in place a means whereby the community can guarantee that a person’s basic material needs are satisfied.

    One of the dangers in modern times is that market forces are being extended into areas of life where they do not belong. Just as the extension of government into all realms of social existence violates the principle of subsidiarity so, too, something similar can be said about economic markets. It is important that social groupings of family, church, neighborhood, fraternal and sororal clubs, recreational and educational organizations and the like should function by their own logic and ethos, not that of the market.

    22. Has the teaching on private property evolved over the years?

    Private property serves several worthwhile ends according to CST. It permits workers to meet their basic temporal needs; it also allows workers to gain some financial stability for their families; it offers security for the future, especially in old age; it rewards hard work and frugality; it serves as a means of protecting personal liberty; it permits workers to be creative and to exercise serf-determination. In addition, the social institution of private property is a useful way to see to it that people will assume responsibility for the proper care of God’s creation (#5-7).

    A right of possession of property, however, ought not be equated with right of use. People may abuse their possessions and use them improperly. Such abuse should be challenged and may even be restrained for the common good: “Public authority, in view of the common good, may specify more accurately what is licit and what is illicit for property owners in the use of their possessions” (#49). Abuse does not cancel the right of private property ownership. The corollary of this is also true; regulation of use does not violate the right of ownership of private property (Ibid.).

    The development of the teaching on private property has been in the direction of underscoring the social dimension of private property. Pius XI affirmed the “twofold aspect of ownership, which is individual or social accordingly as it regards individuals or concerns of the common good” (Quadragesimo Anno, #45). Plus XII retrieved the patristic theme of the universal destiny of all goods as the context for thinking about private property (June 1, 1941 Pentecost Address). There can be a diversity of ownership schemes that should be left to particular customs and statutes of a society. Any such scheme “remains subordinated to the natural scope of material goods and cannot emancipate itself from the first and fundamental right which concedes their use to all” (Ibid.).

    In effect, the raising up of the social dimensions of ownership has led CST to insist not only on the individual right of private property but the “social duty essentially inherent in the right” (Pacem in Terris, #22). Paul VI explicitly denied that the right to private property can be considered “an absolute and unconditioned right” for “the right to private property must never be exercised to the detriment of the common good” (Populorum Progressio, #23). This principle extends to the case that “the common good sometimes demands expropriation” (#24).
    According to John Paul II all property has a “‘social mortgage,’ meaning it has an intrinsically social function based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #42). While it remains true private property is a right that is “valid and necessary” it is important in the face of widespread poverty to affirm “the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all” (Ibid., italics in original).

  13. Mike Petrik says:

    Food, shelter and health care are fundamental human needs. If positive law guaranteed them just a bit better than it already does I would not need to work. I’m tired of work. Been at it way too long. Don’t even have time for a blog. Let’s make this happen soon.

  14. Tim Shipe says:

    My last comment may have been too long and got stopped by the auto edit here- but here is a link to the large offering of opinion over at osjspm.org on various related subjects- I also answered Joe a bit more in a email- so if he wants to include mention of it in a follow-up critique it may be helpful-


  15. Art Deco says:

    Positive Law Must Guarantee Fundamental Human Needs Are Met.

    Positive law does not breast feed.

    I don’t agree with the corporate welfare… But I am in favor of huge public investments in big projects like the Space Program, Game-Changer High-Tech research like Fusion Energy, Coordinated Management of Environmental Resources, National Guard for Homeland Security and Emergency Response, National Electrical Grids, High-Speed National Train Transport Routes,

    Got it.

    and Assisting the Social Work of America’s Church communities-

    There was an agency erected during the Johnson Administration called the Office of Economic Opportunity. The Nixon Administration managed to dismantle it – for a reason.

  16. Nate Wildermuth says:

    Joe, you wrote, “I think we have to accept that the state cannot force men to be charitable with their property.”

    May the state force men to be just with their property?

  17. Joe Hargrave says:

    Nate, sure. In extreme cases. See my posts on Locke.

  18. Nate Wildermuth says:

    I read them, and here’s the quote I’d like to explore:

    It is absolutely illegitimate for the state to force people to be charitable with their property, save in extreme cases, and naturally we will have disputes on just how many scenarios fall within that description.

    Are you saying that slight violations of human rights are not injustices, but only extreme violations?

  19. Nate Wildermuth says:

    Did I convolute that question enough? Are you saying that ‘extreme cases’ define injustice (and therefore warrant state action), or are you saying that ‘extreme cases’ of injustice warrant state-action?

    To restate, is ‘extreme cases’ a reference to justice as a whole, or is ‘extreme cases’ a reference to a sub-section of justice whose gravity requires state intervention?

  20. Joe Hargrave says:

    Well, I think, and I think both Locke and Leo/Aquinas thought it as well, there are situations of hardship that can either be extreme – and thus fall under “justice” (human law) – or not extreme (though bad enough) which would fall under “charity” (Christian obligation).

    I hope that answers the question.

    And I really hope people, not you in particular Nate, can move past this idea that someone who doesn’t believe that the state has a right to force charity is ipso facto a “social darwinist”, as one recent commenter thought to describe me.

  21. Nate Wildermuth says:

    I think you’ve done a good job, Joe, of showing that the state must not force charity. Benedict XVI’s encyclical God is Love states that pretty explicitly, too. Personally, I’m more of an anarchist than anything else. But I find your line of argument unconvincing, mostly with reference to ‘extreme’ being the defining line of justice vs. charity.

    Leo’s use of ‘extreme’ occurs in a parenthetical, while the modern Church teaching (as presented in the Compendium of Social Doctrine) points out that the State has the duty to use positive law to protect and promote human rights. It doesn’t say “but only in extreme cases”.

    While one could make a prudential argument that the state works best when it only intervene in cases of extreme injustice, I don’t think you can make a principled argument to that affect. It is the state’s job to defend all violation of human rights–not simply gross violations.

    How does it do so? In principle, subsidiarity and solidarity are a more useful, and well-defined, concepts than the idea of ‘extreme cases’. In practice, that may very well mean only intervening in cases of extreme need. AH, but well, anyway. I babble. Peace, Joe.

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