Unit 4 Contents
What are your reactions to this unit on working life? Post comments below.
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Thank you v much for your positive and helpful comments. You’re right to pick up what the unit says re property rights (in expounding RN on p. 4.2.3). It doesn’t say enough to give a full picture of what CST says about this.
In fact in the decades after RN there was real debate among Catholics about what RN said on this, with some (mischief makers, as I’d see it) apparently claiming that RN’s defence of property ownership was unqualified and, in effect, indistinguishable from laissez-faire liberal defences of private property. This is why, in the next major social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno of 1931, Pope Pius XI directly addressed exactly this issue.
Indeed it was the first “particular point” (# 44) he addressed, after what can be as a long introduction reviewing RN. He aimed explicitly to clarify what RN had said on this. Among the points he made were these two:
First, he strongly insisted that nothing in RN (or any other Catholic teaching) “denied or questioned the twofold character of ownership, called usually individual or social according as it regards either separate persons or the common good… [The] twin rocks of shipwreck must be carefully avoided. For, as one is wrecked upon, or comes close to, what is known as ‘individualism’ by denying or minimizing the social and public character of the right of property, so by rejecting or minimizing the private and individual character of this same right, one inevitably runs into ‘collectivism’ or at least closely approaches its tenets.” (##45-46)
Second, he indicated that practices re. property vary in different times and places in ways that are consistent with proper recognition of personal ownership and the common good (#49).
What these points imply, I think, is that there are forms of both private ownership and common ownership that can damage the poor and contradict the common good – and others that don’t. In a v. strong statement about the limits to private property he said this:
[W]hen the State brings private ownership into harmony with the needs of the common good, it does not commit a hostile act against private owners but rather does them a friendly service; for it thereby effectively prevents the private possession of goods, which the Author of nature in His most wise providence ordained for the support of human life, from causing intolerable evils…; it does not destroy private possessions, but safeguards them… (#49)
The importance of this for public policy is maybe greater than ever!
I’ve not responded fully to what you say. Certainly the context of RN and QA was basically European. Maybe you could give more info on the specific examples of common ownership you mention?
Thank you very much for such a brilliant unit. It was very easy to read and key concepts very well explained. I didn’t have time to read the set readings to make the most of the unit, but despite this, it was very instructive. I particularly liked the discussion on conflict and social change and how the Catholic understanding of struggles for social justice differs from a class analysis.
I would like to make one comment: the discussion on work could benefit from a less European perspective. I know that the papal encyclicals on labour and capital are deeply rooted in the industralisation process that Europe underwent in late 19th century and the experience of communism which many European countries were under in the 20th c. But there is no reason why a discussion on work from a CST perspective cannot go beyond these documents.
The discussion on property rights for example could be linked to communal owernship of land which is still widespread today in indigenous communities. Communal ownership doesn’t mean communism, as the encyclicals seem to imply. There are many forms of democratic communal ownership. This communal ownership of land is the site of many bloody conflicts today, from Latin America to India to the Papua New Guinea, given that indigenous communities often live in resource-rich land. Advocating private property rights in these contexts is often a form of colonisation and further the exploitation and disposession of indigenous communities.
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