5.2.8 MM chapter II: State provision as a means to the common good

Back to 5.2.7

Unit 5 Contents

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Ironically, an effect of the misplaced debate about ‘socialization’ was to take attention away from the place later in MM where it does unambiguously endorse the possibility of “state and public ownership of property” (##116-117). This comes within a reading you will be asked to do in a moment.

But it will be helpful first to look again at the beginning of Chapter II. (This is the part of the last reading, set on 5.2.6, that comes before the section about civil society on which we have just focused.) As you re-read this short passage, look for what it says about what the state’s role can properly include.  Note that the reference in #52 to this role in the economy is pointing back to ##20-21, that is, to what RN said about the state’s responsibility to ensure justice for workers.

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Re-reading (2pp)

Mater et Magistra, ##51-58

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Our study in Unit 3 of how CST sees the role of government led to a concluding summary as follows (3.3.4):

In order for government to fulfil its role of distributive justice (or ‘social justice’, we can now say), it has the following tasks:

(i)  recognition and protection of civil society bodies, in line with the principle of subsidiarity,  (3.3.1)

(ii)  upholding of human rights, both benefit rights and freedom rights (3.3.2)

(iii)  civic direction (3.3.3)

Referring to (iii) and (i) here, CST holds together recognition both that government has to direct society positively to the common good and that the principle of subsidiarity places a negative limit on what government should do.  Just after the start of this reading, we find this expressed.  The state’s role involves “directing, stimulating, co-ordinating, supplying and integrating”, but, in doing all this, its guiding principle must be subsidiarity (#53).

It is subsidiarity that makes this position coherent: in all the state does, both with individual persons and with civil society bodies, the state is dealing with what is already there, what exists independently of it, and so has to be respected, indeed protected. Its directive role is vitally important, but the inherent limit to this is that it must not absorb or suppress what it directs.

We may see this position as assumed in the whole of Chapter II of MM.  The next reading comes from later in this chapter where the topic is property.1. There is a defence of private property (##108-112) and then an insistence that this must be distributed more widely (‘##113-115). After this there is the affirmation I mentioned above of the possible legitimacy of public ownership (##116-117).

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Reading (4pp)

Mater et Magistra, ##108-121

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In making the point about “state and public ownership”, Pope John quotes QA in order to show that this is not new in CST (#116, citing QA, #114).  The context in QA of the sentence quoted is Pius XI’s lengthy, sympathetic discussion of socialism, which was a reading at the end of Unit 3 (3.4.2).  This discussion reached the conclusion that, even though there is common ground between CST and socialism, they are not compatible (QA, #120).  MM does not depart from this.  The difference between CST and socialism may be characterised as follows.  Socialism advocates social ownership as though by definition: this is what socialism means.  In other words, socialism is committed to social ownership as a matter of principle. In contrast, CST is committed to the common good and justice as matters of principle (among others things).  Private ownership is, in general, most conducive to justice and the common good, but ensuring that these principles are upheld in practice can require “state and public ownership”.  Moreover, the extent to which this is so “is very much on the increase today”, Pope John says (in 1961). This is explained “by the exigencies of the common good, which demand that public authority broaden its sphere of activity“(#117).

Therefore MM teaches that for a government to bring an activity into social ownership may be right pragmatically, as a necessary means of bringing about justice and the common good.  This could be a part of manufacturing industry, such as steel making, or a service, such as health care.  Referring back to the last screen, CST therefore can sometimes favour ‘socialization’, in the first of the two senses given there.  There is no ambiguity about this.  When it does so, this is not as a matter of principle but as a pragmatic option, and might be, therefore, for a limited period only.

In fact, there are several points in chapters II and III of MM where we find recognition that state intervention of various kinds is a possible means to the end of the common good. (See, as well as ##116-117, ##52, 54, 60, 66, 104, 128-141.)  Social ownership is only one form of such intervention.

After all, “the justification of all government action is the common good” (#151).

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Reflection

In light of your knowledge of your own national and local context, do you think the private sector or the public sector – or, if neither, the ‘third’ or voluntary sector – is most appropriate for the following areas of activity?

Steel making

Water supply

Banking

Railways

Heath care

Primary education

Secondary education

Tertiary education

Housing affordable for people on low incomes

If you agree with CST that decisions about these should be made pragmatically to the end of the common good, but must respect the principle of subsidiarity, what are some of the factors that need to be considered?

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In Unit 3, the concluding summary of how CST sees the role of government, as quoted above, was described as “interim” (3.3.4).  This was because we did not at that point address fully three “further issues” – see 3.3.5.  These were left for later in the module.  We have now given more attention to the first of them, state provision and ‘socialization’, although this question will continue to come up.

 

 

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End of 5.2.7

Go to 5.2.9 MM chap. III: CST addresses international development

 

Module B outline

 

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  1. This is after intervening sections on wages, ##68-81, and on the structure of industry, ##82-103. These are not set as readings in order to keep the total reading required within the limit for each unit. 

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