5.2.7 MM chapter II: The controversy about ‘socialization’

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Unit 5 Contents

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On the last screen our attention was on the section in MM which I characterised as being primarily about civil society, ##59-67.   For the moment, we have passed over the earlier part of chapter II, ##51-58, but shall come back to this on the next screen.  However, students of CST need to know something else about MM ##59-67.

In the aftermath of the encyclical’s publication, it was ##59-67 which proved to be the most fiercely controversial part of the encyclical. But the reason for this was something that it didn’t actually say.  In the English translation that was initially published, the words in #59, “increase in social relationships” (as they are in the text you have read), were rendered by the single term ‘socialization’.1. This word has two meanings in English:

*  In a sense associated with socialism, socialization refers to the shifting of private property into social or state ownership, in other words, “organiz[ing] according to the principles of socialism” (Oxford Dictionary Online)

*  In a sense used in sociology, socialization is the process by which someone learns to “behave in a way that is acceptable to their society” (Oxford Dictionary Online).2

The trouble was that what MM was speaking about in these paragraphs corresponded to neither of these meanings in English. The reference was to something else: growth in civil society initiatives and associations.  The official English translation was amended.

However, the fact that MM appeared at first to speak positively of ‘socialization’ generated a firestorm, as Catholic and other commentators divided sharply into political left and right.  Many on the Left read this passage as an endorsement of socialization in the first sense above and so as supporting change to social ownership of property – and thereby socialism.  Quite obviously, this was in contradiction to previous CST statements, and indeed to MM#34.  In contrast, many on the Right reacted against MM, seeing it as precisely a departure from the pro-private ownership position of RN and QA.  Debate about ‘socialization’ in MM continued for many years.3

But this debate was an unfortunate distraction: it is clear enough from a straightforward reading of ##59-67 that ‘socialization’ is not what this section of MM is about, in either sense of this word in English.4. #65 makes it especially plain that what is meant by “an increase in social relationships” is primarily the growth of initiatives and associations in civil society.  This says explicitly that it is “the numerous intermediary bodies and corporate enterprises… which are… the main vehicle of this social growth”.  It is “vital”, John XXIII says, that these “be really autonomous [of the state] and loyally collaborate in pursuit of their own interests and… the common good” (#65, italics added).

Nevertheless, while this part of MM provoked a controversy about ‘socialization’ that generated more heat than light, chapters II and III do say highly important things about the role that state action can have in ensuring justice, and we need to go on to recognize these clearly.

 

 

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End of 5.2.7

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

 

Module B outline

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  1. The Latin text of MM (which is authoritative) has socialium rationum incrementa. The Italian version used socializazzione and this remains in the official Italian translation; the same is the case for some other European languages, although not German in which this part of the encyclical was initially written.  See Donal Dorr, Option for the Poor: A Hundred Years of Vatican Social Teaching (second edition, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992), p. 387, n. 10. 

  2. In James T. Bretzske, SJ, Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013), Bretzske defines this second meaning clearly (and this is the only sense of the word he refers to): “the process by which an individual, by about the age of six or seven, becomes enculturated in a particular culture, integrating that culture’s language, norms, customs, ethos, and so on”. 

  3. Dorr has a helpful discussion of it in Option for the Poor, pp. 132-135. 

  4. Of course this is not to imply that socializzazione in Italian, or equivalents in some other languages, do not have a third or wider meaning such as the text demands. 

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