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Friday, May 11, A.D. 2012
Kalb on Social Justice

Cristo ha resucitado!

In The Catholic World Report, James Kalb has a brief but insightful discussion of social justice in “Liberalism, Catholicism, and the Good” After Kalb points out the inherent problems in liberalism’s conception of the good as that which any particular person wants, he argues for the traditional understanding:

In fact, of course, the human good is far more complex, and far more part of how we live, than dominant opinion now assumes. When we are acting reasonably, we don’t want particular things that we think are good so much as a good way of life. We want particular things because we see them as part of a way of life that we aspire to, and believe we should aspire to, because it embodies a standard (such as closeness to God or an ideal of a life well lived) that seems worth living by. So the human good is not at all like having lots of money. Whether viewed from a commonsense, philosophical, or religious point of view, it’s part of a whole way of life infused with goods like truth and beauty that exceed our grasp and can’t be transferred or made to order.

Such a way of life requires more than the efforts of individuals, markets, and bureaucracies, the agencies liberalism accepts as authoritative. Other social institutions are needed to provide a setting for complex non-economic relations and commitments. A society can only be just and good if it helps the family be the family, communities be communities, the Church be the Church, and so on, all so that human beings can be human beings. Social justice isn’t a big, unified machine that delivers equal amounts of stuff to each of us and keeps us from interfering with each other, but a complex condition in which not only individuals but a variety of associations get what they need so that each can make its contribution to human life.

That is a basic point distinguishing Catholic social teaching, which takes the complexity of human goods seriously, from current views that make a unified, rational, and efficient system for satisfying individual preferences the goal of political life. Principles such as the right to life, the rights of the family, the complementarity of the sexes, the need for sexual restraint, the freedom of the Church, the real though conditioned rights of private property, and the general principle of subsidiarity are not arbitrary, dogmatic add-ons to a basically liberal view that identifies solidarity and the preferential option for the poor with a global welfare state. They stand for a radically different understanding of what makes for a good life and a good society.

That understanding accepts nature and tradition as basically good although needing correction, and it rejects centrally-administered social policies in favor of widely distributed initiative and authority. It is therefore the least tyrannical of all views. It is often considered conservative, because it provides support for traditional American ideals—patriotism, federalism, limited government, private property, freedom of religion, individual responsibility, family values—that are threatened by what liberalism has become. It is not simply conservative, however, because it moderates and completes those ideals, and brings out what is best in them, by bringing them into a connected system rooted in a definite understanding of God and man. Thus, for example, it makes private property a responsibility as well as a right; makes freedom of religion a public as well as personal matter by pointing to the place of God in human affairs; and supports and limits patriotism by loyalty to Church, family, and local community.

Liberals, libertarians, socialists, social capitalists, and Communists all see man primarily as a giant appetite. Is it a surprise, then, that when they succeed in directing a regime, its people let themselves be ruled by their passions? Such men are, as Lewis said, without chests, as well as being headless. They are but consumers that feast upon the sights, sounds, and touches of the world—grotesque beings with sense and sex organs that surround a stomach but with no heart. Perverse constitutions that misunderstand human nature cultivate perverse souls. Hey, let’s stop bothering with all this boring stuff and watch The Jersey Shore!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, May 11, Anno Domini 2012
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