Tuesday, May 30, 2006

a "brief" precis on social justice

Deal Matthews just posted this to the Catholic Writers Organization mailing list. Despite its attribution of briefness, it is long enough that it took me two weeks before I actually read it. Having read it, I'm going to post it here in whole.

Every time I read what the Center for Economic and Social Justice is up to, I want to get involved. Economics is tough and I don't like either strict capitalism or strict socialism. I think CESJ is built on distributive principles espoused by Chesterton and others. We need to think outside the Blue-Red state box, especially since the Blues and the Reds seem equally willing these days to ignore the ordinary folk.

I started a long discussion with my sister Marie about the concept of capital homesteading. She's very leery of it, and sent me a bunch of info why. I need to get back to the dropped thread of investigation of CESJ.

The Characteristics of Social Justice
To: catholicwritersonline@yahoogroups.com

As threatened, here is a "brief" precis of the characteristics of
social justice. It is an extreme condensation of material contained
in "Introduction to Social Justice," by Rev. William Ferree, S.M.,
Ph.D., which is available as a free download from the web site of the
interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice, www.cesj.org.

You should note that the whole discussion on the laws and
characteristics of social justice actually reconciles the two
principles at the heart of Catholic social teaching. These are that
"Man is by nature a political animal" (Aristotle in "The Politics"),
and "Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is
endowed with reason and a morally free will." (Pius XI, Divini
Redemptoris, § 29.)

Inevitably - repeat, INEVITABLY - commentators reject one or the other
of these principles. The individualist rejects the notion that our
social nature is, well, part of our nature. The collectivist insists
that our social nature is our only nature, and that free will and
individual sovereignty are a myth. Understanding social virtue,
particularly social justice, is the only way to reconcile these two
seemingly contradictory principles. [emphasis is Rae's] Maybe my next book will be "The
Paradox of Social Justice." Anyway,

First Characteristic: Only By Members of Groups

The first mark of social justice is that it cannot be performed by
individuals as individuals, but only by individuals as members of groups.

That is extremely important, because virtually everyone misunderstands
it. The "efficient cause" of ALL social virtue is the individual as a
member of a group, NOT an individual on his own ticket. Father Ferree
considers this so important that he spends four-count-'em-four full
pages on getting the idea across. As a college professor for more
than forty years, he found that this was the single largest hurdle to
understanding Catholic social teaching. It is NOT collectivism, nor
is it any individual act of virtue carried out with a vague intent to
benefit the common good indirectly.

Second Characteristic: It Takes Time

Social justice moves slowly and gradually. It requires organization,
consensus building, more organization, solidarity - all the
troublesome little details of working with actual human beings rather
than abstract concepts.

Personally, I have found that this characteristic causes the most
frustration to people. Society is unjustly structured, therefore
instant results are not only desired, but absolutely necessary!! (and
!!). The temptation in the face of social injustice is to demand that
"they" (usually the State) Do Something - and Do It Now!!!! The
problem is that the State (among other forms of government - all
"organization" requires governance) is the quasi-efficient cause
("quasi" because the State, as an artificial and not a natural person,
cannot be the efficient cause of anything) not of social justice, but
of legal justice. Legal justice is not a particular virtue like
social justice, and thus is not our direct responsibility. As the
State cannot "act" (in a philosophical sense) directly on anything,
it's pretty much a crap shoot whether the desired results will be
obtained by passing laws - UNLESS the passage of laws has been
preceded by acts of social justice - which is OUR responsibility, not
the State's.

Third Characteristic: Nothing is Impossible

In social justice there is NEVER ANY SUCH THING AS HELPLESSNESS. As
Father Ferree stated, "No problem is ever too big or too complex, no
field is ever too vast, for the methods of this social justice.
Problems that were agonizing in the past and were simply dodged, even
by serious and virtuous people, can now be solved with ease by any
school child."

Fourth Characteristic: Eternal Vigilance

The work of social justice is NEVER finished. This is not the same as
saying that social justice takes a long time! It refers to what Pius
XI called "the radical instability of society." This means that human
beings change, conditions change, and our institutions - our human
response to the task of being what Aristotle called "political
animals" - must be restructured and reformed to meet the new
conditions. This change is ALWAYS happening, therefore the work of
social justice is continuous.

Fifth Characteristic: Effectiveness

Work for the common good - the material cause of social justice - must
be effective. You can't just do something and hope it works, or go
about chanting that it WOULD work if only people weren't human. A
mere "good intention" that the common good be benefited is simply not
good enough.

Sixth Characteristic: You Can't "Take it or Leave It Alone"

As Father Ferree states, "Another corollary of this characteristic of
social justice (that it is never finished) is that it embraces a RIGID
OBLIGATION." That means that each of us is directly and individually
responsible for the common good - and we must organize with others for
the common good.

Of course, having said all this, it would be much better - and
probably much clearer - simply to read Father Ferree's pamphlet
yourself. It's free ... which, next to "beer," is my favorite word.

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