Saturday, February 24, 2007

Observations on Catholic Social Teaching

by Dr. Peter Chojnowski

Economic theory distills to Catholic principles based on the Church's perennial philosophy and theology. Therefore, let it be said:

A "world of order" is not synonymous with a "world governed by economic theories and procedures of liberal capitalism." Why not?- A "world of order" implies limitation and form. The core problem with Capitalism is that it rejects the idea that there are "limits," It is a system which states that every man should seek to maximize his own wealth. The psychology of Capitalism is contrary to the Catholic principle that man should only seek after a sufficient amount of wealth to cover his basic needs with an allowance for an element of comfort and genuine leisure.

Rather than being reasonable, Capitalism transgresses reason by telling man that he should not "stop spending" when he has experienced contentment with his condition and possessions. Modern capitalistic advertisement (outlawed in days of the corporate guild system) indicates how new, non-natural "needs" are created by profit-seekers. It is manifest that the contemporary "consumer" is an artificially constructed entity. For example, clothing no longer has the purpose of covering the body in a dignified way, but rather; to "create" a character. The nature of modern clothing is an expression of the capitalist/liberal ethos telling consumers there is no end to "self-creation" and "need-fulfillment"

If we are to conform our economic, social, and political actions to the "economic laws" of the advocates of Capitalism, we must ask: "Where is the regularity which is summarized by these so-called laws?" Are we speaking about the regularity of physical interactions? Are these the basis for the laws to which we are to conform all our actions if we are to attain a state of maximum prosperity? Excuse me! Is not man the master of creation? Was he not given the divine mandate to name all of the creatures in the natural order? By naming all of the creatures, he gained control over them by including all of the divergent instances of a being into a concept which expresses their essence and, hence, type. Shouldn't man order all he finds, regulating all with prudence and moderation towards the greater good of the social order of which he is a part? Is not man called to be providential just as God is providential? And since the State, which St. Thomas Aquinas understood to be a perfect society, is called upon to see to the common good of those under its temporal authority, isn't it self-evident that the State is called upon to order all the goods which are present within its jurisdiction for the sake of the common good? This ordering would necessarily involve insuring that private property be possessed by a maximum number of the citizenry.

Capitalists tend to move without a blink from explaining the only Catholic sense of God's order to a favorable account of the appreciation for the "elegant regularity of phenomena and the beautiful order that Isaac Newton had described." What they fail to explain is the radically different understanding of "nature" and "order" which characterized the Catholic Aristotelian of the Middle Ages and the mechanistic Newtonian/Cartesian world of the Enlightenment. What is most important to remember is that the philosophy dominant during the Enlightenment rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that final causes could be discovered, through an experiential and philosophical encounter with nature, by the human mind. Descartes insisted that the human mind could not "discern the plan of God for all things" and rejected the knowability of that towards which a being is directed (i.e., the final cause).Therefore, he eliminated all reference to "goals" in nature by philosophy or empirical science. For him, all nature was simply one "extended" thing. He denied that individual substances had discernible natures that were directed towards fulfillment through the achievement of certain ends. Following in this philosophical development, the modern science of economics has forgotten the "goal orientation" ingrained in the nature of things by the Creator Himself. Most importantly, it has forgotten that all men are meant to achieve the same final end. This indicates that the goods of the world are given by God for mankind to fulfill those basic needs which God has placed in man's nature. A commonality of needs requires the recognition of a certain commonality of goods. The true goal of an economy is to provide those goods to man, using what St. Thomas called "the prudence of rulers."

Since prudence involves concrete acts of reason and-in the case of economics-reason extended to the common good of a community, those in charge of the good of the community must use reason to distribute the commonality of goods in a just way amongst those who have a commonality of needs. Quite obviously, man's needs are not provided for automatically by following the empirical laws of nature! Why should they be provided for by following the so-called capitalist "laws of the market"?!

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