Thursday, July 05, 2007

Catholic Social Teaching, Economics, and

The Common Good

From a superb essay in the Boston Review by Lew Daly:

The common good commands objective change in the balance of economic power. It is not a unifying force but one that divides right from wrong by a unifying standard. It is a faith with poor friends and wealthy enemies. To deny responsibility for the common good, asking “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” is the same thing as murder, the Bible teaches. In medieval Christianity, “ordering what is personal to what is common” is the beginning of justice, and the tyrant, simply, is one who destroys the common good for private gain. For Roosevelt, it was necessary to wage a “struggle for the liberty of the community rather than the liberty of the individual.” Martin Luther King Jr. described a “single garment of destiny,” by which “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Freedom came not from autonomy or anarchy but from one’s membership and birthright in the “beloved community.”

Within the last 30 years, the struggle between the common good and competing principles of property right and economic efficiency was enjoined again, by a resurgent ruling class. While they cannot succeed in returning to the good old days of laissez-faire constitutionalism, they have succeeded in stalling and, in some respects, rolling back the legislative progress secured in the 1930s.

Catholic teaching recognized the evil that arose from releasing individuals from the moral law. In the background to the New Deal, its whole thrust was to replenish that moral law in binding force against destructive economic power. Father Ryan inscribed this in our public history when he dedicated the new building of the Department of Labor in 1935, beseeching public authorities to fulfill their solemn obligation to the common good, so that God’s justice will “dominate and permeate all the relations of industry and labor.” In King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the moral evil of segregation aborted the same natural law. It was aborted again as the spirit of Lochner was reborn in the Reagan-Bush era. Ryan and King and the millions they helped had little doubt of what was at stake. Has abandoning their faith profited justice in the decades since?

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