Saturday, December 15, 2007

Catholic Social Doctrine

Catholic Social Doctrine (CSD) is a system of theological and moral reflection on the nature of society and on what a just society looks like. It would take quite a long post to outline what CSD is and its history. Although one has to be careful when using Wikipedia, its post on CSD is actually quite good. I recommend looking at it.

CSD is neither left nor right. It operates from different starting points than the dialog typical in liberal democracy. On one hand it affirms the morality and justice of free markets because they do the most (this side of the eschaton) of humanizing the economic dimensions of humankind. On the other hand, CSD affirms the need to build toward the common good by insuring that everyone has an authentic opportunity to participate in the market and that the poor among us are taken care of.

A guiding principle of CSD is subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that action for the betterment of others ought to take place at the smallest relational level first and then raise to higher levels only as the lower levels fail to achieve the desired ends. In other words, while CSD affirms the need for us to have a just society that takes care of the poor, assures that everyone has access to health, the unborn are protected, etc., CSD is not statist in that CSD does not automatically assume that government -- and especially the Federal government -- is the first or best tool to achieve these ends. Government has an important role in these matters and for some questions government is the proper entity to address them. But in many cases, the lower or smaller entities of our common life are better places to meet these needs.

According to CSD there are a whole set of institutions that God has ordained to shape society -- family, community, business, labor, government, etc. This contrasts with the outlook of liberal democracy -- of both right and left -- in that it sees society as basically made up of individuals and government. (This is your basic Lockean social contract theory.) Both popular liberalism and popular conservatism often operate under this assumption. CSD just doesn't fit the popular categories. CSD has a strong reversion to socialism and collectivism because these systems deeply diminish the value and flourishing of the individual person made in the image of God. At the same time, CSD sees the danger in an unfettered free market that ignores the needs of the needy among us and neglects to see the responsibilities that business has to the greater good and not just the bottom line.

Check out CSD. I resonate deeply with its approach and find it to be a workable, careful and reasonable approach to these questions from a Christian/Catholic perspective.

No comments: