At The Distributist Review, Thomas Storck reviews Daniel Schwindt’s new book, Catholic Social Teaching: A New Synthesis. Storck’s review is, in the main, positive, and we have ourselves added Schwindt’s book to the list of books we want to buy. (An ever-expanding list that is, we admit, more aspirational than anything else!) We encourage you to check it out, and if we get around to buying it and reading it, we will be sure to share our impressions. We note particularly a couple of points that Storck makes that encourage us greatly.
First, Storck observes that:
Following these preliminary points, the author discusses what he calls “permanent principles,” which are: the common good, the universal destination of goods, private property, solidarity and subsidiarity, freedom and justice. The inclusion of freedom in this list raises some questions, however. The freedom of choice with which man is endowed accompanies him everywhere, indeed is inseparable from his nature, regardless of his political or even penal situation. In the Anglo-American tradition, however, it is not this inherent freedom which preoccupies us but freedom in the political order, which is widely seen as the chief political good. But this is surely incorrect. Rather it is justice which is the chief political good, and it is justice which rules and determines the other principles listed here, such as property, solidarity and subsidiarity. Obviously political freedom is good to a degree, but it is subordinate to both justice and the common good.
(Emphasis added.) This seems to us to be a very good capsule summary of much of what is wrong with modern America, economically and otherwise. And it seems to us further to be a really very good way of summarizing the fundamental disagreement between those who are faithful to the whole of the Church’s social teaching and those who part ways with the Church. Obviously, there is nothing incompatible with justice and freedom necessarily, provided that both are understood properly. However, when freedom becomes disordered and ossifies into liberalism, it is indeed often flatly incompatible with justice. Now, this might not be the end of the discussion, but it seems to us that it’s a fine elevator pitch.
Although, as he notes, the popes have called for cooperation and just dealings between capitalist owners and workers, still “the Christian aversion to the concentration of ownership and wealth has ancient roots.” If ownership and work are not divorced, it is more difficult for such concentrations of wealth to arise. Schwindt quotes Leo XIII pointedly, the “law … should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.” This, of course, is exactly what Distributism aims at—the widest diffusion of productive property, in large part to prevent that fatal separation of ownership and work which leads to so many evils, both societal and even personal. Also worthy of note is Schwindt’s discussion of guilds. The guild system, suitably updated to take account of contemporary conditions, is one of the foundations of Catholic social thought, for it avoids the twin rocks of state control of the economy and the injustices and chaos produced by competitive capitalism.
(Emphasis added.) This is, of course, very interesting, since guilds (or syndicates or trade unions or what-have-you) featured heavily in the popes’ early social teaching, especially Quadragesimo anno. Indeed, one could argue that subsidiary function is most functional in an environment where there are robust guilds and similar organizations. However, this line of the Church’s teaching has sort of fallen into disuse, if not outright oblivion. It will be interesting to see Schwindt’s treatment and whether he makes any concrete proposals for reinvigorating the notion of guilds.
I call attention also to Schwindt’s discussion of taxation, and in particular of progressive taxation. He quotes Pius XI’s encyclical Divini Redemptoris that “the wealthy classes must be induced to assume those burdens without which human society cannot be saved nor they themselves remain secure.” As Schwindt notes, “the exact application of this principle could take various forms, but one can say without much risk of error that the system known as the ‘progressive tax’ is a fairly straightforward and appropriate means of realizing this goal.” In the last few decades in the United States conservative politicians have somehow persuaded large numbers of people that a flat tax is more fair than a progressive tax, even though it should be obvious that a rich man has much more disposable income than a poorer man, and hence can rightly afford to give up a larger percentage of his income in taxation. Despite what some people claim, there is absolutely nothing in Catholic teaching or tradition that would prohibit a progressive income tax.
(Emphasis added.) Enough said.
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