Centesimus Annus

This website focuses on the technical aspects of Lonergan’s macroeconomic dynamics. However, we have also pointed out that the science of economics must accept its rightful place within the broader culture consisting of technology, economics, and politics.  And this culture itself  stands within a hierarchy of values. Further, we have emphasized the need to achieve The Good of Order.  (Also see CWL 12, 496-7)

On the hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical, Rerum novarum, Pope John Paul II issued the Encyclical, Centesimus Annus, treating The Good of Order, the dignity of humans, the dignity of work, the right to private property, the right to freedom, the evils of Marxist totalitarianism, and the foundation of society in truth..

John Paul II (1991), Centesimus annus, (Encyclical Letter on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum novarum), Vatican

Centesimus Annus should be read by all economists who seek to be open-minded thinkers having broad perspectives, a hierarchy of values, and thus an understanding of the difference between the concepts of liberty and totalitarianism, morality and immorality, right and wrong. In this calling of attention to Centesimus Annus, we forego any narrative and simply provide pointers by listing poignant statements of the Letter under the following headings :

  • Human dignity
  • Work
  • Private Property
  • Truth and Culture
  • Justice and the Judicial System
  • Politics and Ideology

We leave it to the interested reader to consider, and absorb the arguments of the Encyclical.  As one might expect, certain excerpts have general relevance and are placed under more than one heading.  Each excerpt is pre ceded by its page number in my copy.

 

Human dignity

5 … the key to reading the Encyclical is the dignity of the worker as such, and, for the same reason,  the dignity of work, which is defined as follows: “to exert oneself for the sake of procuring what is necessary for the various purposes of life, and first of all for self-preservation”.

9 God has imprinted his own image and likeness on man (cf. Gen 1:26) conferring upon him an incomparable dignity

9 there exist rights which do not correspond to any work (man) performs, but which flow from his essential dignity as a person

10 The denial of God deprives the person of his foundation, and consequently leads to a reorganization of the social order without reference to the person’s dignity and responsibility

10 … there is a denial of the supreme insight concerning man’s true greatness, his transcendence in respect to earthly realities

11 Socialism also derives its choice of the means of action … , namely, class struggle.

16 … every individual bears the image of God and therefore deserves respect.

18 … human nature … is made for freedom

21 development must not be understood solely in economic terms, but in a way that is fully human.

27 … the phenomenon of consumerism arises. … one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones.

32 Man fulfills himself by using his intelligence and freedom. In so doing he utilizes the things of this world as objects and instruments and makes them his own.  The foundation of the right to private initiative and ownership is to be found in this activity.

33… the root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate – no individual, group, class, nation or State.  Not even the majority of the social body may violate these rights, by going against the minority, by isolating, oppressing, or exploiting it, or by attempting to annihilate it.

35 The Church’s contribution to the political order is precisely her vision of the dignity of the person revealed in its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word.

36 … the Church has always been present and active among the needy, offering them material assistance in ways that neither humiliate nor reduce them to mere objects of public assistance, but which help them to escape their precarious situation by promoting their dignity as persons.

Work

3 … labour became a commodity to be freely bought and sold on the market, its price determined by the law of supply and demand

3 Leo XIII intervened with a document which dealt in  a systematic way with the “condition of the workers”.

5 Work thus belongs to the vocation of every person; indeed, man expresses and fulfills himself by working.

5 … work has a “social” dimension through its intimate relationship not only to family, but also to the common good.

11 the “nightmare of unemployment”

23 … the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work.

32 Man works in order to provide for the needs of his family, his community, his nation, and ultimately all humanity.

32 The integral development of the human person through work does not impede but rather promotes the greater productivity and efficiency of work itself, even though it may weaken consolidated power structures.

32 … a business … is a “society of persons” …

Private Property

5 Another important principle is undoubtedly that of the right to “private property”.

5 The Pope is well aware that private property is not an absolute value, nor does he fail to proclaim the necessary complementary principles, such as the universal destination of the earth’s goods.

9 By defining the nature of socialism of his day as the suppression of private property, Leo XIII arrived at the crux of the problem.

22 Private property or some ownership of external goods affords each person the scope needed for personal and family autonomy, and should be regarded as an extension of human freedom.

32 Man fulfills himself by using his intelligence and freedom. In so doing he utilizes the things of this world as objects and instruments and makes them his own.  The foundation of the right to private initiative and ownership is to be found in this activity.

32 … ownership morally justifies itself in the creation, at the proper time and in the proper way, of opportunities for work and human growth for all.

Truth and Culture

4 … the essential bond between human freedom and truth, so that freedom which refused to be bound to truth would fall into arbitrariness and end up submitting itself to the vilest of passions, to the point of self-destruction

5 there can be no genuine solution of the “social question” apart from the Gospel.

15 pure materialism … excludes spiritual values; … it denies an autonomous existence and value to morality, law, culture and religion; it agrees with Marxism, in the sense that it totally reduces man to the sphere of economics and the satisfaction of material needs.

17 … it is not possible to understand man on the basis of economics alone, nor to define him simply on the basis of class membership.

17 At the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God … When this question is eliminated, the culture and moral life of nations are corrupted.

20 A great effort is needed to rebuild morally and economically the countries which have abandoned Communism.  For a long time the most elementary economic relationships were distorted, and basic virtues of economic life, such as truthfulness, trustworthiness and hard work were denigrated.

21 The apex of development is the exercise of the right and duty to seek God, to know him and to live in accordance with that knowledge.

21 In the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, the principle that force predominates over reason was carried to the extreme.  Man was compelled to submit to a conception of reality imposed on him by coercion, and not reached by virtue of his own reason and the exercise of his own freedom.  This principle must be overturned and total recognition must be given to the rights of the human conscience, which is bound only to the truth both natural and revealed.  The recognition of these rights represents the primary foundation of every authentically free political order.

22 In Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII strongly affirmed the natural character of the right to private property, using various arguments against the socialism of his time.  This right … is fundamental for the autonomy and development of the person.

23-4 Important virtues are involved in this process, such as diligence, industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relationships, as well as courage in carrying out decisions, which are difficult and painful but necessary, both for the overall working of a business and in meeting possible setbacks.

26 In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, …

27 … the phenomenon of consumerism arises. … one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones.

27 It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than “being”, … It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.

32 Man works in order to provide for the needs of his family, his community, his nation, and ultimately all humanity.

37 From this open search for truth, which is renewed every generation, the culture of a nation derives its character.

37 The Church promotes those aspects of human behavior which favor a true culture of peace, as opposed to models in which the individual is lost in the crowd, in which the role of his initiative and freedom is neglected, and in which his greatness is posited in the arts of conflict and war.

37 All human activity takes place within a culture and interacts with culture

39 The human sciences and philosophy are helpful for interpreting man’s central place within society and for enabling him to understand himself better as a “social being”. However, man’s true identity is only fully revealed to him through faith, …

39 (the church) proclaims God and his mystery of salvation in Christ to every human being, and for that very reason reveals man to himself.  In this light, and only in this light, does it concern itself with everything else: the human rights of the individual, … the family and education, the duties of the State, the ordering of national and international society, economic life, culture, war, and peace, and respect for life from the moment of conception until death.

42 The world today is ever more aware that solving serious national and international problems is not just a matter of economic production or of juridical or social organization, but also calls for specific ethical and religious values, as well as changes of mentality, behavior and structures.

43 … the person and society need not only material goods but spiritual and religious values as well.

Justice and the Judicial System

4 … peace is built on the foundation of justice: …

6  It is neither just nor human so to grind men down with excessive labour as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies.

31 … freedom must be circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.

32 … the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation, a teaching which recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but which at the same time points out that these need to be oriented towards the common good.

33 This is the principle of the “rule of law”, in which the law is sovereign, and not the arbitrary will of individuals.

33 The culture and praxis of totalitarianism also involve a rejection of the Church.  The State … which claims to be able to led history towards perfect goodness, and which sets itself above all values, cannot tolerate the affirmation of an objective criterion of good and evil beyond the will of those in power, since such a criterion … could be used to judge their actions.  This explains why totalitarianism attempts to destroy the Church, or at least to reduce her to submission, making her an instrument of its own ideological apparatus.

35 Certain demands which arise within society are sometimes not examined in accordance with the criteria of justice and morality, but rather on the basis of electoral or financial power of the groups promoting them.

35 The Church’s contribution to the political order is precisely her vision of the dignity of the person revealed in its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word.

35 These general observations also apply to the role of the State in the economic sector.  Economic activity, especially the activity of the market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical or political vacuum.  On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services.  Hence the principal task of the State is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labours and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly.  The absence of stability, together with the corruption of public officials and the spread of improper sources of growing rich and of easy profits deriving from illegal or purely speculative activities, constitutes one of the chief obstacles to development in the economic order.

Politics and Ideology

10 Socialists encourage the poor man’s envy of the rich and strive to do away with private property, contending that individual possessions should become the common property of all …

10 the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism con… siders the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism

10 (Under Communism) the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears

11 … class struggle in the Marxist sense and militarism have the same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.

11 The State has the task of determining the juridical framework within which economic affairs are to be conducted, …

12 The state must contribute … according to the principle of subsidiarity … and according to the principle of solidarity, …

13 However, it is only when hatred and injustice are sanctioned and organized by the ideologies based on them, rather than on the truth about man, that they take possession of entire nations ad drive them to act.  Rerum Novarum opposed ideologies of hatred and showed how violence and resentment could be overcome by justice.

14 … we see in some countries … a positive effort to rebuild a democratic society inspired by social justice, so as to deprive Communism of the revolutionary potential represented by masses of people subjected to exploitation and oppression.

15 pure materialism … excludes spiritual values; … it denies an autonomous existence and value to morality, law, culture and religion; it agrees with Marxism, in the sense that it totally reduces man to the sphere of economics and the satisfaction of material needs.

17 … it is not possible to understand man on the basis of economics alone, nor to define him simply on the basis of class membership.

17 … the true cause of the new developments was the spiritual void brought about by atheism, which deprived the younger generations of a sense of direction and in many cases led them, in the irrepressible search for personal identity and for the meaning of life, to rediscover the religious roots of their national cultures, and to rediscover the person of Christ himself as the existentially adequate response to the desire in every human heart for goodness, truth, and life. … Marxism had promised to uproot the need for God from the human heart, but the results have shown that it is not possible to succeed in this without throwing the heart into turmoil.

18 … self interest is violently suppressed, it is replaced by a burdensome system of bureaucratic control which dries up wellsprings of initiative and creativity.

21 In the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, the principle that force predominates over reason was carried to the extreme.  Man was compelled to submit to a conception of reality imposed on him by coercion, and not reached by virtue of his own reason and the exercise of his own freedom.  This principle must be overturned and total recognition must be given to the rights of the human conscience, which is bound only to the truth both natural and revealed.  The recognition of these rights represents the primary foundation of every authentically free political order.

33… the root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate – no individual, group, class, nation or State.  Not even the majority of the social body may violate these rights, by going against the minority, by isolating, oppressing, or exploiting it, or by attempting to annihilate it.

33 The culture and praxis of totalitarianism also involve a rejection of the Church.  The State or the party which proclaims to be able to lead history towards perfect goodness, and which sets itself above all values, cannot tolerate the affirmation of an objective criterion of good and evil beyond the will of those in power, since such a criterion, in given circumstances, could be used to judge their actions.  This explains why totalitarianism attempts to destroy the Church, or at least to reduce her to submission, making her an instrument of its own ideological apparatus. (reference in footnote 92 to ? Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, Gaudium et Spes, p. 76)

34 As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.

35 The Church’s contribution to the political order is precisely her vision of the dignity of the person revealed in its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word.