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Gaudium et Spes: By the Grace of God, We Can Build A Better World

An excerpt from the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world from the Second Vatican Council.

Summary: God entered into His creation and offers the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist to transform and purify us, so that the effort to establish peace, justice, and universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one (§ 38). Somebody all Creation will be renewed in Christ and His Kingdom will be fully manifested, but until then the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one (§ 39).

38. For God’s Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men. [10] Thus He entered the world’s history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it. [11] He Himself revealed to us that “God is love”  (1 John 4:8) and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of the world’s transformation.

To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one. He cautions them at the same time that this charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life. Undergoing death itself for all of us sinners, [12] He taught us by example that we too must shoulder that cross which the world and the flesh inflict upon those who search after peace and justice. Appointed Lord by His resurrection and given plenary power in heaven and on earth, [13] Christ is now at work in the hearts of men through the energy of His Holy Spirit, arousing not only a desire for the age to come, but by that very fact animating, purifying and strengthening those noble longings too by which the human family makes its life more human and strives to render the whole earth submissive to this goal.

Now, the gifts of the Spirit are diverse: while He calls some to give clear witness to the desire for a heavenly home and to keep that desire green among the human family, He summons others to dedicate themselves to the earthly service of men and to make ready the material of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs. Yet He frees all of them so that by putting aside love of self and bringing all earthly resources into the service of human life they can devote themselves to that future when humanity itself will become an offering accepted by God. [14]

The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life’s journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of brotherly solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

39. We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, [15] nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; [16] but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, [17] and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart. [18] Then, with death overcome, the sons of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility. [19] Enduring with charity and its fruits, [20] all that creation [21] which God made on man’s account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.

Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, [22] the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.

Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God. [23]

For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: “a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.” [24] On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.

Footnotes:

  1. Cf. John 1:3 and 14.
  2. Cf. Eph. 1:10.
  3. Cf. John 3:16; Rom. 5:8.
  4. Cf. Acts 2:36; Matt. 28:18.
  5. Cf. Rom. 15:16.
  6. Cf. Acts 1:7.
  7. Cf. 1 Cor. 7:31; St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, V, 36, PG, VIII, 1221.
  8. Cf. 2 Cor. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:13.
  9. Cf. 1 Cor. 2:9; Apoc. 21:4-5.
  10. Cf. 1 Cor. 15:42 and 53.
  11. Cf. 1 Cor. 13:8; 3:14.
  12. Cf. Rom. 8:19-21.
  13. Cf. Luke 9:25.
  14. Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Quadragesimo Anno: AAS 23 (1931), p. 207.
  15. Preface of the Feast of Christ the King.

Gaudium et Spes: Science Must Be Purified By Faith

An excerpt from the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world from the Second Vatican Council.

Summary: Genuine science will never conflict with faith, but it must have reference to its Creator (§ 36). Without the purifying light of Christ, scientific progress will be transformed into an instrument of sin, even to the point of destroying mankind by our own deranged pride (§ 37).

36. Now many of our contemporaries seem to fear that a closer bond between human activity and religion will work against the independence of men, of societies, or of the sciences.

If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use, and regulated by men, then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy. Such is not merely required by modern man, but harmonizes also with the will of the Creator. For by the very circumstance of their having been created, all things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order. Man must respect these as he isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or arts. Therefore if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. [6] Indeed whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though he is unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity. Consequently, we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed. [7]

But if the expression, the independence of temporal affairs, is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the creature would disappear. For their part, however, all believers of whatever religion always hear His revealing voice in the discourse of creatures. When God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible.

37. Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself.

For a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested. [8] Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good, nor can he achieve his own integrity without great efforts and the help of God’s grace.

That is why Christ’s Church, trusting in the design of the Creator, acknowledges that human progress can serve man’s true happiness, yet she cannot help echoing the Apostle’s warning: “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). Here by the world is meant that spirit of vanity and malice which transforms into an instrument of sin those human energies intended for the service of God and man.

Hence if anyone wants to know how this unhappy situation can be overcome, Christians will tell him that all human activity, constantly imperiled by man’s pride and deranged self-love, must be purified and perfected by the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection. For redeemed by Christ and made a new creature in the Holy Spirit, man is able to love the things themselves created by God, and ought to do so. He can receive them from God and respect and reverence them as flowing constantly from the hand of God. Grateful to his Benefactor for these creatures, using and enjoying them in detachment and liberty of spirit, man is led forward into a true possession of them, as having nothing, yet possessing all things. [9] “All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:22-23).

Footnotes:

  1. Cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter III: Denz. 1785-1186 (3004-3005).
  2. Cf. Msgr. Pio Paschini, Vita e opere di Galileo Galilei, 2 volumes, Vatican Press (1964).
  3. Cf. Matt. 24:13; 13:24-30 and 36-43.
  4. Cf. 2 Cor. 6:10.

Gaudium et Spes: Human Progress Must Honor and Glorify God

An excerpt from the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world from the Second Vatican Council.

Summary: New technologies have drastically changed society, but what is the meaning and value of this feverish activity? (§ 33) We must glorify God in cultivating His creation, which includes the modern triumphs of human progress (§ 34). However our stewardship of the earth requires justice towards our fellow man, which has far greater worth than our technological advances (§ 35).

33. Through his labors and his native endowments man has ceaselessly striven to better his life. Today, however, especially with the help of science and technology, he has extended his mastery over nearly the whole of nature and continues to do so. Thanks to increased opportunities for many kinds of social contact among nations, the human family is gradually recognizing that it comprises a single world community and is making itself so. Hence many benefits once looked for, especially from heavenly powers, man has now enterprisingly procured for himself.

In the face of these immense efforts which already preoccupy the whole human race, men agitate numerous questions among themselves. What is the meaning and value of this feverish activity? How should all these things be used? To the achievement of what goal are the strivings of individuals and societies heading? The Church guards the heritage of God’s word and draws from it moral and religious principles without always having at hand the solution to particular problems. As such she desires to add the light of revealed truth to mankind’s store of experience, so that the path which humanity has taken in recent times will not be a dark one.

34. Throughout the course of the centuries, men have labored to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God’s will. For man, created to God’s image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; [1] a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth. [2]

This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator’s work, consulting the advantages of their brother men, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization in history of the divine plan. [3]

Thus, far from thinking that works produced by man’s own talent and energy are in opposition to God’s power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design. For the greater man’s power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends. Hence it is clear that men are not deterred by the Christian message from building up the world, or impelled to neglect the welfare of their fellows, but that they are rather more stringently bound to do these very things. [4]

35. Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to man. Just as it proceeds from man, so it is ordered toward man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has. [5] Similarly, all that men do to obtain greater justice, wider brotherhood, a more humane disposition of social relationships has greater worth than technical advances. For these advances can supply the material for human progress, but of themselves alone they can never actually bring it about.

Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and that it allow men as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 9:3; Wis. 9:3.
  2. Cf. Ps. 8:7 and 10.
  3. Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 297.
  4. Cf. Message to all mankind sent by the Fathers at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, Oct. 20, 1962: AAS 54 (1962), p. 823.
  5. Cf. Paul VI, Address to the diplomatic corps Jan 7 1965: AAS 57 (1965), p. 232.

What is Intentional Community?

An intentional community (IntComm) is a community which is planned around the common good from its beginning.

Such communities have always been essential to the Holy Church. The Apostolic Communes mentioned in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 serve as the inspiration for the many Christian communities which followed. Christian IntComms include the many monastic movements of the Church—the Antonians, Basilians, Benedictines, Brigettines, Cistercians, Domincians, Trappists, etc—as well as various other communities such as the Basiliad, the Beguines and Beghards, the Jesuit reducciones, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the Focolare. Some radical protestant movements have also formed admirable communities, such as the Jesus Family in China. The anabaptist tradition has produced both the Amish and the Bruderhof, both of which have been successful in maintaining a strong Christian culture. 

It can be hard to imagine a radically different lifestyle. And it is true that the vast majority of IntComms fail. Why is this? 

First, living a life in contradiction to the economics and culture of modernity is not easy. In premodern society, the “creative destruction” of capitalism, in which market forces tear apart communities and families, did not exist. Culturally, people did not hold the modern ideal of individual freedom, but recognized the true freedom of virtue and the common good. While no utopia, the status quo of the medieval village was supportive of family values and traditional life. Today, however, the status quo of society is actively harmful to anybody who wants to live a good and holy life.

Second, many secular movements fail to recognize what makes an IntComm work. God must be at the center of any community which seeks the common good. The counsels of perfection—chastity, poverty, and obedience—serve an important role in binding IntComms together. Celibacy or lifelong marriage, the partial or complete sharing of goods, and rules which dictate decision-making and hierarchy can be observed in all long-lived IntComms. 

However difficult IntComm may seem, Catholics cannot afford to accept the depravity of the modern world, even if this means putting our “comfortable” lives at risk. Our Lord commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33). 

An IntComm is a place to raise families of saints. For those who despair about the future, it could easily become a castle in which to hide and wait for the end times. But for the integralist, it is a bivouac—a war camp—which sustains and strengthens those who do battle with the world. The economic support network, the traditions and moral customs, and the relationships centered around God create a small society which leads people to virtue. A successful IntComm can become a hub for building up parishes, evangelization, and the struggle for social justice. 

An intentional community is integralism on a small scale. It is not a retreat from political engagement, but a springboard for holy men and women as they work together in building a better world.

Society Before Capitalism: The Subsidiary State

The state (or polity) is a complete society, concerned with the whole of human life, which exists and rules for the purpose of justice and peace. It works in harmony with various “incomplete societies”, such as families, guilds, associations, villages, and cities, which all come together to form the state. But modern nation-states are not the same as traditional states.

We can find examples of this in medieval Christendom. There, kings were not, as is sometimes imagined, Absolute Monarchs whose every word was law. Rather, a medieval kingdom was a patchwork of many jurisdictions. Noble territories, chartered towns, and other districts had their own laws which could not be overturned. Most importantly, instead of a federal state which could overturn the laws of any courts lower than its own, there was room for different customs. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas taught that “custom has the force of law” (ST, I-II, Q97, A3, co.).

There are also examples of powerful empires which still maintained subsidiary structures. The Incas, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Umayyad Caliphate all provide different historical models. Subsidiarity, according to St. John Paul II, means that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (Centesimus Annus § 48). This is not the conflict between “big government” authoritarianism and “small government” libertarianism. The authority of a powerful state and the liberty of local government can work together in perfect harmony, if the sacred principle of subsidiarity is upheld.

Many today would call these premodern states “primitive,” “weak,” or “disorganized,” for having a lack of clear borders or uniform structure. But the traditional idea of integral hierarchy is not about imposing a monotonous uniformity; it is about a vast synthetic harmony of different natures coming together in peace and love. Scripture provides a beautiful image of the unity which the powerful are called to share with the lowly: the wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together, and a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6). In a just hierarchy, we can recognize that the common good is good for all of us.

In fact, the lack of totalitarian state power allows the necessary agency for the flourishing of communities and traditions. Obviously, the governments of premodern society were not perfect. At times, they fell into tyranny or were upset by conflict. But it is the modern state, hand in hand with capitalism, which has solidified vast “structures of sin” like never before, plunging all of humanity into a dark age of isolation and atheism, with only the Self, the State, or the Market to worship.

 

Thomistic Economics: C—M—C versus M—C—M

The most basic form of exchange is barter. This is represented by the equation C—C, when one commodity is directly exchanged for another. Because everyone must have their goods on hand, or they must be willing to barter with promises and obligations, barter is generally limited to local communities.

Money can make trading easier. A commodity can be sold for money, which is then used to purchase another commodity. This is represented by C—M—C. A person can sell (C—M) and then buy (M—C) in a totally different place, as long as the money is accepted. This allows for much larger than local markets, which can exist on a national or even global scale.

Here the crucial difference between use-value and exchange-value, as described by Aristotle, becomes essential. All trading involves exchange-value in the act of trading, but the end goal is use-value. The purpose of bartering a shoe for a chair is to sit in the chair or wear the shoe. “Aristotle saw the form C–M–C as natural, and as being part of the art of managing a family or a city. Since the family or the city need certain external things to live, and to live well, there is a natural art of wealth getting, which is concerned with satisfying those needs” (“Use Values and Corn Laws…”, Edmund Waldstein, O’Cist.).

However, money introduces a unique danger. The Blessed Apostle Paul warned that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). C—M—C, for the rich, can easily be flipped around. If somebody goes to the market with money, instead of anything to sell, they can purchase a good and then sell it again for a profit. This is represented by M—C—M´. “Aristotle goes on to argue, there is a second kind of wealth-getting that is not natural, because it is not ordered to acquiring necessary instruments (use-values), but rather to getting as much money (i.e. as much exchange-value) as possible… This form of wealth-getting has no natural limit, since it is not ordered to getting certain needed goods, but just to increasing the quantity of money. Thus, there is no reason why M´ should not be again invested to yield M´´…” (Waldstein). Usury (M—M´) is the purest form of this unnatural profit-making.

Saint Thomas Aquinas agrees: “The former kind of exchange is commendable because it supplies a natural need: but the latter is justly deserving of blame, because, considered in itself, it satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity. Hence trading, considered in itself, has a certain debasement attaching thereto, in so far as, by its very nature, it does not imply a virtuous or necessary end [telos].” (Summa Theologiae II-II. Q77. A4. co.)

M—C—M is a dangerous source of fueling endless greed, which has always needed to be restrained in premodern society. In modernity, it has been fully unleashed for the first time in history, creating the system we know as capitalism.

The Definition of Capitalism

It is very important to understand what “capitalism” really means because it is the system which defines our political and cultural lives. Everything about the modern world has been shaped by capitalism.

The most common definitions of capitalism are extremely unhelpful. Many describe capitalism as “an economic system with private ownership of goods” or “a system where the distribution of goods is determined by the free market.” These definitions are misleading because they use phrases like “private ownership” and “free market” in the modern sense, without realizing that liberalism has fundamentally changed the definition of these words.

Pope Saint John Paul II taught that “everybody knows that capitalism has a definite historical meaning as a system, an economic and social system” (Laborem Exercens § 7). Historically, capitalism does not refer to the existence of private property. Rather, it means the existence of a particular form of private property owned by a generally very small class of people. Those who own the capital are called “capitalists,” and they make the vast majority of their money by employing workers, either as forced laborers (slaves) or wage laborers (“proletarians”). Instead of producing goods to serve human needs, workers must do so for the sake of profit. This is a different type of value which a good (or “commodity”) can have. This is means that in capitalism use-value is subordinate to exchange-value. It is a system of continuous circulation, constantly in search of accumulation by any means. The simplest definition of capitalism might be an economic system devoted to the infinite accumulation of exchange-value or a system in which labor is subordinate to capital. Ultimately, like the word implies, it is a society dominated by Capital.

Capitalism is not just a system of exchange, like the village markets of the Middle Ages and other premodern societies. Nor is it a system of ancient self-sufficiency where the farmers plowed the land collectively for themselves and their community. Capitalism is a system in which the workers do not have control over the things they produce or their tools (the means of production).

Capitalism has not always been around. It is a particular economic system which only began in the 16th century. In the last 500 years, capitalism has accelerated and expanded. It began with a limited network of merchants trading in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and now dominates the entire globe. The pace of trading and accumulation has sped up from month-long sea voyages to microseconds of electronic trading.

Furthermore, capitalism did not happen naturally. It was built with sweat and blood. For five centuries, usury, exploitation, and state violence were used with growing intensity to build a new era, which historians call modernity. We still live in this terrible age. Integralism, distributism, subsidiarity, family, tradition, and many other aspects of premodern society had to be steadily worn away to remove every limitation to the growth of Capital.

Use-Value Versus Exchange-Value

We often talk about what things are “worth” or how much their “value” is. To talk truthfully about economics, we need to use the right definitions.

Ever since Aristotle, it has been acknowledged that there are two kinds of value: use-value and exchange-value.

The first kind of value is use-value. This refers to the ability of goods to satisfy a human need or desire. “[Aristotle] recognized that material things possessed by human beings could be used in two different ways. The first and original way that they could be used, the reason why people first begin to take or to make things in the first place, was to fulfill some human need” (“Use Values and Corn Laws, Aristotelian Marxists and High Tories”, Edmund Waldstein, O’Cist.). For example, a shoe fulfills the need to protect your feet when walking. A sandwich satisfies the need to eat. The use-value of a bed is that it provides a good night’s rest.

The second kind of value is exchange-value. This refers to how much a good can be exchanged for, in other words, how much it can be traded for in a market. Exchange-value is what capitalists are describing when they talk about “market growth” and “GDP.” Aristotle describes the difference between use-value and exchange-value:

A shoe is used for wear, and is used for exchange; both are uses of the shoe. He who gives a shoe in exchange for money or food to him who wants one, does indeed use the shoe as a shoe, but this is not its proper use, for a shoe is not made to be an object of barter. (Politics, Book I, Chapter 9, 1257a)

Notice that it is the same shoe which has both use-value and exchange-value. The value is not somehow transformed from one to the other: the different values exist in different contexts. Use-value is about the qualities of value: what can it be used for? The use-value of a sponge is cleaning. The use-value of a hammer is building. Its value can be found in the context of human life. Use-value is concerned with the telos, or, the ultimate purpose of a material thing.

Exchange-value, on the other hand, is only about the quantity of value: how much can it be sold for? The exchange-value of everything—whether a sponge, a hammer, or a shoe—is a certain number of barter goods, coins, or another currency. Its value can only be found in a market of some kind. 

It is clear that use-value should be at the foundation of a just economy, because it is concerned with serving human persons. Exchange-value is disdained by Aristotle as not the “proper use” of a shoe, because a focus on this kind of value can lead to greed. Capitalism is the ultimate example of a system of greed because it is dedicated to the “infinite accumulation of exchange-value.” It is fundamentally different than premodern society because it prioritizes exchange-value over use-value and has radically transformed economic life.

Society Before Capitalism: The Premodern World

Modernity (beginning at around 1500 A.D.) is the era we live in today, but the world wasn’t always like this. Here, we offer a description of the premodern world which will seem alien or mythical compared to the present.

Integralism

For Catholics, integralism refers to the traditional teaching that the “temporal power” must be subordinate to the “spiritual power.” By analogy, this also describes the political philosophy of all other premodern societies. Sometimes, for example in Rome or Egypt, the role of the Emperor or Pharaoh was fused with the role of High Priest. Sometimes there was a priestly class, such as Celtic Druids or Hindu Brahmins. In smaller premodern states, spiritual leaders were often elected or appointed by the community, like the Iroquois Faithkeepers or the Dogon Hogon.

No matter where you look, religion was an essential part of human life. Kings of every era, whether in China, Ghana, or Peru, ruled by the mandate of heaven or in the name of the gods. Custom, tradition, and community were at the center of society. Modern secularism would be baffling.

Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity is the sacred principle that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” (St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus § 48)

Subsidiary was widespread in premodern society. Kings who crushed the communities beneath them were seen as illegitimate tyrants. Their power was limited by custom, moral law, and subsidiary institutions. Subsidiarity is likewise evident in the smaller states of premodern Africans or Native Americans. But even in the Mali or Inka Empires, we do not find a modern state. Family, village, and clan networks acted as intermediary institutions between the individual and the imperial power; local custom had the force of law.

The transformation to the State we know today would only be accomplished over centuries, fueled by a radical and destructive economics.

Distributive Economics

Capitalism did not exist before modernity. The most powerful force of distribution was not the invisible hand of the “free market”, but the very visible hand of the king (or the priest), whether the Sapa Inka (the supreme emperor in the Andes), the feudal lord, or the dougou-tigui (a “village-master” in the Mali Empire). The “market” in these days referred to a local community center; beyond this, much of the economy was determined by the planning and redistribution of various hierarchies (some royal, some classless).

Almost all advanced premodern societies did have a merchant class, but their influence was extremely limited by the power of integralist religion, subsidiary states, and a rich social life of customs and traditions which were hostile to the economics of exchange-value. Capital was kept subordinated.

Pope Leo XIII’s Condemnation of Americanism

More than a century ago, in 1899, Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Testem Benevolentiae about the dangers of “Americanism.”

The United States of America was founded on classical liberalism. The Founding Fathers—despite many debates on the details—preached a system of liberal neutrality, free markets, and “liberty.” This system is a radical departure from premodern and Christian values and is based on fundamental errors about the purpose of law and the meaning of freedom.

Pope Leo XIII clarifies the confusion around “freedom.” True freedom is the freedom for the Common Good. Those who seek virtue, “far from having suffered loss of liberty, enjoy that fuller and freer kind—that liberty, namely, by which Christ hath made us free” (Testem § 15).

In another encyclical, he reminds us that the purpose of law is to lead people to virtue: “In a free State, unless justice be generally cultivated, unless the people be repeatedly and diligently urged to observe the precepts and laws of the Gospel, liberty itself may be pernicious” (Longinqua Oceani § 15).

In the days of Pope Leo XIII, some Catholics in America were actively preaching these errors of Americanism. But his encyclical was sent to all the American bishops, warning that even a passive acceptance of Americanism was a dangerous departure from the Gospel.

We cannot consider as altogether blameless the silence which purposely leads to the omission or neglect of some of the principles of Christian doctrine, for all the principles come from the same Author and Master, ‘the Only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father.’ They are adapted to all times and all nations, as is clearly seen from the words of our Lord to His apostles: ‘Going therefore, teach all nations; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world.’ (Testem § 4)

He concludes: “From the foregoing it is manifest, beloved son, that we are not able to give approval to those views which, in their collective sense, are called by some ‘Americanism’” (Testem § 18).

Elsewhere he notes that despite the growth of the Church in America at that time, “it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced” (Longinqua § 6).

This brings us to the ultimate error of Americanism: an acceptance—and often a full embrace—of capitalism.

In Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays, he says that the Church must not play “a waiting game” but will “have to use some of the dynamite inherent in her message.” He notes that “Modern society has separated Church and State but it did not separate the State from business. The State is no longer a Church’s State. The State is now a Business Men’s State.”