Do we Live in a Society? This question came up in a recent Josias Podcast episode. Serious doubts were raised about whether we do. The discussion focused on the United States, where my interlocutors live. I lived almost half of my life in there, but it has now been almost 14 years since I left. In another sense, however, as a German rock band says, “we’re all living in Amerika.”
Most generally considered, a society is “a union of intelligent beings acting for an end” (Crean and Fimister). But in this context we mean not any society, but a “complete” society, one that is ordered to the complete human good: happiness. Happiness is a fully human life (virtuous activity) lived in common, and so such a society ought to be a union of friends mutually willing each other’s good for their own sake—that is, as a common good. A common good that is not diminished or divided in being shared. Happiness consists mostly in the common enjoyment of such goods: truth, friendship, etc. Happiness in that sense is the extrinsic common good to which society is ordered as its end.
The intrinsic common good of society is the harmony of peace among the members, which enables (and partly already realizes) the attainment of that end. Peace is the tranquility of order, and it depends above all on justice, that is, on everyone being given what is due to them, their right (jus). Several things are due to everyone in a society, because they are necessary for participation in society. First, of course, what is necessary for mere life: food, shelter, etc. But then beyond that what is necessary for the leisure and security required to really participate in civic friendship and public virtue, according to their proper station in life. That is, a certain security in the possession of the means for life, protection against over-work, and exploitation. And then a certain education is necessary for people to acquire the virtues and skills necessary for participation in the common life. Supplying these things is first the task of the household, but the larger society has to give the households help (subsidium) so that they can fulfill their role well, and in a way that really fosters participation in the common good. What exactly is needed will vary both according to the station of each person in society, and according to the complexity of the society itself.
Now, most really existing societies have failed to provide the means for real participation in the common good for many of those living among them. This is unjust, and destructive of the very existence of a society. But it is not an on/off type thing. Most societies have some degree of participation in real common goods, constantly wounded by some degree of injustice, including the injustice of excluding many from real participation in common goods.
What about our “society”? Alasdair MacIntyre has a great lecture where he talks about how the problem in our society is exacerbated by the fact that we think wrongly about society. The habitual way of thinking in modern society misunderstands happiness as a private good, and therefore it misunderstands what society is. Everyone has a natural inclination to live in a society, but individualistic misunderstandings lead to heedlessness of evils that undermine the common good. That is, they lead to heedlessness about what MacIntyre calls “structural injustice.” One of the examples of heedlessness that he gives is the heedlessness of “food deserts,” poor neighborhoods that lack grocery stores.
The same example was given by a friend of mine on Facebook, recently wrote an impassioned post describing how she became aware of the structures of injustice that oppress African Americans in the US:
I lived in one of the most segregated cities in the country. I lived in a neighborhood where if you told someone your address, they would literally say “you don’t live there” because only black people were expected to live there. It took me 1 1/2 hours on the bus (with changes and waiting) to reach the grocery store ONE WAY that would be 10 minutes by car. I felt that it was almost impossible to get basic food, and I was single. Most of the people I saw were moms with children who were trying to navigate kids and groceries AND one of those large wheeled shopping carts. Now I find it almost impossible to get to and from the grocery store with kids, WITH a car. How do you get basic nutrition like that? The most basic resources are food and water. And in those areas people are struggling so much it’s not financially advantageous to put more stores in an area because there wouldn’t be as much revenue as the store would want. I could see the absolute desperation of people evicted from their homes because they could not pay rent, because they could not keep a job because their child was sick and they missed work or school for just too many days and they had no backup help and the jobs they could get paid almost nothing. I realized we had absolutely no clue what it was life in the inner city was like, in our white neighborhoods with our cars.
The more one looks into it, the more one sees how many injustices have been committed against African Americans. How they have been driven to despair and crime by injustices of all kinds that have made it almost impossible to participate in the common good. And then there are the killings of which the killing of George Floyd is the latest symbol. For so long the officers of “justice” have been the officers of injustice for African Americans. Do we live in a society? It is hard to blame many African Americans from concluding that they don’t, and acting accordingly.
Pent-up rage at exclusion from society can take destructive forms. Rioting and looting are unjustly destroying lives. Such unrestrained violence makes even the bare minimum of the social impossible. And, of course, this is taken advantage of by anarchists who just like cathartic violence for its own sake. And it is celebrated and promoted by the political “left”— the political movement most explicitly committed to the destruction of the common good of human life through the corruption of morals.
So it is quite understandable that there is a strong impulse to push back. Many of my integralist friends have been writing about the need for strong action by the US government to end rioting. I agree that strong action is necessary.
But one has to be careful here. The causes of the current anger are a disorder and lack of justice deeper and less tractable than the injustice and disorder of rioting in the streets, and we have to be as determined in opposing them. John Rao has written about the temptation that Catholics since the French Revolution have felt to join “the party of order,” that is the “moderate” wing of the Revolution, the wing of capitalist exploitation, since they seem more opposed to the open anarchy of the left. But history has shown this to be a trap:
Enlightenment naturalism called for the construction of individual, political and social life upon the observable laws of nature alone; laws whose scientific character rational man was obliged to accept, and supernatural religion humbly to accommodate. Nineteenth century liberalism was pleased with that “moderate” application of Enlightenment naturalism in the Revolution of the period 1789-1792 which had guaranteed the victory of the French bourgeoisie. In contrast, it was terrified by the counterproductive demagoguery of the following Reign of Terror, and correspondingly convinced that the best means of attaining “nature’s” concrete victory over a superstitious world was in as bloodless a manner as possible. Capitalism expressed the Enlightenment’s iron clad natural laws in the economic sphere, and liberalism’s belief in the superiority of peaceful change through its commitment to a non-violent Industrial Revolution. The fortunes created by the investment of bourgeois capital in industrialization were used to support the liberal “party” that worked for the triumph of naturalism in all realms of life, economic and non-economic alike. No Enlightenment naturalism, no capitalism and liberalism. […] Fearful of the consequences of socialist activism, which seemed to strike at the peace necessary for all progress as well as the rights of property that they identified as an essential part of a natural society, [the liberals] began to feel terribly uncomfortable with its earlier historical record of association even with less disruptive revolutionary leftism. It wanted a new pedigree, one that disassociated itself from all violence whatsoever. Following in the footsteps of moderate revolutionaries of the 1790’s, it gradually sought to co-opt the use of the words “conservative” and even “rightist” to describe itself. A Specter was indeed haunting Europe, it argued, one that only a new, all-inclusive Party of Order could combat. Thus began a frantic hunt to join together “rightist” and “conservative” allies of the most disparate character, all of whom would be expected to suppress their other differences in a grand fraternal campaign for the protection of the first and most important of all rights: the sacred rights of property. Statesmen of capitalist persuasion recognized Catholicism, with its concern for private property, as a likely candidate for friendship, and opened negotiations for an Entente Cordiale with the Roman Church. In seeking an alliance with Catholics, the “conservatively” enlightened were calling for a crusade in favor of scientific, “natural” laws as observed by capitalists, over and against scientific, “natural” laws as observed by “the Reds”. But there was a steep price that had to be paid by the faithful in return for constructing this coalition of the willing. They were expected to admit that critiques of capitalism were either much ado about nothing or rationally erroneous. More importantly still, they were called upon to recognize that a God horrified by socialist materialism and covetousness had undoubtedly bestowed His blessing upon the opposing capitalist army, rendering criticism of the economic principles written on its banners nothing less than war against Heaven itself.
The “steep price” that Rao explains here is far too steep. It is a price that has probably resulted in the loss of many souls.
What is needed, then, is an uncompromising commitment to integral justice for the sake of the common good: fiat justitia ruat caelum. Justice towards poor minorities till now excluded from society, as well as justice to poor shopkeepers attacked by looters. Such integral justice requires the conversion of society to Christ the King. As Pope Pius XI put it: “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”
20 thoughts on “Racial Justice and Social Order”
“The more one looks into it, the more one sees how many injustices have been committed against African Americans.”
Let me ask you something, Father, and quite respectfully. Have you dug deeper and looked into the underpinnings for each and every claim regarding those injustices? Or, is this an issue of confirmation bias – “I suspected X was true, and everything I read confirmed that, ergo ‘X’ is true.”
Of which injustices do you speak? Who visited them upon African Americans? When? Where? How?
You echoed exactly what I was thinking when I read that howler. This priest is still pretty young, he has a lot to learn.
Try watching this:
As a young man I read Solzhenitsyn´s the Gulag Archipelago and several other works of his regarding mass incarceration in the Soviet Union. And thus the story of mass incarceration in the U.S. rang a bell in my soul, practically speaking the same bell. It alls speaks of man´s inhumanity to man, of original sin, of the facts of human history. It is a powerful story.
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“One of the examples of heedlessness that he gives is the heedlessness of ‘food deserts,’ poor neighborhoods that lack grocery stores.”
Presumably if the people who own and run grocery stores felt that they could run a profitable business in these neighborhoods, they would. The people who live in these neighborhoods must eat–none of them starve to death–so they do get food. So the solution to this problem is what, hold a gun to people’s heads to force the grocery store owners to build stores where they otherwise wouldn’t, and hold a gun to the local people’s heads to force them to buy nutritious food there?
One of the reasons there aren’t more grocery stores in these neighborhoods is the level of shoplifting and robbery. Store owners don’t care to risk it, so they stay out. In California, the state no longer prosecutes petty theft, which further endangers small businesses that can’t sustain the losses. So what’s your solution to this problem? If you don’t have one, I respectfully ask that you withdraw the criticism. Where there’s no adequate alternative, one is left with what one’s left with.
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Actually the reason there are food deserts is that people do not run grocery stores any more. Amazon and Walmart run grocery stores. Humans run bodegas and they are the only stores in these areas.
Also unsupervised, unemployed 12-25 year old males will rob, steal, race cars, ride dirt bike at high speeds, shoot each other, try drugs, get drunk, seduce women etc. etc. This is what fathers prevent. Oh and policemen in the neighborhood walking not riding in cars. Fathers and beat cops are long gone.
It is like we have designed urban areas to be dystopias. Impoverished black people living in these dystopias blame racism. They are wrong about the cause but that does not mean there is not a seriously wicked problem.
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So what’s your solution to this problem? If you don’t have one, I respectfully ask that you withdraw the criticism. Where there’s no adequate alternative, one is left with what one’s left with.
That is not a serious critique, it’s a rhetorical bluff. One needs not have a comprehensive answer to the problem of food deserts, or any other societal evil, in order to identify it as a grave wrong.
Furthermore, we who live under the reign of Christ the King are stewards of our wealth and resources, not little gods. The truly needy have a rightful claim to a portion of those things that you say are yours if their need is legitimate.
Looking at a community as just an arbitrarily assembled batch of free and equal supermen making autonomous choices is the wrong way to look at a community.
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There are connections between different kinds of injustice, and one injustice breeds another. Poor neighborhoods, that lack the conditions necessary for participation in the common good become more violent and crime-ridden, and this leads to more poverty and violence and food deserts, etc. It’s a vicious spiral.
And those conditions did not come about accidentally, as the history of the New Deal’s HOLC and the practice of racial covenants (where you promise not to sell your house to any one who isn’t white).
The author also shares helpful sites for further research for those interested in learning more, like “Segregated by Design”: https://www.segregatedbydesign.com/?fbclid=IwAR1dEp2pDssDXWzh_Hj6Y_Rng4u8afD4qrTjdMLVmnGiL2I0RJiL6Ed9a80
“One of the reasons there aren’t more grocery stores in these neighborhoods is the level of shoplifting and robbery.”
This, exactly. Either the US is a capitalist, entrepreneurial (or profiteering), economy or racism somehow prevents gigantic corporations from building in these food deserts. Also, see the Black shop owners weeping as their stores (dare I say, some are grocery?) are destroyed by rioting? Wonder why there are no more food stores in some places? Shoplifting? Robbery? Destruction?
Good thoughts, Pater. On the topic of the French Revolution, it is probably also worth considering that the modern conception of Race (particularly, the White Race as Supreme) is rooted in the Enlightenment through Bernier. Similarly, one finds a fascinating synthesis of the integralist “party of order” and the “uncompromising commitment to integral justice” in the black Catholic revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, who freed the slaves of Haiti (oppressed by the regimes of both “Throne and Altar” and Revolutionary France).
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Very sad to see in the Q&A MacIntyre assumes the existence of God is a truth of faith rather than reason and thus that a polity erected upon nature and reason would not be integralist. Demonstrating why Pius X said in the Oath that the rational demonstrability of the existence of God is the first of those dogmas directly opposed to the errors of this day.
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I didn’t watch to Q and A, but that is sad. Particularly, since MacIntyre defends natural theology in God, Philosophy, Universities.
Well, I would say that Catholic subjects are, in a sense, already members of the party of Order. They are to be loyal to their rulers (understood in the most broad sense, as people administering any kind of common good), be them good or bad, just or unjust, dumb or wise, with piety and love, as if they were their parents. The Jewish People were to rebel against Antioch, who desecrated the Temple, but also to endure the discriminatory and murderous Pontius Pilate, and pay him taxes for Caesar. Even if rulers are pagan tyrants or persecutors, they are better endured and suffered than deposed in most circumstances. This applies also to America and the American Enlightenment regime: its institutions, deficient as they are, are entitled to our filial loyalty, service and devotion. So, we ought to fight with whomever else may defend them for some reason.
While tyrannicide, limited rebellion and/or just civil war may be permissible in the most dire of contexts, involving desecration, destruction or genocide of such a scale that the violent overthrowing of the temporal authorities becomes the lesser evil, revolution itself is a Satanic temptation. I would say, fight for the poor, but not against the Kings. Die a martyr before participating in an intrinsically evil act, but remain loyal in every other respect. Do not raise your hand against the Lord´s annointed, and know that He hears the poor. Justice will come from Heaven, but never from the Revolution. I think this is the main point in which Political Catholicism and Liberalism differ. We may understand rioters, we may know that those at power are at fault in many cases, but we should fight them, and as Louis IX said, refuse to give them our “auxilium er consilium”. That´s what I think.
Excuse my non-Latin: auxilium et consilium.
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Pope St. John XXIII
“We would remind such people that it is the law of nature that all things must be of gradual growth. If there is to be any improvement in human institutions, the work must be done slowly and deliberately from within. Pope Pius XII expressed it in these terms: “Salvation and justice consist not in the uprooting of an outdated system, but in a well designed policy of development. Hotheadedness was never constructive; it has always destroyed everything. It has inflamed passions, but never assuaged them. It sows no seeds but those of hatred and destruction. Far from bringing about the reconciliation of contending parties, it reduces men and political parties to the necessity of laboriously redoing the work of the past, building on the ruins that disharmony has left in its wake.””
Which brings to mind Aquinas’ thought on government: “The more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be.”
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Great piece, Pater. Christ should reign in our hearts, and in the public sphere.
“Furthermore, we who live under the reign of Christ the King are stewards of our wealth and resources, not little gods. The truly needy have a rightful claim to a portion of those things that you say are yours if their need is legitimate.”
Time to ask, what are WE doing? It is clear that the time has come for more of us to get out of the armchairs and commit to some corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Further, the outsourcing of community/neighborhood protection to an impersonal, amoral paid police force is one of the reasons for the breakdown of these poor neighborhoods.
The principle of subsidiarity almost demands that neighborhoods be expected to police themselves, if they are able.
Indeed, if my property is so important to me, I should use the resources I have to protect it myself. Additionally, if I am Catholic and I want to put my money where my mouth is regarding truly loving my neighbor, I shouldn’t have any difficulty in protecting my neighbor’s property.
But all of this is secondary to merely being present for those neighbors and helping to provide their basic needs.
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I am with you, Pater. If you keep going deeper into the traditional Catholic Social Doctrine you will come out inexorably with the Gospel and with the social transformation that is truly worth fighting for (i.e., the Kingdom of Christ, which embraces the exigencies of the Christian anthropology taught by the Magisterium.). There lie the exigencies of integralism rightly understood and there you have something worth fighting for.
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