Social justice – is there a conflict between Hayek’s liberalism and Catholic social thought?

Hayek

The term “social justice” leads to a lot of sabre rattling in Catholic social teaching circles. Greater attention to its meaning, including to some of the ambiguities about its meaning, might be helpful in promoting more fruitful discussion. Debates are often clouded by bringing F. A. Hayek’s disdain for the whole idea of social justice into the discussion. Supporters of a free economy, in the spirit of Hayek’s work, are therefore pitted against supporters of social justice in Catholic social thought. Constructive dialogue is impeded.

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Law, regulation and economic life – from “how much regulation?” to “who regulates?”

Catholic social teaching has a lot to say about the basic systems of law that should underlie a flourishing business economy. In recent years, Catholic social teaching has also commented on regulation. Although a distinction between law and regulation is not made explicitly in Catholic social teaching, such a distinction is helpful. It would help clear up confusion between the role of government in regulating economic life (where prudential judgement might be applied both in relation to who regulates and how much) and the role of government in providing the basic framework of governance.

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Service learning and social justice – a new innovation at St. Mary’s University

St. Mary’s University is launching a new degree programme. It is coming to the end of its validation process and will be formally “on the books” from February. Students will be able to join the programme from September 2022, but they can apply now. For the next month, we are currently advertising it “subject to validation” as the regulations require. The programme is probably unique in the UK. It will be called: “MA in Social Justice and Public Service”. 

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Can we eat, drink and be merry this Christmas?

A quick google search will reveal that Pope Francis warns us almost every year about the commercialisation of Christmas. This year, for example, he was quoted as saying: “The Christmas tree and Nativity crèche should evoke the joy and the peace of God’s love and not the selfish indulgence of consumerism and indifference”. Of course, this message is not unique to Pope Francis: almost every Christian minister warns of this danger.

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Economics and purposeful human action

Economics involves the study of purposeful human action. When economists write about “methodological individualism” as being at the basis of their subject, some Christians have a tendency to think that this is problematic: after all, we are called to live in society. However, methodological individualism simply means that it is only the individual that can act purposefully. We should not think of the economy as an abstraction. Economic decisions, outcomes and even complex social structures ultimately arise from the decisions of individuals. If there is dire poverty, oppression and corruption in a country, this does not happen without sinful actions by individuals in the economic sphere. Even if structures of sin exist, whereby the culture is so warped that we find it almost impossible to resist the temptation to sin ourselves (for example, if we simply cannot run our small business without paying a bribe), as St. John Paul II reminded us, such structures of sin always derive from the actions of individuals. That is true even if those actions were historical and interact with the actions of many others.

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The NHS – an article of faith

The UK system of health provision is unusual. Our death rate from Covid is also unusual. It is widely reported that our figure for deaths per million of population is one of the highest in the developed world. We could look at this figure and put the blame in all sorts of places. If only we had tightened borders more quickly, we would have had fewer cases, and fewer deaths; if only we imposed lockdown more quickly; if only we had a population more willing to comply with the state’s desire to track and trace us; if only we were on two islands 2,500 miles from the next nearest large country; and so on…

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The meaning of the common good and social justice

What is the common good? The definition that is used in almost all discussion in Catholic circles in the English-speaking world is taken from paragraph 26 of Gaudium et spes which was a document arising from the Second Vatican Council. The common good was defined as “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment”. This is also the definition that is used in the English language translation of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

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