Anthony Esolen, in an on-going series in Crisis Magazine, ponders Catholic Social Teaching, as presented by Pope Leo XIII. Esolen says that Pope Leo’s rich view of humanity arms us today in not only promoting the free market, but in combating the meager thoughts proposed by socialism and liberalism.
How does Leo XIII do this? By truly understanding the human person.
Human beings are embodied rational souls, and everything they touch they mark with the fire of their spirit, the gift of God. That is the ground of their right to property. But they are not solitary atoms either, rebounding against one another in a chaotic war of all against all. For the human soul is made for love, and can only attain its end by communion with other souls. Therefore, long before we meet the State, we find human beings fashioning not artificial but real bodies in turn: families and clans and villages. It is absolutely crucial to understand this.
Catholic Social Teaching affirms the reality of the bodies that human beings form; they are not notional, but real and living, and they imply real rights and duties among the members, who are themselves not mere parts, but whole persons. [emphasis original]
It is from Church and family that we learn the reality of being human, not from the State. And it is not the State that grants human equality; that comes from the hand of God: “all men are created equal”. But when this actual equality is forgotten or set aside, an artificial equality is attempted:
…an artificial equality in goods, violating the rights, Pope Leo says, of private property, claiming “that all may with impunity seize upon the possessions and usurp the rights of the wealthy.” In other words, they seek equality where it is not to be had, and destroy the inequality—we may say, diversity—which God has ordained…
What is the answer, then, to poverty and inequality of goods and resources? Do we redistribute? Tax the rich to feed the poor? Let them simply eat cake? Esolen reminds us of the Israelites:
When God rained manna upon the Israelites in the desert, they were forbidden to hoard it up; they were forbidden to treat it as quantity, rather than as a gift, from a personal God to persons made in His image. When they tried to do so anyway, the manna rotted and stank. It is high time we ceased thinking of masses and quantity, and remembered duty and love. That should strike all of us, rich and poor alike, with trembling.