A NEW paper published by Theos, a London-based religious think-tank, will raise hackles on the right and left alike, if only because of its title: “Just Money: How Catholic Social Teaching can Redeem Capitalism”. Advocates of capitalism will certainly retort that the system has no need of redemption. The core meaning of the word redemption is something like “to secure the freedom, or the very existence, of someone or something at a price….” And as a supremely efficient instrument for resource allocation and price discovery, so the argument would go, capitalism should have no need of any external agency to purchase its right to exist. It just needs to be allowed to do its job. At the other extreme, critics on the left will retort that capitalism is so wicked that it cannot be redeemed by anything, least of all the doctrines of Catholicism.
Yet the paper by Clifford Longley is well worth reading, if only because it presents in readable language ideas which normally lie buried deep inside closely argued papal encyclicals and other cerebral writings. Mr Longley explains some of the key concepts in an elaborate body of thought which began to emerge in 1891 with a document called Rerum Novarum which accepted with qualifications the ideas of a free market in capital and labour. They include not just “solidarity”—the idea that all members of society must look out for one another’s welfare—but “subsidiarity” or the widely devolved distribution of power. Catholic Social Teaching (CST) seeks to chart a middle way between unrestrained capitalism and dirigiste socialism by stressing the vital role of civil society: all the institutions, from the family to voluntary associations and churches, that stand between the individual and the state.
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