Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Rights of Labor, Part 1

LABOR, WORK, ECONOMICS, the activity of homo economicus, man the worker, are the last areas that Maritain explores in the book we have been reviewing, Natural Law: Reflections on Theory and Practice. It is clear that this area of the human endeavor has been the subject of human thought in a particularly focused way since the Industrial Revolution, by both secularists and the Church. As both the nation and the world have progressed economically, so also must moral reflection advance. The economic life must not leave the moral life behind. They advance together. For this reason, we have seen the social doctrine, particularly in the area of social and economic matters, of the Church bloom from the issuance by Leo XIII of Rerum novarum in 1891 (Rerum novarum means "Of new things"), to the point that a rather bulky Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church could be published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004.

Labor, work is fundamental to the human person. To a certain extent, as a result of social and historical factors, the laborer, the worker has reached a sort of social adulthood. "The principle phenomenon . . . which emerged in the nineteenth century is the consciousness of self (prise de conscience), achieved by the working person and the working community." Maritain, 86. Maritain sees this self-consciousness, this self-awareness as a sort of moral advance, a "historic gain in the consciousness of the dignity of work and of the worker, of the dignity of the human person in the worker as such." Maritain, 87.

While affecting economic life and the temporal order, this advance is primarily of a spiritual and moral order, and that is what gives it its importance. It is the grasp of consciousness of an offended and humiliated human dignity and of the mission of the working world in modern history. It signifies the ascension towards liberty and personality, taken in the inner reality and their social expression, of a community of persons . . . the community of manual work, the community of human persons charged with this labour.

Maritain, 86-87. The proletariat has come of age, has taken its rightful place among the gods, and is aware, as others have become aware, of its newly-found dignity and place in the banquet of the common good. It wants its share of the ambrosia. Like all changes, this development has been unsettling and, like most things in the world of men, it may be found to have both good and bad elements, positive and negative faces. In confronting this Janus-faced development, Maritain chooses to focus on the smiling, positive developments. The fact is: it happened. What may we learn from it? What part of this historical development is good and should be promoted as a lasting gain?

Janus, the Roman God of Doorways

As a result of this advance, various rights may be said to have been more clearly learned or need to be more clearly learned:
  • The right to a just wage, "for a man's work is not a piece of merchandise subject to the mere law of supply and demand."
  • The right to work, which means "the right of every one to find work which will afford a living for himself and his family."
  • The freedom to organize, to form trade-unions, "free to confederate as they see fit."
  • The "right to strike," the "natural weapon" of the worker, limited by needs arising out of "national emergency," which Maritain sees as nothing other than a corollary to the freedom of association. Neither the State nor economic powers are allowed to disarm the worker, though in emergencies, when the common good demands it, its exercise may be prohibited.
For Maritain, these rights are related to the awareness of work's own dignity, the dignity of the human person engaged in work, and the awareness that the worker "stands before his employer in a relationship of justice and as an adult person, not as a child or as a servant." Maritain, 89. This relationship, and the awareness of the rights that come with it, however, is founded on a "moral datum." Maritain, 89. If this is forgotten, then trade-unionism could, "in its turn, run the risk of becoming tyranny." The relationship between capital and labor, then, must be built upon justice, and not power. And this is true whether one looks at the power that labor, if gathered together in unions, has over capital, or the power that capital has over labor.

For all Maritain's solicitude for the laborer, he ought not to be misunderstood. He is not a socialist, and indeed warns against a socialist solution, what he calls a "temptation which arises from old socialist concepts," to the problem between capital and labor. He advocates against a "planned economy," against "collectivization," for a decentralizing solution that is "associative," comes from "producers and consumers from the bottom up," and allows for a greater share of labor in management responsibilities and in the success of the venture.

The temptation . . . is that of granting primacy to economic technique, and by the same token of tending to entrust everything to the power of the State, administrator of the welfare of all, and to its scientific and bureaucratic machinery; which obviously, whether we will or no, leads in the direction of a totalitarianism with a technocratic base.

Maritain, 90. Maritain, then, suggests we re-think the matter of association in the area of business. "When I speak of the associative form of industrial ownership, I am thinking of an association of persons . . . entirely different from the associations of capital which the idea of joint ownership might suggest under the present regime."* Maritain, 90-91. Why can't the capital/labor division be less stark, more blended? Aren't innovative associations--something other than the inherited corporations, where the worker has an interest in the venture (what Maritain calls the "worker's title")--something available to us? Must we think in the historical investment and business patterns thrust upon us by another age? One should think not.**

*Cf. Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, No. 46:
When we consider the issues involved in the relationship between business and ethics, as well as the evolution currently taking place in methods of production, it would appear that the traditionally valid distinction between profit-based companies and non-profit organizations can no longer do full justice to reality, or offer practical direction for the future. In recent decades a broad intermediate area has emerged between the two types of enterprise. It is made up of traditional companies which nonetheless subscribe to social aid agreements in support of underdeveloped countries, charitable foundations associated with individual companies, groups of companies oriented towards social welfare, and the diversified world of the so-called “civil economy” and the “economy of communion”. This is not merely a matter of a “third sector”, but of a broad new composite reality embracing the private and public spheres, one which does not exclude profit, but instead considers it a means for achieving human and social ends. Whether such companies distribute dividends or not, whether their juridical structure corresponds to one or other of the established forms, becomes secondary in relation to their willingness to view profit as a means of achieving the goal of a more humane market and society. It is to be hoped that these new kinds of enterprise will succeed in finding a suitable juridical and fiscal structure in every country. Without prejudice to the importance and the economic and social benefits of the more traditional forms of business, they steer the system towards a clearer and more complete assumption of duties on the part of economic subjects. And not only that. The very plurality of institutional forms of business gives rise to a market which is not only more civilized but also more competitive.
**There is a negative to the "worker's title" notion. If the worker shares in the benefits of the venture, then he also shares in the risk of the venture, including the risk of loss.

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