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Laborem Exercens

At the suggestion of frequent commenter Epistemology, I've been reading John Paul II's 1981 encyclical, Laborem exercens laying out a kind of Catholic "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Very interesting reading. It's not at all how I would put things, but certainly something I sympathize with.

April 4, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Awww... see. Even Matt Yglesias loves the Pope SOMETIMES. Everybody loves the Pope sometimes. Vivat Papa!

Posted by: Chris | Apr 5, 2005 12:05:36 AM

"Laborem exercens" sounds like some kind of medieval Lamaze class.

Posted by: praktike | Apr 5, 2005 12:13:35 AM

Centesimus Annus is worth reading as well. And anyone who shares John Paul II's commitment to democracy, the free market, a "third way," pacifism, and a culture of life would do well to show us how all of the above stand or fall together.

Posted by: John | Apr 5, 2005 12:48:57 AM

As the name "Centesimus Annus" the project of finding a third way between capitalism and socialism is a very old project of the Catholic Church. It started back in the middle of the 19th century.

Posted by: Rene | Apr 5, 2005 4:25:19 AM

I particularly liked this endorsement of file-sharing in Laborem Exercens:
On the contrary, it has always understood this right [ownership of property]within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.

But my favorite is this:
Work which demanded from the worker the exercise of physical strength, the work of muscles and hands, was considered unworthy of free men, and was therefore given to slaves. By broadening certain aspects that already belonged to the Old Testament, Christianity brought about a fundamental change of ideas in this field, taking the whole content of the Gospel message as its point of departure, especially the fact that the one who, while being God, became like us in all things devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter's bench.
This is not an apology for the explicit endorsement of slavery in the Old Testament, but an apology for the abolition of slavery. If you wonder what it means to be a conservative Pope, look no further. Since slavery was the ways of our fathers, we must find reason in the Bible to put it aside. Since Jesus nowhere says to do so, Pope John Paul II reads Jesus' debasement of himself by manual labor to mean that slaves' work is not beneath us, therefore slaves are not necessary, so abolition of slavery is OK.

The contrast between secular humanism and religion cannot be made starker: it is axiomatic in humanist philosophy that slavery is wrong, the Pope needs to find justification in the Bible to say so.

Posted by: epistemology | Apr 5, 2005 9:28:12 AM

Epistemology,

The counterargument would be that humanist philosophy can pluck any statement out of the blue and claim it as axiomatic. You pick a positive example in abolishing slavery but it could just as easily be abolishing Finland.

Posted by: Mike Collins | Apr 5, 2005 9:42:32 AM

No, unless there's a lot more humanists running around advocating Finlandic abolitionism than I've ever heard of.

Posted by: Barry | Apr 5, 2005 10:22:50 AM

Go back and read the original:

Rerum Novarum.

Read something out of the Reinhold Neibuhr reader, as well

Posted by: cleversopnge | Apr 5, 2005 11:00:21 AM

Re: Since slavery was the ways of our fathers, we must find reason in the Bible to put it aside.

Huh? While the above might apply to a rigid Sola Scriptura Protestant sect, it certainly does not apply to the Roman Catholic Church, which very often grounds its thinking on moral matters in non-Scriptural sources, the most general being “natural law” philosophy.

Re: it is axiomatic in humanist philosophy that slavery is wrong

Again, huh? You may think it is some sort of fundamental axiom that slavery is wrong (since we all grow up taking that as a given in today’s world), but back in the 1800s those who opposed slavery for non-religious, humanistic grounds had to construct reasoned arguments from first principles as to why slavery was wrong. It was not an unchallenged axiom back then, but rather a derived result.

Posted by: JonF | Apr 5, 2005 12:54:58 PM

Slavery is wrong because it results in manifold suffering. In places where it doesn't - say, slavery of horses, and slavery of children (by their parents) - it is not wrong. At least by general interpretation.

I'll accept that suffering is wrong axiomatically, though. How can you define suffering except in terms of that which is wanted to be avoided or is bad in se?

Posted by: theogon | Apr 5, 2005 1:38:58 PM

Mike Collins:

The counterargument would be that humanist philosophy can pluck any statement out of the blue and claim it as axiomatic

Defining a philosophy as humanist, as opposed to religious, means that humanity, as opposed to god, is to be served. Does god or humanity come first? That is the difference between religion and secular humanity. If god decrees the destruction of humanity, which side are you on?

Posted by: epistemology | Apr 5, 2005 3:05:00 PM

JonF:

those who opposed slavery for non-religious, humanistic grounds had to construct reasoned arguments from first principles as to why slavery was wrong. It was not an unchallenged axiom back then, but rather a derived result.
You are right, if the principle axiom of humanism is that man is the measure of all things, then abolition of slavery is an obvious, but derived, corollary. Since most Christians take the Bible to be axiomatic (assumed truth) then it IS axiomatic that slavery is good in Christianity, and abolition must be derived from...what? Humanism? The evolution of morality? Certainly not the teachings of Jesus.

And the Catholic Magisterium does indeed depend on natural law as much as Biblical injunction, but that was not the question. In John Paul II's defense of the abolition of slavery, he nowhere mentions natural law, but relies on what he calls the whole content of the Gospel message.

Posted by: epistemology | Apr 5, 2005 3:32:48 PM

epistemology--

I'm trying to get clear on the point you're making -- is this a fair statement?: the (or an) important difference between Christianity and humanism is that in Christianity, the wrongness of slavery is contingent on the fact that we think God happens not to want us to have slaves, whereas in humanism, we wouldn't have slaves no matter what God thought about it?

Posted by: Christopher M | Apr 5, 2005 3:56:50 PM

Epistomology:

Slavery was abolished in Europe by Christians about the same time they wiped out gladiatoral combats, though there was backsliding with Slavs here and there. When African slavery was getting going the Pope condemned it, but the whole 'the Pope is out of step with his flock' is a rather old thing and the Spanish and Portuguese ignored him. The big English abolitionist, George Wilberforce would have been called a theocrat if the word had been current in his time, and last but not least, if you've read 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' a huge bestseller and the biggest US anti-slavery tract of the 19th century, the author thumps the reader with her Bible every couple of pages or so. Not quite all, but just about all US abolitionists were 'theocrats'. Where you get this 'Christianity likes slavery stuff' is quite beyond me.

'The whole content of the Gospel message' includes the natural law, if it didn't the Church wouldn't care about it.

Where the Church differs from most but not necessarily all secular humanist is most secular humanists have a poorly thought out Epicurean view on where the 'good for man' for want of a better term, lies, while Christianity emphatically doesn't. Christianity doesn't think that suffering is axiomatically bad.

Posted by: j mct | Apr 5, 2005 4:16:01 PM

Since slavery was the ways of our fathers, we must find reason in the Bible to put it aside. Since Jesus nowhere says to do so, Pope John Paul II reads Jesus' debasement of himself by manual labor to mean that slaves' work is not beneath us, therefore slaves are not necessary, so abolition of slavery is OK.

So, Epistemology, are you like telling us that, like, the leader of a major Christian denomination actually uses Christian texts to derive moral positions?

Glad you cleared that up for us.

Posted by: Opus Dei Ray | Apr 6, 2005 12:50:24 AM

Christopher M:

Absolutely not. A fair reading of the Bible is that god endorses slave owning, as long as it is done ethically: giving them every Sabbath off, etc. So the difference is that humanism, whatever its bad record on this subject in the past, has a morality that evolves with understanding, while religion has sacred texts that make it very hard to move on from, say the anti-women attitudes that are common in the church.

Posted by: epistemology | Apr 6, 2005 11:49:46 AM

Opus Dei Ray:

the leader of a major Christian denomination actually uses Christian texts to derive moral positions?
Glad you cleared that up for us.

No, Ray, what I am saying is that the text of the Bible clearly endorses slavery and that in the 20th century this Pope felt obliged to invent some reading of the text that could in some way justify abolition of slavery. The point is that sacred texts are a bad idea and are the major difference between empiricism and religion.

Posted by: epistemology | Apr 6, 2005 3:07:33 PM

In other news: Hell freezes over.

Cheers Matt.

Posted by: Jimmy Doyle | Apr 7, 2005 6:59:55 PM

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