Pope Francis message to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences Plenary Session, 2017 on fraternity, the meaning of action and work, and a new energy in history that tends to arouse fraternity, freedom, justice, peace and dignity for all
Message of the Holy Father to the Participants in the PASS Plenary Session
Distinguished Professor MARGARET ARCHER, President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
On the occasion of the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which has as its theme Towards a Participatory Society: New Roads to Social and Cultural Integration, I express my grateful greeting, to you Professor, to H.E. Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Soronodo and to each one of the participants.
With the competence and professionalism proper to you, you chose to study a question that I have very much at heart: that of social participation. We can well say that society is primarily a process of participation: of goods, of roles, of statutes, of advantages and disadvantages, of benefits and charges, of obligations and duties. Persons are partners, or that “taking part” in the measure in which society distributes parts. From the moment that society is a participatory reality, given mutual exchange, we must represent it, at a time, as an irreducible whole and as a system of inter-relation between persons. Justice, then, can be retained by virtue of the individuals and institutions that, in respect of legitimate rights, look to the promotion of the good of those that take part in it.
- A first point I want to bring to your attention is the extension necessary today of the traditional notion of justice, which cannot be restricted to judgment on the distributive moment of wealth, but must be pushed until the moment of its production. It is not enough, that is, to claim the “just payment of the worker” as Rerum Novarum recommended (1891). One must also ask oneself if the productive process is carried out or not in respect of the dignity of human work; if it accepts or not the fundamental human rights; if it is compatible or not with the moral norm. Already in no. 67 of Gaudium et Spes, one reads: “Therefore, the whole productive process must be adapted to the needs of the person and to his ways of life.” Work is not a mere factor of production that, as such, must adapt itself to the needs of the productive process to enhance efficiency. On the contrary, it is the productive process that must be organized in such a way as to make possible the human growth of persons and the harmony of times of family life and of work.
One must be convinced that such a project, at the stage of today’s society, partially post-industrial, is feasible because it is desired. See why the Social Doctrine of the Church (SDC) invites with insistence to find ways to apply in practice fraternity as regulatory principle of the economic order. Wherever other lines of thought speak only of solidarity, while the contrary is not always true, given that a fraternal society is also supportive, whereas the contrary is not always true, as so many experiences confirm to us. The appeal, therefore, is that of putting remedy to the error of contemporary culture, which has made us believe that a democratic society can progress having the code of efficiency between them disjointed – which would be enough on its own to regulate relations between human beings in the economic sphere – and the code of solidarity – which would regulate inter-subjective relations in the social sphere. It is this dichotomization that has impoverished our society.
The key word that expresses better than any other today the need to overcome such a dichotomy is “fraternity,” evangelical word, taken up in the motto of the French Revolution, but which the post-Revolutionary order then abandoned – for noted reasons – until its cancellation from the political-economic lexicon. It was the evangelical testimony of Saint Francis, with his school of thought, to give this term the meaning that it then kept in the course of the centuries, namely, that of constituting, at a time, the complement and exaltation of the principle of solidarity. In fact, whereas solidarity is the principle of social planning that makes it possible for un-equals to become equals, fraternity is what makes it possible for the equal to be different persons. Fraternity enables persons that are equal in their essence, dignity, freedom, and in their fundamental rights, to participate differently in the common good in keeping with their capacity, their plan of life, their vocation, their work or their charism of service. From the beginning of my pontificate I have wished to indicate “that one finds in a brother the permanent prolongation of the Incarnation for each one of us” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 179). In fact, the protocol with which we will be judged is based on fraternity: “All that you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
The stages that we left behind, 1800’s and especially 1900’s, were characterized by arduous battles, whether cultural or political, in the name of solidarity and of rights, and this was a good thing – if we think of the labor movement and of the struggle to win civil and social rights – struggles in any case far from being concluded. What is more disquieting today is the increasing exclusion and marginalization from an equal participation in the distribution, on a national and planetary scale, in the goods be it of the market, be it of the non-market, such as dignity, freedom, knowledge, membership, integration, peace. In this connection, what makes persons suffer most and leads to the rebellion of citizens is the contrast between the theoretical attribution of equal rights for all and the unequal and iniquitous distribution of fundamental goods for the greater part of persons. Even if we live in a world in which wealth abounds, many persons are still victims of poverty and of social exclusion. The inequalities – together with the wars of domination and climate changes – are the causes of the greatest forced migration in history, which strikes more than 65 million human beings. If we think also of the growing tragedy of new slaveries in the forms of forced labor, of prostitution, of the traffic of organs, which are true crimes against humanity. It is alarming and symptomatic that today the human body is bought and sold, as if it were merchandise to be exchanged. Almost one hundred years ago, Pius XI foresaw the affirmation of these inequalities and iniquities as the consequence of a global economic dictatorship that he called “international imperialism of money” (Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, May 15, 1931, 109). And it was Paul VI who lamented, almost 50 years later, the “new abusive form of economic domination on the social, culture and also political plane” (Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, May 14, 1971, 44).
The point is that a participatory society cannot be content with a horizon of pure solidarity and welfarism, because a society that is only supportive and of welfare, and not also fraternal, would be a society of unhappy and desperate persons of which everyone would seek to flee, in extreme cases also with suicide.
A society in which true fraternity is dissolved is not capable of a future, that is, that society is not capable of progressing in which only “give to have” exists or “giving out of duty.” See why, neither the liberal vision — individualist of the world, in which everything (or almost <everything>) is exchanged, or the centric-state vision of society, in which everything (or almost <everything>) is dutifulness, are sure guides to make us overcome that inequality, inequity and exclusion in which our societies are bogged down today. It is about seeking a way out of the suffocating alternative between the neo-Liberal thesis and the neo-Statist thesis. In fact, precisely because the activity of the markets and the manipulation of nature – both moved by egoism, avidity, materialism and unfair competition — at times knows no limits, it is urgent to intervene on the causes of such malfunction, especially in the financial realm, rather than limiting oneself to correct its effects.
- A second aspect I wish to touch upon is, namely, the concept of integral human development. To battle for integral development means to commit oneself for the widening of the space of dignity and freedom of persons: freedom understood, however, not only in the negative sense as absence of impediments, or only in the positive sense as possibility of choice. It is necessary to add to it freedom “for,” that is freedom to pursue one’s vocation for good be it personal or social. The key idea is that freedom goes hand-in-hand with the responsibility to protect the common good and to promote the dignity, freedom and well-being of others, so as to reach the poor, the excluded and the future generations. It is this perspective that, in the present historical conditions, enables us to overcome sterile diatribes at the cultural level and harmful counter-positions at the political level, enabling one to find the necessary consensus for new projects.
It is within this context that the question of work is posed. The limitations of the present culture of work have now become evident to most, even if there is no convergence of view on the way to go to attain their overcoming. The way indicated by the SDC begins by the acknowledgement that work even before being a right, is a capacity and an indispensable need of the person. It is the human being’s capacity to transform the reality, to participate in the work of creation and conservation done by God and, thus doing, to edify oneself. To recognize that work is an innate capacity and a fundamental need is a rather stronger affirmation than to say that it is a right. And this so because, as history teaches, rights can be suspended or in fact negated; the capacities, the attitudes and the needs if fundamental or not.
In this connection, we can refer to the classic reflection from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, on acting. This thought distinguishes two forms of activity: transitive doing and immanent doing. Whereas the former connotes action that produces a work outside the one who acts, the latter makes reference to an act that has its ultimate end in the subject himself who acts. The former changes the reality in which the agent lives; the latter changes the agent himself. Now, since such a transitive activity does not exist as to not be also always immanent, from it derives <the fact> that the person has the priority in relations of his acting and therefore of his work.
The first consequence is expressed well by the classic affirmation operari sequitur esse: it is the person who decides about his own operating; self-generation is the fruit of one’s self-determination. When work is no longer expressive of the person, because the latter no longer understands the meaning of what he is doing, work becomes slavery — a persons can be substituted by a machine.
The second consequence calls into question the notion of the justice of work. Just work is that which not only ensures a fair remuneration, but corresponds to the person’s vocation and, therefore, is able to develop his capacities. Precisely because work is transformative of the person, the process through which goods and services are produced acquires moral value. In other terms, the work place is not simply the place in which certain elements are transformed, in keeping with determined rules and procedures, into products, but it is also the place in which the character and the virtue of the laborer are formed (or transformed).
The acknowledgement of this more strongly personalistic dimension of work is a great challenge which is still before us, also in the liberal democracies where the workers have even made notable conquests.
Finally, I cannot fail to speak of the grave risks connected with the invasion, in the high levels of culture and of instruction — be it of the university or school –, of the positions of libertarian individualism. A common characteristic of this fallacious paradigm is that it minimizes the common good, namely, the “living well,” the “good life,” in the communal framework, and exalts that egoistic ideal, which deceitfully affirms that it is only the individual that gives value to things and to inter-personal relations and, therefore, it is only the individual that decides what thing is good and what thing is bad; libertarianism, very fashionable today, preaches that to found individual freedom and responsibility one must recur to the idea of self-causation. Thus libertarian individualism denies the validity of the common good, because on one hand it implies that the idea itself of “common” implies the constriction of at least some individuals, and on the other hand that the notion of “good” deprives freedom of its essence.
The radicalization of individualism in libertarian terms and, therefore, antisocial, leads to conclude that each one has the ‘right” to expand himself to where his power consents him even at the price of the exclusion and marginalization of the most vulnerable majority.Because it would limit freedom, the bonds must be what must be loosened. Erroneously equating the concept of bond with that of link, one ends up by confusing the conditionings of freedom – the links – with the essence of the freedom realized, namely the bonds or relations with the precise goods, from those of the family or the inter-personal, from those of the excluded and the marginalized to those of the common good, and finally to God.
The 15th century was the century of the first Humanism; at the beginning of the 21st century one perceives increasingly the need for a new Humanism. Then it was the transition form feudalism to the modern society that was the decisive engine of change. Today, it is a passage of epoch equally radical: that of the modern society to the post-modern <society>, the endemic increase of social inequalities, the migratory question, the identity conflicts. The new slaveries, the environmental question the problems of bio-politics and bio-rights are only some of the questions that speak of today’s hardships. In face of such challenges, the mere updating of old categories of thought or recourse to refine technics of collective decision-making are not enough; new ways must be sought inspired by the message of Christ.
The Gospel’s proposal: “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33) was and still is a new energy in history that tends to arouse fraternity, freedom, justice, peace and dignity for all. In the measure in which the Lord will succeed in reigning in us and among us, we will be able to participate in the divine life and will be to one another “instruments of His grace, to spread God’s mercy and to weave networks of charity and fraternity” (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 5). This is the wish I address to you, and that I accompany with my prayer, so that the Academy of Social Sciences will never be lacking the vivifying help of the Spirit.
While I entrust these reflections to you, I encourage you to carry forward with renewed commitment your precious service and, in asking you, please, to pray for me, I bless you from my heart.
Vatican City, 27 April 2017