A 4.2.8 Response to Exercise


The five planks I have identified in RN’s remedy for the crisis of workers’ conditions are:

  • All people, including workers, have a natural right to property ownership.
  • Both employers and workers must fulfil their obligations to justice.
  • When people are in poverty, others must respond in charity to meet their needs.
  • Government must act to ensure justice for workers.
  • Workers need to form associations to defend their claims for justice.

Are there only those five or did you come up with any others that should be included in the list?

Despite Rerum Novarum being neither liberal nor socialist – and despite the criticisms of it made from both these stances – its position does hold together.  It is coherent, but not simply because it has combined elements of left and right.  Rather it offers a perspective distinct from both.

It is premised on commitment to the common good and this is why it rejects class conflict as a basic driver of history. In line with earlier Catholic teaching, it holds that property ownership is acceptable and it argues for its importance.  But, in line with the ‘principle of the universal destination of goods’ (as this was called later), it insists that both workers and, especially, employers must meet the obligations of justice in their relations with each other.  If they do this, their activities help to generate the common good.

But to the extent that the realities of workers’ conditions fall short of the common good – as they continue to do today in many places – three other things are necessary: direct charitable assistance, government action, and workers’ unions.

Yet there are some serious questions about whether its position had some inherent gaps that show incoherence, especially under the pressure of events, including real workers’ struggles.  One such area, already touched upon, is whether it can give rise to any positive account of the role that adversarial struggle or conflict has in bringing about justice.  We shall look at this below, in studying how John Paul employs the principle of ‘solidarity’ and in looking at the kind of campaigning that Citizens UK undertakes.



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