The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What’s so Social about Justice?

That which the Greeks called dikaiosyne and which we call justice has been sought after by men for millennia. But what is justice? A great deal of thought has been directed towards answering that question since the days of Socrates. It was the subject of Plato’s most important dialogue, The Republic, and lay at the heart of Aristotle’s Ethics as well. It has been considered no less important by the great thinkers of the Church, from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas. While there can hardly be said to be a consensus among Western thinkers, classical and Christian, on the subject, it is generally agreed that the essence of justice lies in everyone receiving that which is due him.

In Christianity there is another concept which exists in tension with justice but which is regarded as being of equal importance. That concept is the concept of mercy. In evangelical Sunday Schools, mercy is frequently linked with grace, and the two are distinguished by saying “mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve, i.e., punishment” and “grace is when you get what you don’t deserve, i.e., God’s acceptance and favour”. While this is a nice way of showing the positive and negative sides of God’s saving work in Christ, it does not reflect Scriptural usage and can produce a serious misunderstanding of the concept of mercy. To define mercy as “not getting the punishment you deserve” is to define mercy as the negation of justice. Throughout Scripture, however, we find the concepts of mercy and justice linked together.

Take, for example, the sixth chapter of the book of Micah. In this chapter, in the midst of an indictment against His people, God reminds them of the incident of Balak and Balaam. The former was a king of Moab and the latter a prophet. The Book of Numbers records how Balak sent for Balaam to curse Israel. God warned Balaam against doing so, and Balaam refused to go. Balak insisted, however, and God told Balaam to go, but to speak only the words God would give him. He emphasized the point in the famous episode involving the angel and the donkey. When Balaam finally came to Balak, he did the opposite of what Balak asked and blessed Israel instead of cursing them. In Micah, God refers to a part of the story that was not recorded in the book of Numbers. Balak is said to have inquired of Balaam as to how he should approach the Lord – with sacrifices of calves, rams and “rivers of oil”? Balak even offers to sacrifice his firstborn son. God’s answer to this question, given to Balak through Balaam, and here quoted by Micah as a message for God’s people is:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (verse 8)

This is pretty much the opposite of what Balak had in mind. In this verse, however, which concisely sums up what God demands of people, justice and mercy are listed together. If the one meant “giving people what is due them” and the other means “not giving them what they deserve” this verse wouldn’t make much sense.

The Greek word for mercy is eleos. This word can also be rendered “loving-kindness” and has the basic meaning of doing good to other people out of love, particularly to those who are suffering or in need. Clemency – the granting of forgiveness or pardon to someone who has done wrong, and therefore is in need of forgiveness and pardon – is obviously included within mercy. It is, however, but one aspect of mercy and is merciful because it is an act of kindness towards someone who needs it, not because it is a negation of strict justice. (1)

If clemency is but one aspect of mercy, what others are there?

In the Pio Monte della Misericordia, a church in Naples, Italy, there is a painting at the high altar by Caravaggio, the early 17th Century master who in his brief, tempestuous life introduced techniques of chiaroscuro and realism that influenced painting for centuries after him. This painting is called “The Seven Works of Mercy”, a common religious theme but one which is usually painted as a series rather than as a single painting. The acts in question are the corporal works of mercy – feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty drink, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, and burying the dead. Caravaggio borrows stories from the Bible, classical history, and the lives of the saints to illustrate these works. The concept of the “works of mercy” is an old one, and the works themselves are for the most part taken from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.

In the ancient concept of the “seven works of mercy” there is an important revelation about how the Christian faith regards help for the needy. These acts are not called “works of justice”. What this tells us is that Christianity has long regarded helping the needy as something that should be done out of Christian love – charity (2) and not out of a sense that need equals entitlement. If a person were entitled to receive whatever he needed from other people then giving him what he needed would be considered justice and not mercy.

It is important that we keep this in mind when we consider the notion of “social justice”. As we shall see, justice and mercy are often confused with each other in the ideas of those who speak of “social justice”. This was not, however, the case with the first people who first thought up the concept of social justice.

The expression “social justice” is a fairly recent one, having been first coined in the 19th century. Since it was originally used to express a concept that had been formulated in response to conditions brought upon by modernity and the Industrial Revolution it would be fair to say that the concept is quite recent as well, although its proponents would point to ancient antecedents of their ideas.

What do the words “social justice” mean? If we take the “justice” in “social justice” to be the “justice” that has been a recognizable subject of discussion for thousands of years, then what kind of justice is indicated by adding the word “social”?

One possibility is that “social” has a contextual sense – “social justice” is justice within society rather than justice outside society. If this is the case it would appear to be an unnecessary redundancy as it is difficult to conceive of what this justice outside of society would look like.

Another possibility is that “social justice” is justice between societies rather than between individual persons.

Then there is the possibility that “social justice” is justice between social groups within a society.

This last possibility corresponds best with how the words “social justice” were originally used. The first people to speak of “social justice” were Roman Catholic priests in the 19th Century. The concept was introduced in the context of criticism of capitalism, i.e., the modern economic system brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Their concern was that certain classes, in particular the new class of industrial laborers, were not being treated with justice under this new system. This would seem to indicate an overlap between the idea of social justice and that of socialism. It is important, therefore, to note the difference between the two concepts. Even in the 19th Century socialism had many forms but these all shared the common idea that the private ownership of productive property was the source of injustice between social classes, and should therefore be replaced by a form of collective ownership. The Roman Catholic theologians who first thought in terms of “social justice” did not share this idea. The importance of private property had always been recognized by the Christian Church (the commandment “thou shalt not steal” would be meaningless without it) and so the theologians who called for “social justice” in the 19th Century, were careful to say that socialism is not justice. The most authoritative statement the Roman Catholic Church put forward on this subject was Rerum Novarum, an encyclical by Pope Leo XIII. In this encyclical, socialism was condemned as vehemently as capitalism.

The concepts of social justice and of socialism have both evolved since the 19th Century and in the late 20th Century the line of distinction between them began to get rather blurred. Marxists and other socialists now often express their demands in terms of “social justice” and Marxism has tainted the thinking of many within the Church. Today, the words “social justice” are often understood to include any number of crack-brained ideas such as “affirmative action” (3), “foreign aid” (4), “the welfare state” (5), and “fair trade” (6). It is notable that many of these concepts, when put into practice, actually have negative consequences for the very class of people the original socialists and original “social justice” theorists were concerned for, the industrial working class (7).

T. S. Eliot, in a footnote to the introduction to his Notes towards the Definition of Culture, warns us against precisely this sort of thing:

I must introduce a parenthetical protest against the abuse of the current term ‘social justice’. From meaning ‘justice in relations between groups of classes’ it may slip into meaning a particular assumption as to what these relations should be; and a course of action might be supported because it represented the aim of ‘social justice’, which from the point of view of ‘justice’ was not just. The term ‘social justice’ is in danger of losing its rational content—which would be replaced by a powerful emotional charge. I believe that I have used the term myself: it should never be employed unless the user is prepared to define clearly what social justice means to him, and why he thinks it just.(8)

This is sound advice. If social justice is “justice in relations between groups of classes” that means that each group or class would receive from the others that which is due them, that which they legitimately have a claim to. This, of course, raises the question of what claims different classes legitimately have on each other or on society as a whole.

The original social justice theorists clearly felt that industrial workers were not receiving what was due them under capitalism. A new class had been formed, of people dependent upon a factory wage for their living. Their wages were low, in some cases barely enough to sustain their existence, and they had little security against the threat of unemployment.

The concern was that this would become a permanent arrangement and that this new class – the proletariat – would become the largest class in society. These conditions are to violent revolution what the meeting of hot and cold air fronts are to violent storms, and the 19th Century saw the fomenting of violent revolutions all across Europe. This is the historical backdrop against which Karl Marx – who welcomed revolution as the means to a paradise on earth – formed his theories. Against that same backdrop, the 1891 papal encyclical Rerum Novarum was written.

The root of the problem, for Leo XIII, was not the private ownership of property but that “the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place” (9). The socialists’ proposed solution to the problem is such that “carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer” because the motive of the worker in entering into paid labour is “to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own”. Therefore socialists “by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner”. Worse, their proposals are “manifestly against justice”, because “every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own”. After several paragraphs of arguments in favour of this position he writes “The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property.” (10)

In Rerum Novarum, the distinction between justice and mercy is clear. Calling upon the historical teachings of the Church, Leo XIII distinguishes between the ownership and use of property. Christianity upholds a man’s right to own property – but also insists that there is a right and a wrong use of it. Christianity insists that the wealthy are to share with the needy, but adds qualifications. It is to be done out of charity rather than obligation enforced by the state, for example.

That the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, as presented in this encyclical, are incompatible with socialism, and vice versa, should be obvious to everyone. Unfortunately, it has not been.

Ludwig von Mises, for example, after acknowledging that “the most recent development of Christian social theory has led the Church to recognize the fundamental rightfulness of private property in the means of production” declares that “the Church desires nothing but State Socialism of a particular color”. (11) In a footnote to this Mises refers to Rerum Novarum saying that in it Catholicism “has recognized the origin of private property in Natural Law; but simultaneously the Church laid down a series of fundamental ethical principles for the distribution of incomes, which could be put into practice only under State Socialism”.

Who was Ludwig von Mises and why did he bizarrely misinterpret a vehemently anti-socialist document as being pro-socialist?

Ludwig von Mises was the most important 20th century theorist of the Austrian School of Economics (12), a school of thought within liberalism. Liberalism was the idea that each distinct human being was an “individual”, that the individual in his rational powers possessed all that he needed to bring him to truth, and that society is the contractual creation of individuals which exists only to serve the interests of free, equal, individuals. It had been born out of Cartesian rationalism, Lockean social contract theory, and the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mills, all unsound ideas. Liberalism’s theory of economics was centred around the idea of the “free market”. The “free market” was not a literal marketplace but a way of describing what takes place when people who have goods or services they wish to sell enter into voluntary exchanges with people who wish to buy those goods and services. Without government interference (taxes, price-fixing, subsidies, etc.), liberalism argues, the market, governed by the forces of supply and demand, will produce the outcome is for the best for everybody – buyer, seller, and the community in general.

What reasons did liberalism give for this confidence in the market?

When a seller and a buyer come to a voluntary agreement about a sale, the former receives a price that he has agreed to sell for and the latter pays a price that he has agreed to pay. In a voluntary transaction the seller has the right not to sell for a price that he feels is too low and the buyer has the right not to buy at a price he feels is too high. Both therefore, enter the transaction believing that they will be better off for having made it than they would be if they had not.

The Austrian School called this the “subjective theory of value”. Each party to a voluntary transaction exchanges something he has for something else he needs or wants more. He therefore exchanges that which he values less for that which he values more. This is true whether he is a seller or a buyer - and these terms are relative and interchangeable because a seller is “buying” money with some other commodity. Both sides, therefore, gain from the transaction.

These arguments for the free market are obviously valid in a general sense. They are rather simplistic, however. There are needs and there are needs. Suppose a man is in dire and urgent need of something, and the only way he could afford it is by selling his house. There is only one prospective buyer and he takes advantage of the man’s desperate situation by offering him just the amount of money he needs and not a cent more, although this is considerably lower than the house is appraised at. Would this transaction be a non-zero sum affair where both sides gain?

How about if the man’s house is a farm which has been in his family for generations and which is the sole source of income for him and his family?

A possible answer to these questions is to suggest that this situation is not really describing a voluntary transaction. If someone were to place a gun to a man’s head and order him to sell his house for next to nothing the sale would not be regarded as a voluntary transaction. Yet the only difference between that situation and the one described above is that the one man uses a gun whereas the other uses his victim’s desperate circumstances.

Now lets ask the important question. Is there anything morally wrong with the way the one man took advantage of the other?

Most of us would not hesitate to answer with “Yes, of course there is, what on earth is the matter with you?”

Mises, however, would say that the question is inappropriate. He makes it absolutely clear in Human Action that it is not just state interference with the market that he objects to. He maintains that morality should not be allowed to interfere with the market either. (13) Moral distinctions between “right” and “wrong”, he argued, are arbitrary and irrational. The market involves rational people coming to rational terms about material transactions. “Irrational” considerations, such as morality, are an intrusion into the market which keep it from functioning at its best.

One of Mises’ colleagues radically disagreed with him on this. Wilhelm Roepke was born in Germany in the last weeks of the 19th Century. He was brought up in the country of his birth, for which he fought in WWI. Shortly after the war he was led, through reading Mises, to abandon the socialism he had initially been attracted to. He became an economist of the Austrian School and for the rest of his life championed the free market against socialism and collectivism of all sorts. This led to his flight from Germany after the Nazis took control. In exile, he taught economics first in Instanbul, then in Switzerland where he settled and lived for the rest of his life.

In 1942, Roepke published the first volume in a trilogy of books about the decay of culture and civilization in the modern Western world.. It was published in English under the title The Social Crisis of Our Times in 1950. (14) In these works Roepke lamented the exodus of people from farms and rural areas to large cities, the way production was becoming concentrated in large industrial factories, and how, as a result of these trends, a large part of the population of Western countries was becoming proletarianized – i.e./ transformed into a large class of individuals, alienated from each other and their society, and permanently dependent upon wages from large companies rather than property of their own for their living. Roepke called this mass society.

Roepke argued that there was an intrinsic trend towards socialism in mass society. In 1960, he followed up this trilogy with A Humane Economy. (15) In this book Roepke argued that it was best to “entrust economic order, not to planning, coercion, and penalties, but to the spontaneous and free co-operation of people through the market, price and competition, and at the same time to regard property as the pillar of this free order”. (p. 3). He also argued, however, that:

[T]he market economy is not everything. It must find its place within a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices, and competition. (p. 6)

In this, Roepke is not contradicting himself, although he is certainly at odds with his mentor Mises. Where Mises regarded moral and social concerns as irrational intrusions that distort the free market, Roepke understood that the market could only properly function within the framework of a moral and social order. While Roepke opposed every form of economic collectivism that Mises opposes – communism, socialism, nazism, welfarism, etc., Roepke understood where the real problem lay:

Now nothing is more detrimental to a sound general order appropriate to human nature than two things: mass and concentration. (pp. 6-7)

These things were characteristics, not just of totalitarian regimes, but of modern liberal democracies as well:

In all fields, mass and concentration are the mark of modern society; they smother the area of individual responsibility, life, and thought and give the strongest impulse to collective thought and feeling. The small circles—from the family on up—with their human warmth and natural solidarity, are giving way before mass and concentration, before the amorphous conglomeration of people in huge cities and industrial centers, before rootlessness and mass organizations, before the anonymous bureaucracy of giant concerns and eventually, of government itself, which holds this crumbling society together through the coercive machinery of the welfare state, the police, and the tax screw. (p. 7)

In his condemnation of mass society and his championing of decentralized government, localism, small-scale economics, and a moral and social framework for the free market that includes Christian ethics, strong local communities, and healthy social institutions, Roepke was echoing the social concerns of Pope Leo XIII. It was a deliberate echo, for although Roepke was a Protestant, a faithful Lutheran, he was influenced by and an admirer of such writers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc who popularized the Pope’s social ethics.

These earlier writers condemned mass society in both its capitalist and socialist forms and understood that the former leads inevitably to the latter. In 1912 Hilaire Belloc argued that capitalism and socialism were both converging towards a new form of social organization that he called the “servile state”. (16) Capitalism, he argued, was unstable and the only alternatives to it were collectivism (public ownership of the means of production), distributism (the means of production privately owned by a large number of small property owners), and the servile state. The second was the option he promoted, the third was the one he predicted. In the servile state, there would be no middle class to speak of. A large working class would work for the small propertied class but would also be maintained by the government in periods when there is not enough work for full employment. Belloc’s book in many ways is a remarkably accurate description of the “welfare state” of today.

Austrian School liberals such as Mises identified the free market and private property they defended on paper with “capitalism”, the social/economic reality of the late 18th to early 20th centuries that was produced by the Industrial Revolution. This was a mistake, a mistake the liberals shared with the Marxists and with Pope Leo XIII. Neither the Industrial Revolution nor 19th century capitalism was brought about by central governments, influenced by liberal theory, setting aside economic regulations and controls and introducing free market reforms. Indeed, interference in the economy had been required to make the transition to capitalism. If Marx was right about anything it was that liberal theory was an ex post facto rationalization and justification of capitalism and not either an honest description of it or the cause of it.

In the 20th Century however, when several countries tried to put socialist ideas into practice, the merit of the liberal argument for economic freedom and private property against central planning became apparent. The miserable conditions that existed in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites under Communism justify Leo XIII’s prediction that under socialism “the working man himself would be among the first to suffer.”

Historically, the entire period including the capitalist era of the 19th century and the welfare/socialist era of the 20th should be looked upon as a continuous era in which modern mass society developed. It was characterized, in both the capitalist and socialist periods, by the concentration of political power in the hands of the central state, by the concentration of productive property into large centrally administered conglomerations (whether privately or publicly owned), and by the reorganization of society away from a loose network of families, communities, and other organic social entities into a large mass, of indistinguishable, equal, “individuals”.

If justice is when everyone receives that which he is entitled to, mass society is massively socially unjust. This is not because there are huge discrepancies in wealth between “the rich” and “the poor”. It is because human happiness depends upon a lot more than material goods. This is something, neither the liberals nor the socialists, have ever been able to understand. Human beings require individuality (which is erased in the mass society that treats them as generic “individuals”), roots, and the security which only family and community can provide. The wealthiest man in the world would be miserable without these things. The poorest man in the world would be happy with them.

If mass society, in which political power and economic control are increasingly concentrated and centralized, is the enemy of families, local communities, and an organic social network, the justice opponents of mass society seek, will only be found in the combination of political and economic decentralization with economic liberty and the security of private property. It will also require the resurrection of traditional, religious, moral and ethical restraints on human behavior.

Today’s advocates of “social justice”, insist that a man’s need alone entitles him to resources that must be taken from other people or provided from the common purse of society. Biblical and traditional Christianity does not teach this. Orthodox Christian ethics teaches that need by itself, makes a person an object of the mercy which God commands Christians to practice. This does not amount to an entitlement because mercy can only be practiced voluntarily out of the motivation of charity – Christian love.

St. Paul, in his epistles, both condemned free-riding of the kind which modern welfarism/socialism encourages (2 Thess 3:10-12) and declared that a man has a moral duty to provide for those of his household (1 Tim. 5:8). In the first passage we see that need is not an entitlement and that even mercy is to be withheld in certain situations, in the second we see that social relationships generate social duties.
It follows from this, that a Christian concept of “social justice” must be based upon the duties that exist within the relationships in the family, community, and church and not upon the idea that the “have nots” are entitled to something from the “haves” on the basis of sheer need alone.

Those within the Church who preach a “social justice” that resembles socialism, usually rely upon the Old Testament more than the New. Even there, however, they will find little support for their ideas. The justice, the prophets demanded for widows and orphans, was protection from the law against being defrauded by those who would take advantage of their vulnerable situation. It was not an entitlement to the resources of strangers. The requirement that sold land be returned to its original owners in the Year of Jubilee was based upon the feudal relationship that existed between God and Israel. God was a feudal lord, the Israelites His resident-tenants. They therefore had only leasing rights, not selling rights. The provision that the land would return to the original holder or his heirs in the Year of Jubilee was not guaranteed to benefit the poor at the expense of the rich. It was conceivable that the man who “sold” the land would get richer and the man who “bought” the land would get poorer, before Jubilee.

A truly Christian concept of “social justice” cannot be based upon the idea that one stranger owes something to another stranger on the basis of the one being wealthy and the other being needy. Wilhelm Roepke’s “humane economy”, his “third way” in which private property and economy liberty are secure in the context of a politically and economically decentralized, social framework, in which a healthy, large middle class exists in strong local communities, would be far more just in every sense of the word, than the socialism proposed by most people who talk about “social justice” today.

(1)The relationship between a mercy that includes clemency and justice will obviously be one of tension, but not necessarily of contradiction. In the Book of Romans, St. Paul famously addresses this question by explaining how Christ’s atoning death as the propitiation for our sins is the way in which God can be both just Himself, and at the same time declare righteous sinners who trust in Christ. Christ’s atonement is an act of mercy, in which God does not just set the demands of justice against sinners aside, but meets those demands Himself out of His love for people who would otherwise be doomed to perish.

(2)Hence the current non-theological meaning of the word “charity” as “helping the needy”. Note that the Latin charitas, which translates the Greek agape, is related to the Greeks words for grace and gifts. Christian love is to be, like the love of God Himself, a giving love.

(3) Affirmative action is a euphemism for what is often called “reverse discrimination”. See Frederick R. Lynch’s Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action (Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishing, 1991), Jared Taylor, Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America (New York: Carrol and Graf, 1992), and Steven Farron’s The Affirmative Action Hoax: Diversity, the Importance of Character, and Other Lies, (Santa Ana: Seven Locks Press, 2005) for an extensive description of just how unjust this policy actually is. The last two have been released in second editions by the New Century Foundation in 2005 and 2010 respectively.

(4) Foreign aid is when the government of one country gives money to another country (which generally means to the government of the other country). While this is done for a number of reasons, in the post-WWII era it has been common for political leftists to call for foreign aid as a form of relief for poverty and other forms of suffering in the part of the world that is called the “Third World” or “developing world”. In recent decades it has become common for the left’s demands to be expressed in terms of “justice”. An obvious example of this is to be found in the nauseating drivel we hear from celebrity spokesmen for the left, like Bob Geldof and Bono, in favour of their pet causes. What they do not mention to the crowds hanging on their every word, is that the money they are demanding that Western governments take from their own people, to give to other countries, nearly always ends up in the bank accounts of the military dictators, “presidents for life”, and other irresponsible, kleptocratic governors who are themselves a significant part of the problems people in that part of the world face.

(5) See Jim Powell’s FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003) for a description of the USA’s first welfare state programs introduced in the Great Depression, and how harmful they were to the people they were supposed to be helping. Also see Charles Murray’s Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1984, 1994) for a documentation of how the social programs that expanded the American welfare state in that period of time just made the problems they were supposed to alleviate worse.

(6) “Fair trade” means deliberately paying more for a commodity than its market price so that the producers of the commodity will receive a “living wage”. As with all subsidies, it helps out a few producers, while harming many more (it drives the market price of the commodity down).

(7) An interesting study of how the left has switched its alliances and betrayed its original base is found in Dr. Paul E. Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millenium (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2005).

(8) T. S. Eliot, Notes toward a Definition of Culture (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1962) pp. 16-17. The first edition of this book came out in 1948.


(10) You are all undoubtedly as shocked as I am that these quotations from this classical papal encyclical on “the rights and duties of capital and labour” are never brought up by the priests whom American left-wing propagandist Michael Moore interviews in his “Capitalism: A Love Story”.

(11) Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1981), p. 226. This is a reprint of the translation, by J. Kahane, of the 2nd edition of Mises’ Die Gemeinwirtschaft which was published in 1932. The quotations are taken from the last page of the subsection “Christian Socialism” in chapter 15 “Particular Forms of Socialism”. On the first page of this subsection (p. 223) Mises writes “Simple faith and economic rationalism cannot dwell together”.

(12) The Austrian School goes back to Carl Menger and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk in the 19th Century but its principle figures were active in the 20th Century. A popular introduction to Austrian economics is Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way To Understand Basic Economics (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1979) originally published by Harper and Brothers in 1946. The most famous Austrian volume is undoubtedly Friedrich A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1944).

(13) Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, (San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1996). This is the 4th revised edition of a work originally published by Yale University Press in 1949. See page 724 and following for an example of what I am talking about. In the first paragraph of the section “Righteousness as the Ultimate Standard of the Individual’s Action” Mises’ brings up advocates of social reform “accomplished by compliance with the principles of Christianity” in which “conscience should also guide well-intentioned people in their dealings on the market”. Such people believe “a return to the Lord’s commandments and to the precepts of the moral code, a turning away from the vices of greed and selfishness” will make it “easy to reconcile private ownership of the means of production with justice, righteousness, and fairness”. As a result “People will dethrone the Moloch capitalism without enthroning the Moloch state”. Mises then launches into a hysterical rant against such sensible suggestions, equating them with collectivism and coercion, and insisting that the decision of the individual is absolute and above such arbitrary judgments as morality.

(14) This trilogy consisted of Die Gesellschaftskrisis der Gegenwart (1942), first published in English as The Social Crisis of our Times by the University of Chicago Press in 1950, Civitas Humana (1944) published in English as The Moral Foundations of Civil Society by William Hodge and Company in 1948, and Internationale Ordnung—heute (1945), published in English as International Order and Economic Integration by D. Reidel Publishing in 1959. The first two volumes were reprinted by Transaction Publishers of New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.A. in 1992 and 1996 respectively. All three volumes can be found online in .pdf format at the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s website:

(15) Wilhelm Roepke, A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (Chicago: Henry Regnery & Co., 1960). Quotations in this essay are taken from the 3rd edition, published by ISI Books, the book publishing arm of the Intercollegiate Scholastic Institute of Wilmington, Delaware in 1998.

(16) Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State (London & Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1912).


  1. This piece of writing is a truly Herculean effort against what is essentially socialism disguised as 'social justice'. Liberal Catholics always cite social justice to justify practices which are clearly nowhere to be found in the bible, in the tradition of the saints, or even in the entire teaching of the church taken together. I would even go further and say that social justice is a denial of God's love - also known as charity - since it assumes that families and neighbours will not take care of each other and therefore the state must redistribute wealth. Well done!

  2. Thank you! I like your comment about social justice, as it is currently understood, being a denial of God's love. One thing that Leo XII and the distributists like Chesterton and Belloc emphasized, as did Roepke was subsidiarity, which is exactly the opposite of the socialist assumption that the state must step in to take over for families and communities. Chesterton at one point said "the problem with capitalism is that there are too few capitalists". This criticism of capitalism, is the opposite of socialism's. Socialists get a lot of mileage out of the accusation that capitalism widens the gap between the rich and the poor and concentrates wealth in the hands of few but they seldom point out that a) this is exacerbated in any society where their ideas have been put into practice, and b) socialism by definition is a continuation of the process of the concentration of wealth because it seeks to concentrate wealth (and power) in the state.