See, judge, act.” Such has been the method by which modern Catholic social teaching has urged Catholics to approach the political and economic challenges of our time. First and foremost, the “seeing” involves looking with the eyes of Christ rather than through the prism of our own ideology. But seeing inevitably entails choices concerning what we look at and the breadth and depth of what we take into account. In that respect, alas, the field of vision of modern Catholic social doctrine appears to have been far more limited than often is realized, and so it is less effective in helping Catholics and other Christians address many economic issues, ranging from Europe’s bleak unemployment prospects to poverty in the developing world.
It’s not a matter of having to revisit the fundamental principles of Catholic social doctrine. Its imperativessuch as solidarity, subsidiarity, the dignity of the person, and the universal destination of material goodsnever change, because of their grounding in what revelation and natural law tell us about the nature of what the Church calls “integral human development”: the all-round flourishing of every person and community. Continued adherence to these principles are, however, perfectly compatible with widening the scope of that teaching’s views on economic life to make it less dependent on what might be loosely labeled a mildly center-left Western European consensus and more attentive to developments that continue, both positively and negatively, to affect millions of peoples’ economic well-being.
Some 5,764 miles away from Rome, on a pile of rocks just off the coast of mainland China, sits the special administrative region of Hong Kong, a bustling city of seven million people. A better example of East Asia’s economic transformation over the past forty years would be hard to find. Since they took over in 1997, Hong Kong’s masters in the People’s Republic have been relatively restrained about interfering with the economic arrangements of the former British colony.