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maciej-zic499baOver at Public Discourse, Nathaniel Peters offers an explanatory review of Fr. Maciej Zieba’s book Papal Economics. Given the hubbub over Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, a careful reading of previous papal writings serves as a welcome guide.

Peters argues that anthropology, rightly understood as the study of the human person, grounds Catholic Social Teaching (CST), as well as John Paul II’s and Zieba’s engagement with political science. Anthropology comes first, political science and economics second.

In other words, “the foundation of liberal democracy is something that liberal democracy itself cannot guarantee.” It is the truth, particularly the truth about human nature, that provides the foundation for freedom and justice, which must be oriented toward what is truly good and human. A free economy, a just government, and a sound moral culture serve as the three pillars of a flourishing society. All of them, in turn, must be founded on and reflect sound anthropology.

Furthermore, subsidiarity and solidarity, two key components of CST, must also come from correct anthropology. Humans operate in a finite sphere of social relations—hence the good of nourishing local governance and economic structures when possible. And solidarity encourages the forms of connection that respect humanity more universally. How these principles should be applied in particular cases is a different matter.

According to Peters, Zieba

rarely mentions solidarity, a curious omission for a former member of a movement bearing that name and an unfortunate one in terms of treating CST. Solidarity, a concern for and union with other members in society, especially those who are marginalized, is one of the core principles of CST. It is sometimes presented as being in opposition with the principle of subsidiarity, which states that judgments, decisions, and actions should take place at the proper level in society. Zieba’s critics might say that, as a proponent of democratic capitalism, it is no surprise that he omits solidarity and places a strong focus on subsidiarity. But opposition between the two is mistaken. Without solidarity, subsidiarity is unthinkable, and without subsidiarity, solidarity would be disastrous. Each needs the other in order to be effective. Such an argument could have strengthened Zieba’s account.

While Zieba might neglect an account of solidarity in Papal Economics, he has given a lot of thought to it elsewhere. For one, he gave a lecture on solidarity last fall in the First Things New York office.

But now, perhaps more than in the 1990s, we need to make sure that we don’t leave out the solidarity side of the equation. Free markets must be, in the language of Centesimus Annus, “circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality.” After all, a number of commentators have observed that social mobility has stagnated in recent years.

As Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, noted last month:

Free enterprise does not mean shredding the social safety net, but championing policies that truly help vulnerable people and build an economy that can sustain these commitments. It doesn’t mean reflexively cheering big business, but leveling the playing field so competition trumps cronyism. It doesn’t entail ‘anything goes’ libertinism, but self-government and self-control. And it certainly doesn’t imply that unfettered greed is laudable or even acceptable.

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