Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The 2017 First Things Lecture in Washington DC
The Social Vision of Leo XIII in the Twenty-First Century
Delivered by Russell Hittinger


Seven o'clock in the Evening
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Complimentary reception to follow.

click for map):
Heritage Hall, Fr. O'Connell Hall
620 Michigan Avenue, N.E.
washington, dc 20064

Please RSVP using the form below.

Russell Hittinger is the William K. Warren Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, where he is also a research professor in the School of Law. His books include The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a Post-Christian World and Paper Wars: Catholic Social Doctrine and the Modern State (forthcoming).

Can our social lives amount to more than just exchange and distribution? How have economic and political developments in the West complicated the vision of the Pope Leo XIII for human society?

For more than a century, Catholic social teaching was organized and propounded in light of three institutions thought to be necessary for human happiness: family, polity, and church. The Church insisted that human flourishing requires a dynamic concord between domestic, political, and ecclesial orders, and that membership in these three societies is not strictly voluntary. All of the chief principles of Catholic social thought were formulated and clarified using this three-fold institutional paradigm, focused on the harmonization of the three societies, beginning with Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903) and continuing for most of the following century.

Despite some great successes, especially during the post-war era, the picture eventually turned cloudy for the threefold model of human social life. First, what Pope John Paul II called the “anthropological crisis” deeply eroded confidence in a normative account of institutions. Beginning with marriage and family, the three necessary societies began to be seen as merely optional elements of individual lifestyle—choices and contracts reducible to personal preference or global economics.

Whereas the problem for the better part of two centuries was how to reduce the rivalry and conflict between the three necessary societies, today the main issue is a human sociability set free from normative institutions. We have entered a time perplexities—a time of doubt and suspicion about social order that transcends private exchanges and distributions. We are in the fluidly “prophetic” era of Pope Francis. What does this mean for human society in its three basic institutions? Can peace still be made between them?

Russell Hittinger, Warren Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, will take up these questions in a public lecture held at The Catholic University of America on Thursday, March 9th, 2017. The event is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a reception with refreshments.

Please sign on to the guest list using the RSVP form below. No tickets will be issued.