Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chapter 3: Gratuity and Gift


I'll have to admit, this made me laugh. It was one of the initial humorous responses to Weigel's ridiculous piece in the National Review. I think the best direct response can be read at Evangelical Catholicism. You should go read it.

But what I'd like to do here is rather comment a bit on what the encyclical actually says. I wanted to do this chapter by chapter, and I still hope to do that, but Weigel's comments will make me go a little out of order. Notice for instance this statement he makes:
But then there are those passages to be marked in red — the passages that reflect Justice and Peace ideas and approaches that Benedict evidently believed he had to try and accommodate. Some of these are simply incomprehensible, as when the encyclical states that defeating Third World poverty and underdevelopment requires a “necessary openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion.” This may mean something interesting; it may mean something na├»ve or dumb. But, on its face, it is virtually impossible to know what it means.

The encyclical includes a lengthy discussion of “gift” (hence “gratuitousness”), which, again, might be an interesting attempt to apply to economic activity certain facets of John Paul II’s Christian personalism and the teaching of Vatican II, in Gaudium et Spes 24, on the moral imperative of making our lives the gift to others that life itself is to us. But the language in these sections of Caritas in Veritate is so clotted and muddled as to suggest the possibility that what may be intended as a new conceptual starting point for Catholic social doctrine is, in fact, a confused sentimentality of precisely the sort the encyclical deplores among those who detach charity from truth.
I'll grant to Weigel that I think these parts of the encyclical are hard to understand. But what I won't grant to him is that they are incomprehensible, or just the angry mutterings of Peace and Justice. Rather, what we should do as readers is try to understand why Benedict would put these into a social encyclical at all. Tomorrow I will write about Vocation and Discernment in Caritas in Veritate. Today I want to take up Gift and Gratuity.

Chapter 3 is the chapter of gratuity. In it, Benedict constructs a tightly knit argument about the need for gratuity in market exchanges. Originally, this does appear incomprehensible. Isn't the market founded upon the equivalence of value of exchanged goods? Yet Benedict makes these claims:
In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function.
This is a mild way of making his point. Internal to the market must be solidarity. But what exactly does it mean that solidarity is "internal" to the market? Solidarity -- the recognition that all are responsible for all -- is hardly a market principle. But Benedict is very clear. Gift must become a central aspect of market exchange. And it would be easy here to simply claim that he must be talking about mutual giving, which is simply another way of speaking of exchange. But he says clearly:
When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law).
He is talking about something beyond giving in order to receive and giving through duty. Neither market exchange nor taxation is what Benedict is the answer. Rather, genuine gratuity must find a place internally as a market force.

To try to grasp exactly what he means by this, we should try to unpack exactly how Benedict conceives of society as a whole. Adopting John Paul II's tripartite understanding of human society, he speaks of the State, the Market, and Civil Society.

The Market

The market, for Benedict, is not neutral. It does not exist in a pure state, as economist will often claim for it. It does not operate in a vacuum. Nor is it evil of itself. Benedict speaks of it as an instrument. Here are some examples of his thought:
Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction.

The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.
The market is not negative in itself. It is rather human. Its laws are human, and so they are necessarily bound up in human freedom and human choices. Therefore, for the market to work correctly, humans must work correctly. The initial way in which the negative tendencies of the market are held in check is by that other human instrument, the State.

The State

The place of the state, since Rerum Novarum, has been to regulate the market and allow for just redistribution. Benedict repeats:
The civil order, for its self-regulation, also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution.
Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.
Legitimate forces of regulation must be in place, and this is the traditional duty of the state. In this regard, Benedict tells us, the role of the state may have to grow. However, the State along as a human and political regulation of the market is itself not enough.
Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset.
He continues:
The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift.
What is required is neither more state control, nor more freedom in the market. Neither of these provides the solution. More "freedom" for the market is just a classical liberal term that means individualism and greed. This concept has been so manipulated by large corporations and their advertising arms that it no longer even contains any meaning. But neither can the state simply exert more control over the market as a way of improving it. Rather, it needs a new mechanism from within that can transform it. This new mechanism is Gift.

What sense does this make?

To explain what he means, Benedict turns to the third part of John Paul II's tripartite scheme: Civil Society.

Civil Society

Benedict renames the three divisions according to three kinds of logic. There is the logic of exchange, political logic, and the logic of unconditional gift:
The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.
Now things clear up slightly. Civil Society must be characterized by the logic of unconditional gift if the other two are to function as they are meant to. In other words, civil society must be the heart and soul of the state and the market. It's own logic must pervade the other two to such a degree that it saturates them. But how can this happen?

I think what we must do it look back to Benedict's talk at the World Day of Peace, where he connected the Family to World Peace. This threw people off a bit, but I think the logic is tight. In a family, the logic that rules is that of unconditional gift. A family is not made up of individuals, but of brothers and sisters. Benedict hints to this when he speaks of the global family. He notes in the Introduction to Caritas in Veritate:
As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is.
Since neither the market nor the state can make us brothers, this must be the work of civil society, and most markedly, of the family. In the family, the logic of unconditional gift reigns. And this is the highest form of logic. I'm getting ahead of myself to tomorrow, but in the family, there is a common vocation. And the very concept of vocation, of calling, requires that one find oneself by giving of oneself. This is of course symbolized richly by marital intercourse. And this is also why according to this logic homosexual "marriage" can have no place. The family is the foundation of tripartite system. It is also the place of unconditional love and gratuity. In the family, the logic of prelapsarian man can still be found. After the Fall, the tendency of man is to digest, to consume and to make all things into myself. But Reason, as Thomas noted, resists this fall of the flesh, by trying, as Aristotle said, to become all things. This is our calling, our vocation, to become all things, and so to be united with all. The Eucharist most perfectly makes this happen, and so is the most perfect antidote to the Fall, making us all literally one body in Christ. But in marriage, this making of One Body is replicated in a smaller symbolic way all over the world. And so the family produces on a small scale what the eucharistic Church tries to produce on a large scale: the self-diffusion of the individual into the universal vocation of all human beings. We become one body. The self is so given over, in fact, that a new person comes into being, a Third, beyond the two. This is why metaphysically, homosexual behavior is violent behavior and destroys the logic of love. Sexual behavior and social justice are one and the same issue.

But that is another topic. Most importantly, unless we can become a world family, economics cannot work. The market will be destructive. But we all know that the Enlightenment experiment of a worldwide fraternity failed. That liberal vision was destined to fall to pieces. Benedict is not looking to build a civilization founded on rational principles of fraternal equality, but rather on vocation and gratuity. And for this to happen, the logic of the family must saturate the state and the market. This means, contra liberal society, communal Ends, not just personal aggregate goals. Not personal ends, but a single End that all strive for. This is what happens in the family. It must too happen in the market. This is why capitalism on a liberal model must be rejected and new ways of understanding capitalism in a communal model must be found. Over and over Benedict mentions communities. They are the only way to achieve his goal. A new end, the end offered by the logic of gift, must replace the vacuum of ends that makes up liberal capitalism:
Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself.
This is because communities, like families, have singular ends, not individual ends that are supposed to aggregate into a "common good." As communities form, the market is tempered to a proper end, and can work as a positive rather than a negative force. Whether Benedict has in mind Mondragon in Spain or not I don't know. But surely something along that model might be the best way to go.

Either way, contra Weigel, I think we need to try to plumb Benedict's thought, rather than engage in selective source criticism. And I think I will better explicate how Gratuity should work internally the market when I engage Discernment and Vocation tomorrow.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

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