The Big Society and Catholic Social Teaching

Posted on: 30th March 2011  |
Author: James Hanvey SJ
Category: Theology, philosophy and ethics, Politics and current affairs
Tags: Big Society, Catholic Social Teaching, solidarity, subsidiarity

Theologian, James Hanvey SJ offers a powerful critique of our current social and economic climate as he explores the meaning and potential of the Big Society from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching. In a major address delivered last month to a Caritas Social Action Network conference, Fr Hanvey argues that ‘the Church must claim its freedom in all its works of charity’.

The Human Face

In the recent Caritas survey of Catholic social action in England and Wales, we began to see the huge investment, human, financial and physical that the Catholic Church commits to society. It is probable that the survey underestimates the extent of this commitment: to the work of the dioceses and Caritas members we could also add that of the extensive network of Catholic schools and all the other bodies which, for one reason or another, are unnoticed but effective. If we take all these together then we can see that the Church is a significant source of practical good for society.

Demonstrably, it is capable of mobilising the positive energies of people to respond creatively and generously to a wide range of personal and social needs, whether immediate or chronic. In every sense, this is a labour of love. It is undertaken with remarkably few guarantees or material resources and without seeking recognition or publicity. So, what is the motivation? It is, of course, the imperative of Christ – caritas Christi urget nos – in response to human need, even though in the nature of our work that often remains hidden. We might produce a profile of the work in many different statistical forms, but we know that what moves us to do it is not the graphs and statistics, though they serve their purpose. What motivates us and calls to us each day is the people for whom and with whom we work. In all the administrative systems, the necessary and unnecessary bureaucracy, it is their faces that we see.

The determination to retain the person at the centre of the work is part of the distinctiveness of charity itself.[1] No matter how effective or efficient, ours can never be just another system or procedure.

The centrality of the person, the human face, is not some sentimental hankering after a ‘softer’ way of proceeding. I think it is a moral, theological, and imaginative imperative. Zygmut Bauman in a thought provoking study, Modernity and the Holocaust, asks why otherwise good and cultured people could commit such horrors. Part of his answer is the bureaucratisation and rationalisation of the whole extermination process. Inhumanity is a function of social distance and this is produced through a system of administrative procedures which dehumanise both the victims and the agents: ‘inhumanity is a matter of social relationships. As the latter are rationalised and technically perfected, so is the capacity and the efficiency of the social production of inhumanity.’[2] The system makes sense of ‘only acting under orders.’ This is why the refusal to allow the person to slip out of view is more than a cultural gesture. It is a moral imperative. Without remembering, we forget the purpose. Systems and organisations can become ends in themselves. Quietly, they become prone to anxiety about their own existence and, therefore, more vulnerable to compromising in order to survive. Where there is a loss of memory, a loss of creativity and energy often follows; routine becomes the substitute for passion; procedure and categorisation become the alternative to that human imagination which keeps us alert to the reality of poverty and despair. For this reason it is essential to train ourselves, especially during staff meetings, committee meetings and conferences to see the faces of those for whom and with whom we work. In these ways we resist the pressures to make the organisation an end in itself.

At the moment the Coalition Government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda promises to enhance the work of agencies and charities. It recognises that in many instances their impact is more effective than that of the State. Encouraging though this may be, when it is coupled with a policy of shrinking the State and cutting the public finances one wonders if the ‘Big Society’ is just another rhetorical device in the political vocabulary. It is surely either ideology or illusion to think that when the State shrinks, non-political organisations whose resources are even more finite than the State’s will somehow fill the gap. What is needed is not necessarily a withdrawal of the State but new ways of enabling the charitable and voluntary organisations to develop. Without this, far from encouraging a flourishing civil society, the provision for the vulnerable will decrease. Abandoned, those who need the structures most will become a permanent under-class with the consequence that civic realm will be further destabilised and impoverished for all. Unless it has a vision which is more substantial than a sound-bite, the effect of the ‘Big Society’ policies will prove to be a ploy only for spending cuts and the return of monetarism mark II.

I think Catholic Charities have an important role to play in offering a creative critique of Government policies and their impact. When they draw upon the Catholic tradition of Social Teaching, (CST) they can also offer intellectual insights of substance to current political and sociological concepts of society which seem rather thin.

Two Principles for the Big Society

The political question that hangs over the Big Society is its provenance. Has the Conservative part of the Coalition simple seized the economic crisis as an opportunity to push through the unfinished neo-liberal agenda of the last Conservative administration? We should not forget the enormous social division that was entailed in this. It signalled the end of a humanist and humane consensus in British Society and the birth of the Freidmanian Frankenstein, homo economicus – the economic manifestation of Dawkins’ selfish gene. Can there be a return to such a vision, and the whole economics and the social, political and moral assumptions which went along with it? What the financial crisis exposed was not just a radical but temporary breakdown in banking; it exposed the crisis in the whole rationale of our way of operating. The global system of capital combined with contemporary market technology, and the complex nature of new (technology dependent) financial products has radically transformed the movement of money and goods; it represent a ‘paradigm shift’ not only in practice but in understanding and capability. In the words of Anatole Kaletsky, ‘For what collapsed on September 15, 2008, was not just a bank or a financial system. What fell apart that day was an entire political philosophy and economic system, a way of thinking and living in the world.’[3] Implicitly, at least, a number of influential theorists of the Big Society and The Good Society recognise Kaletsky’s point. In their thinking they attempt to address foundational questions raised by the crisis.[4]

If the Big Society is to mean anything it must concern itself with more than simply the reduction of ‘Big Government.’ If we are to create a flourishing civic realm, there must also be a moral vision of what society is for. The Big Society must then contain a moral vision as well as a social and economic one. The absence of a moral social vision has been exposed in the recent economic crisis. It is one of the important insights of Caritas in Veritate that the economy should serve society, yet so much of what has happened in these years has shown us that the reverse has been the case.[5] The reduction in public spending that the banking crisis has caused and the threat that this poses to the welfare of so many at every level of society, correctly raises the question about the moral purpose of the economy. Wealth creation alone is not sufficient. Whose wealth and for which purpose? This, coupled with the threat the larger banks have made that they will move their operations to ‘more friendly’ environments should the Government seek to regulate or tax their profits too much, exposes the dominance of profit over obligation. Not only does banking – to name but one financial institution that is exposed – refuse to shoulder the responsibility for the crisis and seek to repair the social as well as financial cost, it asserts its own purpose over that of a society. The image is of global institutions who behave like locusts; having used up the human, financial and cultural goods of a people, they move on.

The old arguments about the capacity of the banking and financial sector to generate a wealth which somehow benefits everyone ring hollow, especially where the redistributive benefits of the tax system are weak. In the light of the crisis the argument has to be proved, not assumed. There is, of course, the pragmatic option: we put up with the disadvantages of capitalism because of its benefits. Not only does this attempt to justify the means by the ends but it requires us to have faith in a system which is itself deeply flawed. If it is to work at all, then the moral purpose and with it the conversion that is required cannot be avoided. We need a stronger moral, economic and political ethic of fairness and equity.[6] The Big Society surely has to include something like this if it is to be at all credible. Indeed, a society which does not include it risks placing itself at the service of a brutal capitalism which ultimately exhausts its human as well as its material resources. There is no doubt that the Church’s social teaching has much to offer society by way of practice and implementation, but it must also engage at the foundational level if it is not to be instrumentalised by the State. Indeed, it is important for all Catholic agencies that they understand themselves in terms of their own ecclesial mission and the theological foundation that the Church offers them. If they can do this then they will have the capacity not only to respond to the needs which arise through poor or ideologically driven political policies; they will have the capacity to offer a constructive critique and powerful conceptual resources for shaping a fuller vision of what society might achieve for its members.

If the pressures and changes within society give us significant social and intellectual reasons for engaging with Catholic Social Teaching, there are equally important internal reasons for doing so as well. From the Church’s own point of view, this teaching is integral to its living of the Gospel and the Lord’s command of love. [7] In both its theological and practical dimensions, Catholic Social Teaching is ‘the expression of God’s love for the world.’[8] Without both its theoretical and practical dimensions, the Church’s presence and mission would be impoverished. It would leave its good works at the mercy of a charitable occasionalism without any strategic engagement with the causes and structures of poverty, injustice and violence, a violence which is cultural and economic as well as physical. Indeed, by failing to address the underlying structures and values, the Church would leave itself permanently liable to instrumentalisation by the State. Catholic Social Teaching is, therefore, integral to the Church’s mission and its desire to seek the common good. It is one of the ways in which the Church tests itself and holds itself accountable.[9]

Among the many aspects of the Church’s social teaching that bear great relevance for a flourishing society – whether we choose to call it the Big Society or the Good Society – it seems to me that there are two important principles which are particularly relevant to the current state of things: Subsidiarity and Solidarity. If we grasp something of their meaning for Catholic Social Teaching we can then begin to see how they offer both a critique of current policy and the thinking which underpins it.

1. Subsidiarity

A healthy society will have a flourishing civil society which is the realm of creative social freedom for the common good.[10] This commitment to the common good and the corresponding capacity among people to realise it through intermediate communities at levels other than those administered and controlled by the State is essential for the effective functioning of democracy. [11] In Catholic Social Teaching this is enshrined in the principle of subsidiarity. Central to policies inspired by the notion of the Big Society is the recognition of the need to recover a flourishing civil culture. Policies directed at achieving this have seen the ‘shrinking of the State’ with corresponding devolved responsibility to civil society for many of the functions that have been under the direction of national government. On the surface this looks like the practical implementation of subsidiarity. I think, however, we need to approach it with some degree of critical caution before we embrace it as the implementation of an important normative principle of Catholic Social Teaching. Whatever subsidiarity is, it is not privatisation. It is not ‘a get out of jail free’ card for ‘Big Government.’ Its meaning is drawn from the Latin word for help or assistance, subsidium – from which we get the word subsidy.[12] It has both a positive and a negative force. Positively, it is the recognition on the part of a higher authority of the legitimate competence of a lower authority. It is not therefore a delegation of power, but the recognition of a power or competence that already exists.[13] With this also goes the obligation of the higher authority to assist – in whatever way is necessary – the lower authority to exercise its competence for the social good. Practically, this will often entail the provision of economic as well as administrative and legal resources. Negatively, subsidiarity means that the higher authority (for example, National Government) will not abrogate to itself the competence and work of the lesser authority. In this way the principle of subsidiarity articulates a vision of the relationship between the State and civil society in which the former is always ordered to the latter, thus preserving the realm of civic freedoms and initiatives. It must also, to some extent, help to protect the civic and personal realm from political and economic exploitation. In other words, subsidiarity attempts to ensure that national Government does not ‘rule’ but serves the social body. [14]

Subsidiarity must also entail a commitment to participation in the political process and in all those means for creating and sustaining the multiple goods of society which enable human flourishing. This means that subsidiarity requires us to look at all factors and causes of social exclusion. It requires us to address the issues of social and economic justice for the most vulnerable.

If the State is genuinely committed to the support and development of a thriving, creative, civic realm, then it cannot simply devolve its responsibilities and activities to it because it finds it economically or politically convenient to do so. If it does proceed in this way, then for all the talk of a new anthropology and social vision, we are continuing with the old logic of the market. But as we have seen, the market is a brutal and morally unaccountable instrument. It is not essentially concerned with people except in so far as they are of use. ‘What is good for the market is good for society’ has been the disastrously false equation that we have been seduced into believing for too many years. In articulating the principle of subsidiarity, Pius XI recognised that, ‘many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations.’[15] If Government is serious about the development of a strong, generative and stable civil society, it must first give time and resources to creating capacity with it. That means it must support and resource those institutions from which civil society thrives. It needs to look at what structures – social, political, economic and spiritual – exclude and inhibit participation in the goods of society. Civil society cannot be artificially generated but is best developed through natural structures of commitment, need and interest. In all of these things, it is clear that the Church has a powerful, creative presence in the civic sphere. It is the one institution which has, demonstrably, remained faithful to the protection, growth and flourishing of civil society which is the realm of freedom and human flourishing.

2. Solidarity

No society can thrive unless it is committed to the principle of solidarity. If it is to be based on more than just a Hobbesian contract born of fear and survival then it requires that we think not only in terms of ‘me’ but also in terms of ‘we’. [16] It not only recognises the social and inter-personal reality of the human person, it goes beyond a utilitarian interdependency to the expression of a profound moral vision. In this respect, it requires of us more than a simple intellectual or social assent, but a moral conversion. It is the commitment to the good of all, not just a personal, group, or national good.[17] If solidarity is to be real, it requires us to address those issues which generate and sustain injustice and unjust inequalities. It requires us to address the structures of social division and exploitation, for there can be no solidarity where the human person, or any group within society, is made the means of another’s end. No less than subsidiarity, solidarity asks us to reshape and reorder the structures of power within society, especially those which are embedded within financial, political and educational life. To borrow a theological and scriptural word, solidarity holds out to all, whatever their status, ability, race or age, a genuine koinonia – communion or fellowship – in the goods of society. Far from being an ideal, it is a reality which is already there in embryo when we abandon the ‘exchange of goods’ for a mutual sharing of goods, which is itself a good.

This happens in a whole range of human activities: families and friendships, education and leisure – every time we participate in activities with others, where each profits through the mutual sharing of their gifts which allows their capacities to be realised. The good of being part of a team or group is in excess of any particular success in a task; the performance does not exhaust the joy of singing in the choir, or the victory the other gains of being in the squad.

The sharing and participation in goods is also a necessary part of any sustained development. [18] Solidarity is a fundamental desire for everyone to participate in the goods of society in so far as they are able; it also recognises and seeks to guarantee their right to do so. It requires that we see wealth creation as a fundamental service of society. Too often the reverse has been the case. The moral intention and genuineness of the markets is to be measured not in terms of profit but in terms of the total range of goods that it actively generates and supports.

Solidarity means we will seek to create not only opportunities for all to participate in these goods, but the means by which all may generate them. So, solidarity makes us vigilant to those structures and situations which leave people disabled, alienated and marginalised. It does not allow us the luxury of moral dismissal or blame because it requires us to see that where some are excluded from the goods of society, then none of us can fully enjoy them. To some extent we are familiar with a notion of solidarity which recognises a claim based on a common humanity or a common need. But I think Catholic Social Teaching introduces another and less obvious dimension – ‘indebtedness’. [19] There are ways in which this can be, and has been, used negatively to accuse individuals or groups of not ‘paying their debt’ to society. In this sense it can also be used to give some spurious moral legitimacy to their social exclusion or harassment. Obviously, this is not how it is used by the Church. Rather, positively, it is the principle of gratuity: that we live and flourish from resources that we alone could not create or sustain. This notion of gratuity, while attractive, can seem strange, even questionable in a world so dominated by the values of capitalism. Is it getting something for nothing? Does it mean that something can be claimed without being deserved? In some sense that answer has to be ‘yes’, but rather than undermining our values and relationships, gratuity is the condition of their very existence. Within the Catholic tradition, gratuity is what characterises the very nature of what is good – goodness communicates itself, it is characterised by the dynamic of gift (Bonum diffusivum sui).[20] The good is, then, not an object which we can possess and pass around, it is a reality which creates us and moves us to share it. From the first moment we enter life, we are both gift and the recipients of gifts we need but cannot claim. Thus, gratuity, although it must ultimately reflect the Divine Goodness, is, in fact built into the very fabric of our world and its life.

The Christian will experience this gratuity in so many different dimensions of life but perhaps it is most directly encountered in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the great school of gratuity. Christ’s act reveals the very heart of being and life – everything lives from gift and is realised in the act of giving and being given. This is because everything carries within it the trace of its cause who is God. In the Eucharist we also see into the inexhaustible depth of God’s own Triune life. Understood in this way, Christ’s action is not just a symbolic gesture within a particular historical moment; it is grounded in the relationships of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a sense, we may see that the whole Incarnation has this Eucharistic form. It is the salvific gift of a Love. Now we can grasp that neither goodness nor love are abstract things, they are personal and come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. As this self-giving love is nothing less than God’s own life, it transcends the normal logic of gift as exchange and contract; it is an absolute gratuity. It opens up for us a new economy of freedom, teaches us the mystery of gift as sacrifice, the gift of self which is self-transcending the sake of the other, ‘Whoever loses his life shall gain it.’ No matter how small or unseen, every act of gratuity bears this mark of the cross, both blessing and sacrifice. It is a silent triumph over death whatever its form.[21] If we genuinely seek to build a society of human flourishing, then we must recover the freedom of gratuity. In the deepest and truest sense, gratuity is natural to us. To live as if it is not is to live in a profound alienation from the sources of life and community. Solidarity is the way in which we live in history and through which we realise the historical dynamic of our personal and social existence. We live from the generosity of others not just in the present but also in the past. The principle of gratuity and its corresponding moral disposition of gratitude, reminds us of our responsibility to honour the generosity and sacrifices of those who have gone before us. It requires us to consider our responsibility to those who will come after us; whose future life, its quality, capacity and fruitfulness, depends on the goods we pass on.[22]

Not only does the principle of solidarity in all these dimensions resist the collapse of society into short term individualism, it keeps us conscious of the historical nature of society and human culture. Without recognition that we have responsibilities to the past, present and future, the moral quality of society is impaired. A society which denies this responsibility leaves itself open to a false Messianic claim that projects an illusory future or it is free to distort the past to justify its actions in the present. Worst of all, a society which has abandoned any sense of its accountability in history, disenfranchises its entire people and devalues their lives. It effectively instrumentalises them to serve the immediate needs of the present and prevents any consideration of future consequences. Such a society has a dangerous power over its people. It can silence their voice, eradicate their memory and destroy their legacy. It denies all existence but its own and thus it regards itself as free to impose its own will and ravage resources for its own unrestrained needs. There is no greater tyranny than the imperialism of the present. In an age that sees history only as a burden and regards cultural amnesia as liberation, the principle of solidarity is an important guarantor of an open society that values its members.

Whether we are seeking to enfranchise the Big Society or create the Good Society, the principle of solidarity needs much deeper consideration by both. In this respect, Catholic Social Teaching has much to offer.[23]

A Note on the theological dimension of Subsidiarity and Solidarity

Before drawing these observations to a close, I wish to offer a few brief reflections of a more directly theological kind. They are intended to be no more than tentative thoughts open to critique; suggestive of some possible connections rather than a demonstration.

We have been considering subsidiarity and solidarity as two central principles of Catholic Social Teaching and their importance for our assessment of political visions of society. Their philosophical justification and practical significance will be familiar from other sources of social and political theories apart from that of the Church’s social teaching. However, the Church is not committed to them only on philosophical or prudential grounds. I think there is a deeper intuition which sees something of the reality of subsidiarity and solidarity as grounded in the Christian experience of God’s self-communication to us and the world. If this is the case, then the social presence of the Church and its praxis is also a witness – which will entail a real martyrdom (martyrion).[24] It will go beyond social and political theory and practice because the Church glimpses something of Christ’s own way of dealing with us and our world. The practice of subsidiarity and solidarity will, in some sense, carry a healing grace; no matter how hidden or obscured, their practice will always run counter to the normal exercise and logic of social power. As with Christ’s own actions, there will always be a challenge to the existing status quo together with the call to a radical transformation of heart. The heart cannot change unless those deep social structures which impede are also transformed. As part of our own self-understanding, and especially by way of appreciating the depth of our commitment to the deeds of caritas, which go beyond a rational requirement for the common good, let me briefly indicate some theological dimensions of subsidiarity and solidarity. It is not difficult to see within the formal political and social principle of ‘subsidiarity’ the theological experience of freedom. In his dealings with us, God does not take away our competences or diminish our creativity. At every point God in his graciousness supports and upholds our freedom as it seeks to find expression in what is genuinely good. Indeed, through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God shows us that our freedom is most complete and alive when it realises itself in a self-giving love. Against the pull of a self-centred autonomy, the expression of the so-called sovereign self, Christ shows us that we are only truly free in self-transcending for the sake of the other rather than at their expense.

In our explorations of ‘solidarity’ we have seen how it is not just a social necessity for the good order, justice and flourishing of a society, it is rooted too in our human nature. It is that capacity for the ‘other’ upon which our own sense of self depends. Yet, so often, in our society we are given glimpses of the opposite. Within our culture there are waste places – not just physical but human. These are the situations which we like to keep hidden from sight. They may emerge briefly in the odd horror story of predatory violence which captures the headlines, or through the anonymous statistics of deprivation and dysfunction. So often our social policies are really policies of containment rather than true repair. If we can mobilise vast resources for war, disaster, or profit we seem to lack the moral and political passion to mobilise resources to overcome chronic poverty and social alienation. We make solidarity into a privilege rather than a condition of human life.

Social alienation and deprivation is a strange foreign country. Those who work daily with the poor, marginalised, exploited and excluded will recognise this. Those who live in this ‘other country’ find themselves struggling with circumstances over which they have no control or power to change. In many cases they themselves are the victims of unjust policies, laws or systems.[25] In these circumstances the Christian is called to real solidarity because there we know we will find Christ. One of the most powerful and insightful theologies of the Cross in terms of God’s Trinitarian life is that of Hans Urs Von Balthasar.[26] He sees the utter aloneness of Christ on the Cross as the revelation of the self-emptying (kenosis) of Divine love realised between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This self-emptying reaches its high-point in Christ’s death and descent into Hell. That is the point of complete God-forsakenness and abandonment. This descent is both the fulfilment of the Incarnation and the point at which Christ is in the deepest solidarity with us. I think Von Balthasar not only gives us a profound insight into the depths of Trinitarian love where Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinguished by personal relationships of self-emptying/self-giving, but he also opens up a way into the theological nature of solidarity. [27]

The solidarity of Christ on the cross and the descent into ‘Hell’ is not an abstract concept or future moment. It is solidarity now with those who are forsaken, alienated, forgotten and abandoned (Matthew 25:31-46). The Church which follows this Christ must go there too. It must search them out and find its home with them; it must endure their pain and be their voice, so that their cry for justice may never be silenced. This is why I think there is a prophetic quality in the Church’s works of charity. They not only try to change practically the situations of those they seek to serve; their solidarity with them refuses to let them be erased. It holds a truth before society and presents it with a moment of choice. That is why the Church cannot become an instrument of the State, such that the State determines the range of the Church’s charitable work. There is no doubt that the Church’s charities can work well, bringing creativity and energy to the people and groups they serve. It is clearly in the interest of the State to support their work; but Christian charities will always at some point be uncomfortable for society. They will require a culture to acknowledge its wounded ones and respond to them in justice. Only when society hears that cry and responds to it with all its moral, spiritual and material resources will it be a society in which humanity can flourish. I do not think this moment of ‘enlightenment’ is a Utopian dream; it does not remove from us the struggle, the failure and the work. Yet a society that seeks to realise the radicalness of solidarity is a society which is already overcoming its fears. It is becoming both the Big Society in the sense of inclusiveness and also the Good Society in the sense that it manifests a mature moral vision.

Even a brief sketch of the theological dimension to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity shows us why the Church must claim its freedom in all its works of charity. It is not directed or governed by any policy, political agenda or theory. It has only its principles in which it gives expression to its service of Christ and the men and women of every race and nation whom his love embraces. This is why, long after political parties have come and gone, the Church will still be there doing the works of love and solidarity, whatever the cost, until the end of time.

It will be difficult for a secular culture to understand this; it may even be threatened by it. Yet the philosopher, Bernard Lonergan, in discussing the forces of decline and progress in human societies makes this point:

Finally we may note that a religion which promotes self-transcendence to the point, not merely of justice, but of self-sacrificing love, will have a redemptive role in human society inasmuch as such love can undo the mischief of decline and restore the cumulative process of progress.[28]

Rev. Dr. James Hanvey SJ is theological adviser to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. He lectures in Systematic Theology at Heythrop College, University of London and is Superior of the Jesuit Community at Mount Street, Central London.

This article is an expanded version of an address delivered to the Caritas Social Action Network conference, ‘A Common Endeavour’ at Liverpool Hope University on 1 February 2011.

[1] Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (2005) , § 31 ff.

[2] Zygmut Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Polity Press, 1989), p.154

[3] Anatole Kaletsky, Capitalism 4.0 (Bloomsbury, 2010), p.1.

[4] Jesse Norman, The Big Society, (University of Buckingham Press, 2010). Philip Blond, Red Tory, (Faber and Faber, 2010).

[5] Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (2009), §65ff.

[6] Cf. Kaletsky, Capitalism 4.0. Kaletsky gives a lucid analysis of the reasons for the crisis and argues that we need to evolve a different and more successful version of global capitalism. Will Hutton, Them and Us: Politics, Greed and Inequality – Why We Need a Fair Society (Little Brown, 2010). Rowan Williams & Larry Elliott, Crisis and Recovery, Ethics, Economics and Justice. (Pallgrave Macmillian, 2010).

[7] John Paul II (1987), SolicitudoReiSocialis § 41.

[8] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 3.

[9] Ibid., § 10.

[10] For a descriptive definition of civil society, Comp. Soc., § 185.

[11] Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), pp. 69 -71

[12] It receives its authoritative formulation in Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931) § 79.

[13] John Mahoney, The Making of Moral Theology: A Study in the Catholic Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) pp. 169-170.

[14] David Hollenbach SJ, The Common Good and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 101-104.

[15] Quadragesimo Anno, § 79.

[16] The classic statement of this conversion to solidarity is found at the opening of Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, §1. Cf. Pual VI, Populorum Progressio (1967), §43. Cf. also Caritas in Veritate, §34.

[17] Comp. Soc. §192 ff.

[18] John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (1981), § 32.

[19] Comp. Soc. § 195.

[20] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles. 1.37’ for a general treatment of the Good, cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1.1. q5. Esp. Art.4. For a discussion of the Bonum Diffusivum Sui, see Bernard Blankenhorn, ‘The Good as Self-Diffusive in Thomas Aquinas’, Angelicum 79 (2002), 803-837

[21] A seminal contemporary essay on the nature of gift, cf. Jacques Derrida, Given Time: 1 Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamul (University of Chicago Press, 1992). Derrida’s analysis of the paradoxes, dangers and risks in ‘gift’ starts from Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. Gift is part of the way in which we bind, or put others under an obligation. For Derrida even gratitude for the gift functions as payment in return. He argues that we cannot escape the circle of exchange which the gift binds us into. My point here is that God as gift breaks this logic and opens up the possibilities of genuine gift and giving which we experience as grace. This in turn offers us a way of giving beyond expectation of return.

[22] Laborem Exercens, § 13.

[23] For a fuller examination of solidarity cf. Hollenbach, The Common Good and Christian Ethics, chapters 6-8.

[24] Martyrion/μαρτύριον occurs frequently in the New Testament for bearing witness or testimony. Cf. also Deus Caritas Est, §25.

[25] Cf. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (1995), § 18

[26] Cf. Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale (Ignatius Press, 1990); also Theo-Drama, Vol 4. III.D, (Ignatius Press, 1994). For two fine studies of Von Balthasar’s Trinitarian theology of the Cross, cf. Thomas Rudolf Krenski, Caritatis : Passio trinitarische Passiologie im Werk Hans Urs von Balthasars (Einsiedeln : Johannes Verlag, 1990); Gerard F. O'Hanlon, The immutability of God in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1990).

[27] Solicitudio Rei Socialis, §41

[28] Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1972), p. 55.

 Caritas Social Action Network
 ‘A Common Endeavour’
 ‘What is the Big Society?’ by Angela Kitching
 A review of Jesse Norman MP’s The Big Society by John Battle



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