Monday, May 05, 2008

"Rights" in Catholic Social Thought

Blackadder and Darwin each have interesting posts on the notion of "rights" in Catholic Social Thought. Here's an excerpt from Blackadder's post:
... despite the common vocabulary, I would argue that the concept of rights use in Catholic Social Thought is quite different from the concept of rights current in much of American political thinking. In America, rights are generally thought of as being trumps against the common good. Whether the right in question is negative (in which case it grants the individual immunity from government action regardless of societal consequences) or positive (in which case it grants an entitlement to a certain benefit as a matter of right), the key distinguishing feature of a right is that it allows the needs, decisions, or wants of an individual to trump those of society as a whole.

The notion of rights found in Catholic Social Thought, on the other hand, is quite different. There rights are seen as being limited and defined by the common good, rather than set in opposition to it. The most famous example of this is the right of private property. The Church has long affirmed the right of private property, while simultaneously affirming that
“Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.” CCC 2406. Similarly, while the Church has long proclaimed a right to association, it nonetheless holds that “the law should intervene to prevent certain associations, as when men join together for purposes which are evidently bad, unlawful, or dangerous to the State.” RN 52. And while the Church in Dignitatis Humanae affirmed the right of religious freedom, it always took care to say that the right was limited by “the just demands of public order.” DH 4.

And an excerpt from Darwin's post:
... I must admit, I really wish the Church had not got into useing "rights" terminology at all -- in part because the different way that it is used from the common American usage causes confusion, and in part because it seems to me that it reverses the direction of obligation in human actions...




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