Publications

Fratelli tutti Encyclical on social atomization and loneliness. Personal, social and economic subjectivity

Krzysztof Wielecki

Abstract

Complex processes of civilization changes have been taking place for over two centuries. For about thirty years, they have definitely intensified, transformed, deepened and accelerated. This is the social, economic and cultural context in which Pope Francis urges us to universal brotherhood. This call seems to meet the most dramatic need of our time. In a cursory analysis of these civilization processes, I especially focus on their effect, which is human loneliness, in a world of enormous social stratification, the disintegration of traditional social structures and the increasingly massive occurrence of egocentric individualism as a defensive attitude. I am also dealing here with the question of the influence of narcissistic mass culture on this attitude. I am also trying to answer the question about the place of subjectivity and fraternity in economics. A review of the basic ideas of the main economic doctrines and economic models allows me to distinguish the preconditions for a subjective economy. I am also discussing the problem of economic and social effectiveness of various economic strategies in order to justify the belief that the pro-social strategy is effective.

Introduction

The encyclical Fratelli Tutti of Pope Francis[1] shows in a dramatic way the immensity of selfishness and resulting social atomization and loneliness of modern people. At the same time, however, it is a lesson of great hope. Its source is the evangelical love of one’s neighbour, including distant ones, whether geographically, culturally, economically or socially. It is a universal love. Its key is the human person and the recognition of its dignity and preciousness as a child of God. This in turn should make us love every human being, because everyone, in God, is our sister or brother.

Human being: between egoism and subjectivity

An outstanding French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, wrote about objective economic and social processes that resulted in the development of the social division of labour. This, in turn, indispensably leads to serious civilization changes. As the scholar explained:

“Civilization is itself the necessary consequence of the changes which are produced in the volume and in the density of societies. If science, art, and economic activity develop, it is in accordance with a necessity which is imposed upon men. It is because there is, for them, no other way of living in the new conditions in which they have been placed. From the time that the number of individuals among whom social relations are established begins to increase, they can maintain themselves only by greater specialization, harder work, and intensification of their faculties. From this general stimulation, there inevitably results a much higher degree of culture”.[2]

Let us leave without commenting on this specific evolutionism and determinism in Durkheim’s views in order to concentrate on the idea that this social division of labour intensifies the social stratification, which leads to violation of the community (Gemeinschaft), as Ferdinand Tönnies called it, of a model of collective life, in favour of a society (Gesellschaft).[3] An important difference is the type of bond between individuals. In the community, the whole is made of an organic will that connects people in the entirety of their lives and personalities, primarily through spatial and emotional proximity. The basis of society is an arbitrary will, a bond of a formal and material nature that binds people through their social roles, based on the calculation of interests and legal agreements.[4] Durkheim spoke about mechanical[5] vs. organic solidarity.[6]

The French sociologist welcomed with joy and optimism the fruits of this evolution, which, after all, was a result of industrial civilization change and the development of capitalist social and economic relations. But he also saw some threats in this important process. These included social atomization and the resulting individual and collective anomy. This in turn leads to human suffering. I would like to add here that Durkheim’s research on suicides shows that the human person, to have the will to live, must have in life something that “exceeds him”, what is – as far as I understand – more important to him than his own selfishness, something that, thanks to love, becomes a transcendent value for him, why makes him ready to bear the hardships and suffering inherent to one’s everyday existence. The disintegration of the most important communities related to atomization deprives people of social reasons for life. As I understand it, the disintegration of communities throws us into loneliness and selfishness. This happens when self-love extinguishes any other love: for God and for neighbour. I believe that the essence of the disintegration of social communities fundamental for a human being mentioned by Durkheim lies in the fact that we gradually stop having someone in them for whom it is worth bearing the hardships of life. I think this is the essential sociological context of Pope Francis’ call to brotherly love. The Holy Father wrote namely, that we need “a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives”.[7]

Alexis de Tocqueville, a great thinker who lived mostly in the first half of the 19th century, became interested in America’s emerging democracy. He travelled there to learn about this new phenomenon on the spot. Although he generally took a positive attitude towards democracy, there were a few things that made him seriously concerned. This included especially the danger of egocentric individualism and its claim to a particular form of freedom.

De Tocqueville wrote:

“Egotism is a passionate and exaggerated love of self, which leads a man to connect everything with his own person, and to prefer himself to everything in the world. Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellow-creatures; and to draw apart with his family and his friends; so that, after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. Egotism originates in blind instinct: individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in the deficiencies of the mind as in the perversity of the heart. Egotism blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all others, and is at length absorbed in downright egotism”.[8]

Egoism, according to the scholar, is an eternal quality of man; individualism, as De Tocqueville understood it, would be the result of industrialism and democracy. But it seems to be people’s permanent feature, also present today in the third decade of the 21st century. Completely today, the Holy Father wrote, that in times of global change: “The one thing it leaves in its wake is the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism”.[9]

Individualism, as we know, presupposes the supreme value of the individuum. If it applies to every individual, it introduces a certain equality in importance of certain individuals and allows only freedom limited by the freedom of others. Let’s call it altruistic individualism. However, if we consider – in the spirit of self-love – only ourselves as a single person of the highest value, then nothing can limit our freedom, because what is lower cannot limit what is supreme. It would be an egocentric individualism. These two varieties imply completely different visions of man and society.

The mentioned civilization processes of industrialism strengthened, through social atomization, the importance of egocentric individualism. Undoubtedly, they widened the personal freedom of people, opening the field for exuberant individualism in its egocentric type. Nowadays, I argue, we are in the centre of the processes of the civilization crisis, understood as a breakthrough between industrialism and a civilization that will probably follow. These are times of extraordinary development of social atomization, anomy in both its varieties and the sometimes cancerous bloom of egocentric individualism. It becomes a dominant attitude in many people. It is supported by various psychological, philosophical, sociological and economic doctrines, theories and concepts. It is also highly favoured by mass culture, extremely narcissistic in its nature, and its incredible expansion.

As the Holy Father writes:

“Opening up to the world” is an expression that has been co-opted by the economic and financial sector and is now used exclusively of openness to foreign interests or to the freedom of economic powers to invest without obstacles or complications in all countries. Local conflicts and disregard for the common good are exploited by the global economy in order to impose a single cultural model. This culture unifies the world, but divides persons and nations […]. We

are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life. Indeed, there are markets where individuals

become mere consumers or bystanders. As a rule, the advance of this kind of globalism strengthens the identity of the more powerful, who can protect themselves, but it tends to diminish the identity of the weaker and poorer regions, making them more vulnerable and dependent. In this way, political life becomes increasingly fragile in the face of transnational economic powers that operate with the principle of “divide and conquer”.[10]

Undoubtedly, secularization is an extremely important civilization process, which intensifies the total range of egocentric individualism. Let us add that these processes are also deepened by the privatization of God and religion, i.e. individual varieties of transcendence, free from institutionalization, especially within the Church, which is also the case on a mass scale, as part of mass culture.

One of the symptoms of the expansion of egocentric individualism, especially understood in terms of instrumental rationalism, another child of industrial civilization with its capitalist economic instrumentation, is the issue of subjectivity, understood as agency, which occupies a central place in the humanities. In my opinion, agency is only one of the dimensions of full subjectivity. It includes not only subjective action, but also subjective instrumental and directional dispositions, and, above all, the system of subjective values, which in a subjective human being become the main criteria regulating the conscious activity of the subject.

Subjectivity is a result of a specific level of development of humanity in man, or a growth of altruism in an individual which is narcissistic in its nature. I am also definitely on the side of such an understanding of subjectivity that takes into account the essence of humanity, subjectivity, as a purely human property that can be understood in the form of subjective personality. Subjective action is a feature of a person with a subjective personality. The subjective personality – as I believe – is shaped in the course of subjective action. I am not satisfied with the statement that everyone who follows his own will is subjective. The truth about human being and society must, I suppose, be sought in the intellectual space between individualism and collectivism. More precisely, between the ideology of egocentric individualism as one of the poles, and the communist apology of the collective as the other pole. This orthodoxy was expressed by the unfortunate, though outstanding poet Mayakovsky, when he praised the community “into one crushing fist clenched”. I am convinced that the foundation and way of expressing subjectivity is sisterly/brotherly love.

Speaking of subjectivity, I mean the personality traits, values ​​and action of the subject oriented towards being – towards – life, hope and good and… subjectivity, and also – towards others and – as people of faith will claim – towards God. Subjectivity, as I interpret it, is being towards all this, which, however, man cannot know enough of to have a certain basis for being. Nevertheless, subjectivity is a certain feature and condition of life within the practice of life, understanding its meaning as life towards good, incomprehensible in its fullness. It is the state of a consciously practiced idea of ​​good – especially good open to others. Because of this goodness and because it can never be fully understood, man takes up the challenge of a difficult, creative and searching existence. At the same time, such a life in itself becomes a value, causing another challenge to development, the constant expansion of one’s subjectivity.

We can distinguish a three-dimensional and three-stage structure of subjectivity. Firstly, we are in a pre-subject state of self-centeredness. From it, a narcissistic structure of subjectivity can develop. Within its framework, we discover that the stronger value for us is our individuality. But subjectivity is relational in nature, which means that others (people, but also the world of nature and culture) are good as well, which we fully discover when the third, altruistic structure has already developed. Therefore, subjectivity is a certain pattern that includes all the already mentioned components in the order that regulates relations between individuals. This pattern states that the subjective value for me is myself, but I am self-limiting, due to the equivalent and complementary good for me – another. We can therefore also speak of phases of subjectivity. The first one, in which a narcissistic structure of subjectivity develops, could be called, following Emmanuel Lévinas, the state of intoxication with one’s own identity.[11] Secondly, higher, later in development, possible but not necessary, would be the phase of socialized or altruistic subjectivity. Here, man not only limits his freedom for the benefit of others, but also significantly broadens it and deepens it by opening up to their good.

In the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti I find confirmation of Immanuel Lévinas’s belief that meeting other people is what “interjects” man into ethics, that is, allows him to overcome subsequent barriers of his own egocentrism. This strength is given to human relations by transcendence, which – as Lévinas said – is the face of a completely Different, who calls from beyond the face of the other. And we can openly say that it is about God who, as we read in the Scriptures, is “where two or three are gathered together in my name”.[12]

Mass culture and narcissism

Lack of love for one’s neighbour, which is the result of egocentrism or even narcissism, brings extremely detrimental effects on the mental health and development possibilities of an individual. But you can also speak about cultural, social and economic selfishness or narcissism. It produces deplorable consequences everywhere. I would like to focus elsewhere on all these dimensions of the lack of subjectivity rooted in the lack of love for one’s neighbour. Here I will only point out that narcissism is a neurosis resulting from an unsatisfied need for love and dignity.

Mass culture is nothing new, and the literature on it is already old and rich. It is, perhaps, a wanted but not very successful child of industrialism and capitalism. However, I would like to raise the issue of its new, post-industrial incarnation and a completely new social meaning. Mass culture seems to me to be the lining of the uniform of economic globalization. We used to consider its aesthetic qualities, venting our aversion to what is kitsch, trash and easy entertainment. The question of taste, good or bad, can hardly be contained in scientific discourse. But that is not the aspect that I wish to deal with here. Let me repeat: the beginning of a global society that is forming around the global market causes a special career of the old, though not at all toothless, mass culture, in a new role: global quasi mass culture. But mass culture also has a real impact when it comes to social stratification. It is worth mentioning here, above all, social marginalization, which creates a new, significant and numerically powerful quasi-social class: the excluded ones. Cultural exclusion appears to be an important factor of all kinds, including economic exclusion, and plays a major role in the process of social reproduction. The accompanying declassification results in the lack of acceptance for many contemporary phenomena, especially the process of globalization and its manifestations. In order to regain a sense of sense, meaning, and above all a sense of security and self-acceptance, these people narrow down the social space with which they identify, most often referring to the values of the nation and the national state. There are certainly other causes of this phenomenon as well. Among them, the feeling of subjective loss and suffering related to the identity crisis are of great importance.

Similar orientations occur in the lower grades. This is often accompanied by a tendency to reject many values of the democratic-liberal order, and even sympathize with various contemporary forms of nationalism and racism. There is, however, a certain layer of lower-class workers who, like the elites, follow a nomadic lifestyle, wandering around the world in search of work. They seem to be everywhere and nowhere, without a deeper reference to any particular culture, with a suspended process of the crystallization of identity, deeper ties, or more expressive values. A separate category is created by the “marginalized” who most often escape the division into employers and employees, because they are permanently deprived of this job, as are many of their relatives, neighbours and friends. The famous shrinkage of time and space brought about by globalization and the associated multiculturalism mean that thousands of rationalizations, mythologies and delusions mix in the space of contemporary quasi culture. Religions are not doing well in this magma. Mental and social changes make people look for some mysticism, maybe even some “breathe” with transcendence. The market of various scientistic churches, united churches, soft Buddhism etc., responds to this order. They offer a variety of easy, nice and pleasant solutions.

This is how mass culture works. Secularization understood in this way becomes an important factor in the disintegration of individual and collective horizons of reference[13] and the framework for action and meaning,[14] as well as the loneliness and disorientation of modern man in the sphere of values and meanings, whose world is sometimes experienced as a world of total crisis. It weakens the tendency to altruism, and strengthens the egocentrism and narcissism of modern man, making it difficult to endure suffering, which is always a part of life, but today especially it deprives the sense of the meaning of the world and the meaning of one’s own existence.

Multiculturalism can contribute to challenging core values. Through secularization in particular, it takes away the traditional ways of deeply rooting one’s life and identity. The disintegration of horizons of reference and anomy gives people great opportunities to determine themselves, but on the other hand, they feel very strongly deprived of basic psychological needs, such as security, acceptance, identity, sense and meaning. Such a situation triggers in many people neurotic defence reactions of the psyche, including those that can be clearly described in terms of mental diseases.

On the other hand, today, when we live in a post-modern world of cultural multiplicity, in which the effects of indeterminacy, fluidity, ambiguity, lack of clear values, beliefs and customs are already clearly visible, we see that freedom and diversity are beautiful values, but not the most important ones. However, it is worth noting that all these values, become something really valuable only in a certain axiological formula, together with responsibility and subjectivity, and without it they can be even dangerous. Like abstract freedom in the system of political values, it becomes something worthless, and perhaps sometimes dramatically harmful, without some minimal scope for social justice and economic prosperity, limiting, if necessary, particular and egocentric freedoms.

The properties of mass culture mean that the human has almost exclusive contact with the virtual world of mutually exclusive rationalizations, advice, interpretations, the vibrating and changing reality of authorities and revelations that are subject to the laws of the media market, appearing and disappearing along with its pulsation, consistent with the law of supply and demand. The psyche growing under the influence of this culture, in the conditions of such a disintegration, distances itself poorly from this virtual message. This is reflected secondarily in the level of family life, parental abilities, chosen lifestyles, sense of responsibility, etc. The desire for love, the certainty of having support in someone and the ever-diminishing ability to do so, or even following the values and patterns that exclude it, is another contradiction of the contemporary world. For many people it also creates a sense of alienation, rage, aggression and fundamentalist fixation. It is yet another response to the suffering of an offended and broken identity. In the light of what has been said about responsibility and subjectivity, we understand their crisis in the age of globalization.

One of the main problems of the civilizational revolution of post-industrialism and the related mass culture consists in the fact that man is not able to use the gift of extended freedom brought about by modern times to build his own identity, subjectivity and social subjectivity, because of the existential anxiety of ordinary people. Mass culture offers a certain kind of freedom, as it liberates from the limitations of norms, values and traditional rationalizations by gradually and consistently breaking homogenization, including that largely inherited from industrialism. Cultural diversity, along with the entire civilization crisis, gives people (especially in the Western world) countless civilizational inventions at their disposal, makes them citizens of the world, liberates their norms and values, traditional social structures, etc. It is often negative freedom, deprived of the perspective of “freedom to”. At the same time, this multicultural mass culture often deprives many people of the opportunity to use this freedom, because it encloses them in their own hearts, separates them in front of TV screens and computer monitors, and atomizes them.

Economics, subjectivity and fraternity

Man, society and culture are not the only areas of the dramatic deficit of subjectivity. The economy is just as important. Since Marx, many believe that the being shapes consciousness, and the “superstructure” necessarily adapts to the “base”. Adam Smith is even today the source of the widespread belief in the fetish of the market as a “being” which is governed by its own objective and natural laws and which requires us to obey these laws. This cannot be agreed with. Freedom of the market is always someone else’s freedom in the market, often limiting the freedom of another person. The market is a space for a game of interests, not an object of the “new secular religion”. There are people out there on the market. They are guided, as in all spheres of life, by their interests, ambitions, values and sensitivity. The economy and its subjects, theories and economic practices can also be more or less subjective. That is why it is worth, and even necessary to deal with the issue of selfishness in the economy.

Let me start by distinguishing five large groups of doctrines or paradigms in modern economics: neoliberal, social democratic, post-communist, new structural economics and theories based on the social teaching of the Church. In each of them, the attitude towards selfishness is manifested, more or less clearly, as an orientation – desired or not – in economic thought and practice. I also distinguish two main models of economic systems we can meet in reality, at least in European countries. These are the egocentric and altruistic or “common good” models. I will also briefly analyse the actual economic and social effectiveness of these models. In my opinion, this analysis strongly confirms the main ideas of the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

Various concepts of neoliberal economy radically subordinate monetary balance and respect for the freedom of the market, which would have the ability to self-regulate. Private property is also valued here, as it is said to be the only one with the ability to be economically effective. They also proclaim the need to minimize costs, including state expenditure, and to substantially reduce the state, especially in the economic and social sphere. Following Smith’s footsteps, neoliberals believe that man is by nature an egoist, but the negative consequences of this attitude are rectified by the “invisible hand of the market”. It regulates, harmonizing the economy. It is enough not to interfere with it, and the free market will handle the war of all against all by itself. One should refer to such economists as Friedrich A. Hayek,[15] Milton Friedman,[16] or politicians such as Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher. Daniel Stedman Jones presented the synthesis and differences in views of leading neoliberals.[17] Selfishness is understood here as a healthy force that energizes the economy. A synthetic criticism of this orientation can be found, for example, in the so-called “Manifesto of indignant economists”.[18] Its authors question the very foundations of neoliberalism, especially that financial markets are efficient, support economic growth, correctly assess the solvency of the state, and the rapid increase in public debt results from excessive expenditure, and that reducing public debt requires limiting public expenditure and that it passes the cost of our over-spending onto our grandchildren, as the financial markets need to be calmed down so that public debt can be financed.[19]

At the opposite extreme of economic doctrines are those that refer to the economic theory and practice of John Maynard Keynes. This great economist was himself an advocate of stimulating demand and accepting a little inflation, so he recommended state intervention. It would consist, among other things, in potential clients being hired by the state which, due to lack of money, had to postpone meeting their basic needs. Investments in public works have been a frequently used instrument. The increase in demand resulted in an increase in supply, i.e. economic growth.[20] Neoliberals spoke of the “naive Keynesian theory”,[21] but it gained many supporters and is still widely used in many countries today, even though at present its supporters are aware of some of its limitations and the necessary adjustments. It is especially popular with politicians of social-democratic views because the measures recommended by Keynes reduce social inequalities and significantly reduce poverty. These politicians value such results for ideological reasons and also because it gives them voters among the lower and middle classes and usually allows them to solve serious economic problems. This social-democratic interpretation of Keynes is most successfully applied in the Scandinavian countries. It is certainly a socially sensitive economy, although it is mainly focused on solving problems of social inequality, which – in my opinion – does not exhaust the problem of egoism vs. brotherhood.

Many economists, in the face of a difficult situation, as in Sigmund Freud’s textbook on psychoanalysis, return to their mother’s womb, that is, to the thoughts of Karl Marx – if I may permit myself. An example of such an attitude can be the works of the economist Thomas Piketty or the philosophers and sociologists Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt.[22] It’s just that they are trying to transfer Marx to the realities of the 21st century, to a time of completely new technologies and globalization, including economic and political power. The new “productive forces” impose new “relations of production”, a new “base”, a new “superstructure”, which inevitably leads to a new revolution, this time a global one. This would happen under the rule of materialistic history and its iron, though perhaps less material, laws. This is because, apart from the already known forms of concentration of world wealth and poverty in time and space, they drive the globalization of violence and resistance. For reasons that I do not understand, they believe, forgetting the experience of the revolution of previous generations, that this time everything will end well for the good and poor social classes. Piketty is less committed to this kind of prophecy, but he is also eager to take on the role of Marx of our time, although rather in economic matters.

An interesting economic doctrine is the so-called new structural economics, identified primarily with Justin Yifu Lin.[23] It is an attempt to combine neoclassical and structural economics. Its creator explained the reasons, context, and goals for this new doctrine: “It also points out the fact that policies advocated under the Washington Consensus often failed to take into consideration the structural differences between developed and developing countries and ignored the second-best nature of reforming various types of distortions in developing countries. The proposed new structural economics attempts to develop a general framework for understanding the causality behind the observed stylized facts of sustained growth. Specifically, the new structural economics proposes to: (i) develop an analytical framework that takes into account factor and infrastructure endowments, the levels of development, and the corresponding industrial, social, and economic structures of developing countries; (ii) analyze the roles of the state and the market at each development level and the mechanics of the transition from one level to another; and (iii) focus on the causes of economic distortions and the government’s strategies for exit from the distortions. It is not an attempt to substitute another ideologically-based policy framework for those that have dominated development thinking in past decades, yet showing little connection to the empirical realities of individual countries. Rather, it is an approach that brings attention to the endowment structure and level of development of each country and suggests a path toward country-based research that is rigorous, innovative, and relevant to development policy. This framework stresses the need to understand better the implications of structural differences at various levels of a country’s development – especially in terms of the appropriate institutions and policies, and the constraints and incentives for the private sector in the process of structural change. The current state of development economics and the severe impact of the global crisis on the economies of developing countries have generated strong demand for a new framework for development thinking. The research agenda of the new structural economics should enrich research and enhance the understanding of the nature of economic development. This would help assist low- and middle-income countries in achieving dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive growth, and in eliminating poverty”.[24]

The prerequisite of this doctrine is the conviction that poor economies will not achieve sustained economic growth by following the footsteps of the rich. On the way, they will fall into the so-called middle-income trap. Only the state is able to diagnose the situation in detail, determining the advantages and weaknesses of a given economy, as well as the economic situation and global opportunities. This is required for developing a plan that would take advantage of the strengths and would circumvent the obstacles of individual weaknesses and external difficulties.

The state is also the only institution that can accumulate funds needed to fill the most acute infrastructural deficiencies, set the main directions of the desired and possible development, and give them impetus using financial resources and legal support. The idea of using “comparative advantages” is important here. An example of the successful implementation of such a strategy is of course China,[25] but also Finland[26] (I do not know how much consciously and how much not, but the principles of the new structural economy were implemented there) and in Poland after 2016 (I also do not know if this doctrine is used consciously).

Justin Yifu Lin also attaches great importance to reducing the wealth gap within society. Regardless of his ideological commitment, it is also about the economy’s ability to develop. For, as he says, the poor live by their own labour, and the rich “earn money from their capital. Only when the poor have jobs can they share in the fruits of economic growth. Manufacturing and service industries have comparative advantages and can generate the maximum surplus. As labour doesn’t grow as fast as capital, labourers’ salary will increase, and capital returns will decrease. In the end, the income distribution gap between the rich and the poor will be narrowed”.[27]

The difficulty of “catching up” with the rich economies lies, among other things, in the fact that wealth disparities are too high, but also in the lack of capital (which, in turn, is a comparative advantage of rich countries). Development plans require getting into debt. What is fatal, however, is the strategy inherent in the neoliberal doctrine of cutting expenses, saving, and not investing. It is especially necessary to develop research and production related to new technologies. And, as I mentioned, investments in infrastructure are necessary. Especially the one that are the basis for the development of strategic areas of the economy assumed in the development plan. It seems to me that the key is to restructure the economy in order to increase resources and facilities where the plan provides for the greatest development opportunities, and to save where it will not result in major losses. It is impossible to invest in everything. It is worthwhile to invest in what creates such opportunities.[28]

The last large group of internally differentiated orientations and assumptions, which, however, would qualify as one doctrine, is Christian Democratic economics, as I allow myself to call it. I am not even talking about the political phenomenon of Christian Democrats, which today sometimes differs from the social teaching of the Church, but about a certain attitude towards social phenomena and guidelines for action that are based on this teaching. I will refer to the most circulating understanding of the principles of Christian democracy, which explains that it is a “political movement that has a close association with Roman Catholicism and its philosophy of social and economic justice. It incorporates both traditional church and family values and progressive values such as social welfare. For this reason, Christian democracy does not fit squarely in the ideological categories of left and right. It rejects the individualist worldview that underlies both political liberalism and laissez-faire economics, and it recognizes the need for the state to intervene in the economy to support communities and defend human dignity. Yet Christian democracy, in opposition to socialism, defends private property and resists excessive intervention of the state in social life and education. While Christian democracy found its inspiration and base of support in Christianity, its parties operated autonomously from ecclesiastical organizations and often welcomed the support of agnostics or atheists”.[29]

The essence of this type of economy is the priority of the Church’s social teaching over ideologies, economic indicators, or the legal status. Its foundations are based on the Holy Scriptures and the perennial teaching of the Church. In a separate act, it was first formulated in the Encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII.[30] It indicated the Catholic way of perceiving social processes, including economic ones, over the clashing ideologies and political parties, as well as over the conflicting interests of various social groups. Later, with the circumstances changing over the years, each pope issued Encyclicals and other documents to interpret the Church’s message in new, concrete realities

The basis of the Church’s social teaching is always the same. It is a personalistic orientation which places man, as a child of God, their dignity, subjectivity, rights and needs above doctrines, ideologies or interests. It respects human freedom, including economic freedom, as well as private property, but if they contribute to the “common good”.[31] It indicates a third way, between the ideologies of individualism and collectivism.[32]

Certainly, this orientation of economists includes Stefano Zamagni,[33] Paul Dembiński,[34] or scientists involved in the so-called “Economy of Communion”.[35] Let this thread of broad vision and to democracy, subjectivity and the “common good” be confirmed by the quotation from Zamagni: “A society in which democracy applies only to politics will never be fully democratic. A good society to live in will not force its members into uncomfortable dissociations: democratic as citizens and voters, undemocratic as workers and consumers”.[36]

Common good, as understood by David Hollenbach, “In other words ‘fulfils needs that individuals cannot fulfil on their own’ and realizes ‘values that can only be attained in our life together’”.[37] It is therefore a kind of paper clip, bonding what is individual with what is collective. I would say that it is a state of collective subjectivity in which individual people and their communities realize themselves.

In turn, Paul Dembiński, criticizing the excessive financialisation of the economy, also mentions the common good; he writes: “Yet financialization is merely one of many possible organizing principles, and it represents a choice which, if taken to its extreme, is a threat to both humanity and society. As this analysis shows, there are other, currently less prominent principles which could take its place – among them the notion of the common good”.[38]

Similarly, we can confirm the profound sensitivity of the Christian Democratic economy to the human person as the main subject of economic relations. Zamagni even states that the qualitative development of economics is impossible without sensitivity to the anthropological point of reference.

“Today, however, we have come to the point where even the most ‘abstract’ of economists cannot but admit that if we want to attack the almost totally new problems of our society – such as the endemic aggravation of inequality, the scandal of human hunger, the emergence of new social pathologies, the rise of clashes of identity in addition to the traditional clash of interests, the paradoxes of happiness, unsustainable development, and so on – research simply can no longer confine itself to a sort of anthropological limbo. One must take a position on the matter. If it is true that every theory is a view of reality, then one cannot produce economic theory, properly speaking, without selecting a standpoint from which to scrutinize reality. Otherwise, economics will continue to spread, to enrich its technical and analytical apparatus, but if it does not escape self-referentiality it will be less and less capable of actually grasping reality, and thus of serving some purpose”.[39]

Dembiński thinks similarly when he writes: “by stressing the importance of ethics and moral philosophy for daily life […] strongly reminds us that neither economy nor business are self-sufficient either in organisational and social, practical or moral terms”.[40]

The thesis that Christian Democratic economists go beyond doctrinaire ideologies can also be confirmed:

“Recent decades were witness to the turbulent upheaval caused by the breakdown of the communist utopia and the political project for ‘real socialism’, whilst the liberal utopia and the social democratic political project have become ever less persuasive, failing to gain support and, therefore, to deliver on their promises in a more complex and globalised world as demonstrated by the yet unfinished 2007/09 economic and financial crisis. The utopian collapse is a given: already completed in one case, widely expected in the other. It is highly possible that the liberal utopia will go the same way as communism, and that celebrations of its triumph may well be without future”.[41]

Identification with the assumptions of the aforementioned economic doctrines may be overt or not quite; rely on developed systems of assumptions and arguments, or only on a few general theses. In each case, however, it defines economic views relating to economic practice. They appear especially in specific economic situations. And above all in times of economic crisis. Such crisis usually triggers two attitudes, and therefore a tendency to two types of macrostrategy: stagnant or developmental. The manifestation of the former is the currently dominant strategy of egocentric, anti-social and anti-subject capitalism. Development macrostrategy manifests itself rather through strategies of pro-social capitalism. I am referring to a very general perspective within which tensions can be mitigated and risks avoided. I am convinced that the most important foundations for such a perspective must be found in Catholic social teaching, in the message of Pope Francis and his predecessors.

In the contemporary economy of today’s civilizational crisis and the related crisis of the social order, two orientations clearly emerge. The first one is ruthless capitalism, oriented solely to the accumulation of capital, unscrupulously making use of the global network in order to omit any sort of obligations towards the person, culture, the natural environment etc. It is based mainly on anonymous shareholders and the impersonal flow of virtual money, whose owners most often know nothing about where and in what conditions their financial resources are invested and furthermore do not intend to identify themselves with anyone or anything, nor sympathise with anyone. This kind of capitalism unceremoniously destroys people, the natural environment and culture. Its adherents make use of the ideology of neoliberal freedom, monopolize the market, and destroy competition. The depersonalization of capital and its sales causes no one to feel responsible, committed or guilty. Impersonal, objective forces are guilty. This is some kind of new 21st century form of alienation or fatalism. This is, as a matter of fact, the stagnant strategy, in an economic sense, but also an antisocial one, when it comes to the social consequences.

The second orientation is capitalism of a more corporate attitude (it is probably most advanced in Sweden); it appears, among others, in the form of social movements or communities. Profit, although very important, is not the only good; the decision-making process and the redistribution of profit often has social and ecological objectives. Economic processes are more personalized; they are often of a community-based character. It seems however, that the processes of globalization foster the first kind of capitalism. This second kind of strategy has a developmental character, in an economic sense, but at the same time a prosocial one when it comes to the effects that are noticeable for citizens.

These are the two models of economic systems that we can observe in reality, at least in European countries. These are the self-centered and altruistic models. One cannot doubt which of these systems or doctrines is more moral, more sympathetic to people, simply more humane. But defenders of these less humane models and doctrines argue that their economy is more efficient. Some say that they also have good will, but first you have to choose efficiency, i.e. the economy they prefer must earn money, and then you can divide the resources to achieve humanitarian goals. History rather does not know of such a case that under such a doctrine, in the framework of such a model, there had indeed been such a noble act committed.

It is a widely known thesis that this brutal capitalism is very effective when it comes to motivating entrepreneurship, work and innovation. However, by triggering the human will of ownership and attaining wealth, it hinders or even makes impossible a reasonable redistribution of the acquired wealth. For ages, it has been the seed of poverty, misery and exclusion. What I wish to especially point out is that it causes anger, fury, rage, social turbulence, wars and revolutions. The response to these dangerous claims has rarely been a common sense willingness to compromise, solidarity or compassionate development strategy. Often, instead of some idea and plan for the future, a stagnation strategy was employed, the instruments of which are repression, intimidation and violence. Revolution is always evil, for everyone. Usually, it has noble, divine and humane values on its banners. And it ends in genocide, rape and robbery on a massive scale, and then in the restitution of the old order. But both sides of the economic conflict are responsible for revolutions: those who commit violence and those who put others in a dead end.

Does fraternity in the economy cost dearly?

First of all, it is worth noting that it costs dearly not to have an economic policy that would compensate for the excessive stratification of wealth. Richard K. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have collected huge factual material to show that health status, level of violence, life expectancy, infant mortality, severity of mental diseases, drug addiction, alcoholism, obesity, educational problems of children, frequency of pregnancies in underage girls, homicides, and incarcerations are closely related to the level of egalitarianism of societies.[42] Moral costs, social losses, the price of a lowered standard of living, poverty, despair, lack of prospects, suicide, are incalculable, but overwhelming. Such arguments, however, will not reach people who are devoid of imagination and sensitivity. Those who do not have the nerve of compassion will not understand anyway. But there are also very strong, strictly economic arguments, for a more just social order that would mitigate extreme economic inequalities.

Professor Elżbieta Mączyńska, President of the Polish Economic Society wrote: “It is not about some socialist trends, it is about protecting the market and the economy”.[43] She mentioned the so-called output gap. As she said: “It is worth quoting the words of the head of the International Monetary Fund – how many rich can buy yachts, real estate, diamonds. There is a phenomenon of diminishing marginal utility of income. Someone who has several billion on their account may not notice the next billion on this account. The richest satisfy all needs in an extreme way and face a barrier to further distributing their wealth. They often resort to the speculative sphere. This is one of the reasons for the expansion of the speculative financial sector, which contributed to the world crisis in 2008”.[44]

Mączyńska emphasizes that if people do not receive adequate income, production that increases due to technological progress cannot find buyers. “It means that our incomes are not properly correlated with growing production. Of course, it is not about doing some kind of giving away so that people only buy. [...] The point is that the mechanism that is inherent in contemporary capitalism should not act to increase inequality. Unfortunately, that’s how things are now”, she said.[45] Joseph Stiglitz: “Low growth in real wages in the US is having a disastrous effect on economic growth. Growing social inequalities sooner or later become a brake on the economy, not only in the US”.[46] This opinion is confirmed by the scientific research of the economists of the International Monetary Fund, an institution which is hardly suspected of being averse to “markets”. On the Forbes website we read: “In March this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published the results of research by its economists Jonathan Sharp, Andrew Berg and Charalambos Tsangarides, which show that both in the medium and long term, social inequalities (measured by the Gini coefficient) have a destructive effect on the growth of the Gross Domestic Product”.[47]

Conclusion

I attempted to show that the achievement of subjectivity by man is a condition for overcoming natural (in the sense of biological nature) egoism. But for that you need subjective social relations. They are especially important in the period of socialization. These in turn depend to a large extent on the subjectivity of society and culture, and also, to a large extent, on the subjective economy. We are dealing here with a complex, multi-factorial vicious circle.

Each dimension of subjectivity depends on all the others and affects all the others. I think the essential contradiction that causes the looping of modern people is related to the development of industrialism and capitalism as its financial basis. However, the evil is not in themselves, but in the wrong reaction to their side effects. As already mentioned, the development of the social division of labour causes social disintegration. Its effects are, among others, atomization, anomy and secularization.

I tried to show that excessive economic inequality is not only not necessary or conducive to the economy, but on the contrary. Not only does it cause evil to people who starve or suffer poverty or live a poor life full of unnecessary mental illnesses, divorces and other effects of inequality described by Wilkinson and Pickett. They make the world worse for all of us, even for those who are responsible for it, but do not feel guilty.

The unfavourable side effects of the industrial revolution overlap with the second civilizational revolution, the post-industrial one, with its globalization, even stronger egocentric individualism, financialization of the economy, a more degenerate version of mass culture and an increasingly massive turn-away from God and the Church (at least where this civilization is the most advanced). Man is left alone with his increasingly unlimited freedom, even more radical in relation to enlightenment, faith in the omnipotence of reason and obsession with freedom cresting the self-centered individualism.

However, I am convinced that the essence of this dissociative contradiction is not some fatal decree of fate or an inevitable, in the Marxist sense, rule of historical laws, but a genuinely human error, dependent on will. Fascinated by unprecedented technical and economic possibilities and, as a result of the ability of social control weakened by the social division of labour, stunned by the freedom of moral and cultural habits, man did not take the opportunity to preserve, apart from new, “progressive” forms of life organization, what Tönnies defined as a community, a civilization taking improper advantage of freedom and new opportunities. And many of us continue to do it wrong or even worse. After all, whatever we criticize in “our time” is the result of a wrong choice. We committed the sin of radicalism, the choice of extremes, of fundamentalism, which prompted us to reject what seemed to be a relic, part of the mistakes of the past. We act like teenagers who think that time has started with them and that everything has to be built from scratch. And as teenagers, we are unable to keep proportion.

It is not about being stuck in the superstitions of the old days, or throwing ourselves into modernity like a tower jumper who does not check whether there is water in the pool. There is nothing wrong with the opportunities that civilization gives us. On the contrary, they are wonderful and worth using. But this must not prevent us from building personal, social, cultural and economic relationships on the foundation of a brotherhood firmly rooted in God, religion and the Church. It is a matter of our choice – private and collective. A subjective culture as well as a society and economy are possible. But you have to choose yourself: a child of God, and others as brothers in God’s love. This is how I understand the message of the Holy Father Francis and his Encyclical Fratelli Tutti. Perhaps this is one of the most needed offers that the Church can propose at the moment, one which may change the fate of the world to our favour and, at the same time, the situation and importance of the Church in this world.

 

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M. Castells, P. Himanen, The Information Society and the Welfare State: The Finnish Model, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002.

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P.H. Dembiński, 1989-2009: From one systemic crisis to another: Failed utopias and economic transitions, in: Crisis and Change: the Geopolitics of Global Governance, Beretta S. and Zoboli R. (eds), Vita & Pensiero, Milano, 2012.

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http://en.people.cn/200703/26/eng20070326_361047.html

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END NOTES

[1] Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti of The Holy Father Francis. On Fraternity and Social Friendship, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html
[2] É. Durkheim, On Morality and Society, Selected Writings, Bellah R.N. – ed., The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, London 1973, p. 121.
[3] F. Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, Jarris J., Hollis M. – translated, Harris J. – ed., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001, p. 22 ff.
[4] Ibidem, p. 93 ff.
[5] É. Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, Simpson G. – translated, The Free Press of Glencoe, Illinois 1960, p. 70 ff.
[6] Ibidem, p. 111 ff.
[7] Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, op. cit., 1.
[8] A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Reeve H. – translated, Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series 2002, p. 574.
[9] Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, op. cit., 13.
[10] Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, op. cit., 12.
[11] E. Lévinas, Lingis A. – translated, Totality and Infinity, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston-London 1991; Humanism of the Other, Poller N. – translated, University of Illinois Press 2006.
[12] Matthew (18:20). “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
[13] See: K. Wielecki, Kryzys i socjologia {Crisis and Sociology}, Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, Warszawa 2012.; K. Wielecki, Subjectivity and violence from the perspective of critical realism, Journal of Critical Realism, Jul 2018, pp. 1-13.
[14] Ibidem.
[15] F.A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago-London 1980.[16] F.A. Hayek, Law Legislation and Liberty, v. 3, The Political Order of a Free People, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago-London 1979.; D.S. Jones, Master of the Universe. Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 2012.
[17] D.S. Jones, Master of the Universe. …, op. cit.
[18] Ph. Askenazy, Th. Coutrot, A. Orlean, H. Sterdyniak, Manifesto of the appalled economists, in: Real-World Economics Review, issue no. 54, p. 21. http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue54/Manifesto54.pdf
[19] Ibidem.
[20] J.M. Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Macmillan, London 1936.
[21] M. Friedman, Commanding Heights, PBS. October 1, 2000.
[22] T. Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Goldhammer A. – translated, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass., London 2014; A. Negri, M. Hardt, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London 2001.
[23] J.Y. Lin, New Structural Economics. A Framework for Rethinking Development and Policy, Oxford University Press (on behalf of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / THE WORLD BANK.), Oxford 2011; J.Y. Lin, The Quest for Prosperity. How Developing Economies Can Take Off, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 2012.
[24] J.Y. Lin, New Structural Economics …, op. cit., p. 38.
[25] J.Y. Lin, Demystifying the Chinese Economy, Wang S. – translated, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012; China and Global Economy, in China Economic Journal, February 2011.
[26] M. Castells, P. Himanen, The Information Society and the Welfare State: The Finnish Model, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002.
[27] http://en.people.cn/200703/26/eng20070326_361047.html
[28] Ibidem.
[29] A. Munro, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christian-democracy
[30] Rerum Novarum. Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII On Capital and Labor. http://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum.html
[31] See: H. Skorowski, Moralność społeczna. Wybrane problemy z etyki społecznej, gospodarczej i politycznej, [Social morality. Selected problems of social, economic and political ethics], Wydawnictwo Salezjańskie, Warszawa 1996.; M. Rembierz, The Play between Freedom and Power. On Human Quest for Self-Determination and Subjectivity in the Times of Ideological Fighting for Man’s Appropriation, [in:] Critical Realism and the Humanity in Social Sciences, Archerian Studies, K. Śledzińska, K. Wielecki (ed.).
[32] See: K. Wielecki, Podmiotowość w dobie kryzysu postindustrializmu. Między indywidualizmem a kolektywizmem, Wydawnictwo Centrum Europejskiego Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, Warszawa 2003. (Subjectivity in the times of post-industrialism crisis. Between individualism and collectivism).
[33] S. Zamagni, The Economics of Altruism, Edward Elgar, Aldershot 1995; “Catholic social thought, civil economy and the spirit of capitalism”, in Finn, D. (ed.), The true wealth of nations, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010, pp. 63-94. And others.
[34] P.H. Dembiński, The Incompleteness of the Economy and Business: A Forceful Reminder, Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, Published 20 January 2012; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-011-1185-2. And others.
[35] The Economics of Altruism, ed. S. Zamagni, E. Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham Glos 1995; L. Bruni, S. Zamagni, Civil Economy. Efficiency, Equity, Public Happiness, Peter Lang AG, Bern 2007; The Economy of Communion. Toward a Multi-Dimensional Economic Culture, ed. L. Bruni, New City Press, Rome 2001; J. Gallagher, J. Buckeye, Structures of Grace: The Business Practices of the Economy of Communion, New City Press, Rome 2014. And others.
[36] S. Zamagni, Catholic Social Thought, Civil Economy and the Spirit of Capitalism, http://www.christlichesoziallehre.de/pdf/Zamagni/CATHOLIC%20SOCIAL%20THOUGHT.pdf, p. 20.
[37] D. Hollenbach, S.J., The Common Good and Christian Ethics, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002, p. 83.
[38] P.H. Dembinski, 1989-2009: From one systemic crisis to another: Failed utopias and economic transitions, in: Crisis and Change: The Geopolitics of Global Governance, Beretta S. and Zoboli R. (eds), Vita & Pensiero, Milano, 2012, pp. 23-53.
[39] S. Zamagni, Reciprocity, Civil Economy, Common Good, p. 2. http://www.ordosocialis.de/pdf/Zamagni/RECIPROCITY,%20CIVIL%20ECONOMY.pdf
[40] P.H. Dembinski, The Incompleteness of the Economy and Business … op. cit.
[41] P.H. Dembiński, 1989-2009: from one systemic crisis to another …, op. cit. 23-53.
[42] R. Wilkinson, K. Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Bloomsbury Press, New York, Berlin, London, Sydney 2009, p. 19.
[43] E. Mączyńska, https://www.rp.pl/Finanse/170129925-Maczynska-nierownosci-na-swiecie-narastaja-a-Davos-nie-potrafi-znalezc-na-to-recepty.html
[44] Ibidem.
[45] Ibidem.
[46] J. Stiglitz, https://www.forbes.pl/csr/nierownosci-spoleczne-hamuja-wzrost-gospodarczy/2xpkw7x, artykuły.
[47] http://csr.forbes.pl

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