Friday, July 18, 2008

Words, Words, Words: My Working Lexicon

The identifications proposed below are not to be seen as definitive. This is NOT a glossary or dictionary. Rather, I have compiled here my own working lexicon; as I grow in my own understanding of the concepts, terms, and persons involved in Catholic Social Teaching, I will continue to update this list and nuance the content.

This is a working lexicon. Each time an item on the list is revised, the first part of the definition will reflect this fact and the date given, thus: [Revised mm/dd/yy]. Consequently, when considering the various content on this site and cross-referencing the lexicon, the date of the post (or date of latest revision) will be important to understanding that I may have interpreted a given concept or term in a slightly different way. [Nota bene: Sometimes, the content of posts on the blog will be updated or revised; this date will be reflected in the text of the post (rather than the timestamp), at the very bottom the particular post.]

Persons or general concepts are in bold; subjects reflecting proprietary works or ideas (reflected by a term “coined” by a specific thinker) will be listed as an italicized title.

The lexicon is divided into four sections for ease of reference: Economical, Philosophical, Theological, and Biographical/Bibliographical.

FEEDBACK GREATLY DESIRED, in order to gain clarity and instruction about terms which may be vague or where I am lacking in understanding.


Capitalism – A society in which a free minority are owners of the means of production in the form of private property, with a proletarian mass of non-owners who work under freely engaged social contract with the owners [i].

Communism – (1) A specified type of socialism which denies the right to “private” property even on the distribution side of economic exchange; all property is to be shared in common based on need [ii]; (2) in practical terms, a denial of the individuality of the person, who is seen chiefly as he relates to the community, thus impacting all social institutions even beyond the economic sphere.

Consumerism – (1) An attitude in the individual or society which seeks fulfillment in the consumption of material goods; (2) a philosophy, deliberately mechanized by political and corporate bodies for the stimulation of the economy, whereby the consumption of goods is stimulated and promoted as a way of life and happiness for the State [iii].

Distributism (or Distributivism) – The system in which so large a number of citizens are invested of the means of production in the form of private property as to generally characterize the State; that is, a “Proprietary State” in which property, especially the means of production, is well distributed amongst the larger part of the working population [iv].

Economics – (1) The study of how wealth is produced, consumed, and distributed [v]; more specifically, the study of the material limitations and laws (i.e., necessary relationships between existents) governing the processes of goods production, consumption, distribution, and exchange.

Marxism – Marx and Engel’s theory of communist socialism heavily influenced by materialism and evolutionistic sociology; here, the struggle between classes is seen as the impetus for societal change and balance [vi].

Proprietary State (see Distributism).

Property – (1) “The name for a control of the Means of Production” [vii]; (2) Control by an agent (an individual or community) over wealth, which control implies inclusion of the means to produce wealth [viii].

Socialism – A theoretical society in which the means of production belong to the State, which would redistribute the goods produced to the commonwealth; in theory, “private property” in terms of consumption goods could still be maintained, and that in less or equal division amongst the citizenry.

Value – (1) A thing’s usefulness; (2) a thing’s worth in exchange [ix].

Wealth (see also Value, #2) – (1) A thing’s exchangeable value, the real measure of which is “the toil and trouble [to a person] of acquiring it” [x]; or, (2) “values attaching to material objects through the action of man” which are exchangeable [xi].

[i] cf. Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, Section I.
[ii] cf. Belloc, Economics for Helen, Part II, Socialism.
[iii] cf. Retailing analyst Victor Labeau, quoted in The Story of Stuff by Annie Lennox (time appx. 11:54): “Our enormously productive economy... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption.... We need things consumed, burned-up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”
[iv] cf. Belloc, Economics for Helen, Part II, The Distributive State.
[v] Belloc, Economics for Helen, Part I, Introduction.
[vi] cf. John Paul II, Dominum et vivicantem 56: His Holiness calls “dialectical and historical materialism” the “essential core of Marxism.”
[vii] Belloc, The Restoration of Property, Chapter I.
[viii] Belloc, Economics for Helen, Part II, Property.
[ix] Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Part I, Chapter 4.
[x] Ibid., I, 5.
[xi] Belloc, Economics for Helen, Part I, “What is Wealth?”


Commutative Justice – One of the species of justice (see Distributive Justice): “[T]he order of one part to another, to which corresponds the order of one private individual to another [...] is directed by commutative justice, which is concerned about the mutual dealings between two persons” [i].

Darwinism – Commonly used term to describe any system of evolutionary theory which uses materialist principles such as random selection (to the exclusion of other explanatory notions, such as teleology) as a basis for describing observed phenomena.

Distributive Justice – One of the species of justice (see Commutative Justice): “[T]he order of the whole towards the parts, to which corresponds the order of that which belongs to the community in relation to each single person [...] is directed by distributive justice, which distributes common goods proportionately” [ii].

Materialism – Broad term describing any philosophy holding as a basic principle that all real phenomena are a result of material objects and relations.

Personalism – A philosophy centering on the value and uniqueness of the person, growing from a confluence of pragmatism and phenomenology among other philosophies, but distinct in its “axiological” scheme which proposes the person as an “absolute.” (See Christian Personalism.)

Social Darwinism (or Evolutionistic Sociology) – The reduction of social phenomena (such as economics) to a biological or physiological explanatory principle; the belief that “all social phenomena [...] must each and all be seen as intrinsically related phenomena of the science of life in its most highly evolved form” [iii].

[i] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae IIa IIae, Q61, a1.
[ii] Aquinas, op. cit.
[iii] Benjamin Kidd, quoted in Heinrich Pesch, Liberalism, Socialism and the Christian Social Order, Book 1: The Philosophical Roots of Economic Liberalism, trans. Rupert J. Ederer (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2000), 189.


Christian Personalism – Proponents argue that this philosophy best captures the dynamic reality of the human person as socially ordered and made in the image and likeness of God; the “absolute” here is slightly modified to encompass the Divine Communion of Persons and, secondarily, man’s relations with the Divine, thus maintaining the ethical and phenomenological centrality of man, but emphasizing the imago Dei over the individual; (For its opponents, however, this philosophy is seen as a corruption of Thomism toward relativism, heavily influenced by Immanuel Kant’s ethical focus on “rights” [i]).

Solidarity – (1) When interdependence becomes recognized “as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world, in its economic, cultural, political and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category [...], the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a ‘virtue,’ is solidarity [ii]; (2) “The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of ‘friendship’ or ‘social charity,’ is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood [...] dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to” [iii].

Subsidiarity – The principle, firmly upheld by the Church, that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” [iv]; negatively, the principle which sees such interference as “a grave evil and disturbance of right order” [v].

[i] This amalgamation, which Stanley Jaki has called “Aqui-Kantism,” opponents say can be found in various modern theologians’ works, notably the writings of Pope John Paul II and several passages from the Second Vatican; for a consideration and apologetic against such critiques, see “Personhood as Gift and Task: The Place of the Person in Catholic Social Thought” by Gregory Beabout.
[ii] John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis 38; emphasis added.
[iii] CCC 1939.
[iv] John Paul II, Centesimus annus 48.
[v] Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno 79.


Centesimus Annus – Encyclical of John Paul II on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, dated 01 May 1991, in which the Holy Father proposes a “re-reading” of that former document in order to “confirm the permanent value of such teaching,” and to “manifest the true meaning of the Church's Tradition” [i].

Laborem Exercens – Encyclical of John Paul II on the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, dated 14 September 1981; the Pope here calls for “the discovery of the new meanings of human work” and “the formulation of the new tasks that in this sector face each individual, the family, each country, the whole human race, and, finally, the Church herself” [ii].

Mater et Magistra – Encyclical of John XXIII, dated 15 May 1961 (the seventieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum); at great length, the Pope celebrates the Leonine encyclical as a “compendium of Catholic social and economic teaching” of “perennial validity and inexhaustible worth” [iii]. He then “pass[es] in review [over]... the various problems of our modern social life” and provides “principles and directives” for the Bishops of the day to enact [iv].

Pacem in Terris – Encyclical of John XXIII, dated 11 April 1963, investigating the laws which govern man’s relations: one with another; individuals with the State; and, individuals and States with the world community.

Quadragesimo Anno – Encyclical of Pius XI on the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, dated 15 May 1931; celebrating and updating Leo XIII’s doctrines – including a remarkable exposition of the principle of “subsidiarity” – Pius XI excoriates the evils both of Socialism and Capitalism, while proposes the “reform of Christian morals” as “the only way to sound restoration” [v].

Rerum Novarum – The magna carta of Catholic Social Teaching, a “peerless” encyclical by Leo XIII published 15 May 1891 [vi]. While upbraiding the evils of Socialism, Leo XIII provides sound religious basis for the dignity of workers; he extols workers’ rights to just wages, proper division of labor, organization, Sabbath rest, and property enfranchisement; he identifies the proper role of the State, particularly in terms of distributive justice; he calls for laws favoring ownership; and he calls for an end to enmity between classes.

[i] John Paul II, Centesimus annus 3.
[ii] John Paul II, Laborem exercens 2.
[iii] John XXIII, Mater et Magistra 15, 42.
[iv] John XXIII, op. cit., 261.
[v] Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno 15; see also, on Socialism, #56: “the division of goods which results from private ownership was established by nature itself;” and, on Capitalism, #103: “[Capitalism] has invaded and pervaded the economic and social life of even those outside its orbit and is unquestionably impressing on it its advantages, disadvantages and vices.”
[vi] cf. Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno 1.


  1. I think this lexicon is very well worded. I would only say that Capitalism may have to be adjusted, as it is not necessarily always the case that a minority controls the means of production. Practically speaking that is so, but I see capitalism as more than just the means of production, but also as a true free market society which gives all men the right to trade as they see fit.

    Practically speaking with the means of production though, I believe you are correct in regard to capitalism.

  2. Dave, thanks for your reply.

    I'll center in on your use of the word "necessarily." I'm sort of willing to concede that point of a laissez-faire "system." It's sort of the quandary which Belloc found with the idea of Socialism, in that it could never really and practically be realized as anything but either the Servile State or Communism.

    Practically speaking, "capitalism" will bestow ownership upon a few because its only real principle is that production will be proportionate to investment. Thus, everything should "expand," in the sense of getting bigger: the market, the investment, the profit. In order for investment to get "bigger," then the individual needs more wealth to himself. The more selfs there are to compete, the more spread around wealth will get and investments as large will not be able to be made. There's only so much of the means of production to go around.

    Production in capitalism is for its own sake, not for consumption. Thus, there's a denial of the "limit" of what man really needs or wants. Just keep concentrating investment to make more and thereby make man want more.

    Now, free trade and mercantilism are not excluded in Catholic economics or, more specifically, Distributism. (Here's a decent treatment of the matter). But, you see how well-distributed means of production would mean a more human-scale level of production and profit (proportionate to actual consumption), and the actual productive property itself, and its consumable produce, would be the characterizing element of such a system - not the capital put aside for mere increase of wealth.

  3. A small additional comment Dave. Very nice pun at the opening of your remarks. I didn't miss it, but forgot to note it above.

  4. Property is not just "means of production" (e.g., an industrial, agricultural or retail/wholesale business) but also would include a place of residence... a home, with some land.

  5. I agree about property; that is, I think, the sense of the second definition. I included Belloc's as primary (and added the second phrase to my own definition) because it seems that Belloc uses property in a special economical sense. This sense seems to mean that property is "truer" in a way when it sustains it's future holding, i.e. is productive. In other words, if I have a property which pays for its own upkeep and maintenance, this is a really secure sort of property to have.

    But yes, any control over wealth is property, as sense (2) of the definition holds.

  6. Excellent post, and one I'm hoping to have more time to ruminate on in a few days. The definition of words is a topic of great significance. I don't want to rush things.

    Still, at first glance, some solid work.


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