Eric Blomquist - Natural Reason and the Welfare State: Friends or Enemies?

Seminar held on 30 June 2010

I would first of all like to thank the Thomas More Institute and its Director, Andrew Hegarty, for giving me the opportunity to speak here tonight and also for giving me the time and resources to work on this project, in addition to his valuable help. I am also forever indebted to my supervisor, Prof. Philip Booth, for his help, suggestions, patience and for giving me so much of his time. (All omissions and mistakes in this paper are, naturally, my own.) This paper is part of a larger project undertaken at the Thomas More Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs. If any ideas are unclear or too dense, please let me know and I might be able to expand on them in the Q/A-session.

As the invitation to this seminar notes, the Western European ‘Welfare State’ has expanded enormously since the early 20th century. The Welfare State has come even more to the fore of public discourse following the onset of the current economic recession, during which prior perceptions of stability have been undermined, often leading to demands that governments should play a larger role in society. The Welfare State may then take centre stage as vociferous clamouring for safety and ‘justice’ is heard.

In this paper, I will treat the Welfare State as a general concept with two distinct features: i) a system of significant and extensive central redistribution of resources and wealth; and ii) government provision of an elaborate set of welfare services (such as health care, education, etc.). At first sight, the Welfare State might seem to occupy high moral ground for, as ‘Good Samaritans’, should we not all take on responsibility for care of our fellow human beings in need? It might even seem to be in accord with natural reason but this is a wholly mistaken notion. I will in this paper show that the Welfare State actually contradicts natural law and that it is at odds with the principles of true charity and subsidiarity.

I shall attempt to do so, first, by outlining the natural law framework I have employed to this end. Then, I will discuss a historical and philosophical defence of individual autonomy and private property against State intervention from within the natural law tradition. I shall follow this up by considering alternative interpretations in the ‘school of natural law’. I shall conclude with some brief remarks on how we might proceed to better our current condition.

Theoretical Point of Departure

First, I should point out that I have chosen to employ what is sometimes referred to as the ‘new natural law’ formalised by scholars like John Finnis, Robert P. George and Germain Grisez and this section relies very much on their work.

The reasons for political and individual action can, superficially, seem to be many and diverse. Yet, one is still justified in seeking an answer to the question ‘Why do we act?’. A medical student might be asked, ‘Why do you study medicine?’, and might reply, ‘To become a doctor’. Similarly, a politician who is asked why he implemented policy A might reply ‘Because it will stimulate growth’. But there is no reason to stop there. These answers can be pursued further and the question repeated again, ‘Why, then, is that good?’. The chain of reasons will only cease when we arrive at an answer which is self-sufficient. On arrival at that point the only intelligible answer will be something like ‘Because it is good in itself’. The motivations for our actions, and similarly for our political policies, in the end, and inevitably, direct us to an end which is good in itself – an intrinsic, basic good, universal for all human beings. These basic human goods are the ends and/or purposes that provide basic reasons for action – they are rational, non-instrumental reasons for action. As one commentator characterises them:

Basic practical principles prescribe actions which people have reason to perform because they constitute opportunities to realise, for themselves or others, benefits whose intelligible value is not only instrumental. (George, 1999, p.17)

From this initial discussion, it can be inferred that there are certain actions and goods that are to be acted upon and pursued – namely those that are ends in themselves and not wanted for another, further, higher purpose. There are, consequently, certain objects that humans can perceive as ends in themselves. These are goods that our human, practical intellect can grasp and affirm without derivation – there is no further principle than those goods.

Having accepted the existence of a common human good, it should, then, be feasible, and prudent, to provide a stipulation of basic human goods: i.e., those ends and purposes which, ultimately, provide the reasons for our actions. Such a list is notably provided by Finnis (1980, p.85) and includes (i) life; (ii) knowledge; (iii) play; (iv) aesthetic experience; (v) friendship; and (vi) practical reasonableness (although I understand he has varied and amended the list at times).

The above principles direct our choices – by our human reason – toward intelligible ends and exclude pointless activities. Aristotle argued in Nicomachean Ethics that this point of self-sufficiency is the ultimate good – all actions and goods are directed towards this purpose and this is where happiness lies. In practice, however, it is fully conceivable that the ends are, firstly, contradictory and therefore not wholly attainable all at the same time and, secondly, that there is deviation between men as to which one is preferable (Haldane, 2004, p.130). Indeed, the preceding discussion has been ‘pre-moral’ in the sense that the basic principles serve only as the ultimate premises of moral arguments. It is quite conceivable that an argument should satisfy two basic principles (justifiable on their own terms) and yet violate a third principle.

Finnis and Grisez (1988, p.283) have pointed to a resolution of this seeming paradox, which can be labelled ‘requirements of practical reasonableness’ and which serves to structure and guide human choices. We arrive at the First Principle of Morality: ‘Choose and otherwise will those and only those possibilities whose willing is compatible with integral human fulfilment’. This moral principle identifies various forms of unreasonableness in choosing between basic human goods. For it excludes any willing that is inconsistent with a will well-disposed toward all the human goods. Thus, it is inherently wrong morally to act towards a basic human good with a view also to damaging or sacrificing another.

The reason for this is that human goods are only partial – the choices and actions we make are only aspects of the complete human being. This is precisely what we should seek, an integrated manner of fulfilling our basic principles and so we cannot intentionally violate one to achieve another. Human reason drives us to seek this integral directiveness (Finnis, 1998, p.106). It is manifestly good to make all actions harmonise with all basic principles, so that basic principles may direct us in action and choice.

Up to this point, readers might be led astray into thinking of this as a wholly individual deliberation. That is not necessarily the case. The ends to which reason directs us, as has been pointed out, are human goods common to all and not confined to one particular individual; as such, they are recognisable goods for all of us (Finnis, 1998, p.111). Because we share in the same goods, practical reason leads me to consider also the well-being of others – my reasons for action are the same as those of others. There is an element of commonality. This, in addition, also reaffirms the relationship between fellow human beings that ‘consists simply in our both being human’. There are, consequently, goods that can only be realised in common: they require more than one person to achieve them. To illustrate this point, consider the good of friendship (broadly defined). Friendship, as noted earlier, is an end in itself – I want to be your friend, in the end, simply to be your friend. My interest in my friend’s well-being is not exclusively egoistic, nor altruistic. As Finnis (1998, p.116) puts it:

The essence of any friendship … is that A is interested in B’s well-being for B’s sake; and B is interested in A’s well-being for A’s sake; and A is interested in A’s own well-being not only for its own sake but also for B’s sake; and B likewise.

The basic equality of all men, furthermore, together with the fact that we all share in the same goods, means that what we labelled friendship above is possible between all men – it is common to all human beings. Our ends, the basic principles, are only attainable in communion with others and thereby our striving for true human fulfilment cannot be achieved inside our own silos. Indeed, acting as an egoist against, or not acting for, the good of others is a violation of practical reasonableness (Finnis, 1998, p.112). In striving for our own good, we also strive for the good of many – the common good. They are not separable; ‘self-love is…transcended’ (Finnis, 1998, p.116).

This point is important because it illustrates, and formalises, our responsibilities to others and to our community. A responsibility towards fellow human beings is what underlies the debate surrounding the Welfare State but it is seldom made explicit. Its origin and the form it should take is often surrounded by confused arguments. As has been shown, however, the responsibility is strictly inter-personal. That is, the first principle of morality directs us to act and choose towards the well-being of others directly, not necessarily through intermediate institutions.

It is quite evident from the history of mankind that, for the ends of men not to collide and to exercise inter-personal responsibilities, we need a political authority. Yet, the question of welfare provision is not answered. Take note, however, that the State as such is only an instrumental good. It serves and assists human action and choices in striving for and attaining human goods. It enables them to be reached.

Having established the framework for our analysis, let us turn to different strands within the natural law tradition that may help us specify the form a sound welfare policy should take.

Individuals, Communities, and Private Property

The natural law doctrine discussed above reveals to us important ethical considerations for our actions and choices – both individual ones and communal ones. Nevertheless, within this academic tradition there remains some scope for interpretation of certain perspectives. This does not concern the basic argument of the tradition (such as the first basic principles) but, rather, it focuses on the role of private property and on the relationship between the individual and his community. Obviously, this is very relevant to our discussion and for our quest for the role of welfare provision (and the Welfare State) in advancing human flourishing.

It must here be pointed out that, although the human being should be at the centre of all public policies, there is a danger in venturing too far in the direction of naked individualism. This type of individualism creates the impression of wanting to create a divide between the individual and his community. But it was earlier argued that no man lives in a silo and that needs to be repeated here. Human flourishing, and a fulfilment of the first basic principles, cannot be achieved in isolation but requires communion with others. Thus, if we wish to act in accord with the objective goods we first need to accept a commonality between men.

That said, we should not, however, be so hasty as to dismiss the need to look at the individual and his property for these bring important implications. Although the individual, as discussed above, is part of a community, that does not imply that everything is to be State-owned. There is still a place for private property. We must remember that the individual and his work are geared – ultimately – towards the common good.

Here it may be helpful to turn our attention to the late-scholastics of the Salamanca School who followed in the Thomistic tradition of natural law and were, at the same time, very adept at wedding the notions of ‘common good’ and ‘individual rights’. Importantly, they addressed questions of economics and ethics even before Adam Smith and other Scottish Enlightenment philosophers had seen the light of day.

Underlying the Salamanca defence of private property is the Thomistic notion that material goods should serve human flourishing – in other words, they are means to an end. The virtue of poverty is indeed noble and praiseworthy but without certain basic goods we are unable to reach our own fulfilment. As a simple example, without enough food I cannot preserve my own life. Instead, the words of the Gospel and Aquinas should be taken to mean that we should not be bound in spirit to material things. Consequently, because material goods are to serve human flourishing, private property should serve not only the individual but also the common good. Again, the individual and his flourishing cannot be completely separated from the people around him – their wellbeing is intrinsically linked to his.

One should, however, be cautious about drawing any specific political conclusions from this. It would be a grave mistake to conclude, for example, that Aquinas or the scholastics are advocating a socialism of sorts, for that is not the case. What is advocated is a concern for one’s fellow men and an appreciation that their wellbeing is linked with one’s own. If your family members are suffering you will to some degree suffer as well. Moreover, it should be stressed that the concern for one’s fellow men is about inter-personal relations between one man and another. Thus a socialist dislike of private property and appreciation of direct welfare provision from the State is quite incompatible with a Salamancan perspective.

Certainly, in an ideal situation we should be able to administer the fruits of the Earth communally and share in the property that would abound. Sadly, however, our Fall from grace has meant that we are not capable of bringing the best out of such a situation – that is, in the words of de Soto (Alves and Moreira, 1999, p.89), ‘Universal love will not induce people to take care of things’, and common resources are squandered. As has rightfully been pointed out, there are communities and groups that do share and distribute property evenly – families and monasteries, for example – but to extrapolate from there to a national level is not at all feasible, argues de Soto, and the voluntary community is, nevertheless, still dependent on private property. What holds for a small community does not necessarily work for one of much more complexity at the national level.

Conveniently, Alves and Moreira (1999, p.101) list five reasons why this should be so in a Scholastic framework. First, private property is a necessary condition for a just social order. Second, social peace is not achievable without private property; constant bickering about what is mine and what is yours is likely to ensue as a result of the Fall from grace. Third, because material goods are finite they are more appropriately placed in private hands as, furthermore, private ownership provides ‘incentives for a better administration of material goods’. This, in turn, will promote trade and social cooperation – material goods will multiply at a higher rate under private ownership and, by specialisation and trade, will provide ‘many things which neither an individual nor a small group could obtain for themselves’. Not only does private property render man materially better off but it also fosters social co-operation and mutual dependence as a result of trade.  

Thus, so far, it would seem as if, actually, private property is a cornerstone upon which humans can strive for their fulfilment and act towards the common good. It is a much better system for administering resources and multiplies our material wealth; and it also facilitates social co-operation and fraternity between men. It is with and through our private property that we can act out of true charity towards others. A solid defence of private property serves both the individual and the common good.

Yet again, however, it is important to emphasise that property cannot be divorced from our earlier discussion of natural law. The views of the late scholastics discussed above may be considered a development of Thomas Aquinas’s very own thoughts (in which the late scholastics were schooled). These have a certain understanding of private property and of its ethical implications. We earlier established that material resources are not part of the first basic principles but they do exist for the benefit of persons and not as ends in themselves. Does Aquinas, then, maintain that it is ‘lawful for man to possess a thing as his own’? The procuring and dispensing of things ought to be left in private hands as this brings benefits to all men. If not, argues Aquinas, the resources of the Earth will be squandered through neglect and shirking; ‘self-constitution’ of men is threatened as the means to it are lacking or underprotected; and resentment, rivalry, and quarrelling is likely to ensue as a result. Pure economic equity and welfare provision by the State will, by breaking the link between labour and its fruits, produce a grave injustice to mankind as it will punish creativity and reward inactivity. Charity, peace, and human fulfilment through work would all be at risk.

This is a very important point, for the meaning of human community and association is ‘to help the participants in the association to help themselves’ (Finnis, 1980, p.146). And the principle we arrive at is that of subsidiarity, which originates from the Latin word subsidium (help or assistance). According to this principle, society should help its members to constitute themselves through their own commitments, inventiveness, and initiatives. What can be done efficiently at a local level should not be assumed by higher levels in any given hierarchy. An important aspect of human flourishing and acting towards the human good is that one not only passively receives or experiences goods but that one should strive to obtain them through one’s own acts. To let the State, then, appropriate and assume all purported acts towards the good is detrimental to human flourishing on this reading. As Finnis (1980, p.147) points out, ‘…one who is never more than a cog in big wheels turned by others is denied participation in one important aspect of human well-being’.

As one might expect, there are also moral limits to private property – at least according to Aquinas. This notion proceeds from his view on the use of goods (as opposed to ownership), which Aquinas argues must be fundamentally common. If I have enough for my own subsistence and, second, to pursue my vocation, I have an obligation to give to those who do not have enough for their subsistence. But yet again, there is considerable scope available to the individual as to how he might want to perform this virtuous act (for, as we said earlier, we must ourselves act towards the good). Should I have a surplus from my business activities I could, for example, set up a shelter for the homeless or, alternatively, expand my business by hiring more labourers. Both of these are equally virtuous in that I am by them alleviating the hardships of others. At the same time, I can choose how I want to exercise my obligation to those in need and how I should act for the common good.

In these arguments it has, I hope, become very clear how central the human person is to any notion of truly ethical behaviour. Individuals and families exist prior to the State; they are prior, as it were, to any notion of the Welfare State. Therefore, as the common good is directed towards persons and families, welfare provision must be performed through and for love of persons. It is precisely this notion that is often lost in the Welfare State which, by almost definition, is impersonal. All too often there are only ‘claimants’ and ‘objects’ to provide for. People become nothing more than cogs in the State machinery and true love and true concern for other men is lost. In that process, man is nothing but an object and the good of man is very seldom considered integrally. It is this integration of goods towards which our natural reason leads us that is so important to human fulfilment and to natural law. As Pope Benedict XVI (Caritas in veritate, para.18) notes, ‘ …if it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development’. The Welfare State, on this reading, leaves no room for universal charity and love to reign. In the words of Gallagher (2010), ‘…the sharing of goods and resources that advances authentic development cannot be guaranteed merely by technical progress and relationships of utility…’. But this is indeed what the Welfare State reduces charity to, in my view. It submits man to a Byzantine complexity of bureaucratic machinery.

The right to private property and its fruits should not be taken to an extreme whereby it replaces all other notions of good and becomes an end in itself. Private property is important but it remains instrumental – that is, a means to human fulfilment through which people are able to exercise their virtues and act towards the good. We can therefore conclude that the State must not appropriate all private property in the name of equal welfare provision for all in the name of solidarity or love of neighbour. Such a state of affairs would constitute an act against the first principle of morality and is therefore to be condemned. The State must accept that man can only hope to attain a human fulfilment by his own actions and will never be able to do so by relying fully on welfare provision from the State. That is why we need private property. The State is, to some extent, not morally justified in establishing an extensive and systematic redistribution scheme as the modern Welfare State if it removes acts of charity on an inter-personal level and instead ‘automates’ the process and sets up a factory of illusory charity.

The importance and prominence of private property has been recognised in several papal encyclicals. Perhaps the most famous treatment of this topic occurred in Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum, written in the late 19th century at a time of profound social and economic change, as the Latin title indicates. At the heart of the encyclical is the notion of human uniqueness. Admittedly, man has animal spirits that, for example, lead him towards self-preservation but he also possesses a trait which sets him apart from all other creatures on Earth – namely, reason. Man, therefore, not only uses property for immediate purposes but also for future self-constitutions in the form of planning, saving, and investment. It follows, additionally, that there is an inherent right from natural reason to private property and the fruits thereof, and to dispose of them as one sees fit with a view to bettering one’s condition in life. It is through the dignity of work and the ownership of private property that we can serve our own fulfilment, our family, and the common good. Naturally, this places significant responsibility on employers, for example, to keep labourers on in dire times or to assist them in other ways. But in establishing extensive unemployment benefits, for instance, the Welfare State actually ensures that this will not happen. Instead, it creates a moral hazard issue: employers know that if they fire employees, they will be taken care of by the State. The Welfare State thus removes the opportunity for care and charity to be exercised between employers and their labourers and for the latter’s self-fulfilment. Indeed, there is still a responsibility on part of the public authority to provide welfare for the poor but this should be a last resort when all else has failed in a worst-case scenario. Writing a century later, Pope John Paul II notes in his encyclical Centesimus annus (para.48):

supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of State intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom.

It is here appropriate to return to our earlier discussion of subsidiarity, which the late Pontiff also relates explicitly to the Welfare State: communities of a higher order should not deprive those of a lower order of their function by interfering in their internal life. Thus, instead of relying on a Welfare State which merely distorts human initiatives and purposes, the needs of the poor, the sick, and other weak persons are best served by their immediate neighbours and others around them. True charity is best exercised towards to those persons we encounter in different situations of our daily lives. In whatever we situations we find ourselves in, we should strive to help and love those who come in our way. Only then can there be a deeper perception of the human need and ‘…genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care’ (para.48).

Some Alternative Views and Developments

It needs to be recalled at this stage that papal encyclicals are not political or economic ‘position papers’ but are there to guide the faithful in matters the Pontiff deems to be of significant importance. Care, therefore, must be exercised in order not to reduce the writings of Popes to mere instructions on societal organisation (economic or political). They are more profound than that. Because each encyclical covers quite a wide span of issues, some commentators have come to emphasise other parts of the aforementioned encyclicals. One such group are the so-called ‘distributists’.  

This group – which includes writers such as Chesterton, Belloc, Schumacher, etc. – sometimes style themselves a ‘Third Way’ between Capitalism and Socialism and place themselves, as it were, on the other end of the political spectrum compared to the scholars mentioned earlier in this paper. For our purposes, they are included in this discussion because they largely adhere to, and follow, a natural law framework from what its proponents often claim to be a Catholic position. Most distributist writers would wholly agree with the natural law framework that was outlined in the first section of this paper, namely that there are certain basic principles of the human good and absolute values which must be adhered to if we want to strive for integral fulfilment. They also recognise that true human fulfilment (in accordance with the first basic principles) must be the end of our choices and actions. As Chesterton (2001, p.25) notes:

The aim of human polity is human happiness. But this does not mean that we are obligated to be richer, or busier, or more efficient, or more productive, or progressive. We are not obligated to be any of these things if they do not make us happier.

This has essentially led to a defence also of private property as a means to realise human goods. In doing so, a reiteration of our previous discussion of the classical natural law position is often made in emphasising that human ends of self-preservation and, ultimately, human fulfilment cannot be achieved without private ownership. Moreover, in common with papal encyclicals and the Thomistic tradition, they value the privatisation of property as a means to ensure sound and prudent administration of Earth’s endowments. Consequently, we have come across a first tenet shared in those schools of thought loyal to the natural law tradition – namely, a shared concern for and promotion of private property as a means to human fulfilment. But, although defending the notion of private property, distributists take, at the same time, a very divergent view of it. They argue that property must not be concentrated in the hands of the few, but put into the hands of many – property must be as widely distributed as possible. This comes out of a tradition that decries the wage-labour arrangement and favours instead an approach whereby man’s labour is linked to what he owns. That is, what we labour and produce is also our own property.

In consequence, this natural law school takes a very restricted view of ways to reach human fulfilment. Whereas our previous ‘school’ made clear that private property is central to human fulfilment, distributists postulate a clear qualification that only a certain form of working with property can be in accord with the first basic principles. That qualification is that the property must be owned by the labourer himself and that he should shape it in his own image.

It is not quite evident what public policies distributists would implement but there are certain policies with which they would disagree. One of them is the current form of the Welfare State. To distributists, the State is as great an evil as the corporate monopoly; for Socialists do not distribute resources to the many but put in the hands of even fewer people – i.e., politicians, according to Chesterton. This only amounts to a bid for more power: by creating an over-reliance on the State (through institutions such as the Welfare State) no opposition or rebellion will be possible because ‘[t]he critic of the State can only exist where a religious sense of right protects his claims to his own bow and spear; or at least, to his own pen or his own printing-press’ (Chesterton, 2001, p.29). Reliance on the State to provide welfare creates a docile population who will, in effect, be enslaved to, and dependent on, the State for all their needs. This will be an impediment to human fulfilment and removes people from each other. The opportunity for true charity and friendship between people is at a great risk because ‘[e]verything is staked on the State’s justice…’ (Chesterton, 2001, p.29).

Thus, flourishing of the individual and his family is at the core of distributist thought. Even though it has a clear anti-market and anti-corporate slant it is equally suspicious of the State and especially so when it comes to social matters. The Welfare State in its current form does not follow the principles of subsidiarity and will, according to distributists, enslave people to the whim of the State and its perceived justice. Thereby opportunities to exercise true charity and the preservation of the family are removed.
Distributism has, in practice, failed to keep up with modern economic, political, and social developments and is, essentially, blind towards empirical realities. From this tradition, however, have sprung what I would argue are ‘spin-offs’ from distributism. Zamagni (2007) with his ‘Civil Economy’ approach is one of these. For a taste of what it argues, Chapter 3 (which seems to be heavily influenced by Zamagni’s ideas) of Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate provides a good sample:

Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension […] The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action. Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise. (para.34)

Like some distributists, Zamagni puts strong emphasis on the communal aspect of human life and our sense of belonging with other, fellow, human beings. In contrast, however, market mechanisms are not eschewed in favour of wholesale collectivism but are seen as a means to human fulfilment. Hence the often self-chosen title ‘Civil Economy’. The principle of reciprocity lies at the heart of this school which features a more intimate relationship between parties in their exchanges: for example, person 1 acts freely to help person 2 only with the expectation that person 2 will do the same for him or, even, for person 3. What currently prevails in most situations, however, is the principle of equivalent values: the actions of person 1 must be counterbalanced by an act of equal value (e.g., a price) on part of person 2. But in the case of the latter system, interpersonal relations and people’s specific identities are lost.

The problem with an approach of equivalence is evident in creating social and political institutions such as the Welfare State as we know it today. Policymakers constructing the Welfare State have held only acquisitive aims: on this reading, man and his actions are directed only towards the goods and services he wants to acquire so that he ‘gets what he needs’. This brings us to the core of Zamagni’s thoughts: what policymakers (in addition to academics) must realise and embrace is that human reason also contains an existential dimension. Consequently, societal institutions must make place for ‘the principle of gift’ – not simple philanthropy or pure altruism –, an action which gives rise to a specific interest in creating a bond between the person on the receiving end and on the giving end. Importantly, the principle of gift should not reside in a special sphere of its own – it is a principle which should permeate all our human interactions, including business and the market. We exercise the virtues in all walks of life and whatever situations we find ourselves in. The market and the economy, thus, cannot be excluded. This does not, however, imply that they should be jettisoned or controlled: contrary to classical distributist thought, the market and economic activity are seen as important tools for the public to use in order to achieve their own ends and the common good; but this can only be done if it is also open to reciprocity and the principle of gift.

As was noted above, those championing the causes of the Welfare State are stuck in a materialist conception of human reality and interested only in acquisitive aims – the goods and services to be consumed. But, as was highlighted in Caritas in veritate, no society – nor its economy or efficiency – can be sustained by these factors alone because there needs to be a mutual acknowledgement of a common belonging among people for there to be any genuine human development. Importantly, this sense of reciprocity necessarily starts in the family and from there grows to other parts of civil society. Therefore, it is again important to stress the concept of subsidiarity: the State should not take on tasks that lower levels of society can best handle on their own. If it does – as is the case with the Welfare State – there will be no chance for reciprocity and true charity to grow among members of a society. The State must allow families and civil society to take action on their own for their own betterment and that of others. By ‘outsourcing’ our charity to the State and using it as a mechanism for welfare we cannot leave the principle of equivalent values. It also means that our actions derive only from a sense of justice; but acting for the wellbeing of our fellow men is not mere duty. Rather it is something much more than that. It is an obligation to which our natural reason directs us by our realising that – through reciprocity – we are inherently tied to, and part of, our fellow human beings. Welfare provision is about more than duty and justice. Unfortunately, public discourse and political philosophy in the 20th century have limited themselves to the great misfortune of working exclusively in a rights-duties framework. An urgent appreciation of fraternity and true charity is needed including a retreat from the constraints of current political philosophy. Although a new term was introduced in this discussion (reciprocity), it is merely a restatement of what was discussed earlier: welfare must be open to the voluntary actions of men. For an action to be truly one of charity, its initiator must choose, will, and himself act.


In conclusion, I believe it is clear that the answer to the question in the title of this paper is ‘Enemies’. Natural law and natural reason lead man to consider, and strive for, things that are good in and of themselves, such as life, friendship, etc., and that should not be violated at the cost of another – they must be pursued integrally to be true human development.  It also leads him to the realization that his well-being, and indeed destiny, is intimately bound up with that of others. In his actions, therefore, he is called to care for and love those around him for their human fulfilment. This love-for-neighbour and promotion of the common good cannot be done by the State in whose giant apparatus all human touches will be lost. The modern Welfare State is fundamentally at odds with natural reason and, in the end, with natural law.

The reason the Welfare State still exists (however well-intended its founding might have been) is the relationship of dependency it has created between individuals/families and the State, which the latter happily promotes as a means to maintain power and control. One does not get rid of what one depends on.

For true human fulfilment – charity and love – to prevail this relationship must be reversed. State influence over welfare must be curtailed and action by individuals, families, and civil society must be allowed and encouraged to bloom in our striving to care for each other and the common good, as outlined by natural law and human reason. In this process, one must not the let the potential uncertainty that free decisions and their outcomes can create instil fear of profound, but necessary, reform.

The State and its bureaucratic welfare provision will never be able to grasp and understand people’s needs – this can only be done by people who act with genuine affection and charity towards those in need and who are within their reach. As such, what we need is a completely different approach to the public arena and to political discourse, indeed to loosen ourselves from the fetters of the currently prevailing materialism and nihilism. We need what Pope Benedict XVI refers to in his encyclical Deus caritas est as ‘a civilization of love’:

Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything. […] [True] love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (para.29)

I shall conclude on this note and I hope this has gone some way towards illuminating this important area of public policy. Thank you very much.



Alves, A.A. and Moreira, J. (2010) The Salamanca School, London: Continuum

Bruni, L. and Zamagni, S. (2007) Civil Economy, Oxford: Peter Lang Publications

Chesterton, G.K. (2009) The Outline of Sanity, New York: Dodo Press

Finnis, J. (1980) Natural Law and Natural Rights, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Finnis, J. (1998) Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Finnis, J., Boyle, J. and Grisez, G. (1988) Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Gallagher, D.B. (2010) ‘Love and Hope in Benedict XVI’s Vision for Human Development’, The Other Journal, 17

George, R.P. (1999) In Defense of Natural Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Haldane, J. (2004) Faithful Reason, London: Routledge

Papal encyclicals:

Benedict XVI (2009) Caritas in veritate

Benedict XVI (2005) Deus caritas est

John Paul II (1991) Centesimus annus

Leo XIII (1891) Rerum novarum