Editor’s note: The following is the second of a two-part series of essays by Mr. Mcintosh. If you have not read the first part, please do so here.
The common good has never been fully removed in liberalism, but secular liberal thought has lost sight of the fullness of the doctrine revealed in theology. The Church understands the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” The common good requires respect for the person, social well-being, and the development of the community, along with peace and order.
In his Treatise on Law, Aquinas argues, “Actions are indeed concerned with particular matters: but those particular matters are referable to the common good, not as to a common genus or species, but as to a common final cause, according as the common good is said to be the common end.” Law, being a “dictate of the natural reason,” is permanently tied to the common good.
Liberalism’s understanding of the common good lacks the priority of the person and does little to foster well-being that transcends man’s material and economic needs. Liberal capitalism has helped man become economically successful, without a doubt, but man’s longing for the transcendent and the spiritual, sovereign Good is not even touched by liberal thought. Man is materially satisfied but spiritually starved due to many factors, but this divorce between theology and politics is one of the main reasons for this malnourishment of the soul. The theological understanding of the common good, pertaining to the temporal and eternal, cannot be reconciled with the individualism that is so prominent in contemporary American conservative circles; the community and the universal exist, and they cannot be avoided on this earth.
Leisure is often poorly understood and not a term most people think of when they hear ‘civilization’ or ‘politics.’ The Greek origin of the word leisure is skholḗ (σχολή) and the Latin counterpart is scola; the English ‘school’ derives from leisure, in which rest, philosophy, and learning fall under it. Leisure is always discussed in relation to work and labor. Aristotle concurs with the Greek saying, “we are un-leisurely (a-scolia) in order to have leisure.” It exists outside of work, independent of vacations, holidays, or spare time; leisure is not idleness or acedia, but it is not being busy, being with one’s essence, and letting things happen in silence. It is rightfully an attitude of the mind and a condition of the soul.
How is leisure to be attained in an economic system that requires “total work,” as German philosopher Josef Pieper coined it? Pieper was a Catholic philosopher who wrote prolific philosophical and political works as Germany was rebuilding itself after the Second World War. He had seen total work take over Europe with the Industrial Revolution and philosophy turn away from its Hellenic and Christian roots, focusing more on epistemology and the abstract than the art of living. Total work, as he defines it, is simply working for work’s sake, in contrast to working for leisure.
Both collectivism and secular liberalism fail to enable man to achieve leisure and live the vita activa. If man is engineered for the state and is controlled ruthlessly by the state to toil for them, aiding their productivity in war or their output for the kolkhozy, then man is bound to be restless with no ability to achieve leisure and contemplation. If man is made for the markets and must work to produce as much capital as possible, then he must exert every nerve of his body towards producing the material good while having no ability to foster his mental and spiritual welfare.
Consumerism and the idolatry of capital are unfortunate effects of liberalism that cannot be denied; we exist for a higher purpose than serving the market, and we exist in legitimate communities and societies higher than the market, yet most people are trapped in the system of ‘total work’ with some free time given to them, but without the proper resources to live the vita activa. It is possible to reject socialism and Marxism, for their atrocities against the person, and break the conservative orthodoxy on markets and capitalism, and if we wish to see the “worker” as a person greater than a statistic or a commodity, this will be necessary.
Liberalism is not entirely opposed to Christian theology, and it has brought awareness of the ‘person’ into its thought, albeit incompletely. What Christian conservatives should do is not endorse theocracy or monarchy in an immediate overthrow of liberal democracy, but instead return to looking at political philosophy from a theological standpoint. One does not need a degree in metaphysics or systematic theology to do so, but rather to view ourselves as pilgrims here on earth before attaining eternal life and serving Christ through civil service. Catholic social teaching as developed by Pope Leo XIII and subsequent popes and cardinals provides the framework that we need to serve the poor, recognize the dignity of the human person, and honor the Imago Dei that enables us to know ourselves fully and know God intimately.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.