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The right of every person to use material goods

on Tuesday, 01 May 2001. Posted in Social Doctrine

Pope Pius XII's June 1, 1941 radio address

The words of Pope Pius XII quoted here are from his remarkable radio address of June 1, 1941. They are set in bold type and put in quotation marks. The subtitles and comments, set in light type, are from Louis Even.

By God for all

"Material goods have been created by God to meet the needs of all men, and must be at the disposal of all of them, as justice and charity require."

Before creating Adam and Eve, God put on earth plenty of resources so that Adam and Eve, and their successors, could find all the necessities of life. And this, for as long as there should be human life on earth; the contrary would be unthinkable on the part of the Creator, who is true Wisdom and the real Providence.

Unthinkable as well is the idea that God would have created natural resources for the benefit of only a portion of mankind.

So it is unacceptable that these gifts from the Creator may be monopolized by some mighty individuals or nations, whereas the existence of these natural resources is not due to the work of any man, not of the most powerful one nor of any other. Natural resources are a creation of God Himself, and God, the Father of all, created these resources for all.

The exploitation of these natural resources, and the useful goods that come from them, may certainly bring special advantages to those who work to bring about their output, but we must be reminded that without the initial existence of raw material, man would not be able to produce anything. The skill of some, or circumstances favouring more their access to the goods coming originally from the will and the creative power of God, must not deprive others from their right to a share in the goods created by God, which are necessary to the existence of every man. To practice, or approve of, such an exclusion is to go against God's plan. Distributive justice must, on the contrary, aim to make easier for everyone, individually, the access at least to the bare necessities of life first, then to a larger share as it is physically possible, without accepting the obstacle of artificial conditions.

A fundamental right

"Every man indeed, as a reason-gifted being, has from nature the fundamental right to make use of the material goods of the earth, though it is reserved to human will and the juridical forms of the peoples to regulate, with more detail, the practical realization of that right."

This sentence should be learned by heart and kept in mind by every legislator, every man in office, every sociologist and moralist; it should be learned by social workers, and also by those who are mad keen about full employment in order to be more open-minded.

A fundamental right needs not to be earned by work or other ways; it already exists! It must not be conditioned by anything at all: it belongs to the very nature of man; the individual holds it from birth, just because he is a human being.

A fundamental right cannot be questioned: what is to be looked after is the better means to facilitate the practical realization of this right, as the Pope said.

Who is responsible for the establishment of these means? Listen to Pope Pius XII: "The human will and the juridical forms of the peoples." The human will: in other words, the acknowledgement of this right by nations and their governments. Then, the juridical forms, that is to say, laws and regulations designed for this purpose.

"Of the peoples" – the plural is from Pius XII. So one must not wait for the establishment of an undesirable world government. To carry to an international level a problem which can be settled nationally, only leads generally to make this problem more complicated and to delay its solution, if however a solution comes, which is too often badly applied locally.

Every legitimate national government is quite capable to establish among its population a satisfying form of distribution of the products offered on its territory, whether coming from its domestic production or being imported in exchange for exported domestic goods.

This does not mean that a country that can easily provide a satisfying standard of living for all its nationals, must not give any consideration to the situation of populations in less favoured countries. No, and we have already said that distributive justice is about the fundamental right of every human being to the use of terrestrial goods.

Now, one must consider how this right of all to use material goods can be applied. By the mere observation of the good results of a well-established order in the first nation enjoying it, other nations will be prompted to follow the same standards themselves, and this will already be a great step. Then, it can be foreseen that, within nations enjoying such an order, people who, being economically secure with the assurance of their personal share in the production of their own country, will be glad to help freely – with their goods, or especially with their know-how - less developed peoples, so that these may come to improve their situation themselves. That would also be distributive justice, but crowned by personal charity. Justice and charity: these two words are associated in the first paragraph of Pius XII's radio address.

An inalienable individual right

"Such an individual right cannot, by any means, be suppressed, even by the exercise of other unquestionable and recognized rights over material goods."

Only Pius XII could express so strongly, in only a few words, a fundamental right of so great an importance. It is an actual right for every individual, a right that is imprescriptible, inalienable, indestructibly tied to the person as long as he lives. To deny this right, to ignore it, to prohibit it, or to obstruct its exercise does not abolish it. The most destitute citizen still has the right to make use of the goods created by God, even if he is kept in a condition where he has no access to any goods at all.

Notice also what the Pope said: Even the existence and the exercise of other legitimate and recognized rights do not abolish an individual right. There is therefore no need to abolish private enterprise nor the right to property, no need to nationalize the means of production in order to make easier for each individual the exercise of his right to an appropriate share in the necessities of life.

Further in this study, interesting conclusions will be drawn from this coexistence of legitimate rights, which is possible in an economic structure that is soundly organized in accordance with its end.

The aim of an economic structure

"National economy, which is the fruit of the activities of men combining their work in the national community, tends to do nothing but to ensure, without interruption, the material conditions in which the individual life of the citizens will be able to develop fully."

Pius XII gave a clear definition of the expression "national economy": the result of economic activities realized by a nation, whether such activities are realized individually or by associations of various kinds, cooperatives, companies, federations, or others.

It is the sum of all these activities which provides the useful goods offered to the consumers of the country, or surplus exported to pay for imports of foreign goods, that will offer a great variety of articles for domestic consumption.


What is, or must be, the fruit of this national economy? What should be its end other than to create material conditions answering the needs of the population of the country and allowing the blossoming of their individual life? Notice once more this term, their "individual life".

The reflection of the real prosperity of a nation is not to be looked for in an unlimited or glamorous production, neither in high industrial nor commercial statistics. To appreciate this prosperity, one must examine the standard of living of every family, of each individual. Are there enough material goods at the disposal of everyone? Are these goods coming regularly, without interruption, and not in successive periods of abundance and scarcity without any relation with the real possibilities, such alternatives being indicative of artificial interferences that violate the end of a well-organized economic structure?

So the goods offered must be sufficient, of good quality, and permanent. But distributive justice still has to take the fundamental right of each individual into account. Pope Pius XII elaborated on these criteria of the real prosperity of a people, in the following sentences of his remarkable address:

"Where this is obtained, and so obtained as to endure, a people will be, strictly speaking, rich, because general material well-being and, consequently, everybody's personal right to use earthly goods, will thus be realized according to the Creator's will.

"The economic wealth of a nation does not properly consist in the abundance of goods judged by a sheer material computation of their worth, but it consists in what such an abundance does really and effectively mean and provide as a sufficient material basis for a fair personal development of its members.

"If such a just distribution of goods were not to be effected, or just imperfectly ensured, the true end of the national economy would not be achieved, opulent though the abundance of available goods might be, since the people would not be rich, but poor, as they would not be invited to share in that abundance.

"Obtain, on the contrary, that this just distribution be efficiently realized on a durable basis, and you will see a people, though with less considerable goods at its disposal, become and be economically sound.

Fruits of peace

"People today are inclined to appraise the wealth or the poverty of the peoples with scales and according to merely quantitative criteria, such as space and the abundance of goods.

"If, on the contrary, the end of the national economy is appreciated according to its exact value, this end will become a guiding light for the efforts of statesmen and of peoples; it will enlighten them into entering spontaneously a way that will not require continual sacrifices in goods and blood, but will bear fruits of peace and general material well-being."

The excerpts from Pius XII's radio address that we have just reproduced give an authoritative definition of the end to be achieved, at the national level, by an economic structure that is genuinely human. As long as this end is achieved, the economic structure is good. If the economic structure does not care for this end, it is bad. If it achieves its end so poorly that it must continuously have recourse to governmental measures to ease momentarily and quite insufficiently glaring needs, this economic structure is curtailed. If the distribution of goods is so poorly done that one must continuously tax some people to help others who have received nothing, it means that distributive justice has been missed at the starting point.

Besides, in the countries with large production, actual or potential, it is false to say that the wealth of some is the cause of the poverty of others. The rich do not eat all the bread, they do not wear all the clothes, they do not take for themselves all the building materials that these countries can produce. And it is not because the rich are well fed, well clothed, well lodged, that another part of the population is deprived of these basic goods. To take something from Peter's plate to put it on Paul's empty plate is nonsense when the pantry is full to bursting. Read the columns of advertisements in the papers of these countries: Who are in demand, producers or consumers?

Pope Pius XII only recalled principles which every sound economic structure must take into account: the destination of terrestrial goods, according to the Creator's will, and the norms permitting to judge the success or the failing of the system, its rectitude or its perversion.

But the Pope had in no way indicated which methods should be used, or how the production or the distribution of terrestrial goods should be organized. He firmly stated that earthly goods have been created by God for all men. But he added immediately that God has left to the will of men and to the legislators of nations the task to regulate in detail the practical realization of the fundamental right of every man to make use of these goods.

So this responsibility belongs to civil institutions. The Church states or recalls the principles. She can also strongly denounce legislation or institutions that violate these principles or ignore injustices in the distribution of material goods to individuals or families. But the Church does not take the place of civil leaders in the choice of formulas and the making of laws and regulations.

There are surely defects to correct in present capitalism, especially its concentration of wealth and its deficiencies in a fair distribution of its abundant production. But that does not justify substituting to it the political and economic formulas of the Communist regimes, of which the accumulated crimes surpass the Himalaya Mountains; one must be helplessly blind not to see them, or of a helplessly bad faith to excuse them.

Besides, it is wrong to pretend that there is no other alternative than Socialism to the deficiencies of capitalism as we have it now. As if there was no other choice! Yet there is a third option being offered, not unknown, but boycotted by both the financial powers that dominate capitalism and the power-hungry demons of Fabian or Marxist Socialism and Communism who want to run the world. We shall introduce a glimpse of that third option in the next article, about a national dividend to all.

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