Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Social Justice and the American Red Cross



As the result of what are perceived as inadequacies in the disaster relief efforts of the American Red Cross (ARC), some authorities are urging people not to contribute to the organization.  Granted that serious mistakes have been made, and that this writer has personal reasons for not contributing to the ARC, attempting to undermine the institution is itself a serious error, and the antithesis of social justice.

This does not refer to “all the good work” that the organization carries out.  That is not social justice, but individual charity, and the two must not be confused.  Nor does it refer to the fact that the Geneva Conventions require all signatories to maintain a national Red Cross organization and affiliation with the international body.
No, there is a far more compelling reason for correcting errors and flaws in an institution instead of demanding its dissolution or takeover by the State.
First and foremost, what social justice demands in the current situation in which an institution is demonstrating serious flaws and making bad mistakes is not hate, but charity — social charity.  Social charity is not widespread or universal almsgiving or redistribution, but the virtue that commands people to love their institutions as they love themselves.  It may be “tough love,” and result in acts of social justice that bring about a revolutionary overhaul and reform of the institution, but it still must be love, and not the hate that calls for its destruction.
Clara Barton (1821-1912), American Red Cross Founder
This is, in fact, what social justice is all about.  Social justice is not concerned with making up for the lack of individual justice and charity, but making it possible for individual justice and charity to function.  If the ARC is failing in its mission to aid and succor people in distress — individual charity — then what social justice demands in such a case is to carry out reforms to ensure as far as humanly possible that the ARC can once again carry out its mission.  This may require a housecleaning of management and staff, better screening and training of volunteers, adequate supervision in the field, and so on — whatever an honest and objective self-appraisal deems necessary to restore the organization.
That much is obvious.  Not so obvious is the essential role that non-government associations and institutions, such as the ARC, churches, schools, associations, clubs, unions, and so on, play in a just social order by the mere fact of their existence.  Every “corporation” (using the term in its general sense of an organized group that has a social identity) that is not directly controlled by the State prevents the State from having a monopoly over social life.
The totalitarian urge of the modern Nation State naturally leads it to undermine, eliminate, or subsume every potential rival to its power.  Usually this has been directed at organized religion, but any “suspect conventicles” (as the totalitarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes called them), meaning any group not under the direct control of the State, must be abolished, or the State is in danger of losing its position as “the Mortall God” that must be obeyed on earth as the Immortal God is (presumably) obeyed in heaven.
Removing all intermediate institutions leaves the individual at the mercy of the State, a goal of every totalitarian government that has ever existed.  As political commentator George Holland Sabine described this condition in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy,
Nazi Germany and Facist Italy eliminated intermediate institutions.
Totalitarianism undertook to organize and direct every phase of economic and social life to the exclusion of any area of permitted privacy or voluntary choice. But it is important to observe what this type of organization concretely meant. First and foremost it meant the destruction of great numbers of organizations that had long existed and that had provided agencies for economic and social activities. Labor unions, trade and commercial and industrial associations, fraternal organizations for social purposes or for adult education or mutual aid, which had existed on a voluntary basis and were self-governing were either wiped out or were taken over and restaffed. Membership became virtually or actually compulsory, officers were selected according to the “leadership principle,” and their procedures were decided not by the membership but by the outside power that the leader represented. The “leadership principle” meant merely personal power or the power of a clique, so that organizations which had been self-governed were subjected to regimentation and manipulation. The result was a paradox. Though the individual was “organized” at every turn, he stood more alone than ever before. He was powerless in the hands of organizations of which he was nominally a member and that claimed to speak for him and to protect his interests. But with respect to those interests he had nothing to say. National socialism poured scorn on democracy and capitalism as forms of “atomic individualism,” but totalitarian society was truly atomic. The people were literally the “masses,” without information except what propaganda agencies chose to give them and without power to combine for any purposes of their own.  (George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, Third Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961, 918-919.)
Pius XI's social doctrine gives an answer.
There is also a practical aspect of this.  When the State does manage to establish a monopoly over the whole of social life, including economic and religious life, it inevitably happens that it has only managed to set the stage for its own corporate suicide.  No one institution, especially the extremely specialized social tool of the State, can do everything.
If ancillary or intermediate institutions such as the ARC are flawed or performing badly, the goal should be to correct and reform them, not abolish them or turn them over to the State to run or administer.  As Pope Pius XI explained in the encyclical in which he presented his social doctrine centered on the act of social justice,
When we speak of the reform of institutions, the State comes chiefly to mind, not as if universal well-being were to be expected from its activity, but because things have come to such a pass through the evil of what we have termed “individualism” that, following upon the overthrow and near extinction of that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds, there remain virtually only individuals and the State. This is to the great harm of the State itself; for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 78.)
If you do not donate to the ARC out of personal choice or preference, fine.  That is the American way.  If you’re doing it out of dissatisfaction with the way the organization is performing, consider first organizing with others to reform the institution.  Only if that fails have you fulfilled your obligation under social justice.
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