I would dispute that most people who talk about “Catholic Social Teaching” have any idea of what they’re talking about. I’m not going to accuse Gerson without reading his book, but the piece does give the impression that it has something to do with midnight basketball.
I will submit that the very people who talk most about “Catholic Social Teaching” tend to be the ones who forget the following key elements from Rerum Novarum, the landmark social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII:
- “We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”
- “The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.”
- “In the last place, employers and workmen may of themselves effect much, in the matter We are treating, by means of such associations and organizations as afford opportune aid to those who are in distress, and which draw the two classes more closely together. Among these may be enumerated societies for mutual help; various benevolent foundations established by private persons to provide for the workman, and for his widow or his orphans, in case of sudden calamity, in sickness, and in the event of death; and institutions for the welfare of boys and girls, young people, and those more advanced in years.”
- “We may lay it down as a general and lasting law that working men’s associations should be so organized and governed as to furnish the best and most suitable means for…helping each individual member to better his condition to the utmost in body, soul, and property.”…The common funds must be administered with strict honesty, in such a way that a member may receive assistance in proportion to his necessities.”
The emphases are all mine. So there’s your quick and dirty primer on Catholic Social Teaching: Low taxes, inviolable property rights, private charities to help those most in need, and labor unions that are run honestly to benefit workers, not the political agendas of their leaders.
Of course, that’s not the whole story, but it already sounds a lot like conservatism, doesn’t it?