The private world as alienated: Economic justice in a culture of privatized individualism

Michael D Lopez-Kaley, Marquette University


What does it mean to act as a Christian in the economic sphere in any given society? Can this action be blocked, or made difficult to conceive, by cultural presuppositions present in that society? In responding to this question, the dissertation contributes to scholarly discussion of what constitutes the common good, and what obligations Christians, especially Catholic Christians, have for promoting and implementing a genuine notion of the common good in society. Knowledge of Catholic social teaching is a constitutive part of what is meant by being the informed and active believer called for by Vatican II and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. For Americans, however, both individualism and the privatization of various spheres of life, such as economics and religion, mitigate against a self-understanding open to actively involving oneself in the transformation of economic life. So the dissertation also asks, what theological categories can move a significant portion of the American Catholic population to better recognize and act on the obligation to bring about the common good? With the help of sociological research, this dissertation proposes that beyond individualism alone, Americans have tended toward a privatization of their lives in such a manner that a growing number of various spheres of life have been proclaimed as private, and therefore, beyond the critique of any and all institutions that would propose significant change. The notion of "privatized individualism," then, is a more pernicious form of individualism that refuses to even recognize that specific spheres in life, like the economic, have any content open to any examination by public ideas and value. The result is that the person who is citizen and believer is less inclined to recognize an important moral obligation to transform the economic and political life in light of the Gospel as mediated through teachings and categories provided by Catholic social teaching. As part of a movement beyond this stagnant condition, the dissertation proposes that the categories of sin and conversion, despite some unpopularity, may be precisely the remedy for the current situation in America. A healthy and expanded notion of sin, especially the notion of social sin, and a better understanding of how one sins through omission and indifference, could help jar the psyches of conscientious American Catholics to change their social outlook. A deeper social analysis can lead to conversion, and to insight into the obligation to act in ways of justice. The dissertation's analysis supports the call of Christians to engage in transforming the social, economic, and political life so that it better conforms with the genuine notion of the common good, especially as defined in the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

Recommended Citation

Lopez-Kaley, Michael D, "The private world as alienated: Economic justice in a culture of privatized individualism" (2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3123977.