The harmony between the right to private property and the call to solidarity in modern Catholic social teaching

Constance J Nielsen, Marquette University


In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum novarum in order to address the new social problems posed by the modern economic and political context. Subsequent popes have taken the anniversary of this encyclical as an opportunity to reevaluate the teaching in light of the social developments of their own times. In addition to the anniversary texts, other encyclicals have addressed additional social concerns not initially addressed by Leo XIII's study. This body of literature has come to be referred to as the modern Catholic social teaching. Two persistent principles of this teaching are the individual's right to own property privately as one's own, and the responsibility to care for all people in society, particularly those who are in greatest need. Since John Paul II this responsibility has fallen under the heading of "solidarity." However, scholarly commentary on Catholic social teaching typically results in a tension, or outright conflict, between these two fundamental principles. Solidarity, even when affirmed, is presented as a restriction or a limitation of the individual. This reading is the outcome of analyzing the tradition according to the classic "liberal" view of individuality and personhood--an anthropology which is not that of the teaching itself. This study analyzes the evaluation of Catholic social teaching in the work of Charles E. Curran and Michael Novak, as well as in some of the compiled collections of commentary, and then offers an alternative evaluation of the development of the Church's social vision. The alternative reading provides an anthropology for which the call to solidarity is not a threat to individuality, but rather the protection of authentic personhood for both self and neighbor.

Recommended Citation

Nielsen, Constance J, "The harmony between the right to private property and the call to solidarity in modern Catholic social teaching" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3298508.