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Social Scientists Conclude Session on Solidarity, Subsidiarity

Academy Links a “3rd Sector” to the Common Good

By Marta Lago

VATICAN CITY, MAY 7, 2008 ( Zenit.org ).- Neither laws nor economic benefits are exclusive factors in motivating organizations or individuals dedicated to the common good, affirmed the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

The academy asserted this at the conclusion Tuesday of its 14th plenary session, which focused on “Pursuing the Common Good: How Solidarity and Subsidiarity Can Work Together.”

Margaret Archer of Great Britain’s University of Warwick, and Pierpaolo Donati of Italy’s University of Bologna, coordinated the event.

Tuesday in the Vatican press office, accompanied by the chancellor of the academy, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, they discussed some of the main points that came from the five days of discussion.

Archer and Donati noted a current model of social organization primarily based on the roles of the state and the economy. But they called for more attention to be given to the role of a third sector, which they affirmed is also a protagonist in promoting the common good.

In that context, Donati noted, the interests of the market and the regulations of the modern state exercise a certain “dominion” over social groups, associations, methods of cooperation, volunteerism and other “new networks.”

But it is these networks, groups and associations that are oftentimes the source of common goods, the professor stated, goods that are “nevertheless treated badly, or misunderstood or even marginalized by the protagonists of the state and the market.”

“If we ask ourselves how many common goods are produced each day not because of the benefit — the economic interest — not because the law requires it, but because there is an accord between people, because there is interest in mutually interchanging goods, we would see that the greatest part of goods are produced in this way,” he explained. “With everything, our societies are organized essentially over the power of the economy and the state.”

“It is necessary, therefore, to give a lot of attention to this world of civil society that produces common goods,” affirmed Donati.

Selfless protagonists

During the plenary session, the pontifical academy heard the contribution of Michel Bauwens, initiator of the P2P (Peer to Peer) Foundation. His experience relates to the sharing of common goods — for example, knowledge — through the Internet. The case reflects a situation wherein a network of persons share freely and receive freely, without an economic motivation.

This is an example, Donati explained, of the importance of understanding the development of a society that produces common goods.

It is about an “interweaving between subsidiarity and solidarity that should be, yes, horizontal in the sense that it regulates relations between people, but which should also have a vertical dimension,” he added. Donati affirmed that the state — though it has a notable role in the production and preservation of the common good — does not have a monopoly over it.

The professor suggested that current economic theories are insufficient because they “still presupposes a ‘homo economicus’ interested in acting substantially for his benefit.” Even though that theory takes into account “a selfless protagonist,” it considers him a figure of little importance. It thinks of the third sector, Donati added, “as a charitable sector, of beneficence, not as a sector that creates common goods.”

That’s why Donati indicated the necessity of proposing new economic theories and perhaps even a new political theory, citing a tendency toward “a certain return to focusing on the state […] which points again in some way to the strength and the monopoly of the state, something that does not help in the development of the common goods we’ve mentioned.”

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Filed under: Social Doctrine, Social Justice

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