Relationship between Labor and Capital and the Problem of Alienation
While labor has priority over capital, it would be wrong to view these two as enemies
The question then presents itself. What is superior, man's work, which is an integral part of him and shares in the life of his spirit, or a machine, a stock certificate, or dollar bill, all of which are dumb, deaf, and mute matter?
To all but the most hardened materialist or hardened ideologue, the answer is obvious. Since human work has a subjective or personal character, it is intimately tied to the human person. For this reason, the Church's social doctrine insists that work is "superior to every other factor connected with productivity." Labor--that is to say human work--has therefore an "intrinsic priority over capital." (Compendium, No. 276, 277) Simply put, persons and their work have priority over things.
While labor has priority over capital, it would be wrong to view these two as enemies. Likewise, it would be wrong to view capital as an evil. Quite the contrary, capital is a great good, for without it work cannot be done. Capital and labor complement each other, and in fact need each other. They are not in ever in opposition to each other, as the rabble-rousing Marxist might make them.
As Pope Leo XIII stated: "Capital cannot stand without labor, nor labor without capital." (Rerum novarum, 11) Or, as Pope Pius XI stated forty years later in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: "It is altogether false to ascribe either to capital alone or to labor alone what is achieved by the joint work of both; and it is utterly unjust that one should arrogate unto itself what is being done, denying the effectiveness of the other." (Cf. Compendium, No. 277)
It is this blending of the principles of the priority of human work over capital and the principle of the complementarity of labor and capital which is the heart of the recipe of the social doctrine of the Church as it pertains to the relationship between labor and capital. In negotiating the ship of its social doctrine, these principles are the Church's Polaris and her Southern Cross. Like a captain navigating his ship on the equator, the Church keeps both in sight.
Put simply, work is an end; capital is a means; but the final end is the person and his transcendent destiny. It's obvious that the end takes precedence over the means. Are the quill and ink or even the poem more important than the poet who writes the poetry? Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems (work) are superior to his pen (means), but surely Gerard Manley Hopkins himself (person) is better than both pen and poetry?
Looked at another way, from an Aristotelian causal analysis typical of Thomistic philosophy, labor or work is the "primary efficient cause" of production and of wealth, and capital is "a mere instrument or instrumental cause." (Compendium, No. 277) This analysis gives an evident priority to human work, just like a painter painting takes priority over the paintbrush. CÚzanne's painting takes priority over CÚzanne's paintbrush, but CÚzanne himself takes precedence over both.
When the means (capital) is regarded more highly than the end (the working human), or when the instrumental cause (capital) is more esteemed than the efficient cause (the working human), we have what is called the "alienation of labor." (Compendium, No. 280) The alienation of labor comes about when the relative priority of labor and capital becomes reversed. It is at this point--when capital is given priority over labor-that we start entering into the possibility of slavery. After all, slavery is nothing else than the complete absorption of human labor into capital. In slavery, man and his labor become a thing, like capital is a thing.
We have to be careful in understanding the Church's use of the term "alienation of labor" since it has an unfortunate connotation which we pair with Marxist doctrine. It is, however, a philosophical and economic concept that is not intrinsically connected to Marxist economics. The Church has borrowed terms and concepts to explain her doctrine before-the concept of "person" from Boethius, the concept of the natural law's "participation" in the Eternal Law from Plato and the Stoics, the doctrine of "transubstantiation" from Aristotle's distinction between accidents and substance, and so forth.
It should go without saying that the Church, who has been a constant adversary of Communism, is not using the ...
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