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Freedom and Its Limits, 1891–2015: How Does Catholic Social Doctrine React to New Challenges?



Freedom and its limits has been a theme of Catholic social doctrine since the first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891), on the question of workers. Looking at the development of this teaching in the past 125 years, one might at first glance get the impression that it places the emphasis more on limits to freedom than on protections of freedom. Didn’t Rerum Novarum limit the contractual freedom between workers and employers (34)? Forty years later, didn’t Quadragesimo Anno declare that freedom of competition “clearly cannot direct economic life” (88)? And, another thirty years later, didn’t Mater et Magistra limit the freedom of an entrepreneur by demanding the participation of workers (82, 92)? Didn’t Pacem in Terris, John XXIII’s encyclical on human rights and peace, qualify human rights with an all-encompassing list of duties (28–33)? In Gaudium et Spes, didn’t the Second Vatican Council limit the freedom to private property with the universal purpose of goods (69, 71)? Didn’t Paul VI, in Populorum Progressio, restrict the freedom of international trade with his demands for social justice? In their call for public bans on biomedical research that kills embryos, didn’t John Paul II and Benedict XVI limit the freedom of science? And in his criticism of how resources are used in Laudato Si’, didn’t Francis restrict the freedom of consumption?

Manfred Spieker, "Freedom and Its Limits, 1891–2015: How Does Catholic Social Doctrine React to New Challenges?" Journal of Markets & Morality 19, no. 2 (Fall 2016): 417-430

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