The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights by Meghan J. Clark [Book Review]

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 36 (2):227-229 (2016)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights by Meghan J. ClarkJulie Hanlon RubioThe Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights Meghan J. Clark Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014. 166pp. $39.00In this short, clearly written book, Meghan Clark offers an argument for seeing Catholic social thought (CST) not through its oft-listed principles but through its vision of the human person and its core virtue: solidarity. Against [End Page 227] the protests of left and right, she presents CST as linked to essential Catholic theological claims and radical in its insistence that we are all responsible for promoting the human rights of neighbors near and far.Christians on the left sometimes view CST as well-intentioned but moderate, lacking an analysis of power, and uninspired. Better to read the memoir of an activist or the tract of a radical theologian than to fall asleep over another encyclical on the common good. Clark’s reading of CST counters this portrait with a historical narrative of increasing emphasis on human rights and an ever-more radical understanding of solidarity. Over time, Clark shows, CST moves slowly but surely toward both an affirmation of human rights that includes the duty to promote the rights of others, and a better developed understanding of solidarity as a duty not to serve but to accompany (107–14).While some Catholic conservatives question the authority of CST, Clark ties solidarity and human rights, the “twin pillars” of CST (125), to core theological claims and shows how these concepts develop in the thought of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI (24–39). Her constructive contribution to this tradition is development of the theological foundations of CST, which she accomplishes by drawing on Genesis 1:26–27 and John 17:21–22 (56–60) as well as feminist social reading of the Trinity. She builds on this foundation, claiming that the human community more fully images God as it becomes more united, more equal, and more mutual (60–72). With appropriate social analysis, it becomes clear that “the virtue of solidarity involves an obligation to participate at all levels of human community” (122).It may be that this claim is too sweeping. While Clark rightly questions Amartya Sen’s understanding of “imperfect” or limited positive obligations to distant others (94–96), insisting (with Charles Taylor) on positive responsibility to foster human rights (104), it is difficult to know how an ordinary person goes about discerning obligations in daily life. Once I recognize the enormity of my responsibilities, it is not clear where I ought to begin. Surely I cannot be involved in causes related to every human rights issue. It seems that once Clark’s readers affirm her basic claims, they still need a method of discernment to help them order responsibilities to near and distant others, lest they fall into paralyzing despair.Yet, to see rightly our connections to other human persons and our responsibility for evil is to be appropriately overwhelmed. All of us should tremble in the face of this reality. Insofar as Clark leads readers to this point, she provides an original, timely, and thick description of CST’s claim that “my humanity is bound up with yours” (146). Moreover, she shows that CST contributes something original to human rights discourse by calling solidarity a virtue and rooting it in a relational anthropology (7). By opening up conversation on solidarity as a virtue tied to human rights, Clark constructs a social ethic that is [End Page 228] inseparable from our deepest convictions about life, God, and neighbor. Moving beyond the polarization of right and left, she invites readers to see themselves as inescapably tied to others and calls them not to simple almsgiving but to the much harder task of growing in their capacity to accompany others as they struggle for their own liberation. [End Page 229]Julie Hanlon RubioSt. Louis UniversityCopyright © 2016 The Society of Christian Ethics...

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