This chapter begins with a discussion of the reciprocal relationships between rights and duties, arguing that the latter are necessary for the right ordering of the former, and indeed that the recognition of reciprocal duties provides “a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights”. This is surely correct, and it seems to me that it ought to be getting significantly more play in a document asserting that human society is founded on love. In sec. 43 Benedict applies this framework to the topics of human sexuality, contraception and family planning policies, and the place of parenthood and family life in the social order, but unfortunately it is drawn on much less explicitly when he turns to issues of economics and the environment.

Sec. 45 repeats a point discussed earlier, namely that as “the economy, in all its branches, constitutes a sector of human activity”, it is essential that it be structured intrinsically by the logic of caritas:

Efforts are needed — and it is essential to say this — not only to create “ethical” sectors or segments of the economy or the world of finance, but to ensure that the whole economy — the whole of finance — is ethical, not merely by virtue of an external label, but by its respect for requirements intrinsic to its very nature.

This point is further articulated in sec. 46, which spells out in more detail the importance of economic activity that regards profit “as a means of achieving the goal of a more humane market and society” and seems like it would have been better placed alongside the discussion of mutualism in chapter three; similarly, sec. 47 discusses development programs and the phenomenon of international aid, noting that in each case there is a real potential for abuse and bureaucratic waste and, consequently, a need for transparency, for a direct involvement of the people whose interests are at stake with the activities of those aiming to help them, and for a careful responsiveness to the intricacies of concrete situations.

Finally, secs. 48-51 take up the topic of human relationships to the natural environment. Benedict stresses the importance of recognizing the “inbuilt order” of non-human nature: “the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a ‘grammar’ which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation” (sec. 48). The consequent duties have political dimensions as well as individual ones: it is incumbent on technologically advanced societies to reduce domestic energy consumption to allow the distribution of resources to developing countries that lack them; on political authorities to “ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations” (sec. 50); and on the Church to build up a “human ecology” that will strengthen in turn a proper attitude toward the rest of creation:

The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society. (sec. 51)

As its title suggests this chapter is rather wide-ranging, and there is clearly a lot of value in it. What is frustrating, though, is that not much is done to explicate how these issues are supposed to relate to one another, let alone how they tie in to the document’s overarching themes. I’m happy to have someone show that these complaints are misplaced.

P.S. Here is the text of the encyclical, and here are my notes on the earlier chapters. For next Sunday we will read chapters 5-6 as well as the conclusion, because I’m going to be on the road for the week after that.

P.P.S. Maclin Horton has gotten around to posting some thoughts on the encyclical and the surrounding fuss, and they are well worth a read.