BLOGGERMichael Kessler is Associate Director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government, and an Adjunct Professor...
Ethical values, based on religion and reason, shape the kinds of law and policy citizens desire to govern their community. At the same time, the law shapes how we become moral persons and the kinds of communities we hope to build. Law, morality, and religion are intertwined. Yet ideologically-charged policy debates, the grittiness of political compromise, and the impersonal rule of law often don't correlate with--and can even damage--our deepest religious and moral commitments. We talk about law achieving a just order, but we too often struggle to develop notions of justice that rise beyond "efficiency" measured by markets and the "balancing" of preferences. Just Law and Religion rejects the cynic's reduction of law and politics to an amoral arena of clashing interests. It recognizes the crucial role of law and policy in achieving social stability, but focuses on how fundamental rights and moral values both shape and are shaped by contemporary legal and political institutions. Just Law and Religion will take the "moral temperature" of current events and issues across a vast array of political institutions, law, and culture in order to comprehend the ethical stakes, and the promise and perils, of our common life. Just Law and Religion asserts that law and politics can only be âjustâ when they concede there is more to human value and meaning than legal and political institutions can achieve.
September 11, 2010
July 28, 2010
June 28, 2010
June 11, 2010
May 28, 2010
April 28, 2010
April 24, 2010
April 16, 2010
April 9, 2010
April 2, 2010
March 20, 2010
February 26, 2010
January 20, 2010
December 17, 2009
December 8, 2009
November 25, 2009
AT THE CENTER
RELATED RESOURCES ON CHRISTIAN
The dignity of snow shovelers
February 10, 2010
I grew up in the Lake Michigan, lake-effect snow belt, raised by people who shoveled and plowed their own snow (and all of their neighbors' snow, too!), so 2 or 3 feet of snow didn't scare me. And I grew up around blue collar workers. Jumping in to shovel a sidewalk is second nature. I got to work and made my way around the two sides of the building. As I neared the end of the buildings, I got to the last set of steps and found a huge pile of snow in the sidewalk. A new neighbor, renting a friend's unit, had cleared his entry steps and dumped all of the snow on the sidewalk. What had been a foot of snow on the walk had grown to a pile three feet high.
As I dug into the snow bank, the new neighbor came back from digging his car out, shovel in hand. I asked him if he had piled the snow on the walk. He replied that he had; he said there wasn't anywhere else to put the snow. I suggested to him the sidewalk was not the best place, since someone had to dig out the walkway for everyone else to use. Ignoring my frustrated reprimand, he went inside, shovel in hand. No apology, no offer to help clear the pile.
I was fuming mad, given the fact I was doing a favor to everyone else, and for the dismissive way my new neighbor acted toward me. Didn't he realize someone had to clear the sidewalk, and he had just added a few feet of snow to an already daunting task? I also realized that he thought I was the hired help. He very well might have gone inside and fumed about the mouthy groundsman who just complained about having to shovel the walk. What was I getting paid for? In this economy, I should be lucky to have employment!
I let it go (well, sort of), and laughed off the irony that this guy thought I was a bona fide laborer, in spite of my many years of over-education. But I also pondered his assumption that it was fine to dump more work at the feet of those who were getting paid to dig out his sidewalk. Didn't he owe some duty to respect those who come along to make things work well, even if he doesn't know them personally? Shouldn't we all be thankful to these workers, and also not act in ways that take them for granted?
Before the snowstorms, I had assigned Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (1893) for this week's readings in my advanced political theory seminar. I hoped the students would find it a profound statement about the dignity of labor in a capitalist economy, crafting an argument that uses the best insights from the liberal and Marxist traditions of social and economic theory, while severely critiquing their shortcomings. I wanted to leave a copy for my new neighbor, too, so he might recognize the dignity of those who are paid to shovel sidewalks.
For Leo, all humans, but especially laborers, must work to procure the goods necessary to sustain life. "To labor is to exert oneself for the sake of procuring what is necessary for the various purposes of life, and chief of all for self preservation," Leo wrote. "Hence, a man's labor necessarily bears two notes or characters. First of all, it is personal, inasmuch as the force which acts is bound up with the personality and is the exclusive property of him who acts, and, further, was given to him for his advantage. Secondly, man's labor is necessary; for without the result of labor a man cannot live, and self-preservation is a law of nature, which it is wrong to disobey."
Leo builds on the Lockean-liberal political tradition to argue for the necessity of labor that procures property--and wages--as a means of self-preservation. He pleads that without private property, the very structure of labor procuring life's necessities would be torn asunder. And yet his deepest concerns for the age parallel Marx's critique of the condition of the working classes at the hands of the rising--and indifferent--industrial capitalist social structures. The worker is vulnerable and exploited and must be treated as God's creation, not as a replaceable machine part. Leo thinks the Christian tradition's emphasis on charity--love that only the grace of God can infuse in the hearts of the worker and owner alike--is the corrective that keeps human social and economic interactions from sinking into unconstrained competition and undignified exploitation of the working classes.
Because of the storms, it's unlikely I'll be meeting this week with my students to discuss the complexities of Leo's argument. But his vision for the inherent dignity of labor--and laborers--captures well how we should treat those who work with and for us.
Whether our vision of another's dignity comes from seeing them as God's creation, or as a rational agent, or merely as a fellow human struggling to make their way in the world, those who work to make our life easier--and clear the snow from our paths--should be paid a bit more attention and respect.