“Society is for man and not vice versa” — Pope Pius XI, in Divini Redemptoris 29. This seems like a rather obvious inference of Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.” God created Eve (and consequently society itself) because “it is not good for man to be alone.” This is why we must reject all forms of statism and socialism as godless: because they define man in terms of his relation to the State, and because they reduce man to nothing apart from the State. Man needs society, but society does not define what he is.
But we must not suppose that Pius was some sort of libertarian or radical individualist.
This must not be understood in the sense of liberalistic individualism, which subordinates society to the selfish use of the individual; but only in the sense that by means of an organic union with society and by mutual collaboration the attainment of earthly happiness is placed within the reach of all. In a further sense, it is society which affords the opportunities for the development of all the individual and social gifts bestowed on human nature. These natural gifts have a value surpassing the immediate interests of the moment, for in society they reflect the divine perfection, which would not be true were man to live alone. But on final analysis, even in this latter function, society is made for man, that he may recognize this reflection of God's perfection, and refer it in praise and adoration to the Creator. Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is endowed with reason and a morally free will.
30. Man cannot be exempted from his divinely-imposed obligations toward civil society, and the representatives of authority have the right to coerce him when he refuses without reason to do his duty. Society, on the other hand, cannot defraud man of his God-granted rights, the most important of which We have indicated above. Nor can society systematically void these rights by making their use impossible. It is therefore according to the dictates of reason that ultimately all material things should be ordained to man as a person, that through his mediation they may find their way to the Creator. [ibid., 29-30]
It is an error to view man either as abstracted from other men, as though we do not need each other, just as it is an error to view man solely in relation to the state—as though we have no higher or greater end than the state or society.
I’ve been out of circulation for quite a while. I apologize. I do not know whether this post portends a return to more regular activity or not, but I’ve been taking notes on my reading during my absence, and there may be a few more posts related to that. And later? Who knows?