Catholic social thought does not offer a “third way,” as if it were simply a matter of hacking off bits and pieces of the individualist-collectivist options and melding them into a palatable compromise. Rather, it begins from a fundamentally different ontology from that assumed and required by individualism, on the one hand, and statist collectivism, on the other. The assumptions of Catholic social thought provide for individuality and rights as the goods of persons in community, together with the claims of social obligation.Indeed. Both libertarians who try to ground their own ideology's particularities in Catholic social thinking, as well as big-government statists who do the same, are both missing the boat. Catholicism isn't trying to "do" politics, it is proposing a way of looking at the world that incorporates both the human person and the common good. Natural law, the principle of subsidiarity, and the principle of solidarity form the bedrock of Catholic social teaching. The atomized and desiccated ideologies of the day have much to learn from Catholicism as a consequence.
Related item: The Imaginative Conservative has posted a piece where the late Catholic social justice scholar Stratford Caldecott discusses a recent statement by Angelo Cardinal Scola discussing the modern idea of rights, an idea that is central to both libertarianism and modern liberalism. Scola makes the point that without a proper understanding of the human person, informed not only by an understanding of the person as an individual but also as a member of a community, there is little room to productively talk about the kind of rights that people hold. The cardinal speaks of this as "I-in-relation." As Caldecott puts it:
It seems to me that the Cardinal is getting at the following. Human rights can only be based on (a) the inherent or intrinsic value of the person, existing in relation to God, cosmos, environment, and fellow human beings, and (b) the actual needs (rather than wants) of that person in that situation if he is not just to survive but to flourish. This requires that we know at least roughly what a human being is and what causes him to flourish—in other words, we need an adequate anthropology. Without that, we are whistling in the dark.Precisely.
Another related item: I have had the good fortune of being cited by Prof. Elshtain for an article I wrote on just war theory when I was a law student. Not to brag or anything. If interested my article, which explored Catholic influences on just war theory, can be found here at the Gonzaga Journal of International Law website.