Accueil » 12-3 ( 1957) » Relation entre l'individu et l'État

Relation entre l'individu et l'État

Louis St-Laurent


L'auteur, conférencier invité aux Semaines sociales du Canada, reprend le thème des encycliques définissant les relations entre l'individu et l'Etat. Il rappelle brièvement les fondements des théories qui, d'une part, veulent tout laisser faire à l'Etat et, d'autre part, ne rien lui confier; il s'arrête au triple rôle assigné par Pie XI à l'Etat, dans le domaine tant économique que social. Il expose ensuite comment l'Etat canadien dont il était le chef a accompli sa tâche et décrit les grandes lignes du programme social mis en oeuvre au cours des dernières années.


Relations between the Individual and the State

The theme of this conference — the Church's Social Teachings — is particularly appropriate in this anniversary year of two great social Encyclicals which have defined the relation between the individual and society and, more specifically, the relation between the citizen and the State. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to define the nature of this relation between the individual and the state and have given rise to the most unfortunate social experiences of mankind. At one extreme, individualism maintains that individuals should be completely free to seek their own good according to the best of their abilities. The "laissez-faire" philosophy leads to the very negation of the State and to complete anarchy. At the other extreme, communism identifies society with the State which becomes responsible for everything and all powerful. The communist doctrine leads to the negation of the individual and to complete dictatorship.

That, I think, is why Pope Pius XI, in Quadragesimo Anno, chose to define what ought to be the relation between the individual and the State according to the traditional principles of the Catholic Church and the Christian philosophy.

According to the Church's teachings, the role of government in the economic and social field may be briefly summarized as consisting of maintaining a high level of prosperity, ensuring a fair distribution of that prosperity among the various elements of the community, and stimulating or restraining private initiative without supplanting it in the fields where it can be efficient or controlling it unnecessarily.

The Canadian Government was thus assuming as a duty to aim at maintaining a stable level of prosperity. Serious attempts are being made to minimize seasonal unemployment. In collaboration with the Department of Labour, private industry and labour unions are increasingly contributing to this effort. In the postwar period, the menace to the stability of our economy has come from inflation. Various measures have been adopted to reduce the rate of total consumption.

The government has aimed not only at maintaining a high and stable level of employment and income but also at ensuring a better distribution of that national income between the different groups of our society.

A comprehensive system of social security has been built up in Canada over the last fifteen years: in 1941, unemployment insurance, in 1945, family allowances, in 1949, old age pensions and pensions to the blind. We have, under the National Housing Act and other legislation, aided in the construction of over 300,000 houses spread over hundreds of communities in Canada. Our agricultural policy has been aimed at expanding our markets and at fixing floor prices for several products so as to protect the farmers and their families against too low prices and to help them secure a decent minimum of income.

I therefore suggest that it should be the urgent business of all levels of government as well as private enterprise, both individual and co-operative, to see to it that agricultural production keeps up with our increase in population and thus provides the farming population with a fair share of the national income.

It is the purpose of our economic policy to stimulate or restrain private initiative as circumstances require. In our efforts to stabilize our economy at high levels of prosperity, we try to apply indirect methods because we do not favour, under relatively normal conditions, direct economic controls over production, prices and wages. In the field of social risks to which we all exposed, the same principles should apply.

We are sometimes accused, even by some Catholics, of being inspired by socialist principles. I do not take these accusations seriously because I know, as Pope Pius XI says, that "Indeed there are some who can abuse religion itself, cloaking their own injust imposition under its name". Communism remains a tragic challenge for all those who believe in freedom and in spiritual values but perhaps more particularly for Christians. They must not merely oppose that threat, it is their responsibility to provide an alternative to an unstable world. As Cardinal Paul-Emile Léger said in St-Jerome during the last French Catholic Social Life Conference: "They have to face up to Destiny, refuse to believe in man's defeat and set out again to conquer the future".