‘Believe in People’: A Book Every Catholic Should Read
COMMENTARY: New book shows how all of us can make America, and the world, a more just place and enable everyone to lead better lives. It is as comprehensive as it is heartening and inspiring.
My friend Charles Koch has written a new book, Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World. Released on Nov. 17 and written with Stand Together CEO Brian Hooks, the book is a must-read for Catholics.
Koch and Hooks aren’t writing from a Catholic perspective. But their book still beautifully conveys the truths of Catholic social teaching. The language they use may not always be familiar, but the underlying themes are ones the faithful should know well. The authors are deeply concerned with the common good, and, like us, they want to help everyone pursue it — and enable our society to achieve it.
In fact, that’s what the entire book is about: how all of us can come together to build a more just society. That vision animates us Catholics. It is a crucial part of our calling in this life.
The overlap with Catholic social teaching is evident from the title of the book, Believe in People. Having known Koch for well over a decade, I’ve often heard him talk about how every person has a unique gift, something that they can use to improve their own lives and the world around them. His whole life has been spent trying to empower more people to find their gift. In the book itself, the authors write movingly about how the people who are ignored or overlooked are just as important as others. As they persuasively argue, the downtrodden deserve to be included and empowered just like the rest of us.
What is this concept, if not a reflection of the first principle of Catholic social teaching: the dignity of the human person?
We see the inherent worth in every human being — which is to say, we believe in people. Color, creed, country of birth — for the Catholic, none of that affects the deep respect that we afford to everyone, by virtue of our common bond as children of God. We are all capable of “co-creating” through our work and advancing God’s plan for the world. The authors don’t say that we’re all made “in the image and likeness of God,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1700), yet they still reach the same conclusion that each and every person has something amazing within them.
Even more remarkable, their belief in people causes them to uphold the next two pillars of Catholic social teaching: subsidiarity and solidarity.
Let’s start with subsidiarity. As Catholics, we believe that problems should be solved at the lowest possible level. In the words of the Catechism, this “bears witness to [God’s] great regard for human freedom” (Catechism, 1884). Said another way, subsidiarity means that the “powerful,” whether in government or any other institution, shouldn’t try to address every issue in society on their own. This does more harm than good, because it ignores the roles and responsibilities that all of us have in the pursuit of justice.
The authors never use the word “subsidiarity.” But they do use the phrase “bottom-up” (see the book’s subtitle). As they prove in theory and through dozens of examples, the best way to address the massive issues facing America is to empower everyone to be part of finding the solution. This includes the incredible idea that those who’ve lived a problem, like poverty or homelessness, often know the best way to make progress on it. The rub is that these people are typically ignored or undervalued.
One example they use is the War on Poverty. After 50 years and more than $20 trillion, the poverty rate hasn’t moved much. Why? Because this war is being waged from the top-down, not the bottom-up. The authors introduce the reader to incredible individuals — most of whom lived in poverty themselves — who are making more progress against poverty than any government program ever has or could.
The ultimate point is that embracing “bottom-up” instead of “top-down” solutions will enable America to tackle big problems a lot faster and a lot more effectively. Another way to put it is that we need subsidiarity.
Finally, the authors make a full-throated case for solidarity. For Catholics, solidarity is defined as “friendship” or “social charity,” and it is a key part of our “effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled” (Catechism, 1940). It is the act of putting aside our differences to recognize and advance the common good.
Especially in the second half of the book, the authors constantly make the point that we all must unite to do what’s right. Not only that, they highlight a concrete and realistic road to make that happen on issue after issue, whether it’s poverty, education, economic opportunity, or anything else. One of the bigger focuses is the need to move beyond partisanship and try partnership instead. Far from downplaying solidarity, the authors make it one of the book’s biggest focuses.
Taken together, the book’s main points spring from the truth that Catholics hold dear. As a result, the path that the authors sketch out is one of wisdom. Believe in People really does show how all of us can make America, and the world, a more just place and enable everyone to lead better lives. It is as comprehensive as it is heartening and inspiring.
There’s so much more I could write about this book. But your best bet is to read it. I can’t recommend it enough.
Tim Busch is founder of the Napa Institute, a Catholic lay organization, and a member of the Stand Together philanthropic community.