What is our notion of the human person? Is the human person “naturally social” or “contractual”?
To say that the human person is “naturally social” one means that the human person, since birth, is a social being. The human person enters into the web of social relationships that offers support and protection and teaches duties. The social context is where the human person blooms thanks to the many links: family, neighborhood, school, workplace, etc. The human person is part of an “organism”.
The “contractual” view of the human person states that the human person is autonomous. Social relations and obligations are freely chosen, “contractually”, so to speak. The human person enters into “contract” with social groups. The human person is free and can move about selecting social bonds. The human person is not obliged to follow social obligations. Today we hear the word “liberalism” to refer to this autonomy of each and every individual.
Two ways of governing can arise from the notions. On way of governing involves working for the social lives of people, supporting people with their different social and economic needs. The role of the State is very intrusive. In terms of rights, the State gives the rights. The State assures individuals of their benefits. The other way of governing is by minimum intervention on people’s lives because of the autonomy of people. Between the State and people there is a competition; the role of the State should be very limited. Rights, here, are dictated by each individual. Each one has the right to pursue his/her own interests and goals independent of the collectivity.
What about the Church? The interpretation of the Church regarding human rights tries to put autonomy and the social together. Human rights, for the Church, are not just individual rights. They are not autonomous rights. They are rights of the human person living in community, in society. The individual and the social intertwine.
The collective should respect the autonomy of the individual by trying to oppose whatever obstacle there is to the social participation of the individual. The collective should assure the conditions that allow for participation of individuals. The promotion of the autonomy and dignity of each one is a social responsibility. The State must guarantee this.
But then, at the same time, each individual has the duty towards the collective. The individual must work for the promotion of what is good for all. (Later we will see this in the notion of “common good”.) This obligation might call for sacrificing some individual personal interests to assure the dignity of others. Social justice especially towards the weak and marginalized is so necessary to allow equality of chances and opportunities for personal growth and development. The Compendium states that “‘the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others’ and that an excessive affirmation of equality ‘can give rise to an individualism in which each one claims his own rights without wishing to be answerable for the common good’” (Compendium #158).