Somewhere between “society” and “community,” the concept of “living together” is still searching for its right formula, as can be seen in settings like the family, religious associations, sport and work teams, and in the Church or in business. Indeed, Jürgen Habermas argued that community or society are not alternatives. In every human life, both are necessary.
Of course, our organized world tends to exclude any reference to the community, for the exclusive benefit of society. The latter, with all it presupposes in terms of institutions, organizations and rules, necessarily complements the community by virtue of its political character. The limitation of community is that it seems to concern only interpersonal relations and friendship, where feelings and freely given reciprocal aid play a more important role than transactions, which tend to be rational if not always calculable. Consequently, in today’s liberal world, community is relegated to the margins, as a purely private matter. In reality, any business enterprise in which the collaboration of several people is required must combine the characteristics of community with those of society. But how to do this?
“Every effort must be made to ensure that the enterprise is indeed a true human community, concerned about the needs, the activities and the standing of each of its members,” wrote Pope John XXIII in 1961, in his encyclical Mater et Magistra. Thirty years later, in 1991, on the occasion of the centenary of Pope Leo XIII’s fundamental encyclical Rerum Novarum, John Paul II recalled that “a business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods’; it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the necessary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through their labor.”
The challenge is to make every business a community of people. Why? And how can an enterprise that has developed as a company become a community?