I have been thinking a bit this morning about Catholic social teaching’s view of the human dignity and what that might mean for the way we think about my field of history–colonial America.
While one does not need to be Catholic to uphold the belief that all human beings have intrinsic worth, there is a strong tradition within Catholicism that we are created in the image of God and thus have dignity. This means that human beings in the American past are important because they are human beings, and not because they have contributed to the American Revolution, the rise of the United States, or some other sort of Whig end.
It seems to me that if one believes in Catholic social teaching in all its fullness, then the belief in human dignity should influence the stories we tell about colonial America. In the Whig view, colonial Americans are only important because they provide the necessary background for understanding 1776 and beyond. But if human beings–all human beings–are important and dignified, then it must be the task of the historian to treat them this way, regardless of how they may have contributed to American nationalism.
In other words, it seems to me that Catholic social teaching meshes very well with the recent resistant to teleological understandings of the colonial period–especially those put forth in American Colonies, Alan Taylor’s synthetic overview of the period.