Thursday, February 07, 2008

Review of the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII/1

by Cardinal Manning


Since the Divine words, "I have compassion on the multitude," were spoken in the wilderness, no voice has been heard throughout the world pleading for the people with such profound and loving sympathy for those that toil and suffer as the voice of Leo XIII. This is no rhetorical exaggeration, but strict truth. None but the Vicar of our Divine Lord could so speak to mankind. No Pontiff has ever had such an opportunity so to speak, for never till now has the world of labor been so consciously united, so dependent upon the will of the rich, so opposed to the fluctuations of adversity and to the vicissitudes of trade. Leo XIII looking out of the watch-tower of the Christian world, as St. Leo the Great used to say, has before him what no Pontiff yet has ever seen. He sees all the kingdoms of the world and the sufferings of them.

The moan of discontent, of toil, of sorrow, goes up before him. The modern world, by every agency of knowledge, and by every bond of interest and of intellect, has become confluent. It has one intelligence, one conscience, one will, for it is under one law: "In the sweat of thy face thou. shalt eat bread"; and for millions that bread is scant. Its sufferings are the same, and its needs and demands are the same. This interchange of knowledge is so rapid and complete, not only as of old by messengers and by letters* but by the electric wire and instantaneous transit, that the workers and toilers of all languages and all lands are united by one living consciousness and by a continual participation in the various changes of labor and of trade. The world of to-day is a world of enormous wealth and endless labor. The Holy Father, at the outset of the Encyclical, recognizes this character of the nineteenth century. He says that "the growth of industry and the surprising discoveries of science; the changed relations of masters and workmen; the enormous fortunes of individuals and the poverty of the masses; the increased self-reliance and the closer mutual combination of the working population," have created a new condition in the world full of elements of conflict; and this is rendered more menacing by "a general moral deteriora- tion " that is in all classes and in all nations. It is upon such a world that he looks down; and his heart is with the poor; "I have compassion on the multitude" on the poor, who, as he says, are "the majority of mankind."

"All agree," he says, "and there can be no question whatever that some remedy must be found, and that quickly found, for the misery and wretchedness which press so heavily at this moment on the large majority of the very poor. The ancient workmen's gilds were destroyed in the last century, and no other organization took their place. Hence by degrees it has come to pass that workingmen have been given over, isolated and defenceless, to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition. The evil has been increased by rapacious usury, which though more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless under a different form, but with the same guilt, still practised by avaricious and grasping men; and to this must be added the custom of working by contract, and the concentration of so many branches of trade in the hands of a few individuals, so that a number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the masses of the poor a yoke little better than slavery itself." This is no new pronouncement of Leo XIII. It is perhaps not known to many that the study of this question has long occupied his mind. During his episcopate at Perugia he issued pastorals, even stronger and more explicit, on the sufferings of the workers and the callousness of employers. By a happy providence, what he then wrote in a pastoral to an Umbrian flock, he now promulgates with Apostolic authority to the whole world.

Before we speak of the text of the Encyclical, we must make two preliminary remarks.

Some public critics have censored it for vagueness and generality. They are disappointed because they do not find detailed and particular solutions, remedies, and schemes of action. But they forget that the diversities of nations, in civilization, in maturity, in climate, in character, in the diversities of natural and industrial products, also in mode of life and in a multitude of other conditions and circumstances, make it as impossible to prescribe remedies for all nations as it would be to dispense a score of prescriptions for all the hospitals of Europe. It was of absolute necessity to lay down broad principles which serve as major premises in all arguments of the social order.

The other remark is this: that the Holy Father has lifted Political Economy from the low level of selfishness in profit and loss, labor and wages, and replaced it on the right and true level of Social Economy. The very word economy is a protest against the narrowness of the last hundred years. Economy is the administration of a household. He is a bad householder who attends only to weekly bills, and neglects the health, morals, and welfare of the household. There is nothing needed for the well-being and happiness of the family for which domestic economy does not vigilantly provide the finances of the household are necessary, but subordinate. They are only details of administration. When we speak of "political" economy we speak in metaphors. A State is metaphorically a family, a household; and metaphorically it has an administration which is to the commonwealth what economy is to the household. It includes every form of material and moral provision for the public health and welfare. In this, finance and commerce are an important but a subordinate part The Holy Father has carefully defined this economy and its bearing upon Socialism, both the thing and the term, as we shall see hereafter.

The Encyclical divides itself into four parts. The first treats of the origin and constitution of human society. The second shows the unnatural, abnormal, and subversive nature of what is called Socialism. The third treats of the intervention of the State in social questions. The fourth and last treats of the liberty, duties, and co-operation of worker^ both men and women. We will follow this order in commenting upon it.

I. As to the origin of human society, it is much to be feared that many will read the Encyclical without weighing its deep and far reaching enunciation of primary truths. Many also will call them truisms and fail to weigh them. For instance:

1. "Man is older than the State, and he holds the right of providing for the life of his body, prior to the formation of any State."

2. "To say that God has given the earth to the use and enjoyment of the universal human race is not to deny that there can be private property.'*

3. "When man spends the industry of his mind and the strength of his body in procuring the fruits of nature by that act he makes his own that portion of nature's field which he cultivates, that portion on which he leaves, as it were, the impress of his personality."

4. "As effects follow their cause, so it is just and right that the results of labor should belong to him who has labored."

5. "With reason therefore the common opinion of mankind...has found, in the study of nature and in the law of nature herself, the foundations of the division of property, and has consecrated by the practice of all ages the principle of private ownership."

6. "That we have the family: the society of a man's own household; a society limited indeed in numbers, but a true 'society' an- terior to every State or nation, with rights and duties of its own, totally independent of the commonwealth."

7. "It is a most sacred law of nature that a father must provide food and all necessaries for those whom he has begotten...A man's children carry on, as it were, and continue his own personality."

8. "The family has at least equal rights with the State in the choice and pursuit of those things which are needful to its preservation, and to its just liberty."

9. "We say at least equal rights, for since the domestic household is anterior, both in idea and in fact, to the gathering of men into a commonwealth, the former must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the latter, and which rest more immediately on nature."

10. "The idea, then, that the civil government should, at its own discretion, penetrate and pervade the family and the household is a great and pernicious mistake."

11. "Paternal authority can neither be abolished by the State nor absorbed, for it has the same source as human life itself."

12. "The child...is, as it were, the continuation of the father's personality."

18. "To speak with strictness, the child takes its place in civil society, not in its own right, but in its quality as a member of the family... before it attains the use of freewill, it is in the power and care of its parents."

We have thought it best to extract these passages, and to place them in an orderly series, because, embedded in a context full of manifold and various interest, their full force may be easily lost They are like the axioms of mathematics, the immovable foundations of all reasoning. They are the basis and the constructive lines of human society, which is a Divine creation in the order of nature.

The Encyclical then proceeds to describe Socialism by the doctrines of its first teachers and chief writers. The essence of Socialism, according to this statement, consists in the denial of the natural right of property or of private ownership, and in the assertion that it is lawful to reform and constitute human society on the basis of the universal equality of man, and the community of goods.

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