Monday, November 10, 2008

Social Reconstruction - Summary and Conclusion

by Msgr. John A. Ryan

Radicalism and conservatism are mere catch words. Personally, I don't want to be called either a radical or a conservative because I find most people who boast of their conservatism are simply reactionaries, and most persons who pride themselves on their radicalism are extremists. It is not necessary to be tagged with either designation. The important thing is to know all the facts that are available, to acquire a good knowledge of the principles, and then to advocate remedies or reforms in the light of those facts and principles. It is about a quarter of a century since I began to write "pieces for the papers" on the social question, and I do not think that during that time I have ever determined my attitude toward a particular reform measure by a consideration of its conservatism or its radicalism. I never ask myself that question, because I think it is misleading: it hampers one's honesty of thought and one's effectiveness. I ask myself, first, "is this measure in conformity with right reason and Catholic teaching?" Second, "is it wise and prudent to advocate this reform at this time?" The latter is quite a different question from the former, inasmuch as a measure may be in accordance with right reason, and yet born out of due time. In some quarters my social and industrial views have been accounted "radical," but in the course of time I have seen most of these views become classed as "conservative." I think we shall all have the same experience if we cling to those two general rules, asking ourselves whether a measure is in accordance with reason and the Church's teaching, and whether promulgation or advocacy of it now would do more harm than good or more good than harm. It is not a question of courage: if one abides by these two rules one will not be called upon frequently to think of one's self as extremely courageous in advocating a measure which most people have not yet thought about; for one will have acquired the habit of envisaging the problem in an objective light, free from temporary considerations, and free from all thought of praise or blame. After all, truth and justice are the only important ends to seek in this matter of social reform.

All persons who are interested in the problems covered by the Bishops' Program should, first, get a good grasp of Catholic principles concerning the rights of property, the limitations of property rights, and the right of the laboring class to a decent amount of the earth's goods and opportunities; and, second, get hold of as many of the facts of industry as it is reasonably possible to obtain. Among Catholics the latter requisite is more lacking than a knowledge of Catholic principles. Our industrial system is extremely complex and exceedingly large: hence the difficulty of making any general statement which covers all the facts; and yet it is concrete facts that we are dealing with most of the time. If, for example, we pronounce the general judgment that labor is now acting quite unreasonably, because it; is better off than ever before, let us ask ourselves whether that is strictly true, whether it is true of all of labor, or of the majority of the laborers in this country. That leads to the question, "what has been the increase in wages since the beginning of the war?" We know there have been some increases, so much here and so much there. Have we enough data to form the basis of a positive declaration that the condition of labor now is better than it was in 1913? I do not think we have, and I have tried to get hold of all the facts available. That is typical of a very large number of questions in the industrial field. So often one has to be content with a qualified generalization: "probably, things are so and so"; it seems that things are so and so." We cannot honestly make a more positive statement. However, this much is certain: if we try to get hold of all the facts we shall be wrong less often than if we did not do so, and the more facts we get as a basis of judgment the more likely we are to be approximately right when we do venture upon general statements.

The Bishops' Program closes with this quotation from Pope Leo," society can be healed in no other way than by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions," and this commentary: "The truth of these words is more widely perceived to-day than when they were written, more than twenty-seven years ago. Changes in our economic and political systems will have only partial and feeble efficiency if they be not reinforced by the Christian view of work and wealth. Neither the moderate reforms advocated in this paper, nor any other program of betterment or reconstruction will prove reasonably effective without a reform in the spirit of both labor and capital." It is not necessary, I am sure, to emphasize or elaborate those statements to a Catholic audience. We realize that the spirit is the more important thing; that no mere social mechanism will produce social contentment or satisfactory results generally, if the Christian spirit is lacking. If we had all the reforms in operation that any one of us could desire, we should still find that men would be far from contented unless they had a proper comparative estimate of the value of these things. We want to see people well clothed, well fed and well housed, and provided with a decent measure of religious, moral and intellectual opportunities; but we know that this will not make them contented unless they realize that all these things are secondary, merely means to the end which God has appointed for every man, an end that is far beyond and far different from any scheme of social arrangements.

Interview with Thomas Storck

On Cooperative Ownership

John Médaille Interview in Romania

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