130th Anniversary of the Papal Encyclical ‘Rerum Novarum’

 

May 15, 2021, was the 130th anniversary of the Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum. A rough Latin translation of the title is; “Of new things”, or; “Revolutionary change”.

Written by Pope Leo XIII the subtitle is; “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”. The encyclical advocates the right of workers to form unions, critiques of socialism, and unfettered capitalism, as well as the right to own private property. Labor and capital problems are a bit different today, but not so different in that we have problems today with both sides seeking favors from the government in our economy. Today we call it the government picking winning and losers.

Paragraph number 3 critiques Capital during the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution.

3. In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen’s guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself. 

Paragraph 4 and 5 critiques the Socialists

4. To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community. 

5. It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases. Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land, in such case, is only his wages under another form; and, consequently, a working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his full disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor. But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels. Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life. 

You can click on the link for the entire encyclical.

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  1. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Maybe I’m already Catholic and didn’t know it…

    • #1
  2. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Doug Watt: so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself. 

    Is this encyclical the foundations of Distributism that Chesterton favored?

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Stina (View Comment):

    Doug Watt: so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.

    Is this encyclical the foundations of Distributism that Chesterton favored?

    The answer to your question is fairly complex. The foundation for Distributism is pretty much the same road that Libertarians follow. Lots of disagreements and interpretations on public policy.

    A good first look at those that favored Distributism, and what they believed click on the link.

    • #3
  4. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    A good first look at those that favored Distributism, and what they believed click on the link.

    The first paragraph answers my question in the affirmative with additional inspiration from another. I kinda like the concept of distributism. I wonder if our anti trust laws were based in those concepts.

    • #4
  5. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I wish the bishops would rediscover subsidiarity as well as respect for rule of law, private property, and free will. Catholics should indeed reject the extreme of total and absolute deregulation (anarchy). But as God affords tremendous allowance for free will and entrusted local communities to the needs of their neighbors, so should modern Christians.

    Charity is the self-giving aspect of love which serves both the body and soul within a deeply personal relationship. We cannot love lists of names and needs as we love individual persons in face-to-face encounters. Mother Theresa of Calcutta is an example of true Christian charity in action. She gave herself and voluntary donations, not anything demanded or forcibly taken from anyone. 

    • #5
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