In preparation for considering Quadragesimo Anno and the search for the third way, we should ask if the third way pointed to by the encyclicals was fascism. What is the evidence? What is fascism? How about anti-Jewish rhetoric in the New Testament, support for Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain, Dollfuss in Austria, the Cristeros in Mexico, the Ustashi in Yugoslavia, and concordats with Hitler and Mussolini? You won’t find solid answers in this blog, but the question needs to be raised and researched.
But how did the U.S. Roman Catholic Church react to Rerum Novarum? Capitalism is not based on the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but the U.S. is identified as a capitalist nation at home and abroad.
Father Coughlin saw no problem with anti-Judaism or complete control of labor (the economy) by the government. But the bishops and major commentators such as John Ryan thought the U.S. capitalist system could be reformed. As mentioned above, the U.S. capitalists considered the reforms as socialism.
Let us jump ahead to 1958 for a rationale for the reform platform. A flat out rejection of capitalism might have meant a financial disaster for the U.S. Roman Catholic Church. For Harvard Ph. D. and Marquette University economics professor Bernard Dempsey, S.J., it was a matter of definition. The U.S. economic system needed only to be adjusted to move it toward justice for all. Dempsey reasoned that “…cutting the jugular of the fictional dragon, capitalism,…” was not the answer to form a just society. Dempsey thought the current use of the word “capitalism” was a Marxist fantasy and a rhetorical tool. The Functional Economy, p. 162, Prentice Hall, 1958. Note that Dempsey’s book was written after Mussolini and Hitler gave fascism a bad name.
However, Dorothy Day of the U.S. Catholic Worker Movement denounced the capitalism as “a dirty rotten system.” As mentioned before Dorothy Day was a distributist along with English Catholic writers such as G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and Vincent McNabb, O.P. Belloc defined capitalism:
“I use the term ‘Capitalism’ here to mean a state of society in which a minority controls the means of production, leaving the mass of citizens dispossessed. Such a dispossessed body of citizens is called a ‘Proletariat.’” An Essay On The Restoration of Property, IHS Press, 2002, p. 29. First published, 1936.
The third way for the distributists was not fascism. Belloc understood the two fundamental encyclicals of Roman Catholic teaching (Rerum Novarum and Quadregesima Anno) as pointing to a system with a fair distribution of power and property. He wrote:
“There is a third form of society, and it is the only one in which sufficiency and security can be combined with freedom, and that form is a society in which property is well distributed and so large a proportion of the families in the State severally OWN and therefore control the means of production as to determine the general tone of society; making it neither Capitalist nor Communist, but Proprietary.” Ibid. Restoration of Property, p. 29
Was the Roman Catholic Church looking for a monolithic society, guided morally and infallibly by the Vatican? Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P. wrote in 1990:
“My concern is that the further we move away in history from Vatican II, the more some people begin to interpret unity as uniformity. They seem to want to go back to the monolithic church which must form a bulwark on the one hand against communism and on the other hand against the Western liberal consumer society.” N.C.R. Jan. 8, 2010
In 1894, three years after Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII wrote the encyclical, Longinqua Oceani, which was critical of U.S. law separating church and state:
“… it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be as in America, dissevered and divorced.” Op.cit. American Catholic History, Ellis, p. 517
The Encyclical was also critical of U.S. organized labor during the depression of the 1890’s. The Homestead Steel strike in 1892 and the Pullman strike in 1894 are significant events in U.S. labor history. “These two outbreaks differed from the uprising of railway workers in 1877. (Federal troops called out in 13 states) because they were strikes by powerful unions rather than spontaneous expressions of revolt, but they were marked by almost comparable violence and bloodshed.” Labor in America, Foster Rhea Dulles, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1966, p. 166.
In the 1894 Encyclical, Longinqua Oceani, Leo XIII also reiterated that workers had the right to organize, but questioned Roman Catholic workers belonging to organizations that included non- Catholics. He saw the violence of the strikes as a failure to follow the principles of Rerum Novarum. “Nay, rather, unless forced by necessity to do otherwise, Catholics ought to prefer to associate with Catholics, a course which will be very conducive to the safeguarding of their faith.” Op. Cit. American Catholic History, p. 524.
U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral on the Economy of 1919: is this a response? Separation of Church and State – a freedom of conscience issue: “With great wisdom our American Constitution provides that every citizen shall be free to follow the dictates of his conscience in matter of religious beliefs and observance.” The Pastoral reminds Rome of the financial generosity of American Catholics, for war-ravaged Europe. The Pastoral brags, “We entered the war (WW 1) with the highest of objectives, proclaiming at every step we battled for the right and pointing to our country as a model for the world’s imitation.” The Pastoral reaffirmed worker’s right to organize but did not mention a right to strike. Concern was expressed that management and labor neglected the public welfare when there were strikes. No insistence or suggestion that Catholics join Catholic labor unions was presented.
It’s a moral question, not a problem in physics where numbers and charts give the answers. The Pastoral quotes Leo XIII. “It is the opinion of some, and the error is already very common, that the social question is merely an economic one, where in point of fact, it is first of all a moral and religious matter, and for that reason its settlement is to be sought mainly in the moral law and the pronouncements of religion.” Apostolic Letter, Graves de Communi, January 18, 1901.
The 1919 U.S. Bishop’s Pastoral expresses concern for immigrants. “There is much to be done in behalf of those who, like our forefathers, come from other countries to find a home in America. …But what they chiefly need is that Christian sympathy which considers in them the possibilities for good rather than the present defects, and instead of looking on them with distrust, extends to them the hand of charity.”
Difficult to imagine but true:
Pablo, age 16, was with two friends on Milwaukee’ main thoroughfare when he was stopped by the police and given an $80.00 ticket for underage smoking. The police searched his back pack and found a full package of cigarettes. He didn’t tell his mother until the day before his court date. His mom called Voces de la Frontera because she was at a loss as to what to do. Lawyers were consulted and the consensus was to pay the ticket, but to first contact the City Attorney’s office. There was the possibility that if the ticket would be contested, both mom and Pablo would be deported. (Pablo’s father was deported about two years ago.) The City Attorney was called in the name of Voces de la Frontera. The office secretary suggested that Pablo come in and pay the fine. Pablo and his mom went to the Municipal Court where he was informed that the police did not want to press charges. Pablo and his mom were given a document stating that no court action would be taken. Pablo’s mom lost a day of work at her low wage job: a fast food restaurant. By the way, have you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America?