Naturally, a mention of the importance of private property was not allowed to go unchallenged. "Everyone knows" that Jesus was an enemy of the rich and everything connected with them, especially private property, a plot by the capitalists to justify concentrating wealth when people are in need. The comment was made that there is nothing in Rerum Novarum about capital ownership, much less widespread capital ownership.
Our response was the pithy, "NOTHING?!?!?!?"
We didn't really want to shout, but we advised the commentator that he really should read §§ 1-47 of Rerum Novarum. These sections go into exhaustive detail why productive property — capital — must be regarded as sacred, why the heads of families must own property, why it is natural, why it is economically and socially important, and even what is to be done in the interim on the way to rebuilding an ownership society, concluding that "The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners."
Rerum Novarum was written specifically to counter the rapid growth of socialism that accompanied the loss of capital on the part of the working classes, even in America where the "free" land available under the Homestead Act of 1862 was coming to an end (the lack of which was fundamentally changing American society, and not in a good way, as Frederick Jackson Turner noted in 1893 in his "frontier thesis").
That property in capital is the focus of the encyclical was hardly a secret. Agrarian socialist Henry George was so incensed by the encyclical that he whipped out a 30,000-word "open letter" to the pope (published September 11, 1891) that went on at great length just why the pope was wrong to uphold the traditional teaching on property.
At least, however, George was polite, unlike some so-called "Catholic" economists today who call the pope's virtual mandate for universal ownership of capital "twaddle" and viciously attack anyone who dares to take papal teachings at face value. (Of course, the one who called it that has also claimed that Catholics are focusing too much on trying to end abortion when workers aren't paid enough and the all-powerful State — "the sole intercessor available to the poor" (we've been given to understand from our staff Catholics that it is the Holy Spirit and the saints . . .) — isn't distributing enough in benefits or creating enough jobs out of nothing.
So, we must disagree with the disagreement that Rerum Novarum says nothing about the fact that people need capital ownership. The entire first half of the encyclical is on nothing else, while the balance is on how to go about doing it and temporary measures to relieve distress in the interim.