Whether Pope Leo XIII really issued Rerum Novarum in part to refute the theories of the agrarian socialist Henry George is a debatable point . . . at least until we can get to the Vatican archives and do a little more research. It is not, however, debatable that Henry George and a number of his modern followers believe that the pope singled out George for criticism.
George certainly believed that he had been targeted, and unfairly, at that. He fired off a 30,000-word “open letter” to Pope Leo XIII explaining exactly why he, George, was right, and the pope was wrong. In light of this, it is a baffling puzzle why certain Catholic intellectuals insist to this day that there is no conflict between georgism and Catholic social teaching.
|Fr. John A. Ryan|
One possible answer is the work of Msgr. John A. Ryan, whose innovative theories have been formative in many people’s understanding of Catholic social teaching, despite the fact that his theories appear to contain significant errors. Ryan, however, was able to “sanitize” George’s theories, and even managed to insert them into the 1919 American bishops’ program for social reconstruction.
Ryan later became very active in support of FDR, becoming known as “Monsignor New Deal” and “the Right Reverend New Dealer.” This was over the objections of many bishops and Catholic intellectuals such as Dr. Franz H. Mueller, the solidarist, who were concerned about the inroads Ryan’s proposals made on private property, and the degree of State control involved. The Central Bureau of the Catholic Central Union of America expressed grave reservations over the role that Ryan gave to the State, e.g., labor camps, State ownership of industry, confiscatory taxation on the model of George’s “single tax,” and so on.
Just as there is evidence that Rerum Novarum was issued to refute George, there are hints that Quadragesimo Anno was issued to refute Ryan. Ryan’s influence has strongly affected the “social credit” movement as well as distributism and georgism.
This is why CESJ’s Capital Homesteading proposal recommends that tax reform and monetary reform go hand in hand, being based on the three principles of economic justice (Participation, Distribution, and Social Justice), and the four pillars of an economically just society:
· A limited economic role for the State,
· Free and open markets as the best means for determining just wages, just prices, and just profits,
· Restoration of the rights of private property, especially in corporate equity, and
· Widespread direct ownership of capital.