In the previous posting on this subject, we noted that Monsignor John A. Ryan (1869-1945) had his thought formed in an environment that accepted “the democratic religion” of socialism as a given. The idea was to reduce Christianity to its essential elements, of which the first and overriding principle is that material wellbeing of everyone, especially the poor, is the goal of existence.
|Henri de Saint-Simon|
As it was expressed in the thought of Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), one of the prophets of the New Christianity, “The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.” (“Saint-Simon,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 19: 14th Edition, 1956, Print.) In the New Christian framework, “distributive justice” and “social justice” mean distribution on the basis of need.
What surprises many people who have bought into Ryan’s definitions of distributive justice and social justice (not actually his, as he lifted them almost verbatim from socialism and modernism) is that Catholic social teaching developed as a discrete area within the Magisterium specifically to refute socialism, modernism, and the New Age. In particular, Catholic social teaching focused on the idea that distribution should be made on the basis of need as a matter of course instead of as an expedient in an emergency.
To explain, in Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy, distributive justice means the species of justice “wherein equality depends not on quantity but on proportion.” For example, someone who contributes 10% to a common endeavor receives 10% of the gain or suffers 10% of the loss. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 2411.)
|Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli, S.J.|
Ryan’s alleged development of doctrine in his doctoral thesis (A Living Wage, 1906) and his magnum opus (Distributive Justice, 1916) amounted to nothing more than rejecting the classical understanding of distributive justice and Msgr. Taparelli’s principle of social justice. Ryan then replaced both with the meanings used by the utopian and religious socialists in the 1830s and 1840s. Contradicting traditional Catholic teaching (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 201), Ryan’s version of social justice/distributive justice was therefore indistinguishable from the socialist and modernist understanding of the terms.
This, of course, is hardly surprising. As G.K. Chesterton said, “[A]pparently anything can be called Socialism, . . . If it means anything, it seems to mean Modernism; in the sociological as distinct from the theological sense. In both senses, it is generally a euphemism for muddle-headedness.” (G.K. Chesterton, “There Was a Socialist,” G.K.’s Weekly, May 10, 1930; cf. Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, § 61.)
Thus, in common with the utopian and religious socialists of the 1830s and 1840s, Ryan defined both distributive justice and social justice as distributing on the basis of need rather than equality or proportionality of inputs, and did not even mention restructuring the social order in connection with social justice. His adopted formulation not only abolished commutative justice, it added distribution on the basis of need to the classical understanding of distributive justice. When combined with a general intention for the common good (classical legal justice), and controlled by the State, Ryan claimed that distributive justice became “social justice.”
To fund increased demands on State resources, Ryan expanded Henry George’s single tax concept from land, to all property income. The first part of Distributive Justice, however, has a detailed analysis of George’s theory of title, ostensibly refuting George’s rejection of a legitimate basis for private ownership of land. This has led many people to claim that Ryan repudiated his earlier enthusiasm for George’s thought. (Robert V. Andelson, “Monsignor John A. Ryan’s Critique of Henry George.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1974 33 (3): 273-286.)
The issue of title was a diversion. Legal title was not an issue for George. Title, as far as he was concerned, is irrelevant.
For George, real ownership resides in whoever has the right of disposal and enjoyment of the fruits: the income generated by what is owned. As he explained, “rent being taken by the State in taxes, land, no matter in whose name it stood . . . would be really common property.” (Henry George, Progress and Poverty. New York: The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1935, 406.).
There was in reality only one divergence between George and Ryan, and it is a difference that made no difference. Where George argued that private property in land is not a natural right and therefore alienable (ibid., 333-346), Ryan declared that private property in land is a natural right, but that private property as a natural right is alienable. (Ryan, A Living Wage. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 70-72.)
Ryan applied George’s principle to all forms of capital, not just land, justifying taking all profits by taxation. Originating in German socialism (Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954, 186), taxation for social purposes and control over the economy, not abolition of nominal title, was the real goal for both George and Ryan. In The Framework of the Christian State (1932), Rev. Edward J. Cahill, S.J. (1868-1941) linked George and Ryan when analyzing George’s theories. (Rev. E. Cahill, The Framework of a Christian State. Dublin, Éire: M.H. Gill and Son, Ltd., 1932, 532-533.)
|Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.|
Franz Herman Mueller (1900-1994), a student of Heinrich Pesch, S.J., noted that Ryan’s advocacy of confiscatory taxation to fund public works and social welfare “comes close to Henry George’s ideas.” (Franz H. Mueller, The Church and the Social Question. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Policy Research, 1984, 105.) “‘Unearned increments’ in the value of land” should be taxed away (ibid.), and “[u]nearned incomes through stock and commodity exchange manipulations should also be prevented by law.” (Ibid., 105-106.)
Still, despite reorienting moral philosophy along modernist lines and his “daily excursions close to excommunication,” Ryan avoided censure due to his skill at equivocation and political maneuvering. (Goldman, Eric F., Rendezvous with Destiny: A History of Modern American Reform. New York: Vintage Books, 1956, 86.)
|Coxey's Army: "The Commonweal of Christ"|
Although fears of excommunication were for effect, the need to prevaricate was real. This is because Ryan reinterpreted Rerum Novarum to justify a vast expansion of State power explicitly repudiated in the document itself. (Rerum Novarum, § 7.) As historian Eric Frederick Goldman (1916-1989) related,
Ryan proceeded to apply the Rerum Novarum in a way scarcely distinguishable from the Reform Darwinists [Cf. Pascendi Dominici Gregis, § 13] of Protestants and Jews. . . . After Ryan had been hurling the Rerum Novarum at his enemies for years, a reform-minded rabbi achieved a masterpiece of superfluity by saying to the priest: “You have a very great advantage over men in my position. . . . You can hang your ‘radical’ utterances on a papal encyclical.”
“Yes,” I suppose there is something to that,” said Father Ryan, smiling. (Goldman, Rendezvous with Destiny, op. cit., 86.)
Ryan’s social program was similar to that of the populist Jacob Sechler Coxey, Jr. (1854-1951), who had “leanings” toward theosophy, the principal influence on late nineteenth century New Age thought. In 1894, when Ryan was in his mid-twenties, Coxey’s widely publicized army had marched across the country to demand inflation-financed government assistance during the Great Depression of 1893-1898. (Carlos A. Schwantes, Coxey’s Army: An American Odyssey. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.)
How well Ryan’s thought compares with Catholic philosophy and social teaching will be addressed in the next posting on this subject.