As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the agrarian socialist Henry George and the renegade priest Edward McGlynn seem to have provided the original motive for a new encyclical on the subject of socialism and why what was originally known as “the Democratic Religion,” “The New Christianity,” “Neo-Catholicism,” and many other names was not a very good thing for anyone, especially the downtrodden workers socialism was presumably intended to help.
|The New Age, Second Series (1907)|
The fact was, however, although George and McGlynn created quite a stir as a result of George’s try to become mayor of New York City and McGlynn’s grandstanding with the Vatican, once they were out of the limelight there was no longer any need for an encyclical exclusively on “the Land Question.”
There was, however, a pressing need for something to address the growing problem of the New Things of socialism, modernism, and the New Age — which not by coincidence was to receive a few years later the label by which it is known. It was in 1894 that the magazine The New Age (not to be confused with the Masonic publication of the same name) was founded as a journal of socialism, liberal Christianity, and esotericism, i.e., the New Things. So influential was the magazine that it gave its name to the movement (although the esoteric and decadent journal The Yellow Book gave it a run for the money). Before it ceased publication in 1938, the New Age contributed to the liberalization and socialization of three generations of intellectuals.
Thus, it may have been George’s and McGlynn’s sudden eclipse from fame that persuaded Leo XIII to expand the planned statement condemning George’s proposal to make the State the universal landlord into something much more comprehensive — and more innovative.
The fact was that ever since the New Christianity and Neo-Catholicism had first appeared, papal efforts to stem the tide of the new things had not been effective. Since 1832 declarations, condemnations, and anathemas had been issued to little or no effect. The pope needed a change in tactics.
|Cavour, Sardinian Prime Minister|
It may have been Leo XIII’s having served in civil government that led him to realize mere condemnation would never be sufficient to halt the spread of socialism and modernism. A practical as well as moral alternative to the new things was essential if they were to be successfully resisted, and from his personal experience in politics, he knew exactly what was needed.
As governor of Perugia Leo XIII had promoted widespread capital ownership and had even established a savings bank, capitalized partly with his personal funds, to enable the poor to purchase land and businesses on credit. He had also completely reformed the educational system to make it accessible to the non-wealthy.
Everything had been confiscated when the Kingdom of Sardinia conquered the Papal States, and all economic and political power concentrated in the new élite that took over. While the future pope was governor, however, widespread poverty disappeared, the poor were educated, the prisons were emptied, and the churches were full.
Leo XIII was fully aware that Sardinia would never have succeeded had the ordinary people of the country who revered Pius IX had private property, and thus power. He agreed with American statesman Daniel Webster that “power naturally and necessarily follows property.”
|Pope Leo XIII|
As pope, Leo XIII knew that if the new things in both Church and State were to be effectively resisted, it was essential that as many people as possible become capital owners. To be free and virtuous, people must be independent and receive income as a natural right, rather than as charity or gift, or because the State mandated higher wages or redistributed wealth.
Consulting with leading experts in the field, Leo XIII spent nearly five years painstakingly constructing the moral, legal, and economic argument against socialism, and in favor of widespread capital ownership. Rerum Novarum is, quite possibly, one of the most deeply researched and carefully written papal documents of all time. It cannot be understood taken out of context, whether religious, philosophical, theological, or even historical. Nor does the encyclical make sense if the reader confuses principles and doctrines that cannot be changed, with applications of principles and prudential recommendations that can and must be changed.
Once it is realized that Leo XIII’s goal was to present a viable alternative to socialism and modernism, the argument in Rerum Novarum is simple and straightforward. To summarize the first part of the encyclical,
|Crafty Socialist Agitators|
· “Crafty agitators” are stirring up people to revolt by changing the meanings of terms such as religion and natural law and perverting moral judgments.
· Institutions have degenerated to the point that economic and political power has become concentrated in the hands of a few, virtually enslaving ordinary people.
· Taking advantage of this, the socialists have sought to destroy the foundation of society and enslave everyone by abolishing private property.
· Only by making as many people as possible capital owners can socialism be defeated.
The reasoning is, of course, much more involved and complex than these points suggest, but that is the essence of the argument. The rest of the encyclical is taken up with prudent suggestions on how the papal program might be implemented, but the important thing, as Leo XIII was well aware, was to make as many people as possible into capital owners as soon as possible, or things would only get worse.
On the other hand, if the papal program was followed. As Leo XIII explained,
Many excellent results will follow. First of all, property will become more equitably divided. There will be great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them. A third advantage is that men would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life.#30#