THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dorothy Day, Catholicism, and Communism, Part II

On Tuesday, in the previous posting on this subject, we noted that the Jesuit publication America had run “The Catholic Case for Communism,” an article by Dean Dettloff, their correspondent in Toronto, Ontario, which not very subtly turned Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, into a shill for communism.

Dorothy Day
Today we present the response Mr. Geoffrey Gneuhs sent to America.  Geoff was chaplain to Dorothy Day and the New York Catholic Worker, and he gave the homily at her funeral in December 1980.  He serves on the board of the Dorothy Day Guild, and is a founding member of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ):

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Dear Editors:
May I offer some “clarifying notes,” to use  Dean Dettloff’s words, to his lengthy  and rather quaint attempt in his article, “The Catholic Case for Communism,” to present Dorothy Day, Catholicism, and communism as compatible.
First, he never defines communism, big “C” or little “c” communism, other than with the slogans, e.g., “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (Karl Marx, The Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875), which sounds like some of the current political cant.
 Thomas Aquinas taught, “seldom affirm, never deny, but always distinguish.” Distinguishing and nuancing are grossly lacking in his article.  Dettloff quotes, “Communists are attracted to communism by their goodness,” a rather elliptical and not very nuanced statement.  He is quick to dismiss “bourgeois capitalists,” ignoring the fact that most religious orders (I was a member of one, the Dominicans), including the Jesuits, and other groups, the New York Catholic Worker, for instance, have been and are supported by kind and generous “bourgeois capitalists”!
Peter Maurin
Second he states, “that goodness drives so many communists then and now.”  NOW?  Really, like  Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela, Communist China, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Kim in North Korea. In the twentieth century millions experienced communist “goodness” under Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, among others.  Strangely he refers to “colonial capitalism” in America; yet capitalism is a nineteenth-century term and system.
Third, he tries to address the issue of private property and the communist insistence on the abolition of private property.  And here he totally misunderstands and distorts Dorothy Day. As Dorothy used to quote, “property is proper to man.”  In her memoir, The Long Loneliness (1952), she also explained that what she and her mentor Peter Maurin advocated was in line with Thomas Jefferson:  “That government governs best that governs least.”  She was influenced by the Southern Agrarians, like Allen Tate, Robert, Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and later Wendell Berry.
The only way Marx, Engels, and the other communists could get their theories tried was by the power of the State.  Yet Dorothy derided “Holy Mother the State.”  She pointed out that it destroyed true liberty, personal responsibility, and community. (Louis Budenz, editor of the Daily Worker, and Bella Dodd, major  Communist leaders in the last century in America, came to this same realization.  They rejected the Communist Party and its materialist view, and they returned to their spiritual roots in the Catholic Church.  This is something ignored by the author in his very limited and selective “historical” analysis.
Hilaire Belloc
Writing in the February 1945 issue of the Catholic Worker newspaper in a front page article Dorothy wrote,
We believe that social security legislation now hailed as a great victory for the poor and the worker is a great defeat for Christianity. It is the acceptance of the idea of force and compulsion [communism, the State]  . . . The state [under Franklin Roosevelt} entered in to settle problems by dole and work relief.
She deplored the “inefficiency and waste of bureaucracies.”  Like Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, and others she was against the centralized, powerful Servile State.
She knew that Christ never told Caesar to care for the poor.  She quoted St. Hilary of Poitiers: “The less we ask of Caesar, the less we will have to render to Caesar.”   She said: “I did not look upon class war as something to be stirred up, as the Marxists did . . . when we went to strike, we went to perform the works of mercy.”
Hannah Arendt in her Crises of the Republic (1972) pithily focused today’s situation, which Mr. Detlloff never succinctly or even clearly states:  “Our problem today is not how to expropriate the expropriators, but rather how to arrange matters so that the masses, dispossessed in industrialist society in the capitalist and socialist systems, can regain property . . . the alternative between capitalism and socialism is false, because neither really exists in its pure state anyhow, but because we have here twins each wearing a different hat.”
Pope John Paul II
Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI in their respective encyclicals, Laborem Exercens and Caritas in Veritate, addressed these issues from a Christian perspective, as did Dorothy, and not from an ideological, communist, materialist point of view.  Christ had no political or economic ideology.  The communist ideology, so-called scientific materialism, is ontologically opposed to the Christ-centered understanding of the human person and creation, an orientation found in John Paul II’s Thomist personalism.
Neither Mr. Dettloff nor the communists offer a solution to the dilemma posed by Arendt, other than State-enforced bureaucratic policies that destroy liberty and personal creativity.  I would, however, suggest that there is a Just Third Way, a doable, practical tool to help create a personalist social order.  The interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) in Arlington, Virginia, of which I am a founding member, promotes what are called Capital Homesteading Accounts (CHAs) that would be for every child, woman, and man in America, and that could be adapted — and adopted — by every country in the world.
Norman G. Kurland
Co-founded in 1984 by Dr. Norman Kurland (who was instrumental in the passage through Congress of the initial enabling legislation for Employee Stock Ownership Plans in 1973), CESJ recognizes the sovereignty, freedom, and dignity of the human person, the right to private property, and the free market.  It is a strong critic of “rigid capitalism” to use Pope John Paul II’s  term.
CHAs are inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Act in 1862 that offered land to those who would work it with eventual ownership, but extends the concept to all other forms of capital.
For Dorothy, Christ was the beginning and the end — not ideology, politics, or materialism.
Geoffrey Gneuhs