As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, we discovered that Monsignor John A. Ryan of the Catholic University of America (1869-1945), based his interpretation of Catholic social thought on socialist theories developed in the 1830s and 1840s. This is despite the fact that he claimed Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum as his inspiration. The result was an interpretation of Catholic social teaching that rejected both faith and reason in favor of the tenets of “the Democratic Religion” of socialism.
|Msgr. John A. Ryan|
Having forced his interpretation of Rerum Novarum to fit the principles of socialism and modernism, Ryan proceeded to develop program specifics. These were ostensibly based on Catholic social teaching, but were in reality based on socialism and modernism, with an unhealthy dollop of New Age thought thrown in.
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.)
Going into George’s notions 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.” (George, Progress and Poverty, loc. cit.)
Ryan’s adherence to the principles of socialism, modernism, and the New Age would eventually lead to the Catholic Radical Alliance of Pittsburgh, founded by disciples of Ryan, splitting from Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement after a brief alliance. Although the stated reason for dissolving the alliance was a disagreement over the legitimacy of armed resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, this was only a thinly veiled excuse.
Years later Day spoke in positive terms of Fidel Castro and his (alleged) efforts to help the poor despite his use of violence. Day could work with people if she believed they were helping the poor. The problem was that Ryan’s principles only helped the poor at the cost of turning them into permanent dependents of an increasingly totalitarian State, and abolished private property as anything meaningful.
Ryan’s goal was an all-powerful State that takes care of everybody. Day’s goal was the minimization (even, possibly, abolition; she called herself an anarchist on occasion) of the role of the State, and the preservation, even expansion of private property throughout society; as she often quoted, “Property is proper to man.”
Thus, while Day’s applications of her principles may have been not all they could have been (whose are?), and some of her latter day followers might not understand the difference between a principle and the application of that same principle, Ryan typically tailored his principles in order to achieve the desired goal.
Ryan applied George’s principle of the abolition of private property in land to all forms of capital, justifying taking all profits of any kind by taxation. Originating in German socialism (Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, op. cit., 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. (Cahill, The Framework of a Christian State, op. cit., 532-533.)
Franz Herman Mueller (1900-1994), a student of Pesch, noted that Ryan’s advocacy of confiscatory taxation to fund public works and social welfare “comes close to Henry George’s ideas.” (Mueller, The Church and the Social Question, op. cit., 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.)
|Pope Leo XIII: Power to people, not the State|
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, Rendezvous with Destiny, op. cit., 86.)
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 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.)
|Jacob Sechler Coxey|
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.)
Ryan believed the best answer to objections his program was socialist “is the fact that the policy of public ownership is gaining ground every day in every country, and that no country now enjoying it has any thought of reverting to the other system.” (Mueller, The Church and the Social Question, op. cit., 105.) As Mueller noted, “Ryan anticipated the accusation that his program was socialistic or paternalistic, but this, he felt would be an attempt at refutation by name-calling, not deserving serious attention.” (Ibid., 106.) Despite Ryan’s dodging the question and flippant dismissal of these issues, however, important clerics and laity expressed grave doubts concerning his program. (Ellis, Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, op. cit., I.539-542.)