We closed the previous posting on this subject with the comment that “America’s Prince of Cranks” — Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831-1901) — had influenced the interpretation and understanding of Catholic social teaching, and thus the natural law “written in the hearts of all men.” At first glance this seems rather odd, since Donnelly left the Catholic Church and took up spiritualism, was a socialist, influenced theosophy, and may have inspired certain features of Nazi racial ideology.
|Ignatius Loyola Donnelly|
On second glance, however, we realize that it isn’t all that strange, after all. It turns out that by the time Donnelly died, traditional Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, had been under continual assault from the adherents of the “new things” of socialism, modernism, and New Age thought for at least a century. It therefore comes as no surprise that Donnelly’s effect on someone who was already inclined to accept teachings at odds with those of an Aristotelian-Thomist understanding of natural law, to say nothing of those of orthodox Christianity, was extraordinary.
Part of this may be due to what was evidently Donnelly’s very high degree of personal charisma. After all, a man who can persuade thousands of people to invest in shady real estate schemes, get elected to political office repeatedly, and at the age of sixty-seven convince a teenager to marry him might have more than his share of charm and animal magnetism.
Still, humans are moral beings and as such are responsible for their own actions. Someone who was not already inclined to accept Donnelly’s odd theories would hardly have fallen victim to even the most mesmerizing political figure.
|Msgr. John A. Ryan|
Such was Monsignor John Augustine Ryan (1869-1945), on whom Donnelly’s influence was significant, profound, and lasting.
It was at the height of the agrarian socialist Henry George’s popularity in the 1880s that Ryan, then in his early teens, read George’s Progress and Poverty. (Rt. Rev. Msgr. John A. Ryan, D.D., L.L.D., Litt.D., Social Doctrine in Action: A Personal History. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1941, 9.) He claimed the book inspired him to commit his life to what he said was social justice. He also became “much interested in the proposals for economic reform advocated by Donnelly, the Farmers’ Alliance [An agrarian reform movement founded in part by Donnelly that eventually merged into the Populist Party.], and the Knights of Labor.” (Ryan, Social Doctrine in Action, op. cit., 12.)
Ryan credited Donnelly with “exercis[ing] more influence upon my political and economic thinking than any other factor.” (Ibid.) During his seminary days, Ryan’s classmates called him “the Senator” due to his habit of cutting classes in order to attend sessions of the Minnesota state legislature whenever Donnelly was scheduled to speak. They recalled that Donnelly virtually cast a spell over the young man, although it is not recorded that Ryan and his idol ever met in person.
Nor was Donnelly’s influence over Ryan limited to political philosophy, although that served as a convenient reason to explain his enthrallment. According to Ryan, Donnelly’s bizarre science fiction and fantasy novels contained innovative concepts that were integrated into his political thought. (Ibid., 15-16.) Not only that, but Ryan believed Donnelly’s interest in the occult and esoteric, New Age thought demonstrated his intellectual scope. (Ibid., 12.)
Nor were the reading of Progress and Poverty and Donnelly’s adherence to the theories of Henry George Ryan’s only exposure to the idea of the State taking over effective ownership of land (or anything else). Ryan sympathized with Father Edward McGlynn, whom he considered wrongly persecuted for his beliefs due to McGlynn’s excommunication for disobedience. (Ibid., 20, 41.)
McGlynn, the close associate of George, was said to be a far more fervent promotor of George’s theories even than George. There is substantial evidence suggesting that Pope Leo XIII began the work that resulted in Rerum Novarum due to the necessity of correcting the problems caused in large measure by McGlynn’s advocacy of socialism and his modernist thought.
Interestingly, Ryan credited his own position on labor and its rights in part to Edward Cardinal Gibbons’s efforts to prevent the condemnation of the Knights of Labor. He conveniently neglected to mention Grand Master Workman Terrence Powderly’s subsequent betrayal of, and attacks on Gibbons, both widely reported in the newspapers.
Despite the rather equivocal nature of the evidence, Ryan and others nevertheless turned the lack of condemnation of the Knights of Labor into an endorsement. They then exaggerated the teachings regarding the necessity of organizing to resolve social problems — a prefiguring of Pope Pius XI’s breakthrough in moral philosophy with a particular act of social justice — allegedly the source of Leo XIII’s positive comments about organized labor in Rerum Novarum, a claim that seems to have originated with Ryan. (Ibid., 20-21.)
Ryan is best known, however, for his efforts in linking Catholic social teaching to the socialist concept of the “living wage” as the primary or even sole legitimate source of income for most people. He is also renowned for his development of modernist doctrine that equated social justice and distributive justice, changing the classical understanding of the latter, and conforming the former to the socialist understanding.
|Hugues-Félicité-Robert de Lamennais|
Not surprisingly, Ryan’s theories were based solidly on the modernist principle that natural rights are alienable, being vested not in the human person, but in the collective — a twist on the “theory of certitude” developed by de Lamennais. As Ryan declared in his doctoral thesis,
Natural rights are necessary means of right and reasonable living. They are essential to the welfare of a human being, a person. They exist and are sacred and inviolable because the welfare of the person exists — as a fact of the ideal order — and is a sacred and inviolable thing. (John A. Ryan, A Living Wage. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, Publishers, 1906, 48.)
Aside from his Platonism and adherence to “the ideal order” in preference to concrete reality, Ryan’s fundamental error is therefore his claim that “[n]atural rights. . . . exist and are sacred and inviolable because the welfare of the person exists.” On the contrary: natural rights exist and are sacred and inviolable because the human person exists, not because the welfare of the human person exists. Human existence is objective fact. Human welfare is subjective opinion.
A decade after A Living Wage, Ryan published Distributive Justice (John A. Ryan, Distributive Justice. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916), the book he considered his magnum opus. Where A Living Wage transformed what it means for something to be true by changing the basis of the natural law from reason to faith, Distributive Justice applied the principle of mutable truth to the natural virtue of justice.
In Distributive Justice, Ryan ignored commutative justice, the justice that governs equality of exchange (the law of contracts), that is, “equality of quantity.” (Summa, IIa IIae, q. 61, a. 2.) Significantly, all forms of justice presuppose the validity of commutative justice; (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1807.) “Without commutative justice, no other form of justice is possible.” (Ibid., § 2411.)
The etymology of the terms distributive justice and social justice as Ryan used them is a fascinating study in itself. For over a century, commentators have assumed that Ryan began with the classic Aristotelian-Thomist understanding of distributive justice, and then developed it in light of the social justice teachings of Rerum Novarum. Authorities have struggled in vain to reconcile the contradictions implicit in this assumption.
|Fr. Edward McGlynn|
Nothing could be further from the truth. Ryan did not derive his concept of distributive justice and its equation with social justice from Rerum Novarum. Instead, in common with Henry George, Fr. Edward McGlynn, and Ignatius Loyola Donnelly, Ryan imbibed the ideas of the utopian and religious socialists of the early nineteenth century.
Distributive justice and social justice along with philanthropy were used interchangeably as expressions of the principal doctrine of “the Church of the Future” as conceived by adherents of the various “religions of humanity.” In general, social justice referred broadly to all ways of meeting material needs.
In the socialist lexicon, philanthropy referred to voluntary redistribution, while distributive justice was the term when it was coercive. This was distribution on the basis of need. Most of these new religions of humanity were heavily influenced by the theories of Charles Fourier. (Adam Morris, American Messiahs: False Prophets of a Damned Nation. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2019, 82-83.)
In Aristotelian-Thomism, 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.) Ryan’s version of social justice/distributive justice was therefore indistinguishable from the socialist understanding of the terms that antedated Rerum Novarum by decades.
What this shift in the interpretation of Catholic social teaching from Aristotelian-Thomism to the principles of socialism, modernism, and the New Age meant in practice will be covered in the next posting on this subject.#30#