THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Monsignor New Deal

To hear some people tell it, Monsignor John Augustine Ryan (1869-1945) was not only the greatest social justice advocate who ever lived, he saved the world by inspiring and instituting the New Deal in the 1930s.  Neither claim bears up on even the most cursory examination.  As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, public, academic, and political opinion had shifted away from an ownership system, and was firmly entrenched in the wage system.
Msgr. John A. Ryan
We can deal with the claim that Msgr. Ryan somehow inspired the New Deal very easily.  Even his most sympathetic biographers now back off from the claim.  Msgr. Ryan was an enthusiastic supporter of the program, but he was continually snubbed by FDR except when the president needed a “Catholic” voice or endorsement (especially after FDR completely alienated Fulton Sheen after screaming at him and lying to him, see Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen.  Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1979, 82-84.)  In strict fact, Father Charles Edward Coughlin (1891-1979) was far more useful to FDR until Fr. Coughlin decided that the president had turned fascist and started attacking him.
At that point Msgr. Ryan with great astonishment suddenly realized that Fr. Coughlin was a Jew-hater and began attacking him.  The debate became so acrimonious that Archbishop Michael Joseph Curley (1879-1947) of Baltimore called on both Ryan and Coughlin to “do a great favor to the church and to the country at large” by “retir[ing] for some time to the Carthusian order, where perpetual silence is observed.” (“Church Organ Raps Priests: Paper Says Coughlin And Ryan Should ‘Rest A While’,” Reading Eagle, October 16, 1936, 2; “Coughlin and Ryan Asked to ‘Shut Up’,” The Florence Times, October 16, 1936, 1.)  Cardinal Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State, refused to meet with either Coughlin or Ryan while on a visit to New York, although the visit was intended primarily to investigate the ruckus. (“Cardinal Pacelli Arrives in New York for Visit,” Lewiston Daily Sun, October 2, 1936, 1; Joseph Alsop and Robert Kintner, “The Capital Parade: Passage in Pope’s Encyclical Declared Rebuke for Coughlin,” The Washington Star, November 15, 1939, A-11; Pacelli Sails for America: Papal  Secretary’s Visit Linked With Coughlin,” The Times-News, Hendersonville, North Carolina, October 1, 1936, 1.)
Jacob Sechler Coxey
Anyway, the New Deal was not inspired by Msgr. Ryan or Catholic social teaching, but by the program of Jacob Sechler Coxey, Jr. (1854-1951), who had “leanings” toward theosophy, the principal influence on late nineteenth century New Age thought.  In 1894, when Msgr. Ryan was in his mid-twenties, “Coxey’s 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.)  John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) reinforced FDR’s adoption of Coxey’s basic program, giving it academic (and thus political) credibility.
Then there is the issue of Msgr. Ryan’s take on Catholic social doctrine and understanding of natural law.
Although Msgr. Ryan’s book, A Living Wage (1906) — a reworking of his doctoral thesis — is taken as the last word in social justice and a ringing defense of the dignity of labor, it just isn’t so.  Inspired by the very “new things” of socialism, modernism, and the New Age that Catholic social teaching developed as a discrete discipline to counter, Msgr. Ryan’s work appears to have accomplished what centuries of dissent and heterodox theology and philosophy failed to do.  The tide may finally be turning, thanks in large measure to the groundwork laid by Pope John Paul II and the upcoming analysis of the Just Third Way of economic personalism (watch this space!), but the “new things” are still deeply entrenched, thanks in large measure to the efforts of Msgr. Ryan.
But who was Msgr. Ryan?
Ignatius Loyola Donnelly
At the height of Henry George’s popularity in the 1880s, Msgr. 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).  George’s book — considered one of the two top American socialist classics of the nineteenth century — inspired Msgr. Ryan to commit his life to what he claimed 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 by Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831-1901) that eventually merged into the Populist Party (Ryan, Social Doctrine in Action, op. cit., 12), and the Knights of Labor.” (Ibid.)
Donnelly, whom Ryan credited with “exercis[ing] more influence upon [his] political and economic thinking than any other factor” (ibid.), was an attorney, politician, and writer.  Born a Catholic, Donnelly became a spiritualist. (Walter Monfried, “The Astonishingly Inconsistent Ignatius Donnelly,” The Milwaukee Journal, August 19, 1974, 10.)

A populist who hated William Jennings Bryan, he advocated socialism and corresponded with and supported George.  (Helen McCann White, Guide to a Microfilm Edition of the Ignatius Donnelly Papers.  St. Paul, Minnesota: The Minnesota Historical Society, 1968, 24.)  He has been described as “America’s ‘Prince of Cranks’.” (Walter Monfried, “America’s ‘Prince of Cranks’,” The Milwaukee Journal, May 15, 1953, 8.) (Bryan was opposed to George’s proposals, as he made clear on more than one occasion, although George never ceased trying to gain his endorsement.  “Anti-Trust Leaders At Variance Over Watered Stock,” Boston Evening Transcript, February 14, 1900, 4.)  Donnelly also wrote a number of books claiming that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays and used them to send occult messages to his followers in the future.
Madame Blavatsky
No, really.  Donnelly was also a primary source for Madame Blavatsky’s version of theosophy, and is cited numerous times in The Secret Doctrine (1888).  Msgr. Ryan’s economic mentor was thus a socialist, while his political guide was a socialist and a New Ager.
Then there were Msgr. Ryan’s shoddy attacks on Venerable Fulton John Sheen (1895-1979) when Sheen refused to knuckle under and accept Msgr. Ryan’s destruction of Catholic teaching.  And that, as we will see in the next posting on this subject, has very nearly eliminated rational thought from any discussions of natural law and the Church’s social doctrine.