I’ve been studying economics lately in relation to the upcoming annual policy paper from Lampstand, and its relation to Catholic social teaching.
Many liberal Catholics spurn capitalism as the embodiment of evil and many conservative Catholics—where I stand—place that designation upon socialism.
Many Catholics on both sides of the aisle proclaim distributism as the economic system that best approximates Catholic social teaching but the more I learn about it, the less that seems true, and the more capitalism appears to be the system most congruent with Catholic teaching.
This article from Tradition in Action looks at that.
“A basic thesis of the Distibutists is that there are two great social evils – Capitalism and Communism – and they pretend to present a solution that, in their view, is equidistant from both.
“There are many things that are vague in the Distributist doctrine, but I will leave those for another occasion. Here, I just want to analyze one point: their opposition to Capitalism and, by extension, to the wealthy class in society.
“To give basis to their accusation against Capitalism, they quote repeatedly – and almost exclusively – some texts from two Encyclicals: Rerum novarum by Pope Leo XIII and Quadragesimo anno by Pope Pius XI. One of the most quoted texts they use when they speak of Capitalism is:
“A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself” (Rerum novarum, n. 3).
This quote appears in almost every Distributist work I have encountered. It is repeated over and over to “justify” their anti-Capitalism attack. The insistent repetition of such quotes taken outside the context of the Encyclicals leads one to think that the two Pontiffs made a kind of “Syllabus” that solemnly condemned Capitalism as a regime that is intrinsically perverse.
“However, this and other texts were written in Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno not to condemn the essence of Capitalism, but to correct abuses that Liberalism introduced into it and caused it to produce harmful social consequences.
“The Church’s position concerning Capitalism
“There is nothing wrong in itself with Capitalism, the system according to which a man owns capital and rents the services of workers. The two mentioned Papal Encyclicals clearly affirm this.
“A famous text of Leo XIII defended Capitalism, and stated that both capital and labor have the right to exist in a Catholic society. In Rerum novarum he preached harmony between capital and labor rather than a suppression of the regime of capital. After defending the right of private property against the attacks of the Socialists, Leo XIII emphatically affirmed:
“The great mistake made in regard to the matter under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of the different parts of the body, so in a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity.
“Now, in preventing such strife as this, and in uprooting it, the efficacy of Christian institutions is marvelous and manifold. First of all, there is no intermediary more powerful than religion – whereof the Church is the interpreter and guardian – in drawing the rich and the working class together, by reminding each of its duties to the other” (n. 19).
“In Quadragesimo anno Pope Pius XI commented on this very paragraph and made the Catholic doctrine on capital and labor even more explicit. These were his words:
“In the application of natural resources to human use, the law of nature, or rather God’s will promulgated by it, demands that right order be observed. This order consists in this: that each thing have its proper owner. Hence it follows that unless a man is expending labor on his own property, the labor of one person and the property of another must be associated, for neither can produce anything without the other. Leo XIII certainly had this in mind when he wrote: ‘Neither capital can do without labor, nor labor without capital’ (n. 19). Wherefore it is wholly false to ascribe to property alone or to labor alone whatever has been obtained through the combined effort of both, and it is wholly unjust for either, denying the efficacy of the other, to arrogate to itself whatever has been produced” (n. 53).