Christian Thoughts On Private Property: What Ayn Rand Missed, Part II

Still in my library, I found the following selection on the subject of private property, and of “the state,” in Life of Leo XIII And the History Of His Pontificate. Ayn Rand missed this book as well as Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Perhaps this is just a case of too much writing and too little research. That’s what I think anyway. Of course, she was a novelist, so facts weren’t necessary (head-slap).

Written by Francis Thomas Furey, and published in 1903, it would have been readily available if Ms. Rand had cared to look at it. She is gone now, dear reader, so I’ll provide this to you now. After reading it, you may find that there is no need to become a card-carrying member of the Ayn Rand Society anytime soon. For as I said in a previous post,

“Ayn Rand is both right and original. Where she is right she is not original, and where she is original she is not right.”

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Francis has the floor,

An Explanation on Private Property from the Encyclical Rerum novarum.

Let us now pass to an analysis of the great Encyclical, “Rerum novarum,” dated May 15, 1891, most admirable in the exalted character of its views, in the fruitfulness of the principles it explains, and greatest also by reason of the effects it was called upon to produce.

Pope Leo XIII

A dread conflict divides the social classes. This conflict is due to the progress of industry, to the alteration in the relations between employers and employed, to the too great concentration of wealth in a few hands, to the increasing pretentions of the toilers, to their closer union, and finally to the corruption of morals. No subject is giving more concern to minds at the present time. Accordingly the apostolic office with which he was clothed compelled the Pope to raise his voice so as to solve the problem that has solicited the attention of our age.

This problem is difficult and dangerous. It is difficult, for it is a delicate matter to determine the rights and duties of the rich and of the lower classes, of capital and labor. It is dangerous, because the revolutionary spirit seeks to take advantage of this difficulty so as to foment disturbances. Yet it is urgent to act, as the lower classes in general are found to be in a condition of misfortune and unmerited poverty.

The Pope then enters upon an examination of the causes of this condition, namely, the destruction of the old workingmen’s corporations which protected the laborer, the disappearance of the influence of religion from the laws, and, in consequence of these two causes, the isolation of the workingman in the presence of unbridled competition and of masters who are often inhuman. To these add usury, always condemned by the Church and ever springing up again in new forms, and the monopoly of labor and of the effects of commerce, possessed by a few rich men who thus impose an almost servile yoke on the infinite multitude of the toilers.

The socialists announce as an efficacious remedy for these evils suppression of private property and its transfer to the town or to the State. But this system, violating the rights of owners and perverting the functions of the State, not only disturbs the whole social edifice, but would besides be disadvantageous to the workingman. The wrong which the socialist solution would do to the workingman is shown by an analysis of the nature of lucrative labor. The end aimed at by the toiler is to acquire a property that he will possess as his own and as belonging to him exclusively.

What he wishes when he puts his strength and his skill at the disposal of others is to have something wherewith to provide for his support; therefore he wishes a salary, but also the strict and inalienable right to make use of it as may seem good to him. Whence the origin of property. “If, then,” we are told in the Encyclical, “the workman succeeds in putting away some savings, and if, to make sure of keeping them, he has, for example, invested them in a field, it is clearly evident that that field is nothing else but the salary changed into another form. The property thus acquired will be the property of the artisan by the same title as was the very remuneration of his toil.” It follows that the clearest result of the transformation of private property into collective property would be to take away from the workman the free disposal of his salary and by that very fact access to property and to the amelioration of his condition.

But the socialistic solution is not only disadvantageous to the workman, it is also unjust; for private property is of man’s natural right. This assertion is proved by comparing animal and man. The animal, closely governed by instinct, attains his end by the passing use of present things. Man, on the contrary, in reality possesses the sensitive nature and can, like the animal, enjoy physical objects; but this part of his nature is made to obey the higher faculty that distinguishes man from the beast, namely, reason or intellect, and by virtue of this prerogative we must recognize in man not only the general faculty of using external things, but in addition the stable and the perpetual right to possess them, as well those that are consumed by use as those that remain after we have used them.

Man, indeed, thanks to his intellect, connects the future things with the present things, and, being free and master of his actions, he is in a certain sense his own law and providence unto himself, under the Supreme Providence of God. Whence his right to choose the thing which he believes more apt to provide not only for the present, but for the future, and whence consequently his right to the possession not only of the fruits of the earth, but of the earth itself, which alone can offer him perpetually the wherewith to satisfy his ever recurring needs.

Check out my pen!

Nor let anyone appeal to the providence of the State, for “the State is posterior to man, and before it could be formed man had already received from nature the right to live and to protect his existence.” Nor let anyone raise as an objection against private property “the fact that God gave the earth for use to the whole human race.” This truth “simply means that God did not assign a part to any one man in particular, but wished to leave the bounding of properties to human industry and to the institutions of the nations.” The earth, moreover, even when divided, serves the utility of all, for all are nourished from its products, either directly or by labor; and “one may even assert in all truth that labor is the universal means of providing for the needs of life, whether one practises it on his own farm or in some lucrative art, the remuneration for which is derived only from the many products of the land with which it makes exchange.”

That is so much the more true as the land, without man’s attention, could not of itself furnish him with what is necessary for his support and perfected improvement. From consideration of this point the Pope derives a fresh argument in favor of private property. By applying his strength and intellect to the cultivation of the land, man, so to speak, attaches and applies to himself that portion of the land which he has cultivated, designates it with his mark, and acquires an inviolable right over it; “for at last that field, skilfully tilled by the hand of the cultivator, has completely changed its nature; it was wild, now it is cleared; from having been unfruitful, it has become fertile, and what has made it better is inherent in the soil and is so bound up with it that it would, to a great extent, be impossible to separate the one from the other. Now, would justice tolerate that a stranger should come and take to himself that land watered by the sweat of him who has cultivated it?”

It is with reason, then, that the whole human race recognizes private property as founded in nature; that the civil laws, based on the natural law, make it sacred and defend it; and that the divine law forbids even desire for the property of others. Then considering the right to property in its relation to the family, the Encyclical establishes it on most solid foundations.

In the first place, the family exists by natural right, independently of the State and anterior to it. “No human law can in any manner take away the natural and primordial right of every man to marriage, nor circumscribe the chief end for which it was established by God from the beginning: ‘Increase and multiply.’ There then is the family, that is, domestic society, a very small society no doubt, but real and anterior to all civil society, to which from that time we must necessarily grant certain rights and duties absolutely independent of the State.”

Among these rights must be included the right of property, considered in man as constituted head of a family, and we must apply here what has been said of the isolated individual. In the family the human person receives as it were a sort of extension. The head of the family must provide for the welfare of his children, he must look out for their future and defend them, by means of a patrimony, against adverse fortune. “But can he provide this patrimony for them without acquiring and possessing permanent and productive property that he can transmit to them through the channel of inheritance?” Thus the existence of the family demands private property.

All in favor of faith and
reason say “aye.”

But the family is a real society, governed by the paternal power. “This is why, ever in the sphere marked out for it by its immediate end, it enjoys, in the choice and use of all required for the conservation and exercise of a proper independence, rights at least equal to those of civil society. At least equal, we say; for domestic society has over civil society a logical and a real priority, in which its rights and duties necessarily participate.” Whence it follows that the State cannot arbitrarily invade the family sanctuary.

No doubt it can interfere to rescue from a desperate situation a family that tries in vain to get out of it, or to have respected in the family mutual rights seriously infringed upon. There is nothing in that but assistance given to a family, which as such is a member of society, or a defence of the rights of citizens. But there the action of the civil power ends. “Paternal authority can neither be abolished nor absorbed by the State, for it has its source whence human life derives its own.” Children, an extension of the person of the father, are incorporated in civil society only “through the intermediation of the domestic society in which they were born.”

Thus is exposed to the world the monstrous injustice of the socialistic system, which substitutes the providence of the State for that of the father, and breaks the family bond. The fatal consequences of this system are no less than its injustice. “They are disturbance in all the ranks of society; an odious and unendurable slavery for all citizens; the door opened to all forms of jealousy, discontent and disorder; talents and skill deprived of their stimulants, and, as a necessary consequence, wealth impaired at its source; finally, instead of that equality so much dreamed of, equality in destitution, indigence and poverty.”

“The socialistic theory of collective property is therefore absolutely to be repudiated, as prejudicial even to those whom it means to aid, as contrary to the natural rights of individuals, as perverting the functions of the State and disturbing public peace. Whence it follows that the first foundation to be laid by all who sincerely desire the welfare of the people, is inviolability of private property.”

But then, where are we to seek the remedy so much desired? The Pope declares he approaches this subject in the plenitude of his right and duty, for the Church alone, of which he is the visible head, possesses the secret of an efficacious solution. No doubt, the intervention of rulers, masters, the wealthy, and workingmen themselves is equally necessary, but without the Church their efforts will be in vain. The Church alone can either put an end to or mitigate the conflict, thanks to the doctrines of the Gospel, whence she derives that with which to enlighten minds, correct morals, and better the lot of the poor by charitable institutions.

In addition, she wishes and desires ardently the union of the classes in the search for the better solution of the labor question; she wishes also, in a just measure, the intervention of the public powers. One of the first lessons which the Church gives on the subject “is that man must accept his condition in patience.” The socialists strive in vain to destroy social inequalities. These inequalities, based on natural differences of qualities and aptitudes, are in accordance with nature. They are, moreover, profitable to society and its members; for society, a most varied organism, requires different arrangements in its various organs, and diversity of aptitudes leads individuals to applying themselves to the social functions that suit them best.

Phonographs are cool!

It is a specially dangerous chimera to pretend to suppress hard work. In the state of innocence work would have been an agreeable occupation; but since the fall it has become painful and, as such, constitutes an inevitable expiation, just like other sufferings and calamities, the bitter fruits of sin. “Sorrow and suffering are the apanage of humanity.” Those who promise a life exempt from trouble and made up of nothing but enjoyment, deceive the people and prepare for them calamities worse than the present.

“The prime error in the present question is the belief that the two classes are born enemies of each other. On the contrary, the rich and the poor are intended by nature to unite harmoniously and mutually maintain a perfect equilibrium. They have an imperative need of each other, for there can be no capital without labor, nor labor without capital.” United, they produce order and beauty; disunited, disorder and confusion.

To put an end to the existing conflict between the classes, Christian institutions have an admirable and multiple power. In the first place, the Church reminds employers and employed of their duties of justice. As regards the workingman, these imply the obligation to furnish the work promised by free and just contract, not to injure the employer, to shun violence and sedition in claiming his rights, and to keep away from the inciters of disorder and the misleaders of the people. The employer must respect in the workman his dignity as a man and a Christian. Bodily toil is honorable. “But it is dishonorable and inhuman to use men as vile instruments of gain and to esteem them only in proportion to the strength of their arms.” One must then satisfy the spiritual interests of the workman, protect him against snares, and strengthen in him the spirit of family and of economy.

“On the other hand, masters are forbidden to impose on their subordinates work beyond their strength or unsuited to their age and sex.” One of the employer’s chief duties is to give the workman honest wages, and not to turn him to account by speculating on indulgence. So, then, every act of violence, fraud and usurious trick that would impair the poor man’s savings are so much the more unlawful the greater is the poor man’s weakness.

One day, this won’t need
a team of horses.

The observance of these laws would suffice to suppress the causes of antagonism between the classes. But the Church wishes more; she wishes to establish true friendship between them. And to that end she appeals to the doctrine of immortality, which gives the true understanding of this passing life. Consideration of eternal life teaches us that we are not made for the minor benefits of this place of exile.

Wealth or poverty is of little importance; the important thing is the use we make of it. Besides, wealth does not protect man from sorrow. Jesus Christ walked in the path of affliction, and all must follow Him in order to reach Heaven. They are the stimulants of virtue and the sources of merit. As for wealth, it is rather an obstacle than an aid on the way to Heaven, and the Lord will ask a very strict account of it. No doubt, private property is of natural right; but the just possession of wealth is one thing, and its lawful use another. The latter, according to the teaching of the Church as explained by St. Thomas, requires that man does not regard his wealth as private so much as he does as common, and that he share it freely with others.

To this end the Encyclical explains the Catholic theory of alms. “No one is bound to help his neighbor by taking from what is necessary to himself or to his family, nor even to retrench in the least from what convenience or respectability imposes on his person.” But, after that, “it is a duty to bestow what he can spare on the poor.” It is a duty not of strict justice, except in cases of extreme necessity, but of Christian charity.

Human justice cannot therefore exact its performance. But one will have to answer before the higher tribunal of Jesus Christ. For, “whoever has received of the Divine bounty in greater abundance, whether of external goods and of the body, or of the goods of the soul, has received them to the end that he use them to his own perfection and at the same time, as a minister of Providence, to the comforting of the poor.” In the eyes of the Church poverty is not a disgrace, especially after the example of Jesus Christ, who embraced it voluntarily, God though He was.

Man’s true dignity resides not in the goods of earth, but in virtue, the common patrimony of mortals, which alone leads to life eternal. In addition, the poor are the privileged ones of God’s heart, for He proclaims them blessed, and calls to Him the little ones, the suffering and the oppressed. These truths, the Holy Father concludes, “humble the rich man’s pride, raise the poor man’s courage, and thus tend to cover the abyss which separates the classes, and to make both extend a helping hand to each other and unite their wills in one and the same friendship.” “But mere friendship is not yet enough. If we obey the precepts of Christianity, it is in fraternal love that union will be brought about.”

A God, the common Father of men and their only end, alone capable of giving them perfect happiness; a Redeemer, Jesus Christ—these unite all men by a real bond of fraternity among themselves and with Christ their Lord. This fraternity is consolidated by community of the goods of grace and glory, the heritage of all mankind, from which the unworthy only are excluded.

The man and his tomb. “Requiescat in pace.”


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