Page 7, 15th July 1938

15th July 1938
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Page 7, 15th July 1938 — ERIC GILL SUSPECTS A CATCH
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ERIC GILL SUSPECTS A CATCH

Fr. O'Hea writes :

The Bishop of Pella instances mining royalties in order to raise the question of nationalisation generally, Principles are Ain; the common welfare may require that certain forms of property shall be held by the State. But the question in regard to any particular industry or source of material must be argued on its merits.

Familiar on Clydeside

" How far may we go?" The question used to be a familiar one on the Clyde. Put that way, it suggests that Catholic doctrine is a series of prohibitions, a string round one's leg to prevent one from moving • too far under a driving force which comes from other sources—one's politics or one's own sweet will.

A truer view will see Catholic doctrine as something positive rather than negative— though prohibitions there will be; as itself a driving force, a body of " directives " as the French say, indicating the lines for progress.

The Socialist's Theory The old-fashioned Socialist 'accepts the dogma that nationalisation is always the line of remedy, an error rejected by Pius X1 in Quadragesirno Anno (par. 55). But Catholic doctrine regards the institution of private property as intended for the good not merely of the individual but of society as a whole. Ownership must be tempered and controlled, and at times taken over, when public welfare so demands. Control, by the State and by professional organisation, is an outstanding feature of the doctrine of Rerum Isiovartim and Quadragesimo Anno. In some measure the institutions named by the Bishop, and others which he does not mention, fulfil that end and even exemplify the principle of authority in vocational groups.

Fr. Bernard Goode writes : The Bishop of Pella asks whether the Nationalisation of private property is consonant with Catholic teaching however far it may go. In Quadragesimo Anno the Pope condemns the "error . . . of those who hold that all the means of production should be transferred to the State." (Par. 55.) But he admits that "it is rightly contended that certain forms of property must be reserved to the State, since they carry with them a power too great to be left to private individuals without injury to the community at large." (Par. 114.)

Catholic authors are unanimous in affirming the necessity of private property, but in certain recent works it is admitted that, so far as ownership of the means of industrial production are concerned, the traditional arguments are of less weight, and, since labour in industry is no longer personal but collective and society as a whole contributes in large measure to the value of all that is produced, it may become desirable to evolve some new form of collective, though not necessarily State, control over the more important branches of industry.

Dependent on System Thus, an admirable article in the latest volume of the Diet. de Theologie Catholique entitled " Propriete " concludes as follows : " In an economy based on the work of the artisan and small-owner, individual property naturally holds the first place. But in an economy based on exchange, the collaboration of the classes, and the accumulation of anonymous capital, individual property, without ever disappearing, passes to second place in the

sphere of production. We must not be surprised if the regime of production becomes more and more communitary.

We must not complain if the common right over consumption goods becomes more and more extensive. (Col. 845—the translation is necessarily somewhat free.) Rather more explicit expressions of the same line of thought will be found in M. Maritain's " Humanisme Integral," pp. 178, sq. and 198 sq.

Catholic Principles

Our principles are clear. They provide for a balanced harmony of the autonomy of the human person and the sovereignty of social authority. But it is very difficult for them to find expression at a time when men are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of ownership, when the State is too weak to control property without expropriating the owners, and when the distribution of property is too unequal to permit of a stable social order. In fact we are on very slippery ground in trying to apply our principles to certain forms of industrial property.

Mr. Eric Gill writes :

"Will someone tell us whether all this Nationalisation . . . is consonant with Catholic teaching about private property. ?" asked the Bishop of Pella last week. I imagine there is a catch somewhere; for, otherwise, it is difficult to understand why it should be necessary for a Bishop to ask for information on " Catholic teaching" in a paper run by and for laymen.

It is not for me to reply, but perhaps, without offence, 1 may make a few comments, and first I should like to draw attention to the fact that, as stated in Gide's History of Economic Doctrines (page 559) English Law, in common with the traditions of European Law as a whole. recognises no absolute ownership of the land except that of the Crown.

No Absolute Rights This is fact, however submerged by cornmoil ideas of " freehold," and not theory. Private property in land is not an absolute ownership but a tenancy secured and supported by the Crown, and this fact is not an example of Royal tyranny but is based on the underlying truth that it would be clearly absurd if private owners could claim such absolute rights over property as to enable

them to flout the common good. The notion of " the Common Good " is the ultimate basis of public law (Note: the word tenant only means " holder "—a person who holds property. A private owner is a holder of property direct from the Crown; a person who holds land from such a private owner is prisperly speaking a subtenant and so on.)

Treasure Trove Second: We may consider the case of " Treasure Trove " and ask ourselves in what way the discovery of coal and oil differs from the discovery of buried gold coins, and then ask what is the justice of the Crown's claim to treasure trove and whether it would not have been equally possible and just if coal and oil, etc., had been included as treasure?

Third: It should be pointed out that it is not quite in order to class the London Transport Board and the B.B.C. as public authorities without qualification. Both of these organisations, and others of the same sort, are only semipublic; they are amalgamations of private and public bodies, and private and public capital, and, as I understand, the profits are divided.

Fourth : It is not quite fair to say " it is all a matter whether it is good business or not.. .." Doubtless, in our commercial world, that aspect is very much to the front in the speeches of both promoters and opponents of the bill; moreover unless the promoters can show reason for claiming that the public will be economically better off, they would have small chance of getting their bill through.

A Vital Commodity

None the less, the main idea of the bill, as, in my innocence, it seems to me, is that only in this way can the bitter struggle of the miners and mine owners be obviated and the common good advanced.

Here you have the buried treasure called coal. It is a substance of importance and use to every man, woman and child in the nation and to our neighbours abroad. as well. Its getting is both an arduous and a dangerous job. The quality and quantity of the product are not due to man's inventiveness or energy (you have to work hard to get it and be clever in your methods. but good coal is either there or not there, in big amounts or small ones).

It seems obvious to many, and at least arguable to many more, that coal mining is therefore, in the nature of things a public job and coalmines public property And whether or no we decide, for the good of the work and the good of the worker, to work the mines by letting them to syndicates of workers or capitalists or both, it may still seem obvious that the ownership of the mines themselves is rightly that of the whole people and therefore of the Crown as representing and personifying the whole people

All Hidden Treasure Should Be Public

Fifth : Every honourable man is in one sense a public servant, but in another sense he is, equally honourably. a person seeking his private advantage. All property is in one sense public property, but in another sense some forms of property are naturally private and personal.

In my humble and quite unauthoritative opinion, all forms of hidden treasure are in the nature of things public property, and coal mining and all such collective works (railways. roads, posts and telegraphs), when the work is a service to persons in general rather than to individuals, might more justly and no less efficiently be run for public rather than private profit. Is all this consonat with Catholic teaching? I repeat: it is not for me to say. Rather would I respectfully ask the Bishop to point out where it is not.

Among the recent University successes, P. Hetherwick, of St. George's College and Christ's, Cambridge, not only got a double first in the Mediaeval and Modern Languages Tripos, but waS also awarded a Bachelor Research Scholarship.




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