Page 3, 15th November 1940

15th November 1940
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Page 3, 15th November 1940 — "Towards a Christian Social Order": Point VI

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"Towards a Christian Social Order": Point VI

That every man has a natural right to some private property. But the accumulation of great wealth, a s well as the means of producing it, in few hands, is contrary to the interests of the community since it precludes the equitable distribution of wealth which justice and the common good require; for maldistribution is invariably accompanied by unemployment, poverty and hardship amongst large numbers of people.


England is a servile state responsibility is taken because from its people


Erie Gill

The exercise of art or work is the formal reason of individual appropriation ; but only because it presupposes the rational nature and personality of the artist or workman.

In the case of the bee . . . there is no exercise at art or of work in the strict sense (since there is no reason in operation); neither is there any individual ownership.

(Maritain, Freedom in the Modern World).

Every man has by nature the right to Rossess private property as his own. As many as possible of the people should be induced to become owners.

That which is required to preserve life is produced from the soil, but not until man has brought it into cultivation and expended upon it his solicitude and skill. By such act he makes his own that portion of nature's field which he cultivates . . . on which he leaves the imprint of his individuality. How must one's possessions be used? Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need. (Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum).

AT the very root of all our argus' meats for the institution of property is the fact that man is a person and he requires therefore not merely food, clothing and shelter as such but that particular food, clothing and shelter which is conformed to his unique personality. And parallel, as it were, with that fact is the fact that the material world into which he is born is such that only by his personal, deliberate manipulation can material be made conformable to his needs.

Products of Labour

There is only one necessary thing which is obtainable without deliberate labour: the air we breathe; all other necessities are in one degree or another the product of labour. If men were not persons, possessing proprietary right over themselves, mastery over themselves and over their acts, it would be possible to feed, clothe and house them in herds and regiments and hives, and the claim to personal and private ownership of the means of production would have no rational ground.

The present inclination to live in large conglomerations of identical apartments and the mass-production of food, clothing. furniture. building materials and even houses indicates a widespread degradation of personality. The Communist and other political systems which postulate the abolition of private property are products of the same degradation and all alike are the consequence of the decay of personal ownership which industrialton has caused.

For though the owners of industrial enterprises are given to boasting their close attachment to the institution of property, the effect of their politics has been the proletarianisation of the masses of workers and in the minds of the majority of persons to-day the idea of property is not ownership of the means of production but simply ownership of a share of the money profits of industry and of the mass-produced furniture and pleasure-things (cars, wireless-sets, etc.), which money can buy.

Property—Consequent on Work Now, as we have seen in a previous article " Work " (CATHOLIC HERALD, November 1), physical and mental labour upon the earth and upon raw materials is the primary necessity for the preservation of human life. We may now go further and we may say that as the object of human life is man's sanctification, labour being the means of life, is the appointed means to holiness and thus to beatitude.

It should be clear therefore that of all kinds of ownership, that of the means of production is the most important, and so important is it that, as Pope Leo XIII says, it is a natural right—natural, that is to say in accord with the will of God ; it is God's will for man. We have therefore two things to bear in mind: the necessity of labour and the consequent natural right to property. The one follows from the other; for it is man, a person, who must labour and " the very essence of this activity is to imprint on matter the mark of rational being." (Maritain, loc. cit.). The root principles of private property being thus understood we have next to con

sider the conditions a ownership in our society, and then we should consider possible remedies for the ills we discover.

It is, of course, true that there are many ways in which property is held to-day in

England and it is held by many different classes of persons; but it is also true to say that the thing we call proletarianism is the special and peculiar mark of our time. A proletarian is one who owns nothing but his power to labour and that of his children—

children arc his only " real property." At all times and in all countries there have been proletarians, but in no previous society has the property-less man been politically free! The Roman or American slave was by law incapable of owning anything; the industrial slave is only debarred by the economic circumstances in which the owners of industrial property have deliberately contrived to place him; for it was to the great advantage of industrialists that there should be large numbers of men economically powerless. Cheap labour was essential to them and no labour is so cheap as that of men who own nothing but their bodily strength.

But as man has a natural right to property so he has a natural necessity to live in social collaboration with his fellow-men. " The State is bound to protect natural rights. . . If it forbids its citizens to form associations it contradicts the very principle of its own existence. . ." (Leo XIII loc. cit.). Therefore, in spite of the desperate opposition of owners of land and factories, the Trades Unions, after much bloody and cruel proscription, established themselves and were able to force upon the owners better conditions of labour and better pay.

Degraded by Factory Employment

But the result was that a very great impetus was given to the development of machinery. The inventive ingenuity of men has always been available but never before was it thus used for the exclusive service of men whose main concern was not the improvement of things made. still less the convenience of the workers, but primarily the monetary aggrandizement of themselves. The rising 6ost of human labour which Trades Unionism brought about made it necessary, from the point of view ot those whose main concern was (and is) profits, to seek every possible means of substitution.

Thus first of all men were enslaved by proletariauisation, then they were degraded by factory employment C' for from the factory dead matter goes out improved whereas men there are corrupted and degraded." (Pius XI, Quad. Anne.), and, as the present Pope has said :—" In this age of mechanisation the human person becomes merely se more perfect tool in industrial production and a perfected tool for mechanised warfare "), and lastly, they are, as far as possible, deprived of occupation altogether. That is the logical culmination of the mechanisation of industry, whether under capitalism or any other form of seciety, for the precise object of machinery is the elimination of human tabour.

Now it is clear that no remedy is possible unless, in the first place, we desire it and, particularly, unless those who use and mind machines desire it, and in the second place, unless those who desire a remedy have the necessary power to effect it.

Reconversion of England

As to the first thing, in order to inculcate a desire for a remedy we must, impossible though it sounds, difficult though it be, regain in ourselves a true conception of the nature of man and of the nature of human work and we must succeed in converting our fellow men and women In this endeavour we should be assisted by the growing misery of our times and the palpable breakdown of the materialist society in which we live. But this misery anti that breakdown will not be sufficient in themselves; for there arc other diagnoses of our disease as well as the Christian one, and unless we are prepared and active a Fascist or Communist remedy will be applied, and neither the subordination of man to the State, which is essential to the Fascist theory nor the materialist interpretation of history, which is essential to modern Communism, is compatible with Christian doctrine.

That is the first thing, the reconversion of England to Christianity and to Christ. But in respect of the matter with which we arc specially concerned in this article, the conversion of England will not suffice unless we understand that this implies much more than Sunday attendance and obedience to the Commandments of the Church. It implies also a clear knowledge of the essentials of a Christian society and a determination to recreate it.

Decay of Personality

In addition to desiring a remedy we must know what the remedy is and understand its nature. The ill from which we are suffering is the decay of personality. The remedy is the revival of personal property. Under industrialism the majority of the people are deprived of personal control of their work, and such control is impossible without ownership.

What you do not own you cannot control. What you do not control you are not responsible for. If you are not responsible you cannot be either praised or blamed. Christian doctrine lays it down as a first principle that man has free will and is therefore a responsible person—master of his acts and the intended consequence of his acts. This doctrine is flouted and denied in our society. In all but name England is a servile State.

The irresponsibility of the workman is the first and easiest way in which to see our evil condition. It is the first because the exercise of work is the formal reason of individual appropriation. It is the easiest because the exercise of work is within the experience of all hut a small class of persons. But though it is the first reason the exercise of work is not the only reason of personal and private ownership. The second, and depending on the first, is the security and dignity of the family.

Insecurity and Perpetual Fear The proletarian is insecure; that is his first misery. He lives in perpetual fear. Thus all decency and dignity in human life are destroyed. " They do not know that they have renounced normal and natural respon

sibilities which even savages enjoy, they do not own their homes, their tools or the choice of trade; the power to bring up children and the means to keep their aged and infirm have been surrendered to a maligant bureaucracy . . . from revolution they hope to gain not more responsibility but (simply) a greater hold on the pipe line supposed to exist between ourselves and plenty."

Therefore it is that Pope Leo says: " The right to property must belong to a man in his capacity of head of a family." Thus and thus alone can the principle of responsibility be brought to bear not merely upon the works of our hands (which in any case will he " as straw " on the Last Day), but upon the fruit of our loins.

But ultimately the most important fruit of individual appropriation, of private property, is the exercise of charity. We are responsible persons, responsible for what we do and for what we make. To what end is this doing and making? The greatest happiness of the greatest number, says the politician (forgetting for the moment that he lives under the shadow of the, Whip); my own greatest happiness and enjoyment, says the individual (forgetting altogether that he is " standing in a perpetual queue waiting for a dole which is dependent for its coming on distant workers and an elaborate system of transport "); " that he may have something to give to him that suffers need," says the apostle; " to share them without hesitation," adds the Pope.

" Give "—the Key to the Problem

" Something to give "—that is the primary thought and the last word. In the word " give " we have the key to the whole problem. Whether it be the workman who must give himself for the good of the work to be done, or the parents who must provide for their children, or all of us who must live in lave and charity with our neighbours, in every case economic freedom is necessary to support and make materially effective the precepts of the Gospel.

Only upon this basis can a Christian society be built—a Christian society, that is to say a society of free men united in and by the love of Christ—free men. that Is to say Men who enjoy the ownership of land and workshops, who own not merely themselves but the means of production. For you cannot give what is another's. You cannot give yourself if you are a slave. A proletarian cannot even provide for the " proles" front whom he derives his. name. Organised State " charity" is no substitute for the love of our neighbours. " Faith without works is dead," but our works cannot be good works unless they are our own.

The discussion of the political means which must be employed to give effect to the demand for property and responsibility (should we succeed in reviving it) is not within the scope of this article. In any case the revival of workers' ownership, if it is to be a real, personal ownership and not a mere State capitalism, or bureaucratic socialism, must be gradual, as gradual indeed as the spread of a desire for it.

More Amusement—Less Babies

At the present time then: is hardly any desire for responsibility and, at the most, the only desire for ownership is a desire for an equitable share of industrial profits, for more money, shorter hours, more amusement and fewer babies. Among all classes, among the poor no less than the rich, the quantitative advantages of industrialism are held to outweigh all its evils and they cling desperately to the hope that the evils can be removed without loss of the pleasures and conveniences.

In these circumstances ownership is still the first necessity. It is futile to preach the Christian doctrine of responsibility to people who by the nature and conditions of their work can have none. " As malty as possible of the people should be induced to become owners,that is all that can be said at present—induced, persuaded, encouraged, helped — with this qualification: that it he understood that ownership means control and responsibility and not merely a share of the profits. An immediate return to small workshops is impossible; the first step must be that the workers gain, in whole or in part, a real ownership of existing industrial enterprises—the workers, those who do the work, of whatever grade, and not the anonymous and irresponsible investors of money.

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