Page 4, 9th May 1941

9th May 1941
Page 4
Page 4, 9th May 1941 — The Function of The State

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Organisations: His Church, Federal Government
Locations: Washington


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The Function of The State

The Task Of The Christian Workers

OUBTLESS this most serious question demands the striving and work of others—we mean governments, employers, the rich, the workers themselves."

In the third and concluding section of the great " Workers' Charter " Pope Leo turns to those human agencies, who must combine their action with the divine action of the Church "ad cornponendum certamen." In the preceding article we have analysed the divine action of the Church as laid down by the Pope. We have now to consider what he teaches with regard to the action of the human agents.


TWO POINTS TO BE UNDERSTOOD RUT there are two very important points to be understood if we are to appreciate the Papal teaching. The first is that the Pope makes no distinction between Catholic and non-Catholic governments. He is legislating for the normal, and the normal is that the whole world should be Catholic. He is speaking as the " Father of the whole human race " in the name and by the authority of its creator. He is addressing not any particular form of government, but each and every government which is " conformable in its institutions to right reason and natural law." To rulers of Catholic nations his voice comes with Catholic authority, and we have the splendid examples of the present Portuguese State and Irish Free State and the lamented Austrian State deliberately and consciously framing their constitutions and legislation on the Papal principles.

The second point is even more important. What is to be our attitude towards State action and intervention? In one of his earliest phrased essays Peter Maurin expressed the point very well: " People go to Washington.

asking the Federal Government to solve their economic problems But the Federal Government

was never meant

to solve men's economic problems.

Thomas Jefferson says, • The less government there is the better it is.'

If the less government there is.

the better it is,

the best kind of government is self-government. If the best kind of government

is self-government, then the best kind of organization is self-organization. When the organizers try to organize the unorganized they often do it for the benefit of the organizers. The organizers don't organize themselves."

REJECTING INTRUSION OF STATE INTERFERENCE NOW the Pope has laid down the principle of ownership for ail: therefore he founds on the principle of responsibility, of selfgovernment and self-oiganization. That is why he is continually and constantly throughout the whole of the Rerum Novarum rejecting the intrusion of State interference advocated by those who reject the principle of ownership.

Take a few examples: The Socialists " bring State action into a

sphere not within its competence " or rather " pervert the duties of the State " (§ 3); " man precedes the State and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the sustenance of his body " (§ 7); " the family has at least equal rights with the State in the choice and pursuit of the things needful to its preservation and its just liberty. We say, at least equal rights; for inasmuch as the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea, as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the community, and founded more immediately on nature" (§ 10). " Parental authority can neither be abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself " (§ 11). " The State must not absorb the individual or the family; both should be allowed free action so far as is consistent with the. common good and the interests of others " (§ 28). " Let the State watch over these societies [Catholic associations for working-men] banded together for the exercise of their rights; but let it not thrust itself into their peculiar concerns and their organization; for things move and live by the spirit inspiring them, and may be killed by the rough grasp of a hand from without " (§ 41). Hence it is not surprising that when he comes to treat of State action the Pope should surround it with all the possible safeguards of the workers' right to a life of responsibility. Only when public peace is endangered. when family life is threatened. when there is a danger to morals, or to health, when unjust burdens are laid upon workers or they are degraded with conditions repugnant to their dignity as human beings—only then " there can be no question but that. within certain limits, it would be right to invoke the aid and authority of the law " (§ 29).

Sometimes we may be asked: " What is the Papal programme of social reform?" But the questioner usually supposes that we are bound to have a plart or proposal, which is to be imposed or thrust

upon the community by State political action. This again supposes that the questioner either denies or ignores the principle of ownership. It is precisely because the Pope founds on the principle of ownership for all: because he wishes a return made to responsibility of each normal man, who has been endowed by the creator with the gifts of reason and freewill, that there is no programme of Papal social reform in the usual political sense of the term.


THIS becomes clearer still in the concluding paragraphs of what the Pope has to say on State action. The culminating point of his

doctrine is on the Wage Question. Note that this question is treated twice. First in the section on the action of the Church, where it is laid down as the religious duty (" the Church teaches ") of the employer " to give everyone what is just." Secondly, in this section ort the action of the State.

" We now approach a subject of great importance, and one in respect of which, if extremes are to be avoided, right notions are absolutely necessaky." Now the Pope's method of approach is frequently misconceived. He is laying down the principles which must guide State policy, or in other words : " What test must be applied to each piece of social legislation?" Here is the test: " We have seen that this great labour question cannot he solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and ipviolable. The law, therefore, should favour ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the workers to become owners." Now this test immediately follows the sentence: " If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him comfortably to support his wife and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practise thrift; and he will not fail to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income." Then there follows the eloquent paragraph in which the Pope extols the good results of an ownership restored to the worker. " If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, etc." From this it is clear that the great regulative principle is ownership and the aim and goal of all social legislation is the restoration of ownership to the normal family. The road of ownership and responsibility is a harder road than that of socialized production either in its Communist or Nazi form. Neither does it include opium of a Leisure State, which advanced industrialized capitalism has to offer to its victims. " Those," says Leo, " who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment—they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present." And now we have reached Der Tag.

CHRISTIAN EMPLOYERS AND WORKERS IN the last and concluding section the Pope turns to the second of the human agencies, who can help to, heal the conflict. The employers and the workers are those immediately concerned, and it is in the principle of association either of both together or each class singly that the Pope points the way to peace. It may seem strange to us now after fifty years that the Pope had to defend the right of the workers to form Unions as a " natural right of man and the State is bound to protect natural rights, not to destroy them; to forbid its citizens to form unions is to contradict the very principle of its own existence: for both unions and the State exist in virtue of the like principle. namely, the natural tendency of man to dwell in society."

Having defended the principle, the Pope proceeds to give many wise rules for the government and organization of working-men's

associations. Naturally, he has Catholic countries most in view, and again he emphasises the ownership principle. " We lay it down as a general and lasting law. that working-men's associations should be so organized and governed as to furnish the best and most suitable means for attaining what is aimed at, that is to say, for helping each individual member to bettor his condition to the utmost in body, soul, and ownership." He asserts that to solve the question lies in the hands of Christian workers themselves, if they will form unions and choose wise guides. " Prejudice," says the Pope, " is mighty, and so is the greed of money; but if the sense of what is just and right be not deliberately stifled, their fellow-citizens are sure to be won over to a kindly feeling towards men whom they see to be in earnest as regards their work and who prefer so unmistakably right dealing to mere lucre, and the sacredness of duty to every other consideration." May we not see in our modern Young Christian Workers' movement a most hopeful step towards the fulfilment of the great Pope's dream. His !successor, Pius XI, who honoured him by writing another Encyclical as a commentary on the Rerum Novarum, said to the founder of the Young Christian Workers that the greatest scandal of the nineteenth century was the loss of the workers to Christ and

His Church. Stolen property must be restored : scandal must be repaired. That is the sacred law of morals. One of the means to repair the scandal is to read. study, meditate, and put in practice the

teachings and commands of the Rerum Novarum. Leo's Charter needs no high-sounding words of praise. Its praise is in the Quadragesimo Anno. What it demands and expects is loyal obedience. If the four preceding articles have recalled the readers of this journal

to a sense of their duty, the fiftieth anniversary will be a commemoration of reality.

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