The Character of Work
Having previously stated that the State must intervene where necessary to secure conditions proper to the well-being of the worker, Pope Leo rejects the notion that once the proprietor and the labourer agree upon the rate of wages, the proprietor need do no more.
We now approach a subject of great importance, and one in respect of which, if extremes are to be avoided, right notions are absolutely necessary. Wages, as we are told, are regulated by free consent, and therefore the employer, when he pays what was agreed upon, has done his part and seemingly is not called upon to do anything beyond.1
The attitude he describes ignores the character of work as an expression of one’s personality, additional to that of self-preservation. The proprietor has the upper hand in such negotiations, if there is no duty of the State to intervene, or if there is a lack of influence of subsidiary associations. Hence, ‘If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice’.2 ‘Remuneration should be such for a worker and his family to secure through reasonable thrift their own property’.3 Once one’s property has been secured through one’s own efforts then that ownership is sacrosanct, other than if it is being used to the detriment of the organic community. The State has no right of confiscation, and that includes expropriatory taxes.
The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.4
It is notable that here Leo introduces as an advantage to the securing of social justice and property within one’s homeland, that it would not necessitate migration, such as had struck Italy and Ireland particularly hard, for instance. ‘[M]en would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life’.5 As with the previous allusion by Leo for respecting the different laws of different races, here the Papal authority again rejects the global homogenisation of humanity.
Catholicism, while intrinsically a universal spiritual creed, is not a universal temporal creed, like Capitalism and Socialism. Again, the ‘Social Justice Warriors’ claiming to implement Church Social Doctrine are at odds with tradition; they are a modernist heresy. Yet this modernist heresy now goes to the top of the Church hierarchy, until Social Doctrine is rendered as a Socialist banality in the interests of globalisation: ‘The fact that he is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor the citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of women and men’, stated John XXIII in 1963 in the midst of Vatican II.6 There is a spiritual gulf between the outlook Leo and that of modernist Popes, in that traditional teaching regards attachment to one’s homeland as part of a sacred birth-right that should be maintained, while the modernists scramble to be in the forefront of open borders in the name of a nebulous ‘humanity’.
Subsidiary Organisation: Basis of the Organic Community
Leo concludes Rerum Novarum with discussion on subsidiary organisation as the basis of the organic community, on the premise that issues are best dealt with at the level most immediate to the individual(s) concerned rather by a centralised State bureaucracy. For example under subsidiary, unemployment insurance, and other welfare matters would be dealt with by one’s local organisation, such as a guild. The subsidiary character of Salazar’s Portugal for example meant that local trades organisations dealt with an array of matters from employment to sports.
While much of Rerum Novarum might give the impression of recommending ad hoc Church charity or placing the worker in a subordinate position under the guise of class ‘solidarity’, the foundation of the system relies on the return of subsidiary organs. Leo states: ‘In the last place, employers and workmen may of themselves effect much, in the matter We are treating, by means of such associations and organizations as afford opportune aid to those who are in distress, and which draw the two classes more closely together’. ‘Mutual aid’ association are recommended that comprise both employers and workers.7
Leo commends the unions, but it is evident that he desires these to return to the character of guilds, and not merely to exist in their inferior modern status as associations for class conflict. The modern union becomes a symptom of social pathology, whereas the guild was the foundation of the organic community. The unions become a reflection – like Socialism, of capitalism, as Spengler noted – scrambling after crumbs from the economic table; the guild was much more than an economic unit:
The most important of all are workingmen’s unions, for these virtually include all the rest.8 History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers’ guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age – an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient. We have spoken of them more than once, yet it will be well to explain here how notably they are needed, to show that they exist of their own right, and what should be their organization and their mode of action.9
Leo was acutely aware of the pathogenic character of Socialism, often arising from Freemasonry, that aimed at nothing other than to manipulate workmen for the destruction of faith, family, and homeland.10 Leo counselled Catholic workmen to form their own associations. He warned:
Associations of every kind, and especially those of working men, are now far more common than heretofore. As regards many of these there is no need at present to inquire whence they spring, what are their objects, or what the means they imply. Now, there is a good deal of evidence in favour of the opinion that many of these societies are in the hands of secret leaders, and are managed on principles ill-according with Christianity and the public well-being; and that they do their utmost to get within their grasp the whole field of labour, and force working men either to join them or to starve.11
The desire for association is an impulse that is basic to survival. Here Leo places social ethos above individual competition, where strength is had in mutual aid, not in ‘‘til the death’ competition, rationalised as a ‘scientific’ social-darwinism to justify social and economic excesses in the name of ‘natural law’ and social ‘evolution’, which sundry Protestant pastors taught as the ‘will of God’.
The consciousness of his own weakness urges man to call in aid from without. We read in the pages of holy Writ: ‘It is better that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society. If one fall he shall be supported by the other. Woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth he hath none to lift him up.’12And further: ‘A brother that is helped by his brother is like a strong city’.13 14
Leo affirmed the right of association in bodies independent of the State. Although the State oversees the social organism as a totality, as the brain co-ordinates the different organs with their differing functions in an organism, it is because organs have specialised functions in being part of the entire organism that they should be valued as a necessity by the higher authority, and not seen as in conflict. Leo was addressing the situation of his day, where the State and the bourgeoisie regarded unions as ‘the enemy’. Where an organ of the wider social organism is in ill-health, it is surely incumbent on the social organism to seek to restore that organism to the fullest possible vigour, unless it becomes so pathogenic that it needs purging from the body-politic. Leo drew again on Church lore to explain the organic nature of mutual aid and association:
These lesser societies and the larger society differ in many respects, because their immediate purpose and aim are different. Civil society exists for the common good, and hence is concerned with the interests of all in general, albeit with individual interests also in their due place and degree. It is therefore called a public society, because by its agency, as St. Thomas of Aquinas says, ‘Men establish relations in common with one another in the setting up of a commonwealth.’15 But societies which are formed in the bosom of the commonwealth are styled private, and rightly so, since their immediate purpose is the private advantage of the associates. ‘Now, a private society,’ says St. Thomas again, ‘is one which is formed for the purpose of carrying out private objects; as when two or three enter into partnership with the view of trading in common.’16 Private societies, then, although they exist within the body politic, and are severally part of the commonwealth, cannot nevertheless be absolutely, and as such, prohibited by public authority. For, to enter into a ‘society’ of this kind is the natural right of man; and the State has for its office to protect natural rights, not to destroy them; and, if it forbid its citizens to form associations, it contradicts the very principle of its own existence, for both they and it exist in virtue of the like principle, namely, the natural tendency of man to dwell in society.17
Leo concluded by urging all the clergy to work to assist these associations and the rightful aspirations of workmen. Leo pointed out that class solidarity (‘solidarism’) is as natural as the collaboration of all the organs in the healthy functioning of the whole body. That such an obvious analogy needed explaining indicated the dysfunction of the social organism that has proceeded since the Reformation. Although the Church herself succumbed, her traditional legacy provides a complete philosophy of the Right. There are still remnants that are particularly active in providing traditional and realistic answers to modern maladies.18
Pius XI commented that it is desirable that workers’ and employers’ associations combine in syndicates of the same trade and profession: ‘The associations, or corporations, are composed of delegates from the two syndicates (that is, of workers and employers) respectively of the same industry or profession and, as true and proper organs and institutions of the State, they direct the syndicates and coordinate their activities in matters of common interest toward one and the same end’.19 Pius XI commented that work has a social function which is not merely one of labour being sold as a commodity. Subsidiary associations need forming on the basis of mutual interests of both worker and proprietor as members of a social organ (an economic unit) which is itself a constituent of the wider social organism:
Labour, as Our Predecessor explained well in his Encyclical, is not a mere commodity. On the contrary, the worker’s human dignity in it must be recognized. It therefore cannot be bought and sold like a commodity. Nevertheless, as the situation now stands, hiring and offering for hire in the so-called labour market separate men into two divisions, as into battle lines, and the contest between these divisions turns the labour market itself almost into a battlefield where, face to face, the opposing lines struggle bitterly. Everyone understands that this grave evil which is plunging all human society to destruction must be remedied as soon as possible. But complete cure will not come until this opposition has been abolished and well-ordered members of the social body – Industries and Professions – are constituted in which men may have their place, not according to the position each has in the labour market but according to the respective social functions which each performs. For under nature’s guidance it comes to pass that just as those who are joined together by nearness of habitation establish towns, so those who follow the same industry or profession – whether in the economic or other field – form guilds or associations, so that many are wont to consider these self-governing organizations, if not essential, at least natural to civil society.20
Co-Operation or Competition?
Pius XI harkens back to an epoch prior to the ascendency of the bourgeois, when artisans, journeymen and apprentices, were parts of mutual associations that administered not only to the welfare of members, but that was ruled by an ethos of co-operation:
It is easily deduced from what has been said that the interests common to the whole Industry or Profession should hold first place in these guilds. The most important among these interests is to promote the cooperation in the highest degree of each industry and profession for the sake of the common good of the country. …21
Because order, as St. Thomas well explains,22is unity arising from the harmonious arrangement of many objects, a true, genuine social order demands that the various members of a society be united together by some strong bond. This unifying force is present not only in the producing of goods or the rendering of services – in which the employers and employees of an identical Industry or Profession collaborate jointly – but also in that common good, to achieve which all Industries and Professions together ought, each to the best of its ability, to cooperate amicably. And this unity will be the stronger and more effective, the more faithfully individuals and the Industries and Professions themselves strive to do their work and excel in it.23
The object of economy is to deliver sustenance, not to allow one element of the ‘common-wealth’ to compete for supremacy over another. Such economic competition is the product of the bourgeois epoch, and was not part of traditional society. Pius XI alludes to this: ‘Just as the unity of human society cannot be founded on an opposition of classes, so also the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces’.24 This is equally a rejection of Socialism and Manchester Liberalism. Competition is a modernist innovation.
Werner Sombart, the economist, wrote of traditional society that stating that one’s business or goods were better than those of others was regarded as ‘nefarious’. To undersell and price-cut was even worse, and worst of all to advertise. Such unethical practises started to appear during the mid-18th century. The ethical basis of traditional society was ‘fixed profits, a fixed livelihood, a fixed production and fixed prices’. An Ordinance in Paris in 1761 prohibited traders from running after one another; to quote: ‘trying to find customers, and above all, to distribute hand-bills calling attention to their wares’. ‘The theory of “just price” was an organic element’, writes Sombart. Price was as subject to religious and ethical principles ‘as everything else in economic life’. ‘It was to be such as to make for the common good, as well of the consumer as of the producer’. Sombart stated that the type of society in which such ethical considerations dominated economic life was one where ‘stability was its bulwark and tradition its guide. The individual never lost himself in the noise and whirl of business activity. He still had complete control of himself; he was not yet devoid of that native dignity, which does not make itself cheap for the sake of profit. Trade and commerce were everywhere carried on with a dash of personal pride’. 25
The traditional Social Doctrine does not require the repudiation of one’s homeland or race in the pursuit of a nebulous mass humanity. Defence of one’s homeland is referred to as a virtue. Moreover, Leo XIII stated that duty to one’s nation is analogous, albeit at a lower temporal level, to duty toward the Church, for which one must be prepared to fight:
If the natural law enjoins upon us to love devotedly and to defend the country that gave us birth, and in which we were brought up, so that every good citizen hesitates not to face death for his native land, very much more is it the urgent duty of Christians to be ever animated by like sentiments towards the Church. For the Church is the Holy City of the Living God, born of God Himself, and by Him built up and established. Therefore we are bound to love dearly the country whence we have received the means of enjoyment this mortal life affords, but we have a much more urgent obligation to love, with ardent love, the Church to which we owe the life of the soul, a life that will endure forever.26
There was recognition of differences between peoples that repudiates what is today called globalism. A baseless equality was rejected in favour of the recognition of differences within an organ ‘corporative’ or ‘syndical’ social order that recognises different functions as constituents of a social organism.
Despite his animosity towards the Church, Julius Evola wrote of the ‘organic state’ and other matters that are in accord with traditional Social Doctrine. He wrote of the antecedents, stating that, ‘The idea of the organic state was not born yesterday’. He stated that this needs recalling when the debate comes down to banalities about ‘fascism and antifascism’. Importantly, ‘the idea of the organic state is a traditional one, and thus we can say that every true State has always had a certain organic character’. A State is ‘organic’ when held by the ‘centre’, an axis, every part, even although autonomous, ‘by virtue of hierarchical participation … performs its own function, and enjoys an intimate connection with the whole’; the latter being ‘integral and spiritually unitary’, rather than by ‘a disorderly clash of interests’. Evola states that ‘organic and traditional are more or less synonymous terms’.27
So far from being a centralisation of power, a feature of ‘every organic system’ is ‘a relative pluralism and decentralisation’.28 This was the situation of ‘normal ‘societies to some extent, prior to Liberalism and Socialism. The totalitarianism of the Fascist states was a ‘counterfeit’ of the organic State.29 Here again his outlook is similar to that of Church doctrine, more closely followed by the states of Petain, Salazar and Dollfuss. For Evola, Fascism was an imposition that does not exist in organic States, which maintain the idea of what Church doctrine calls ‘subsidiary’ association, as we have seen.
An organic State ‘of a “superior character” maintains associations with multiple functions and autonomy – what both Evola and the Church recognised as maintaining personality above a nebulous mass. In an organic state one finds ‘both unity and multiplicity, gradation and hierarchy’; not the ‘formless mass typical of a totalitarian regime’.30 Leo emphasised that when he wrote of the ‘individual’ he was not endorsing ‘individualism’. Both Evola and Leo differentiated between ‘person’ and ‘individual’ when the latter word was referring individualism. Both identified liberalism as an attack on the ‘person’ in the name of individualism. Evola wrote that ‘the essence of liberalism is individualism. The basis of its error is to mistake the notion of the person with that of the individual and to claim for the latter, unconditionally and according to egalitarian premises, some values that should rather be solely attributed to the former, and then only conditionally’. 31 The modern state was an impersonal imposition of laws and bureaucracy.32 The traditional state allowed the individual to realise his ‘own nature and specific function’, characterised by the Classical saying ‘be yourself’. In the Classical view, according to Aristotle, Plato and Plotinus, the only institutions that are just are those that allow the person to realise ‘what is proper to himself’.33
Father Denis Fahey, more likely remembered among the Right for his book The Rulers of Russia, was a notable authority on Social Doctrine. On the difference between personality and liberal individualism, drawing on the authority of Thomas Aquinas, he commented:
It would greatly contribute to clearness of thought in regard to the questions involved in the reorganization of society and the establishment of order in the world, if the Thomistic distinction between personality and individuality were fully grasped and consistently kept in view. The neglect of either of these aspects of the whole truth, but especially of the former, leads to experiments that are disastrous for human happiness.34
Fahey cites Thomas Aquinas in regard to the fulfilment of the individual within the social organism:
For we see that a part by a natural inclination risks itself for the preservation of the whole, And because reason copies nature we find this action reproduced in virtuous social action. A good citizen will not hesitate to expose himself to the danger of death to save the State. And if the citizen were a native (or natural part) of the State in question, the inclination to make the sacrifice would be natural.35
It is notable that Aquinas does not shirk from affirming that defence of the organic State is one’s duty in the same sense that an organ at its own risk defends the organism.
The Church doctrine of ‘subsidiary’ association can be readily recognised in Evola’s description of the organic state. The ‘golden age of Scholasticism’, reviled today by progressive, liberal Catholics, upheld the social doctrine of ‘proper nature’, ‘within a socially organic and differentiated system’.36
The ‘absolute person’, in contrast to the atomised, standardised ‘individual’, was part of a political and social body that comprised ‘functional classes, corporations, or particular unities’. 37
The Church has succumbed to modernist pathogens like any social organism. It has sought favour by compromise, a democratic filling of pews by pandering. Leo counselled that the social, moral and spiritual decay he saw in modern life could be reversed by restoring the traditional ethos, adapted to the advances of technology. Pius X reiterated this, addressing the issue even then arising of what would today be called Liberation Theologians and liberal clergy adopting Socialist rhetoric:
In the maze of current opinions, these priests [dedicated to the works of Catholic Action] should not allow themselves to be led astray, attracted by the mirage of a false democracy. They should not borrow from the rhetoric of the worst enemies of the Church and of the people, high-flown phrases full of promises, as high-sounding as they are unattainable. They should be convinced that the social question and social science did not arise just yesterday; that the Church and the State, in harmonious accord, have always raised up fruitful organizations to attain this end; that the Church, which has never betrayed the happiness of the people by consenting to compromising alliances, does not need to free herself from her past.
All that she [the Church] must do is to retake, with the help of true workers for the social restoration, the organisms shattered by the Revolution, adapting them in the same Christian spirit that inspired them to the new environment created by the material development of today’s society. For the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries nor innovators, but traditionalists. 38
The premise is that certain values of the Church are eternal and above time. That also is surely the premise of the Right, and in perhaps all (?) primary respects the eternal values of the Church and the Right are in accord.
1Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (43).
2Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (45).
3Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (47).
4Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (47).
5Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, ibid.
6John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 1963, #25.
7Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (48).
8Leo was referring to various mutual aid associations for workmen, women, and children.
9Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (49).
10Leo addressed the issue of Freemasonry in Humanus Genus (1884).
11Leo, Rerum Novarum (54).
14Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (50).
15Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, Part 2, ch. 8 (Opera omnia, ed. Vives, Vol. 29, p. 16.
16Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, ibid.
17Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (51).
18Among the best are the Pilgrims of Saint Michael, founded in Quebec in 1939, considering Social Credit as the primary means for enacting Social Doctrine.
For his part the founder of Social Credit, Major C. H. Douglas, recognised the Church, as distinct from the Protestant denominations, as closest to the wider Social Credit ideology, not only in the matter of usury, but in the rights of ‘subsidiary’ association. See: Dr. Oliver Heydorn, The Economics of Social Credit & Catholic Social Teaching (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, 2014). Also, Heydorn, Lives of Our Own: Social Credit, Catholicism, & a Distributist Social Order, (2017).
19Pius XI, Quadragsegimo Anno (93).
20Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (83).
21Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (85).
22 St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles, III, 71; cf. Summa theological.
23Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (84).
24Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (88).
25Werner Sombart, The Jews & Modern Capitalism (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1982), pp. 124-126.
26Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter, Sapientiæ Christianiæ, On the Chief Duties of Christians as Citizens (1890).
27Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002), p. 149.
28Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins p. 150.
29Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins , ibid.
30Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 151.
31Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 133.
32Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 139.
33Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 138.
34Denis Fahey, The Mystical Body of Christ, p. 12.
35Thomas Aquinas, cited by Fahey, p. 13.
36Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 138. Evola states that Luther also upheld this doctrine.
37Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 140.
38Pius X, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, (1910).
Thank you for the excellent three part series on this topic. Can you recommend the writings of other distributists or those of other authors/writers on this subject?
Thanks Mr Thorn. Google: Australian League of Rights , and in your country Pilgrims of Saint Michael, for a lot of information on Social Credit. For the guild doctrine, and related ideas there are a lot of online items at: http://www.traditionalcatholic.co/free-catholicbooks/
Also, Google Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton; the most famous advocates of distributism.