Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sound familiar?

"That the spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics is not surprising. ...  The momentous gravity of the state of things now obtaining fills every mind with painful apprehension; wise men are discussing it; practical men are proposing schemes; popular meetings, legislatures, and rulers of nations are all busied with it -- actually there is no question which has taken a deeper hold on the public mind."

 "To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies."

"They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy."

"But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community."

Like so many other things that people think are new, been there, done that.  Saw what would happen if certain fundamental concepts were ignored.  

By 1891, which is when the quoted words were written,  the Industrial Revolution had radically affected Western society.  Immense prosperity had been gained, but often at appalling cost to workers:  long hours, little pay, and dangerous working conditions were not unusual.  Unrest had been growing throughout the second half of the 19th century as people sought some way to protect themselves and to obtain equitable and just conditions for themselves and so for the families they were often struggling to support.  It was clear to many that "there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion."

Unions were forming and dissolving.  Marxist socialist groups were also rallying workers, with demands that all be distributed evenly.   The taking from one who has been deemed to have too much in order to give to one who is thought to have too little ignores a basic fact:
"It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own ... Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life."
The document quoted from is an encyclical titled Rerum Novarum, released by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891.  The full text can be read here.  I've chopped and rearranged, but reading the full document in the context of both that time and this one is very interesting, because we are increasingly seeing the predicted playing out of something that is condemned in the document:  over-reaching governments that have attempted to redistribute wealth by over-taxation of the productive part of the population are seeing increasing violence, destabilization, and the collapse of the socialist structures they have built.

It's our job as individuals to take care of the needy in our communities, not fob it off on some faceless, amorphous entity called "the government", i.e., "Let the government do it."  Governments have proved fiducially irresponsible in such things, and encouraging  government to take what rightly belongs to a person and misuse it is piling wrong upon wrong, depriving communities of the funds that they could more wisely use because they know their own needs better.  Separating charity from the idea of the worth of every individual in the sight of God has left generations without a concept of their own self-worth or the worth of others.  It has led to the development of a deeply entrenched entitlement mentality that has forgotten the joy of being grateful and so only knows the unfulfillable desire of "I want."  The end result of that is now being seen in the viciousness of mobs of teens that are repeatedly appearing in U.S. cities and the rioting and destruction erupting in Europe.

A hundred years ago Leo wrote of the great need of society to care for its poor.  At the same time he saw how evil class warfare is, and how destructive to society the use of it to manipulate people would be.  But people still haven't caught on.  We've been here.  We've been warned what would happen if we did this. If we don't fix this soon we don't deserve the t-shirt.


  1. Great post! Pope Leo was definitely right...sigh

  2. "It has led to the development of a deeply entrenched entitlement mentality that has forgotten the joy of being grateful and so only knows the unfulfillable desire of "I want." "

    I'm not so sure the problem is "I want" anymore as it is an entrenched attitude of "It's my right" and "You owe me" over an underlying mindset of "It's not my fault"... an attitude that seems to be more and more supported by the current government - although this group can't hold all the fault.

    "The end result of that is now being seen in the viciousness of mobs of teens that are repeatedly appearing in U.S. cities and the rioting and destruction erupting in Europe."

    I'm afraid it's going to get much worse...

    Nice presentation. I wish it weren't any more than a discussion of a historical movement instead of something relevant to current affairs.


  3. Thanks, guys.

    @Quizikle - Absolutely right about entrenched attitudes. I use "I want" as the catch all phrase because it represents all the unfulfillable desires that ignoring certain immutable facts about humans will cause but never fix.

    Unfortunately, the fault stretches back many years and includes us. It's been easy to sit back and be fat, dumb, and happy while we slid into this.

    My daughter, who lives in Baltimore, has asked her boyfriend if she can take one of his shotguns home with her because she sees things deteriorating around her. I think it's going to get much worse, too.