Saturday, August 21, 2010

the servile state and rerum novarum

Hilaire Belloc’s book, The Servile State, is heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching. Yesterday I came across this section of the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. In this famous encyclical the pope addressed many of the competing socio-economic theories of the day. The Church did not fully support capitalism or socialism or communism, but did recognize the valuable ideas that each of these theories contained. Here the pope explains the importance of private property and the ability for self-sustaining agriculture, themes which come up continually in distributist writings. Like Belloc, the pope is stressing the need for a wide distribution of private property, which is in stark contrast to capitalism which tends to concentrate property in the hands of a few. The Church has a reputation for being behind the times, but over a century later it’s clear that Rerum Novarum was in fact ahead of its time:

“For man, fathoming by his faculty of reason matters without number, linking the future with the present, and being master of his own acts, guides his ways under the eternal law and the power of God, whose providence governs all things. Wherefore, it is in his power to exercise his choice not only as to matters that regard his present welfare, but also about those which he deems may be for his advantage in time yet to come. Hence, man not only should possess the fruits of the earth, but also the very soil, inasmuch as from the produce of the earth he has to lay by provision for the future. Man’s needs do not die out, but forever recur; although satisfied today, they demand fresh supplies for tomorrow. Nature accordingly must have given to man a source that is stable and remaining always with him, from which he might look to draw continual supplies. And this stable condition of things he finds solely in the earth and its fruits. There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.”

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