17 Responses to Pius XI on Catholic Social Teaching

  • The importance of getting to know and applying Catholic social teaching for Pius could not have been more clear or urgent. It is not a list of polite suggestions – it is guide for Catholic behavior in the economic sphere, whether they are workers, employers, government officials, or any other role. It cannot be acknowledged and then tucked away somewhere while Catholics return to the “real business” of work and management.

    One of the things that struck me in Quadragesimo Anno was when Pius reflects on the failure of associations of business owners and managers to materialize.

    Now, more activist types might be thinking, “Why would we want the owners to organize, they’re part of the problem,” but it seems to me that a “pro-business” organization for Catholic businessmen which placed a large emphasis on the duties, responsibilities and ideals which a Catholic business owner should have could actually be a significant source of good — not only for the owners themselves but for their workers, customers, and other businesses they interact with.

  • Blackadder says:

    If it’s true that “‘liberal economics’ are to blame for creating not only the material but moral conditions under which Communism became so palpable to the working class” then we would expect support for Communism among the working classes to be strongest in areas where liberal economics was most thoroughly adopted, and weakest where it held the least sway.

    In actuality, however, almost the opposite is true. Classical liberal economics held sway most strongly in the United States, was slightly weaker in the rest of the Anglosphere, was considerably weaker on the Continent and had little to no power in places like Russia, China, etc. When it comes to support for Communism by workers, by contrast, the story is exactly the reverse. One might almost be tempted to conclude that exposure to liberal economics tended to make the working classes less likely to support Communism (perhaps because it delivered many of the things the Communists only promised).

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Well, that is a plausible argument, BA, but at the same time Pius – and I – are also considering it as a global system.

    I realize, for instance, that there are still great debates over what really caused the Great Depression. But plenty of people, academic and lay, put some or all of the blame on ‘liberal economics’. What happens in the most developed countries affects what happens in all of the other countries, regardless of the degree to which they are liberalized.

  • Blackadder says:

    I’m familiar with the argument that the Great Depression led to the rise of fascism; that it led to the rise of Communism is a harder case to make. The Soviet Union was already around prior to 1929, and other Communist countries (China, Cuba, etc.) didn’t go Red until the Depression was long over. The best you could say was that support for Communist parties temporarily increased due to the Depression, though this effect was less strong the more liberal the country.

    And mind you, that’s if we assume liberal economics were to blame for the Great Depression, something you yourself admit is far from clear.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “The best you could say was that support for Communist parties temporarily increased due to the Depression, though this effect was less strong the more liberal the country.”

    Well, you have to remember too that the rise of fascism was directly tied to the rise of communism. Hitler did not make a mostly anti-Semitic appeal at first, but an anti-Bolshevik appeal.

    It is because of the threat of communism due to the increase strains put on society by the Depression that many people turned to fascism.

    One could also argue that aside from degrees of liberalism, there were also degrees of imperialism that separated the ‘Anglosphere’ from the Continent and Asia – Britain and France had been able to expand outward for centuries, arguably mitigating internal tensions to some degree, the US had only recently finished spanning a continent and was already involved in its own imperial ventures overseas.

    Meanwhile Germany and Italy were only recently unified and trying to acquire what their neighbors had acquired over hundreds of years in the span of a few decades, while China and most of Asia were dominated by Western imperialism.

    Russia and Spain are the odd cases – what Lenin and Trotsky would call the “weak links” of world capitalism at the time of their revolutions. Both were once mighty empires that suffered prolonged declines and sank into backwardness.

  • Art Deco says:

    while China and most of Asia were dominated by Western imperialism.

    China was not, during the inter-war period, ‘dominated by western imperialism’. The more northerly areas were ruled by provincial warlords and the more southerly portions by the Kuomintang, with the more peripheral areas detached from central authority. The ‘spheres of influence’ erected by several external powers in the latter 19th century were dismantled after 1900; no part of the country was ever a formal dependency of any European power.

  • Blackadder says:

    It is because of the threat of communism due to the increase strains put on society by the Depression that many people turned to fascism.

    Maybe so, maybe not, but this doesn’t really address the question of whether liberal economics leads workers to support Communism.

    One could also argue that aside from degrees of liberalism, there were also degrees of imperialism that separated the ‘Anglosphere’ from the Continent and Asia – Britain and France had been able to expand outward for centuries, arguably mitigating internal tensions to some degree, the US had only recently finished spanning a continent and was already involved in its own imperial ventures overseas.

    This wouldn’t explain why Communism and communist ideas were less popular in Britain than in France, and less popular in the U.S. than in either. Or take Switzerland. Liberalism was fairly strongly there during the 19th and early 20th century. It had no empire, nor did it have a vast continent in which to expand. Can we therefore assume that support for Communism was extremely high in Switzerland? No.

  • Blackadder says:

    One other thing. Maybe resentment against western imperialism led people in Asia to support Communism, and maybe not. But if it did, then to the extent that it did you can’t really blame that on liberal economics. Whatever you might say about imperialism, it wasn’t an example of liberal economics in action.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “But if it did, then to the extent that it did you can’t really blame that on liberal economics. Whatever you might say about imperialism, it wasn’t an example of liberal economics in action.”

    Well how is it that the same country that gave birth to liberal economics also created the largest empire in modern history? Or that the country that arguably best embodied those principles engaged in imperialist expansion across an entire continent?

    You say it wouldn’t explain – I do think there is a correlation. Communist ideas seem to be less popular in countries with greater empires. Britain’s empire was greater than France’s.

    In other words, I think Lenin’s theory of imperialism is right about one thing – that the profits of empire play a role in mitigating class tension domestically. Even the prospect of territorial expansion, sans any financial imperialism, can do so by opening up opportunities for colonization.

    I won’t make any definite statements about causation, but there is a co-incidence between liberal economics, large empires, and a weaker communist movement.

    But as you rightly point out, examples like Switzerland demand that we take other historical and cultural factors into account. I don’t know enough about their economic system to say much about it, but I do know that cultural homogeneity is also a very strong factor. So the coincidence may only be relevant among larger states.

  • Blackadder says:

    Communist ideas seem to be less popular in countries with greater empires. Britain’s empire was greater than France’s.

    Russia’s empire was a lot bigger than Switzerland’s. Ditto China’s.

    We’ve been through the problems with Lenin’s imperialism theory before. The math just doesn’t add up.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Right, but those “empires” were also extremely underdeveloped. You couldn’t call them financial empires – at best they were territorial empires at the mercy of Western imperialism.

  • Theories are a dime-a-dozen, but a few thoughts:

    - While it’s true that Britain had one of the most extensive empires, it strikes me that their wealth had more to do with the fact that they came to totally dominate world trade (with the French, Dutch and Americans making a fair amount of wealth via their trading operations). By comparison, the Portuguese and Spanish had massive empires that focused on extraction rather than trade, and did not attain nearly as much lasting wealth (nor did they leave behind growth of stability.)

    - One major factor in staving off communism may simply have been a history of political stability and an absence of political violence. England, Switzerland, Belgium and the Nordic countries had maintained relatively stable polities for some time. France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia and China had all endured varying degrees of instability over the 19th century. This probably made the violent mass movements of either Fascism or Communism more attractive and natural.

    - While it’s hard to clearly rank this kind of thing, the countries of central and eastern Europe (and Asia) had societies that allowed for less social mobility, allowing for stronger development of class consciousness.

  • Art Deco says:

    By 1932, Germany had both a vigorous Communist movement and a vigorous fascist movement. Finland had a vigorous communist movement during the years running from 1919 to 1932 and then a vigorous fascist movement from 1930 to about 1937. As far as I am aware, these are the only two European countries which manifest Joe Hargrave’s posited sequence of challenge-and-response. The Fascist regime in Italy was erected at a time (1922-25) when communism was quite novel; the authoritarian regimes in Austria, Portugal, and Spain were erected from political movements and strains of thought that antedated inter-war fascism; fascist parties in France (which had a vigorous Communist Party) were quite marginal and the Communist Party in Roumania (which had a vigorous fascist movement) quite inconsequential.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Art,

    It would be a mistake in my opinion to underestimate the extent of the fascist response to communism. Mussolini was most certainly responding to both liberalism and communism through the establishment of fascism – his political writings declare as much.

    As for Eastern Europe, and for all of the other countries that supported Hitler, the fight against communism was bound up with the fight against the USSR, if not their own homegrown communist movements.

    Then of course there was Franco – though not exactly a fascist, definitely authoritarian. That was a direct response to communism and anarcho-communism/syndicalism in Spain.

  • Art Deco says:

    Joe,

    Germany’s allies during the Second World War included Finland, Hungary, Roumania, Bulgaria as well as several nominally sovereign satrapies (Slovakia, Croatia). They were constrained by geography and had balance-of-power politics and abiding political goals as part of their motivation. Bulgaria refused quite directly to declare war on Soviet Russia and made use of various strategems to protect its domestic Jewish population.

    In Spain, the Communist Party was (bar the Gallegan autonomists) about the least consequential component of the assemblage of parties defending the Republic before the war. The activities of the bourgeois-republican parties (Manuel Azana, &c.) and the anarcho-syndicalist unions and the masonic lodges in the military were quite provoctive enough.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Art,

    When Pius XI was condemning communism, he was also condemning the same materialist philosophy that animated anarchism and radical left republicanism as well. “Bolshevism” was the most popular and dangerous ideology, but it shared quite a bit in common with its left cousins.

  • Blackadder says:

    Joe,

    Let me see if I can make my point more clear.

    You say that the practice of Liberalism leads to support for Communism. Problem: Liberalism (in its classical sense) and support for Communism are inversely correlated. The more you have of the one, the less you have of the other.

    Your response, as I understand it, is that Liberal countries turned to imperialism as a means of avoiding the ill effects of Liberalism that lead people to Communism. Problem: as you yourself admit, this isn’t true for smaller countries. If Liberalism led to support for Communism, and it was only imperialism that obscured this fact in the big countries, then support for Communism should be strong in the smaller more liberal countries, but it’s not. You find the same inverse relationship between Liberalism and Communism in small countries as in big ones.

    At this point in the argument, you invoke unnamed historical and cultural factors that might explain this. Since these factors aren’t spelled out, it’s impossible to evaluate how plausible a theory this is. However, it doesn’t really matter for our purposes, because if cultural and historical factors lead some people to embrace Liberalism and these same factors lead them to oppose Communism, then it can’t really be the case that Liberalism leads to support for Communism.

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