Pius XI: Quadragesimo Anno

Critical Comments Selected by Gerald Darring

Commonweal (3 June 1931) 113-14. The voice of the Church, which is the voice of God, fills the whole earth, momentarily at least, through the words of Pope Pius. "And in a very real sense, it is the voice of the Father of the Poor that speaks." Over and over again the voice pleads for the humble multitudes of the toilers of the world. Those who are mainly responsible for the frightful evils that afflict the poor are arraigned before the high court of eternal justice, on behalf of 'working men, surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hard-heartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition.' Every word of the encyclical, summing up and advancing further the teachings of Leo XIII and his successors, is uttered in defense of the poor and of the weak.

Nation (3 June 1931) 597. "Communism the Pope calls the 'enemy of the Church and of God himself.' When one recalls the early Christians who were said to have held all their modest goods in common one is reminded anew that the Catholic church is a law unto itself."

America (13 June 1931) 221-22. The comment of the Chicago Journal of Commerce was ill tempered and illogical. It considers what the Pope said to be aid and comfort to the enemy, which means the Socialist party, the dole, government ownership, wage fixing and "other horrendous phenomena of this tottering and puzzling age." So it wonders whether after all "a church is within its proper sphere when it attempts to prescribe economic regulations," and it concludes: "It is not the business of any church to go so deeply into the practical application of the rules of justice." What would the Journal have said "if the Pope s message had been merely a standpatting, Pollyanna, all's-well-with-the-world sort of milk-and-water patting on the back of the industrial giants who have made a mess of things up to the present." It should not have expected that stand from one whose job it is to preach the Gospel and apply it to this world, not to the stars. "Does it not give pause to the editors of the Journal of Commerce and those whom they represent to reflect that the Pope in his commanding position surrounded by penetrating and able men of the world has surveyed our present social-economic structure and found it gravely wanting?"

John A. Ryan. Ecclesiastical Review (July 1931) 13-14. The Encyclical on Reconstructing the Social Order is not vague, remote, or academic. It realistically portrays both the evils of capitalism and the evils lurking in extreme proposals of reform. It combines a clear statement of principles with a detailed presentation of practical proposals. It faces all the facts and deals with the world of today in language which the world understands. It uses economic terminology when the subject under discussion is economic and it uses the language of ethics when moral questions are under consideration. No one can say that Pope Pius does not understand existing social and economic conditions or shrinks from proposing adequate remedies. "The Holy Father has given the world the most comprehensive, specific and adequate program of social reconstruction that we possess. Other programs may have been more detailed concerning one or other part of the problem, but none of them has been at once so fundamental, so well balanced, and so comprehensive."

Henry Somerville. Catholic World (November 1931) 221. "The Pope points the way to an organization of industry completely different from that which is known as Capitalism." He would replace the wage system with one of industrial partnership; he would raise every trade to the status of an organized, self-governing profession; he would limit both free competition and State regulation by having industrial guilds to be organs of regulation. He would replace the horizontal division of society between capital and labor with perpendicular divisions between industries organized as guilds, or to use the term chosen by the Pope, 'vocational groups,' but he would insist that these perpendicular divisions should be compatible with the necessary hierarchy in human affairs and with the functional unity of society as a whole.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1932). Quoted by George Q. Flynn, American Catholics and the Roosevelt Presidency, 1932-1936. Lexington, MA: 1968, p. 17. Quadragesimo Anno is "as radical as I am." It is "one of the greatest documents of modern times."

G. B. Donnelly. America (1933) 549-50. The super-giants control more than half the country's corporate wealth and they are widening their empire at such a rapid rate that by 1950 they will directly own 85 percent of our national wealth. Who controls the super-giants themselves? The answer to that question shows us the full force of the Pontiff's words. These 200 leading corporations are ruled by less than 2,000 men. In other words, half the corporate assets of the nation is subject to the super-giants, which are dominated by a few men who are largely members of the big banks. "When the reader recalls that this situation is paralleled to a large extent in Europe, he will comprehend the truth expressed by the Pope when he said that 'wealth is accumulated, immense power and despotic domination are concentrated in the hands of a few.'"

J. F. Thorning. Catholic Mind (1935) 22-23. The limited success of private schemes for installing a system of joint ownership and profit-sharing suggests the wisdom of the Holy Father in teaching that the desired objectives can only be secured by the economic organization of society as a whole. "The different forms of political government are organized; miracles of increased production and lowered costs have been effected because of business organization. It follows that the organization on social and economic lines is required to spare the population the evils of chaos and anarchy."

Virgil Michel, O.S.B. Christian Social Reconstruction (1937) 106. "The social regeneration championed in the Quadragesimo Anno must necessarily entail a change of heart from the un-Christian individualism of the past and present. Contrary to what some persons seem to hold, a reconstruction in the direction of a corporative order is primarily not at all a matter of setting up any definite kind of political or economic structure. These must rather be an outgrowth of the general attitude of mind and philosophy of life basic to the new social order. In a sense, the social order is prior to its expression in any form of political or economic machinery. That is why Pius XI emphasizes so strongly the moral aspects of the entire social question; and that is why he brings before our minds the spiritual and supernatural ideal of society, which we must try to realize proportionately in our natural social body."

Charles P. Bruehl. The Pope's Plan for Social Reconstruction (1939) 217-18. "It has been said that the portion dealing with the restoration of vocational groups constitutes the heart of the encyclical. This is true, for it is only a society vocationally organized which verifies the Catholic social ideal and renders permanent and effective whatever is done for social betterment. Until we have a Corporative State which organizes the social groups according to the function they perform and integrates them in a hierarchical whole the aim of which is the common good, there can be no cooperation, no real order, no genuine social service, no stability and no general prosperity which can be shared by all in varying degrees according to the dictates of justice."

Charles P. Bruehl. Homiletic and Pastoral Review (1939) 791. Pius XI made the guild idea "the heart of his program of reconstruction. It goes without saying that the medieval guild system in not simply to be revived, but that the principle of organization which it embodies must be adapted to the changed industrial situation of our days. Unquestionably much can be learned from the corporative organization of medieval industry, though, of course, no attempt must be made to impose on present-day production forms suited only to a more primitive stage of economic activity. Such rigidity is foreign to the papal program, which makes generous allowances for the requirements of an economy that has changed from small-scale to mass production."

Wilfrid Parsons. Thought (1942) 468-69. Much recent Catholic literature on the subject presents the vocational groups as if they were a new social invention which the Pope wishes to introduce into society as a means for social reconstruction. The Pope is not talking of the 'orders' as something new to be fashioned, but as something that already exists. "Whether they think of it or not, there is a common interest between all, employers and employed, who are engaged, each in his own way, in producing a certain commodity or rendering a certain service or practicing a certain profession, and hence there exists an order to which all of these jointly belong. What the Pope wants is, not that the 'orders' (vocational groups) be brought into existence, for they already exist, but that they be allowed to function as such." They cannot function as long as each order is divided down the middle according to 'classes,' by the part they play on the labor market. "If the classes are shorn of their present position in society, the orders can automatically come back into operation, as they once were, before the advent of capitalism."

Sister Edwin DeCourscy. Social Justice Review (1947) 152-53. The pope leaves the details of organizing vocational groups up to the people involved. "The important thing is that the groups provide the organic units for a hierarchical society, that they eliminate the class struggle by consolidating the two classes into one working for a common end, and that they give each person a secure place within the social organism on the basis of the type of work he performs for society."

Raymond J. Miller. Forty Years After (1947) 31-32. "While the Pope's ideal is not the cooperative commonwealth, and while practically it seems unlikely that big business will ever completely surrender to the cooperative movement, what does seem very possible is that the cooperative, if it goes far enough, will effect some kind of modification or reform of the abuses in the capitalistic system which may well end in the actual formation of the Pope's ideal, namely, the system of the 'orders' or Industries and Professions."

Joseph A. Schumpeter. "The March into Socialism." American Economic Review 40 (May 1950) 446-56; at p. 447. "A reorganization of society on the lines of the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, though presumably possible only in Catholic societies or in societies where the position of the Catholic church is sufficiently strong, no doubt provides an alternative to socialism that would avoid the 'omnipotent state.'"

Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J. Review of Social Economy (1951) 90-91. "The framework of a vocational organization, as visualized by the encyclical, is therefore delimited in the following way: 1. Organization of society as a whole, and of economic society as a part, from the bottom up, according to the principle of subsidiarity. 2. Neutrality toward the capitalist economic system, as a system in which the worker is not the owner of the means of production.... 3. Complete rejection of the capitalist class society, i.e., the society centering around monopolized labor markets.... 4. Acceptance of the principle of competition to the extent that competition does not lead to self-destruction but can maintain itself as a superior guiding principle, owing to appropriate institutions and, as far as necessary, measures against monopolistic power."

John C. Cort. Sign (1956) 54. "It is interesting to note that in this long letter of fifty-four pages (NCWC translation) only one page is devoted to an attack on Communism. Four pages are given over to a criticism of the more subtle heresies of socialism. But the remainder consists of criticism of the status quo as it existed in 1931 and of a thorough exposition of the reforms necessary to 'reconstruct' the status quo in line with Christian principles. This emphasis, in itself, carries a lesson for some of our latter-day prophets, particularly in the halls of Congress."

John F. Cronin. Catholic Mind (1956) 610. The strong emphasis in the encyclical is upon institutions. The elements of greed, avarice and lust for power are given due consideration, but the main stress is not upon individuals as such; it is upon the attitudes, customs, institutions and laws which affect people. "The pope sought to probe deeply into the basic elements of the existing social order, to pass moral judgment upon them and to suggest deep-rooted reforms so that socio-economic activities would be directed according to God's purpose in creating man and material goods. It is not enough to have men of good will; there must also be a framework of society which of its nature is in accord with God's law."

George G. Higgins. Catholic Mind (1956) 632. The encyclical program "is based upon the principle that an organized economic society is as natural and as necessary as an organized political society." An improperly organized political society leads to either anarchy or dictatorship. By the same token, an improperly organized economic society leads to either "uncontrolled competition (which is economic anarchy) on the one hand, or economic dictatorship (concentration of ownership and economic control) on the other."

Franz H. Mueller. The Church and the Social Question (1963) 114-15. Leo XIII had to deal with protecting workers from "the furies of the unfettered forces of competition," and there could be no question of reorganizing society. By the time of Pius XI, World War I, inflation, the false prosperity of the twenties, and the Great Depression had forced government intervention to gain in dimension and intensity. Even John Maynard Keynes was talking about the end of laissez faire and the need to focus on reorganizing society. "Keynes' expositions should convince even the most skeptical student of social Catholicism that the idea of a corporate reorganization of society was and is not a 'pipe dream' of Catholic medievalists."

Eugene G. Black, ed. Posture of Europe, 1815-1940 (1964) 669. "Pius XI, like Leo XIII before him, sought to extract what remained as morally safe social and economic doctrine from liberalism and socialism, and then to demonstrate that this was neither liberal nor socialist. The residue was error. The contention arises from divergent conceptions of society. Quadragesimo Anno was a cogent, practical response to the depression for those who wished to preserve their Catholic faith and survive in a hectic world. The emphasis on corporate theory was in the spirit of the age, whether the coming New Deal in the United States or the Fascist states of Europe."

John F. Cronin, S.S., and Harry W. Flannery. The Church and the Workingman. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1965, p. 61. "It was unfortunate that the very sound principles enunciated by Pius XI were often obscured by controversy over their meaning. Some read into them an endorsement of the corporate state, such as exists today in Portugal. Others interpreted them as authorizing extensive and detailed economic planning, of a type commonly associated with communist states. Yet the heart of these proposals does not involve techniques, but rather principles. It is a call for the utmost possible cooperation in economic society and the hope that suitable structures can be evolved to give this cooperation stability and permanence. Within the framework of these principles, individual nations and peoples will develop methods in accordance with their history and culture."

Richard L. Camp. The Papal Ideology of Social Reform (1969) 40. Pius demonstrated in his encyclical a marked ambivalence towards the society of his day. He was dissatisfied with it and criticized many of its features, and yet he defended it against its critics both on the extreme right and extreme left. "He thought it needed reconstruction to bring it closer to the society of the past but not so much as to alter basically its prevalent capitalist structure."

Benjamin Masse. America (1971) 559. Pius was aware of the vast changes in the free market economy that had occurred since Leo XIII wrote: the consolidation that had gone on in industry and the new power over markets that many modern corporations had achieved. His proposal for 'occupational groups,' which some regard as the distinctive feature of the encyclical, was an effort to make industry more democratic and more responsive to the general welfare and to present an alternative to state ownership and a government-dominated economy. "Before the Democratic Socialists of Western Europe awoke to the danger, the Pope saw the threat to liberty in a wedding of economic and political power."

J. Jennings. America (1971) 208. Pius XI thought that "free enterprise ultimately evolves into monopoly capitalism." His conclusions in Quadragesimo Anno about the state of the world's economic affairs were remarkable: "1) the system of free competition was incapable of either curbing or controlling itself, or of directing economic life; and 2) in the final analysis, the system was self-destructive."

Edward Duff, S.J. American Ecclesiastical Review (1971) 305. Among some people there was a "preoccupation with the notion of vocational groups, conceived as the form of a restructured social order in Quadragesimo Anno, a Depression document, and presented in the United States as 'The Pope's Plan.' Reflecting a stubborn affection for medieval models ... and the influence of the anti-capitalist, romantic reveries of Austrian and German theorists, the proposal was so ambiguous that it could be invoked to support conflicting social policies.... Others conceived of the future congeries of these professional groups as supplanting the State, which would presumably wither away after encouraging their formation and growth. Some even urged a constitutional amendment to incorporate the concept into the United States political system."

Christine E. Gudorf. Catholic Social Teaching on Liberation Themes (1981) 10. "Pius XI was the first pope to note that the character of capitalism had changed. In 1931 he observed that domination had replaced competition in the capitalist system. He saw the concentration of wealth and power as a natural result of allowing unrestrained competition. But despite his acute analysis of the concentration process, Pius XI placed the blame for this change for the worse not on any natural direction of the system of capitalism, but on the lack of moral restraint of the individuals concerned."

J. Derek Holmes. The Papacy in the Modern World, 1914-1978 (1981) 79. "Pius XI expanded and developed the social teaching of Leo XIII and tried to bring it up to date. Criticisms of socialism were accompanied with warnings against the excesses of capitalism and for the first time a Pope recommended the redistribution of national production, profit sharing and co-partnership of workers in industry. Pius XI proved more willing than his predecessor to contemplate the fundamental changes in the social and economic order, to dissociate himself from economic liberalism and to denounce contemporary abuses, particularly the unfair distribution of wealth and the exploitation of labor, the increasing concentration of power and the economic domination of the few."

Donal Dorr. Option for the Poor (1983) 67. Quadragesimo Anno has been seen by some as proposing an alternative to capitalism. It would seem more accurate to see the encyclical as establishing fundamental principles of social morality and concluding on the basis of these principles that we cannot accept socialism in any form or capitalism both in its basic ideological principle and it its actual historical development.

Peter Hebblethwaite. Religion and America (1983) 267. "Pius continued the line of Leo XIII. Catholic social doctrine is envisaged as a set of principles, enunciated by the Church (actually the pope), that if acted upon, could transform the world. Unfortunately, these principles had not been heeded, and consequently the world was in a mess. The approach to problems was moralistic and individualistic. There was no examination of the structuralist, built-in causes of modern problems. There was no attempt to interpret contemporary movements in the light of their Christian potential. Socialism was rejected out of hand. The result was that Catholics had to hive off into movements of their own."

J. Brian Benestad. Communio (1984) 378. "Pius XI very clearly states that the reconstruction and perfection of social order cannot be brought about without the practice of virtue. Pius XI is, of course, in favor of reforming institutions but has no expectation that they will work well or ever be established unless individuals are converted from various kinds of self seeking to a serious concern with virtue."

Manuel Velasquez. "Questions of Special Urgency," J. A. Dwyer, ed., Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1986, p. 181. "Pius XI introduced into the encyclical tradition for the first time a specific principle of economic distribution that took into account the rights of the poor laboring classes. Economic production, he wrote, requires the contribution of both the capital of the owner and the labor of the worker. Consequently, both must share equitably in the economic benefits of production."

Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J. "Economic Policy Issues in Roman Catholic Social Teaching" (1987) 18. "The central concern of Quadragesimo Anno was not a limited economic issue, but the problem of economic systems themselves, and Catholic social teaching moved in the direction of designing a fundamentally new type of economic organization even while it kept a critical eye on the system that was then emerging in fascist Italy."

Liam Ryan. Furrow (1991) 95. "It is difficult today to assess the relevance of the social teachings of Pius XI when totalitarianism is no longer a pressing issue. In the difficult world of the 1930s he attempted a radical solution to the social problem modeled on what seemed to be working in the Italy of his day. The fate of the corporatist-fascist model was sealed with the fate of Mussolini. In is significant that despite the apparent desire of Popes to present continuity of teaching, Pope John XXIII in Mater et Magistra (1961) is silent on the issue of subsidiary function and of vocational organization. A silence on something which thirty years earlier was so central to papal social teaching is indeed an eloquent silence."

Mary E. Hobgood. Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Theory (1991) 116-17. His analysis of the structural conflict between capital and labor saw them as warring armies, and yet Pius assumed the possibility of their cooperation. He placed fewer restrictions on unions than did Leo III, because he considered that social change would come not from the unions but from vocational groups that would cut across class structures. Pius endorsed these groups, which were modeled on the medieval guild system. They were used by the Italian state at that time and in varying degrees were revived in Austria, Portugal, and Spain in the 1930s as a right-wing reaction against democracy. These corporate groups would consist of both employers and employees of the same trade. "Despite Mussolini's utilization of a corporate model in creating a fascist state, Pius argued that similar corporate groups, rather than unions, would replace conflict with cooperation by joining capital and labor together."

Donal Dorr, The Social Justice Agenda (1991) 49. Pius recommended the corporatist or vocational system in rather vague general terms. The idea of the vocational organization of society was taken up enthusiastically by many Catholic social activists and it became a key element in Catholic social teaching during the 1930s and well into the 1940s. "Catholic leaders and theologians presented it as the blueprint for a socially just society. After World War II this whole approach began to be seen as quite unrealistic (partly because it seemed to some to be tinted with discredited fascist philosophy). Pope Pius XII still paid a kind of notional allegiance to the idea."

David J. O'Brien. John Coleman, ed. One Hundred Years of Catholic Social Thought (1991) 20. The encyclical's proposed Christian social order would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to implement in a pluralistic society. How could differing interest groups be persuaded to subordinate group interests to the general welfare, and who would define the specific requirements of the common good? The democratic answer of negotiation and compromise was incompatible with natural law and therefore unacceptable to the church, and so was the use of a powerful state, especially in non-Catholic hands. "So in the end the new system could only work if whole nations returned to the church, accepted its teachings and its sanctions, and automatically and freely accepted the demands of right reason. The Christian social order was the economic and social expression of the post-Vatican I ultramontane church." A non-Catholic majority would make it necessary to acquiesce in a single party, which would coordinate the various elements of the economy and integrate them into the political system. It was an ideology of counterattack and Catholic restoration. "It could and did inspire selfless devotion to a revolutionary cause; it could and it did attract deeply compassionate and committed churchmen all over the world, but it was a utopia, and a dangerous one."

George E. McCarthy and Royal W. Rhodes. Eclipse of Justice (1992) 166. "The contributions of Quadragesimo Anno can be seen in its insistence on a more direct, aggressive stance by the church in the sociopolitical realm; in this regard it has divested some of the otherworldly rhetoric of Rerum Novarum. Christian charity alone is not a sufficient solution.... there must be real structural change, if the church is to cease looking like merely an extension of the capitalistic order."

David J. O'Brien and Thomas A. Shannon. Catholic Social Thought (1992) 41. "On the whole, the project of Christianizing the modern social order had to be judged, at mid-century, a failure. The magnificent effort to construct a body of Catholic social teaching produced thinkers and documents that were insightful and powerful in perceiving and denouncing the evils of liberalism, capitalism, and democracy, but which could never transcend that critique to formulate a positive, attractive, and compelling alternative. Because they distanced the church from the worst features of the age, they could and did generate a pastoral approach that brought the church closer to the suffering poor, but they never succeeded in relating to the hopes and aspirations of the working class. For all its failings, liberalism had excited new hopes and aspirations among masses of ordinary people; the church seemed only to offer a return to a former age, which many knew instinctively had been neither secure nor happy for most people."