“Labour seeks… to vest in the free Irish nation all property rights as against the claims of the individual, with the end in view that the individual may be enriched by the Nation, and not by the spoiling of his fellows.”
– JAMES CONNOLLY, in the Workers’ Republic, April 8th, 1916
TO show that the mode of holding property under the Gaelic State was not, and hence that under the Workers’ Republic it will not be, in conflict with Catholic Ethics, as reactionaries declare, some quotations exhibiting the views of Catholic authorities on the Rights of Property will be interesting. The following are the leading principles of the most eminent Catholic writers:
- – Absolute community of possession, as theoretically advocated by doctrinaire Socialists, is opposed solely on the grounds that, human nature being frail, this system “would not work.” Thus we read: It is by no means right that here on earth fallen humanity should have all things in common, for the world would be turned into a desert, the way to fraud would be opened, and the good would have always the worse and the bad always the better, and the most effective means of destroying all peace would be established, …. Hence, such a community of goods could never benefit the state. – John de Repa, a Franciscan authority.
Even supposing it as a principle of positive law that “life must be lived in a state of polity” it does not forth-with follow that “therefore everyone must have separate possessions.” For peace could be observed even if all things were in common. Nor even if we presuppose the wickedness of those who live together is it a necessary consequence. Still, a distinction of property is decidedly in accord with a peaceful social life. – Duns Scotus, the eminent Irish Philosopher.
- – Complete communal ownership, however, is not regarded as morally wrong. Rather it is regarded as desirable were it only feasible. In monasteries, of course, it is actually practised. Thus: Community of goods is not impossible, especially among those who are well disciplined by the virtue of philanthropy that is, the common love of all; for love, of its own nature, is generous. – Albert the Great, the father of thirteenth-century Catholic Philosophy.
- – Division of property is needed by human nature in its present state, and such division draws its validity from the State, and not directly from Nature. Thus: Each field considered in itself cannot be looked upon as naturally belonging to one rather than to another. . . . Distinction of property is not inculcated by Nature. . . . The common claim upon things is traceable to the Natural Law, not because the Natural Law dictates that all things should be held in common, and nothing as belonging to any individual person, but because, according to the Natural Law, there is no distinction of possessions. Distinction of possessions comes by human convention. – St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of Catholic Philosophers.
- – It being the State which gives individuals authority to possess individually this or that field, this or that section of the world’s wealth, the State holds the right, for the public good, to re-adjust the property held by individuals. Thus: Just as the division of property at the beginning of historic time was made by the authority of the State, it is evident that the same authority is equally competent to reverse its decision, and return to its earlier social organisation. – St. Antonino.
- – Apart from the authority of the State “to arrange everything for the best advantage of the citizens” [St. Thomas], ownership has in its very nature limitations. Thus: The limitations of the right of Ownership arise partly from the nature-of the goods committed to our dominion, and partly from our own nature, which is that of a rational and social being, (a) We must not disregard the design of Providence concerning each thing. To destroy a thing out of mere caprice, with no purpose in view for oneself or for others is certainly to disregard its end. … (6) The moral law forbids us to use our possessions for purely selfish motives. Man is a social being, and must behave as such. . . . he possesses a superfluity, he will share with those who are in want of the bare necessities of life. – Cardinal Mercier’s ” MANUAL or SCHOLASTIC PHILOSOPHY.” Vol. II., p. 281. A man ought not to hold exterior things as his own, but as common to all, that he may portion them out readily to others in time of need. . . In urgent necessity a man may succour his need by taking the property of another, either openly or secretly, and this is not, properly speaking, theft. . . . A rich man does not act unlawfully if, making use of a possession which in the beginning was common, he also shares it with others; it is sinful for him to withhold the use of it from others. – St. Thomas Aquinas.
- – Summing up the social theory of the Catholic Ages, a modern Catholic writer says: They held . that private property . . . was entirely lawful ; that it was even necessary on account of certain evil conditions which otherwise would prevail ; that the State, however, had the right . . . for a just cause to transfer private property from one to another ; that it could, when the needs of its citizens so demanded . . . re-establish its earlier form of common ownership. – Bede Jarrett, O.P., M.A., in “MEDIEVAL SOCIALISM.” (Chapter on ” The Schoolmen”)
- – Pointing out that “many sound reformers” go under the name of Socialists, the standard English Catholic Manual of Political Economy offers a test by which a social theory hostile to Catholic tradition may be detected: As a practical test . . . perhaps the best is a man’s affection or aversion towards owners and holders of property. If … he desires to create, increase or strengthen a class of peasantry or yeomanry [terms of different value in Ireland and England we in Ireland would substitute the term small-holders], his Socialism is but nominal and innoxious; whereas hostility to small ownership is a sign that his Socialism is to be labelled real and dangerous. – C. S. Devas, ” POLITICAL ECONOMY.” [Stony-hurst Series.]
We submit that orthodox Catholic opinion, as summarised in these quotations, shows the aims of Irish-democracy to be both legitimate and laudable.
In the days when the Catholic Faith reigned unchallenged in Europe, the authorities laid down three important economic principles as the basis of social justice. Let us see them defined, and then ask whether the Capitalist Order or the constitution of the Workers’ Republic comes the nearer to Catholic economic ideals.
- – The “JUST PRICE.” The Canonists laid it down that goods must be sold, not at the price deter- mined by the need or resources of the buyer, but at the price fixed by their actual worth. Thus, if I buy ten shillings’ worth of raw material, and expend on it two hours of labour and something from my reserve of skill, I could sell the finished article, allowing for a reasonable profit above my expenditure in material, labour and skill, for, say, something between fifteen shillings and 1. This would be the just price! Now, suppose there are many artisans capable of the same work, and that only a small demand exists for their goods. A purchaser would not be allowed to trade on the hunger of one to buy his article below the “just price,” i.e., at cut prices that lower labour’s remuneration. On the other hand, if I should be the sole producer, and a buyer, urgently needing my article, should be willing to pay me 2 or 3 for it in his urgency, I would not be permitted thus to charge above the “just price.” It is obvious that this principle of the Just Price, if enforced, would completely cripple the Capitalistic Order, for it would end the possibility of competing on cheap labour, or taking advantage of human need to secure inflated profits and unworked-for dividends.
- – The ILLEGALITY OF USURY. The Canonists would not allow interest to be charged on money. Should I lend my small savings to a needy person, I could legitimately charge him a small sum to compensate me for the inconvenience that I may suffer. But this charge is not interest. The Capitalist who writes a cheque for 350,000 suffers no more inconvenience by the act than if it were a postal order for ten shillings. If the cheque is transferred from his bank to mine, his name disappears for the time from the Directors’ Reports of some mine at the back of the Andes Mountains, but he is not deprived of a single legitimate object of enjoyment. His capacity for consuming objects of enjoyment is limited, and reaches saturation long before his bank account runs into five figures. After that, increases in his banking account do not mean any increase in his legitimate happiness; they merely gratify his love of power over labour a pleasure not necessary to the con- summation of human happiness. It costs the rich man no more inconvenience to lend £100 than it would cost me to lend 100 shillings. If I charge 5s. for my inconvenience, the rich man has no right to charge more than 5s. too, despite the largeness of his loan. For him to charge more would be to seek profit out of dead gold instead of out of his own labour and pains. We see, then, that the old Catholic prohibition of interest on money did not restrict reasonable borrowing, but it prevented men from making figures work for them. It prevented the invisible accumulation of wealth. Capitalism clearly could not rise so long as this principle of the Catholic Ages ruled; nor could Capitalism survive if the principle were restored.
- – The DUTY OF ALMSGIVING. In the Catholic Ages, the relief of the poor was not a mere counsel. It was laid down as a duty. The State was not yet highly-enough organised on the Continent for State supervision of wealth distribution to prevail. More-over, wealth was itself in but a rudimentary stage, society being as yet not very complex. Poor people were easily recognised as such, and it was not necessary for relief to be more elaborate than the distribution of bread and clothes. There was no Congested District problem, no Blind Alley Employment difficulty. Yet the Canonists declared that the rich had no right to consume their wealth selfishly. Their duty towards their neighbour their duty of sharing out their own possessions if necessary was asserted to be an actual obligation.
Thus we see that the Canonists utterly denied that right of sovereignty over Property claimed by Capitalism to-day, and taught that the individual’s possessions were never so inviolable that the com- munity had no right over or claim upon them in certain circumstances. It cannot be doubted that the complex needs of the poor to-day present exactly those circumstances which, in the Canonists’ doctrine, gave the community the right to draw from the riches of the wealthy.
We submit (i.) that the Capitalist Order as we know it could never have arisen if Catholic economic teaching had not been departed from, and (ii.) that the Workers’ Republic is the only constitution among the many for which men are working which is in harmony with the principles of the Catholic Ages.