"It seems to us that your Holiness misses its real significance in intimating that Christ, in becoming the son of a carpenter and himself working as a carpenter, showed merely that 'there is nothing to be ashamed of in seeking one's bread by labor.' To say that is almost like saying that by not robbing people he showed that there is nothing to be ashamed of in honesty. If you will consider how true in any large view is the classification of all men into workingmen, beggarmen and thieves, you will see that it was morally impossible that Christ, during his stay on earth, should have been anything else than a workingman, since he who came to fulfil the law must by deed as well as word obey God's law of labor.
"See how fully and how beautifully Christ's life on earth illustrated this law. Entering our earthly life in the weakness of infancy, as it is appointed that all should enter it, He lovingly took what in the natural order is lovingly rendered, the sustenance, secured by labor, that one generation owes to its immediate successors. Arrived at maturity he earned his own subsistence by that common labor in which the majority of men must and do earn it. Then passing to a higher--to the very highest--sphere of labor, he earned his subsistence by the teaching of moral and spiritual truths, receiving its material wages in the love offerings of grateful hearers, and not refusing the costly spikenard with which Mary anointed his feet. So, when he chose his disciples, he did not go to land owners or other monopolists who live on the labor of others, but to common laboring men. And when he called them to a higher sphere of labor and sent them out to teach moral and spiritual truths, he told them to take, without condescension on the one hand, or sense of degradation on the other, the loving return for such labor,
saying to them that the 'laborer is worthy of his hire,' thus showing, what we hold, that all labor does not consist in what is called manual labor, but that whoever helps to add to the material, intellectual, moral or spiritual fulness of life is also a laborer.
"In assuming that laborers, even ordinary manual laborers, are naturally poor, you ignore the fact that labor is the producer of wealth, and attribute to the natural law of the Creator an injustice that comes from man's impious violation of his benevolent intention. In the rudest state of the arts it is possible, where justice prevails, for all well men to earn a living. With the labor-saving appliances of our time it should be possible for all to earn much more. And so, in saying that poverty is no disgrace, you convey an unreasonable implication. For poverty ought to be a disgrace, because in a condition of social justice, it would, where unimposed by unavoidable misfortune, imply recklessness or laziness.
"The sympathy of your Holiness seems exclusively directed to the poor, the workers. Ought this to be so? Are not rich idlers to be pitied also? By the word of the Gospel it is the rich rather than the poor who call for pity. And to any one who believes in a future life, the condition of him who wakes to find his cherished millions left behind must seem pitiful. But even in this life, how really pitiable are the rich. The evil is not in wealth in itself--in its command over material
things; it is in the possession of wealth while others are steeped in poverty; in being raised above touch with the life of humanity, from its work and its struggles, its hopes and its fears, and above all, from the love that sweetens life, and the kindly sympathies and generous acts that strengthen faith in man and trust in God. Consider how the rich see the meaner side of human nature; how they are surrounded by flatterers and sycophants; how they find ready instruments not only to gratify vicious impulses, but to prompt and stimulate them; how they must constantly be on guard lest they be swindled; how often they must suspect an ulterior motive behind kindly deed or friendly word; how if they try to be generous they are beset by shameless beggars and scheming impostors; how often the family affections are chilled for them, and their deaths anticipated with the ill-concealed joy of expectant possession. The worst evil of poverty is not in the want of material things, but in the stunting and distortion of the higher qualities. So, though in another way, the possession of unearned wealth likewise stunts and distorts what is noblest in man.
"God's commands cannot be evaded with impunity. If it be God's command that men shall earn their bread by labor, the idle rich must suffer. And they do. See the utter vacancy of the lives of those who live for pleasure; see the loathsome vices bred in a class who, surrounded by poverty, are sated with wealth. See that terrible punishment of ennui of which the poor know so little that they cannot understand it; see the pessimism that grows among the wealthy classes--that shuts out God, that despises men, that deems existence in itself an evil, and fearing death yet longs for annihilation.
"When Christ told the rich young man who sought him to sell all he had and to give it to the poor, he was not thinking of the poor, but of the young man. And I doubt not that among the rich, and especially among the self-made rich, there are many who at times, at least, feel keenly the folly of their riches and fear for the dangers and temptations to which these expose their children. But the strength of long habit, the promptings of pride, the excitement of making and holding what has become for them the counters in a game of cards, the family expectations that have assumed
the character of rights, and the real difficulty they find in making any good use of their wealth, bind them to their burden, like a weary donkey to his pack, till they stumble on the precipice that bounds this life.
"Men who are sure of getting food when they shall need it eat only what appetite dictates. But with the sparse tribes who exist on the verge of the habitable globe, life is either a famine or a feast. Enduring hunger for days, the fear of it prompts them to gorge like anacondas when successful in their quest of game. And so, what gives wealth its curse is what drives men to seek it, what makes it so envied and admired --the fear of want. As the unduly rich are the corollary of the unduly poor, so is the soul-destroying quality of riches but the reflex of the want that imbrutes and degrades. The real evil lies in the injustice from which unnatural possession and unnatural deprivation both spring.
"But this injustice can hardly be charged on individuals or classes. The existence of private property in land is a great social wrong from which society at large suffers, and of which the very rich and the very poor are alike victims, though at the opposite extremes. Seeing this, it seems to us like a violation of Christian charity to speak of the rich as though they individually were responsible for the sufferings of the poor. Yet, while you do this, you insist that the cause of monstrous wealth and degrading poverty shall not be touched. Here is a man with a disfiguring and dangerous excrescence. One physician would kindly, gently, but firmly remove it. Another insists that it shall not be removed, but at the same time holds up the poor victim to hatred and ridicule. Which is right?
"In seeking to restore all men to their equal and natural rights we do not seek the benefit of any class, but of all. For we both know by faith and see by fact that injustice can profit no one and that justice must benefit all.
"Nor do we seek any 'futile and ridiculous equality.'... The equality we would bring about is not the equality of fortune, but the equality of natural opportunity...
"And in taking for the uses of society what we clearly see is the great fund intended for society in the divine order, we would not levy the slightest tax on the possessors of wealth, no matter how rich they might be. Not only do we deem
such taxes a violation of the right of property, but we see that by virtue of beautiful adaptations in the economic laws of the Creator it is impossible for any one honestly to acquire wealth, without at the same time adding to the wealth of the world...
"Your Holiness in the Encyclical gives an example of this. Denying the equality of right to the material basis of life, and yet conscious that there is a right to live, you assert the right of laborers to employment, and their right to receive from their employers a certain indefinite wage. No such rights exist. No one has a right to demand employment of another, or to demand higher wages than the other is willing to give, or in any way to put pressure on another to make him raise such wages against his will. There can be no better moral justification for such demands on employers by workingmen than there would be for employers to demand that workingmen shall be compelled to work for them when they do not want to and to accept wages lower than they are willing to take. Any seeming justification springs from a prior wrong, the denial to workingmen of their natural rights...
"Christ justified David, who when pressed by hunger committed what ordinarily would be sacrilege, by taking from the temple the loaves of proposition. But in this he was far from saying that the robbing of temples was a proper way of getting a living.
"In the Encyclical, however, you commend the application to the ordinary relations of life, under normal conditions, of principles that in ethics are only to be tolerated under extraordinary conditions. You are driven to this assertion of false rights by your denial of true rights. The natural right which each man has is not that of demanding employment or wages from another man; but that of employing himself--that of applying by his own labor to the inexhaustible storehouse which the Creator has in the land provided for all men. Were that storehouse open, as by the single tax we would open it, the natural demand for labor would keep pace with the supply, the man who sold labor and the man who bought it would become free exchangers for mutual advantage, and all cause for dispute between workman and employer would be gone. For then, all being
free to employ themselves, the mere opportunity to labor would cease to seem a boon; and since no one would work for another for less, all things considered, than he could earn by working for himself, wages would necessarily rise to their full value, and the relations of workman and employer be regulated by mutual interest and convenience.
"This is the only way in which they can be satisfactorily regulated.
"Your Holiness seems to assume that there is some just rate of wages that employers ought to be willing to pay and that laborers should be content to receive, and to imagine that if this were secured there would be an end of strife. This rate you evidently think of as that which will give workingmen a frugal living, and perhaps enable them by hard work and strict economy to lay by a little something.
"But how can a just rate of wages be fixed without the 'higgling of the market' any more than the just price of corn or pigs or ships or paintings can be so fixed? And would not arbitrary regulation in the one case as in the other check that interplay that most effectively promotes the economical adjustment of productive forces? Why should buyers of labor any more than buyers of commodities, be called on to pay higher prices than in a free market they are compelled to pay? Why should the sellers of labor be content with anything less than in a free market they can obtain? Why should workingmen be content with frugal fare when the world is so rich? Why should they be satisfied with a lifetime of toil and stinting, when the world is so bountiful? Why should not they also desire to gratify the higher instincts, the finer tastes? Why should they be forever content to travel in the steerage when others find the cabin more enjoyable?
"Nor will they. The ferment of our time does not arise merely from the fact that workingmen find it harder to live on the same scale of comfort. It is also, and perhaps still more largely, due to the increase of their desires with an improved scale of comfort. This increase of desire must continue; for workingmen are men, and man is the unsatisfied animal.
"He is not an ox, of whom it may be said, so much grass, so much grain, so much water, and a little salt, and he will
be content. On the contrary, the more man gets the more he craves. When he has enough food, then he wants better food. When he gets a shelter, then he wants a more commodious and tasty one. When his animal needs are satisfied, then mental and spiritual desires arise.
"This restless discontent is of the nature of man--of that nobler nature that raises him above the animals by so immeasurable a gulf, and shows him to be indeed created in the likeness of God. It is not to be quarreled with, for it is the motor of all progress. It is this that has raised St. Peter's dome, and on dull, dead canvas made the angelic face of the Madonna to glow; it is this that has weighed suns and analyzed stars, and opened page after page of the wonderful works of creative intelligence; it is this that has narrowed the Atlantic to an ocean ferry and trained the lightning to carry our messages to the remotest lands; it is this that is opening to us possibilities beside which all that our modern civilization has as yet accomplished seem small. Nor can it be repressed save by degrading and imbruting men; by reducing Europe to Asia.
"Hence, short of what wages may be earned when all restrictions on labor are removed, and access to natural opportunities on equal terms secured to all, it is impossible to fix any rate of wages that will be deemed just, or any rate of wages that can prevent workingmen striving to get more. So far from it making workingmen more contented to improve their condition a little, it is certain to make them more discontented.
"Nor are you asking justice when you ask employers to pay their workingmen more than they are compelled to pay--more than they could get others to do the work for. You are asking charity. For the surplus that the rich employer thus gives is not in reality wages, it is essentially alms.
"In speaking of the practical measures for the improvement of the condition of labor which your Holiness suggests, I have not mentioned what you place much stress upon--charity. But there is nothing practical in such recommendations as a cure for poverty, nor will any one so consider them. If it were possible for the giving of alms to abolish poverty there would be no poverty in Christendom.
"Charity is indeed a noble and beautiful virtue, grateful to man and approved by God. But charity must be built on justice. It cannot supersede justice.
"What is wrong in the condition of labor through the Christian world is that labor is robbed. And while you justify the continuance of that robbery it is idle to urge charity. To do so--to commend charity as a substitute for justice, is indeed something akin in essence to those heresies, condemned by your predecessors, that taught that the gospel had superseded the law, and that the love of God exempted men from moral obligations.
"All that charity can do where injustice exists is here and there to somewhat mollify the effects of injustice. It cannot cure them. Nor is even what little it can do to mollify the effects of injustice without evil. For what may be called the superimposed, as in this sense, secondary virtues, work evil where the fundamental or primary virtues are absent. Thus sobriety is a virtue, and diligence is a virtue. But a sober and diligent thief is all the more dangerous. Thus patience is a virtue. But patience under wrong is the condoning of wrong. Thus it is a virtue to seek knowledge and to endeavor to cultivate the mental powers. But the wicked man becomes more capable of evil by reason of his intelligence. Devils we always think of as intelligent.
"And thus that pseudo charity that discards and denies justice works evil. On the one side it demoralizes its recipients, outraging that human dignity, which, as you say, 'God himself treats with reverence,' and turning into beggars and paupers men who, to become self-supporting, self-respecting citizens, only need the restitution of what God has given them. On the other side it acts as an anodyne to the consciences of those who are living on the robbery of their fellows, and fosters that moral delusion and spiritual pride that Christ doubtless had in mind when he said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. For it leads men, steeped in injustice, and using their money and their influence to bolster up injustice, to think that in giving alms they are doing something more than their duty towards man and deserve to be very well thought of by God, and in a vague way to attribute to their own goodness what really
belongs to God's goodness. For consider: Who is the All-provider? Who is it that as you say, 'owes to man a storehouse that shall never fail,' and which 'he finds only in the inexhaustible fertility of the earth.' Is it not God? And when, therefore, men, deprived of the bounty of their God, are made dependent on the bounty of their fellow-creatures, are not these creatures, as it were, put in the place of God, to take credit to themselves for paying obligations that you yourself say God owes?
"But worse, perhaps, than all else is the way in which this substituting of vague injunctions to charity for the clear-cut demands of justice opens an easy means for the professed teachers of the Christian religion of all branches and communions to placate Mammon while persuading themselves that they are serving God...
"No, your Holiness, as faith without works is dead, as men cannot give to God his due while denying to their fellows the rights he gave them, so charity, unsupported by justice, can do nothing to solve the problem of the existing condition of labor. Though the rich were to 'bestow all their goods to feed the poor and give their bodies to be burned,' poverty would continue while property in land continues.
"Take the case of the rich man today who is honestly desirous of devoting his wealth to the improvement of the condition of labor. What can he do?
"Bestow his wealth on those who need it? He may help some who deserve it, but he will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may do will be the danger of doing harm.
"Build churches? Under the shadow of churches poverty festers, and the vice that is born of it breeds.
"Build schools and colleges? Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity of private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink.
"Establish hospitals? Why, already it seems to laborers that there are too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure.
"Build model tenements? Unless he cheapens house accommodations he but drives further the class he would benefit,
and as he cheapens house accommodations he brings more to seek employment and cheapens wages.
"Institute laboratories, scientific schools, workshops for physical experiments? He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as between the upper and the nether millstone.
"Promote emigration from places where wages are low to places where they are somewhat higher? If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate will soon turn on him to demand that such emigration shall be stopped, as it is reducing their wages.
"Give away what land he may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let it at lower rents than the market price? He will simply make new land owners or partial land owners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
"Or bethinking himself of those public-spirited citizens of classic times who spent great sums in improving their native cities, shall he try to beautify the city of his birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten narrow and crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let him open tramways and bring in railroads, or in any way make beautiful and attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not be those who appropriate God's bounty will take his also? Will it not be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of his benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to land owners? Why, even the mere announcement that he is going to do such things will start speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.
"What, then, can the rich man do to improve the condition of labor?
"He can do nothing at all except to use his strength for the abolition of the great primary wrong that robs men of their birthright. The justice of God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything else for it."