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The trouble with Catholic Social Teaching

“Catholic Social Teaching” refers to the body of teaching on politics and economics, producted by the Catholic Church, commencing with the Encyclical Rerum Novarum (RN) which was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. 

RN  falls into the same error as Marx: it does not identify land and natural resources as a special and unique category of thing, separate from man made property such as tools, buildings and other structures. This was partly corrected in subsequent encyclicals, but never explicitly. The land issue was generally been seen as something that could be resolved by distribution of ownership; this was the principle behind the political movement known as “Distributism”, associated with the writers G K Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and summed up in the idea of “The Acres and a Cow.” That avoids the underlying issues.

The background to this is not well known. In the 1870s there was, in Britain, a widespread Catholic land reform movement promoted in particular by the Irish Bishop of Meath, Thomas Nulty, and the journalist Wilfred Meynell. The latter became an advocate of the land reform programme proposed by Henry George; there is an autographed copy of George’s seminal book Progress and Poverty, published in 1879, in the library of the Meynell family home at Pulborough, Sussex. Meynell attempted to gain the support of Cardinal Manning for George’s land reform programme and arranged a meeting between the two men in London, probably in 1885.

The Cardinal was horrified by George’s proposals; Manning is thought to have been the principal author of RN and the main thrust of the document is opposition to both socialism and George’s programme. In response, George wrote an open letter to Pope Leo, pointing out the flaws in RN. This was published under the title “The Condition of Labour” and there are several versions available on line.

Catholic Social Teaching needs to be completely reworked. Unfortunately it is probably too late, since the Catholic Church is now so heavily infected with Marxism and environmentalism.