Bishop Fulton Sheen on Capital, Labor, and Economic Man

Reposted from What’s Wrong With the World?

Address Delivered on February 7, 1943

Why have not the moral forces of the nation, such as education, press, radio, all the clergy of all denominations, the social reformers, been more insistent on developing a new order instead of patching up the old one? Perhaps the principal reason is because they have been getting behind certain movements instead of ahead of them. The first thought that comes to a particular group which wishes to further legislation in its favor is to wire educators, clergymen, actors, and social workers, to lend their names as sponsors of its cause- and there are at least five hundred such professional signers in our country who keep their fountain pens uncapped for just such demented and cheap publicity. It is just this irrational mentality which substitutes imitation for thinking by pushing some group or class instead of leading for the common good that has paralyzed the regeneration of society.

A few generations ago it was the fashion to get behind Capitalism, and political parties were formed to support its legislation. Now it is the fashion and mood to get behind Labor which develops its own parties, while John Q. Public and the common good is like ground meat in the sandwich. Each class demands its rights in the name of freedom, forgetting that, as Lincoln once said, “Sheep and wolves never agree on the definition of freedom.”

The Christian solution is to get behind neither Capital nor Labor exclusively; but to be behind Capital when Marxian Socialism would destroy private property, and to be behind Labor when Monopolistic Capitalism would claim the priority of profits over the right to a just wage. If we are behind either Capital or Labor, at what point will either stop in their demands? Or is there a stopping point? Did Capital ever decide for itself, when it was in the saddle, that it would take no more than ten per cent profits? Capital took all the profits the traffic would bear. Now that Capital is unseated and Labor is riding the economic horse, what limits does Labor set itself? Is there a wage beyond which it will not ask? Are there certain minimum hours below which it will not seek to work? They too will get all the traffic will bear. When self-interest and class-interest become the standard, then who shall say there is a right and wrong? As the old Chinese proverb put it: “No good rat will injure the grain near its hole.”

This brings us to a consideration of the economic and political principle of the Christian order. The Christian order starts with man; all other orders start with a class. Capitalism and Communism, for example, though opposite in their directions, like branches of a tree, are nevertheless rooted in the same economic principle, that a class is to take all. Communism is only rotted Capitalism. Under Capitalism the employer takes all; under Marxian Socialism the employee takes all.

The Christian economic order starts with man. Its basic principle, is this: Economic activity is not the end of human life, but the Servant of human life. Therefore, the true primary end of economic production is not profit, but the satisfaction of human needs. In other words, *production exists primarily for consumption*, and only secondarily for profits. The old order was: Consumption exists for production and production for finance. The Christian order reverses it: Finance exists for production, production for consumption. This demands a revolutionary change of the whole economic order, because it affirms the primacy of the human over the economic. Its starting principle is that the right of a man to a living wage is prior to the right of return on investments.

From this basic principle of the Christian economic charter the following conclusions are drawn:

First, when an industry is unable to pay a wage sufficient not only for a moderately comfortable life but also for savings, the difference should be made up either by industry pooling a percentage of all wages paid, or, in default of this, by the State.

Second, neither the capitalist’s right to profits nor the laborer’s right to organization are absolute and unlimited; they are both subject to the common good of all. Both the right to profits and the right to organization are means, and as means they are to be judged by the way they promote the true ends of life: Religion, general prosperity, peace, and happy human relations. These rights therefore can be suspended for the common good of all.

Third, the consumer must not be treated as the indispensable condition of unlimited demands by Labor or unlimited profits by capital, but the person whose interest is the true end of the whole process.

Fourth, the distinction between Capital and Labor which has its basis in whether one buys labor or sells it, must be broken down and must give way to a union of Capital and Labor on the basis of the common service they render to the nation. To ask which is more important – Capital or Labor – is like asking which is more important to a man, the right leg or the left. Since they both have a common function, they should function together. Conflicts between Capital and Labor are wrong, not because they hold up the delivery of goods, but for the moral reason that they create distorted personal relationships, just as the quarrel of a husband and wife disrupts the good of the family.

Fifth, the wage contract should whenever possible be modified somewhat by a contract of partnership between employer and employee so that the wage earners are made sharers in some measure in the profits, management, or ownership, of industry. Since both produce social wealth there is no reason why both should not share in the wealth produced. A worker in a factory has more right to the profits of his industry than a man who clips coupons. The only way to make Labor responsible is to give it some capital to defend; and the only way to make Capital responsible is to make it labor for its right to possession. Did you ever hear an artist agitate for a five hour day? Why not? Because his work is his life. Today men do not work; they have employment. Work is a divine vocation; employment is an economic necessity. A laborer will sit down on some one else’s tools, but no artist will sit down on his paint brushes. The reason is, the artist’s work entails responsibility. That is why those who are getting behind either Capitalists, to defend them against labor racketeers, or behind Labor, to defend it against economic royalists, are delaying the day of economic peace, and contributing to the present economic conflict. The Christian solution is to unite them on the basis of a common task.

Sixth, the State, while justly altering an acquisitive society which causes profits to take precedence over the human, must avoid falling into the opposite extreme of substituting for the acquisitiveness of money an acquisitiveness of power, or by substituting for the authority of capital, the authority of labor or bureaucracy.

Seventh, Democracy should be extended, not curtailed. For many decades political power was controlled to a great extent by organized Capital, by merchants, lords of finance, and industrialists. Today the stage is being prepared for the control of political power by Labor. A class transmission of power is opposed to the basic principles of democracy. The Christian concept of politics is that government exists for the common good of all. If democracy is to be made effective the holders of economic power, whomsoever they be-whether Capital or Labor -must be made responsible to the community. They are its servants, not its masters.

Instead of asking “What do I get out of this,” they should ask “What service can I render to my country?” Freedom, Fellowship, Service, these are the principles of a Christian social order derived from the basic principles that man is a creature of God, destined after a life of free service to enjoy eternal fellowship with Divine Love.

To be assured that a new order is needed, we need only look to the chaos around us. As the Holy Father wrote in his Christmas Message: “What is this World War, with all its attendant circumstances, whether they be remote or proximate causes, its progress and material, legal and moral effects? What is it but the crumbling process, not expected, perhaps, by the thoughtless but seen and deprecated by those whose gaze penetrated into the realities of a social order which-behind a deceptive exterior or the mask of conventional shibboleths – hid its mortal weakness and its unbridled lust for gain and power?

“That which in peacetime lay coiled up, broke loose at the out break of war in a sad succession of acts at variance with the human and Christian sense. Inter national agreements to make war less inhuman by confining it to the combatants, to regulate the procedure of occupation and the imprisonment of the conquered remained in various places a dead letter. And who can see the end of this progressive demoralization of the people, who can wish to watch impotently this disastrous progress? Should they not rather, over the ruins of a social order which has given such tragic proof of its ineptitude as a factor for the good of the people, gather together the hearts of all those who are magnanimous and upright in the solemn vow not to rest until in all peoples and all nations of the earth a vast legion shall be formed of those handfuls of men who, bent on bringing back society to its center of gravity, which is the law of God, aspire to the service of the human person and of his common life ennobled in God?”

In conclusion, in order to build up a new world we must begin thinking in a new way. Just as Totalitarianism cannot be defeated by thinking in the selfsame grooves which led to it, so neither can the selfishness, the egotism, and the class-conflicts of our social order be conquered by patching up the principles which produced it.

Why is it so important that we start with an entirely new set of principles, and a new standard of values? Because if we do not, we will end only by shifting power and booty from one party and class to another, instead of working for the good of all.

This war is the end of the Economic Man, and by the Economic Man I mean the Man whose basic principle was the primacy of profit. Unless we accept Christian principles based on the Primacy of the Person and the common good, we will end in the enthronement of Political Man. This is where the irreligious revolutions of both Marxian Socialism and Nazism ended; in the substitution of the acquisitiveness of power for the acquisitiveness of money. And the Political Man whose god is power, can be just as lustful, just as avaricious, as the Economic Man whose god is money.

The decent human person has little to choose between the two. Either we will restore Christian order based on the dignity of the f human person, or we will shift from a regime dictated by economics to a regime dictated by politics.

This war is an expression of a world disease. It will avail us naught to give this old order artificial respiration, for we are doing it to a corpse. Let us wear no widow’s weeds of mourning because our superstitions are being carried to the grave. Rather should we be putting on our wedding garments to court a new world and a new order, in a renewed Divine Justice.

If the old world of politicians who promise to the electorate everything it wants, from pillaging the Treasury to new tires and more sugar – if this world is passing, God be thanked. Let it perish!

If the old world of capitalism which thinks that property rights mean the right to accumulate profits uncontrolled by the common good and the rights of organized labor – if this world is dead, God be thanked. Let it perish!

If the old world of labor organizations which think there is no minimum to hours of work, no maximum to salary demands, and which would paralyze a national industry for five days because of a five-cent transportation charge – if this world is dead, God be thanked. Let it perish!

If the old world where a college education was a social necessity, instead of being what it ought to be, an intellectual privilege – if this world is dead, God be praised. Let it perish!

If the old world of social Christianity which emptied religion of God and Christianity of Christ, and which thought the whole business of religion was to drive an ambulance for social workers or to pipe naturalistic tunes for the intelligentsia who said they were only animals – if this world is dead, God be praised. Let it perish!

We are a creative people; we are responsive to human rights and needs as no nation in the world is responsive; we have tremendous powers of renewal. We must not delay the reconstruction, for when the boys come home from the battle-fronts of the world, they will share none of the old ideas. Every one of them will want a job and they will have a right to it whether they belong to a union or not; they will not admit that joining a union is the only condition on which a man may work. Every one of them will want a just wage and the right to raise a family in comfort and decency, and they will not admit that these personal and family rights are subject to and conditioned upon bond-holders receiving six per cent interest on their investments. Every one of them will have lived through a day when Capital ruled and when Labor ruled; and because they fought for neither while at war, they will fight for neither in peace. But they will fill up a great vacuum in our economic and political life, as they fight for the Common Good in which the uncommon man of Capital and the common man of organized power, will both be subject to the resurrection of a Justice under God. And with God on their side-who can stand against them?

 

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