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100 Years of Catholic Social Teaching Defending Workers & their Unions: Summaries & Commentaries for Five Landmark Papal Encyclicals Paperback – May 1, 2012
About the Author
Joe Holland, the author, is an eco-social philosopher and Catholic theologian with a Ph.D. in the field of Social Ethics from the University of Chicago. His earlier book, Modern Catholic Social Teaching 1740-1958, traces the wisdom tradition of Catholic Social Teaching from its early modern expression through to the death of Pius XII. It addresses the tradition's development as first an anti-modern, and then a modern, ecclesial strategic response to the early and middle stages of Liberal Capitalism and Scientific Socialism.
In a forthcoming book on John XXIII, and in additional future books on subsequent popes, Joe plans to address the postmodern development of the tradition from 1958 forward. These books will describe the still developing postmodern Catholic ecclesial strategic response to the turbulent local-global crises of both Liberal Capitalism and Scientific Socialism. They will also highlight the Spirit-inspired seeds of hope -- emerging across the human family -- for a regenerative local-global ecological civilization.
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Holland observes that in supporting workers and workers' unions, these outstanding encyclicals build on key principles of Catholic social teaching. Among these principles are the dignity of the human person, the social nature of the human person, the need for human solidarity, the need for mediating institutions, and the preferential option for the poor.
The author recognizes the contemporary context of this papal teaching as one that includes widespread hostility to unions and unionists even on the part of many Catholics, which he sees as unjust bourgeois class prejudice. Some justify their prejudice through appeal to the libertarian economic philosophy of competitive and socially corrosive individualism. This philosophy, which reflects the anti-religious Austrian school of economics and even more the atheist-materialist writer Ayn Rand, is promoted on college campuses and elsewhere by well-funded propaganda initiatives.
Holland also recognizes two phases of opposition within the Church to both unions and support for them based on Catholic teaching. Despite this teaching, nineteenth century Catholic leaders often demonstrated an unjust aristocratic prejudice against exploited workers and their unions. This resulted in Western European Catholicism collapsing into an aristocratic captivity that alienated workers from the Church and produced the secularization now characteristic of Western Europe. Rerum Novarum, issued by Leo XIII in 1891, boldly declared that the Church supported justice for workers and their unions and a regulatory state to promote the common good, but for many this message came too late.
Today's Catholic leaders in America face a comparable temptation, in their case imprisonment within a collapsing bourgeois ideology of competitive capitalist individualism, one which is globally anti-union. This is bringing about the loss of the late modern working classes to the Church and the consequent transformation of many parishes into institutions made up disproportionately of the elderly and the affluent.
How far Catholic leaders have fallen short in this regard is apparent in many ways, for example in the decline from the more than 200 Catholic labor schools established in the first half of the twentieth century to the single surviving school, the Catholic Labor Guild in the Boston Archdiocese.
American Catholic leaders must again recognize workers' unions as an essential mediating institution within society and essential to the Catholic evangelization of the working classes. Holland offers proposals as to how these leaders can recover in practice the papal pro-union strategy apparent in the encyclicals he examines.
As a priest of the Episcopal Church, this reviewer regards the teaching of the labor encyclicals as a treasure that can inspire various Christian communions as well as people of other faiths and perspectives. In recent decades America's historic denominations have fallen grievously short in recognizing their need to support the labor movement and honor the gifts that unions and their members contribute toward a just society. Joe Holland has opened up valuable treasures that need to be studied and acted upon by many within his own religious tradition and elsewhere as well.