Was Cardinal Manning a Georgist?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012 13:37

George Frederic Watts: Cardinal Manning

(1808–1892) was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster from 1865 until his death, and was created Cardinal in 1875. He is best known outside church circles for his intervention and mediation in the 1888 dockers' strike.

Now here is a mystery. Manning is widely thought to have been the author of Rerum Novarum. He is also known to have met Henry George. The meeting was arranged by Wilfred Meynell, a prominent Catholic intellectual and journalist. There is a signed copy of the first edition of Progress and Poverty in the library of the Meynell family home at Pulborough in Sussex, with some reviews pasted in. That from The Times is condemnatory.

Now this raises a question. It is known that Rerum Novarum went through several drafts before it was issued in 1891. The final version of Rerum Novarum was obliquely hostile to LVT and prompted the writing of "On the condition of labour" by Henry George, a copy of which was sent to Pope Leo XIII. But what was in the first draft of Rerum Novarum, the one which may have been written by Manning? We would not expect it to have come out openly in favor of LVT other than to use it as an example of the kind of policy that was in keeping with the doctrines of the Catholic church. So what was Manning's position?

There is one other strange thing about Manning. Together with Newman, he can be regarded as one of the architects of the revival of the Catholic church in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Newman is on the route to canonisation, but there is no significant cause for the canonisation of Manning. Logically, the two belong together. Did Manning say or write something that caused him to fall out of favour?

Rerum Novarum having been deficient, in particular in relation what it referred to confusingly as "property", further encyclicals were then issued subsequently in an attempt to fill the gaps. These culminated in the almost incomprehensible Centesimus Anno of 1991.

However, Rerum Novarum was a disaster as it emasculated the Catholic working class movements. We see the results the politics of countries like Ireland, Poland, Spain, Portugal and South America. It also meant that the Catholic church had nothing to offer as an alternative to Marx. It is true that, subsequent encyclicals have had more to say on property rights, emphasising that owners of property have duties. That is enough to build the LVT case on. But in my experience these documents are simply ignored.

Actually it is still possible to make the LVT case from Rerum Novarum alone. Chesterton, for example, argued that if property is a good thing, then everyone must have some. And how can this state of affairs be brought about?

The church hierarchy at the end of the nineteenth century seems to have been firm in its determination to protect landed privilege even though it goes against the principles of Catholic teaching. In Ireland, by contrast, the LVT movement had been supported by the Bishop of Meath. Afterwards, came the favouring of agrarian smallholding which has shaped the politics of the country to this day. For the urban Irish working classes there was nothing but emigration. In the USA there was the incident here of the shameful instance of the excommunication and eventual reinstatement of a priest, Fr McGlynn, in the Diocese of New York. This opposition to a policy of reform which was entirely in accord with Catholic principles was to have evil consequences. It opened the doors to Marxism, which in turn bred the fascist reaction, with which the church was often seen as supporting, or at the very least, being lukewarm in its opposition.

The opportunity exists now for a fresh start, since the latest document, Caritas in Veritate, published in 2009, goes back to first principles by arguing the case for justice before charity. This has given the Catholic Church the opportunity to re-think its social teaching from first principles.

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