Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 9. June 5, 1952
Social Setup Wrong?
Social Setup Wrong?
Except for power cuts and a chilly temperature, nothing was wrong with the social set-up at Raumati Camp from May 23 to 25, when members of the Catholic Students' Guild held a study weekend there. But after studying Christian social principles and their application, the group agreed that all was far from well with the political and economic set-up of modern "Western" communities. "The Reconstruction of the Social Order" is the sub-title of Pope Pius XI's encyclical of this topic, "Quadragesimp Anno", and the weekend discussions aimed at clarifying the Christian idea of the well-ordered State, and at discovering just what New Zealand can do to achieve it.
Discussions opened on the Saturday morning, with an outline by Pat Burns of the social and economic history which is a background to the Church's modern teaching on social reconstruction. While it would be wrong to regard the guild organisation of trade in the high mediaeval period as a Utopia, at least economic individualism then had the social check of the common belief that man's destiny was primarily a spiritual one, she said. Avarice could not be for a Christian an acceptable motive force for economic life. Individualism had flourished in the years following the Renaissance and the Reformation, reaching its fullest development probably in the laissez-faire economics of the Manchester school in the 19th century. The reaction to collectivism which has followed was no more in line with Christian principles than was monopolistic capitalism.
Liberal economics, which denied man's dignity as a person and made his instead just a pawn in the game of economics, called forth in 1891 Pope Leo XIII's famous encyclical, "Rerum Novarum," which castigates laisser-faire principles and proclaims the necessity for organisation of the oppressed workers to improve their conditions. Every worker should receive a just wage for his work, so that the family, the basic unit of society, would be able to flourish, and the good life become possible for all.
For modern times, Pope Pius XI reiterated and expanded the Church's social teachings, stressing its opposition to Communism and the necessity for widespread ownership to replace monopoly capitalism. His encyclical "Quadragesimo Anno" ("Forty Years After"—it was published in 1931) has been the cornerstone of recent Catholic social thought. Pat Hutchings discussing the two encyclicals, paid most attention to the teaching on property set out in "Quadrageslmo Anno. The human right to property was inviolable, and it was desirable that nearly everybody should be able to exercise it, not that a large proletariat should he excluded from ownership. But the ownership of property did not imply contempt for the common good on the contrary, property must be used morally, and within the limits Imposed for the common good by the governments of various countries.
Mr Hutchings pointed out that the encyclicals laid down general princlples only, and that the philosophical background to the statements, and their practical application to each place and circumstance, had to he sought elsewhere, or worked out by the individual. Much work had still to be done in implying Christian social principles to the situation in, for example, New Zealand. A lively discussion ranged from the need for Christians to be better informed about the sort of social order they wanted, to the possibilities of profit-sharing schemes particularly those which gave some share in control and management to the workers.
Catholic social thinkers agreed that the only just social order was one which recognised man's essential dignity and his eternal purpose, but they offered many variations in practical programmes, said Pauline Hoskilns, lending the last discussion, on the application of Christian social principles. Most of these programmes went under the name of Distribute ism though the word was used by numbers of thinkers to cover programmes diverse in aims. Distributists of all kinds emphasised, however, that productive property should be owned by as many people as possible, not by a minority. The society they envisaged had been described by the Australian economist. Colin Clark:
"A certain number will work for employers, and a certain number for the Government, but the principal type of work will be to make a living by using one's own means of production. . . . Emphatically it will not be recognised as the normal thing for the main body of the working population to have to earn their living by working for employers (as under Capitalism) or for the Government (as under Communism)."
Ownership of homes and small businesses by individual small proprietors was desirable. Enterprises necessarilly too large for such Individual ownership should be owned and worked co-operatively or in some cases of key enterprises, such as railway's, by the State. Co-operation, for instance in marketing or research, could give smaller businessed many or the advantages now enjoyed by large combines. The possibilities of credit unions as means of financing small ownership were also suggested.
The effect on the worker of mass production methods, and on the economic system of excessive advertising were deplored. Much modern advertising aimed to make the consumer fit the goods, creating ever-fresh wants to be satisfied by mass produced goods with a short sales life. More individualised production would reduce the industrial friction which necessarily followed when men were treated like machines. It should also result in many fields in goods of superior quality, which might be more expensive, but would not through advertising, be felt to need frequent replacement.
Multi-lingual conversations with Dutch settlers at the camp amateur cooking experiments community singing, and a treasure hunt organised by social convener Jo Harding provided plenty of relaxation for the group. The Rev. Father McKay was chaplain.