Dec 1976 v.p. A Midrash of the Catholic Worker Positions p. 4
A Midrash of the Catholic Worker Positions, Part 1
Via Pacis Vol. 1 #2 – Dec 1976
By Frank Cordaro
This is not expected to be any great and new revelation on the Catholic Worker positions. It is only an attempt on my part to articulate and clarify in my own language and idiom the long standing Catholic Worker positions. I hope in some way to be opening up the Catholic Worker positions to a broader and wider circle of people and pointing the way to a more serious discussion of the positions as an authentic vehicle for changing our society.
“The general aim of the Catholic Worker Movement is to realize in the individual and in society the expressed and implied teaching of Christ. It must, therefore, begin with an analysis of our present society to determine whether we already have an order that meets with the requirements of justice and charity of Christ.” (CW Positions)
“to realize “
The Catholic Worker has always been based in a “this worldly” context. The challenge of the Gospel is on this side of the grave. We are to take Christ just as seriously on the cross as we are to take him on Easter Sunday.
“in the individual and in society”
To hold both the individual and society accountable under the same criteria, Christ’s teaching is the root of Peter Maurin’s personalism. What is good for one is good for the whole. The person is both an individual and part of the collective. The person of Christ calls for a response from the whole person, the individual and the communal. There cannot be a set of different rules for the individual and society. Persons are expected to respond to Christ’s call in their wholeness.
“expressed and implied teaching of Christ”
In scripture we have guidelines that give us direction in our dealings with persons. We must remember that to respond to persons is to respond to individuals and to communities of individuals. The guidelines are the same for both. With in the New Testament there are expressed applications of Christ’s teachings (e.g. the corporal works of mercy, Matt. 25:35-37) and implied applications of Christ’s teachings (e.g. the beatitudes in Matt. 5). We are to transfer Christ’s teaching to our own time, place and person both to and through individuals and to and through communal groupings.
The need to analyze, to critique is of the utmost importance. To evaluate, one needs a measuring stick. The measuring stick must be something which is outside of that which you wish to evaluate. The measuring stick of our society – the collective as well as the individual – must be the teachings of Christ. In this article we will deal with that critique. In part II we will deal with the Catholic Worker answer: an answer that tries to use Christ as the measuring stick.
“The society in which we live and which is generally called capitalist (because of its method of producing wealth) and bourgeois (because of the prevalent mentality) is not in accord with justice and charity . . .” (CW Positions)
Capitalism is a word that carries with it deep and ingrained biases and feelings, most of which have very little to do with the word, the world we live in. Like its counterpart “communism,” it elicit in immediate response of polarization and patriotism. It is credited with everything from putting a man on the moon to killing off the American Indian.
By the word “capitalist,” the CWers mean to speak of the method of producing wealth or creating surplus capital to be re-invested.
Today’s workers are paid not in the terms of the worth of their labor or skill, but are paid only a portion of it, which we call a wage, and the difference is what we call a profit and is taken from them by the owner of the productive process.
Now it is not hard to see that to begin a capitalist form of economy some people must have more than others in order to initiate a business venture. It would appear that both owner and worker would benefit from this arrangement and society on the whole would grow. Those who have the necessary capital would invest and make a living from their investment and those with no capital are provided jobs. The beauty of the system is that it is not static but is dynamic, as owners acquire more profit from the labor of their workers, they may re-invest this new-found capital in a new business venture that, in turn, creates new jobs.
It may be debated historically whether society has benefited more from our capitalist system than hindered, but now it is the time to analyze where this process stands today. Implicit concentration of the profit made off the labor of working people has put an unfair amount of wealth or capital in the hands of the very few.
Today, about 2% of the American population has enough capital to invest in any kind of business venture small or big. The vastness of modern day enterprises has brought into being corporations – non person entities that exist and have rights over and above human persons. They have grown to such a vastness that a very few corporations and the people how run them control the majority of all wealth.
These corporations run generally by the same motivation that persons/owners would run their own businesses – to receive maximum profit and to re-invest for maximum growth. The sole determining factor in what is right or wrong for the corporate world is profit and growth. The common good and the individual’s good have no claim on this corporate bottom line. And they are sacrificed in the corporation’s blind pursuit of profit. And the majority of people who suffer under this corporate domination are unable to address the obvious injustices of our economic system. The disparity of wealth is not just a national concern. It is global also. This injustice corporate system allows the USA which is 6% of the world population to consume 40% of the worlds usable resources. It is no accident that the USA maintains the biggest military in the world, while it imports up to 50% of our raw resource it consumes. Yet we export less than 1% of our GNP.
The majority of USA citizens are not in control of our economic or political system. In our present system the common people, who are the vast majority, have no way real way to hold the system accountable.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word bourgeois as the middle-class. The Catholic Worker uses it here to address the prevailing mentality of most individuals in our capitalist system, rich and poor alike. It follows suit that in a capitalist corporate reality, that each person in the system is infect by its prevailing spirit.
Unlike the original bourgeois , who were restricted to a particular socio-economic class, we speak of a neo-bourgeois that covers all classes in our society from the very rich to the very poor. This attitude infects the individual with a mentality of heathen idolatry. Unable to have any real control of their lives (both the rich and poor), the individual sets his/her sights on the shallow rewards that the system unevenly provides to keep itself going. This Capitalist system runs by itself, without the need of any one person or perosn, now that both the collective and the individual are completely out of the picture. Individuals judge themselves by how much they can consume and how much power they may have over others. Both the haves and the have nots are powerless the change the system.
The individual with a bourgeois mentality is held check by its overwhelming fear of insecurity. The only security they believe in is the security passed out and controlled by the economic system. Again, this is security out of the individual’s collective control.
“is not in accord with justice and charity”
Catholic Workers believe this Capitalist system with its bourgeois spirit is not in accord with justice and charity, a definitive judgment on the system as a whole. But notice, this judgment could come from any truth-seeking person with an ability to look below the surface analytical efforts of the traditional liberal (Democratic) and conservative (Republican) points of view. Our system is not in accord with justice and charity by anybody’s standards.
Christ’s standards call for something radical. Not that a Christian critique would differ with any humanistic socialist’s critique; we see the same world. It is the means of achieving a just society that the Catholic Worker differs with most so called radical approaches to changing society. Christ, being the way, showed us the way. Christ, being the end, showed us the means. Means – end – the way are one in the same.
In my seconds article, I hope to articulate what I see are the “Catholic Worker means” in reaching a desired society: a society “Where it is easier for a man to be good”, “man-the person, collective and individual.