Thursday, June 25, 2009

A History of the Wanderer, 1867-1931: Article Eleven, by Paul Likoudis

The Wanderer at 140....

In Early 1930s, The Wanderer
Focused on Politics & Economics

by Paul Likoudis

eleventh in a series

“Those who would seem to hold in little esteem this Papal Encyclical (Rerum Novarum) and its commemoration either blaspheme what they know not, or understand nothing of what they are only superficially acquainted with, or if they do understand convict themselves formally of injustice and ingratitude.” – Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno.

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The key event in the life of the Church in 1931, the year The Wanderer debuted its English edition, was Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, commemorating Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, which boldly pushed the Church into the new realm of organized social action.

The importance of this document in the life of the Church and the world, Pope Pius explained in No. 25:
“With regard to civil authority, Leo XIII, boldly breaking through the confines imposed by Liberalism, fearlessly taught that government must not be thought a mere guardian of law and of good order, but rather must put forth every effort so that ‘through the entire scheme of laws and institutions . . . both public and individual well-being may develop spontaneously out of the very structure and administration of the State’....

“The function of the rulers of the State, moreover, is to watch over the community and its parts; but in protecting private individuals in their rights, chief consideration ought to be given to the weak and the poor. ‘For the nation, [wrote Leo] as it were, of the rich is guarded by its own defenses and is in less need of governmental protection, whereas the suffering multitude, without the means to protect itself relies especially on the protection of the State. Wherefore, since wage workers are numbered among the great mass of the needy, the State must include them under its special care and foresight.’”

Struggling through the first years of the Great Depression, Wanderer editor Joseph Matt, who had for 40 years been promoting the principles of Rerum Novarum – especially that last sentence quoted above – regularly devoted his front page editorials and “review of the news” to economic and political affairs, both nationally and internationally, and a review of the first three years of the English language Wanderer shows two dominant concerns: the lack of enthusiasm among American Catholics for papal social teaching, and the growing economic and political crises in both the United States and Germany – crises which have a striking resemblance to current circumstances!

The moniker that appeared on the front page of the first edition of the English edition of The Wanderer declared: “A progressive Catholic newspaper with a Program,” and Joseph Matt observed under “Current Events”:

“In the present depression with its high unemployment it is more important to foster a return to the principles of justice and charity which tend to prevent a recurrence of the intolerable conditions of the last 14 to 16 months.”

On page 4 of that same first edition, The Wanderer published an article by Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, preeminent leader of the Catholic Center Party, in which he warned that a rising Adolph Hitler was a demagogue, and informing his followers that the Center Party would not join in a coalition with the growing National Socialist Party.

In a January 22, 1931 editorial, “Immoral Profiteering,” Matt asserted that “profiteering [is] one of the causes of the depression. This no longer troubles the consciences of those who direct State and high finance. Communism may be the result....

“Unemployment is a great evil,” he continued. “It is time to adopt the ways of wisdom and social justice.”


On May 21, 1931, The Wanderer published a summary of Pius XI’s new encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, and Matt wrote: “Economics should be centered on fundamental principles leading to a new social policy more favorable to justice.

“b. right of property. There must be a just distribution of the commodities of labor between capital and labor. Pope insists on a just wage.

“c. Pope appeals for structural changes in economic system leading to establishment of a reign of justice. Nonetheless, there is still room for the exercise of charity.”

On page 6 of that same issue, Matt asked, “Can Capitalism Make a Switch-over [to a Structure of Justice]?”

Over the next several weeks, Matt serialized Quadragesimo Anno, while offering a running commentary on the sections appearing in those issues. On May 28, he wrote: “The Encyclical upholds the right of private property but insists on the obligations of ownership. Wages should be at a level to enable worker’s family to live decently with a certain moderate ownership. Unemployment is a dreadful scourge. There needs to be a certain distribution of wealth for the common good of all.”

In an editorial the following week, June 4, 1931, under the headingm, “Reconstruction of the Whole Economic System Demanded by Pius XI in his Latest Encyclical,” Matt wrote:
“A living wage is demanded by the principle of distributive justice. … Yet, this principle is not understood in this society….We don’t even recognize the fact that a proletariat exists in this country.”

In The Wanderer of June 11, 1931, in an editorial headlined, “New Burdens for the German People,” Matt wrote:

“Throughout these months the German State has had to impose ever higher taxes to raise the revenue to allow it to meet its treaty obligations on reparations payments. Germany and its supporters tried to secure release from these ‘unbearable reparations burdens.’”

In the June 25, 1931 edition, Matt published the full text of a speech delivered to the Social Workers Conference at the Catholic University of America by Monsignor John A. Ryan, calling for a radical revision of the reparations Germany was forced to pay by the victorious allies at Versailles, and Matt darkly warned:

“Germany has reached a point beyond which lie destruction and chaos.”

Under another editorial, “Germany’s Distress,” Matt wrote:

“The National Socialists of Adolf Hitler promise revision, vengeance and several other things including ‘rollende Köpfe’ [rolling heads]… A few more months of need, another winter of distress – and things may happen which will be even more fateful to the nations than the World War.”

In a page 4 editorial on “Pope Pius XI and the Heresy of State Absolutism,” Matt wrote of the struggle between the Vatican and the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini:

“‘It is never lawful to go against our conscience,’” Matt declared, “is the unequivocal teaching of Catholic morality… .It is to be deplored when a state brings its citizens into conflict with their consciences …. The principle that the State is the rule of morality cannot be accepted. Nor can the State be substituted for the individual conscience.… If, however, the state abuses and violates the dictates of morality and demands of its citizens conduct at variance with right and the law of God, conscience must refuse obedience.”

On July 2, 1931, Matt editorialized on “Germany’s Call for Help,” observing:

“One actually forgets that Germany, being in this tragic situation for the past ten years, is threatened by the Hitler revolution on the one hand and by the Bolshevistic revolution on the other. ‘What difference does it make to us,’ one of my readers writes in blind rage. ‘May they all perish’.... The only remedy is the revision of the treaty of Versailles.”

In The Wanderer for July 9,1931, Matt explained to his readers that Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno as a “reformation in fuller detail of the doctrine of Leo.” Pius is skeptical about the possibility of collaboration between Christianity and Socialism, and Matt observes: “Christian Socialism, Religious Socialism are expressions implying a contradiction in terms. Socialism must give up its last vestige of Marxian materialism.”


One month after Pope Pius issued his commemoration of Leo’s encyclical, he followed up with another encyclical “Concerning Catholic Action,” or Non abbiamo bisogno, which focused on the struggle between the Church and Fascist Italy.

On July 23, 1931, Matt wrote under the heading “Catholic Action”:

“[Catholic Action] wishes to build up an external social environment which is in accord with the demands of justice and decent living....Politics has to do with persons, Catholic Action with principles. It matters very little to Catholic Action whether these principles are brought to practical realization by one party or another....

“We deem it advisable to submit to our readers the main sections of the encyclical so that they may have a clear understanding of the questions at issue,” wrote Matt. “ This document is a defense of the precious liberties of religion and conscience.

In a July 30 editorial, Matt asked: “What is Going to Happen in Germany?”

Commenting on an editorial and news reports on the situation in Germany, published by the Economist in London, Matt asks what the Germans fear most.

“They fear revolution. Which do Germans fear the most: National Socialists or Communists? It makes little difference. The correspondent sees a growing religious movement in Germany. The editor confirms this by pointing to such magazines as Die schönere Zukunft, Das neue Reich, and Orate Fratres....

“Revolution may break out at any time – so threatening are the conditions as we write. That a revolution is coming to Europe is certain – it may not be a bloody upheaval, but it will nevertheless consist in an overthrow of the last remnants of an individualism, represented by religious indifference in the individual, by neo-paganism in society. More than likely, however, human blood will be shed, and for the time being such revolutionary forms as communism, fascism, or what not, will prevail; but what is clearer than all this is that a new and permanent order of society is arising out of the decaying remnants of the so-called Reformation – an order that, let us hope, will be Christian and Catholic.”

On August 6, Matt lamented: “Rerum Novarum has not seeped into Catholic consciousness as ought to have been the case… No doubt this deplorable fact was one of he reasons that prompted the Holy Father to restate its original doctrine with such fullness…. In their new form the social doctrines of Leo must become part and parcel of Catholic thought....Piety is good, but it must not render us indifferent to social abuses and crying wrongs….

“With regard to the position of the Holy Father there can be no doubt. Unmistakably he has spoken and it is evident that he will have no truck with those who violate the dictates of justice and exploit society for selfish ends. There is a whole-heartedness in his espousal of the cause of labor that must sweep aside every vestige of suspicion as to the sincerity of his love for the working man. He has severe condemnation for those who profess the Christian faith but do not practice it in their relation with their fellow man.

On November 5, 1931, Matt published an editorial, “A Snap-shot of Adolf Hitler,” in which he wrote:

“Thousands and tens of thousands in Germany think that Hitler is destined to be the savior of the country from its innumerable present evils. Will they be disillusioned? Hitler is a born leader of men, but the incongruous mixture of Fascism and Socialism which he advocates does not appeal to the majority of the German nation, and it is not likely that he and his party will come into power unless indeed the coalition now in control of the government fails utterly and egregiously, and the people become desperate under the pressure of adversity.”


Heading into the 1932 presidential election, Joseph Matt was clearly tired of the “ineffectual Republicans,” and was ready to place his hopes for an economic recovery in the Democrats and their candidate Franklin Roosevelt, who promised to help “the forgotten man.”

“All in all the Chicago convention was one of the most notable in the recent history of the Democratic Party,” wrote Matt in the July 11, 1932 edition of The Wanderer. “It would be tragic if the Party would again spoil its chances through internal factions or a poorly conducted campaign of replacing the ineffectual Republicans by a Government of real leadership designed to rescue the country from an economic catastrophe and to lead the people to new spiritual and material heights!”

In The Wanderer of October 27, 1932, in a page one editorial “The Forgotten Man,” Matt wrote:

“In all our economic arrangements and calculations we have left out man. Hence, the phrase ‘forgotten man.’ Accordingly, a gigantic mechanism has arisen but it works without a prevision of any definite end. The needs of man are the regulatory factor of economic activity. Industry is not a sovereign department but rather a department that is directly subordinated to a higher order, the service of man… Forgotten Man! …”

Over the next several months, Matt continued his reporting on the deteriorating economic conditions in the United States and Germany, as well as the fluctuating fortunes of Hitler and his Nazi Party in Germany.

In a January 5 report, “The Keynote of the Pope’s Christmas Message,” Matt observed:

“[Economic reform] must not be approached from the technical side, but from, the moral and spiritual side… To the entire world the Holy Father offers this one and only remedy: a remedy at once for external capitalism and for its more insidious counterpoint, crypto-capitalism....

“Fundamentally Socialism and Capitalism are inspired by identically the same sentiments. Enjoyment and possession of the material things and goals of this world is the root from which both Socialism and Capitalism grow. Therefore, eventually Socialism will result in the same social phenomena which we are now deploring and ascribing to the unrestrained greed of Capitalism.…

“[Christianity] wishes to render accessible to all the things necessary for decent human living.”

Der Wanderer continued to provide a few more details of the situation in Germany than does the English version. For example, there is in this issue an article entitled “Hitler als Retter” (Hitler as Savior) in which Hitler speaks to his party. In both versions a cool and apprehensive attitude toward Hitler is evident.]

In a February 2, 1933 editorial, Matt asked, “After Capitalism, What?”:

“Thus also is foreshadowed in general outline the economic system that takes the place of present day capitalism. It must be a system that destroys and jeopardizes no social and human values and that effaces the distinction between capital and labor, that is, propertyless labor. In the papal encyclical an essential demand is that wages should be high enough to make possible the accumulation of property by the worker. This is a vital point, for taken by itself it would quickly transform an industrial system and eventually do away with the pure proletariat. We can go further; this new system in which human brotherhood and the love of the neighbor can be realized and put into practice must bring man together in closer union and go over the guilt which now divide the members of society one from the other: it must knit industry on a corporate basis….”

On page 5 of that same issue, under the headline, “Chancellor Hitler,” Matt wrote:

“Hitler, after having at last attained his long coveted goal, must now show whether the hopes of thirteen million Germans in his statesmanship are justified. It is not altogether clear whether he has captured the government or the government has captured hm. As the head of a cabinet composed largely of his former opponents and continuously in office through the tolerance of the political enemies in the Reichstag, the Nazi chieftain is hardly in a position to put into effect his swashbuckling policies. On the surface, his elevation to power seems more likely to contribute to stability than it is to result in disorder. Hitler will have a taste of the power. Such an experience has tempered the radicalism of men far more fixed in their principles and opinions than the Nazi leader. He is, further, so surrounded with checks within the Cabinet and in the Reichstag that any extreme move would certainly upset his Cabinet and terminate his chancellorship.”

Of course, what Matt could not imagine was that, within a few weeks, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag woud burn, and Hitler, claiming that the Homeland security was threatened, suspended most civil liberties.

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