by Dorothy Day
Every month I shall have to explain the title to this series. We are not expecting utopia here on this earth. But God meant things to be much easier than we have made them. A man has a natural right to food, clothing, and shelter. A certain amount of goods is necessary to lead a good life. A family needs work as well as bread. Property is proper to man. We must keep repeating these things. Eternal life begins now. "All the way to heaven is heaven, because He said, 'I am the Way.'" The Cross is there of course, but "in the cross is joy of spirit." And love makes all things easy. If we are putting off the old man and putting on Christ, then we are walking in love, and love is what we all want. But it is hard to love, from the human standpoint and from the divine standpoint, in a two room apartment. We are eminently practical, realistic.
Yesterday two Irish Christian brothers came to call and told us of Harlem where their order had a school in what was the largest parish in the world. There were thirty thousand people in it, it was estimated. Families fleeing the hunger of Porto Rico were living three families to an apartment. It was the most congested, most neglected section of the city. With all these thousands, the church on Sunday was only half full. It is not a leakage from the Church, it is a landslide.
We have been working on these problems at the Catholic Worker for the past fifteen years, and we can say with all sincerity, that things have never been so bad as they are now, even in the worst of depression. Now men may have work, but they lack homes. There may be odd jobs, poorly-paid jobs, something coming in the way of work, but the housing situation gets worse and worse. Everywhere it is the same. In every city and town the story is the same. There are no apartments, there are no houses.
Mr. O'Daniel, father of the eleven we were visiting, had had a job as janitor. In order to make their profits and avoid the penalties of rent gouging, the owners of the building he was in had transformed a twelve-apartment house into a twenty-four-apartment house of two and a half rooms each. The board of health got after the owner for having a large family of children in the basement, and he had let them go. No one wants to employ families, none want to rent to families.
And of course we can understand the home owners' point of view. Once we saw a cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post of a mother rebuking her child. "Don't deface the wall, William, we own this house." In other words, what you own is taken care of. Property means responsibility. Property is proper to man.
This is a long preamble. But what a need there is to arouse the conscience! To call attention to the poor! "Are there any more poor?" This fatuous question has been asked me so often by well meaning listeners at meetings that one must answer it. "What about the bricklayer and his huge wages? Never have wages been so high." And what do high wages mean when there is no just price? Anyway, with all the talk of high wages, most of the people around here that I know are working for thirty and thirty five dollars a week. Also the great white collar class of young men and young women are getting along by living at home, profiting by the industry and thrift and better housing opportunity of their parents.
People sooner or later will have to admit that things are rapidly getting worse, not better. People said during the war that Hitler had the theory that the bigger the lie, the easier it was to get people to believe it. It seems to me we have quite a number of these big lies.
There is the lie of high wages.
There is the lie of widespread ownership.
There is the plentiful production lie.
There is the everyone consuming more lie.
In the little pamphlet DISTRIBUTISM by S. Sagar, a reprint of six articles from the Weekly Review of London, says that the great danger of today is not a revolt of the proletariat but the lethargy of the proletariat. He also says that the "preliminary to any step taken towards Distributism was the creation of the will to take them."
Here is one quotation from Pope Pius XII which ought to be considered a mandate along these lines.
"We confirm what only recently we had occasion to expound. For Catholics, the only path to be followed in solving the social problem is clearly outlined in the doctrine of the Church. The blessing of God will descend on your work if you do not swerve in the slightest degree from this path. You have no need to think up specious solutions or to work with facile and empty formulas for results that prove only a delusion. What you can and ought to strive for is a more just distribution of wealth. This is and this remains a central point in Catholic social doctrine."
Joseph T. Nolan writes in Orate Fratres:
"Too long has idle talk made out of Distributism as something medieval and myopic, as if four modern popes were somehow talking nonsense when they said: the law should favor widespread ownership (Leo XIII); land is the most natural form of property (Leo XIII and Pius XII); wages should enable a man to purchase land (Leo XIII and Pius XI); the family is most perfect when rooted in its own holding (Pius XII); agriculture is the first and most important of all the arts (Pius VII); and the tiller of the soil still represents the natural order of things willed by God (Pius XII).
But in general there is so little facing of the problem of the land, or of machinery, which the Franciscan Belliot called "one of the gravest and most disquieting elements in the social problem." How many Catholics, especially liturgists, share the anxiety of the present pope at "the agglomeration of huge populations in the cities and the diminution of modern man by the domination of the machine? Neither the nihilists nor the optimists who still dream of abundant production can fill our present need; a lot closer are the realists who are willing to rebuild an organic Christian society from the ground up, from the soil, who might escape the very real prospects of unemployment, hunger and despair."
There are numerous steps that can be taken, outlined in THE RESTORATION OF PROPERTY by Hilaire Belloc. But how to create in men a desire to take them, a hope that they will be able to take them?
Things have gotten so desperate, Mr. Sagar says, goods have gotten so scarce, the effort to find housing has become so heart breaking, that now at last today, after these many years, DISTRIBUTISM IS GOING TO BE DISCUSSED.
The alternatives are not capitalism or socialism. Nor are they the corporatism that Fr. Massey seems to be indicating in AMERICA. We must take into consideration the nature of man and his needs, not just cash--commodities, food and clothing, but a home, a bit of land, and the tools with which to work, part ownership in workshops and stores and factories.
Distributism does not mean that everyone must be a farmer. The Distributist thinks in terms of the village economy, and as for the size of the CITY (the city of God) which Cardinal Suhard talks of our building, that is a matter of situation. It may be five hundred, it may be five thousand, it may be fifty thousand. The main thing to do is to distribute the cities before the atom bomb does it. We are not suggesting that it be done by force but by education. If that seems too slow a method, probably depression, war, hunger and homelessness will play their part. We only know it is not human to live in a city of ten million. It is not only not human, it is not possible. "Cities are the occasion of sin," Fr, Vincent McNabb said, and of course any theologian will say that we should flee the occasions of sin. Pope Pius XII pointed out that it was difficult for modern youth to live in the cities without heroic virtue. (And it was never intended that the good life should demand heroic virtue.)
Distributism does not mean that we throw out the machine. The machine, Peter Maurin used to say, should be the extension of the hand of man. If we could do away with the assembly line, the slavery of the machine, and the useless and harmful and destructive machines, we would be doing well.
In the psalms it says, "Lord, make me desire to walk in the way of thy commandments." Daniel was called a man of desires, and because he was a man of desires, the Lord heard him.
But how, are we going to get people to desire, and to hope, when men like Fr. Becker writing in America; Fr. Higgins, of the N.C.W.C. and Fr. FitzSimmons of Notre Dame, accept the status quo, endorse social security instead of pointing to the enormous dangers that go with it and in effect combat the desire of the people for land and for bread, and feed them on husks that the acceptance of the city and the factory result in.
Cardinal Suhard of Paris and Fr. De Lubac, S.J., both cry out against the refusal of some traditionalists to be co-creators with God and use the tools which science has put in man's hands. But Fr. De Lubac also writes (in the Dublin Review) "Does not the discovery of new values involve the depreciation of other, perhaps more fundamental ones? And does it not breed, even while the discovery is still modest and tentative, a kind of intoxication, so that the passionate interest it arouses tends to make men oblivious of everything else, even of essentials? And so ambiguous situations pile up, leading inevitably to crises whose outcome no one can safely prophecy."
We are sure that these priests aforementioned have the interests of the worker at heart, and that in their social ideas and studies they are trying to remedy situations which have become well nigh intolerable. But the essentials are food, clothing and shelter. The essential is ownership which brings with it responsibility, and what is more essential than the earth on which we all spring, and from which comes our food, our clothes, our furniture, our homes.
It is as a woman, a mother, speaking for the family and the home, that I protest the work of "priest-sociologists," who in their desire to help the worker, are going along with him in his errors, and are accepting the easy way of capitalist industrialism which leads to collectivism and the totalitarian state.
To conclude this particular installment of our series of articles on Distributism, the warning is there, Isaias 26, 5--
"He shall bring down them that dwell on high; the high city he shall lay low. He shall bring it down even unto the ground; he shall pull it down even to the dust. The foot shall tread it down; the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy."
So, "strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees. Say to the faint hearted, take courage and fear not. Behold, your God will bring the bread of recompense. God Himself will come and save YOU."