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Catholic View of the Economy: Excerpts from Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler's "The Labor Question and Christianity" (1864)

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I am further justified in offering judgment on this matter in order to discuss the position that Christianity, with its teachings and characteristic methods, takes on this important question. Any Christian who does not wish to live thoughtlessly amidst the most important stirrings of the day must surely have sorted this out for himself. One wants to raise the “moral and economic condition of the working class” and to make certain proposals to this end. What can be more important than knowing how these proposals stand in relationship to Christianity, [knowing] whether we agree with them, may support them or not, [knowing] what special methods Christianity possesses for the moral and economic elevation of the working class? These are honest questions that are intimately connected with the Christian religion, ones that I, as a Christian, and even as a bishop, feel called upon to judge.

[ . . . ]

It can no longer be denied that the entire material livelihood of almost the entire working class – in other words, the largest portion of humanity in modern states, the livelihood of their families, the question of daily bread for man, woman, and child – is subject to all the fluctuations of market and commodity prices. I know nothing more deplorable than this fact. What emotions must this conjure up in these poor people, who are dependent upon the contingencies of the market price for everything they need and love? This is the slave market of our liberal Europe, tailored according to the pattern of our humane, enlightened, anti-Christian liberalism and Freemasonry.

It was not always so. Rather, these conditions for the working class first arose generally in modern states. This does not mean that we are making a judgment, we are only expressing the fact that these fluctuations in the standard of living of the entire working class – it depends upon a daily wage for its entire livelihood, but this wage has become a commodity whose price is determined daily by supply and demand, almost always representing merely the worth of the barest necessities for living and often sinking below that value – were unknown in the past and only emerged with the reorganization of governmental relations since the [French] revolution [of 1789].

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