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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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freedom: if he does not want to go hungry, both he and his family are dependent upon this specific place and this specific business; he must work for this rich factory master, and this “must” is just as compelling for him as for any slave who is taught this “must” with whips and chains. Thus, countless workers in the factory districts – and the distress of these poor people, who are so dependent upon the will of their factory master and have a profound awareness of this dependency – are still abused so often, while at the same time the rhetoric of humanity and tolerance overflows, ruining them religiously and morally. Who is not acquainted with such factory masters, whose great workhouses are nothing more than institutions where our poor, poor Christian people, namely our Christian youth, learns dissolution, mockery of religion, and every kind of bad passion? What kind of an impact would there be if one could begin – in these modern slave districts of white slavery, where the poor Christian people is abused by un-Christian factory masters – to establish Productive Associations on a Christian foundation? If Christian love could amass the means necessary for a business establishment and summon the workers to work for this business on the condition that a portion of the profits (that portion not needed for the operation of the business or for reserve funds) would flow to them as property out of Christian love? The success would be great, and the cursed influence of an industry that has fallen away from God on our working class might thereby be broken for good. May the attention of all Christian thinkers who are driven by the Christian spirit to reflect upon the distress of the working class and on the means to help them turn toward this matter at hand; may God arouse the people to acquire the insight and means to work toward this goal. If one were to begin with those branches of industry that do not require very significant sums of capital, then this might not be quite so hard to implement. In our time, there are also classes that are driven to achieve good for their fellow human beings. In earlier times, the nobility gave a portion of the great monastic foundations as an offering to the Church. It seems to me that there could hardly be anything more Christian and pleasing to God than for a cooperation to convene in order to work for this purpose at a place where the distress of the workers is especially great, and to establish this kind of Productive Association for workers on a Christian foundation.

Source: Wilhelm Emmanuel Baron von Ketteler, Sämtliche Werke und Briefe [Complete Writings and Letters], ed. Erwin Iserloh. Mainz: von Hase & Koehler Verlag, 1977 - , vol. 1, part 1, pp. 368-70, 380-85, 432-33, 435-38, 439, 444, 448-50, 451-453, 454-55.

Translation: Jeremiah Riemer

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