Skip to comments.Dorothy Day: Anarcho-Capitalist, Perhaps
Posted on 02/25/2013 6:57:30 AM PST by ubipetrusest
[Someone]brought my attention to the [recent] tug of war ... over the legacy of Dorothy Day ... between pro and anti-capitalists. The Catholic Worker has criticized both the NY Times and Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute on Day-related matters. Liberals cant claim her ... because she was anti-abortion and loyal to Church teaching, obviously never having gone the way of radical disobedient feminism. But conservatives and libertarians cant claim her either because she rejected capitalism....
Or did she? As best I can tell, she neither practiced it or preached it as a way of life....
If you dont believe in force and compulsion, you believe by logical necessity that capitalism is at least permissible. At least capitalism as Fr. Sirico, Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard would define it, which is nothing more than private property + free exchange of goods and services. No capitalist along these lines ... could or likely would raise any objection to voluntary collectivist projects such as workers cooperatives or agricultural communes. Voluntary Distributism, which Day supported in her writings, is capitalism.
At any rate it is evident that Days conception of social justice had little if anything to do with the modern conception on both the Catholic and secular left. If she rejected a bountiful Uncle Sam, what would she say about Uncle Barry? The practice of taxation and redistribution rests upon force and compulsion, which doesnt magically become something else because the man with the gun to your head is wearing a badge.
Im probably not as radical as Day, since I believe in minimal taxation for a minimalist state. I also think that she and her comrades did not fully understand the extent to which free-market capitalism would and actually did raise the standard of living for the poor.
(Excerpt) Read more at the-american-catholic.com ...
The comment "One wonders if Day's distributism is socialism in disguise"--rather than "capitalism"--evoked the following reply from the author, Bonchamps:
"Even the best of political thinkers can have a lapse in consistency. Doesnt it seem strange to you that [Day] would oppose Social Security on the grounds that it relied upon force and then praise a violent revolution [in Cuba] that expropriated people by force?
It tells me that we dont really have a consistent thinker here. I think the reality is that she wanted an outcome, a certain kind of society, and was sympathetic to whomever she believed had obtained it or was on the way to obtaining it. If I had the opportunity, I would point out the massive inconsistency in rejecting force and compulsion when it comes to something relatively mild like Social Security while remaining ethically uncritical of something like the Cuban Revolution.
I would hope that she would see that social justice is meaningless without justice due to individuals, justice which is denied through totalitarian collectivism."
This exchange occurs about midway, as the posts of Bonchamps and others continue to raise new points in a discussion that is well worth reading!
One may disagree, of course, but if Day was a Distributist, she was, at least, in good company.
Ping for later
We believe that social security legislation, now balled as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity. It is an acceptance of the Idea of force and compulsion. It is an acceptance of Cain's statement, on the part of the employer. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Since the employer can never be trusted to give a family wage, nor take care of the worker as he takes care of his machine when it is idle, the state must enter in and compel help on his part. Of course, economists say that business cannot afford to act on Christian principles. It Is impractical, uneconomic. But it is generally coming to be accepted that such a degree of centralization as ours is impractical, and that there must be decentralization. In other words, business has made a mess of things, and the state has had to enter in to rescue the worker from starvation.
Of course, Pope Pius XI said that, when such a crisis came about, in unemployment, fire, flood, earthquake, etc., the state had to enter in and help.
But we in our generation have more and more come to consider the state as bountiful Uncle Sam. "Uncle Sam will take care of it all. The race question, the labor question, the unemployment question." We will all be registered and tabulated and employed or put on a dole, and shunted from clinic to birth control clinic. "What right have people who have no work to have a baby?" How many poor Catholic mothers heard that during those grim years before the war!
(Excerpt) Read more at catholicworker.org ...
solidarity = common sense
subsidiarity = let the smallest entity take care of a problem. That could be one’s church, neighvors, local government -— never BIG government.
solidarity = common sense
subsidiarity = let the smallest entity take care of a problem. That could be one’s church, neighbors, local government -— never BIG government.
Distributists and free market defenders share the foundational belief in the right to private property (individually or by private collective). Distributism and the free market are complementary systems.
Fr. Sirico points out the distinction between communal ownership of private property and ownership by the state:
"Many societies - and the Christian Church - have experimented with the idea of communal ownership, and have discovered that there is a significant difference between ownership by the state and ownership by a religious community. All property must be owned by someone. So when we speak of collective ownership we are usually talking about ownership by the state. And concentrated government ownership of property is a recipe for disaster." - Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy" by Robert A. Sirico ------------------------------
"For, every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own."
"It is not right for either the citizen or the family to be absorbed by the state; it is proper that the individual and the family should be permitted to retain their freedom of action, so far as this is possible without jeopardizing the common good."
". . . These advantages can be attained only if private wealth is not drained away by crushing taxes of every kind."
". . . [Justice] does forbid anyone to take from another what is his and, in the name of a certain absurd equality, to seize forcibly the property of others" (emphasis added).
As the iconic photo implies, DD would always set herself against the man with the gun. It tore her heart when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, and half of her volunteers wanted to go fight for Franco --- or at least for the Carlists; the other half for the Reds--- or at least for Catalonia. (I exaggerate; many wanted to feed, clothe, and bandage people, and die martyred by one side or the other, I'm sure.) But she was willing to lose something like 75% of her newspaper's staff and 80% of its circulation, rather than side with anyone who sided against the Works of Mercy.
The Works of Mercy: that was her program, and her only one.
Anyone could call her a fool, but there's a long tradition of that. She would say, "A fool for Christ. And I only wish I were moreso."
You’re welcome, Mrs. Don-o. Anyone could call Dorothy Day a fool, but one wonders if she can be called a fool for Christ. As for Day being set “against the man with the gun,” she praised bloody dictators such as Castro, stating that although she could not “condone” the means that brought about his victory, she endorsed his “social advances” (”Catholic Worker” [CW], September-December 1962). She had similar praise for Ho Chi Minh and declared, “If we had had the privilege of giving hospitality to a Ho Chi Minh, with what respect and interest we would have served him, as a man of vision, as a patriot, a rebel against foreign invaders” (CW, January 1970).
One wonders how accurately Day “instructed the ignorant”—one of the spiritual works of mercy—when she insisted:
Mao-tse-Tung. . . . Karl Marx . . . .Lenin . . . . These men were animated by the love of brother and this we must believe though their ends meant the seizure of power, and the building of mighty armies, the compulsion of concentration camps, the forced labor and torture and killing of tens of thousands, even millions. (CW, May 1951)
Day seems to have cultivated the ability—mentioned in Matthew 23:24—to strain at gnats and swallow camels.
Aren't many sins, even the most hellbent, motivated by disordered love?
I'd say she diagnosed their disorder rightly.
As for her naive assessments of other dictators, I would guess she's taking the press (like the NYT?) at face-value about their motivations and achievements. She did not, for all her speak-no-evil and hospitable talk, align with them. The vast bulk of her writings (and I've read almost everything she wrote that's in print) show that her means, ends, and methods, her theory and practice are all the same: the Gospels, the Works of Mercy.
She was totally out-of-sync even with plain old mid-century Liberalism, let alone Communism as an ideology and a program: to that, she was the polar opposite. She was a voluntarist (while the Left is all about coercion); a total stubborn minimalist when it comes to government (while the Left is all about the State); a Personalist (the only true alternative to the perverse individualist/collectivist incoherence of the protest movements of her day and ours.)
This was a woman who gave her most respectful attention to the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church, and who spent the days of her life in toil and in love for Jesus Christ Our Lord.
That does not make her infallible. Can I defend her every political jot and tittle? Of course not. Her naivete about Ho Chi Minh and Castro are wince-worthy, and --- if read stripped of all context--- scandalous. But why strip out 20,000 days of context? To highlight 4 or 5 offhand lines totally unrelated to her life's work and her life's love? What a distortion! It's like faulting John the Baptist because he didn't expose the Roman Empire's crimes and merely told occupying troops to be content with their pay.
Politics per se never defined Day: neither her ideals nor her program.
I still say, I'm willing to wait for the miracles. That will be the verdict that counts.
I may join you on some other topic. On this one, Finis.
Mrs. Don-o, Unlike you, I fault Dorothy Day for asserting that such acts of destruction and violence are motivated by any kind of “love”—lust for power, hatred for other human beings would be more appropriate designations. This claim puts Day’s practice of propaganda before her recognition of reality. Similarly, “pacifist” Day wrote of the guerrilla Colombian priest Camilo Torres and of Castro’s henchman Che Guevara:
The attraction is strong, because both men literally laid down their lives for their brothers. “Greater love hath no man than this.”
“Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” Che Guevara wrote this, and he is quoted by Chicano youth in “El Grito Del Norte.” (”Catholic Worker,” [CW], May 1970)
Day also declared: “During the Franco-Prussian war, Bernadette considered the Prussians the servants of God. . . . How many Christians think of Hitler or Stalin in this way, as ‘the servant of God’” (”Our Stand,” CW, June 1940).
If you have “read almost everything she wrote that’s in print,” how can you claim that Day making Castro a hero was merely a response to the “New York Times”?
After Pope John XXIII excommunicated Castro in January 1962, Day showed her “respect” for the Holy Father by visiting Cuba later in the year and then writing several articles (CW,September-December 1962) in which she could not “condone” Castro’s bloody means, but had to praise the “social advances” that resulted. She also claimed that the clergy exiled from Cuba left voluntarily, and were not expelled by Castro.
As for Day not “aligning” herself with such dictators, this is disproven by her frequent praise in the CW for Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, and Lenin. Dr. Carol Byrne’s 2010 “The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis” is essential reading and documents these claims, and the complete Supplementary Notes for her book are available at “Dorothy Day Another Way.”
Such accolades and Day’s praise of prominent US Communists Anna Louise Strong, Mike Gold, Rayna Prohme, and Gurley Flynn are in stark contrast to her criticism of the ex-Communist Louis Budenz. In addition Day was an invited observer at the Communist Party USA Convention (CW, March 1957). She also sympathized greatly with the Party’s trials, as the following “message” she sent to the Communist newspaper “The Daily Worker,” shows:
We at the Catholic Worker express our sympathy to The Daily Worker in the eviction they have suffered even though their beliefs are contrary to our own. Freedom of the press is a concept fundamental to Jeffersonians and libertarians and freedom in general is essentially a religious concept. The Smith Act itself shows that our country is so superficially religious that it is not willing to take the risk and consequences of a faith in freedom and man’s use of it. (In a lighter vein), if we only had the space and could be truly charitable and hospitable we would offer the use of our offices and even of our mailing list, since the bureaucrats have confiscated yours, and we are sure that we would risk nothing in such a gesture but achieve a healthful clarification of thought. Yours for a green and peaceful revolution.
The editors The Catholic Worker. D.D.
P.S. Seriously speaking, since it has been called to our attention that the faithful are forbidden to read Marxist writings, we withdraw our facetious offer of our mailing list. (”The Daily Worker Case,” CW, April 1956)
Day certainly had a strange “theory and practice” of “the Gospels, the Works of Mercy.” May we be preserved from the “sanctity” of Dorothy Day.
Salvation, If you read Day’s writings in the “Catholic Worker” (CW), you will see that she castigates the US for implementing “compulsory” programs, while she praises the communes and “social advances” in Castro’s Cuba and Mao’s China.
The first two paragaphs of Day’s statement in your post are what elicited the following comment on the inconsistency of her thought:
Even the best of political thinkers can have a lapse in consistency. Doesnt it seem strange to you that [Day] would oppose Social Security on the grounds that it relied upon force and then praise a violent revolution [in Cuba] that expropriated people by force?
It tells me that we dont really have a consistent thinker here. I think the reality is that she wanted an outcome, a certain kind of society, and was sympathetic to whomever she believed had obtained it or was on the way to obtaining it. If I had the opportunity, I would point out the massive inconsistency in rejecting force and compulsion when it comes to something relatively mild like Social Security while remaining ethically uncritical of something like the Cuban Revolution. (Bonchamps, “Dorothy Day Anarcho-Communist, Perhaps”—comment by Bonchamps)
As a self-proclaimed “revolutionary” (CW, April 1953; January 1970), Day may have been sorely disappointed at successful attempts to save the US economy. She believed that “revolution” would come to the US and “hoped” it would not be violent (”Beyond Politics,” CW, November 1949). She also declared: “In this country too the final solution will be the commune but how it will be brought about is in God’s hands. He may permit a bloody revolution” (CW, March 1959).
When Day presented herself as a distributionist, she remained an anarchist and wrote:
The Catholic Worker ... recommends a study of Kropotkin’s “Fields, Factories and Workshops,” of Martin Buber’s “Paths in Utopia.”
Proudhon wrote in 1864—”Anarchy is a form of government or constitution in which the principle of authority, police institutions, restrictive or repressive measures, bureaucracy, Taxation, etc., are reduced to their simplest terms.” “Less representation and more self-government.” (CW, March 1959)
Proudhon is famous for asserting “Property is theft” and Day agreed (CW, December 1971). Kropotkin believed in the use of force to redistribute wealth—as did Day, who wrote:
Fortunately, the Papal States were wrested from the Church in the last century, but there is still the problem of investment of papal funds. It is always a cheering thought to me that if we have good will and are still unable to find remedies for the economic abuses of our time, in our family, our parish, and the mighty church as a whole, God will take matters in hand and do the job for us.
When I saw the Garibaldi mountains in British Columbia.... I said a prayer for his soul and blessed him for being the instrument of so mighty a work of God. May God use us!” (CW, July-August 1969).
Another of Day’s heroes was Saul Alinsky (CW, May 1966).
Please also see my comments to Mrs. Don-o on Day’s favorable view of Communist societies and Communists. Dr.Carol Byrne documents these facts in her essential “The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis,” published in 2010.
The more one reads Day’s writings, the clearer it is that she was neither an “anarcho-capitalist” nor a simple distributionist, and her claims have to be examined closely.
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