Reading excerpts from John A. Ryan’s book A Living Wage: Its Ethical and Economic Aspects would have you believe you are reading the words of Karl Marx. Since books are written for larger audiences, as opposed to journals or letters, Ryan may perhaps be biased in his writing. His inability to pose a single logical argument makes this evident. His writing is based entirely in emotional appeal in an attempt to play at the heartstrings of as many people as possible. As a Catholic priest, he preys upon man’s innate desire to live a moral life by insisting his argument is a virtuous one.
The document begins strongly by comparing the United States to foreign nations. As well, Ryan posits that a right to a living wage is part of Christian doctrine. Ryan writes, “The right to a living wage is derived from the right to live from the bounty of the earth. The latter right acknowledged by most nations and insisted upon by Christianity” (Ryan, 1912, 81). However as a devout Christian myself, I can assuredly state this is not true. Nowhere in the Bible does Christ advocate for the State to intervene in people’s free and private affairs. Christ calls upon us to voluntarily help our fellowman so He may know who is truly righteous, since coercion does not emit true faith.
Thomas Jefferson, an ardent student of the Bible and political philosophy, crafted a book called The Life & Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, otherwise known as The Jefferson Bible. In his 2010 journal article titled “American Deism, Christianity, and the Age of Reason”, Donald Wayne Viney writes of Jefferson, “He cut verses and sections from the four Gospels which he deemed the authentic teachings of Jesus and arranged them roughly in chronological order, pasting them into the blank pages of a leather book. The excerpts are pasted in parallel columns in the order, Greek, Latin, French, and English. Jefferson omits all miracle stories and references to Jesus’s divinity.” Jefferson’s passion for freedom, which bore fruit to our great nation, was hence guided by the teachings of Christ. As aforementioned, studying the Bible reveals that Jesus Christ does not advocate for forced submission, but rather for our free will to guide us to righteous decisions. Jefferson too recognized this, which is why the United States is perhaps the first truly Christian nation to ever exist (Viney, 2010, p. 97). Yet Ryan does not see it as so.
In his document, John A. Ryan later opines that, “The right to a Living Wage is evidently a derived right which is measured and determined by existing social and industrial institutions.” He thus concedes the existence of natural rights by declaring such a thing as derived rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence that our rights are natural and inalienable. Although Jefferson was not directly involved in the ratification of our Constitution, Garrett Ward Sheldon wrote in his article for The William and Mary Quarterly, “Jefferson qualified his approval of the new United States Constitution by supporting adoption of a bill of rights specifically enumerating freedom of speech, press, and religion and guaranteeing due process of law.” Jefferson and his fellow republican minded constituents made it so our natural rights would be codified into our nation’s supreme law and untouchable by government (Sheldon, 1998, 662).
Our rights are intangible, yet Ryan suggests the exact opposite by saying, “[Other rights] are derived and secondary, occasioned and determined by the particular circumstances of particular persons” (Ryan, 1912, 81). Among these he believes is the right to a living wage. It is natural for a man to be able to bear the fruits of his own labor. We know this today to be the right to private property. Ryan claims to believe in the right to private property by writing, “Private property is morally legitimate because it is the method that best enables man to realize his natural right to use the gifts of material nature for the development of his personality.” However he contradicts himself in the next two sentences when he says, “It is therefore, merely a means, and its scope is determined and limited by the end which it promotes, and which is its sole justification. The private right of any and every individual must be interpreted consistently with the common rights of all.” In other words, he argues that the greater good of the collective supersedes the needs of the individual, and Ryan believes it to be the legitimate responsibility of the State to impose limits on a man’s private property. In essence, minimum standards can only exist if there are bounds on maximum standards, and Ryan believes government is the arbiter of these conditions (Ryan, 1912, 82).
Ryan’s sentiments were shared by Karl Marx; the father of one of the darkest philosophies to ever be crafted. Marx wrote in his book Communist Manifesto, “Private property must, therefore, be abolished and in its place must come the common utilization of all instruments of production and the distribution of all products according to common agreement – in a word, what is called the communal ownership of goods” (Marx, 1848, 47). Both Ryan and Marx iterate the need for a state coerced “common good,” yet this viewpoint is completely antithetical to what is natural. These men supplant individual rights with their envisioned utopia of a common good, thereby ignoring the fact that the collective body is comprised of individuals. How then can a collective good be attained if the rights of the individual are not even acknowledged?
It is imperative to note that Marx’s aspirations were to start a proletariat revolution and overthrow the bourgeoisie (Marx, 1848, 53). While Ryan does not appear to hold revolutionary beliefs, he does however emphasize that the ends justify the means (Ryan, 1912, 82). Ryan calls upon representatives to compose legislation that will put redistributive power in the hands of the State, but what if the State refuses to usurp such powers? How else would such ends be achieved other than revolution?
In his chapter titled “Jefferson, Morality, and the Problem of Slavery”, as part of the Peter S. Onuf’s book The Mind of Thomas Jefferson, Ari Helo writes, “Slaves were beyond—or beneath—such judgments. As long as they were slaves, they were by definition unable to exercise free will or to enforce claims to rights, ‘inalienable’ or otherwise” (Helo, 2007, 236). Free men are not told how to live their lives by the State. If Ryan wishes to strip us of our inalienable rights, we effectively become slaves to the State. Ryan writes, “The State has both the right and the duty to compel all employers to pay a Living Wage”, thus enumerating that employers are slave to the whims of their masters; the State (Ryan, 1912, 82).
There is a reason the United States has been exceptional since its birth. It is because we did not take advice from ignorant men like Ryan. Coaxing itself under the guise of being progressive, Ryan’s philosophy is in reality regressive. There is nothing liberal about big government. Big government has existed since the dawn of written history and has generated nothing but pain, suffering, and oppression for the masses. The political elites always prosper at the hand of their statesmen’s hard labor.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none” (Towne, 1916, 6). This happens to be the case in a system of government where our natural rights are honored by the State. But when government infringes upon these rights, as Ryan proposes, special privileges for a select few ensue. Ryan believes that the right to a living wage is derived because social and industrial institutions exist. How can any man claim that he is entitled to another man’s wealth? When our property is forcibly taken from us without our consent, it is called theft. But when the State steals from us, Ryan calls it social justice. Our rights are not truly equal if a select few are granted special privileges by the government.
It is odd that P. Raymond Nielsen should say of Ryan in The Catholic Historical Review that “John A. Ryan has been called the prophet of social justice, and very properly so” (Nielsen, 1954, 474). There is nothing just about government-imposed slavery. Also, to refer to Ryan as a prophet would again be adverse to the teachings of Christianity, as the New Testament states repeatedly that Christ is the last prophet. To strive for such radical political aims in the name of Christianity is egregiously dishonest.
Ryan’s beliefs are motivated by a disdain for the wealthy. Yet under his proposed form of government, the rich only get richer and the poor get poorer. Only large corporations are able to afford government imposed price floors. Meanwhile smaller companies are forced out of business by rising costs and more people then become unemployed. These are the basic principles of economics that Ryan chooses to ignore.
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, once famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” (Books, 2014, 49). What Ryan fails to understand is that you can only steal from others for so long before either their money runs dry, or they lose incentive to continue working hard. Perhaps Ryan should have read Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, where he thoroughly articulates how free trade and division of labor yields maximum results for all of society (Smith, 1776, 16). Ryan should have also read Smith’s preceding work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, where Smith aptly begins the book by writing, “No matter how selfish you think man is, it’s obvious that there are some principles in his nature that give him an interest in the welfare of others, and make their happiness necessary to him, even if he gets nothing from it but the pleasure of seeing it” (Smith, 1759, 1). Capitalism is 100% contingent with Christianity since altruism is what guides the free market. Ryan fails to recognize that producers can only succeed in the free market if they first meet consumers’ wants and needs. Wealth is thereby not a sign of greed but a sign that you have served your fellow man’s needs well. Ryan is wildly incorrect when he writes “A man’s right to a superfluous loaf which is his by a title of private ownership does not absolve him from the crime of injustice when he withholds it from his starving fellow man”, because a rich man only becomes wealthy by first feeding copious numbers of starving men (Ryan, 1912, 82).
What is perhaps most disconcerting is that Ryan was successful in effecting legal change here in the United States. In his journal entry for The Catholic Historical Review, James E. Hagerty writes of Ryan’s activism, “Considered a radical program when issued, all but two of its twelve important recommendations have been accepted in our national legislation.” He continues by saying, “If Dr. Ryan had done nothing else in his life, the authorship of this program on social reconstruction would have entitled him to rank among the nation’s great” (Hagerty, 1942, 461). I digress, however, and affirm that Ryan did our nation a great disservice by fabricating myths about our natural rights. He did much more to destroy the fabric of Christianity than uphold it, which should entitle him to rank among the nation’s worst.
Hagerty writes that, “the bishops’ program on Social Reconstruction published on February 12, 1919 was written by Monsignor Ryan” (Hagerty, 1942, 461). The program on Social Reconstruction was greatly influential in the writing of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and was commonly referred to as “a blueprint for the New Deal legislation enacted in the 1930’s” (Hunnicutt, 1983, 385). Therefore President Roosevelt’s drastic increases to the size of our federal government can be attributed to none other than John A. Ryan.
The United States declared independence from Great Britain under the premise that our natural rights are self-evident and inalienable. However John A. Ryan was inexplicably blind to the self-evident and passively promoted his Marxist agenda in the name of a false Christian dogma. His convictions were void of any logic and played at the benefit of our politicians who were in pursuit of greater power. Monsignor John A. Ryan is the Marxist in disguise who brought about a fundamental transformation of these United States, forever diminishing the Constitutional values our founding fathers fought so gallantly to secure.
- Books, M. (2014). Intro to Economics: Money, History and Fiscal Faith. Green Forest, Arizona: Master Books.
- Hagerty, J. (1942). Book Reviews. The Catholic Historical Review, 27(4), 460-462. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25014081.
- Hunnicutt, B. (1983). Book Reviews. The Catholic Historical Review, 69(3), 384-402. Retreived from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25021636.
- Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1848). Manifesto of the Communist Party,. New York: International.
- Nielsen, P. (1954). Book Reviews. The Catholic Historical Review, 39(4), 474-476. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25015679.
- Onuf, P., & Helo, A. (2007). Jefferson, Morality, and the Problem of Slavery. In The Mind of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrgv9.17.
- Ryan, J., & Foner, E. (1912). A Living Wage. In Voices of Freedom, 2(4), 80-82. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
- Sheldon, G. (1998). Reviews of Books. The William and Mary Quarterly, 55(4), 661- Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2674468.
- Smith, A. (1776). An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations. London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell.
- Smith, A. (1759). The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edinburgh: A. Kincaid and J. Bell.
- Towne, C. (1916). An Evolution In Politics: The Issues of 1916. Senate Documents, 43.
- Viney, D. W.(2010). American Deism, Christianity, and the Age of Reason. American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 31(2), 83-107. University of Illinois Press. Retrieved from Project M– USE database.