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Pope Leo XIIIs Rerum Novarum: Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor.

The Encyclical was created in the spirit of revolutionary change. It appears to be a

detailed response to Marxist ideologies as well as an analysis of the Capitalist system,
society, family, labor, and labor unions. The entirety of the discussion used Natural or
Divine Law and Christian faith and morality as the framework. The Encyclical was the
Churchs laudable attempt to connect Christian virtues of equality, charity, paternity to
what they deem to be the worldly matters such as State ideologies and labor
conditions, while maintaining a firm belief that what happens to mans soul in the
afterlife is of utmost importance.
While idealistic in, perhaps, an extreme sense of the word, the insights or objectives of
the Encyclical had, in mind, the same sense of justice found in legal precepts, taught to
law students.
And, while written by a Pope, no less, the Encyclical was privy to the motivations and
desires of men, like the way he feels deserving of ownership of property for his labor, as
well as to the human capacity for greed, as is manifested in those in leadership
positions and those who have great wealth. To some degree, the Encyclical also had a
sense of realism, in that it balanced idealism with how the world works. The Encyclical
was therefore sensitive to the perception of general readers, with the exception of
womenthe women of our generation, at the very least. Viewing this Encyclical in our
current era, feminists would be hard-pressed not to feel disdain towards the Encyclicals
opinion of women as that of the old world: that they are only suited to duties of the
household. This may be deemed quite appalling as the Pope discusses in order to show
that workers have different roles in societythe wealthy, there to provide capital, and

the laborers, there to maximize this capital, and then, the women, there to raise
Setting this aside, especially given the widely accepted social treatment of women in
1891, I felt that it was necessary for the Pope to have made this sense of connection
with the people, for its attempt in showing the harms and unnatural characteristic of a
Socialist State was a grand one. It needed all the sensitivity it could muster to topple the
Marxist ideology, which many would likely have seen as the cure to harsh labor
conditions and glaring inequalities, by showing how unnatural it was for man, being the
rulers of all of the dominion populated by animal creations, not to maintain ownership
over that which he labored. The Encyclical manifested a great degree of recognition of
the hardships that needed to be alleviated and so provided an alternative by turning to
the justice created by our laws, which, the Pope presumed, bowed down to the dictates
of both morality and reason.
To do this, however, the Encyclical needed to address a certain reality, which it had to
concede, and to even teach as a doctrine:
There natural exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important
kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary
result of unequal condition.
Personally, though, I felt that the way the Encyclical attempted to have inequality be
seen as something natural or even necessary was immensely idealistic. Later, the
Encyclical turned to the afterlife, and the way God makes no distinctions between a
person with little money and a person with great wealth, so long as the wealth was

earned properly, and spent properly. However, the Encyclicals immediate and, perhaps,
pragmatic attempt of remedying the inherent unfairness of this inequality was to view it
in this manner:
Such unequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the
community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of
capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses
the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition.
I felt that this way of viewing the inequality may be quite an exaggeration. It was trying
to say that those who work in the mines were there because they were most suited for
the task due to their own peculiar domestic condition[s]. While I do feel that it was an
inevitable assertion, since there was no better way of looking at it, it had the undertones
of futilityof a deterministic universe where people cannot escape the destiny given to
them by their birth lottery.
Nevertheless, the Encyclical stood for this view and attempted to assuage the laborerreaders by turning their attention to mechanisms to ensure just compensation as well as
charitable institutions and programs that ensure the dignity of the impoverished. Aside
from discussing rewards of the afterlife, the Encyclical showed the importance of labor
unions to maintain a healthy check-and-balance between employers and laborers as
well as Church organizations that accepted the views of all classes of society. The
Encyclical also focused on having people from all classes maintain the Christian virtues,
citing that, despite humanitys inherent capacity for greed, there are many who are as
charitable as they can be. The Encyclical conceded to allowing the wealthy to spend as

much money as they need in order to maintain their status in life, but that they should
exercise humanity in sharing to the needy what they have in excess.
In conclusion, the Encyclical was a comprehensive show of labor conditions as well as a
well-crafted attempt by the Pope to provide an alternative and to show the institutions
that maintain a reasonable amount of check-and-balance. However, despite the
soundness of the points made and the sensitivity it has shown to the human condition, I
have my reservations as to the overall persuasive value of the Encyclical.