Skip to main content

You are here

Debs Is Different

Winter 2015 - Vol. 57, No. 1


This essay appears in the Winter 2015 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.


American historians often position Rerum Novarum, an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891, within the context of American labor struggles. According to the standard treatment, Rerum Novarum largely anticipated and found its fulfillment in the writings of labor agitator and American Catholic priest Fr. (later Msgr.) John Augustine Ryan (1869–1945), and broadly endorsed the platform of labor organizations such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Knights of Labor. What is frequently left out of these encomia to labor unions, however, is the ringing denunciation of socialism that Pope Leo XIII also sought to convey in the pages of the encyclical. Far from being a blanket concession to labor, Rerum Novarum was more accurately a warning against both capitalist excesses and the dangers of socialism and communism, with a particular insistence on private property rights as foundational to the preservation of the dignity of man. Above all, Rerum Novarum was a warning against the violence that socialists and anarchists might foment among workers dissatisfied with their lot.

Pope Leo saw more presciently than most the truly socialist, and even anarchist, nature either latent or explicit in many labor unions. For him the question of labor was only partially one of negotiations between workers and factory owners, and was more fundamentally a stark choice between the maintenance of private property rights and an anarchist revolution. But because Fr. Ryan’s filtered Rerum Novarum has come to be the standard version of the document in the United States, American labor history scholars have, with notable exceptions, operated under an incomplete understanding of this clear-eyed and prophetic document. Following Leo’s insights, a rereading of American labor cases within the darker context of actual and threatened violence will reposition labor in relation to its rightful historical background.

One need not look far to find instances of American historians’ taking John A. Ryan’s exegesis as their touchstone for understanding Rerum Novarum. Eric Foner, in The Story of American Freedom, provides a good example of this phenomenon: “Ryan, who had grown up in Minnesota in a family sympathetic to Henry George, the Knights of Labor, and the Populists, sought to translate into American terms Pope Leo XIII’s powerful encyclical of 1891, Rerum Novarum, which denounced the divorce of economic life from ethical considerations, endorsed the right of workers to organize unions, and repudiated liberal individualism in favor of an organic vision of the good society.”1 Foner is right to point out that Ryan sought to expropriate Rerum Novarum on behalf of his own political sympathies, but through this glossing over of the unmistakable antisocialist thrust of Leo’s encyclical, American readers are left with the impression that Rerum Novarum contains no denunciation of the socialist tendencies of the labor movement in the United States and elsewhere.2

There is a further distortion at work in our understanding of Rerum Novarum: the idea that somehow the Catholic Church arrived late on the scene of social awareness, attempting to play catch-up with more enlightened governments in the late nineteenth century. But as R. H. Tawney points out, “the criticism which dismisses the concern of churches with economic relations and social organization as a modern innovation finds little support in past history.”3 Indeed, Catholic social doctrine, far from being a nineteenth-century innovation, is as old as the Church itself. Early Christians were vociferously opposed to the pagan Roman practice of infanticide,4 for example, while orphanages and organizations for caring for the poor were established by the Apostolic Constitutions as early as AD 375.5 Medieval guilds, moreover, were often religious organizations that not only helped secure for their members a means of earning an honest living but also helped ensure that they would be properly fed and decently buried, all within the context of Catholic teaching on the dignity of man.

Much more recently than the time of the Apostolic Constitutions or even the medieval guilds, though, Pope Leo XIII’s immediate predecessors had taken a keen interest in the revolutionary, often violent upheaval that followed in the train of Europe’s industrialization and, earlier, the cult of reason that was a by-product of the self-styled “Enlightenment.” The French Revolution and the Terror, Napoleon’s continuation of the Twelve’s war on the Church, the sans-culottic Jacobinism of Thomas Paine, and the troubling antiauthoritarianism of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Arthur Schopenhauer, all combined to make the challenges to the Catholic Church’s duties of evangelization unmistakably clear. Materialism necessarily denied transcendence and the supernatural, rationalism privileged finite human reason over the guidance of God, and democracy and republicanism encouraged popular rebellion against the moral and teaching authority of the Church.6

* * *

In 1864 Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) issued an encyclical entitled Quanta Cura, to which was appended a Syllabus of Errors condemning the mainstays of liberalism: civil marriages and divorces, rationalism, and, most important for our purposes, socialism and communism.7 A striking clue to the gravity of the Vatican’s concern with upheavals in Western philosophy, social practice, and moral sensibility came in 1869, when, at the Vatican Council in Rome (the often overlooked “Vatican I”), Pius IX issued his Bull of Infallibility, which holds that the pontiff, when speaking ex cathedra (that is, in his capacity as the successor of St. Peter and the vicar of Christ), and in accordance with several other qualifications and caveats, is infallible on questions of dogma. The Catholic Church, then, did not suddenly wake up to the need for social teaching in 1891. The tradition of social thought began in Nazareth, not with the house of Napoleon. Furthermore, popes during the nineteenth century were keenly aware of the gathering opposition to the magisterium, and sought plainly and directly to refute the errors of a wayward modernity.

When Leo XIII became pope in 1878, he largely continued Pius IX’s teachings. On December 28, 1878, for example, Leo XIII’s encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris (On Socialism) condemned the “deadly plague” of socialism; his Immortale Dei: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Christian Constitution of States of November 1, 1885, reinforced the Catholic teaching that the state, properly arranged, is meant to be managed in accordance with Catholic social thought; and his January 10, 1890, encyclical Sapientiae Christianae: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Christians as Citizens reaffirmed the infallibility of the pope when making pronouncements touching upon the dogmas of the Catholic Church.8 It is against this background of strenuous opposition, not only to socialism and communism, but more broadly to the entire fabric of the emergent Western social order, that we should understand the document that Leo XIII would issue just one year after Sapientiae Christianae. In Rerum Novarum, Leo qualifiedly accepted the rights of workers to organize with the important, and now almost entirely overlooked, proviso that socialism and communism, and not necessarily capitalism, were the most pressing dangers facing workers, and indeed entire societies, in the rapidly changing economic, social, cultural, and political milieus of the late nineteenth century.

As Anthony Esolen has recently noted,9 perhaps much of the confusion over Rerum Novarum stems from the title itself. Far from pandering to the modern obsession with the new, as the title may at first seem to indicate, Leo was, on the contrary, hearkening back to the ancient Roman connotations of the res nova, or revolution. Innovation was not a welcome guest in Roman politics, and revolution was often seen to be a political calamity. “The ‘spirit of revolutionary change,’ rerum novarum spiritus,” writes Leo, “has been disturbing the nations of the world.”10 The pope is not issuing a clarion call to throw open the gates and let the winds of innovation and revolution blow through Christendom whither they list. To the contrary, Leo is cautioning mankind against the “enlightened” notion of the “rational” revolutionaries that the nature of mankind, and his fundamental relationship with his Creator, his fellow man, and God’s creation, are subject to renegotiation.

These relationships are fixed, and man’s corruptible nature does not change. Utopianism cannot replace prudence. Laborers deserve dignity, not millenarian panaceas and revolutionary nostrums that would undermine fundamental rights of property and the governmental order that safeguarded those rights. Labor relations, then, are merely a part of Leo XIII’s much broader and more profound meditation on what it means to be a human being, and how work, community, and the family are imperiled by revolutionary philosophies of both untrammeled capitalism and socialistic leveling.

This unmistakable and oft-repeated clarity of Leo’s teaching makes it very puzzling that Ryan should portray Rerum Novarum as somehow a green light for labor unions in the United States. Ryan’s interpretation of Rerum Novarum, while mentioning the deeper considerations of Christian anthropology that Leo spends most of his encyclical discussing, concentrates much more heavily on the practical application of the labor aspects of Rerum Novarum, and in particular their support of Ryan’s call for “a living wage.” In his well-known book bearing that title, he argues that the ability to support oneself through one’s own labor for the enhancement of one’s fundamental dignity is in keeping with the long history of Catholic social teaching, of which Rerum Novarum is a part. In this, Ryan is indisputably correct. On the question of socialism, though, his denunciations are lukewarm at best. A Living Wage does not contain the word socialism in the index, for example, even though a second edition was published in 1912, the year in which Eugene V. Debs, avowed socialist and inveterate labor agitator, ran for president as the candidate of the Socialist Party of the United States.11

Ryan’s other pronouncements on socialism are equally ambiguous. In a February 25, 1917, address at the Old South Meeting House in Boston, for example, he explained that the Catholic Church, and in particular “two or three popes,” opposes socialism. Ryan then gives the reasons for said opposition and weakly concludes by saying that the Church “cannot be blamed for opposing that kind of a movement.” But Ryan then points out that “particular churchmen” (emphasis his), and not the Church as a whole, have been opposed to the revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thus distancing himself, and the Church by extension, from the antisocialist and anticommunist encyclicals issued beginning with Pius IX. In the same address, Ryan cites Rerum Novarum (which he characterizes as a somewhat unmuscular program of social reform) as “fairly adequate to meet the main evils of the social problem, as we have it” (emphasis his).12 This is not exactly fire and brimstone, one must admit, nor does it accurately reflect the tenor of Leo XIII’s document.

Elsewhere in his writings, Ryan takes a different tack, warmly thanking Fabian Socialists Beatrice and Sidney Webb and anti-imperialist John A. Hobson (whom V. I. Lenin also greatly admired), for instance, in his preface to A Living Wage (1906 edition) for their influence on his own work.13 Later, and especially during the campaign and presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ryan’s political sympathies would be made even more explicitly manifest. His unabashed politicking for Roosevelt, especially on the radio and in what can best be called stump speeches, earned Ryan the moniker “Monsignor New Deal.”14 During the 1936 presidential election, Fr. Ryan greatly vexed the Catholic Church in the United States by making a nationwide radio speech for Roosevelt, and Fr. Ryan had earlier worked as a Roosevelt agent within the Catholic Church, attempting to enlist support for the New Deal among his fellow clergy.

All this evidence is circumstantial, but if the view of Rerum Novarum that scholars of American history hold has been filtered through Ryan’s writings, then those scholars are unlikely to appreciate the full force of Rerum Novarum’s denunciation of socialism and of the subversion of any economic system based upon respect for private property. And if Americans at the time expected to hear the full story of Rerum Novarum, then Ryan was almost certainly not the man for the job.

* * *

Ryan was not the only interpreter of Rerum Novarum in the United States, though. Fr. William J. Kerby, professor of sociology at Catholic University, for example, interpreted, for his American audiences, Rerum Novarum in a way that complicated Ryan’s presentation of the document as somehow an endorsement of labor unions. For Kerby, Rerum Novarum was not just the Holy Father’s benediction of organized workers, but was, more important, a call to labor unions to organize against the threat of socialism, which was the moral and social error to which many labor agitators were prone. “The Church has entered the conflict as the avowed enemy of Socialism,” Kerby declared in 1907.15 And in 1910, speaking for the indisposed U.S. commissioner of labor, Charles D. Neill, who had originally been scheduled to appear, Kerby argued that trade unions would function as the bulwarks against socialist infiltration in America. As one New York Times reporter summed up his speech, Kerby “paid tribute to trades unionism as the force which is to save the world from Socialism.”16 This is a far cry from Ryan’s half-hearted, resigned acceptance of the antisocialist aspect of Rerum Novarum, an aspect of the document that he excluded completely from his 1906 and 1912 editions of A Living Wage and mentioned only parenthetically in his 1917 address in Boston.

Indeed, although Ryan is typically the only American Catholic mentioned in treatments of Rerum Novarum’s reception in the United States, the documentary evidence shows that he was overwhelmingly in the minority in his reluctance to identify socialism as the main enemy of the American workingman. American bishops were unanimous in their denunciation of the doctrine. Bishop Thomas F. Lillis’s remarks in 1910 are representative of most bishops’ views on socialism: “At present there is a nervous unrest in all nations caused by a school that appeals to the masses to destroy private property. . . . Inviolability of private property is a fundamental principle of ownership not to be lost sight of, if the welfare of all is to be attained.”17 Bishops and archbishops across the country echoed Bishop Lillis’s sentiments in addresses given during the first decade of the twentieth century and later. No less an august personage than John Murphy Cardinal Farley of New York, speaking on the subject of Rerum Novarum during the annual Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in 1909, held that socialism was “the heresy of the hour—a rampant heresy,” a “common enemy” to be “combat[ted],” and that it was “of the utmost importance that the fallacy underlying socialism be pointed out.”18

On the one hand, then, we have Ryan’s studied avoidance of the topic of socialism in most of his public speeches and writings, and, on the other hand, we have priests, bishops, archbishops, and even princes of the Church speaking of the duty made incumbent upon Catholics by the Holy Father in Rerum Novarum to combat the socialist heresy. Labor unions, far from being exempt from this duty, were, in the estimation of Fr. Kerby, at least, to be the vanguard of the pope’s lutte contre le socialisme.

A reading of Rerum Novarum itself settles the dispute in favor of the Kerby camp. In the encyclical, Leo XIII laments the “spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world,” and which has now “passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics.”19 The pope then sets forth five “elements of the conflict now raging,” elements on which he dwells at length in the remainder of the document. First is “the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvellous [sic] discoveries of science”; second, “the changed relations between masters and workmen”; third, “the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses”; fourth, “the increased self-reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes”; and fifth, “the prevailing moral degeneracy.”

Leo XIII then acknowledges that the majority of the working classes live in “misery and wretchedness,” but, far from endorsing a state-centered solution to the problem of oppressed labor, Leo urges a return to the medieval guilds as a corrective to the fact that “public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion.” “Hardheartedness,” “greed,” and “rapacious usury” are surely evils that must be stopped, and the pope does not shy away from indicting “unchecked competition” as one of the sources of the workingman’s suffering.

In the very midst of these prefatory remarks, though, Leo warns that

the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion [i.e., between the rich and the poor, and between capital and labor] to pervert men’s judgments and to stir up the people to revolt. . . . To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community.20

According to Leo, “crafty agitators” would always be lying in wait to prey upon men’s frustrations and envies, and thus induce them to commit one evil in order to drive out another. As the history of the labor movement in the United States makes clear, such agitators were skilled at fomenting dissatisfaction among workers in order to further their own personal and political agendas.

* * *

Perhaps the most infamous example of such agitation in the United States was the Haymarket Riot of 1886, during which seven policemen and approximately the same number of rioters were killed after an unidentified person “threw a bomb into the police line.”21 Immediately after the riot, the State of Illinois passed the Illinois Criminal Syndicalism Act (1887), which made all coconspirators to revolution or the overthrow of the existing social order, however tenuous the association between the coconspirator and the event itself, “principal[s] in the perpetration of the same and [liable to] be punished accordingly.”22 Historians often portray the Haymarket Riots as an unfortunate confirmation of the prejudiced “stereotype of the alien bomb-throwing anarchist,” blaming the “retaliatory aftermath” (including, presumably, the Illinois Criminal Syndicalism Act) for “suppress[ing] labor organization and political radicalism through World War I” and “delay[ing], by at least a generation, [the] adoption of the eight-hour workday.”23 In the standard treatment, the Haymarket Riot was an isolated event that was unfairly used by antiunion forces to stymie the righteous reforms that workers had been trying to advance despite state and federal courts unfriendly to organized labor.

Recent research from within the American labor history field, however, complicates this dismissal of Haymarket as a reactionary response to an unsolved bombing, which was later used as a pretext to hold up the passage of admittedly overdue reforms. (The late Howard Zinn, predictably enough, even goes so far as to hint that it may have been the police themselves who threw the bomb in order to establish an excuse for busting up the demonstration.)24 In particular, two groundbreaking new books by labor historian Timothy Messer-Kruse, The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age (2011) and The Haymarket Conspiracy: Transatlantic Anarchist Networks (2012), are, it now seems, the first books ever to use the actual Haymarket trial transcripts as primary source evidence. Earlier labor historians, perhaps eager to acquit those with whom they sympathized, relied on a trial abstract produced by the anarchists’ defense attorney, which, as one might guess, was hardly a faithful summary of the proceedings. Messer-Kruse’s findings, which analyzed the trial documents themselves as well as the movements of the Haymarket participants after the riot and subsequent court proceedings, are damning to the Haymarket myth:

Chicago’s anarchists belonged to an international network of left-wing militants who believed that only bloodshed could bring social change. They plotted to incite violence at Haymarket. The person who threw the bomb was almost certainly Rudolph Schnaubelt, a close confederate of the defendants [who later escaped to Buenos Aires]. The eight men who were arrested received a fair trial[, and] most of the blame for their being found guilty lies with a defense team more committed to political theater than to providing competent legal counsel.25

Haymarket, then, was not an instance of rational, honest workingmen railroaded by corrupt and venal courts and prosecutors, as we so often hear in the treatment of Haymarket and other labor legends such as the Sacco and Vanzetti case (1927).

This excising of the darker side of union agitation from the scholarly record is also clearly manifest in the treatment of In re Debs, 154 U.S. 564 (1895), which was a Supreme Court hearing of Eugene Debs’s appeal of his lower-court conviction for contempt, stemming from his refusal to obey a court injunction against the American Railway Union, of which Debs served as president, to stop the Pullman Strike of 1894. As with Haymarket historiography, the treatment of Debs in labor scholarship shows little of the realism that Leo XIII exhibited in Rerum Novarum. According to one representative work, the Pullman strike had merely “halted the operations of all railroads running through Chicago. President Grover Cleveland, a conservative Democrat, sent federal troops to Chicago to break the strike, while his attorney general, Richard Olney (a railroad lawyer before he assumed public office), sought an injunction” against the union and its president, Debs.26 This implies that overweening federal power was brought to bear on a mere instance of “halted . . . operations” of Chicago railroads owing to political chicanery on the part of President Cleveland and his biased attorney general.

This near consensus on the heroism of Debs notwithstanding, the Pullman Strike was anything but the lopsided steamrolling of peaceful protesters by federal troops that many scholars would have us believe. The Pullman workers, unlike countless other laborers in the United States at that time, were provided by their company with neat row houses in which to live and were paid a living wage. Although an economic depression in 1893 had forced Pullman management to reduce wages greatly, Pullman employees, instead of bargaining directly with management for redress of their grievances, launched a debilitating strike that soon spread to twenty-three states, including, of course, Illinois.27 Because the railways carried the U.S. mails, the president requested, and received, an injunction to end the strike—which until then had been largely uneventful—and restore the transportation of postal matter.28

When federal troops entered Chicago (after having broken up smaller anti-Pullman strikes in other states), the Pullman employees intentionally set buildings in the city on fire in order to establish a defensive perimeter between the strikers and the troops. Between July 4 and July 7, Chicago was ablaze; nor did Pullman employees spare from the flames structures from the Chicago Columbian World Exposition of 1893, which were incinerated in the intentionally set inferno. In addition to this vandalism of both private and public property, the strikers set fire to countless railroad cars, and also physically attacked the federal troops that had been sent to keep the peace. After showing restraint for three days in the face of widespread arson, vandalism, and violence, federal troops finally responded on July 7, firing into the crowd in an attempt to protect property and the troops themselves. Over the course of the strike, thirty strikers were killed and fifty-seven were wounded. The strikers’ arson and vandalism had destroyed more than eighty million dollars’ worth of property.29

Debs, who had defiantly persisted in the strike despite the federal injunction against him and even despite the cooler counsel of fellow labor activist Samuel Gompers (associated with the AFL), was not a socialist at the time of the Pullman Strike. While in prison for contempt of the injunction, though, he read the works of Karl Marx and, by the time of his release, was a committed follower of Marxist socialism.30 Thus was the political conversion of Eugene V. Debs a product of the labor violence of his own creation.31 Debs, then, is precisely the sort of “crafty agitator” against whom Rerum Novarum so perspicaciously animadverted in 1891, fully three years before Debs continued the tradition of labor violence whose locus classicus we must continue to find in the Haymarket Riots of 1886.

* * *

Critics will object that I am painting labor unfairly with the Haymarket and Pullman brush. Indeed, one would be forced to concede that the Haymarket Riots and the Pullman Strike, although violent enough in and of themselves, do not yet constitute a pattern of violence sufficient to cast a pall of suspicion over the nascent labor movement in the United States. Unfortunately, though, further, and worse, examples of labor violence readily present themselves. The 1892 Homestead Strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania, for example, saw a veritable army of laborers literally bombarding a boatful of Pinkerton detectives sent to restore order to a Carnegie Steel Company plant, then managed by Henry Clay Frick (whom anarchist Alexander Berkman later tried to assassinate in retaliation for Homestead). Frick wished to secure the plant so that willing workers could enter it after militant labor forces had surrounded the plant and shut it down. Labor forces emplaced snipers to kill the Pinkerton detectives as they approached the plant. When this was unsuccessful, the union workers filled a railroad car full of oil drums, set it on fire, and hurled it down an embankment at the detectives, hoping to cover the river with a flaming oil slick and thereby incinerate the Pinkerton men. Women along the river banks shouted lustily for the union workers to murder the detectives on the barges. The Pennsylvania state militia eventually had to intervene in order to rescue the detectives and restore order.32

As gratuitously violent as the Homestead Strike was, though, it was still far from the most violent labor encounter in the United States. A coal miners’ strike at Blair Mountain, West Virginia, in 1921 saw some ten thousand union workers stage the largest armed insurrection in this country apart from the Civil War. The U.S. Army was required to march on Blair Mountain and suppress what can only be described as a military-grade guerilla insurgency against mine owners and managers.33

This pattern of labor violence has largely disappeared from the academic historical record, but it was all clearly limned in Rerum Novarum. Likewise, although some Catholic leaders in the United States, such as Fr. John Augustine Ryan, chose not to emphasize Pope Leo’s clear proscription of socialism in favor of advocating for Rooseveltian dirigisme, others, such as Fr. William J. Kerby, along with the majority of American bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, used Rerum Novarum to gather the multitude of Irish workers under Catholic guidance and deploy them as a powerful counterforce to a rising tide of socialism, anarchy, and general labor violence in the United States. Because Ryan’s sanitized version of Rerum Novarum is so often the only Rerum Novarum that American history scholars know, scholars and students alike often assume that Leo XIII’s encyclical was the Vatican’s blessing upon the labor movement. But it was much more complicated than that.

In its reception contentious and in its foresight prophetic, Rerum Novarum anticipated the dangers of socialism and labor violence, and, in doing so, offered Catholics in the United States and around the world a third way between managerial mistreatment and open revolution. In a similar fashion, Rerum Novarum reminds us today that the apotheosis of labor heroes like Eugene V. Debs is far from the whole story of socialism’s fraught, and all too often violent, relationship with American labor. ♦


Jason Morgan is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin and currently on a Fulbright grant researching Japanese legal history at Waseda University in Tokyo.

1      Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 144.

2      Particularly ironic is that this gloss leaves out Ryan’s later debates with avowed Marxist materialists against the implementation of full-blown socialism in the United States. Foner, then, gets it doubly wrong by leaving socialism out of the picture entirely. In Ryan’s public debates with Morris Hillquit in 1913, for example, Ryan argued against socialism mainly on economic grounds, again failing to embrace the religious objection to socialism expounded in Rerum Novarum. As one contemporary socialist put it at the time, “Ryan won all the economic points, Hillquit [a Marxist atheist] all the religious ones.” Francis L. Broderick, The Right Reverend New Dealer: John A. Ryan (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 87‒89.

3      R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (New York: Harcourt, 1926), 278. Quoted in Marc Karson, American Labor Unions and Politics, 1900-1918 (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958), 213.

4      Cf. the Didache (written between ca. 85 and 110) and the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 130). Cited in Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 51.

5      Apostolic Constitutions, book 4, section 1. The need to care for orphans was frequently a product of the martyrdom of parents. The young Origen, for example, was taken in by a Christian woman after Origen’s father, Leonides, was martyred under Septimus Severus in AD 202.

6      Karson, 214

7      Syllabus of Errors, 4; see also Karson, 214.

8      Following Karson, 215 and 323. Full texts of papal documents archived and readily available at

9      “Leo XIII Knew Socialism Would Fail because It Was Evil,” Crisis, Jan. 10, 2013; reprinted in Catholic Herald, diocese of Madison, WI, January 17, 2013, 3.

10     Rerum Novarum, as quoted in “Leo XIII Knew Socialism Would Fail because It Was Evil.”

11     The first edition, released in 1906, constituted the publication of Ryan’s doctoral thesis.

12     Fr. Ryan’s speech was titled “The Attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards Radical Social Reforms,” and has been reprinted in the Community Forum newsletter. Archived at

13     Ryan, A Living Wage, ix.

14     Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, “The Two Politics of Election 2000,” First Things, February 2001. Right Reverend New Dealer is the title of Francis L. Broderick’s 1961 life of Fr. Ryan.

15     William J. Kerby, “Aims in Socialism,” Catholic World 85 (July 1907): 511. Quoted in Karson, 219.

16     “Pledges Catholics to Union Labor / Father Kerby Declares the Church Will Stand by Them to the Last. / He Attacks Socialism / Police on Hand to Keep Believers in It from Raising a Disturbance in the Meeting,” New York Times, February 24, 1910.

17     Kansas City Journal, April 10, 1912. Quoted in Karson, 228.

18     The Catholic German American, August 5, 1911. Quoted in Karson, 227.

19     Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor, May 15, 1891. All Rerum Novarum quotes hereinafter taken from

20     Ibid.

21     In 1969, Bill Ayers bombed the statue that commemorates the fallen police officers who lost their lives in the Haymarket Riots. Ayers boasts about bombing the statue of “the pigs” in his memoir, Fugitive Days (New York: Penguin, 2003).

22     Kermit L. Hall, Paul Finkelman, and James W. Ely Jr., eds., American Legal History: Cases and Materials (4E) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 374

23     Ibid. This “stereotype” becomes at least somewhat more understandable when one considers that anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley in 1901; French anarchist Auguste Vaillant bombed a plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies in the French National Assembly in 1893; and the anarchist society Narodnaya Volya assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Countless other assassinations, bombings, and attempted murders were carried out by anarchist groups throughout Europe and the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many in collaboration with, in vengeance of, or in support of labor activists and unions.

24     Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 271‒73.

25     “What Happened at Haymarket?” National Review, Feb. 11, 2013.

26     Hall, 399.

27     Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1997. Available at

28     Some contend that Debs instructed the strikers not to interfere with the mails. This point is moot, though, since the strike could only have done precisely that. For an account sympathetic to Debs, see Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1982), esp. 128ff.

29     See, e.g., David Ray Papke, The Pullman Case: The Clash of Labor and Capital in Industrial America (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999).

30     To be fair, Debs later distanced himself from the more militantly violent wing of the socialists, although one could argue that a cynical desire to make himself palatable to voters, and not a sincere metanoia, was the motivation for his repudiation of the violence that had initially made him a hero of the labor Left after Pullman.

31     It is true that Debs was initially opposed to the Pullman Strike. But once he became involved, he did not return to his earlier position of measured restraint.

32     See, e.g., Edward Slavishak, “Working-Class Muscle: Homestead and Bodily Disorder in the Gilded Age,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 3, no. 4 (Oct. 2004): 339‒68.

33     See, e.g., Robert Shogan, The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America’s Largest Labor Uprising (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2004).