The leading conceptions of property in American social Christianity
Loper, Joseph Norris
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The purpose of this dissertation is to present in organized form and show the significance of the basic ideas regarding property as conceived by the leading men of that movement in America, which has come to be known as "social Christianity." The problem requires a careful selection of the prominent men on the basis of their contributions to the movement itself, to Protestantism in America, and to the development of the nation's social thought. Social Christianity is a movement in American Protestantism which began to take form during the late 1870's and which reached the zenith of its influence during the period of approximately ten years preceding the First World War. The climactic stage of its development came during the first decade of the present century when it began to receive official recognition by the major Protestant denominations of America. Its major religious achievement was the impetus it gave to the formation of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America in 1908. Since that time its social principles have been promoted both from within the framework of the activities of the Federal Council and by a number of spokesmen within the tradition of social Christianity who are representative of some of the more radical ideas which were prominent in the earlier days of the movement. This movement historically has emphasized the social implications of the Christian gospel and attempted to apply a practical social doctrine, as distinguished from a speculative theological doctrine, to the social and economic problems of society. As a movement it had its beginnings about the time when the machinery of the Industrial Revolution was undergoing tremendous expansion, following the Civil War, and when the American "gospel of wealth," proclaimed by Andrew Carnegie and others, began a steady climb to the peak of its popularity which was reached during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Its doctrine of social ethics is often called the "social gospel," and its extreme form is referred to as "Christian socialism," although both terms are sometimes used as if they were synonomous with "social Christianity." By 1900 this movement had already reached a stage of maturity in which its social claims were generally acceptable in the main stre·am of American Protestantism. By the time of the First World War, social Christianity had developed into a forceful movement within American Protestantism, and dared to call seriously for social changes in the nation's economy and policies by which the secularism of capitalism would be supplanted by social conditions based on Christian ethical considerations. The subject matter of this study is of particular interest and importance at this time because of the growing tensions throughout the world today. The various conflicting theories and the ideological incompatibilities leading toward disintegration among nations have to do largely with the role which property must play in the world society of today and in the future. The method of approach in this study has been to consider the prominent ideas of the most representative personalities of social Christianity from the standpoint of the principal issues involved in the subject of property. The issues and sub-issues are used as chapter headings and sub-topics. The choice of significant primary source material was governed largely by the selection of the leading men of the movement. This selection was not arbitrary but was made inductively from a survey of the literature of the outstanding personalities, and also from insights gained by studying the secondary source material such as that found in several historical studies of the Christian social movement. Choices were based upon two factors: (1) whether the man was fairly representative of social Christianity, and (2) the extent to which his work had dealt with the subject of property from an ethical point of view. These criteria led to the selection of several men who were not clergymen, and one (Henry D. Lloyd) who was not a church member. The men whose works were examined most carefully were: Washington Gladden, Henry George, Henry D. Lloyd, Richard T. Ely, Josiah Strong, W.D.P. Bliss, Edward Bellamy, Francis G. Peabody, Shailer Mathews, George D. Herron, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Harry F. Ward. Other men who, because of necessary limitations of space, received less careful attention were: A.J.F. Behrends, Kirby Page, and E. Stanley Jones. Occasional references were of course made to various other men connected with the movement who have made important statements on particular issues considered in the investigation. The first chapter is introductory and deals with definitions, methods, historical background, and a review of the work previously done in this field. Chapter II deals definitively with the leading issues in the problem of property, gives some indication of their magnitude, and anticipates the main argument by listing the Christian standards upon which the conceptions of property in American social Christianity are based. Chapters III and IV portray the conceptions of social Christianity, as expressed by its leading spokesmen, on what are considered the most important factors involved in the relationship of property to the individual and in the role of property in society. Chapter V deals with the solution to the problem of property, as offered by social Christianity, and represents the main argument. The solution offered is two-fold. It calls for the socialization of property and demands that property shall be "Christianized." What these two terms mean, within the framework of the movement generally and in the conceptions of the leading spokesmen of the movement in particular, is made clear in this chapter. Socialization is defined in terms of Christian ethics. It usually means that material things should be collectively owned and democratically managed by the community. This is not the same as mere government ownership, but involves economic democracy with control in the hands of the people, whose equal rights in determining how property shall be used are not to be abrogated. It means that property is to be managed by the people for the people so as to contribute to their welfare, and not by a few individuals for building up their economic and political power over others. This power aspect of accumulated property controlled py individuals is strongly condemned; because of its tendency toward economic injustice, and because both its acquisition and its use tend to divide the people into classes. From the standpoint of Christian ethics this is not considered the true role of property. Thus the socialization of property means basically that property is in reality to be Christianized, but some of the men studied believe that collective ownership and control, under democratic management from the grass roots, is one of the requisites for achieving the goal of Christianization. "Christianizing property" is a phrase made use of, principally by Walter Rauschenbusch but occasionally by most of the others studied, to mean that property should be considered for use to express and fulfill the merits and claims of Christian love as taught in the New Testament. This conception concerns desires and attitudes based on Christian motives, rather than on programs and policies, except of course that programs and policies require proper motives in their administration. An example of property that was Christianized would be found in the spirit and attitudes of the members of a well-adjusted Christian family toward the property which is used to provide the material comforts of the home. The primary emphasis here is upon collective property rights, with accompanying but secondary prescriptions for de~irable ownership arrangements. Coercion is prescribed only to prevent the disruption of the fraternal community by those who would attack it for predatory purposes. This meaning of Christianization is based upon right use and not upon a particular system of ownership. It expresses the principle: "property for use and not for power." In chapter VI the writer analyzes briefly the impact which the social gospel movement has had upon American thinking about property. It deals with the leading conceptions in their influence upon American Protestantism, upon the developing labor movement, and upon American economic policy. Several conclusions are drawn from the study of these conceptions of property: (1) that valid moral demands are made for collective property rights, but that there is no general agreement among the men studied with respect to the economic system most favorable to a proper administration of property; (2) that their views are validated by Christian ethics when they contend that the particular economic system to be put into effect is of secondary importance to considerations of the primary purpose of property in society--that of serving human values; (3) that moral considerations sustain them in claiming that the right to private property is sacred only to the extent that the use of it contributes to public welfare, human brotherhood, and social solidarity; (4) that, as they have insisted, the true or ideal purpose of property is to serve in the enhancement of personality values, in the role of an instrumental social value rather than as a power weapon; (5) that the leaders of the movement have both ethical and sociological grounds for assuming that there is no way of solving the problem of property without making property secondary in relation to the total needs of persons in their social relationships; and finally, (6) that they have historical grounds for insisting that high and seemingly impossible ideals tend sooner or later to pass over into the realm of reality.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University