Chapter One (7/10)

Concerning property

It has already been indicated that Arizmendiarrieta had a very acute consciousness of living at a crucial point in history. “Probably the history of mankind has seen no stage more agitated than ours” (CAS, 53; cf. SS, II, 158). Generally, Arizmendiarrieta generously tends to understand this turbulent “stage” as the 19th and 20th centuries, including all the Modern Era, covering, beyond the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment and rationalism. But, unquestionably, he considers the two world wars as the culminating moments of the odyssey. In relation, especially, to the Second World War, he says: “this agitation and unrest characteristic of our historical age have increased in this last military conflagration and with the post-war difficulties” (CAS, 53). Indeed, the social ills that are considered the causes of war have not been eliminated or overcome with the defeat of fascism. On the contrary, the world has been divided into two blocs, the communist and the so-called democratic. But, more profoundly than by borders between States or between systems, mankind is intimately divided on its basic attitudes.

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There are two kinds of social actors that prevail, says Arizmendiarrieta: the conservatives, on the one hand, people of peace, as is vulgarly but commonly said, who are satisfied with the current state; and the revolutionaries, on the other hand, unhappy with the current situation, particularly with the current distribution of wealth. “It is commonly said that the former always tend to look back and find the foundations of their ideas and the basis of their privileges in history and in past life. The latter look at the present or to the future and demand their rights, the rights that their reason and their consciousness proclaim” (Ib.). This very distinction itself is clear enough to see where Arizmendiarrieta’s sympathies and preferences lie.

Although not the only one, the central point on which the spirits are divided and the two positions are defined most categorically is that of property (Ib.). This is, therefore, the cardinal point on which the question of the establishment of a more just social order is decided: “A social economic order made to fit man. There currently exists a social economic order, but not made to fit mankind, but rather made to fit the measure imposed by a false concept of property” (Ib. 54).

Two forces are in conflict, and Arizmendiarrieta makes an effort to define his doctrine as a third way: these are liberalism, or capitalism, which considers the right to property an absolute and sacred natural right, and collectivism, or communism, which considers it unnatural. Arizmendiarrieta considers property a relative, conditioned and limited natural right; or, as he says, a right of functional character.

Historical meaning of property

To show the relativity of the concept of property and of its value, Arizmendiarrieta begins a historical review. The historical origin, he tells us, cannot be determined precisely. The first data we have on property assumes societies that are already highly developed and organized, with their kings, landowners, slaves, etc. Even societies that are considered primitive or savage have forms of organizing that are relatively advanced, including a certain system of property. Some undergo a slow evolution which would go from a primitive communism towards economic specialization or property. But this thesis, whose main inspiration is a deterministic evolution, cannot be confirmed with sufficient data (Ib. 55-56).

However, Arizmendiarrieta follows an outline of historical evolution, according to which, in a primitive civilization in which the population lived in caves and fed on wild fruits, the ownership of houses and lands would be of no interest. Likewise, nomadic societies would not seek lands to own, but rather sites on which to graze their cattle. “Stable ownership or possession is presented linked to the development of forms of sociability,” he tells us. “The more culture expands, the more grazing of animals is practiced, and the better provisioned men are with the means of subsistence, the more ownership is sought, and the more the right to it is respected. The more intensive culture becomes, the more individualized property becomes, whether in a person or in a community” (Ib. 56).

Arizmendiarrieta distinguishes four stages or phases of evolution: (1) patriarchal property, (2) feudal, (3) manorial and (4) the individualist or “quiritary” [citizenship-based] property regime. The idea of a right to property conferred upon the head of a people or tribe comes from the original idea that the head, as such, the patriarch or king, has a right over all the goods of the group. The oldest ancestor concentrates all rights, prerogatives and powers, including property, in his hands. Then the feudal property regime appears, in which property belongs to the lord, and is occupied by the servant, who has to satisfy certain rents in kind or money, and can be replaced by the lord. Later, the manorial, or hereditary lease, regime emerges, in which full ownership of the land is divided into two distinct rights: the right of the owner, which is a sort of mortgage credit, and the right of the landlord, which is like a hereditary usufruct. Finally, the individualist regime is characterized by the division and distribution of the land, each part of which is personal property of an individual, who has the absolute right to enjoy it exclusively, to receive all its fruits, and to dispose of it. In Arizmendiarrieta’s discussion, these are not four forms of property, but four successive stages (Ib.).

The outline discussed does not include “common property” in a strict sense in any of the four periods, nor prior to them. Indeed, “we cannot say that history offers us an evolution of any kind of common property,” says Arizmendiarrieta, “in which the soil or the land is a collective good or property of the State, which turns over its enjoyment to private persons, to individual ownership” (Ib. 56-57). Arizmendiarrieta believes, rather, that common and private property occur always simultaneously (not successively), both following a varied and simultaneous development, in accordance with the demands of the economy, of coexistence, of the technical progress, and of historical events. At times, one kind has predominated over the other, and within each kind, there have also been different modalities, according to the conditions of each people or historical age.

Arizmendiarrieta does not try to give us a rigorous historical discussion of the evolution of the regime of property. What he is after in his discussion is the relativization of the current forms of property, which are considered “a natural right,” when they are really no more than concrete and variable forms of it. Ownership is recognized as a natural right, but the property regime does not have an immutable character (Ib. 57), and does not offer a unique legitimate concretion (Ib. 59), but rather is, and will continue to be, subjected to transformations. Drawing on Carbonell (Ib. 58-59), Arizmendiarrieta illustrates this relative character with a comparison between the principle of authority and that of property. “In the same way that the nature of man demands existence of society without setting the form and conditions of its concrete existence, which are determined by various contingent facts, and just as the nature of political society requires a supreme authority, without establishing or indicating the concrete form or the subject that should embody it—which are fixed by various facts—the nature of man and of the family demands the existence of property, which is also determined and concretized by various circumstances and historical conditions” (Ib. 59). The principle of authority is more fundamental and essential to human social nature than that of property: if the former is, in the end, variable according to the conveniences and historical circumstances, such that the form of authority materializes and transforms ceaselessly through history, the principle of property cannot be said to be any more fixed.

Arizmendiarrieta also indicates the ultimate reason for this variability: material goods have no value in themselves, but rather in relation to man. Their essential fate consists of meeting the needs of each and every one, so their legitimacy is subject to the fulfillment of this end and to the measure in which they fulfill it. Let us underscore that the end of material goods is not defined as meeting the needs or demands of their possessor, but the needs “of each and every one” (Ib. 57), with which, if not in a temporary and historical order, then in a moral order, a certain communism or common property is declared as the original order.

Social meaning of property

If we continue to ask why material goods must be at the service “of each and every one,” rather than of their possessor, Arizmendiarrieta brings us to what, for him, constitutes the ultimate foundation of human dignity: God, the creator of man, and creator, likewise, of nature. Nature, indeed, was not created for one man or another, but for man in general, for each and every one.

Among Arizmendiarrieta’s arguments in favor of (private) property, those of convenience and those of need can be distinguished. Convenience would be reasons such as: property stimulates work, more production, the best satisfaction of needs; property is the guarantee of social peace, etc. (CAS, 61-62). Need would be those derived more or less directly from a demand of human nature itself. But even here, it is fitting to distinguish degrees: Judeo-Christian doctrine of the characteristic relationships between man and the universe, at most, expresses that man has the right to provide for his needs to the extent necessary, availing himself for this of the goods that God has created and placed at his disposal in nature. A concrete right to property is not easy to extract from there, though it is always fitting to say that private property is the most natural way to attend to the fair distribution of the goods that nature, created by God for man, offers us (Ib. 62). It could be argued, at most, that certain abusive forms of property, which prevent the worst-off from having access to created and needed material goods, are incompatible with this doctrine. It would, therefore, have a negative and limiting application, more than positive, to the basis of the right to property.

In fact, Arizmendiarrieta makes more use of an argument situated on the line between need and convenience, though he formulates it as need: private property is indirectly required in this case by human nature, as an inescapable requirement of individual freedom, “because freedom does not exist there where there exists dependence, dependence on another to eat one’s daily bread, dependence on another to own oneself” (SS, II, 277). In this perspective, property appears as “essential to safeguard freedom and human dignity” (CAS, 95). At the same time, its validity is limited to “the extent to which it safeguards the dignity of the human person, their freedom, their initiative, and serves the development and cultivation of their human values” (Ib. 62).

There is a curious argument in favor of private property from Leo XIII (Ib. 60-61), which Arizmendiarrieta has developed in his own way: it is derived from the specific nature of man as an intelligent being. “(…) Keep in mind that for man, gifted with intelligence and capable of foreseeing the needs of tomorrow, and with a heart to feel what is foreseen, these needs are permanent needs, and because of this, he needs a permanent and invariable possession of goods; their use is not enough” (SS, II, 277). Ownership is a requirement of the human gift of foresight.

In summary, an “honest sufficiency of goods” is considered a natural right, as a safeguard of freedom and of the dignity of man (Ib. 276); as a stimulus of work and of initiatives necessary for the realization of the person: “how many talents go to waste, and how many virtues go undeveloped, because often, man does not have the most basic resources that his capacity and his intelligence demand, because he lacks everything, and is obliged to live on a paltry salary” (Ib. 279). The natural right to property, thus understood, “is not that which must benefit holders of large amounts of capital, but rather that with which must benefit all mankind; it is that with which must redeem the proletariat” (Ib. 277).

It is understandable that nearly all of Arizmendiarrieta’s reflections on property are oriented towards showing, more than its character as a natural right, the relative nature of property, since the currently dominant concept is considered wrong and false, and at the same time, “taboo” by the antonomasia of our civilization (CAS, 54). “I will not say that the right to property is negligible, but to be acceptable, it should be defined and reduced to just and natural forms” (Ib.). A long labor of education and change of mentality is required: “Today, by the imposition of the environment in which we have been brought up and educated, we have an internal resistence to receiving the true doctrine on property” (Ib. 55).

Arizmendiarrieta summarizes the righteous (Christian) doctrine on property in this way:

  • “In view of pontifical doctrine on private property, we cannot continue conceiving of it as an absolute right, as an end in itself, and as a primary principle of natural law. We must not confuse the right to private property with the right to a sufficiency of material goods to live a decent life. The absolute right is to the sufficiency of these goods, to their use, whose denial is a violation of a primary natural right. The right to private property is nothing more than a derivation of this principle, and is valid as long as it leads to that end (Pontifical Texts of the 1.4.).

The regime of private property that deprives or prevents a large number of men from having the goods needed to lead an honest and dignified life cannot defend itself by invoking a natural right to private property. The Pope says so expressly. Let us remember the condemnation of that social order that publicly denies and practically makes impossible the exercise of the natural and primary right of every man to use the goods of the land. This is how the sentence of St. Augustine is understood, when he said, “the superfluous goods of the rich are necessary goods for the poor. Those who possess superfluous goods possess the goods of others” (Pontifical Texts of the 5.13.).

  • Due to the functional nature of property and the dynamic character of society, no single form of private property fulfills the demands of natural law. On the contrary, a form of property that, under certain conditions, satisfies its function can impede the purpose of property in a different environment. Those who think that there exists something divinely and immutably ordained should remember the phrase of Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Human convention, more than natural law, makes the division of property survive.” Or another from Pius XII: “Every man has … the natural right and fundamental to the use of material goods … it being … up to human will and to the legal form of the people to more precisely regulate practical action.” The institution of private property has to be transformed to the extent necessary to carry out the ends it is assigned” (CAS, 77-79).

The current property regime

“The right to private property is an undisputed and sacred right. And precisely because it is considered such for some, for a minority, there exists an immense, disinherited and hopeless majority that cannot aspire to have anything” (CAS, 78). Currently, an absolutist concept of the right to property dominates, “in the sense that, whatever it contains or encompasses can be disposed of however one wants, or very nearly.” And any other concept of it hardly enters our minds. “And because it starts from an absolutist concept of property, with no sense of violating our conscience, funds or wealth are used, and are invested, and are administered. Concretely, in our current case, we find that capital, or its representation, could hardly conceive of that which exceeds the limit of a determined and limited benefit being wealth and money and funds which could be provided to public funds” (SS, II, 310-311).

This concept of property has led to an absurd situation. It is affirmed, on the one hand, that the current system social is based on respect for the right to property. So, if we examine the reality of constitutions and codes of law, all of them consecrate and sanction the principle of private property. “But let us go to our urban centers, and walk among their shops, their industries, their banks, and let us see whose they are. Let us study the social conditions of their debtors, let us review the statistics on the distribution of wealth. And we will see that one of the most dramatic features of our society is the great number of the disinherited, and we will observe that nine tenths of the workers work their whole lives without hope of possessing property, since it is impossible in the economic conditions of current society. The savings they can scrape together are no more than a small reserve in the expectation of a misfortune, or some other unforeseen setback” (CAS, 64).

In our society, work as the origin and source of property has been eliminated. Originally, Arizmendiarrieta tells us, it was possible to acquire property in two ways: by occupation and by work. Today, with the concepts of worker and owner divorced, and work degraded, this has been eliminated practically as a means or medium of acquiring property (Ib. 60). “Stable ownership is conceived of as the right of a class, which could achieve it either through conquest and strength, or, normally, through inheritance, purchase, gift, or other similar means. This is how the property regime of our time emerged, a regime that has been guaranteed by a legal structure and which benefits a minority, a privileged group, and which, as we have indicated, has been established by traditions and laws inspired or created more for small interests than by postulates of the common good” (Ib.).

While it can be affirmed, in general, that our society is based on a false concept of the right to property, from the point of view of human relations, two categories of private property should be distinguished, which are no different in their effects. In the first category are goods for use and personal enjoyment, such as a house, furniture, pictures, etc. and goods of ordinary consumption. The possession of these goods does not affect the mutual relationships of individuals or, at most, to a minimal degree, or in a way that does not compromise human dignity, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion (Ib. 65). This is not the case with the second category of goods, productive goods, which are not limited to personal use: “The ownership of these goods affects human relations very deeply, since, in fact, it establishes relationships of dependence and subordination, dependence or subordination that naturally influence the life of one’s neighbor” (Ib.). It is the possession of these goods in the second category that provokes, when understood wrongly, the extreme reactions that can be summarized in Proudhon’s expression, “property is theft” (Ib. 55). In fact, it requires the immense majority to live perpetually in a state of new slavery, which Arizmendiarrieta considers not much better than the old one (SS, I, 126), or to a perpetual state of being a minor. “Only a few, a very small class, currently enjoys private property broadly enough to feel supported by it. This class squanders money, and as soon as it can, stops providing active services to the community (which is why property is an incentive for laziness). In other times, some workers could feel attracted by the possibility of becoming bosses, but today, this is becoming impossible, because to be able to act with odds of certain success in industry or commerce requires large amounts of capital” (CAS, 64-65).

If property is legitimized by the services it provides, which is to say, as a guarantee of freedom and human dignity, the current property regime not only fails this requirement, but is, itself, the greatest obstacle to its fulfillment. “Current society is based on the fact that the majority of the population can never acquire enough private property to gain broad freedom of action” (Ib. 65). Because of all this, while Proudhon’s phrase that equates property and robbery is not acceptable in its totality, it continues to express a piece of the truth. “It is necessary to remove all the truth it contains,” says Arizmendiarrieta, quoting a famous sermon by Ketteler, “for it to one day be a lie.” As long as it contains the smallest bit of truth, it will have enough strength to radically unsettle the order of this world. As deep calls to deep, a crime against nature likewise calls another crime. From the false right to property, communism was born” (Ib. 55).1

“The current distribution of goods (…) is in conflict with the most basic postulates of equity and of justice” (SS, II, 295).

Approaches to property

The issue refers, in principle, exclusively to the ownership of productive assets, because of the danger that this private possession implies for human relations. On one occasion, Arizmendiarrieta distinguished three basic attitudes (CAS, 66): liberal, collectivist and Church doctrine, but later, he ran into difficulties, especially in distinguishing some forms of “collectivism” from Church doctrine. Without binding ourselves strictly to the above-mentioned scheme, let us look at the various forms that Arizmendiarrieta considers in the problem of private ownership of productive assets.

Christian Liberalism

[Translator’s note: as a reminder, “liberalism” in this book does not refer to progressivism, but classical liberalism, which is to say, rationalism and unfettered capitalism.]

This is what we will call—Arizmendiarrieta speaks of “Christian liberals”—the posture that consists of “holding harmless and unquestionable the right to the possession of the same (production goods), to remove risk through the penetration of Christian ideals or justice in human relations, such that it is overcome through the good will of the individual. The right to property is a sacred right, and applies equally exerted over one kind of goods or another. The right to property is so basic to economic life that it cannot be altered or replaced” (Ib. 66).

Arizmendiarrieta recognizes that this attitude was very common among Christians in the nineteenth century, and that, even in the twentieth century, it is turning out to be difficult to put another concept of property in people’s minds. However, Arizmendiarrieta judges this attitude to be unacceptable: “The history of social life of the past century, and even of ours, is testimony to what can be achieved for social justice and the conditions of life of the proletarians on the unique and exclusive path of the penetration of ideas” (Ib.).

Generally, Arizmendiarrieta expressed himself on liberalism in very harsh terms, considering it the principle cause of all the evils besetting mankind. Beyond his opinions or doctrinal evaluations, his personal experience does not seem to be at all separate from this harshness. More than once in his writings, Arizmendiarrieta referred to people who, whenever workers’ rights or a possible property reform is mentioned, put their hands to their heads, are horrified, and call anyone who does so “white communists” and instigators of disorder. “Today, those people are staunch defenders of the right to property, of that ridiculous right, of that right, by all appearances, that is only needed by those who possess everything that want. That right, which they dare to call natural, which they say nature has given to man. That right, which gives them full freedom to have everything they can hoard, but which they tolerate and consent to the rest being denied. That right whose exercise they want impede in others” (SS, II, 295). These expressions must have sounded harsh, coming from a priest and from the pulpit of the locksmithing town, in the postwar years.

The way of State intervention

“In fact, the development of right of ownership of goods of this class (of production) has meant all kinds of abuses and the inequitable exploitation of the majority of the people, which, at last, has resulted in State intervention to regulate these relationships through its laws” (CAS, 66). According to this second option, the State should regulate the conditions of the employer and workers, of landowners and tenants, to avoid abuses in the excercise of the aforementioned right to property.

Arizmendiarrieta defends the role of the vigilant State: “The State should protect individuals, and particularly the economically weakest, the proletarians, against what we recognize as the danger or inevitable temptation of exploitation or unworthy subordination that can be created by the private possession of this kind of goods” (Ib.).

But nor would it be enough to entrust the solution to the problem exclusively to State intervention; there must be, just as Christian liberals propose, a large simultaneous effort so that Christian ideals and justice penetrate into the economic world. Arizmendiarrieta does not develop or make more explicit how he would like to see this (limited, concrete) State intervention into social matters understood.


The opposing forces on this topic generally have, in Arizmendiarrieta’s first writings, the three-part model, with two opposing poles (liberalism and collectivism), both of which are unacceptable, and Christian social doctrine as the third and solely valid option. Liberals reject outright any notion of redistribution of goods, or even of the limitation or relativization of property: property is sacred. At the other extreme, blind and deaf to any consideration, with the inspiration, says Arizmendiarrieta, of their instincts and violent reactions, the collectivists want abolish all property (SS, II, 295). This model seems valid while discussing the general principles of Christian social doctrine, with a strong interest in noting that it should not be identified with any concrete formula of social ordering. The model ceases to be worth much as we come down to concrete issues.

The study Meaning and Limits of the Right to Property, written shortly after World War II (1948?), ends up abandoning the three-part model with which he had begun. Church doctrine no longer occupies a place of its own, but rather, there is a division between two possible options: the above-mentioned way of State intervention (to prevent abuse), and the “socialist” option, which we put in quotes, this being the first time Arizmendiarrieta’s writings distinguish between socialism and “collectivism.” The latter term, in turn, which had previously encompassed communism, national socialism, and fascism, will remain basically reserved for communism.

The social doctrine of the Church on the issue at hand is here reduced to very general terms: “while private property for all constitutes its ideal, it continues to recognize the need to socialize some goods, which more or less depends on the problems that their private possession creates” (CAS, 76). And he insists that this constitutes “the ideal,” leaving it clear that the practice could allow for variations.

In the first place, Church doctrine is compatible with the path of regulatory State intervention, which we could consider corrected liberalism, since the State intervention is limited to the relations between employers and workers, without intervening into the actual possession of production goods. “The Church, as soon as it saw the consequences of the development of this right to ownership of productive assets, demanded the presence and intervention of the State. And its position is no doctrinal novelty, but is, rather, a function that is recognized in the State in traditional doctrine” (Ib. 67).

The question of the compatibility of ecclesiastical doctrine and socialism turns out to be more delicate. Even disregarding the reigning anticommunism, Arizmendiarrieta is obliged to confront the emphatic pronouncement by Pius XI: “No one can be a sincere Catholic and a true socialist at the same time” (Quadragesimo anno). Arizmendiarrieta, not wanting “to confuse labels with things,” distinguishes in socialism between philosophy, on the one hand, and the program of economic reorganization, on the other. “The philosophy is not essential for the program, nor is the program a logical derivation, an inescapable conclusion, of the former. In history, there have been socialist movements, both ideological and social, that did not begin with the inspiration of that Marxist and materialist philosophy. Those who inspired contemporary socialism joined the two things, and that is what has brought conflicts between them and Catholics. The concept of the community of goods is not in the least a concept of Marxist origin. It has had its greatest sponsors among the Fathers of the Church, and even the Church is familiar with economic matters organized according to those theories” (Ib. 71). Hence, the socialist programs, as Pius XI himself will emphasize, often come surprisingly close to the just demands of Christian reformers, which is to say, “a Christian social program is found surprisingly close to the socialist” (Ib.). With materialist philosophy abandonded, “the highest socialist aspiration of avoiding economic, political and social predominance through the general socialization of production goods is satisfied in this way of focusing on and solving the problem through pontifical doctrine” (Ib. 76).

Should we conclude that, given the surprising affinity of programs, Catholics must consider socialization an ideal to which they should aspire? “This implies something else. Even today, when no one, not even the communists, defends absolute collectivism, which is why even the communists themselves are closer today to Christian doctrine and positions, the ideal remains a minimum of socialization and a greater development of private property” (Ib. 72). At this point, a new distinction is imposed, that, availing ourselves of the terms most used by Arizmendiarrieta in this study, we will designate collectivism and laborism.


Arizmendiarrieta cites three examples of collectivist societies with broad historical resonance: the ancient Egyptian and Inca societies, and modern Soviet society. With respect to the collectivist Soviet regime, he remains very cautious, “being too soon to be able to pass judgment on the results of collectivism in Russia, which, on the other hand, is a sui géneris collectivism, and we also do not have many impartial studies” (Ib. 74). “It would be naive,” he observes anyway, “to think that Russia, out of fidelity to abstract principles, maintains systems that are clearly disadvantageous for the accomplishment of its purposes. After some practice and radical organizing experiences, it has tempered things, and, in a sense, ceded some of its radicalism. It cannot be said today that Russia continues to maintain the abolition of all private property in the least” (Ib.).

However, from the other two cases of collectivism that are discussed (we no longer have the text), identical conclusions are reached in both cases: both led invariably to the psychological annulment of the personality, from economics to spiritual life; to the loss of individual interest, to inertia and to an aversion to work, to gregariousness and intellectual dullness; on the other hand, it reinforced officialdom, bureaucracy, etc. Arizmendiarrieta concludes that, in general terms, collectivism is autocratic, “economic Napoleonism,” as Saint-Simon, father of socialism and of the planned economy, foresaw with all clarity (Ib. 74-75).


Arizmendiarrieta’s sympathies at this time (1945-1950) are clearly for laborism. Among the different modalities of socialism, this faction is presented as “perhaps the most mature and strongest” (CAS, 68). Neither in its program nor in its philosophy is there anything repugnant to Christian doctrine or sensibility. “What’s more, today we have a collective declaration from the English episcopate in which it is expressly recognized that [Catholics] can belong to said party” (Ib. 72). Indeed, Arizmendiarrieta tells us, Catholics who adhere to socialism are more numerous every day.

The evaluation that laborism makes of private property seems to Arizmendiarrieta to be lucid and thorough. We can summarize it in the following items: (1) the individual requires private property, through which to be able express him/herself; it is neccesary to possess something to possess oneself. (2) Socialism is not a set of dogmas, but rather an idea, which must be carried out through a series of experimental changes: these must be carried out keeping in mind that property is a medium of expression of the personality, with no pretense of abolishing it, therefore. (3) Private property can be subjected to limitations, considering that socialism, in its moral aspect, represents a medium for the achievment of true individual liberty and, in its economic aspect, is a system that wants put an end to exploitation. “It is not easy,” Arizmendiarrieta comments, “to address the issue with more consideration and common sense. Neither could one adopt, with a minimum of fidelity to theoretical principles, a more reasonable and discreet position. There is no doubt that this is characteristic of the English, and of the Labour Party” (Ib. 69).

Between intervention by the regulatory and vigilant State, to prevent abuses derived from private ownership of productive goods, and the socializing State, which intervenes directly in property itself, Arizmendiarrieta seems to lean, with the laborists, towards the second formula, even though in principle both are compatible with Christian social doctrine. State intervention cannot be trusted to be able to, in fact, avoid abuses “until the arrogance and predominance of the individuals who have powerful means of production in their hands is most radically destroyed” (Ib. 69).

Years of vacillation

I explain as “vacillations” some inconsistencies or indecision observed in Arizmendiarrieta between the years 1945 and 1955, approximately. Already in 1944, a writing warns us that the social programs of “the so-called communists” contain more Christian doctrine than many party platforms that are called Catholic (SS, II, 271). But a page later, among those who strive to practice social justice, the communists or socialists and the fascists are mentioned indistinctly (Ib. 272). Arizmendiarrieta limits himself to demanding the collaboration of all men of good will, over and above ideological differences, without excluding the communists. It is a daring thesis, indeed, for 1944.

Between 1946 and 1948, a surprisingly abundant number of socialist politicians, especially laborists, suddenly appear scattered through Arizmendiarrieta’s writings: J. Ramsay MacDonald (CAS, 68), S. Stafford Cripps (Ib. 69; EP, I, 48), C.R. Attlee (CAS, 70; EP, I, 46,73), Leon Blum (EP, I, 74), etc. Without a doubt, Arizmendiarrieta has discovered socialism, and feels great sympathy for it. The quotations from socialist politicians alternate with those from the Supreme Pontiffs, whose social doctrine Arizmendiarrieta tries to put into practice, even though in these years, he is largely limited to the field of education. On multiple occasions, he underscores the overlap between Christian and socialist aspirations: “Another celebrated sociologist and English ruler coincides with pontifical thought, almost to the word” (EP, I, 48); “it is a crusade in favor of education of the young workers whose urgent need is felt equally from the President of a Labour government and head of a socialist party to eminent scientists and the Pope…” (Ib. 77). We can take for granted that Arizmendiarrieta’s socialist inclinations became resolved and determined in these years, but that the reconciliation of Christianity (social doctrine of the Church) and socialism was no small problem.

Among Arizmendiarrieta’s vacillations at this time, in spite of his clear socialist sympathies, we can highlight two topics: the State and private property. With respect to the State, the evolution is clearly perceptible, for example, in the section on education. In his first writings, he underscores the education of children as the exclusive right and duty of parents; if the State is mentioned, it is to criticize the rights that it unjustly assumes, making itself an educator alongside parents. In 1944, with the project of the Professional School begun, this is considered an issue for parents and the community, especially businesspeople, who have particular duties towards the workers. We can still read expressions directed to the “most worthy businesspeople,” like the following: “believe that, even today, a little good will, a little comprehension, a little generosity on your part can address the anxieties of the multitude around you. Those agitated mobs, those mobs poisoned by hatred, will come to recognize your generosity and good will, and that generosity and good will disarm them” (EP, I, 27). In 1946, quotes from the laborist authors begin suddenly, and both the tone and the approach change strongly: with Sir Attlee, he proposes equality of educational opportunities as a means for the abolition of social classes (Ib. 46); in the same article, he says for the first time that the obligation of providing education to youth is incumbent on the State. A year later, he criticizes the State’s lack of interest in professional training (Ib. 58), a criticism that will become constant. In the following years, Arizmendiarrieta’s major topics on education arise rapidly: socialization of culture, overcoming class differences, emancipation of the working class, etc., and he insists on the responsibility of the State, until in 1967, Arizmendiarrieta declares that, in principle, “the full burden of education” should fall to the State (FC, III, 40), though once more, he reminds us that it fails to meet its obligations in this field.

He started from positions that are classical in Christian social doctrine, which, where possible, try to avoid the State, if not from positions full of suspicion and distrust towards it: he insists in the primacy of conscience and personal or community initiative, where the State is called on only as a subsidiary, when lesser communities are not enough, according to the order of institutional hierarchy that has been established. Thus, Arizmendiarrieta remembers that Leo XIII, still required to allow for State intervention to prevent abuse in the relations between employers and workers, was of the opinion that, in principle, “these are relationships that those who are directly affected should regulate among themselves” (CAS, 67); for this, workers must group together. It is undesirable to need the State. All Arizmendiarrieta’s thought and labor, even later, are, in fact, directed this way: the importance of consciousness training, leader creation, grassroots organizations, etc. In his thought, the State hardly ever assumes a truly active role, except occasionally and momentarily.

However, socialism, without excluding laborism, has a much more positive attitude towards the State, giving it an active and leading role in society, not just subsidiary or supportive and last-minute, when lesser institutions have seen that they not are sufficient. I am inclined to think that Arizmendiarrieta never reached a positive global view of the State, always maintaining a profound distrust towards all manner of officialism, asphyxiating bureaucracies, and absorbent States, which drown every grassroots initiative. With harsh criticism of laissez faire liberalism on the one hand, and distrust towards the interventionist State on the other, Arizmendiarrieta’s posture seems inconsistent, even when he become convinced of the convenience of certain socializations or nationalizations. The encounter with socialism gave a new turn to many of his thoughts, but his fundamental attitude with respect to the State, suspicious and distant, prevailed. In the case of the private ownership of productive assets, he will come to accept State intervention “in substitution of the capitalist” (CAS, 69), arguing, with S. Stafford Cripps, that the community as a whole acts more justly and equitably than individuals, who have their private interests in play. But then, in concrete cases (social assistance, etc.) it is still preferred that the State not intervene except indirectly; rather, those who are affected must search for solutions on their own.

Neither his social consciousness nor his Basque consciousness seem to have inspired in him a more positive attitude towards the State, in spite of the laborist influence of 1945-1950. And least of all, without a doubt, the concrete State in which he found himself carrying out his work, as can be seen in the union question:

We have to recognize that (the workers) have every reason to distrust our paternalism, and when I say “our,” we can include the State, because for all the great concern and interest the leaders show for the proletarian classes, it will always be true that the workers in them see no more [in the leaders] than the extension of the employers, who, together with them, are getting richer, or at least allowing for a magnificent course of life. Working people need to form groups, because they know that their strength is in unity. And a natural right drives them to do it, which is largely defrauded in the channels imposed on them by a single, official organization.

(…) In these conditions, it is not unusual for State unions to lack vitality and for their efficacy to be disproportionate to their cost. Such organizations are unable to obtain the sympathy of their members, and even less so their trust. The individuals feel alienated from a State organization moved by means that are uncontrollable for those who are affected. The State burdens them with heavy tasks, with all the drawbacks of being in the hands of a bureaucracy. Like other social and economic organizations, the union has the right to be autonomous, which is to say, has the right to existence and government independent of State will, to determine its own action programs and administrate its goods. The autonomy of unions from the State is at least as fair as the autonomy of businesses.

This does not mean absenteeism or the indifference of the State in relationship to unions. As we have said in a previous article, the State has a domain of jurisdiction over the individuals and social entities existing within it, but not on the totality of man, nor on the totality of social beings. To claim otherwise is to fall into totalitarianism. In virtue of this power, the State should establish the legal framework in which union organizations move, as it does with economic organizations, without involving interference in their internal life. The law must free the union not only of the State monopoly, but also of any attempt by political parties to monopolize union action to their own advantage” (CAS, 186-187).

In fact, in the end, the impression is left that Arizmendiarrieta conceives of the State, apart from exceptional cases in which he accepts a more direct intervention, fundamentally as a mere builder of the “legal framework” in which social forces can carry out their activity. The only time the State is praised in all his writings, if I am not mistaken, is on the occasion of the legislation that established the family salary (CAS, 183). A few lines below, even then, he will try to prove that this legislation is absolutely deficient (Ib. 184). Distributive justice forces to the State to prevent inequalities between the parties to a contract from giving rise to abuses. Otherwise, “all measures taken by the State with respect to the problems of work have to be considered as applications of the principle of distributive justice. These may be considered the insurance of the workers against illness, unemployment, accidents, old age, etc. These are means to complete what is due to labor in relation to its social function” (Ib. 32-33).

We can now conclude this point: we have started from the idea that State intervention, for the purpose of avoiding abuse, was insufficient; but there is very little more that Arizmendiarrieta seems be willing to grant to the State.

The second point to highlight among Arizmendiarrieta’s vacillations is that of private property. His first writings stress the absolute need for private property to safeguard human freedom and dignity (SS, II, 176 ff). In 1945, he continues to affirm that “all the great teachers of the social doctrine of the Church, with the Pope at the head, without denying the need for a prudent socialization of certain sources of production, see in the institution of private property an essential element to safeguard human freedom and dignity” (CAS, 95).

In the same study, Social Action, socialism and communism are still considered tendencies that are “identical in the end, in that they consist of transferring all rights and all duties to the State” (Ib. 99). (Let us note, in passing, that in the extensive bibliography of this study, dated in December of 1945, not a single socialist appears yet, cf. Ib. 114-116).

But the relative value of property appears more and more clearly. A moment comes in which, faithful to the Popes, Arizmendiarrieta agrees as an ideal, underscoring that it is only the ideal, to widespread private property. But Arizmendiarrieta remains hesitant, first, because of the difficulties entailed by the realization of this ideal (CAS, 75); but, beyond that, because of contact with the laborists, he has discovered that, if the concept of property is relative, the ideal of property is no less so. It is once more Mr. Attlee who makes him see that the economic and social conditions themselves, starting from the initial importance of private property, through industrial development, have come to relativize its value, such that “the old security of the individual, based on the enjoyment of private property, must yield to trust in a equitable participation of wealth produced by the community, and that individual freedom for everyone can only achieved if the restrictions imposed by collective life are accepted” (CAS, 70). Arizmendiarrieta believes he has discovered that, in fact, these tendencies are taking shape in our society, and that the worker movement itself is oriented in this direction in the most developed countries. “If we review the documents and testimonies of current proletarian aspirations, we will see that they point the same way, and they’re pursuing the goal of security, disregarding property. As an example, we can quote the Philadelphia Charter, in which private property is not mentioned at all” (Ib.). The maximum distribution of private property is no longer even an ideal, after having been the resource with which Arizmendiarrieta had previously wanted to save the pontifical doctrine of the intransgressable natural right to property … However, this difficulty will find a solution with the cooperative concept of property, which will make it possible to combine private property and socialism. But, to arrive at the concept of cooperative property years later, Arizmendiarrieta will have to define the nature of the relations that mediate, according to his thought, between property and labor.

Later, we’ll have occasion to continue this evolutionary process of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, which began in 1945.

  1. Iserloh, E.-Stoll, Ch.: Bischof Ketteler in seinen Schriften, Matthias-Grünewald, Mainz, 1977, 38.

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