Why Does This Topic Matter: Thinking About the Big Issues


Issues of Continuing Relevance

This page describes some of the general ideas that the How Much is Enough website can illuminate in the classroom.


1. What are the differences/similarities between the Catholic progressivism of the Bishop's program and Protestant or secular progressivism of the early twentieth century?

Ryan drew heavily on a wide range of reconstruction proposals when writing the draft of the Bishop's Program and he had long cooperated with Protestant and secular progressives. Yet from the beginning of his work on social issues he had also rooted his thinking in Leo's encyclical, specifically, and Catholic thought more generally.

2. Who speaks for the church on national, political questions and what weight should that have for individual Catholics?

In this specific case, the War Council was a fledging organization with an uncertain canonical status when it issued the Bishop's Program.

3. How does the War Council reflect nationalizing, centralizing trends in American life at he turn of the century?

Historians have long talked about a trend towards organization on a national scale at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Changes in communications, the model and influence of nationalizing corporations, and the increasing power and broadening interests of the national government all encouraged this trend. The War Council might be seen as part of this tend, but in Catholicism's case the process was complicated because it was part of an international institution and had a well entrenched tradition of diocesan organization.

4. Why did a welfare state emerge in America and what was the Catholic role in creating it?

Many accounts of the creation of the welfare state attribute its origin largely to the working of protestant or secular reformers. Did Catholics also play a role and how did the Program fit into it?

5. When to reform and when to be radical?

John Ryan, historians argue, was moved by a "principle of expediency" to seek reform that was possible: gradual change through political action in an existing system. Dorothy Day would insist on a total transformation of society working from outside the system. What is the proper stance of the committed Christian?

6. What was the impact of World War I on American reform?

Historians have long argued that the war killed progressivism. On the other hand it provided the stimulus and models for the Bishop's Program.

7. What is the role of the state in securing the good society?

Ryan believed that the state had a certain obligation to its citizens: "The business of the state, then, is to protect men in the enjoyment of those opportunities that are essential to a right and reasonable life. They may be summed up in the phrase natural rights." Conservatives argue, often from their own theories of "natural rights," against government intervention in the economy.

8. What is the role of an individual in history?

Ryan initially refused O'Grady's request to write the Program. O'Grady finally convinced him but if he had not would history had been different?

9. Who spoke for the urban, immigrant worker at the turn of the century?

In the early twentieth century a host of different and conflicting people claim to speak for the heavily Catholic, urban immigrant population: settlement house workers like Jane Addams; progressive politicians like Tom Johnson; machine politicians like George Washington Plunkitt; labor leaders like Mother Jones or Samuel Gompers; socialists like Eugene Debs; and the bishops.

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