Cardinal O'Connell, "The Reasonable Limits of State Activity," 1919


"The Reasonable Limits of State Activity"

William Cardinal O'Connell and Father John A. Ryan differed dramatically on the issue of state intervention. Although a great admirer of Pope Leo XIII, Cardinal O'Connell saw government legislation regarding labor and business as opening the door to a socialist form of government.

At the time of this address, the Bishops' Program of Reconstruction after World War I was garnering much attention. Written by Fr. Ryan, the Program called for social reform legislation that would regulate working conditions and wages. Cardinal O'Connell, who with its critics saw it as leaning toward socialism, spoke out and worked actively against it. In this speech, the Cardinal warns of the dangers of government interference in business and citizens' private lives.




As you read the excerpts in the blue boxes, think about the following questions:

  • What are the two forces at work throughout the history of the human race? What is Cardinal O'Connell's view of the relationship between the government and the governed? What is the relationship between religion and popular liberties?
  • Is any indication given in his writing as to the sources of Cardinal O'Connell's ideas about the role of the state in the lives of individuals? If so, who or what are they and why are they influential in O'Connell's thought?
  • According to Cardinal O'Connell, what is the purpose of the state? In what way is the state a danger to personal liberties? How should people prevent this danger?