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Henry George, Private Property and The American Origins of Rerum Novarum

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  • Liggio Leonard P.

    (George Mason University)

Abstract

Rerum Novarum, the papal encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, has had a major impact on Catholic thinking. Issued in 1891 it immediately received much public attention. This was especially the case in the United States where it was seen as the response re-affirming the sanctity of private property long sought by the American bishops in the public debates with Henry George and his supporters. George was a central public figure in the United States, England and Ireland, whose speeches and writings supported free market ideas, especially free trade. But, George's main idea was that the sole tax should be a singletax on land values.His justification seemed to place the sanctity of private property in doubt. Since some Catholics were strong supporters of George, the Catholic bishops were anxious that the Pope clearly state the morality of private property. Rather than condemn the writings of George directly, Leo XIII prefered to reaffirm the sanctity of private property in a positive form. The American origins of Rerum Novarum had not been appropriately recognized.Rerum Novarum, lencyclique papale de Léon XIII, a eu un impact majeur sur la pensée catholique. Publiée en 1891 elle reçut immédiatement une très grande attention. Ce fut spécialement le cas aux Etats-Unis où elle fut prise comme une réponse réaffirmant le caractère sacré de la propriété privée longtemps recherchée par les évêques Américains dans leurs débats publics avec Henry George et ses partisans. George était un personnage public central aux Etats-Unis, en Angleterre et en Irlande, dont les discours et les écrits étaient en faveur des idées du libre marché et notamment celles qui concernent léchange libre. Mais, lidée majeure de George était que le seul impôt qui devait exister était celui sur la valeur des terrains.Sa justification semblait émettre des doutes à légard du caractère sacré de la propriété privée. Alors que quelques Catholiques étaient de forts partisans de George, les évêques catholiques tenaient beaucoup à ce que le Pape se positionne clairement sur la moralité de la propriété privée. Plutôt que de condamner directement les écrits de George, Léon XIII préféra réaffirmer le caractère sacré de la propriété privée de manière positive. Les origines américaines de Rerum Novarum nont pas été reconnues à leur juste valeur.

Suggested Citation

  • Liggio Leonard P., 2003. "Henry George, Private Property and The American Origins of Rerum Novarum," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 13(2), pages 1-21, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:jeehcn:v:13:y:2003:i:2:n:7
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Noell, Edd S., 2001. "In Pursuit of the Just Wage: A Comparison of Reformation and Counter-Reformation Economic Thought," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, pages 467-489.
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