Liberal Fascism

John Ryan, Case in Point

The leading progressive Catholic intellectual of the 1930s was Monsignor John A. Ryan. Recall that Ryan defended Father Coughlin as “on the side of the angels” until Coughlin became a leader of the anti-FDR forces. I discussed Coughlin here.  While Ryan had his disagreements with the New Deal as implemented, it’s nonetheless important to note that Catholic Corporatism was a source of inspiration for liberal reformers.

For instance, here are some excerpts from an article on Ryan in the Jan. 1, 2003, Journal of Church and State:

….The early years of the New Deal were a high point for Ryan. Catholic clergy and laity alike were strongly supportive of Roosevelt’s initiatives, and some Catholics, like Ryan’s ally and fellow priest Francis Haas, assumed important positions in the administration of the president’s social programs. (21) In Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno of 1931, commemorating Leo’s earlier social encyclical, Ryan found ample support for his (and Roosevelt’s) social programs. “I derived great comfort,” Ryan reflected later, “from the implicit approval which the Holy Father’s pronouncement gave to the socio-ethical doctrines which I had been defending for almost forty years.” Others saw it the same way. Bishop Thomas Shahan exclaimed of Quadragesimo, “Well, this is a great vindication for John Ryan.” (22)   For Ryan, the Great Depression had confirmed the economic theories he had embraced for decades. ….

What separated Ryan from many Catholic thinkers was his cavalier attitude toward the U.S. Constitution. Understandably enough in the context of the Great Depression, Ryan was willing to set aside whatever constitutional concerns he may have had about New Deal programs for the sake of achieving social justice. In A Better Economic Order, Ryan explicitly stated his desire for a government unencumbered by constitutional limitations that could pursue most effectively the end of a more just economic distribution. (25) Most fellow Catholics were considerably more cautious about allowing government to take on functions that had previously been considered constitutionally off limits. (26)

 

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