Ashley Tran- Period 1
Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (Latin for “of revolutionary change”), addresses the relationships of rights and duties of citizens, dignity and rights of workers, property ownership, common good, and options for the poor from a Catholic stand point. It is an essential collection of Pope Leo XIII’s opinions on global issues that has greatly impacted the Catholic community. The overall message from his work is the discussion of labor and capital, as well as government relations to its citizens. Likewise, Pope Leo XIII strongly addressed the “misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class” (Rerum Novarum). Truly defining the test of time, Rerum Novarum’s messages can be compared and contrasted to modern societies of Singapore and Zimbabwe.
Pope Leo XIII’s commentary on social conflict is beautifully documented within Rerum Novarum. He articulates the Catholic Church’s response to the social conflict catalyzed by capitalism and industrialization. He first touches upon the rights and duties of citizens. He explains how workers have rights to a fair wage and reasonable working conditions, but they also have duties to their employers. Some duties of workers are: “fully and faithfully” perform their work, individually performing their work to avoid vandalism, and collectively performing their work to avoid violence (Rerum Novarum). Similarly, employers have rights and duties to their workers such as paying fair wages, providing time off for religious reasons, supplying work suitable for the person’s ability, and respecting the dignity of their workers. He transitions into the dignity and rights of workers by stating that “it is neither just nor humane so to grind men down with excessive labor as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies” (Rerum Novarum). He expresses that the human body needs adequate periods of rest and that work should not exceed a person’s strength. He completely condemns the use of child labor and comments that it is interfering with a child’s development of education. Fair wages are to be paid at the amount for living conditions of a country, but Pope Leo XIII highly recommends that employers pay more than that to support the worker and his family. In regards to private property ownership, Pope Leo XIII simply puts that it is a principle of natural law. This means that private ownership is a natural right of man. Owning private property not only is necessary for members of society, but also a responsibility. The wealthy is encouraged to meet their own needs as well as their families, but they have a moral obligation to give alms from what is left over. This idea trickles into the next issue Pope Leo XIII discusses: common good for the community. He begins to suggest principle ideas that lead a State in to a good government. He notes that all people have equal dignity regardless of social class, Pope Leo XIII hopes for a structured government that protects the rights of its members while caring for their needs. Lastly, he stresses the importance of the poor and working class, “as for those who possess not the gifts of fortune, they are taught by the Church that in God’s sight poverty is no disgrace, and they there is nothing to be ashamed of in earning their bread by labor” (Rerum Novarum). Through this quote he is saying that equal treatment is ideal and it is fair to have the community protect and help the less fortunate according to their needs. These are the main components from Pope Leo XIII’s standpoint that make up not only a flourishing society, but also an unbiased and just government.
The ideas discussed in Rerum Novarum are applicable to the country of Singapore in a variety of ways. First, Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world; in fact it is the fifth richest country in the world which means it places before the United States. Singapore’s economy is known as the “freest, most innovative, most competitive, and most business friendly” (McMullan). It also has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires, with “one out of every six households having at least one million US dollars in disposable wealth” (McMullan). Singapore is such a successful country because its organization is almost identical to the ideas in Rerum Novaum. Similarities between the two are that both believe in equality among everyone or the common good, rights and duties of workers, and options for the poor. Singapore is a rather peaceful country and its government is recognized for its racial and religious harmony. “Foreigners make up 42% of the population,” making it a melting pot and unlike many other countries, religion is not defined by skin color (“Singapore”). Workers in Singapore love their jobs which means employers are also treating them fairly: “three in four Singaporean employees stated that they take pride in doing their work well” and that is boosts their self-confidence (“Singapore”). There is very little poverty in Singapore and it provides a bountiful amount of assistance programs from the Ministry of Social and Family Development that supply adequate aid to those in need. Some of the programs include: “free medical care at government hospitals, money for children’s school fees, and rentals of studio apartments” (“Singapore“). The main difference between Singapore’s government and Pope Leo XIII’s idea of a perfect society is dignity for workers. Singapore does not have a minimum wage and has one of the highest income inequalities among developed countries. Working rather long hours, Singaporean employees work an average of forty-five hours a week, this is longer that the average worker in most developed countries. Although it has a low poverty rate, Singapore does not provide a generous welfare system. Its government believes that each up and coming generation must earn enough money to suffice their life cycle. These flaws in the Singapore’s society go against Pope Leo XIII’s beliefs that the human body needs adequate rest and the workers should be paid at least the minimum living cost. Overall, Singapore does an excellent job of mirroring the Rerum Novaum’s principles and as a result has proven its ideas to be successful.
Still relatable to any country’s government, Rerum Novaum’s ideas can also be compared to one of the world’s poorest countries, Zimbabwe. Unlike Singapore, Zimbabwe is the second poorest country in the world. Its economy is extremely corrupt due to the ZANU-PF politicians. There are basically no correlations between the morals and standards from Rerum Novaum in Zimbabwe’s society. Zimbabwe fosters no laws regarding the common good, dignity and rights of workers, and options for the poor. Sadly, Zimbabwe is home to many violations of human rights under the Mugabe administration and his party, the ZANU-PF. While having a corrupt government, Zimbabwe violates the “rights to shelter, food, freedom of assembly, and the protection of the law” (“Zimbabwe”). Zimbabwe also suppresses the freedom of press and the freedom of speech and uses the media as a propaganda outlet. Addressing worker’s rights and dignity, Zimbabwe’s working class is treated extremely poorly and gets virtually little to no pay for hard manual labor. Most of the hard earned money from “mineral exports, gold, and agriculture” goes directly into the pockets of the corrupted politicians (“Zimbabwe”). This means that there is no mutual respect for workers and employers. Also, Zimbabwe turns a blind eye towards child labor and has a heavy amount of children working each year. This directly violates Pope Leo XIII’s thoughts on every child receiving a fair education and not working. Even though a majority of the population is impoverished, Zimbabwe’s government has made no effort to supply aid to the needy. All necessities for the poor are funded and taken care of through non-profit organizations from developed countries such as the United States. In terms of the comparisons, the only similarity is the abundance of religions that are practiced peacefully. This relates to Pope Leo XIII’s idea that everyone is equal regardless their class. In a way class and religious identity can be interchangeable in this sense. Straying away from the values of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novaum, Zimbabwe does not exemplify an ideal society.
The fundamental philosophies introduced by Pope Leo XIII present the foundation for the perfect society with a harmonious government. Countries like Singapore have proven to be extremely successful economically and socially by basing a majority of its laws and morals in connection to the ones in Rerum Novaum. On the contrary, a country, such as Zimbabwe, that does not follow or base their laws on any of Pope Leo XIII’s principles falls short from the utopic society. Detailing his thoughts on the rights and duties of citizens, dignity and rights of workers, property ownership, common good, and options for the poor from a Catholic stand point, Pope Leo XIII’s have proven to be successful in identify what makes a well-rounded society and government.
McMullan, Richard. “The 10 Richest Nations In The World (2014).” WorldAtlas. August 20, 2014. Accessed May 3, 2015. http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/100008-the-10-richest-nations-in-the-world-2014.
Pasquali, Valentina. “Global Finance Magazine – The Poorest Countries in the World.” Recent GFM Updates RSS. March 2, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2015. https://www.gfmag.com/global-data/economic-data/the-poorest-countries-in-the-world.
“Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum.” Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum. Accessed May 3, 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum.html.
World History: The Modern Era, s.v. “Singapore,” accessed May 2, 2015. http://worldhistory.abc-clio.com/.
World History: The Modern Era, s.v. “Zimbabwe,” accessed May 2, 2015. http://worldhistory.abc-clio.com/.