This work by Joe Holland is the first volume of a two-volume project on Catholic Social Teaching. It covers the period 1740-1958, from the papacy of Benedict XIV through the papacy of Pius XII. A second volume beginning with the papacy of John XXIII will be forthcoming.
The main contribution that Holland makes to the study of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is his outline of a three-stage history of CST, in which he correlates periods of papal teaching with stages in the development of industrial capitalism. The first stage, which he terms "local capitalism", was characterized by the beginnings of the factory system and the rise of modern liberal philosophy. Liberal emphases on individualism, democracy, and free markets resulted in widespread attacks on the authority and power of the Catholic Church, which was viewed as being part of an oppressive ruling aristocracy. The church was also disdained by capitalists for encouraging non-productive values such as extensive work-free "holy days" and thus was seen as a key impediment to both economic growth and social "progress." The papal response during this period (1740-1878) was highly defensive in nature, characterized by a rejection of modernity and an effort to maintain what Holland terms an "aristocratic Eurocentric Christian civilization" (p. 17), with a central role for a temporally powerful papacy. According to Holland, the popes "remained tragically enmeshed in dying aristocratic assumptions about religion and society." At the same time, however, they made a positive contribution as they "prophetically warned about profound spiritual-cultural dangers within the modern bourgeois path." (p. 14)
The second stage of industrial capitalism, which Holland terms "national capitalism" lasted from around 1880 to 1960. During this period industrial capitalism came to dominate entire national economies and to extend its influence around the world through colonial and imperial policies. During this time socialism continued to emerge as a powerful force. The papal response in this period was characterized by an alliance with moderate, reformist liberal forces (and unfortunately sometimes with fascist forces) in order to combat the dangers of socialism. Key components of papal strategy included toleration/support of political democracy (replacing earlier opposition), support of the rights of workers, support for moderate social welfare policies by states, encouragement of hierarchically-controlled movements of lay Catholics (e.g. Catholic Action) with the goal of influencing the political process towards Catholic positions, etc. These strategies were combined with an overarching philosophical/theological emphasis on a neoscholastic version of Thomism emphasizing natural law, a communitarian vision of the human person, and a hierarchical understanding of church and society.
Holland argues that the papal strategy during this second period (which he terms the "Leonine" strategy) was relatively successful, but that by the 1960s it began to reveal its inadequacies. Some of the inadequacies were due to internal contradictions, e.g. the effort to embrace certain liberal ideas in the political realm (e.g. democracy, human rights, etc.) while denying the applicability of these concepts to the internal life of the church. Other inadequacies were due to the failure to adequately grapple with issues such as sexism, racism, colonialism, and ecology. Also, as capitalism moved into a third stage of greater globalization, due in part to the electronic communications revolution, new sets of issues began to emerge that CST would be forced to grapple with, such as the greatly increased power of transnational corporations. This third stage of capitalism and the corresponding "Johannine" period of CST will be the topic of Holland's next book.
This work makes numerous important contributions to the study of CST. Its strengths include its attempt to situate the papal documents in the historical context of their time, particularly the political-economic context. Also helpful is its attempt to broaden discussion of CST to include attention to dimensions of many encyclicals that are not generally categorized as "social encyclicals", asserting rightly that the social encyclicals need to be situated in the overall thought of each pope. The main weakness of the text is its style. The writing is often highly repetitive and the discussion of key features of each of hundreds of encyclicals tends to become somewhat tedious. It is a book that I would highly recommend for scholars of CST, but would not recommend as an undergraduate text. Holland's next volume, which will discuss CST from Pope John XXIII to the present and will provide Holland's own suggestions for the enhancement of CST, promises to be an even more valuable contribution to the scholarship on CST. I eagerly await its publication.