I have written a guest post on Artur Rosman’s blog, in which I brag a little about how Catholic my family is. I mention my maternal grandfather, Philip Burnham, in the post, and in looking for a reference to link on him, I stumbled on the following passage of a book on Catholic social thought in America before Vatican II:
Cort’s swipe at the heart of the [Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker’s] anti-industrial worldview precipitated a debate in the pages of The Commonweal that raged on for months. The first respondent to Cort’s article was Philip Burnham, a maverick Catholic intellectual and a regular contributor to The Commonweal. Burnham questioned Cort’s use of the term “Christian industrialism” and regarded it as an oxymoron. Mass-production industrialism fostered “two possible extremes of social and personal organization,” Burnham wrote. It could breed either “a suffocating unitary centralization” or “a freezing divisive separateness.” Targe-scale industrial production required the “central and unitary organization and control of men and resources in their economic existence. The larger the industrialism, the wider the centralization.” Centralization meant that the freedom of the laborer was diminished while the importance of the laborer grew as a result of the “extreme interdependence of economic parts and functions.” The result had been the explosion of population in the cities “in a particular kind of heaped-up, inhuman conurbation, for which even that isn’t a bad enough word,” Burnham exclaimed. The individual as a commodity had been splintered from society. “Have the Christian industrialists developed such remedies,” Burnham asked, “that they are willing to junk reformers [like Catholic Worker activists] who do away with the dominance of industrialism itself?” For the agrarian distributist, the problem of industrialism did not lie in the question of who controlled the factories or “whether the boss represents widows and orphans and worthy capitalists, or the hands that work the machinery, or the undifferentiated humanity which must live, one way or another, on the stuff produced.” The problem with industrialism was industrialism itself. (p. 219)
My grandfather died when I was little, but I still remember talking to him. I listened to him in awe, and was amazed at his vast knowledge. Unfortunately at the time I was mostly interested in Swiss Army knives and parachutes and such things, and so that is what we talked about. I wish that I had known enough to ask him about distributism, and about the many Catholic writers whom he had known. He was good friends with Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, and knew Dorothy Day, and Josef Pieper, and had met Evelyn Waugh and a great many others.