“CATHOLICITY AND CIVILIZATION”: CATHOLICS AND THE CAPITALIST ETHIC IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA

  • Martin J. Burke

Abstract

This essay examines arguments made by American Catholics that “Catholicity” promoted progress and that Catholic morality was essential to capitalist societies. These arguments developed in two contexts: as responses to charges that “popery” caused poverty; and in debates over relationships between Catholicism and capitalism. Articulate Catholics compared the social and economic conditions of Catholic and Protestant nations, and argued that the former were preferable. Only the Church, they insisted, could provide the morality necessary for the state and marketplace. While dissenting from the faith of the American majority, these intellectuals did not reject the political and economic ideologies of American culture. Rather, they assimilated them, and adapted them to Catholic ends.