Friday A/V Club: The Pope's Favorite Anarchist

Dorothy Day gets a papal shout-out.


Are you happy Day is here again?
New York World-Telegram & Sun

In Pope Francis' speech to Congress yesterday, he praised the late Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, for "her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed." It was not the sort of shout-out one ordinarily expects in a papal address.

Day was an anarchist, and she is usually classified as coming from the left end of the anarchist spectrum, albeit with some notable nuances. (Left-anarchists do not usually espouse traditional Catholic views of sexuality or earn plaudits from the Southern Agrarians.) Her radical economic views were neither capitalist not collectivist: She was a distributist, which is to say she favored the private ownership of property while wanting that ownership to be widely distributed rather than concentrated. (Day's ideal economy would have featured a mixture of co-ops, communes, family enterprises, and individual proprietors.) She was also a labor activist, a credit-union enthusiast, an organizer of soup kitchens and other shoestring charities, and a fierce opponent of both war and abortion. J. Edgar Hoover once complained that she had a "hostile and belligerent attitude toward the Bureau and makes every effort to castigate the FBI whenever she feels so inclined."

The pope's comments prompted a flurry of insta-pieces in the press on Day's life and politics, some of them better than others. The word "socialist" was used much more often than "distributist," and while I realize there are many forms of socialism out there I suspect that many readers got the impression that she was some sort of Catholic Bernie Sanders. After a while I started wishing a reporter would troll everyone with a lede like "Today Pope Francis praised a radical anti-statist who opposed both World War II and the New Deal."

In any event, Day is a fascinating figure, and it's good to see her name in the news. Here is an interview with her from the 1970s, in which she offers an outline of what anarchism means to her:

And here is a group of people pushing to have Day canonized as a saint.

(For previous editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)