Some questions have been raised in the discussion on my posts on Locke & Catholic political thought about the extent to which Locke’s political theory conforms to or detracts from natural law. This follow-up post, which will be relatively brief, should serve to answer such questions at least in part.
Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye. David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre. Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:
Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization. Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years. The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration. The Romans were also great engineers and builders. They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today. But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology. As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.
Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology. Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.” Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.” The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.
Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery. Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day. With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.
Justice exalteth a nation: but sin maketh nations miserable. – Proverbs 13:34
Is there such a thing as a “social sin”? It is out of a respect for my friend Brendan/Darwin that I want to examine and critique his rejection of the idea of social sin, with which I partially agree, but which I believe also leaves out some crucial facts. This is not a point against Brendan/Darwin, since I don’t believe he intended his post to be a treatise on the issue. It is rather a point in his favor, since his general considerations give us the opportunity to explore the question in greater detail.
It must be said at the outset that there are obviously different things that one might mean by “social sin.” Brendan/Darwin begins his argument with the observation that there are those who become “frustrated” with the emphasis many Christians place on individual failings to the neglect of “social or political sin.” There is a significant difference, however, between social and political behavior. My intention is not to split-hairs in order to undermine a valid point (which it is), but rather to highlight the extent to which society and the body politic have become indistinguishable from one another. In my recent essay on the social effects of abortion, I make a distinction between organic and artificial social bonds; the former are those that necessarily follow from man’s social nature, while the latter are those created through politics, i.e. laws. Because we are imperfect and often malicious beings, some artificial authority will always be required for men to attain “the highest good.” But human laws are not foundational – they are supplemental to natural and divine laws, or at least they were in most places in the Western world until the 19th century.
This essay is also on my blog, and I hope it will spark some constructive and respectful discussion.
I tend to think I am doing something right if people from both ends of the political spectrum are rabidly attacking me. The notion that one ideological camp has a monopoly on truth and justice is repugnant to me, even if I lean one way or another at times. At the same time, I never enjoy seeing civil discussion degenerate into uncharitable attacks.
Attachment to labels is part of the problem I encounter when putting forth alternative economic ideas. People on the political right are as agitated by the mere word “socialism” as people on the left are by the word “capitalism”. It doesn’t help that both sides hold radically different definitions of each word.
(Part I may be read here. Some of the discussion may be followed on my blog. Note: the presentation of this essay on this blog may differ somewhat from the outline I set forth in the introduction in Part I. The critique of communism/welfare-statism will be published tomorrow.)
In an academic culture that is often characterized by historicist and relativist viewpoints, the notion that Aristotle may have had anything relevant to say about modern economic systems seems a little strange to us. While it must be admitted that we cannot expect the ancient versions of capitalism and communism to be identical to their modern counterparts, we can nonetheless differentiate the historically-shaped form from what is arguably the timeless content. Moreover, by way of critique of the two dominant economic paradigms (for in the final instance, welfare-statism/Social Democracy incorporates the worst features of both), we can arrive at a more clear vision of the Distributist alternative.
Though it ought to become obvious through the critique of communism, it bears stating up front that the Aristotelian critique of capitalism is not an attack on private property. Difficult as it may be for some readers, the notion that the essence of capitalism is the possession and use of private property is a fallacy bequeathed to us not only by certain capitalist ideologists, but by many (though not all) communists and assorted “anti-capitalists” as well.
A definition of capitalism that accords well with Aristotle’s critique is an economy in which production for exchange is predominant, as opposed to production for immediate use/consumption. Though it is modern technology since the Industrial Revolution that actually allows such an economy to come into being, the pre-industrial tendencies towards this type of economy have been in existence since the dawn of civilization, and reached a pinnacle in the great civilizations of antiquity, including the ancient Greece in which Aristotle lived and wrote.
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(Upon request, I am presenting my essay, which I will develop in five parts over the course of this week, here at TAC as well as my blog, Non Nobis)
Distributism is a current of Catholic social thought which holds that a greater distribution of private property, used in accordance with higher moral values and within the context of duties to community and society, is the best economic arrangement. It stands in contrast to both nationalized industry (socialism) as well as the permanent existence of a propertyless class (a feature of modern capitalism). For this, it has sometimes been wrongfully criticized as a reactionary anti-technology theory, a political program that would take society back to the technical level of the Middle Ages.
These accusations are groundless, for Distributism does not depend exclusively upon a particular mode of production; a business wherein shares of ownership were distributed among the employees would qualify as a Distributist enterprise. Thus whether we look to businesses such as the Spanish Mondragon, or to the ten-thousand plus Employee Stock Ownership Programs in the United States, Distributist ideas are not only alive and well, but are growing in appeal.
Although Distributism is most often associated with the modern social teaching of the Church, it is arguable that the first Distributist was in fact Aristotle. This should not be surprising, for insofar as Aristotle’s political and ethical philosophy stressed the importance of discovering and implementing the mean, that is, the middle between two extremes, it is only natural that he would arrive at a Distributist philosophy.
Rather than drown my readers with a lot of words, as I sometimes do, I’m going to write and post this essay in several parts over this following week. I hope that by the end of it at least some will have a somewhat greater understanding/appreciation of Distributism, an idea that Catholics such as myself hope will gain more ground and exposure in the coming years, though I absolutely do not claim to be anywhere near the final word on it (some will say other things, some will say the same things better). I look forward to discussion on this topic.
To read this on the American Catholic click here.
At the request of my friend and fellow contributor to The American Catholic, Darwin Catholic, I will elaborate more on some of the general points I introduced to the discussion over his latest post about economic morality. For those who did not follow the exchange (of me versus everyone, understandable on this somewhat more conservative blog), I questioned the accuracy of any scientific theory of economics that did not take into account class conflict (or, as some insist on saying, “class struggle”). Darwin and others responded by questioning the validity of the very category of class. Hence, we have a great deal of ground to cover – I hope you will bear with me, and that we all end up learning something.
A typical question, as a previous post here at American Catholic, with regard to worker’s cooperatives has been: if these firms are so great, why aren’t there more of them?
The short answer to that question is that there are more of them, in several countries, than there ever has been before. The trend towards worker ownership of businesses is on the increase, in the United States and elsewhere, and has been for sometime. Gar Aplerovitz, in America Beyond Capitalism, gives us an overview of cooperatives in the United States:
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(Originally published at InsideCatholic.com)
It might surprise some to learn that the basic idea behind the “welfare state” did not originate with either Marxist revolutionaries or bleeding-heart liberals, but rather with a head of state usually identified with conservatism: Otto von Bismarck. Faced with a growing threat from the German socialist movement, in the 1880s Bismarck established four programs that were essentially the minimum of the socialist program: health insurance, accident insurance (or workmen’s compensation), disability insurance, and a retirement fund for the elderly. By implementing these programs, the German leader hoped to steal some of the thunder from the socialists and prevent a revolutionary uprising.
In the United States, a similar motivation guided the architects of the New Deal, Social Security, and other programs now grouped under the broad heading “welfare state.” One might never know, based on today’s heated political rhetoric, that the idea behind the welfare state was to prevent, not bring about, socialism. Yet since the 2008 campaign, welfare, along with regulation and redistribution, have become synonymous with “socialism” in America.
Catholics have been as divided over these issues as the nation at large, with nearly everyone interested in the political debate combing the social doctrines of the Church to support one theory at the expense of another. So where precisely does the Church stand on the issue of welfare?