G.K. Chesterton on Capitalism

Chesterton on Capitalism

In which the wise G.K. Chesterton – called by some, and not without reason, “the apostle of common sense” – reminds us of a fact too-often overlooked, or intentionally ignored, by those on the conservative side of the political aisle: that while Capitalism may have been a useful counterweight to Communism when our battle was against large and aggressive Marxist / Leninist / Stalinist states, it is not therefore benign.

Let’s look at Chesterton’s observation again:

“It cannot be too often repeated that what destroyed the Family in the modern world was Capitalism. No doubt it might have been Communism, if Communism had ever had a chance, outside that semi-Mongolian wilderness where it actually flourishes. But so far as we are concerned, what has broken up households and encouraged divorces, and treated the old domestic virtues with more and more open contempt, is the epoch and power of Capitalism.

“It is Capitalism that has forced a moral feud and a commercial competition between the sexes; that has destroyed the influence of the parent in favor of the influence of the employer; that has driven men from their homes to look for jobs; that has forced them to live near their factories or their firms instead of near their families; and, above all, that has encouraged for commercial reasons, a parade of publicity and garish novelty, which is in its nature the death of all that was called dignity and modesty by our mothers and fathers.”

— G.K. Chesterton (1935)

Capital, of course, has always existed; and so has business, trade, and industry – were it only the forming of river-clay into pinch-pots, or the knapping of flint into stone knives and projectile points, or the tanning of animal hides: each of which some individuals could doubtless perform better than others, and consequently concentrated on, trading for necessities with others who could perform other tasks with greater felicity.

And it is doubtless the case that Capitalism may – kept within proper bounds – have a beneficial impact on freedom, by encouraging industry, frugality, initiative, enterprise, and like traits. These are advantages which should not be ignored, or minimized.

But the operative phrase is, “when kept within proper bounds”!

Our current situation vis-á-vis entities like Google and Facebook – which exercise a practical monopoly over our information-gathering and -sharing, strip us of our privacy (the idea that it is “with our consent” is meaningless if, as is too-often the case, it is impossible to use the service without giving our information, and there are no realistic alternatives available), and make it nigh to impossible for rivals to get off the ground, or to continue functioning if they do – should serve as a cautionary tale in that regard.

The truth is, Capitalism is just as much a modernist project as is Communism: it barely existed, for most of the population, prior to the Industrial Revolution, although its origins date back at least to the later Middle Ages.

In some ways the true rivalries in the later medieval period were not so much between feudal lords, or even those lordships-writ-large known as kingdoms, but between the feudal society itself – grounded in land, primarily agricultural land, and other forms of what was literally real estate, and the mercantile class of the growing towns, whose wealth and power was grounded in (you guessed it) liquid capital.

Nonetheless, Capitalism per se was a late development, being predicated on the concentration of wealth (e.g., capital) in the hands of a relatively few, who owned the means of production and hired workers to operate them:

“Although industry had existed prior to the [War Between the States, a.k.a. the U.S. “Civil War”], agriculture had represented the most significant portion of the American economy. After the war, beginning with the railroads, small businesses grew larger and larger. By the century’s end, the nation’s economy was dominated by a few, very powerful individuals. In 1850, most Americans worked for themselves. By 1900, most Americans worked for an employer” (U.S. History 36: The Gilded Age).

In 1850, prior to the War, about 64% of the U.S. population farmed – down from 72% in 1820. The majority of the rest would have been what we would nowadays would call “self-employed,” working in “cottage industries” or as small-scale tradesmen or merchants. Factories were few, and by modern standards, very small.

By 1920, under the impetus of increasing industrialization, the percentage of Americans who farmed had dropped to 30.2% (and by 1935, when Chesterton wrote the above observation, it had probably dropped further), although the overall population had exploded during that same time period, according to the New York Times. By 1987 only 2% (!) of the U.S. population lived on farms, meaning that an even smaller percentage actually worked them.

This is problematic for a number of reasons.

When a majority of the population farmed or worked in home-based businesses, both capital and the means of production were disbursed – distributed (cf. “Distributism“) among a much larger body of the population. Our present, highly imbalanced situation, in which (as of 2017) the wealthiest 1% of American households own 40% of the country’s wealth – and indeed the top 1% of households own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined! – did not exist.

But the effects were more than economic. In an economy in which the majority – and for the first century-plus of our nation’s existence, a vast majority – of the population farmed their own lands, or otherwise worked at home, there were a myriad of social implications, as well.

Both parents worked at home, and (as I used to teach the 6th-graders at the Outdoor School) it was more clearly a partnership, in which it was obvious that the efforts of everyone were of vital importance to the effective maintenance – indeed, survival – of the household. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, “wage work” outside of the home gradually took on more (apparent) importance and cultural status than “women’s work,” or homemaking, back home. Inequality within the family grew, as the “wage-earner” was increasingly viewed as the one whose work “really mattered.”

In the earlier and more traditional model – the roots of which go back centuries, indeed millennia – children grew up as part of a family unit that was (barring catastrophe) intact, integrated, and holistic. They had both parents around, most of the time. And they learned what they would do when they took over the family farm (or cottage-industry business) by doing it: work was something everyone did together (granted that different people had different specialties), not just “something daddy does at the office, dear.”

Often several generations lived in the same house, or at least in close proximity to one another. The younger generations learned from the older, and in return, cared for them as they aged. You knew who you were descended from, and related to. Communities were smaller and more tightly-knit, as everyone helped everyone else with the harvest, barn-raisings, and similar events. Holidays were celebrated with gatherings and mutual visiting. There was a sense of continuity, cohesion, tradition.

Capitalism and industrialization proceeded hand-in-glove, and drove deep wedges between these traditional bonds: between men and women, between the generations, between families in a community, and between people and the land that supported them. It still does, of course, however distant and compartmentalized the relationship may be. But there is no longer the immediacy, the sense of relationship, of connection.

When Chesterton writes that Capitalism (and its handmaiden and enabler, industrialization – and nowadays, “high” technology)

“has broken up households and encouraged divorces, and treated the old domestic virtues with more and more open contempt… [It has] forced a moral feud and a commercial competition between the sexes… destroyed the influence of the parent in favor of the influence of the employer… driven men from their homes to look for jobs… forced them to live near their factories or their firms instead of near their families; and, above all, has encouraged for commercial reasons, a parade of publicity and garish novelty, which is in its nature the death of all that was called dignity and modesty by our mothers and fathers,”

he is speaking no more than the simple truth. Those of us who fall to the conservative side of the political spectrum, and especially those of us who consider ourselves to be in any sense traditionalists, should in my opinion (shared, I think I can confidently assert, by Chesterton) look with skepticism on Capitalism, holding it at arms length and partaking of its fruits only advisedly and with great caution.

It is, as I say, a modernist project, just as much as is Communism; it is, in its way, just as globalist and internationalist – and it is also just as centralizing in its tendencies, although its locus is the corporate élite, not the socialist state. Instead of a State monopoly on power, it leads to a Corporate monopoly on wealth; instead of apparatchiks, it breeds oligarchs. The choice between the two is, it seems to me, not unlike that between “the Devil and the deep blue sea!”


Nota Bene:  It may seem like all hope is lost, if Capitalism and Communism are the only two options, and they’re both toxic! Fortunately, there are other options, although they are under-appreciated, under-explored, and under-utilized. But they exist! For starters, check out

G.K. Chesterton’s Distributism

and

What is Southern Agrarianism?

Hopefully, once we begin to understand that there are alternatives to the Capitalism / Communism duality, we can begin to work towards enacting them…

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Jesse Kelly: “It’s Time For The United States To Divorce Before Things Get Dangerous”

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This idea of breaking up the United States may seem a bit outlandish now, but you won’t think so once real domestic unrest comes to your town.

Source: It’s Time For The United States To Divorce Before Things Get Dangerous

Let me preface my comments by being clear: I do not wish to see this. Despite my Monarchist and Confederate leanings, I deeply love and respect the American Republic that our Founders bequeathed to us (as Benjamin Franklin perhaps presciently put it, “if you can keep it”), and which my ancestors (including my father and paternal grandfather) fought to defend.

The United States has been far from perfect, but I truly believe that (if you set aside the late unpleasantness of the mid-1860s, and a few other incidents) it has done more good in the world than otherwise. But everything has its life-cycle, and that includes nations – and the ideologies behind them. And like human relationships, though “breaking up is hard to do,” there may come a time when it is the lesser of two evils.

What Jesse Kelly calls “the peaceful solution”: “We can and will draw the map and argue over it a million different ways for a million different reasons, but draw it we must. I’ve got my own map, and I suspect the final draft would look similar.”

It is said that no one (at least, no decent person) breaks up a committed relationship unless or until the pain of remaining becomes greater than the pain of departing. I am not sure we are quite there, yet, but we seem to be heading in that direction. As this essay puts it,

“The history of the world is nations breaking up and redrawing their borders. If we want to avoid this political divide turning into a deadly one, we should do likewise.

“Stop clinging to the past and acknowledge where we are as a country, not where you want us to be, not where things were when your grandpa was storming the beaches of Normandy. Where we truly are…

“Borders move. Countries split and change hands. They do this for a myriad of reasons. Ours would be a major cultural shift toward the left and half the country refusing to go along with tyranny…”

“The GOP has many problems, but the Democratic Party has turned into something completely un-American. The United States was founded on two things: Judeo-Christian values and a limited federal government. The entire platform of modern Democrats stands completely opposite both of those.”

Sobering – even depressing! – to think about, this nonetheless carries the ring of truth, in my opinion. I am also depressed to see my home state of Maryland well above the line (and even the “Old Dominion” of Virginia!) but I also, sadly, fear that Mr. Kelly is correct. There has been such an influx of Left-leaning urbanites, over the last several decades, that neither – and certainly not Maryland – is what it used to be. That I may ultimately find myself forced to migrate South or West is a sad likelihood that I have been pondering for a long time before reading this essay.

Mr. Kelly concludes,

“This idea of breaking up the country may seem a bit outlandish now, but you won’t think so once real domestic unrest comes to your town. Our political disagreements have become a powder keg, one that already would have blown if conservatives had liberals’ emotional instability.

“Nobody is expected to cheer for this split. Cheering is not a normal reaction when couples get a divorce. We cheer for old married people on their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

“But life is imperfect. Life is hard. We both now agree that living under the other side’s value system is wholly unacceptable. The most peaceful solution we Americans can hope for now is to go our separate ways. So let us come together one last time and agree on one thing: Irreconcilable differences.”

To my great sadness, I fear that he is right. I just wish I had confidence that we could do so, peacefully, before we get to the point beyond which a peaceful settlement may prove not merely difficult, but impossible to achieve.

Why Millennials Long for Liturgy | The American Conservative

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From the New Liturgical Movement website.

Is the High Church the Christianity of the future?

Source: Why Millennials Long for Liturgy | The American Conservative

America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.

What this essay calls “the High Church” – churches, particularly those mentioned in the excerpt above, whose theology and the worship that expresses it are sacramental, liturgical, and steeped in tradition – are drawing more and more attention from a younger generation: which (if I may be so bold) sees through the often rather superficial, “feel-good,” “happy-clappy” style of worship that is known (perhaps with some irony, now) as “contemporary.”

Rather than seeking to “marry the spirit of the age” (which as Dean Inge warned, decades ago, would lead churches to become widowers), “High” churches immerse themselves in the timeless tradition of the Church Catholic, the Great Tradition of Christianity, focusing more on reverence than on “relevance.”

This does not mean that present-day considerations are irrelevant to such churches, of course; rather, it’s a matter of priorities: “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you,” as our Lord counseled (Matthew 6:33).

And this is finding resonance with many young people, who see from experience the failures and limitations of the secular, therapeutic model that has been largely dominant in mainstream churches since the late 1960s, 70s, and beyond (which is why calling this “contemporary” is more than a bit ironic). As the name of a Facebook group (founded and largely populated by millennials) of which I am a member puts, “Yes, young people do like traditional liturgy!”

From the linked article:

“If you ask me why kids are going high church, I’d say it’s because the single greatest threat to our generation and to young people nowadays is the deprivation of meaning in our lives,” Cone says. “In the liturgical space, everything becomes meaningful. In the offering up of the bread and wine, we see the offering up of the wheat and grain and fruits of the earth, and God gives them back in a sanctified form. … We’re so thirsty for meaning that goes deeper, that can speak to our entire lives, hearts, and wallets, that we’re really thirsty to be attached to the earth and to each other and to God. The liturgy is a historical way in which that happens.”

The millennial generation is seeking a holistic, honest, yet mysterious truth that their current churches cannot provide. Where they search will have large implications for the future of Christianity. Protestant churches that want to preserve their youth membership may have to develop a greater openness toward the treasures of the past. One thing seems certain: this “sacramental yearning” will not go away.

This Day in History: the sinking of the White Star liner RMS TITANIC

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The steamship RMS Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Of the 2,240 people on board, more than 1,500 lost their lives in the disaster.

Source: Titanic | Sinking and Survivors | HISTORY.com

In the wee small hours of April 15, 1912, 106 years ago today, the mighty RMS TITANIC, pride of the White Star Line and one of a class of luxury ocean liners that were the biggest on the sea at their time, slipped beneath the waters of the frigid North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg. Previously billed as “unsinkable,” the TITANIC’s hull was divided into multiple watertight compartments… but they only went partway up.

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Titanic: Belfast Built

She was designed to survive the breaching of four of those compartments. Unfortunately, when she sideswiped an iceberg, late on the night of April 14th, five compartments were breached. The cascading effect of water pouring over the top of the breached compartments and into the next dragged the bow down and made her eventual sinking an inevitability. Over two-thirds of her passengers and crew went down with the ship, drowned, or died of exposure in the ice-cold water. The loss of the TITANIC is still one of the greatest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

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RMS TITANIC begins her final plunge – from the James Cameron movie “Titanic”

Equipped with a powerful Marconi wireless set, TITANIC was in touch with many – including her sister-ship, the RMS OLYMPIC, racing to the site but too far away to arrive in time. Indeed, the only vessel near enough to have effected a rescue before TITANIC went down, the SS CALIFORNIAN, had shut down her Marconi station after a brief exchange with TITANIC and thereafter ignored her – even when, in her last desperation, she began firing distress rockets. Incidentally, the actions of CALIFORNIAN’s captain, Stanley Lord, were later found by both American and British courts of inquiry to have been unprofessional and negligent, and while formal charges were never filed, his career was – understandably! – over.

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TITANIC fires distress rockets as she settles low into the water.

Only Captain Arthur Rostron, of the Cunard liner RMS CARPATHIA – a much smaller, slower, and older ship than TITANIC – was close enough to attempt a rescue, and did so. Racing at full speed – indeed, at a speed several knots higher than her rated maximum! – CARPATHIA sliced through the cold Atlantic waters that had just claimed the “unsinkable” TITANIC, launching her own rockets to reassure TITANIC survivors that help was on the way, and dodging at least five icebergs – that her lookouts detected. Captain Rostron (a religious man, which was unusual among ship-captains of the era, and known as “the Electric Spark” for his energy) would later reflect, “another Hand than mine was on the tiller, that night.”

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Captain Arthur Henry Rostron – Brief Portrait of a Hero

Yet even with CARPATHIA’s almost superhuman efforts, they arrived as dawn was breaking, an hour after the TITANIC had sunk. It was well that they got there when they did, though, as the survivors – dressed for ballroom dancing, or for bedtime, not for surviving in freezing temperatures – would surely have begun succumbing to hypothermia had they been forced to remain in the lifeboats (tragically few in number, and even if they had all been launched, at maximum capacity, insufficient for the number of passengers and crew) for very much longer.

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TITANIC’s lifeboats row toward RMS CARPATHIA

Though there were many technical issues that contributed to the disaster – brittle steel in the hull-plates, the aforementioned “watertight” compartments that didn’t go all the way up to the main deck, insufficient lookouts with insufficient binoculars, and an inexperienced officer-of-the-deck on duty, at night, in iceberg-infested waters – TITANIC and those aboard her ultimately fell victim to the hubris of the age. Her loss was the beginning of the end of many things.