The Road to Wigan Pier (Orwell)

Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier.

Originally planned as a Leftist expose of “capitalist society,” Orwell actually gives us a fine expose of mass-industrial society, whether capitalist or socialist. To whatever degree northern British society was actually capitalist is a question beyond my expertise. Orwell’s remarks, however, show a society essentially at the same level of (non) flourishing as any you would find in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

The real enemy is any impersonal system. This goes beyond mere economics, whether socialist or capitalist. Orwell could not have imagined how advanced technology is today (or maybe he could have). His observations are even more relevant.

Orwell explains the psychology of the working poor, and unlike the rest of world socialism, he actually cares about the poor. Unlike today’s socialists, Orwell believes in work. He believes in a welfare state, to be sure, but for him it was a necessary evil. Man did not want to be on the dole. He wanted to work and would cry to God for work. Today’s socialist, by contrast, believes that welfare is of the very essence of the Good.

The first six chapters or so are grim reading. It is England at its ugliest. The next seven chapters turn into a savage critique of modern “bourgeois socialism.” Think of the Starbucks socialist today. This is Orwell at his literary best. He writes,

“I have known numbers of bourgeois Socialists, I have listened by the hour to their tirades against their own class, and yet never, not even once, have I met one who had picked up proletarian table-manners.”

He made many socialists uncomfortable with his critique of industrialism. Industrialism had long been the Holy Grail of world communism. The problem, though, is that increases in technology seemed to make work, and by extension man, unnecessary. The more advanced the technology, the less needed for man’s muscle and skill. As a result, anyone who wants to learn a skill will be perceived as anachronistic.

Orwell also saw the connection between poverty and bad diets. Why do most people below the poverty line choose to gorge themselves on junk food, when healthy food is often cheaper? He notes,

“Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food.

Conclusion

One of socialism’s PR problems was reversed expectations. The early socialist believed that the working man would want to make his working condition better. What actually happened, at least in America, is that the working man became patriotic, largely religious, and violently anti-communist. Socialism was relegated to university professors and social media activists.

Homage to Catalonia (Orwell)

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected. I hate communism with all of my heart. I am not sympathetic to the republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine any way Orwell could have better written one of his books. Every word and sentence is perfectly crafted. What surprised me the most is that Franco wasn’t the real enemy. The background in which we find every war was the real danger: Heat. Cold. Lack of supplies. Friendly fire. Disease. To top it off, the book ends, not with Franco’s crushing victory, as would happen a few months later, but with the Communists and republicans purging the ranks. It ended with betrayal, though Orwell should have seen it coming, since the essence of communist leadership is to kill anyone who might have helped some years earlier. This book defined Orwell’s later political outlook and is key to understanding his later fiction works. Orwell was a socialist, to be sure, but he was primarily an anti-Stalinist.

Orwell fought as a militiaman in the Workers’ Party for Marxist Unification (POUM). This was only one of the Marxist and anarchist fronts fighting Franco. He notes how the militia did most of the fighting while the Army trained away from danger. The biggest problem from the POUM, as for most of Republican Spain, was the lack of decent supplies and weapons. If they got a rifle–if–it would have been an old German rifle predating WWI. Revolvers were needed for trench fighting and were almost impossible to come by. The first casualty Orwell saw was not from a Fascist bullet, but from a rifle misfiring (if it fired at all). He notes,

“In trench warfare five things are important: firewood, food, tobacco, candles, and the enemy. In winter on the Zaragoza front they were important in that order, with the enemy a bad last.”

Truth be told, the Marxist factions never had much of a chance. Part of this was due to the nature of Marxist ideology. If we are all equal and if we are all “comrades,” then how can I as a senior officer command you to do something? I’m being serious. Orwell notes how ideological soldiers spent five minutes arguing with their superior officer. Communist militaries, to be sure, can be quite successful. They have to have what Trotsky called “The Necessity of Red Terror.” Of course, that further aggravates the problem of just how we can be equal in a communist society.

The book ends with betrayal. Various militia groups were accused of collaborating with Fascists or Trotskyites. Orwell and his wife (why would you bring your wife into the middle of a foreign civil war?!?) barely escaped.

As in all of Orwell’s works, it is filled with savage irony. We will look at a few quotes:

“The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think worth describing in detail.”

“Philosophically, Communism and Anarchism are poles apart. Practically—i.e. in the form of society aimed at—the difference is mainly one of emphasis, but it is quite irreconcilable. The Communist’s emphasis is always on centralism and efficiency, the Anarchist’s on liberty and equality.”

“The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war. All foreigners are alike appalled by their inefficiency, above all their maddening unpunctuality. The one word that no foreigner can avoid learning is mañana.”

“No one I met at this time — doctors, nurses, practicantes, or fellow-patients– failed to assure me that a man who is hit through the neck and survives it is the luckiest creature alive. I could not help thinking that it would be even luckier not to be hit at all.”

“Fortunately this was Spain and not Germany. The Spanish secret police had some of the spirit of the Gestapo, but not much of its Competence.”

The Practical Philosophy (Dabney)

Dabney, R. L. The Practical Philosophy. 1897. Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA. Sprinkle Publications, 1984.

It’s the current year.  Nothing I can say can (or should) excuse Dabney’s more egregious faults.  I’ll only say this: apply the same standard across the board.  Aristotle believed in abortion and didn’t believe women were fully human.  Plato believed in sexual communism. Evangelicals voted for Trump.  Which historical figure can stand in that great day?

Should one read Dabney?  That depends. (It’s the current year.)  Should one make him a staple of his theological diet?  Probably not.  That honor would go to Shedd or Hodge.  On the other hand, if one wants to understand 19th century American intellectual thought (not simply Reformed thought), Dabney is required reading, if only to attack him. (It’s the current year.)

We can take it a step further.  There aren’t many Reformed treatments on the emotions and the will.  Before Richard Muller I can think of…well, none.  If you want to understand how 19th century thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian, thought about the will and the soul, then you have to read Dabney.  You simply won’t find any detailed treatment of faculty psychology from an American Christian on these issues.

In what is perhaps a surprising move from a Reformed theologian, Dabney stresses the importance of feelings.  There can be no motive or action without feeling (Dabney 5). Feelings do not ebb or flow, only their intensity does.  A state of calm is just as much “feeling.” Feelings are not independent, though.  As he later writes, “Feelings are conditioned on the presence before the intellect of an appropriate cognition” (105).

To feel nobly is better than to think acutely. A noble incentive of generous feeling energizes the will, which whets the intellect. Dabney makes a distinction between sensibilities and appetencies (10ff). Sensibility is passive; desire is active.  Desire or appetency: the soul acts from inward to outward (11). There is an element of spontaneity. Sensibilities are the occasions for the outflow of appetencies. My free agency doesn’t come into play when I experience sense impressions. This distinction necessary for free agency. Appetencies are the essential element for motive (14). A mere feeling is not necessarily a sensibility.

Book II is the most important part of the book, as he analyzes the nature of the will. When one chooses, one chooses something. This object presents itself to the mind as both attainable and good. The “conjoined function of judgment and appetency…prompts our own volition; it is the spirit acting in both these concurrent modes” (141). Our appetencies can remain dormant for a time. Our volitions do not.

It is better to speak of a “Free soul” than a free will. Faculties act efficiently on faculties.  “Thought is the soul thinking,” etc.The soul determines volition, “and that soul is self-determined to volition, and therefore free”(151). God’s foreknowledge doesn’t compromise the freedom of a creature (154). An infinite mind can arrange for the certain occurrence of an act. The fatalist sneaks in a hidden premise: God can only work through compulsory means. Our motives determine all our deliberate volitions (158). Inducements are objects of our desire that are capable of stimulating our sensibility. Motives are subjective appetencies

Argument: Whatever we deliberately choose, “it is because we have a motive for our choice” (168). To persuade someone, we have to get him to move his will to some inducement (172). This isn’t the cause of his actions. We have to change his subjective disposition. While we maintain free agency, we do not believe the will is in equilibrium at the moment of the choice. It is in some sense determined by “prevalent antecedent motives” (190). Up to this point, Jonathan Edwards is correct.  (He erred in making God the sole efficient cause in Original Sin).

The second half of the book deals in practical philosophy.  Dabney refutes various ethical theories.  Of particular interest is utilitarianism and Jonathan Edwards’ hedonism.  Jonathan Edwards’ view: virtue is benevolence to being in general (220). “Every judgment of beauty is analyzable into a perception of order and harmony.” New England Theology: love to being in general became affection of benevolence.

Refutation: Scripture doesn’t define love to God as benevolence to being in general. Loving God’s holiness is not the same thing as affection for kindness. This ethics is unworkable for most of humanity.  The average peasant mother doesn’t care about benevolence to being in general. On this reasoning, a son is better off saving a great stranger than his own father.

Dabney’s true genius lies in his take on wealth and economics.  (In one of the strangest ironies, he sounds very close to Tim Keller and the TGC men). Dabney has an excellent section on wealth that avoids communist decadence on one hand and gangster capitalism on the other hand.  We can desire wealth within its proper limits: The desire must not become inordinate (84ff). The desire must propose itself to pure and just objects. It must never become inequitable.

Unlimited luxury is sinful. God gives us wealth so that we may be stewards. It is objected that spending money on luxury items provides income for those who produce them.  Dabney responds: these luxuries “create wider mischief” (471). It degrades those who use them, and redirects capital and energy away from nobler pursuits.

On usury: medieval scholasticism said usury was wrong because money cannot reproduce. This is a fallacy because we know that capital lent does create new values (489). Moreover, usury laws merely drive up the prices of goods. Lenders know that their loans will become riskier. This means the supply of money is diminished and the demand is now increased.  The prices go up.

In conclusion, this is a valuable primary text for studying 19th century religious thought. Be that as it may, Dabney’s other views will prevent this from being more widely read.

Das Kapital (Karl Marx)

If Marx had decided to end this volume after chapter 2, he would have given us a relatively interesting philosophical analysis of labour.  It would have been completely wrong, of course. Part of the book is his labour theory of value and several theorems deduced from it.  The rest of the book is a scare tactic on how bad industry is. Whenever argument is lacking, in come the sob stories.

We should perhaps cut off one argument at the pass. You will hear some say that Marx anticipated problems in today’s marketplace.  He did no such thing.  When Marx uses terms like alienation, he means something entirely different than why the minimum wage advocate means today.

This review will focus mainly on the first part of the book.  The reason is simple: it is the heart of his argument and if it is wrong, it really doesn’t matter what he gets right.

Chapter 1: Commodities

A commodity is a thing outside of us that satisfies our wants.

“The utility of a thing is its use-value,” and this is independent of the labor that goes into it.  Consumption of a product actualizes the use-value.

A thing’s exchange-value must be equal to another commodity.  (Marx also says that exchange value is a mode of a thing’s existence.  It is a “phenomenal” form, “contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.” For someone who hated metaphysics, Marx uses many metaphysical concepts).

Marx then moves to the heart of his system, and indeed, the most fatal problem to it.  Since a thing’s exchange-value is equal to another thing’s exchange-value, how do we make this work? In other words, how do I really know that x weight of corn = y weight of iron?  Marx sees this problem, so he introduces a third term: each entity must be reducible to this third term.

What is this “something?”  Marx tries really hard to find it.  He notes that “exchange-value” is just an abstraction, and since any abstraction is as good as any other, we can do away with that.  What seems to be left is “labor.”  In language reminiscent of Renaissance alchemy, Marx notes that the “material thing is put out of sight.”

Let’s summarize the problem: there is a common substance (metaphysics-language again!) but it keeps manifesting itself as “exchange-value.”

Let’s go back to use-value.  Marx says a thing is valuable “only because human labor in the abstract has been embodied or materialized in it.” The only way we can measure this value is by the quantity of labor. I don’t think Marx is saying that the hours spent making a watch determine how much we can sell it for.  He says “the total labor power of society,” the sum total of the values, “counts here as one homogenous mass of human labor.”

That does nothing to help me find out how much to sell my watch.  Marx’s answer isn’t much different from the earlier one: we take the average sample.

Conclusion: “The value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labor time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other.”  As Sir Roger Scruton remarked in Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands, Marx isn’t dealing with empirical data but with some occult entity embedded in the exchange. There is always a hidden essence in the exchange.  Whereas real economists would focus on how supply and demand influence pricing, Marx thought that irrelevant since it said nothing about the hidden essence.

In earlier metaphysics, either Christian or Neo Platonist, there was a cycle of exitus and redditus, of exit and return.  Imagine a circle with God (or Being or Good) at the top and a movement downwards along the circle.  That is the exitus.  There is then a return movement to the top, the redditus.  Marx does the same thing with currency and commodity.  We begin with C, Commodity.  It is exchanged for Money, M, and that money is then used to purchase another Commodity, giving us:

C → M → C

Marx takes it a step further: there are antagonisms within these oppositions.  Even more so, the commodity actually changes into the form of money.  This is alchemy. This transformation is itself an alienation (chapter 3, sect. 2).  

In the next chapter, Marx explains how this transformation completes the cycle.  We now move to M → C → M.  After further transmutations, Marx concludes that this is the general formula of capital.  All of this is very interesting, but the reader might be asking: what does this have to do with how much something should cost?  That’s the problem with Marxist economics: facts are subservient to theory.  Marx is always considering the matter in the abstract.  That’s completely backwards.

We’ll refute this in detail at the end.  It is worthwhile, in the meantime, to explain some of his other concepts:

Labour power: the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities in a human being when he produces value.  Its value is specifically determined by labour time.  If the owner sells the product at a profit, the surplus doesn’t go back to the labourer.  He is thus alienated from his labour.

The rest of the book is a collection of sob stories.  Now to the refutation:

First, as Bohm-Bawerk notes, Marx rests upon Aristotle’s theory of equality in exchange.  Aristotle said that goods of equal value are traded in an exchange.  Marx agrees but puts labor as one of the terms.  But if that’s true, then there is no reason to even exchange anything.  Nothing would disturb the equilibrium (Bohm-Bawerk 2007:70).

Further, Bohm-Bawerk continues, some goods that are exchanged do not involve any labor time: such as the soil, wood in trees, water power, coal beds, stone quarries, petroleum reserves, mineral waters, gold mines, etc.” 

There are even more damaging criticisms of the labour theory.  Labor isn’t homogenous, so how can it serve as a uniform medium of exchange?  Furthermore, Marx thinks that the businesses that are labour-intensive are the most profitable (which he has to say, since there has to be an active agent putting his labour into the product).  This means that the more machinery one employs, the less profit there will be.  Experience tells us the complete opposite.

Moreover, Marx sees all credit systems as the fat cat capitalist oppressing the poor borrower.  He never imagines a situation where the creditor lends to the government.

Marx has no concept of time-preference, where he sees production only as the gratification of immediate selfish needs.

Throughout his writings Marx says that the worker is on the side of society, and the interests of capitalists is against the interests of society, yet it is undeniable that capitalists produce technology (medicine, scientific advancements, etc) that benefit society.

It is true that there were many abuses in the Industrial Revolution.  We can be grateful for child-labour laws and the like.  None of that, however, requires a Marxist outlook on life.

Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen v. 2007. Karl Marx and the Close of His System. Auburn: Mises Institute.

The Stoic Art of Living (Morris)

Morris, Tom.  The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results. Open Court: Chicago, 2004.

Check out his website
https://www.tomvmorris.com/

Key idea: Our life goals must be rooted in self-knowledge, “guided by a sense of what is good, and should take form within an ennobling big picture” (Morris 5).

Seneca

The mind should be exercised continually (10).

The proper application of any insight depends on perspective (15).

Seneca details the importance of goal-setting.  “Begin with the end in view.”  Not just any goals, but goals that are proper to you.  The challenge is to find out how we can know the right goals.  That’s where proper philosophy comes in.  We have to go beyond what we want to “what we should want” (19).  Seneca’s task was to link proper goal setting with pursuing the Good. We know that our desires aren’t always good ones; a proper understanding of the Good can try to offset erroneous desires.

Our larger goals will most likely be shaped, whether for good or for ill, by how our soul has developed at that point. Our smaller goals must fit within that larger structure.

Key idea: adversity is necessary for “soul-making.”

Goals and Sequences

Morris echoes, or perhaps anticipates, themes from his other works: “We need a clear conception of what is important” (36-37).

Key idea: “Inconsistency often shows that at some level we really don’t know what we want” (39).  Consistency is truth.  When you are inconsistent, you are not being true to yourself.  One way to guide us is reason.  But Seneca has a “thick,” not thin concept of reason: “It is the whole ability we have to grasp, through intuition, interpretation, and inference, what the truth is about anything” (42).

While many probably admire the Stoic’s ability to not let things get to them, few can go with them on negating all emotion.  Is that what the Stoics really teach?  Probably.  Maybe.  The key point, as Morris notes, is that “any extreme of emotion can distort our perspective if it gets out of control” (48).

Ethics

The most famous modern ethical dilemma is the trolley dilemma or perhaps the Nazis at the door.  Such discussions are important but largely irrelevant to modern life.  Following Seneca, Morris notes, “In modern times we are encouraged to suspect that ethical dilemmas will stalk us at every turn, making it nearly impossible to have agreed upon, universally applicable standards” (57). In reality, you won’t be in those situations.

While we cannot go with the cosmic pantheism of the Stoics, they are correct that we stand in “reciprocally dependent relations with each other.”

Perspective

“It is not external forces in our lives, but our own beliefs about those forces that pressure us and bring on us all the negative experience” (76).  The background for this comment is that we shouldn’t look to the external world for our happiness. Morris takes the Stoic emphasis on the internal and draws a shocking (yet common-sense) conclusion: by focusing “our thoughts, plans, attitudes and energies…close to home, to what we can control, to the small sphere of real personal competence that we do command,” we are actually able to achieve positive change and balance (81). 

In other words, identify your range of control.  Your range of control is what is truly in your power: assent, aspiration, and action (86). This means developing our core within ourselves, which for the Stoics meant cultivating virtue and living according to reason. This means cultivating the will, “the seat of virtue or vice” (99).

Good practical advice

“It is only the relaxed and rested mind that can be intuitive and creative to its highest potential” (60-61).

Reason isn’t everything.  “While we should govern imagination by reason, it is only the power of the imagination that is able to tame emotion” (93).

Like all of Morris’s books, this book makes the ethical life exciting.  As Christians we don’t always have to agree with the Stoics (and Morris offers his own criticisms at the end).  Nonetheless, the early Christians in the New Testament dealt with the Stoics and Epicureans, not the Platonists (who are no doubt important in their own way).

The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism

Wilkin, Peter.  The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism. Faringdon, Oxfordshire: Libri Publishing, 2010.

What relevance does a niche subculture from 20th century Britain have for Americans today?  Sociologists have pointed to the phenomenon of “the empty self,” the reduction of happiness to my own personal feelings.  A corollary is a mindless conformism to consumerist society.  The Tory anarchists, by contrast, show how one can resist such mindless conformism. 

Summary statement: The Tory Anarchist is the “Young Fogey.” As Wilkin notes, “To be a Tory anarchist is to share a conservative moral and cultural critique of the modern world, rather than a right-wing political ideology” (Wilkin 12).  This allows Wilkin to label a socialist like George Orwell as a “Tory.” If I may translate into American lingo, a right-wing conservative simply wants to “own the libs” or get the next interventionist Republican into office.  A Tory, by contrast, wants to preserve a nation’s cultural practices.

The more I think about it, a Tory anarchist is basically a hipster who has style and class and is usually quite favorable to religion. With hipsters they protest bourgeois culture, but they probably wouldn’t join the Democratic Socialists, nor would they approve of the soycialist attack on religion. As Evelyn Waugh notes, “The disillusioned Marxist becomes a fascist; the disillusioned anarchist, a Christian” (Brideshead Benighted: 206).

A Tory disbelieves in revolutions because what will come next will usually be worse.  A Tory anarchist strongly disapproves of all politicians. Tory anarchism is not a political ideology or program.  It is a set of social practices.  It will come as no surprise that a Tory is a traditionalist.  He takes it a step further:  he believes in classes in society. Their opposition to things like the welfare state is merely to oppose the encroaching power of the state.  Otherwise, they are quite comfortable with “safety nets” on the market.

A Tory anarchist take on the market is a bit more complex.  They see market forces as reducing man to a philistine culture.  Nonetheless, most Tories, Orwell excluded, make peace with capitalism as it is the least of all evils.

Tories have championed both high and low culture.  There is a unifying theme, though.  Both Waugh and Orwell agree that culture cannot be reduced to mere preference.  Beauty is objective, even if pretty is not.

The Tory, like the real conservative, prioritizes the local over universal theorising (29).  This means that neo-con nation-building was never conservative.  The anarchist label is a bit more troubling, as anarchism not only protests the existence of the state, but that of class distinctions as well.  Tory anarchism, if such there be, remains a rebellion within limits, rather than without, and often possesses a reactionary cultural perspective” (33).

The Tools of the Tory Satirist

Tory satire embodies silliness, empiricism, irony, and the surreal (49).  Silliness simply exaggerates the manners of a certain class.  The best example is Monty Python. Empiricism is a bit more challenging, as empiricists were basically skeptical of authority and religion.  For the Tories, however, empiricism was a style of writing that aimed to be clear and precise (59).  So far, that is good.  I do think there is a contradiction in the project at this point: Tory anarchists, at least on this reading, want to be both surreal and empirical/clear.  I maintain you can’t be both, since that is more or less the point of surrealism.  Dream-like writing and thinking is by necessity ephemeral.  It avoids clarity.

Wilkin’s examination of the Empire and Tory is particularly good.  The British Empire was neither all bad or all good.  Rather, it embodied contradictions that revealed the best of British culture, although usually at the expense of other cultures.  There is an even more pointed contradiction. Tory anarchists embodied the real Britain, the local Britain at home.  Empire, however, is always an amalgamation of various cultures.

Although most Tory anarchists would gladly see the demise of the Empire, they realized that its replacement, the Nanny State, is just as malignant to human liberty and flourishing.  Instead of a traditional class at the top, society would now be ruled by elite “experts.”  

The expert class came as a result of global capitalism.  It’s not that capitalism per se is the enemy for Wilkin; rather, “the state tried to take the risk out of capitalism by shifting the burden of research and investment costs onto the general population–in effect, the socialization of risk” (146).

Orwell was the most interesting.  On the surface he appeared a man of contradictions.  He was a socialist who warned against Soviet intrusion in the West.  Moreover, he seemed to support the British monarchy.  Most startingly, at the end of his life he gave a list of communist sympathizers to MI6.  I think, rather, that Orwell was more or less consistent in all of this.

For Orwell, the monarchy played a unifying role in national life (As I Please: 1943-1945, 102).  On socialism, for whatever else its faults, Orwell wanted a uniquely British socialism that resisted the threat of Sovietism.  He saw that both Thatcherism and Sovietism reduced man to a faceless blob.

Some sections are savagely funny. While many Tory anarchists revered the military and the crown, they could poke fun at their own stereotypes. See for example:

Commanding Officer: Sorry to drag you away from the fun, old boy. War’s not going very well, you know. War is a psychological thing, Perkins, rather like a game of football. You know how in a game of football ten men often play better than eleven?

Perkins: Yes, sir.

CO: Perkins, we are asking you to be that one man. I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war. Get up in a crate, Perkins, pop over to Bremen, take a shufti, don’t come back.

Goodbye, Perkins., I wish I was going too.

Perkins: Goodbye, sir – or is it – au revoir?,’

CO: No, Perkins.

List of Tory anarchists:

Evelyn Waugh

George Orwell

Peter Cook

Michael Wharton

Auberon Waugh

Richard Ingrams

Chris Morris

Spike Milligan

Alistair Sim

The Chap magazine.

Criticisms:

The printing is somewhat odd.  The first chapter begins in verso, or on the left-hand side of the page.  Also, the book repeats itself.  Many times we are told that Tory anarchism is “a form of English nonconformism.”

Notwithstanding, the book is a fascinating exploration into 20th century British culture.  

Bonds of Imperfection (O’Donovan)

O’Donovans, Oliver and Joan Lockwood. Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics Past and Present.  Eerdmans, 2007.

cropped-ghent1.jpg

I’ve read this book more than any other book over the past eleven years.  Each essays is a Master’s course in social ethics.  With all the combined essays, you will know more about ethics than the average seminary graduate. This post is going to be very long, but given the contents, that is unavoidable.

The most important essay, and the one from which most others spring, is Oliver O’Donovan’s essay on Augustine’s City of God 19.4.  O’Donovan is in the very dangerous waters of whether the City of Man constitutes a true res publica.  And if it doesn’t, and if the Church does, does this mean that the Church is actually the only true political society?  If so, we aren’t that far from Yoder.  But I don’t think O’Donovan takes it in that direction.

Some background terms:  A thing’s end is its perfection.  The summum bonum is that object for which other objects are sought, but which is sought only for itself.  

  • each city has its own end.
  • Augustine is not saying that the two cities get along together by having a common use of means towards different ends.  The connective phrase ita etiam connects chapter 16 with the first line of chapter 17:  the comparison is between the earthly city and the earthly household

Consensus of Wills

But what of the obvious fact that the Two Cities do seem to “get along” from time to time?  For one, we note that members of the heavenly city use the earthly as a means to an end; whereas the earthly city sees itself as an end.  There is no tertium quid between the two cities, no neutral space. The agreement can only be on a surface level of means, and only that.

Ius and Iustitia

Augustine notes that “ius” flows from the source of iustitia (19.21).  There can be no iustitia common to the two cities because the earthly city does not deal or participate in the forgiveness of sins (Ep. 140.72; Spirit and the Letter 32.56).  Iustitia, nonetheless, is not at the forefront of Augustine’s concerns.  

If a state does display some virtues but it relates to some object other than God, then it is disorder (19.14-16).  This insight allows Augustine to say that there is some relative order and good in a state, but gives him the space to critique the State. (Interestingly, Augustine has no vision for political programs; sorry, Reconstructionists).  

O’Donovan then outlines a pyramid of ascending orders of peace in the universe (rerum omnium).  I will number them but I can’t reproduce the pyramidal scheme here. The numbers aren’t of greater importance to lesser, or vice-versa.  Rather, beginning with (1) it is a continual movement outward.

(10) ?

(9)  peace of the heavenly city

(8) peace of the city

(7) peace of the household (19.14-16)

(6) pax hominum (Peace of Rome? or basic Peace between men)

(5) peace with God

(4) Body-soul union

(3) rational soul

(2) irrational passions

(1) Body

The relation between peace and order is one of definition.  The peace of any household is the tranquility of order.

Household (Domus)

It is an ordered harmony of giving and receiving commands.  Unlike the City, though, the commands are not given from a desire to dominate, but from compassionate acceptance of responsibility. Augustine does not try to “transform” society.  It is impossible to read Book 19 or the whole City of God that way.  Rather, he “transvalues” society’s structures (O’Donovan 68).  

The Proprietary Subject and the Crisis of Liberal Rights

Key point:  The possession of rights is always proprietorship; all natural rights (for the West) originate in property rights (Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, 75).   This originated with Pope John XXIII (1329 AD).  He saw man as created with full lordship and ownership as possession (dominum).  His point was to discredit Fransiscan theologians who insisted on radical poverty.

This is the rights culture that would spring full-bloom in the modern world.  The problem it created was how to have community if the above take on rights is true.

Patristic Foundations of Non-Proprietary Community

The fathers thought men should share as an imitation of God’s sharing his goodness with us.Augustine’s AchievementAugustine distinguished between two objective rights:  (a) divine right, by which all things belong to the righteous, and (b) human right, in which is the jurisdiction of earthly kings (79, quoting Epistle 93).

  • Justice for Augustine is a rightly-ordered love seen in the body politic, which would mean men loving the highest and truest good, God, for God’s sake.
  • Therefore, the bonum commune is a sharing in a rightly-ordered love (City of God, BK 19.21).
  • Because this sharing is spiritual, it is common and inclusive.  Thus we have a republic in the truest sense of the word:  res publica, public things.
  • Conversely, a disordered love in the soul is the privatization of the good.
  • Therefore, a disordered love will see the destruction of community.

O’Donovan comments,It is the regulated interaction of private spheres of degenerate freedom, secured by the protection of property and enhanced by the provision of material benefits at the hands of unscrupulous tyrants (80).

Fransiscan Poverty: The Evangelical Theology of Non-Possession

  • Renouncing property right means that the viator is not a self-possessor, but rather is possessed by Christ and receives his powers (85).

Wyclif’s Ecclesiological Revolution

Irony: Wyclif’s reform program actually owed a great deal to Pope John XXIII’s reflections.

  • Non-proprietary posession belonged not only to Adam’s original state, but all the way forward to the episcopolate today: this should be seen in the church militant (88).
  • Divine lordship (dominum):  per Wyclif’s predecessor, Fitzralph, God is the primary possessor and enjoyer of creation.  Therefore, his giving of creation to Adam is a communication and sharing of himself, rather than a transfer of Lordship (89).
  • For the church, for Wyclif, this is God’s gift of himself as the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13).
  • Therefore, all of the “justified,” who coexist with Christ’s love, share (communicant) in this lordship directly from Christ.
  • Therefore, just dominion involves rightly-ordered love towards these communicable goods, which in turn depends on true knowledge of them available in Christ.

Medieval Theories on Usury

medieval economics: A Christo-centric ethic of perfection that drew heavily upon the Stoic-Platonist tradition.  

  • drew upon the Patristic vision of polarity of opposing loves of spiritual and earthly riches, “viewed avarice as the root of all evil,” property right as morally tainted (Lockwood O’Donovan, 99).  
  • Not fully Aristotelian, though.  The Patristic vision viewed community primarily in terms of a common participation in invisible goods and a charitable sharing of divisible goods by its members.  

Canonical Development of the Usury Prohibition

The church recognized two intrinsic titles to interest (indemnity) on loans in the case of delayed repayment:  the title of damages sustained and that of profit foregone. Further, contracts are distinguished from loans.

  • The locatio: a rental contract on a piece of property
  • The societas: partnership where profit and risk were shared
  • The Census:  sale or purchase for life of a rent-charge (the return varied on the productivity)

The church in fact gave moral license to limited opportunities for investment and credit that favored the welfare of the poor but did not serve an expanding commercial economy (101-102).  However, as contracts became more complex over time, it was really hard to not engage in some form of usury.

The Earlier Medieval Treatments of Usury

God’s original will for human community:  

  • its members make common use of the goods of creation to relieve material want (104).  
  • air, sun, rain, sea, seasons (divinely created as koinonia, unable to be monopolized; cf. modern American government attacking those who store rainwater)
  • Gratian argues this did not mean private ownership and amassing wealth.  It’s hard to see how this squares with Proverbs injunction that a godly man leaves an inheritance.  And if the wealth is to be distributed by the church, it’s hard to see how the church can make any claim to poverty and non-possessorship.

The usurer sells time:  time originally belongs to God, and secondarily belongs to all creatures.  Thus, to sell time is to injure all. Further, time is a koinon, indivisibly shared by all creatures.  

Roman contract of loan (mutuum):  a fungible good is transferred from owner to borrower. Ownership is transferred because the borrower is not expected to repay the exact same item.  The borrower assumes the risk of loss and is bound to repay it. Thefore, Lockwood O’Donovan argues, “The medieval theologians and canonists could argue, in the first place, that the usurer charges the debtor for what the debtor already owns” (107).

The Thomistic Treatment of Usury

Commutative justice (ST 2a2ae. 78)

Usury sins against justice in the exchange, a violation against equality in the exchange

Thomas does presuppose property right

  • sterility of money theory
    • Money is a means of measuring equivalence in an exchange.  It can only establish equivalence if it is formally equal to the thing itself in exchange (
    • the usurer inflicts on the needy borrower a moral violence of making him repay more than he was lent.
    • Thomas also argues that human industry, not money is the cause of profit.
  • to charge separately for a thing

Problems with Barth’s Political Ethics

For Ramsey, God accepts Christ’s regnant new humanity.  For Barth, God rejects the old humanity.  This seems to mean that God also rejects extra-ecclesial orders as such.  When Barth comes to war as such, he does not interact with Just War reasoning but simply lists the evils of the Second World War.

Ramsey can point to “monuments of grace” in such a horror, even to legitimate uses of State force.  Barth can only suggest a delaying action (CD III/4, p. 456).  As a result, notes O’Donovan, Barth “ends up precisely in the place he intended to bypass, in a politics that can only be viewed soberly and not with evangelical faith or hope” (O’Donovan 264).

A Way Forward With Ramsey

Ramsey has what Barth needs: a way to bridge the gap between homo politicus which is redeemed in Christ and homo politicus that is in need of redemption. We are back with the distinction between esse and bene esse.  The latter terms also suggests something along the lines of goal or end. Ramsey is speaking of true political activity.

Is Barth an Apollinarian?

Ramsey offers a model in which political power is both used appropriately and judged:  the Incarnation, homo assumptus.  This means that Christ takes on the fallen order, including homo politicus.  There is no radical “Other” realm to which Christ has no access.  As O’Donovan notes, “Only so can the homo politicus that is redeemed be the same homo politicus that was in need of redemption” (266).

Barth will not grant this.  But in not granting it, he is partitioning off a section of man’s redemption.  To be fair, Barth resists this temptation in Christology but not in politics.

Who is Ramsey’s “Liberal?”

A liberal for Ramsey is one who splits politics and military doctrine.

Liberalism for O’Donovan: the inadequacy of every human attempt to render justice.  A magistrate’s power should be limited.    Therefore, power is suspect but necessary (270).

What does Ramsey mean by Just War and International Politics?  So, O’Donovan: “The international sphere was a constitutional vacuum, but by no means a moral or political vacuum” 271). Ramsey suspects there is a continuum that links violent with nonviolent resistance. Indeed, is not democracy justum bellum (Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, 126)?  Jesus never said to resist evil by ballot boxes.

Georgics (Virgil)

This is an easy, pastoral treatise, marking an early agrarianism.

Georgics 1 and 3: life is hard

Georgics 2 and 4: life is easy.

According to John Dryden, the books move from dead matter, to the beginnings of life (book 2), to animal life, and then, not with men, but with bees. 

There is an “eternal bond” put upon the world by “Nature’s hand” (I:60).  Like Hesiod, Virgil hints at a primordial community of men.

Book IV ends with suggestions of a Roman golden age.

Barbarians in the Saddle: Biography of Richard Weaver

Scotchie, Joseph.  Barbarians in the Saddle: An Intellectual Biography of Richard M. Weaver.  Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, NJ, 1997.

There aren’t many biographies of that late agrarian man of letters, Richard M. Weaver.  While this isn’t a traditional intellectual biography (and so the title is misleading), it is a fine survey of Weaver’s thought.  It ends by examining the evolution of late 20th century American conservatism.

Weaver saw the encroaching welfare state (which in its industrial form he terms “Megalopolis”) as a direct threat to the natural rhythms of man’s life.  The Old South, on the other hand, provided Weaver with a foil against which to attack Megalopolis. For Weaver, the Old South was “an aristocracy of achievement” and the last nonmaterialist civilization.  We will examine that claim at the end. 

Strictly speaking, I think Weaver’s claim is a half-truth.  On the other hand, it does provide him with a counter on how to live against such a technocracy that we face.  Weaver wanted a society where “manners, morals, and codes of conduct mattered more than mere moneymaking” (Scotchie 17). The heart of this was aristocracy. Men aren’t equal in talent, intelligence, or strength.  Some will always rise to the top.  There are social distinctions (and even today’s democracy hasn’t fully erased them).

The aristocrat has the responsibility of maintaining the order in society while the yeoman is able to enjoy the stability.  Of most importance, it was the Civil War that showed the dynamic relationship between aristocrat and yeoman: “the aristocrat and yeoman farmer lived, fought, and died together” (29).  The yeoman didn’t scorn the leader in the field.  He took pride “as a fighting man in Lee’s Army or riding with Old Jack.  That the aristocrat was in the field, leading his charges into battle, only increased the yeoman’s respect for the idea of a hierarchy” (30).

Weaver’s most famous book was Ideas Have Consequences.  The consequence he feared was that the total state might finish the job that total war started (43).  This isn’t simply statism–any libertarian might make that critique.  Rather, it is the totalization of industrial life that turns man into an abstraction (ever heard of “human resources”?). 

Against this, Weaver sought to cultivate a humane rhetoric. This is a view that “presents us with a proper view of man and a pleasing vision of culture” (62). Rhetoric is a cultural cipher that allows us to see the “poetry, songs, religion and codes of conduct that shape” culture (64).

The ultimate opposite to Weaver’s vision of Agrarianism is not urbanism or even industrialism per se, but Gnosticism. The Gnostic cuts off man from any roots of place, tradition, memory–these three summarize Weaver’s vision of hierarchy and aristocracy.  Such a society doesn’t have to become static, for as Weaver was fond of saying, “things are and are becoming” (131).

Was Weaver correct about the Old South? In some ways. Let’s leave slavery aside for the moment, for the question is not the morality of slavery, nor does it concern over what causes the war was fault. Weaver is asking, rather, did the South possess an aristocracy that embodied chivalry and an anti-materialist culture? I say yes to the first two claims and “kind of” to the last one.

Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology

Williams, Rowan.  Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology.

Rowan Williams has given us a masterful reading of Bulgakov’s political theology. There are introductions by Williams to each section, followed by some of Bulgakov’s most key works. Unlike many annotations and summaries, Williams does not water down Bulgakov’s ideas with artificial selections. The book roughly follows Bulgakov’s own theological timeline, beginning with his slow rejection of Marxism to the more polished Sophiological readings of economics.

In “The Economic Ideal” Bulgakov still accepts many Marxist categories as normative, but already doubt has formed. It is a basic summary of 18th and 19th century European economic thought and a quite valuable one at that. He is able to give a post-Marxist account of Marxism without the usual capitalist arguments.

In “Heroism and the Intellectual Struggle” Bulgakov follows Dostoevsky’s narrative ideas in *Crime and Punishment.* The Russian intellectual of this time is a (so he perceives himself) heroic individual persecuted by the Tsar and religious authorities. But he’s also a revolutionary in whom the seeds of atheism are already sown. As Bulgakov is writing this, Russia is facing a crisis: to whom will she turn in the post-Tsarist age: Father Zosima or Vladimir Lenin?

Over against the intellectual revolutionary is the “podvizhnik,” or ascetic. He is the one who conquers by suffering. Following the Lord Jesus and Dostoevsky in *The Brothers Karamazov,* he is the one who conquers and lays low the powers by taking his cross and dying to himself. This is prophetic for Russia as Bulgakov writes this, for both prophecies come true.

“The Unfading Light” is Bulgakov’s own theological autobiography. Here he introduces Sophia, or the beginnings of Godmanhood. The influence of Solovyov and Florensky is obvious, though Bulgakov will correct both. This essay is not quite as polished as S.B.’s later stuff own Sophia.

“Godmanhood” is the more polished essay on Sophia.Sophia is set as the glory-beauty of the Trinity. It is not a 4th hypostasis (SB later rejects that problematic language). It is the relation of God to the world and God to man. It allows for proper deification of man (the revolutionaries were not entirely wrong in seeking the uplifting of man) by providing the proper channels to him.

The final essays in the book point towards a Russian political theology by critiquing socialism. It is arguable that Bulgakov would have accepted the Christian Socialism of John Ruskin and John Milbank, but given that state socialists in Russia had just murdered 30 million people, it probably wouldn’t have been the best question to ask him!

We see the true, utter brilliance in Bulgakov here. He is known as a Sophiological thinker. And as a truly brilliant thinker, he ties Sophia into economics. Sophia determines politics. Sophia is an active agent in the world (the act of the Trinity loving the love).  Thus, Sophia is God manifesting himself in the world. If this is true, then the world must reflect God and its structures must be called to account and remade.

Conclusion:

This book is called a Russian Political Theology because it fashions a new way to think about politics while remaining firmly committed to the truth and revelation passed down to us. It rejects Enlightenment values and even conservative values that have been compromised. Opening itself to the work of the Spirit, Bulgakov’s project has immense implications for America today. As many are seeing Bush and Obama destroy America with socialism, and (rightly) rejecting socialism, some think the only proper alternative is anarcho-capitalism. Bulgakov gives a sustained critique of both and against both offers to us the Sobornost of the Body of Christ