Nazareth or Social Chaos (excerpts)
|By Father Vincent McNabb, O.P|
|from the edition published by Burns, Oates & Washbourne in London, 1933, imprimatur by Josephus Butt, Vicarius generalis|
It is presumed that any copyright has elapsed, but if I am mistaken, this material will be removed at the request of the copy-right holder.
Table of ContentsChapter 1. The Call of Nazareth (excerpts) - the biblical model of moving from the corrupt city to an honest life on the land.
Chapter 2. On Rights and Property (entire chapter) - Principles and definitions, chiefly from St. Thomas Aquinas - The term 'property' is ambiguous, better to speak of various rights to use various things in various ways.
Chapter 3. The Money Muddle. (excerpts, but most of the chapter) - the true value of things is measured by their end-purpose, not by money, which is merely a symbolic representation. The value of a pound of wheat is that it will keep a man alive so long, not how much money it costs.
Chapter 4. Things and Tokens
The author draws the following lesson from the Gospel story of the Miracle of Loaves and Fishes: In a system mainly of things the average person may be trusted to limit his wants by his needs. But in a system mainly of tokens, the average person cannot be trusted to limit his wants by his needs.
Chapter 5. Social Soundings
The author responds to an unsound definition of Marriage by people who should know better
Chapter 6. Are we living on capital?
The author address our prodigal life-style and its consequences. Although written long ago, it could have been written today.
Chapter 7. Over-production or under-consumption?
Production is for consumption; and not comsumption for production.
Chapter 8. The Farmer's Food Raid
Farmers who stopped growing food raid grocery stores.
Chapter 9. Cogs in the Machine
Chapter 10. Facts for Whitehall
Chapter 11. Is Patriotism Dead?
Chapter 12. The Sins of Avarice
Chapter 13. Memento Mei
Chapter 14. Dear Mother Earth
Chapter 15. Towards Hope
Chapter 16. Nature's Call to Work and Thrift
Chapter 17. Absenteeism
Chapter 18. Mass-production in Agriculture
Chapter 19. Group Home-colonisation
Chapter 20. Fifteen Things a Distributist May Do
Some whimsical, some radical, some eminently do-able.
ch. 1 The Call of Nazareth
It is the best part of twenty years since the matter of this letter was first broached between us. Student and teacher were so akin in aim and ways of thinking that at the end of our thought-gathering neither of us could measure, in the yield of thought, what was his share.
Early in our thinking - and Jesus, the Messias of Jewry, was always the beginning and goal of our thought - we realized that the great Jewish movements of reformation and redemption were movements out of complex, organized city life to the simple life with God on the land, or even in the desert.
Gradually the dogged spadework of the archaeologist had proved to us that when Abraham left Haran for the desert it was not Chaldean slumdwellers alone who formed his train. There was also something we can venture to call an intelligentsia, of whom Abraham was leader, in their going out from a decadent neo-paganism to primaries of human life and liberty.
In our discussions on this earliest record of a group exodus we often asked ourselves the unanswered question: Whether it was not to this intelligentsia-led exodus that the earliest record should be assigned of an explicit and formulated Credo in an Intelligent Greator. We could not see in the matchless Hexemeron of the first two chapters of Genesis the product of unlettered nomads. But we were agreed that the religious atmosphere around Thare and his son Abraham at Ur and Haran was such that the bugle-music of this first Quicumque vult would be fit war-song for an intelligentsia shaking the town-dust of neo-paganism from its feet.
To us in our desperate venture of thinking there seemed a dramatic inevitability in this exodus from Chaldea being followed after some centuries by the exodus from Egypt. It was like the phenomenon of second conversion, which makes the soul's return to God authentic and final.
Again the two 'goings-out' from Chaldea and Egypt were alike not merely in substance but in those lesser modes that seemed to betoken a law fulfilled. As the Chaldean exodus was led by an alarmed intelligentsia (as it seemed to us), so, too, the simple brick factory hands of Egypt were guided into the desert with God by Moses, 'skilled in the learning of the Egyptians.' We could not refrain from seeing Moses surrounded by a group of intelligences who have given us a Social Code which the Greece of Solon, Lycurgus, Plato, and Aristotle failed to rival.
Again, it seemed to us that if the Israelitish reaction against the neopaganism of Chaldea gave us the Hexemeron, the reaction against the neo-paganism of Egypt gave us the Decalogue. In each case reformation and inspiration came when the God-appointed leaders shepherded their people out of decadent city organization back to the land.
You will remember how it weighed upon our minds that the precedent of Abraham and Moses seemed to be set aside by Jesus Christ. Search as we would, we could not find a trace of his having left and Ur or a Memphis for the desert. Our inner conviction that all true reformation must be a return to the things primary of land work and hand-work almost began to sicken if not die, when—Deo Gratias—a text of St. Matthew restored our conviction from its sick bed.
‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son. … Arise, take the Child and his Mother and go into the land of Israel’ (Matt. ii, 15–20).
The day we found the meaning of these prophetic and inspired words we almost shouted for joy, as if a doom of doubt had been lifted from our shoulders. We almost chanted aloud the further phrase of the tax-collector Matthew: “And coming he dwelt in a hamlet called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was said by the prophet, that he shall be called a Nazarene.’
It was with joy on joy that, with still further study and prayer, we still further realized how punctiliously and completely this Son of Abraham had followed the lead of his earthly Sire by turning from the complexities and complication of city life to the simplicities and primaries of a life with God and with the earth as God has made it.
Some lesser riddles of the adventure of redemption, though still left unsolved, were so much a part of what had been solved as no longer to seem incapable of solution. Thus we had asked ourselves: If land-work is of such necessity—indeed, of primary necessity for redeeming the world—why did not the Redeemer choose all, or some, of the primary apostles from workers of the land?
The question thus broached had not long to wait for an answer. It was if under the very poison-fang of the difficulty we found the poison’s antidote. He who brought in the supernatural order did not rest it on the wreckage of the natural order:
‘Non eripit mortalia
Qui regna dat coelestia
(He stealeth not the natural
Who giveth realms celestial.)
Indeed, he himself said, as if beforehand with an answer to our doubt: ‘No man putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God.1(Luke ix, 62).
note 1. I owe this text to one of the first band of young men who have left city life to ‘put their hand to the plought’ at Chartridge.
The Word made flesh was not minded to disturb the Divine order which made land-work the primary duty and need of beings demanding daily bread to keep them in being. It was only from work of secondary need such as fishing or of still less need such as tax-collecting that Jesus chose his disciples. Land-work was an institution so indispensable and divine that from it he took no workers, but only the wisdom of the parables.
You will remember the day when another of our lesser questions was answered to our Joy. We were lopping the branches of a felled birch, to provide fuel for the bread oven. For the hundredth time we had asked ourselves, ‘Why did not the Son of God choose to be born on a farm?’ Perhaps our previous talk on Russia’s naive efforts after the Co-operative State gave us the clue. At last one of us said gravely: ‘But the Incarnate Word, as he could not disturb the land-unit, so he could not be born in the land-unit.’ To the inevitable question ‘Why?’ came the inevitable and satisfactory asnwer: ‘Because the divinely instituted land-unit is the normal family of father, mother, and several children. And the Word made flesh could not be One of several children.’ At once we saw that, as the only Child of the Heavenly Father must be the only Child of an earthly mother, he could be born nowhere save in a home show craft did not demand the normal family of several children.
All this was gradually opening our eyes to the full meaning of the title officially given to the Redeemer of the World in the hour of the world’s redemption. For ever this Son of God and of Mary, this Redeemer of the World, will be JESUS OF NAZARETH—indeed JESUS THE NAZARENE, as one say, Donald the Crofter!
I used to envy you who had made three years of Bible-study in the university that is the Holy Land. How often have I made you bring back memories of the hamlets and by-ways hallowed by the feet of Jesus! But though the very stories of Nazareth were known to you, it was only after years of speech and thought in common that you, old pupil—and I, your teacher—saw what Nazareth was and meant, and what was meant by the title: Jesus the Nazarene.
For us both Nazareth was always a highland hamlet, whose very stone was hallowed by thirty years of God's redemptive love. Gradually our eyes began to see this highland hamlet as one of the necessities - one of those conditional necessities, to use the phrase of the Dumb Ox of Aquin - of the enterprise of redemption. For Nazareth was the Unit of human society. It was a family of families gathered together in aid and defence of life. Within its circuit dwelt the little self-sufficing group of land-workers and hand-workers.
The primary craft of land-work and the secondary yet necessary crafts of hand-work were there working together in the primary Co-operative Group. All the sanctitites and social necessities of property, chastity, and authority were there in their natural soil and setting. If, then, the Son of God made Nazareth his earthly home and took it as his earthly title, it was because he, the Redeemer and the Beginning, who came to make all things new, realized that in a Nazareth alone could be the beginning of redemption.
For this reason you - my beloved pupil - and I, your unworthy teacher, have come to feel Nazareth calling us; indeed, crying out with a loud Calvary shout to us. The them of that unceasing Nazareth cry is: 'Come back, not to Ur or Memphis or Jerusalem, but to Nazareth, lest you prepare another Golgotha.'
So shrill and unceasing is this call of the Nazarene that, in spite of ourselves, it is dulling our ears to all other cries of efficiency, prudence, experience, progress, statesmanship, as if they were but the cracking or rumbling of a world tottering to ruin. Much as one shirks this challenge of the truth, we yet see that, of a truth, only Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior and Hope of the world.
Much as our feet falter on the threshold of the way we yet know that Nazareth alone, where alone Jesus had a home, is the divine pattern to souls who covet to do the Redeemer's work in the Redeemer's way, amidst a strayed, lost people who do not yet know that their sorest need is Repentance and Redemption.
ch. 2 On Rights and Property
Let me set down some principles and definitions, chiefly from S. Thomas Aquinas. They may help towards clearer thinking.
A Duty is an act necessitated, not by a physical, but by a moral obligation, i.e. not by nature but by Will. It is a moral, as distinct from a physical, necessity to act, e.g. the duty of living, of seeking the truth, of working, etc.
A Right is a moral, as distinct from a merely physical power to have the means necessary to fulfil a Duty. Hence Duty is primary and absolute; Right is secondary and relative to Duty.
As moral obligation and moral power presuppose a free will, Duties and Rights are predicable only of a Free Will.
The fundamental right of the free will is to be free, and not enslaved.
SERVITUS EST IMPEDIMENTUM BONI USUS POTESTATIS.(1)
(1) Summa Theologica, Ia-IIae, Q. ii, art. 4, 3rd reply.
Slavery is a hindrance of the good USE of power.
'To use is to apply a principle of action to its action.'(2) Hence 'To Use is properly an act of the will.' (3) Slavery is the evil of a being that has the internal quality of free will, but has not the external condition of freedom. Hence the fundamental property or the foundation of property and ownership is our free will. A being that cannot call its will its own can call nothing its own.(2) ibid. q. xvi, art. 2
By liberty our acts are our own; by property our goods are our own. Free will is the psychological condition of property; and property ist he material condition of freedom. 'A man by his will possesses (owns) things.'(1) To have (or own) is nothing else than to use or to be able to use; and this is only by an operation.(2) As a right is a moral power to use, Right is the fundamental form of property.1. ibid. IIa-IIae, Q. lix, art. 3, 1st reply.
'OWNERSHIP' ... denotes the relation between a person and any right that is vested in him. That which a man owns is a right.(3)3. Jurisprudence. By Sir John Salmond. 7th Edit. London, p. 277.
Whoever, then, admits the existence of human rights has denied any arguments against human property.
The right to property does not mean that a man shall have a right to as much as he wishes, but that he shall have a right to as much as he needs.
If ownership or property is a right, and especially if ownership is moral power, as distinct from physical power, to use, it is as misleading to speak of the ownership of a thing as to speak of the right to a thing. There are as many limitations of ownership as there are limitations of right and of power.
Where there is no physical power there is no moral power; a blind man has not the right to have electric-light shades.
Yet there may be no moral power where there is physical power. Physical power to use is not moral power to us; and moral power to use in one way may not be moral power to use in another way.
In one and the same material thing there may be centred many physical and many moral powers to use and thus to own.
Of God alone, who alone has full physical and moral power over everything, can we say 'God has the ownership of A. or B.'
All other bings have only an ownership in whatever they are said to own: Thus, in land the nation has not the ownership but only an ownership of the land. All England belongs to all England. The nation has the 'altum dominium', the highest ownership of the land of the nation. But this kind of ownership is quite compatible with another kind of ownership by the individual.
Some examples may stimulate thought. (a) Lord B.---- has a valuable picture-gallery; but is blind. His valet is an artist who has found no money in painting. The valet has the physical and psychological power to use the pictures. Lord B.----, who is said to own them, has not the power to use them, but has only the power to prevent other people from using them.!
(b) Mr. E.-----, the millionaire shipowner, owns half a Scotch county; but his asthma confines him to the South of France. His tenants have the physical and psychological power to use his land both for tillage and for enjoyment. He can neither till nor enjoy. Almost his only ownership of the land is the power of selling; or is a selling-ownership.
(c) A certain Government holds the Communistic doctrine that no one can individually own land. But the individual land-workers have alone the physical power to till the land and largely the physical power to control the fruits of the land. Whether or not their very real control of the 'earth and the fruits thereof' is called ownership by the central authority, it is a more effective ownership than the shadowy overlordship of a doctrinaire bureaucracy. The land-workers, who have no official ownership, can bring the land under cultivation; whereas the central Government's official is a power of putting the land out of cultivation.
All this may lead us to generalize about the words Right and Property. Right is an old word with something like a simple definite meaning. Property (like Capital, Industrial, Employee, Income, etc.)is a new word with a complex or indefinite meaning.
Again, the things which are the objects or RIghts and Property are of many kinds. At the one extreme there are things like food and clothing, whose use is their consumption. At the other extreme there is the earth or land which can be used in a thousand ways and even abused, but cannot be consumed. Between these two extremes there are different classes of things with different ways of being used. To state man's relation to these things, with their complex and multifold ways of use, in terms of one word 'Property,' is to court ambiguity. The older word Right is at once more illuminative and scientific. Thus we can say, Right of Production, Right of Use, Right of Usufruct, Right of Occupation, Right of Selling, etc. etc.
ch. 3 The Money Muddle
During a meeting at the Olympia, Glasgow, my lecture on ‘Unemployment and the Land’ led a man in the hall to ask me if I could give a definition of what I think he called National Credit. I ingenuously confessed that I could not give a definition of National Credit. Indeed, as there seemed some hesitation in taking my word, I again confessed that I did not know what National Credit was; and indeed I did not care.
To tell that truth, I had a suspicion that National Credit had to do with currency or token-wealth. Now, I have long felt that as the way into our social quagmire was by putting second things first, our only way out of the quagmire was by putting first things first. But as currency is not a first thing, or even a second thing, but only the token of a thing, to be deeply concerned with money and the money view of the world is to sink still deeper into the quagmire. Hence my indifference to all schemes based on a money-unit.
A walk throught the slums, and a study of the official reports, of Glasgow had made me perhaps unduly sensitive to the futility of the money-standard of civilization. I do not mean that I was depressed because Glasgow was Glasgow and not, say, Birmingham or Liverpool; but because, like Birmingham and Liverpool, Glasgow has a large number of human beings living in inhuman conditions thought the money-muddled thinking of a small group of not ill-minded human beings.
I cannot remember all the rungs in our exchange of question and answer. I can recall that my courteous questioner said: ‘But there must be money paid by the man who buys land from the State.’
We were thinking of the Land Purchase scheme which transformed Ireland from a country of a few large landholders to a country of many peasant-proprietors. To his question I answered a little sharply: ‘No. The proprietor who buys and bowwrs from the State need not pay in currency, but in kind.’ I remembered that a most efficient sliding-scale of payment was to be found in the tithe, and in the metayer system; whereby the land-worker gave a fixed proportion of his yearly harvest. This direct dealing of the borrower and lender, with its direct exchane, was more economic and efficient that another which demanded a third person who gave to the land-worker, in exchange for his tithe, a currency token which the land-worker gave to the State.
The truth was that money, which was invented to facilitate barter and measure price, has ended by darkening counsel and measuring value. Money, being a token and not a thing, could be a means and a measure, but could never be the means and the measure. Here a principle of S. Thomas was golden: 'Of things related to an end the measure is the end.' Thus the measure of a poker is not its power to add lustre to a brass-finished fire-grate, but to poke and rake a fire.
Of course, as things do not measure other things, but mind measures one thing by another, a mind can employ not the true measure, but a false - not an essential measure but an accidental - not the measure (which is the end) but a measure (which is not the end).
If, then, we measure a thing or commodity by something which is not its end, we do not give its absolute value, but only its relative value. Yet how many modern minds, when asked the value of a commodity, think in terms of the end of the commodity? If we are asked, ' What is the value of a hundred-weight of wheat?' we naturally say 'Eight, ten, or twelve shillings.' We do not say 'A hundredweight of wheat will support a man's life for six months.' In other words, by expressing a hundredweight in terms of currency we gave, not its value, but only its money-value. No wonder that minds accustomed to the atmosphere of currency find themselves in an intellectual money-muddle.
But the money-muddle is more than intellectual: it tends to become real. Money is a token, or artifice devised by intelligence to express a reality. But intelligence, as Lewis Carroll reminds us, 'can make words [or tokens] mean anything.' Thus the same intelligence which to-day has made a piece of paper marked TEN SHILLINGS mean a hundred-weight of wheat may to-morrow make it mean one pound of wheat. [N.B. -- I do not understand how this is done. I and my readers who have followed the recent startling fluctuations in currency values throughout the world only know that it is done]. Hence the real value of a TEN SHILLING note may veer from a hundredweight to a pound of wheat. But the real value of a hundredweight or of a pound of wheat never veers.
How great the plight must sooner or later befall a people that has lost the art of giving things their real value, and has entrusted the commonweal to the muddled judgement of men who are experts only in money value.
Domine! Salve nos; perimus
ch. 4 Things and Tokens
And Jesus took the loaves: and when he had given thanks, he distributed to them that were sat down. In like manner also of the fishes, as much as they would. (John vi, ii).
* * *
Even if a man sees, as I see, that the Bible, and especially the Gospels, are the world's best handbook of Economics, he will have surprises almost every time he opens the book.
It is now only a few days since the reading of this phrase in S. John's Gospel seemd to throw more light on the present state of the world than could be thrown by a library of books on Economics.
As such an instantaneous illumination seems, like a lightning flash, to make a jagged way across the darkness it dispels, I would ask my readers to be patient with me if I cannot make what I have to say as round and lucent as the sun.
* * *
Exegets will notice that whereas this miracle of providing food in the desert is told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, this mystic phrase as much as they would (hoson ethelon) is given only by John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree in the world they were filled (echortasthesan); but they lack all mention of man's willing.
* * *
We have here an instance of God allowing the human will to condition, as it were, the divine will. This is, of course, a deep mystical fact of the soul's relationship to God. Sometimes God's power seems hindered by men's evil will, as when Jesus 'could not do miracles there because of their unbelief.' Here, on the contrary, the miracle of multiplication is brought to the very frontiers of man's will. This phrase of S. John is all the more striking because he more than the other three gospellers is insistent upon the Will of God. Who would expect this phrase as much as they willed to be found in a gospel which opened with the phrase . . . 'who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God?'
* * *
A sounding-line to the depths of our Blessed Lord's deference to the human will may be found in the simple ethical principle: We cannot expect from the average person more than the average goodness.
This principle does not mean that the average person will never rise at need to that extraordinary height of human endeavour called 'heroic virtue.' But while the average person will sometimes rise to heroic virtue under extraordinary circumstances, it will be found that under ordinary or average circumstances the average person will have the average goodness or badness.
This simple, yet necessary, principle underlies the Church's ascetical tradition towards what she calls 'occasions of sin'. The Church's wise teaching and practice rest on the fact that an 'occasion of sin' is a set of circumstances wherein the average person would commit sin; or could avoid sin only by an act of heroic virtue, i.e. by more than average virtue.
* * *
Let us now follow up this undeniable general principle with an equally undeniable general fact: All this is in the world is either Things or Tokens of Things.
A mind or will behaves in one way when in an environment of tokens; and behaves in another way in an environment of things.
So fundamental has this fact appeared to be that scholarship is now judged by loyalty to the principle, 'Verify all references'. No token or sign, or eveidence of a thing can be accepted as scholarship whgen it is possible to have the self-evidence of the thing. Hence the false showy scholarship begotten of Encyclopaedias and Bibliographies. Hence, too, the token knowledge of books to be found in experienced librarians and book-sellers. In contrast with this showy knowledge of tokens there stands the solidly-based knowledge of things. The modern growth in the physical sciences is largely a result of observing things rather than tokens of things. All laboratory thoroughness rests on the principle that direct knowldge of things is primary and knowledge of tokens is secondary.
* * *
Inside the great world of things created by the Will of God are many worlds of tokens created by the will of man. One of these is the great financial world of currency and credit, which we may call the money-world. It is, of course, not a real-world or thing-world, but a shadow-world. Yet it is so dangerous a world that an expert in these shadows, if men will play this shadow-game, will, in the end, possess his opponent's realities.
* * *
Aristotle and Aquinas, that is the pre-Christian and Christian world, are agreed that avarice or the undue desire of these tokens tends to a certain infinity. How could it be otherwise? Even ten thousands shafts of sunlight are not the sun. The token-nothings can excite an unsatisfied indefinite desire; which can at least fill the time if not the heart of man.
* * *
Far otherwise is it in the greater world of realities. The very fullness of their reality limits man's desire. No man, unless at enmity with his reason, desires infinite things. If food is needed, no man desires an infinite meal; if clothing, no man desires an infinite garment; if shelter, no man desires an infinite house; if possessions, no man desires an infinite field to till. Man's being and powers of doing have a bound which sets a limit to the things he needs.
* * *
We may now venture to formulate the principle acted upon by the Eternal Wisdom when he gave the hungry his miracle-bread; and conditioned his Will to give by their will to receive. The principle may be formulated thus; In a system mainly of things the average person may be trusted to limit his wants by his needs. But in a system mainly of tokens, the average person cannot be trusted to limit his wants by his needs.
* * *
If the Eternal Wisdom, instead of miraculously providing bread and fishes, had provided money, S. John would have been unable to say that as much as eacn one wanted Jesus gave. Indeed, the one recorded complaint about mal-distribution came from the thief-Apostle, who had care of the money-tokens. The poor thief who was preparing to sell God for silver and to betray love with a kiss could hardly value this precious spikenard as a token of love. He could value it only by his tokens; and counted as worth only three hundred pencean offering which has made Magdalene the undischarged creditor of Mankind.
* * *
The present world-wide 'economic blizzard' (to use the phrase of two Chancellors of the Exchequer, the late Worthington Evans and Lord Snowdon) points ominously to a breach of our formulated principle. If our present economic system throughout the civilized world is mainly a token-system, an inevitable result will follow. The average person, in other words the majority of person, will not be content to measure their wants by their needs. Everywhere there will be the very definite desire to have more and more token-wealth. The very uncertainty of the future value of this token will heighten and foster the desire.
* * *
Yet S. Thomas has formulated another principle, which can be ignored only by inviting the curse of war. Pax tollitur ex hoc quod cives singuli quae sua sunt quaerunt (Peace ceases when the citizens seek each man his own).(1) This principle becomes dramatically practical in a token-system where the majority of the citizens may be expected to seek even more than their own in their almost irresistible desire not to measure their wants by their needs.Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, Q. clxxxiii, art. 2, ad 3. Eng. tr.
* * *
Thus it will be found that Bethlehem and Nazareth poverty is not a defect to be remedied, but a fundamental condition of all ultimate remedy and redemption.
ch. 5 Social Soundings
When a ship-master finds his ship befogged in unknown waters he throws the lead again and again, in order to take soundings. With something like the ship-master’s zeal for accurate information of where we are and what we are coming to, I venture to set down some soundings on the social fairway.
* * * * * *
M.— N.— has been appointed indexer-in-chief of a new Encyclopaedia published in the United States. Under her is a staff of women, graduates of American Universities. One of the most important functiosn of these women graduate indexers is to classify the contents of the Encyclopaedia under general headings; thus ‘wheat’ under Agriculture. One of the most important and unremitting duties of the indexer-in-chief is to correct the classifications of her assistants. One day the cheif gave an assistant a group of words, including MARRIAGE, to be classified. Later on in the day, when the group of words was returned to her, she found that her assistant had classified MARRIAGE under ‘SPORTS AND PASTIMES!’
This true incident was told to me some eighteen months ago. The result on my mind has been so great that I have not yet made up my mind what the incident means. But it means something horrible.
Nearly everyone laughts when they first hear this horrible incident. Then the laughter dies away into something like a gulp in the throat or a chill about the heart. This seems the adequate and normal effect.
* * * * * *
As a student of S. Thomas Aquinas, I had not failed to notice his genius, not only for refusing to create new words, but also for using the old words in their old traditional meaning. I had long been perpelexed by the quick changes that modern social activities had been effecting on old words, such as reason, food, faith, justice, charity, etc. The word MARRIAGE especially perplexed me.
Finding myself lately with two of the leading juniors in the Divorce Court, I asked point-blank: ‘Could you give me the present definition of MARRIAGE in English Law>’
I was not prepared for their hesitation in answering such a simple, relevant, official question. Had I put the question to the normal married father or mother, their hesitation would not have meant that they did not understand the essence of marriage, but that scientific definitions of their status and calling were not their duty. On the other hand, an expert is supposed to know the science of his business, and science is summarized in definitions.
The younger and cleverer of the two said enquiringly to his fellow-junior: ‘I suppose we cannot call it a Contract?’ I said ‘No! But it is entered into by a contract.’
He went on with a hesitation which printed words will hardly convey to the reader. At each stage of his definition-building there were side-glances towards his junior, who nodded approval.
‘Marriage is—an—Association of man and woman—FOR LIFE—.’
Long pause! My mind was tip-toeing with expectation of how a Divorce Court junior would finish this definition, which, up to this point, was the traditional Catholic definition of Marriage. But my expectation never forecast a finish so dramatic. He went on:
‘Marriage is an Association of man and woman—FOR LIFE—terminable—only by a Court—for—adultery’ [!]
I feel I am making a heavy call upon the trust of my readers by asking them to believe that I have given a word for word report of this brief dialogue with the Divorce junior; who, after a few more words, begged to be excused, as the Court awaited him. Yet my mind was at once roused to thought by these few words of definition, which would hardly have been formulated in England before the nineteenth, or even the twentieth, century; and wer was characteristic of England in the twentieth century as Salisbury Minster was characteristic of England in the thirteenth century. I found a class of men, professionally dedicated to the state-craft of justice, who were more equipped for defining how the fundamental social state of marriage could be destroyed than how it could be created. It was akin to that other gruesome fact that in an age, outdoing all previous ages for its shortage of houses, there had arisen an unheard-of craft of HOUSE BREAKERS. So, too, in this age of race-suicide there had arisen within the sanctitites of the Law a craft of MARRIAGE BREAKERS.
Imagine the degredation that had befallen the noble profession of Boethius and More when even Logic was put to shame. Imagine a student of logic answering his master’s demand for the definition of a house by saying: ‘A house is a building for men and women—which can be destroyed by an order of the Ministry of Health.’
If my readers would not think I wish to raise a laugh, when I only want to stifle a sarcasm or a sob, I should liken it to the answer given by a child to the question: ‘What is memory’ ‘Please, Miss, it’s what you forgets with.’
* * * * * *
In this age of quick changes and mass production even in sensational happenings, I am afraid my next Social Sounding must appear belated.
Said Judge Hill in the Divorce Court, October 31, 1927: ‘Some day, perhaps, the Law will be altered so that the Court will be given discretion to ORDER DIVORCE, even where such relief is not asked for.’
He added: ‘The wife has apparently no real religious scruples against divorce: does not ask for it; and the consequence will be that the husband and the woman will continue to live together, and there will be more illegitimate children born.’
This social sounding is so ominous that action should, if possible, be taken forthwith. If at the cast of the lead such a sounding was reported to a ship-master, the immediate command would be ‘Full steam astern!’ Yet the only answer to the Judge’s words seems to be ‘Full steam ahead!’
The Judge’s call to ‘free’ the culprit is all the more ominous because in the Ages of Law and Reason, which are commonly called the Ages of Faith, a Jusge was looked upon as Justitia Animata, the incarnation of Justice. But no part of justice was so hallowed by the sanctities of law as that of contractual justice, which was based on the free, deliberate purpose of the contracting parties. If a contract was broken by one of the contracting parties, it could be legally dissolved in favour of the other, innocent, unoffending party. But nowadays to such an extent has the atmosphere created by divorce legislation befogged even the supreme legal experts, the Judges, that they are now demanding legal power to dissolve contracts in favour of the offending parties. If ever such power be granted we may quite consistently expect Judges to suggest that in pity for the burglar who threatens murder the threatened should hand over their goods, or even commit suicide!
On such a principle of contract no contract can be a valid or socially valuable instrument between man and man. Modern divorce legislation and practice will kill contractual justice. And as contractual justice is the very life of all ultimate free social institutions, divorce legislation, if it is not repealed, will ultimately kill social institutions.
ch. 6 Are we living on Capital?
I do not like the word Capital. I do not think that an argument based on this word, or an arrangement based on this idea, is of much worth. Indeed, if we are to find a way out of our present economic ‘No Road’, we must clear our Economics of many such words. Yet, as what I shall say is meant for men who still think in these ways, we use the word in a last effort to oust or main the thing.
We, therefore, frankly profess that in our opinion, which our readers can take or leave for what it is worth, there is one main generalization about the present state of things. We say advisedly ‘state of things,’ because we are concerned maily about the present dearth, and oncoming greater dearth of things, as distinct from tokens of things of which there is no dearth, but a glut. The main generalization about this state is that we are living on Capital.
Even the present activity which we see here or there, especially in England, Germany, United States, is not a problem of Production out-running Consumption; but of Consumption out-running Production. In a hundred spheres of necessary human toil we are consuming not merely more than we produce, but even more than we and our ancestors produced.
One who say this truth as an unassailable intuition was recently asked: ‘You have recently been to the United States. What do you think of them?’ The questioner was bewildered to hear the quiet emphatic answer: ‘The United States are about as drunk as we were fifty years ago.’ Drunkenness, as such, is consumption out-running production. For the moment it is a self-unconscious living on Capital. And as England had a spasm of prosperity after the Napoleonic wars, so has the United States a spasm of prosperity by using Capital as Income—the almost excusable sin of the Prodigal Son.
This reckless living on Capital, this consumption of what should alst, is flagrant in many spheres. Take our forests. The modern world has destroyed more timber in fifty years than has probably been destroyed since Hiram cut down cedars for the Temple of Jerusalem, or Tutankamen ordered his royal coffin. Indeed, when we realize that to produce a daily newspaper with its million or two million copies we need tons of wood-pulp, every day’s issue means the consumption of a glade. Experts whose word seems of weight reckon that at our present rate of consumption the world now holds only twenty-five years’ of wood. We are living on Capital.
The same spendthrift selfishness is dealing with the world’s store of oil. The present writer was assured by an experienced oil-well organizer that the misuse of the world’s oil supply was reckless. For the moment no one can reckon how many years oil fuel may last; but these years cannot be many at the most. Again, we are recklessly living on Capital.
The present state of the British coalfields may perhaps bring home to men’s minds how coal, an exhaustible form of wealth, has been treated almost as inexhaustible capital. A little over a century of our near-sighted coal-producing has beggared our plough-lands and given us an explosive miner’s problem. When our capital wealth of coal was practically treated as income by the Tyne, the Tees, the Clyde, the Taff, England had something like drunken bout of prosperity—the prodigal’s prosperity which sunsets in beggary.
And what even the less thoughtful men are seeing in our depleted coal mines they may go on to see in the rapidly depleting mines of other metals—iron, tin.
It is for this reason that in the present seeming prosperity of the United States the wiser men see the prodigal having a banquet-time by treating Capital as Income.(1) History has never seen a country receiving from other countries as much capital, in men and means, as the United States received by immigration. If every able-bodied man represents at the lowest two hundred pounds of capital, the immigration of a million men meant 200,000,000 pounds given as capital to the United States. When to this sum in addition we add the wealth represented by the destroyed capital of the exhuasted forests, oil-wells, silver and gold mines of the United States, the present prosperity need not be taken at its face value.Note 1. This was written in America’s post-war fat years. The writer’s forecast came true sooner than he thought likely.
Even the soil of America has been so treated by rapid, exhuastive and deep-ploughing that its present exhaustion is like the after-effect of exhausted Capital. With an area of uncultivated (or decultivated) land and a wealth of agricultural machines without rival in the world, and now with the world’s largest market within its own frontiers, American agriculture ought to be the most prosperous in the world. Yet it is in such a state of exhaustion that for the moment it is the politician’s chief home anxiety.
But we would suggest to some of our younger studious readers and even subtler form of this modern Rake’s Progress. Machine industrialism seemed no sooner born than it gave gifts to men. It cheapened many articles of human need or use. The cotton mills, the hosiery factories, the shoe factories have an unimpeachable record of the drop in prices that came with their coming. But whilst we are not concerned, nor disinclined to deny this cheapening we are more inclined to ask whether this cheapening was not bought by a subtle living on Capital. When machine industrialism came in it found a social arrangement whereby labour could be had cheaply. In other words, labour did not demand much currency. Hence there were cheap manual work and cheap houses. In a hidden, real sense there was cheap Capital. And England especially lived on this Capital in such a subtle way as to make certain commodities cheaper, from a currency point of view. But that cheapness is now a thing of the past; nor is it likely to return.
Something akin to this has happened in the religious world. The moral standards bequeathed to us by Jewry and Christendom were a precious form of moral Capital. But to-day it would be fait to ask whether we have not run through our moral Capital to the point of moral exhaustion. In our passion for things new, the old Decalogue has been given the mercies of the waste heap.
The present writer sees something akin to this prodigal prosperity in the newly-created mechanical art-production. The gramophone has lived murderously and suicidally on the masterpieces bequeathed by past centuries. The film has sated children in their teens with a thousand pieces of fictional and dramatic literature. In music and in literature, as in painting and sculpture, there is little left to purloin and squander. We have lived on Capital. We have consumed; and we are producing little or nothing for our children to consume. Ichabod.
ch. 7 Over-production or under-consumption?
‘The first of these reports traces the wheat crisis to a decrease in consumption rather than to an increase in production which has only kept pace with the growth of the population.’ (The Times, March 27.]
THIS report was presented to an international conference held in Rome, and preparatory to the second wheat conference to be held in 1932. The drawing up of the report had been entrusted to the International Institute of Agriculture.
Some reflections seem obvious.
1. It is, at least, not certain that the present wheat crisis is due to over-production. Yet the other day, when I was discussing the matter with a very prominent politician, he assumed as undeniable that modern machinger had produced too much wheat. In economic language we were suffering from over-production. This poitician by assuming the over-production of wheat was but voicing a widespread and perhaps dominant opinion.
Yet this report, which though not infallible is perhaps the most authoritative statement to hand, counters other less authoritative statements by saying that, far from having overproduced beyond normal consumption, we have only kept abreast of normal consumption!
2. Even if for the sake of argument we granted that there was an over-production of wheat it would be an economic production; and for the following reasons:
Production is for consumption; and not consumption for production.
Production is not for production’s sake (as Art is not for Art’s sake); nor is production for gain’s sake. But production is for the sake of consumption.
But production under such circumstances of time or place that it is not economically available for consumption, is not, economically speaking, production. The factors causing mere production to be uneconomic production are two:—(1) physical, as distance, difficulty of transport, etc.; (2) psychological, as desire of gain, overhead charges, tariffs, etc.
Strangely enough, it would seem, then, when physical difficulties are lessened by modern mechanical appliances, psychological difficulties are increased.
From all this we may conclude that the more the area of consumption tends to be co-terminous with the area of production (i.e., production for consumption), the more stable will be the resulting economic state.
Chapter 8. The Farmer's Food Raid
‘ Five hundred FARMERS of England, Arkansas, many of them armed, stormed the business section of the town last evening, demanding food for themselves and their families, and threatened to raid upon local shops unless it were provided from some source without cost. Arkansas is dominantly agricultural with cotton as its leading product. There are no Communists worth speaking about in Arkansas, but the representatives of the farmers declared to-day that there would be another uprising unless either work was provided or Food Supplies were assured,’ [Daily Telegraph, January 5, 1931.]
If this were not deep tragedy it would be sheer comedy and even burlesque. Nothing in Alice in Wonderland is more grotesque than this picture of land-workers flocking into a town for—food. It is as if fisherfolk from Berwick tramped to Birmingham demanding salt water.
But these so-called ‘farmers’ of Arkansas were not really farmers. They were really cotton growers. Now even a man from Arkansas cannot eat cotton; although no doubt Arkansas could produce all the food needed by the men, women, and children on its soil.
The best reserve these starving Arkansas farmers could have made would have been, not a reserve of money (i.e., counters) in a bank, but a reserve of Arkansas-grown food (i.e., things) in their barns. Poor folk they seem to have neither a reserve in bank nor barn. No doubt like so many of their ilk, they parted with things from the lure of counters.
This food raid of the five hundred Arkansas farmers is another proof of a principle which, to the modern financial leaders, would seem but the hooting of owls. The principle is that mass production which usually begins by increasing, at least, the token-wealth of the mass producers, inevitably and sometimes speedily ends by decreasing to starvation-point both the real-wealth and the token-wealth of the mass producers.
Farmers arming themselves with shot-guns or revolvers in order to get food out of town grocery stores, as amost an ungentlemanly ‘I told you so’ for the defeat of the mass-production economists. But we are in such bewildered years that the picture of farmers arming themselves with spade and hoe to get food out of the soil seems almost a cruel satire. These Arkansas farmers may congratulate themselves that they have produced, if not much food for eating, much food for thought.
Chapter 9. Cogs in the Machine
Chapter 10. Facts for Whitehall
Chapter 11. Is Patriotism Dead?
Chapter 12. The Sins of Avarice
Chapter 13. Memento Mei
Chapter 14. Dear Mother Earth
Chapter 15. Towards Hope
Chapter 16. Nature's Call to Work and Thrift
Chapter 17. Absenteeism
Chapter 18. Mass-production in Agriculture
Chapter 19. Group Home-colonisation
Chapter 20. Fifteen Things a Distributist May Do
You say you are at sea with a pen; and that anyhow, Fleet Street, not to say Little Essex Street, is in no need of recruits. You feel that Distributist modelling and designing has been well and truly done; but that the modellers and designers will have wasted their brains if some simple folk like you don’t attempt to carry out the designs. You ask dramatically, ‘Don’t tell me what to think for I subscribe to G.K.’s. But tell me what to do.’
I will therefore set down fifteen things, any one of which would be good to do. They shall be fifteen for two reasons. Because if I set down the hundred and one things you might do, it would fill a whole issue and not just one article in G. K.’s. Fifteen gives a choice such as a man has, say, in choosing a cravat, a livelihood, or a wife.
I will not begin at the beginning. I will begin anywhere and go on anyhow. But, indeed, when things have come to such a state of social untidiness as they are at present, a beginning can be made anywhere and anyhow. The one things necessary is to begin.
1. If you have a mantelpiece, remove everything from it except perhaps the clock. If you are fortunate enough to have no mantelpiece, remove from the walls of your home all pictures and such like, except a crucific. This will teach you the Poverty of Thrift. It may be called an empiric approach to Economics.
2. Clean out your own room daily. Clean it if possible on your knees. This will teach you the Poverty of Work. It will also prevent paralysis of the knees. But a paralysis which has reached the knees will soon reach the hands and the brain, if not the tongue.
3. For forty days or more—say, during Lent—do not smoke (and neither grouse about it nor boast about it). This will also improve your eyesight. It will also improve your insight into the tangled economics question: (tobacco) combines and how to smash them.
4. Buy some hand-woven cloth. Wear it. Buy some more. Wear that too. Remember the noble advice on how to eat cucumber, cut it into two parts (equal or unequal). Eat one part. Then eat the other. Your home-spun will instruct you better than the Declaration of Independence will instruct you on the dignity and rights of man.
5. Buy boots you can walk in. Walk in them. Even if you lessen the income of the General Omnibus Company, or your family doctor; you will discover the human foot. On discovering it, your joy will be as great as if you had invented it. But this joy is the greatest, because no human invention even of Mr. Ford or Mr. Marconi is within a mile of a foot.
6. Find another young Distributist, with our without University education, but with brains and feet1. Invite him to use his feet by tramping with you across any English county, say, water-logged Staffordshire during the summer holidays. Invite him to use his brains by standing on his feet, but not on his dignity, in market-places, telling the village-folk what is the matter with Staffordshire. This will lead him to tell them what is the matter with himself.
note 1. Do not believe X.—, who says they are not to be found. The truth is that X.— has lived so long in stunt circles for the last six months that he has become prematurely infantile.)
If you will keep at it for three weeks or a month, your advice on How to Save England will be more valuable, though, I admit, less valued than that of the entire Board of Directors of the Old Woman of Threadneedle Street.
7. If you fail to find a fellow-tramp, or if you covet the heroism of the dug-outs in a time of peace, spend your summer holiday as a farm-hand. You will not be worth your keep; but it will be worth your while. If Babylondon has not befogged your ‘intellectus agens’—your active intellect, in the noble phrase of Scholasticism, you will gradually see the Poverty of Work. This is the other empiric approach to Economics.
8. If through the machinations of Beelzebub or his fellow-devil Mammon, your house is in suburbia, plant your garden not with things lovely to see like roses, or sweet to smell like lavender; but good to eat like potatoes or French beans. At the end of two years you will have done three things: (1) You will have a higher appreciation of yokel-intelligence; (2), you will have a wider knowledge of Natural History (especially of slugs and the like); and (3), You will have a sardonic scorn for the economics of our present Sewage System. In other words you will have had the beginnings of a liberal education.
9. I wil not approach a matter or your reputation. If you take the advice offered, you may be accounted a fanatic. But fanatic or no fanatic, here is the advice. For twelve months, if possible, or at least for twelve days, do not use anything ‘canned’, neither canned meat nor canned music.
This will throw you back on what is called Home Produce. This in its turn will show you the right expression to put into your singing of Rule Britannia.
10. I will now appeal to the artist that is within every one of us. Art, as you know, is the right way of making a good thing. There is no right way of making a bad things. Not only something, but make something—a cup of tea, a boiled egg, a hatpeg (from a fallen branch), a chair!
This heroic attempt to make something will enable your friends to practise their wit by saying you have only made an ass of your yourself. In order to hear this gibe stolidly, read up about ‘the ass’s colt at the crossways.’
11. Talk your young architect friend into spending two weeks of his holiday making an abode (formerly called a house1). He is thinking in terms of Brick-combine bricks, Timber-combine timber, Steel-combine steel, Cement-combine cement, Building materials-combine building materials. Drag him out into England that still grows oak, elm, ash, beech, fir, larch, etc. Give him a wood axe, a hatchet, and adze, and a few tools. Tell him from me that if in two weeks and for less that 100 pounds you and he cannot make an abode more spacious and sanitary than ninety per cent of the dwellings in the Borough of Westminster or St. Pancras, your should be certified. This may be called the Strain Test, enabling you to know whether he has brains enough to be your friend, even if he has brains enough to be an architect.
note 1. The word house is now becoming obsolete. Collections of flats are not a house. For the moment the genius of the English language seems unequal to the task of giving these collections a name.
12. Set down for the information and inspiration of young Distributists one hundred answers to the usually despairing question: ‘How can I get out of London?‘ Begin with the simplest answer: ‘Walk out.’ You may find that some of your most promising Distributists will walk no more with you. Do not be despondent at this; because it may make your own Distributism more sea-worthy.
13. As you are not yet married, and as marriage is the fundamental state of life as well as the unit of the Commonwealth, make up your mind whether your are called to this state. If you make up your mind to marry, do not marry merely a good wife: marry a good mother to your children. A wife that is a good mother to your children ist the Angel of the House; the other sort is the very devil.
14. Before asking her hand and her heart, tell her how to test you. Advise her to ask herself not whether you would make her a good husband, but whether you would make a good father to her and your children. A wife that is not a house-wife, and husband that is not a good house-band are heading for Admiralty Probate and Divorce!
15. If you do not feel called to the state of marriage vows, there is another state of vows—where mysticism and asceticism prove themselves the redemption of Economics.
But—well—God-speed you, as they say in lands of the old culture.