Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Charlie Jenkins
California outside of the Bay Area was largely lightly settled frontier until the 1950s, more cognate to the modern Pacific Northwest than modern California. LA used to be the whitest, most Anglophone, most native-born city in America, did you know that? East LA (which is unincorporated county land) was Mexican, yes, but in the same sense it had been since LA was part of Mexico. It wasn’t until the immigration wave of the '70s-'80s - in living memory for plenty of people - that things changed, and movies like White Men Can’t Jump, Falling Down, and American History X were made by people who lived through the transition. Snow Crash is a projection of early ‘90s SoCal into the future, and the specter of the Raft is a reflection of the Asian boat people refugee/Mexican overland wave. (Steve Sailer can mostly be accounted for by the fact he grew up in the Valley back before this)
And here’s a wild frontier thing - sexual morality is umm, loose. I see some folks - with good and proper ethical basis - sniffing about the mainstreaming of the sexualization of children. But, well, let me say the new millenium has *nothing* on the ‘70s, when the California Experiment first started taking over the culture. Yet, anyway. Roman Polanski - not just his personal life, his 1968 Romeo & Juliet was very upfront about the fact that the leads were young teenagers who were sexual beings who, upon getting married, got naked and sensual with each other in bed. Which I suppose seems like nothing now, but it was something then. Ps, the ‘50’s? That joyous time? No, all that “constrictedness” was a counter-reaction to the fact everyone sensed, and knew, that the older edifices were rotting. Seriously, watch Mad Men. No, husbands weren’t all cheaters, but the Lambeth Conference was at the start of the ‘30’s. Pop-Freudianism, the notion that obviously we totally wanted to have a lot of sex, particularly with our family members, and repressing this was a major source of pain in the world, was always biggest on the coasts.
Yeah, Woody Allen (the things the Farrow family’s said about him would make a good movie. Maybe two.) Heck, the career of Brooke Shields - nude photo spreads in a Playboy publication at ten, starring role as a child prostitute in Pretty Baby at 12, at 14 introducing Calvin Klein and designer jeans in general with ads the conceit of which was her sitting with her legs splayed and double-entendre-ing that she wasn’t wearing underwear, same age as she starred as a topless girl going through an incestuous sexual awakening in The Blue Lagoon (as with Flowers In The Attic, “incestuous sexual awakening” had the same prominence in contemporary YA pulp romance as “supernatural boyfriend” did in the Twilight era). Like, it was not in fact clear at the time that the Sexual Revolution wasn’t going to go all the way from acceptance of premarital to extramarital to homosexual to intergenerational sex. NAMBLA has the same legend of stab-in-the-back betrayal by incrementalist gay activists that transgender activists do.
It wasn’t until the ‘80s that a backlash back-footed things. First there was the “satanic ritual abuse” thing, which was reactionary witch-hunting to the point that folks were literally hunting witches, mating the fears about the twin declines of Christianity and parenthood as structural forces. The Moral Majority and the appearance of evangelicals in cultural politics and anti-pornography coalitions coincided with second-wave radfems. After obscenity laws fell under the Warren Court, it wasn’t until the 1982 New York v. Ferber - which if you read the decision is pure handwaving - that it was established it was even constitutional to criminalize child pornography and not allow “redeeming artistic value” as a defense. (It wasn’t until 1990’s Osborne v. Ohio that it was established criminalizing mere possession was acceptable). Then AIDS was seized upon to co-opt sex education (about which, you know, the Moral Majority wasn’t wrong; it was originally introduced as a means to saturate students with sex-positivity and undermine parental restrictiveness) to teach youngsters sex was deadly as a convenient idiom to reassert sex needed to be controlled. This is a position which now has a better chance of being re-asserted in the hands of sex-negative feminists, by expanding and tightening rape and sexual assault laws.
All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. The players will change. The combinations will change. And the country’s ability to absorb and adapt will change, because whatever it is that keeps America going will change. Ya folks better hope whatever institutions keep the place running don’t weaken, because I tell ya, that will take a toll on every one of your sacred rebel cows (America being a nation of rebels, of course). But since some people are comparing the BLM stuff to the civil rights activism of the sixties, who knows, the eternal return of the sixties might be upon us. Everybody watch California.
Note: The basic notion of this essay first appeared three years ago, was put into essay form two years ago, and was revisited a year ago. I’d say its aged well. How many of these sort of issues have only intensified from the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2017?
Note of correction: It was pointed out to me, and this was an oversight on my part, that it was Franco Zeffirelli and not Roman Polanski who was responsible for Romeo and Juliet.
by Tara Ann Thieke
Lifehack. Best life now. Treat yo self. Have it your way.
The 20th century saw the triumph of advertising, its language welcomed, absorbed, and personalized by all members of society. Perhaps it was inevitable: popular demand for entertainment and comfort is real, so why wouldn't a people with meaningful, orienting traditions falling like autumn leaves all around them, accept products as a replacement for atrophied communities? What was money good for if it couldn't make life a little easier?
The consumer mentality didn't stop with a new vacuum, personal computer, third car, larger house, or trip to Disneyworld. New products came on the scene with the advent of new technologies, and through the efforts of social engineers and the desires of a for-profit medical industry, our understanding of what it meant to be human underwent a dramatic shift, one whose ramifications have yet to fully reveal themselves.
Children are no longer an inevitable result of sexual intercourse. You can have the pleasure without the cost (that's the short-term sell, at least). If you do have children, there's no need for them to limit your desires. You can still have it all!
In order to have it all (a good car, a pleasant house, frequent vacations) you will need money. To make money you will need a good CV, and to have a good CV you will need to be busy, and so you will need to avoid the kind of distractions that cannot be turned into a shiny line item. Sick parents, sick children - all of these are rocky pebbles which impede the Path to Success.
There is nothing to be learned from taking care of an ailing loved one unless one can monetize it as a memoir. Consumerism is a word we've heard so many times it's easy to roll the eyes at. But what if we were to see it afresh? To hear it as it really is: the yanking and stripping of all that is transcendent from our lives in order to pursue our appetites? Consumerism is the mentality of "Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger," of more more more. Anything that does not bring More, anything that does not bring speed, is an encumbrance when we are required to go ever faster, ever more efficiently, into a Utopia of fulfilled desires.
This is how we become dominated by what I call the yuppie mentality: life is a product, an experience that I, the manager of my personal consumption, must tweak and perfect in order to give a 5-star review. Can I instagram it? What does my personal brand buy me in terms of success? As I heard a young man tell some women recently as he attempted to recruit them into some sort of pyramid scheme, why wear a shirt or have a drink without getting paid for it? Your body and what you do with it: this is advertising space, he said. Use them. Get paid.
There's no room in such a shopper's worldview for the less-than. Diversity is a photo-spread of travel destinations and international restaurants, not the difference between an ailing Alzheimer's patient, a healthy young woman, and a child with Down Syndrome.
To be pregnant in the 21st century and a member of the middle-to-upper-classes is to walk a surreal wonderland. One has decided it is time to accept a new product, and like all new products it must be closely managed and scrutinized. If it is not perfect then we reserve the right of return to seller.
Over and over the terrifying chill has raced my spine when confronted with a question so eerie I cannot believe I am really hearing it: have I genetically tested my child for Down Syndrome yet?
A tight "no," and shake of my head has been my response throughout two pregnancies. What I want to do though is run, run from a question the speaker does not fully understand, for in the very words are echoes and foreshadowings, death and murder. I know the implications. They're asking if I've made sure my unborn child is one of the elect. If it's perfect enough to live. And the terror, the horror, comes from the knowledge that the question is perfectly decent and normal in right-thinking society.
Wedding ceremonies are another act of self-creation these days, but there's often still some small nod to attendees that they play a part in marriage. They'll be asked if they consent to "being there" for the married couple, to supporting them through life's burdens and trials. People will cheerfully nod along, confident nothing serious will actually be asked of them. That's what a managed-society focused on perfecting our consumption does to us: anything too inconvenient is removed from sight. A child with Down Syndrome will be "taken care of" before anyone has to do anything so troublesome as love him or her.
Empathy is a hallmark of the human race. Perhaps we don't have enough of it; sometimes it blinds us. But standing on its own it is a good thing. Suffering qua suffering is bad. All things considered, there is no doubt health is preferable to illness. Who would not seek to move the moon if it would save a child from pain?
This is the question truly before us. Eugenics is a terrible thing. Abortion is evil. Their advocates are absolutely wrong. But, for all the suffering they inflict, we must also understand that at some point, it was fear of suffering which drove the flight from reality. The nature of their response must be questioned. The apathy, indifference, and+ utilitiarianism must be shunned. But we must always recall that the universe is a hard one, and human life is not sunshine.
It is a century of advertising bombardment and a shift to a consumerist culture which has warped our already weak ability to process suffering and demand eternal sunshine. Our common tongue has adopted the language of business, of shareholders, of magazines selling the new and improved. With this we have blocked out not-for-profit metaphysics, which points us to something greater than our appetites and fears, and so gradually more and more domains of human life fall under the sway of the language of marketing.
A child is not a sandwich. People must not be made to order. A unifying, transcendental definition of what it means to be human is our only defense from being reduced to products ourselves. All human beings matter regardless of the color of their skin, their beauty, their sex, their height, their intelligence, or how many chromosomes they possess. No human being should have their existence threatened by another's desires. No one should be an instrument to another person's "best life now." If one human being's value is reduced to how convenient they are then everyone's value is reduced. Your security does not rest in your possessions; it rests in your attitude towards the world. They who value every human being will create a world where they are valued themselves. They who treat human beings as objects to be tweaked, honed, or discarded as at a sandwich counter will find that they have put themselves into the same position as the product they thought they were ordering. At the end of the day, when questions of virtue have been extracted from ethics and 'ethics' itself is code for "whatever we want to do," the only real question left will be who wields the power, who decides who is convenient, whose appetites will reign supreme.
Artificial contraception does not just warp a biological function; its effects spill over, the same as with every new technology. It has created a culture of convenience and those who are inconvenient are unwelcome. This is clearest in the delusional tone the Icelandic people adopt as they cluelessly celebrate a genocide of Down Syndrome people, a genocide that will never end because Down Syndrome is not hereditary. But how can one even be angry at those so blinded by a culture of comfort, convenience, and selfishness that they cannot conceive of the magnitude of their sin? How can one be angry at the well-meaning people who ask if you've tested your child to see if you should allow it to live? They mean so well. They don't want you to suffer. They don't want anyone to suffer. If that means they have to erase the one who suffers, well, then they must be erased in the name of compassion.
When compassion is capable of rationalizing and extolling murder it is time for a new definition. Otherwise where does such false mercy stop? Is it compassionate to give birth to a blind child or a deaf one? Will those with an inclination to heart disease or breast cancer be allowed to live tomorrow? What happens when we can check to see if an unborn child carries a marker for bipolar disorder? Is it compassionate to the poor parents who now have a "burden," or a child who won't experience the full spectrum of human life? How can happiness be anything other than circling modernity's buffet without impediment? If one cannot be an athletic, moneyed, wired-up, credentialed denizen of the city with passport in hand, does life have any point?
I once joked such logic had no stopping point. "Life itself is a risk!" I pronounced. "Everyone dies. It should probably be a crime to have a child at all, considering it's a guaranteed death sentence." Well, I should have known better than to joke in this day and age.
We're told science will prevent such problems in the future. Perhaps reproduction will become an entirely artificial process, thus ending the need for abortion. We'll be sterilized but our eggs and sperm shall be preserved elsewhere. That would end abortion, and abortion is evil, so shouldn't we be happy?
There should be no skepticism that genetic testing on the unborn is but a way station, and there should also be no doubt all our embryonic testing, our Dr. Frankenstein-meddling of humans with pigs, the murdering of the unsightly will all be done in the name of compassion. This is why we must confront the nature of compassion and the nature of suffering. This is also why we must question our own popular demand for an endless stream of products, of easy living. For in the very goods delivered us is a worldview, one which especially bears the rotten fruit of original sin. Our happiness is not tied to mere security, convenience, or comfort. Those are good things, but they are not ends in themselves, and if we pursue them alone we will lose our humanity in the seeking.
Psychologists increasingly speak of the value of 'resilience.' We become aware, grudgingly, that a smooth road is deceptive in its own way. Diversity requires, well, diversity. Hands which do not knit, sew, hew, carve, sow, reap, soothe: they still find a way to suffer. Anxiety, depression, a sense of unease fill us, because we have fled from suffering, which means we have fled from an opportunity to conquer our appetites and choose love rather than desire. We have fled from the chance to receive grace, choosing to dictate the terms under which we live instead. Love can teach us how to desire rightly; desire pursued for its own sake cripples our ability to love. Grace can help us bear suffering; the unyielding pursuit of control snaps our humanity in two.
Only Christianity can truly move us from a utilitarian acceptance of suffering to love. This has been dismissed as masochism, the religion of slaves and women. Personally I think Ayn Rand and Nietzsche lacked the joy and peace of the saints. There is, perhaps, a practical argument to be made that true happiness is to be found in the Cross. But happiness pursued for happiness is doomed to failure. Happiness is an after-effect of love. And when we love the sufferer we do not eliminate them. Our fate is bound to theirs. There is more to this than meets the eye: these are gifts, if we dare to receive them.
May those of us who still believe life is not a product to review reject the "bigger better faster stronger" mentality as the road to suffering without redemption, a world of nihilism, of permanent fluorescent lighting blinding us from understanding the grace we receive when we accept everyone as our neighbor, however they appear to us. As long as one human being is labeled an inconvenience unworthy of love and acceptance, we are all in danger of being labeled so ourselves. Rather than denying ourselves the mysteries of love, suffering, and existence, let us instead choose a compassion that leaves room for grace.
by Reverend Canon Leslie Martin
It's helpful for my day-to-day work as a missionary to remember the Incarnation. God came in the flesh. Covenants had failed, Law had failed, Prophets and their pleadings and arguments had failed. Only God coming himself succeeded. I often feel a failure- culture, language, race and expectations mean that much of what I say and do gets a mixed result at best. It's often discouraging- until I remember the Incarnation. God's greatest gift was to be God with us, and my own small gift here is not so much what I say or do perhaps but that I'm here- and why I'm here, and how I'm here.
I share this because I believe that we in this Caucus and in this party are involved in "missionary politics." The political landscape we find ourselves in has been dominated by other parties and philosophies forever. The current culture is not at all friendly (to say the least) to notions of subsidiarity, solidarity and distributism. It is virulently anti-life. We often try to argue people into our viewpoint, but it seldom works. Instead, the invective and name-calling comes. Or counter arguments abound. In short, it seldom works and we can easily lose hope. Or at least I do- sometimes I read responses to carefully crafted arguments simplistically shot down, ignored or yelled off the forum and I think "No one wants what we are selling. Why bother?"
But what if we are indeed involved in missionary politics? What if our work is so radically different that it requires an incarnational approach rather than a debating hall method? Jesus called his followers to be salt and light- substances that by their presence change their environment. What if how we live and how we serve in our communities proves the truth of our political philosophy better than pointless social media debates? Because I have a hunch that even if online hothouses and political salons don't want what we offer, tired hopeless people in hollowed-out communities actually do.
If I'm right at all, it will be harder and take longer. A few words on social media are quite a bit easier to manage than changed lives- beginning with my own- and restored families and revitalized communities. But which does the world need? And which will truly make the case for our principles and philosophy?
In the Incarnation, God didn't phone it in- he came himself. To the extent that I am a useful missionary at all, my friends here tell me it's because I'm here, with them, no matter what. Perhaps to the extent that we live out a missionary politics as salt and light where we are, the ASP will succeed. And if we can be bold enough to win the debate with our lived lives in actual communities, I bet the social media argument will take care of itself.
by Christopher Zehnder
One might well complain that calling a mid-19th century pope an environmentalist is anachronistic, at best. After all, Pope Gregory XVI died in 1846, well over a century before the environmentalist movement was born. The objection is a fair one, but only if we take the root term, environment (as referring to the natural environment) in the narrowest sense. If, however, we understand environment more broadly – as those conditions that surround us and influence us – and environmental to indicate a care for that environment, then, I think, calling Pope Gregory XVI an “environmentalist” is not too far off the mark.
Indeed, Gregory took the “environment” of his day very seriously; some might say, too seriously. One might think, in fact, that he fit well the stereotype of the modern environmentalist – that he lacked balance and perspective, confusing the essential with what is merely external and contingent. Many, indeed, would call Gregory a reactionary; for, he vehemently opposed republican government and would accept no lay participation in the government of his Papal States. His 1832 encyclical, Mirari Vos, condemned liberty of conscience and the freedom to publish any and all opinions. He stood resolutely against every revolution in his time – even the rebellion of the Catholic Poles against their persecutor, the Orthodox tsar of Russia. Why, Gregory XVI was so “reactionary” that he even forbade the building of a railroad and the installing of gas lights in the the Papal States! He despised railroads. He called them chemins d’enfer (“roads to hell”) – a pun on the French chemin de fer, “iron road.” (This, of course, suggests that Gregory had a sense of humor, which he did. Those close to him knew him to be jovial, friendly, and a lover of good conversation – thus demonstrating that even reactionaries can be fun.)
It is in his opposition to the modern technology of his day that Gregory XVI most closely approximates the caricature of the modern environmentalist, who, at the very least, would call for a severe curtailment in the use and development of certain forms of technology (such as air conditioning or the automobile) because they harm the natural environment and human health. The more subtle among them may even point to the effects of such technology on human culture. Certainly, Pope Gregory XVI was not thinking of air pollution or climate change when he excoriated trains. What he objected to, and what he thought inexorably bound up with the expansion of the technology of his day, were habits of mind and morality that most modern environmentalists take as self-evident truths. In a word, what Gregory objected to was Liberalism.
This Liberalism was not simply the “liberalism” of the U.S. Democratic Party; indeed, it encompasses the fundamental ideals that lie behind the American political order itself, as well as the ideals of most nations on earth today. At the basis of this Liberalism is the premise that man’s most natural state is one of radical freedom and autonomy; that human community is a construct to preserve individual freedom, and thus not proper to man as man. Forms of community, including political community, are thus artificial and have the character of an imposition, even if a necessary imposition. But if they are necessary, they are only so because they protect and preserve individual freedom. The limit of human aspiration remains absolute autonomy – even if it can never be fully attained.
Individual liberty is the only absolute for Liberalism. Its limitation can only be justified by liberty. Public order, not the common good, thus becomes the only excuse for law and government; for, the expressions of liberty (freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of choice) imply that it is the individual who determines the content of the good. Law and government delineate a space wherein each individual can exercise maximum autonomy, nothing more.
In opposing Liberalism, Gregory was not condemning human liberty as such. It was this pope, for instance, who in his 1839 apostolic letter, In Supremo Apostolatus, sternly condemned enslavement and the slave trade. Gregory understood that freedom is proper to man; what he condemned was the principle of fundamental human autonomy. Gregory operated out of the Catholic social and political tradition that saw organized communal life as a given for man, as an expression of human nature – man as a social and political animal. Based as it is in human nature, the organized communal life has a goal or purpose, which is none other than the good of man as man: the inculcation of virtue, understood not simply as moral rectitude but the perfection of all human faculties – physical, moral, intellectual, and, ultimately, spiritual. It was in defense of this tradition that Gregory exercised all the powers of his mind and heart.
To appreciate this, one need not agree with everything Gregory XVI did and said. One need not share his disdain for railroads and gas lights. (His successor, Blessed Pius IX, in his reign established both these technologies in the Papal States, as well as a lay advisory senate for his government – for which he was mistakenly dubbed the “Liberal pope.”) But, I think, we might be indulging in a bit of disdain ourselves if we simply laugh off Greogry’s pun, chemins d’enfer. It may be, in his rejection of the “modern” technology of his day, that Gregory was on to something. He may have understood implicitly what one of his successors on Peter’s Throne has stated explicitly:
We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.
Thus, Pope Francis (Laudato Si’ 107) – arguably a pope of a very different stamp than Gregory XVI. But though Gregory would very likely find some of Francis’ comments and actions appalling (and might think they justify his detestation of railroads), he might discover kindred sentiments in Laudato Si’.
Gregory forbade the building of railroads because he saw them as avenues by which Liberalism might infiltrate the Papal States. The technology of the period was an expression of a conviction that rose with Francis Bacon’s ipsa scientia est potestas (“knowledge is power.”) It was the notion that knowledge is ordered, not to contemplation, but to craft – to subduing the world for the utility of human freedom. In other words, the function of knowledge, and therefore technology, is to set us free from the limitations of nature, just as politics is to set us free from the limitations imposed by all tradition, custom, and authority. Such technology “create[s] a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.” The powerful groups of Pope Gregory XVI’s day were those that sought the overthrow, not only of the Church, but of the human culture that Church had protected and fostered. And their boast was the power their technology gave them over the powers of nature.
Space does not permit me to expound on just how technology does condition human society and culture; but I think a little reflection on history and, in particular, on the technological changes that have occurred in the lives, especially, of us middle-aged folk, will exemplify the truth of Pope Francis’ words and Pope Gregory XVI’s intuitions. What is called for, of course, cannot be a simple rejection of technology, “a return to the Stone Age,” in Pope Francis’ words; but what is demanded is a re-evaluation of technology, of its power to influence human life and culture and a reining in of its pretensions. As Laudato Si’ (114) puts it, we “need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”
Both Francis and Gregory XVI call us to walk the narrow way to true human fulfillment, not simply to hitch the next ride on the chemins d’enfer.
Christopher Zehnder holds a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, and a Master's in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. He is the general editor for the Catholic Textbook Project and the author of a novel, A Song for Else, about the period of the German Reformation.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
What do you think of when you hear the word “Solidarity?”
I’ve asked a few people this question over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve received some different answers. Some think of labor unions—you know, workers standing in solidarity with each other, refusing to cross picket lines. “Solidarity Forever,” is the title of a common union song, sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Some took that labor union theme in a different direction, remembering the anti-communist labor union in Poland called Solidarity. It grew so quickly that in the early ‘80s, the Polish government imposed martial law, and in 1982, made the union illegal. Both Pope John Paul II and the U.S. government helped keep it going through the rest of the ‘80s, and when the Iron Curtain was rolled back in 1989, Solidarity helped lead the government.
Others took a different approach, talking about “standing together.” To them, solidarity described how people “stand together” with other people—for example after the terrorist bombing in France, many people stood together with France, even if standing together just meant putting a French flag in the background of their picture on Facebook. Others spoke of standing together with persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Finally, some took that idea of “standing together” a little further. They spoke of the Christian concept of solidarity, whether that means Christ’s solidarity with us by taking on human flesh and dying in our place, or human solidarity—the idea that as image bearers of God, we humans are all a part of the same family. That Christian concept of solidarity is clearly visible in our text this morning—in fact I think it is intertwined throughout Scripture. And so it is that Christian concept of solidarity that I want to focus on today.
I became especially interested in the Christian concept of solidarity, because I have been spending some of my time reading up on the parallels between Calvinist social theories and Catholic social teaching. It’s amazing—Calvinists and Catholics may differ on some important theological issues, but we really have a lot in common when it comes to political and social theory. We often use completely different terminology, which sometimes leads us to walk down slightly different paths. But on social issues, anyway, those paths don’t really deviate very far.
Pope John Paul II, who worked with the U.S. government to secretly keep the Solidarity movement going in Poland, once declared that the foundation of Christian social thought—Catholic or otherwise, rests on three cornerstones. One of those cornerstones is solidarity. So today, let’s focus on the Christian concept of solidarity. To do that, we’ll first look briefly at our solidarity with Adam and then Christ’s solidarity with us. Then, we’ll focus on our solidarity with each other as humans beings, made in God’s image.
II. Our Solidarity with Adam
First, and very briefly, I want to touch on a very important part of the Christian idea of solidarity—our solidarity with Adam. Some people call this “corporate solidarity.” To understand the real meaning of what Christ did for us, we have to understand corporate solidarity.
Corporate solidarity means that a group of people is so identified with a single person that what is said of the individual can also be said of the group as a whole. This idea of corporate solidarity is made plain in Romans 5. In verse 12, Paul writes that “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin… in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”
R. C. Sproul explains this well. He says that “Adam was chosen to represent his descendants; so, when he fell, all people fell.” The old New England primer put even more simply: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”
Because of the sin of the first Adam, all of humanity fell into sin. Because all humans are identified with Adam, we corporately share in that fall into sin. True, we all sin as individuals, but the core of our fallenness as sinful human beings comes about because of our solidarity with Adam.
III. Christ’s Solidarity with Us
Thankfully, there is much more to the story of solidarity than our solidarity with Adam. Jesus, as the second Adam, also represents His people. As Christians, we bear the name of Christ, and we are so identified with Him that what is said of Him can also be said of Christians as a whole. This means that Christ’s perfect obedience to God allows Christians to be counted as having also kept the Law.
If can’t imagine any more perfect picture of solidarity than Christ’s incarnation—his taking on human flesh and living among us and living a perfect life on our behalf.
Ed Knudson is a former pastor who now leads the Center for Public Theology. Knudson points out that the incarnation wasn’t about Jesus becoming “a human being in order to demonstrate how capable God is.” After all, God didn't have to prove anything to anybody. Instead, Jesus became a human being because “God wanted to create solidarity with us as human beings. God in Jesus entered into our lives. God did not just stand over and above us and away from us, but entered into the reality of human life so that God could be with us, close to us, part of us, so that God could know directly what it means to be one of us. … This is solidarity.”
And Christ’s solidarity went even farther than simply his taking on flesh. It extended to his blood as well—his blood shed for us. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. Christ’s solidarity with us—his standing together with us—led to his crucifixion, a terrible death, but a death we share in because he stood with us and for us. And as a result, our sins are forgiven.
We are reconciled with God—no longer far off from him. And we are set free to live lives of service to God and solidarity with out neighbors.
IV. Our Solidarity with Each Other
And that brings us to the key point of our text from Ephesians this morning—our solidarity with each other. In verses 13 and 14 we read that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…”
Paul is referring here to the split between Jews and Gentiles. Christ, by standing in as the second Adam, didn’t just establish solidarity with the Jews, but with all of his people, Jew and Gentle alike.
Healing the split between Jews and Gentiles was an important part of the ministry of the early church. Jewish Christians had a tendency to look down at Gentile Christians, believing that they were somehow better because they came from the line of Abraham.
While the division between Jew and Gentile is not a big part of the Christian church today, there have come to be many other divisions among Christians—differences over style, differences between rich and poor, differences over politics, differences over race.
Thirty years ago, I heard a sermon by Rev. John Perkins, an African-American pastor and civil rights leader who grew up in an impoverished family of sharecroppers in Mississippi. Perkins noted that the most segregated hour of the week comes on Sunday, when Christians get together to worship. His statement is probably still correct today. There are still divisions among Christians, and our text should encourage us to work to end those divisions.
But there is a level of solidarity that goes beyond simply healing divisions between Christians, as important as that is. After all, God created ALL humans in his own image and likeness. Despite our different appearance, our different abilities, our different cultures—even our different beliefs—we are all reflections of God’s image. Put another way, we are one human family, whatever our differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.
Our text teaches us that Christ’s purpose in atonement is to create in himself one humanity. He came and preached peace to all—those who were far away and those who are near. And as a result, we are no longer foreigners and strangers. Instead we stand together as fellow citizens with all of God’s people. We stand in solidarity with all humanity as we seek to be built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
But how do we do that? How can we live in solidarity and peace with each other?
Note that word peace in verse 17: “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”
The Greek word we translate as peace here comes up 92 different times in the New Testament. Jesus taught that the peacemakers will be blessed. When Jesus healed, he often told people to go in peace and be healed. In John, Jesus comforted his disciples by telling them “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” And throughout the epistles we read of the peace of Christ, and the command to pursue peace with all humans.
The very core of solidarity—of standing together with our fellow human beings, is pursuit of justice and peace. The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict. And like the old bumper sticker says, “if you want peace, work for justice.”
But how do we do that? How do we work for justice? After all, the problems of the world are so big, so seemingly unsolveable. How do we make peace in a world where blustering despots and politicians with their fingers on nuclear arsenals ratchet up hatred and spew threats? How do we make peace in a world where racists march with torches through a town that still bears the scars of Jim Crow? How do we make peace in a world where more than 90% of the wealth is held by less than 10% of the people—and by the way we are in that 10%.
Well, first, note that solidarity doesn’t mean that we need find immediate solutions to all the world’s problems. As Jesus himself notes, we will always have the poor with us. Instead solidarity means standing together with the widow and the orphan, with the poor and the marginalized.
And standing together actually means “together.” Solidarity is more than a feeling of vague compassion for the misfortune of people. It is more than just a feeling of sadness or distress about the bad things our fellow humans often bear. And it is even more than just posting a picture to our Facebook accounts or writing letters or signing petitions
Rather, it is what Pope John Paul called “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good…for the good of all and each individual.” Paul Bailie, a pastor who serves a church in a desperately poor part of Texas, puts it another way. He says that “solidarity isn’t just to agree with somebody. Solidarity isn’t just to help somebody. Rather, solidarity is the process of laying aside your own opportunity and privilege in order to live in equality and mutuality with others.”
“Laying aside your own opportunity and privilege in order to live in equality and mutuality with others.” Kind of sounds like “Sell all you own, give it to the poor, and follow me.”
R.C. Sproul was once asked if this instruction from Jesus to the rich young ruler was true for all? Sproul’s answer was yes—it is true.
He pointed out that we often comfort ourselves by thinking that Jesus’s words were just some kind of test. We argue that Jesus was simply calling out the young ruler for not really obeying all the commandments. After all, he put money ahead of God.
But when we do this we deceive ourselves. Sproul puts it this way: “When we sign on with Jesus we give up our wealth.” In fact “we give up every gift that He had already given us, and every gift He will give us from that moment forward. When we become a part of the bride of Christ our pre-nuptial agreement reads, ‘All that I am and all that I have is yours O Lord, from this day forth and evermore.’”
And so, while the Master may still allow us to continue to steward the money and reputation and gifts we have, we must give it up and give it to those who need it.
How might we do that?
Well, first, note that while Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, the context shows us that he was urging us on to generosity and action, not encouraging apathy. Craig Greenfield, a former missionary who now writes on poverty issues points out that Jesus is using a catch-phrase from a larger context.
You know how some catch-phrases are just so well known, that everyone knows the ending—you don’t even really need to say it? “Sticks and stones.”
Everyone already knows the ending, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Just saying “sticks and stones” is enough for you to catch my drift.
It just so happens that in saying “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus was quoting another well-known Biblical phrase—from Deuteronomy 15. Everyone hearing him back then would have caught his drift.
Here’s the full original quote from Deuteronomy 15:
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be … For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
So, reading Jesus’ words in their original context you can see that His words were meant to encourage generosity towards the poor. “Open wide your hand!” The command to be open-handed towards the poor comes directly from God himself.
But standing in solidarity goes beyond simply issues of wealth and poverty. A Reformed Presbyterian seminary professor, Michael Lefebvre, has been on the forefront of racial reconciliation issues. He encourages white Christians to spend more time humbly listening to the voices of minority communities. And that includes not picking at some of the areas where we may find some disagreement or concern.
He agrees that there may occasionally be reasons to be concerned about things that a few members of organizations such as Black Live Matter say. But he notes that it is more important to listen to what he calls “the genuine voices of appeal.” “Have the charity to look past what is theologically troubling and turn your ear to hear the cry of the oppressed,” he says.
He also points out that cross-cultural friendships are important, but not enough. Racism in our society goes far beyond interpersonal issues, but pervades the structures of our society.
When white folks like most of us think about racism, we’re usually thinking about the interpersonal issues, and not about this systemic racism. There is a reason for that.
Michael Emerson and Christian Smith wrote an excellent book a few years back called “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America.” Several of my friends and I are reading through and discussing this book together.
Emerson and Smith point out that the racial practices that cause and create racial division today in the United States are more and more hidden, they are embedded in the everyday operations of institutions, they avoid direct racial terminology, and they are invisible to most Whites. We can’t see them” But they are still there.
Cecil Murray, senior pastor at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, has a solution to the fact that white folks too often fail to recognize systemic racism. He says “white evangelicals need an at-risk gospel… Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures… The gospel at once works with [the] individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.” An at-risk gospel means we may be giving up our easy lives or our reputations or our wealth, but we are called to these risks in order to root out the effects of sin on the very structures of our society.
But still, it may seem difficult and impractical for us as individuals to take on institutions, corporations, and political structures.
Paul Bailie, that pastor from Texas, gives a few ideas for living in solidarity with the poor and taking on the structures of our society, ideas that have come out of his experience in ministry with the poor. He encourages Christians to work together in food cooperatives and community gardens, rather than just creating food banks. He suggests that Christians who have particular skills—crafts and sewing, for example, to put together workshops teaching these skills rather than just giving away old clothes. He encourages Christians to go on different kinds of mission trips—instead of just going and painting and fixing things, he encourages us to get immersed in the culture, and learn and worship together in the communities we visit.
And perhaps most importantly, we can stand in solidarity with our neighbors by making sure that our homes and congregations are places of hospitality for all—places where the poor and marginalized in society feel comfortable and cared for, even when some of their problems seem to us to be preventable or self-inflicted or the result of sin. Solidarity is about standing with people, recognizing their humanity and worth, regardless of the situation.
Over the years we’ve begun to understand that standing in solidarity with the unborn means more than just marching around abortion clinics yelling “murder.” Instead, it means welcoming unwed mothers with open arms, caring for them and their children in love and compassion rather than judgment.
You see, while solidarity is never about attacking or denouncing our fellow human, solidarity also doesn’t have to mean tolerance, or even acceptance, of things we can’t condone. But solidarity does mean standing with people where they are, loving them, supporting them. After all God demonstrated his own love for and solidarity with us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And so we Christians should stand in solidarity with all sorts of people, even when those people don’t match up our personal description of the ideal Christian.
Solidarity forever. If we’re talking about real solidarity—Christian solidarity—we are talking about much more than just some old union ditty. We’re talking about God’s command to us to love our neighbors as ourselves—to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God—to be instruments of peace.
In solidarity with the people he loved, Christ took on flesh and lived a life focused solely on our good. And now we are also called to solidarity with all of God’s people. We are called to stand together in solidarity with our fellow humans in self-sacrificial love—a love modeled on Christ’s love for us.
This sermon was originally preached by Chuck Adams. Chuck is the elected city attorney for Sheboygan and a member of the American Solidarity Party. For more of his writings please visit https://chuckadams.blogspot.com/
by Kyle Herrington
Though considered the developed world, we seem to have stopped developing new ideas to our problems, relying instead on old tropes to solve the problems our world faces. Case in point: children in the age of climate change. In my endless hours of scrolling through Facebook (trying to change this nasty habit), I have found many stories concerning children and global warming. As this NPR headline proclaims Want To Slow Global Warming? Researchers Look To Family Planning. According to the Lund University study the NPR story covers, children are a huge producer of CO2; thus, having less children would reduce future CO2 emissions.
It turns out children are not just potential CO2 emitters, but cause poverty as well. In recent controversial comments, President Emmanuel Macron of France appeared to cite “seven or eight children per woman” population growth as a challenge in stabilizing the African continent. Now, I do not speak French. The President could argue his comments were taken out of context, but the optics of a former colonial power giving such an answer cannot be avoided. Additionally, Macron is not the only one seeing African children as a problem. Watch this stunning interview between Nigerian-born pro-life activist Obianuju Ekeocha and a BBC reporter for another example of how post-colonial powers still manifest imperialist attitudes.
The most recent iteration of the "zero-growth" trope has also touched the English Royal Family. An organization called Having Kids sent a letter to the Royal Family after Duchess Kate made a comment about possibly wanting more children. The letter urged the family to be models of a sustainable family: “All of us – especially public figures – should plan our families with the future environment in mind, producing a smaller and more resilient populace capable of thriving in that environment.” The letter also pointed out the Royal Family’s children would be raised with many opportunities and excellent care, while other children are deprived of those things (their lives thus being worthless? Or the Royal's thus obliged to make sure there are less children who have received excellent care? The letter-writers seem confused )The organization believes Prince William and Duchess Kate would be better role models simply by having less children to model for.
Do I dispute the research about children and emissions? No, not necessarily. Do I think Prince William and Duchess Kate should be role models? No. What I dispute is the overriding attitude about children and life that are baked into the above instances. I think we have a problem with Western thinkers, policy makers, and citizens getting “stuck ‘n the rut” of status quo thinking. We dredge out lazy proposals to solve problems that our lifestyles have created. Besides being elitist, this attitude demonstrates a troubling mindset of the West and its governance: people are pawns to be manipulated to serve policy objectives instead of people to be respected and cherished.
Take for example the story about the Royal Family and their family size. The webpage included not only the story about the letter but also a short snippet about Duchess Kate’s dress and fashion (see the screenshots). The callout box gushed over the looks of the tour wardrobe of the Duchess. It was an interesting juxtaposition. The contemporary fashion industry relies upon constant turn-over in trends. Many want cheap imitations, which is where industries like Forever XXI thrive: they provide a constantly steady stream of throwaway garments. In addition, these clothes are usually made in factories with awful working conditions, and often contractors are used as a defense for the brand to hide behind when the inevitable charges of employee maltreatment arise. At the same time, online shopping has exploded. Shopping that requires massive amount of product being made at cheap prices to be shipped to customers. Just think about how much emissions, money, time, etc. that costs. But instead of talking about what it is we are doing in our daily lives that affects the climate, less children is considered the polite solution. Well, maybe it is actually our lifestyles that are the problem.
A focus on living locally, living simply, not having to have the latest technological innovation might solve many problems and could even make us happier and more fulfilled. After all, a slow, home-made home-grown meal is infinitely more satisfying than fast food. Yet, these ideas often don’t even enter our minds because we are too comfortable in our present lifestyle to think “outside the box”. Easy solutions that inevitable position individuals as pawns in a global market are more "convenient" and have the added benefit of not requiring much sacrifice on anyone's part.
Pope Francis’s warning about the technological paradigm gives a name to this disease. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, the Holy Father wrote that the technological paradigm “exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object.” He points out how this paradigm is dominant in all areas of life, whether political, cultural, economic, ecological, etc. Yet, the Holy Father points out we should not become despondent. Instead, we can rise to the opportunity and challenge the over-arching paradigm, challenging it locally and on a global level. In a key passage he says:
"Yet we can once more broaden our vision. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. Liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm does in fact happen sometimes, for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people’s concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create and contemplate beauty manages to overcome reductionism through a kind of salvation which occurs in beauty and in those who behold it. An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance?" (112)
This challenge is why I have joined and encourage you to join the Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party. This caucus will advocate for this radical re-evaluation of our current problems, proposing ideas and policies that take into account our human nature and articulating solutions that respect our nature and the natural world. Dorothy Day, the inspiration for this group, once said “We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.” This caucus will talk about poverty, the role of the family, just distribution of economic goods, the place of government, etc. because we have become too comfortable. Our current political discourse has blinded us to human life and our place in this world while compounding the world’s problem. We can make this an opportunity to articulate a holistic view of life. Will you join us?
by Tara Ann Thieke
Note: Today The Kitchen Table publishes the second half of a two-part essay regarding history and slavery. The first half, published on Friday August 18, can be found here.
Part Two: What Does History Ask of Us Today?
On Friday I borrowed from William Faulkner to argue the past is not dead, and we are required to hear the voices of the long-silenced and long-suffering. To do so is not to suppress history, but to acknowledge it. History is not a dead thing and the book not yet at an end.
With that in mind, where do we go from here? Once we begin to hear what history tells us of the past, where do we stop? Is there such a thing as too much knowledge, or a search for moral purity which can distract us from our own flaws? Are we willing to allow ourselves to learn enough from history to see what it calls us to acknowledge today?
The answers to these are intertwined. Regarding the removal of monuments to the founding fathers, my own personal take, with a happy wink to our many agnostic iconoclasts and Protestant Southerners, is to say all these statues are the pagan idolatry of mere mortals. Emperor worship, remnants of the impulse to pile rocks and carve stone in honor of those who cannibalize the lives of others in pursuit of greatness: these are the archetypal impulses behind much of our pageantry. These are monuments to magical thinking, to the idea that amoral power is a god which requires constant appeasement. Memorials in monuments, statuary, icons and art should be reserved for the Saints, for those who truly beat the sword of their desire and anger into plowshares. If you would like to build a monument safe from accusations of oppression (deluded, anti-factual criticisms of post-Diderot revisionists not counting as worthy of legitimate time), build a statue of Mary. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Kibeho: we can have statues around the world manifesting the different faces of the Peace of Mary. Let us have more women and crucifixes to shine down on our common ground; let the generals live in books, classrooms, and museums.
Another answer is a little more practical, though likely less apt to make us saints ourselves; or, at least, to make us saints less quickly. For there is a hidden question in its heart that, if we reject the fundamentalist temptations which lurk within us in regards to any question, could yet bring wisdom.
We reach this question by first distinguishing what a monument celebrates. The monuments to Stonewall Jackson exist because, states rights arguments or not, he was a leader in a war to defend the rights of the states, the right in question being to own slaves. The pyramids exist because of the ego-mania of the Pharoah, convinced he was a god on earth. The pagan gods did not pause their plans to count the cost in human blood.
No one has built a monument to George Washington because he was a slave-owner. They were built because, for one thing, he did not take the path of power and make himself a king. Slave-owning was not peripheral to his accomplishments, it was fundamental. Nonetheless, unlike with Jackson, he did not deliberately wage war to own slaves. He kept war from consuming the country by handing over power peacefully. It's not a trivial accomplishment.
Distinguishing the motives of the builders would guide us through a process of deciding what monuments stay, or how they stay. It would allow us to look at the complexity of individual lives, to see that individuals who did good things sometimes did evil things. To see that individuals who did evil sometimes had a drop of good. To ask why we honor imperfect people: is it their evil we celebrate, or is it the good?
This approach will lead us to the most important question, the one history asks every moment: do we ourselves do good or evil?
Easy, we quickly cry! We do good. Just look at our Facebook avatars which are in a constant state of revolving solidarity. Sure, we live in an imperfect world, and we may be imperfect ourselves, but we know the Right and True and Just when we see it. We, we do not go to war to champion slavery.
This is a true and very significant accomplishment. But do we lay down our lives to end slavery? It is good and right to take down these monuments. It will be good and right if they lead us to take down other monuments. But it will not be good and right if the process stops there. A living history tells us not just about the past, but about ourselves in this hour. And if we were to be honest, perhaps we would find more complexity there than we'd like to acknowledge.
The great Ivan Illich once wrote: "Issues...can be thus divided. Some are considered legitimate. Others not to be raised in polite society. A third kind seem to make no sense at all. If you raise these, you risk being thought impossibly vain."
We are willing to condemn white supremacism? A fine start, though a rather low bar for human decency. Let us push further: Are we willing to condemn the supremacism of material and technological consumption habits? Do we acknowledge we are not just a benefit of past historical injustices, but our comforts and pleasures are entirely dependent upon the exploitation of others in this very hour? Or is this question that third issue, one we cannot understand (or refuse to understand) because our comfort is so dearly entangled with it?
To look at the founding father’s faults and flaws should not be an excuse to ignore their sins; neither should it be an opportunity for us to condemn them without our own examination of conscience. We can use this opportunity to do more than take down stones: we can use it to take down sweatshops.
For the truth is the end of chattel slavery has not plunged the world into peace and equality. Historian Mike Davis calculated the costs of those "Late Victorian Holocausts", those murders that don’t seem like murders because they fall under the heading “economic,” and they are in the many, many millions. And there is yet more cause for tears, for with those deaths in mind have arisen avengers, and they have racked up their own millions of corpses. Differences between the ideologies? Of course. But it is unavoidable that capitalism and communism have ravaged the peoples of the planet. And neither has yet exited the stage.
What does it say about us, that we are always eager to sit in judgment upon others, but so dismissive of any claims an uncomfortable judgment may make upon us? We say historical time is no reason to perpetuate injustice in the form of monuments. So why is spatial distance a reason to accept injustice in the form of our dependence upon sweatshops and slavery? Especially when those distances are not incidental, but fundamental to the structure of oppression?
Cheap Solidarity, or Virtue for Me but not Thee: Can Solidarity Exist Without Sacrifice?
Let us take stock of who we are today, and of what we call our moral progress.
Surely we have made moral progress in many areas. No one I personally know, I am fairly certain, has ever beaten another human being or sold them. None of us store other human beings on our property like animals and watch them labor for us. This is a real, laudable, tremendous improvement.
In some cases, though, evil has not vanished but changed its face. It’s wonderful that we burn with passion for injustice, but is that enough? For we must not rush about in anger, but must also look keenly at reality.
Well, let us start with the uncomfortable facts. There are more slaves now than at any time in human history. Free the Slaves says the number is about 27 million. Global Slavery Index estimates the number of human beings living in slavery is closer to 46 million.
It's all too easy to disconnect from these numbers. Injustice of the past is one thing, someone else's flaws are easy to condemn. When it comes to our own we don't want to hear it. We don't drive past slaves on the plantation. We don't see our neighbors working 12-hour days in a garment factory without ventilation. The steel mills are closed. The coal miners work in unsightly pseudo-colonies like West Viriginia. We, the good, the brave, the true, the just, we take pictures of our activism on phones that require slavery, that come from murky conflicts in far-flung regions of the world where MNCs profit from our refusal to look closely at who benefits. Suicide nets are set up outside of factories manufacturing iphones. But it's not like we ourselves make these decisions. We put a clever, thick wall between us and the reality. A hundred shadow companies with non-brand names confuse us. And who wants to live like the Amish anyway? This is just the way the world works.
No, the local Apple store didn't apparate out of a Harry Potter book to deliver these "blessings" from thin air. But we do our fair share of magical thinking to disconnect us from the ugly truth beneath the gleaming, sterile, blood-free walls of the Apple store. The local strip mall, the highway off-ramp mega chains, our constant restaurant-going, our cheap food, our cheap travel, our access to cheap entertainment: all of this absolutely requires a shadowy web where slave labor, sweatshops, and environmental ravaging take place. We are desperate to believe we can get something for nothing, and the externalized costs of our comfort are soothingly dismissed as the byproducts of industrialization or as problems that will somehow just "work out." It's so easy when we don't have to look slaves in the face, isn't it?
The ugly truth about much of what passes for our activism and progress is that it is false solidarity, or half-hearted solidarity at best. Can solidarity exist without sacrifice? Is a wind turbine such a beautiful step forward that our comfort in our moral progress justifies overlooking the cost in sludge lakes and cancer deaths?
A universal constant remains: if a man's comfort depends upon him rationalizing away someone else's suffering, he will do so. How easy to throw up one's hand when we see the log in our own eye, saying it's much too big and #actually it's probably part of the price of progress. Do I really want to go back to a world without GPS? This is just how it works. Statues, that's a problem we can handle. Yes, injustice from the past is easier to condemn than injustice across the planet. Globalism is the great soother of our conscience, sweeping the eternal problem of labor from our minds. William Lloyd Garrison never saw it coming.
There are degrees of culpability in this story, but one thing remains true. Even if we did not start the process, we play the key role. The story could not exist without our desires. We may be manipulated. We may be tired. We may only be doing what everyone does. There are a thousand excuses for our indifference. But we are not sinless. For the slave has never existed without the demand for the labor or the desire for the product. The sweatshop, the miner, the child in the brick kilns: they suffer, are injured, have little to no autonomy, and die. Very, very few people do these things out of sheer malevolence. The issue turns on profit, on our desire for cheap things. Brutality happens because it is convenient. We demand convenience, cheapness, and entertainment.
A hundred unknown companies and transit points stand along the route from the Congolese miner who is a slave in fact if not in legal status. We enjoy plausible deniability. We are comforted by our own ignorance. But there is the problem. The slaveowners of old hardened their hearts to the faces of the human beings before them. Our sin is different. We drown out the voice of our heart, our conscience, with noise. We shrug before the overwhelming, indecipherable knots.
These are sins of different gravity, and we know not what legacy our own indifference will leave. Perhaps the genius of Steve Jobs will be scorned; perhaps the legacy of our leaders will be seen as the tolerance and advancement of a brutal economic system. Perhaps we will be seen as enablers ourselves.
The slaveowners are dead and buried, but the memory of their greed and evil remains. We should not only tear down the monuments to these men, but tear down the greed within ourselves. George Washington freed his slaves, however late, however inadequately; what do we do with everything around us? Do we have it in us to also eventually say "Enough?"
We can stop using the excuse of “progress” to justify our greed. We can stop indulging the fashion industry, or the advertisers and cultural norms which lead us to participate in an ever-escalating cycle of rapid consumption and throwaway goods. We can reject a culture which demands us to own dozens and dozens of pieces of clothing made in sweatshops. We can reject cheap food, recognizing the evil that has gone into the growing and sowing of the seed. We can reject a “treat yo’self” culture which valorizes our identification as consumers above all. We can reject the idea that we must be constantly entertained. We may decide our activism requires us to develop our skills, so we are less dependent upon those shadowy supply-chains which hide so much suffering.
We can inject our discourse with the language of responsibility and stewardship. We can ask why Aristotle thought slavery was fundamental to the human condition, why the slaveowners of the Western Hemisphere justified slavery as unavoidable, and why today’s capitalists and economists say this is all just part of the process of economic development.
What is it about the powerful that they excuse the suffering of others? What is it that makes them think some goals are worth human blood? And is there anyone, anywhere, who says it doesn’t have to be this way? If so, what do they ask of us?
Many have rejected the way of greed. Gandhi didn't just seek freedom: he sought the good life, one of simplicity and self-sufficiency. Dorothy Day sought liberation from capitalism through distributism. But there was One who did more than any: He gave Faith, which tells us there is more to be had than satisfaction in earthly delights and consumption. As the Roman Empire fattened itself in the sun, enjoying the fruits of others labor, the Son of God arose, taught, was persecuted, died, and rose again from death. The Emperors have risen naught. It was He whose followers were sneered at for being “women and slaves” who showed us True Life.
It was He who wore few garments, who lived simply in the homes of others, who built no economic system, who demanded no technological progress: it was He who showed us another way to live. He did not just preach a shape of governance or economic model for Utopia; He preached Peace. He saw our suffering, and forgave us the sins we committed to avoid it. He then told us of His Kingdom, which is not of this world, and left us His Blood and His Body, sacraments which prepare us to receive this Peace beyond all understanding. Grace is a gift which cannot be bought. It can be denied, and there can be chemical imitations. But this Joy which comes from beyond the world is what we are called to find, and He showed us we find it not by being slaveowners, or by enjoying in slavery's corrupting fruits, but by dying to ourselves.
That way is peace. Peace can never come from slavery. Some of the worst forms of slavery have ended, but slavery itself, in its myriad forms and shapes, is with us yet. While we have progressed enough to know the wickedness of legal slavery, we have failed to reject the fruits of outsourced slavery. The human appetite has remained unchanged and our technology has allowed us to re-arrange things so we no longer need be troubled by the plight of others.
Let us tear down these monuments, but let us ask ourselves if we are willing to tear down the lesser idols within ourselves. Without picking up the sword, can we follow the straight but narrow path? Can we accept a life not steered and managed by those who profit by our desires? Can we fast from our own wants and accept the scorn of others by choosing to live differently? Can we make it easier on our neighbor, helping one another to re-learn the skills we lost as we became atomized consumers? Can we develop a solidarity that is not a mile wide but an inch deep? Rather, can we face the truth of the log in our eye, and thus leave the entangling web of desires?
The tearing down of these monuments, which could be followed by the revision and altering of our historical understanding of other slaveowners and war-makers, is a good thing. But it will be a magnificent thing if our own hearts and lives are reshaped by what we learn about ourselves, and the true nature of peace, in the process.
by Tara Ann Thieke
Note: This is part one of a two-part essay. The first focuses on whether history can be "rewritten." Part two focuses on what history asks of us today, and will be published on 8/21/2017.
Part One: History Will Not Be Silenced
Language is not a dead thing and neither is the past. We carry their weight from moment to moment. The memories, lives, and deaths of people unknown and unrelated to you breathe through you when you say "egg" (a Norse word carried over the cold North Sea to England by Cnut's conquest), or "pajamas" (a Persian word which made its way into English). In a moment where the legacy of the wickedness of America's great sin rises to our minds, it is worthy to recall perhaps the most potent words spoken by Southern Gothic author William Faulkner: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
No, the past is not dead, and neither is history. It suits us to pretend otherwise, though. A dead past is a past we can control, and thus it is that history is not just written by the winners, but is constantly edited by the living who desire eternal victory for their own interpretation. Nor is our impulse for cryogenics a new thing under the sun. Children who have lost parents, mothers who have lost sons, wives who have lost husbands, friends their comrades: all these people are moved by the same impulse to preserve their loved ones, to soothe the cries of grief by seeking an earthly sort of immortality. Since mummification and the pyramid-tombs (and surely it's not uninteresting to note those pyramids were largely built by slaves, recent contrarian histories set aside), the human race has longed for assurance that their memories matter.
As is so often the case this assurance came, but not in the expected form. Humans were given the Word. And the Word was followed by the Holy Spirit. This is what we have received. There is something comforting in this, and a mystery as well: the past is not gone. The dead are out of sight, but what death itself means when Christ has conquered death is unclear. Tolkien wrote that death is a gift, and it is only our corruption that blinds us to its true nature. We think we wage a battle against death. The true battle we are called to is with the hardness of our own hearts.
Since history, language, and the past are never over, then surely it is incumbent upon us to look at the meaning of the statues. What do they tell us today, and what does their preservation speak to? The impulse to throw them up was human enough, but the sentiment of grief and the desire to remember are not immune from less noble motives. Woven into the erection of these monuments was the same impulse to control and defy the living nature of history. The very monuments of the pharoahs were a testimony to their tyranny over their slaves. They sought to freeze their own history with no regard for the weight of those stones.
Our rocks today loom largely in our mind; or at least, their significance does. They are a symbol, and a symbol is not designed to die but to live. It is there to speak for all who cannot speak. History lives, and it lives in those monuments. The monuments occupy a space, speaking to a human need to memorialize, but also speaking to the human need to control. The monuments are the manifestation of our need to control the past; if the past is never dead, what does that mean for the present?
It means a story of torture, murder, rape, abduction (all-too-easily summed up under the clinical term “oppression”) lives on in the space around statues and monuments. That space indicts the statues with its silence. The statue of a general is there because there was a war, and there was a war because those generals and soldiers defended slavery.
The history of the world is marked by slavery. All around us is the testimony of man's brutality to man, though whether or not we know what we look upon is a different issue. Chattel slavery in the United States ended in 1865, and was finally eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1888. But history and oppression did not come to an "ever after." The favelas of Brazil are full of the descendants of slaves. The cities of the United States are crowded as well, and a few zoning regulations withstanding, their plight and poverty are similar. Unlike pharoah’s slaves, they were not led through the Red Sea to the Promised Land. They were shuttled out of sight, occasionally thrown a pittance for their troubles. To be coolly ignored was nearly a blessing, as worse always lurked around the corner.
For the hatred and greed of the slave-owners lived on. As they built monuments to their dead they found ways to persecute their former slaves. It is perhaps one of the more telling things about us that we most hate those whom we abuse. They were hated as they were driven into the cities by forces often described in impersonal, technical language, but were a collective mask for a million acts of persecution and ruthlessness.
It is not a war against history or memory to tear those monuments down; on the contrary, it is hearing the living word of history. To take down these monuments is to free the past from its artificial, frozen, cryogenic chamber and allow it to breathe again. It is to acknowledge the sins and evil which still shape the landscape of our time. And when it comes to history, it is no mere truism to recall that forgetfulness of the past is the first step to repetition.
There is truth in the idea that virtue is a golden mean, though. The path is straight and narrow and evil waits on both sides. One day we wrestle with forgetfulness and apathy; the next we are called to wrestle with self-righteous fundamentalism, with mob rule of a different sort. A better world would be one in which we wrestled with our own hearts, but too often we prefer to cast ourselves as heroes in a children's story.
Thus it is not accidental that one symptom of our current comic-book morality is a refusal to address the concerns of those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement. To do so is to give them "legitimacy" and we don't legitimize hate. Fair enough, it seems, but one day, sooner than we may imagine, it will be Christianity that is labeled "hate" and the churches which are set upon by crowds. It is not paranoia or fantasy. There are wolves at the gate, and blank-slatist utopians have hands dripping with blood. And if they, too, refuse to recognize their own sins, the day will come when they will turn upon one another as has so often been the case. Worship of power and the assurance of one's moral purity intoxicate and then devour.
No, it is better to not be the Zealot, convinced of his righteousness, but to take the path of that inimitable gentle ox, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Following in his footsteps, let us put (some) of the complaints of those in favor of the statues in their best light.
To remove the statues is to condemn the South to live stripped of its history, similar to post-WWII Japan. Some may shrug at this, but let us not be light about grave matters. Japan's fertility is plummeting. Families and caregiving have collapsed. Millennia-worth of traditions and cultures were neglected as they fled their own memories in shame. There was wisdom in this, but also grave folly. For what did they embrace as they sought a new framework? The drug of global capitalism, and with its pernicious kernel of community liquidization in favor of individual consumerism, Japan now suffers the phenomena of "hikikomori" and "kodokushi" ("shut-ins" and "lonely death" respectively) on the most crowded island on earth.
Slavery was almost entirely eliminated in the medieval world. With the onrush of capitalism and dismantling of Christendom, an age of dislocation and liquidization emerged. We have not seen its final triumph and its legacy is yet veiled. What we do know is chattel slavery was a part of that process. As we acknowledge its poison, we must carry in our minds the dangers of related poisons, though they may not seem to be part of the same family. My second post will address this issue more specifically, but for now I shall leave this point with this: history abhors a vacuum. The absence of the monuments will be filled, and what will fill it poses its own risks. If confidence in our own self-righteousness and disdain for the concerns of others takes the pedestal, an opportunity for true metanoia will have been lost.
There is the concern about where this stops. Alongside those who correctly see the brutalization of their ancestors (and its living legacy) and the silence on their history in the statues, are there iconoclasts with a broader agenda? Likely, yes. Those in the crowd willing to crush capitalism seem a little too willing to crush heads as well. Speech is equated to violence very quickly. Dehumanizing language is employed regularly. All dissenters are Nazis. This is troubling indeed, and to have concerns reduced to "whataboutism" (if not accusations of being an outright Nazi) magnifies those concerns. Those of us willing to proceed with tearing down the statues must wrestle with these dangers.
Finally there is another concern, one that may sound trivial in the telling but is deeply related to these other objections. The art world is callous in its disregard for public feeling. They have foisted dehumanizing works of art upon the people for decades and they have been proud and cruel in the process. I, for one, would happily see every Brutalist building in this world torn down, and would rejoice to witness the monstrosities of mega-malls and McMansions replaced by architecture which cared for more than profit. There is almost no chance the monuments will be replaced by anything beautiful, anything which acknowledges human complexity, anything which looks with love at the overwhelming beauty of the South. Those who will be commissioned will accept their righteousness as objective while conveniently defining beauty as subjective. They will laugh off concerns and mock the commoners who avert their eyes in grief. Overly-sensitive! the art lords and their supporters will cry with barely disguised glee as they revel in their moral superiority. What, you can tolerate a monument to a man who owned human beings but recoil from a metal shard slashing at the sky?
Well, yes. Human beings are imperfect, and the modern art world is deeply, deeply imperfect. The language spoken by them for decades has repeatedly been one of sneering contempt for the people, and all too often a co-option of the stories of marginalization for the purposes of furthering a liquidized view of humanity. That their language is highly comfortable with the fluidity of global capitalism should trouble those who claim their art is liberating. It is an art that has failed to stand by the disabled or the unborn, which has too often looked upon the human body with hate. It cherry-picks groups according to an ideology which uses Christ's love of the poor, and the Christian legacy of loving the suffering, as an excuse to remake the world as they desire.
Permanence is not a right.We cannot and should not remake the world according to the wishes of the few, of the rich, of the powerful, of the "I-know-betters." But it does not follow that changing anything is bad. There is a golden mean between preserving the past as a mausoleum where no fresh air may enter, and erasing the past to build what resembles an impersonal dystopia suited for machines rather than people. We need the golden mean, which in this case is, once more, to serve the Imago Dei. Communities should be consulted while taking these monuments down, and these communities should play a part of deciding what goes up. African-Americans had no say in the erection of these monuments which were pivotal, not incidental to their history and their ongoing oppression. The entire community should have a voice in what replaces these monuments. The faces and voices of the people, neither the slave-owners nor denizens of industrial lofts most profiting from the fruits of global capitalism, should determine what replaces these monuments.
Our perpetual inclination is to strangle the living nature of the Word, to capture breath and spirit and remold it to suit ourselves. We limit our thinking to "this or that." It's the monuments or modern art. It's history or brave new world. We enable the evil of the past, or we encourage a fundamentalist zeal in the present. But it doesn't have to be this way. There is the narrow path. Let us start with the Imago Dei. Let us start with our neighbor. There are other people to commemorate, all complex, all who have wrestled with their angels and demons, rather than merely projecting them onto others. A statue of novelist Walker Percy will soon be up in Louisiana. Let Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, John Kennedy O'Toole, Sterling Allen Brown, and Thomas Wolfe be commemorated. This is one possibility. There are others.
Yes, the monuments are history, but it is one perspective, one frozen history, and one in which the distortion and abuse of the Imago Dei is not peripheral but fundamental. All efforts to capture the ongoing story of imperfect mortals in one moment, in one stone, are doomed to failure. Efforts to stamp out the past and create a blank slate pose their own significant dangers, and prone to co-option by the global capitalist narrative, ending as attacks on any human values which cannot be turned into consumer products.
None of this means we should not acknowledge certain moments, or recognize certain artifacts as worthy of preservation. But they should not be made idols over and above people, or over and above the living nature of our history. It is our task to extract the truth and the duty from a history which keeps knocking at our door, and this may be the noble task we accept as these monuments are removed from the public square. This may be their final cause, a cause better than any their builders could conceive: to illuminate our own understanding. To remove them is not to end history, but continue on its path. We have been frozen in one moment. Despite the clamor of the crowds, we can yet hear the living voice, the still small voice which calls to us. Let the monuments come down. What we allow our conscience to hear about ourselves as we do this marks the true test of our character.
by Charlie Jenkins
If I told you someone was using century-old hand-crafted artisanal methods to adapt traditional folk tales into a quaintly obsolete art form from the American Golden Age that would sound like the most twee, precious, non-normie thing ever... yet I just described Disney animation. Disney’s pretty weird that way. Take the parks. They’re combinations of Coney Island and the World Fairs with this undisguised mid-century earnestness. These are places that get seriously psyched about the potential of novel transit modalities. And there's the theming: “Let’s look forward to the wonderful future of space exploration, celebrate our roots in farm towns and the frontier west, AND enjoy the exotic charm of the South Pacific and Old Dixie!” THERE IS A PAGEANT WHERE ROBOTS PAY TRIBUTE TO EXECUTIVE-DRIVEN WHIG HISTORY.
Oh. Oh. And. “The rides aren’t very thrilling, but your kids will love the chance to explore the worlds of all their favorite authors - A.A. Milne, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, Mark Twain, AND Lewis Carroll - while you’ll marvel at the exquisite background design.” (Sun-dappled Edwardian neoteny and obsessive set decoration. Wes Anderson makes movies like Walt Disney made parks.) And we’d recognize this all as a weird thing to exist in 2017 if we weren’t just used to it as the background noise of America.
I don’t really watch TV so I don’t see many commercials these days. They’re a trip in their own right if you’ve stopped taking them for granted. "Oh hey, for the next 30 seconds some of our best artists are going to use all their techniques and leverage all your emotions and desires and every social value in a masterful, unapologetic, and unforgettable bid for you to give us money, and then everyone will move on and no one will acknowledge this even happened.” But the Disney World commercials in particular! Notice they don’t really make a case for going to Disney World, or even really explain what Disney World is. Because they’re not pitching Disney World, they’re reminding you of Disney World. It’s not “hey, Disney World is a thing you could go to”, it’s “hey, maybe it’s time for this generation’s pilgrimage”.
Disney’s weird. It’s kind of a company, but also custodian of some of the cultic functions of American culture, something like the priestly colleges of ancient Rome. They actually and truly maintain sites of pilgrimage. I’m not saying this as a joke. Back of the envelope calculation (I did awhile back in an essay that I think I somehow deleted and will have redo), Americans go to Disney parks at a rate 7 times higher than Muslims go to Mecca. (The line between “tourist trap” and “religious site” has always been thin.)
Disney is the custodian of the national narrative. They pitch “continuity with mid-century small town and earlier frontier culture” as a fundamental, almost taken-for-granted aspect of Americanness with a confidence and charm you don’t often see these days. And I mean, hell, the Disney animated canon itself basically is to America what Grimm’s was to Germany.
And as custodians they curate that narrative. We joke about “you know your identity group’s made it in America when you get your own Disney princess”, and laugh at the people re-editing Disney character designs to look like their specific subgroup, but that only works because it’s really true, your identity group has made it in America when you get your own Disney princess. I know a guy who worked with Disney Channel casting, and they mix ethnicities with the same care, precision, and scale that Pfizer mixes drugs. And that robot pageant, the Hall of Presidents? Look at this history. It started out in the ‘70s as a celebration of consensus history and popular triumph, with character actors playing great men and Civil War tensions understood as a challenge to national unity. In 1993 it was reworked by Eric Foner to be narrated by Maya Angelou, use “regular people” unknowns to portray more vulnerable takes on historic figures and re-frame the Civil War in terms of slavery as a moral challenge. In 2009 they redid it again, mostly keeping the changes but bringing back some of the old Hollywood charm and putting Morgan Freeman as the voice of civic authority. And like, as a representation of how America understands itself and its history, that is correct. That is absolutely, in every way, 100% correct.
In the other direction, Walt Disney originally wanted to call it “One Nation Under God”, which...uh, interesting take, but you see what I mean about the power of Disney. The Knights of Columbus played their role as well. They say American copyright terms keep getting extended under pressure from Disney, who wants to keep hold of all their founding properties. I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be less of a corruption of the civic system to just carve out special protections for Disney in recognition of their distinct role in America. But… at the end of the day, it’s all just a strategy to maximize profits.
One of the tribal boogiemen of libertarians is the idea of a “Ministry of Culture” - a government that sees the national culture as its domain, to shape as it will, “as it will” meaning as it always does with governments “through the instrument of bureaucracy” - and that still rankles me, after all these years, its true. But what’s the alternative, though? You think about it and you realize it’s this - the national mythos rests in the hands of a publicly traded corporation. Recall the CIA going around giving grants to the avant-garde with a certain sense of “ah, that’s what they were doing”. Then you may start to appreciate WHY having your king as the head of your church once made sense as a symbol of liberty and self-determination. The American mythos has drifted far enough from the Anglo-Saxon Protestant one to make it hard to understand.
The long and short of this all is that we live in capitalpunk AU. The history of EPCOT deserves a mention, especially when you realize Walt’s entire motive to building it was to create a literal utopian society. In fact the purpose of the entire Florida branch of the park was because of this harebrained and downright disturbed ‘while only’ end-world scenario that he was rather obsessed with. Its all gotten discombobulated of late. Takes itself seriously less, more naked profiteering. But that also fits with the new mythology.
What is distributism?
Distributism is a political ideal according to which property ownership should be as widely distributed as
How does distributism differ from capitalism?
Taken broadly, ‘capitalism’ refers to an economic system wherein property ownership is private. Its
opposite is socialism, a system in which private ownership does not exist. In this sense, distributism is a
political ideal that may be achieved within a capitalist system.
In practice, the term ‘capitalism’ often has a more specific meaning than that above, referring to a
system wherein property is concentrated in the hands of a few, and markets purportedly operate with
little or no government interference. In this more restricted sense, distributism differs from capitalism,
in that its policies aim at the establishment of property in more hands.
Notwithstanding political mythology to the contrary, capitalism and distributism don't differ with
respect to quantity of government interference: they differ with respect to its aims.
In capitalism, government intervention often occurs in order to enforce the rights of the few over the
many (e.g. property and patent laws), to coerce the many to work for the few (e.g. laws connecting
welfare to seeking employment), and to set up the few as the caretakers of the many (e.g. laws
exempting workers from liability, and requiring liability of employers). That is, capitalist use of
government intervention tends towards the establishment of what Hilaire Belloc called the Servile State
– an arrangement of society according to which the masses are granted a minimal level of security and
care, but lack substantial wealth or political capital, and are under the mercy of those few rich persons
granted legal responsibility over them in various ways.
How does distributism differ from socialism?
Though the term has come to have a broad range in popular discourse, ‘socialism’ strictly refers to a
system in which the right to private property is abolished. Distributism is one wherein it is affirmed. The
difference is that the one affirms, the other denies, a right to private property.
In practice, socialist policies tend towards the establishment not of social ownership, but – like
capitalism – of the Servile State. That is, they tend towards the establishment of control of property in
the hands of a few, who are granted the responsibility to care for the masses at the behest of the state.
So distributism differs practically from socialism in exactly the way that it differs from capitalism,
because these latter tend in practice to the same thing.
Is distributism a hybrid of left and right thought on economics?
No. It is better to regard the left and the right as closer to each other than usually suggested.
Government interference on both the left and the right tends toward the establishment of the Servile
State. Distributist economic interventions aim at its abolition.
One important way socialist and distributist economic regulations often differ is in that the former tend
to be ‘positive’ interventions, while the latter are more often ‘negative’ interventions.
Positive interventions include things like the establishment of bureaucracies to handle economic
necessities for the poor, health care, college costs etc. When these exist in a mixed capitalist-socialist
economy, big businesses often leverage market forces to effectively turn these subsidies into a new
‘floor’ relative to product demand, and product costs go up. In this way, positive interventions both
create large managerial bureaucracies and often translate in practice into indirect subsidization of large
corporations. In the absence of corresponding negative interventions, they also tend toward the
ballooning of government debt.
Negative interventions advocated by distributists include things like differential taxation relative to the
number of stores owned or number of areas in which a ‘big-box’ company trades, the enforcement of
anti-trust legislation, the taxation of ‘externalities’ like highways and pollution, and generally, various
uses of taxation to directly prevent companies from serving too many sectors or too much of one sector.
To the degree that negative interventions tend to involve less bureaucracy than positive interventions
where the transfer of wealth must be directly managed, distributist interventions tend to be fewer, less
invasive, and more efficient. Their difficulty is a purely political one: it is politically easier to advocate for
subsidies than penalties, even when penalties would be of greater benefit to the class targeted for
benefit than direct subsidization.
How does distributism handle the distribution of goods?
It doesn’t. That’s the beauty of it. In an economy where wealth is well-distributed, and the laws tend to
prevent its concentration, this is accomplished by what Smith called ‘the invisible hand of the market’.
In this connection, it is important to see just how often this myth of the invisible hand fails to apply in
typical capitalist economies. In practice, capitalism doesn’t use markets to manage everything: prices
are often set in various ways by large monopolies, in a way not substantially different than in a socialist
planned economy. For instance, a large supermarket chain that owns the store fronts, the factories that
make the bread sold in the stores, the trucks used to transport the product, etc. does not determine the
prices of its internal transactions by the market. Likewise, fisheries dependent on having their products
sold by large chains aren’t in a position to sell their goods at a better price to different stores: the price
for their labor are effectively dictated to them by those who control the means of distribution. Hence,
product cost in archetypical capitalist economies is often determined much more bureaucratically than
capitalist rhetoric would suggest.
By advocating policies that weaken and sometimes directly break up these large conglomerates,
distributists allow the costs of goods to more accurately reflect their true market price, and hence to
achieve the equality requisite for a genuinely free and competitive market.
Tara Ann Thieke