Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Marianne Fulop Bovee
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that because there is no God there is no human nature. Thus it is our responsibility to choose who we will become. The implications of this worldview are currently finding new manifestations in our society. However, in saying there is no human nature, it is not only the individual who ends up deciding who we are: it is also institutions and those in power who will try to decide who we are to become.
Three Market Square, a company in River Falls, Wisconsin, recently had a microchip “party” that resulted in data-filled microchip implants being inserted into the hands of its employees, between the thumb and the forefinger, in a procedure that took place “within seconds.”
The practice of inserting microchips into human bodies is catching on world-wide. It seems to be in line with the rest of our love affair with technology, which has as an unsaid motto: “If we can, we should.” Technology is a good thing when it advances and supports humanity; it is used unethically when it does not serve humanity but works harm, such as with the dropping of an atomic bomb on a civilian population.
At first glance it all seems innocuous enough. Microchips at Three Square Market and other places make the work of employees more efficient: one can enter the building in the morning with a scan. No need to log into the computer: simply enter the computer program with a wave of the hand. No need to take out money or a credit card to buy a snack: purchase it with a wave of the hand.
Amazement at the technology may result in missing a critical point: in the name of efficiency, productivity, and utilitarianism, our humanity is redefined.
In maximizing the greatest good for the greatest number, only measurable values are taken into consideration. And measurable values come down to data. How fast does an employee log into the computer in the morning? Time is money. It takes time to type in a password. Wave a hand and it’s done. How much time is taken up by the employee going to lunch and paying first? Time is money. With a wave of an augmented hand, money is saved. Efficiency is increased, productivity is increased, and profits go up.
Concerns about the possible ramifications of normalizing this technology are dismissed. A GPS is not inserted into the microchip at Three Square Market. Insertion is voluntary. Where is the danger?
However, it doesn’t take much imagination to see where this is headed, and history has shown imagination is necessary to avoid destructive unintentional consequences. For starters, this technology has dangerous ramifications without the GPS. A microchip can contain data of all sorts, used not just for the workplace but for everyday living. Go to the doctor, present your microchip. Go shopping for clothing, present your microchip. Open the car door and start the car, with a wave of the microchip. All identification data will be located on the microchip.
The efficiency of the microchip at work will increase social and business pressure for customers and consumers to use the microchip outside of the office. There is the very real possibility that people who refuse the chip could become socially isolated. Cyberwarfare aimed at whole populations, or simply massive malfunctions, would result in people unable to open their car doors, drive to the doctor, or pay for medicine at the drugstore. Under the guise of freedom it would increase dependency. With ubiquitous use of the microchip, inserted at birth, the potential for control of the individual seems limitless. The possibilities of technologically-induced malevolent behavior utilizing these technologies are the stuff of nightmares. The harm which could be carried out by microchips make present-day computer viruses seem the play-things of children.
Exactly how is our humanity being redefined? From the currently dominant perspective of utilitarianism, especially when wed to capitalism, people are viewed as data to be used in the wheel of efficiency for profit’s sake. We are commodities. We are tools in machines utilized for others’ purposes.
Dog and cats sometimes have chips inserted into their bodies for identification purposes, but that is because dogs and cats cannot communicate. Their nature entails the inability to engage in human speech. Consequently, pet owners assist and care for their pets by inserting a microchip into them so they can be more easily located when lost.
Human beings are not dogs and cats. It is in their nature to be quite capable of stating who they are, pulling out a wallet to pay for goods and logging into a computer. Independent, free behavior is a fundamental component of human flourishing. Yes, it might be more efficient to treat us like dogs and cats, but efficiency is not the ultimate value: utilitarianism is a poor first principle for a child of God.
John Stuart Mill, one of the preeminent proponent of utilitarianism, explains in his Harm Principle that the state should not interfere in the lives of its citizens unless those citizens are harming others. This is problematic for two reasons: first of all, what does it mean to “harm” others if there is no human nature? Does it simply mean to cause more pain than pleasure in another person? Secondly, what does it mean to “interfere” when all manner of action is approved by one’s consent? If the state wants to do something and we consent to it, can it be viewed as interference?
The state is analogous to the company in the case of the microchip implants. If the idea of human nature has been eliminated or is at least amorphous, how can one object to actions against it, such as the inserting of the microchip? If the insertion is taken as a voluntary act, how can it be seen as interference? What does it mean to engage “voluntarily” in an activity that becomes part of a company culture, even a societal norm, with all the accompanying social pressures and threats (and realities) of condemnation and ostracism for those who don’t comply?
It is the theist who believes the human person is more than a random collection of atomic particles, more than a bundle of pleasures and pains. We have an immaterial soul created by an immaterial God, and our natures are set by God.
Actions which belong to those natures should not without good reason be usurped by higher powers even if it serves some other purposes for those powers.
The words of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno are amplified by St. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus: “The principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
The principle of subsidiarity is rightly applied to the affairs of the state and its citizens but in a very real way, it also applies to other communities.
In the case of parents and children, for example, parents would not interfere in the internal life of their children at play, depriving them of their functions, unless such interference was needed in the case of quarrels or other need, and they would only interfere with a view to fostering the common good. If a group of children were engaged in a game of make-believe, would the parents step in and assign each child a role in their play? No, because they are quite capable of doing that, and it belongs to their nature to be able to carry out such tasks. If a group of teenagers were playing baseball, would it belong to adults to interfere and insist on assigning each player his/her role on the field? Should adults interfere with the lives of children for the sake of making their play more efficient, to save time and energy? Such interference would certainly make the task more efficient, but it would not enhance human flourishing.
It belongs to our human nature to be able to carry out functions belonging to it. We are endowed with the natural right to carry out such tasks when we are able to without being usurped by a community of a higher order.
Microchips should not be inserted into our bodies for the sake of efficiency and productivity, even with our consent. There is an issue even more important than consent, and that is human nature. We are not allowed to sell ourselves into slavery; consent is meaningless when the fundamentals of human nature are concerned. Without an appeal to human nature, or any nature for that matter, there are no objective boundaries. Without God, there is no objective reality, no nature at all. Without God, we are reeds in the wind, and mere consent can neither save nor guide us. Keeping God in the picture--and therefore, human nature--will best serve as a guideline in a rudderless world; and ironically enough, maximize the greatest good for the greatest number.
Marianne Fulop Bovee has undergraduate degrees in economics and English and master’s degrees in English and philosophy. Her master’s thesis from Marquette University is titled “Heidegger and the Principle of Contradiction.” She teaches philosophy at a college in Wisconsin.
by Patrick Harris
Today our collective eye is rightfully turned towards the horror in Charlottesville. Yet, it is perhaps still worth recalling how fundamentally stable life in America remains. Political violence in this country is vanishingly rare even by the standards of our own recent history. This truth should not make us complacent, but should sharpen our vision when we turn to places where violence and misery are the norm rather than the exception. As I write, a tremendous human catastrophe is unfolding hour by hour in a place the media ignores. But it is a catastrophe in which we as a nation are complicit.
There are more than 25 million people in Yemen, and the vast majority of them are dependent upon aid to survive. Food, clean water, and medicine are dangerously scarce. 300,000 people have contracted cholera, and the nation’s blood banks will soon shutter. More than 10,000 have died. These are the consequences of a Saudi-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war, a campaign that has made precious little military headway but has immiserated an entire nation through blockade and bombardment.
Unless you pay fairly close attention to foreign affairs or humanitarian policy, it is unlikely you know much about this human-made disaster.
You should. This war is being waged by an American “ally,” using American weapons and equipment, justified as a blow against an American enemy (Iran), and condoned by both the current and previous American administrations. While the Obama White House made disapproving murmurs about the conduct of the intervention, it did nothing to meaningfully restrain our Saudi clients. The Trump administration has moved toward deepening American involvement through intelligence and logistical support for the coalition.
These factors give the United States no small measure of responsibility for the single worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Independent of the immediate human cost, the war’s destabilization of Yemen also makes the United States’ attempts to combat Al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch more difficult (the effectiveness and wisdom of *that* campaign is another story).
For those invested in “the possibility of a peaceful world,” this sorry state of affairs raises at least two questions. Why is this happening, and why do so few Americans know or care?
The brief answer to the first question is the current foreign policy consensus, in either its liberal internationalist or neoconservative wings. Yemen’s internal strife has many sources, but Washington’s indulgence of the Saudi intervention is part of a consistent pattern across multiple administrations, one that supports the destructive and counterproductive behavior of Middle Eastern client states to avoid antagonizing them or empowering Iran. Moving toward a more prudent and just foreign policy will not only mean reconsidering the United States’ direct military commitments, but also the character of its alliances. What we enable often matters as much what we do.
The fact that the tragedy in Yemen is so little discussed is not a product of broad or deep public enthusiasm for that consensus. Support for foreign intervention is at historic lows in recent years and may have even proven decisive in restraining the Obama administration from intervening more extensively against the government of Syria. The Syrian episode aside, however, the pace and extent of overseas entanglements has not met a serious challenge from public opinion over the past decade. Americans intermittently tell pollsters they want a more restrained foreign policy, but they largely allow their leaders free reign for one military adventure after another.
Part of the problem is that so much of foreign policy has come to be conducted by the executive branch outside the political process, including US support for the war in Yemen and the Trump administration’s recent punitive strike on Syria. Foreign affairs are also simply uninteresting to many Americans: the problems are complicated, the actors are convoluted, and the names are hard to pronounce, even when American forces are directly involved (as is not currently the case in Yemen).
In a broader sense, though, any challenge to the compulsive bellicosity that passes for normality in American foreign policy must contend with the fact that the opponents of that (dis-)order have very different values and concerns. The anti-war left, which reached its recent peak under the Bush administration, expresses itself in globalist humanitarian and anti-imperialist terms. It draws on a tradition of protest culture dating back to the Vietnam War, and it speaks a moralistic, legalistic, and idealistic language, seeking to hold the United States to account for its real and imagined crimes.
The anti-interventionist right is a grab-bag of paleoconservative and libertarian tendencies, but is broadly more concerned with American sovereignty and interests than it is with global norms. It is wary of spending blood and treasure on behalf of other nations, skeptical of efforts to export American values, and suspicious of the international institutions that have sometimes been invoked on behalf of the latest call to arms. These tendencies reached postwar height in mainstream politics with the resistance to the Clinton administration’s wars in the former Yugoslavia, though they have periodically resurfaced since. Donald Trump channeled some of the impulses of the right-wing anti-interventionism during his campaign, but has proven far too unprincipled, unfocused, and addicted to blustering shows of “strength” to mark a significant departure in American foreign policy—or not, at any rate, in a more peaceful direction.
This stark portrayal of the different camps should not be taken to mean there is no overlap between them. Nonetheless, the distinct cultural and partisan identities of these groups is a serious barrier to effective mobilization against the latest excesses of American global power. Making the case for a different path will require both sides of the equation, simultaneously arguing that the reigning consensus is bad both for the United States and bad for the world. It is, far too often, a betrayal of both our moral obligations and our national interests.
The title of this post was uttered by Neville Chamberlain during the Munich Crisis as the Prime Minister explained his reluctance to go to war over Czechoslovakia. In the decades since it has often been used to condemn the alleged fecklessness of appeasement. Today, however, the inertia in American foreign policy is quite different. War has become the norm, sinking behind the front page and rarely troubling minds of average citizens. For our own sake and for the sake of “people of whom we know nothing,” this amnesia needs to be dispelled.
by Kyle Herrington
In my (heavily biased) opinion, there is no author who captures the paradox, grace, and heartache of American life better than Flannery O’Connor. Though she wrote her novels and short stories in the mid-1900s, her stories paint an honest and stark reality of the human person, who remains the same regardless of the calendar. I often feel O’Connor is holding up a mirror to society and saying “Look at yourself," and what we see is ugly and hateful; it is also tinged with grace and hope.
Mining her work for political policies is foolish and would do an injustice to her art, but O’Connor explicitly was writing about the human person, and we are political animals. Her stories are about people and their actions and consequences, and so it is they can be an awakening to our need for the “revolution of the heart” which Dorothy Day called for. We see this call to awakening in any number of her works: “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” and its message about the image of God being imprinted on all people even if they are seen as freaks; “The Displaced Person” examining prejudice to new people. Today I want to focus on the short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” which is a specific short story and also the title of one of her collections of short stories.
In “Everything That Rises Must Converge”, O’Connor writes about a cast of characters all familiar to us both in literature and real life: a white mother stuck dreaming of the past glory days; her son repulsed by his mother’s prejudice; an African-American woman tired of the condescending treatment of her white neighbors; and a sweet child indifferent to the sins and exhaustion the adults suffer as they trudge through the world. The story unfolds as Julian and his mother take the bus to her exercise class at the city Y. O’Connor wrote specifically about the South, and this particular story takes place around the time the buses were desegregated. Julian, the son, is deeply resentful of his mother for her prejudice against African-Americans. Julian views himself as an enlightened one: he's gone to college, prides himself on looking forward, and thinks he is free of yesterday's prejudice. His resentment is heightened because he knows his mother has sacrificed to provide for him. He despises his mother’s “glory days” attitude, yet he admittedly lives in his own mind as well:
"This was a kind of mental bubble in which he established himself when he could not bear to be a part of what was going on around him. From it he could see out and judge but in it he was safe from any kind of penetration from without. It was the only place where he felt free of the general idiocy of his fellows. His mother had never entered it but from it he could see her with absolute clarity."
This particular bus trip offers Julian the opportunity to show his mother how wrong she is: “There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit.” Once on the bus, Julian tries to engage with a well-dressed African-American man, just to show his mother how different he is from her, even though the man has no interest in engaging with him. As the bus rolls along, an African-American mother gets on the bus with her four-year old son. Julian salivates at this opportunity, hoping the woman will sit next to his mother. To Julian’s frustration, the woman sits next to him and her little son climbs next to Julian’s mother. Julian’s mother loves all children so immediately smiles at the child, yet she looks at Julian with resentment. Julian is startled to find his mother “and the woman had, in a sense, swapped sons. Though his mother would not realize the symbolic significance of this, she would feel it. His amusement showed plainly on his face.” Additionally, his mother and the African American woman have on the same green hat. Julian is ecstatic with the opportunity.
Unfortunately for Julian’s scheming, the little boy, we learn his name is Carver, is attracted to Julian’s mother and smiles at her. Carver’s mother yanks him across the aisle to herself, but Carver scurries back to “his love”. Julian realizes the opportunity for a “lesson” has been lost. Carver’s mother becomes angrier because of her son's misbehavior, and places the child next to her, in between herself and Julian. In a sweet moment, little Carver “put his hands in front of his face and peeped at Julian's mother through his fingers. ‘I see yoooooooou!’ she said and put her hand in front of her face and peeped at him.” Carver’s mother is annoyed and slaps his hands down. The reader can feel the tension rising, while the young boy is immune.
Finally they reach their stop, and they find the African-American mother and son are getting off at the same stop. Julian is horrified because he know his mother will want to give the child a nickle, “The gesture would be as natural to her as breathing.” As they get off, Julian tries to take his mother’s pocketbook and tells her not to try and give the boy a nickle, but Julian’s mother refuses. Carver’s mother gets off the bus and proceeds to move quickly down the street, but Julian’s mother catches up to them. She could only find a penny in her purse, but she still wants to offer it to the little boy.
“Oh little boy!” Julian's mother called and took a few quick steps and caught up with them just beyond the lamppost. “Here’s a bright new penny for you,” and she held out the coin, which shone bronze in the dim light.
The huge woman turned and for a moment stood, her shoulders lifted and her face
frozen with frustrated rage, and stared at Julian’s mother. Then all at once she seemed to
explode like a piece of machinery that had been given one ounce of pressure too much.
Julian saw the black fist swing out with the red pocketbook. He shut his eyes and cringed
as he heard the woman shout, “He don't take nobody’s pennies!” When he opened his
eyes, the woman was disappearing down the street with the little boy staring wide-eyed
over her shoulder. Julian’s mother was sitting on the sidewalk.
“I told you not to do that,” Julian said angrily. “I told you not to do that!”
Julian angrily tries to help his mother up and says “I hopes this teaches you a lesson”. His mother gets up and walks the opposite direction of the Y. She looks at Julian as if she does not know who he is. His mother says that she is not going to the Y but is going home instead. “Julian followed along, his hands behind him. He saw no reason to let the lesson she had had go without backing it up with an explanation of its meaning.” He berates his mother, saying that African-American woman was “the whole colored race which will no longer take your condescending pennies” and that his mother’s old world is gone. His mother plows ahead. Julian asks if his mother does not want to just take the bus home, but she continues down the street just saying she wants to go home.
Finally, Julian grabs her and says they are not moving any further. He looks into her face and does not recognize her. “'Tell Grandpa to come get me,’ she said. He stared, stricken. ‘Tell Caroline to come get me,’ she said.” Caroline was her African American nanny when Julian’s mother was young and Julian mother’s grandfather has been long dead. Julian lets out a cry of “Mother!” as his mother tries to walk away but crumbles to the ground. Julian rushes towards her, rolls her over and sees the stroke-like symptoms that have distorted her face. He tries to call for help but his voice is thin and the darkness of the street seems to envelop them." The story concludes, “The lights drifted farther away the faster he ran and his feet moved numbly as if they carried him nowhere. The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.”
It's rare to encounter a story where you identify with every character, and not merely because you want to identify with them; rather, you recognize yourself in the mirror. At one time or another you have been Julian, resentful of the people or institutions which are unjust but gave you everything. You have relished the opportunity to rub peoples’ noses in their just desserts. You have been the African-American woman, tired of condescension and angry at those trying to interfere in your life. You have been Julian’s mother, nostalgic for the 'glory days' and not living in the real world. All of these characters are flawed.
But to be flawed is to be human, and these characters vibrate with humanity. They cannot be reduced to a political label or ideology. They are complicated, flawed images of God. Julian cannot see that he has created an alternative reality in which he is free from rebuke; his mother deserves to live with guilt, but not him. What a very dangerous place to find one's self! This is an especially tempting position to fall into on social media, where you are just looking at tiny picture. You cannot see the histories, emotions, families, hardship or joys of the real people. When we believe we are free from reproach we become tyrants, losing the ability to see we, too, are as flawed as around us. The longer this mindset lingers, the quicker one becomes the monster so hated.
There are numerous other lessons from the story but I think they speak for themselves, and I am eager to hear what everyone thinks in the comment section on Facebook.
Politics is about community and community involves conflict because we are flawed, limited human beings. The challenge is how we engage this conflict: do we berate people and bully them into submission or do we engage them and seek to walk with them to a better understanding of reality? One is demonic, the other is sacred.
by Zeb Baccelli
Yesterday contributor Zeb Baccelli discussed capital concentration in relation to economic inequality. Today he suggests what else is needed to bring about a distributist society.
Directly distributing capital
Countering capital concentration is only half the solution to the distributist goal of widespread capital ownership. The positive half is actually getting capital into the hands of each worker. I've already identified one way to do that - mandatory equity for all employees. The American Solidarity Party supports worker-owned cooperatives, but an employee equity mandate would give that support real teeth. Worker ownership is not just a nice idea, it's a requirement of justice.
We can also distribute capital to individuals directly by transfer payment. A substantial bit of real capital should be provided to every adult at the beginning of their career. It's nice to be born into a family business that you learn as you grow, and then help take over as an adult. But that's not a realistic opportunity for most children, and wouldn't be for those born to parents in worker-owned cooperatives either. If every citizen had, say, $50,000 seed money available for use pending approval, using something like the same process as loan approval but with no repayment needed, everyone would have an opportunity to launch into an ownership economy without usury. Even if it were used on a prudently considered home purchase, this would allow stability of place and economic freedom to resist the forces of capitalism that turn people into atomized wage slaves.
Free post-high school education and training would lift a heavy burden from the working and small-business owning classes, and it would widely distribute one of the most useful forms of capital. "Human capital" (a problematic phrase, but makes sense when talking about skills and qualifications rather than about people) is especially valuable in a distributist sense because it can never be alienated from the worker: you can't sell off your welding skills to pay for a kidney transplant. Wherever you may need to travel, that training accompanies you, and your employer must pay enough to access it.
This sort of capital distribution is especially amenable to cheap, local-scale solutions. Currently professional accreditation programs (i.e. universities) have become a sort of cartel designed to create scarcity and drive up costs, thus supporting a massive industry of accreditation suppliers, and a constrained class of accredited elites. This drives up the costs of all kinds of professional services (medicine being the most obvious). And it keeps many talented people out of the most respected and high paying vocations. The state has participated heavily in creating this state of affairs, and it could do much to reverse it. We probably all know more than one disgruntled philosophy or English MA who can't find an academic job, but who could lead a book discussion more worthwhile than any intro-level Gen-Ed class in a seven hundred student lecture hall.
The Saxifrage School in Pittsburgh was (as far as I know it is currently stalled out) an attempt to create an accredited asset-free college program. The idea was students would meet with instructors in public spaces such as libraries and coffee shops. The professors would be free-lancing, so the only expense would be paying for the professor’s time and the administrative cost of the program. The government could facilitate and fund such decentralized educational programs as they do state schools. Everyone who wants to get two years of liberal arts and/or two years of vocational training (white or blue collar) should be able to get it for free, and we could do it a lot cheaper than the current university system by using existing resources in our own communities.
Expanding the commons
In our agrarian past 'the commons' was land available to all for grazing, hunting and gathering fuel. The commons provided a resource for people who had lost all private property, enabling them to survive and get back on their feet. We should expand the concept and the content of the commons in ways suitable to our modern context. I think we can turn some expensive goods into public goods provided to all free of charge. We already do this with many of the goods businesses depend upon, like roads, fire fighting, crime prevention, trade regulation, and primary research. Let’s do more of the same for workers. What are expensive goods that don't work well as market commodities which we could add to the commons?
I've already explained why and how post secondary education should be added to the commons. Let me reinforce that bit by noting that education is often bought with little to no price-based rational analysis. No 18-year old knows if $100,000 of debt is worth it, nor are they likely to make a prudent decision at that age anyway. And frankly parents are hardly in a better position to make the evaluation, even the few who are in a position to pay. It just doesn't make sense for education to be a market based commodity. Prices become distorted by lack of information, prevalence of irrational decision, and collusion between supplier and regulators. Rather education should be in the commons, available freely to all who can make the most of it.
Health care is another socially-created good that does not work well as a market commodity. Very few people have the resources to pay for it personally when needed, and when it is needed no one is able to make a free and rational decision about what health care to get. You're basically the victim of a stick-up at that point. A personal anecdote: in the early days of starting my business I was providing for a wife and two kids on income of about $30,000 a year and simply could not afford health insurance. One day I received a visit from the appendicitis fairy and was rushed to the emergency room. I was never asked what treatment I wanted or told any prices, but to be honest, I would have said yes to anything, especially once the euphoria of the first dose of pain medication set in!
When I received $12,000 of bills from about six different providers, I was lucky enough to negotiate major reductions and assistance on all of them except the anesthesiologist. When that bill went to collections I had many entertaining conversations with debt collectors arguing about whether we should negotiate the price after the fact. Considering that when service was rendered I was on death's door, under the influence of drugs and had no recollection of being offered a choice of services or told their price, I thought we could make a deal. Those conversations ended only when I was doing well enough to just pay the bill in order to save my credit score. A more prudent person, foreseeing this possibility, would never have started my business. They would have chosen a job with Monsanto, something which offered health insurance. We can change that calculus. Free universal health care would allow many more workers to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs or just be independent homesteaders without the fear of losing employer provided health insurance. And it would allow small business owners to survive, both literally and financially, a surprise injury or illness. We should stop hedging about this as a ‘possible option to be explored’ and fully support free universal single-pay health care.
Finally and most controversially, we should support Universal Basic Income without reservation. UBI would enable employees to stand up for better pay and working conditions because they can hold out longer during a strike or period of unemployment. It would enable entrepreneurs much more freedom to strike out on their own, sustaining them during the lean start-up years that crush many new businesses. It would support homesteaders on the path to economic independence. And for the unsuccessful business owners who lose their personal capital to bad luck or poor management on the first try, UBI would give them a surer way to build up capital and try again, wiser for the experience.
Although as distributists we should want wage labor to be a minimal part of the economy, there will always be a role for it, especially as a way for new workers to enter the economy before they become long term owners in their own business. UBI would allow the wage labor market to be a truly free market. No one would be coerced into taking an exploitative job by material need, and businesses would not have to pay an arbitrary minimum wage. If, say, we had a UBI equivalent to $10/hr full time (or whatever covered the necessities of a modest but decent life), a business could offer $2/hr for an unneeded but valued greeter position. That would allow someone who has few skills a chance to participate in work life and improve their financial situation through their own effort. At the same time no one would be forced to take demeaning or grueling jobs at low pay simply because they lack the credentials for more respectable and high paying work. With a UBI we might find that a business has to pay just as much to get someone to clean the toilets as to design the website. Our current system values white-collar work at the real expense and dignity of blue-collar workers. But manual labor, be it cleaning the toilets or raising children, is what allows the website designer to work at all. The world has existed without website designers; we cannot survive as a species without waste management. UBI would make us acknowledge the real value of all jobs, as opposed to our current system which artificially inflates some while denigrating others.
In these two posts I’ve laid out some concrete policies distributists should advocate to bring about the goal of widespread capital ownership. We should counter capital concentration by mandating public and employee equity in corporations and by limiting companies’ ability to own property; we should directly distribute capital through mandated employee equity, transfer of funds for capital purchase, and free education; and we should expand the commons to include education, health care and universal basic income. Some of these ideas might seem distant and far-fetched, but it is only by boldly naming our destination and then taking the first incremental steps directly towards it that we will ever arrive.
by Zeb Baccelli
On Monday, Kitchen Table contributor Tara Thieke attempted to bring distributism out of the Shire and into history. Today, contributor and small-business owner Zeb Baccelli shares the first of a two-part series on what distributists policies would look like today, and why moving in a distributist direction is not mere fantasy, but a tangible possibility.
Distributists want as many people as possible to own the means of their production. A farmer should own the farm, a baker should own the bakery, and factory workers should own the factory. But how do we bring this about? Anyone from a libertarian to a socialist may identify as a distributist, agreeing on the end goal but disagreeing completely on what will get us there. So answering “how?” is the key to any distributist politics. I argue that once we get past the false dilemma of government intervention, we must pursue three lines of progress: countering capital concentration, directly distributing capital, and expanding the commons.
The question of government intervention
The first disputed question between distributists is: how much should the government intervene in the economy so as to bring about the distributist goal?
This is a meaningless question. Government intervention is what every economic system is composed of! Of course the libertarian wants to say that a truly free market with all goods and services owned privately and traded voluntarily is a state of minimal government involvement. But this is an illusion. Private property itself is a government program. You own property only to the extent that the government says you do. You may claim to own your coat, but if I file suit claiming the coat belongs to me and the court decides in my favor, then the coat is mine even if you continue to illicitly possess it. Even such minor instances of private property are a government program.
This is even more clear in the case of large assets like vehicles and real estate where ownership is established directly by government in the form of title documents, and all the more so for fictitious entities such as corporations, whose very existence depends completely on the government. So a "free market" is not "free" of government intervention. Just the opposite: it is constituted through and through by government interventions. Distributists, then, should seek the most effective and just forms of government intervention to achieve their goals, and should repudiate objections that doing so is coercion, theft, or giving power to the State. The real question is: in what ways should the government intervene in economic life?
Countering capital concentration
Distributism is not "nice capitalism". It is bluntly anti-capitalist. But what I mean by capitalism is not "free markets and entrepreneurialism." That is just a market economy. Capitalism is the system where a class of people are paid simply to own the means of production. Not paid to develop or utilize capital, nor to allocate itwisely; just paid to be the person who is on some government form somewhere listed as the owner. Distributism would have all capital owned by the people who use it: by the workers, and ideally in as small and local units as possible.
But how do we dismantle capitalism without lopping off heads? Can we radically change our world without the violence and chaos of revolution? As explained above, private property is a government program, so we begin by looking at how government creates capitalism in order to see how we should dismantle it.
Any free market economy is going to tend toward the concentration of wealth: specifically and most importantly of capital. As businesses compete inevitably some will out-compete others and acquire their capital and their market share. Smaller numbers of companies continue to compete and consolidate, gaining competitive advantage through economy of scale as they go. This trend is accelerated by capitalism which demands that the consumer pay 5-10% more than the cost of production. That portion goes to ownership, which increases the owners' share of national wealth year by year. Occasionally concentration gets disrupted here and there by luck, by technological change, and by exceptionally skilled or ruinous management. Still, the overall trend of wealth concentration is inevitable and unquestionably proven by all historical evidence since the beginning of capitalism. Let's find the apparatuses set up by the state to enable and protect this concentration, and reroute them toward widespread distribution.
If you've ever tried to create a company more complex than a sole proprietorship, you've seen that the state has detailed rules about who in the partnership, LLC, or corporation has what rights and what responsibilities, and who gets what in the event of dissolution. It could just as well be written into all business law that the state and the employees must get some equity and/or profit share in any business.
I'm the founder and current sole owner of a business. I realize how much effort and risk and how little reward a founder often sees in the first few years of a company. That should be compensated. Our economic well-being depends on the entrepreneurial drive and it should be incentivized. But it does not follow that the founder of a successful company naturally "deserves" a lifetime (much less his descendant's lifetimes!) of increasing income just because his name is on the charter.
The workers who build and maintain the company deserve their share of the success. Distributists believe every worker should own the means of his own production. We could simply require that all employees get a share of annual profit, and any employee who stays at a company more than a few years starts accruing equity in the company. Couple this with increased worker protections so that employers can't just fire employees to prevent them from getting equity, and eventually the company becomes (at least to a significant degree) employee owned. In an age when unions continue to shrink, this would empower employees to have some say in the conditions of their employment while giving them more of a stake in their company's success.
For larger companies, I'd suggest they should also be partly publicly owned. Our original corporations were created by the government to provide some public benefit, such as the transcontinental rail roads, that purely private business would never undertake. There was an understanding that these corporations were to serve the public good, not just their shareholder's private financial interests.
Perhaps it's too late to go back to that form of the corporation, but we could turn the purely financial drive of corporations to the public good by having a significant part of the shares of any publicly traded company automatically go to a sovereign wealth fund. The income generated by the sovereign wealth fund would provide public goods such as infrastructure, health care, education, or direct income. A sovereign wealth fund ensures that the public benefits from the profitability of that part of the private sector most dependent on government support.
We'd also do well to consider limiting corporations' ability to own property in multiple states, and certainly in multiple nations. Part of the reason our government must to be so large is because business is so big (thanks to government enabling). By limiting the geographic reign of corporations we could scale back the level of government needed to regulate them.
States cannot stand up to national corporations because those corporations wield enormous economic power over states. They are able to play one state off of another to see who can cut regulations and taxes most, sacrificing good governance for the sake of procuring the corporation's favor. Thus ten thousand small acts of different businesses have the unintended result of growing the centralized, federal government because they are the only ones left to direct the market as the corporations require.
We now see this race to the bottom in the service of capital on a global scale. Yet there is no natural reason a New York corporation must be able to buy a factory in South Carolina, or an American corporation buy a factory in Honduras; it only happens because the state and federal governments choose to allow and enable it. Limiting corporations to smaller geographic areas would allow smaller governments to regulate them, and would open up space for smaller businesses to compete with them.
Countering capital concentration is the negative side of the distributist program. It is an ongoing necessity, but in itself it only provides the open space for widespread ownership. The ground is tilled but the seed must be planted and watered. Tomorrow I will describe how we can continually replenish an ownership society through distribution of capital and expanding the commons.
by Guest Contributor Tai-Chi Kuo, JD
Last week a team of American and South Korean scientists became the first in the world to modify a human embryo to eliminate flawed DNA which pass diseases down from one generation to the next. The results of this experiment are certainly a milestone for science and may excite those whose families currently suffer from serious hereditary maladies such as epilepsy, breast cancer, or heart disease; however, for those of us who champion the cause of human life even in its most delicate, unborn state, they present a serious set of ethical qualms and new cause for alarm both in regards to the methodology used to derive prospective medical procedures, and the societal implications of such procedures being made available to consumers.
The scientists involved in the experiment used a technique known as CRISPR which targets an undesired portion of a particular genome using an RNA guide, and then shaves it off using the Cas9 enzyme. It is also used in immunotherapy to fight leukemia by modifying T-cells to attack cancer cells. The experiment is performed on fertilized eggs by injecting sperm already-containing a congenital disease into a healthy human egg wherein portions of diseased DNA (inherited from the father) are removed and replaced with healthy portions from the mother. To avoid results from prior experiments performed in the People’s Republic of China, which produced patchwork “mosaics” of healthy and diseased cell portions because not all diseased genome sections could be replaced, the new procedure injects the egg with the Cas9 enzyme alongside with the sperm. The human embryo is then allowed to develop for five days before being terminated.
Five days, then "termination." The obvious moral issue is that in order to produce this result, the scientists first had to maim – by intentionally afflicting the embryo with a disease – and then kill someone, a fragile but genetically distinct human life, a "someone" undergoing cell division and already responsive to external stimuli. Given the nature of the experimental method used to perfect any procedure, the experiment must be repeated over and over again to whittle away procedural and technical flaws. Therefore, whether experiments of this nature could ever avoid this outcome is extremely unlikely. One is left to wonder at the staggering true cost of a “perfected procedure” – how many lives must be sacrificed in order for others to “live better”?
Even if such an experiment could someday be ethically perfected, there are many subsequent ethical issues to consider: How could gene editing impact these individuals as they grow into children or adulthood – are there unknown side-effects? Could the CRISPR technique potentially be weaponized? Most importantly and immediately, what is the expected response if the gene editing was performed erroneously on the embryo, or if it leads to other, unintended mutations in the development of the embryo? Do the parents immediately abort? The damage that this research could wreck upon society is great, exponentially outweighing its potential benefits. Learning how these experiments are being performed today and seeking out meaningful steps to limit the unethical furtherance of such research must become a new priority.
About the Author:
Tai-Chi Kuo, JD: Tai-Chi is an Illinois-based member of the Dorothy Day caucus of the American Solidarity Party. He is an Assistant Vice President working in the project management office of a regional financial services company. He holds a Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago and also an undergraduate degree in Advertising from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign – an institution where he is currently studying to obtain a Masters of Business Administration. Tai-Chi serves as worship coordinator for English-language services at a large, historically Chinese American Evangelical church in the suburban Chicagoland area.
by Tara Ann Thieke
The swamps of our time do not drain; rather they spread a misery-making slime, and thus it is perhaps understandable when we accept relief or jokes when opportunity arises. There are especially easy jollies to be had poking fun at our millennial Chestertonians who have latched on to distributism, the economic philosophy du jour for political misfits.
The early 20th century “prince of paradox” and most renowned distributist advocate, G.K. Chesterton, called for strikes and economic overhaul; today’s distributist dads rebel by brewing beer in the garage. Dorothy Day, the anarchist-distributist founder of the Catholic Worker houses, wanted to overthrow a rotten economic system; our crunchy conservatives have watched "Lord of the Rings" one too many times. An economic philosophy requiring total transformation of the way we live appears, in the eyes of onlookers, to be an act of self-indulgent role-playing, the inevitable result of overgrown children nursing nostalgia for a Shire which never was and never shall be.
It's easy to side-eye distributism in a culture where “homemade” and "craft" are hobbies-as-accessories for the moneyed classes. The Etsy-fication of the world does little to help those without cash in pocket. What good is distributism, the principle of widespread property ownership, when agribusiness has dismantled the family farm? How could it be more than yet another variance of weekend agrarian cosplaying in an urban world where no one really knows where their shirts come from? What we need to do is smash the system. Or, we need to shore up the system with new, larger programs and plans. Or, we need to accept the system is infinitely smarter than ourselves: the dream of endless economic growth will yet deliver those still lucky to be alive in its golden dawn. Distributists are the doe-eyed children of a dreamy, dead obese man longing for illusions in a brave new future where they're too slow to keep up. They are fools to long for trees, a place to steward, land to love, skills to practice. Their loves, visions, and ideas are obsolete in the Land of Bigger, Louder, Faster, Stronger. This is the age of machines, the age of noise, and it eliminates space. It gobbles up farms. We give our children the screen as a substitute for true room to roam.
Would these practical world-builders and systems-smashers raise that dismissive eyebrow at Chesterton's physical antithesis, the ascetical, piercing-eyed Mahatma Gandhi? Surely no man was less given to whimsical ramblings; Gandhi overthrew Empires without raising the barrel of a gun. After a 20th century besieged by violence of unimaginable horror, from a multitude of political systems, Gandhi's image remains imprinted on our hearts as an eternal "What-if?"
Gandhi was no twee performance artist cultivating an instagram account or indulging in theoretical disputes on social media. His withered body bore the marks of his commitment to practicality, his commitment to realism; and yet Gandhi was a distributist at the same time as Mr. Chesterton, albeit across the globe. These two men sought to return independence to the people who had lost it to the same Empire. For every day and night Gandhi prayed "Swadeshi" would come to transform the Indian people, "swadeshi" meaning"local self-sufficiency,” or, the rebuilding of the home economy.
Satish Kumar writes: "For Gandhi a machine civilization was no civilization. A society in which workers had to labour at a conveyor belt, in which animals were treated cruelly in factory farms, and in which economic activity necessarily lead to ecological devastation could not be conceived of as a civilization. Its citizens could only end up as neurotics, the natural world would inevitably be transformed into a desert, and its cities into concrete jungles. In other words, global industrial society, as opposed to society made up of largely autonomous communities committed to the principle of swadeshi, is unsustainable. Swadeshi for Gandhi was a sacred principle - as sacred for him as the principle of truth and nonviolence. Every morning and evening, Gandhi repeated his commitment to swadeshi in his prayers."
We know Gandhi’s legacy as one of non-violence, but like that other voice of peace, Dorothy Day, his non-violence was paired with an immediate pragmatism. Gandhi looked at the sufferings and problems plaguing the villages of India and did not conclude Utopia could be established by merely evicting the British. The post-Enlightenment mindset had come to dominate the minds of his compatriots, a mindset that saw only the big and never the small, that saw theories and not faces, economic charts and not communities. This was the root of the problems. There was no free India without a free household and village, set loose from the chains of the global machinist economy the British had laid upon the Indian people. A free India meant seven hundred thousand self-sufficient villages, it meant millions of homes with their own property, their own spinning wheel, their own gardens.
When Gandhi envisioned a healthy future for India he did not see a bureaucratic Leviathan, albeit run by Indians. He saw the fragile, interwoven complexity of a butterfly's wings, where each small village manifested its own strength to breathe life to the whole. The sufficiency and health of the small ensured the strength of the whole. India was not one system, one person, or one bureaucracy. Such a bloated system would never represent the interests of the people who made up India; it would only represent the interests of the system, of the nonhuman.
Decades of prayer, fasting, chastity, and asceticism cleared Gandhi's eyes of the illusions and desires born of our insecurity and fear of suffering. As Gandhi’s peace and strength developed he realized how much they are the fruits of what he called “practical idealism.” Renowned for believing one must change themselves before one can change the rest of the world, that philosophy was mirrored in his economics.
Swadeshi found its most successful embodiment in Gandhi's homespun movement. The home is central to the economy, and it is the home which has been displaced ever since the enclosure movement of the 1700s began to attack the English village. It is a war which has never ceased. It was enclosure which decimated the peasantry of England and drove them into the people-eating factories of the manufacturing cities. (For those interested in learning more on enclosure: Karl Polanyi’s 1944 book The Great Transformation provides one of the best histories of the movement’s underappreciated consequences; J.L. Hammond and Barbara Hammond chronicled the details in their 1917 book The Village Laborer.) It spiraled off across the planet, ever leveling homes, families, peoples, ecosystems. Today enclosure works to commodify our very bodies as companies seek patents on biological processes, or seek to microchip their employees in the name of “convenience.”
An independent people are a thorn to those who would pursue their own wealth and security through dominance and possession. A world-builder cannot contend with a content neighbor. Gandhi, whose non-violence has often led him to be dismissed as a Utopian, knew the true Utopians were those who sought to build a modern Babel on the crumpled bodies and ruined homes of their neighbors.
Of all the grave deeds committed by our Babel-builders, most deceptive is their audacious self-description as pragmatic realists. The geoengineers level mountains and flood valleys in their quest to claim the mantle of Heaven for Earth. From the pinnacle of the tower built on the disposable masses, they hold aloft the banner of “Free Market! Meritocracy! Endless energy! Global prosperity!” They refuse to accept their beliefs are self-imposed choices; casualties are dismissed as inevitable when they are no such thing.
So a sweatshop is erected over a smashed farm in Bangladesh: “Victory is ours!” cries the Bright Young Columnist. An opioid death goes down as statistic, another victim of gun violence is carted away beneath the droning din of the city’s machinery. Their lives are nothing in comparison to the vision of the Babel builders; the technocrat’s faith in his hard-headed “realism” guards him from any potential haunting by the invisible peoples of the world. G.K. Chesterton unveiled this disconnection when he wrote: "The real argument against aristocracy is that it always means the rule of the ignorant. For the most dangerous of all forms of ignorance is ignorance of work." Our technocratic meritocracy is only a new aristocracy, and it is ignorant as to what makes for a healthy home, street, family, or world. It only knows its dreams which it dares describe as inevitable, realistic, practical.
The ancient rebellion is ever with us, ever tediously the same. It is the desire to pursue our security as if it is something detached from our neighbor’s, to claim a "self" freed from reality's limitations. No claim to pragmatism can diminish the shocking, dismissive Utopianism of its goals. But is distributism any different? Is distributism simply one more attempt to dress up an individual’s scheme to refashion the world according to our desires?
The virtue of distributism lies in its self-awareness, a pragmatism born of attention to reality. Novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch noted in her work The Sovereignty of Good: “It is in the capacity to love, that is to SEE, that the liberation of the soul from fantasy consists. The freedom which is a proper human goal is the freedom from fantasy, that is the realism of compassion. What I have called fantasy, the proliferation of blinding self-centered aims and images, is itself a powerful system of energy, and most of what is often called 'will' or 'willing' belongs to this system. What counteracts the system is attention to reality inspired by, consisting of, love.”
All the utilitarian, transhumanist, free market schemes have turned their attention away from reality, cloaking themselves in unearned pragmatism, and proclaiming they are truly “the end of history.” Distributism, though, is only a means, and it has enough common sense to know this of itself. Gandhi, G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Day chose Swadeshi and distributism because it was the best way to silence the noise of the system in order to encounter the human person. It is a means, a way for us to emerge from the bombardment of advertisements or drones and hear anew, to recognize “after the fire, a still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12).
We will not beat all our swords into plowshares tomorrow. Most of us have no reason to even know what a plowshare is, and our weapons are remote-controlled from cool, well-lit chambers. Perhaps the times force us to be cynics; Gandhi’s dream of a self-sufficient India cannot undo the great garbage patch in the Pacific. There is no turning back, we are told, so we resign ourselves to the age of noise.
Dorothy Day had no time for our self-doubt which ends up benefitting the overlords of the technocracy. In one Catholic Worker edition she quoted Joseph T. Nolan: “Too long has idle talk made out of Distributism as something medieval and myopic, as if four modern popes were somehow talking nonsense when they said: the law should favor widespread ownership (Leo XIII); land is the most natural form of property (Leo XIII and Pius XII); wages should enable a man to purchase land (Leo XIII and Pius XI); the family is most perfect when rooted in its own holding (Pius XII); agriculture is the first and most important of all the arts and the tiller of the soil still represents the natural order of things willed by God (Pius XII),” (quoted in Catholic Worker, July-Aug. 1948).
Surely it is of interest to us today that the teachings from multiple popes align with Gandhi’s own words:
“The spinning wheel represents to me the hope of the masses. The masses lost their freedom, such as it was, with the loss of the Charkha [spinning wheel]. The Charkha supplemented the agriculture of the villagers and gave it dignity. It was the friend and the solace of the widow. It kept the villagers from idleness. For the Charkha included all the anterior and posterior industries- ginning, carding, warping, sizing, dyeing and weaving. These in their turn kept the village carpenter and the blacksmith busy. The Charkha enabled the seven hundred thousand villages to become self contained. With the exit of Charkha went the other village industries, such as the oil press. Nothing took the place of these industries. Therefore the villagers were drained of their varied occupations and their creative talent and what little wealth these bought them.
“The industrialized countries of the West were exploiting other nations. India is herself an exploited country. Hence, if the villagers are to come into their own, the most natural thing that suggests itself is the revival of the Charkha and all it means,” (Harijan, 1940).
The measure of a woman is not her bank account balance. Marketing fortunes are made persuading us happiness is in the goods we buy, the entertainment we take in, the fashions we pick up and discard. And if we are not entirely convinced, we will be distracted and worn down with more noise, more gadgets, more demands on the little time and energy which remains to us. The long, patient arts of making, building, participating in community, and deepening our roots do not make for good consumers. Yet without those skills or relationships we cannot have healthy homes, families, children, or land. Without taking the time to observe reality, rather than a screen, we cannot make proper judgments.
There is great beauty in pragmatism, thus our eagerness to claim it. Gandhi did not describe himself as a Utopian but as a pragmatic realist. To look upon the world as it is is to see the hand of God. To look upon our neighbor as they are, untouched by our desires, wishes, or dreams, is to encounter the beloved Imago Dei. Utopianism is a denial of the goodness of Creation, for Eden began here. To encounter it anew is the task of pragmatism: to retrace our steps, this time with the heavy lessons of free will transforming our hearts into received grace. When we shed our gluttony, our lust, our need to live as immortal robots in the Matrix, then shall we hear the Good News: the Kingdom of Heaven was already within us.
Perhaps some of the scorn we bestow on our bearded would-be traditionalists comes from our deep need to believe there is more to this world than a Babel which callously grinds up human beings. We are called to look upon something greater than our immediate desires, and we long for the distributists to lead us to something greater than an aesthetic purchased online. To respond to that call, we must not reject the first steps of those long cut-off from a localist, self-sufficient community. We must renew the words of Dorothy Day, G.K. Chesterton, and Gandhi in our hearts. Together, with patience, forgiveness, and steady attention to the world as it is, we may find ourselves walking into a new morning bright with the joy of our neighbors' faces.
On this day, both eastern and western Christian churches celebrate the transfiguration of the messiah. According to tradition, the mountain Jesus ascended with his three disciples was mount Tabor. It was to this place that the prophetess Deborah ordered Barak the son of Abinoam to gather ten thousand men, from whence to attack the army of Sisera, the general of Jabin king of Canaan, and thereby deliver God’s people from their oppressors; to this place that the prophet Samuel would send the newly anointed King Saul to receive bread and wine from those going up to their offerings at Bethel, from whence to join the company of prophets in ecstasy; to this place that the messiah would ascend with his disciples, the whiteness of his raiment revealing him as the son of man and ancient of days spoken by the prophet Daniel.
In each case, we find an ascent, a charge, a descent, its fulfillment. Barak goes up at the behest of the prophetess, and comes down to deliver the Israelites from an enemy army; Saul rises to Samuel’s anointing as king, then stoops to the company of the prophets before taking up his throne; the disciples rise at the command of their master, invested with authority by the voice of the Father. For the time, they descend stupefied, soon to meet the scandal of the crucifixion. They shall soon enough give their lives carrying out the great commission.
In each case, separation serves as a prerequisite for carrying out an essential task, be it the destruction of evil forces, the manifestation of kingly glory, the conversion of the world. Separation is necessary: strength is drawn from what is given therein, be it a vantage point, an anointing, an epiphany. Separation is not self-sufficient: Barak must descend to slay; Saul, to rule; the disciples’ plea to set up tents is rejected.
The Greek word used to describe Jesus’ transformation is μεταμορφόω, literally meaning ‘to cross over into another form.’ The glory of the Messiah is witnessed by and overshadows that of the law and the prophets, represented in the persons of Moses and Elijah. What Christ became before the disciples’ eyes is something thoroughly different from what he was before, as different as the butterfly from the caterpillar. The apostle will use this same word to describe the transformation wrought by God in the disciple. ‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ (II Cor 3:18).
With Peter, James, and John, we find a model of Christian engagement with the polis it should transform. It begins with the obedience of faith, manifested in glory, impressed on the mind, and thereby transforming the believer in his daily life into something truly new. It does not begin getting bogged down in dialogue at the foot of the mountain, lest in the chatter it miss the sight of the very thing worth proclaiming. Nor does it nourish the escapism of staying atop the peak. From on high it draws all men to itself. In their roles as apostles, Peter and the others would not merely change the hearts of individuals: the would effect a deep-rooted transformation of every aspect of society.
Time and again, such transformations, both creative and destructive, would occur on this very day across time and space: in 1787, sixty proofs of the U. S. Constitution are first delivered to the Constitutional convention being held in Philadelphia; in 1806, the last Holy Roman Emperor abdicates his throne; in 1914, Serbia and Austria respectively declare war on Germany and Russia precipitating the start of World War I; in 1945, the United States drops the bomb ‘little boy’ on Hiroshima, instantly killing 70,000 people; in 1965, Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law.
From time to time, such transformations will come – slowly, then all at once, in Hemingway’s phrase. If we wish these to be positive, we cannot avoid committing ourselves to intentional acting in accord with love of neighbor and the spirit of God revealed in the Christ. This is our choice: between accepting the divine image, on the one hand, and pursuing a humanity cut off from God, on the other, with all the destruction that entails. Awaiting the return of the bridegroom, we keep our lamps trimmed. ‘Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of god’ (Rom 12:2). This engagement does not erase the distinction between the church and the world, but ensures that the distinctive, antagonistic character of the latter should ever pass away as it becomes more animated by the spirit of God. The blood of the martyrs would be the seed of the church; but that seed would be sown everywhere in the public houses.
In our roles as citizens, as in other roles, we thus must aim at the transformation of the public sphere in accord with goodness revealed by God. The question of what this good is cannot be marred by skepticism and worries about impositions of values, for such impositions are inevitable in any case. It is not from disagreements papered over by slogans, but from separation in holiness, nearness to the principles and source of the varied Christian forms of life, that genuine societal unity should arise. It is not from quiet capitulation to the spirit of this world, but from radical fidelity that genuine social transformation should come.
Every time I read this passage from GK Chesterton, I arrive at the end with literal tears, which then fade to a determination to knock some heads together. GKC's cause for canonization has opened. This should well document the "hunger and thirst for righteousness". May the DDC imitate him here:
"Here, it may be said, my book ends just where it ought to begin. I have said that the strong centers of modern English property must swiftly or slowly be broken up, if even the idea of property is to remain among Englishmen. There are two ways in which it could be done, a cold administration by quite detached officials, which is called Collectivism, or a personal distribution, so as to produce what is called Peasant Proprietorship. I think the latter solution the finer and more fully human, because it makes each man as somebody blamed somebody for saying of the Pope, a sort of small god. A man on his own turf tastes eternity or, in other words, will give ten minutes more work than is required. But I believe I am justified in shutting the door on this vista of argument, instead of opening it. For this book is not designed to prove the case for Peasant Proprietorship, but to prove the case against modern sages who turn reform to a routine. The whole of this book has been a rambling and elaborate urging of one purely ethical fact. And if by any chance it should happen that there are still some who do not quite see what that point is, I will end with one plain parable, which is none the worse for being also a fact.
A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short. I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls, but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice. Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion. It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman’s daughter ought, if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not. But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty. Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him, the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his little girl’s hair, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl’s hair. But he does not count.
Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological doctor drives gayly ahead. When a crapulous tyranny crushes men down into the dirt, so that their very hair is dirty, the scientific course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads of the tyrants; it is easier to cut off the hair of the slaves. In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children, screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or artistic gentleman, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor; if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him. But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor can walk into the house of a free man, whose daughter’s hair may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to cut it off. It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of lice in the slums is the wrongness of slums, not the wrongness of hair. Hair is, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Its enemy (like the other insects and oriental armies of whom we have spoken) sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions like hair that we can test passing institutions like empires. If a house is so built as to knock a man’s head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.
The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, “Let them eat grass,” might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian. Those great scissors of science that would snip off the curls of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots. It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head. It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your hair on.
Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed."
Tara Ann Thieke