Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The "New" Slavery, Part III: The Wage-Welfare System as Slavery

Some years ago we got into a discussion with someone who was convinced that our talk of "wage slavery" was "silly Marxist rhetoric." We will grant the "rhetoric" part, but the "silly" is only applicable if you regard Marxism as such. Now, we may reject Marx's prescriptions for a more just social and economic order. We may believe that, however well-intentioned Marx may have considered himself, he did a great deal of damage. We may disparage his giving in to what seems to be the German national habit of mockery and ridicule in place of actual argument on occasion. We may even believe Marx to be profoundly mistaken on many things.

One thing Marx was not, however, was "silly." Any man whose thought has influenced so many people, caused so much misery, even despair and tragedy, may have been many things — but he was not "silly." To label him as such not only diverts attention away from the real issue, it is just plain wrong. And what is the real issue? Whether the dependency enforced by the wage and welfare system is tantamount to the dependency enforced by the institution of human chattel slavery.

Aristotle certainly thought so. As he commented in The Politics, "for a slave is connected with you for life, but the artificer not so nearly: as near therefore as the artificer approaches to the situation of a slave, just so much ought he to have of the virtues of one; for a mean artificer is to a certain point a slave." (I.xiii.)

Pope Leo XIII evidently agreed. In Rerum Novarum he explained that,

By degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself. (§ 3.)
But (as some have claimed), doesn't this refer to the refusal of the rich and greedy to pay wages at an adequate level, and the State to make welfare benefits available at a level sufficient to ensure a lifestyle befitting the demands of human dignity?

Well . . . no. Leo XIII went on to explain at some length that it is the dependency enforced by the condition of propertylessness that is the root problem and the cause of the "yoke little better than that of slavery itself," not the low level of wages or lack of social welfare programs. Wage and welfare systems at any level impose a condition of dependency on the recipient. As Pope Pius XII explained in his Christmas Message of 1942 and reiterated in his 1951 encyclical Evangelii Praecones,

To that right [of use] corresponds the fundamental obligation to grant private property, as far as possible, to all. The positive laws regulating private property may change and may grant a more or less restricted use of it; but if such legal provisions are to contribute to the peaceful state of the community, they must save the worker, who is or will be the father of a family, from being condemned to an economic dependence or slavery irreconcilable with his rights as a person. (Evangelii Praecones ("On Promotion of Catholic Missions"), 1951, § 52.)
The critical issue, then, is not the level or amount of income and benefits, but the source thereof . . . and who or what controls that source, that is, who really owns. As Louis Kelso noted, "Property in every day life is the right of control." (Louis O. Kelso, "Karl Marx, the Almost Capitalist," The Journal of the American Bar Association, March, 1957). This is why Pope Pius XI could declare, whether a socialist State permits people to own or control their own lives or anything else, that is not the issue. It is, rather, that the State thereby claims as its own what belongs only to God: the power to create rights and decide whether or not they can be exercised — "there is no place in [socialism] for true social authority, which rests not on temporal and material advantages but descends from God alone, the Creator and last end of all things." (Quadragesimo Anno, § 119)

Pius XI was responding to people who asked, "But what if Socialism has really been so tempered and modified as to the class struggle and private ownership that there is in it no longer anything to be censured on these points? Has it thereby renounced its contradictory nature to the Christian religion?" (Ibid., § 117) No, it has not. Rather, "Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth." (Ibid.)

That is, by making the State the supreme authority — the "sole intercessor available to the poor," as one enthusiast put it — the Christian (as well as Jewish and Islamic) concept of society as being based on human nature ("Man is by nature a political animal." — Aristotle, The Politics, I.ii) is completely overthrown, and the essence of the natural moral law denied at the most fundamental level. Consequently, "If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist." (Ibid., 120.) The same goes for believers in any faith or philosophy that bases the natural moral law on God's Nature reflected in humanity instead of a private interpretation of God's presumed Will that is actually their own self will projected on to God.

The bottom line? The slavery imposed by dependency on wages and welfare — and thus on the rich and the State — is just as real, and possibly even more debilitating than legal chattel slavery, for the wage and welfare slaves are, in many cases, convinced that they are free.


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