Thursday, October 15, 2015

Three Key Books on Common Sense, V: “One Twist to the Mind”

One of the most offensive and anti-human assertions put forward by John Maynard Keynes is the claim that the State has the power to re-edit the dictionary.  At first glance, Keynes’s claim (made in the opening passages of the work he intended as his magnum opus, his two-volume A Treatise on Money) was simply one more contradiction in a body of work filled with contradictions, half-truths, and baseless assertions.

Keynes: prosperity for all only if restricted to the few.
For example, there is the demonstrably false claim Keynes made in the book that established his reputation as the Greatest Economist Who Ever Lived . . . and which necessarily implied that distributism is an impossible dream:

“The immense accumulations of fixed capital which, to the great benefit of mankind, were built up during the half century before [World War I], could never have come about in a Society where wealth was divided equitably.” (John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), II.iii.)

Viewed objectively, however, and considered as a thesis statement by Keynes to summarize his entire economic theory, Keynes’s assertion that the State has the power to re-edit the dictionary becomes even more bizarre, a blithe declaration of pure moral relativism.  It is the epitome of the positivism Pope Pius XI condemned in his first encyclical in 1922, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio (“On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ”), “There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.” (§ 61)

Yes, we are aware that we used the term “positivism” and Pius XI used the term “modernism.”  Modernism, however, is simply a form of religious positivism, so calm yourself.  Briefly, to oversimplify somewhat, modernism/positivism means violating the first principle of reason (the principle of identity) by changing the meanings of things to suit yourself in whatever way seems expedient to you.  (And, again, yes, we know that positivism has other definitions, but they boil down to that, one way or another.)

So how did Keynes put it? Not forgetting that Keynes derived some of his economic theories from Walter Bagehot, who was influenced by the totalitarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes:

Hobbes: the State is a Mortall God with absolute power.
“It is a peculiar characteristic of money contracts that it is the State or Community not only which enforces delivery, but also which decides what it is that must be delivered as a lawful or customary discharge of a contract which has been concluded in terms of the money-of-account.  The State, therefore, comes in first of all as the authority of law which enforces the payment of the thing which corresponds to the name or description in the contract.  But it comes in doubly when, in addition, it claims the right to determine and declare what thing corresponds to the name, and to vary its declaration from time to time — when, that is to say, it claims the right to re-edit the dictionary.  This right is claimed by all modern States and has been so claimed for some four thousand years at least. It is when this stage in the evolution of money has been reached that Knapp’s Chartalism — the doctrine that money is peculiarly a creation of the State — is fully realized.” (John Maynard Keynes, A Treatise on Money, Volume I: The Pure Theory of Money. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1930, 4.)

In other words, according to Keynes, the State has the right to interfere in any and all contracts, and even create unilateral agreements.  That’s because one of the fine distinctions Keynes failed to note in his statement is that all money is a contract, just as (in a very real sense) all contracts are money.

"Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no": what a concept!
That being the case, Jesus’s injunction, “But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil” (Matt. 5:37) becomes utterly meaningless.  The meaning of words, agreements, free association, private property, even life itself becomes negotiable if the State is powerful enough to step in and start dictating — there’s a reason the totalitarian State is called a “dictatorship” and the State’s mouthpiece is the “dictator.”

Why, however, did Keynes consider the power to re-edit the dictionary and change all contracts and agreements at will so important?  Because (and this is a key point) it is the only way to circumvent the presumed iron bonds of the slavery of past savings . . . assuming that it is otherwise impossible to emancipate humanity from the slavery of past savings, of course. . . .

That is, if past savings is the only source of financing for new capital formation, then the only way to make everyone an owner of capital is to re-edit the dictionary and change what “ownership” means!

The problem is that ownership — private property — along with life and liberty (free association/contract) is a natural right.  That means it’s part of the definition of what it means to be human.  You can’t re-edit the dictionary in any matter touching the natural law without thereby changing the definition of what it means to be human . . . or divine.  Man is no longer man, and God is no longer God.

God created man in His own image, or so Chesterton and Belloc had it.
That didn’t bother Keynes, of course.  He was an atheist and didn’t believe in God, anyway.  The problem for neo-distributists and neo-Chestertonians, however, was that Chesterton and Belloc did believe in God, and were rather specific about what they believed:

·      God is an omniscient and omnipotent infinitely perfect Being,

·      Who created infinitely perfectible humanity in His own image and likeness with free will,

·      Who built the capacity to acquire and develop the natural virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice into human nature,

·      Who infused the capacity to acquire and develop the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity into humanity as an irrevocable free gift, and

·      Who endowed human nature itself (and thus every single human being) with the natural rights of life, liberty, and private property to be able to acquire and develop both natural and supernatural virtue through the free, yet socially determined exercise of those rights.

The obvious problem for Keynes — or anyone else who wanted to try and circumvent the slavery of past savings — is that there is absolutely no room in the Catholic Church’s Aristotelian-Thomism philosophy for re-editing the dictionary.  Since the natural law is based on God’s “image and likeness” reflected in humanity, the natural law cannot be changed without either making God less than God, or humanity other than human.

Can't stay where you are and can't go forward. . . .
Neither Chesterton nor Belloc was willing to do any such thing.  That meant that they were stuck, and could neither stay where they were nor move forward.  They were, essentially, frozen into inactivity by the slavery of past savings.

. . . but only as long as they insisted on accepting that past savings are the only source of financing for new capital formation.  Perhaps the real “tragedy” of Chesterton and Belloc is that, unlike Mortimer Adler, they never met Louis Kelso.  Chesterton died in 1936 when Kelso was beginning to formulate his ideas, and Belloc died in 1953, five years before Kelso and Adler published their mistitled collaboration, The Capitalist Manifesto.

There was another problem as well.  It seems that many neo-distributists and neo-Chestertonians (along with a number of others) did not submit to the constraints imposed by the strict Aristotelian-Thomism of the social teachings of the Catholic Church — and there was a framework ready to hand that appeared to give them everything they thought they wanted.  All it took, as we will see in the next posting in this series, was “one twist to the mind” based on the belief that “if once we will grant [the modern philosopher] this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world.”

Yes — just as allowing Keynes’s one little twist of absolute State power has straightened out the global economy. . . .



peter maurin said...

Regarding Statism...if you recal Smedley Butler and Eisenhower and SuperPac $$$, corporatism dictates to nation states today. Perhaps you need to update the scenarios.

Michael D. Greaney said...

Perhaps you need to stick to the subject, which in this series is how distributism and Catholic social teaching were hijacked by socialism and theosophy. This led directly to today's statism and the ability of the "dictators of money" — who are empowered by their control over past savings — to control the State, cf. the analysis of the solidarist labor economist Goetz Briefs in "The Proletariat: A Challenge to Western Civilization" (1937).

Again, I encourage you to start your own blog, where others can come in and insert diversionary non sequiturs to drag the discussion off topic.