Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Future Schacht, II: Philosophical Prelude to the Great War


At the end of the nineteenth century, the situations of State and Church in Europe and the United States were deteriorating rapidly.  Despite all that popes or presidents could do, the social order was in terrible danger, and for the same reason: loss of personal empowerment through the growing concentration of capital ownership in fewer and fewer hands, and an ever-increasing reliance on the wage system.
Herbert Knox Smith
This meant that efforts to restore orthodoxy in religion and the vision of America’s founders in politics were built on a very unstable foundation.  In common with the rest of the world, America was becoming a society in which most people were cut off from the possibility of becoming owners of capital.  As capital became more productive than labor, people who did not own capital were denied the usual means to lead productive, and thus virtuous lives, whether in civil or religious society.[1]
As Herbert Knox Smith, Theodore Roosevelt’s Commissioner of Corporations, described the political and social situation in words that applied equally well to both Church and State,
In 1900 the surface of American life was, as it were, hardening, was growing less plastic. Dangerous division lines were opening from the pressures beneath, splitting the unity of the nation. The great trust movement was in full force, sweeping into a few hands special industrial privileges, the control of natural resources, and decisive advantages in transportation.  Individual opportunity and the open highways of commerce were narrowing. Great corporations were considering themselves above the law, with the cynical but increasing concurrence of the public. A sinister atmosphere was gathering, menacing to American initiative and American ideals.
These recognized inequalities, with the twisted standards which they implied, were moving strongly toward national disunity — that profound disunity which in a democratic people must result from confessed differences in privilege and opportunity.[2]
Theodore Roosevelt
In short, the divide between the propertied and the propertyless was growing.  If significant changes were not introduced into the system, the stage would be set for much greater problems in the future.
Without access to capital ownership — and the means to acquire that ownership — ordinary people would continue to lose power.  State bureaucrats and the wealthy would continue to gain power at the expense of the people.
The whole spirit and direction of the country seemed different.  As G.K. Chesterton — a correspondent of Roosevelt — observed,
In the case of America, indeed, a warning to this effect is instant and essential.  America, of course, like every other human thing, can in spiritual sense live or die as much as it chooses.  But at the present moment the matter which America has very seriously to consider is not how near it is to its birth and beginning, but how near it may be to its end.  It is only a verbal question whether the American civilization is young; it may become a very practical and urgent question whether it is dying.[3]
If the situation in the United States was bad, however, that in France was worse.  With no true democratic tradition on which to draw, and with a government actively hostile to a reforming Church that would put power back into the hands of ordinary people and diminish the role of the State, France was fast approaching political and religious chaos.
David Émile Durkheim
The situation was exacerbated by new political theories derived from socialist and New Age concepts instead of the Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy and principles of Roman law that had long provided the foundation for western civilization.  Of these, perhaps the most influential in both politics and religion was the thought of the French sociologist David Émile Durkheim.
Durkheim’s influence was extended principally through what he called solidarism, which he construed as a type of secular “religion without God.”[4]  Durkheim’s solidarism was an “entirely positivist[5] form of corporatism, relying on expanded State power.  It greatly influenced modernist thought, and spread rapidly throughout Europe.
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[1] Cf. Politics, 1254a.
[2] Herbert Knox Smith, “The Great Progressive,” Foreword to Theodore Roosevelt, Social Justice and Popular Rule: Essays, Addresses, and Public Statements Relating to the Progressive Movement (1910-1916). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926, xi.
[3] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics.  New York: Simon & Brown, 2011, 177.
[4] Cf. Fulton J. Sheen, Religion Without God.  New York: Garden City, 1954.
[5] Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1954, 413.

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