As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the Aristotelian and Platonic views of reality led to different theories of politics — and this had a significant effect not merely on the direction of the Oxford Movement, but on the fact of the movement itself.
Even though there was a great deal of confusion over what, exactly, “liberalism” might mean, the organizers and participants were more or less agreed that it was something to be resisted. In their opinion it represented a mortal danger to the Church of England . . . even as the movement ignored legitimate liberalism and, as John Henry Newman later admitted, defended another that was illegitimate. As Mary Josephine “Maisie” Ward (1889-1975) noted in her biography of Newman,
It is hardly necessary to say that Newman hated all this. Liberalism was the enemy, in religion primarily, but one spirit ran through it all, and this external activity was only a preliminary to its total triumph: it must be resisted at every point. Of the Revolution in France in 1830 he wrote to Jemima [Newman’s sister — ed.] (August 10) “The French seem to me the most wicked nation on earth . . . and King Charles and his ministers are a set of poltroons for not staying to be shot or guillotined.” Following the success of the Reform Bill [that suppressed the Irish bishoprics — ed.] and Lord Grey’s warnings to the bishops, he wrote to [John William] Bowden (August 20, 1833): “The gift of excommunication will not forever remain unused. If I were a bishop, the first thing I should do would be to excommunicate Lord Grey and half a dozen more, whose names it is almost a shame and a pollution for a Christian to mention.” (Maisie Ward, Young Mr. Newman. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1948, 232-234.)
The legitimate liberalism that was ignored, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger explained nearly two centuries later, was the American type that in its original form as chronicled by Alexis de Tocqueville Ratzinger claimed was “in profound compliance with the faith.” (Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam. New York: Basic Books, 2006, 71.) That is, the human person is sovereign and all rights in civil society emanate from the individual human person. This is Aristotelian, or more accurately Aristotle corrected and developed by Aquinas.
|Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger|
The other type, that the Oxford Movement members viewed as the danger, was the French or European type liberalism that in Ratzinger’s opinion led directly to socialism as well as indifferentism in religion, even as various forms of “the democratic religion” claimed to be restoring religion by bringing back the original message of Jesus. In European or French liberalism, the abstraction of the collective is sovereign and all rights in civil society emanate from the collective to actual human beings, turning them into persons. This is Platonic, even if it is not directly from Plato, and was the type of liberalism targeted by the Oxford Movement.
The problem, of course, was that movement partisans were attempting to defend one form of liberalism from the inroads of another form, and the two different types of liberalism were not all that different, as Newman would eventually realize, much to his shock, even horror. And that brings us to the third type of liberalism, the English type defended by the participants in the Oxford Movement, based on a view of reality that more or less uncomfortably combines the Aristotelian and Platonic political theories.
Three. The bastardized philosophy underpinning the elitist English liberal (capitalist) model asserts in theory or principal that all human beings are created equal and therefore have equal rights, status, and dignity. In practice, however, adherents assume that most people are not fully human, and therefore are necessarily ruled by an élite; the average human being lacks that certain something that prevents him or her from rising to the level of the fully human.
In this framework everyone may have rights, but they must only be exercised as the élite see fit. This easily degenerates into the age-old idea that only members of the élite are fully human, as happened in the “objectivism” of Ayn Rand. It leads inevitably to the claim that only the élite have rights because only they have the power and ability to exercise them . . . and that capitalism, which in Rand’s opinion best embodies objectivism and is based solidly on the English type of liberalism, is the only truly human system — and that, incidentally, excludes pretty much 99.9% of the human race from the category of “fully human.”
We see this graphically illustrated in how the ideas for and justifications of capitalism developed as socialism gained ground as the nineteenth century progressed. We touched on this briefly in a previous posting on this subject, but it is important to emphasize the fact that capitalism — in common with socialism — derives from the belief that new capital cannot be financed without first cutting consumption and accumulating that which is not consumed as money savings.
In the eighteenth century the “new” methods of finance (actually age-old but reinvented with the rebirth of commercial/mercantile banking and the development of central banking) combined with the ideas about the natural law that arose during the fifteenth century, viz., the shift from the “Intellect” (reason) to the “Will” (faith) as the basis of the natural law. This in turn led to a change in the understanding of private property as a natural right.
|William of Ockham: reliance on faith alone|
As the justification ran, since capital presumably cannot be financed without restricting consumption, and since only a wealthy élite presumably has the capacity to finance new capital, only that same wealthy élite should or even can own capital. Obviously, since in this line of reasoning only the wealthy élite have the capacity to own capital, it logically follows that the propertyless masses do not have the natural capacity or right to own capital.
The fact that these conclusions flatly contradict what it means for something to be true was not a problem. What took care of any and all contradictions was the change from the Intellect to the Will as the basis of the natural law. This allowed a shift from reason to faith as the sole determinant of truth (replacing reason completed and enlightened by faith and faith guided by reason) — for a reliance on “pure reason” is, ironically, as faith-based as the “faith alone” position.
Within the “faith alone” framework, natural rights such as life, liberty, and private property are no longer universally applicable, that is, absolute or inherent in every human being. Who has rights is not determined by nature, but by power — might makes right.
Whether a particular individual or group has rights becomes a matter of political expedience or prudence. Demonstrating why it is so easy for capitalism and socialism to merge in the Servile State, it does not matter whether the élite making the determination as to who has rights is public or private, that is, whether the élite is capitalist or socialist, as long as they have power and others do not.
As a result, most people remain propertyless. Ultimately, the quarrel between capitalism and socialism is not whether private property is to be abolished. As Karl Marx pointed out in The Communist Manifesto, that question is moot for most people:
We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man's own labor, which property is alleged to be the ground work of all personal freedom, activity and independence.
Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of the petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying it daily.
Obviously, this in theory begs the question, for it assumes that “private property” means different things depending on the circumstances of the owner. It also necessarily implies that there are different kinds of human beings, depending on their circumstances, some of which have the right to own, and others who do not.
|Keynes: the capitalist socialist|
In practice, of course, such trivial matters as inconsistency and contradicting the first principle of reason are swallowed up in the greater contradiction that once private property in anything is made conditional, it ceases to be a natural right and is abolished for everyone, regardless of circumstances . . . unless one has the power to retain it. Capitalism and communism thus end up saying opposite things but doing exactly the same thing! As far as those in power are concerned, the real issue is not whether the élite that controls property is nominally private or public. Who cares whether you’re called comrade or capitalist? The only thing that matters is having power.
This was the background against which the Oxford Movement began and the environment within which it flourished for a time until brought down by the very establishment it tried to defend. As the nineteenth century wore on, it became increasingly evident that the great conflict was not between capitalism and socialism, but between a system of concentrated power and one in which power is widely diffused. That is why, for example, the political theories of Walter Bagehot would sound very socialist if you didn’t already know they were capitalist . . . and that Bagehot’s theories of political economy are the basis of Keynesian economics. . . .