As we saw in the previous posting on this subject — the claim that modern society is going to Hell — we looked into three recent books that went into the subject in some depth. These were Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option (2017), Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes (2017), and Archbishop Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land (2017). We identified what we believe to be the “cause behind the cause” of the problems on which the three authors focus.
That original cause is — in our opinion — the disconnection of the ordinary person from the means to be productive as technology advanced and displaced human labor from the production process. This led first to capitalism, and then to socialism in reaction as people became increasingly desperate at the failure of traditional politics and religion to reconnect them to the most basic and fundamental level of human needs, that of meeting one’s material requirements through one’s own efforts.
Although the material side of human life is the “lowest,” it is also the most immediate. Being the foundation (as it were) of everything else, how people meet their basic animal needs must be consistent with human nature (and thus the natural law), or how they meet “higher” needs will either be flawed to some degree, or — if meeting basic needs is seen as an end in itself — be completely neglected.
If, however, the principles of natural law are violated or ignored at the most basic level, how — or if — people acquire and develop virtue will also be limited, flawed, or vice will be substituted for virtue. People will either start inventing new political philosophies and religions to conform to their limited or redefined concept of what it means to be human or sink into crude materialism. This is due to the fact that both capitalism and socialism strip ordinary people of ownership and force them into some version of the wage system as their sole source of income.
Capitalism distorts human nature by limiting how most people can be productive by limiting private property in capital to a relatively small élite. This all but ensures that most people will be cut off from an important aspect of acquiring and developing virtue: ownership of capital, the “lowest” but most urgent of the key triad of natural rights of life, liberty, and private property.
|"New Age" = non-Christian modernism, the synthesis of all nuttiness.|
Capitalism in general seeks to preserve (more or less) traditional political and religious institutions. Given that the capitalist system cuts most people off from an important aspect of human nature, however, institutions (especially political and religious institutions) generally go into “free fall.” They often only manage to preserve outward forms while gutting the substance. Society degenerates, but the decay can be (and often is) ignored or dismissed until the situation can seem out of control.
Fundamental changes in institutions under capitalism are taken as temporary phases in the progress of humanity, deplorable, to be sure, but matters will improve . . . until it becomes obvious that they will not, at least as matters stand. At that point people begin turning to socialism, modernism, and the New Age to seek solutions and answers to life’s difficulties.
In common with modernism and New Age thought, socialism seeks to change human nature completely. The idea often is either to make the material betterment of humanity in general an end in and of itself, or to bypass the material altogether as trivial or unimportant on the way to a high level of consciousness or being. In either case, the natural law is either redefined or simply rejected as unimportant.
|Spiritual but not religious.|
Thus, despite the fact that a focus on the purely material side of life seems the exact opposite of an obsession with the purely spiritual side of life to those who reject the human person’s “binary” nature as being both spiritual and material, both come to the same conclusion. That is, the natural rights of anyone may either be violated or taken away for the greater good, however “greater good” happens to be defined by those in power.
Consequently, to the materialist, natural rights of life, liberty, and private property inhering in individuals interfere in achieving material wellbeing for all. To the spiritualist (meaning someone who focuses exclusively on the spiritual side of life, not a Ouija board enthusiast . . . necessarily), a person’s insistence on life, liberty, and private property get in the way of attaining higher levels of being.
Under socialism, modernism, and New Age thought, then, fundamental and substantial changes in traditional political and religious institutions are not merely accepted, but actively sought. Change for the sake of change becomes itself a virtue, as it shakes people up, keeps them off-balance, and disconnects them from any remaining vestiges of human nature.
From a sociological standpoint, then, the only advantage capitalism has over socialism, modernism, and the New Age is that the institutional degeneration and descent into social chaos is somewhat slower and less immediately intrusive on family and individual life. This is why, for example, the Catholic Church harshly criticizes capitalism, but condemns socialism and modernism outright.
|Hilaire Belloc: warned of the Servile State|
Unfortunately, as complex as the problems of capitalism and socialism are taken separately, the situation becomes almost incoherent when capitalism and socialism combine into what Hilaire Belloc called “the Servile State.” It becomes surreal when, as the result of advancing technology and the growing propertylessness of ordinary people, governments shift from forcing people into the wage system as the only source of income, to desperately trying to create enough jobs to satisfy people’s need for income.
The effort to counter the dehumanizing effects of capitalism and socialism and restore the natural law to its primacy of place in human life and society led to the development of social ethics as a discrete field of study in philosophy. Under the heading of “social justice,” an attempt was made to counter the propertylessness of the great mass of people by advocating a return to sound moral principles of the natural law and, of course, widespread capital ownership so that ordinary people could be empowered both to resist the “new things” of the modern world and acquire and develop virtue in a manner consistent with human nature.
There were, however, two serious problems with the program. One, “social justice” was construed as a principle instead of a virtue. That meant the best that could be done was to add a good intention to benefit the common good to the practice of individual virtue.
This, however, was something that should have been done, anyway. When doing what benefits one’s self, it is clearly not virtuous to seek to harm other individuals, groups, or the institutions of the common good. The message people received, therefore, was that if society still remained in chaos and conditions continued to worsen, other people were at fault because they were not virtuous, virtuous people were not being sufficiently virtuous, or ungodly persons were preventing the return to a virtuous society.
|Anyone who disagrees with you on anything.|
Consequently, anyone viewed as being at fault for whatever reason was demonized (as the Nazis did with the Jews, the communists did with reactionaries, the conservatives did with liberals, the liberals did with conservatives, and so on, ad nauseam), or people decided society was hopelessly corrupt and nothing could be done. The realization that social justice is not merely a principle, but an actual virtue did not occur to anyone. Social justice became a euphemism for socialism.
Even if social justice had been recognized as a “particular virtue,” however, there was still a problem. That was, living a life of virtue, “the good life,” requires an adequate capital stake. Human labor in and of itself is inadequate even to maintain a bare subsistence except in the most conducive environment and then only if virtually every waking moment is spent gathering food. Some technology is required to rise above bare subsistence, even if it is only a rock or a stick. Human beings are by nature toolmakers and require technology to make life worth living.
The problem, as might be expected, is that as technology advanced, it became more costly than most people could afford. People were displaced from their livelihoods by machinery and were unable to replace the lost productive capacity by owning the machines that replaced them.
This, as might be expected, gave socialism as well as modernism and New Age thought a tremendous boost. People desperate for meaning and not finding it in traditional political and religious institutions sought elsewhere for principles to guide individual, social, family, and religious life. Traditional morality rapidly became a thing of the past as institutions conforming to the principles of natural law — “structures of virtue” — were displaced and replaced with what could only be described as “structures of sin.”
|"What? So many Christians for one lion?"|
Not that anyone was actually forced to become sinful. There is always a choice, even if the choice is martyrdom. The problem is that a choice between being killed or living in a way that inhibits or prevents full human development (i.e., virtue — “human-ness”) is hardly pleasant, or even tolerable.
Further, as the social environment became increasingly alien, people turned more and more to alternative political theories and spiritualities in an increasingly futile effort to find some meaning to existence. The real meaning and purpose of life, to become more fully human by acquiring and developing virtue and so fitting one’s self for one’s final end, became something to be ridiculed and mocked, when any notice was taken of it in the first place.
What seems a familiar litany of problems of the modern world (far too many to list) took — or tried to take — the place of virtue. Political, social, religious, and family life decayed. The problem was what to do about it.#30#