At the end of the previous posting on this subject, we asked the question, “what is the meaning of life within the Just Third Way?” This came up because during their (in)famous 1927 debate, “Do We Agree?” (the answer to which, as Hilaire Belloc pointed out, is “no”), G.B. Shaw claimed that the only thing that mattered is income (i.e., consumption power and material wellbeing), regardless how you get it.
For his part, G.K. Chesterton took the position that it matters a great deal how you meet your consumption needs, that there is more to life than being fat, dumb, and unhappy. As he had previously remarked to Shaw (who stomped out of the room in a rage afterwards), “[Y]ou can hardly expect us to accept your verdict . . . that man was not made to enjoy himself but to read Fabian tracts and listen to University Extension lectures.” (Louis Biancolli, ed., The Book of Great Conversations. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948, 505.)
Consistent with his position that there is more to life than being a good consumer, Chesterton acknowledged that production and consumption must go together; they are two halves of a whole, a sort of economic yin and yang. If you want to consume, you must first have produced, and if you produce, it must be for consumption. That is, you must produce if you want to consume unless you receive charity from others, redistribute the goods of others, or just steal what you need, which is not a rational, common sense way to run an economy.
There are a few difficulties with how Chesterton proposed to bring about a condition of society in which everyone can produce what he consumes and vice versa . . . such as not actually having a plan or a specific proposal. He had the right idea, however, and enough wisdom to know what he did not know. He contented himself with saying it would be a far more human system if ownership of capital were widespread, and if that ownership was sufficient to provide a living income for everyone.
For his part, Shaw knew exactly how to get what he wanted . . . or he thought he did, which amounts to the same thing. Institute socialism, and the Kingdom of God on Earth would be established, even though Shaw thought God is a fantasy. It was a minor detail, not even worth mentioning, that socialism of every size and shape ignores the demands of human dignity and denigrates the human person by reducing everything to material wellbeing (as does capitalism, for that matter), galloping roughshod over the natural law.
To Chesterton, the meaning and purpose of life is to become more fully human — pursuing the good life, as Aristotle put it, achieving genuine happiness by becoming virtuous. As Chesterton genially remarked to Shaw on one occasion when Shaw accused him of living a life of hoggish, alcohol swilling, meat-eating self-indulgence (that is, realizing his personal material wellbeing according to his own lights instead of Shaw’s), there is more to life than just this life. For Chesterton, life is to be lived by adhering to your own standards, not enduring those imposed by others. Whether by politics, religion, or economics, forcing someone to conform to anything against nature or one’s natural rights is wrong.
This binary aspect of human existence is inherent in personalism, as we’ve seen in previous blog postings. Life only makes sense if there is more to it than material wellbeing. There is a spiritual, fully human side that has needs and aspirations. Life is not limited to mere existence and meeting one’s animal needs, as Shaw assumed with his one-track mind.
Contradicting Shaw and other one-track-mind philosophers, personalism is inherently binary, as Wojtyła (John Paul II) explained in his Thomistic personalism. The universe is divided into persons and things. As persons, human beings are both material and spiritual, individuals and members of society, producers and consumers, owners of capital and owners of labor — the list is endless.
We cannot isolate one aspect of human existence as Shaw did and claim it constitutes the whole. That is the essence of heresy, which consists of “picking out” and exaggerating something true to the point where it becomes false. As Hilaire Belloc explained,
Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting scheme by the introduction of a novel denial of some essential part therein. . . . Heresy means, the, the warping of a system by “Exception”: by “Picking out” one part of the structure and implies that the scheme is marred by taking away one part of it, denying one part of it, and either leaving the void unfilled or filling it with some new affirmation. (Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies. Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1991, 2.)
Thus, the Great Reset is not an alien parody of Catholic social teaching and natural law theory. Instead, it is the more or less logical outcome of the New Christianity, the New Things of modernism and socialism.
The point is, whether we are talking processes or people, there are two parts to many key aspects of life. We cannot say to all aspects of life, of course, for then we would be making the binary aspect a single factor, which is a contradiction in terms, and violates the first principle of reason!
Thus, for almost every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, physically or socially. People and things tend to react in a manner consistent with which they are acted on. “For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap.” (Galatians 6:8. There are sixty-one other passages in the Bible referring to such binary relationships.) Water seeks its own level.
If you push someone, he usually pushes back. If you offer something in a transaction, he usually offers something of equal value in exchange. In social life as well as physics, all things not only pursue the good as Aristotle noted in the Nicomachean Ethics, they tend naturally to a balance. The “law of contradiction” and the “law of identity” — the negative and positive statements of the first principle of reason, respectively — are based on this, as are Euclid’s postulates of geometry.
And that leads us into the subject of economic personalism, which we will start to look at in the next posting on this subject.