The Peasantry of the Future

In answer to the question, “What do the poor want?” Simone Weil replied “They want you to look at them.” I take Simone's answer to mean we must look at this poor person or that poor village, and see them in their actual situation. There are any number of people, of various political persuasions, willing to look at “the poor” and at “poverty.” They rarely look at actual poor people, which is just as well since they would not like what they see; what they would see are people with a very different set of values, values that are incompatible with the modern world. This is especially true of the poor peasant. Capitalist and communist alike are willing to do all in their power to ensure that the peasant shall not be poor, but only on the condition that he shall not be a peasant. They both promise to give him valuable things if only he will surrender his values.

This is certainly true of the Quechua-speaking people of the Peruvian highlands, descendents of the Inca empire but for centuries poor peasants living on the margins of the dominant Spanish culture. Having little to steal, Lima had little interest in them. And so they continued in their peasant ways on marginal lands in the mountains.

There were some willing to help. The Marxists, for example. They were more than willing to “improve” the lot of the peasant if only the peasant would become the new Marxist Man. This man had his roots not in the village, but in the National University of San Cristobal with a Maoist philosophy professor , Abimael Guzman, who founded the Sendero Luminoso, “The Shining Path.” The Senderistas unleashed a bloody civil war in Peru that ran from 1980 thru 1992, and brought Peru to the brink of collapse. Although there was some initial sympathy for the rebels, their antipathy to peasant values and their murderous violence against any who resisted, or were even suspected of resistance lost them any support. The villages were caught in between the rebels and the army, with each side abusing and murdering those whom they merely suspected of sympathy with the other side.

The capitalists of Peru were also willing to help, so long as the peasants know their place, that place generally being cheap labor and a marginal existence in the cities. More sophisticated capitalists, like the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto proposed bringing the poor into the modern world by modernizing their property rights. In his popular book, The Mystery of Capital; Why Capitalism Works in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, DeSoto noted the vast amount of capital that the “poor” have in land, tools, and cash, an amount that exceeds the value of the Lima Stock Exchange. However, these values cannot be used as “capital” because the tenures are not formally recognized in law. DeSoto's solution is to speed up the process of land registration and convert all the titles into Lockean property which can then be used as capital.

The problem is that DeSoto does not recognize the complexity of village titles, which are a combination of communal and family plots. Even the family plots, however, are held through communal acknowledgment of the individual rights. The land is not so much held by the family as for the family. These complex community arrangements pose some problem for a purely individualistic notion of property. Adam Webb notes that the conversion of communal land into individualistic property

Opens up a fault line between those who want to get along and those who want to get ahead. Modern society is arranged to benefit the shrewd and competitive, those who can figure out how to manipulate the new rules of a larger society to their own advantage.

The result is likely to be what they have always been: a few large landowners and a mass of men without property, not to mention the complete destruction of community values.

Adam Webb has looked at the question of values. His first book, Beyond the Global Culture Wars was a masterful look at the clash of values that underlies our current conflicts with other cultures. In his new book, A Path of Our Own; An Andean Village and Tomorrow's Economy of Values, Webb, a Harvard-trained sociologist, takes the trouble to actually look at an actual village (Pomatambo in the Peruvian highlands) and actually bothered to get to know the people and find out what they want.

We cannot make the mistake of romanticizing the poverty of the villages. Their attachment to values does not preclude a desire for indoor plumbing and electricity. This requires development. But a development that destroys the values of the community is not likely to be real development at all. Indeed, economics cannot be divorced from values, nor efficiency from ethics. Those who sacrifice ethics for “efficiency” will discover that they have created an economy with neither, an economy destined to collapse, and that right soon. Indeed, that is what we are witnessing today. We are required by political correctness to simultaneously proclaim the efficiency of the market and avert our eyes from the massive bailouts and subsidies. But these are nothing new; they are part and parcel of the history of capitalism, as witnessed by the fact that in 1776, Adam Smith devoted 3/4ths of The Wealth of Nations to detailing the incestuous relationship between business and government. The situation has not noticeably improved since Smith's day. The bailout is a rather regular and recurring feature of capitalism, yet each time we are supposed to be shocked, shocked, and reaffirm our belief in the unaided market alone.

In formulating his solutions, Adam Webb draws on Western agrarians and distributists like Wendall Barry, Chesterton, Belloc, Schumacher, and the Mondragón experience, as well as Eastern distributists like Liang Shuming and Mohandas Ghandi. But Webb does fault these thinkers as being too devoted to place and particularity to the detriment of the universally held values that each of these particular places expresses. As he puts it:

The ethos of traditional peasant life is one of no-nonsense self-reliance, austere morality, self-command amid adversity, duty towards kin and neighbors, generosity, hospitality, participation, and the anchoring of one's livelihood in an atmosphere of decency and fairness. These virtues have been universally valued among peasant folk all over the world. The peasant community and its customs reflected such virtues and created the conditions for people to exercise them.

It is this universality of values that Webb sees as the basis for forming a counterweight to the individualistic (and highly subsidized) globalization that tends to destroy these values. His proposals for capitalizing the resources of the village, both at the communal and individual level, provides for both community and individual enterprises to flourish in an atmosphere that preserves rather than destroys value. Every system of values must have its economic and political expression in order to survive as a living entity, rather than as a mere cultural curiosity. The importance of this task cannot be underestimated.

Half of the world's population are still peasants. We normally conceive of the task of development as one of rescuing that half of the world from its poverty. But we should stand this viewpoint on its head: the real task is one of rescuing that half of the population who are still capitalists—or trying to be—from their unworkable and unsustainable materialism. It is not the capitalist who will rescue the peasant, but the peasant who stands ready to rescue the world from its no-longer viable capitalism.

Adam Webb has fulfilled Simone Weil's requirement that one actually look at the poor. He has done extensive work in their villages, and actually listened to what they actually wanted. The result is a remarkable book and a remarkable plan, one that recognizes both the values of communities and the modern potential of building on those values. An economy without values has no future (a point which I feel confident that Benedict XVI will make next week in his new encyclical), and no bailout of whatever size can rescue it. Rather, it will have to be rescued by those who still hold the values upon which a viable economy can be built.

52 comments:

Dave Chirico Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 4:09:00 PM CDT  

Very well done. How do we keep the pendulum from swinging back and forth between Marxism and this unsustainable materialism- especially when both groups so loath peasantry and real work?

Seraphim Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 5:18:00 PM CDT  

"It is not the capitalist who will rescue the peasant, but the peasant who stands ready to rescue the world from its no-longer viable capitalism."

Much though I admit capitalism has its social downsides, this statement strikes me as unadulterated hypocrisy. Were the author a peasant -- indeed, were all the world peasants, as the author suggests -- he would have neither the luxury of advocating his views (seeing as he'd be trying to keep from starving), nor the technology to disseminate them (seeing as his nation would have neither the standard of living nor the manufacturing and research capability to produce computers etc.).

I have spent most of my childhood and adulthood on a working ranch in extreme rural Mexico. I have lived amongst peasantry in the most brutally real sense. I can unequivocally state that the author unjustly romanticizes peasant agrarianism, and severely overestimates the morality of the agrarian community.

Peasantry is not self-reliant or self-commanding; it is beholden to the arbitrary whims of weather, land, seasons, market, disease, and the list goes on.

Peasantry is not austerely moral; it is subject to the most backward impulses of humanity. The peasantry in rural Mexico keep their women in brutal oppression, practice bestiality as often as not, and subject themselves to rampant theft and alcoholism.

Peasantry is not dutiful toward kin and neighbor; adultery is rampant in the communities, and paychecks are generally boozed away at the local cantina rather than spent on such "trivialities" as clothes for a man's own children.

The author unconsciously reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of anti-capitalist distributism/agrarianism when he names its proponents: Belloc, Berry, Chesterton, Gandhi, Schumacher... all well-off intellectuals from predominantly white educations and backgrounds, and ironically, virtually none of which actually ever had to live the life of the average world peasant.

The reason one never sees a Mexican peasant with a third-grade education holding rallies in favor of agrarianism or distributism is because these supposedly ideals of community values and good living intuitively (and explicitly) understand that such economic models generate neither the happiness nor the morality nor the material benefits that its effete ivory-tower proponents claim.

If the peasant lives such a simple and glorious life, why do you think *real-life* peasants almost universally desire the opportunities and standard of living afforded by a capitalist economy?

Dave Chirico Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 7:26:00 PM CDT  

Seraphim says,

"The author unconsciously reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of anti-capitalist distributism/agrarianism when he names its proponents: Belloc, Berry, Chesterton, Gandhi, Schumacher... all well-off intellectuals from predominantly white educations and backgrounds, and ironically, virtually none of which actually ever had to live the life of the average world peasant."


"intellectual bankruptcy" Really Seraphim? Must be nice to use stereotyping to avoid arguing on the merits. Just point out that an author is a white, educated American and they must be intellectually bankrupt hypocrites incapable of understanding other cultures. I can see Wendell Berry now sitting atop his ivory tower contemplating his navel, oh wait, he lives in rural Kentucky and farms with horses- quite the hypocrite.

Seraphim Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 8:07:00 PM CDT  

Take my remarks in context. What I'm saying is that none of the abovementioned pro-agrarian/pro-distributist philosophers were born or raised into *real* peasantry of the half-the-world-population type described by the author.

In addition -- with the *possibly* arguable exception of Gandhi -- none of them *live(d)* like the real peasantry, either. e.g., Wendell Berry may have a horse farm, but he doesn't do subsistence farming, and he makes a comfy living off entirely non-agrarian activities.

As such, all I'm pointing out is that the individuals known for advocating agrarianism or distributism against capitalism are often the individuals who have benefited most from capitalist societies, and equally often have never walked the talk in any meaningful way.

A peasant from the Balkans",  Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 10:28:00 PM CDT  

"Peasantry is not austerely moral; it is subject to the most backward impulses of humanity. The peasantry in rural Mexico keep their women in brutal oppression, practice bestiality as often as not, and subject themselves to rampant theft and alcoholism."

Seraphim, I need to remind you that the grandfathers of these "beasts" died to save Catholicism in Mexico fighting against the anti-catholic regime of the Freemason Plutarcho Elias Calles during the Cristero War. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9099981933085312554
Probably you lived as a proletarian, waged slave among the peasantry, or as a tourist or a rich Yankee. And the "real" peasantry you are talking about is not the peasantry of Chesterton and Berry. It is the product of social and economic engineering by socialist atheists and capitalist oligarchs and "free market" policies
When the peasants had the chance to be in power - like in Eastern-Europe in the 20s - their Distributist agrarian democracy embraced republicanism, democracy and the agrarian governments sought decentralized, localist government while being the least affected by nationalism (in interwar Europe). G.K. Chesterton wrote: "in a sort of awful silence the peasantries have fought one vast and voiceless pitched battle with Bolshevism and its twin brother, which is Big Business and the peasantries have won...What has happened in Europe since war (World War I)has been a vast victory for the peasant, and therefore a vast defeat for the communists and the capitalists"
The peasantry of the future need to be again like the peasantry of the past:a free peasantry master of its land.

A peasant from the Balkans,  Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 10:45:00 PM CDT  

Cristero War
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9099981933085312554

Seraphim Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 11:06:00 PM CDT  

PftB:

First off, I'm neither a proletarian, wage slave, tourist, or rich Yankee. I'm a landed middle-class Mexican citizen. Now to your remarks.

There certainly are noble impulses in all societies, and I do not mean to diminish the legitimate contributions the peasantry of Mexico has made in history (although as for saving Catholicism et al., that's somewhat overstating the case, and the Mexican intelligentsia also fought and died for that cause).

However, the author of this article puts forth an idea which is simply not true: That modern peasantry -- defined by the author as half the world population, and certainly including the Mexican peasantry I describe -- is morally superior to its industrial societal counterparts.

There are certainly noble values to be found in tight-knit agrarian communities; but there is also often repression, bigotry, closed-mindedness, barbarism, superstition, and a whole host of other problems.

On the other side of the coin, there are certainly corrupt values in industrial society: greed, materialism, isolation, and so on. However, one also finds values less common in agrarian communities: open-mindedness, organization, outreach to other cultures and ways of thinking, heightened regard for the status of minorities, etc.

The point I'm trying to make is that there is no Utopia, no Shambhala, no Eden. No society exists -- or has existed -- that has truly made people good and brought the Kingdom of God to earth. For the most part, different eras simply trade one set of virtues (e.g., piety, simplicity) for another (e.g., liberty, egalitarianism, justice), and trade one set of evils (e.g. racism, ethnocentrism, imperialism, misogynism) for another set of evils (e.g. greed, relativism, depersonalization).

I'm favorable to American federalism -- that is, capitalism under a strong institutional rule of law -- not because I think it results in a perfectly virtuous society (it doesn't), but because it gives people the opportunities and means to live more or less in a manner of their choosing... be it playing at philosopher-farmer like Wendell Berry, or building monasteries, or living in a huge mansion with a personal chef. Under the American system, you are permitted to go and work wherever you can prosper, however much you want to prosper, be it eking out an existence as a beggar on the street or working 100 hours a week for a ridiculous salary as an attorney. The system makes no choices for you.

As an Orthodox Christian, I believe in absolute free will, and thus I believe that a good society leaves people to make their own lifestyle choices, for good or evil. The American system permits this, as evidenced by the fact that both Wendell Berry and Bill Gates live and work quite comfortably in the USA. Distributism and enforced agrarianism do not permit such flexibility, nor do they have the developmental or industrial institutional strength to advance technology such as to make such options available. Look at history -- the institutions that have endured and prospered to give their citizens these options are all distinctly capitalistic in nature.

Peace!

Dave Chirico Friday, July 3, 2009 at 1:21:00 AM CDT  

I think Seraphim has too narrow a definition of peasant (as our Balkan friend has pointed out). It seems he thinks that all peasants are dirt poor- half starving-illiterate beasts, and when you point out a man who is educated, but still farms with horses without the aid of tractors, grows a majority of his own food (a successful peasant) -that's someone "playing farmer". Is there no successful peasant?

Maybe the author makes too broad a brush stroke on the morality of peasant culture, but Pearl Buck made similar comments about the wonderful peasants in China when she lived there for most of her life. And it sounds like Adam Webb got to know these people pretty well. I'm interested enough to read his book.

You're right, there certainly are problems in each society, and I don't recall the author calling or saying peasant life is free from problems. Simply in a that of communism vs capitalism vs peasant, the new peasant is the most sustainable.

Modern America has given us lots of gadgets and lots of material possession, but its not sustainable. Your endless pursuit of technology (which is a borderline utopian) will come to an end unless drastically changed. It will take 3 earths to provide this standard of living for much longer, especially as China reaches for it. Its a facade. You're ignoring pollution, federal subsidies that keep food cheap, hundred of billions in bailout money, destruction of genetic diversity, toxic waste, nuclear waste, mercury poisoning etc. Should we have the freedom to pollute the planet? Should our subsidized corn/soybean be shipped to other countries putting peasants out of work in the name of "free trade". Should multinational corporations be able to build swine growing facilities in Mexico that would be illegal in the US and then ship that pork here under NAFTA? Putting US pork producers who are responsible and don't pollute out of business? Is that the freedom you are talking about? Where is your "strong institutional rule of law?" to protect the peasant from these abuses?-or would that be considered "forced agrarianism"?

I think Patriarch Bartholomew I said correctly, "Unfortunately, though globalization may begin as a means of bringing the peoples of the world together as brothers and sisters, it tends to turn into a means of expanding economic dominance of the financial giants even over peoples to whom access was previously denied as a result of national borders and cultural barriers"

And finally he said-on Earth day June 1997,
"Our Church supports an attitude of thanksgiving toward creation rather than an attitude of egoism that results in abuse of the natural resources and life of the world. It condemns greed, avarice, limitless aquisition, and uncritical consumerism, which sometimes reach the point of insanity.
In contrast, we can look to the luminous examples of the saints, who respected life and humanity, who befriended the animals and the birds, who positively influenced their environment and community, and who lived with simplicity and self-sufficiency.
Therefore, we call upon everyone-government officials, clergymen, educators, artists and journalists-to work together in withstanding the captivity of overconsumption. 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and no longer submit to any yoke of slavery".

Seraphim Friday, July 3, 2009 at 2:39:00 AM CDT  

Straw man, Dave. Everybody agrees the present system is often abused. If you define "new peasant" as opposing abuses of the current system, then I guess I'm all for "new peasant" (although I'm sad to see you roll out the long-discredited trope of 'technology is the enemy of the earth').

Or not. Unfortunately, the distributist/agrarianist, rather than opposing abuses of any kind, simply trades one form of abuse for another: abusive globalism for abusive protectionism, unjustified corporate tax breaks for unjustifiable corporate taxes, etc.

As far as defining peasants, I'm just going by the author's definition, which is the half of the world that's still largely agrarian and un-capitalist. Relatively successful folks like Wendell Berry are rare, dramatic exceptions to the rule. And again, even though Berry is something of a Luddite, he still depends to a ridiculous degree on the fruits of industrialization and capitalism: typewriter to write his books, car to get around, the vast centralization of publishing and marketing to distribute his books, etc. This is not peasantry as envisioned by this artcle, nor peasantry as lived by billions of people today.

re: Pearl Buck and Adam Webb on the wonderfulness of peasants... as I said earlier, there's good and bad in every society. My liberal friends at the American Constitution Society are some of the most decent, upright, honest, hardworking, self-sacrificing, etc., out of all people I've ever known -- at least as compelling as Pearl Buck's Chinese friends.

And yet we both intuitively realize it'd be sheer folly on my part to assert that utopia is a gang of left-leaning law students. Virtue is found in every color, class, nation, religion, and ideology -- and in surprisingly equal measure among them. There is great danger in romanticizing a certain group merely because some are decent folk.

So I reiterate: There are decent peasants and evil peasants. There are decent capitalists and evil capitalists. The existence of decent peasants does not mean we should make all men into peasantry. The existence of evil capitalists does not mean we should overthrow the capitalist system.

To quickly sum up:

1. Capitalism is not a perfect system.

2. There are abuses within capitalism which should be opposed and minimized.

3. Nevertheless, capitalism and industrialization have dramatically increased the efficiency of production and ability of individuals to choose their own course in life.

4. Agrarians and distributists ironically protest capitalism at the same time as they ignore how dependent they are on its fruits -- agrarians and distributists in truly peonic societies are rare as atheists in foxholes.

5. Romantic utopianism aside, peasants are not inherently possessed of 'ascetic morality' above and beyond the world average. Peasants and capitalists equally run the full spectrum of humanity.

6. It is immoral to coercively impose one's vision of "the good life" on a populace. See: Communism.

7. Utopia doesn't exist and never will. Reasonable individuals and faiths differ on what specifically constitutes "the good life" -- be it monasticism, plantation owning, a penthouse in the big city, etc.

8. Thus, the best society is that which provides the greatest breadth of opportunity to its citizens. If they want to farm, they should be able to. If they want to earn wages in unionized manufacturing, they should be allowed to do so. If they want to manage a megacorporation, they should be able to do that.

9. Out of all demonstrably viable economic systems, capitalism is therefore the best for society, due to the superior breadth and depth of options it gives its citizens.

10. Distributism and agrarianism are therefore inferior economic systems because they attempt to shoehorn the lives of citizens into a given model preconceived as "moral" -- and thus end up being merely more insidious variants on the theme of Big Brother.

And with that, I'm out of the discussion. Thanks to all the prior commentators for ther views.

Peasant from the Balkans,  Friday, July 3, 2009 at 2:40:00 AM CDT  

"As an Orthodox Christian, I believe in absolute free will, and thus I believe that a good society leaves people to make their own lifestyle choices, for good or evil. "

Seraphim, I'm an Eastern Orthodox and "the absolute free will" sounds to me more libertarian than Orthodox. I think a peasant in the Balkans couldn't care less about "lifestyle choices" and "capitalism under strong institutional rule of law". These are concepts valid for US at this moment but not for the Balkans (for instance) with their informal economies. Distributism takes into account the local traditions, good or bad and people are happy with it. Enforced distributism? Where? In Emilia-Romagna? Tuscany, Mondragon? I haven't heard of any sweatshops, maquiladora or Distributist police preparing some FEMA camps over there. As to your statement that the system makes no choices for us is ridiculous, almost a "propaganda statement". As a good capitalist, I wish to start a bakery from home and a vegetable garden in front of my house. Can I? NO, because I violate the Homeowners Association rules, the County codes and regulation, Federal Safety rules etc., etc. Any peasant in Bulgaria, Romania, Mexico or Patagonia can bake some stuff and sell to his neighbors - If I do that, I go to jail. If you feel very great under capitalism, good for you - but this system is an enforced superfluous eccentricity in most parts of the world.

Peregrinus_PF Friday, July 3, 2009 at 9:02:00 AM CDT  

You need to add Twitter capability to this site. This, along with other posting, would be something I would love to Tweet.

John Médaille Friday, July 3, 2009 at 9:17:00 AM CDT  

Peregrinus, I have no idea how to do that, or even what that means.

Peregrinus_PF Friday, July 3, 2009 at 9:47:00 AM CDT  

I have been Tweeting for less than a week myself. However, my blog provider (Wordpress based)has a widget which allows me, or someone else, to Tweet any of my postings to Twitter, Facebook, and a number of other sites. I have had it on there for about a month.

I think blogger/blogspot has the same capabilities but I do not blog there.

Seraphim Friday, July 3, 2009 at 11:03:00 AM CDT  

PftB: You raise two very important points, so I'll indulge in one last reply.

1. First of all, absolute free will, the idea that the will is always initially free to choose any of the available alternatives, is indispensable to Orthodox doctrine. To be sure, after a lengthy process of addiction to the passions, the will may voluntarily give up a portion of its autonomy, but even this is ultimately a result of the exercise of free will. Without absolute free will, the orthodox conception of the Mother of God crumbles, since the Orthodox believe she was entirely sinless by choice rather than by some unique cleansing grace given only to her in all history. For an in-depth discussion on free will and its implications, I'd refer you to the Philokalia, Elder Sophrony, St. Dorotheos, and similar monastic philosophical sources. Suffice it to say it's inherent to Orthodoxy and *not* a libertarian idea.

2. I think you're projecting your own conceptions onto your example of the Balkans. If a Bulgarian peasant wants to become a great attorney, he will have a much harder time of it than if he were born in the rural United States. If a Serbian peasant wants to become a nuclear scientist, he will have a much harder time in Serbia than in the United States. If an Albanian peasant wants to become president of a multinational corporation, it will be thousands of times more difficult in Albania than in the USA.

So the system, because of its inferior rule of law and inferior economy, strongly pressures the peasant to remain a peasant rather than letting him explore what he could achieve. This is why you see so many Serbians, Bulgarians, Albanians, etc. go from their home countries to the United States to pursue their dreams, and why you see very few people from the United States go to the Balkans to pursue theirs.

3. Many of the restraints on business you mention in the bakery example are actually rather anti-capitalistic. I hope you noticed in my previous reply that I'm arguing *against* warping and abusing of capitalism. So we're in agreement that people should have more freedom to live in a manner of their choosing, but your point does nothing to diminish capitalism as a system -- quite the opposite.

And note that, even if you can't set up a stand on your front lawn to start a bakery, there's nothing institutionally that prohibits you from saving up a little money, renting some store property, and going into the baking business. To be sure, as you pointed out, there are a few restrictions -- but you're still ultimately free to pursue your own life and work as you choose. Since you brought up baking, look at the story of Debbi Fields for a fantastic example of how a smart hardworking person can go from daughter of a blue-collar union worker to giant of the baking industry. Ask yourself: Where would Debbi Fields' ambition have put her, if she'd been born an Albanian peasant?

Again, while it's not perfect and should be constantly improved and reformed, I think the strength of the American system speaks for itself.

Dave Chirico Friday, July 3, 2009 at 11:58:00 AM CDT  

And we all know corporate CEO's are much better than peasants.

Absolute Free will? -this is a bit off the wall Seraphim. Generally speaking I don't believe distributist teach that God should deny free will and enforce an agrarian society:) Nor even a government/police state, however, as you even state yourself, there should be some rules.

Our businesses should not pollute or externalize costs, demean human life, make slaves of the worlds people, pillage natural resources, be dependent on corporate subsidies, and government bailouts, etc. This is not a "long discredited trope" but real issues that show the unsustainability of societies who depend on large corporate capitalism.
And whats worse is that large corporate capitalism is coercing the freedom of people all over the globe- breaking your point #6 "It is immoral to coercively impose one's vision of "the good life" on a populace. See: Communism"

Furthermore, your point #3 is flat out wrong, corporate capitalism, is not more efficient. Not when the true costs of doing business are accounted for. GM, MCdonals, Walmart, are large dinosaurs dependant on corporate welfare, tax breaks, and corporate subsidies. The American system you so dearly love is built on the things you loathe.

John Médaille Friday, July 3, 2009 at 12:12:00 PM CDT  

I certainly agree with Seraphim when he says, the strength of the American system speaks for itself. It is speaking for itself through a trillion dollar bailout. This is not an unusual condition for capitalism. In fact, it is a normal and recurring event, as predictable and as regular as the rising of the sun or the cycles of the moon. The strength of capitalism is nothing more than the strength of the gov't necessary for its subsidy and support. This has always been the truth about capitalism, and there is no other.

Seraphim will no doubt reply, as he already has, that this isn't "real" capitalism. This is true, but it is really existing capitalism, and it is how capitalism has always existed; there are no exceptions. In 1776, Adam Smith devoted 3/4ths of The Wealth of Nations to detailing the incestuous relationships between business and gov't. The defenders of capitalism can never locate an actual historical instance of their system. The systems we actually see are always statist, always Keynesian, even 300 years before Keynes.

Distributists, on the other hand, can point to functioning systems of long-standing duration and continual success. The great irony is that to find an example of what the capitalists claim to want, you will have to go to the distributists, to places like Mondragon; there are no other examples.

Seraphim is quite right to point to the problems of a degenerate peasantry, which usually happens when it comes into contact with the modernist and individualistic world of capitalism. The peasant is usually deprived of his land, and if that can't be done then he is deprived of capital and access to markets. Further, Seraphim is right to note the problems of the abuse of women. Peasant cultures universally dictate strong gender roles, and in times of degeneration, this often degenerates into mere abuse of women.

Capitalism works by restricting choice, as Cucerai admitted (see the previous post.) And it works by subsidies. The African peasant cannot obtain a fair price for his produce, because it must compete with the highly subsidized European and American produce. That is why Danish butter is cheaper in the Nairobi market than is Kenyan butter. This would not be possible without vast subsidies.

In any case, it is foolish to present capitalism as a solution for the peasant of the future, since capitalism itself has no future. The system of subsidies has come to its logical end and can go no further. We are not so much concerned on this list with discussing its future as with discussing its replacement.

Seraphim Friday, July 3, 2009 at 1:39:00 PM CDT  

...says the guy educated in a peasant community, living in a peasant community, earning his living by selling his goods in peasant communities, teaching at a university funded by the peasant community, writing his blog posts on a computer designed and built by the peasant community, over international communications network technology developed and disseminated by the peasant community.

Not corrupted, degenerate peasants who've been subjected to the evils of capitalism and industrialization, mind you; Mr. Médaille owes his prosperity and luxury of being a bourgeois philosopher to the PURE peasant communities.

...oh. Wait a second.

Seriously, this is like Marx writing about the downfall of capitalism as he lives off the money Engels makes from his work in a textile firm. Hypocrisy much?

John Médaille Friday, July 3, 2009 at 1:54:00 PM CDT  

Seraphim, you seem to be using a strange definition of hypocrisy. Are saying that only peasants may praise peasants, and that those who live in a capitalist regime must refrain from critiquing it?

A strange notion of freedom indeed. Sort of the "freedom" to keep your mouth shut.

Seraphim Friday, July 3, 2009 at 2:11:00 PM CDT  

If you think a capitalist regime is inherently immoral, don't live in one or profit off one.

If you think a peasant regime is inherently moral, go start one and start living like a real peasant instead of a fancy paid-for-by-capitalism Dallas metro area home.

There's a difference between criticism and demonization. As clearly indicated by remarks such as "degenerate peasantry... usually happens when it comes into contact with the modernist and individualistic world of capitalism," you view capitalism not as a system in need of reform, but as a bankrupt system that inherently corrupts what it touches.

And yet, in spite of (or more likely, *because of*) your status as a well-paid, prosperous intellectual, you are quite content with one end of your mouth to suckle the teat of a system that the other end of your mouth claims to produce poisoned milk.

That's the very definition of hypocrisy. It's like a practicing abortionist dictating books about how abortion causes societal collapse -- as he vacuums a fetus out of a mother's womb.

You have a choice, sir -- ironically, thanks to capitalism. You are a professor and a businessman, certainly in the top ten percent of incomes in the world, if not in the United States. You have the resources to start a life of your choosing.

My parents were Silicon Valley yuppies who saw that the culture of the area was a corrupting influence. They sold the house in Palo Alto and moved to rural Mexico, where they raised me and where they remain to this day living on the land and working it. *That's* consistency. *That's* why I am infuriated by your hypocritical bashing of the very system that has put you where you choose to be -- I've *lived* the intellectual honesty.

If the system is rotten, don't participate in it. Go work in Mondragon, or get a Luddite farm next to Wendell Berry. Throw your computer out -- it's been built with hundreds of hours of low-wage Third World labor. Build your own printing press and publish your own books, instead of depending on machines manufactured with outsourced corporate labor.

The choice is yours. Put up or shut up.

John Médaille Friday, July 3, 2009 at 2:24:00 PM CDT  

So, it is as I thought: you believe that if you live in a capitalist state, you cannot critique it, unless you absent yourself from it. The only vote one is allowed to cast is that of the affirmative.

Very well, but then you are caught in your own trap. You are the beneficiary of a Keynesian state, which makes it impossible (by your own rule) to critique that Keynesian state! Your silence is bought with your success.

But of course, you will not agree to this application of your own law. You will continue to apply one law to yourself and another to everybody else. That is the meaning of hypocrisy. You will be happy to critique the regulation of economic and social life, even as you profit from that highly regulated environment.

It is not hypocrisy to profit from the system one lives in. We all must live, and that life is social. It is hypocrisy to set one law for one's self and another for everybody else.

Seraphim Friday, July 3, 2009 at 3:32:00 PM CDT  

There is a difference between reform and overthrow. I do not see capitalism as evil and corrupting; you do. I can critique capitalism while living within it because I do not see anything fundamentally wrong with capitalism as an institution, even if I think it could be better applied in some particulars. You *do* see something fundamentally wrong with capitalism, and as such, it is your moral duty to opt out if you can -- and you can.

By application of your logic, an abortionist could "critique" abortion by touting its immorality, *while continuing to perform abortions,* and remain intellectually honest. After all, we all must live, so it's obviously permissible to make a living even from something we think is immoral, right?

You say capitalism is evil, yet you live by capitalism.

You say "the peasant... stands ready to rescue the world from its no-longer viable capitalism," yet you continue to live by capitalism and not as a peasant.

Listen to yourself!

"We normally conceive of the task of development as one of rescuing that half of the world from its poverty. But we should stand this viewpoint on its head: the real task is one of rescuing that half of the population who are still capitalists—or trying to be—from their unworkable and unsustainable materialism."

If peasants are not to be rescued from poverty, but commended for it, what business have you parading around in a fine woolen suit produced by sweatshop labor, collecting a fat salary from various ventures and enterprises funded by corporate monies?

If we must "rescue" the capitalistic "half of the population" from its "unworkable and unsustainable materialism," what business do you have enjoying a MATERIAL standard of living that is the envy of history and of "that half of the world" which are "still peasants"?

You call peasantry virtuous and capitalism evil, yet you voluntarily elect to live as a capitalist and not as a peasant. This is hypocrisy.

You call poverty virtuous -- there is no other interpretation of your argument that we should not rescue the poor, but that the poor should rescue us -- yet you are quite content to live in abject wealth. This is hypocrisy.

You explicitly say that capitalistic development destroys community values, yet your economic choices explicitly have you living in, working in, and supporting capitalistic development. This is hypocrisy.

And not simply hypocrisy as an ad hominem attack -- this is hypocrisy by your very own definition: setting one law for yourself and another for everybody else.

Sir, your every action asks us to do as you say, and not as you do. And that is the very definition of hypocrisy.

Good day.

Jonathan,  Friday, July 3, 2009 at 3:33:00 PM CDT  

Médaille said that peasants hold moral values that cannot be maintained in capitalism or communism. Thus, in the future, the peasants with these values will be better off than those whose economic structures fail and are without such moral values.

Seraphim says that capitalism works because it gives people freedom to make choices of who they want to be, what they want to do, etc. Such as write articles and distribute them to the general public. He also states that good and bad people are present in similar ratios in any economic system, although the specific flaws and virtues vary.

Médaille says that capitalism does not and cannot function as it says on the label. That is, it may sound workable in theory, but it in the real world it is highly flawed. And apparently the peasants with poor morals only have poor morals because their cultures degenerated from being contaminated by the effects of capitalism and other evils. So, in other words, the theory of peasant moral values sounds workable, but in the real world, "in times of degeneration," it is highly flawed.

It does seem that the person most qualified to comment upon the pros and cons of any economic system would be a person who has had empirical experience, reaping the benefits and suffering the flaws. Especially suffering the flaws. I would not call a person that enjoys the benefits and opportunities of capitalistic society a hypocrite because they use capitalism-produced tools to write articles and use capitalism-produced mass media to publish about why capitalism is flawed. But I would be slow to adopt their philosophy on the subject.

John Médaille Friday, July 3, 2009 at 4:09:00 PM CDT  

Seraphim, you quote what I never said, and assume privileges to yourself that you deny to others. I never said that poverty was virtuous, nor can you find such a quote. And I said of capitalism something much worse than the banal charge that it is evil: I said it was non-existent. It does not exist today; it did not exist in the past; it will never exist in the future. It is a chimera of the liberal mind, a romance of the modern imagination, more fantastical than any medieval romance with gryphons and dragons. But it is not, and could not be, a functioning system. It has always been what it is now: a creature of the state.

Because people live in the state in which they live, you call them hypocrites, and deny them the opportunity of criticism, an opportunity you freely take to yourself. You claim you are merely seeking "reform"; yet the imposition of an impossible system would be much more revolutionary than anything the distributists have proposed. We, after all, having working and successful models. You have none.

You may, if you wish, charge people with hypocrisy for taking a job in the only way that this society provides jobs, you may say to them "shut up" as much as you like. I doubt they will stop working to please you or keep silent so you will not have to face realities of your fanciful system, your "modest" reform.

As far as the guilt of wearing a suit made by slaves goes, I quite agree: we are all implicated in the crime; we are, as John Paul II pointed out, the "indirect employers" of these slaves, and have a responsibility to speak the truth in their behalf. You would have us be silent or go naked. I will wear the clothes (since these are pretty much the only clothes we can wear, the system having deprived us of any other choices) and proclaim the crime. You will not like to hear of the crime, but your sensibilities aside, the crime will be proclaimed.

Is this the same as preforming abortions while raging against them? Not at all. The doctor is not required to perform abortions; all men are required by nature to wear clothes, and to rely on the system in which they live to supply those clothes. Yet, you will descry the evil of Keynesianism even as you stand to profit from it. I do not deny your right to proclaim whatever political or economic fancy suits your mood. I will oppose your attempt to silence everyone else.

Dave Chirico,  Friday, July 3, 2009 at 9:49:00 PM CDT  

John would you elaborate on successful working models of distributism?

John Médaille Friday, July 3, 2009 at 10:22:00 PM CDT  

See
http://distributism.blogspot.com/2009/06/chapter-xvii-practice-of-distributism.html

http://distributism.blogspot.com/2009/03/mondragon-and-current-crises.html

http://distributism.blogspot.com/2008/11/emilia-romagna-cooperatives.html

http://distributism.blogspot.com/2009/03/chapter-xvi-distributism-and-industrial.html

http://distributism.blogspot.com/2007/11/return-to-realism.html

CP,  Friday, July 3, 2009 at 10:55:00 PM CDT  

It's odd that you would cite Peru. Wouldn't you say that Velasco's agrarian reform and ISI strategies were failed attempts to implement some distributist ideals?

The failure of his policies helped drive rural poverty and the explosion of urban poor in Peru as the land no longer provided sufficient food for the rural population.

One of the direct results of this rural upheaval was the rise of the Marxists and the implementation of neoliberal economics to try and keep the masses pacified.

This was perhaps not the best example for your points.

John Médaille Saturday, July 4, 2009 at 7:53:00 PM CDT  

Webb addresses Velasco's attempts at reform, and why they were particularly unsuited to the highlands. Indeed, land redistribution has to be carefully done, for reasons I outlined in my book. For every success like Taiwan, Korea, or Japan, there are a dozen failures. Even in Vietnam, where the program was attempted by the same people who had been successful in Taiwan, the program failed.

Charlie Roy Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 11:46:00 AM CDT  

Thanks for this post. A great read and it certainly contains much food for thought. Be well!

Jesse Monday, July 6, 2009 at 11:11:00 AM CDT  

Hello Seraphim.

You write:
::Agrarians and distributists ironically protest capitalism…

Speaking as a distributist, not an agrarian, the irony, I believe, comes rather from your side. For what you’re defending, to my mind, is a form of capitalism that is ultimately incompatible with democracy - democracy of which I assume you’re a proponent. For what if our current capitalism-of-the-few can only negatively impact the stability required to maintain, for the many, both economic opportunity and its concomitant self-determination and independence? In that case, wouldn’t your capitalism be clearly adverse to the realization of a self-governing, harmonious citizenry that inherently checks, limits and defines the power of its political overseers to that of an ideal democracy – one that is in fact socialist-free?

The unfortunate reality is that dependency and the consequent expansion of government is the direct result of concentrated capitalism; a capitalism of the few requires more and more the hand of “Big-Brother”, namely, of Brother Keynes. That being the case, there’s no irony, to my mind, that distributists protest such “fruit.” For we believe in capital ownership, we believe in democracy, we believe in a market that is truly free; and yes, we also decry socialism, thus we decry that form of capitalism which has not the vital spirit to support society and must inevitably conjure forth, as it has done in true Fabian fashion, the specter of socialism to work its black magic - and like all black magic, eventually it will exact a heavy toll.

For those seeking an alternative, then, we’re naturally forced to ask, can the private ownership in the means of production, that is, of capital instruments in an industrial society support true democracy? The answer, so I believe, is yes, but only when it aligns with the principles of justice and liberty (this alignment, for the record, is what I would call not pure capitalism but distributism, or distributist capitalism; it is, to adapt a line from Mortimer Adler, “capitalism perfected in the line of [the principles of justice and liberty], and without any admixture of socialism”).

It is, therefore, not a question of “imposing one’s vision of ‘the good life’”, but of tweaking the political context so that it fully subordinates economics to the common good, to a just society. Indeed, for if we take as our guide the classic liberal definition of freedom popularized by J.S. Mill, and which is well put by M. Stanton Evans, that “Liberty to act on one’s behalf must be fenced off by the equal liberty of others, so that freedom for one individual doesn’t become oppression for a second”, and if concentrated ownership in the means of production leads to the exclusion of opportunity for the many to earn a viable income through participation in ownership, and thus to a form of government which works as a default corrective through socialistic means that are ultimately destructive of liberty, and, moreover, if it’s the purpose of government to do, in Mill’s sense, the fencing off, then its relatively clear that for those who believe in freedom from oppression there is, politically, (as Adler put it in the Capitalist Manifesto) a “justifiable limitation on individual liberty to acquire wealth in the form of capital goods.”

(Continued...)

Jesse Monday, July 6, 2009 at 11:13:00 AM CDT  

I’ll quickly summarize. My point is a basic rephrasing of the distributist vs. capitalist question. For I’m asking, somewhat rhetorically, which type of capitalism best achieves the ideal of liberty (we both, at least nominally, oppose State capitalism)? Is the distributist type of capitalism, which conceives individuals or households accumulating wealth to some extent by taking part in ownership, with its consequent provisions of independence for self-government and motives for limiting the scope of state power – very Jeffersonian – more agreeable to the ideal of liberty? Or does a capitalism concentrated into the hand of a few, which increasingly upsets economic equilibrium, works to erode the family unit, and perpetually requires the aid of a growingly intrusive government offer “the greatest breadth of opportunity to its citizens”?

You may argue that these are not fair questions, and I admit there’s certainly more to it all; but this, in general, is how I’ve come to view the debate. Given this perspective, I see no contradiction in being a distributist who accepts true progress and at the same time opposes an inherent flaw, which has accompanied it - that is, who opposes a mixed capitalism that many defend, as I once did, but do not quite understand.

Peace,

Jesse

Seraphim Monday, July 6, 2009 at 12:21:00 PM CDT  

In real capitalism, the macro goal is the most efficient distribution of capital and labor, which then leaves the individual, on the micro scale, free to pursue his own ends. Distributism, fascism, and socialism are equally antithetical to this conception.

Capitalism is not supposed to have a conscience. It is a tool. Just as a hoe can be used either to till or to kill, the conscionable use of capitalism is a question for the individual. If you remove the blade of a hoe so it can't be used to kill, you'll also find that it's pretty useless for your agricultural work, too. The power to uplift always comes with the power to abuse -- so don't blame the capacity for its abuse; blame the conscience.

You cannot *institutionally* "subordinate economics to the common good, to a just society" any more than you can design a gun which can be used only for self-defense and not for murder.

As for your other points:

-I think you unfairly stereotype modern capitalism as overly concentrated. There are indeed megacorporations, but small business still drives the majority of economic activity in the United States.

-By insisting that everyone own (at least in part) and participate in the means of production, you first presume that this is a desirable state of affairs (when many individuals actively *want* the benefits of a wage over the risks of ownership); and you override the market's efficient choice to concentrate ownership and production in certain sectors.

-Putting aside the question of unchecked excesses, we *have* seen capitalism literally transfigure the standard of living among nations. We have yet to see distributism perform similarly miraculous functions on a macroeconomic scale. As such, in the interests of conservatism, I will uphold the present institutions over their untested alternatives.

As a concluding note, I am refreshed, Jesse, by your saner and more equivocal approach to the economic questions presented -- even though you still seem to be making the common mistake that capitalism can be institutionally "tweaked" to serve a given moral goal and still remain good and workable capitalism.

When I direct my scorn at "distributists and agrarians," it is not directed at individuals who would self-describe as such, yet accept the good which our current system has wrought while advocating incremental reforms or choosing as individuals to have atypical lifestyles.

My problem is with those, like Mr. Médaille, who hypocritically reject the very idea of capitalism while eagerly enjoying its fruits. Rather than living in a manner consistent with their preaching, when cornered, they engage in the most ridiculous and dishonest intellectual gymnastics to justify their comfortably capitalistic lifestyles.

Mr. Médaille, for example, went so far as to assert that he could not even *wear clothes* that did not finance the injustices of capitalism (!). A truly intellectually consistent individual would accept any hardship to avoid such complicity in claimed oppression. And Mr. Médaille need not even teach himself to weave -- I happen to know from personal experience that it's possible to purchase clothes not produced with low-wage overseas labor. The inescapable conclusion is that Mr. Médaille does not do so simply because it's inconvenient for him. This is why I suggest Mr. Médaille should rescue himself into peasantry before he grandiloquently writes that peasantry must rescue us.

So no, I don't have a problem with people who live off the land -- I have done so myself for the majority of my life. I don't have a problem with individuals helping build the community through small participatory business -- that's practically all my family does. I have every problem, however, with institutionally *coercing* either of the above visions onto individuals.

I have lived as an agrarian and a distributist, in a very real sense, and I think a lot of folks could gain by doing the same (including Mr. Médaille, heh). However, these are choices of the conscience, not political dogmas.

John Médaille Monday, July 6, 2009 at 1:00:00 PM CDT  

Seraphim makes some very specific claims, one of which I doubt and one of which I know to be untrue. He claims to have lived in an agrarian system, but since he is from Mexico, I don't know how he could have done so, since Mexico is not "agrarian" in any sense that agrarians would recognize. It is a system of formal oppression, and about as far from agrarianism as it is possible to get. But okay, let's grant that he found, somewhere in Mexico, an agrarian system and didn't like it.

That leaves the other, and easily disprovable claim, that he has lived in a capitalist system. This is palpably untrue, since all attempts at capitalism were abandoned in the Great Depression. There is no one alive today with any memory of capitalism. What he lives in is the quasi-socialism of the Keynesian state. It is a state that has been relatively successful for 60 years, but now (imo) has reached its logical limits and can continue no more. Of course, Seraphim rails against the system he enjoys, and enjoys railing at the "hypocrisy" of those who rail on different grounds. But each person to their own amusements.

Why was this supposedly perfect system abandoned by everybody, even by its nominal supporters? Because it didn't work. According the NBER, the agency charged with dating recessions, the United States before the Second World War was in recession an astounding 41% of the time. Since then, it has been in recession 14% of the time. It was not a worker's revolution that overthrew the system, but a capitalist's revolution; they could no longer tolerate the insecurity of capital that the system produced, anymore than the workers could tolerate the insecurity of the wage.

The bottom line is that Mr. Seraphim wants us to keep silent about oppression; I promise to give him an earful. (And, I suspect the pope will do the same tomorrow.)

Besorge Monday, July 6, 2009 at 5:28:00 PM CDT  

o_O

You have heard me before, I agree with the term capitalist under the presumption that this capitalist looks at the economy from a completely scientific perspective. Though this capitalist may crinch at the sound of Marx, he and Marx share the same ontological foundations, meaning there are none.

The real problem is the Puritanical foundations philosophically are miscontructed pies in the sky, they lack ontology at large, hence the positivistic system of justice called Jurisprudence which dominates to this day. We all share and have been taught the view the Protestants have ruled and looked at the world with.

The biggest problem being efficacious grace, which supports elitism, and poor reflections as to what is goodness. We have been absorbed by the improper language of these philosophically misappropriated views of reality, allowing it to even affect the way a Catholic American communicates. We forget that to the degree something is good is to the degree it is true, and to the degree something is true is to the degree it is good.

Marx's sensitivity to the poor is comparable to the same view of the Puritanical view of the world, one which has no Christological Foundations and basically is found stupid next to Thomistic Philosophy. It does not ask what is really, but rather selfishly imposes its brokeness as to what is reality.

As we all are aware Marx's phenomenology is Hegelian. Hegel was knowledgeable, but stupid in application, he saw how he projected himself unto things, but he never asked honest questions with the same honesty of knowing nothing as Socrates.

Knowing nothing for him, rather seems to mean some type of intellectually masturbated reality that contiues to exhaustively change. Destroying Formal Logic and creating this bullshit view of reality we all can't help to express with our destroyed language. No one paints anymore, they express themselves. I express myself in the bathroom with a newspaper, also, but no one buys that.

These people really never get past Augustine/Kierkegaard. Augustine is GREAT, but our Fathers are to be taken for their time. Really all Marx is, is a spoiled man who worked so hard to work so little, as it goes. He has not contributed to anything, because philosophy was dead before Heidegger.

The great divorces from the Church have distorted the Semetic view of the world, and it has made us only speak as pagans and communicate as pagans. A natural view of the world is important, but one that knows that all belongs to God is even more important. The Pagan in us communicates properly, but he falls into dualisms, and sees the world phenomenologically only. He does not begin his conversations with God as Father, Am that I am or Sacramentally like Noah.

My point to this whole jibble jabbing is the fact that, our language sucks. We must forget terms like capitalism, and by all means stop quoting Marx. Hegel was wrong, so Marx has no foundation. If we want to use Capitalist, use it as pointing to a mistaken fool who shares the same views of reality as Marx.

Take Marx as a reactionary, that is all he really is. Marx coined Capitalism. He never speaks about it in His Manifesto, infact he fails to define it. Precisely why his anti-thesis to it is Communism. What you can gather here from Marx is really that he never understood Free Market Economy.

He did not intend capitalist to refer to just an economic point of view, I am aware of this. He does not specify to what extent capitalism involves government, the state, which is the most elementary and crucial factor in characterizing economic systems.

It is a Manifesto! It is pure government control. Totalitarianism and perhaps an Oligarchy. Stop using the term, captialism. Distributist, if we are Catholic, come from a different understanding of reality as a whole. Capitalism doesn't even exist.

Dave Chirico Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 8:54:00 PM CDT  

To Seraphim,
You state: "A truly intellectually consistent individual would accept any hardship to avoid such complicity in claimed oppression."

Really? Are you truly intellectually consistent? That's quite a claim. Good for you. Here's a thought, don't eat foods that have been subsidized or benefit from the subsidies.

You hypocritically glorify "free will" and choice, but don't even see that your economic system denies choice, and in order to reconcile it you make the assertion that one needs to "learn to weave". That's kinda stretching it dontcha thing?

The American system is not efficient, it simply has been able to externalize costs and pass them on to future generations or the taxpayers. I laugh when I hear Jim Perdue talk about how efficient his chicken operation is and then in the same breath complain how it would raise poultry prices too high if poultry producers had to clean up their pollution!

Seraphim Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 9:09:00 PM CDT  

The difference, Dave, is that while I think subsidies are (often) bad policy, I don't think they're immoral, or antithetical to a decent and honest living.

It's crucial that you learn to make the distinction. It is intellectually consistent to participate in an imperfect system and work to reform the imperfections. It is intellectually dishonest -- and hypocritical -- to participate in an *evil* system while calling the system out as evil.

The distinction is not difficult. Take the graduated income tax. You probably think it's a stupid policy, and you actively advocate for its reform, but you have no moral qualms paying it in the meantime.

On the other hand, I think you *would,* out of conscience, refuse to pay a special poll tax used to fund a death camp for Jews. Am I right?

Distinctions. Learn 'em, live 'em.

Seraphim Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 12:34:00 AM CDT  

FYI, just to establish my credentials as someone who's a supporter and participant of activities which distributists would also like, take a look at what my family's been up to lately and ask yourselves how YOU'VE walked the talk:

http://tv.azpm.org/kuat/segments/2009/7/7/kuat-tv-co-op/

Dave Chirico,  Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 4:00:00 PM CDT  

To Seraphim,
Now you are defending subsidies? How can you say "they're not antithetical to a decent and honest living?" What planet do you live on? US Subsidies have destroyed the honest living of thousands if not millions of farmers around the world.

Thanks for your advice on "Distinctions" maybe you should try understanding the distinction between your Mexico and a traditional agrarian society.

Seraphim Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 4:24:00 PM CDT  

I really begin to wonder if folks like Dave are interested in constructive conversation when I say "I think subsidies are bad policy" and the response I get is "Now you are defending subsidies?" :P

So I'll make one last ditch attempt to get my point across, Socratic-style.

Dave: Please answer the following three questions as directly and concisely as possible without omitting any crucial nuance of your position. Please stick just to the questions as presented and do not assume I'm attempting to make any sort of argument.

1. Do you believe there is any moral difference between personally performing an abortion, and being a member of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)? Just yes or no, please. If no, explain why.

2. Given your stated religious views, would you find it morally consistent to (a) personally perform an abortion for money, (b) work in an abortion clinic, or (c) be a member of an actively pro-abortion organization? How so, or how not?

3. Given your stated religious views, would you have found it morally consistent to (a) be a priest or (b) be an active member of the OCA during its recent financial scandal? How so, or how not?

David Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 4:32:00 PM CDT  

So you didn't say this about subsidies: "I don't think they're immoral, or antithetical to a decent and honest living."

I'm done with your silly analogies.

Good luck

Seraphim Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 4:45:00 PM CDT  

The difference is between "bad policy" and "evil."

It's immoral of me to do something I personally think is wrong. It's not immoral of me to participate in an organization that doesn't do 100% things I like. Take two examples:

Suppose I, while having sex with children, say "pedophilia is wrong." This makes me not only disgustingly immoral, but a hypocrite as well, and in order to remain basically decent and basically consistent, I must cease my behavior immediately.

On the other hand, suppose I, while a member of the Roman Catholic Church, say "pedophilia is wrong." Then suppose it comes out that a bunch of my priests and bishops are pedophiles. I can legitimately remain a part of the RCC in spite of the bad elements while still condemning pedophilia and trying to get the pedophiles out of the institutional church.

So to put this astoundingly basic moral principle to work in the context of the present discussion, it's hypocritical to condemn the mixed economy while living a stereotypically mixed-economy lifestyle. It's not hypocritical to support the idea of a mixed economy, but combat its misuses or excesses.

Dave Chirico,  Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 9:29:00 PM CDT  

I understand the distinction you are making Seraphim, but I do think its one made for the academic and only applies in the classroom.

But lets say you're right, you point out hypocrisy, but then deal with the merits of an argument. Don't just dismiss the writings of Belloc, Berry, Chesterton, Gandhi, Schumacher... because they weren't peasant "enough". Oh, and Berry writes using a pen, not a typewriter, much to his editor's dismay.

papabear Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 10:29:00 PM CDT  

Seraphim: So to put this astoundingly basic moral principle to work in the context of the present discussion, it's hypocritical to condemn the mixed economy while living a stereotypically mixed-economy lifestyle. It's not hypocritical to support the idea of a mixed economy, but combat its misuses or excesses.

M-W:
hypocrite:
1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion 2 : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

Neither 1 or 2 apply to the people whom you criticize as being "hypocrites." None of them say, "Do not participate in the American political economy, to do so is evil." They merely say that the American political economy has certain problems.

To put it another way -- one can point out a system is deficient, or lacking some order or good that is proper to achieving some end, and yet still participate in that system, because:

(1) That deficiency is not necessarily a moral evil though it is a privation of some sort.
(2) Moral evil is not ascribed to abstract systems but to human agents and their actions alone.
(3) Even if one judges that certain actions undertaken by others in the economic sphere are evil, the differences in cooperation -- formal versus material cooperation -- can render one's cooperation evil or good (good in so far as one is permitted to cooperate, or does not sin in doing so).
(4) Going off the grid is an option for some, but not for others. So you're being rather pharasaical in your condemnations, when you don't know personal circumstances and obligations.

Seraphim Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 12:20:00 AM CDT  

Actually, papabear, #2 applies perfectly here. Mr. Médaille made several claims, e.g.:

-Peasantry is virtuous
-Capitalism destroys moral/community values
-Capitalism equals unworkable and unsustainable materialism
-Peasantry must rescue capitalism

Unfortunately, Mr. Médaille is unwilling to practice the implications of his claims. If peasantry is virtuous, and capitalism destroys moral and community values, then Mr. Médaille is telling us to be peasants rather than a capitalists -- yet he himself lives the life of a capitalist rather than a peasant. This is hypocrisy, since it makes Mr. Médaille the dispenser of advice he does not take, and makes him a participant in a system he believes is destructive of morality.

If capitalism represents unworkable materialism requiring peasant rescue, then Mr. Médaille, by living his capitalistic lifestyle, is living a life of unworkable materialism, burdening his eventual rescuer, and actively furthering a system he decries. Again, this is rank hypocrisy.

You will note, if you read Mr. Médaille's article, that he is only too free with the use of the term "capitalism" when criticizing the fruits of the mixed economy. However, when he himself is criticized for using the fruits of the mixed economy to proclaim its immorality, he suddenly *objects* to the vernacular use of the term "capitalism" and substitutes a definition so narrow that he can claim "capitalism" has never existed.

Such cheap semantic dodges are unworthy of intellectually honest academia. I can only imagine that he does not want to be on record as outright saying the mixed economy is immoral, since then he is exposed as a hypocrite for positively *bathing* in the mixed economy on a daily basis.

Mr. Médaille even admitted that he considers it immoral to purchase and wear clothing produced in harsh conditions by low-wage workers overseas, while confessing that he readily purchases and wears such clothing. He pathetically attempted to justify this open hypocrisy by asserting that he had no choice, since the mixed economy made it impossible to purchase ethically-produced clothing.

Behold the magnitude of either Mr. Médaille's intellect or his commitment to his stated principles.

Type "sustainable clothes no sweatshop" into Google. Result number five:

http://www.findagreenstore.com/clothingandaccessories.htm

...yup, to quote Mr. Médaille, "I will wear the clothes (since these are pretty much the only clothes we can wear, the system having deprived us of any other choices) and proclaim the crime."

I believe the psychological term is "denial."

For whatever reason, Mr. Médaille chooses to condemn the system as evil, yet willingly participates in it. As you rightly point out, papabear, this might be excusable if it were unavoidable, and this is indeed the way Mr. Médaille justifies his inconsistent conduct, to himself and to others.

However, Mr. Médaille is a businessman and a professor of theology. His income is at least *seven times* the per capita world average. He enjoys a standard of living that is the envy of five-sixths of the world population. It is ridiculous to say he does not have the resources to move off the grid if he so chooses.

My own parents moved completely off the grid, to a foreign country, on far less -- and overcame no electricity, no plumbing, holes in the roof, snakes under the bed, drought, lightning strikes, and wildfires in order to successfully live off the land.

The conclusion is inescapable: Mr. Médaille prefers the comfort of his hypocritical lifestyle over the sacrifices required to attain intellectual honesty and consistency. The Gospel story about the rich young ruler comes to mind.

I am not, contrary to what Mr. Médaille claims, trying to shut him up. I just want him to be consistent. He should either admit that the mixed economy, while ever in need of reform, gives enormous benefit to its participants; or else he should rid himself of his bourgeois lifestyle and pursue the "ascetic morality" of the peasant.

papabear Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 12:16:00 PM CDT  

Actually, papabear, #2 applies perfectly here. Mr. Médaille made several claims, e.g.:

-Peasantry is virtuous
-Capitalism destroys moral/community values
-Capitalism equals unworkable and unsustainable materialism
-Peasantry must rescue capitalism


Clearly you do not understand the implications of (1) and (2) if you are trying to use (2) to back up your judgment.

Does he claim that "peasantry" is virtuous? No. If there is to a good to be ascribed to it, it is not a moral good (though it may promote moral goods) but a different good. If virtuous is to be used, it is being used equivocally. Similarly, to say that capitalism destroys moral/communal values does not mean that it in itself is morally evil--though it is deficient in some other way. What of those who bring about such results? That depends on their culpability -- which is why I wrote 3 and 4. Just because "capitalism" is deficient in some way, does not mean that being a capitalist is deficient in the same way. You are trading on equivocations to argue the point, and this is completely fallacious.

Unfortunately, Mr. Médaille is unwilling to practice the implications of his claims. If peasantry is virtuous, and capitalism destroys moral and community values, then Mr. Médaille is telling us to be peasants rather than a capitalists


Proof-text please. His claims in this article are much more limited than that.

As for "if peasantry is virtuous" -- where does he say this? See above.

-- yet he himself lives the life of a capitalist rather than a peasant. This is hypocrisy, since it makes Mr. Médaille the dispenser of advice he does not take, and makes him a participant in a system he believes is destructive of morality.

It may be that Dr. Médaille thinks that agrarianism would be a better arrangement than others for some or many societies. If such a change requires collective action (collective in a loose sense -- requiring both action by the government and willingness by the majority of the people) -- then it is not hypocrisy.

Why do you wish to use an ad hominem argument to respond to what he says? Surely you know that this is fallacious. If you think yourself a Christian, you would be well-served to reconsider your remarks here, which are uncharitable given its untenable assumptions about another's character (and irrelevant to the original post).

Seraphim Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 1:26:00 PM CDT  

By 2 I meant that Mr. Médaille is acting in contradiction to his stated beliefs or feelings. I seriously doubt Mr. Médaille is (beyond a certain point) intentionally living in self-contradiction. My analysis is objective -- which is why I suggest that to be consistent, he either needs to moderate and nuance his position, or else start living it.

You say "Just because 'capitalism' is deficient in some way, does not mean that being a capitalist is deficient in the same way." Quite so, which is the distinction I have attempted to make the whole time. However, as you can plainly read, Mr. Médaille does not consider himself to be a capitalist (by either the common definition *or* his); nor does he believe it moral to propagate the mixed economy, as evidenced by his withering criticism of a mixed-economy approach to helping the Andean peasantry and his prediction that such an approach will likely "result [in]... the complete destruction of community values."

This is his stated belief -- and yet he implicitly endorses and bankrolls this antithesis to his beliefs on a daily basis, by his own admission (see esp. his comments on clothing, and my response thereupon -- which I notice you ignored). What else to call this behavior but hypocritical?

As to Mr. Médaille's claims:

He says the "poor peasant" has "universally held values" and "community values" that the capitalist lacks, since capitalism "tends to destroy these values." In enumerating these values, he approvingly quotes Adam Webb:

"[N]o-nonsense self-reliance, austere morality, self-command amid adversity, duty towards kin and neighbors, generosity, hospitality, participation, and the anchoring of one's livelihood in an atmosphere of decency and fairness."

So, if:

-Peasantry universally has these values, and
-Capitalism does not, because
-Capitalism tends to destroy such values... then

-Peasantry systemically produces virtue, while
-Capitalism systemically destroys virtue.

This is Mr. Médaille's explicit conclusion, which begs the question of why he is a willing participant in something systemically destructive of virtue.

This is not a question of whether or not a systemic change requires collective action. Certainly, it would have been nice had everyone at Dachau converted it to a bakery rather than a murder factory -- but in the absence of such, it was *still* morally incumbent upon the soldiers there to opt out rather than participate in the destructive system. It is within Mr. Médaille's power to opt out; I suggest he either do so or moderate his rhetoric on the destructiveness of the system for which he works.

And yes, I realize this is an ad hominem, but I submit that its use here is not fallacious since it is of direct relevance. Mr. Médaille makes an argument that peasantry has net intrinsic benefit, while capitalism has net intrinsic detriment (positive vs. negative universal cardinal utility). He *also* argues that, consequently, peasantry should be subjectively preferred to capitalism -- i.e., peasantry should be given higher *ordinal* utility.

Mr. Médaille, as originator of this hypothesis, should logically have among the highest of ordinal utility values in peasantry amongst the general populace. And yet, his economic behavior displays just the opposite; capitalist behavior wins on his personal ordinal utility equation every time.

Thus, criticism of his hypocritical behaviour is not merely argumentum ad hominem; it is hard data that seriously undermines his hypothesis. To correct this disparity, he must either live his stated beliefs, or else adjust his hypothesis to give greater equality in the dueling utilities.

Or, to put it more succinctly, Mr. Médaille's behaviour suggests that either capitalism isn't that bad, or that he's already been corrupted thereby. :P

papabear Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 3:32:00 PM CDT  

A quick response, a longer one later maybe, if it's worth my time.

(see esp. his comments on clothing, and my response thereupon -- which I notice you ignored)

I thought I made my point about judging others. You don't know his personal circumstances and his reasoning process--that is up to his confessor, not you to judge. Are you really Christian? Nitpicking over individual actions, without a sufficient understanding of the practical reasoning behind them is really petty. And if it is informed by some notion of legalism, wrong-headed and pharasaical.


And yes, I realize this is an ad hominem, but I submit that its use here is not fallacious since it is of direct relevance. Mr. Médaille makes an argument that peasantry has net intrinsic benefit, while capitalism has net intrinsic detriment (positive vs. negative universal cardinal utility). He *also* argues that, consequently, peasantry should be subjectively preferred to capitalism -- i.e., peasantry should be given higher *ordinal* utility.

Mr. Médaille, as originator of this hypothesis, should logically have among the highest of ordinal utility values in peasantry amongst the general populace. And yet, his economic behavior displays just the opposite; capitalist behavior wins on his personal ordinal utility equation every time.


Despite your protest, it is irrelevant because it is fallacious. Logic has nothing to do with it. Even if it did, the absence of action does not prove that the premises are incorrect.

Could you be any more offensive?

Since I don't think I will respond again, I'll address one final point:

This is Mr. Médaille's explicit conclusion, which begs the question of why he is a willing participant in something systemically destructive of virtue.

See the distinction between material and formal cooperation in my first response.

This is not a question of whether or not a systemic change requires collective action. Certainly, it would have been nice had everyone at Dachau converted it to a bakery rather than a murder factory -- but in the absence of such, it was *still* morally incumbent upon the soldiers there to opt out rather than participate in the destructive system.

Is the typical American the equivalent to the concentration camp guard who executes prisoners? Or is he more like someone who supplies food to the camp? Or something even more remote?

In your zeal to condemn, you steamroll over the distinction between formal and material cooperation. Your supposed refutation can't be taken seriously because it is still fallacious, leading to a disjunction at your conclusion that may enhance your self-satisfaction but is a false disjunction nonetheless. Hence I ask that you take some time out to reflect upon your words and whether they are worthy of a Christian, or not instead motivated by something else. Because it isn't good reasoning at work.

Seraphim Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 4:16:00 PM CDT  

First off, papabear, I must express honest amusement that in one breath you tell me not to rush to judgment or supposed ad hominem in calling inconsistent behavior hypocritical... while in the next breath you call me "petty" and "pharisaical," questioning my Christianity. The myopia is breathtaking.

But I'll bite. Mr. Médaille cooperates and participates in an institution (capitalism/the mixed economy) which he openly professes to be systemically destructive of virtue. Even if this participation is not implicitly formal, it is arguably at least partially immediately material (since the various systems he decries rely in part on his funds).

But let us even grant that his participation is "merely" mediately material to (in his view) a morally destructive institution. There must be a proportionately serious reason justifying his cooperation -- protection of an important good, or avoidance of a worse harm.

Since it is indisputably within his means to go off the grid if he has sufficient will to do so -- and you will notice he has distinctly avoided claiming otherwise -- his reason cannot be impossibility or duress.

Since he has unequivocally endorsed the peasant lifestyle and has proclaimed that capitalists must become peasants, his reason cannot be that he sees risk of leading individuals astray by changing his way of life.

So here are two questions for you, papabear:

-What justification is there for such mediate cooperation in an institution decried as systemically destructive of virtue?

-What more would someone have to do before you would feel justified in calling someone's behaviour inconsistent and hypocritical?

(And to answer your question: No, the average American is not like an executioner -- but then again, the average American does not believe the American economic system is inherently destructive of virtue and must be overthrown and replaced with a peasant-centric system. That said: Yes, someone who feeds the agents of genocide has a moral obligation to vigorously attempt not to do so -- although if somebody put a gun to his head and forced him to continue, it would probably be an excusable failure, though not actively moral.)

papabear Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 6:08:00 PM CDT  

I must express honest amusement that in one breath you tell me not to rush to judgment or supposed ad hominem in calling inconsistent behavior hypocritical... while in the next breath you call me "petty" and "pharisaical," questioning my Christianity. The myopia is breathtaking.

(1) I said the act of nitpicking was petty.
(2) As for your judgments of the author, I stand by my claim that they are pharisaical. I don't make guesses about what you do in real life--it's based on your behavior here alone.

And now I follow DNFTT.

Seraphim Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 6:41:00 PM CDT  

I guess that's one thing we can agree on -- we're both judging by the info we've got at hand.

Dave Chirico,  Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 10:34:00 PM CDT  

So Seraphim,
I'm really surprised at your suggestion that Mr. John Médaille find his "no sweatshop" clothes via the internet- frankly it seems quite hypocritical, not your suggestion, but for him. After all, the internet is part of the grid. Wouldn't he have to have them made by a tailor. He could call his tailor, oh, wait, calling -grid, hypocritical. Maybe he could get in his car and drive, oops, not gonna work, hypocrisy. Lets, see, he needs to walk to his local tailor, hmmmm- shoes are gonna be a problem. OH, and bigger problem, his tailor will use a sewing machine and fabric produced not doubt in a low wage country...

Lets see... maybe he could travel to Mexico and get his clothes made there by... peasants. THAT's IT! He could fashion some shoes from the hide of a roadkill beast (guns and ammo would no doubt be hypocritical) and he could fashion some clothes out of shrubbery and he could walk to Mexico.
As he makes this journey of "intellectual honesty" I would suggest he draw his own blood, (ink would be hypocritical) and using the feather of a large bird, inscribe his article on the hide of a burro he killed with his own bare hands.
And then Seraphim, as you read the text written in his own blood by an author who now has "intellectual honesty" I wonder, what then would be your comments on this article?

Seraphim Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 11:12:00 PM CDT  

Ah, the abortive argumentum ad absurdum, the hallmark of polemical caricatures everywhere.

Context is everything, Dave. If Mr. Médaille insists on bringing the system down from within, keeping his blog, books, university job, nice house, and all -- "happy to critique the regulation of economic and social life, even as [he] profit[s] from that highly regulated environment" -- then the least he can do, for consistency's sake, is to use his economic position to avoid what crimes he can.

But even though he freely and openly admits he thinks it's a crime to use sweatshop-produced goods, he lifts not a finger to even *seek* an alternative. When asked why, he protests that the system gives him no alternative, implying that if he had a reasonable alternative, he'd take it. Of course, a reasonable alternative is only a few button presses away, yet he doesn't take it. This means he prefers to finance the corporations that employ low-wage international labor under harsh conditions, rather than spend a few extra minutes and a few extra bucks clothing himself in accord with his principles.

To answer your question, however, if Mr. Médaille went and lived a responsibly peasant-ish lifestyle, I would loudly applaud his character but perhaps gently suggest that he reconsider the mixed economy's benefits before he would let its detriments drive him out of the world. "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," and all that.

Honestly, though, I know many people who, like my parents, have decided that their individual needs and values are best met through an agrarian lifestyle, and I have only the highest respect for their choice and the warmest regard for their strength of character.

Besorge Friday, July 10, 2009 at 11:48:00 AM CDT  

From a Christian perspective, Jesus says according to Matthew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you; but you will always not have me” (NAB)

Poverty is something of the world. It will always be around. Just as death will be here. That some may be poor and some may be rich, that the Lord has not equally distributed fertile land accross the world. We can come accross as to ask "why", but the reality remains we will never fully understand it.

What comes to mind is throwness, a word we see in Heidegger and the early existentialist. That we are thrown into this world. By not chosing, by no desire, but nothing of our own. That we come naked, that we come knowing nothing, and that we depend on the love and charity of our parents to raise us.

Life is undeserving if you come to look at it. For what did you do? What did any of us do? Yet there is dignity in Life. That from "nothing" there is worth and value. What is the point to this?

We are dependent from our existence on others. We are born poor, and helpless. Man's law is but a tool in the Greater Plan that brought us here. Someone, Something brought us here without condition, and gave us Life.

What is a peasant? All of us are peasants. Our authenticity lies in the fact we realize this. There is no class. If a man feels compelled because he is rich to help, what of the poor man? Does he not help?

We help, because we are Family, we are brothers. We are all peasants, and any person that does not give of his wage, of his time to help his fellow brother is a person who knows little of what it means to be human, and very little of God.

The most blind of the sins is envy. It is the one who makes the poor man think he can take as he pleases, because he lacks. His life has humbled him to even physical peasantry and yet he is not humble? I have seen many poor who are humbled.

Sin plagues the poor and the rich. Let us not be foolish as to jump into the materialism of Marx. Let us not think money corrupts man, but rather man corrupts himself.

If we are looking for FAIRNESS, we are children. If we are looking for Justice, or What Is Best (Holistically), then we are adults. That a man must reduce himself to total poverty is ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with Luxury. There is something wrong with the man who does not share his luxury. There is also something wrong with a man who depends on his luxury.

What makes Distributism possible will be the charity of each and every single one of us. Avoiding Laws that interfere with the economy, and depending more on evangelization. What Distributism is, is that it is the Real Free Market. My problem is the name, my problem is that it feels the need to have a materialistic name. To Distribute, what about Free Market. That is what every man wants. Every man want Freedom, and making laws that interfere in the system will corrupt us even more. (There are exceptions child labor laws, monopolies...etc.)

I would rather have a corrupt business than a corrupt government. We must be careful as to what we are trying to do with Distributism, we must carry it away from the Marxist dialectics.

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