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The Faith and Industrial Capitalism

Everything about Industrial Capitalism its ineptitude, its vulgarity, its crying injustice, its dirt, its proclaimed indifference to morals (making the end of man an accumulation of wealth, and of labor itself an inhuman repetition without interest and without savor) is at war with the Catholic spirit.

                                                                                                                         Hilaire Belloc

From the title of the above essay in this collection and the opening citation, it may be concluded that we mean the doctrine of the Catholic Church against that of another entity, namely the belief in the power of enriching oneself without limit or conscience – but the true issue lies elsewhere.  The true issue has as little to do with the Catholic Church, or any Church, as it does with the motors and levers of factory growth and maintenance, or even with the gold bullion that factory owners tend to hoard.  We cannot deny a person his ambition to make his life better; indeed, the vast majority of emigration is fueled by precisely that desire.  Nor can we correctly persuade him to forsake almost every penny he has earned for the benefit of a society that did little in his promotion.  He will bellow and bay at our demands for his contribution to the nation that did not want him or his forefathers to cross its border, and will be equally vicious at any charges of chauvinism or selfish interest.  He was poor; he departed a life whose fate was already determined; and he arrived in a land of opportunity, which for a person of proper attitude and energy can be practically any land.  In this land he built a fire.  On that fire he did not roast the morsels that mendicant activity might have secured, or even the stale bread that a laborer gains at the end of another black day.  Instead, he forged an iron scythe and with that scythe he revolutionized the harvest.  And soon enough his invention became the most profitable means to reap what he or any of the enterprising and ruthless persons who copied his scythe certainly did not sow.

Now property in and of itself has long been a principle espoused by the Catholic Church.  After all, it was the Church itself that owned a large amount of Europe before the Reformation, and what was once servitude developed in time into something positive and even dignified – there are, admittedly, few things less dignified than servitude.  Belloc phrases it thus:

The antique world was a servile state; the civilized man of the Graeco-Roman civilization based his society upon slavery .... The Church did not denounce slavery, it accepted that institution.  Slaves were told to obey their masters.  It was one of their social duties, as it was the duty of the master to observe Christian charity towards his slave.  It was part of good work (but of a rather heroic kind) to give freedom in bulk to one's slaves.  But it was not an obligation.  Slavery only disappeared after a process of centuries, and it only disappeared through the gradual working of the Catholic doctrine upon the European mind and through the incompatibility of that doctrine with such treatment of one's fellow men as was necessary if the discipline of servitude were to remain efficient.

Whatever one may think of the Ancient world – and many prefer it still to our current reality – the claims that Belloc makes are undeniable and decidedly pervasive.  Yet to debate whether the Church was primarily responsible for the liberation of the average man from the yoke of decadent overlords is again missing the point by a significant margin.  Christianity does not need a church to implement its ideals; and as its detractors never tire of emphasizing, it often implements policies by which no true Christian could ever abide.  What the Church facilitated, in a form intelligible to the persons who existed at the time as well as to subsequent historians, was a code that could be specifically called Christian and more accurately called moral.  Much of recent philosophy has been devoted to showing that we need no Church or even an Anointed to be moral, which is at once true and untrue.  We can indeed be moral if we understand what pity and love really mean; when we see the history of man, however, we might see something even Greater.  But what we cannot reconcile is the urge to enslave others to make us millionaires with our duty to treat all like equals, equals in dignity, equals in respect, and equals under the law of free will to decide our own fate.  

The antidote to Capitalism was the most radical political movement of the twentieth century, and despite its alleged novelty, there is nothing new to Socialism or Communism or Marxism-Leninism or whatever you wish to call it.  Socialism is the realization that very rich people do not really pay more taxes than an aggregate of citizens making the same amount of money, nor do very rich people really serve any purpose at all apart from enriching themselves further. Socialism is also the realization that trickle-down economics, one of the biggest travesties that economists have ever created, is absolute hogwash.  What trickles down is what the very rich don't need – and you'd be surprised at what they decide they do need – leaving those tasks well below their perceived level or class; you know the kind, the menial errands of the disenfranchised and servile.  But neither is Socialism the answer for a person of moral principles:

What is vaguely called 'Socialism' of which the only logical and complete form worthy of notice in practice is Communism, directly contradicts Catholic morals and is at definable and particular issue with them in a more immediate way than is capitalism.  Communism involves a direct and denial of free will; and that it has immediate fruits violently in opposition to the fruits of Catholicism there can be no doubt .... To promote conflict between citizens, to engage in a class war with the destruction of capitalism as the main end is also directly in contradiction with Catholic morals .... We may say: 'You have a right to fight to prevent the conditions of your life becoming inhuman,' but we may not say, 'You have a right to fight merely because you desire to have more and your opponent to have less.'  

Some rather petty minds may conceive of free will as the right to take what is theirs and leave what they do not need, but that axiom will quickly remind you of another theory.  We may also remember the paradigm case of this English dramatist about two thieves, one of whom was offered Paradise and was saved.  And that other one?  No need to make any presumptions.    

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