Some questions have been raised in the discussion on my posts on Locke & Catholic political thought about the extent to which Locke’s political theory conforms to or detracts from natural law. This follow-up post, which will be relatively brief, should serve to answer such questions at least in part.
Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye. David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre. Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:
Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization. Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years. The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration. The Romans were also great engineers and builders. They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today. But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology. As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.
Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology. Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.” Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.” The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.
Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery. Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day. With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.
(Part I may be read here. Some of the discussion may be followed on my blog. Note: the presentation of this essay on this blog may differ somewhat from the outline I set forth in the introduction in Part I. The critique of communism/welfare-statism will be published tomorrow.)
In an academic culture that is often characterized by historicist and relativist viewpoints, the notion that Aristotle may have had anything relevant to say about modern economic systems seems a little strange to us. While it must be admitted that we cannot expect the ancient versions of capitalism and communism to be identical to their modern counterparts, we can nonetheless differentiate the historically-shaped form from what is arguably the timeless content. Moreover, by way of critique of the two dominant economic paradigms (for in the final instance, welfare-statism/Social Democracy incorporates the worst features of both), we can arrive at a more clear vision of the Distributist alternative.
Though it ought to become obvious through the critique of communism, it bears stating up front that the Aristotelian critique of capitalism is not an attack on private property. Difficult as it may be for some readers, the notion that the essence of capitalism is the possession and use of private property is a fallacy bequeathed to us not only by certain capitalist ideologists, but by many (though not all) communists and assorted “anti-capitalists” as well.
A definition of capitalism that accords well with Aristotle’s critique is an economy in which production for exchange is predominant, as opposed to production for immediate use/consumption. Though it is modern technology since the Industrial Revolution that actually allows such an economy to come into being, the pre-industrial tendencies towards this type of economy have been in existence since the dawn of civilization, and reached a pinnacle in the great civilizations of antiquity, including the ancient Greece in which Aristotle lived and wrote.
(Upon request, I am presenting my essay, which I will develop in five parts over the course of this week, here at TAC as well as my blog, Non Nobis)
Distributism is a current of Catholic social thought which holds that a greater distribution of private property, used in accordance with higher moral values and within the context of duties to community and society, is the best economic arrangement. It stands in contrast to both nationalized industry (socialism) as well as the permanent existence of a propertyless class (a feature of modern capitalism). For this, it has sometimes been wrongfully criticized as a reactionary anti-technology theory, a political program that would take society back to the technical level of the Middle Ages.
These accusations are groundless, for Distributism does not depend exclusively upon a particular mode of production; a business wherein shares of ownership were distributed among the employees would qualify as a Distributist enterprise. Thus whether we look to businesses such as the Spanish Mondragon, or to the ten-thousand plus Employee Stock Ownership Programs in the United States, Distributist ideas are not only alive and well, but are growing in appeal.
Although Distributism is most often associated with the modern social teaching of the Church, it is arguable that the first Distributist was in fact Aristotle. This should not be surprising, for insofar as Aristotle’s political and ethical philosophy stressed the importance of discovering and implementing the mean, that is, the middle between two extremes, it is only natural that he would arrive at a Distributist philosophy.
Rather than drown my readers with a lot of words, as I sometimes do, I’m going to write and post this essay in several parts over this following week. I hope that by the end of it at least some will have a somewhat greater understanding/appreciation of Distributism, an idea that Catholics such as myself hope will gain more ground and exposure in the coming years, though I absolutely do not claim to be anywhere near the final word on it (some will say other things, some will say the same things better). I look forward to discussion on this topic.
To read this on the American Catholic click here.
At the request of my friend and fellow contributor to The American Catholic, Darwin Catholic, I will elaborate more on some of the general points I introduced to the discussion over his latest post about economic morality. For those who did not follow the exchange (of me versus everyone, understandable on this somewhat more conservative blog), I questioned the accuracy of any scientific theory of economics that did not take into account class conflict (or, as some insist on saying, “class struggle”). Darwin and others responded by questioning the validity of the very category of class. Hence, we have a great deal of ground to cover – I hope you will bear with me, and that we all end up learning something.