31 July 2018

The Modern Phase

An essay from Belloc's The Great Heresies, powerful as always. He definitely had the gift of prophecy!

From the ChesterBelloc Mandate

Communism (which is only one manifestation, and probably a passing one, of this Modern Attack) professes to be directed towards a certain good, to wit, the abolition of poverty. But it does not tell you why this should be a good; it does not admit that its scheme is also to destroy other things which are also by the common consent of mankind good; the family, property (which is the guarantee of individual freedom and individual dignity), humour, mercy, and every form of what we consider right living.

Well, give it what name you like, call it as I do here "The Modern Attack," or as I think men will soon have to call it, "Anti-Christ," or call it by the temporary borrowed term of "Bolshevism" (which is only the Russian for "whole hogger"), we know the well enough. It is the revolt of the oppressed; it is not the rising of the proletariat against capitalist injustice and cruelty; it is something from without, some evil spirit taking advantage of men's distress and of their anger
against unjust conditions.

Now that thing is at our gates. Ultimately, of course, it is the fruit of the original break-up of Christendom at the Reformation. It began in the denial of a central authority, it has ended by telling man that he is sufficient to himself, and it has set up everywhere great idols to be worshipped as gods.

It is not only on the Communist side that this appears, it appears also in the organizations opposed to Communism; in the races and nations where mere force is set in the place of God. These also set up idols which hideous human sacrifice is paid. By these also justice and the right order of things are denied.

First, we are witnessing a revival of slavery, the necessary result of denying free will when that denial goes one step beyond Calvin and denies responsibility to God as well as lack of power in man. The two forms of slavery which are gradually appearing and will as time goes on be more and more matured under the effect of the modern attack upon the Faith, are slavery to the State and slavery to private corporations and individuals.

Terms are used so loosely nowadays; there is such a paralysis in the power of definition, that almost any sentence using current phrases may be misinterpreted. If I were to say, "slavery under capitalism," the word "capitalism" would mean different things to different men. It means to one group of writers (what I must confess it means to me when I use it) "the exploitation of the masses of men still free by a few owners of the means of production, transport and exchange." When the mass of men are dispossessed_own nothing_they become wholly dependent upon the owners; and when those owners are in active competition to lower the cost of production the mass of men whom they exploit not only lack the power to order their own lives, but suffer from want and insecurity as well.

But to another man, the term "capitalism" may mean simply the right to private property; yet to another it means industrial capitalism working with machines, and contrasted with agricultural production. I repeat, to get any sense into the discussion, we must have our terms clearly defined.

When the reigning Pope in his Encyclical talked of men reduced "to a condition not far removed from slavery," he meant just what has been said above. When the mass of families in a State are without property, then those who were once citizens become virtually slaves. The more the State steps in to enforce conditions of security and sufficiency; the more it regulates wages, provides compulsory insurance, doctoring, education, and in general takes over the lives of the wage-earners, for the benefit of the companies and men employing the wage-earners, the more is this condition of semi-slavery accentuated. And if it be continued for, say, three generations, it will become so thoroughly established as a social habit and frame of mind that there may be no escape from it in the countries where State Socialism of this kind has been forged and riveted on the body politic.

In Europe, England in particular (but many other countries in a lesser degree) has bound itself to this system. Below a certain level of income a man is guaranteed a bare subsistence should he be out of employment. It is doled out to him by public officials at the expense of losing human dignity. Every circumstance of his family is examined; he is even more in the hands of these officials when out of employment than in the hands of his employer when employed. The thing is still in transition; the mass of men do not yet see to what goal they are tending; but the neglect of human dignity, the potential, if not actual, denial of the doctrine of free will, have led by a natural consequence to what are already semi-servile institutions. These will become fully servile institutions as time goes on.

Now against the evil of wage-slavery there has been long proposed and is now working hard, in actual function, a certain remedy. The briefest name for it is Communism: slavery to the State: far more advanced and thorough than the first form, slavery to the capitalist.

Of modern "wage-slavery" one can only talk by metaphor; the man working at a wage is not fully free as is the man possessed of property; he must do as his master tells him, and when his condition is that not of a minority nor even of a limited majority, but of virtually the whole population except a comparatively small capitalist class, the proportion of real freedom in his life dwindles indeed_yet legally it is there. The employee has not yet fallen to the status of the slave even in the most highly industrialized communities. His legal status is still that of a citizen. In theory he is still a free man who has contracted with another man to do a certain amount of work for a certain amount of pay. The man who contracts to pay may or may not be making a profit out of it; the man who contracts to work may or may not receive in wages more than the value of what he produces. But both are technically free.

This first form of social evil produced by the modern spirit is rather a tendency to slavery than actual slavery; you may call it a half slavery, if you like, where it attaches to vast enterprises_huge factories, monopolist corporations, and so on. But still it is not full slavery.

Now Communism is full slavery. It is the modern enemy working openly, undisguisedly, and at high pressure. Communism denies God, denies the dignity and therefore the freedom of the human soul, and openly enslaves men to what it calls "the State"_but what is in practice a body of favoured officials.

Under full Communism there would be no unemployment, just as there is no unemployment in a prison. Under full Communism there would be no distress or poverty, save where the masters of the nation chose to starve men or give them insufficient clothing, or in any other way oppress them. Communism worked honestly by officials devoid of human frailties and devoted to nothing but the good of its slaves, would have certain manifest material advantages as compared with a proletarian wage-system where millions live in semi-starvation, and many millions more in permanent dread thereof. But even if it were administered thus Communism would only produce its benefits through imposing slavery.

These are the first fruits of the Modern Attack on the social side, the first fruits appearing in the region of the social structure. We came, before the Church was founded, out of a pagan social system in which slavery was everywhere, in which the whole structure of society reposed upon the institution of slavery. With the loss of the Faith we return to that institution again.

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