"People do not live and work in order to buy stocks."
– The Nation
August 19, 2002
...Modern practitioners of the dismal science would be reluctant, of course, to grant Belloc any status as an economist; nor would Belloc have wanted such a status. For modern economists spring from a tradition both foreign and hostile to that which nurtured Belloc. Theirs is a tradition of materialist philosophy and an obsession with a mere technical analysis of what is; today the analysis is more often than not an attempted explanation of what isn’t (like corporate assets of the value of a stock portfolio). Belloc’s is rather a science of reality, based upon a conception not merely of what is, in this vale of tears, but more importantly of what ought to be.
Readers therefore will not find, in Belloc’s works, traces of that skepticism which speaks of politics as merely the art of the possible, and of economics as a science of hypotheses based solely on observable phenomena and codified into a collection of equations, charts and graphs. As an integral Catholic, Belloc followed in the footsteps of St. Thomas the realist, who spoke of Politics as the moral science which considers the proper ordering of men, and Political Economy as that science concerned with the using of money, for the good estate of the home.
Thus is Belloc’s treatment of economic questions, in Restoration of Property, Economics for Helen, and the Servile State, concerned with reality in both its profoundest sense and its most practical. Profound because Belloc has always before him a knowledge of the Purpose of the sciences, a knowledge that all of the tools, techniques, and means employed by them are given clear and well-defined directions and orientations by their various Purposes. And practical because when Belloc considers economic matters he is concerned not with the pie (-in-the-sky) charts of modern economic theoreticians, but rather with how to solve the problem of securing for men the material necessities of life in a manner most befitting both their dignity as free men and their sublimity as souls destined for Heaven. There is nothing novel in so doing; Belloc simply follows St. Thomas in subordinating the acquisition of wealth to the true needs of man: That a man may lead a good life, two things are required. The chief requisite is virtuous action. The other requisite, which is secondary and quasi-instrumental in character, is a sufficiency of material goods, the use of which is necessary for virtuous action (On Kingship, I, xv.).
Such an approach has for a long time seemed quaint and unrealistic to a society concerned with satisfying the bottom line and getting more bang for the buck. Has seemed quaint – until recently. Today such an approach is being touted as a revelation by many moderns who, all of a sudden, are realizing – even if unconsciously – that St. Thomas had the order of economic priorities exactly right. Protesting the domination of economic activity by finance, and the lawlessness of corporate America, a recent editorial in the Nation declares, The larger purpose of the economic order, including Wall Street, is to support the material conditions for human existence. How charmingly similar to the approach taken by the classical and Catholic political economists, men forming a constant and coherent tradition extending over 2200 years, from Aristotle of the fourth century B.C. to Charles Devas of the early 20th century A.D.!
...And yet even the most brilliant of modern economists remain shocked and surprised that a system which does not have any built-in restraint upon man’s avarice can produce such devastating results: I can only say, said John K. Galbraith in a recent interview with the U.K.-based Independent, I hadn’t expected to see this problem on anything like the magnitude of the last few months – the separation of ownership from management, the monopolization of control by irresponsible personal money-makers.
One wonders what exactly Mr. Galbraith expected to see. Such shock and surprise can only be attributed to a failure – intentional or otherwise – to look not at the figures but at the facts; facts of both history and logic which reveal that the glory of the Christian West consisted not in every man doing what he pleases, as the great Leo XIII put it in his magnificent encyclical Libertas, for this would simply end in turmoil and confusion; but rather in submission, both individual and social, to the Eternal Law, a Law that was written not merely on the hearts of men but also in their constitutions, statutes, codes, and charters.
...Thus is the time more propitious now than it has been in recent memory to re-introduce the wisdom of the Distributists. Modern men seem to be in a rare, though doubtless brief, mood of willingness – and almost eagerness – to think about all things economic. We avail ourselves, therefore, of the opportunity herewith to put before the reader Belloc’s classic Essay on the Restoration of Property...
August 15, 2002
Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary