What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Chesterton on Defining 'Capitalism' and 'Socialism'

Presented without commentary or emendation:

I assure the reader that I use words in quite a definite sense, but it is possible that he may use them in a different sense; and a muddle and misunderstanding of that sort does not even rise to the dignity of a difference of opinion.

For instance, Capitalism is really a very unpleasant word. It is also a very unpleasant thing. Yet the thing I have in mind, when I say so, is quite definite and definable; only the name is a very unworkable word for it. But obviously we must have some word for it. When I say "Capitalism," I commonly mean something that may be stated thus: "That economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists, roughly recognizable and relatively small, in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage." This particular state of things can and does exist, and we must have some word for it, and some way of discussing it. But this is undoubtedly a very bad word, because it is used by other people to mean quite other things. Some people seem to mean merely private property. Others suppose that capitalism must mean anything involving the use of capital. But if that use is too literal, it is also too loose and even too large. If the use of capital is capitalism, then everything is capitalism. Bolshevism is capitalism and anarchist communism is capitalism; and every revolutionary scheme, however wild, is still capitalism. Lenin and Trotsky believe as much as Lloyd George and Thomas that the economic operations of to-day must leave something over for the economic operations of to-morrow. And that is all that capital means in its economic sense. In that case, the word is useless. My use of it may be arbitrary, but it is not useless. If capitalism means private property, I am capitalist. If capitalism means capital, everybody is capitalist. But if capitalism means this particular condition of capital, only paid out to the mass in the form of wages, then it does mean something, even if it ought to mean something else.

The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital. I have made an heroic effort in my time to walk about the world always saying Proletarianism instead of Capitalism. But my path has been a thorny one of troubles and misunderstandings. I find that when I criticize the Duke of Northumberland for his Proletarianism, my meaning does not get home. When I say I should often agree with the Morning Post if it were not so deplorably Proletarian, there seems to be some strange momentary impediment to the complete communion of mind with mind. Yet that would be strictly accurate; for what I complain of, in the current defence of existing capitalism, is that it is a defence of keeping most men in wage dependence; that is, keeping most men without capital. I am not the sort of precision who prefers conveying correctly what he doesn't mean, rather than conveying incorrectly what he does. I am totally indifferent to the term as compared to the meaning. I do not care whether I call one thing or the other by this mere printed word beginning with a "C," so long as it is applied to one thing and not the other. I do not mind using a term as arbitrary as a mathematical sign, if it is accepted like a mathematical sign. I do not mind calling Property x and Capitalism y, so long as nobody thinks it necessary to say that x=y. I do not mind saying "cat" for capitalism and "dog" for distributism, so long as people understand that the things are different enough to fight like cat and dog. The proposal of the wider distribution of capital remains the same, whatever we call it, or whatever we call the present glaring contradiction of it. It is the same whether we state it by saying that there is too much capitalism in the one sense or too little capitalism in the other. And it is really quite pedantic to say that the use of capital must be capitalist. We might as fairly say that anything social must be Socialist; that Socialism can be identified with a social evening or a social glass. Which, I grieve to say, is not the case.

Nevertheless, there is enough verbal vagueness about Socialism to call for a word of definition. Socialism is a system which makes the corporate unity of society responsible for all its economic processes, or all those affecting life and essential living. If anything important is sold, the Government has sold it; if anything important is given, the Government has given it; if anything important is even tolerated, the Government is responsible for tolerating it. This is the very reverse of anarchy; it is an extreme enthusiasm for authority. It is in many ways worthy of the moral dignity of the mind; it is a collective acceptance of a very complete responsibility. But it is silly of Socialists to complain of our saying that it must be a destruction of liberty. It is almost equally silly of Anti-Socialists to complain of the unnatural and unbalanced brutality of the Bolshevist Government in crushing a political opposition. A Socialist Government is one which in its nature does not tolerate any true and real opposition. For there the Government provides everything; and it is absurd to ask a Government to provide an opposition. (From the first chapter of An Outline of Sanity.)

Alright, I'll permit myself one comment, to the effect that (what we know as) communism was originally known as scientific socialism; so it was called by its foremost theoretical exponents, who sought to differentiate their malign philosophical creation from 'romantic' and 'utopian' expressions of the communalist ideal. Conservative recourse to the easy rhetorical trope of labeling various forms of managed capitalism 'socialism' obscures more than it illuminates, by casting all into an undifferentiated black mass of collectivism, into which the light of our vaunted liberties does not penetrate.

Comments (35)

Quite. Chesterton didn't want to be called a socialist. I knew that already.

But the implication--even if it is coming from Chesterton--that nothing can be usefully called "socialism" unless the government does quite literally everything--unless, in fact, it's totally nationalized communism in every industry--is at least as unhelpful as overusing the term. It would be a great mistake, for example, to believe that European welfare-state soft socialism embodies some sort of admirable Chestertonian "third way" because it is neither capitalism nor communism. Very much to the contrary. There is, for example, nothing remotely Chestertonian about Germany's approach to education, Sweden's approach to child-rearing, or the UK's socialized medical system. Nor do I believe that the heavy taxation and heavy welfare in these countries is anything other than *of a piece* with their approach to social issues. And the inevitable intertwining of matters of values, ethics, and economics is nowhere more evident than in healthcare.

I once overheard (at the hairdresser's) a woman in the next chair, obviously a university professor, explaining to _her_ hairdresser the matter of National Health Care and government-funded daycare. This was in the early 1990's, so these things were very hot topics. She said something like, "In Europe, they understand these things. They pay lots of taxes, and they get lots of goodies. If you want goodies, you have to pay the taxes." This, you understand, was meant to enlist the hairdresser on the side of Hillary-care. You see: Just pay the government and they will find (somewhere) "goodies" and deliver them to you. How simple. What a cool deal. Everybody loves goodies.

And if you can't recognize the resemblance in that to what Chesterton calls "socialism," above, you're just missing it. I'd like to think Chesterton would have recognized it had he been there.

I don't disagree that European soft-socialism, welfare-statism, social democracy (at least on certain constructions), corporatism, or whatever terms one employs to designate the European social model, would have mortified Chesterton; neither am I sympathetic in the slightest to the policies mentioned. My term for them would be "gross injustices", by and large. My contention, however, is that referring to such social models as socialistic is an act of painting with a broad brush, and one with few hairs; the undifferentiated appellation informs us not one whit about the differences between and among such systems, nor about the similarities between such systems and our own domestic therapeutic state. In other words, we too often trot out the discourse of "socialism=bad" when we ought to be parsing the differences of forms of managerial capitalism, insofar as it is nonsensical to speak of socialism when neoliberal economic doctrines are in the ascendancy, in Europe as in America. If one wishes to speak of graduated socialistic tendencies, I suppose that is not so egregious, though, as always, I maintain that the (to my mind, antiquated) discourse of socialism vs. capitalism obscures what actually transpires in such societies, namely, that - each in accordance with local and national political cultures - societies are endeavouring to manage and mitigate the instabilities and consequences of an economic system predicated upon capital maximizing the rate of return. European societies succeed in some respects, and fail in others, and the unintended consequences may yet prove fatal - God willing, they will not - but the unacknowledged contributory factor in all of that is the incoherence of accepting the premises of capitalism - the imperative of maximizing certain measures of aggregate material utility by encouraging capitalists to do x, y, and z - while bewailing the inevitable consequences, and attempting to thwart them. This generates the instability of which the distributists warned, namely, that the system exhibited many undesirable characteristics, the logic of which pointed toward a solution - socialism - which, at best, would be no more preferable, and might actually be - and was, in practice - worse.

Of course, the illusion of socialism now stands utterly discredited, and a significant percentage of the discontent of modern politics owes to an inchoate sense that "at least it's better than socialism (or communism)" is not a sufficient compensation for the unpleasantries associated with the triumph of The Market uber alles.

Chesterton, I am certain, would have recognized this, as well.

You make a reasonable, "fair and balanced" point, and you make it well. Is your main objection to European "soft socialism" that it somehow promotes secularism? If so, what is the mechanism there? Or is the objection to a confiscatory level of taxation? I don't really see a valid case for political oppression holding sway over the social democracies of Western Europe.
While on the topic, I just came across the following. How would you debunk this kind of thing (assuming that you would want to debunk it?):
Here is evidence of the horrors of socialized medicine.

I daresay part of the problems of labels is not what names are misused and then applied to other beliefs and those supposedly who hold them, instead it's how those labels are changed through ideological permutations and adopted by adherents to revised conceptual/political positions themselves.

So you might say the confusion of identifiers is brought about by those who in the name of various so called ideals resort to measures intrinsic to altered definitional parameters.

Therefore it is less the dullards of the right, the Attila's of rampant exploitation, euphemistically referred to as Capitalism, who blur distinctions as it is those who view society as a panorama, a social laboratory, a giant experiment awaiting their benevolent guidance, who have mangled words, to the point today that in certain circles a previously applicable vocabulary has gone the way of hooped skirts and unicycles, and a word, Fabianism.

I might add that particular policies may still be accurately described by older terms, but by a diminishing number of people. Today single words not even clothed with a hint of policy suffice to deliver any number of people to levels of excitation and commitment in the past reserved for whole books and serious reflection.

As for Mr Chesterton, much as I deeply admire him he is not without his own mistakes and misinterpretations. Nor did he envision the tentacles of the Managerial State.

Socialism is an interventionist system that admits of varying degrees. But whether it exists in its partial or its plenary forms, it is a failure, eccentric Chestertonian nomenclature notwithstanding. That is, if, as a Christian, you are in favor of freedom for the oppressed and prosperity for the poor, you ought not advocate socialism.

The proof is not far to find. One need only go back as far as WWII in order to see what works better and what does not. If you compare, say, the Soviet Union and Japan, the outcome is clear. The Soviet Union was on the winning side of the war effort, and was given all of eastern Europe as a gift. It had more far human and natural resources than Japan. Japan was on the losing side of the war effort, and got nuked -- twice. It had far less natural and human resources than the Soviet Union, and was under the control of its conqueror. How did it turn out? Japan is an economic powerhouse, and the Soviet Union is extinct.

The same results hold true if you compare North and South Korea, or East and West Germany while they were separated. Indeed the same holds true of South Africa now under the ANC-types and South Africa earlier under apartheid. Blacks in South Africa under Apartheid actually made more per capita than whites did in the Soviet Union. Blacks also made more in South Africa under Apartheid than they do now under the burgeoning socialism of the current regime.

If you want to help the poor, you don't want socialism in any of its incarnations -- no matter what GK Chesterton calls it. GKC is no better at economics than he is at theology. It takes more to be good at either discipline than being a smart-alec quipster with a flair for paradox and imprecision.

A friend of mine, who went to school with Gorbachev and who served with him in Moscow, once told me about Gorby's first comment once he arrived in the US: "My, how wealthy are your poor!"

On the failures of socialism I recommend George Gilder's Wealth and Poverty and Michael Novak's The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

Michael Bauman

Etienne Gilson, the great French neo-Thomist, said of GK Chesterton's Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox: it is "without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas." Hugh Kenner, the distinguished critic, wrote that his "great metaphysical intuition of being" may earn him the title Doctor of the Church.

Not bad for a "smart-alec quipster with a flair for paradox and imprecision."

I like Gilder and Novak, but neither holds a candle to Chesterton -- and they would be the first to admit it.

I have to say outright that I do not think Chesterton had clear or practical economic ideas. He was an idealist in the economic realm. Idealists do not always realize that things can't be the way they want them to be without unintended and undesired consequences that they do not want. I believe that to some extent Chesterton was in that camp.

For example, to "distribute" property as he desired, which he _explicitly_ said should be done by a "revolution," would require a very strong state mechanism, yet he wanted the individual man after that to be safe in his own home from busy-body interference. In other words, a State powerful enough to distribute property and break down the monopoly of the evil capitalist landowner who had "too much" and/or made everybody else into "wage slaves" was not supposed to bother the ordinary man in undesirable ways afterwards. This is not realistic.

Similarly, he did not understand--what I realize will be howled down here as false but what I believe is true--that a much greater disparity in the possession of property and capital than Chesterton desired is more or less inevitable, and will occur again and again, necessitating _repeated_ "revolutions" to redistribute it. Those who say they are "distributists" like to say they are not "redistributivists." I say, this distinction is not possible in practice, because after you wade in and give every man his little stake or plot of land or whatever and break down the big owners, it will not be long before some people have a lot more than others and employ those others--sometimes willingly and happily on both sides--to an extent that a person of this sort will not be comfortable with. Which will then require another "revolution," if there has not been a continuous government set-up in place to stop people from giving up their "stakes" in favor of employment and security from the Evil Capitalists.

The truth is that it isn't really so bad for lots of people to be employed by a relatively smaller number of people and that human nature is such that if the "little guys" are not "forced to be free," they will often be happy to be *so-called* "wage slaves." The irony is that the phrase "forced to be free" is used against the capitalists, when in fact it is the distributist who aesthetically and morally opposes the not-obviously-evil employment arrangements that people reach of their own free will and who wants to set up some sort of regulatory mechanism that will prevent these arrangements from developing on the scale of which he disapproves.

I say that not only is this troubling--since I do not share the distributist's evaluations in the first place--but it also will have unintended consequences in terms of the power of government over every man in the country and the subservience of men to government that the supposedly freedom-loving, not-socialist distributist will not like.

Is it a propitious morning for the quick recourse to the non-sequitur and the begged question?

Of course there is a venerable tradition of linguistic subterfuge on the left, a tradition that might be said to have been inaugurated by the Fabians; no one here has gainsaid this, nor, for that matter, did Chesterton. What is imperative, however, is that it be recognized that the right has benefited from an analogous exercise of terminological subterfuge, the lineaments of which Chesterton sketched in the quoted passage. The term 'capitalism' is frequently employed with reference to the institution of private property, and it is on this basis that the great ideological struggles of the Twentieth Century were waged in the West, at least at the level of ordinary public discourse. Nevertheless, the actual economic institutions and practices which such rhetoric mobilized the masses to defend were those of the plutocratic, concentrating, utilitarian establishment - enormous economic agglomerations exercising de facto political power, multinational corporations, and high finance - which by its very nature imposes regimentation and dependency as surely as any managerial state or socializing society. One might state that the conservative masses, particularly in the United States, imagined that they were defending the institution of private property as an integral element of their political heritage, when, in reality, they were only being exploited by a de facto economic aristocracy, which sought to entrench a globalizing, meritocratic order which actively subverts that political inheritance.

Moreover, Chesterton and Belloc well anticipated the managerial state, albeit not by name; their works on distributism are replete with references to the regimentation imposed by corporatism capitalism, the tendency of that system towards increasing concentration of wealth and power, which imparted a certain logical coherence to the socialist mythos, as well as the concinnity of corporate and state interests in the perpetuation of such a system - all of which themes, explored through the instrumentality of a divergent philosophical orientation, not to mention a distinctive terminology, were limned by James Burnham and Samuel Francis, who recognized the essential unity of the corporate and bureaucratic castes of modern Western society.

Finally, Chesterton was no advocate of socialism; the notion that he was can only result from a begging of the question, to the effect that capitalism-as-we-now-know-it and socialism are mutually exclusive and exhaustive alternatives. As for Gilder and Novak, I've read them both, and since Novak is the more sophisticated of the two theorists of democratic capitalism, I'll confine my remarks to his work: Novak presupposes that political economy is an autonomous domain of human intellectual and practical endeavour, even to such a degree of explicitness that he avows that Christian ethical judgments - including, by necessary implication, those of the natural law and the doctrines of the Catholic Church - are inadmissible within that sphere. Their only applicability lies in the domain of certain meta-judgments, which themselves presuppose the formulations and methodologies of classical (liberal) political economy: we must ameliorate the lot of the poor, and democratic capitalism, in accordance with its immanent calculus of aggregate utility maximization, will accomplish this. Such a theoretical construct presupposes that there are entire categories of human actions which, in their ordinary senses and performances, are not subject to moral judgment; they are assumed to be moral because they occur within a system which is assumed to be moral because it ostensibly maximizes material utility. This is not merely rationally dubious; it is unjust.

Similarly, he did not understand--what I realize will be howled down here as false but what I believe is true--that a much greater disparity in the possession of property and capital than Chesterton desired is more or less inevitable, and will occur again and again, necessitating _repeated_ "revolutions" to redistribute it.


In think that Chesterton did understand this full-well. I think that this understanding is embodied in Orthodoxy by the following:

"If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution."

Well, then, Rodak, he didn't understand that when you give somebody or somebodies literal power to "keep repainting the fence," you--meaning the distributist--will probably dislike what he/they end up doing with it. A man will very likely not be king in his small castle, which was also what Chesterton wanted.

I have to chime in with some support for Lydia on this point:

Similarly, he did not understand--what I realize will be howled down here as false but what I believe is true--that a much greater disparity in the possession of property and capital than Chesterton desired is more or less inevitable, and will occur again and again, necessitating _repeated_ "revolutions" to redistribute it.

I am perfectly sanguine about aristocracies, as they (like the poor) seem to be something which will be with us always. I think it is unhealthy to live in a state of denial about their existence and legitimacy, and it is that - the denial of their own existence and legitimacy - which distinguishes modern aristocracies most acutely from those of antiquity.

Revolutions, on the other hand, are sanguinary enough on their own terms, leaving me, when it comes to revolutions, a great deal less sanguine.

A man will very likely not be king in his small castle, which was also what Chesterton wanted.

I don't quite see how that automatically follows. The little man, in his small castle, who does the necessary, and tends his own garden, is not the man who will accumulate more than he needs, over and over again. There is no need for the powers-that-be to invade his world. The Distributionist will be after the guy who could never learn to be obedient to the enactment of the common good, or to be content with the concept of "sufficiency."

I am perfectly sanguine about aristocracies, as they (like the poor) seem to be something which will be with us always

When the many all have enough--a true sufficiency--there will then be no reason to begrudge the few their Life-endangering surpluses.

I, too, contemplate the prospect of aristocracy with sanguinity. My only objections concern the character and qualities of the present aristocracy, along with the socio-economic foundations of their wealth, privilege, and power; given the choice between a meritocratic aristocracy of utilitarian preference-satisfaction - which is essentially what he have - and an old-school aristocracy of blood and birth, I'll opt for the latter. Neither is there any necessity of the present aristocracy benefiting from quite the degree of concentrated wealth and power as actually obtains; that power is exercised on behalf of a most un-aristocratic tendency, namely, the dissolution of the nation which (de facto) ennobled them.

Rodak, I said "very likely." The point, or one of the points, is that when you set up a mechanism powerful enough to keep everything "distributed" all the time, those in charge of that mechanism will end up doing many other things as well, which will very likely affect the man in his little castle. For example, they may tell him that he can't drain the little bit of swamp at the back of the back yard of his castle, because it's "wetlands." Or if he starts up a small business, he'll have to fill out a zillion forms and make his bathrooms handicapped accessible, even though he's still very much one of the little guys. Is this a logical truth? No, but that general sort of thing is probable, given human nature. Basically, when you set up people and tell them, "Your job is to decide how much any one individual _should_ accumulate and to make sure on a continual basis that no one accumulates more than that," you are giving them not only a swelled head but an enormous amount of power over their fellow men. And you are gradually teaching their fellow men to bow to that power. To assume that such power and such submissiveness will serve only the ends a Chesterton would have liked is naive. The trouble with idealists is very often that they assume that all else will remain equal when, in fact, all else hardly ever does remain equal. They assume that "someone" will make things happen the way they want them to happen *in this one area* and that that will be all. It's almost never that way.


And the reason we should be more sanguine about the concentration of economic power - which is infinitely fungible with political power - when economic power is itself dependent upon concentrations of political power for its very sustenance, than about concentrations of political power per se, is what, precisely? This is not a choice worth making, but a dualism summoning forth resistance. If power corrupts in the latter case, it corrupts also in the former.

In other words, we are enjoined to dread with the terrors of hell itself the concentration of political power allegedly requisite to countering increasing economic concentration, on grounds of the manifest horrors perpetrated by centralized governments in recent history; and, simultaneously, we are apparently supposed to believe that the beneficiaries of economic concentration will not attempt to exploit their economic power in order to acquire political power, that they might more efficiently secure their interests. Or, perhaps, that economic power is, considered in itself, benign, even when it engenders such social phenomena as the dissolution of the nation, economically and otherwise. Or, yet further, if it is conceded that economic power can imperil the integrity of a self-governing society, that the measures requisite to maintaining a firewall between state and economy do not themselves entail certain prudential risks - risks of the accumulation of power, or the formation of alternate centers of power.

If I might make a meta-point here, it would be that too much of this discussion is conditioned by the attempt to identify some expedient, positive or negative, by which some concrete evil can be forestalled or avoided altogether.

But there is no magic bullet, only a continual endeavour to exercise prudence and reasoned judgment, towards the end that the common good might be realized; and this entails an indefinite series of balancing measures, attempts to navigate between antipodal evils and injustices. In fact, this sort of balancing act is what justice is.

Is this a logical truth? No, but that general sort of thing is probable, given human nature.

And that sort of thing happens under every kind of system, going. It's happening here, as you know and decry; yet we have a capitalism so unbridled that the income gaps are huge and growing ever-huger.
If anything, such regulation as you use as an example happens less in places like China, where economic progress now trumps all human considerations, despite the all-powerful central government and micromanaged economy. Go drink some river water in China.
Obviously, Chesterton was writing of ideals--which are never anything more than something to move haltingly in the direction of. But, it's the moving-in-the-direction-of--or not--by which we can evaluate our current state of righteousness.

"And the reason we should be more sanguine about the concentration of economic power - which is infinitely fungible with political power - when economic power is itself dependent upon concentrations of political power for its very sustenance, than about concentrations of political power per se, is what, precisely?"

Here are several, not that you will like them, nor that they will change your mind, but so it can't be said I didn't try to answer:

1) Indirect power is not the same as direct power. Or, to put it differently, there's always a difference between the guy who has the guns and the legal right to use them on you and the guy who doesn't.

You consistently deny this or downplay it, but the difference is there, and it is important. The big businessman, for example, may like the notion of the Americans With Disabilities Act, insofar as it will hit his smaller business competitors harder than it will hit him. He may even use his lobbying power to promote it. But it remains the bureaucrat who has the actual power to bring the lawsuits and who decides on a day-to-day basis whom to harass with the full power of the state behind him. It remains the judge who can issue the court order or levy the fine. It remains the policeman or other enforcer who can put a lien on funds to collect the fine, who can shut down the business, who enforces the court order. And on and on.

The powerful businessman may want certain laws passed and he may have considerable lobbying power to get them passed, but he does not rule me directly. The government isn't the same thing as Big Business, and you cannot make it so no matter how much you talk as if they are interchangeable. They aren't. Direct physical and legal power is not the same thing as indirect influence over government, period.

2) Do-gooders are more dangerous than profiteers.

I view the difference as closely akin to the difference between someone who wants to beat you up until you do what he tells you to do and someone who wants to seduce you. I'd like to see pornography be illegal, but the fact remains that the profiteer may want to induce me to bring pornography into my home, but he cannot force me to do so (see point #1), and I am in more danger from the do-gooder who wants to bring a social worker into my home to monitor my parenting practices. The ambitions of the do-gooder are to control directly the details of the lives of (in my opinion) entirely innocent people for reasons of what he considers the "common good" and what I consider to be social engineering and brain-washing. His appetite for direct power over me is different, and in my opinion more to be feared, than the appetite of the profiteer for the power to arouse my appetites for his products and hence make money.

3) The relevance of the rich man's ability to influence government can be limited insofar as government power itself is limited.

Steve Burton has made this point before in comments. He's right. It's one thing to say that the guy with money will often have a lot of influence over how government power is used. It's another to say that the guy with money will thus indirectly wield governmental power over the lives of his fellow citizens. He can only manipulate government power insofar as the government _has_ power. Limited government will also limit the influence of business by way of government.

For example: Suppose that the courts had been honest about the commerce clause and laughed out of court (as it were) the many expansions of federal regulatory power over the lives of citizens, including businesses a good deal smaller than those Big Corporations we keep hearing about. Suppose they had pointed to the 10th Amendment and said, "These powers are reserved to the states or the people. Congress has no authority to make such laws." Well, then, however much the Big Corporations might have wished to push out their small competition through a regulatory burden the competition could ill afford, they wouldn't have been able to do it through the federal government, because the power of the federal government would not have extended that far. They would have had to try it on a state-by-state level, which is more tedious and less effective.

Business can only make use of governmental power for its own ends, even indirectly, insofar as government has power.

I agree that there's no substitute for detailed prudential judgements. But I consider it obviously and highly imprudent to give government the power continuously to redistribute capital and property so as to make sure it's divided up relatively equally according to the ideal that apparently Chesterton had in mind. That's my prudential judgement.

Certainly indirect power and direct power are to be distinguished, but if anyone is reading my posts and deriving the conclusion that I have either identified or conflated them, he is quite simply reading something that isn't there. I have spent the better part of the preceding eight months or so of the life of this blog arguing that combinations of concentrated private/public power are undesirable, more often that not unjust, and productive of consequences that no conservative should be willing to countenance with the world-weary shrug of, "Well, at least it's not socialism!" I'm unable to muster the inclination to recapitulate whole threads of argumentation, replete with all of their nuances, qualifications, and incendiary asides. Perhaps some readers will be grateful for this forbearance on my part.

No, what I desire, instead, is an affirmative defense of the proposition that, despite the inexorable consequences of the managerial association of corporate and bureaucratic power, the contemporary expression of which in political economy is globalization - in all of its facets - which consequences essentially and gradually establish conditions of impossibility for any sort of vibrant, societally-normative and ordering conservatism, we should nonetheless effectively acquiesce in the contemporary mythos of its inevitability. This, because, ostensibly, bureaucrats and do-gooders with guns are worse than profiteers, even profiteers whose methodologies undermine substantive human goods and facilitate the dissolution of the American nation. Fine, coercion involving the threat of violence is worse than coercion involving the destruction of entire communities and ways of life by economic means, coercion involving the tacit erosion of architecture and institutions of self-government.

And? It scarcely follows from the fact that overt threats of violence are 'worse' that managerial capitalism is something to be lauded, something to be affirmed as worthy of conservative allegiance and defense; the injustice of the alternative does not demonstrate the justice of the 'given'. "Better than socialism" avails nothing when "better than socialism' still entails injustices; why go to the ramparts, metaphorically speaking, for something minimally less unjust than the political economy of the European Union, for example?

As regards limitations upon government power, if American history inculcates any abiding lessons, they would be, first, that a virtuous disposition, a rightly formed will, is requisite to the observance of such limitations; absent such a well-formed character, on the part of the statemen themselves and the public at large, parchment barriers are devoid of significance. Second, and in recognition of this fact, much of American political thought has emphasized the dispersal of power into mutually antagonistic centers, so that the formal mechanisms of government might partially supply the natural lack among the people; an extension of this hallmark of American republicanism would recognize that, in the absence of well-distributed property, to be achieved, ideally, by wise and prudent limitations in the first instance, the probability of the wills of the powerful being ill-formed only increases - unlimited acquisitiveness, or avarice, being a vice.

I am not being flippant about this. If such Platonic observations, or Augustinian ones, for that matter, are deemed impolitic or inapposite, so much the worse for political modernity.

Maximos, painful, very painful, so painful I think I'll post and bow out.

An Aristocracy? You mean the executives and millionaires routinely called before Congressional committees for public humiliation, used as sounding boards at the hands of the ignorantii, chased down, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly by the failed but idealistic ambulance chasers of the Justice[?] Department?
That aristocracy ?

The Managerial State; I think I spotted something pretending to be an answer to what I earlier posted, I hope I'm not flattering myself. But to be clear, in no way was I referencing a union of Capital and government. There is no such union!
Don't faint on me as I know how hard you have labored on your misdirected jeremiads.

One does not contribute money to another in the hope and expectation of either favors or the blessing of being left alone and find himself united with and equal to the receiver of said benefices. Do you grasp this? Rather one is paying tribute, or if you will, bribes, to the greater power.

At all times it is government that is the sole component of today's Managerial State.
Let a pressure group, charitably called an advocacy group, raise a hue and cry over perceived harassment in the workplace, let the politicians and that dark shadow of the Managerial State, the bureaucracy, take note, and lo, you will witness the "power" of Capital. Rather it is Capital that dances to the tune, pays for such forbearance that it may buy, and swells the ranks of in-house lawyers to both protect itself and wander through the maze of regulation.

To not know this, or show an awareness of it is at the least, politely put, in error.
Would this monolith, government, be the agency of rectitude, justice however defined, invigorated culture, Jeffersonian democracy, ordered and valued conservatism?
This, this Thing, will supply "wise and prudent limitation"? Fantasy, and a fantasy which contradicts your cursory hat tip to division of powers.

You aim at the minnows and miss the shark.

In all this, and more if I had the strength to comment on it, there are recurrent themes; greed, the national fabric, morals, etc. Stunningly you lay our impending demise and, your word, "dissolution" at the hands of the bloated plutocrats. Yet you touch upon something, all too briefly, modernity, which bears closer examination.

Modernity is to me synonymous with vulgarity, with ignorance, with an untethered populace in all it's strata, untethered to anything, anything at all, transcendent and greater then themselves. Loosened from time, unaware of the past and aware of a possible future guided and centered only on hedonism, one hopes of a not to sybaritic nature.

To lay this rotting corpse of a culture solely at the feet of the wealthy, which is implicit in your apparently endless series of barrages at capitalism, is to put aside or willfully ignore a multitudinous number of baleful changes occurring over generations. One must pick with exceeding care to stress the rich "aristocracy" and pass over questions of art, literature, education, music, the aforementioned Managerial State, philosophy, religion, and much more. One must dance around the issue and rise of a perpetual avant- garde, the obsessed reformer, the manipulated Mass Man, a vulgar but extensive media, the cultural nihilist, the politically driven, and lastly, but only for now, a people only to willing to succumb to a blithe ignorance and to adopt the secular god of government.

You blame capitalism to much and to much escapes your blame.
But if I may correct one of your previous mistakes from this endless series; You said that the excesses of capitalism beget socialism. Perhaps you could be more wrong but at the moment I can't see how.
Power begets socialism. Power through rule may find different venues or methods, socialism not the least of them. But always the question of power, it's extent, it's use, it's restraints, is present in politics and history. Power doesn't need or isn't reliant on the existence of faults within capitalism, it always finds it own rationale and it's own adherents and it's own victims.

And you worry about capitalism !

Use you illusions, if they enable you to get by, John. I won't prevent you. Of course the plutocracy only renders tribute to a superior power, and is never, never in the slightest interested in acquiring privileges or special dispensations! There is no corporate welfare, and legislation has never been rejiggered - whether on tax policy, trade policy, acquisitions and mergers, consolidation, patent extension, subsidies, immigration, and much else besides - at the behest of wealthy and highly connected corporate interests! Why, the private sector has been immaculately conceived; original sin has been banished from the sacred precincts of the aristocracy of wealth; corruption, peculation, and chicanery are unknown among them; and the managerial state - quite contrary to the analyses of those who have actually investigated the entity as a politico-economic formation - is purely a phenomenon of socialism, which arose, ex-nihilo, as a creation of malignant, resentful, debauched souls. Why, capitalists have never sullied themselves by contact with cultural radicalism, whether feminist or otherwise, but have quivered timorously before the puissance noir of socialists, do-gooders, and tortured academics who have yielded to their ressentiment! Why, the plutocracy has not connived at the dissolution of the nation by means of mass immigration and deindustrialization, purchasing the abeyance of enforcement of immigration law, along with a trade policy predicated upon internation labour arbitrage! No, the boogeyman - err, socialists, did it, merely because they could, because they hate.

Finally, and for the record, so that I'll never again have occasion to stipulate the patently obvious: I do not now, nor have I never, nor will I ever, lay blame solely at the feet of the plutocracy. Conservative criticism of capitalism, both as an economic system, and as the hegemonic, animating ethos of liberal society, is an underserved philosophical niche.

"No, the boogeyman - err, socialists, did it, merely because they could, because they hate."

This puzzles me a little bit. Surely, Maximos, you know as well as I do or as anyone else does that the ideologues who want these various policies--the feminists, the homosexual rights activists, the people who want to control parenting, those who believe passionately in the redistribution of income, the educrats, the environmentalists, and so forth--surely _will_ do various things simply because they can. They will do them because they _are_ ideologues, because they believe in reordering society and redesigning human nature. They need no other excuse in terms of the profit motive, which they disdain in any event, being sympathetic to, yes, socialism. (And even, to some extent, sympathetic to outright communism. How many of these liberal academic types have made excuses for some of the most evil regimes we can name?) They are the True Believers. Why should you speak sarcastically of the idea that if you put such people in charge and give them the power of law to enforce their ideology they will do so, simply because they can? That seems to me simple truth.

I wrote sarcastically, not to deride the idea that these escapees from a philosophical bestiary desire to enforce their ideologies, but to deride the idea that the corporate establishment did nothing more than cower meekly before an implacable onslaught of leftist folderol, because this is, historically speaking, untrue. Additionally, I wrote sarcastically because it is likewise untrue that socialism and various other expressions of leftist sentiment arose, unbidden, from the blackness of wicked minds; socialism, if I might be permitted a cursory sketch, arose because liberal capitalism failed to deliver on the promise of enabling each individual to ascend to the empyrean heights of the self-created superman, because liberal capitalism was fraught with instabilities that ordinary people refused to countenance, and because many intellectuals believed that socialistic methodologies would better deliver on the promise of greater aggregate material utility. In other words, socialism exists, not merely because some intellectuals yielded to their bilious natures, but also because people were casting about for some alternative to specific features of their societies that were untenable, because other people committed intellectual errors, and because other people, often innocently, became enraptured by the West's dominant mythos of scientific, rational progress toward an immanent utopia.

By way of summation, I write not to exonerate the ideologues and lunatics of the left, but expand the indictment.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but hasn't there always been a conservative critique of capitalism present in some form or another, at least since the negative effects of the industrial revolution and commerce capitalism began to be seen? It's there in the antebellum South, and in some of the opponents of Reconstruction. Later it shows up in the Southern Agrarians and their heirs and in many of the other anti-modernists/anti-centralists. It's also in Russell Kirk and other later "paleocons" and "tradcons."

My point is not to express agreement with Maximos (although I do agree with him), but to point out that what he is saying here has been said for a long time and by quite a few conservatives. It's nothing new, neither is it heretical from a conservative standpoint.

There have for a long time been various types of conservatism, and of course some have said things much like at least some of what Maximos is saying. As you say, to say that isn't the same thing as to agree with the claims being made.

Maximos, As you refused, and were unable to try, to respond sensibly to my post I assume a victory, which truth told, I assumed while I was posting.

Nowhere do I say that capitalists do not curry favor from government, but then if they were an aristocracy and gifted with the power you absurdly ascribe to them they wouldn't have to curry favor, would they?

Likewise nowhere do I say that cultural decline is absent from corporate America, you assume it, but the decline was begun and continues to be powered by forces well outside the precincts of business. If elucidation is required on this point you will have to forward a check payable to me for tuition.

You manfully[?] struggle to ignore the point of power, and possibly with some hesitation, cling to the historically, factually grotesque notion that along with it's many other sins capitalism is responsible for what must be it's Hegelian antithesis, socialism. But as I overrated you, and from a modest base, I thought you might grasp that socialism is just one manifestation of the urge to power. Sorry!

Therefore you dance away from both manifestation and question and with weak humor say that socialism and it's poor sister, the Managerial State "rose unbidden", "ex nihilo". Ah, but to complete, ex nihilo nihil fit, out of nothing nothing comes, and putting aside the hungry, yearning masses to whom your heart, if not your wallet, extends, it is as always the leaders, the agitators, the power driven from whose minds socialism and /or whatever else they can get away with springs. And quite easily bidden.

Power, socialism, the managerial state doesn't doesn't need excuses, least of all yours, it seeks it's own ends and finds it's own justification regardless of what the followers and dupes think.

If some people are stupid enough to think that government is an answer, the answer, to society's ills, that it supplies a moral position rather than a cynical and opportunistic one, then they offer themselves to degradation, not salvation.

"The more one considers the matter, the clearer it becomes that redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the State".
Bertrand de Jouvenal

To close; you mentioned Augustine in one of your excitable and righteous posts, but it was Augustine, citing Corinthians, who said "it is not yours we want, it is you".
Augustine would welcome others into the shared brotherhood and sisterhood of Christ, those that would see, those that would come, those that would help, care, and share from belief and from their hearts. He did not espouse a managerial state or coerced redistribution or a false, second hand morality based on what a central government could squeeze from deluded taxpayers. Perhaps you should find other sources.

Maximos, I don't mind sarcasm, rather it inspires me. But you see it has to be joined to reason, connected to response and answers, and not tied to favorite hobby horses. I would suggest that you find the answers within a more modest domain, yourself, and not ask the government to do it's false, vote buying, demagogic, dirty work on behalf of a displaced morality. Again, one that assumes that the individual is better who assumes that government can and should do what he should do for and by himself.

As Aristotle pointed out in the Ethics, that good action is good based on it's being voluntary. You can't farm that stuff out Max.

Hey, Johnt: You've been around for quite awhile, maybe even from the beginning, but I have to insist that you dial back the hostility. Capitalism is a subject of some considerable dispute around here. We have no pro-Capitalist orthodoxy, as we have, for instance, an anti-Liberal and anti-Jihadist orthodoxy. Indeed, there is no consensus even among the Contributors, as the months-long back and forth between Lydia and Jeff have demonstrated. Let's try to keep it civil, as they have done so admirably.

I assume a victory, which truth told, I assumed while I was posting.

I'll sell you a big foam hand to wave around if you want one. What color would you like?

That would have to be a pyrrhic victory, John, inasmuch as you've simply presupposed that socialism uniquely arises from the will-to-power, which I've never gainsaid. In fact, power is essentially a natural feature of our world, and in some sense, most of what we do expresses a will-to at some level. Even capitalism, which, incidentally, arose upon the pyre of feudalism, not by means of some benign, organic evolution, but by the forcible deconstruction of an existing social and legal order. Or did the confiscation of the Church lands and the monasteries, their redistribution to favoured nobles, the introduction by those nobles of new economic routines - over and against established customs - and the enclosure of the commons, all undergirded by judges who legitimized the violation of established practices by appeal to the utilitarian criterion of "greater exchange - ie., monetary - value", just happen naturally?

Moreover, I've read de Jouvenal; in fact I read him in high school, around the time I read Marx. Nothing in de Jouvenal can alter the historical fact that many people have always perceived in the concentrating tendencies of a certain capitalism a precursor of something else, nor that the instabilities of capitalism (about which I will - literally - brook no supercilious lectures, inasmuch as those instabilities in Ireland are among the reasons I even exist) have prompted many to contemplate that Something Else as a remedy, however poisonous it has proven to be. In other words, the Will-to-Power requires an occasion; it is a formality requiring material upon which to operate, and socialism is not unique as such material. In that regard, authors I have previously referenced are also apposite, as by their expositions they demonstrate the substantial overlap of managerial capitalism and the administrative state we, alike, deplore.

Finally, the entire notion of the relationship of government and business being that of supplicant to master radically simplifies the relationship, mistaking a part for the whole; corporations, in the Nineteenth Century, advocated the Tariff as a means of building a national market, and in the late Twentieth Century, advocated its abolition. In both cases, the interests of the corporations were served well by the political class, not because the former were attempting to secure protection from persecution, but because both classes concurred in the judgment that the aforementioned policies coincided with a 'national interest', just as Hamilton desired.

But the supercilious hauteur is bereft of a place here, and this ought to be taken under advisement.

Maximos, hardly a pyrrhic victory in as much as you say you never gainsaid otherwise. So as a pyrrhic victory would imply loss perhaps you mean a draw ? If so I'll settle for that.

I know I'll get in trouble for contradicting you, no matter how gently, but in the name of non-superciliousness may I point out that capitalism was, it is reasonable to say, born in the medieval period. Banking, in many ways that even now we know it, began in that period, in the medieval city states and largely in Florence. The term 'bank" derives from the bench that money lenders and changers used. You may guess what "break the bank" comes from. The "pyre" you mention was a rather inconsistent and wavering flame even regarding the monasteries, many of which lasted well into the 18th and 19th centuries as viable economic units.

But why make the point if only to illustrate the misuses of power? The most egregious examples of which occurred in England under Henry Vlll and in France during the Revolution, neither an example of free enterprise. This does not suggest sainthood for capitalism.

Re your 2nd para; de Jouvenal is not responsible for the perceptions [ cognitive?] of others, they are, and as well for their misperceived solutions. If they find their answers in socialism or some of the weaker and slower acting variants, well and to borrow a phrase used by yourself earlier, so much the worse for them. Although you referenced Modernity, which I would advise you take a closer look at.

May I point out that rather than Power requiring an occasion, power develops them or even invents them less capitalism, rather than capitalism being the trigger or cause, which I believe was your earlier position. Examples are available but as I am already in trouble for now I'll pass.
Suffice to say that although Capitalism is usually faulted it is not always the predicate.

As for the " servant and master" comment on business and government, well your comment is stronger for what it omits. But in the interests of my self protection I will let Senator Chris Dodd[D Conn,] speak in my stead on the relationship, "we have the best of both worlds, we take their contributions and we take credit for regulating them". Maybe not master/ servant but certainly upper/lower, at the least.

" Supercilious hauteur" sorry about that. I thought I saw an opening a while back when seeing perfectly decent people you disagree with being described as "unhinged".
Still, I do and will take Mr Cella's admonition to heart and let the embers cool.
And as Pepys closed his diary at night, "and so to bed".

" Supercilious hauteur" sorry about that.

"Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky."

But no redaction: he can claim victory and sleep easy.

This comment probably belongs better in the thread with the long Chesteton quotation about the peasantry at the top, but I'll put it here and keep it shorter than I was intending: The references here to the 19th century bring to my mind the real radical nature of Chesterton's goals. Maximos has said he doesn't advocate the recreation of a peasantry. Yet, in the long quote in the other post, it _sure_ looks to me like Chesterton does. Chesterton thinks in terms of "happy peasantry" as an example of what he means by small property. There is no question that you could get rid of several of the things that have been named in recent threads--limited liability partnerships, cheap illegal immigrant labor, and outsourcing--all _recent_ phenomena, relatively speaking, and Chesterton still wouldn't be happy. If the resultant system could still be called "capitalism," and if, especially, it involved a lot of people living as employees, even if that was what they wanted to do, even if they had good working conditions, even if they had decent wages, if property were not roughly evenly divided, Chesterton would say we hadn't reached his distributist goal yet.

If you, Maximos, _disagree_ with Chesterton and think what he's aiming for is too radical, you never say so in those terms. If you think his very positive talk about the peasantry is just exaggeration or a metaphor or something, I think that's dangerous to your implication that your own proposals are moderate and prudent. People who admire a radical thinker on a particular topic while not realizing how radical he is are almost certainly going to advocate things that actually are more radical in their effects than they themselves realize. There's a difference between "moderate and minimal" proposals on the one hand and "incremental" proposals on the other hand. I have no doubt at all that I would consider it *highly imprudent* to try to approach, even incrementally, the state Chesterton views as ideal, in which property is by pressure of the whole legal system "kept small" and kept "roughly equally divided" even if, it turns out, many of the people to whom you've distributed it would prefer to be "wage slaves."

Maximos, hardly a pyrrhic victory in as much as you say you never gainsaid otherwise. So as a pyrrhic victory would imply loss perhaps you mean a draw ?

Perhaps I ought to strive for greater clarity of expression, as what I intended by the statement in question was that I had never gainsaid that socialism arises from the will-to-power; my use of "unique" in that sentence is indeed ambiguous, as evidenced by the fact that, in what follows, I deny that there is anything unique about socialism in that regard.

I know I'll get in trouble for contradicting you, no matter how gently...

No you won't. No one gets into trouble merely by contradicting me; Lydia does it all the time, and Steve does it from time to time. Insulting and abusive commentary will land its author in whatever exceedingly minor troubles we can impose, regardless of the person to whom it is directed.

capitalism was, it is reasonable to say, born in the medieval period. Banking, in many ways that even now we know it, began in that period, in the medieval city states and largely in Florence.

Well, not precisely. In point of fact, modern banking did originate more or less as you say, and Florence was certainly a center of early modern finance; but modern banking, of itself, was insufficient for the development of capitalism. Modern banking antedates the emergence of capitalist modes of property relations, not to mention the legal regimes which underpin them; in fact, modern banking first facilitated the age of exploration, the burgeoning international trade in luxury goods, and the consolidation of the centralized monarchies of the Renaissance and beyond. Banking, however, is not identical with a legal regime, though law and finance exert a mutual influence, and additional alterations in the legal and political systems of European nations were necessary before capitalism could emerge, and finance could flourish as perhaps the greatest Invisible Hand of the capitalist system.

Capitalism did not emerge until, in England - where capitalism first established its foundations - the monastic lands were redistributed, the "improving gentry and nobility" began to require monetary rents instead of the customary payments-in-kind (thus establishing the critical capitalist mechanism of competitive productivity, and affording the merger of this trend with the existence of modern banking), the commons were gradually enclosed, and all manner of legislation prohibiting "self-provisioning" on the part of the peasantry were enacted. The foremost, and most commonly known, instance of this latter category of legal revolution is the increased stringency of the Game Laws. These laws had long existed, but enforcement of them had lapsed towards the close of the medieval period; in any event, their animating logic under the medieval order was merely the maintenance of the special prerogatives of the King, perhaps some of the nobility. In the early modern period, as capitalism gradually evolved to assume its recognizable and well-understood forms, the laws were enforced with a new ferocity, with more stringent penalties, and a new animating logic. The customary mode of life of the peasant involved the cultivation of an hereditary plot, the cultivation of some patch of the commons of his area, perhaps the grazing of some animals there, and self-provisioning: hunting, trapping, gathering. These practices were now proscribed, because the "improvers" had either laid claim, quite in violation of established precedent, to lands on which these activities were pursued, or sought to 'stimulate' the desire for "improvement" in the minds and hearts of the peasantry by compelling them, by means of the threat of privation, to accept wage-labour. The increased severity of prescribed punishments for hunting, as reflected in the fact that a man could be hanged for killing a rabbit, even on pains of starvation, reflect the former factor; cases such as one which occurred in a coastal region of Scotland, where the local women had, since time immemorial, gathered kelp (for what purpose, I cannot recall) in order to augment household incomes, and were prohibited by a novel law from continuing this practice, exemplify the latter.

The significance of these factors, not to mention others, is that modern banking practices could not have realized their inherent potential as the foundations of capitalist order absent a reordering of legal and property relations, which reordering could only be forcible, animated by the will-to-power (expressed often as the avaricious desire for material gain, regardless of the costs, and the acts required to secure it), and essentially fraudulent and unjust. The will-to-power, that is to say, will contrive propitious circumstances, should this be necessary; but this is scarcely unique to socialism - it is, in fact, characteristic of virtually all political, economic, and social systems, as it is characteristic of the origins of nations that they involve substantive injustices. Cognizance of this reality does not legitimate nihilistic, utopian longings for total revolution, but merely mandates a familiarity with the origins of things, which impart to them their fundamental principles and logics, together with the compromises, instabilities, and tendencies, moral and otherwise, that they entail. Absent such acknowledgment, we cannot rightly and effectively discharge our obligations in the present.

Maybe not master/ servant but certainly upper/lower, at the least.

Two ruling houses or principles, perhaps analogous to Church and state in certain more contentious epochs of Western history, fundamentally aligned, yet forever squabbling over the relative distribution of authoritative domains.

John, you remain a valued commenter here, and I am certain that I represent everyone in saying that I hope that you will remain among us.

could you please help me the similarities between capitalist and socialist economic systems

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.