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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

GUEST REVIEW: Home is where the Truth is

ruthie.jpg

Home is where the Truth is

by KENNETH W. BICKFORD

Journalist Gene Fowler once found a Holy Bible in the strangest of places—on a shelf, in the library of the notoriously irreligious W. C. Fields. “What the hell are you doing with that?” he inquired. Fields replied in his characteristic drawl “Been lookin’ for loopholes.”

Aren’t we all.

Rod Dreher’s new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, (subtitled “A Southern Girl, A Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life”) is ostensibly about the author’s sister, who tragically died of lung cancer at the age of forty-two. I say “tragically” because she never smoked, and I say “ostensibly” because, after all, her name is in the title and we do spend a considerable amount of time learning about her, about her relationship with her community and of the sometimes troubling relationship she had with her brother.

But there is so much more.

This is a book about loopholes. It is about humanity’s search for them, about the author’s search for them. It is about how some folks spend their whole lives looking for magical or scientific shortcuts around suffering and pain and alienation—and who receive in exchange for their troubles a spent life and a perfectly toned corpse.

It is a cautionary tale for those who have the very best things but who lack the community that perfects the enjoyment of those things.

But mostly it is a book about the example of Ruthie Leming, who refused to openly weep for her fate, who didn’t stare into the abyss of her unjustifiably shortened life with justifiable rage—who didn’t waste her time looking for loopholes that didn’t exist.

The author—an accomplished journalist and sophisticated man-of-the-world—leads us to his own gut-wrenching confrontation with the troubling side of Truth: Permanent happiness is only found in a community that knows exactly how to deal with the dreadful things.

Perfect places don’t suffer from dread. There are no loose shingles or peeling paint. The landscapes are cut and clipped, the cars polished. The dogs are spiffy. And the people—my goodness, the people are so well done that they cannot be improved. And so nothing is ever changed for the better because there isn’t anything better to change it into.

Our modern world has made a considerable investment in trying to eliminate the dreadful things. And of course if such a thing were possible community would be unnecessary. It explains why the dreadful things drive us to seek the best education, so that we may have the best job, so that we may afford the best plastic surgeon, so that we might upload our consciousness onto a hard drive for implantation into a future self, or freeze our decapitated head for possible reattachment to a future body—and so on.

We achieve so that we might control, and we control so that we might literally escape the permanent dread of death. We want to achieve immortality by not dying; if we must die, we insist on being healthy when it happens, and we very much want to do it all by ourselves. That’s what control means to the modern man and woman—the independence and freedom to escape from the dreadful things all by yourself.

The paradox of Ruthie Leming was that she chose to live with the dreadful thing of her own doom. She did not fiddle with the doorknobs on metaphysical exits or frantically look for secret passages. From the beginning her exit strategy was Truth. Truth that was beautiful and happy…but also tragic and dreadful.

She chose instead to give a portion of her entire life to a particular family and a particular town so that at the moment of dread—that awful point where ashen faces come into your room speaking cruel words—she wasn’t alone. It is a small and little decision—hardly worth noticing, really—but when one simply accepts the whole of truth, one gets a whole life in return.

The insignificance and tininess of the decision is why a lot of very smart folks miss it. But as Ruthie’s sun begins to set, the decision she made to live in Truth begins dawning on her brother:

My friends and I talked a lot about the fragmentation of the modern family, about the deracinating effects of late capitalism, about mass media and the erosion of localist consciousness, about the consumerization of religion and the leviathan state and every other thing under the sun that undermines our sense of home and permanence.

The one thing none of us did was what Ruthie did: Stay.

Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you—and it will—you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want—no, you need—to be able to say, as Mike (Ruthie’s husband) did, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”

This is also a book about the heroine’s deep Christian faith, and about the sort of grace that allows an ordinary man or woman to live the good life exactly where they are—in the valley of the shadow of death.

Heroism shows up in the oddest of places. We like to think its natural habitat is a dangerous situation such as a battlefield or a burning building. But really it’s found whenever and wherever ordinary persons confront Truth squarely and directly. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming shows that that sort of heroism can be found in the life of an ordinary schoolteacher from an obscure village. All it takes, really, is the acknowledgement that the loopholes aren’t worth your time—that indeed, if you ever actually found one your community would vanish, and along with it the good life you thought you’d secured.

Ruthie’s final blessing and gift was to reveal something simple and ordinary to her brother Rod. He and his wife do a most remarkable thing—they leave their cosmopolitan life in Philadelphia and move home.

But moving home isn’t for the fainthearted—you might just have to live with Truth. The author himself still struggles with that fact. So do we. It’s part of the reason so few of us today are at home in the world. “Maybe this time it’ll be different” we think. Maybe we’ll discover a Truth that is always pleasant and accommodating. Maybe this town will be perfect or that neighborhood flawless. Maybe this is the perfect job and that is the perfect house.

Maybe not.

Leprechaun’s gold and loopholes are very fine fantasies, but they have not a thing to do with the treasure of home. Indeed—they compromise it.

As the author remarks in his epiphany: “The little way of Ruthie Leming is the plainest thing in the world, something any of us could choose. And yet so few of us do.”

Comments (168)

For an 18 year old Freshman college student this was a very interesting post.

My nuclear family lives an hour and a half away from the rest of our family-the Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and grandparents. My parents hate it. I mean, I suppose they're not miserable, but they've wanted to move back for as long as I can remember-maybe 2005? We'd have been here for five years. We're now 8 years past that, and they still talk of moving back. One day they're going to.

Except my home is here now. My friends are here. I know the places here. My life, everything I've ever done, has been where I'm living now. Sure, I miss my cousins, Aunts, Uncles, and grandparents. But I'm very close to some of my friends and I'd miss them too. I already miss a lot of them.

So what does going home mean? What if I was to get married? Then what's home? Where her family lives? Where my family lives? Where I live now? Or should we just find that place we think is best for us and have everybody else be secondary?

I can't imagine moving away from this area. But if/when my parents move back to their home, then what? What is home?

I think Rod Dreher's St. Francisville, Louisiana, is an exceedingly rare place. Most people today don't have a "home" like this to return to. Home is where your people are. Who and where are your people?

I second MarcAnthony's and Jeff C's. questions about what constitutes "home."

This is a beautifully written post, and I very much appreciate that and many of the sentiments it expresses.

At the same time, I have to say that there is something rather...simplistic about Dreher's approach as it is presented here. There seems to be an implicit false dichotomy between shallow career hounds, on the one hand, and those who move to live near their parents, or move back to live in their childhood home town (if they ever had one).

Speaking for myself, while I would love to live near my children, and while I believe that they would love to live near me as adults, while we love the town where we have (as adults) put down our roots, and while we hope never to have to move, I would never in a million years guilt-trip my children for not living near me. There are innumerable factors that go into the question of where one lives. If anything, women should be more willing to move with their husbands. Does that mean that girls have less filial piety than boys, because the man has a responsibility to move them near _his_ family even if that is away from _her_ family? The whole "just do it" motif, "just go home," etc., etc., repeated here becomes rather frustrating after a while.

After all, it is hardly the road to Community and Family to show up on the doorstep and say, "Hi, Mom and Dad, my family and I are here to live in your basement. And by the way, how do you apply for food stamps?" And then to feel a glow of self-congratulation because you "just did it" and "went home." And living in the seediest part of town because that's all you can afford because you gave up your job to "move home" is not much better. Nor is it likely to foster Community. Oh, and what if the mother has to give up home schooling in order to work full-time because that's the only way the family can be supported because they "moved home"?

I hope all of this doesn't sound too terribly harsh, but I think young people now face enough challenges finding a godly mate, finding a job and a place to live, and starting a family that we should not place additional burdens on them of trying to recreate something that may not be feasible. If I may say so, it should be a _greater_ priority for the family to try (and this may be hard as well) to follow traditional gender roles with the husband supporting the family and to home school their children, if at all possible, than to "move home." Others may disagree with these priorities, but insofar as they are correct, they will _undeniably_ influence strongly where a family lives and will influence it in ways that are to no small degree orthogonal to considerations of "moving home."

I would never in a million years guilt-trip my children for not living near me.

Heh, you're different from my parents then.

[Shameless plug: I've caved and started a blog. It's not nearly as smart as the blogs I follow. I'm using a different name there.]

No, a very humble and unassuming plug. A shameless plug would have included a link.

Click on the name for the link. :)

Lydia,

I feel much the same way. I moved 8 hours drive from my parents to get a good job (good enough to still have it more than 25 years later). It was the first job offer I had after 3 months of looking. But more than that: I moved to a metropolitan area that housed a small but growing circle of like-minded friends and potential friends. But more than that: I moved from a city in which the Catholic diocese and most parishes were steadily moving away from traditional orthodoxy, to one in which the Church and traditional orthodoxy were alive and well. I moved in order to remain in a strong community, one which maintained century old traditions - even though my location was new. Even though I was a new member of that diocese, I was an old member of that tradition. I sadly watched as my older siblings who stayed home lost their faith. What price "home"?

On the other hand, I fault our society for not taking conscious thought for trying to formulate work models that make living near family roots more possible. I don't at the moment know what models those would be, although telecommuting is an obvious element now, where it wasn't 30 years ago. This lack is an obvious large part of the social anomie experienced by so many today.

Most people today don't have a "home" like this to return to. Home is where your people are. Who and where are your people?

Jeff, that's a good point. When I was growing up, a person could have put my last name and a zip code on an envelope, and it would have gotten to the family business in our small town. That would not happen now - both because the town is much larger (lots of Catholics having large families in the 50's and 60's will do that, along with urban flight), and because the business failed.

So, that leads me to 2 questions: if people want stability of long-term close family relationships over generations, are they inherently asking for a stable (that is zero-growth) population situation? And secondly, to what extent is the defining rootedness of the "family home" in a particular place inherently dependent on a specific soil, a concrete business operation, a something that will provide sustenance for a clan for generations? And if the rootedness in the family farm is soil-specific, or dependent on a business remaining capable of sustaining the clan, does this mean the rootedness of long term family home is dependent on a kind of stability in the larger culture that is just not realistic to ask or expect for most people for

most of the time? If Grandpa's buggy-whip factory goes under, does that imply society shouldn't have changed? Who gets to do the weighing and balancing.

I agree with Lydia and Tony.

I checked out our friend Marc's blog. The boy has talent, but he should clean up his language. Perhaps one of you older gents could give him a little lecture on why the f-bomb is out of bounds one these days. He says he doesn't care so you'll have a bit of work convincing him.

Hi ME, thanks for the compliment for one thing. I'm open to hearing a case one day if anybody wants to try and sell me, so go ahead. I tend to write how I'd speak colloquially, at least in a non-professional context, but on the other hand I probably shouldn't be speaking that way even colloquially anyway.

But, back on topic. I wrote a longer post on this before that got deleted, but in short my non-nuclear family is going to be living in the same general area but in a different house in an area that's much different than the area they grew up in and with different people around (now say that three times fast). But, we've lived around there for generations. So what counts as home, then?

The view presented in that book seems to be a very idealized and simplified view, and it's a situation that is probably not attainable for most people, as wonderful as it would be.

"So, that leads me to 2 questions: if people want stability of long-term close family relationships over generations, are they inherently asking for a stable (that is zero-growth) population situation?"

Great question. Some are probably asking for that. Obviously, there are problems with such a vision. That's one reason why the pro-natalist position of the Catholic Church remains relatively favorable to immigration. But how has migration due to population growth happened historically? People have moved and left their ancestral "homes", to be sure - but they moved together, with their people, and typically they didn't move too far away, remaining close enough to maintain ties. They take their culture, their people, and their "home" with them.

"And secondly, to what extent is the defining rootedness of the 'family home' in a particular place inherently dependent on a specific soil, a concrete business operation, a something that will provide sustenance for a clan for generations?"

These things are important, and society should be organized in such a way that is favorable to their preservation. But their values are not absolute. As you, Lydia, and others have pointed out, they are ultimately subordinate goods.

The take-home message of Mr. Bickford's fine review and Mr. Dreher's fine book: we need more St. Francisvilles.

The comments, thus far, illustrate just how sensitive the issue of home is.

If I gave any of you the impression that Dreher’s book reduces the problem to “shallow career hounds” versus those who live “in their childhood home towns” then the fault is mine. The actual book itself is wracked with the pain of choice that is far from simple. It isn’t simple because we modern folks possess enormous power compared to our forebears. The most obvious manifestation of that power are the choices available to us. The buffet table is long when it comes to the questions “what shall I do?” and “where shall I do it?”

Therein lies the problem. Dreher wrestles with that question throughout. So do I—and judging from these comments—so do you.

Jeff Culbreath’s comment “we need more St. Francisvilles” is spot-on. The good news is that we could have more village life if we wanted it—even in the heart of Greenwich Village; the bad news is that we will have to undo a century’s worth of the built environment and, before that, the misconceptions of “home” that built it.

That misconception lies at the root of our problem, and is captured in the following quote from a review of the book Living Machines: Bauhaus Architecture as Sexual Ideology:


“Beginning with the simultaneous collapse of both his marriage and the Austro-Hungarian empire, Walter Gropius formulated an architectural rhetoric that would speak to the needs of the newly emerging modern man. As a sexually liberated social monad, modern man would have no need for home or family, no need to be rooted in a particular time or place. He was to live henceforth in the "international style." Soon that deeply materialistic, sterile architectural vision would conquer the world. From the suburbs of Moscow to the south side of Chicago, the new man would live in machines, "living machines", to use Gropius' words.”

We could choose to do better, but there is always a tragedy enfolded deep within every choice. The tragedy of our modern age, I believe, is that we may choose extended power over our physical and social worlds or we may choose home--but we may not have both. We cannot have both because home is a choice to limit one’s control over the world—to live within your mortal limits.

This is not to suggest that you cannot have happiness of a kind as a modern person. But it is the kind of happiness you are wrestling with here.

MarcAnthony poses a question on the topic that I’ve frequently heard:


So what does going home mean? What if I was to get married? Then what's home? Where her family lives? Where my family lives? Where I live now? Or should we just find that place we think is best for us and have everybody else be secondary?

Home is a constellation of deep relationships, isn’t it? With them, you fulfill your destiny as a social animal. Without them…?

Writer Jeff Culbreath wonders whether there are enough special places to go around when he observes that Dreher’s home town of St. Francisville is “an exceedingly rare place.” Fair enough. But that doesn’t change the fact that any of us could order our priorities differently than we do. We could, for example, place proximity to our loved ones as the highest good and let other priorities follow. There are, of course, no guarantees that your loved ones will return the favor by placing proximity to you and others at the top of their list—but someone has to lead us back to a proper conception of home. Why not you or me?

And, to Jeff Culbreath’s point, proximity of the kind I’m referring to doesn’t only occur in the small town. There is perhaps no point worth underlining more than this—people have been at home in the world’s largest cities for much of history.

Prior to the 1920s, every great city in the world was a series of compact and self-contained villages that had grown together. Thus it was the case that if you lived in ancient Athens, or on one of the seven hills of Rome, or in any of the villages that became 18th century London, your life was built on a solid foundation of blood-kin and dearest-kith—all within literal shouting distance.

The great challenge today is the enormous usage ghettos we have imposed onto our landscape. This part of the Earth’s surface is used by the poor, and this one by the middle-class, and that one by the wealthy; industrial parks go here, commercial and retail there and so on. And all of it stitched together by expensive highways, with expensive automobiles and their expensive expenses. When a casual shared moment with a loved one becomes cost-prohibitive, guess what happens?

In older times, villages were not so stultifyingly monolithic in their social and economic offerings—they were both compact and diverse, meaning there was something for everyone, a place to live and somewhere to work for all of the various ambitions and abilities contained within a single family.

Modern cities such as New York and San Francisco are wealth ghettos—your sister the school teacher and your cousin the ne’er-do-well need not apply. On the other end of the spectrum are places like Detroit or Camden, New Jersey—where crime and misery seemingly stretch to the horizon.

A real place, built on a spatially compact foundation of blood-kin and dearest-kith allows us to give the gift of ourselves to others—and it allows others to return that gift at the lowest possible price. Even distances as short as a few hundred feet diminish our psychological need to give to others. Something as trivial as picking up your mother’s mail while she’s out of town requires real proximity.

One more quote from Dreher helps make the point:

“The insurance company, if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, pays your doctors and pharmacists, but it will not cook for you when you are too sick to cook for yourself and your kids. Nor will it clean your house, pick your kids up from school, or take them shopping when you are too weak to get out of bed. A bureaucrat from the state or the insurance company won’t come sit with you, and pray with you, and tell you she loves you. It won’t be the government or your insurer who allows you to die in peace, if it comes to that, because it can assure you that your spouse and children will not be left behind to face the world alone.

Only your family and your community can do that.”

Any of us could live this way if we so chose. It would undoubtedly take decades to get it right—just in time for your funeral, perhaps. But wouldn’t it be worth it?

Choosing to live in this way will involve a sacrifice—one that our modern world is increasingly reluctant to make. It’s hard living close to one’s family, but doing so also contains the possibility of delight and love.

Our choices involve tradeoffs—but when was it any different?

We can’t have everything, no matter what the Mad Men tell you.

The most obvious manifestation of that power are the choices available to us. The buffet table is long when it comes to the questions “what shall I do?” and “where shall I do it?”

That has not been my experience. I suspect it is also not many other people's experience. In fact, to the contrary: Because of the difficulty finding jobs, and particularly the difficulty for a _man_ to find a job, because of variations in home schooling laws, and myriad other factors, it is often the case that modern conservatives have relatively _few_ choices, maybe virtually _no_ choices, about where to live. They have to live where they can afford to support themselves while also not committing their children to the Sodom and Gomorrah of some local public school and its sex education programs and GLNBT!#T%^% clubs.

Any of us could live this way if we so chose.

Huh? Again, this has not been my experience, and has also not been the experience of many others. More: As Tony has pointed out, aptly, getting the closest approximation of a community may require _not_ living near one's parents and will almost certainly mean _not_ living near _both_ sets of parents (because the two sets of parents have never lived near each other, ever, in their whole lives). I consider myself to be quite fortunate and to have a good community where I am. I've put down roots and thank God for them all the time. I love my physical home, I like my neighborhood, and we have friends. But this isn't where either my husband or I grew up. Many other people have had that same life trajectory. _Now_ they have been blessed with a community and a sense of rootedness, but that didn't happen by going back to the place where they grew up, and it probably _wouldn't_ have happened in that way.

Good points Lydia.

I would say that the principal difference between us concerns whether we are talking about individual choice or group choice.

I completely agree with you that there is nothing that a lone individual can do to recover home. But I contend that there is much that a community can do. It will require leadership on our part to recapture the community we've lost. Every suburb has become a collection of self-sufficient monastic solitudes, their occupants wondering what went wrong--when what went wrong was gaining the power to retreat into monastic solitudes!

We gained the power to achieve those solitudes, to avoid the unpleasant contact with dread--but we lost our community in the bargain.

We must break this death spiral into the self by making the case for group choice and the community that exercises it.

Group choice--culture, if you prefer--is under attack. We must bolster the case for culture--and I suggest that recovering culture begins by choosing to place ourselves into a spatially compact set of relations with those we love.

Our home depends on it.

Ken, I definitely believe in trying to place oneself into a spatially compact set of relationships with _some_ people one loves. That's why I'm a big advocate of marriage! But there is that phrase in the Bible about leaving one's father and mother and cleaving to one's wife (which presumably also includes the wife's cleaving to her husband). In the end, those of us who have strong nuclear families with employed husbands are the lucky ones. From there on, we make friends and we get knit into our communities. I'm sorry to have to say this, but to no small degree, whether all of that takes place in the community where our parents live is a matter of dumb luck. People might have some options to move _somewhat closer_ to one or the other of their sets of parents, but that is likely to mean something like "within one hundred miles" instead of "within nine hundred miles."

Speaking for myself, I think I would rather lose an arm than live in Chicago again where my my parents' house is and where my father lives. I don't say that lightly, either. My aversion to the city of Chicago would be difficult to measure. In contrast, my love for the "adopted" small city where I've now lived for almost twenty years is quite strong.

As a sexually liberated social monad, modern man would have no need for home or family, no need to be rooted in a particular time or place. He was to live henceforth in the "international style." Soon that deeply materialistic, sterile architectural vision would conquer the world.

Sounds like selective history to me. The industrial revolution had already done this breaking down to a very great extent - uprooting former farmers and sending them looking for work in mushrooming cities. This happened in the 1820s to 1880s in Britain, 1860s to 1920s in America, before Gropius's vision. Likewise, the comment

Prior to the 1920s, every great city in the world was a series of compact and self-contained villages that had grown together.

just isn't true. The burgeoning population that came with the revolution in farming in the 1800s, etc. made them vastly more than a series of villages well before 1920. You can see it in Dickens' London of 1830. One doubts very much that Rome's 1 million population under Marcus Aurelius was at all like the Rome of 200 years earlier. Secondly, in America the immigration waves of the 1800s and 1900s were examples of displaced people who moved away from family and community. Some of them found a community of a sort here, but not their OWN, and many had to make do with starting their own traditions and communities.

There is perhaps no point worth underlining more than this—people have been at home in the world’s largest cities for much of history.

I sometimes wonder whether we won't discover, in a future telecommuting world where everyone spreads out over the land in fairly even density, that the very idea of a large, dense city turns out to be a UNIFORMLY bad idea for mankind, that human nature just can't support the moral pressure it creates. I don't say I can prove or predict this, I just wonder. The worst forms of cultural degeneracy seem, to me, to inevitably arise in dense populations, not in the countryside. But until we can manage to do without concentrated places in which to work, we are stuck with them. Which to my mind means we should re-form cities to be composed of small villages of like-minded people so that you CAN have a small community. That would require being able to prevent people from joining, or kick people out, based on everything from religion to politics to language to education to philosophy to cooking habits to partying proclivities. I think that such a thing would be possible under the current Constitution as written, but not as interpreted, more's the pity. Until you can put sufficient pressure on a person who refuses (or is unable) to fit in at peace with the community mores to make them leave, you cannot make a tightly knit community within a city work. Laws would have to be changed to allow real small neighborhood entities with their own structures of rules.

We could, for example, place proximity to our loved ones as the highest good and let other priorities follow.

We could, but proximity to our loved ones simply shouldn't be the highest good. As St. Paul demonstrated, and virtually all the apostles other than St. James. And the explorers, and the emigrations, etc. There are plenty of GOOD reasons to give up a community. What we need is to have plenty of even better reasons not to need to. That requires a vision of what a stable (but very large population) system would look like that fostered continuity of clans and village-sized communities. A vision of small towns that really are independent small towns on their own cannot provide the wherewithal.

So I bought the book and have read most of it. I think Ken skipped over a major part in reaching his conclusion. Namely, when Rod is talking to his father a while after Ruthie died and his dad tells him his biggest regret was not leaving town after he got married.

And then Paw told me how he had spent his entire life sacrificing for his mother, his father, his brother, his aunts, and his cousins - all of whom, in his recollection, worked him like a dog and never gave him a moment's thanks..."I was a sucker," he said, the bitterness heavy in his voice. "Aunt Lois was the only one of the whole bunch who was ever straight with me. But there was only one of her."

I will say the book is a pretty good read, especially the central part about Ruthie's illness and death which is masterful storytelling. However the author's need towards the end to make sense of his family's (very mild) dysfunction is disconcerting in a peculiar way - as if his memories of Ruthie would haunt him if he couldn't explain it.

"Sounds like selective history to me. The industrial revolution had already done this breaking down to a very great extent - uprooting former farmers and sending them looking for work in mushrooming cities."

The difference is that the deracination prompted by industrial capitalism was not really a function of choice. There was a lot of economic compulsion going on. The vision of Gropius, et al., on the other had was to "free" modern man from any sort of traditional rootedness, to encourage him to reject these things by choice.

There is a difference between being compelled to pull up one's roots, and being convinced that deracination is ipso facto a good thing. Any traditional rootedness is a hindrance to progressivism, as manifested by both state and corporate power.

"We must break this death spiral into the self by making the case for group choice and the community that exercises it."

An extremely difficult task, when the entire culture worships the idol of individual choice, and neither Right nor Left is willing to question their own version of this idolatry. We're not going to get much help politically, iow, if any at all.

Nice, is it possible to get the left and/or the right to (unknowingly, perhaps) go along with promoting a new model that they think will be better than anything "those darn [insert the other group here]" would accept, but is all along designed to foster community better? Hey, one of the party's out there is "The Stupid Party", maybe we can con them into it, can't we?

In my opinion we're dealing with a couple of romantic ideals here. First, does "community " really mean whatever we're assuming here? I have doubts that it could really sustain the meaning given to it by most now. Isn't it supposed to mean mutual friendship relationships by all members? If not, what do you call that when it occurs? Say an army platoon or football team? I'm doubtful an independent community could really be much larger than thirty people. Probably no one wants to use the dreaded word "society" because it sounds so sinister after the 60's. It's too bad.

I also think there is a sentimental ideal of friendship that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. I don't happen to think most men even want the type of warm sharing closeness promoted by the feminine-sentimental ideal of friendship. That shouldn't be the ideal because it isn't what is important for a great many types of people, and they aren't any healthier than any other.

I love small towns as much as the next guy, I know several of them very well. They are fine places to live under the right circumstances, but I find them a bit too self-conscious of themselves. Pick up the local newspaper and if they're not near a thriving city you can almost bet that the editorials echo the bitterness of victimhood and sound extremely self-conscious. Either love what is good in the area, commute for work, or get out. People want everything.

Yes, Tony, I think you do see elements of this sort of conversation between the more communitarian type of conservatives and what might be called the decentralist Left, when they come together to hash out some of this stuff. But both groups are small minorities of the larger mainstream Right and Left, and have little chance of affecting the larger groups any time soon. We have to realize that we're going to be in it for the long haul, probably generationally, and that this is why community is so important -- that's where the ideas are passed down.

Tony, are you being ironic or are you actually accepting the idea that politics and models are the basis for community? It sounds more like a political action group.

I've already said telegraphed that I think community as shared friendship is rare since that would involve the mutuality and reciprocity normally only available between two people. That is why you see it typically only where you have people living full-time at close quarters with others such as in an army platoon or fraternity pledge. So the method for creating them on a small scale is known. However the rarity of true community on any larger scale is what makes such movements utopian. The dictatorship of the proletariat was a notorious example of a promise to deliver it.

So Nice, if there's a model what is it? Is there a time period you'd like to re-create? Is there anything from the history of utopian communities you think is useful? It's not like it hasn't been tried a great many times in history.

Mark, I would say that we could use some more social capital. I'm lucky in that I have a fair bit of social capital in my own neighborhood. I have neighbors whom I can call if something goes wrong. A neighbor (whose political views couldn't be more different than mine) happened to be jogging by in the dead of winter when I was trying to recharge my car battery from a little recharger and helped me to do it. Another neighbor came years ago when I was in labor (by pre-arrangement) to stay with my older children while we went to the hospital. We go Christmas caroling in the neighborhood every Christmas and know the names and the houses we are going to.

When I tell people these things, they seem to think I'm telling a tale from another age. And even so, my neighborhood is "modern" insofar as there are near neighbors whose names I don't know, and many people are at work during the day.

It isn't necessary to be utopian or to expect to be close friends (as in a fraternity) with everyone around to wish for _some_ more connections than most people have--knowing the names of the people who live immediately near you, being able to trust their honesty, spontaneously giving one another a hand when problems arise. What ever happened to the "welcome wagon" where someone would get a plate of cookies and/or a meal when moving into a new neighborhood? Sounds like a story from another planet.

I think when people talk about community they are talking about that sort of social capital. And that really is possible, or ought to be possible. That is to say, it's no unattainable. It's even possible among people who don't know one another very well and who don't share ideological ties.

Lydia is correct, Mark. "Community" of the type she is speaking of isn't manufactured or really even modeled, except perhaps in the sense of example. It isn't done by any top-down imposition and it's certainly not utopian. The way for it to become more prevalent and influential on a larger scale is to encourage more of it on the smaller scale.

Mark's view of community appears to be markedly Rousseauian in nature: rationalized discipline in tight groups under tension. Camaraderie by shared segregation and external authority. No wonder he's soon talking about dictatorship of the proletariat.

For my part, the communities I'm familiar with, either by participation or observation, are far less rigid, formal and rationalized: much more of the social capital framework Lydia describes. The Roman Catholics of east Denver, for instance: mostly Irish and Italian of descent, these folks migrated west from Chicago and the East Coast to populate the communities surrounding City Park. Now interspersed with many from outside their church and from other lands, east Denver still owes a substantial share of its character to these people, their memories, institutions, eccentricities. Recent years have witnessed a Return of sorts: due to the circumstances of a closed air force base and new airport, vast new lands became available in east Denver for new developments, which were infused by more rooted spirit of ambulatory mixed use. Many thousands who had departed in the late 20th century for the distant suburbs have recently returned to the city core. It's very far from the discipline of Sparta, but the community is quite real.

I've already said telegraphed that I think community as shared friendship is rare since that would involve the mutuality and reciprocity normally only available between two people. That is why you see it typically only where you have people living full-time at close quarters with others such as in an army platoon or fraternity pledge. So the method for creating them on a small scale is known. However the rarity of true community on any larger scale is what makes such movements utopian. The dictatorship of the proletariat was a notorious example of a promise to deliver it.

Mark, you are right that friendship is the core human good that infuses "community" (or at least one of the core goods). I agree with that. But I disagree with the notion that community is restricted to the rarity of deep friendship of those who live full time at close quarters. For: we have many relationships with people that approach toward the ideal of true friendship either more or less closely, and those many other relationships are, then more or less imperfect communities. They are imperfect to the extent that the depart from the perfection of 2 absolute friends who live in the same house, but that doesn't make them utterly devoid of all of the goods of friendship.

I made this point very strongly when our local homeschooling group moved from being "just" a small group of 5 families who became extremely close friends, to a larger group of 9 families, to then 14 families, to eventually about 30 families. When we were 5, we literally spent so much time together that although we didn't live in each other's houses officially, we were spending enough time together that we might almost have been living in one huge house. Almost. No rules, just daily stuff. When the new families started joining, they had trouble getting into the same framework, because the old families already had their social niches pretty darn full, so they couldn't "make time" for the new families like they did with the old ones. As a result, the new ones kind of felt left out, and within another year they started making noises for some "say" in how the organization was "being run". Well, in a sense that was pretty funny, because it wasn't really being "run" so much as just making do between friends, but the friendships as landing on the new families were pretty unequal, and they felt frozen out of some of the decision making. So they voted in rules and an organizational structure.

My point is that it was - as Mark is saying - fundamental to truly complete friendship that you spend very significant amounts of time in close contact, doing things together, and by its nature that means that time is not spent with other people in close contact. True, perfect friendship (here on this Earth) cannot be multiplied indefinitely many times, it takes a certain amount of time and directed attention and this creates exclusivity.

All the same, the new families DID end up folding into the group pretty well, and became friends with each other and the old families just fine - though not, perhaps, equally. These friendships are really friendships, and the group as a whole is a true community, they work together pretty well to further a common good that all participate in.

It is true that by and large (at least on average) the friendships as they operate are not as complete. And that's OK, because as more families joined, more OF THEM were not so completely compatible with other families that it would have been either possible or desirable to try to live as closely "in each other's back pockets" (as one person in the parish put it) as the old families had done. So, with people that you share _some_ likeness and some agreement, but not wholly, you can have some degree of friendship. And you can share a vision of a common good to which you can both commit even without being true friends. That's why the larger group needed rules and structure: without the root relationship being that of complete friendship, nobody could rely on and trust to all the other persons' good sense, honesty, good will towards each other, and willingness to give way for "the other person's good" like friends do. That's where rules help - you don't have to rely on loyalty and love where the relationship isn't sufficient to promise that loyalty and love. Friends can leave many things unsaid, implicit, because they trust each other. Formal communities generally need at least some of those things made explicit precisely because they are not as closely knit as friends.

But at the same time, those larger, looser communities still participate in many of the goods of friendship. Think about this: if you are going to a movie, would you rather go alone or go with a really good close friend? The latter, of course - your enjoyment of the movie is made more complete by sharing the experience with a friend. Now, consider a picnic: does your family get something of the same benefit-increase by having the picnic with 10 other families instead of just your family alone? Yes: you get more playmates at exactly the right ages for ALL of your kids, instead of just one or two. You get the chance to play games that take 6 or 9 kids per team, volleyball or baseball, instead of being restricted to one-on-one or two-on-two games. You get to sample 10 different dishes instead of 3. And you get to discuss ideas with a larger panoply of perspectives, experiences, expertise, etc.

Humanity is made for an incredibly rich tapestry of communities, everything from the tiny, 2-person friendships to families to chess clubs to Lions to non-profit charity hospitals to national political parties. The drive is universal, because it is part of human nature itself. While the larger ones fall away from the intensity of true friendship that you have with just a few, they supply for other human needs while being something like friendship. They make it possible, for example, to be a bit player in a large, very noble endeavor like building a new Christian college - something impossible to a group small enough to be true, complete friends. And they make more possible a sort of imperfect friendship that increases goodwill between men without demanding total dedication and loyalty between those who are too incompatible to have that kind of loyalty.

Nice, of course Lydia is right because she's not disagreeing with me. :) My point was not, most assuredly not, that we need to expect that the types of things she expressed are possible. My point was that we have much more of it than many who call themselves communitarians seem to want to allow. I myself have only gotten divorced enough from the ideal to see how remarkable the organic friendships I have actually are.

Tony, I think what you'e expressed of your experience–and thanks for spending the time to share such a rich and complex personal experience–simply reinforces the ancient understanding of friendship as the basis for community. Again, I'm not lamenting that we don't have enough of it, but that a false ideal won't allow that we have more of it than those in thrall to the evangelical understanding of it will allow for. The issue isn't whether or not we'd rather see a movie with a "really good close friend", because I take it for granted that any shared experience is better than alone, whether friend or not. And I'd say that even if choosing between friends to see a movie, I'd choose the one most likely to share my enjoyment of it regardless of how close the relationship is. I'd say that your explanation of your home schooling group shows the classic understanding that the basis of friendship is to have something in common.

I do object to the defining of community up, as the new communitarians are wont to do. That was my overall point. Didn't mean to create a stir.

"My point was not, most assuredly not, that we need to expect that the types of things she expressed are possible. My point was that we have much more of it than many who call themselves communitarians seem to want to allow."

There may be more than we realize, because perhaps it's not as visible as it used to be. However I don't think you can argue that there's not as much now as there used to be, and that that's a loss.

I would agree with NM, even though my natural laziness finds the amount of community I have "just right." That is to say, it would be kind of an interruption to me if my neighbors were stopping over at my house frequently without warning and if I felt like I had to go to a neighborhood barbecue and such. OTOH, it would make me work harder and might be good for me. Last night I was reading the story of some of the earliest home schoolers. In the 1980's, when their neighbors learned that they were home schooling, they refused to speak to them. Now, as I said above, I know several of my neighbors and have a friendly relationship with them, so I have more "community" than many do these days. However, I don't talk to them very often. It would take a little while for me even to _realize_ that my neighbors weren't speaking to me! That definitely didn't used to be the case.

Tony, are you being ironic or are you actually accepting the idea that politics and models are the basis for community? It sounds more like a political action group.
I do object to the defining of community up, as the new communitarians are wont to do. That was my overall point. Didn't mean to create a stir.

Mark, I think you and I have been speaking at cross purposes, but I am not sure exactly, because I am still not getting your point - other than being bothered by "communitarianism", I guess.

First, does "community " really mean whatever we're assuming here? I have doubts that it could really sustain the meaning given to it by most now. Isn't it supposed to mean mutual friendship relationships by all members?

Well, I don't quite agree with that, either. A family is most assuredly a community, but it isn't a group of close friends. Usually parents are not particular "close friends" with their children, and certainly not when the children are still small. Only when the children are grown up can there be any sort of _equality_ which is one necessary ingredient of friendship.

A community is defined by a shared common good. That's the heart and soul of it. A family has a common good (or goods) which makes its members actions "one" in a sense, and which makes it coherent to speak of it as "an entity" rather than just some people.

For that reason, you can indeed have a community among those who are not properly speaking friends in the fullest sense, because even those who are not full friends can share common goods. Indeed, in an arranged marriage the husband and the wife need not either know each other to begin with or like each other very much, to form a family, as long as they commit to actions which further the common interests of the family itself. It will be, admittedly, a less than satisfactory family while they don't much like each other, or are learning to deal with each other, but it is a REAL family just the same. Still more, an extended family is more often than not a community of people who DON'T all share a friendship, some of whom can't stand each other for more than an hour a month.

So, to answer your question above, I fully support that political models of community ARE the models of certain kinds of communities, and not of other kinds of communities. Unlike Gian who used to lurk around here, in no way do I claim that a family is the same sort of thing as a polity, nor that Adam as the first father was a de jure (and de facto) king of a polity consisting of him, Eve, Cain and Abel. I think that's idiotic. But that's because I think there are different kinds of communities and therefore different kinds of internal ordering principles to them. Most communities are inchoate, organically grown realities without definite boundaries and without any explicit rules or leadership - friendships of whatever degree. Other kinds of communities REQUIRE explicit rules, boundaries, and leadership. Polities are in the latter group. They are not the same thing as "friendships writ large".

The concept behind my comment of April 30, 7:24pm, then, was that because we have a damaged societal respect for the integrity of smaller entities (including both the inchoate ones like neighborhoods and the formal small social groups), we may need need some sort of explicit constraint on the larger bodies, like the state and federal governments, from interfering in the internal life of things like neighborhoods. And, again because of our damaged society, at least for a time that might imply a call for rules (i.e. constraints) that say "when we have formed an explicit neighborhood community, we get to make rules for it and you (big brother) can just keep your nose out of it, thank you very much, even if those rules look to you like discrimination or something." That is, it is possible to use laws (and therefore the life of the higher entity such as the state) to promote the life of the lower communities without actually running those lower entities. (It's all implied in the expression "subsidiarity", of course, what do they teach people in schools these days?...mutter mutter...mumble.)

Which is not to endorse that all neighborhoods ought in principle to be explicitly organized entities (not at all), and even less does it endorse communitarian nonsense about the larger community being the source of the individual or any crap like that. I have repeatedly rejected that bogus ideology here in these pages: all human communities are temporary and are destined for the trash heap, but the individuals will live in eternity.

Lydia, I suspect that if you lived in a whole neighborhood of people who all worshiped at the same church and thought about the main politic issues and disciplined kids the same way, you would find it as easy as falling off a log to have much stronger ties to your neighbors, with very little effort. It wouldn't be utopia by any means, there would still be frictions and irritations, disagreements etc (big enders vs little enders, I suppose). But wouldn't it be nice to be able to (say, just for example) haul off and spank your very wayward 8 year old right where he was outside if he did something wrong outside, without worrying about whether the neighbors will call CPS? Or not have to back and fill to your 5 year old Peggy every Sunday about why Bill, across the street, who doesn't go to church, is not necessarily doomed to hell, but that Peggy better darn well go to church on Sundays...?

Those are excellent examples.

I have been looking at this issue, and cannot comment on the book (having not read it), but I would have to agree with others on the value of community. It *is* a real thing, although it can get hazy at times, and attempts to deny it do require tangling with those kinds of practical examples and observations.

I'm going to just come out and asseverate, with a touch of trepidation, what Tony has more nimbly and subtly elucidated: that an indispensable source and framework for human community is human sexuality. The anti-communitarian who takes his abstraction of community from a picture of the mature, educated fellow, college degree in hand, astride the world, deciding where to live and work, is easy to mistake for a mystagogue of liberalism.

The vast majority of humankind, even here in our late modernity, face immensely more straitened choices. They enter the world into dysfunction; they're fatherless, morally rudderless, ill-educated, and battered by lunacy and delusion from media substitutes for real community. If they should manage to surmount these formidable obstacles, they will arrive at young adulthood contemplating an economy that has sucked for half a decade now. Many hundreds of thousands have fallen back on the only community they know: Mom and Dad's basement. Lydia has delineated many of the difficult choices faced even by young men and women who are not only more solidly anchored in family stability, but often very well educated indeed.

All of which is to say that the liberal idealizer who uses a vague image of "community" as an apology for heavier taxation, welfarism, and the like, is demanding the function while removing the organ; his own regnant understanding of human sexuality removes the possibility of his community ideal appearing.

In other words, with apologies to John Henry Newman, there may be no greater calamity for the good cause of communitarian thinking, than that these liberals should get hold of it.

Now our old commenter Mark is no liberal. But I think it is fair to characterize him as an anti-communitarian. And his position, at least on his showing here in this thread, is manifestly untenable. Observe.

Mark began his comment in this tread with "In my opinion we're dealing with a couple of romantic ideals here."

After working, in a roundabout way, to establish the dubious proposition that "a sentimental ideal of friendship" [emphasis added], one "that doesn't hold up to scrutiny," is behind the non-liberal communitarian thinking, he proceeds to require of his interlocutors some model for their thinking.

One supposes (though this is not made clear) that these interlocutors must include Ken Bickford, author of the review, and Rod Dreher, author of the book reviewed favorably.

Models -- lets see them fellas. Show your work.

This Dreher has, of course, already done in his memoir about, you know, his own community, and the particular work that went into upholding his family in their distress. Mark can perhaps supply us with his evaluation of how much of this story rests on thin sentimentality when he reads the book. For now, in turns out that, Dreher and Bickford aside, other commenters, too, have experience with communities. And they're happy to show their work.

Sure enough, a couple of particular examples -- that is, not romantic ideals but actually extant communities, imperfect but real -- later, and an easy demolition of the idea that romance or sentimentality of friendship undergirds all community, we find Mark reassuring us that he didn't "mean to create a stir" and retreating to a sentence of somewhat impenetrable dialectic: "Again, I'm not lamenting that we don't have enough of [community], but that a false ideal won't allow that we have more of it than those in thrall to the evangelical understanding of it will allow for."

These evangelists of community may have something to answer for, either in their rhetoric or in their reasoning, but based on the showing of Mark, the reader would be very much at a loss to know what it is.

I always get twitchy myself when I hear the word "communitarian," but that's usually because I disagree with the economics of people who style themselves thus. I think it's going to be incredibly hard to restore our social capital, but darn it, our government could stop *tearing down* what little is left by its left-wing social-sexual policies (as Paul mentions) and by its non-enforcement of laws against violence. In fact, crime is a huge part of the problem (I mentioned things like trust among neighbors, for example), and it might be that a get-tough-on-crime approach would be one of the only concrete and positive things one could recommend be _done_ to restore communities. As opposed to things one wants to recommend _not_ be done (like setting up Planned Parenthood clinics and sexualizing children in schools).

And not only getting tough on crime but dealing with small things rapidly. I live in a pretty low-crime neighborhood (as far as I know), but I do know what our neighborhood officer looks like. I don't happen to know his name. I also know the name of our neighborhood watch leader and know him pretty well. It seems that the police are pretty on the ball. The other week I was out for a walk and heard screams. I then saw about a block away what looked like two boys beating up on someone on the ground. I asked a man who stopped nearby in a truck with the window down what was up. He said he believed the person on the ground was a disturbed boy whom they were trying to calm down. I still wasn't happy about this, but just then, two police cars drove up and the neighborhood officer got out of one of them, so I knew the situation was being taken care of. It was really fast. Less than five minutes. When the police are overwhelmed, they can't put out little fires like that so quickly. I don't entirely know the answer to this.

"[Mark] proceeds to require of his interlocutors some model for their thinking."

~~Such ideals as honesty or generosity or gentleness or symmetry do indeed have an influence on the future, but we recognize them from what we have known of them in the past and from what they require of us in the present. Like health, they are required to survive among us in the presence of what they must resist; they survive in culture, in community, and in the characters of people. They are known and valued not because they have been modeled, but because they have been exemplified.~~ (author emph.) Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Thus, as Paul implies, what Mark should be looking for are not models, but examples. Community does not exist in the abstract, except as a sort of mental construct made up of such examples. But this construct need not be liberal, and it need not be simply "theory." There are plenty of communitarian-leaning conservatives, starting with with Weaver, Kirk and Nisbet.

"I think it's going to be incredibly hard to restore our social capital, but darn it, our government could stop *tearing down* what little is left by its left-wing social-sexual policies (as Paul mentions) and by its non-enforcement of laws against violence."

It's going to be even harder while the mainstream Right in this country fails to wake up to the fact that it's not just the government that's "tearing down what little is left." Corporate America's record on this is equally shoddy. After all, who is it that has broadcast acceptance of "left-wing social-sexual policies" in its mass advertising and entertainment so called? Why are Fortune 500 companies scrambling to be the most "diverse" and "gay-friendly"? Corporate capitalism has been destructive of community for decade upon decade, from agribusiness's complete disregard for rural communities to Wal*Mart's being open on Easter Sunday. It's all of a piece, and it's fundamentally inconsistent to rail against sexual libertarianism while promoting fiscal libertarianism, and vice versa. Read your Lasch, people.

I find it ironic that folks on a website named after one of Chesterton's books tend to ignore the economic critique present in that very book. To GKC, modern capitalism was one of the things "wrong with the world," and it has only gotten worse in the hundred years since the book appeared.

No, NM, it's _I_ who "ignores the economic critique." You and Paul get along on this much better. :-) And he's the editor of the site.

I think Chesterton was quite wrong on economics. In fact, I once approvingly linked from my personal web site a rampaging blog post by semi-libertarian blogger and Catholic convert John C. Wright in which he ranted about that very subject. I found Wright's rant satisfying.

However, I'm happy (in a sense, though of course not actually _happy_ about the phenomenon) to admit and more than admit the _actual_ bad social policies of too many large corporations. I have a close friend, a father of a large family, who works for a fairly large corporation and is more or less resigned to the prediction that one day they will fire him, despite his long history with the company and his excellent work, because he's not on board with "gay pride." I consider this a serious moral problem. However, I haven't got a good way to force, say, J. C. Penney not to feature homosexual couples on their TV ads (which I understand they do). Boycotts are often ineffective. For myself, I opt out of network TV and therefore have to find out what J.C. Penney is doing in its ads from others. That at least spares my own family.

If the public schools and too many private schools would stop feeding this trash to our youngsters and deliberately forming their attitudes, we might have some chance of stanching the flow, the JCP would figure out that gay-friendly advertising was not cost effective. There is always a feedback loop going on between public attitudes and advertising. I can see a clearer way to tackle this feedback loop at the point where we are being force-fed this junk by government-funded schools and by laws.

It's going to be even harder while the mainstream Right in this country fails to wake up to the fact that it's not just the government that's "tearing down what little is left." Corporate America's record on this is equally shoddy.

I was thinking of that very thing this morning driving to a piano competition: how the opening of a business operation and then closing it 10 years later for greener pastures makes it almost impossible for the community to absorb the impact of people losing their jobs (and other effects). Military base expansion / closings are a major topic around here for much the same reason. Seems to me that (especially for the military bases) in order to be conscientious and just, the enterprise would have to at a minimum build in a long lead time to major changes like plant closings, probably stagger the closing in stages over a long period (several years), and give people plenty of training for new jobs and assistance in moving. And discuss it with town officials as well. (Which, hopefully, would make many closings not "beneficial" enough to do.) The problem, of course, is making such efforts "justified" to the owners, officers, and shareholders. In my mind, if you know your owners and shareholders are Christians, then you make the "business" case to them that doing all of the above to soften the impact just is the cost of doing business, just like meeting contractual obligations, paying a fair wage and paying a fair price for supplies.

I find it ironic that folks on a website named after one of Chesterton's books tend to ignore the economic critique present in that very book. To GKC, modern capitalism was one of the things "wrong with the world," and it has only gotten worse in the hundred years since the book appeared.

What's ironic is you, NM, taking us to task in reference to modern capitalism, when WE have taken modern capitalism to task ourselves so often (see Paul's continuing series on usury, just for starters). Just because we don't believe in distributism outright doesn't mean we are all perfectly fine with capitalism as currently practiced in the west. I read the book about a year ago, and it seemed to me that none of the evil plagues attendant on capitalism as then seen and critiqued are things that all of the authors here think are good, or are even merely neutral. So get off the high horse. But if you want to identify specific evils that Chesterton mentions, instead of a vague broad brush stroke, go ahead I'm listening.

To me, one of the things wrong with the modern world are attempts to "fix" the economic order, but with the wrong principles or tools. Communism's attempt to fix it by eradicating the market itself was wrong morally, spiritually, and economically. Socialism's attempt is similar. Political leftism's super social safety net approach is not as evil as communism's but still harbors a fatal tendency to remove responsibility from the lower and smaller to the higher and more remote without any principled basis for it. After the world has spent 200 years of the industrial revolution, cold war, etc trying and failing with these "fixes", it can hardly be surprising that there is much wrong with the world. The modern capitalist reaction to use the state to further big business is in no small part itself an illness resulting from the destructive attempts to fix the market based economic order, though it also springs directly from sin as well no doubt. Chesterton was not opposed to market-based economics, though, or if he was I have never read it.

There may be more than we realize, because perhaps it's not as visible as it used to be. However I don't think you can argue that there's not as much now as there used to be, and that that's a loss.

Not as much of what? The "types of things she [Lydia] expressed"? I never said that there's not as much now of anything.

And I am not looking for models for any social arrangement, nor would I ever look for models for that. I think it should happen organically, does, and always has. I think dependence on government except for protection is the biggest obstacle to the organic forming of healthy social relationships of all kinds.

Look folks, I didn't mean to be obscure. All I was trying to say was that the term "community" has no meaning anymore. I intended to say it, not demonstrate it, but it seems many here take the term "community" to mean "proper social interaction at some level". So if I say "Hey, that's not a community" because I think it is properly an association or a society, that is taken to mean I think the social interaction is less than what it should be. I had no intention of making any substantive statements about actualy present or past social interactions.

All I'm saying is that if the term "community" means everything (good), it means nothing. I don't think there is any shortage of inspiring social interaction of all sorts going on right now. Some are done in a community, and many are not. I think the most inspirational ones are not. And many fine things do create distances between people who actually are in communities, or at least in certain relationships. But they need to be done nonetheless. Ask a scholar if his scholarship brings him closer to his community. Not every good thing brings people emotionally or relationally closer. The belief that it should is a romantic ideal that I think is pernicious. I'm an anti-romantic (and an anti-communitarian if one doesn't class it a subset of the former).

And I'm with Lydia in hearting anti-Chestertonian rants on economics. I don't think there is much question his view flowed from a romantic view of what he saw as an ideal time.

There was an earlier comment that seems to have been eaten, so to repeat I will say that Chesterton may have lacked an appreciation for certain aspects of economic hierarchy, an issue that may afflict some distributists today. An obvious way of correcting this is emphasizing the power of aristocracy, but even there there will be some inherent economic advantages to that status (if it means anything).

I agree that the meaning of "community" is rather vague, but even if used vaguely (as I suppose I was using it), it means _something_ rather than nothing. For example, it has something to do with being neighborly with those who live near you and has something to do with helping each other in face-to-face ways.

Now, here's perhaps a profitable question: How much of a problem is it if the majority of one's "community" do not live within easy walking distance but are still within easy driving distance? How can we distinguish the community spirit found in a neighborhood from the community spirit found in a face-to-face group of individuals who cannot walk to each other's houses? If I were badly hurt or had to have surgery, I know that my local home schooling friends would help out. None of them live in my _immediate_ neighborhood, but they still contribute a great deal to my sense of "local community." On the other hand, sometimes there is no substitute for people right across the street--when you need your car jumped or need to borrow an egg, for example. Or if you are elderly, it's much more helpful to have someone right nearby, within a couple of blocks, whom you can call on for help than always to have to call someone who lives across town.

All I was trying to say was that the term "community" has no meaning anymore.
All I'm saying is that if the term "community" means everything (good), it means nothing.

Maybe in certain circles the term has been abused to the point that it has lost nearly all its value. However, in this here circle, it refers to a group of persons who act together so as to achieve one or more common goods. That leaves a number of details open: how many? Could be 2 or 3, or 2,000. Acting in what sense? Could be very materially external, like buying a clubhouse, or materially insignificant, like teaching a class some logic. How "together" is the action? It may be designed from top to bottom, or it may be looser, ad-hoc actions that promote the common good without any top-down oversight. How often do they "act together?" It could be hourly, or monthly, or even yearly - there are clubs or groups that get together once a year only. All of these possible answers will control how fully or intensely the group meets the ideal of "community", but will not change the fact that they do meet the essential criterion in a valid sense that makes it fair to refer to them as a community.

A religious order is a community. It can be a world-wide entity, with each monastery being itself a separate community. So, which one is the "real" community, the monastery where they live together, or the world-wide one? Obviously, the small one meets the criterion of acting for a common good in a different way than the global one does, but that doesn't discredit that the members of the global affair do in fact operate in concert to achieve some common goods. The Communion of Saints is even more tenuously operating "together" but if our definition of the term can't encompass them, then it's our definition that's wrong, not the use of the expression "Communion".

I didn't say it meant nothing. And I'd say that in the expression "being neighborly with those who live near you" we can see that a) being neighborly has to do with proximity generally understood, and b) both neighborly and proximity are relative terms, but the have definite meaning in relation to each other.

Living near someone is a certain type of neighbor, but circles of proximity yield other types of neighbors too. I don't believe that Christ was giving the last word on it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. How one is advantaged over another depends on the purpose of the type of friendship (or acquaintanceship if you prefer). I'll expose myself to great ridicule (I just put a "kick me" note not on my back to get the full experience) and say that I think people are too dismissively cynical of online communication, and too romantic about the purposes of communication to note their personal significance to many. I think many of us can't admit that we take seriously online relationships to people we may never meet, and that the can be and often are taken quite seriously and impart a great deal of meaning. Not all of them of course, but not all of my geographically local neighbors do either. And we can and do make very serious moral judgements having to do with face-to-face "neighbors" even when we are pretty sure that we'll never see them again. In fact, I have no reason to assume that the Good Samaritan ever thought he'd meet the poor victim again.

Now how to arbitrate importance of a given issue to a given acquaintance (or friend as one considers that the case may be) is what humans are uniquely capable of doing. Making this type of moral judgement are what human beings were made for. Some make it poorly, and some make it well, at least if not in the grip of a localist or other idealist principle. To destroy the grip of the latter I think was the purpose of the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's a shame preachers don't update the parable for current idealist conditions, but I guess you can't expect them to bite the hands that feed them.

Maybe in certain circles the term has been abused to the point that it has lost nearly all its value. However, in this here circle, it refers to a group of persons who act together so as to achieve one or more common goods. That leaves a number of details open: how many? Could be 2 or 3, or 2,000. Acting in what sense?

I don't know about the "common goods" idea. I think it is awfully general since it obscures what the commonality is in question. In fact diametrically opposed groups are all chasing a common good, though an opposed one.

Also, you can always define terms how you wish, but I'd say that you're left with what to call the other entities that used to occupy that space. Should we call the more rare shared friendship mesh groupings that come from forced regular contact "super-duper" or "extra-special" communities?

A religious order is a community. It can be a world-wide entity, with each monastery being itself a separate community. So, which one is the "real" community, the monastery where they live together, or the world-wide one?

I thought the term used for religious orders was "society", a voluntary association of individuals for common ends.

Of course on-line-only friendships can be important and meaningful. I have several of those. But the use of "community" for such groups and friendships has a special quality to it, an extra dimension of metaphor, that is ineradicable. And on-line friendships should not simply be and in fact _cannot_ be a substitute for face-to-face friendships or even for "mere" (positive) face-to-face acquaintanceships. I like y'all very much, but you weren't going to be able to help me crank my car back in the winter when the battery was dead and my husband was out of town. My extremely liberal neighbor, with whom I wouldn't be able to spend much talk-time without our getting on each other's nerves, did that instead.

I don't know about the "common goods" idea. I think it is awfully general since it obscures what the commonality is in question. In fact diametrically opposed groups are all chasing a common good, though an opposed one.

I see that we seem to just plain have different ideas about what the word means at root. In my view, the word "common" as in the expression "in common" underlies "community", and that's really the only fundamental criterion: that there be a common good, to be sought by common activity. It IS awfully general, is it vast, broad, encompassing, it is a term of a genus not a species, and probably a genus at a high level at that. A "society" is a sub-division of the genus "community", implying (just for starters) something larger than a few individuals. There are other types of communities as well, and we have names for them: clubs, associations, corporations, colleges, universities, companies, alliances, etc. There is (inevitably) a lot of overlap in what these all designate, since they are artificial arrangements - the handiwork of man not nature - but they all bear slightly different connotations too.

Diametrically opposed groups may pursue diametrically opposed ends, but they pursue them under the aspect of a good - the object is proposed as if it were a good, whether it really is or not. That's sufficient, because what is critical is that they have a goal to orient their actions, not that the goal be really and truly a good one.

Mark, if you think the term "community" is restricted to a smaller concept, maybe only a subset of "a group that pursues a common good through some common activity", could you say what that restriction would be? I recall that a term can mean BOTH a general thing and a specific thing, (because of the vagaries of organic language development, the narrow being allowed to be the term for the general (such as "a kleenex") or the general being allowed to stand in as the term for the specific). Aristotle does this with the word "justice", which in one sense is a term for a narrow virtue, but in another sense is a term for virtue as a whole in relation to others - kind of like the use of "right" in the Christian "righteous". I am just not aware of a specialized use of the word communityin that way. But feel free to point to examples of such a usage.

Of course on-line-only friendships can be important and meaningful. I have several of those. But the use of "community" for such groups and friendships has a special quality to it, an extra dimension of metaphor, that is ineradicable.

Well yes, I agree with that. I favor the restricted sense of the word. But you mentioned neighbors and proximity and I was thinking in those general terms.

And on-line friendships should not simply be and in fact _cannot_ be a substitute for face-to-face friendships or even for "mere" (positive) face-to-face acquaintanceships. I like y'all very much, but you weren't going to be able to help me crank my car back in the winter when the battery was dead and my husband was out of town. My extremely liberal neighbor, with whom I wouldn't be able to spend much talk-time without our getting on each other's nerves, did that instead.

But here I'd say Aristotle's view of the three types of friendships, which I think is quite clearly true and valid, is useful. There is no way that online relationships could serve as a medium for all three types equally well. But we have to admit that some types of friendships are shallow, and “easily dissolved” as I think he said. That is true of face-to-face relationships as well as the other. I simply do not like to contact anyone that I could contact face-to-face to "be friendly" online if I could see them face-to-face in the course of a year but choose not to. I don't think that could never be a friendship of pleasure and to try to make it anything of the sort is just creepy.

I take the term "friendship" to be pretty broad. I used to think "those aren't friends, those are acquaintances" much of the time when people say "friends". But I think this is shortsighted now and I just take it to mean any relationship not based on the biological or legal. And it implies acquaintances are somehow trivial, and I think they are often greater significance than they might seem.

I still use the term friendship for something more than acquaintances, and the latter otherwise. I'm not saying it doesn't matter, but just in the general sense "friendship" represents an identifiable class of people to any given person even in the broadest sense.

Well you may be right Tony. All I can say is that I think the term is abused and it isn't a good thing. At least I think it is true that the usage has changed, and I think there is a reason for it. Here is what Joseph Epstein has to say about it:

Community is a concept with a long history. It suggests life at a level less complex than that of a full-blown society, a cohesive group within the larger society where a cooperative spirit reigns and each person feels the glow of good feeling and concern for everyone else.

He goes on to say that there is no general black, Jewish, gay, or homeless "communities" because they are sufficiently divided among themselves. I think that is right.

I would highly recommend his book on the subject of friendship. I found it to be quite refreshing and necessary, whether he's right or wrong on "community". I personally think Evangelicals idealize personal relationships in unhealthy ways and that it really is damaging to real ones of all types.

Mark, if you think the term "community" is restricted to a smaller concept, maybe only a subset of "a group that pursues a common good through some common activity", could you say what that restriction would be?

I neglected to say I don't think communities in any restricted sense are based on common activity. I think that is an association.

I like y'all very much, but you weren't going to be able to help me crank my car back in the winter when the battery was dead and my husband was out of town. My extremely liberal neighbor, with whom I wouldn't be able to spend much talk-time without our getting on each other's nerves, did that instead.

BTW, this would be an example of friendship of utility. Nothing wrong with that, but doesn't settle anything about how to see or evaluate online relationships or how much you like us, or your neighbor. As a Christian I must simply reject prioritization schemes of any sort. The only one I know of that is actually sustainable and good is to favor the weak over the less-weak. So for example, if I had an online relationship to a person who depended on me in some ways that he/she couldn't of others for whatever reason, it would be entirely proper to do for them what one wouldn't do for those I knew face-to-face, even at far greater cost. This isn't the norm, but it is certainly possible and perhaps not even rare even before the internet. Ask soldiers in the field who got to know and depended on pilots for their very lives, or lovers who met and agreed to marry via voice conversations from the past. Though we can generalize, there is no simple ranking of relationships by communication medium, much as we are wont to reduce things. If that were so we should probable all just stop communicating remotely at all.

I often reminded of M. F. Cornford's satire Microcosmographia Academica, where he talks about what I think are the members of the Cambridge Senate:

The Non-Placet differs in not being open to conviction; he is a man of principle. A principle is a rule of inaction, which states a valid general reason for not doing in any particular case what, to unprincipled instinct, would appear to be right.

"Chesterton was not opposed to market-based economics, though, or if he was I have never read it."

Very true; but what you have among many on the Right is a conflation of "market-based economics" with industrial/corporate capitalism. It is the latter which is destructive of community and tradition, not the former. And of course Chesterton's critique was offered against the latter, not the former.

Given the incestuous relationship of big government and big business in the modern economy (resulting in what Philip Blond calls the "market state") what I'm suggesting is that conservatives should be wary of the latter just as they are (rightly) wary of the former when it comes to the negative effects on community. Powerful promoters of progressivism don't exist only in the government.

Given the incestuous relationship of big government and big business in the modern economy (resulting in what Philip Blond calls the "market state") what I'm suggesting is that conservatives should be wary of the latter just as they are (rightly) wary of the former ...

Um Nice, this isn't the 50's. If you think Conservatives don't know that corporations are as likely to go Liberal as individuals, and in fact have, then I don't know what to tell you. Do you really think they haven't noticed who contributed to Obama? Do you really think so few others have discovered what John Kenneth Galbraith called the “Iron Triangle”: Big government, big business, and big labor unions? Really?

No, they have. Which is why these days Conservatives are open to radical changes and non-Conservatives are defenders of the status quo these days, certainly as far as the relationship of big government and big business. If you haven't noticed that then you're entirely out of touch. Slash "corporate welfare" to zero? Bring it on say the Conservatives. Obliterate the advantages of business over the individual? Bring it on say the Conservatives. Why should artificial groupings be advantaged over individuals? No reason I can think of.

... when it comes to the negative effects on community.

Well, you got heart kid. You're still swinging. I give you props for that.

BTW, I'm a Menckenian when it comes to Chestertonian economics.

A theologian is like a blind man in a dark room searching for a black cat which isn’t there - and finding it!

Does it really matter what he thought about economics if we don't quote his wisdom on it, thus conveying some content simultaneously? Is he really so great that we only need mention that he thought thus and such, and not why? Do you think economists read Orthodoxy?

The touchstone of Chesterton's understanding of political economy was the principle of private property, which is a sounder point of departure than that of about seven out of ten economists working today. He thought that liberty could not survive the attenuation of private property, and he set himself to a sustained defense of it. Much of his writing under this head was periodical and controversial, which is to say that it involved disputes now distant and obscure to us. Still, The Outline of Sanity or What's Wrong with the World can be read with great profit today. Consider the charming insights packed into just the first paragraph of the former book:

I have been asked to republish these notes--which appeared in a weekly paper--as a rough sketch of certain aspects of the institution of Private Property, now so completely forgotten amid the journalistic jubilations over Private Enterprise. The very fact that the publicists say so much of the latter and so little of the former is a measure of the moral tone of the times. A pickpocket is obviously a champion of private enterprise. But it would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that a pickpocket is a champion of private property. The point about Capitalism and Commercialism, as conducted of late, is that they have really preached the extension of business rather than the preservation of belongings; and have at best tried to disguise the pickpocket with some of the virtues of the pirate. The point about Communism is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets.

You must not listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, et al. much or watch Fox. Mainstream conservatism is still roundly pro-corporate except on the subject of cronyism, which of course is a problem, but is certainly not the only problem. This type of conservative tends to see big business/big government incest as almost entirely the fault of the latter. There is no possibility that there might be some sort of inherent problem with corporatism itself -- heaven forbid! These are the conservatives who think Wal*Mart is the apotheosis of the American success story.

"Do you think economists read Orthodoxy?"

Perhaps not, but there are undoubtedly some who've read The Outline of Sanity. Depends on what sort of economists they are. If they're just number-crunchers then probably not. If they are among those who view economics as a humane science and not just an exercise in money and math, possibly so.

You read my mind, Paul. Some of the great conservative critics of industrial capitalism were staunch defenders of private property, and viewed corporate power not as a manifestation of it, but as a threat to it.

Mark, if you want to see what a "Chestertonian" economics might look like today, I refer you to John Medaille's Toward a Truly Free Market, published by ISI.

Here is a perfect example of the corporate-government alliance to stick it to the small guy:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57583085-38/internet-tax-bill-targets-all-digital-downloads/

Let's also recall that WalMart supported Obamacare and made common cause with the latest iteration of sanctimonious gun-grabbers.

Nice (and Paul),

As someone who thinks Wal*Mart represents one "apotheosis of the American success story" (along with GE, Apple, Ford and the rest of the top ten Fortune 500 companies), what would you have policy-makers do in opposition to all you hate about big business?

Limit the size of American coroporations (which is a silly idea, but are you proposing such a concept)? I wonder what someone like Maximos would do?

I know some communities restrict Wal*Mart's ability to open stores in their community -- which has the unfortunate unintended consequence of diverting shopping to Wal*Marts located outside the community. I suppose if a particular community was willing to accept that trade-off, I see nothing wrong with such a policy from a legal perspective -- but I wouldn't recommend the idea as good public policy.

But what would you recommend? The interesting and infuriating thing about Rod is that he didn't have to move all over the place chasing his vision of the American dream before going back home -- he could have settled into a Dallas community where he had a very good job and raised his family there (where he would have been relatively speaking close to his sister and relatives back home). Instead, by his own I guess foolish choice -- he started moving all over the place -- but no one forced him to do so and it wasn't like he was a oil rig laborer moving to North Dakota to chase after good manual labor jobs. As far as I understand, he was doing well in Dallas -- so why did he leave???

Much has been written on the cooperation between agribusiness and the USDA which resulted in the crowding out of the small farmer in favor of the large operator under the "get big or get out" mantra.

Jeffrey S.'s comments, as usual, are excellent. His points about Dreher also seem quite well-taken.

As for the rest, I mean, wunnerful, many big businesses are owned by liberals who are using their money to further liberal ends. We all know that. What then? Should we make it illegal for them to contribute their personal money to the PACs of their choice? As for the incestuous relationship between big business and big government, I have a real good idea: How about if we seriously lessen the power of big government, and then big business won't have anything to latch onto for their own ends? But when, I ask you, was the last time you heard an advocate of the "third way," one who goes on at length about the alleged "evils of capitalism" start talking like a quasi-libertarian and deploring regulations and the stifling of entrepreneurship by too much government power? Myself, I don't hear it much. On the contrary: I hear people who think there's some good to be found in Barack O's "You didn't build that" speech and get extremely angry at those who condemn it.

"what would you have policy-makers do in opposition to all you hate about big business?"

Perhaps they could start by simply NOT greasing the skids for the big guys? In other words, begin by knocking off the mutual backscratching.

"I know some communities restrict Wal*Mart's ability to open stores in their community"

Perhaps a given community's character is more important to it than the money Wal*Mart would bring in. It might be a foreign concept to many in these United States, but not everything is measurable in dollars!

"Myself, I don't hear it much."

Then you're listening at the wrong places! Practically every single non-Leftist 'third way' advocate that I know of is both a proponent of the right to private property and an advocate of small business. They tend to object to "bigness" in general, as being a quality in both government and business that causes the aggrandizement of wealth and power and the centralization of control in faraway places where the little guy has no say.

...and, getting back to the main post, when the little guy's homeplace is far away from the centers of power and control, those at the centers won't give much of a rip about either him or his homeplace, or the concerns thereof. This is why I will never set foot in a Wal*Mart again, after discovering that they were the ONLY stores in our area that decided to stay open all day on Easter Sunday. The malls were all closed, the supermarkets closed early (even the 24 hr. ones), but for W*M it was business as usual.

Yeah, yeah, they "tend to object to bigness." I'm looking for something more definite: Objecting to government regulation in a more widespread way rather than trying to find some way to "oppose Wal Mart" or "stop Wal Mart" or "make it impossible for Wal Mart to open in your town."

Look: Which is smarter as a response to the use of Big Government by Big Corporations--trying to outlaw big corporations or trying to make big government smaller so small businesses can compete? I say the latter. We need to avoid that classic error of people who don't get economics: Create one problem and then add layers and layers of additional regulations to try to solve it rather than going back and rooting out the initial problem. Case in point: Health care bureaucracy that makes fee-for-service less attractive, penalizes doctors for under-charging or showing charity (yes, really), and causes people to perceive healthcare as free while prices are actually skyrocketing. Liberal solution? Government price caps. Exactly what we _don't_ need.

And let me add that _no one_ who wants to have _any_ credible claim to being an advocate of small business and private property and to not being hostile to "the right sort of free market" (or something like that) should be defending that stupid speech of Obama's. Atall.

On the precise policy question I'll offer unrelenting opposition to this monstrosity of tax bill, offered by a "conservative" Wyoming senator and Wal*Mart. Right-wingers should go to the mats to sink this usurpation.

Happily the gun control bill favored by the selfsame corporation failed. Alas that this corporation's health care bill didn't likewise fail.

More broadly, I'd say right-wingers ought to regard Wal*Mart as part of this country's dominant Leftist coalition. Is that so hard?

While I am not quite as sanguine as Jeff on the fineness of our country's Fortune 500s, with him I would like to hear more positive proposals from those in favor of small about how to make that happen and work. I mean, it's easy to say "don't favor large corporations" but the devil is in the details. Removing the government-provided incentives to largeness is good, but WHICH incentives, and HOW?

One typical space-cadet type anti-big theory is to outlaw the corporation. For me, that sounds insane, because no matter how you term it, you have to be able to identify (in law) an organized operation as distinct from the individual people who operate it.

Would you limit the size of corporations? By what standard, value of assets, amount of sales, number of employees or members, number of plants? On what principle other than an animus against bigness alone?

Tony is spot-on that to outlaw the corporation is sheer madness. I hope I never get confused with such lunatic ideas.

Mostly I see the wise political posture as trying to stop bad things. Would that restoring good things were a practical option.

Alas, there are so innumerable bad things as to occupy every free patriot in these united States.

Positive law could definitely be improved by a few key reforms to favor smaller regional, local and national firms, as against massive publicly-traded industry giants and international corps. I think private investment and securities firms is a good idea. Let them do as they will with partner capital; once they sell sales and the public treasury is exposed, you can set aside your hotshot freedom.

All these inchoate thoughts are, of course, dependent on stopping the bad things referred to above.

The point about Capitalism and Commercialism, as conducted of late, is that they have really preached the extension of business rather than the preservation of belongings;

That's some pretty weak stuff if that's the best we can do on Chesterton on economics. Talking about "belongings" is vague and sentimental by definition. Aren't there some quotes that would distinguish him from the typical romantic along the lines of, oh I don't know ... an understanding of the bourgeoisie, where the sphere of interest that is rational/economic/masculine opposes the sphere that is moral/familial/feminine? Where what we think we know about the declining importance for social activity and family ties in industrial capitalism as seen through the lens of certain nineteenth-century ideologies and views on modern alienation, which aren't necessarily associated with the reality of everyday practice?

Much has been written on the cooperation between agribusiness and the USDA which resulted in the crowding out of the small farmer in favor of the large operator under the "get big or get out" mantra.

This is a Conservative issue, and if farm subsidies are to be repealed it will be a Conservative initiative. There is common cause with the "Wille Nelson" contingent, but it isn't really opposed to it very vigorously in my opinion. I'm not sure that they really do. In any case, more people are profiting by it than you think, and that is why it is so hard to repeal. It is agribusiness, but I know some of them in Indiana and they're smaller than you think. If they weren't it would be easier to repeal than it will be.

Okay, I see there are great summaries out there on Distributism. It's simple enough. A few bullet points would seem to do it. Not sure why we need to invoke Chesterton at all in debating it.

Distributism puts great emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity. This principle holds that no larger unit (whether social, economic, or political) should perform a function which can be performed by a smaller unit.

This is interesting, because Conservatives and Libertarians think that no larger entity that doesn't do the job a good bit better than smaller ones will survive. Honestly, the problem with debating this sort of things is, as in all debates, what is unstated. What is assumed. As William James said, the unstated in debates owes mostly to temperament.

I think there are unstated positions on history involved here. If history moved in a direction of always advantaging larger entities over smaller ones, I'd be a distributist. Damn straight I would be. No question about it. But I don't believe that, and my read of history in almost every area shows the advantages of larger entities over the long-term has been decreasing for a some time. Terrorism is a problem not because it is new, but because of the asymmetry brought about by advanced technology and weaponry. Technology in about every area of life has multiplied the power of small groups socially and politically, and it is only increasing. Large corporations simply don't have the power they once did, either for employment or control and the balance will continue shifting in that direction. It creates problems of its own of course. But surely we must acknowledge the rapid changes in technology and how people are using it, for good or ill.

The idea that we are dominated by large entities is a Liberal dream and they're holding on as tight as they can to the past. But it won't work, or at least I hope not. Even if it does, the problem won't be that large corporations were allowed to continue to collect some supposed natural advantages that accrue organically because of size, it will be because a governing authority so established itself that it was able to perpetuate the advantages and politically advantage large entities even after the power balance organically changed.

So that is why I harp on the romanticism. It isn't about economics. Many will sweep aside what I just described and has been a main topic of conversation for a long time that though there have been advances we're impoverished by them spiritually so it is a net loss. Oh yeah, there's progress but ... Well it seems to me one needs to be on one side or the other. Either there are advances in power balance in favor of smaller entities, or there aren't. And where are those who say we've been headed down the road of radical individualism since one of the Enlightenment/Locke/AmRevolution/CivilWar when you really need them?

Isn't it interesting that the largest corporation in the world that is just a bit larger in market capitalization than Exxon Mobil right now, Apple Inc., has the highest customer satisfaction numbers ever seen for a product maker of its type? But this is where the conspiracy theorists come in and posit that they are so big and profitable because people are stupid. We're so spiritually impoverished we're stupid and pay more than we need to. So there you go. Deny that advantages still accrue to large entities as they once did just because of "economies of scale" and you'll find conspiracy theorists crawling out of the woodwork to tell you you're wrong and they're large because they're manipulatory wizards who are only successful because people are stupid. See regression thesis above.

Mark, do you plan on addressing the one concrete and current example I've cited several times now?

Here's more:

http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2013/05/09/with_the_internet_sales_tax_amazon_looks_to_oust_competition_100311.html

"Positive law could definitely be improved by a few key reforms to favor smaller regional, local and national firms, as against massive publicly-traded industry giants and international corps."

Agreed, Paul. I'm not in favor of additional regulation against corporations, but rather reform/repeal of that which gives them a leg up on the little guy.

Having said that, I grew up in Pittsburgh in the late 60s/early 70s when it was one of the most polluted cities in the nation, both in regard to air and water. There's no doubt in my mind that the polluters would not have stopped without government pressure to do so. To me it's just as ridiculous to be "anti-regulation" as it is to want to ban corporations altogether. If it wasn't for regulations against polluting the 'Burgh would still be a smoggy cesspool.

Of course, one could argue that the market would eventually solve the problem, with the polluting corporations (pollution being inefficient) eventually being driven out of business by more efficient, non-polluting ones. Meanwhile, people would continue to get sick and die, the rivers would still be unfishable and unswimmable, asthmatics wouldn't be able to go outside on certain days, etc., etc., while the 25 or 50 or 100 years required to fix things by the magical self-adjusting market would pass.

Economic lunacy doesn't lie only on the Left.

Right on Paul!

In the name of "fairness", various governments collude with big business to collect more tax revenue -- surprise, surprise!

In the end, I'm with Lydia -- the best way to stop the power of big business is to retrict their power to influence big government -- and that means let's not have a big government in the first place for them to influence!!!

As consumers we will make decisions about what businesses we want to get big (or not) based on how we spend our money. And obviously I support laws promoting the common good that restrict certain types of business practices (e.g. I may have told the story here before about how I was stymied one Sunday morning from buying beer before a Bears game because the local grocer couldn't sell any alcohol in Chicago before 11:00 AM -- at the time I was surprised and annoyed but now I realize there is wisdom in that law and maybe it doesn't go far enough -- let's hear it for the return of blue laws!)

"the best way to stop the power of big business is to retrict their power to influence big government -- and that means let's not have a big government in the first place for them to influence"

I'm all for that, but that is only a partial solution. Remember how much corporate power was on evidence during the Gilded Age, when the size of government was much smaller. Precaution must be taken that corporations do not simply fill the power vacuum left by diminishing government. Government and corporate power expanded simultaneously and they should be reduced simultaneously if possible.

Nice,

You say, "Remember how much corporate power was on evidence during the Gilded Age, when the size of government was much smaller." Actually, I'm not sure if I agree with you -- I know this is a left-wing talking point, and yes a stopped clock is right twice a day, but my understanding of the industrial revolution is that there were massive economic gains in the regular standard of living for the average worker during the Gilded Age. This economic truth is typically overlooked by leftists when they want to critique the era. I know labor unions were particularly...active during this time on behalf of their membership (God Bless President Cleveland, the last great Democratic President, who called out the army on the railroad strikers). But corporate power? -- in the sense of corporatation colluding to harm the common good of the country? -- I don't really see it as a particularly serious problem or a problem that was worse than it is today.

I'm thinking primarily of the corporate moves towards trusts and monopolies that occurred during that time. That they are now illegal does not mean that corporations will not attempt to get similar results by different means.

Mark, do you plan on addressing the one concrete and current example I've cited several times now?

Address what? The article explains it quite well enough. The judgement of the article is mine too. I'm not disputing anything Nice has said about the collusion of government and business. I've reinforced it by referencing Galbraith's "Iron Triangle" and the failure of the Walter Russel Mead's "Blue Model".

I'm disputing that Nice's caricature of Conservatives as being uncomprehending of this fact. Paul, please don't accept Nice's caricature of Conservatives and then apply it to me.

In the end, I'm with Lydia -- the best way to stop the power of big business is to retrict their power to influence big government -- and that means let's not have a big government in the first place for them to influence!!!

Amen, Jeffrey! It happens that government business collusion isn't anything new. It didn't begin in the "Guilded Age". Therefore what you, Lydia, and I are proposing is actually quite radical, and we must realize this to understand the challenges. But it is an idea whose time has come! And the primary reason the time has come is the great increase in the power of smaller entities. Put simply –in terms of strictly business and economics–government does need to do certain things that individuals can't do for themselves. I think we all believe that. But it happens that now government is so very doing many things that smaller entities can do. Therefore the activities and domain of the government must shrink!

The above only addresses legitimate business and says nothing of the threat to our liberties and moral questions. A smaller gov would still be a threat to those, though probably somewhat less.

Address what? The article explains it quite well enough.

The internet tax scheme fits quite well with Chesterton's critique of bigness, especially to the extent that this scheme is a union of Big against Small.

You've been blowing off Chestertonian economics, so I've given you a present-day case where those economics illuminate the correlation of political forces: WalMart and Amazon are content to eat the costs of the new tax burdens because it will disproportionate burden their smaller competitors.

You say, "Remember how much corporate power was on evidence during the Gilded Age, when the size of government was much smaller." Actually, I'm not sure if I agree with you -- I know this is a left-wing talking point, and yes a stopped clock is right twice a day, but my understanding of the industrial revolution is that there were massive economic gains in the regular standard of living for the average worker during the Gilded Age. This economic truth is typically overlooked by leftists when they want to critique the era.

Indeed, the era is presented in school textbooks entirely from the Progressive viewpoint. So if you went to public school, that's what you think. It is entirely and grossly distorted to the benefit of the Progressive/Liberal outlook.

But I think the key to understanding the romantic outlook is to recognize the methods. In my opinion, here's the basic map for arguing for those of this temperament.


1) Present social and economic reality according to an ideal of large business. After all, even if big business was bad, the time during which it thrived was ideal, right?

2) If the power of large corporations to manipulate economic circumstances to their own benefit is shown to be waning, assert that this power has been replaced by psychological manipulation of the masses.

2a) If the reality of the rise of small business has been asserted, counter that a paycheck is still inherently degrading as opposed to making one's livelihood by means of property.

3) Assert that a pernicious individualism and its concomitant excess of self-interest has been on the rise for generations.

4) If it is objected that #3 militates against the idea of the stupidity of the masses that can no longer look out for their own self-interest (see #2 above), throw in some Tocqueville quotes.

5) If the large increase in the self-employed over the last decades is noted, reply that they are lower paying no-benefit jobs than with large employers in keeping with the ideal of #1. (Editor's note: hopefully not too many are real estate agents)

6) Deny technical advancements that might affect the small / large corporate power balance that would undermine any justification for some form of distributism.

7) If the denial in #6 is not successful on a given occasion, assert a countering spiritual impoverishment brought about by technology, contractual relations, and the usual stuff

8) If none of this works roll your eyes and toss out some commonplaces about "Robber Barons" (or "Whig history" if you prefer). That is indefensible, or so your story goes, so you've won at this point.


I left out a few things, but you get the idea. Anything that seems to confirm the thesis is good, and since most people assert them piecemeal the contradictions won't be apparent. Longing for a better past time is probably the oldest idea there is. Hesiod had his Age of Heroes, so everyone is entitled to their own distant ideal age I guess. In the US the ideal tends to be a combination of the yeoman farmer and a post-war factory worker in big-box manufacturing.

I don't see the force of your argument Paul. I haven't blown off Chesterton's economics any more than Lydia or Jeff unless I'm mistaken. I've given my own account and endorsement for the danger of bigness, and as I said the last time this came up, the problem remains that if the cure is worse than the disease than Chesterton's economics are still wrong no matter how insightful he was about any single point.

"please don't accept Nice's caricature of Conservatives and then apply it to me."

I repeat: All you have to do is listen to Limbaugh or Hannity for a little while or watch Fox News. Mainstream American conservatism is decidedly and uncritically pro-corporate. You will hear criticism of "crony capitalism" but the implication will be that all the problems lie with the cronyism, none with the capitalism. Or you might hear criticism of a specific corporation or two, but again, the fault will only be with those corporations, not with corporatism in general.

"Longing for a better past time is probably the oldest idea there is."

Yes, and is almost as fallacious as the notion that "everyday, in every way, things are getting better and better!" Progressivism is progressivism, even when it's wearing Right-wing drag.

Nice, your caricatures are comical. You won't even comment on what I've said. You throw accusations from a defensive crouch. Like camping behind a rock and shooting at people.

Here is the difference between Chesterton and Limbaugh or Hannity or me. You don't know what you're talking about.

Government should only do what only government can do. Big business in the "Gilded Age" wasn't harmful. That has been shown over and over by competent scholars as wild exaggeration of the Progressives. Government and business should not have an incestuous relationship. Unfortunately now many of them do because they benefit most from government action.

Big business, then or now, that got to be big by satisfying customers better than competitors is not a problem. Chesterton apparently say bigness as a problem *per se*. I don't. The government incestuousness and the bigness are two separate things. And the threat of onerous government regulations is what makes big business *need* to be interested in influencing government. It is corrupting.

Now if a poor competitor wishes to become stronger through advancing regulations in its favor that is illegitimate. That may always occur, but the fact that a company is big does not mean that it has necessarily occurred. And shrinking government is the way to reduce the possibility that companies will be tempted to do it. This is the mainstream Conservative position, or at least that of Limbaugh et al.

Mark, settle down. Observe your surroundings. As usual you come flying in with sharp words and sharp elbows. You insincerely talk about not wanting to "cause a stir" and then proceed with numerous further provocations.

"I don't see the force of your argument Paul. I haven't blown off Chesterton's economics any more than Lydia or Jeff unless I'm mistaken."

Without speaking for Jeff, I'll say Lydia unquestionably disagrees with Chesterton on certain key details of economics, but we're all confident she's well aware of WHAT THOSE DETAILS ARE.

Meanwhile, another commenter, who appears not really to be possessed of a working knowledge of Chesterton's arguments of political economy, thinks he's a hotshot for citing Mencken against the great Englishman.

Mark, let me gently recommend that you wrestle with Chesterton's very cogent critiques of H. L. Mencken and the American literary tradition he represents, and learn what the deepest point of dispute between these two men really was.

In the meantime, I'm sure the folks here who generally share your view of this particular matter, are most of all anxious that you should cease embarrassing their cause.

At the risk of losing respect, I guess I should admit that one of my chief objections to Chesterton's various discussions of economics (which I became acquainted with quite some time ago, an acquaintance I have not lately renewed) is the lack of practically viable details therein, and, indeed, a very strong impression left behind that, frankly, he doesn't have a very clear grasp of the details of a real economy beyond the most micro-micro-level and of how it works. I have always found any attempt to pin Chesterton's advocates down on exactly what it would mean to "distribute" without "redistributing" (which they claim to eschew) to be an exercise in frustration. I have a love-hate relationship with one of Chesterton's most rampaging passages concerning a little girl's hair in which he literally concludes that, since she should have a leisured mother and that since, in order for this to be the case, her family should not have to pay rent that is "too high," therefore "there must be a revolution." What is one to do with such a writer? As I say, a love-hate relationship. Because I love the "not one hair of her head shall fall" line.

Well Paul, as it happens, in fact I've got a mystical streak in me. But when it comes to debate it entirely defeats the purpose of it not to be willing to offer paraphrases of any sort because that's the most basic and general requirement to have a discussion. And my quip about Mencken was a joke, since I obviously respect theologians as a Christian.

This is interesting, because Conservatives and Libertarians think that no larger entity that doesn't do the job a good bit better than smaller ones will survive. Honestly, the problem with debating this sort of things is, as in all debates, what is unstated. What is assumed.

Perhaps, Mark. One of the unstated assumptions in the above is "on a level playing field where people are truly free to choose." Smaller private enterprises and bigger private enterprises on a level playing field will obey laws about survival. But governments are not like that, because they use force, coercion, and so by definition they don't leave people free. So in order to evaluate an historical result, you have to be sure that the entities are not themselves governments, nor are using governments unequally in constraining or contriving people's choices.

Chesterton apparently say bigness as a problem *per se*. I don't. The government incestuousness and the bigness are two separate things.

Now that I agree with. That's why I asked for details on how to decide, what criteria to use

to cap "big" business: bigness OF ITSELF is only worrisome, it is not of itself evil. Big business may tend to present dangers because it increases opportunity to influence corruptly and increases incentive, but I don't think that those increases in themselves are sufficient to use law to tell an otherwise upright and industrious go-getter "sorry, you've been so good at organizing your business, so good at satisfying customers, that we are locking you down, you can't get any bigger now." Not without an additional basis than mere bigness itself, I think. At least to my eye, the possibility that someone will misuse their capacity to corrupt if they get big isn't a sound basis to take away their liberty to engage in business practices that successfully enrich themselves (and their neighbors) by being efficient.

Agreed, Paul. I'm not in favor of additional regulation against corporations, but rather reform/repeal of that which gives them a leg up on the little guy.

Which ones, Nice? I probably would agree, but I need some details.

Or you might hear criticism of a specific corporation or two, but again, the fault will only be with those corporations, not with corporatism in general.

Well, I am open to hearing what the problem is with "corporatism in general", because I am not seeing it if what you mean is "the very concept of incorporation". If, on the other hand, the problem you mean is "large corporatism as currently practiced in today's world" then (a) that isn't corporatism itself, but one version of it, and (b) that means you can distinguish just exactly which added features you want to do away with by law. Good - give me some concrete details to work with.

Just to show you what I mean, on a slightly different target (though related): I was horrified when the McCain - Feingold election law was passed, I thought it was a direct affront to the free speech of small entities (and large too) who wanted to be able to say something like "we think a principled conservative vote protects gun rights and Mr. Smith is against them, so don't vote for Smith" within 60 days of the election. Supposedly, the vast, complex, difficult to parse rules of campaign law are supposed to prevent money from simply buying elections, but obviously that means they prevent people with money from speaking with a megaphone purchased with that money. My feeling is that the byzantine rules aren't really helping, and are probably hurting the very object they are intended to resolve. How about making them MUCH simpler: all campaign donations are to be registered and open to public view, (speech is an inherently public act, and speech intended to mold the general welfare should be open to public inspection), and nobody is allowed to give money to BOTH candidates in an election - that's speaking out both sides of your mouth.

Going back to the Gilded Age: one of the biggest of the robber baron species was the railroad magnate. Now, one thing to note about a railroad is that it inherently requires a vast amount of initial capital. You simply cannot get into the business without a large starting stock, a vast fortune: you have to be rich to start with to build a railroad. AFTER several successful railroads are running, then it is theoretically possible to start up a new one consisting of many, many shareholders pooling their wealth, but that's not possible for the first ones, and even when you do have many pooling their wealth to start one, then what you have is a vast corporation, another monster. So, which is it: railroads are evil things of themselves simply because they are big, or the rich magnate who starts one is evil for doing something new with his money because it makes more money, or the large corporation is evil because it is based on incorporation instead of a rich person simply risking his own money? I don't get which of these is the right story.

(Just in passing, I will note that in 1890 we had a huge number of passenger rail lines, many of them making good money. Since 1970, we have in effect only one by government fiat, and it has yet to turn a profit - though admittedly a large part of the issue is government subsidized auto roads and airline industry.)

~~I have always found any attempt to pin Chesterton's advocates down on exactly what it would mean to "distribute" without "redistributing"~~

I won't have much time today to comment, alas, but I will dig up some examples and post them tonight or tomorrow.

"Bigness" becomes an issue in and of itself when it is put forth as an independent and inherently good quality. It becomes a sort of idol. One could make a comparison, I think, between the emphasis on bigness in the Gilded Age and into the early 20th century and the emphasis today on "diversity." Now diversity can be a fine thing under certain circumstances, but as a stand-alone concept it's empty, and becomes an idol when promoted uncritically. I think that what Chesterton, et al., were doing was critiquing the idolization of bigness in the same way that many conservatives today critique the current idolization of diversity.

That this is the case is evidenced for example by the prologue to Booth Tarkington's 1915 novel The Turmoil, which is a plea against the worship of bigness. The novel goes on to dramatize this "turmoil" in the life of one Midwestern business family. Now please note that Tark was in no way anti free-market, so there is no necessary link between a critique of bigness idolatry and being Leftist. You can say exactly the same thing about any number of such critics from the New Humanists and Southern Agrarians of the 20's right up through the "Front Porchers" of today.


Oh, and as to Mark's contention that conservative critiques of modernity are rooted in romanticism, one need go no further than the work of the late Marion Montgomery to demonstrate the fallacy of the contention. Montgomery was a critic of modernity and of romanticism, seeing in the latter a well-intentioned but ineffectual reaction to Enlightenment excesses: well-intentioned because it got some of the diagnoses right, ineffectual because it was rooted in the same individualistic philosophy as what it was reacting against.

The last time I read anything by a self-styled "front porcher," it was a terminally silly review of the Christmas movie "It's a Wonderful Life" which was as much of a self-parody in its own minor way as any similarly brief example of Marxist literary criticism. As, e.g., that the author was much exercised by the fact that he didn't like the architecture of the houses George Bailey's Savings and Loan money built for its (intensely grateful and much benefited, but we weren't supposed to notice that) clients. Because the houses didn't have front porches, of course. And, I kid you not, he inferred from the later part of the movie that Bailey's houses were built on a cemetery (an implication I'm quite sure the script writer did not intend) and that therefore George was guilty of sacrilege. It was absurd in excelsis. After that, I avoided the site again.

I vaguely remember that review, Lydia, and thought it a bit much myself. As a fairly regular reader of Porch-type material, I'd have to say that that is atypical, however, and that some of the regular writers there (Patrick Deneen, Mark Mitchell, James Matthew Wilson, etc.) often post some pretty substantial stuff. As with any website of that sort one learns who to read and who to avoid.

Lots of discussions about distributism too there, by the way, including a symposium on Medaille's book:

http://www.isi.org/books/bookdetail.aspx?id=eb565cff-c3d4-44ed-8029-bd74a87f2a2b

It pleases me to see such a robust conversation taking place.

Although it's gotten a bit off of the main topic--what is home?--the economic discussion is obviously a critical part of whatever answer emerges.

To those who've asked how we might limit the size of corporations and government, I would (cheekily) observe that Mayor Bloomberg obviously has no qualms about regulating the size of human persons in his city, or that airlines have contemplated charging more for morbidly obese flyers.

All of this regulating of individual size emanates from concerns over health, over the dimensions of seats--and over who has to pay the price if you die young from your obesity or sit your expansive derriere next to an otherwise innocent fellow-passenger.

While you and I might find Bloomberg's nanny-state meddling offensive, the truth is that we have limited the activities of certain types of corporations--which the law treats as individuals--in the past. The Glass-Steagall Act more or less restricted banks from crossing state lines--and the result was that most of the world's largest banks were not in America.

Just as there is an ideal size for the human figure, there must certainly be an ideal size for the corporate or governmental "figure" as well.

But I should like to revisit the main point, what is home?

I titled this piece Home is where the Truth is. I could also have titled it Home is where the Loopholes are not.

What thoughts do you all have on home as a match between our mortal limits and place?

Ah, yes, Mr. Medaille. That would be the Mr. Medaille who (this is not an exaggeration) freaked out at me on a mutual friend's Facebook thread because I criticized Obamacare. Who assumed that my doing so means that I am heartless and want the destitute to die. Who kept asking over and over again a question I had previously heard only from liberals: "What _should happen_ to people who cannot afford to pay?" as though there is some one, simple, obvious answer to this question. Who positively foamed at the mouth when I brought up the Acton Institute, refusing to admit anything remotely valuable or useful in their work and condemning them all as a bunch of heartless heretics. You get the picture. The funny thing is that, from a quick look I gave at the time at some of his writing, I'm not entirely closed to some sort of notion of guilds, which I gather is the foundation of Medaille's idea for healthcare, but his truly extreme closed-mindedness and liberal-style kneejerk reactions to any reference to market-based approaches made me more suspicious than I would otherwise have been of the soundness of his own ideas.

Ken, I only _sort of_ get the point about loopholes. Let me give a (perhaps) trivial example: Suppose that in my present home town I cannot find modest clothing for my daughters, so (among other things) I order it on-line from a company based in Kansas, many hundreds of miles away. I have, have I not, refused to admit the "limits of place," refused to "buy local," and found a "loophole" to allow me to "get around" the limitations of human location. But this is obviously not a bad thing.

So it would seem to me that there is no general or inherent problem with finding loopholes but only with specific acts of loophole-finding, which can then only be judged on a case-by-case basis.

That is a good point.

I would argue that this indicates we must do our best to create a society where modesty is the rule, and the loophole is not necessary. Which will be difficult, but will ultimately be necessary to restore a sense of conservatism and human dignity. Because for everyone who orders long distance from an excellent tailor, their is probably someone who order long distance from Abercrombie and Fitch.

Or, Ken, consider a different issue about looking for loopholes: Suppose that a young person is timid or even lazy and prefers to live in his parents' basement all his life and fail to launch. We can easily imagine that such a young person might be "looking for loopholes" to _avoid_ moving away from his home town. (For example, the Obamacare rule that children must be covered by their parents' health insurance until they are 26 will be such a loophole for many--convenient for a lot of us, but not necessarily therefore the best thing for everyone.) Should he be suspicious of his own inclinations _merely_ because he realizes that he is looking for loopholes in order to follow them? Or should he follow his desire to look for loopholes and never have more than a part-time job because "home is where the truth is" and his natural inclination is to want to stay at home indefinitely? It looks to me as though both of those ways of looking at it are overly simplistic.

There just is no general rule that what we find easy to do is the wrong thing or that looking for ways around the apparent exigencies or limitations of life is always bad. Sometimes it's bad; sometimes it's good. Sometimes it is practically wise, sometimes unwise. Sometimes neutral. And sometimes a given course of action involves "finding a loophole" in one respect and "toughing it out" in another respect.

Anymouse, A & F exist in all their dubious glory at the local mall.

It isn't that I don't understand the attractiveness of ideas like "doubling down" or "manning up" or whatever phrase one wants to use and putting up with what is offered to one in life, rather than trying to find loopholes.

It's just that, to be quite frank, I'm not at all convinced that such general ideas are truth-conducive. Conservatives can give _numerous_ examples of all manner of things--from news their local newspaper will suppress to clothing to curriculum to likeminded conversation partners--for which they do not want and should not want to be confined to only what is on offer locally. The Internet and the swiftness of our present means of shipping and communication can be looked upon as having many good effects, and I simply cannot "buy" the mindset that says that _all_ of these things are merely "making the best of a bad job," that I should be able to find all the home school curriculum I want at my local bookstore or something in an ideal world. Why? Why even think of it that way?

More: Consider so fundamental and ancient a Christian tradition as the Great Commission. If no one "looks for loopholes," if everyone follows the tradition of his own people and sticks only with what is available to him locally, then what becomes of missions? On the one hand, missionaries will not leave their own homes and places to bring the Gospel. And on the other hand, the Muslim or Hindu or even Jewish person here or in the far-away land will be obligated to reject the Gospel, for accepting it will de facto mean a huge separation from his own kinfolk. They may even try to kill him, and he may have to flee physically. What becomes of Jesus' own words that He came not to bring peace but a sword? Or that he who does not "hate" father and mother is not worthy of Him?

None of that is a mere matter of the idiosyncracies of a secularized modern society. I think we can argue that a certain amount of anti-traditionalism and "leaving home" is, in fact, basic to Christianity itself.

Although it's gotten a bit off of the main topic--what is home?

First, home is a place. Definitely a place, not an set of rights, or something like that. We humans are bodily creatures, and the body needs to have a place for it.

Secondly, home's place is at least partly one of intention: the definition of "domicile" is the place where, when you are away, you intend to "return" to. When a man leaves his father and mother and marries and moves into a new place, that new place is "home" right from day one. Even though it is brand new, and doesn't feel the way "home" ought to feel, not yet.

Thirdly, home is the place that harbors an association of actions, memories, traditions, etc. The feeling mentioned above comes in no small measure from the build-up of years of doings and events in a specific place: one of the things that makes my childhood home to be "home" is my memory of a hole in the wall, made bigger with the throwing of a ball, then with a fist, then with a foot, and eventually with a shoulder. First papered over with a picture, eventually with paneling. For the place of intention to turn into the place of feeling takes time and much doing - like the velveteen rabbit.

Home your castle. That is to say, when you are at home you are in a domain where your choices and decisions are "law" in large part. You can decide to knock down a wall or paint the bathroom green - it's yours to do with. (Rented apartments seem - to me - to always bear a little bit of the feel of not home. This might display some inbred americanist sentiment, but there it is.) When you "make someone at home" you make them feel - a little bit - the comfort they feel when they are indeed in their own home: comfortable with choosing to move around the place from room to room as the mood hits, comfortable with making a mess (within reason) or cleaning up after themselves without having to ask either way.

And this leads to: Home is where you don't have to be someone else, don't have to put on airs or display only one side of who you are to make some effect, home is where you "let it all hang out". To be home is to be fine with making a meal that smells up the place just because you like that food, and you don't have to worry about what the rest of the household will say - either they enjoy it too, or they understand you enough to ignore it - or they feel perfectly free to complain loudly. At home you aren't (much) on your guard about whether your facial expression, tone of voice, choice of words or posture or physical expression might provide (without any intention) some kind of irritation or offense to others, because you know them and they know you. At home you can relax your guard.

And, by the way, all of these senses of home are explicitly limited to your own living abode, your own house. They don't include the neighborhood or town - except by extension, and therefore by qualification, limitation, imperfectly and in lesser degree.

Oh, and as to Mark's contention that conservative critiques of modernity are rooted in romanticism, one need go no further than the work of the late Marion Montgomery to demonstrate the fallacy of the contention.

I never said that Nice, and don't think that. You probably think that because you don't know any non-romantic critiques. I need only consult my own mind for critiques of modernity. I read them every day. I'm reading a handful of them now with the utmost diligence because it is of critical importance to me. All history involves critique, and that is my business if anything is.

I have the ancient view that says anytime you gain something you give something up, so the idea that I would have no critique of modernity and wouldn't know of non-romantic critiques of modernity is grossly false and inconceivable to me.

In my view the problem is that romantic critiques are by now very frequently just politics on the sly, at least when it isn't chiefly a combination of alienation, bitterness, or moral preening.

Great thoughts, Tony.

I'd add that when we think of home as something broader than a particular domicile or house -- as a town or city or region -- we introduce the idea of something dear that is threatened. This, I conjecture, is the root of all true patriotism: that acute feeling of distress and outrage when something small and dear is menaced. Thus, the notion of security and stability that Tony (quite rightly) emphasized is mixed with insecurity and vulnerability. This latter becomes the spring patriotism, the manly urge to take up arms and defend that which is menaced. Christ's aching imagery of a hen gathering up her wayward children to protect them comes immediately to mind.

To those who've asked how we might limit the size of corporations and government, I would (cheekily) observe that Mayor Bloomberg obviously has no qualms about regulating the size of human persons in his city, or that airlines have contemplated charging more for morbidly obese flyers.

Ken, I know you want to move on, but I'm just simply amazed that no one here got the memo that we're in an era typified by small corporations and business. You don't need to do anything! http://www.census.gov/econ/smallbus.html

Of the two, government is quite clearly the outlier here. The trend is larger and more.

Just as there is an ideal size for the human figure, there must certainly be an ideal size for the corporate or governmental "figure" as well.

I think this is really wrong. It is a dangerous idealism. Some of the ancients thought our souls were perfect circles because of their perfection. This is a sort of category error. Many of our grossest bioethical challenges lie in challenging a wrong ideal human persons.

I do not believe there is any ideal business size that can be judged apart from its purpose.

Home is where my purpose is. I follow it.

This, I conjecture, is the root of all true patriotism: that acute feeling of distress and outrage when something small and dear is menaced.

I disagree. I'd say this view follows from a skepticism of claims to anything universal somehow uproot all claims of particular attachment. Gilbert Meilaender called this idea "the philosophical equivalent of the theological argument that grace does not perfect but destroys nature".

Or look at any number of historical examples such as the fact that the most sustained and vigorous Unionist resistance to Confederate suppression in the South during the AmCW and what their motivations were.

Home is where my purpose is. I follow it.

Home is where the heart is. So in that sense you are following your heart. The city I live in now, where I have lived all but eight years of my life, doesn't feel like home to me. I look forward to retiring to the small little village near Yorktown VA that I only spent about four years living in, but it has an incessant grip on my nostalgia. I don't know a single person still living there, my extended family lives in Alabama and Maine (as someone quipped I'm mixed race - part Southerner and part Yankee). That doesn't matter to me though, there is something about the place that is just a comfort, even knowing how improbable it is that it will live up to my romanticized memories.

Step2, that's very interesting. I too have one or two places that have a hold on my imagination, places where I stayed only a short time, but that I recall with much more feeling than the time spent warrants. I suspect that this is a similar reaction to the infrequent "instant friendships" that can occur: you meet someone new, and within literally minutes you are already far down the path of life-long friends. Surely there is some kind of intense compatibility or biofeedback response going on with these, something that doesn't readily subject itself to outside observation, evaluation, and explanation, but it's a real phenomenon.

This, I conjecture, is the root of all true patriotism: that acute feeling of distress and outrage when something small and dear is menaced.

Paul, I think that perhaps the "small" part is not critical, only the "dear" part. That is, we do (and ought) to feel an outrage leading to readiness to act when something dear, or something important to our sense of well-being is threatened. Now, I will grant you that there IS a connection between the "small" and the "dear", but I don't think it is absolute, only relative: we are more likely to hold dear the things we know best, and those are especially things of our everyday life - our home, our town, our family or neighborhood. Plato argued that the "proper" size for a city-state was something like 5,000 citizens (and their households, I guess).

On the other hand, people really do have similar strong feelings for larger things, like their state or country. And people really do hold dear their country, viewing it as something important to their sense of well-being. And this too fits with a common (even ancient) view: that the state is the 'father' or the 'mother' of the people (depending on the culture - Germans have a Fatherland, Russians have Mother Russia). I think traditional natural law political theory suggests that a state should be large enough to be relatively self-sufficient, having both the natural resources and people of all the professions needed to run a society well, for a state is a "perfect" society, that is, a complete one capable of managing on its own (unlike a family, which is inherently not self-sufficient). As society has grown more complex, this size needed for completeness has grown, so that there is something right and just about our encompassing within our view of "our people" a much larger entity. R.E. Lee's sentiment about Virginia is an example. In fact, Aristotle (again, IIRC) indicates that one ought to love the complete and perfect more than the incomplete and partial, (just as we love the whole body more than a leg, and can sacrifice a leg for the sake of a body), so also we ought to love the state more than just our neighborhood. And this is why in the Revolutionary War Washington could rightly call on men to leave off the protection of their own towns to fight in the army for the common good of the whole nation.

But I will admit that love of the larger (like the state) cannot actually come to be without there being love of the smaller first (in time): the family, the local community. Man as a developing creature learns to love in stages, not all at once. Just as a child ought to be able to learn to love God by first loving his father and mother.

I just looked that up the Plato reference, and the number given was 5,040. He considered it "a convenient number". The context of the discussion was Crete, not much bigger than Delaware.

"I'm just simply amazed that no one here got the memo that we're in an era typified by small corporations and business."

Not when a handful of giant companies control the vast majority of all that you see and hear on radio, TV and at the movies, and a different handful controls 80% of the food supply from farm to table.

Or when the entire agricultural industry is petroleum-based, and thus fundamentally and almost irrevocably dependent on the oil industry.

Or when one monopsonist retail chain controls upwards of 30% of the market and seeks to double its presence in said market.

I'd say this view follows from a skepticism of claims to anything universal somehow uproot all claims of particular attachment.

Wringing a concrete meaning from this tangle of a sentence presents a substantial challenge. And looping poor Prof. Meilaender into it seems rather unfair, given the care with which he approached the question in the review Mark linked to. Indeed, nothing is more clear from that review than that Meilaender is well aware of the tensions and conundrums introduced when a universalizing ethos uproots "claims of particular attachment."

Tony, I agree that the scale of small and large is variable and relative.

When treacherous Jihadists recently brought fire and slaughter to the Boston marathon, that historic American town (though home to many millions) suddenly seemed very small and very vulnerable to me. It aroused in me not vast visions of universal or continental abstractions, but very particularized outrage and sympathy. I made an effort (alas, unsuccessful) to register for next year's marathon, as a very particular act of defiance and solidarity. I envisioned the rather vivid and particular justice of hanging the Jihadists from gibbets at the finish line of next year's race, so that runners could give these heartless cowards a proper greeting in a particular way.

In the end, as Tony indicates, love of country finds is origin in particular loves: for unique and incommensurable people and places. "Man as a developing creature learns to love in stages, not all at once." Quite right.

Indeed, nothing is more clear from that review than that Meilaender is well aware of the tensions and conundrums introduced when a universalizing ethos uproots "claims of particular attachment."

Nothing is more clear in anything he writes that he affirms the ancient principle that virtue lies between two extremes or excesses. There is as much danger in localism as universalism. That is the point. He affirms a contrary point to yours that it isn't clear you're willing to do. Unless you are you shouldn't say you agree with Meilaender (following Aristotle, and the entire Western tradition).

You simply seem to be denying that here:

"when we think of home as something broader than a particular domicile or house -- as a town or city or region -- we introduce the idea of something dear that is threatened. This, I conjecture, is the root of all true patriotism: that acute feeling of distress and outrage when something small and dear is menaced."

So when I step off a plane from an international flight, after all the questions and declarations to affirm I have a right to be there they shouldn't say "Welcome home"? That seems a puzzling conclusion. I hope they don't stop. There is something very special about that, and something would be missing if they didn't.

Tony what you've expressed so well about particularity are statements about epistemology. Particularism is a slam dunk as far as I'm concerned. I'm a dyed in the wool particularist. I know things whether I know why I know them at a given time or not.

Here is the most concise expression of what I think it means you'll ever find from the great F. M. Cornford:

A principle is a rule of inaction, which states a valid general reason for not doing in any particular case what, to unprincipled instinct, would appear to be right.

Or you could say what you've expressed is the method of induction: from particular to general. These epistemological ideas are all fine and good but sentimentally expressed it may sound to some as some special affirmation of a favored view, but it simply isn't. I suspect some here don't realize the general applicability of your particularist statements and think they affirm localism in some way, but they simply don't. It isn't just love that is learned through particulars, but everything.

Christians in the age of isms seem perversely inclined to adopt crude prioritization schemes. I obviously have more responsibilities to some than others, but stating a general principle for how that might work out isn't possible in my opinion. Women will tend to draw the lines tighter around their own family, while men will tend to be more inclusive and more easily consider including those beyond. I think a proper read of the parable of the Good Samaritan surely is a particularist presentation since no principle is really discernable. For this reason, I think love of neighbor isn't a principle properly speaking. Or maybe it is so foundational and basic and general that it is unique among principles that it can be expressed as a moral principle.

So localism doesn't work any better than universalism, however attractive it may seem in times of uncertainty. And no sentimental talk of, or longing for, the ideal home will change that.

Not when a handful of giant companies control the vast majority of all that you see and hear on radio, TV and at the movies, and a different handful controls 80% of the food supply from farm to table.

Or when the entire agricultural industry is petroleum-based, and thus fundamentally and almost irrevocably dependent on the oil industry.

Or when one monopsonist retail chain controls upwards of 30% of the market and seeks to double its presence in said market.

Nice, the federal government is the largest monopoly there is. And that distorts everything, including the size of the larger companies. But something tells me you don't mind that monopoly.

The root trouble in agribusiness is corn subsidies. It is massively distorting. I'm from the corn belt and I know. It affects everything from land prices to what is grown, and what you eat. It affects their dependence on the oil industry as well. This has been covered pretty well in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" if you're interested. Slashing farm subsidies must happen or we're never have a sane agricultural sector.

The problem is that you don't distinguish between large companies that got that way by satisfying customer demand much better than the rest and those that game the government regulatory schemes. It's the logical equivalent of thinking popular girls are promiscuous. The problem with your big government to force small business is that it is just more of the worst of the current regime. Some large businesses simply aren't run well anymore but they continue to sustain themselves by use of lawyers and regulatory scheming. The truth is big business is related to big government, and maybe it was necessary at one time but it is a ghastly abomination now that is harming the country.

You used a key word: "control". That is the issue. If a company grows large because its competitors are acting foolishly by short-term thinking (and this indeed happens), in your regime you'd reward the idiots running the companies complaining of unfairness and they'd grow larger. So I fail to see how your litany of complaints represents any sort of plan. It sounds like the same old Liberalism that is failing now.

Shrink government and eliminate the incestuous nature of the relationship and you'll have some big companies now shrink. And I and all true Conservatives would cheer very, very loudly no matter what you think we think. The idea that we think bigness is the proverbial unalloyed good is a gross misunderstanding.

Mark, I can agree with your point about large and small companies, and I do agree very heartily that we should shrink large government, but I don't think that it automatically follows that when you shrink government that that will be sufficient to reign in the incestuous use of government by business. Seems to me that even when government was much, much smaller, it had the capacity to give unfair advantages to certain businesses, or to improperly allow some industry (or other sector of the body politic) to get away with externalizing their costs onto others. So, in addition to shrinking government back to its proper sphere, we also need to unwind the ways it provides unfair help to businesses or disruptive incentives to the marketplace. Taking out corn subsidies is a good start. That should occur with ALL agricultural products, eventually. Seems to me that all of the reasons to have gov involved in dairy pricing supports / production quotas can be achieved at lower levels of enterprise - and would if we committed to getting the feds out of the business. And that goes double for tobacco, subsidies on that is just irrational squared.

But there are regulatory places where I don't think it is possible to get government out of the arena. Pollution is one, because by its very nature there is no definitive scientific or natural way to specify that X % is the allowable limit for Y pollutant out of your smoke stacks or your water effluent. It takes science, yes, but then it takes a judgment call as to (a) when the science is clear enough, proven sufficiently, and (b) what level of risk / decrease in health we are willing to stand for. There is no way your neighbor can say "I'll settle for x% that will cause an increase of 2 cases of cancer per 100,000," at the same time you say "I'm willing to settle for z% that will cause an increase of 4 cases of cancer per 100,000" and enable the company to operate in satisfaction of both neighbors. It takes an authority to decide what standard will hold for everyone affected. (Putting out cancer-causing smoke or chemical effluent is, I would say, one of the externalities that the community as a whole (taking everyone affected) must be able to weigh in on and establish the right "price" for.)

Seems to me that even when government was much, much smaller, it had the capacity to give unfair advantages to certain businesses, or to improperly allow some industry (or other sector of the body politic) to get away with externalizing their costs onto others.

But the point is that whatever laws there are need to reflect current business reality, and our current ones don't. Anti-monopoly legislation is hopelessly outdated. When government was much smaller the government was necessary for large infrastructure projects. I've already acknowledged that all that may have been necessary at the time. What large infrastructure projects are now necessary at the federal level?

But there are regulatory places where I don't think it is possible to get government out of the arena.

I know. I never said otherwise. I don't think I'm saying anything that Reagan didn't say.

"the federal government is the largest monopoly there is. And that distorts everything, including the size of the larger companies."

Of course it does. But I agree with Tony. As I said above, reducing the size of government is one aspect of a solution, and a very important one. But it's not the whole solution. There's a reason why there are laws against pollution and also laws against monopolies and monopsonies (even if they're not enforced very well).

Of course it does. But I agree with Tony. As I said above, reducing the size of government is one aspect of a solution, and a very important one. But it's not the whole solution. There's a reason why there are laws against pollution and also laws against monopolies and monopsonies (even if they're not enforced very well).

I agree with Tony too. But as far as monopolies, the definition of monopoly is hopelessly outdated. That has been true for at least 50 years. This isn't an abstract idea to me. I'm into tech history and anti-trust has a ghastly record in that sector. Cases have dragged on for decades, and ended with no conclusions and seriously compromised and weakened some large productive American companies, and in the end the government has never proved its case. See IBM.

So though I agree with Tony in the abstract, unfortunately actual law that may make him feel warm and fuzzy has unintended consequences. Does it trouble either of you that the law currently on the books hasn't been effective, and in fact harmful, since the late 60's?

Look, Reagan "deregulated" the airlines, but that didn't remove all regulations. There are still lots of them. But air travel skyrocketed because prices dropped and suddenly average people started flying everywhere, and more safely than before. Some more things need to be deregulated too. And pollution regulations are necessary, but the ones we have now are terribly destructive and self-defeating. The EPA needs to have their budget slashed and the whole thing shrunk. That doesn't mean no regulations, that means paring them down to those that actually mean something and can be fairly enforced instead of just impeding business.

Home is about the best possible life in the smallest possible space. Part of what makes it “best” is the smallness of the place—it’s easier to get around, uses less energy and therefore allows you to have cheap, direct and unmediated contact with the place that supports you and the friends and loved ones who inhabit it.

And it is a very long way from what most of us want, which is the best possible life of consumption, and which requires the largest possible space for its realization. The 3,000-mile Caesar salad and the Chilean sea bass require an antipodal radius.

We can all imagine having space that is too small to support the good life. A jail cell, for example, is stressful precisely because there isn’t enough space for bodily or psychic health. What is difficult to imagine is a space that is too large for us, that overextends us and thereby introduces a different kind of stress: The pressure to live beyond our powers.

In a previous post, Lydia gives a hypothetical situation in which she must buy modest clothing for her daughter outside of her locality because there isn’t anyone selling modest clothing in her town. She then asks the following: “I have, have I not, refused to admit the ‘limits of place,’ refused to ‘buy local,’ and found a ‘loophole’ to allow me to ‘get around’ the limitations of human location.”

The answer is that yes, buying outside of your locality for any reason is a refusal (or at a minimum, a concession) to limit yourself to your locality—but it isn’t a loophole in the sense I’m using the term.

The real point I should like to address, though, is the question What is home? Without an answer to this basic question we are left without an idea for ordering our physical world so that we might have a home. The fact that buying modest clothing for your daughter requires you to leave your locality—and as a father of three daughters I can sympathize with this plight—and the fact that you have the apparent power to do so in no way means that you have created a home out of a “sow’s ear.”

When one wishes to manufacture a silk purse, one must begin with the material of silk. When one wishes to manufacture a home, one must begin with the material of home--proximity to that and those we love.

This is why I say that loopholes around reality are fantasies without an existence in the physical, corporeal world. There are no loopholes—no shortcuts around what is real. But there are compromises—and this is where we find ourselves, compromised. We made something out of a leathery, dried up pig’s ear and called it home and said it was good enough.

The Christian idea—that you can glorify God with nothing more than your will and a small swath of earthly resources—is compromised whenever you take more than you need.

Modern technology is an enormous challenge to us because it places greater power into the hands of even ordinary men and women—power to do both greater good and greater evil with even mundane choices such as what we'll have for lunch. The shocking revelation of Christ, though, concerned the most powerful choice of all: The choice to give up power. When we make such a choice, we are confessing a Truth which cannot be gotten around by non-existent loopholes.

It would be nice if there were some way to have more power over things and be at home, but we can’t—and there isn’t any loophole which can allow for such.

And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Do you see how letting “this cup pass” isn’t really a loophole? Real redemption required real blood. Letting the cup pass and calling it redemption would have sounded good, but it wouldn’t be redemption at all, would it?

Packing the maximum amount of living into the smallest possible place necessarily means that enlarging your place carries the risk of distancing you from home. The more you leave to satisfy your needs, the less likely you are to be at home.

We all have to make do with this compromised world and our homeless condition. That doesn’t mean we have to like it or stop believing it could be better. But changing the world for the better must begin with a proper conception of home—we’ve got to have something to aim for. And it is precisely because we can choose how to design our places that we ought to do so with an idea of how much physical space is needed to bring out the best in our nature. Loopholes are the fantasies we make up to justify taking more than we need, but using loopholes only deforms us by putting off the Truth.

This is why Lydia’s concern for the Great Commission isn’t at odds with my point:

Consider so fundamental and ancient a Christian tradition as the Great Commission. If no one "looks for loopholes," if everyone follows the tradition of his own people and sticks only with what is available to him locally, then what becomes of missions?
To look for loopholes is to avoid sacrifice—precisely the thing that can never be completely avoided in the real world. The Great Commission is a call to Christ-like sacrifice—it is the rejection of loopholes.

Mark finds my statement that there is “an ideal size for the corporate or governmental ‘figure’” as a dangerous form of idealism. I would simply note that ours is a finite and closed planetary system. (I mean “closed” in the physical science definition—we exchange energy with the solar system, but almost no matter at all.) This fact puts a bio-physical limit on our resource base, and because of that, our economy and our government. I’ll leave it to him to show us a loophole around that fact.

He also notes that there is no “ideal business size that can be judged apart from its purpose” and that “Home is where my purpose is. I follow it.”

I would only note in passing that in legal theory, there is no difference between a human individual and a corporation. In practice, there is. There are any number of differences between human persons and corporations which are significant—such as the fact that individual men and women can have a sense of purpose which would lead them to give their life for another, for the fact that every human life comes to a natural end, that human persons can vote, can love their children—indeed, can have children—can be moved to tears by a sad story or a beautiful song—and that as well humans can commit atrocities, be jailed for them and even executed for their crimes.

Corporate business purpose never calls for corporations to give their “lives” for another, nor do corporations have to die, nor do they vote (legally, that is), or "love" their offspring; they are not moved by sad stories or beautiful songs. Corporations can commit atrocities, and occasionally a human individual is removed in the manner of a tumor and punished, but corporations are not “jailed” in any sense, nor or they ever executed.. As the saying goes, “I’ll believe corporations are individuals the day the state of Texas executes one.”

To be human is to be enclosed by mortal limits—which is why the good life can be had with something considerably less than the whole world. Corporations are not so constrained, which is why their “happiness” requires more of everything, and upon getting it, requires even more. Today, we are living with the absurdity that arises from legally treating humans and corporations as equivalent.

Tony brings up some useful observations about home:

At home you aren't (much) on your guard about whether your facial expression, tone of voice, choice of words or posture or physical expression might provide (without any intention) some kind of irritation or offense to others, because you know them and they know you. At home you can relax your guard.

I agree that home is where you can be yourself—but it is simultaneously the place where you are called to be much better than that. The people who inhabit a real home see the good within one another—and also the villainy. Real homes introduce a proper tension into the lives of their inhabitants, praising what is good and condemning what is bad. Unlike the world, which doesn’t care about your faults—saying to itself, “that’s your personal problem”—home will not take your faults without complaint. It refuses to do so because people who live in a real home are never cordoned off and privatized from one another. It is this lack of privacy which results in a paradox: My individuality is perfected only when it is shared with others.

By another reckoning, the place where you most fully share your self with others is home.

I should finally like to observe that home fully emerges in the presence of three conditions: The smallest possible shared space; a shared ideal that orders that space; and shared actions which most easily unite our intangible ideals with the tangible physical space we inhabit—and which actions are, in their highest form, called love.

SHARED PHYSICAL SPACE

Today, we live in the largest possible physical space so that what we share is watered down and weak. The persons we live near are not the same persons we work with; the persons we work with are not the same persons we worship with; the persons we worship with are not the same persons we socialize with, and so on.

SHARED IDEALS

We live this way because our idea of what a community is has been compromised and therefore corrupted by our inclination to control things and the technological power to realize that corrupting inclination for ourselves. Sharing ideals is a compromising and frustrating venture—we avoid it when we can. Today, we can easily avoid sharing ideals with others. What we cannot do is avoid shared ideals and expect to be at home.

SHARED ACTIONS

Because we do not share a concentrated physical space with others, and because we no longer share ideals with those physically near us, we find ourselves unable to share actions—to easily and effortlessly give the gift of love to others. The distance between us and our loved ones is long and expensive in terms of time and money. You cannot give even the simple gift of a cup of coffee to your mother when she’s 1,000 miles away—you’ve got to be there, don’t you?

OUR HOMELESS CONDITION

We have not personally met the man who baked our bread, the woman who sewed the shirt we’re wearing or the persons who kept our water running. We do not know them because they are far away and we do not see them. Under such conditions, it is all but impossible to feel anything better than indifference toward them. This is the price for living as large as we do—indifference.

Simply put, we are too far away from the things we love when in fact we were made for intimacy with such things. As individuals you and I can do nothing about our homeless condition. Making a home is a collective project, something that WE could do if WE chose.

But it will require a proper vision of what a home is, and of the fact that real homes and communities are built out of notions of intimacy and permanence—foundations of rock, if you will.

You can build a home on shifting and ephemeral sand—and it may even last for a season or two. But it won’t last forever—and it won’t really be a home.

Ken, as I would have guessed, your response (if I understand it correctly) to my example concerning buying dresses from a company in Kansas is that this is some sort of compromise necessitated by the unfortunate conditions of the modern world. Not that it is wrong, of course, morally, but that it's just such a shame that I feel that I have to buy clothes non-locally. Now, here I simply cannot agree. Don't misunderstand: Of course I agree that pervasive immodesty is a bad thing. But I can't agree that per se buying clothing from another state is a sort of sad compromise. Or take my other, non-moral example of excellent home schooling curriculum. There is not there anything parallel to pervasive immodesty in society. It is just that it happens that the people who make the books I find most useful for teaching my children don't live near me. Need they? Should I feel that I have made a silk purse out of a sow's ear by buying home schooling books out of state? I simply cannot agree that the ideal is that every item I use and buy be locally produced.

And how far are we to take this? To the point of raw materials? Would it be "better" in some sense if the metal for every metal object I own were mined within this ideal radius? Ought, in a world that is "home," the sugar I put in my tea (tea?) be derived from locally grown turnips? Even in the days of the American colonies many things were imported.

Suppose that I do have some item of clothing made locally. Should I then regret that, even though the shirt was locally made, the cotton was grown elsewhere, because my state is too far north to support the growth of cotton? That will put Alaskans and Eskimos into a pretty pickle! Even just limiting our view to food, if everyone had to live only on the food that could be grown in his immediate locality, people in some parts of the world would have to compromise their ability to gain important nutrients.

Mankind has always had to import many things, and trade with neighboring lands and even with faraway lands has not been, and should not be, regarded as per se a sad thing or an evil.

I'm afraid it simply seems that you are overstating your case. It would be one thing to say, "Hey, it would be nice if we bought _more_ stuff locally and knew _more_ of the people who provide _more_ of our livelihood," or something of that kind. I realize that these sorts of things come on a continuum. But that weak thesis doesn't appear to be all that you want to say. Instead, you want to hold up this rather extreme ideal of the "best possible life in the smallest possible space." You ask me to be bothered, apparently quite bothered, to feel that an ideal has been violated, because I do not personally know the man who "kept my water running"--of course, keeping my water running requires _many_ men making up a city clean water system. I feel no sadness because I don't know all the people involved in my city's water and sewer system! Your ideal is just too rigid. Not too high but too rigid.

I'm afraid we just speak a different language, because when you talk about the loss in that one doesn't personally know the people who keep one's water running, you lose me. I can feel sad about not being closer to my father (though if I were closer to him in virtue of being in his city, I would be in a bigger city and would know even _less_ about the people who provide things for me), but I can't feel sad about not being closer to the guy at the water department. The push to some sort of ultimately self-sufficient small community, providing all its own "stuff" from shirts to shoes to water to..., is simply one that leaves me cold. It's not necessary for home.

I agree with some of what you say, Ken, while I disagree with a considerable amount. By and large, I agree with the tenor of your intermediate conclusions, but not with the premises or the long-distance conclusions.

You can build a home on shifting and ephemeral sand—and it may even last for a season or two. But it won’t last forever—and it won’t really be a home.

1. Our true home is not here, and cannot be here until the world is re-made at the eschaton. We are pilgrims here and we should ever remember that. Our true home is with God in the new Jerusalem. When that happens, we WILL be at home, even though we will ALSO be able to overcome space and physical constraints merely by willing it. Here, we cannot be home, not fully.

This has consequences: all day long, in all of our decisions, we are forced to make prudential decisions about the best way to allay the tensions between fulfilling the needs of here and now against (a) letting God clothe us like the lilies in the field and feed us like the sparrows, versus (b) being as wise as serpents in planning for today and tomorrow. That prudential working out of God's plan for me just is doing God's will. Sometimes that means letting go of some power to affect things that I could affect if I dropped a bunch of other possible actions, and sometimes it means taking up an action to attempt to affect things that I judge to be unlikely to have an impact but I am called to act on faith, not wholly on my own estimation of likely outcome. This must inherently be adjudged individually by each person in the concrete particular, and there cannot be any overarching judgment of any preferential option for either taking up a "power" to affect the world (or your place in it) or letting one go. God created man to both be subservient to His will and to be (under Him) lords of the world, shaping it and molding it in His ongoing creative operation. They are both godly behavior.

It would be nice if there were some way to have more power over things and be at home, but we can’t—and there isn’t any loophole which can allow for such.

Which would seem to repudiate God's original blessing and command to "be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth". Christ came that we might "have life, and have it to the fullest." This refers, primarily, to spiritual life, of course. But it doesn't end with the life of the soul, it is fleshed out in the other aspects of our lives. I am reminded of this constantly when I come across someone discovering their "dream" occupation in life, and it turns out to be something totally unimaginable to me. About 3/5 of the time, I much enjoy my own job as a mathematician. If I had been born in Germany circa 200 AD, there is no way in the world my capacity for math could have been fulfilled. My life would be critically smaller than it is, in a really important sense. Likewise for people who are computer programmers. I know a guy who is an absolute genius at internal combustion engines - can figure them out, fix them, make them from scratch, etc. He was made for this. Only 200 years ago, he might never have had a fulfilling life in that sense. Same goes for a composer like Bach, and so on down the list.

While I don't believe that "progress" is the inevitable feel-good direction of society as a whole, I do think that its evolving complexity _ends up_ serving God's purposes even when that complexity is sometimes the result of people choosing poorly. You can have a simple melody be a pretty song, but without 40 different instruments you can't make it into a symphony. A world in which those 40 instruments never made their way because "this tin whistle I can make my own self is good enough, by gum" would be a world without the intense beauty of Beethoven's 9th. Maybe for John the tinsmith, that really IS good enough, but that does not prove that it would have been good enough for Beethoven. It is perfectly possible that Beethoven's moral, spiritual, and psychic development just plain needed access to symphonies, for him to "have life to the fullest." We can't know with certainty.

To me, then, it seems that if you tie points 1 and 2 together, the conclusion should be that "home" in the final sense is that place in which the tension that we suffer in THIS damaged world falls away - where we get the best of both worlds, we get to be at home with and in intimate conversation with our best friends, AND we get to "have life to the fullest", we can participate in complex harmonies that manifest God's beauty in more developed ways. But in this life we can't avoid a tension between them, one that can't possibly admit of just one solution, to just one direction. For the man called to be a great innovative businessman, building up a brand new business concept with a company of 100 people that didn't exist before is co-participating in God's creation.

3. Which leads further: we are unable to foresee the consequences of our choices 6 and 7 and 40 and 300 steps out from the primary consequences. It's just impossible most of the time in everyday life. Thus it is not given to man to ajudge our role based on the results 40 or 300 steps away, that's not the prudential choice God is asking of us. Most of the complexity we see today that makes life more disjointed than, say, 150 years ago, is precisely the result of those 40- and 200-remove consequences that cannot be forecast in any sort of detail. So, while we may want to maintain a simple, local, close-to-home culture, there is no way we can foresee the little 2 or 3 changes that will lead to enormous modifications - like the telephone, bringing people across 1000s of miles together in speech. Or like written language, which overcomes time and enables me to converse with Aristotle, Plato, Augustine....

I agree that home is where you can be yourself—but it is simultaneously the place where you are called to be much better than that.

Agreed, but at home the people love you and accept you even while they see your faults and want you to correct them. That's almost the definition of a mature healthy love between spouses, past the rosy romance that is unable to see faults at all.

I should finally like to observe that home fully emerges in the presence of three conditions: The smallest possible shared space;

I can't begin to conceive how you understand "the smallest possible" in any practical sense. As Mark says, "possible" depends wholly on the condition "while still accomplishing what purpose?" For a malnurished, unemployed, hopeless Hindu untouchable in Calcutta, about 6 square feet is all the space he "needs", but it's ridiculous to call that the smallest possible space to any valid point. A farmer needs his 40 acres and his mule, a philosopher not so much. A pilot needs much more.

The persons we live near are not the same persons we work with; the persons we work with are not the same persons we worship with; the persons we worship with are not the same persons we socialize with, and so on.

I can see forming a business by making as a criterion of hiring that you live within a certain (modest) distance of the business, or forfeit a portion of wages designed to make that nearness possible. But that wouldn't be within walking distance.

I would only note in passing that in legal theory, there is no difference between a human individual and a corporation.

That's just false. Positive law spends quite a bit of effort on distinguishing those things allowable to corporate "persons" versus those things allowable to individual human persons.

Corporate business purpose never calls for corporations to give their “lives” for another, nor do corporations have to die, nor do they vote (legally, that is), or "love" their offspring; they are not moved by sad stories or beautiful songs. Corporations can commit atrocities, and occasionally a human individual is removed in the manner of a tumor and punished, but corporations are not “jailed” in any sense, nor or they ever executed.. As the saying goes, “I’ll believe corporations are individuals the day the state of Texas executes one.”

Even in a society where corporations are not forced (by law) to submit to human-scale limits, there is nothing that prevents the people who own-control them from imposing those constraints by their own choices. Shareholders and directors can, for example, declare that they "wouldn't consider hiring as CEO someone who would accept $5 million in bonuses, he wouldn't be morally qualified for the job." Execs and directors can decide - even when the law doesn't demand it - that it's a bad business practice to close a plant and move it to Honduras just because that might increase the bottom line by .02%. That's just a pair of examples, which can be multiplied endlessly. The problem is both that law encourages bad posture, and that people pursue it on their own steam.

As the saying goes, “I’ll believe corporations are individuals the day the state of Texas executes one.”

I'm not sure it is even rare. The Powers Committee decapitating Arthur Anderson that turned the Big Five accounting firm designation into the Big Four surely qualifies. If that wasn't the execution of a *very large* corporation I don't know what was. Later overturned by the Supreme Court, but totally irrelevant since they'd already been destroyed.

Ken,

I've also been interested in definitions of family, households, and spiritual kinship (and how they have changed) recently myself. I can't answer your questions, but maybe it will be some cause for fruitful reflection to say the word "family" came to replace "house" in the eighteenth century referring to the bourgeois domestic group, in contrast to the larger and more complex ones formed by aristocrats.

Some quotes from my Evernote file:

"Family referred to particularity, the mere union of two bourgeois holdings. Only in the nineteenth century did it come to be used universally to describe groups of domestic residence. Even today, villagers in eastern France make a distinction between family (famille) and house (chez), reserving the former term, in a reversal of meanings, for the wider kinship groupings."

" ... there was no "prescientific" word in the Middle Ages to designate the particular family at all. The terms "Haus" and "domus" were originally confined to the spatial area covered by buildings. Before philosophers and theologians reconceptualized relationships, these terms never encompassed the domestic group as a unit, although various compound words were developed to designate roles of family members as marriage partners, parents, or brothers. The word familia itself included the household slaves or dependent serfs on an estate but, significantly, not the manorial head, his spouse, children, or relatives. For the late Middle Ages, it is easier still to demonstrate the existence of terms which designated wider kin who functioned together–parents, parentela, Sippe, Magschaft, Freund, Freundschaft–than it is to find ones to cover the smaller living community."

David Warren Sabean, Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870. 92-94

Our understanding of home and family has undergone radical change over time. I hope it is helpful to your thesis in some way.

Milton Friedman's book I, Pencil may be relevant here. Friedman charmingly shows that no one person knows how to make a simple pencil and that the materials for it come from all over. It requires that uncoordinated, uncentralized cooperation of large numbers of people in distant places just to make a simple pencil. This is a wonder of the modern economy.

I'm sympathetic to the love of craftsmanship in which one person makes an entire piece of furniture or something like that. But when it comes to feeding, clothing, and housing the billions of people in the world, not to mention making their pencils, it is not small local craftsmen that are going to do this. And make no mistake: If we were somehow to succeed in making everybody (whether through coercion or persuasion) restrict their economic, manufacturing, and food growing and purchasing activities to what could be made from start to finish locally, a lot of people would starve and die. And most of them wouldn't have pencils, either. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but I'm afraid I have to say that I don't consider Ken's vision of trying to live all of life, including providing all of one's needs, in the "smallest space possible" to be realistic as far as human flourishing. I think the pencil point shows us that this isn't just about iphones. Not that there is anything wrong with an iphone, and Tony makes excellent points about the way in which non-localism can allow people to use their gifts. But I know well that a committed "distributist" or "paleoconservative" or "localist" or whatever one calls oneself is likely to brush off the need for global economic cooperation with regard to the computer he himself is typing on. Fancy gadgets give rise to all manner of thoughts about greed, consumption, getting things you don't need, and the unfortunate need to cooperate with this overly gadget-driven world. But a pencil? We should stop and think before we demand, or even wish, that our pencils be locally made from local wood.

" ... there was no "prescientific" word in the Middle Ages to designate the particular family at all.

Mark, how about the pre-scientific version that obtained even before the Middle Ages: "For this reason a man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife..." When he leaves Mom and Dad and marries, that's forming a new social unit. I'm gonna guess they had a term for it.

The word familia itself included the household slaves or dependent serfs on an estate but, significantly, not the manorial head, his spouse, children, or relatives.

What about the millions upon millions of non-manorial people, such as serfs who had no slaves or dependents and lived in a one-room hut not attached to the manor? The town tradesman who was just starting out, had enough to own his own house but not enough to hire servants yet?

Shhhh. Don't burden poor Mark with these threads of reason.

What about them Tony? Surely you don't think a man and wife define a family. It may be a family, and is certainly the grounds of a family, but it doesn't define the limits of one. Do you agree with that?

But look Tony, if you don't think it is helpful to the group or too off-topic we can carry it on privately. Not sure anyone else would be, and Paul doesn't seem interested. Maybe Ken wouldn't be either.

"make no mistake: If we were somehow to succeed in making everybody (whether through coercion or persuasion) restrict their economic, manufacturing, and food growing and purchasing activities to what could be made from start to finish locally, a lot of people would starve and die. And most of them wouldn't have pencils, either. Sorry to put it so bluntly."

There is no "restriction" implied, neither is there the understanding that all products can be supplied locally. The idea is simply that what can be practicably produced locally should be able to be produced locally. There is no good reason why, for instance, when I live in a fairly productive apple-growing state, that the only apples I can get at the supermarket come from New Zealand. Even a committed Friedmanite should be able to grant the difference between a pencil and an apple.

"Even in a society where corporations are not forced (by law) to submit to human-scale limits, there is nothing that prevents the people who own-control them from imposing those constraints by their own choices."

True, but given the logic of capitalism this type of choice is often viewed as illogical. If the goal of a corporation is solely to make money for the shareholders, these sorts of questions become fundamentally secondary, if considered at all. What we tolerate as "normal behavior" for corporate legal "persons" we would never tolerate in an individual, esp. the avaricious primary goal of making more money. Hence, it's perfectly fine for Wal*Mart to be open on Easter Sunday, but would we be so accepting if a family member decided to blow off church and a family get-together in order to get a little OT? If my daughter ever brought home a guy whose goal in life was to get rich, and whose every activity was designed to make increasing amounts of money, I'd warn her off immediately.

I grant a difference between an apple and a pencil, but I'm not sure Ken should, by the logic of what he has said. After all, he brought up a shirt, and it is _his_ ideal that we should live in the smallest possible space.

However, I disagree with you on apples anyway. I just don't get particularly bothered by whether my apples are locally grown or not. Very often, for whatever reason, the locally grown apples are somewhat mushy while the California ones are crisp. I give thanks for crisp apples from California and for the wonders of the modern world that bring them to me rather than feeling that this is a come-down from an ideal world.

And again, it depends on what one means by "can." One "can" grow many types of crop, etc., locally but perhaps not all of them at once. Or there may be weather conditions that kill the local crop (as last year, when our local apple blossoms came out too early and then got pinched by frost). Diversification across the fruited plains helps to compensate for local fluctuations.

As a general rule, I simply see no need for people to ask themselves, "How much _can_ we grow locally? What does 'can' mean here? Have we tried hard enough to do it? Do I have a duty not to buy that produce because it was grown too far away? How far is too far?" and the like. I have really no sympathy for what seem to me such artificial duties and priorities. In fact, I was hearing recently about Agenda 21 and the federal attempt to motivate (by tempting with federal money, apparently) various cities to grow a large proportion of their food in strips around the towns or cities rather than bringing it in from "too far away." I view such efforts with alarm.

The fact that the entire food production system in the U.S. is petroleum based is what should cause alarm. If there is ever a major oil or infrastructure crisis wherein it becomes difficult or impossible to deliver food the currently-required hundreds or thousands of miles, lots of people will go hungry, and some may even starve. As Wendell Berry says, at this level it actually becomes a national security issue.

The anti-local mentality seems to go hand in hand with a species of modernism that views the Creation not as a gift to be stewarded but as a resource to be exploited. The body is not connected to the earth in any real way; both become machine-like, and food is viewed simply as fuel, with no sacramental overtones. If such is the case, then it doesn't matter one whit where your "fuel" comes from or how it's produced. I consider this idea to be sub-Christian, as it is impossible to consider the Creation a gift while simultaneously treating it in an exploitive, extractive manner. There's a reason why the modern economy considers us all "consumers."

Not to mention that the chemicals now needed to grow food on current factory farm levels also largely need petroleum either as components or in processing.

I find it extremely odd that we localists are at pains to convince "conservatives" of the dangers of such centralization.

Whether it is "not sacramental enough" for a person living in Michigan to eat apples grown in California seems to me a rather subjective judgement. Frankly, it sounds to me like phariseeism. It's a bald assertion, like a Pharisee saying, "You don't respect God enough if you didn't do this ritual hand-washing which we have prescribed before eating your meal" or "If you heal on the Sabbath, you are showing that you don't truly love God" or what-not. It moves me not one whit, being unsupported (and as far as I can tell, unsupportable) by any convincing argument.

As for whether people would starve _if_ there were some massive oil or infrastructure crisis, well, yes, but I doubt Mr. Berry & co. would be happy if one suggested, say, opening the Alaskan pipeline to prevent this "national security" problem or (haha, I know what Berry thinks of _this_) using more atomic energy or reducing unnecessary regulations on U.S.-based petroleum, or encouraging fracking, or...

Let's face it: There are a heck of a lot of people in the United States. We can support our population at a non-poverty standard of living in part because of our use of natural resources. If there were lots fewer of those resources, we would either need to have a much smaller population or else a lot more people would live in dire poverty. How these facts constitute an argument for local growth is beyond me. If we succeed in pressing too hard on "local growth" we're going to have food prices rising, which will fall hardest on the poor (which _you_ are supposed to care about more than _I_, since I'm the mean old capitalist). Our dependency on energy sources is in large part a function of things that cannot be changed: The number of people we have and the fact that we don't want them to live in mud huts.

The answer is not to try to push back a first-world standard of living. The answer is, recognizing that a first-world standard of living is a _good_, to continue to develop the resources with which we have been so richly blessed, relying for doing so on human ingenuity and discovery and releasing those powers from unnecessary and burdensome restraints which harm human flourishing (such as the block on further Alaskan pipelines and on other energy sources).

I didn't say that being "not localist enough" was itself anti-sacramental, but that the two mindsets are often associated. This has been pointed out by writers on both the Right and the Left. It is not Pharasaical in that it is not legalistic, but is instead ascetic, a distinction that many Protestants are unfortunately unable to see, but which is real nevertheless.

"The answer is not to try to push back a first-world standard of living."

Depends on what you mean by a first-world standard of living. I'm all for clean air, clean water, plentiful healthy food, etc. But we have far exceeded that and now seem to think that this standard implies that we should get what we want, and get it now! Luxuries have become necessities and mere wants have been transformed into needs.

Clean water and good bread are needs; asparagus at Christmas, not so much. Whatever happened to the old conservative virtues of thrift and self-restraint? Seems that today's conservatives want them to apply to sex, but not much else.

I want them to apply when they clearly do apply. When I'm supposed to feel that there is something out of place about eating asparagus at Christmas (or oranges, for that matter, if one doesn't live in an orange-producing region), you lose me. There is nothing about that that strikes me as an example of "not being sufficiently restrained." I ate an orange at Christmas, imported from Florida. It contained excellent nutrients, easily obtained from that source. I receive it with gratitude. To make that into a kind of gluttony or prima facie lack of appropriate restraint strikes me as nothing short of bizarre--as manifesting a serious lack of a sense of perspective.

And I'd still like to know why you don't consider economic centralization a problem. Older conservatism had decentralization in its blood, and not just w/r/t government.

~~~There is nothing about that that strikes me as an example of "not being sufficiently restrained."~~~

Perhaps not in isolated individual cases, but multiply it by 300 million people and as many choices, and you've created a society in which self-restraint simply no longer computes -- My Way becomes the national anthem, and instead of "In God We Trust" on the coins, we stamp "Have It Your Way!"

No, oranges at Christmas are not a problem in the aggregate either.

Thank God for oranges in the north at Christmas, yes, not just for the elite, but for hoi polloi. For millions of them. Oranges at Christmas are a blessing.

Sorry, I'm just totally unmoved by this type of argument.

As for "economic centralization," it's too vague of a concept. When you show me government-created monopolies, then you'll have my attention. And in fact, we might well agree on some things of that kind. Merely, "This company is too big," no.

"No, oranges at Christmas are not a problem in the aggregate either"

No, but the selfish consumerist attitude that demands them as some sort of right is. "I WILL have it thus" is a problematic societal mantra whether the subject is sex, money, or just stuff.

~~As for "economic centralization," it's too vague of a concept...Merely, "This company is too big," no.~~

As if by request, this just appeared in my inbox (don't know why the URL is so long). The friend who sent it is the editor of a well-known neo-con leaning journal; you'd recognize both his name and the mag's immediately.

America's New Oligarchs

http://www.newgeography.com/content/003702-america-s-new-oligarchs-fwdus-and-silicon-valley-s-shady-1-percenters?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Newgeography+%28Newgeography.com+-+Economic%2C+demographic%2C+and+political+commentary+about+places%29


NM, the alternative to demanding things as a right is for people to have to get jobs and work or have a breadwinner who does so and to recognize the connection between their own labor and what they are able to purchase. It is the left which breaks this connection, in ways too numerous to count. There is no one who says more loudly, "I WILL have it thus" than a union thug--and he can usually use the coercive power of the government to feed his greed. Yet your worry is directed at people who, you surmise, have too much of an entitlement mindset regarding fruit imported from other states? This is what I mean by confused priorities.

I glanced at the article. Some of the things it mentions (like selling private information) seem to me more obviously problematic than others. Obviously, I wish that the political alignments of rich people were different than they are. At the moment, I have no just and brilliant ideas for changing the state of affairs. The ratio of money-making in a company to number of stateside jobs created is not a measure that automatically gets my blood boiling. The article looks like a mixed bag.

However, I will propose what I always do to people of your political persuasion: It seems that there is a place of almost accidental rapprochement between you and me. It lies in the unlikely area of monetary policy and debt. My anti-debt, anti-easy-money, and "no free lunch" principles are the places where I do start to worry about lack of restraint. I have no problem with people's being able to buy ipads and new cars. I have a problem with their going into debt to do so. (I don't mention winter oranges here simply because people are unlikely to take on debt to buy winter oranges.) Similarly, I believe that the greatest source of a feeling that everything is free in this country and that we can have everything we want, created ex nihilo, is the borrow-spend-print cycle in Washington. Inter alia it funds many bubbles (such as the higher education bubble) and insolvent social programs and handouts which foster an entitlement mindset, as well as much else. And it gives rise to business bailouts which I suppose you are as uncomfortable with as I am, and vice versa.

However, the funny thing is that _this_ route (sound money, cutting out federal student loan programs, and a hard cap on the federal deficit) to nationwide restraint and to a realization that there "is no such thing as a free lunch" is not more widely embraced, not even by paleos. In the main, my ideas on this subject are widely regarded as nuts. Well, whatever. But tis, surprisingly enough, the best shot for a wild-eyed free marketer and a paleo-crunchy to find common ground.

I recognize that is all OT. It's just a comment, NM, since you seem to be trying to convince me of something in the general neighborhood or under the general heading of "restraint."

Holy smokes, that Kotkin essay is an classic in the SHOTS FIRED genre. Let's not pretend Kotkin is some distributist or something either.

I'd never heard of Kotkin before this piece, but the fact that a neo-con friend (not particularly friendly to paleo'ism, distributism, etc.) sent it to me and thought it worth reading gave it some cred in my eyes.

"Yet your worry is directed at people who, you surmise, have too much of an entitlement mindset regarding fruit imported from other states? This is what I mean by confused priorities."

My worry is directed at the entitlement mindset evinced overall, by both the union thug and the teen with the "I am SO worth it" tee shirt. These are the flip sides of the same coin. And no, I do not believe people have any right to oranges at Christmas.

And I agree that the gov't is partly responsible for this mentality, but I think that you're blind if you don't also see it in the media and in advertising, which are both corporate sources. It's not Washington telling people 24/7 that they can be "unlimited," or that they "can have it all," it's corporate America, using narcissism and self-centeredness to sell more stuff, and in the process creating a culture in which narcissism and self-centeredness are seen as good. The emancipation of both lust and avarice being complete, we now have begun making a virtue out of pride.

People would be brought up against a reality check, realizing that they _can't_ literally have it all, if they weren't being "enabled" in making no connection between, say, their income and their purchasing power. This has little to do with buying oranges from far away and much to do with easy credit and deficit-fueled bubbles, handouts, and bailouts. Normal reality checks are not allowed to operate in the fiscal realm.

Agreed, but there is a sort of feedback loop operating whereby easy credit, handouts, etc., and narcissistic consumerism encourage and sustain one another. Both contribute to the lack of reality checks, both financially and emotionally/psychologically. Mere desires are thus transmogrified into needs, then ultimately into rights.

NM, I agree with you that there is a lot of dumb advertising. Slogans like "Reach for your dreams" or "You deserve it" and what-not are stupid and misleading. There isn't, in my opinion, a whole lot we can do about them directly. In my opinion, people's taking them too literally has to do with many things in our society, but non-localism in produce growth is not one of those things. I do think it would be a good idea for young people to get some notion of where things come from and what is involved in bringing them the stuff they eat and use. But I would expect that knowledge to have two salutary effects, both equally important. On the one hand, it would hopefully reduce any sense of entitlement by showing them that nothing comes from nothing. On the other hand, what you may not like so much, it would help to inoculate them against unrealistic urges to try to demand that "as much as possible be grown and made locally" by giving them a sense of the economic consequences of that and of the actual blessings and indeed crucial importance of nationwide and even global economic interaction and trade.

Beyond that, though I agree that sellers and the advertisers they employ are going to try to get people to want more stuff, there is no direct way to put the brakes on that sort of advertising. The best indirect way is simply to try to have an economy in which people actually have to have the money to buy the stuff before they buy it--regardless of whether it's bought locally or not. That has little or nothing to do with importing fruit from other states. It also isn't, unfortunately, the economy we live in, either for the common man or for the government.

I don't think there's enough common ground here (no, anti-statism isn't enough) to get very much further. I just wish you neos and libertarians would pay a tad more attention to what capitalism destroys instead of looking the other way and simply cheering for what it creates.

Agreed, but there is a sort of feedback loop operating whereby easy credit, handouts, etc., and narcissistic consumerism encourage and sustain one another. Both contribute to the lack of reality checks, both financially and emotionally/psychologically.

Yes, and part of the feedback loop is that people with vices are encouraged by evil-minded advertising to vote for politicians who are themselves full of vice, and who promise to continue to make the voters' vices available to them with greater ease, fewer restraints. It's all a tangled web. You can't get better politicians if you can't get people to vote in better candidates, and that won't happen until better candidates succeed even with people who still want their vices...

As with all instances of deep-seated bad habits, you can't focus ONLY on one source of the problem at a time to the exclusion of all others, nor can you focus on ALL of the sources of the problem at one time, you have to penetrate the most critical areas with game-changes. And it takes grace, as well.

NM, you would go further around these here parts if you said things like "I just wish you neos and libertarians would pay a tad more attention to what modern capitalist practices destroy" instead of just "capitalism". It seems to me that I have pointed out the distinction 5 or 10 times on these pages, and I think that most every time you more or less agree that there is conceptually something that can be called capitalism that doesn't have all those practices, but you never bother to use that distinction when making these statements. I wonder why that is.

In any case, the more interesting question would be: what/who is the proper agent to restrain capitalist operators so that they no longer engage in these practices? If it is by government, and by coercion, are you suggesting (a) that free markets generally should be subject to gov coercive measures in order to restrain the rampant evils, or (b) that the current markets (which are not exactly free) should be subject to government coercive measures to set things aright, and after we have re-established an orderly economic arena, the coercion can be dropped? Or some third alternative?

And I'd still like to know why you don't consider economic centralization a problem. Older conservatism had decentralization in its blood, and not just w/r/t government.

I consider it a serious problem, but I think decentralization is a clear trend and I don't see a good reason to interfere with that. As far as the term "decentralization" in the American past, it has a very obscure history of paranoia (not necessarily a bad thing), hyperbole, hysteria, and outright partisan opportunism as well. It became part and parcel of The Lost Cause. All in all a tawdry history that doesn't inspire confidence in those who've used it in the past. I'm not dismissing it at all, but just saying that it would be nearly impossible for a non-specialist to trace its history and real meaning over the years.

Still, I do think Conservatives now (and then) are very worried about the fact of centralization, whatever you call it. On the other hand, I'm amazed that people don't understand some basic facts about what it means. Centralization is about management and at a certain level of complexity things simply collapse. ObamaCare is the largest and most complex project of its kind in the history of the world, with the only other system even close perhaps the Soviet economy. It never had a chance of succeeding as passed, but even people who hate seem not to know that. But I'd say it isn't that they don't see it as a problem (for those who see it that way), it is that they don't appreciate the nature of complex systems well enough.

What is not decentralizing is the government of course. Conservatives I think are pretty united in a desire (whatever the chances of it happening) to shrink the size of our largest centralized entity, the government. Surely that counts for concern. It is a forlorn hope right now, but hardly not a concern.

Tony, 'Capitalism' to me is a problematic term in that it is used in multiple ways. If we're using it simply as something of a synonym for "free markets" or "the market system" then I have no problem with that. I'm certainly not against markets as such. My main beef is with industrial capitalism, which is now probably better described as corporate capitalism.

I do, however, believe that capitalism per se has a fundamental flaw, a poison at the root so to speak, which is its reliance on and encouragement of avarice (classically understood) as its engine. So while there may be "conceptually something that can be called capitalism that doesn't have all those [negative] practices," there is something inherently negative about capitalism qua capitalism which makes it destructive as well as creative. Even pro-capitalists such as Schumpeter and I. Kristol have pointed this out.

In short, what I'm saying is that contemporary conservatives tend to give capitalism three cheers. I think they should hold off doing so at least till they find out why someone as pro-market as Irving Kristol could muster only two.

Your questions are good ones--I'll try to answer them a little later.

Mark, you're dreaming if you think that corporate wealth/power is lessening. It is growing in tandem with gov't growth (as it always tends to do). If you don't think that A) we've got a true Leviathan on our hands, and B) this beast has both corporate and government aspects intertwined, then I don't really know what to say. Unless you're ideologically blinded the thing should be patently obvious. Just look at the incest between Big Agri and the D.O.A. for example, then extrapolate that out to banking, the military, energy, etc.


I do, however, believe that capitalism per se has a fundamental flaw, a poison at the root so to speak, which is its reliance on and encouragement of avarice (classically understood) as its engine.

Well, I don't see how that's part of it, per se. To me, capitalism per se, the bare essence of it without any admixture of optional extras, is simply the intentional pooling of capital assets, and making them available to labor, to produce new wealth. I can see saying that this does not harbor within itself natural limits of production, or natural limits to growth. But neither does it harbor within ITSELF any natural antipathy to humans imposing limits from the outside. What harbors the problem, rather, is human nature, which has a tendency to avarice. The concept / process of its own nature REQUIRES that humans supply from the outside the motivation, intention, design, and limits. It's not a design flaw, then, that humans have to supply the motivation or intention, and similarly it's not a design flaw that humans have to apply the brakes.

Capitalism as we now know it, as an economic system iow, would not have been possible without the transmutation of the vice of avarice into the virtue of self-interest. I'm not saying that all self-interest is avaricious, but that the accumulation of money and goods beyond one's needs and beyond that necessary for thrifty future considerations was seen as avaricious in both classical and early Christian understandings. Thus, what capitalism does is to "baptize" what is, as you say, an inherent human flaw -- the tendency to avarice.

This is what ultimately makes capitalism destructive as well as creative. A system that turns a sin into a virtue cannot help but be destructive on some level. This of course does not negate the goods that have come out of it, but it should at least make us wary of the system as system itself.

"are you suggesting (a) that free markets generally should be subject to gov coercive measures in order to restrain the rampant evils, or (b) that the current markets (which are not exactly free) should be subject to government coercive measures to set things aright, and after we have re-established an orderly economic arena, the coercion can be dropped? Or some third alternative?"

It is hard to trust the gov't to get any limiting measures right, as in my view the gov't is part of the problem. What I'd really like to see is more of a grassroots movement on the part of conservatives and Christians to opt out when possible of the expansion of the market state. This is why I think "localism" is important. As far as policy goes, it's hard to say. I don't really think that top down measures will be effective until there's enough receptivity at the bottom. Until people again start thinking along the lines of quality over quantity, better over bigger, long-term sustainability vs. short term gain, etc., broadscale changes won't occur. Unfortunately, conservatives have largely abandoned such concerns to the Left, which has embraced them, but has folded them into a predominantly statist endeavor, so that the concerns themselves have acquired a "liberal" patina. Such should not be the case. Conservatives should be able to separate these valid concerns from the leftist B.S. that often accompanies them, and then act accordingly.

Capitalism as we now know it, as an economic system iow, would not have been possible without the transmutation of the vice of avarice into the virtue of self-interest. I'm not saying that all self-interest is avaricious, but that the accumulation of money and goods beyond one's needs and beyond that necessary for thrifty future considerations was seen as avaricious in both classical and early Christian understandings. Thus, what capitalism does is to "baptize" what is, as you say, an inherent human flaw -- the tendency to avarice.

I'm sorry, but I think that this characterization runs into putting the cart before the horse.

Let me admit that many capitalists are people who have much, more of physical goods than they could ever use, and their use of it represents a moral problem of the first order. But it doesn't follow that because such people can use (abuse) their excess for new profiteering, that the very idea of using large surplus for generating new wealth involves the misuse of goods per se. I say that for 2 reasons.

First, it is easily and universally understood that giving a man a handout once is charity, giving him a handout every day for a year is degenerative of human dignity (assuming that he is capable of working for his daily bread). If I have enough money to feed 1000 people for a whole year (an enormous amount of wealth I will never use up myself), and I simply hand it over to them, my action isn't necessarily a _prudent_ act of looking out for their welfare. If, instead, I build a factory that permanently employs 600 of them, and those 600 then help take care of the welfare of the other 400, and eventually 100 of the 600 save up enough to open a secondary factory to employ the 400, this is a far, far better way to use that enormous amount of wealth I had. It is more permanent, and it takes care of them with greater attention to more facets of the true human needs present.

(Conclusion 1: forming a successful business is (can be) participating with God in co-creating good in the world. The amount of good is not static, it increases with good acts done well and wisely.)

Secondly, if a man has a vision of a creative process, a truly innovative way of generating new wealth for many people, but sees that it would take a large amount of capital to start the business, there cannot be anything morally wrong with his intention to amass the large capital needed by working extra and saving out of his small but regular excess amounts that he scrimps to set aside. Yes, there could be something wrong if you add into that scenario something *additional* like that the new idea is shady and bad for people (like pornography), or that the amounts he was setting aside were actually needed by people to whom he had a duty in direct justice to support, or something. But just on its own, by itself, the concept in the pure does not represent any sort of abuse of wealth as such.

Conclusion 2: your described "and beyond that necessary for thrifty future considerations was seen as avaricious in both classical and early Christian understandings," if taken to refer to "thrifty future considerations of personal needs" cannot be distinguished in principle from my scenario, and I just dispute that my scenario represents an instance of avarice. I think that there is a real calling (from God) to men of business to save up and put into use even large fortunes for creative enterprises that improve hundreds or thousands of lives. And I don't think that it is valid to say the sheer amassing of these large fortunes, before putting them into the designed use, it must OF ITSELF constitute avarice (without taking more considerations into account like intentions), because if it were then it would be per se impossible that God call any businessman to initiate a venture that requires a large capital.

To amass a large fortune beyond one's own needs (including amounts set aside prudently for your future needs), would be an instance of avarice if the intention is to keep on holding the fortune and retain all of its benefit personally. To amass the large fortune for another purpose, such as to build a church, a school, or a factory, is different and does not fall under the same vice.

Not sure about that, Tony. From what I've read about earlier understandings of avarice it was considered wrong in and of itself to desire to be wealthy whatever the intention. It was different from being or becoming wealthy by chance or circumstance. In that situation the wealthy person was expected to be charitable with his excess, and not hoard or be stingy. Thus it was not wrong to be wealthy, but it was wrong to desire to be wealthy -- to want more than one needed to live a reasonable, fulfilled life.

For some background on this see Edward Skidelsky's article "The Emancipation of Avarice" from a couple years back in First Things. Also his subsequent book (with his father, Robert) How Much is Enough?. There is also a discussion along these lines in the chapter on economics in Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation.

Yeah, I remember Skidelsky's article, and I remember not thinking that he hit the nail on the head with it even though he got some things right. Don't have time to re-read it now, but I'll take it as given that his thesis agrees with your comment. What I don't think is well supported is that either (a) the sheer desire for wealth constitutes avarice, or that (b) that the desire for a massive amount of wealth constitutes avarice. I think (a) is easy to disprove, because even wanting the wealth that constitutes today's dinner is a desire for wealth - i.e. material goods. (b) is of course harder, but I think that it is proven as a kind of de facto, or proof-in-the-praxis: Jesus comments about ordinary prudence: what man, when he is about to build a tower, does not first set down how much it will cost and see whether he has enough? Only a fool. Let's take "the man" to be a bishop. Likewise, then, what bishop, in deciding whether to build a cathedral, does not first set out what he will need for the project, and see if he either already has it in hand or can acquire it? If he already has it, then he has a vast fortune waiting for a use. If he can get it, and if it is OK for him to want to build the cathedral, we are saying it is OK for him to want to amass a vast fortune for a good purpose. Either that, or every instance of wanting to build a large church, hospital, college, monastery, or whatever (by someone who does not yet have the resources) represents a PER SE instance of avarice.

It matters not the least whether the vast fortune is acquired before the project is started, or only after the project is started with the bishop having prudent foresight that he can in fact do what is needed to collect it. Either way, he set his sights on making use of a vast fortune, and so the completion of the project constitutes in itself having that vast fortune pass through his hands.

"I think (a) is easy to disprove, because even wanting the wealth that constitutes today's dinner is a desire for wealth - i.e. material goods."

No, because today's dinner is a rational desire harmonious with a good life, traditionally understood.

"I think that it is proven as a kind of de facto, or proof-in-the-praxis: Jesus comments about ordinary prudence: what man, when he is about to build a tower, does not first set down how much it will cost and see whether he has enough? Only a fool."

True enough -- being prudential does not make one guilty of greed. Yet we are also warned about tearing down barns and building bigger ones: we must be wary about prudence becoming an excuse for hoarding and stinginess.

I also think that raising a large amount of money for some charitable purpose is different in the classical/Christian understanding from desiring to make a large amount of money. As I understand it the sin lies in the desire, not in the consequence: you simply should not want to be wealthy, period, but be satisfied with enough to live a reasonable, fulfilling life given your specific situation (it's taken for granted that reason and fullness include almsgiving, charity, etc.) By the way, this is why the Skidelsky's titled their book How Much is Enough?
In today's culture of "greed is good" and gigantic CEO salaries, when the very idea of "enough" is considered questionable if considered at all, there is an ancient body of thought that can be used as a resource to help determine what constitutes "enough." For the Christian the issue becomes one of adjusting our desires to correspond with the traditional understanding of wealth.


Yet we are also warned about tearing down barns and building bigger ones: we must be wary about prudence becoming an excuse for hoarding and stinginess.

Yeah. And I always remember to take that parable in with Joseph's storing up bumper crops for 7 years.

I also think that raising a large amount of money for some charitable purpose is different in the classical/Christian understanding from desiring to make a large amount of money. As I understand it the sin lies in the desire, not in the consequence: you simply should not want to be wealthy, period,

My point is that there is no essential difference between wanting to "be wealthy" or desiring to "make a large amount of money" in the sense of setting aside a large amount that is intended to be used for a capital project that will enable a large number of people to survive/thrive, and setting aside a large amount money for some charitable purpose like a hospital. The only way you can distinguish the latter charitable purpose from the sinful desire of avarice is that in the case of avarice the desiring of a large amount of money is not towards a due and ordinate end. Which is something more specific than simply WANTING the large amount.

It is undeniable that Joseph, at the end of 7 years, had complete control of a vast amount of wealth. He intended and desired, at the beginning of the 7 years, to achieve that very situation - for the good of the whole people of Egypt (plus the people of Israel). You can't say his desiring to amass a store of 7 year's worth of food was in itself avaricious, and the only way to distinguish his desire from the greedy man's is to note the additional character of their desiring the wealth - what they are planning with the wealth - in Joseph's case, what he was planning to DO with it, but in the greedy man's case it is lack of planning to do something due and well-ordered with it. The desire itself for large wealth is not the vice, the vice is a desire for the wealth as an end in itself. Wealth (as all goods in this world) is supposed to be used as a means, subordinate to love of God. When you love it for its own sake, that's true avarice, and it thus replaces God as your final love.

Since it is not the mere wanting of great wealth itself that constitutes the sin of avarice, there is nothing intrinsically deformative of the root, core capitalist intention to set aside wealth for a capital project. The defects in capitalists all bear on something else that they bring to the issue in addition to merely wanting to amass the wealth needed for a capital project.

Joseph was not amassing the wealth himself -- it was not his personal possession. Also, his situation was rather unique in that he had knowledge of the future famine. The CEO making $100M a year? Not so much.

I believe your thinking on this might be a little anachronistic. What you're saying assumes a capitalistic understanding of the thing, while the classical/Christian view is obviously pre-capitalist. Remember the many debates over whether even charging interest was acceptable! There was a very strong aversion to the notion that money should beget more money, without labor. Even in Calvin's Geneva, if memory serves, there was a big argument about whether to raise the "business" interest rate from 5% to 6.5%, which was thought by some to be exorbitant.

In any case, I think we'll just have to disagree here, Tony. However, I do recommend that you take a look at Gregory's The Unintended Reformation, spec. the chapter on the rise of modern economies.

Joseph was not amassing the wealth himself -- it was not his personal possession.

"Possession" is said in many ways. He had full control of it, and intended to use it for others. Which is exactly how a person who views "his" wealth as under a stewardship standard looks at it, whether the law says it is his "possession" or some other title of ownership. The CEO of a foundation has just as much call to exercise stewardship as the "owner" who put the money into the foundation in the first place, as do the trustee of a trust, the executor of an estate, the curator of a museum, etc.

I believe your thinking on this might be a little anachronistic. What you're saying assumes a capitalistic understanding of the thing, while the classical/Christian view is obviously pre-capitalist.

Yeah, I suppose that it is possible, in theory. But I will wait for you to show in what fashion I am doing that before accepting the charge. I was taking some pains, above, in putting forth the bare bones of simply amassing the wherewithal for a large venture, without mentioning rates of return of any sort, or any of the other possible capitalist trimmings.

Since I have already, repeatedly, agreed with the Thomistic teaching on usury, you can't throw that business at me.

In any case, I think we'll just have to disagree here, Tony.

I wondered if that would be the upshot of this discussion. Sometimes that's all that can be done. But I don't think that this is one of those areas of taste or temperament, as for instance preferring prose over poetry, or preferring the Wisdom over Ecclesiastes. There are valid principles to be drawn out, and the right ones decide the matter.

"I wondered if that would be the upshot of this discussion. Sometimes that's all that can be done. But I don't think that this is one of those areas of taste or temperament..."

Yes, I agree, but I believe that the discussion would be entirely too long for a combox. This is why I recommended the chapter in Gregory; he makes the argument and provides far more documentation than I'd be able to repeat here.

Yeah, but I am not going to spend $28 on it. If it's at the library, well and good. Or you can send it to me. :-)

Normally, I'd be happy to photocopy the chapter and send it on, but it's fairly long (probably 50+ pp.) with an additional 20 or so pages of endnotes. The library is probably a better option. ;-)

Mark Mitchell on Dreher, Douthat, etc. -- a good read, which touches on much of what was discussed in this post and the comments:

http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2013/05/the-limits-of-place/

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