Friday, April 13, 2007

Neither capitalism or socialism

The Catholic idea is that things should be small farmers and small businesses and local businesses should be supported instead of government socialism or multinational globalists. It sounds nice, but whether or not it would work is another thing. I place it here as a way to balance earlier discussions of China, globalism, etc.

In the Middle Ages those quintessential Catholic institutions, the craft guilds, very often limited the amount of property each owner/worker could have (for example, by limiting the number of his employees), precisely in the interest of preventing anyone from expanding his own workshop so much that he was likely to drive others out of business. For if private property has a purpose and end, as Aristotle and St. Thomas would insist, it surely is to allow a man to make a decent living for himself and his family by serving society. But one living, not two or three. If my business supports myself and my family, then what right do I have to expand that business so as to deprive others of the means of supporting themselves and their families? For the medievals saw those in the same line of work, not as rivals or competitors, but as brothers, brothers engaged in the very important work of providing the public with a needed good or service. And as brothers they joined together into guilds, engaged priests to pray for their dead, supported their widows and orphans with insurance funds, and generally looked after one another. Who would not admit that this conception of economic activity is more akin to the Catholic faith than the dog eat dog ethic of capitalism?

I realize that much of what I say here must sound strange to many readers. Most Americans are acquainted only with capitalism and socialism. But a little knowledge of Catholic economic history and of traditional Catholic economic thought will be enough to convince any fair minded reader that there is an entire world out there of genuine Catholic thought on this subject nearly unknown in the United States. And if the current "science" of economics contradicts this thought, then ask yourself, what authority does that "science" have? It arose from the deistic philosophy of the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and it is curious that some Catholics, while condemning (rightly) the philosophy of that unfortunate century, warmly embrace its economic theories, not realizing that those economic theories arise from the same poisoned well as Voltaire and the Encyclopedists. But it is not too late to remake our thinking after the very pattern of Jesus Christ and his Church--if we are willing to banish from our lives the idols that are worshipped in our own country and embark on the fascinating journey of discovering Catholic economic thinking. n

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