False Consciousness

We have reached the culmination of plutocracy.  “The institution of property has, in its modern form, reached its zenith as a means of giving to the few the power over the life of many, and its nadir as a means of securing to the many the basis of regular industry, purposeful occupation, freedom, and self-support.”  While this is true, it is still the case, however, that to many thousands in the “middle classes,” a slender hold on “property” exists, and represents the one social reality of which they will never willingly let go on any plea whatsoever.  And this is not from any peculiar reverence for riches, nor, in the majority of cases, from any special desire to accumulate them, but simply from the conviction that only through property comes the power to make provision for the morrow and resist, if need be, the dictation of others.  The grounds for such a tenacity are, then, natural enough; but the effects of it to-day are disastrous because it is almost entirely instinctive, and rallies to the defense of the most monstrous prerogatives and monopolies if only the definition of property can somehow be stretched to include them.  And stretched it accordingly is, so that the most indispensable personal tools and the most flagrantly unjustifiable tolls are not only defended by the same arguments by the unscrupulous champions of wealth, but subject to the same criticisms by the enemies of it.  The humblest annuity-holder thus enrols in the bodyguard of plutocracy, and every shaft of the Socialist assailant serves only to confirm him in his unwarrantable allegiance. (173-174)

Maurice Reckitt | “The Moralization of Property” in The Return of Christendom


On “Stewardship”

Yet another theory, and a very dangerous one, is often advanced among Christians as providing a sufficient justification of property rights in their present form, or something not widely different from it.  This is the doctrine of “stewardship.”  It is contended that great riches, so far from being regarded as the fruit of avarice, the seed of tyranny, and the means of luxury, ought to be looked upon as affording a unique opportunity for the exercise of benevolence and charity.  The argument is not generally stated so plainly, but in a confused sort of way it has been employed to add a welcomed sanction to the “deceitfulness of riches.”  It is necessary to observe that this comfortable theory contains not only a spiritual falsehood, but an economic fallacy, for such a “stewardship” is outside the ability of any individual to execute.  The ability to lay out money wisely is, like other human capacities, strictly limited; and luxury expenditure, in which form “benevolence” so often clothes itself, is normally a process so uneconomic as to be anti-social.  The administration of wealth is not a “stewardship,” it is a dictatorship; since riches involve a power over others, degrading alike to those who are possessed of it and to those who are its passive dependents. (165)

Maurice Reckitt | “The Moralization of Property” in The Return of Christendom