A Miscellany of Study

Facts and Values in Bourgeois Society

Very roughly the bourgeois industrialised society is one in which men come into relationship, form a community, hence come to agreement and thus to ‘truth’, only in terms of production.  What lies outside this sphere is free, is not a matter of agreement, is ‘subjective’.  The world of hard facts is the world in which the factories are working, wages are being paid, goods are being distributed; this is the area of necessary agreement in the bourgeois society.  Such a society does not require agreement in matters of aesthetics, religion, or ‘private morals’; these belong to the sphere of comment and are relegated first to private judgment and then, as their social irrelevance becomes clearer, to the subjective world of ‘values’. (26)

Herbert McCabe | Law, Love and Language

The Social Base of Politics

In the investigation of political conditions one is too easily tempted to overlook the objective nature of the relationships and to explain everything from the will of the persons acting.  There are relationships, however, which determine the actions of private persons as well as those of individual authorities, and which are as independent as are the movements in breathing.  Taking this objective standpoint from the outset, one will not presuppose an exclusively good or bad will on either side.  Rather, one will observe relationships in which only persons appear to act at first.  As soon as it is demonstrated that something was necessitated by conditions, it will not be difficult to figure out under which external circumstances this thing actually had to come into being, and under which other circumstances it could not have come about although a need for it was present.  One can determine this with almost the same certainty as a chemist determines under which external circumstances some substance will form a compound…. (28-29)

Marx | “The Social Base of Politics” in Karl Marx: The Essential Works

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

Luther & Labor

By clearly differentiating the concept of spiritual faith from that of earthly works, and by making one’s faith a precondition of the goodness of one’s works, Luther deradicalized the medieval distinction between concepts of works and of toil.  Work, of either kind, belongs solely to the temporal realm.  It is a religious duty, a calling.  Good works are a function of true faith.  The faithful individual is motivated to participate in the Church, to work well and to do good in this world out of love for God and gratitude for His grace.  By so making the individual’s God-given faith the criterion of the goodness of work in a calling, Luther necessarily undermined the idea that the goodness of work derives from its contribution to a common good.  One is called by God, not by one’s society, and the believer knows that the goodness of her work derives from God, not from her self or her share in humanity.  Responsible only to her God and her self, it is up to the individual to order her own life and work rationally and methodically.  In this way, Protestantism entered decisively into a historical process of Western rationalization by introducing the absolute imperative of individual self-discipline. (67)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre