Monday, May 31, 2021

How Things Got This Way in America

Ed Feser is a Plato-Augustine scholar, Catholic, who writes very clearly.  Here, in only a couple of grafs, he lays out the Current Problem in America.

...Oligarchy as Plato conceives of it stands between timocracy and democracy.  Like democracy, it is governed by the appetitive part of the soul.  But the specific appetite it fosters, the desire to acquire wealth, is not as unruly or chaotic as the pursuit of sensual pleasure that dominates democratic society.  Its satisfaction requires some degree of self-discipline and delay of gratification – and thus the bourgeois virtues, which, though not as noble as those honored in the two higher sorts of regime, at least put some restraints on the other appetites.

The trouble is that, for one thing, later generations within an oligarchy, who enjoy the benefits of affluence without having had to exercise the discipline required in order to create it, tend to become soft and decadent.  And for another thing, there is money to be made in catering to the lower appetites.  Hence oligarchy tends to decay into democracy in Plato’s sense.  And that is why the America of the robber barons and of the military-industrial complex eventually gave way to the America of Woodstock and the sexual revolution, and now to that grisly amalgam of the two – the America of contemporary woke capitalism. 

If easy affluence is corruptive of the natural virtues, it is even more corruptive of the supernatural virtues.  The rich young man, though he showed initial interest in following Christ, opted instead to hold on to his possessions when he had to make a choice (Matthew 16: 19-22).  This famously led Christ to warn that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). ...

There is a good deal more, including an astute analysis of the parable of the Rich Young Man, before Feser concludes:

 ...From a traditional Christian point of view, then, the main danger of actually existing capitalism is not that it makes people poor, but on the contrary that it makes them rich compared to most people who have ever lived, and certainly fixates them on the acquisition of material wealth.  It has thereby led the mass of mankind into a particularly insidious sort of temptation that relatively fewer were faced with in previous ages.  Most people read passages like Matthew 19:24 and smugly think of the rich as “them.”  But to paraphrase Walt Kelly, we have met the rich man, and he is us.

Is the solution to abolish riches?  No, because wealth is not intrinsically bad, and indeed is a positive good.  Again, the problem is not riches per se, but the fixation on riches.  And the fixation can exist even when riches do not.  The solution is to counter this fixation.  Sound principles by which this might be done were set out by popes Leo XIII,  Pius XI, and John Paul II, who condemned socialism in absolute terms, but defended capitalist institutions only with significant qualifications of a kind that no libertarian or classical liberal could accept – and who insisted that both the crisis of modernity and the social transformation needed to remedy it are fundamentally moral and religious rather than economic in nature....

 "Social Justice" is NOT Mo'Money.

1 comment:

Grim said...

That was fairly compelling.