Thursday, 21 June 2018

Belloc's The Servile State, Wright's Anticapitalism

I read Hilaire Belloc’s short book The Servile State (pub. 1912) over a couple of days this week. He felt then that the Capitalist economy was doomed because of its inherent instability and contradictions. Socialism or Collectivism seemed then to be the escape route. Putting it all in the hands of political masters would change little for the common worker and would likely ameliorate the effects of price fixing cartels and trusts. This was surely rational but the problem was that it had never been tried and the inevitable expropriation would cause variance. Oh! Belloc looked back to what had been tried and had been the way out of general slavery and serfdom. This he called the Distributist model as exemplified in the 16th.Century organisation of peasant proprietors, guilds, and orders. His book is not about how we might transition from the present stage of wage slavery i.e. the servile state in which the masses work for a bare subsistence. That evolution he recognised to be even more complex and difficult to manage than the socialist. The taming of Capitalism through minimum wage negotiation and national insurance he did not agree with as it was a submission to the lowly proletarian status that was an affront to human dignity. Very likely he would have regarded the creation of the welfare state as total capitulation.

It is an interesting book. One may question its excessive doctrinaire rigour and wonder whether the Pinko Popes would have approved.
(Distributism )

If Belloc thought that Capitalism was on its last legs he was wrong. It discarded the old ones and grew new globalist ones. We now are advised to applaud the accentuation of contradictions. Belloc said that too.

This morning I read an article in Jacobin. (ironic title one hopes)
Erik Olin Wright offers some ideas about the subversion of Capitalism by building alternatives within its structures. Some of them seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to Distributist strategy. His section on Real Utopias is good. One factor he didn’t mention which is informal and pervasive is the black economy or ‘the private sector’.

Some quotes from both writers:

A society thus constituted cannot endure. It cannot endure because it is subject to two very severe strains: strains which increase in severity in proportion as that society becomes more thoroughly Capitalist. The first of these strains arises from the divergence between the moral theories upon which the State reposes and the social facts which those moral theories attempt to govern. The second strain arises from the insecurity to which Capitalism condemns the great mass of society, and the general character of anxiety and peril which it imposes upon all citizens, but in particular upon the majority, which consists, under Capitalism, of dispossessed free men. (Belloc)

In the strongest versions of the theory, there are even underlying tendencies in the “laws of motion” of capitalism for the intensity of such system-weakening crises to increase over time, so that in the long-term capitalism becomes unsustainable; it destroys its own conditions of existence. (Wright)
A man has been compelled by law to put aside sums from his wages as insurance against unemployment. But he is no longer the judge of how such sums shall be used. They are not in his possession ; they are not even in the hands of some society which he can really control. They are in the hands of a Government official. " Here is work offered you at twenty-five shillings a week. If you do not take it you certainly shall not have a right to the money you have been compelled to put aside. If you will take it the sum shall still stand to your credit, and when next in my judgment your unemployment is not due to your recalcitrance and refusal to labour, I will permit you to have some of your money: not otherwise." 

Three clusters of state policies in particular significantly counteracted the harms of capitalism: serious risks — especially around health, employment, and income — were reduced through a fairly comprehensive system of publicly mandated and funded social insurance. (Wright)

Monday, 18 June 2018

Bide a While with Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Here is one of the most intelligible and longest sentences in the English language. In Barbara Rooke’s edition she has a footnote - (J. Wordsworth Marginalia) “This sentence particularly pleased Wordsworth for its architecture.” My own observations will follow. Do take a deep breath:

As long therefore as I obtrude no unsupported assertions on my readers ; and as long as I state my opinions, and the evidence which induced or compelled me to adopt them, with calmness and that diffidence in myself, which is by no means incompatible with a firm belief in the justness of the opinions themselves ; while I attack no man's private life from any cause, and detract from no man's honours in his public character, from the truth of his doctrines, or the merits of his compositions, without detailing all my reasons and resting the result solely on the arguments adduced ; while I moreover explain fully the motives of duty, which influenced me in resolving to institute such investigation ; while I confine all asperity of censure, and all expressions of contempt, to gross violations of truth, honour, and decency, to the base corrupter and the detected slanderer ; while I write on no subject which I have not studied with my best attention, on no subject which my education and acquirements have incapacitated me from properly understanding; and above all while I approve myself, alike in praise and in blame, in close reasoning and in impassioned declamation, a steady friend to the two best and surest friends of all men, truth and honesty ; I will not fear an accusation of either presumption or arrogance from the good and the wise. I shall pity it from the weak, and welcome it from the wicked.
(from Essay IV: Vol.1 1818 edition)

Here S.T.C. is leaping through the billows dolphin like. Each ‘while’ breaks up the whole into sentence like semantic units functioning like is a catenary of propositions. However in the following long sentences from Essay VII and Essay XI vol. 3 he sounds the depths of understanding like a whale in a single plunge. You breach with him, astonished.

 The naturalist, who can not or will not see, that one fact is often worth a thousand, as including them all in itself, and that it first makes all the other facts; who has not the head to comprehend, the soul to reverence, a central experiment or observation (what the Greeks would perhaps have called a protophaenomenon; will never receive an auspicious answer from the oracle of nature.
(from Essay VII Vol. 3)

or this Platonic utterance:

Meditate on the nature of a Being whose ideas are creative, and consequently more real, more substantial than the things that, at the height of their creaturely state, are but their dim reflexes ; and the intuitive conviction will arise that in such a Being there could exist no motive to the creation of a machine for its own sake; that, therefore, the material world must have been made for the sake of man, at once the high-priest and representative of the Creator, as far as he partakes of that reason in which the essences of all things co-exist in all their distinctions yet as one and indivisible. 
(from Essay XI. Vol.3)

Find The Friend in Two Volumes at Internet Archive:
Vol.1: Vol 1
Vol.2: Vol 2

The Friend edited by Barbara Rooke in 2 vols. pub. Princeton University Press.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Egregiously Genteel

It’s strange how words lose their richness and become much less than they were. I think of two that have become impoverished, that have fallen into decline. Both are genteelisms- epithet and egregious. The first has declined from being a significant and singular appellation eg. The Iron Duke (Wellington), The Iron Lady (Thatcher), Frederick the Great and so forth. Now it has become merely a derogatory adjective characteristically applied.

Egregious (ex grex - above the herd) has also slumped to an indefinite term of disapprobation, flagrant in some manner. That’s the usage and we can’t argue with it but I ask ‘what herd does he stand out from’? Is he an egregious liar, an egregious bounder, an egregious bully, what?

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (II)

Feeling the need of a bracing moral universe rather than one in which politicians earn moral miles on their personal journeys I took to reading novels. If I were to characterise Victory by Conrad in pop terms it would be World of Moral Warcraft. Framley Parsonage by Trollope would be Can’t Pay, We’ll take it Away. Compare and Contrast. Just writing that creates a sinking feeling; tourbillons of chalk dust rise and afar off the snicker snack of the bar mower in the far field lays down stripes of grass.

From a craft point of view ‘Framley’ is the better novel, the story moves along smoothly with just enough of incident to show and of analysis to tell. That balance is hard to achieve. Of all the Trollope that I have read this is the one in which his mastery of clerical intrigue, snobbery, genteel poverty, and political duplicity is displayed at its finest. Of course I haven’t read all of Trollope, I’d have had to start from a boy for that, yet there does seem to me troughs and peaks in the oeuvre. Recently I started on The Duke’s Children and that cutting didn’t strike. In this novel though the variety of scenes as we move from squirearchy to hierarchy never sinks into longueurs. The blank beauty Griselda Grantly and aptly named Lord Dumbello: will they marry? Certainly, if barbarian eugenics, pace Arnold, are to flourish. Will the delightful, sparky Lucy Robarts find true love with Lord Lufton. He is beyond her station and mother Lufton does not approve. Mark Robarts has been silly and gone guarantor for Sowerby M.P.. £900 is a serious sum and there’s the riding to hunt which Parson Crawley upbraids him for. Even then bailiffs were apologetic but firm.

Parson Crawley is a proud ascetic who would starve his family rather that succumb to worldly manoeuvres. The parish of Hogglestock is not a rich one. £130 a year is all he gets which leaves him and his family worse off than their brickmaker parishoners.

And sometimes he was prostrate—prostrate in soul and spirit. Then would he complain with bitter voice, crying out that the world was too hard for him, that his back was broken with his burden, that his God had deserted him. For days and days, in such moods, he would stay within his cottage, never darkening the door or seeing other face than those of his own inmates. Those days were terrible both to him and her. He would sit there unwashed, with his unshorn face resting on his hand, with an old dressing-gown hanging loose about him, hardly tasting food, seldom speaking, striving to pray, but striving so frequently in vain. And then he would rise from his chair, and, with a burst of frenzy, call upon his Creator to remove him from this misery.
And then, don’t laugh, typhus strikes.

An excellent novel. Humour, tragedy, pathos, ordinary everyday evil and bungling and a cast of well drawn and credible characters. You could do worse this summer.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade seems to be addressing himself to persons in holy orders and that may give a wrong impression. You may think that their daily routine is strictly timetabled and running on the rails of obedience. That is true but the book is also relevant for the looser scheduled. We have to make decisions for ourselves and therefore the distortion of ego can impinge. To overcome this the presence of God in the heart must be cultivated so when we act it is under that discipline. He writes:

 There are, then, prescribed duties to be fulfilled, and necessary duties to be accepted, and further there is a third kind which also forms part of active fidelity, although it does not properly belong to works of precept. In this are comprised inspired duties; those to which the spirit of God inclines the hearts that are submissive to Him. The accomplishment of this kind of duty, requires a great simplicity, a gentle and cheerful heartiness, a soul easily moved by every breath of directing grace; for there is nothing else to do but to give oneself up, and to obey its inspirations simply and freely. So that souls may not be deceived, God never fails to give them wise guidance to indicate with what liberty or reserve these inspirations should be made use of. The third kind of duty takes precedence of all law, formalities, or marked-out rules. It is what, in saints, appears singular and extraordinary; it is what regulates their vocal prayer, interior words, the perception of their faculties, and also all that makes their lives noble, such as austerities, zeal, and the prodigality of their self-devotion for others. As all this belongs to the interior rule of the Holy Spirit, no one ought to try to obtain it, to imagine that they have it, to desire it, nor to regret that they do not possess the grace to undertake this kind of work, and to practise these uncommon virtues, because they are only really meritorious when practised according to the direction of God. If one is not content with this reserve one lays oneself open to the influence of one’s own ideas, and will become exposed to illusion.

Find an e version in all formats at:

Friday, 8 June 2018

Henri Bergson and the Phonograph

A good mind can make out more than a fair one on a particular topic though the latter may be infinitely more supplied with information. One of the strengths of philosophy is this getting back to first principles and asking the simple questions that can give a fundamental orientation to research. Bergson's impugning of the theory amounting to a doctrine, of mind brain identity proceeds on the simple query:

Impressions made by external objects are supposed to subsist in the brain as it were on a sensitive plate or a phonographic disk. But, when we look more closely, we see how fallacious these comparisons are. If, for example, the visual recollection of an object were really an impression left by that object on the brain, there would not be one recollection of an object, there would be thousands or even millions of them; for the simplest and most stable object changes its form, its size and its shade of colour, according to the point of view from which it is perceived. Unless, then, I condemn myself to a position absolutely fixed when looking at it, unless my eye remains immovable in its socket, countless images in no way superposable will be outlined successively on my retina and transmitted to my brain. And what must the number of the images be if the visual image is of a person, whose expression changes, whose body is mobile, whose clothing and environment are different each time I see him ? Yet it is unquestionable that my consciousness presents to me a unique image, or, what amounts to the same, a practically invariable recollection of the object or person ; evident proof that there is something quite different here from mechanical registration.
(from: The Soul and the Body in Mind-Energy by Henri Bergson)

Please note that the phonograph was the killer app of the day, April 12th. 1912. We now of course have the computer but the objection still stands. Memory in shellac or silicon is just not human memory. In spite of all the variety of sensible impressions it remains singular. My memory of our garden is not that of an abounding variety of plants that each day presents, it is just 'the garden'.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Argumentum ad Populum Meum

The genuflection at the altar of right thinking orthodoxy is a feature of blog communication. You must assure those who take all of a minute to read your post that your heart is in the right place and moreover that you are not likely to cause hurt and dismay to your tender readers.

Instead of conducting such a careful and thoughtful inquiry in to the nature of our egos, it seems the culture of philosophy is intent on imitating the Catholic priesthood, and having a competition to see who is the best at pointing the finger of blame and shame etc. The evidence might inform us that 2,000 years of such blaming and shaming has not cured us of the urge to say inconvenient words, nor our passion for claiming the all important fantasy victim status when we voluntarily read those words.
epithets comment )

I’ve always felt that it is the business of swamis, priests, muftis, and monks to give witness by their words and deeds to the core teachings that they confess. If they stay silent they are dammed for cosy temporisers, if vocal, dismissed as interfering in the inward workings of private conscience.

Philosophers are being urged not to follow their idle prating but this futility has not been demonstrated. In fact a mild acquaintance with history would indicate a contrary view. How was slavery brought to an end if not by the agitation of Quakers and Evangelicals?

There’s no argument here, merely the waving of a little priestcraft pennant. It makes palatable the self contradictory ‘you’re all going to hell in a handcart’ lesson which follows. On the contrary both priests and philosophers should speak up. Cry fire if there is a fire and clear the building.