I am by no means an admire of leftist politics, but I must admit that the English Labour MP in the above clip is attacking a real evil. The so-called payday loan companies that give short-term loans at a very high rate of interest are a particularly clear and extreme example of the injustice of usury. They exploit the distress of the poor, enticing them into an unjust contract, obligating them to exchange (say) £182 for £100. Continue reading
This year’s Big American Novel is the long-awaited, unfinished book that David Foster Wallace had been working on up to his death in 2008. The Pale King is about the dull lives of IRS bureaucrats, and, as DFW wrote in one of the notes appended to the manuscript (p.545), it has two “broad arcs”: the first arc has to do with boredom and paying attention and the differences between people and machines; the second has to do with with being an individual vs. being part of something larger, civics. Both of these arcs are closely related to the central theme of pretty much all of Wallace’s writing. Continue reading
His Serene Highness Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein, was in these parts a few weeks ago giving a lecture at the International Theological Institute in Trumau. The basic idea of the lecture (which was based on His Highness’s book, The State in the Third Millenium, and is pretty well summarized in the interview embedded above) was that the state in the third millennium should be a service company providing certain useful goods to its citizens. His Highness explained that he was lead to this rather prosaic vision by the problem of religious freedom as it is understood today. The traditional legitimation of the monarchy had of course been Divine Right, but once Enlightenment style religious pluralism become accepted as the norm, such a legitimation became problematic. The Prince went in search of another model, and, living in Liechtenstein, it was perhaps not altogether surprising that he came up with a pretty boring shop-keeperish, paleo-capitalist, democratic legitimation: one which sees the ruling family as a sort of old and trusted family business (as Aelianus put it in the Q&A). The purpose of his book is to propose his model as the model for the state in the third millennium.
There are numerous objections that one could raise against His Highness’s model. If there is one thing that Marxist economics has shown, it is that the internal contradictions of capitalism are such that stability in one place can only be bought at the price of instability in another place. The stable prosperity of Liechtenstein and Switzerland can only be maintained because other places pay the price for their usury. Sometime I shall explore that theme in more detail (it basically follows from what Chesterton says about the capitalist wanting the same man to be rich and poor at the same time), but now I want to focus on another objection.
The most obvious objection is that this model is too boring. In the Q&A I asked His Highness what he thought of the future of a rival model: the model which Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has developed in Russia. I quoted a Russian friend of mine who says that he doesn’t care about the lack of civil rights or any of that kind of stuff; what he cares about is that under Putin Russia is again trying to assert her power. He cares about the glory of Russia. This is the sort of timocratic vision of a state that one can rally armies around. And that is why I don’t think a paleo-capitalist, cuckoo-clock democratic model of the state is really going to be the wave of the future. I rather tend to agree with Slavoj Žižek’s oft repeated prediction that the state in the third millennium is likely to follow the late-capitalist authoritarian model of Putin and Berlusconi.
His Serene Highness gave an interesting reply. He said that man is a strange creature. On the one hand he is an individualist who looks out for his private interest, but on the other hand he also has a “herd instinct”, which leads him to seek group-inclusion and to massacre those who are not part of his group. The herd instinct (said His Serene Highness) is best satisfied by the communal satisfactions of religion, but when religion is weak it finds an outlet in destructive ideologies such as nationalism.
This is a rather pessimistic view of man: divided between selfish greed and irrational mob ecstasy. St. Thomas would argue that there is another side of man that is the proper principle of political community: his ability to participate in common goods. The common good, properly speaking, appeals both to man’s natural love of his own fulfillment–since it is the good of those who participate in it–but also to his communal nature–for it is a good superior to his own singular good. But, as I have argued before, to be ordered to the common good in the proper sense it is necessary that a political community order its common good explicitly to God. Thus we see that it follows from the acceptance of the “enlightened” separation of Church and state that the only models of the state left are Prince Hans-Adam’s boring model, Vladimir Putin’s oppressive one, or some mixture of the two.
In England the disintegration of the medieval order coincided with the rise of the house of Tudor. In fact, already Henry VII (1457 – 1509), the founder of the Tudor dynasty, made certain key decisions which were to erode the medieval way of life and the world view of Christendom. When he came to power in 1485 England was weakened both by the hundred years war with France (1337 – 1453) and the Wars of the Roses (1455 – 1485), a civil war which decimated the English nobility. The effects of these two wars gave Henry the opportunity to begin the remolding of England along new lines. By the peace of Etaples (1492) Henry VII gave up English claims to French territories , a key step in the development of English nationalism. Removed from the continent the English could less and less conceive of themselves as part of the higher unity of “Christendom.”
The weakening of the English nobility through the Wars of the Roses enabled Henry to strengthen the monarchy, thus ending the hierarchy of subsidiary feudal authorities, and leading English subjects to see themselves primarily as members of the English nation. At the same time it lead to the an increase in the power of the mercantile class, with which Henry allied himself. The Intercursus Magnus (given its effects, the Flemish name Malus Intercursus seems more apposite) lead to an explosion of the wool trade that was to be a driving force behind the fundamental changes represented by the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The wool trade lead to enclosure which destroyed the medieval economy (which Phillip Blond calls the “Catholic Economy”). It lead to the primacy of the kind of dehumanized contractual/mechanical economic relations that are typical of capitalism.