Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Blair, Mussolini, Neo-Liberalism and ‘The End of the Ideology’

March 4, 2014

Mussolini

Fascist Dictator Mussolini adopting typically grandiose posture

After the scrapping of Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution committing it to nationalisation, Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ government was hailed by many as the expression of the new pragmatism in politics. With ministers drawn from outside as well within the Labour party itself, New Labour was celebrated for its empirical approach to politics. Instead of following the dictates of ideology, the party was instead formulating policies and appointing personnel according to what worked. Just as Francis Fukuyama described the new political era ushered in by the Fall of Communism as the ‘end of history’, so there was a tendency to describe Blair’s government almost as the ‘end of ideology’. This type of rhetoric resembled some of the attitudes adopted by Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship when it seized power in the 1920s.

19th and early 20th century Reformist Social Democrat politicians had believed that society and history proceeded by fixed laws, laws that were leading to the inevitable triumph of socialism. In their defence and advancements of socialism, the British Fabians, for example, who strenuously rejected Marx’s doctrine of the Class War, argued that Socialism was merely the continuation and expansion of existing government policies interfering with and regulating the economy. Sidney Webb, who with his wife, Beatrice, was one of the founders and leading Fabian intellectuals, wrote

The practical man, oblivious or contemptuous of any theory of the social organism or general principles of social organisation, has been forced, by the necessities of the time, into an ever-deepening collectivist channel. Socialism, of course, he still rejects and despises. The individualist town councillor will walk along the municipal pavement, lit by municipal gas, and cleansed by municipal brooms with municipal water, and seeing, by the municipal clock in the municipal market, that he is too early to meet his children coming from the municipal school, hard by the county lunatic asylum and municipal hospital, will use the national telegraph system to tell them not to walk through the municipal park, but come by the municipal tramway, to meet him in the municipal reading-room, by the municipal art gallery, museum, and library, where he intends to consult some of the national publications in order to prepare his next speech in the municipal town hall, in favour of the nationalisation of canals and the increase of Government control over the railway system. ‘Socialism, Sir,’ he will say, ‘Don’t waste the time of a practical man by your fantastic absurdities. Self-help, Sir, individual self-help, that’s what’s made our city what it is’.

Sydney Webb, Socialism in England, quoted in E.C. Midwinter, Victorian Social Reform (Longman: Harlow 1968) p. 94.

This idea of slow progress leading to the gradual victory of Socialism seemed to be shattered by the reality of the First World War. This seemed to show that all such ideologies of historical laws of gradual progress were wrong. To the activists and intellectuals that formed part of Mussolini’s Fascists, the War instead showed that history was made through will. As a result, Fascism vigorously promoted itself as the first movement that was no constrained by ideology or values. Some non-Fascist Italian intellectuals were initially favourable to them because of this. It seemed to look past the political stalemates that had occurred in the Italian parliament through the conflicts between the different political groups.

Adrian Lyttleton in his book The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929(London: George Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd 1987, describes the situation thus

The interventionist intellectuals conceived of the war as an assertion of will and energy in defiance of the supposed ‘laws’ of historical development. ‘The world war has destroyed the ideology of progress as a slow ordered succession of events and institutions … it has destroyed the bourgeois, reformist, evolutionist conception.’ In the postwar period, activism ceased to be merely an intellectual fashion and became a widespread state of mind. The confusion and dissatisfaction with all existing ideologies had become acute. While other parties appeared to deny the existence of a crisis of values, Fascism not only recognized by glorified it. Mussolini’s attitude of tough-minded pragmatism, his claim to have seen through and ‘transcended’ the old ideologies, appeal to may intellectuals. They celebrated Fascism as the end of ideology, as the first realistic political movement free from both moral and intellectual preconceptions, one in which practice would precede and form values instead of the other way round. Fascism taught the value of Negative Thinking. There were echoes here of Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation of values'; the Fascist felt himself to be the superman freed from conventional moral restraints, and this helped him to act with confidence and ruthlessness. (p. 367).

Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding Blair’s government as indicating the end of ideology, Blair was not, unlike the Fascists, a moral nihilist. He did not reject all systems of morality nor celebrate force and violence. Indeed, he was always keen to promote some kind of moral reason for his actions and policies, some of which, like the invasion of Iraq, were indeed highly questionable. Nor can the Blair regime be seen as inaugurating the ‘end of ideology’. Blair’s New Labour did not reject ideology – it just rejected traditional socialism in favour of Neo-Liberalism. They still retained some belief in social justice and state interference in the economy for the good of society, but this was to be kept at a minimum. Following Thatcher, who gave her official endorsement of Blair when she met him at 10 Downing Street after his election, private enterprise was regarded as the foremost solution to the problems of the economy and society. This attitude has continued to inform politics after Blair’s departure. It underlies Brown’s management of the economy, and now, in a far purer and more extreme form, that of the Coalition.

I don’t, however, believe that the Neo-Liberal consensus has meant the end of ideology. The vast majority of the population, for example, do not want the privatisation of the NHS. Nor did they wish for the privatisation of the Post Office when this was mooted by New labour. Furthermore, as Mike has pointed out, there is considerable support for the renationalization of the railways and the utilities. What has changed is not so much the opinions of the electorate, but that of the governing political elites. And this is leading to a crisis of faith in politics. Increasing numbers are not voting, because they see little difference between the parties. These particularly include the young, the poor, the unemployed and disabled, who believe that there is no point in voting, as none of the parties are interesting in doing anything for them. This has not led to a revolt, whether of the Left, like the Communists, or the Right, like the Fascists. But it is corroding democracy in this country. If we are not careful, it will lead to the emergence of a managerial, technocratic elite, who govern without a mandate and whose policies do not reflect the will of the electorate, even more so than the Coalition at present.

The Punishment of Starving Thieves: The Barbarism of Modern Britain

March 1, 2014

Medieval Law Court

A 15th century law court

One of the commenter’s to Mike’s blog, Vox Political, R. Jim Edge, reported an appalling miscarriage of British justice. The comment is on Mike’s post, reblogged from Pride’s Purge, about the death of a mentally ill man, Mark Wood, from starvation. Wood had been sanctioned by Atos, and this exacerbated his mental illness. He developed an eating disorder, and refused money his family gave to spend on food. He died weighing just over 5 stone, with a body mass index of 11.5. The full details are on Pride’s Purge and the Void. R. Jim Edge commented

Its going to get worse, just this week in Chester a woman who stole some groceries from TESCO because she had had her benefits stopped was (and this is the good bit) fined £30 and ordered to pay £80 compensation to tesco.

This is actually a more unjust legal decision than the notoriously harsh punishments associated with medieval law. The popular image of the medieval punishment for theft was that thieves had their hands amputated. In England the punishment depended on the amount stolen. If it was over a certain number of shillings, then the thief was fined. If it was over the amount, he was hanged. However, theologians argued that if someone stole bread because they were starving, then that person had done so out of necessity, not wickedness. In their opinion, they should not be punished.

The woman in Chester was clearly motivated from hunger, if she had had her benefit stopped. By the standards of medieval law, therefore, she should not have been fined, nor had to give compensation to Tesco. By this standard, the law now is worse than that of the Middle Ages. IDS and the Coalition really are leading us back to barbarism.

The Medieval Church on the Duties of the Rich to the Poor

February 21, 2014

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, who has attacked fellow Catholic Iain Duncan Smith's benefit cuts as a "disgrace". [Image: Liverpool Echo]

Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Bishop of Westminster

Last Sunday, the Roman Catholic bishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, criticised the government welfare reforms for their attacks on the poor. Needless to say, this annoyed the Prime Minster, who has now declared his belief in the essential morality of the government’s welfare reforms. Previous churchmen, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have criticised the government’s attacks on the poor and vulnerable. Dr Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, criticised Margaret Thatcher, as has his successor, Justin Welby, attacked Cameron. I can also remember the Church of Scotland looking mightily unimpressed when Thatcher addressed them on St Paul’s text, ‘If a man does not work, he shall not eat’. There’s a lot of theological discussion about that text, and it certainly is not a pretext for denying the unemployed benefit.

There was considerable debate during the Middle Ages about the moral status of wealth, whether the unemployed should be given alms to support themselves if they were not working, and the relationship between the rich and the poor. There was a belief in the Middle Ages that the rich had the moral duty to support the poor, with damnation as a possible consequence if they did not.

One of the major Middle English texts that debated this question was Dives and Pauper, a dialogue between a rich and poor man. In it, Pauper says

All that the rich man has passing his honest living after the degree of his dispensation it is other mens and not his, and he shall give well hard reckoning thereof at the doom… [the Last Judgement] For rich men and lords in this world be God’s bailiffs and God’s reeve to ordain [=provide] for the poor folk and for to sustain the poor folk.

The Fathers of the Church believed that superfluous wealth belonged to the poor. The great medieval theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, stated that

According to natural law goods that are held in superabundance by some people should be used for the maintenance of the poor. This is the principle enunciated by Ambrose … It is the bread of the poor you are holding back; it is the clothes of the naked which you are hoarding; it is the relief and liberation of the wretched which you are thwarting by burying your money away.

St. Basil, in his sermon ‘On Mercy and Justice’, stated that if the rich did not making offering to God to feed the poor, they would be accused of robbery. This was reflected in another of Pauper’s statements

Withholding of alms from the poor needy folk is theft in the sight of God, for the covetous rich withdraw from the poor folk what belongs to them and misappropriate the poor men’s goods, with which they should be succoured.

Ambrose went further and stated that those, who did not provide food for the starving killed them. Pauper also made the same statement when he referred to the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.

If any man or woman dies for lack of help, then all who should have helped, or might have helped, or knew the person’s plight, but who would not help are guilty of manslaughter.

Mrs Thatcher herself was personally very generous, and part of her argument was that private charity could provide better relief to the poor, that state support. She also believed that it was more moral, because there was an element of choice involved. Now Albertus Magnus, Aquinas’ predecessor, believed that almsgiving should also be a matter of personal choice, but that this only involved donations beyond the moral compulsion to provide for the poor out of superfluous wealth.

Unfortunately, at various times during its history the Church has not lived up to its moral responsibility to provide for the poor. This was certainly the case during the Thirteenth century, when a number of churchmen attacked their clergy for taking the money provided for poor relief. The result was that in many parishes the lay congregation put up ‘poor tables’ in parish churchyards, on which bread was to be doled out to the poor. There was a feeling amongst some churchmen that the poor had rights. Just as a vassal had the feudal right of diffidatio, or rebellion against an unjust overlord, so the poor could also spiritually rebel against the rich. Johannes Teutonicus declared that a pauper had the right to denounce a rich man publicly and excommunicate him. By the 16th century the belief had developed that God paid particular attention to the prayers of the poor against the rich. If a pauper was refused alms, and so prayed to God for His help or judgement against the rich person, who had refused him, his prayer would be answered answer the rich miser suffer as a consequence.

Nor at various periods in history was almsgiving entirely voluntary. In France during the 17th century it was compulsory for parishioners to donate to poor relief in their parish. In England giving was supposed to be voluntary, but it was strongly urged by the clergy in their sermons.

Cameron has maintained that his welfare reforms are moral. I’ve reblogged a piece by Mike over at Vox Political, which shows that Cameron and his wretched policies are morally bankrupt. As for the statement of Ambrose, Basil and the rest of the Church Fathers that refusing to support the starving makes a person responsible for their murder, it should be borne in mind that so far as many as 38,000 per year may have died as a result of being refused benefits by Cameron and the Coalition. The poor are very definitely being denied their rights. In this argument between His Grace the Bishop of Westminster and Cameron, the moral authority and traditions of Fathers are very definitely on the good bishop’s side, not Cameron’s.

Let the wailing, grinding and gnashing of teeth at Tory Central Office now begin.

The Ultimate Origin of the Coalitions Punitive Attitude to the Poor: Richard M Nixon

January 22, 2014

I mentioned in an earlier post this week that I’ve been reading Anthony Marcus’ book Where Have All the Homeless Gone. It’s a fascinating book by an American anthropologist, who did his doctoral research amongst a group of 55 homeless Black American men. Much of the book is about the way the American welfare policies towards the homeless failed because of the particular ideological construction of ‘the homeless’. He notes that up until the great depression of the 1920s, studies of homelessness in America were confined to Skid Row, the poor, low rent areas of American cities populated by single room occupancy hotels, homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes and other marginal groups. During the 1930s academic studies of homelessness expanded to include the migrant poor, forced by the Depression to move from the mid-west to California to find work, like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. He argues that all American studies of homelessness adopted a geographical approach to their subject. The homeless and poor occupied particular areas away from urban centres of culture. This view broke down in the 1980s, when the homeless increasingly began to appear outside their ghettos in prosperous residential and commercial areas.

The book also critiques the ‘cultures of poverty’ approach introduced by Harrington, a member of the Catholic Workers and the author of The Other America, one of the great liberal studies of poverty in the US. Marcus states that Roosevelt’s reliance on the Southern Dixiecrats for support within the Democrat party meant that Black Americans were largely excluded from the New Deal. This instead concentrated on White, unionised Americans in regular work. Harrington attempted to correct this at the beginning of the 1960s with The Other America. Part of his purpose in writing the book was to shame mainstream America with the portrait of the grinding poverty that existed in most powerful and wealthiest nation, and move their compassion into the adoption of policies that would raise them out of poverty and integrate them into mainstream America. Harrington was one of the people Lyndon Johnson appointed to his ‘poverty taskforce’ when attempting to construct the Great Society.

Marcus is critical of Harrington because Harrington’s book led to the view that his ‘Other America’ was somehow deviant from the mainstream in that it did not share its values. The book stated that the citizens of this America were without history and beyond progress. Marcus earlier discusses the division of the poor by 19th century Liberals into the categories of the ‘deserving poor’ and paupers. The deserving poor were the poor, who shared mainstream values and had simply fallen into poverty through no fault of their own. Paupers were the undeserving poor, whose poverty was their own fault through their lack of proper morals. These were poor through drunkenness, idleness, profligacy and other vices. This attitude the subsequently entered the scholarship about the ‘other America’ described by Harrington. Marcus notes that no two of the sociologists and anthropologists researching this ‘other America’ agreed on who they were, and the difference between them and mainstream America was merely assumed, rather than demonstrated. Rather than address the question of how their poverty was created by American society, these scholars were instead concerned with identifying who they were. Harrington’s idea that there was a distinct ‘culture of poverty’ was taken over by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a liberal Harvard sociologist, who adopted a Weberian approach to poverty. Moynihan became Nixon’s advisor on poverty and homelessness. Marcus states that, although Nixon launched a number of welfare initiatives aimed at erasing poverty, these were based on the idea of gradually weaning the poor off them. It was under Moynihan and Nixon that the various categories and derogatory terms for the undeserving poor developed, and punitive measures, like Food Stamps, introduced, which were intended to make the experience of welfare as humiliating as possible.

The ‘cultures of poverty’ view that people are poor, through their own fault entered British discussions of the origins of poverty and the role of the welfare state with Margaret Thatcher. It has now become a key part of the Coalitions’ own welfare policies. Many other commenters, like Jaynelinney, Johnny Void, Mike at Vox Political, and the Angry Yorkshireman, have posted about the use of psychological techniques by the notorious Nudge unit at Tory Central Office, which are intended to get the poor to blame themselves for their poverty, rather than the inequalities of a vicious and exploitative system. These bloggers, and many others, have noted the way much of the Coalitions’ policies have been inspired and guided by Social Darwinism, the survival of the economic fittest. Marcus confirms this view, as he states in a footnote to the chapter on poverty studies in America that it may be significant that as Marxism, the main ideological opponent of Social Darwinism in the 19th century, has waned, so Social Darwinism has re-emerged and grown stronger.

And so we in Britain ultimately have Richard Nixon to thank for the bullying and punitive approach to welfare adopted by Thatcher and the Coalition. Perhaps its time someone did the same to Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and particularly IDS and Esther McVey and impeached them for their high crimes and misdemeanours.

Private Eye Questions on the Competence and Integrity of Information Minister over FOI Inquiry About BCCI

July 20, 2013

As I’ve covered before, a number of bloggers, including my brother, over at Vox Political, have had their Freedom of Information Act request for details of the numbers of deaths from Atos assessments turned down. The spurious reasons for their refusal was that such requests constituted ‘harassment’. Private Eye have also raised questions about the suitability of Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, for his refusal to disclose 20-year old details about the BCCI scandal at the behest of the Treasury.

The Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or as it was known after the scandal, the Banks of Crooks and Cocaine International, collapsed in the 1980s, leaving a very nasty mess. The Treasury compiled a report on the scandal, Sandstorm, which was the subject of a FOI request. The Treasury turned the request down, and the case went to the Graham as the Information Commissioner, who supported the Treasury. Private Eye published an article on this story in their 30th September-13 October issue. Entitled ‘Freedom of Information: FOI-led Again’. The story ran

‘A recent decision by the Information Tribunal, which forced the Treasure to hand over previously concealed details of a 20-year-old report into the BCCI banking scandal, code-named Sandstorm, raises serious questions over whether the current Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, is the man for the job.

Two years ago he had to rule on the Treasury’s non-disclosure of material including the names of people running the fraudulent bank and organisations propping it up. Its stance was based largely on the unlikely grounds that divulging the names would harm international relations or that the names constituted personal data (which can still be disclosed in the public interest).

Among the names concealed as “personal data” were BCCI founder Agha Asan Abedi, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Royal Bank of Scotland and an entire country in the government of Cameroon. Amazingly Graham agreed completely with the Sir Humphreys (who also happen to hold his purse strings). But when lefty accountant Professor Prem Sikka from Essex university challenged his decision and took it to the Information Tribunal, it was dismissed out of hand.

“We were surprised to see that the Treasury sought to extend the protection of the data protection principles”, said the tribunal judges, “to information about some individuals who exercised ultimate control over the whole of BCCI’s operations and were the architects of a group-wide programme of fraud and concealment.”

When it cam to countries and companies, the Treasury had made the most basic error of treating their names as “personal”. The judges must have been even more surprised to find that an Information Commissioner who is supposed to understand the subject endorsed this. On the concealment of Abedi’s name, they concluded with some understatement: ” the legitimate interest of the public … justifies disclosure of the identity of the man in overall charge…”

It thus would appear the Information Commissioner and his office have bee all too eager to protect the rich, unscrupulous and corrupt against reasonable requests for information. This, and the latest refusals to answer questions about the death toll from Atos’ cessation of benefit payments, suggests that Graham is definitely not suitable for the job and cannot be trusted to protect the public interest against abuse.

Blog of Interest: Atos Victims Group

July 15, 2013

I found this website through the links on Rainbowwarriorlizzie’s Human Rights and Political Blog – see the links at the side of this page. The Atos Victims Group contains news and comprehensive opposition to Atos bullying and victimisation of the disabled under the spurious argument that such cuts to their benefits will get them into work. I’ve also added them to the links bar. As I have mentioned before on this blog, Private Eye have run numerous stories on severely disabled people, who have been told that they are fit to work. These include the terminally ill, and individuals with severe physical and neurological conditions. My brother, Mike, has been trying to get the DWP to release the precise statistics of how many poor souls are committing suicide a week after Atos has removed their benefit. Others are trying to do the same, but the government rather petulantly refuses, on the grounds that this is ‘harassment’.

In one case, Atos’ victim was a woman suffering from severe depression. After she was told by Atos that she was no longer eligible, she attempted to take her life. Private Eye covered this story, and quoted the relevant legislation that should have stopped the incident from ever occurring. Under the provisions of one of the acts covering welfare assessments, these examinations may not occur if they would exacerbate the health of the person examined. Or as Hippocrates told his medical students way back in the 5th century BC, ‘First do no harm’. It was a maxim proudly quoted by the Holographic Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager back in the ’90s. This fact alone shows that Star Trek geeks probably have a better understanding of medical ethics than the benefit slashers in Atos. If that incident is true, then Atos broke the law.

It’s not only the disabled that Atos has bullied and led to commit suicide. According to the Eye, the head of Atos was at one time the chairman of France Telecom, in charge of its privatisation. Under his regime, about 30+ employees committed suicide due bullying by management. We do seem to be dealing here with a person almost completely devoid of any kind of human sympathy or morality. The Atos Victims Group is to be applauded for their campaign against such an amoral, predatory organisation.

New Things Revived: Rerum Novarum and Social Catholicism

July 9, 2013

A few months ago, BBC Radio 4 on one of their topical issues devoted an edition to the revival of interest in Social Catholicism in certain sections of the Labour Party. Social Catholicism is the Roman Catholic theological and political movement that seeks to grapple with the problems of contemporary industrial society, particularly the rights of employees, women and the family, and welfare issues. It began with the 1891 papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, of Pope Leo XIII. It was an attempted to provide a Roman Catholic alternative to secular Socialism and Communism, and also to provide institutional protection for Roman Catholics in aggressively secular states, such as France, or Protestant Germany during the Wilhelmine Kulturkampf. It condemned Socialism and Communism and supported private property. On the other hand, it demanded that worker’s should be paid a living wage, and allowed worker’s to join and form trade unions.

Wages

The encyclical stated:

‘Man’s labour has tow inherent natural characteristics; it is personal, since the active force is attached to a person, and is completely the personal possession of the man by whom it is exercised, and is by nature designed for his advantage: and secondly, it is necessary, for this reason, that man requires the fruit of his labour for the preservation of his life, and the duty of self-preservation is grounded in the natural order. It follows that if we consider merely the personal aspect there is no doubt that it is open to the worker to reduce the agreed wage to narrow dimensions. He gives his services of his free will, and he can, of free will, content himself with a slender reward, or even with none at all. But a very different conclusion is reached when we combine the necessary with the personal element, and indeed they are only separable in thought, not in reality. To remain alive is a duty incumbent on all alike, in fact, and to fail in this duty is a crime. Hence arises of necessity the right of acquiring the materials for the support of life; and it is only by the wage earned with their labour that the lower orders are supplied with these means. Therefore the worker and the employer should freely come to agreement, especially in regard to the level of wages … But there is an underlying condition which arises from natural laws, namely that the wage should be sufficient to support the worker, provided he is thrifty and well behaved. If the worker is compelled to accept harsher terms, or is induced to do so by fear of worse hardships, and these have to be accepted because they are imposed by a master or employer, this is submission to force and therefore repugnant to justice … If the worker receives sufficient payment to maintain himself, his wife, and his children, in comfort, he will be ready to practise thrift, if he is sensible, and will follow the promptings of nature by reducing his expenditure to ensure some surplus by means of which he may attain a modest property … The right of private property ought to be inviolate … for the attainment of these advantages it is an essential condition that private property should not be exhausted by inordinate taxation. The right of personal possessions is not based on human law; it is given by nature. Therefore public authority cannot abolish it; it can only control its use and adjust it to the common good.

Trades Unions

That men should commonly unite in associations of this kind (trades unions and the like), whether made up wholly of workers or of both classes together, is to be welcomed … Natural law grants man the right to join particular associations, and the state is appointed to support natural law, not to destroy it … and the statae arises from the same principle which produces particular societies, the fact that men are by nature gregarious. But circumstances sometimes arise when it is right for the laws to check associations of this kind; this happens if ever these associations deliberately adopt aims which are in open conflict with honesty, with justice, and with the well-being of the community.’

Quadrogesimo Anno and Social Questions

The encyclical Quadrogesimo Anno, issued by Pope Pius XI in 1931, contained further statements on the just wage, the responsibility of the state and the pernicious effects of unlimited competition in producing a predatory class of super-rich. It included the following passages:

The Just Wage

The Personal and Social Character of Labour … Unless the social and juridicial order safeguards the exercise of labour … unless intelligence, money and labour are allied and united, the activity of man is unable to produce its proper results. If the social and personal nature of labour be disregarded it cannot be justly valued nor equitable recompensed.

Three Principles

(a) The worker should receive a wage adequate for the support of himself and his family … It is the worst of abuses … that mothers should be compelled, because of the inadequacy of the father’s wage, to earn mony outside the home, to the neglect of their particular duties and responsibilities, especially the care of their children …

(b) In deciding the level of wages the condition of the productive organization must be taken into account. it is unjust to demand excessive payment which the business cannot stand without disaster to itself and subsequent ruin to its workers. But technical and economic inefficiency … is not to be considered an excuse for reducing wages…

(c) The level of wages must be adjusted to the public economic good …. Wages should be so regulated as far as possible by consent, that as many as possible may be able to hire their labour and receive suitable reward for their livelihood…

The Right Order of Society

The State’s Responsibility …. Public authority should delegate to subordinate bodies the task of dealing with problems of minor importance so that it may carry out .. the duties peculiarly incumbent upon it … (of promoting the common good, regulating the ‘hierarchical order’ of these free associations of bodies autonomous in their economic and professional spheres, and encouraging a ‘harmony of orders’ in place of a ‘rivalry of classes’.)

The Governing Economic Principle … The unity of human society cannot be based on the opposition of ‘classes'; the establishment of a right economic order cannot be left to a free trial of strength … economic power must be controlled by social justice and social charity …

(Changes since Rerum Novarum) … There has been not merely an accumulation of wealth but a huge concentration of power and of economic dictatorship in the hands of a few who are for the most part not the owners but merely the trustees and administrators of invested property, handling such funds at their arbitrary pleasure … This irresponsible power is the natural fruit of unlimited free competition, which leaves surviving only the most powerful, which often means the most violent and unscrupulous fighters.’

The Mater et Magistra of John XXIII

These encyclical and their provisions were reviewed, expanded and updated for the changed conditions of the very early 1960s by John XXIII in his encyclical, Mater et Magistra. This encouraging increasing participation by workers in the running of their firms.

In many economies today, organizations of moderate and large size often effect swift and extensive increases in productive capacity by methods of financing themselves. We hold that in such cases the workers should acquire shares in the firms which employ them, especially when they earn only the minimum salary … The workers should be able to share in the ownership of the business … (Noting the increasing danger of the loss of the sense of responsibility in those engaged in the large impersonal enterprises, the encyclical develops the directive of Quadrogesimo Anno; ‘business of small or moderate size … should be helped and encouraged by means of cooperative enterprises: in the larger firms it should be made possible to modify the contract of work into something like a contract of partnership’.) The workers should have a voice and a share in the running and development of their business … Unity of direction must be procured, and the authority essential for efficiency .. but the workers must not be reduced to mere ‘hands’ without a voice, and without the opportunity of applying their experience; they must not be kept entirely passive in respect of the decisions which guide their employment …

There has ben a wide development in recent times of associations of workers, and a general recognition of them in the legal codes of various countries, and also on the international level, for the specific purpose of cooperation, particularly in the form of collective bargaining. But … workers should exert effective influence beyond the boundaries of their particular businesses, and at all levels, for the particular businesses, however, extensive and efficient, belong to the social-economic complex of their political communities and are controlled by it. Thus the greatest importance rests, not in the decisions within the individual businesses, but in those made by public authorities, or by agencies acting on a world-wide, regional or national scale … We are glad to express whole-hearted approval of the work of the International Labour Organization which for decades has been making an effective and valuable contribution to the establishment in the world of an economic and social order characterized by justice and humanity, where the legitimate claims of the workers find expression.

These encyclical are part of and the basis for a large body of Social Catholic thought, which now includes problems of the arms race, and international poverty, development and justice. It’s particularly relevant as the Blairs and Ian Duncan Smith in the present Conservative cabinet are Roman Catholics. In many cases in contemporary Britain, it is indeed true that thrifty people are not being paid enough to support themselves and their families, in contravention of the stipulations of these encyclicals.

Source
Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd edition (Oxford: OUP 1963).

18th Century Religious Scepticism Not Based on Science: Part 1 – The Deists

June 7, 2013

Atheists and other critics of religion frequently state that their beliefs are scientific. The examination of religious scepticism in the 18th century actually reveals that most of the religious scepticism then was based on philosophical, political and moral objections to Christianity, rather than science. When science was used as part of their arguments, it was either a particular interpretation of a scientific fact or the science was altered in order to fit the point the religious sceptic was trying to make.

The Deist John Toland, for example, in his Christianity Not Mysterious of 1696 argued that Christianity should be reformed to reject everything that was paradoxical or miraculous. It was to become simply a set of rationalistic moral teachings. He believed that nature was self-sufficient and self-organising. He did so using the concepts of animist forces inherent in nature that permeated the work of Giordano Bruno. He explicitly rejected Newton’s interpretation of his physical laws, stating that they were instead ‘capable of r4eceiving an interpretation favourable to my opinion’.

Matthew Tindal, in his 1730 Christianity as Old as the Creation argued for a natural religion and the existence of a set of ancient moral obligations to which the Christian revelation could add nothing. The morality he advanced consisted in the citizen’s duty to obey society’s laws. He believed that God had placed the light of nature within humans to guide them. Happiness could be obtained by following this inner light, implanted by a benevolent deity. Tindal did base some of his arguments on science. He used the discovery of the Copernican system to argue that science and faith were rarely in agreement. Elsewhere he attacked Christ and St. Paul for stating that a seed died in the earth before it bore fruit. He also argued that the success of the sciences showed that people could have confidence in the ability of human reason to discover truth, and that the god of infinite wisdom and benevolence he advanced could be deduced from the laws of nature. Tindal mostly used science to try to make common religious practices appear superstitious and unreasonable. Science was not, however, his main line of argument. Instead Tindal argued from the existence of other cultures. The Chinese had a high civilisation despite knowing nothing of Christ. Most of his arguments were intended to show that reason, rather than scripture, was the only sure basis for religious faith. In fact the prospect of scientific argument was turned against Tindal by Christianity’s defenders. Joseph Butler in his The Analogy of Religion of 1736 argued that what was presently obscure in scripture might eventually be cleared up, in the way that science was gradually making clear everything that had previously been unknown about the natural world.

Thus science played only a subordinate role in 18th century Deist arguments against Christianity and revealed religion. Most of the arguments they used were moral, philosophical and political to establish the primacy of reason, and truth of a ‘religion of nature’, which they felt Christianity had obscured or perverted.

Human Fertility and the Problem of the Origin of Religion

June 2, 2013

One of the other arguments I had with the atheists on this blog a few years ago was about the role of human fertility as the origin of religion. According to one atheist, religion evolved so that humans would have more children. It’s easy to see how this idea came about. There are religions that encourage their members to have many children. In the West, Roman Catholicism is the best known example. In the ancient world, including the Bible, people hoped that God or the gods would provide them with many children and as well as abundant crops and livestock. Children and descendants and agricultural fertility were not just benefits, they were absolute necessities as famine and starvation were all too real. One estimate of child mortality in the ancient world at the time of Carthage suggests that 5-6 out of ten children died in infancy. People, tribes and states thus wished to have plenty of children not just to remain wealthy, powerful, with a strong army and an abundant labour forces, but also simply to survive. The Canaanite religion of ancient Syria made the conflict against sterility and death part of its religion. In its mythology, Baal fought a long battle against his adversary, Mot, whose name meant sterility or death.

There are certainly scholars of religion, such as John Bowker, who do consider the encouragement of fertility as the origin, but not the total explanation, of religion. In his article, ‘Religion’ in The oxford Dictionary of World Religions, states ‘Religions are the earliest cultural systems of which we have evidence for theprotection of gene-replication and the nurture of children.’ This is true even of those religions that consider celibacy to be a higher vocation. Boker himself is certainly not uncritical of this explanation. He states clearly that ‘there is much that is clearly wrong’, and has written a book tackling the subject, Is God a Virus? Genes, Culture and Relgion. His view is that genetic inheritance and Darwinian evolution can only explain the emergence of humans capacity for certain activities and behaviours. This accounts why religions frequently share similar features. It does not, however, determine what people do with this biological preparedness.

Religions are also multi-faceted and include a number of different features. This means it is difficult for materialist explanations of religion to reduce its origin and function to any single factor. Early attempts to explain religion materialistically viewed them as attempts by early humans to explain natural phenomena. The sociologist Emile Durkheim believed religion served to organise society and create a vital sense of social solidarity. The view that religion emerged to encourage fertility appears to have been advanced in the 1990s as an attempt by socio-biology and later evolutionary psychology to provide an explanation of religion in accorance with evolutionary biology. This view also has its flaws. Bowker himself was aware that this evolutionary biological theory of the origin of religion was problematic and had its opponents. One of the problems of this view is the role of asceticism in many religions. If religion evolved solely to encourage increased reproduction, it would not explain the ascetism that also forms part of many faiths. Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, have members who withdraw from the world to lead celibate lives. In Christianity this includes the clergy in Roman Catholicism, and the higher clergy in eastern Orthodoxy. Monasticism is a part of both Christianity and Buddhism, while Hinduism has sadhus, yogis and yoginis, ascetics, who pursue their devotions in solitude. The ancient Babylonians also had orders of priestesses, who were required to remain celibate. They were aware of the dangers of overpopulation, and these religious orders, as well as disease, natural disasters and infertility, were viewed as being divinely established to prevent it.

The Atrahasis epic, the earliest flood myth from Mesopotamia, states that the humans were originally created by the gods to do their work for them. Over the centuries humanity increased so that

‘Twelve hundred years had not yet passed
When the land extended and the people multiplied.
The earth was bellowing like a bull,
The gods got distressed with their uproar.’

The gods then attempted to reduce humanity’s numbers with disease, followed by a drought. Humans go on breeding, however, and soon are reduced to starvation and cannibalism. People are forced to eat their children. The gods then send a flood to wipe them out completely, but the god Ea warns, and so saves, Atrahasis. The epic ends with Ea advising the mother-goddess Mami/ Nintu on how the danger of overpopulation is to be avoided in the future through the Malthusian checks of sterility, infant mortality and celibacy. He says to her

‘O Lady of Birth, creatress of the Fates…
Let there be among the people bearing women and barren women,
Let there be among the people a Pahittu-demon,
Let is seize the baby from the mother’s lap,
Establish Ugbabtu priestesses, Entu priestesses and Igisitu-priestesses.
They shall indeed be tabooed, and thus cut-off child-bearing.

Now this awareness and desire to avoid overpopulation is just one aspect of Babylonian religion. Nevertheless it, and asceticism and celibacy in other religions, as well as the incredibly varied nature of religion and religious experience, suggest that while fertility generally remains an important part of religion, it cannot be considered its origin.

Sources

John Bowker, ‘Religion’, in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997) xv-xxiv.

Anton Jirku, The World of the Bible (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1967)

Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq 3rd edition (London: Penguin 1992).

Love, Sex and the Song of Solomon

May 2, 2013

The Old Testament Reading at the beginning of March this year (2013) was from The Song of Songs/ Song of Solomon

This is hot stuff. When I was at College studying the Old Testament, we were told by the lecturer that because of its sexual nature, the rabbis would only let people over 30 read it. It was accepted into the Christian canon of scripture – the Bible – because it was seen as an allegory of Christ’s love for His bridge, the church. The 3rd century theologian Origen in his Homily on the Song of Songs states that it was one of four Biblical texts that the Jews would only allow people to read after they had completed their religious education. These other reserved texts included the Creation story from Genesis and the visions of the strange creatures in Ezekiel. These were kept back for advanced religious students because they could be the subject of heretical and bizarre mystical speculation.

Plot of the Song of Songs

Origen himself believed that the Song of Songs was a play written by Solomon in the form of an epithalamium, a wedding poem. Contemporary scholars also believe that it contains love songs sung at weddings. The passage from chapter 4:1 to 5:1 has been described as a wasf, a type of song still sung at Syrian weddings today. This chapter is a love song by Solomon praising the book’s heroine, the Shulammite. The book is about how she has been abducted from her home in the village to become part of Solomon’s harem. She resists his attempts to seduce her, and remains faithful to her true lover, a shepherd. Eventually Solomon realises that he can never have her, and releases her. The Song ends with the Shulammite reunited with her beloved shepherd.

God’s Love for Humanity, The Song of Songs and Monogamous Relationships

Modern commentators on it have stated that it needs to be read more as God’s instruction on the proper nature of sexual love between man and woman rather than as the tradition allegory about Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, there are sections, which may be read as God’s declaration of His steadfast love for sinning humanity. The physical description of the two lovers’ and their respective beauty – the Shulammite’s in 4:1-7 and the Shepherd 5:9 – 16, also show that God is also the God of beauty, who works are to be admired. The beauty of the human body is not something of which to be ashamed. Christians are frequently accused of being against sex and despising the human body. The Church since the earliest times placed a very high value on celibacy and sexual continence. Modern theologians since the sexual revolution of the ’60s are keen to show that Christianity is not against sex, but against its abuse and exploitation outside of an exclusive, monogamous relationship. The Shulammite in 4:12 describes her love as a locked garden. This shows that love most be monogamous in the heart as well as under law. Her rejection of Solomon’s blandishments also show that true love is not to be produced artificially, but only awakens when it pleases. The commentary I read for this talk states that the book is a censure on lust, polygamy, and infidelity, but endorses physical love within a legitimate, monogamous relationship.

Verse 8:7 where the shepherd and his friends ask the Shulammite to speak because they long to hear her voice also shows us the strength of Christ’s love, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His church, as well as the church’s own yearning for His presence.

Biblical God of Love against Graeco-Roman Values and those of Philosopher Nietzsche

Origen in his Homily also shows how the Song of Songs and other passages in the Bible show that God is a God of love, love for whom is shown is acts of kindness like the Good Samaritan in Christ’s parable. Although this is very much a cliché now, in the ancient world it was massively contrary to Graeco-Roman values. The Roman morals accepted and praised clemency, but found the Christian values of mercy incomprehensible and alien. Some Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, rejected compassion. This attitude was taken up again the 19th century by the anti-Christian atheist German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was an admirer of what he saw as the heroic, tragic values of pagan Greece. He despised and attacked Christianity’s doctrine of compassion as ‘slave morality’.

Song of Song’s Message on Love Needed for Today’s Youth exposed to Pornography

Commentators on the Song of Songs have also stressed that a proper Christian emphasis on the true meaning of marriage and sexual love is needed more than ever. Since the 1960s western society has been faced with the increasing problems of divorce and breakdown in relationships, and the sexualisation of the young. The Independent newspaper a month or so ago reported a debate between two women writers at the Bath Festival of Literature. While keen not to be seen as anti-sex, they were concerned about the immense pressure now placed on teenage girls to perform degrading and perverted sexual acts due to the influence of increasingly extreme porn on teenage boys. A return to the morality expressed in the Song of Songs – of pure, ennobling love – is surely needed.

The Shulammite’s beloved shepherd, in 6:4 tells her that she is as beautfiul as Tirzah and as lovely as Jerusalem. Tirzah was the capital of the Northern Kingdom from the time of Jeroboam, so this is also a celebration of one of Israel’s greatest cities at its height. Archaeologists have discovered and mapped the location of some of the houses around its north wall from this time.

The Song of Songs is thus a celebration of both God’s love for humanity and His church, and earthly sexual love. It directly attacks both the aristocratic values of Roman paganism, and the modern degrading attitudes towards sex and relationships.


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