Technology Hands Nihilism a Gun

The prosperity engendered by high technology opens lots of economic room for nihilism, so we should not perhaps be too surprised to see it blossoming these days. But latter-day reproductive technology also makes it possible for nihilism to follow through in reproduction on its moral commitment to death. I.e., it enables nihilism to delete itself from the population. Never before has nihilism had this power to enact its own ultimate conclusions in concrete acts. Until recently, even most nihilists who ended up killing themselves also reproduced themselves in the meantime, willy nilly.

Mutatis mutandis, then, the population of nihilists should be set to crash, just as that of the Shakers crashed.

76 thoughts on “Technology Hands Nihilism a Gun

      • I just don’t see the analogy, but there is no convincing you.”The prosperity engendered by high technology opens lots of economic room for nihilism” is it really a stretch to say it only merely “opens economic room” but is not in some way the cause? Ours is a nihilistic society because it is a society comprised of rootless consumers bound by a set of liberal procedural norms.

      • Does the fact that you have ontological room to kill a man cause you to kill him? Sure, the room makes it easier for you to kill him, but does it pull the trigger? No. Not even a little bit. Your own fallen wicked nature does the job all by itself. And this is so no matter what the details of the current social arrangements. Ditto for any other sin, such as nihilism.

        Moral hazard is a terrible thing, don’t get me wrong. It reduces the immediate cost of sin, and that scandalizes lots of people. It should be eliminated whenever possible, and if it was, there would be a lot less sin. But it is not the cause of the sin.

        As for our society, I don’t quite agree that it is nihilistic through and through. After all, there’s you and me, right? My impression of my fellow Americans is that they are pretty healthy minded, for the most part, with, as ever, lots of all sorts of pathologies at the margins. There are a few more nihilists around than there used to be, but there still aren’t too many of them. It’s just that they so distinguish themselves by their outrageous behavior, that a doubling of their tiny percentage of the population is shocking, indeed horrifying, to those of us who remember what things were like in 1960, or 2000.

        And it’s unsustainable. Life doesn’t want to be lived nihilistically. A couple months ago in the artsy fartsy Temescal neighbourhood of Oakland I saw a young Goth couple walking along all black and studded and pierced and greased and tatted, looking like Edward Scissorhands, and swinging their little three year old daughter between them with utter joy. She had blonde ringlets, and was dressed in a pink ballerina outfit with sparkly slippers. Nature was finding a way to assert her prerogatives over and against those of the pointless Goth culture, and was winning. It was both funny, and pathetic, and heartwarming.

        I don’t mean to minimize the pathologies, or their recent growth. It’s appalling, and we must fight it. But it’s also autophagous. “The instability of evil is the morality of the universe.” Bearing in mind that our fight against evil is part of the universe’s reaction against it, that makes it unstable; so that we may not stint in our efforts, ever.

        Nor can I agree that the structure of our society is the cause of our wickedness. That’s what the liberals are always saying, that if we just jiggered the social arrangements a bit, why everything would be just bread and roses. I’m not buying. We can’t fix things by tweaking economic policy. At most, we can make them work a bit better and more rationally, at less human cost, for a while, and until the next sort of corruption sets in and begins to rot them from within. But the end of history is not in our hands to procure.

        Does free market capitalism erode traditional culture? Only when people want to erode traditional culture. Does it make them want to erode traditional culture? No: it’s concupiscence that does that.

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  2. Kristor,
    a lot of food for thought here. some comments
    “it enables nihilism to delete itself from the population.”
    Aren’t you treating nihilism as a genetic trait rather than a spiritual condition?

    It is modernity that is linked with nihilism and not ‘free market capitalism or socialism’. Both capitalism and socialism are facets of modernity.
    Capitalism, as used by Catholic writers, generally means a divorce between ownership and labor such that productive ownership, is largely lost to people. The conservative solution of “ownership society” characterized by ownership of financial assets does not help, as should be clear by now.

    What people require, both for social and spiritual well-being, is an immediate, stable and public relation to physical assets. This happens not to be possible in financial capitalism of early 21C.

    “Does it make them want to erode traditional culture? No: it’s concupiscence that does that.”
    there is a need to distinguish between movements within the natural law and movements outside the natural law (i.e. nihilism).
    there is also a need to not equate nihilism with sin. The traditional culture, which abides movements within the natural law, has co-existed with sin and concupiscence. Wasn’t there sin and concupiscence in Dante’s Florence?

  3. Kristor,
    Your statement about moral hazard:
    “It should be eliminated whenever possible, and if it was, there would be a lot less sin. ”
    throws light on what I see as a recurring shortcoming in your analysis.

    Sin relates to freely done acts. Looking from outside, we can not judge from an individual acts (other people’s or even ours) how much freedom was there in each particular act. Thus, while we can see wrongness in an act, we can not judge the sinfulness of the individual that has committed the act.

    Only God can see a person’s heart and only He knows sin that weighs on that heart.
    Now. sin is a freely chosen wrong, and as such it can not depend upon moral hazards. The moral hazard perhaps increases the temptation, but God factors out temptation that a man faces.
    sin is what remains after all external things, such as innate disposition (say to same-sex attraction), unavoidable temptation and moral hazards have been factored out.

    • Vishmehr, thanks for the comments. I’ll try to address each of the points you make.

      First, I don’t believe I am treating nihilism as a genetic trait. I am rather treating it as a spiritual condition that (like most things) has an impact on reproductive success. To the extent that nihilism reduces the reproductive success of its victims, it selects against the sorts of minds that are prone to nihilism.

      The conservative notion of widespread ownership of financial assets might not have worked out so well (yet), but I believe it works better than the liberal prescription of *less* widespread ownership of financial assets. In general, it is the left that is in favor of concentrating assets in the hands of a few state actors.

      But it seems viscerally right to me that widespread ownership of financial assets, while it may well encourage economic rationality among a broader swathe of the population, does not quite complete the feedback circuit that needs to be closed if people are to flourish. It is easier to write off a share of stock in a failed company than it is to write off a busted tool. If a company breaks down, and takes my shares of its stock with it, there is exactly nothing I can do, or therefore am inclined to do, to repair the assets that have been damaged. But if my car breaks down, I’m all over it.

      Much of this of course is due to discounting, and to the risk that goes with concentration of wealth in a few productive assets. A man who has a substantial portion of his disposable wealth tied up in a car, and who depends upon that car to get to the job site where he must tomorrow earn his children’s bread of the day after tomorrow, has an extremely short time horizon for an extremely large and risky investment in the car. So his motivation to take care of the care is strong; and this motivation is completely rational. A basket of stock worth $1,000 that may or may not pay off someday, and that requires no effort or care to maintain in the meantime, is naturally going to seem far less important – i.e., far less valuable, and easier to part with – than the car.

      This same sort of calculus, I think, is what motivates a lot of what is often disparaged (not altogether wrongly) as “short term” thinking, that results in people spending money on nice new hubcaps for the car rather than on some nice municipal bonds. Concrete possessions pay off concretely, and right now, and continuously. Abstract possessions pay off abstractly, and later, and unreliably.

      So it seems to me that people cannot feel quite happy about their state unless it involves the possession of valuable stuff, that they can use themselves to generate more value.

      Such is the basic argument of distributism: in order to live a really sane and healthy life, one must own some means of producing value for one’s fellows, and thus procuring a living from their service.

      It has always seemed to me that a Pareto optimal and perfectly competitive market economy would order itself organically to a distribution of ownership of the means of production that approximated the distributist ideal (and the communist ideal, too, for that matter). I think also that any state intervention in society aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death, or at least impoverishment.

      You write that we ought not to treat nihilism as a sin. I’m not so sure. Nihilism is the philosophical rationalization of despair, which is a sin. The philosophical rationalization and the sin itself are distinct, to be sure – one may despair without ever having rubbed two thoughts together – but one can have no use for the philosophical rationalization of an act in which one has no interest. You need the philosophical rationalization for despair only when you are in despair, or would like to be. And the rationalization of despair can do no work in the world except for those who would despair, or their enablers. Close enough for me.

      The traditional culture, which abides movements within the natural law, has co-existed with sin and concupiscence. Weren’t there sin and concupiscence in Dante’s Florence?

      Sure. It was concupiscence in traditional cultures that gave rise to the philosophical rationalizations of concupiscence, which then ate away at the organism of traditional society to produce liberal society. This could have happened – this did in fact happen – regardless of how “capitalist” those societies became.

      Now. sin is a freely chosen wrong, and as such it cannot depend upon moral hazards.

      Yes. That’s what I meant when I said that:

      Sure, the [ontological room to kill him] makes it easier for you to kill him, but does it pull the trigger? No. Not even a little bit. Your own fallen wicked nature does the job all by itself.

      We don’t disagree about this.

      The moral hazard perhaps increases the temptation, but God factors out temptation that a man faces.

      But the opposite is true; indeed, I think you might have meant the opposite. A sinful act is objectively sinful, no matter the state of anyone’s mind. Stealing is sinful, period full stop. But God and man both take account of the intensity of temptation in assessing our culpability for our sin. A man who steals bread because it is the only way to feed his family is less culpable than a man who steals it for fun. We don’t blame the former as much as the latter.

      • It has always seemed to me that a Pareto optimal and perfectly competitive market economy would order itself organically to a distribution of ownership of the means of production that approximated the distributist ideal (and the communist ideal, too, for that matter).

        From what you wrote before about the disadvantages of intangible assets in comparison with tangible goods I would conclude that the natural outcome should be concentration of wealth in a few hands which is the argument of distributists against capitalism after all. I am just curious if it is really true. Can we observe anything like that in reality? For example, is there any industry that is more or less free of state interventions and regulations so we could observe natural distribution of property? Of course, there always are big fishes in the sea which are usually just a few. But often there remains enough room for smaller ones, middle-size or small companies and self-employed individuals in spite of fierce competition. I am sure there are branches or industries more prone to concentration of ownership but is it a rule or rather an exception?

      • From what you wrote before about the disadvantages of intangible assets in comparison with tangible goods I would conclude that the natural outcome should be concentration of wealth in a few hands which is the argument of distributists against capitalism after all.

        If the moral hazard created by perverse policies – not of this or that administration, but often deep in the guts of the law – were purged, my guess is that while there would be just as many very wealthy individuals as there now are (if not even more (indeed, one would hope there would be more)), the size of the average enterprise would drop precipitously. Why? If for no other reason, there would be far less incentive to get big so as to be able to take big risks. Eliminating moral hazard means allowing people to suffer in their own bodies the risks of their actions. When the cost of a bad decision about risk on the part of your enterprise redounds immediately to your own personal situation, you are a lot more careful, a lot more circumspect. You dare less, and you want to have really good information about and control over the projects you take on, so as to control your risk. So you are less ambitious. And that means you grow much more slowly, and that your growth (all other things held equal) is healthier.

        When the average enterprise grows more slowly, the average enterprise is smaller than it would otherwise be. There are also fewer spectacular failures. Failures then tend to be localized, and more easily absorbed by affected counterparties.

        When the size of the average enterprise drops, then ownership of plant and equipment is more widely distributed. These are two ways of saying the same thing.

        This all sounds totally radical, but it was the way things were done throughout the West until the late 19th century. Even the mints were distributed across the whole banking industry, rather than being monopolized by one central bank. If you want to see how this would work, the 19th century would be a good place to look. It wasn’t a bed of roses, of course. If you want that, you’ve got the wrong planet.

      • “… it selects against the sorts of minds that are prone to nihilism.”

        So some sort of minds are prone to nihilism? “Prone” in what sense? Aren’t you smuggling in genetic traits and heredity?

        Is nihilism, a spiritual sickness, even capable to being described in this kind of language?

      • Prone in some sense or other: culturally, morphologically, genetically, you name it. I would be surprised if there were no genetic factors of the nihilist cast of mind. But whether or not there are genetic factors, there must be factors of some sort. I can’t see how nihilism could take root in a mind that was not the least bit vulnerable to the temptation.

      • If the stealing-for-fun man has been taught from childhood onwards that his acts were not wrong then is he culpable?

    • were purged, my guess is that while there would be just as many very wealthy individuals as there now are (if not even more (indeed, one would hope there would be more)),

      Yeah because wealthy people care so much for traditional culture.

      When the cost of a bad decision about risk on the part of your enterprise redounds immediately to your own personal situation, you are a lot more careful, a lot more circumspect. You dare less, and you want to have really good information about and control over the projects you take on, so as to control your risk.

      And yet capitalism never quite seems to operate this way. The costs are socialized while the profits somehow always remain private. From 2008 to the enclosures of the 16th, 17th and 18 centuries capitalism has consisted of socializing the costs for private gain.

      . I think also that any state intervention in society aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death, or at least impoverishment.

      Kristor you’re covering for liberalism. You’re argument both in its content and tone is much like that of a feminist who likens a traditionalist to being a member of ISIS and that “thousands of women will die in botched back alley abortion attempts” because the traditionalist calls for an end to the abortion.This makes sense because both arguments at heart are rooted in a liberal anthropology.

      The fact is that much of European history, especially during the reign of Christendom up and including early America, in many ways approximated a distributist order, and yes while things were “materially impoverished” there was no mass death simply because of the economic structure. No mass death as there was seen under liberal capitalist regimes most notably England at least.Many thinkers both, Pagan, Christian and yes even Enlightenment (Jefferson and perhaps Rousseau) saw this kind of impoverishment as a positive good and necessary prerequisite to civic virtue.

      Political liberalism depends on economic liberalism, you can’t coherently attack one and still have the other. Frankly I don’t see why this should even be a matter of debate because most of the great traditionalist thinkers are anti-capitalist or at least anti-usury. One of the reasons the Right in this country is in such a pitiful state is that it cares only for the interests of “business conservatism.”

      On a final note to get back to the point of this post, Kristor, are you familiar with the work of the un-orthodox traditionalist Christopher Lasch’s who formulates a very convincing (and sadly neglected in contemporary circles) argument for why the “free” market bears much of the responsibility our civilization finds itself in including an appraisal of the rampant spread of narcissistic pathologies?

      • Oh come on. I could with equal validity – i.e., none – say that you are just covering for totalitarianism. If prosperity is so inherently wicked and poverty is the thing, why then North Korea must be the best place on Earth. Or maybe Zimbabwe, or Somalia, as being more traditional. Go ahead and plump for universal destitution if you wish, but I’d rather see widespread prosperity that contributes to true human flourishing in the fullest sense.

        Western society, too, approximates a distributist order. Not as much as it once did, but more than North Korea does, by a long shot. We’re on the same side in this. If I were to recite my pet laundry list of fixes to modern day capitalism, you’d learn that they would all tend to push it toward the medieval order, rebooted for today’s technics.

        I’ve only read a bit of Lasch – not enough to get a sense of his overall approach, which apparently veered quite a bit over the course of his career. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: same thing happened to me. Why, I was once a commie; then, a libertarian. Now look at me.

        I think it is a category error to blame markets for our predicament. Men are responsible agents. Economic systems are not. There are to be sure ways to set things up so that sin is less discouraged, more coddled; so that moral hazard is increased. Not all are formal measures of the state; some are just fashion. And there are ways to set things up so that sin is strongly discouraged, so that structural moral hazard is almost eliminated. But no matter how good your system design, there is going to be corruption and vice, and sooner or later some corrupt cheat is going to figure out how to game the system.

        I wrote in too much haste when I said that *any* state intervention aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death. Some would not. E.g., repeal of the income tax, accounting for externalities, eliminating subsidies for vice, etc. I think there is even a case to be made for antitrust. It’s just that I worry: given where we are today, I can’t see how any sort of legislation that could win passage from our political class would fail to make things *less* distributist and *less* prosperous than they now are.

    • I think we should deal with it the same way we deal with every other aspect of modernity: by marrying and raising children the old-fashioned way, as when men were men, women were women, God was in his Heaven, and all was right with the world.

      Leave the dead to bury the dead.

      God is after all, and in fact, still in his heaven. All else flows from that.

  4. Dear Kristor,

    >Does free market capitalism erode traditional culture?

    It depends on whether it is the capitalism of your own culture and tradition, or an imported foreign one. Yes, it does do a lot of erosion in Eastern Europe, Latin America etc. because it is an American / Western European cultural import. In America probably not.

    I think the most obvious aspect is whether corporations are local or from another country. Generally speaking an American company will look at Chinese as worker bees, Eastern Europeans or Latin Americans as consumers, and Americans as both consumers and officer / professional, white-collar employee material.

    This matters. A lot. Whenever the employment, career, working aspect of capitalism is emphasized, it tends to support traditional values, because traditional values, be that Christian or Confucian, tend to support hard work, dedication, conscience, honesty, self-betterment, learning etc. and it is all very useful to employers. Perhaps today it would sound like a parody, but I suspect that in the USA as late as in 1950 if a corporate boss would have said that a good Christian makes a good manager, and their corporation really wants to give jobs to these kinds of people, it would have sounded entirely natural and even expected.

    If you live in a country where international corporations tend to see you mainly as consumers, it has the opposite effect. Traditional values will be eroded, because they tend to be bad for consumption, because they tend to promote savings instead of spending, they are against usury, they promote thrift, they usually tend to say that you need to earn happiness, you cannot really buy it, and it is bad for sales. Thus corporations in these countries tend to bomb people with hedonistic ads and hedonistic business practices that erode their values and thus they make local conservatives hate capitalism. Local conservatives tend to say that corporate capitalism wants to brainwash us all into consumer zombies, and there is some truth to it, especially about women, it really does look like from here (EE) that corporations try to turn all women into shallow “Valley Girls” who live for shopping and beauty care treatments.

    We see this in Eastern Europe a lot. And I think you have not seen a lot about this in America in the past, but I think you are seeing more and more. As corporations outsource manufacturing, they no longer need American workers, they still need American officers and experts, but even that need is dropping now. As they will see Americans more and more and consumers, the more you will see capitalism decoupled from traditional values and promoting hedonistic, consumer-zombie values.

  5. Kristor,

    “I think also that any state intervention in society aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death, or at least impoverishment”

    1) Consider a policy that restricts private land holdings below a certain size. Such a policy exists in many nations, e.g., India. In India, even during British rule, many people such as those belonging to commercial castes were restricted from owning agricultural land.

    2) Tweaks could be made to stock markets. I have already indicated that financial capitalism does not care about true ownership and instead produces patterns of anonymous ownership. Large corporations are effectively ownerless.

    • I have all sorts of tweaks up my sleeve. I think they’d each make things a bit better. But ultimately I feel quite sure that there is always an oligarchy. Policies designed to prevent oligarchies will therefore be coopted by the oligarchs, or else will generate a different sort of oligarch (as happened under Soviet rule). Since come what may there will be oligarchs, so that we can’t prevent them, we’d do better to shape our policies so that our oligarchs are encouraged to be noble aristocrats and paragons of virtue, rather than gangsters, rapists or fools.

      How this should be done is the tricky bit. My hunch is that chivalric patriarchy, in which the laird is as it were the grandfather of his vassals and wards, the king of all their houses, and his body theirs, is a good bet.

      • Oligarchy, in itself, is not the problem. And their characters matter, but the character is intimately molded by the ideology and presuppositions of capitalism. Such as, profits are or should be the sole concern of a corporation. That nations are, at best, administrative (in)conveniences. That ownership exists truly when masses hold units in funds that own fluctuating slices of giant corporations.

      • I think your hunch is correct. The issue is IMHO with the strict separation of private and public property. This smells fishy. On one hand, modern people tend to see private property as to be used purely for private gain or pleasure, without regard to the greater social outcomes, this is what is generally called capitalist individualism. On the other hand, it is expected that the people who manage public property (public schools etc.) are somehow saints who will be content with only their salary being their own private gain and everything else they do at work is selflessly performed for the good of society, this expectation then tends to fail and people are shocked when they find that the managers of public property are rather corrupted and selfish and use it for their private gain. So modern society treats private property entirely selfishly and expects public property to be treated entirely unselfishly – and this sounds a lot like having two extremes. Which could be merged in the middle.

        I think private and public property could be merged, and that would be the essence of Feudalism, or chivalric patriarchy, or whatever is the name for it. That, for example, a school would be public in the sense that it would be clearly understood that it should be ran for the benefit of society on the whole and generally judged or regulated to be so. On the other hand, it would be private in the sense that the right to be its rector or president would a private property right, inheritable, although not sellable, and it would be understood and accepted that the rector is allowed to use this for his private benefit as well, like, employing his relatives and this would not be seen as corruption but a normal thing. So in practice it would be a “fief”, a form of trusteeship somewhere in between private and public property, that a family is allowed to run and manage it for generations on, as an inheritable position, as long as the generally expected social outcomes are delivered.

      • @Vishmehr24

        From ask.fm/Nick_B. Steves:

        Capitalism is the legal and social support structure to match wealth with those who can use it most efficiently. Capitalism allows me to invest (with some risk versus some potential reward) in a venture to extract valuable resources from North America even tho’ I’m no good at sailing ships or fighting Indians. Basically, it’s the division of labor, but for capital. A system that matches wealth with expertise. Basically: double entry accounting. It may have a huge impact on our lives–generally for better, but obviously sometimes for the worse. But I’d hardly call it an ideology.

  6. “Prone in some sense or other: culturally, morphologically, genetically,’

    It is not a spiritual sickness if one is prone to it genetically or biologically.

    • Disagree. Man is an integrity of material and spiritual. Materiality is just the fossil and relict, and thus the prolegomenon of and datum for, the next moment of life and breath, of spirit, that will result in yet another novel instance of material fact, itself a datum for subsequent occasions of becoming. Spiritual becoming feeds into material fact, which shapes spiritual becoming.

      Viz., you are just and only you, and not a bare whatever. You inherit from your past all your particular idiosyncratic limitations and peculiarities. You are not just some disembodied spirit that might do or be anything at all.

      So are you constrained in what you may be and do by your biological inheritance, and by your more general historical inheritance. It limits the range of your spiritual options at this moment. You are not free to pretend that you had a different father and mother. You are not free to pretend that you were born a princess of Burgundy in 1324.

      Even the Gnostics recognize this fact of worldly engagement, and chafe thereat. Christians on the other hand rejoice at our embodiment, and look forward to its apotheosis at the eschaton.

      • “So are you constrained in what you may be and do by your biological inheritance”
        Possibly, but whenever I am constrained, I do not sin.
        For sin is FREELY chosen wrong. So, if I am biologically constrained to be nihilistic, I do not sin.

        In general, you too easily leap into biological explanations even when there is no call to do so,

      • … whenever I am constrained, I do not sin.

        Right. Nothing I have said contradicts this. To the extent that you are irresistibly constrained by your circumstances, you cannot act at all, for your options have been constrained in a manner that is not of your doing. And to that extent you are excused from full culpability for your sins. E.g., as I said, the man who has had a proper moral education is more culpable for his sins than one who has not. Again, e.g., a man who has never heard the Gospel is excused the sin of rejecting it. But also, not all circumstantial constraints are absolute. People can learn; they can be educated.

        In general, you too easily leap into biological explanations even when there is no call to do so.

        In general, you too easily leap to wild conclusions about me from inadequate and countervailing data. I am the one who is constantly writing about how the fact that there is a biological explanation for x does not at all entail that there is no spiritual component of x; that nature cannot explain itself; that nature is a supernatural procedure; that proper reduction reduces everything to God; that wholes cannot be explained by their parts; and so forth.

        You seem to think that biological explanations exclude any other sort. This is a materialist way of thinking. For any x, it absolutely rules out either a spiritual explanation, or any other sort. So it impoverishes thought, and renders it inadequate to reality; for, any x is more complex than that.

      • That all reductions lead to God (whatever it may mean) does not imply that anything goes and we are free to make all sorts of random biological underpinnings to what is emphatically not a biological phenomenon at all.

        Your way of proceedings seems to owe to Dawkins’s Selfish Gene where he postulated even a gene for saving nephews.

        The anything goes approach yields fruits –“I think also that any state intervention in society aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death, or at least impoverishment.”

        This, after i pointed out that even Hayek recognized the distributist truth in his concept of “several property”.

        Libertarians and right-liberals ALWAYS slander distributism and they refuse to engage with the plain words in which distributism is formulated.

        And what about the mass death justified by the right-liberal dogma of self-ownership[?

        And don’t you think you have given yourself quite a margin when you say “mass death or at least impoverishment”.
        After all, nobody could prove that this or that policy did not lead to impoverishment.

      • Well, I certainly haven’t slandered distributism. But then, I’m not a right liberal, either.

        Please stop accusing me of reasoning like Dawkins. It’s just ludicrous, absurd. Go back and read the posts I linked, slowly and carefully, and see if you still react that way. If you do, come back (on those threads) with considered questions, and I’ll be happy to clear up any lingering clouds of confusion.

  7. “Does free market capitalism erode traditional culture?”
    A better phrasing would be, “Does free market capitalism move cultures out of Tao?”
    There are cultural movements within Tao, e.g., when some nation adopts Buddhism or Islam, and there are movements that lead a nation OUT of Tao, i.e., when a nation adopts communism. The thesis here is that free market capitalism is akin to communism. And the evidence is that all nations that have adopted capitalism are in social free fall.

    • Yeah, but so are all the nations that haven’t. Capitalism isn’t the problem. Traditional societies have been market societies since trade and specialization began – since, i.e., before there was writing.

      The problem is not our economic arrangements – although they are far from sane – but our abandonment of our traditions. Economics didn’t force that abandonment. As with the derangement of sexual mores, the derangement of economic arrangements is a symptom of the root disease: nominalism, and the rejection of tradition that it engenders.

      And what is nominalism, but the sin of Adam? So then it all comes down to catechesis.

      • Again, you are not appreciating what Chesterton and Belloc mean by capitalism. If you want to argue about distributism, then it is necessary to use their terms.

        Market society does not equate to capitalism. Capitalism is separation between property and labor. It is also associated with a view that regards greed as a social good. This revolutionary change was effected from 18C onwards. You are entirely on wrong though predictable track if you minimize the 18C discontinuity.

        Enlightenment did not affect merely political philosophy.

      • Did you notice that I am not arguing about distributism? Perhaps it escaped your notice when I said in my first response to you in this thread that:

        … it seems to me that people cannot feel quite happy about their state unless it involves the possession of valuable stuff, that they can use themselves to generate more value.

        Such is the basic argument of distributism: in order to live a really sane and healthy life, one must own some means of producing value for one’s fellows, and thus procuring a living from their service.

        Do you see now that I have no particular beef with distributism?

        Did you notice that I am not advocating our current capitalist system? Perhaps you overlooked my statement, again in my first response to you of this thread:

        It has always seemed to me that a Pareto optimal and perfectly competitive market economy would order itself organically to a distribution of ownership of the means of production that approximated the distributist ideal.

        Did you not understand that in saying this I was not arguing that our current capitalist systems are Pareto optimal and perfectly competitive?

        Reason I ask these questions is that you keep arguing with things that I have not said, or that contradict what I have said.

      • Traditional societies have been market societies since trade and specialization began – since, i.e., before there was writing.

        That’s really stretching the very concept of “market.” I’ve been meaning to read Karl Polyani’s Great Transformation but from the reviews I have read so far, it looks like he presents a compelling case against your thesis.

      • That’s really stretching the very concept of ‘market.’

        The word – and its referent – go back to the Etruscan. The earliest cuneiform records from the land of Shinar, east of Eden, include commercial records: invoices, receipts, bills of lading, records of accounts, inventories, and the like.

        I specialize in making flint cutting tools, you in hunting. We trade. That’s a market.

      • Traditionally, markets exist within nations.
        But capitalism views nations existing within market.

        Problem is that the right-liberalism has no coherent theory of what a nation is.
        The right-liberal does not SEE nations but only collections of individuals.

      • Market exchanges have historically taken place both within and between nations. Viz., caravans and caravels, organized by merchants for international trade. They go all the way back. The footholds of an Anasazi trade route are carved into the walls of the Grand Canyon. I’ve climbed them myself. One of the bridges of the trail can still be seen high on the canyon wall.

        Markets per se are not in conflict with traditional society. Latter day capitalism may often be, to be sure. But latter day capitalism has been corrupted by liberalism.

        Analogously, latter day religion is often in conflict with traditional society. But only because it has been corrupted by liberalism.

      • “Markets per se are not in conflict with traditional society”

        And who is denying it?
        But markets have existed for the sake of nation. In classical and pre-enlightenment thought, an act was good if it was done for the sake of nation (or God for Christian societies).
        Acts were not good, merely because of being consensual.
        But now, the loss of political identity has resulted in the right-liberals, above all, forgetting that acts should be done for the sake of nation.

      • Acts should be done because they are good. An act done for the sake of an evil nation is morally problematic, to say the least. So while I agree that we owe a duty to our nation, the nation can’t the sole metric. Render unto Caesar.

      • Kristor,
        You did link distributism to the prospect of mass death and thus you have accused those who advocate distributist policies of furthering mass death i.e. of advocating genocidal policies.

      • No. You are just not reading carefully enough. I did not say that those who advocate distributist policies advocate genocide, but that “state intervention in society aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death, or at least impoverishment.”

        Vishmehr, *I* advocate distributism! I just think that if we try to force it upon society, disaster will ensue. The record of our legislators in bringing about utopia of any sort is *not good.*

        In any case, as I just a moment ago said to Ita Scripta Est, I wrote too fast when I said “any” state intervention would be problematic. Quoting:

        I wrote in too much haste when I said that *any* state intervention aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death. Some would not. E.g., repeal of the income tax, accounting for externalities, eliminating subsidies for vice, etc. I think there is even a case to be made for antitrust. It’s just that I worry: given where we are today, I can’t see how any sort of legislation that could win passage from our political class would fail to make things *less* distributist and *less* prosperous than they now are.

      • “Acts should be done that are good”
        but what acts are those?

        Both classically and by Church, self-directed acts are not good.
        But self-directed acts are the foundation of capitalism.
        Merchants were not regarded virtuous — there was always a taint associated with them since merchants were held to act in self-directed ways, almost by definition.

        The 18C transfiguration of values, the bourgeois revolution was precisely this– of validating the morality of self-directed acts.

      • Right. Merchants are different from other sorts of people, who don’t act in self-interested ways. Sure.

        Vishmehr, self-directed acts are the only sort that are possible to you. If you didn’t direct the act, it isn’t your act at all (and you aren’t culpable for it, because you were constrained, etc.).

  8. “so are all the nations that haven’t.”
    You mean the socialist nations?
    But the reactionary regards capitalism and socialism as merely two flavors of modernity, which is characterized by loss of several property and the loss of politics.

    Socialism is merely advanced capitalism.

    • I think this is a good point. Capitalism preserves the natural link between property and labor in the form of start-ups, freelancers and small family businesses, but as business grow, this linkage is lost.

      If a truck is to be driven, the most natural thing is that it should be owned by the driver and not by an invenstor, a community, or the state and it is generally true for the man who starts a trucking business with one truck and one driver, himself. But if the business grows and he buys more trucks and hires more drivers, this link is going to be lost, as the other drivers don’t own what they drive, and the owns more than what he drives.

      Socialism offers to remedy this problem by creating a futher disconnect. Either it wants the employees of the trucking business to form a commune, where they own all trucks collectively, which gives the illusion of linking property and labor but does not actually deliver, because the drivers will still not have 100% ownership of that one truck they drive, they will each have 1% ownership of 100 trucks. Thus the _personal_ link between working with this thing and owning this thing is still lost. Or, in its more popular forms, socialism gives the state the power to redistribute profits and make regulations, which in practice makes the state a part-owner of the trucking business, which again is a further disconnect. Soviet communism means the state is 100% owner of the business, modern social democracy means the state is like a 30-50% owner, taking its profit in the form of taxes and its vote in the form of regulations. This does not help in linking the personality of the worker with the object he is working with, which would be the natural state of things.

      This is why I am attracted to Distributism. Nevertheless I realize Distributism has issues:

      1) Is small always beautiful – is the family doctor better than the large hospital, the rural schoomaster better than the large university, and the artisan always better than airplane factory? Giving up on everything large would be a very steep price to pay. Yet, if we get to keep large things, we will have capitalism or socialism: a hospital collectively owned by doctors and nurses is clearly socialist, same if it is owned by the state, and if it is owned by shareholders then it is capitalist. Is there any not capitalist, not socialist option for having a large hospital? A guild, in this sense, would be just another name for collective ownership. In real guilds the members own their own shops – but how could a large hospital be ran like that?

      2) Who is doing the distributing, by what right, and with how much power and what kinds of checks, balances and limitations on that power?

      • Distributism refers to property being distributed, i.e. the distribution of property in a community.
        It does not refer to someone distributing properties or income.
        The way to go would be the enact laws and develop mores so as to inhibit concentrations of property.
        It is quite possible that having a real currency rather than a fiat currency would do the job all by itself. It is the fiat currency that empowers concentration of wealth and power.

      • How was Church run during middle ages and even now?
        How were and are Church institutions such as hospitals, universities, abbeys etc run?

      • Distributism refers to property being distributed, i.e. the distribution of property in a community.

        We get that. But the point of the critique is that, if a concentration of property arises, as often happens in human history, then someone with enough power has to actually do something to break that up. Which concentrates power in the body breaking things up.

        It is quite possible that having a real currency rather than a fiat currency would do the job all by itself.

        This seems like wishful thinking.

        In any event, what if a real currency doesn’t do the trick?

      • The Man Who Was
        You are treating property as prior to the State. But this is quite false, and relies on incomplete liberal theories of property.
        The proper context of property is state of law. i.e. a functioning State.

        Suppose half of America gets owned by Saudi king and a quarter by Chinese politburo. What do you think American people could do legally and morally?

  9. >How was Church run during middle ages and even now?
    How were and are Church institutions such as hospitals, universities, abbeys etc run?

    Clearly not in a Distributist way. A guild of tailors was Distributist, the Church and its institutions not. It was one really large corporation, corporate person, and still is. While the tailors in the tailors guild owned their own workshops, an abbey was not owned by the abbot and the library in the abbey was not owned by the librarian monk but the Church owned all as a corporate person. This was not a Distributist solution – in the Middle Age Distributism was practicted in the secular sphere, not in the Church.

    • It is interesting that the concentration of power in an episcopal (and, to lesser extent, in a presbyterian) form of church government has made those churches particularly vulnerable to takeover by liberals. If the very top of the Catholic hierarchy hadn’t have remained in the hands of traditionalist (or at least traddish) persons, it too would have simply become a variation of the Episcopal church. In many places, on the ground, it effectively is.

      It is highly ironic that it is the Baptists and independent Evangelical churches, who would have been considered on the left of the religious spectrum throughout most of their history, who have been, in many ways, the most effective in resisting modernity.

      While liberals are great at taking over large bureaucracies and corporations, they have trouble with smaller entities. For example, taking over the Baptists means fighting a pitched battle over every single congregation. It’s like urban warfare. You have to take them over one by one by one.

      • >While liberals are great at taking over large bureaucracies and corporations, they have trouble with smaller entities.

        If liberalism is understood as the class power of the intellectual class, it is fairly obvious why. A small organization can be managed on a common-sense (phronesis) basis. A large one is by necessity ran by abstract concepts, principles, statistics, data, rules, paperwork and suchlike, more sophia than phronesis. Its leaders must be already something similar to intellectuals.

        Or, putting it differently, the tradition of Greek philosophy and Christianity that culminated in Catholicism, Scholasticism, has basically invented intellectualism as such. Intellectualism is a modern, liberal sense is a perverted but functionally recognizably similar form of that, hence it can fill in similar functions. Liberal intellectuals can take similar roles as priests and monks have fulfilled. (The other way around, too: over here, Catholic high schools with monk teachers succeed in an environment shaped by liberal intellectuals: they tend to have very good university admission rates and similar modern measures of educational success.) However, the leaders of smaller organizations are usually not intellectuals at all, they just have experience and phronesis. They cannot be replaced by liberal intellectuals. They could not be replaced by priests or monks either – they, too, have too much schooling and too little experience in the tumble of life for that.

  10. “the population of nihilists should be set to crash”

    A likely fate for the nihilist societies as well. And where are they?

    it has been proposed in comments here that nihilist societies are nothing else but capitalist societies.
    Kristor, wanting to absolve capitalism from all blame for the modern condition, wants to have it both ways. He freely speculates about unknown and likely unknowable biological and genetic factors behind nihilism but when presented with the direct evidence that nihilism is to be found largely in capitalist societies, begins to talk of free nature of sin.

    It is not even hard to see why capitalism would erode traditional cultures. When entrepreneurship is celebrated, for itself, and not for any good it might produce, then who is going to shed tears for tradition?

    • Perhaps you should make definition of capitalism first. It seems to me you both speak about something else. Usually when traditionalists talk about capitalism they mean historical phenomenon that took place mostly in Western society between, say, 18th and 20th century that led to large corporations that we know today. On the other hand, Kristor seems to speak about capitalism from economic point of view i.e. private property, exchange and price system (private here does not necessarily mean “individual) where one is not possible without the other. Or am I wrong?

      It is an interesting discussion. Earlier in the thread Kristor mentioned “perversed policies” that are hiding in the legal system of the modern state. Can we point them out? Some say, for example, that corporations as artificial persons should not own other corporations because that’s how they socialize cost and privatize benefits. Or that corporation’s overseas profits should be taxed. Or that corporations should be somehow tied down to the society they come from. Or it’s the modern fiat money that some call usury money. Maybe it’s something else. I dont’t know am inclined to believe that the devil is in the detail here and not in the ideological wrestling between capitalism and distributism. In my view capitalism is not ideology at all.

      The fatal error of past centuries probably was (as mentioned above) that the bourgeoisie was allowed to take over the rule. Merchants, capitalists, enterpreneurs are important but they deal mostly with the worldly affairs and thus they are further away from the sacred than other classes. So the problem is how to allow their natural function without interference with anything that is not their business.

    • RT,
      “Perhaps you should make definition of capitalism first.”
      I have repeatedly defined capitalism as a system of pervasive separation of labor and ownership.
      Kristor defines it vacuously in typical right-liberal way as just a market economy but he refuses, again like a typical right-liberal, to engage with the definition which i have provided.

      Thus, he critiques distributism without engaging with it. That is, he dogmatically dismisses distributism.

      • Kristor defines [capitalism] vacuously in typical right-liberal way as just a market economy but he refuses, again like a typical right-liberal, to engage with the definition which I have provided.

        Poppycock. I haven’t defined capitalism at all in this thread. I engaged with your definition in my very first response to you above.

        Thus, he critiques distributism without engaging with it. That is, he dogmatically dismisses distributism.

        Rubbish. I haven’t said a word against distributism. On the contrary, I’ve given it a great deal of credit.

      • “I’ve given it a great deal of credit. ” of promoting genocidal policies.
        For by Kristor
        “I think also that any state intervention in society aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death, or at least impoverishment.”

      • Vishmehr: you are going way too fast, and not reading or writing or thinking carefully enough. Slow down.

        I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings by saying that “any” state intervention in society aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death.” I was going too fast there myself. Mea culpa. As I’ve already said twice now:

        I wrote in too much haste when I said that *any* state intervention aimed at the distributist ideal would result in mass death. Some would not. E.g., repeal of the income tax, accounting for externalities, eliminating subsidies for vice, etc. I think there is even a case to be made for antitrust. It’s just that I worry: given where we are today, I can’t see how any sort of legislation that could win passage from our political class would fail to make things *less* distributist and *less* prosperous than they now are.

      • What is wrong with the “right-liberal” definition? It is more or less standard definition today so perhaps you should be the first to engage with it. And it is not true Kristor dismisses distributism dogmatically. He pointed out several times in this thread that he is sympathetic to its goals.

        Separation of labor and ownership can be often found throughout the history. And it seems to be natural outcome of more complicated ways of production. I can’t see what is wrong with it unless you want to return to some kind of primitive production which really would result in mass death as was pointed out earlier (given the current population).

        I think the keyword here is ownership, how we define it and its limitations.

  11. “Economic rationality” requires critique too. What is this “rationality”? When does it come into play?

    The City is a particular bit of mankind organized for long-term flourishing, meaning over many, many generations, say thousands of years. Is your “economic rationality” going to be rational over this time scale?

    • Vishmehr, you keep attacking positions I don’t hold. It’s getting sort of funny.

      Economic rationality comes down I think to behaving in ways that truly do promote human flourishing, all things considered. As tending ultimately to the enjoyment of the Beatific Vision, human flourishing in the fullest sense has to include righteousness before God, which entails both a palmary devotion to his will and purposes, and a diligent pursuit of the Good for its own sake. So I think that this definition avoids consequentialism.

  12. Kristor,

    Not a question of hurt feelings but a disappointment that casual right-liberal dismissals would be repeated here. The right-liberal economic theory is full of holes. It cannot even define “property” in a satisfactory way. Its methodological individualism does not allow it to see “nations” and thus huge areas of human experience are unintelligible to it.

    Now it ought to be an interesting orthospheric topic that how much of the bourgeois revolution can be reconciled with traditional pre-18C values. But this consideration must not start with post-18C economic dogma.

    • Take a look again at my post on The Metaphysics of Ownership and then come back and insist with a straight face that I have a right-liberal notion of property.

      Nations are important, but they are not the final word, nor does recurrence to their imperatives or interest cleave the Gordian Knot. A man who is faced with an exclusive choice between duty to God and duty to nation is in a difficult pickle.

  13. In 1931, Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. In it Pius characterized capitalism as “that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production,” thus the fundamental fact of the separation of ownership and work, of capital and labor. But the mere fact of such separation, as Pius goes on to say, is not unjust.

    Rather what is the root, so to speak, of capitalism’s evil is that whenever the separation of ownership and work becomes widespread in a society, the result is exactly what Chesterton called capitalism, the “economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists roughly recognizable and relatively small, in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage.”

    Now we are a later stage of capitalism, in which the giant corporations are ownerless or rather anonymously and unstably owned. This is as far as the political effects go–not conducive to maintaining a republic. The spiritual effects are additional and relate to the nihilism that unmooring and isolation that capitalism leads to.

    People are unmoored because capitalism relates to people as producers and consumers but not as citizens.

  14. Self-directed acts are acts directed to the self. acts that a Randian might applaud. A randian might give alms or even sacrifice himself to save others, but he would do so as a value to himself.

    The economic philosophy assumes that all acts are self-directed. Mises explicitly made it an axiom of his system– man acts to satisfy some unease.

    • That man acts always to satisfy some unease in himself is an axiom of Thomism, too. And of Aristotelianism. We seek the Good, and any goods subsidiary thereto, so as to repair our privations thereof.

      Merchants are no different than anyone else in this respect.

    • vishmehr,
      does the self-directed action mean selfishness or preoccupation with self or anything like that? Not at all. If I act entirely for sake of someone else first I have to take it for my own so his sake becomes my unease. I don’t see how anyone could exclude one’s self from one’s actions. It seems to me that relationship presupposes self or selves.
      As I read him Mises defines action as acting for an end we perceive as worthy.

  15. Pingback: Socialization of Costs is Moral Hazard | The Orthosphere

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