A Chapel on the Bluff: Notes Against Zeal

It should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that a racist system cannot be a capitalist system, and that a capitalist system cannot be a racist system.  And yet the progressive fire-eaters of today tell us that we live under an oppressive system of racist capitalism and capitalist racism.

That tells you something right there.

Capitalism is the doctrine that capital should always be used to generate more capital, and thus should always be invested in the activity that yields the highest rate of return—all other consequences be damned.  The idea is neatly encapsulated in the line, supposedly uttered by Lenin,

“The capitalists are so hungry for profits that they will sell us the rope to hang them with.”*

This line is probably a paraphrase, but it certainly reflects Lenin’s belief that profits are as fatally attractive to capitalists as flames are fatally attractive to moths.  The idea is central to Marxism, as Marx himself made clear,

“The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he [the capitalist] aims at.”**

The capitalist is (according to Marx and Lenin) obsessed with profit-making, and this obsession with profit-making of course means, all other consequences be damned.  This included the consequence, essential to the Marxist system, that obsessive profit-making will destroy capitalism.

“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”***

* * * * *

Racism on the other hand is the doctrine that the races are locked in a struggle for supremacy, and ultimately for survival, and that every man must therefore obsessively struggle for the supremacy and survival of his own race—all other consequences, once again, be damned.  Profit-making is obviously one of those other damned consequences.  A doctrinaire racist will not, therefore, provide employment for the grave-diggers of his own race, no matter how profitable their employment might be, nor will the prospect of riches tempt him to sell them a coil of rope.

One does not have to be a capitalist or a racist to see that one cannot be both a capitalist and a racist, since capitalism and racism are incommensurable doctrines.  (One does not have to be a capitalist or a racist to see that these stereotypes of the capitalist and racist exist almost exclusively in the heated and much publicized imaginations of their zealous adversaries.)

Neo-Marxism attempts to fuse (while anathematizing) the doctrines of capitalism and racism by arguing that the capitalist bourgeoisie propagates the doctrine of racism to fragment the working class, and that it does this to prevent the gravediggers of the bourgeoisie from getting down to the serious business of digging that bourgeois grave.  The doctrine of racism is, say the neo-Marxists, a hallucinogen of the masses that prevents formation of revolutionary class consciousness.  Racial consciousness is one facet of the “false consciousness” that throws sand in the eyes of the proletariat and preserves the capitalist system

The neo-Marxist fusion is open to two objections.  First, the system thus preserved is not the capitalism of Karl Marx, which cannot save itself by this or any other means.  Second, the grand oligarchs of this system have seldom been outstanding racists or proponents of racism.  Most seem to have viewed the racism of their workers as a low-class prejudice that they could overlook to a point, but that they would crush if it threatened to disrupt profit-making.

* * * * *

An individual can obviously be a capitalist or a racist.  A capitalist pursues personal profit with an absolute disregard for its racial costs.  A racist pursues racial supremacy with an absolute disregard for its economic costs.  I personally doubt that such zealots are or ever have been common, however, since the human heart is exceedingly fickle and easily vacillates between slavery to gold and slavery to blood (with interludes of slavery to sex, food, cruelty and maudlin sentimentality).

A society will obviously be a more mixed affair, since it will include zealots of every sort, not to mention a multitude of flibbertigibbets who are passing through every conceivable mood of fickle-hearted passion.  A “capitalist society” is, therefore, a society where making a buck is uppermost in the minds of many of the people much of the time, but the passion for profit is still tempered by other motives.  A “racist society” is likewise a society where the struggle for racial supremacy breaks out frequently, and sometimes violently, but where most of the people are most of the time busy with other things.

Most people are not natural zealots.  They can be fanned to an artificial and ephemeral zealotry by an incendiary zealot, but like a campfire of green sticks relapse to smoky apathy as soon as that fanning ends.  They can give expression to very bad moods.  They can adhere to those general rules of social conduct that we call prejudices.  But they are not zealots and none but zealots (and politicians) will say otherwise.

* * * * *

If one were so foolish as to listen to today’s zealots (and politicians), one might be lead to believe that the “Jim Crow South” was an iron phalanx of racist zealots who were prepared to do anything to keep Black men and women down.   These white supremacists would certainly suspend the “never-ending process of profit-making” if that were necessary to preserve their racial supremacy.  This is very far from what actually occurred because white Southerners were no more given than most people to natural zealotry, their bad moods passed, and they were quite capable of suspending their prejudices when they had good reasons to do so.

I was thinking of this on my recent jaunt to the Mumford burying ground because my route took me through what was once known as the Sadberry Farm, a large, prosperous plantation that was once owned by an enterprising ex-slave with whom our local oligarchs were quite happy to do business.  John Riley Sadberry was born a slave and began adult life as a field hand on a white man’s plantation.  Described as “industrious” and “thrifty,” Sadberry worked his way up through the ranks of sharecropper and tenant farmer, and then purchased thirty unimproved acres of sandy prairie before he married Alice Smith in the late 1880s.  John and Alice had ten children and owned 3,000 acres, much of it first-rate bottomland, when John died in 1926.  John’s third son, Heslip, appears to have inherited the bulk of the estate, and Heslip’s wife, Lillie, assumed control of the farm when Heslip died in a car wreck in 1933.  It is said that Lillie Sadberry was very popular with the bankers (and jewelers) in the city of Bryan, just like anyone else who held the title to 3,000 acres of first-rate bottomland.


Old Sadberry Farm from the Bluff

John Riley Sadberry was, evidently, a man of uncommon grit and good sense.  He was also a devout Baptist who gave due credit to the workings of providence and the rewards of a sober life.  I believe he built Wilson Chapel, now abandoned, as a place of worship for his family, sharecroppers and field hands.  Many of these sharecroppers and field hands are now buried in unmarked graves in the Wilson Chapel Cemetery, which sits atop the bluff that overlooks the old Sadberry farm. It appears that much of this bottom still belongs to descendants of John Sadberry.


Wilson Chapel Bluff from the Bottom

* * * * *

I do not have the grit or good sense of John Riley Sadberry, and it would be paltering with the truth to say that I deserve the rewards of a sober life.  But if I had all these things, and was, moreover, like John’s daughter-in-law Lillie, a favorite with the bankers (and jewelers) of Bryan, I would try to restore the old Wilson Chapel.  It occupies a lovely site on the bluff, with a fine view of the old Sadberry Farm.  I would in this fantasy world reopen the old Wilson Chapel as a new chapel where children were taught the opposite of what they are taught by wild-eyed zealots in our government schools.

They would be taught that most people are not natural zealots, that zealotry is a spurious wisdom, and that human life is nothing like what zealots tell us it is.  They would be taught that the human heart is not innocent—that it is fickle and subject to strange and often terrible passions—but that no man (excepting zealots) can be reduced to a single passion (however strange and terrible that passion may be).  They would be taught that societies are mixed, history is complicated, and all politicians are grubby liars.

Then I would have these children taken outside to the brow of the bluff and have them told the inspiring story of John Riley Sadberry, who was born a slave and died a humble Christian and the owner of 3,000 acres of first-rate land.  How could such a life happen if this world were anything like the house of horrors that wild-eyed zealots say it is?  Might it not have something to do with that fact that John Sadberry had grit, good sense, faith, sober habits, and the earned good will of men who began with a prejudice against him?

I would have them told how John’s son Heslip died in a car wreck at the old railroad trestle, since every child must be prepared for the shadows that that cross even righteous lives.  I would then have them walked (not driven) the half-mile or so to the old Wilson Chapel Cemetery, and there have them told that most good men have been and will be laid to rest in unmarked graves.  Such is the way of all flesh.  Such is no cause for complaint.

I might call this place the Chapel of Sober Hope, and my perhaps wild hope that its lesson would be the beginning of wisdom for children (of all ages, races and stations) who have the ears to hear.


Wilson Chapel on the Bluff

*) The line does not appear in Lenin’s published works, but the opinion most certainly comes from Lenin.

*) Karl Marx, Capital (1867), chap. 4

***) Karl Marx and Frederic Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848)

10 thoughts on “A Chapel on the Bluff: Notes Against Zeal

  1. Some years ago it was reported that companies that put women on the board were more profitable. It was then asserted that this means all companies should have lots of women on boards. I think this became law in California, or that it was at least proposed. I told my students that all such “facts” are neither here nor there. If these assertions are correct, then companies with male-only, or mostly male, boards would simply go out of business, in the free market version of natural selection. No governmental intervention being necessary. If this last idea is in fact necessary, then the initial starting proposition is false.

  2. “It should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that a racist system cannot be a capitalist system, and that a capitalist system cannot be a racist system. And yet the progressive fire-eaters of today tell us that we live under an oppressive system of racist capitalism and capitalist racism.”

    True and well said. It was explicitly stated by the economist Gary Becker back in the 1960s, when he showed that racism came with a price; and that evidence could be seen in the relatively *higher* performance of the group discriminated against (i.e. they had to do better to attain the same level of status).

    This is ‘counter-intuitive’ nowadays, where we falsely suppose that lower performance (eg among women compared with men in most jobs) is evidence of discrimination against that group – in fact it is the opposite!

    Jim Bouton noticed this in his baseball memoir Ball Four, when he commented that in the early days of integration black hitters all hit above 300 – they had to, or else they would be dropped. Major League Baseball was, notoriously, Not capitalistic – being a closed-shop, with levelling regulations (eg salary caps/ reduced salary range, restrictions on player transfers) with a cartel of employers who could impose ‘a gentleman’s agreement’ to exclude blacks – e.g. in contrast to the cut-throat competitiveness of soccer.

    As you say, you can’t *honestly* have it both ways. But then – since the mid-sixties leftism has been constructed on deliberate and defended lies (which is why post-60s ‘New’ leftism is *innately* evil (whereas earlier Old economic Leftism was *sometimes* just wrong/ merely mistaken, i.e. based on a false economic theory).

    • As you often point out, we live in a world of pervasive mendacity. I should say pervasive and vindictive mendacity. Some of this is because many of our forefathers feared that liars went to Hell, whereas many of our peers fear that truth-tellers get banned from Twitter.

    • It is always satisfying to read of a life well-lived. We spend far too much time thinking about scoundrels and celebrities, two types that overlap a good deal.

  3. I know this isn’t really the substance of the note, but I think it’s important to point out that I think Marx is correct about the structure of Capitalism.

    Let me be clear. He’s not necessarily correct in his rhetoric about Capitalism, which is hyperbolic for persuasion. He’s certainly not correct in his theory that the value extracted by Capitalist systems comes from stealing from the proletariat. However, his analysis of the money cycle of Capitalism as opposed to other forms of market structure seems correct: that in the Capitalist market the purpose of capital is to beget as much more capital as possible.

    Restating the point, Capitalism is the doctrine that the proper use of capital is maximization of return, and the conversion of that return into further capital, which is directly implied by that maximization but does bear stating for clarity.

    Put this way, it becomes apparent (as it is for Marx, too) that there are other possible goals to a market or the investment of capital in that market. Risk avoidance, for example (which characterizes the petit bourgeois ‘capitalism’ and rural peasant economies that Marx hates even more than the capitalists). Consumption, hedonic or other values of economic ‘happiness’. Distribution of that capital to the largest number of people possible while maintaining some atomic unit. Et cetera.

    This consideration. combined with questions of who should control this capital, are what define the different market-system proposals of Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Distributism, Syndicalism, etc. and their various flavours.

    With this analysis, we can see that quite a lot of political rhetoric falls apart. Capitalism and Socialism are not opposites, nor even exclusive.

    As a parting shot, I mention that racism as a doctrine is nothing less than the agreement with Marx about the nature of Species Being (including, funnily enough, how it’s actually just a philosophical lie to deceive the rubes), coupled with simple disagreement about the scope.

    • I generally agree with your appreciation of Marx, but think his abstract theory of ideal capitalism has little to do with how business operates. Perhaps the type was common among mill owners in early 19th century Manchester, but it is not much help in understanding the managerial, monopolistic, woke “capitalism” of today. It’s no help in understanding the strange cults that are flourishing in the modern oligarchy.

      • I think it’s helpful in recognizing that still, today, the idea of exchange is based around capital maximization. (I agree this isn’t what happens most of the time, but that’s the basic conceit of the ‘conservative free market’ position.) I think it also helps because it allows us to see that capital accumulation as capital accumulation does not in any way preclude political market manipulation to achieve its ends, and thus ‘woke capitalism’ isn’t somehow self-antithetical; what we have is a oligarchic coordination of capitalism, which I readily call socialism personally, but I avoid that label here because it invites irrelevant disagreement.

  4. Thank you. Professor Smith, for a beautiful essay, and for more of the True History I so enjoy reading here on the Orthosphere. Shared to Gab and MeWe.


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