I’m re-reading Joseph Pearce’s excellent biography of Chesterton, and am struck at how the same battles we are facing today, Chesterton faced a hundred years ago.
The portly prophet wrote on just about every subject under the sun, but one of his passions, and one of the areas in which he was most controversial was the subject of economics and politics. He pointed out that there were two kinds of slavery, the slavery of socialism and the slavery of capitalism. He was very careful to define capitalism as what we might call unrestrained capitalism or greed-dominated capitalism.
The way he defined this unrestrained capitalism is that it was the form of economic system which was motivated by making as much money as possible in whatever way possible no matter what the price. Chesterton was not against people making money and he was in favor of “capital” or property being owned by as many people as possible. What he objected to was a plutocracy in which the super rich continue to get richer and richer at the expense of the poor.
Following the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum Chesterton also condemned socialism. While socialism might seem to be the compassionate antidote to plutocracy, Chesterton points out that it enshrines another form of theft. If plutocrats steal from the poor, under socialism the poor steal from the rich through the mechanism of a government that forces re-distribution of wealth. Why is this post titled, “Plutocrats and Democrats”? because the Democrats in this country have now espoused such a left wing ideology that the term can safely be used to indicate their socialist ideals. Besides, “Plutocrats and Democrats” has a nice ring to it in a way that “Republicans and Socialists” doesn’t.
The fact of the matter is the plutocrats and democrats are equally as venal and vile, and lest I be accused of crude generalizations, I realize that all Democrats are not evil monsters any more than all Republicans are. What we really need to do, both in our individual lives and as a society is move beyond these terms and see that the real enemy are not Plutocrats and Democrats,but more primal concerns and crimes of lust for power, greed, envy and the violence that comes from these sins.
What people forget is that greed and envy produce violence. The violence of war to ensure our ‘strategic interests’ the violence of revolution when the poor can take no more and man the barricades, the violence of theft –both the muggings on main street and the robbery on Wall Street. We seem to forget that there are four sins that cry out to heaven: Murder, Sodomy, Oppression of the widow and orphan and defrauding the laborer his wage.
The economic sins of our nation and their roots of greed, envy and lust are woven into the very fabric of our commercialized society. It’s nauseating, corrupt and vile. The sexual sins that Catholic so often talk about are part of the same worldliness that drives the plutocrat and democrat. The push for total sexual “freedom” and the push for personal pleasure and power at all costs are simply fruits of the seven deadlies at work in our world.
What to do about it? I cannot change the world, but I can (by God’s grace) change myself. I can decide to eschew plutocracy and socialism. I will live simply so that others may simply live. I will rejoice in being content. I will realize that the sooner I decide I have enough the sooner I will have enough. I will live with a preferential option for the poor. I will also exult and be glad for all my material benefits. I will love all things according to their worth. I will be generous to others for God has been generous to me. I will live with an open heart, an open mind, an open purse, open arms and perhaps inspire some others to live in the same way, and so eventually make a small difference in the world.