Liberalism is only honest when men spontaneously generate. Any other way of coming into being lands a man in debt.
If we are social animals, as Aristotle taught, then we owe just about everyone and everything for the existence we enjoy.
It is this innate sense of our indebtedness that makes modern people to pick up the scissors. To deliver ourselves from our debts we libel our ancestors: snip; hand over children and our aged parents to the “helping professionals”: snip, snip; and finally explain away God as creator, sustainer, and redeemer: snip, snip, snip.
It’s necessary to cut those ties if you wish to do as you please.
But the banker will be paid, even if it means foreclosure. And so we make the minimum payments when we have to. I think Earth Day has something of that feel about it. The “Social Justice Warrior” phenomenon too. Call me cynical, but most of it feels like clearing the debts.
What does it mean to be a social animal?
“Man is a social animal” is not a call to action. “Is” is not an imperative. This is the truth about human nature.
It means that all of our actions are performed within a community. As Aristotle noted, we’d have to be either beasts or gods otherwise. And even when we aim higher–transcendental meditation, for instance–we still depend on human institutions. (There are institutions for meditation: techniques, a language, and so on.) Now, these human institutions can be so large and impersonal so as to disappear from view. But that’s precisely what a community dedicated to sustaining the illusion of debt-free living would institute, don’t you see?
The corporate welfare state, with its ubiquity and its unseen hands, wants you to believe you are an individual in the state of nature. Everything is designed so as to operate as automatically and painlessly as possible. Take tax withholdings from your paycheck, you hardly miss them. Why? Because they are gone even before you know they’re yours. You want to create a real tax revolt over night? Make everyone show up in person and pay taxes in cash.
This invisibility reveals itself in absurdities.
Take feminism. “Women’s liberation” clearly owes a debt to that paradigmatically patriarchal of things, the Industrial Revolution. Without the men who moved the economy out of the household and into “the workplace”, there would be no institutions for women flee to from their households. And that’s really what women’s liberation is, trading one master for another. Feminists aren’t wild-women living in a state of nature. They’re good little doobies in the corporate economy. (Just like men.)
Intentional CommunitiesWhenever I hear the term “intentional community” I roll my eyes. (I try to do it inwardly, so as not to give offense.) Just what is implied here, that we aren’t already in a community? that living in the same house, or on the same farm makes something a community? that every action we perform can only serve a community if we intend it to? that there is some feeling we’re supposed to have when we’re in a community and when we don’t have it, we’re not?
I don’t think we suffer from a lack of community, instead our communities are so large and difficult to understand that they’re invisible. What we really require are communities that are small and require things of us. To get that you definitely don’t want some sort of unnatural environment like a hippie commune or a Shaker community. Usually those are just progressivism on a small scale. For real communities to come back, we need households with fathers, mothers, and children–along with aunts and uncles and grandparents and neighbors and the rest. We need more Aristotle.
As a positive development, I think what Rod Dreher is commending with the Benedict Option is a recovery of the Aristotle. It is the tuning of the church to the music of nature going on all around us. In the Benedict Option ancestors are for honoring and learning from, children are the way we extend ourselves into the future, and men and women are fellow laborers who need to work together precisely because they are different. They must complement each other. This is the sort of intentional community I can believe in.
How to pay your debts
Debts are not for clearing, they’re for passing on. The reason is we find ourselves in our debts. The debts are so important we actually place our children in our debt. Of course, I’m not talking about the National Debt–that’s a curse. What I’m talking about a debt of gratitude.
We can’t actually pay our ancestors back. Instead we pay forward. We give ourselves to our children, handing on to them both ourselves and our wealth–not just the money in the bank, but the spiritual wealth contained in our arts and sciences. And by remembering our debts, and showing gratitude for the things we’ve been given, we find that the purposes of our lives are also givens.