The book, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here and Where We Need to Go helps people understand better where we went wrong in our society and culture. Author John Horvat II provides insights into our society in crisis. He also outlines what a Christian society might look like.
To introduce readers to the book, here are ten paragraphs taken from the text (shown in italics) that will help readers reflect upon the book’s central arguments. Each is preceded by a short introduction to put the quote in context. It is by no means a complete summary but merely a sketch of the book’s contents.
- Naming the Crisis: Frenetic Intemperance
Return to Order is a serious call to remake modern society. It begins with an analogy – that of a cruise ship on a never-ending cruise. Society today is similar to the ship’s atmosphere marked by fun and laughter with every effort keep the party going on board. Everybody wants the cruise to go on forever even in the face of coming dangers. In this first selected paragraph, this spirit of desiring everything instantly and effortlessly as if on a cruise is given a name: frenetic intemperance.
”We can define frenetic intemperance as a restless, explosive, and relentless drive inside man that manifests itself in modern economy by 1) seeking to throw off legitimate restraints; and 2) gratifying disordered passions. It tends to form an economic undercurrent whose action can be likened to that of a faulty accelerator or regulator that takes an otherwise well-functioning machine and throws it out of balance.”
- Gigantism and Mass Standardization
One effect of frenetic intemperance is “gigantism,” a seemingly irresistible drive to expand, especially seen in the business world. This expansion often resorts to practices that lead to unfair advantages that undermine the free market. Such unbridled growth has unfortunate consequences like that of mass standardization of products in which the consumer becomes “standardized” and that important human touch that develops culture and tempers markets is lost.
“By making the feverish search for expanding production and profits primary concerns, cooperation between consumer and producer is suppressed; mass standardization necessarily takes place. It is true that such standardization offers convenience and low prices. Nonetheless, the consumer is expected to sacrifice quality, comfort, and specific tastes for a rough equivalent. When mass standardization dominates a certain industry, custom-made products may still exist, but they become costly exceptions and not the rule.”
- The True Nature of Freedom
Some might think that frenetic intemperance is merely the practice of freedom that should not be tempered. It provides society with a proliferation of choices that is likewise an expression of freedom that should be encouraged. However, this can be clarified by the presentation on the true nature of freedom given below.
“There are those who confuse freedom with choice. They do not realize that freedom is the ability to choose the means to a determined end perceived as good and in accordance with our nature. It is not the choice itself. When a person makes a bad choice or chooses a bad end, the result is not freedom but a type of slavery to the passions. Thus, a person who overeats when satisfying natural hunger or another who chooses an excellent wine with the intent of getting drunk, does not exercise true freedom but rather its abuse. The more we master our nature, the more freedom we have. Supernatural virtue gives us yet more freedom since we not only master our nature but surpass it.”
- The Absence of the Sublime
One effect of frenetic intemperance is a secular society that is purged of all references to spiritual and supernatural things. This void leads to frustration and desolation because it fails to address man’s spiritual appetites. One way to overcome this materialistic worldview lack is to appeal to the sublime.
“The sublime consists of those things of transcendent excellence that cause men to be overawed by their magnificence. It invites men and nations to turn beyond self-interest and gratification and look towards higher principles, the common good, or ultimately towards God, thus giving meaning and purpose to their lives. Whether manifested in works of art, fabulous cultural achievements, great feats of men, or religious piety, the sublime has the capacity of inciting in us sentiments of loyalty, dedication, and devotion that can fill the emptiness of our modern wasteland.”
- Defining Organic Society
As modern society has become more frenetically intemperate, we are compelled to look for solutions. The solution proposed by the book is what many have called an organic society. This social arrangement corresponds to man’s nature, appeals to man’ spiritual appetites, and overcomes the problems caused by today materialistic society.
“Organic society is a social order oriented toward the common good that naturally and spontaneously develops, allowing man to pursue the perfection of his essentially social nature. In this society, the family attains the plenitude of its action and influence as the social cell or fundamental unit of society. Professional, social, and other intermediary groups between the individual and the State freely exercise their activities according to their own forms and rights.”
- The Dynamic Nature of Organic Society
An organic society relies upon the extraordinary dynamism found in all living things which the author calls “vital flux.”1 This is the driving force of all the creativity and vigor that the individual has to offer society when practicing virtue. Vital flux differs greatly from frenetic intemperance. Its exuberance welcomes efforts to channel and refine one’s energies to useful purposes. It provokes economic growth with temperance.
“Vital flux can be seen, for example, in the vigorous growth of plants or energetic movements of animals. But it is especially in man that we see unlocked talents and qualities that can unleash tremendous bursts of energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps the most expressive human example is the innocent exuberance of the small child.”
- Reciprocal Bonds and Representative Figures
Key to the concept of an organic Christian society is the importance of relationships. Contrary to the mechanical model of society that tends to create cold bureaucratic systems, this model recognizes the role of individuals and families in the formation of society. An organic society presupposes that there be representative figures who stand out by their leadership and sacrifice for the common good. It also requires reciprocal bonds in which the talents of both superior and inferior unite to create social harmony.
“In face of the present crisis, there are plenty of people who have leadership qualities and succeed fabulously in what they do. There are also plenty of people who need help and direction in dealing with the huge problems we face. What is missing is a way to unite the two groups. We need to regenerate a culture that encourages reciprocal bonds and representative figures to unify the nation and confront the crisis. We need natural leadership rather than the modern obsession for a culture of entitlement turned towards the State.”
- Defining a Proportional-Scale Economy
To create a harmonious organic society, the idea of gigantism must be replaced by the proportional-scale economy. Many believe that size is the only factor that defines the ideal economy. They hold that everything should be limited to small economic or governing units. This erroneous egalitarian notion is wrong since all men are not equal in their abilities. Many sizes of property are desirable if people develop their abilities in due proportion and temperance.
“Thus we conclude that proportional scale depends on many more factors than just size. As long as there are points of reference that help us familiarize ourselves with our environment, we can say something has proportional scale. Thus, a person can identify with a small town, a great nation, or the universal Catholic Church—all are proportional scale social relationships. A person might manage a small farm, a local factory, or a large estate—all are proportional scale economic relationships. Proportional scale also varies due to the immense inequality among men, which makes it almost impossible to define proportional scale in precise terms given the great diversity of capacities.”
- Applying the Principles of Organic Society
Outlining the positive principles of an organic order is important. However, we must also apply these principles to our personal lives. Organic remedies are accessible to everyone since many involve very simple things that come naturally to man. However, there is no single path since the nature of organic society is to develop according to the talents, abilities, and goals of those involved. Thus, the author gives some general principles for applying these principles as can be found below.
“As we have shown, an organic order leads to the fullest expression of a person’s individuality, addressing both the material and spiritual needs of the person. Applying organic principles to this individual development means taking measures that favor the rule of honor and its set of values. Among these measures, we can list any concrete means by which we promote that which is excellent and lasting; the cultivation of wholesome intellectual development and debate; or the appreciation of beauty, art, and all things sublime. We should ponder these personal avenues and then have the courage to adjust our lives accordingly.”
- The Return to the Father’s House
The story of the Prodigal Son is a description of our society today. Postmodern man is like the son who squandered the riches of Western civilization for the pleasures of the world. As the crisis becomes greater, we must realize our error and return home to the Father’s house. As with the Prodigal Son, we will receive an unexpected welcome. Thus, the book concludes with this exhortation and promise:
“As Catholic countrymen concerned with the future of our nation, we appeal to our fellow Americans as the gathering storm approaches. Let us recognize those errors of the past that have led us so far astray. Let us rue the frenetic intemperance that threw our society and economy out of balance. Let us cultivate longings for our Father’s house and our Mother’s embrace. Above all, let us fervently beseech Almighty God to avert or mitigate the evils which our errors have brought upon us. And if this be not possible, and we are called to eat of the husks of the swine, then let us arise from our misfortunes like new Saint Paul’s, humbled and chastened, to call our society back home, back to order.”
The selected paragraphs above provide only a limited view of Return to Order. These quotes are a good starting point for introducing the idea of frenetic intemperance and the notion of an organic Christian society that provides solution. The book contains many more insights that will be of great interest to the reader. May this selection inspire readers to acquire and carefully read the whole book.
1. We employ the term “vital flux” only in the sense of the dynamism of this life principle found in all living things. It has nothing to do with apparently similar concepts such as élan vital, a creative principle held by Henri Bergson to be imminent in all organisms and responsible for evolution.