Return to Order promotes the timeless principles of Christian civilization that are wonderfully adapted to our human nature. Such principles produce an organic socio-economic order that is full of exuberant vitality and refreshing spontaneity.
Sociologist Robert Putnam claims young people today are much less content than in times past. In fact, younger people now tend to be sadder than older people. He writes:
“Over these same years … general contentment with life declined among people under fifty-five, while increasing modestly among people over that
age. Surveys in the 1940’s and 1950’s had found that younger people were happier than older people. By 1975 age and happiness were essentially uncorrelated. By 1999, however, younger people were unhappier than older people. The bottom line: a widening generation gap in malaise and unhappiness. … The younger you are, the worse things have gotten over the last decades of the twentieth century in terms of headaches, indigestion, sleeplessness, as well as general satisfaction with life and even likelihood of taking your own life.”
(Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000, p. 263)
“the debate on the two fringes is not about how to fix the system, but rather if we should fix it at all.”
Many are attempting to make sense out of the present election cycle and especially the appearance of unconventional political outsiders that are dominating the headlines and in some cases the polls.
Everyone seems to agree that the system doesn’t work anymore. It’s broken and no one knows how to fix it. However, this election season is different because the debate on the two fringes is not about how to fix the system, but rather if we should fix it at all.
It is a perplexing problem. After all, the system has worked quite well over the decades. It has given us prosperity and freedom; abundance and entertainment. Even considering the present state of affairs, things could be much worse from a political and economic perspective. And yet there is discontent.
The discontent comes from the fact that the cooperative structures of our union are breaking down. People sense this and it is becoming unsustainable.
From the beginning, our republic developed a system that has functioned much the same way as a farm co-op, in which membership conferred many legitimate benefits, with distributed risks, voting privileges, few liabilities, and plenty of fun and recreational opportunities. There are certain internal contradictions within the system that are hard to balance but the idea is that everyone must get along if we are to prosper.
To deal with these internal tensions, the founders of our national co-op started out with a few general rules that keep it going. They insisted upon a vague moral code that keeps everyone honest. They imposed upon themselves a certain amount of self-discipline and hard work to keep things running.
The system worked fine until many people started breaking the co-op rules, denying the moral code and resenting the call for discipline. To deal with mounting chaos and disorder, those in our co-op system enacted more rules to keep order — many more rules — so many, in fact, that it made it almost impossible for anyone to get things done. At the same time, they watered down the moral code and discipline with a stifling system of political correctness that accommodates the prevailing moral laxity and suffocates any dissent. Unsurprisingly, people aren’t getting along anymore.
As a result, people are frustrated and angry. The co-op that used to be a kind of materialistic paradise has now become a straightjacket. The co-op is, so to speak, not paying out dividends but causing anxiety, depression, and stress.
Voters are now looking for simple anti-establishment solutions saying: “Down with the system! Get us out of here! We don’t care how! Just get us out of here!”
It is a strange paradox because frustrated voters are not rejecting the prosperous society they once enjoyed under the co-op system. They may disagree a bit on the version they want. Some will tend more toward the moralistic fifties while others will favor the socialism dreamed of in the promiscuous sixties. However, they all want the old co-op back — but without the system of rules, codes, and discipline needed to sustain it.
Added to this surreal scenario is the fact that voters feel that society is falling apart around them — many crises loom on the horizon. This gives the moment a sense of urgency and desperation which makes voters willing to grasp on to those who promise to do away with the old system while bringing back all its benefits. In fact, the more fantastic the claim, the more alluring it is to them. They cheer on all who seek to break down the few remaining structures that keep a semblance of order in society.
The discontent is such that many are thinking: Why not take a gamble and just go for broke? Let’s shout out one last hurrah before the whole system breaks down! Let’s engage in a bit of wishful thinking, and maybe, just maybe, if we wish hard enough, someone can give us back our co-op dividends without any of the co-op’s hateful rules!
But is this really what the nation needs? We need to see that it is not only the system, but we ourselves who are broken — morally, politically and economically. We blame the overburdened system and not our disorders that created it. If we are to return to order, we must address these causes not just their effects. We should not risk everything on the desperation of one last hurrah.
Modern technologies have led to incredible advances toward the longevity of the average person. With the advent of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution, advances in food transportation and breakthroughs in medical care have over time given rise to great increases in population throughout the world. Infant mortality and childhood deaths have plummeted while greater numbers now live into their eighties and nineties, greatly increasing the life expectancy of those alive today.
Taking in the breadth of human history, it is astounding the shear scope of the advances made within the last 150 years. Yet as impressive as this progress has been, given the advances of technology, there remains one problem, which innovators have been incapable of solving: the inevitability of death.
A Modern Quest for Immortality
However, according to a recent article in Newsweek, wealthy Silicon Valley investors are intent in solving the dilemma of human mortality. Millions of dollars are being donated to groups like the Methuselah Foundation, which has the ambitious goal of “creating a world where 90-year-olds can be as healthy as 50-year-olds—by 2030.” Other projects seem like something straight from science fiction, like the 2045 Initiative that seeks to replace human bodies with robotic avatars.
Critics of this movement are quick to denounce it as quixotic, only putting off what is a certainty. Yet others are jumping on the bandwagon, theorizing how lifespans of 100, 200, or 1,000 years will change everything we know.
Paradise on Earth?
In his magnum opus Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira warned of an ongoing process aimed toward creating a Revolutionary utopia:
“In such a world, the Redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ has no place, for man will have overcome evil with science and will have made the earth a technologically delightful paradise. And he will hope to overcome death one day by the indefinite prolongation of life.”1
The current push for longer and longer lifespans and an end to death will not lead to paradise…or at least, any paradise which has any resemblance to the actual paradise: the Beatific Vision of Heaven.
Modern man, just like his forebears, must come to face reality: each one of us will die at some point, whether it be a century from now or in a matter of moments. No matter how good our lives may be here on earth, there is no possible way of attaining the eternal beatitude of the Celestial Paradise without death. When we die, our bodies soon begin to decay, but our souls live on.
No Concern for the Soul
The Church has perennially recommended for men to reflect on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Our lives on earth, whether short or long, determine how we will spend the eternity. From a natural perspective, our works live on after we pass, primarily through our descendants and the legacy of our deeds.
Yet with time human memories fade. Every thought, word and deed from our first to last moments on this earth will be accounted for by Almighty God, a fact which made our ancestors take life very seriously, knowing any breath could be the last. This serious truth helped to form countless individuals who took life seriously and thus yielded the greatest achievements of Christian civilization.
The present efforts attempting to eliminate death negates any possibility of there even being a heaven, and thus any possible reason to live according to the Ten Commandments and follow the moral law. Until God’s plan for life and for death is once again taken seriously by individuals and society at large, people will continue living longer…but not better.
1Plinio Corrêa De Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution. 3rd ed. York, PA: American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, 1993. 67-68.
In a video episode of Return to Order Insights, author John Horvat comments on the coming economic crisis based on a report by HSBC chief economist Stephen King. In mid-May, King issued a grim 17-page report titled “The World Economy’s Titanic Problem.” If the allusion to the Titanic is not bad enough, the economist adds that the ship has no lifeboats should a crash or recession occur.
Listen to Mr. Horvat’s short video commentary below.
This revolution shook the West with riots and protests in Berkeley and Columbia in the United States and massive student demonstrations in the Sorbonne University in France. These protests were eventually suppressed. However, these manifestations should not be judged a failure.
Indeed, Herbert Marcuse, who became an unwilling guru of this revolution, later said that ‘it is stupid to describe 1968 as a defeat.’ Historian Fernand Braudel explains that “1968 shook the foundation of society, broke habits and taboos, even destroyed apathy: the fabric of family and society was sufficiently torn for new life styles to be created at every level of society. It is in this sense that it really was a cultural revolution.” (Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century: The Perspective of the World, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984, p. 625.)
With literally trillions of dollars in personal debt now hanging over the American consumer, the question might be asked as to where all this debt came from.
It has a long history. Buying on credit started at the turn of the twentieth century. Buying dreams on credit was an American invention that served to create the consumerism of modern times. The installment plan soon became the way to buy automobiles, furniture, pianos and high-ticket items. By 1924, for example, nearly 75 percent of all cars were bought on credit and 80 percent of all appliances.
The promotion of personal debt turned credit into an engine of economic growth…and bankruptcy. Mass consumption led to the roaring twenties when consumer spending burst all limits and prepared the way for the bust of the Depression.
Installment buying later prepared the way for the credit cards, long-term mortgages and other instruments of credit. The credit wave turned what was once considered a privilege to deserving individuals into an entitlement to be enjoyed by all Americans. It also prepared the tragic consequence of such uncontained spending – the mountain of personal debt that now threatens the nation.
In looking at the debate over immigration, it is almost automatically assumed that the Church’s position is one of unconditional charity toward those who enter the nation, legally or illegally.
However, is this the case? What does the Bible say about immigration? What do Church doctors and theologians say? Above all, what does the greatest of doctors, Saint Thomas Aquinas, say about immigration? Does his opinion offer some insights to the burning issues now shaking the nation and blurring the national borders?
Immigration is a modern problem and so some might think that the medieval Saint Thomas would have no opinion about the problem. And yet, he does. One has only to look in his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, in the first part of the second part, question 105, article 3 (I-II, Q. 105, Art. 3). There one finds his analysis based on biblical insights that can add to the national debate. They are entirely applicable to the present.
Saint Thomas: “Man’s relations with foreigners are twofold: peaceful, and hostile: and in directing both kinds of relation the Law contained suitable precepts.”
Commentary: In making this affirmation, Saint Thomas affirms that not all immigrants are equal. Every nation has the right to decide which immigrants are beneficial, that is, “peaceful,” to the common good. As a matter of self-defense, the State can reject those criminal elements, traitors, enemies and others who it deems harmful or “hostile” to its citizens.
The second thing he affirms is that the manner of dealing with immigration is determined by law in the cases of both beneficial and “hostile” immigration. The State has the right and duty to apply its law.
Saint Thomas: “For the Jews were offered three opportunities of peaceful relations with foreigners. First, when foreigners passed through their land as travelers. Secondly, when they came to dwell in their land as newcomers. And in both these respects the Law made kind provision in its precepts: for it is written (Exodus 22:21): ’Thou shalt not molest a stranger [advenam]’; and again (Exodus 22:9): ’Thou shalt not molest a stranger [peregrino].’”
Commentary: Here Saint Thomas acknowledges the fact that others will want to come to visit or even stay in the land for some time. Such foreigners deserved to be treated with charity, respect and courtesy, which is due to any human of good will. In these cases, the law can and should protect foreigners from being badly treated or molested.
Saint Thomas: “Thirdly, when any foreigners wished to be admitted entirely to their fellowship and mode of worship. With regard to these a certain order was observed. For they were not at once admitted to citizenship: just as it was law with some nations that no one was deemed a citizen except after two or three generations, as the Philosopher says (Polit. iii, 1).”
Commentary: Saint Thomas recognizes that there will be those who will want to stay and become citizens of the lands they visit. However, he sets as the first condition for acceptance a desire to integrate fully into what would today be considered the culture and life of the nation.
A second condition is that the granting of citizenship would not be immediate. The integration process takes time. People need to adapt themselves to the nation. He quotes the philosopher Aristotle as saying this process was once deemed to take two or three generations. Saint Thomas himself does not give a time frame for this integration, but he does admit that it can take a long time.
Saint Thomas: “The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.”
Commentary: The common sense of Saint Thomas is certainly not politically correct but it is logical. The theologian notes that living in a nation is a complex thing. It takes time to know the issues affecting the nation. Those familiar with the long history of their nation are in the best position to make the long-term decisions about its future. It is harmful and unjust to put the future of a place in the hands of those recently arrived, who, although through no fault of their own, have little idea of what is happening or has happened in the nation. Such a policy could lead to the destruction of the nation.
As an illustration of this point, Saint Thomas later notes that the Jewish people did not treat all nations equally since those nations closer to them were more quickly integrated into the population than those who were not as close. Some hostile peoples were not to be admitted at all into full fellowship due to their enmity toward the Jewish people.
Saint Thomas: “Nevertheless it was possible by dispensation for a man to be admitted to citizenship on account of some act of virtue: thus it is related (Judith 14:6) that Achior, the captain of the children of Ammon, ‘was joined to the people of Israel, with all the succession of his kindred.’”
Commentary: That is to say, the rules were not rigid. There were exceptions that were granted based on the circumstances. However, such exceptions were not arbitrary but always had in mind the common good. The example of Achior describes the citizenship bestowed upon the captain and his children for the good services rendered to the nation.
* * *
These are some of the thoughts of Saint Thomas Aquinas on the matter of immigration based on biblical principles. It is clear that immigration must have two things in mind: the first is the nation’s unity; and the second is the common good.
Immigration should have as its goal integration, not disintegration or segregation. The immigrant should not only desire to assume the benefits but the responsibilities of joining into the full fellowship of the nation. By becoming a citizen, a person becomes part of a broad family over the long term and not a shareholder in a joint stock company seeking only short-term self-interest.
Secondly, Saint Thomas teaches that immigration must have in mind the common good; it cannot destroy or overwhelm a nation.
This explains why so many Americans experience uneasiness caused by massive and disproportional immigration. Such policy artificially introduces a situation that destroys common points of unity and overwhelms the ability of a society to absorb new elements organically into a unified culture. The common good is no longer considered.
A proportional immigration has always been a healthy development in a society since it injects new life and qualities into a social body. But when it loses that proportion and undermines the purpose of the State, it threatens the well-being of the nation.
When this happens, the nation would do well to follow the advice of Saint Thomas Aquinas and biblical principles. The nation must practice justice and charity towards all, including foreigners, but it must above all safeguard the common good and its unity, without which no country can long endure.
(This posting is a development of a paragraph and footnote from the book, Return to Order. Those who want to post or publish this article can do so as long as the credit is given to the Return to Order website and a link is made.)
It’s called Amazon Dash. It’s the latest and greatest gadget in the line of instant purchase. “Have it now” takes on a new meaning when you dash an order off to Amazon in real time.
Amazon Dash involves a new hand-held device that allows customers to order products by simply speaking into a microphone or scanning bar codes. When a product runs out, the consumer can reorder in seconds and arrange for same- or next-day delivery.
For now, Dash is limited to the AmazonFresh program that focuses on grocery products. It is currently being tested at several locations on the West Coast. The use of these new magic-wand-like gadgets is expected to expand to other fields including industrial and electrical supplies.
Amazon marketers are quick to point out how Dash can provide fun for the whole family. They imagine exciting scenes of empty cereal boxes and children exuberantly scanning or calling in replacements for instant delivery. Families are told to hang the wand on the refrigerator where it can be handy for those unexpected emergencies. According to the company, Dash recognizes more than 500,000 items on AmazonFresh.
“We want you to go from ‘I want that’ to ‘I bought that’ in 30 seconds or 10 seconds,” says Amazon’s Paul Cousineau, in an interview with the technology site Recode.net.
Such frantic activity is to be lamented since it is part of the ever-quickening pace of purchase that marketers use to sell more. Such shopping no longer involves pondered choices or restrained decisions. It is now reduced to point-and-shoot purchases as a means of accelerating consumption. In the process, shopping has lost that human element that gives spice to life. Even buying fresh produce, which shoppers used to examine before purchase, is on steroids. Dash now assumes all produce is equal as it zips off orders to AmazonFresh and delivers vegetables sight unseen.
All of this is done to save time. But time for what? More consumption? More time on devices? Instead of dashing here and dashing there, perhaps it would be better to put aside the frenetic intemperance of the times and ponder why shoppers need access to 500,000 items in ten seconds. Maybe it is the case to think instead about the affairs of family, faith and all those things that really matter.
“I am looking forward to reading return to order and to see how our society needs to correct our behavior. This should be a great read to understand the link between our moral decay and economic decay.”
Though often cited as inventing the concept of planned obsolescence, American industrial designer Brooks Stevens actually only popularized the term. The expression is generally understood to mean the practice of artificially shortening product lifecycle with the intention of getting people to buy new replacement products sooner. A product with a limited useful life soon becomes obsolete or unfashionable. Some economists even saw the practice as a means of economic stimulation.
Stevens defined it as “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” Such a concept fits with the idea of frenetic intemperance in economy where there is the constant attempt to throw off restraints and fulfill our desires. It helps create a culture of instant gratifications where everyone must have everything instantly, right now, regardless of the consequences.
The contrary is an economy based on balance consumption where quality is appreciated and durability in goods is valued.