Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Political Illusions

To those who believe that presidential primaries and such things still have any real significance, I recommend you listen to this presentation by Father Matthew Raphael Johnson to dispel those illusions.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Friend in England

Father Andrew Phillips, a priest of St John's Orthodox Church in England, has given us an excellent essay on forced unions versus confederations of friendship and free consent:  '2012: The Quest for Empire and the Tragedy of the West'.  

Fr Andrew begins with the origins of the centralised state in Western Europe and then discusses its many iterations over the years.

Haunted by the pagan Roman Empire, the leaders of Western Europe who quested for empire have always wanted to restore its Union and technology. Like barbarian children imitating a barbarian adult, they forgot that its Union was imposed by brute force and torture. They forgot that its culture was not a culture of the spirit, but only a culture of the mind, of legalism, of engineering, of infrastructure, of know-how, of technology.  (p.3)

Each time that a Western European nation tried to set up an imitation Roman Empire, called by a Roman name, such as ‘Britannia’, and cloaked in Roman rituals and symbols like Emperor Napoleon, it set about destroying the sovereignty of other nations. The sovereign nation-state was not to blame for this; it was precisely states which were dissatisfied with their sovereignty and that of others which wanted to become Unionist Empires that were to blame. The whole problem was caused by a lack of respect for sovereignty. By 1945, exhausted, bombed into ruins and bankrupt, Western Europe realised that a European Empire could not be set up by military means, but only by economic means. The architect of this quest for a new European Empire was a man called Jean Monnet and his inspiration was in the Federal USA.  (pp. 4, 5)
The United States of America was formed as a result of another coup d’├ętat, a ‘Revolution’, much inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution, which occurred only thirteen years after the American one. Its leaders offered a New Jerusalem, but it was a false New Jerusalem, whose whole founding ideology, exported to North America from Western Europe, can be seen on any one-dollar bill. The USA is Europe’s colony as much as the Soviet Union ever was. If Europe’s symbol is twelve stars, the Soviet symbol was a red star, America’s symbol is a white star. But how did a voluntary Confederation of Free States in North America become a single country, a centralised Republic? How did we go from saying ‘the United States are’ to ‘the United States is’?
There is little doubt that the turning point in the process was Lincoln’s War of 1861-1865, known variously as the American Civil War or the Second War of Secession. This consolidated the USA in the nineteenth-century European sense. (p. 6)
The path away from totalitarian centralised empire-states, according to Fr Andrew, begins with a true understanding of the Trinity and the principles that grow out of such an understanding.

Theologically speaking, Orthodox Christendom and her Church are distinguished from the Western world by our adherence to the original Scriptural, Apostolic and Patristic confession of the Holy Trinity (Jn. 15, 26). This is the Faith that proclaims belief in God the Father, from Whom is generated the Son and from Whom proceeds the Holy Spirit. No others who call themselves Christians confess this Faith. This Faith they have lost, consciously or unconsciously, through faithlessness. This Orthodox Trinitarian model of unity in diversity and diversity in unity has always been the model for relations within and between the Orthodox Christian peoples of the Orthodox Christian Commonwealth, for as long as we kept our Faith and did not fall into Western-style nationalism (the Balkan Wars) or Western-style Unionism (the Soviet Union). The Orthodox Faith is the Faith of Confederation and Commonwealth, not of Papal Unionism or, by reaction to that, that of Protestant Individualism.  (pp. 8, 9)
Other works written by Fr Andrew are available at the Orthodox England web site.

The Plantation Owner and the CEO

By Walt Garlington

Slavery has thankfully perished from the South.  But that does not mean it cannot be studied without benefit.  In particular, is there anything in the conduct of the plantation owner of the antebellum South that the present-day chief executive officer (CEO) of a typical corporation might profit from emulating?

The plantation owner was the greatest force in the politics, economics, and morals of the South, the exemplar nearly all in that region tried to pattern their lives after (Weaver, 1989, p. 33, footnote 1).  Today in the United States the CEO holds that position of high influence (Bosworth, 2011, pp. 1-2), so it is essential that he live a life worth imitating, a life of virtue.  What we see manifested too many times is the opposite.  While both the CEO and plantation owner might often suffer from arrogance and an impatience with criticism that comes from a monopoly on power (Weaver, p. 40; Bosworth, p. 2), the similarities for the most part end there.

Taking the attitude toward money to begin with, the CEO’s chief aim is to make the highest profit for his corporation as possible, while at the same time seeking the highest compensation for himself.  These possibly conflicting goals aside, the focus nevertheless remains on acquiring as much as possible, with little thought given to proper limits.  The fixation on quarterly earnings reports of corporations and news of multimillion-dollar salaries, golden parachutes, and other rewards for CEOs bear this out.  The Southern gentleman, however, though he had a fondness for luxury, also possessed a ‘contempt directed at money-getting, as well as the belief that money itself is somehow contaminating’ (Weaver, p. 48). 

An underlying greed, then, is often present in the CEO’s character, while disinterest toward money was the usual mark of the plantation owner (Weaver, p. 47-8).

The CEO knows very few of his employees intimately, can take but little interest in their welfare, and does little to provide a sense of rootedness and security for them.  His human resources department normally recruits employees from across the country, uprooting them from their families and other long-standing connections with promises of material prosperity (large salaries, vacation time, health insurance, etc.).  His own personal interaction with those employees is then often limited to superficial conversations during his time ‘walking the floor’.  And if an employee’s work is not satisfactory (or perhaps for something as cold as cost efficiency), he will quickly be dismissed, with the CEO and his corporation providing scant support for him as he seeks his next source of income.

The example of the plantation owner, again, could not be more different.  Quoting Weaver, ‘The landholder, if he belonged to the tradition, would not concede that his servants meant nothing more to him than the value of their labor, nor did the servant ordinarily envisage the master as nothing more than a source of employment.  The master expected of his servants loyalty; the servants of the master interest and protection’ (39).  The highest example of this relationship is George Washington, Weaver says:  ‘Washington, for example, who was far from a sentimentalist on the subject of slavery, was accustomed to visit his sick slaves and on occasion to take over personal supervision of their treatment’ (39).  Indeed, the slave was considered a part of the master’s very own family (Livingston, 2010, p. 19).

From such a set of responsibilities and rights and expectations a strong sense of community developed on the plantation and throughout much of the antebellum South in which each person, from the highest station to the lowest, felt secure in his livelihood and was well respected for performing his particular role (Weaver, p. 36).  The fear of sudden unemployment and no sustenance by the order of a superior was generally unknown to them, but is all too well-known today. 

Furthermore, just as the good CEO is focused on eliminating rivals to his corporation in order to gain as much ‘market share’ as possible, disrupting innumerable families and communities in the process (Bosworth, pp. 1, 6), so the Southern gentleman was busy minding the affairs of his own estate – how he might make it more self-sufficient, less dependent on outsiders, letting his neighbour’s plantation alone, desiring neither its destruction nor its domination by his hand (Weaver, pp. 33-37).

Perhaps the most telling difference between the CEO and plantation owner is their respective attitudes toward the spiritual health of those under them.  For even the lowliest on the plantation, the slaves, Christian teaching was provided (Weaver, p. 35).  Writes M. E. Bradford, ‘…[M]ost Southerners recognized slaves as human beings in that they hoped to see them accept Christianity’  (1990, p. 223).  He continues, ‘There is no purpose in extending the Divine Grace made available to men through the death of God’s Son to creatures less than human’ (pp. 226-227, note 12). 

By acknowledging a slave’s ability to receive the grace of God, the master admitted the slave’s full humanity, for a man is not simply a mind or a body, but a trinity of body, mind, and spirit.  And though the slave’s free will was hedged in significant ways, this does not undermine the significance of the recognition of his triune nature.  Children likewise have their free will restricted by their parents and others but are still considered fully human.

With this in mind, and adding to it not only the total absence of religious instruction provided for a corporation’s employees but also the reprimands faced by those who express a religious opinion in the wrong manner, an unpleasant picture begins to emerge:  The employee appears as little more than raw material from which profit can be extracted - a body and mind only, whose spirit the CEO can show no regard for, whether out of fear of a lawsuit, or a desire not to offend the sensibilities of the pluralist elite, etc.  The corporate employee thus devolves into something less than human if we follow Bradford’s reasoning to its logical end.

* * *

For owning other human beings; his lack of grace when chided; his sometimes excessive spending; and his other faults, the Southern plantation owner deserves and has received his share of condemnation.  But if we are to judge even-handedly, the CEO must receive his own reprimand.  That the corporate economic system continues on largely free of criticism is telling:  CEOs truly are dominant in our society.

Despite its faults, the plantation system had some admirable traits:  its Christian vision, self-sufficiency, stable communities based on mutual respect, and more.  These are worthy of our attention and, where possible, should be grafted back into the life of our society. 

But the economic system built on slave labour is dead and gone, and no one mourns its passing.  We should strive mightily for the day when the lifeless body of the current corporate economic system, with all its attendant evils, is buried right beside it.


Works Cited

Bosworth, David.  ‘Compensation: The Cultural Contradictions of Philanthrocapitalism.’  Front Porch Republic.  Accessed 29 Dec. 2011.  Available from http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2011/11/compensation-the-cultural-contradictions-of-philanthrocapitalism/print/ .

Bradford, M. E.  ‘Against Lincoln: A Speech at Gettysburg.’  The Reactionary Imperative: Essays Literary & Political.  1st ed.  Peru, IL: Sherwood Sugden & Co., 1990.

Livingston, Donald W.  ‘Why the War Was Not about Slavery.’  Confederate Veteran.  Vol. 68, No. 5 (September/October 2010).    Available from http://www.scv.org/pdf/Livingston.pdf .

Weaver, Richard M.  The Southern Tradition at Bay: A History of Postbellum Thought.  Eds. Core, George and M. E. Bradford.  1st ed.  Washington, D. C.: Regnery Gateway, 1989.

Walt Garlington is a chemical engineer living in Monroe, Louisiana, and serves as editor of Confiteri.