Hilaire Belloc: Essays 

The Faith and Industrial Capitalism

 Industrial Capitalism is a manifest evil. It cries out against our sense of justice, its products offend our sense of beauty, the society based on it is not only vile but increasingly unstable. It came into existence through Calvinism, which was the vital principle informing all the revolt against the Faith at the origin of modern times. Yet there is no specific principle in Industrial Capitalism which can be doctrinally condemned. No Catholic can deny the rights of property, or of free contract. No Catholic can join the efforts made to be rid of the evils of Industrial Capitalism by way of civil war or tyranny. Least of all can any Catholic have anything to do with the inhuman system called "Communism." The remedy for the evils of Industrial Capitalism will not be found in any Socialistic action or theory developed under the very same false philosophy as produced Industrial Capitalism. We know that the remedy would be worse than the disease. The disease will never be remedied until the mind of society has been changed by conversion to the Faith. 

If there is one mark more striking than another about the Catholic Church, it is its intellectual freedom.

  The moment a Catholic goes outside and lives with people not under the influence of the Church he finds himself in an atmosphere of intellectual convention which to a man of Catholic habit is stifling. Perhaps I ought to call it "intellectual faith" rather than "intellectual convention," for the simplicity and tenacity with which intellectual doctrines are taken for granted outside the Catholic Church much more resembles the simpler and more childlike forms of faith than a social convention.

  People outside the Catholic atmosphere seem to take as a matter of course the intellectual fashion of their time; and never, within my experience, at least, go to first principles and ask themselves why they accept that fashion. One comes across this tiresome petrifying of the intellect in all directions. In the acceptance of majorities, for example; in the swallowing whole of official history; in the blind acquiescence in the right of the State to take control of education; in the bland repetition of newspaper science and newspaper politics. An excellent instance is the attitude towards miracles. Mention an historical miracle, and the man unfamiliar with Catholic truth denies it at once: without consideration of the evidence. But when you are discussing with Catholics an historical event in which the marvelous may have entered you get free discussion, one man saying he believes in the miracle and giving his reasons, another saying he does not and giving his reasons; while for the most part those who take one side or the other at least imply their first principles and often state them.

  It is all part of the process which others than Catholics are beginning to realize, that, outside the Faith, men are abandoning reason.

  Now one of the consequences of this intellectual freedom produced in the mind by the influence of the Faith is that Catholics may and do hold an infinity of positions upon matters where the general trend of Catholicism is manifest, but where there has been as yet no theological definition, or where in the nature of things there can be none.

  The most important of these in temporal matters today is the attitude of the Catholic towards Industrial Capitalism.

  There is and can be no doctrinal decision either for or against the morality of Industrial Capitalism. On the other hand, no one will doubt that Catholicism is in spirit opposed to Industrial Capitalism; the Faith would never have produced Huddersfield or Pittsburg. It is demonstrable that historically, Industrial Capitalism arose out of the denial of Catholic morals at the Reformation. It has been very well said by one of the principal enemies of the Church, and said boastfully, that Industrial Capitalism is the "robust child" of the Reformation and that the vitality of the effect proves the enduring strength of the cause.

It is equally clear that the more Catholic a country is, the less easily does it accommodate itself to the social arrangement of a proletariat subjected to millionaire monopolists.

   Yet not only is there no doctrine which can be quoted to contradict anyone of the necessary parts of Industrial Capitalism, but there are a sufficient number of excellent Catholics who will actively defend it.

  No one can say that it stands condemned specifically by Catholic definition, for what is there in Catholic morals to prevent my owning a machine and stores of livelihood? What is there to prevent my offering these stores of livelihood to destitute men on condition they work my machine, and what is there in Catholic morals to forbid my taking a profit upon what they produce, receiving from such production more than I layout in the sustenance of the laborers? And as for individual Catholics supporting Industrial Capitalism, nine well-to-do Catholics out of ten do so in practice by the way they live and by the way they make their investments, while at least one wealthy Catholic out of ten [I should guess a much larger proportion] is ready to defend Industrial Capitalism and even to grow eloquent about it, rightly contrasting it with the evils of anarchy or insufficient production, or the menacing tyranny of Communism.

   What is even more significant-----when, in a nation of Catholic culture such as France or Italy, Industrial Capitalism takes root, then the fiercest revolt against it on the part of the poor does not spring from the more Catholic workmen, but from the less Catholic. The masses of a Catholic proletariat-----where such masses exist-----are upon the whole docile to Industrial Capitalism. They are not in such active revolt against it as their anti-Catholic fellows. Upon the Continent they actually form Trade Unions proud to call themselves Catholic and specially distinguished by their refusal to admit class conflict between employer and employee. Moreover, take the modern world at large and you will see that on whatever portions of a Catholic country Industrial Capitalism has laid its hands, the capitalist class and the system which it maintains defends the Catholic Church as a bulwark of its power, and conversely that in those places [Barcelona, for instance] the Catholic Church is particularly attacked by those who wish to destroy Industrial Capitalism.

  So far, so good. We all admit that in theory there is no precise logical definable conflict between Industrial Capitalism and the Church. In practice we all tolerate, and many of us praise, Industrial Capitalism in its effects, while none of us can join its modern organized enemies, because its modern organized enemies proclaim a doctrine-----to wit, the immorality of private property-----which is in direct contradiction to Catholic morals.

  Now look at the other side of the picture. Not only is Industrial Capitalism as a point of historical fact the product of that spirit which destroyed the Faith in men's hearts and eradicated it from society-----where they could-----by the most abominable persecutions; but, also in point of historical fact, Industrial Capitalism has arisen late in societies of Catholic culture, has not flourished therein, and, what is more, in proportion as the nation is affected by Catholicism, in that proportion did it come tardily to accept the inroads of Industrial Capitalism and in that proportion does it still ill agree with Industrial Capitalism. That is why the more Catholic districts of Europe have in the past been called "backward"; and that is why there is a fiercer class war in the industrial plague spots of Catholic Europe than in the great towns of Protestant Europe.

  In France, one of the main reasons why the anti-Catholic minority, especially the anti-Catholic of the Huguenot type, plays so great a part in the economic control of the country is that he has been the pioneer in introducing the mechanics of Industrial Capitalism. In Spain, Industrial Capitalism halts and occasions fierce revolts. It came very late to Italy; it has taken no strong root in Catholic Ireland; its triumphs have been everywhere the triumphs of the Protestant culture-----in Prussianized Germany, in Great Britain, in the United States of America. The Calvinist has fitted in with it admirably and has indeed actively fostered it.

  If we go behind the external phenomena and look at the workings of the mind we find the disagreement between Catholicism and Industrial Capitalism vivid and permanent. There is something irreconcilable between the one and the other. There is the point of Usury, which I have dealt with elsewhere, there is the all-important point of the Just Price, there is the point of the "Panis Humanus"-----man's daily bread, the right possessed by the human being according to Catholic doctrine to live, and to live decently. There is the whole scheme of Catholic morals in the matter of justice, and particularly of justice in negotiation. There is even, if you will consider the matter with an active intelligence, underlying the whole affair the great doctrine of Free Will. For out of the doctrine of Free Will grows the practice of diversity, which is the deadly enemy of mechanical standardization, wherein Industrial Capitalism finds its best opportunity; and out of the doctrine of Free Will grows the revolt of the human spirit against restraint of will by that which has no moral authority to restrain it; and what moral authority has mere money? Why should I reverence or obey the man who happens to be richer than I am?

     And, with that word "authority," one many bring in that other point, the Catholic doctrine of authority. For under Industrial Capitalism the command of men does not depend upon some overt political arrangement, as it did in the feudal times of Catholicism or in the older Imperial times of Catholicism, as it does now in the peasant conditions of Catholicism, but simply upon the ridiculous, bastard, and illegitimate power of mere wealth. For under Industrial Capitalism the power which controls men is the power of arbitrarily depriving them of their livelihood because you have control, through your wealth, of the means of livelihood and they have it not. Under Industrial Capitalism the proletarian tenant can be deprived of the roof over his head at the caprice or for the purely avaricious motives of a so-called master who is not morally a master at all; who is neither a prince, nor a lord, nor a father, nor anything but a credit in the books of his fellow capitalists, the banking monopolists. In no permanent organized Catholic state of society have you ever had citizens thus at the mercy of mere possessors.

      Everything about Industrial Capitalism-----its ineptitude, its vulgarity, its crying injustice, its dirt, its proclaimed indifference to morals [making the end of man an accumulation of wealth, and of labor itself an inhuman repetition without interest and without savor] is at war with the Catholic spirit.

      What, then, are we to make of all this? Here is a conflict of spirits irreconcilable by their very nature. But we cannot engage in this conflict as it is now fought; we cannot take up the weapons ready to hand against Industrial Capitalism, because the weapons against Industrial Capitalism have been forged by men whose minds were of exactly the same heretical or anti-Catholic sort as those who framed Industrial Capitalism itself. What is called vaguely "Socialism," of which the only logical and complete form worthy of notice in practice is Communism, directly contradicts Catholic morals and is at definable and particular issue with them in a more immediate way than is capitalism. 

Communism involves a direct and open denial of free will; and that it has immediate fruits violently in opposition to the fruits of Catholicism there can be no doubt. To put it more plainly, a Catholic supporting Communism is committing a mortal sin.

   Further, to promote conflict between citizens, to engage in a class war with the destruction of capitalism as the main end is also directly in contradiction with Catholic morals. We may make war in defense of the Faith; we may make war against a direct denial of definable justice in a particular instance; but we may not say to the poor: "You have a right to fight the rich merely because they are rich and in order to make yourselves less poor." We may say: "You have a right to fight to prevent the conditions of your life becoming inhuman," but we may not say, "You have a right to fight merely because you desire to have more and your opponent to have less." It has been wittily and truly said that there has been only one Christian Socialist in history, and that even he did not try to be Christian and Socialist at the same time-----the said individual being the penitent thief. He had the good fortune to be, while he was yet alive, promised Paradise by God Himself-----but that was only after he had given up his Socialism. A very striking piece of recantation. 1

  Nevertheless, Catholics are forever in our time-----or at least the more intelligent of them-----seeking a way out. They are like men who find themselves in prison, who are forbidden by their very nature to break through the walls of that prison, but who grope for an exit of some kind, who are sure that somewhere they can find a door. Over and over again through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there have been Catholic efforts of this kind to escape from the injustice and degradations of Industrial Capitalism. Hitherto they have led to nothing.

One of the most remarkable was that propounded in some detail by Mr. Arthur Hungerford Pollen in a paper he read to the Wiseman society a few years ago. He put forth a detailed scheme which, as it is his and not mine, I will not here recapitulate, but of which the gist was the recognition of two things necessary to the reformation of our industrial society: (1) the sharing of the profits by the worker, and (2) the achievement of security by him; the stabilization of his economic position under such profit sharing. And the same authority has put forward privately in my hearing a very interesting form of this scheme under a particular name-----"The Carpenter's Shop." All those who are making such attempts naturally rally round the "Rerum Novarum" of the great Pope Leo XIII, a document of great force to which our posterity will return and which was itself the product of the most eminent of Catholic minds and the chief authority of the Church approaching the problem.

   In my judgment [and as this book is no more than a book of personal essays, I may be excused for putting forth a personal judgment], the essential of the effort must lie in our recognition of the true order of cause and effect. If we are to attack Industrial Capitalism we must do so because we are keeping in mind very clearly and continually the truth that religion is the formative element in any human society. Just as Industrial Capitalism came out of the Protestant ethic, so the remedy for it must come out of the Catholic ethic. In other words, we must make the world Catholic before we can correct it from the evils into which the denial of Catholicism has thrown it.
Consider what happened to the institution of slavery. The Church, when it began on earth its militant career, found slavery in possession. The antique world was a servile state; the civilized man of the Graeco-Roman civilization based his society upon slavery; so did [this must always be insisted upon because our textbooks always forget it] the barbarian world outside.

   There were plenty of revolts against that state of affairs; there was to our knowledge one huge servile war, and there was protest of every kind by the philosophers and by individuals. But they had no success. Success in this field, though it came very  slowly, was due to the conversion of the Roman Empire to Catholicism. [emphasis added]

    The Church did not denounce slavery, it accepted that institution. Slaves were told to obey their masters. It was one of their social duties, as it was the duty of the master to observe Christian charity towards his slave. It was part of good works [but of a rather heroic kind] to give freedom in bulk to one's slaves. But it was not an obligation. Slavery only disappeared after a process of centuries, and it only disappeared through the gradual working of the Catholic doctrine upon the European mind and through the incompatibility of that doctrine with such treatment of one's fellow men as was necessary if the discipline of servitude were to remain efficient. The slave of Pagan times was slowly transformed into the free peasant, but he was not declared free by any definite doctrine of the Church, nor at anyone stage in the process would it have entered into the Catholic mind of the day to have said that slavery was in itself immoral. The freedom of the peasant developed as the beauty of external art developed in its Christian form, through the indirect working of the Catholic ethic.

   In the absence, the gradual decline [where it is declining] of the Catholic ethic, slavery is coming back. Anyone with eyes to see can watch it coming back slowly but certainly-----like a tide. Slowly but certainly the proletarian, by every political reform which secures his well-being under new rules of insurance, of State control in education, of State medicine and the rest, is developing into the slave, leaving the rich man apart and free. All industrial civilization is clearly moving towards the re-establishment of the Servile State, a matter I have discussed at greater length under the title of "the New Paganism." 2

   To produce the opposite of the Servile State out of the modern inhuman economic arrangement, the Church, acting as a solvent, is the necessary and the only force available. The conversion of society cannot be a rapid process, and therefore not a revolutionary one. It is therefore also, for the moment, an unsatisfactory process. But it is the right process. There is a very neat phrase which expresses the whole affair, "in better words than any poor words of mine," as the parson said in the story. These words are to be found in the vernacular translation of the New Testament. They are familiar to many of us. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its justice and all the rest shall be added unto you."

   Begin by swinging society round into the Catholic course, and you will transmute Industrial Capitalism into something other, wherein free men can live, and a reasonable measure of joy will return to the unhappy race of men. 

But you must begin at the beginning. 

1. Here I must repeat in another form what I said about Political labels in a former essay. I can conceive no sort of notion why an English Catholic should not vote, if he is fool enough to take that useless trouble, for a professional politician calling himself Socialist or Communist or Anarchist, as well as for one calling himself Unionist or Liberal. It can make no practical difference, and we all know very well that these terms as used in the puppet show. at Westminster no longer represent realities.
2. Also in my book: The Servile State

Taken from ESSAYS OF A CATHOLIC, TAN Books, originally published in 1931.