I promise. When the next financial bomb explodes, I will not say “I told you so.” In the meantime, I will continue to do all I can to let you open your mind and your heart—in a word, to wake you up from your slumber. This is a serious affair: a 250-year old affair.
We are not aware that our Forefathers exercised our right of access to national credit during much of the Colonial era, and even waged a War of Independence to affirm it, a right that we have lost during the last 250 years. We do not even seem to be fully aware of the mechanisms through which we are in the process of losing our political freedom to a few oligarchs who are bending the electoral process to their short-term advantage. We do not seem to be aware that our economic, social, and political culture has changed radically during the last 250 years.
Why is all this not part and parcel of our civil discourse? Why are we not rising to defend all valuable aspects of the traditional social, economic, and political life of our Colonial times and our early republic—our res publica?
The superficial reason is confusion: We are confused about values today. There is a book out by Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling that captures the point precisely, Priceless: On Knowing The Price Of Everything And The Value Of Nothing (2004). But there is a hidden deeper verity to our state of confusion. The simple truth is that with the passage of time, blinded by the superficial appeal of “progress,” we have sold our traditional values for a mess of glitz. (OK. OK. There are the solid accomplishments of medicine and communications that accompany the glitz). In the process, among the very large number of nefarious effects we must count this as the most dangerous one: We have almost all become sociopaths: Sociopaths are those who, all alone, think they know best how to govern the world. (The reader who knows my work knows that I claim little originality, and that I always work accompanied by giants of the present and the past.) That is why the few who have the means, from oratory to money, to impose their fascist—or communist—will on others temporarily prevail amidst horrendous consequences for all. It has happened to many countries during the last 250 years; there is a clear and present danger that it may happen in the United States as well, the last and best hope of mankind.
We have almost all become sociopaths, because the experts, those who have all the information of the world at their fingertips as well as the ability to manipulate the information, have almost no virtue: They especially lack the intellectual virtues of science, wisdom, and understanding.
We shall first give a closer look at these shortcomings in (a) economists, the ultimate holders of political power these days; then in (b) the literati, the holders of “highbrow” intellectual culture that envelops even economics; and finally in (c) the secularists, the holders of “lowbrow” practical culture that ultimately controls our daily actions.
PART I – THE ROLE OF ECONOMISTS
It is perhaps adequate just to point out that most economists lack the intellectual virtues of wisdom and understanding. The economic life we are living speaks for itself: We kill people within the system by overwork, we kill many of them spiritually for sure; and we kill physically way too many people outside the system for lack of work. A few words need to be spent to emphasize that economics is not a science but, as pointed out elsewhere, it is an ideology. We will concentrate our attention on three areas: economics in general, money, and inequality.
What do economists know of economics?
How to put this gently? Economists, obviously, are fully conversant with economic theories. And theories there are aplenty. Yet, economists know nothing of the economic process.
The economic process integrates the description of the process of production, distribution, and consumption of wealth. Production treats the process of creation of real wealth (as distinguished from financial wealth); distribution treats the process of distribution of economic values of ownership rights; consumption treats the process of expenditure of monetary wealth to purchase real wealth. Just as in the purchase and sale of a single car, there is the integration of three elements in the macroeconomic process: real wealth (the car), monetary wealth (money); and values of ownership rights (deed of ownership). As Galileo did not put those “rotating objects” in the sky, so I found these three entities in the economic process. By the way, they can all be measured in money, the natural currency; if the equivalence of the three values gets skewed, we know that we are facing serious issues of valuation. At Brandeis' time they used to talk of stock-watering; today we talk of inflation of values due to the creation of money out of this “air.”
There is a book out, in two editions, titled The Economic Process (2002, 2009) and quite a few articles in peer-reviewed journals that analyze these issues systematically. This body of work happens to be mine, but that is immaterial. If economists want to reach that integration following any other route, they are free to do so. If they succeed, they should be getting a Nobel Prize for that. What is essential is that economists no longer go their own merry way analyzing in detail each and every factor in life by itself and never integrating their observations into a compact understanding of the economic process as a whole. My work I have eventually named Concordian economics. To paraphrase Louis D. Brandeis, it is economists who need Concordian economics most.
While one of the sharpest economic and mathematical minds around, Dr. Michael E. Brady, has staunchly endorsed this work, it was a poet, Vincent Ferrini, who caught its essence by pointing out that my work “has the answers to universal poverty and the anxieties of the affluent.”
Concordian economics is not that difficult. When you enter economics through the gates of the equality of saving to investment, as most economists do, you are lost into a maze of abstractions, because as Professor R. W. Goldsmith pointed out Saving can be defined in 100,000 possible ways; hence, there is not one workable definition of Saving, and what is generally not recognized is that, consequently, there is no definition of investment in economics either. As against this emptiness of discourse, to understand the core of Concordian economics, you have to enter through the gates of the complementarity of investment to hoarding. Thus:
Figure 1 – The Hoarding/Investment Nexus
“The Economic Problem” is technically solved: Do not hoard real wealth, and you shall have little or no poverty, more investment, hence more future wealth, and less inflation. If you hoard money in such situations as the current ones, you are likely to have less inflation. Is it necessary to insert a reminder of the existence of all the programs that are designed to reduce poverty, increase investment, and abate inflation? Create money only for the creation of real wealth, take care of hoarding and you will automatically solve all problems of poverty, all problems of jobs and income, all problems of inflation or devaluation of money. The economic system, left to itself, will function as a well-oiled machine. Is not the economic problem technically solved? Any surprise to discover that Jesus was a supreme economist? What remains is a moral problem about the control of hoarding and a theological problem of faith in the sufficiency of natural resources.
The content of Concordian economics in brief
Concordian economics integrates economic theory, economic policy, and practice. Economic theory encompasses the description of the economic process; economic policy with the explicit addition of participative justice completes the millenarian structure of economic justice; practice is composed of the systematic implementation of the following four economic rights and responsibilities, which are specifically related to the essential factors of production: 1.The right of access to land and natural resources and the responsibility to pay taxes on that portion of land and natural resources that fall under our exclusive control; 2. The right of access to national credit and the responsibility to repay loans acquired through national credit; 3, The right to the fruits of one’s labor and the responsibility to contribute to the process of creation of wealth; 4. The right to the enjoyment of one’s wealth and the responsibility to respect the wealth of others.
What do economists know of money?
Since economists measure everything in money and continuously reason in terms of money, more terrifying still than their lack of understanding of the economic process is the realization that money is such a mystery to them as to defy definition. In economic textbooks there are descriptions of the functions of money, but no definition of money. Here is its definition, and here is the reason why it lies beyond the field of “pure” economics. Money is not wealth; money is a representation of wealth. Money is a contract between the holder of the note (the chosen symbol to represent wealth) and society. Nothing new under the sun: As the legendary Professor Willard Quine put it, "Confusion of sign and object is original sin coeval with the word."
There is not much more to know about money than “The Sovereign issues the money.” If we allow the few to create money to their temporary and illusory advantage, they are the sovereign and we are vassals. As pointed out elsewhere, money controls people today, while people ought to control money.
How can We the People control money?
We must start with a firm realization. Our monetary system is broken. It certainly does not serve the poor; it has engendered the collapse of the middle classes; and the rich suffer—accordingly—most financial and psychological losses. It is only the financial oligarchs who haltingly and irregularly benefit.
The problem is how we create and distribute money. That is the source of our recurrent financial crises; that is the opportunity that is open to us. Specifically, these are the procedures we suggest for the Fed to follow in order to function in the public interest. Working with local bank, the Federal Reserve System (the Fed), our central bank, should issue
1. Loans ONLY to create real wealth, such as tables and chairs and professional services;
2. Loans at cost;
3. Loans to benefit everyone (by funding—through local banks—individual entrepreneurs, cooperatives, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), and public entities with taxing power, so that loans can be repaid). The number of the poor will thus gradually, organically diminish; and, with the people being rich and feeling rich, they will take good care of the few remaining poor through loving personal and/or public charity.
The Fed can use our national credit to issue these loans, which—without ever running into the risk of inflation—will be repaid by us, thus making good on our credit/credibility.
This is the strategy then: Let us join together with friends and relatives, sign a petition that is currently on the Internet, and flood with our requests the halls of the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) as well as, very likely, the halls of the US Congress thereafter. We will prevail, because our program of action transforms privileges into rights—rights for everyone, the poor, the middle class, and the rich as well.
When we exercise our right of access to national credit we shift, through local banks, availability of capital from Wall Street to Main Street. Let then the behemoths of international finance collapse, let The Market function as it should, the exhausted taxpayer does not need to come to their rescue ever again. The stability of the monetary system is assured. And the unemployment rolls will rise by only a few thousands in any case; besides, the newly unemployed, being highly skilled, will soon be embraced with open arms by ongoing corporations or will give wings to their own inner entrepreneurial skills and they might even happily retire while still full of whim and vigor.
The gradual implementation of our right to national credit is the seed for the implementation of all four economic rights and responsibilities listed above. If we repay infrastructure loans through tax on land and national resources, we will gradually implement the first R&R; if we extend loans of public money for the benefit of everyone, we will gradually implement the full spirit of the second R&R; if we extend loans of public money to favor an expansion of the ownership base of the tools of production, we gradually implement the third R&R; and if we do not extend loans of public money to favor an expansion of the Pac Man economy where one corporation gobbles up another and another, we gradually implement the fourth R&R.
What do economists know of inequality?
Experts in economics have no knowledge of the causes of inequality. Those in doubt need only to follow the conversations swirling around the work of Thomas Piketty.
Four mechanisms of inordinate accumulation of wealth
It is not God nor The Government nor The Market nor the Laws of Supply and Demand that create gross inequality. It is the (dis)organization of society that creates gross inequality. There are four mechanisms of inordinate accumulation of wealth. They stem in full glory from the inner mechanics of the economic process; namely, from the operations of the four factors of production—all carefully linked to a Commandment, Do not Steal:
- When people do not pay the full share of the taxes they owe, especially taxes on land and natural resources, they steal from fellow citizens who are burdened with the total share of the costs of running a country;
- When the central bank sells a pool of common wealth—namely, national credit—to preferred customers, the central bank sells for a mess of pottage a national treasure that belongs to the entire population. Private appropriation of common goods—such as land and money—without compensation is expropriation and plunder;
- When stockholders cash in the value of their stocks and bonds, they rob the workers who have originally contributed to the creation of that value—and are excluded from that bounty by the faulty legal institute of the “wage contract.” Work produces an income stream and a stream of capital appreciation; since employees and workers are “outside contractors” to the corporation, they never receive a share of the capital appreciation of the corporation. Capital appreciation—or depreciation—accrues automatically to the owners of the corporations;
- When one purchases a whole corporation, and uses other people’s money to concentrate the wealth of the nation into fewer and fewer hands, one robs at least the workers, if not also the previous as well as future potential stockholders, of the ensuing capital appreciation of the corporation.
Technically, these can be considered as monopolistic operations, that is control of parts of the market to the detriment of everyone else. Low taxes on land and natural resources favor hoarding of these resources and, as Henry George explained, poverty ensues. When the central bank issues credit only to a small number of primary dealers, as Benjamin Franklin would put it these days, capital credit is concentrated into few hands and never “trickles down” satisfactorily; it is dead set against innovation and competition. When employees and workers are excluded from the bounty of capital appreciation, as Louis O. Kelso ingeniously demonstrated, the wealth of the nation grows more and more concentrated with every passing day; starving “effective demand” we choke the growth of the nation. When corporations are gobbled up by other corporations, as Louis D. Brandeis so thoroughly demonstrated, corruption of the political process unavoidably ensues. Set these four economic mechanisms of capital accumulation aright, therefore, and you go to the root causes of inequality: you Give to Caesar What Is Caesar’s. You do justice and receive justice. With a just distribution of wealth, there is no need for its redistribution. But, specifically, how can this be accomplished in the immense complexity of the modern world?
How to put it visually and metaphorically so we might better understand and never forget? The table is set—by Nature. My mother and father thought us to serve ourselves, the youngest first, with the injunction to leave the better portion for the next one. The intention was not to reserve the best portion for themselves, but to sacrifice themselves if there was not enough food to go around. As against this praxis, what is society allowing us—nay, teaching us, if not even forcing us--to do today? We are urged by our economic theories and economic policies to pounce on the table and grab the largest portions first, no matter whether enough is left for the guy next in line. The Free Market rules. With our four economic rights and responsibilities in place, the market will be free and will remain free for as long as the eye can see. If present conditions should change, requirements to keep the market free might also need to be changed.
Locke and the Enlightenment assumed the world was filled with gentle-persons like my mother and father. They were banking on the morality of the past to persist unaided and unabated---even though they were daily attacking the roots of all moral authorities. We all make mistakes, and I am not ready “to condemn” anyone. Besides, I firmly believe in my intellectual bones that they were all too intoxicated by the emanations of the prospected fruits of Liberty. Political liberty was so new, and it came after centuries of oppression by closed circles of inherited privilege.
More technically still, Adam Smith and Enlightenment thinkers were caught, unawares, in a Catch-22 of colossal proportions. Since they were calling for the dismantling of monopolies inherited from the past, they assumed that competition would give rise to economic freedom for all. The fact is that “free”—namely, unregulated—markets lead to monopolies. As we have just seen, the monopolies under which we live today are: 1. Monopolies on land and natural resources, 2. Monopolies on capital credit, 3. Monopolies on physical capital; and 4, Monopolies on labor.
The monopoly of the owners of capital over the fruit of other people’s labors is of course an abomination. Yet, the saddest case is the monopoly exercised by some labor unions presumably as a necessary “countervailing power” to the large corporations. Workers have been taught to fight for higher wages; but then entrepreneurs are compelled to raise prices and thus afflict people on fixed income, and the long run effect is to favor foreign competition and to send jobs abroad. Unions have to learn, as Louis Kelso argued, to fight for a share of equity, the stock of the corporation, Workers will then divide profits that have matured rather than wages no matter whether there are future profits. Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are the answer; ESOPs complemented by CSOPs, Consumer Stock Ownership Plans.
How to set things right?
I will never get tired of repeating the formula for economic justice, a just national economic policy. The formula looks at each one of the above problem statement and turns them into corresponding solutions:
- We all have the right of access to land and natural resources and the responsibility to pay taxes on that portion of land and natural resources that fall under our exclusive control;
- We all have the right of access to national credit and the responsibility to repay loans acquired through national credit;
- We all have the right to the fruits of our labor and the responsibility to contribute to the process of creation of wealth;
- We all have the right to the enjoyment of our wealth and the responsibility to respect the wealth of others.
Through the exercise of these fundamental responsibilities, we shall break the back of monopolies that, unobserved by economists and lawyers, gradually destroy the fabric of society. And we shall automatically accomplish much more. When we do not allow other people to pilfer our money and our resources, they will not have the means to corrupt our political process. To end Citizens United is putting the cart before the horse; it is too late.
Where is the opposition?
Where are the powerful people who should object to this proposed program of action? When all is said and done, the four presumed antagonists are supposed to be (1) landowners who do not want to pay taxes on the value of their land; (2) central bankers who do not want to serve the public interest; (3) entrepreneurs who do not want to offer full compensation for services received; and (4) business people who want to gobble up the fruit of other people’s effort.
Where are they? In truth, apart from sporadic apparitions they turn out to be four phantasms. If the billions of small businesses that cannot afford to buy accountants and lawyers and legislators to cover their misdeeds were to act immorally, they would not remain in business for long. Which is not to say that millions of laws will not eventually have to be changed to reflect more closely the demands of economic justice. But, no. Those four generic phantasms exist only in the imagination of people who no longer know anything about economics. The need is for a small dose of the traditional moral fortitude that gives human beings permission to talk truth to power. In the United States, this moral permission stands at the core of the first Bill of Rights. Hence, it becomes a duty of citizens to talk truth to power, which does not mean that in an imperfect world “whistle blowers” are not going to suffer for exercising their moral fortitude.
Privileges are tearing the world apart. Rights unite. How can we unite around these four simple requests?
How can we do this?
It seems we cannot rely on too many economists to fight this fight. In economics we have the absurd tendency to defend the indefensible and even justify gross inequality. Having expunged, with Adam Smith, morality from economics, economists are lost in a maze of abstractions, from which they might escape only by abandoning the whole lot of balanced contradictions that form economic theory today.
It is up to moralists, literati, and administrators to hold the feet of economists to the fire of truth.
Moralists, literati, and administrators will have to get rid of the deception of self-reliance; they will have to abandon their splendid atomistic isolation, mix with the hoi polloi, and hope to convince the powers-that-be to take measures in time to avoid the next financial collapse. They will have to join with other people in demanding what is right for ourselves and for society as a whole. We will do that together.
Together as a community, as a polis is our only chance. Alone we count for nothing. We have been reduced to isolated automatons, but our problems are not isolated problems. A multitude of our problems mostly stem from the way we create and distribute money.
Alone we count for nothing. Jesus, 2000 year ago, urged us to gather together with others before we address our pleas to him. As we have seen, money is a social institution. Alone we cannot do anything about what we all know is our current financial plight: a weak monetary system in danger of collapsing any time soon. Alone we count for nothing. We do have to stand together, moralists, literati, administrators, business people (!), even financiers, the poor, the middle-classes, and the rich. Many Patriotic Millionaires have already organized themselves to try to redress income inequality. Those who are left out are the few lonely ones who sporadically benefit financially from our present financial arrangements. And they, too, are warmly invited to join in the struggle to free us all from the straightjacket of wrongly construed social institutions. They, too, deserve to enjoy the peace of mind that only monetary stability can grant.
A feasible agenda
This is a feasible agenda, first because it is based on rights, rights to be exercised by everyone, the poor, the middle class, and the rich as well; and then because it does not ask for any redistribution of wealth. We must prevent present and future wrongs; to undo the wrongs of the past is not even for the gods.
In addition to the first petition, there is another petition on the Internet, this is a petition to all creditors to reduce their claims to a reasonable level that debtors can afford. Either we are going to reduce all those zeros in a systematic way, or the system is going to crash ruining most everyone.
We have to learn to love the bomb
"We have to learn to love the bomb." This is a trenchant maxim that Stephen Colbert learned in his training as master comedian. This is a trenchant rule of life that I hope he will teach the American people night after night, and I am trying to apply it here—with a twist.
We have to learn to love the bomb not yet exploded.
This is the bomb of the next financial crisis. Perhaps, we Americans are particularly lucky. Perhaps the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis is covering us all. Perhaps we still have enough time to learn all about it—if not to avert the next financial crisis, at least to pick up the pieces soon after, so to spare ourselves much greater unnecessary damage.
There are reasons why “bombs” explode—or do not explode. Many of the reasons we are capable of learning and we must learn; those we do not understand we must learn to accept.
Is the next financial crisis truly beyond human control? Are moralists, literati, and administrators going forever to be mostly passive bystanders? Is our government truly leaving us alone and defenseless to control this avalanche that advances daily toward us? Are we truly to rely only on bunkers filled with non-perishable supplies of canned food? All locked up in our atomic (nay, atomistic) shelters?
PART II – THE ROLE OF MORALISTS, LITERATI, AND ADMINISTRATORS
To single out economists as solely responsible for not changing our state of affairs would be wrong. Clearly, there are interminable discussions of peripheral and personal preferences; but, apart from them, our mind is closed shut to serious discussion of the history and the understanding of economic and monetary issues. As a consequence, our Congress, after setting vague ideals about inflation and unemployment levels, scrupulously respects the “independence” of the Federal Reserve System (USA's national bank), legally a private institution, on setting monetary policy. The ultimate reason for this taboo has nothing to do with the “complexity” of the issues or the objective economic reality. Difficulties are created by our minds. The fundamental reasons why we do not seem capable of putting our monetary system on a stable and just basis are firmly planted in broad issues of “culture.” If our political discourse has reached such an impasse as to deadlock Congress, it is not, as commonly believed, because of shortcomings in our political structures, whether or not the arguments are buttressed by weaknesses in our campaign finance procedures—they are procedures, such as Citizens United, that have been promulgated by the courts, not by our legislatures. If we are currently at an impasse in our political discussion, it is because of the disintegration of our culture. Neither the politicians nor We the People will move forward without a shared set of cultural values. Our crisis is deeper than a political crisis.
There is no agreement on what needs to be done, not only because we all have our pet solutions, not only because we are all sociopaths today, but because our mind is mired in faulty ideals.
Let me put it at the outset as forcefully and as clearly as I possibly can. As a political scientist, I have devoted my life to the study and the implementation of the ideals of the Enlightenment. Since I do not like to publish a study and let it gather dust on a shelf, working with others I have always attempted, at times very successfully, to carry ideas, my own or others’, into action—and still at present, in my eighties, continue to do so. Not at all alone in my observations, in the last few years I have been dismayed at the condition of the world. It seems we are making it worse with each attempted political action.
In saying this, there is no glee in me. My discoveries leave me with a heavy heart. And with the hope that we will mend our ways.
Fully appreciative of the efforts of the past, my purpose is not to tear down but to correct what I hope to demonstrate are clear errors of the past and the present. And the entire chain of reasoning cannot be fully contained or completed here. The reader must rely on
much other work already published or in course of publication as well. I wish to outline possibilities of a better world; together, we all need to create a better world. Put as succinctly as I can, my goal is to urge all of us to substitute the abstract ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity with the ancient—but, as we shall see, necessarily improved—concrete ideals of Freedom, Morality, and Justice. These are not verbal changes; they are changes in substance and, as we have just seen in relation to the Fed, they are necessary changes in procedures.
We live in the culture of liberty that we have inherited from the Enlightenment, and we are proud of it. Therefore, it is hard for us to realize that the three most appealing ideals of the Enlightenment, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, are deeply flawed. They are platitudes; hence, we have wasted much of our money and many of our lives trying to pursue them during the last 250 years. In the process, our attention has been diverted from reality. Here is where we stand today: As for liberty, we have been left with not much more than the appearance of political liberty; we have no fraternity or brotherhood in our hearts; and certainly we have no economic equality.
Who but partisan fanatics would deny the mountain of evidence that exists to prove the correctness of each one of those three stark observations? Liberty is not exercised by the freedom to talk about politics. Essential as it is as a precondition of political liberty, that is the promise, not the practice of liberty. Political liberty is exercised in the rough-and-tumble of politics. Politics is the exercise of political power, the power to make decisions that affect the social, economic, and cultural life of a nation. Who has political power today? Who but small circles of politicians and bureaucrats and political consultants and intellectuals, all activated through remote (financial) control by small cliques of financiers? This clearly is liberty restricted to the few.
This is the essence of the political revolution we are witnessing today in the United States: Both those who vote for Donald Trump and those who vote for Senator Bernie Sanders have this in common: They share the feeling that they cannot trust the elites. They feel left out of the political process. We the People count for nothing any longer and are trying to redress the balance.
We can look at the issue of who has political power today from another point of view. An extraordinary set of research conducted by Professor Amy Cuddy has unearthed a hidden truth: The opposite of powerlessness is not power but presence. Hence, to square the circle, this research, which so far resides in the field of social psychology, has to be connected to the study of politics. It might then be discovered that the “feeling” of self-worth that manifests itself in physical “presence” is acquired by being present and taking active part in places where important political decisions are made. No, it is not enough to perform one’s duty as citizen to pull a lever every few years to elect people whom we do not know. That is not exercise of political liberty; that is physical exercise of an arm.
As for fraternity and brotherhood, we only need to consult a black teenager. As for inequality, one figure ought to suffice: the four largest banks own assets worth nearly 50% of GNP.
To overcome these dreadful conditions, we need to get a good understanding of how we got here. Of course, there is a near infinite set of conditions that create our worldview and our culture. We must simplify. Thus I will reduce to three the number of basic factors that determine our social, economic, and political condition today. I will only point out the root cause of our troubles: Also, I do not expect we can easily free ourselves of automatic reflexes through which in unison we rise in defense of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. I hope only to invite the reader to reflect on the essence of our culture and bravely realize that the ideals of the Enlightenment are rooted in half-truths.
As usual, it is half-truths that are most difficult to eradicated from our minds. We must unearth what is the lie, and we must be aware of where is the truth. We must not throw away the baby with the bath water.
The Liberty of the Enlightenment Is a Half-truth
Why is the liberty of the Enlightenment a half-truth? The reason is a fundamental one: The freedom we have is not a product of the Enlightenment. Not Locke, not Jefferson; it is God—or Evolution, or Nature, if you will—that created us free.
Besides, God created us all free; God did not create only the Great White Liberal free.
What the Enlightenment gave us is political freedom, a necessary freedom that we enjoy and are in serious danger of losing. Why? Because political liberty has become absolute liberty for the few (fewer than 1%) to bestride over the rest of mankind. Liberty has thus become libertinism. It all started with Martin Luther who, by freeing human beings from external authority, transformed personal freedom into political liberty; hence, he inadvertently made one’s freedom unavoidably dependent on the will of others—others whom we do not trust and cannot trust. When the actions of the experts become so debased, what authority do others have, what authority do others have except their opinions?
Worse. Much worse. What about our opinions, then? Once we reject the yardstick of external, traditional, tried and true moral authority, we are left on our own. What then? It was up to Shakespeare to point out that a conscience left to herself, without the guidance of any external authority, "does make cowards of us all"; the self-reliant conscience can only torture herself: To be—or not to be.
This then is the hidden half-truth. Within the context of our prevailing culture, the culture of unlimited freedom for the individual person, there is an inner contradiction between personal freedom and political liberty. Political liberty that is based, not on one's personal freedom, but on the will of others is ephemeral. The resolution of this dichotomy cannot be found in the political realm. Political freedom depends on the will and the opinion of others. Hence, political freedom is in constant struggle with authority. (I guess that today’s condition confirms it is impossible to have leadership without authority; the least that can be said of this condition, I believe, is that leadership without authority is short-lived.) The political crisis today is a crisis of authority; it is a crisis of values.
We must make sure that we can trust The Other. To do so, we must share goals. Today, we have too many and too clearly contradictory goals. To be effective, we must reduce the number of goals. It is my considerate belief that, if we can ever agree on it, to set our four economic rights and responsibilities as the goals of our generation is more than enough.
As a firm point, we must strive not only for political freedom but for personal freedom as well. Personal freedom exists only if it is rooted in personal property. That is why men of property were called freemen; they were free; their freedom did not depend on the will of others. Hence the essential role of economic justice today. The necessarily long conversation on values can be reduced to this: Freedom is acquired, not through the whim of others, but through the exercise of one’s responsibilities. Therefrom comes the essential role of economic justice, a practice whose rights arise from responsibilities.
Our crisis is a crisis of values and a crisis of authority. How to put it in a nutshell? Authority is the magnetism, the power of attraction that ties us to the person who spurs us to actions and thoughts that contain increasingly more truth, beauty, and goodness. And we have lost the sense of what is true, beautiful, and good. (I believe no self-respecting human being should ever knowingly engage in activities that are not true and beautiful and good.)
These are some of the errors of the Enlightenment, then, in relation to liberty. We have lost our sense of personal freedom; and we have become confused on the meaning of truth, beauty, and goodness. Goodness has been reduced to Fraternity/Brotherhood.
Fraternity/Brotherhood Has Been Reduced to a Half-truth
The next ideal that comes from the Enlightenment is that of Fraternity/Brotherhood. This is an idea that is generally expanded to encompass issues of Solidarity and Sustainability. On its face, nothing wrong with it; on its face, all is good and right with it! Except that it has been reduced to a vague aspiration, which is not practiced. Why? Practically, because the tasks of charity have become so overwhelming that they cannot be fulfilled. (Indeed, they have become so overwhelming that not even the considerable resources of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the United States, can fulfil them. Why else do we see so many homeless in the streets of America?)
Intellectually, all too briefly, Enlightenment Fraternity or Brotherhood is an ideology based on the sentiment of love—not the virtue of love. The difference is substantial. A sentiment is a fickle personal attitude subject to change and definitely not leading to any obligation. (For staunch enlightened materialists, love as a spiritual value does not even exist; love has thus been reduced to sex.) Unaware of it all, this is in perfect accordance with Adam Smith’s designs in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), in which, in a tradition that traces back to Martin Luther, all traditional moral restraints are thrown off people’s back and replaced with the primacy of the individual conscience. Adam Smith was clever. He knew he could not leave things at that. So he conceded that the individual conscience is to be guided by an “impartial spectator.” But who is this spectator? Lui-même, he himself, of course.
Exhibit one in proof of the Fakery of Fraternity in the past can be found in horrible misuse of the conception of “natural liberty” to pass laws against the combine of the poor and the workers. Proof of the ongoing Fakery of today’s Fraternity? In personal relations, do we not have widespread acceptance of divorce? In the economic life, where are the obligations? In national political relations, has not sentimental love been transmogrified into the type of Fraternity of French Revolutionaries who led the Carmelite nuns at Compiegne to the guillotine, because they refused the “liberty” to step out of the convent? And then we got the Russian and Chinese Revolutions—just to remain with the major revolutions conducted to “free” the “masses.” “Minor” revolutions, such as the revolution in Cuba, are considered minor only because they involve a relatively small number of people, and because we are not in them. And in international relations? We go straight to war, of course. We kill people. We so much love the world that we have to “make it safe for democracy.”
We have become analytical magicians with words. We do accept such terms as love and economic justice. I do not know why, except for the fact that they make us feel good. We have just seen love transformed into a fickle personal sentiment. Let us now see what happens to economic justice. We confuse it with social justice, an ideology through which we have mostly banished love for the poor as a personal responsibility. Is there not the government to take care of “them”? We pay taxes, don’t we? As often as I can, I must repeat that I have never heard Jesus say: “Don’t give them any responsibility; deny them their rights; take their dignity away; give the rich some tax relief, the middle class a job, the poor a warm soup in a cold winter night; and go to sleep in peace.” What to say about this abuse of “high” morality? Pope Pius XI (QA # 4) recoiled at the use of “charity to veil the violation of justice.”
What happens to “the economic problem” once it is thrown into the lap of Brotherhood? Nothing happens. It is this inexorable conservative stance that explains much of the verbal widespread acceptance of the social justice movement. Why is this a conservative stance? Because, we knowingly, explicitly rely on eventual necessary changes in human nature. Should I bring forward again the immense needs to solve the problem of homelessness in the 21st Century? Or those of incarceration? What are we waiting for if not a change in “human nature”? Certainly, the financial resources are there. The technological resources are there. What is missing is the design of the proper economic solution to solve the problem. In the meantime, while we wait, try hard as we might, nothing changes. To go through life accepting the rhetoric of Brotherhood, we must believe that we can change human nature. There is no validity to this belief. This will never happen because we are not God and human nature is perfect as it is.
What is available to us to change is our human culture; we create it; we are responsible for it. We must change it, when we encounter irrepressible proofs of its fallibility. All sane authorities from Pope Francis to Lord Mervyn King these days are encouraging us to commit ourselves to substantive changes in our cultural values. Pope Francis: "All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution" (LS # 114). Lord Mervyn King: ‘A long term programme for the reform of money and banking and the institutions of the global economy will be driven only by an intellectual revolution’ (Beyond Alchemy, pp. 369-70).
This then is the compulsive error of the Enlightenment in this field: Goodness is not an option; goodness is a duty. Love is not a fickle sentiment; love is a virtue. The “evolutionary” movement toward goodness is a constant impulse in human beings, but the historical results are halting at best. In the Book of Miracles (2007), a book published by the Foundation for Inner Peace, I have read a most powerful statement: “sin is lack of love” (Text, p. 11).
Equality is a half-truth
Equality is a half-truth. No two snowflakes, snowflakes, are alike. Why would two human beings be alike? Least of all are we alike in the economic sphere. And it is there that inequality is rampant and so absurd as to reach the point of self-destruction today. It is not the rich who consume the Gross National Product of a nation; they do not have the numbers to do so. It is the middle classes, powerfully aided by the rolls of the poor, who consume the Gross National Product of a nation. Starve the poor, you make the rich less wealthy.
The intellectual derivation of the conception of equality is truly sad. Its roots can be found in the splicing of the declaration of the concrete “equal dignity” of all human beings into the abstract “equality” of all human beings. The equal dignity of all human beings was of course the revolutionary content heralded by Christianity at its inception. Why else did the hoi polloi flock to it? Why else was Jesus, the herald of equal dignity, crucified by the Jewish and Roman elites?
That the “ideal” of equality is a half-truth has been known for a long time; we clearly distinguish equality of results from equality of opportunity. To make things muddy, we restrict our aspiration to the creation of the latter, the creation of equality of “opportunity.” Is this not a requisite that makes for martyrs, saints, and slaves in our society? Why should to make a living be so hard? Is it to give pride to those who ”make it” and then give them the official authorization to denigrate the poor who do not make it?
Why keep the fake ideal alive at all? To give false hopes to people?
“People” are tougher than that. They can take the beautiful truth that, while potentially we are all equally saints and sinners, actually we are all human beings: each one of us different from all the others.
If the ideals of liberty, fraternity, and equality are dangerous hall-truths, what are we left with?
A Possible Goal
Fifty years of research and publication allow me to suggest that we need to fill the empty platitudes of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity with the old robust sense of Freedom, Morality, and Justice: personal freedom directed by morality to act with justice in the political and economic sphere. This is the creation of political freedom based on personal freedom sprouting from economic freedom.
More succinctly, political democracy without economic democracy is empty. But, why? Why is economic freedom so important? Because it will eliminate the first line of defense that scoundrels use: I did it because my economic wellbeing depended on it. The second line is: I have a duty to provide for my family. And the third: If I don't do it, others will. And the fourth: Everyone does it. Which leads to the reality of everyone “doing it,” no matter the incalculable damage to society, let alone the damage to oneself—and to one's family. All this, as we shall more clearly see later on, amounts to a practical justification of immorality.
How do we do all this?
Moralists, literati, and administrators of many public and private agencies ought to help us see through the veil of unreality that today covers our eyes.
Yet, the crisis is so deep that they too might be unable to free themselves and help us all. They are the ones who, on the right as well as the left of the political spectrum, in the end, not necessarily wittingly or consistently, sold us the faulty ideals of the Enlightenment in the first place, all because they were able to gather crumbs from the rich’s tables, but more importantly still with their support of the Enlightenment they were able to gain the privilege to do and say whatever they wanted—no matter how obscene, no matter how self-serving that was. Hence, moralists, literati, and administrators are the ones who became complicit in creating the conditions we live under today, the slumber of our minds. And yet, we badly need them. Either they wake up to the reality and come to the rescue of us all, or the pitchforks will dictate the discourse.
This is a negative appraisal of our frayed social structure. Let us ran away from it as fast as we can. Such a posture leads only to undesirable antagonism between people who have the tendency to take the analysis of reality as an intellectual affront and a rampant personal attack. As we proceed, we shall see that this is far from my intention. Let us immediately abandon the necessarily negative facet of the present work. It leads only to separation; at best to quibbles; and ultimately to analysis paralysis. Let us move forward in a positive, constructive frame of mind.
Were the Fathers of the Enlightenment aware of the eventual results of their efforts? No. Undoubtedly they were not. But they ought to have been suspicious. Consciously aware of their efforts to free society of the “morality of the (drunken) monks,” as Adam Smith shamelessly put it, they should have suspected that nothing good can ever come out of a world without the self-restraints of morality.
In fact, what has shamefully repeatedly occurred is what Romain Rolland outlined in his Declaration of the Independence of the Mind, an extraordinary 1919 Manifesto signed by Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Jane Addams, and other luminaries. “The thinkers and artists have added an immeasurable amount of poisoning hatred to the scourge destroying Europe’s body and mind… They worked to destroy mutual understanding among men.”
The ultimate remedy
If we do not want other people to control our political life, if we do not want to pretend to solve the problems of inequality by in vain relying on fraternity and brotherhood, if we do not want to reduce inequality by extorting wealth from the rich, we have to have the courage to overthrow the faulty ideals of the Enlightenment. To do that we have seen what economists ought to do; we have also just seen what moralists, literati and administrators ought to do: Perhaps I should have made it clear much earlier that I include theologians in the ranks of moralists as well as rabbis, priests, imams, pastors, and ministers. To achieve our goals, we have to be aware of another major obstacle. Our culture is divided along a major fault line: The elites today have secular values; the people have traditional values. We have to overcome this other major dysfunction if we want to live in a healthy society.
PART III - THE ROLE OF SECULARISTS
To overthrow the culture of the Enlightenment, we need to change the heart of secularists, because whether they are aware of it or not they have split society into two factions: believers and non-believers. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The following observations are not aimed at establishing or apportioning blame. My aim is to describe facts that may not be under detailed organic observation and, therefore, putting their examination in relation to many other things may lead to satisfactory solutions for everyone.
The timing might be perfect. A very important rapprochement is suggested by the "other side." There is an eloquent meditation by a theoretical physicist, Professor Sean Carroll, that secularists see themselves in this fashion: "Maybe You’re Not an Atheist–Maybe You’re a Poetic Naturalist." Let us all read it together, and glory in the possibility of a "new world," a new intellectual world.
IMHO, these are some of the hard facts secularists ought to consider. The whole truth about God is contained in two complementary statements: As there is no scientific evidence of the existence of God, so there is absolutely no scientific evidence that God does not exist. Intellectually, we believers and non-believers wade in the same pond, the same human condition. Hence, as God undoubtedly intended, we are free to make personal decisions. Provided we are consistent, we both perform important functions. Believers keep the flame of hope, faith, and charity going. Secularists perform the function of not letting believers fall into intellectually inconsistent positions. Indeed, let us unite in a sturdy compact against hypocrisy. Let us say scat to the hypocrite: God knows there are way too many of them. Let us teach each other the roots of our own hypocrisies.
Contrary to the expectations of the Enlightenment, which means illumination, it seems that way too many secularists prefer to live in a world of doom and gloom. They are, of course, free to be professional pessimists. God knows, there are too many people sponsoring Pollyannaish views. What they are not free to do is to denigrate those who believe in God. This is an abuse of their own, assumed, “superior” intellectual powers. They will deprive themselves of the joy of living “light.” They will lose the opportunity to use their intellectual powers in a constructive, joyful way, and they will betray their major contribution to mankind: tolerance. It is easy to have tolerance for those who mostly agree with us; that was the “easy” innovation of the past. The challenge of the future is to “tolerate”—while still loving—those who disagree profoundly with us. What needs to become common knowledge is that disagreements are the spice of life.
If secularists do not like to enjoy the width and the depth as well as the continuity of the Judeo-Christian tradition in literature and painting and sculpture and music, they are free to do so. They deprive themselves of the experience of this joy. They have to realize that they are the losers, also because they then lack the terms of comparison to deeply enjoy the expressions of other cultures, cultures of the East as well as cultures of the West, from Aztec to Zuni culture. What they are not free to do is to destroy, with their sneakers, the experience of joy that these "spiritual" cultures so eminently procure. Most of the world is blaming ISIS for the destruction of physical monuments; no one seems to blame the secularist for the attempted destruction of the Judeo-Christian culture.
No sooner had I written this, that I read Psalm 107:10-14, which says:
“Some lay in darkness and in gloom,
prisoners in misery and chains,
Having defied the words of God
and spurned the counsels of the Most High.
He crushed their spirit with toil;
they stumbled; there was no one to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their need
and he rescued them from their distress.
He led them forth from darkness and gloom
and broke their chains to pieces.”
Sorry, there is nothing new under the sun.
American secularists, whether or not they believe that America was built as a Christian community, should not deny the exceptional values of true Americanism; if they do, they will prevent themselves from doing all they can to purge the American tradition of its horrible past in relation to the American Indians, to the Black people of Africa, to the waves and waves of immigrants from Europe and now from Latin America and the rest of the world. Secularists, do us all a favor, work for justice. Work for justice for the entire world. This is all that Jesus came to earth for. If you do that, you will truly make America great. You will truly be imbued with her spirit and reach her “manifest destiny.” Read Peter, the fisherman, the simpleton, the not-theologian, read his epistle and let priests rabbis and ministers read it aloud with you (1, 4:12): ”See to it that none of you suffers for being a murderer, a thief, a malefactor, or a destroyer of another’s rights.” John, of course, is ever stronger: “The man who does not love is among the living dead. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1, 3:14-15).
Allow me to be as clear as I can. Do not attack Christianity for the horrible actions of people who exploited and continue to exploit the very name of Christianity. Give them the benefit of the doubt; perhaps they know not what Christianity is; but be less charitable with those who are supposed to know what Christianity is and do not issue a whisper when they see abuses committed—no matter in whose name, the devil included.
The major shortcoming of secularists
I am afraid that, by jolting the church, agnostics have given a free pass to church people to say anything they like, even when their position is irresponsible. There are times, the better part of valor is to take it on the chin and fight from inside. That is the only way to win the struggle for intellectual and moral integrity.
I can be specific. By abandoning the church, agnostics have made it easy for church people to abandon the best part of the Jewish tradition: the Sabbath, the seven-year jubilee concerning land and debts, as well as the 50-year jubilee concerning ownership (stewardship) of the land.
A deep concern is this: Have church people misinterpreted the purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? If he did come to wash away our sins, what are our sins. What is the original sin? I have the suspicion that the original sin of disobeying God's commands is still with us. The issue is "Which ones are God's commands"? It seems to me that, in addition to the Ten Commandments he gave Moses, God is also giving a specific command to each one of us: To identify the purposes of our own personal individual life.
I guess, the major error of church people is to confine the purpose of Jesus commands to gain the "afterlife," the eternal life. Whatever one's beliefs on this score, I believe it is a serious mistake of church people to pass over the reality of this life. Jesus command is to assure for each one of us a healthy life, a happy life—while we are alive on this earth.
Again, as soon as I wrote this I read: ”We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another; and this all the more because you see that the Day draws near” (Letter to the Hebrews). Again, nothing new under the sun. If secularists participate in the life of the “assembly,” the chances will improve immeasurably to build a better world.
The heart of secularists
Whatever the complex intellectual case, the heart of secularists will be conquered, not with sentimental religiosity but with a muscular understanding of the economic morality of Jesus who started his public ministry by throwing the money changers out of the Temple and reaffirming the economic morality of Moses through the Parable of the Talents, in which the person who hoards wealth is, uncharacteristically for Jesus, sent straight to hell. This is the Jesus secularists can love. As seen above, the modern way of infusing morality into economics is to implement the four basic economic rights and responsibilities. For long unbeknownst to this writer, they all incorporate the key Commandment: Do not steal.
The great social debate
The powerful intellectual and moral tool of the Enlightenment is Tolerance. This is a great moral tool because, when appropriately used, it is rooted in all the virtues, from prudence to love. Tolerance is the great social tool that allows people with different intellectual views of the world to respect each other’s dignity and work together even in the presence of substantial disagreements. One simply lives with the benefit of the doubt that one might be wrong and the other might be right. To summarize the above, can secularists bring their hearts to have tolerance for us believers? There is of course much more in discussion that is of extreme importance.
The great debate of the last one hundred years concerns the question, What is immorality? Secularists seem to have tolerance for all sorts of immorality, all sorts of traditionally defined immoral acts. And no tolerance for religious people?
My area of expertise does not reach so far as to settle issues of morality. Hence, I will mostly limit myself to a few observations about procedure. As the Prohibition Experiment taught us that we cannot legislate morality, so the ongoing debate is basically teaching us that we cannot legislate immorality. There the discussion starts, it does not end.
In matters of morality there are no broad generalizations. The laws of morality are the laws of creativity and freedom. It is only God who passes the last judgment. What does it mean to say that morality exists only in the reign of freedom? Freedom of judgment before action is essential to determine accountability; freedom of execution during action is essential because life is always changing and our responses have to be creatively adapted to the present reality.
Yet, a strange dynamic is dominating the public discourse and absorbing too much of the energy of the nation. The justification that secularists offer for their pushing for a redefinition of immorality is that the poor cannot afford to pay for such traditionally defined acts of immorality as abortion. I do have a strategic suggestion to end such social wars: Let us all work for economic justice, let every citizen become so wealthy as to pay for abortion if their conscience allows them to do so.
When such an economic fig leaf is peeled off the public discourse, then we might have a serious discussion about the effects of abortion. Then we might discover why many religions stand between oneself and our bodies. By the same token, some erroneously believe that religion stands between them and their wealth; yet, Jesus in particular had nothing to say against power and wealth per se. He was only concerned about how wealth and power is acquired and used. In the end, once I separate the words and actions of the churches from the words of Jesus, I do not understand what is "the beef" that secularists have against Jesus. It might be a good exercise for them to make such a list and examine its validity in depth. Ultimately, the question to ask is this: What is that they really want from God?
The central weakness of secularism
Thanks to secularists, liberty has become liberty from God, a separation from God. No wonder, everything we touch falls apart. If we do not love God, we cannot love ourselves: if we do not see ourselves as the splendid children of God, we cannot truly love our neighbor either. Once we separate ourselves from our neighbor, we make him so inferior or so superior to us that we are bound to fear him or her. We can then assuage our fears only through hate of The Other. That is the road that leads to perdition, to self-destruction. To mass shootings. (I do not study these issues that carefully, but has there ever been an investigation whether the mass killer, apart from the religious fanatic, believed or did not believe in God?) Without God we have nothing: Try as the secularist might, we cannot find our true selves; we cannot find our beloved Other. At best, we bowl alone. And the separation from God has nothing to do with whether you can be an atheist and a moral person at the same time. Conscientious atheists make an extra effort at being moral.
My observation of the world leads me to this central conclusion. Secularism has trained us to this automatic reflex: As soon as we give a peek at the outside world, we blame God, not so much man, for most of our troubles. Whether we believe in God or we do not, this is an upside down view of things.
St. Teresa of Avila said, "Con Dios nada me falta, solo Dios basta" (with God I lack nothing, God alone suffices). The converse is that without God nothing is sufficient. Too much of the modern world has everything—and nothing, nothing at all. What is lost is especially the self.
This is the tangle of related topics that secularists and believers need to unsnarl in order to recover our true self and become free sovereign citizens. We need to cure our country of (1) the infantilism of Voltairean Enlightenment, which gradually morphed into (2) the self-deception of self-reliance, and eventually led to (3) the atomization of the “Me Generation.” We are bowling alone, with one arm tied behind our back: We have no knowledge of how money is created and distributed. And, worse than that, when we know, until we decide to act together on what really matters, on matters of justice, we still feel paralyzed; we feel impotent.
How money is created and distributed affects us all and affects every aspect of our lives.
Infantilism of Voltairean Enlightenment
There was a horrible earthquake in Lisbon in 1775 in which 15,000 people lost their lives. Why the earthquake? Why such a disaster in a Catholic country? Voltaire pounced on the occasion and made it a case against God. The ideal of secularism, rooted in a long and deeply captivating exploration of rationalism culminating in materialism, was born then and there.
The world has gradually swallowed Voltaire’s prejudices whole. But this is sheer infantilism. This is infantilism that has nothing like the innocence of babies. Is it because Jesus said that "I have come into the world to be its light (John 12:46)," is that why they called their philosophy Enlightenment? Is it because the great cathedrals are celebrations of light that the Enlightenment smeared the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages?
How to put it simply? As if we could ever fathom the mind of God, we have made God the cause of our misfortunes, and in so doing we are letting the real culprits go scot free. Is not this the bottom line?
The real culprits in cases of earthquakes are those who knowingly—or unknowingly—build homes along earthquake fault lines. By the same token, by blaming God and making him look like a fool, we have prevented the historical examination of this serious question: Might Lisbon have committed greater sins against God than London?
By faulting God—or Nature, or the Laws of Supply and Demand, or The Market—for our misfortunes, secularism, by making us all impotent, has unwittingly become the most vicious tool of the few to subjugate the many. The poor have been marginalized, while the middle and the lower-middle class barely eke out a living working at two or three jobs a day. All this history reminds me of one of the deepest political observations in Exodus (5:9): Pharaoh did not order the construction of more and more bricks, because they were needed; the real intent was “not to let people think.”
To coin a phrase: Secularism is the opium of the intellectuals. An open secret: Secularism is so dominant because it has infected too many churches. A tortured question: Would the scourge of child molestation have so plagued the Catholic Church if secularism had not reached the high echelons of the church?
Without deep respect for The Other, what is most lost is the self. Indeed, this is the worst of all losses we might ever experience. And it is a self-inflicted wound to our psyche. This is the self-deception of self-reliance.
The Self Deception of Self-Reliance
Don't ask politicians to reform Congress; don't ask politicians to take money out of politics: As individual human beings they cannot; if they do, they will not have the financial resources they need to be reelected.
We the People are on our own. And we are at an impasse. We live in interlocking sets of vicious circles. Nay, worse than that. As recommended by the principles of social justice, it is the content of politics that has been reduced to the despicable game of robbing Peter to pay Paul. In a sane society, we do not elect robbers to perform statehood tasks; we send them to jail. Statehood tasks are the hard choices of economic justice. This is hard justice ex ante; not easy arbitrary punitive justice ex post.
With liberty defined as absolute liberty (for the few), the political discourse is closed. “The excessive love of individual liberty that debases our national politics?” Benjamin Anastas ascribes it to conception of self-reliance. If we are so self-reliant, who needs God; who needs a community? The self is destined to close himself in, tighter and tighter, within himself. This is the road that leads to social atomization.
Social atomization is a practice; it is not a theory. No science justifies it, except as an exercise of Analytic Philosophy à outrance. Analytic Philosophy recognizes only the existence of individual words—hence the existence of only individual human beings. Atoms? No. Not even atoms exist in isolation: Internally, they are composed of neutrons, protons, and electrons; externally, they give structure to human bodies, and the earth, and the sky, and the stars. What to say about human atomism, except that it is a plaything of sharp academic minds? Even Individualism, whose shortcomings I have analyzed in Somism, is built on the agglomeration of individual human beings. By the way, the entire field of political science is mired in the opposing views of individualism and collectivism. This is a dichotomy that cannot stand. My preference is for a new synthesis in political science to be studied under the aegis of Somism, the study of theories and practices of men and women operating in the social context, Social atomization is not much more than the practice of bowling alone. Nay. Just when you think that matters cannot get any worse, you learn of another torque downward: Way too many people are now living in
The Lonely City.
Which does not mean that the person who bowls alone is immune to sufferance, or that to bowl alone is this person’s first choice. The practice of bowling alone is rooted in the old vice of narcissism (it is the Greeks who discovered narcissism—and its hidden justification with the despise of the hoi-polloi); narcissism during the last five hundred years has been given the highfalutin word of
solipsism. The ultimate cure for narcissism and solipsism is very simple: join with the hoi polloi and recover our political power, not simply to pull a lever every few years for people we do not know and we do know we cannot trust because we have instructed them to rob us; but be present and make the right political decisions, to exercise the rights and the duties of citizens.
The Romans invented the practice of “divide and conquer.” The Enlightenment has pushed this practice to its extreme limit. It has reduced human beings to isolated automatons. This is a condition that, especially in the United States, has nothing to do with the innate need and remnant practices of men and women to act in a social context by performing—at great personal costs—feeble acts of charitable nature. And then there is the wide gamut of private—nearly personal—entrepreneurial activities that are listed under the rubric of “the new economy.” These are all commendable acts and efforts at personal salvation. But where is the political action that influences decisions taken in the US Congress? Where are the community-wide initiatives that go to the root of today’s malady: the isolation of human beings?
To overthrow the modern Masters of Mankind, as Adam Smith courageously called them (Wealth of Nations, III.4.10), namely to overthrow those who say “All for ourselves and nothing for other people,” there is only one solution. We need to overthrow the culture of the Enlightenment.
How Can We Do This?
It seems we cannot rely on economists to fight this fight. In economics we have the absurd tendency to defend the indefensible and
even justify inequality. Having expunged, with Adam Smith, morality from economics, they are lost in a maze of abstractions, from which they might escape only by abandoning the whole lot of balanced contradictions that form economic theory today.
It is up to moralists, literati, and administrators to hold the feet of economists to the fire of truth.
Moralists, literati, and administrators will have to get rid of the deception of self-reliance; they will have to abandon their splendid atomistic isolation, and most of their secular assumptions, mix with the hoi polloi, and hope to convince the powers-that-be to take measures in time to avoid the next financial collapse. They will have to join with other people in demanding what is right for every citizen and for society as a whole.
Intellectually, the arduous road to avoid the pit of atomization has been the traditional effort to reconstruct the isolated “self” as a “social” entity, this is the road that has been pursued from Aristotle to Mangabeira Unger. Since this effort contains an evident contradiction in terms, the results have not been very encouraging. The self is the self; the self becomes social only as it encounters The Other. We are entitled, therefore, to shift the discourse on the ground of rights and responsibilities then. On this ground one automatically meets The Other, because rights are only born in the exercise of responsibilities. Hence, rights unite. And privileges divide because everyone in the end, while wallowing in the exercise of one’s privileges, hates the privileges of others.
If We the People accept our rights and responsibilities, politicians will follow.
Together. Together then is our motto and our plan of action.
Two more thoughts. Together is not enough; the Mafia is also formed by a tight group of people. Together taking the right decisions is indispensable. And the hoi polloi have been denigrated for way too long a time. It is the hoi polloi, not the political and social elites, not the intellectuals, who had the intelligence and the wisdom to first understand and then practice the truths of the Old and New Testament. It is the hoi polloi who persevere in their “cult” of the Madonna. It is the hoi polloi who enrich the ranks of the New Age, an irrepressible movement of people who look forward to a unification of all the religions and already practice best as they can the politics of love and justice.
Together taking the right decisions, followed by the determination required for a steady implementation of those decisions, that is political wisdom. Otherwise, with no resources even in the Federal Reserve System to plug the hole that will be created by the current set of irresponsible financial activities, who knows how deep the abyss will be.
Let us come back to the ancient conclusion. Saint Clement discovered it. We need to stop performing “empty works.” Works are empty that are not filled with the fulfilment of needs of The Other. As Romain Rolland urged Intellectuals in his Declaration of the Independence of the Mind, let us use our mind to fill those needs: “Arise! Let us free the Mind from these compromises, these humiliating alliances, this hidden subservience! The Mind is the servant of no man. We are the Mind’s servants. We have no other master. We are created to carry and to defend its light, to rally around it all men who are lost. Our role, our duty is to maintain a fixed point, to show the pole star amidst the storm of passions in the darkness. Among these passions of pride and mutual destructions, we do not single out any one, we reject them all. We commit ourselves never to serve anything but the free Truth that has no frontiers and no limits and is without prejudice against races or castes.” As Maria Popova writes: “Although the declaration is very much a response to the destruction of intellectual life during the war, at its heart is a timeless clarion call for the preservation of art and intellectual life in the face of any threat — be it by weapon or censorship or the pernicious mundane anti-intellectualism of modern media — urging us to uphold our duty in ennobling rather than corrupting each other’s souls through our art and intellectual contribution.”
Perhaps, formal and informal elites—whether of the right or the left—are too entrenched to see the compromises, the hypocrisies hidden in their own positions. Both the right and the left has created too much havoc during the last 250 years. It would really be unusual for this essay to convince anyone who is deeply involved in today’s struggles. And yet, we cannot go on as usual. We know where “usual” actions lead.
Perhaps the “center” ought to stand up and be counted at last. Perhaps the center might want to consider abandoning the dead shells of the past. Perhaps, the center might want to coalesce its efforts around the implementation of the four essential economic rights and responsibilities outlined above. Perhaps, the center might want to consider the creation of a new political party: A Party of Concord.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carmine Gorga, president of The Somist Institute, is a Former Fulbright Scholar and recipient of a Council of Europe Scholarship for his dissertation on the Political Thought of Louis D. Brandeis. Using age-old principles of logic, he has founded Concordian economics, Somism, and Relationalism. Dr. Gorga has fundamentally transformed the linear world of economic theory into a relational discipline in which everything is related to everything else—internally as well as externally. He was assisted in this endeavor by many people, notably for 27 years by Professor Franco Modigliani, a Nobel laureate in economics at MIT, and 23 years by Professor M. L. Burstein, a professor of economics at York University. Mr. Gorga is the author of numerous publications, including The Economic Process: An Instantaneous Non-Newtonian Picture, 2002, a book that was reissued by The University Press of America in an expanded paperback edition in 2009. He can be reached at email@example.com. At times, he blogs at New Economic Atlas, Modern Moral Meditations, and A Party of Concord.