Sunday, August 12, 2012

Noblesse oblige, the Catholic foundation of economic life

Noblesse oblige is grounded in the understanding that society is by nature hierarchical and ordered to the good of man both here on earth as well as to his final end. Noblesse oblige is grounded in the same principle as subsidiarity, i.e. an understanding that society is natural to man, and man finds his perfection in society.
19. The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of the different parts of the body, so in a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity. Now, in preventing such strife as this, and in uprooting it, the efficacy of Christian institutions is marvellous and manifold. First of all, there is no intermediary more powerful than religion (whereof the Church is the interpreter and guardian) in drawing the rich and the working class together, by reminding each of its duties to the other, and especially of the obligations of justice. / Rerum Novarum
That this hierarchical ordering permeates society is apparent from simple observation where we have, state government, county government, city government, zoning boards, school boards, neighborhood associations, condominium associations, parents ruling over their children and similar.

As with much of life, God created a world sufficient for our needs where the simple solution that men typically gravitate toward is typically the best because men typically gravitate toward common sense solutions that are at human scale and natural to us.

Even in modern america with its unnatural ruling principle of equality, authority is delegated to some type of overseeing body because men tend to do what is natural disregarding unnatural worldviews that conflict with the natural. And so it is with the principle of equality where men typically organize themselves with the few ruling over the many.

Of course, there are numerous exceptions to modern society's hierarchical ordering, but these exceptions no more disprove that hierarchy is proper to society than blindness disproves that sight is proper to man, because these exceptions are invariably disordered.

Whether it be the leviathan state, multiculturalism, stay-at-home fathers, or affirmative action, many of our modern social condition have the same wellspring of the unnatural ruling principle of equality. So while modern society's virtually universal unboundedness is common to us it can also be seen as unnatural and peculiar to modern society becuase it goes against the natural stability of society when it is at human scale.

What we observe is that society through the ages is both civilly and privately ordered hierarchically. And as Catholics we know the above both by observation as well as by Faith because we also know the ordering of the family with the father as the head of the family. And the ordering of the Faithful within the visible Church with the Bishop as head of the local Church.

The Faithful require the Church and cannot be perfected outside of it, and likewise children require their parents and cannot be perfected without them, and so likewise is it with all of society with subsidiarity permeating society.

Economic transactions of selling goods and services is likewise natural to man and society; and according to subsidiarity because those in a position of authority such as owning a business with employees have a duty to care of those beneath them because we are our brother's keeper.

This relation of owner and employee is true Catholic solidarity because it's a solidarity grounded in subsidiarity.

Leftist Catholics commonly appeal to solidarity, but their's is grounded in divisiveness where owners are regarded as strangers and enemies to be overcome. They mistake the current disorder in society falsely assuming it to be a disorder intrinsic to hierarchical society; and so in turn develop their understanding of solidarity as a reaction to their mistaken understanding.

But as noted, a true understanding of solidarity is grounded in subsidiarity because some men are naturally ruled by other men because men have different capacities and different temperaments. In fact, most men prefer to be ruled by other men as evidenced by most men when given the choice choose the security of employment at an already formed company in preference to the risk of working for themselves.

Economically, men do not naturally come together to form a distributist ordered manufacturing company, but instead a single man or a partnership will form a company that hires workers. In other words, distributist businesses do not form organically, but instead occur when an existing business intentionally changes its existing method of operation.

And it's not as if there is a current economic disadvantage to a group of men coming together to form a business, to the contrary it should be easier than a single man taking on the full burden, but yet it's virtually never done. And when a group of men do form a business, it's typically as a professional partnership, but these are not distributist with workers owning the means of production because all workers other than the partners are employees of the partnership.

Leftist Catholics ignore how businesses actually form by the taking of risk which is very much the opposite of the security of employment; and instead write how distributism, (an economic system grounded in the principle of equality), offers the security of ownership of the means of production. And while the ownership is secure, as a practical matter distributist ownership of the means of production has the same character as ownership of the roses at the local public park. The ownership is actually a communal ownership because the control is communal.

No one thinks of himself as owning the roses at the public park because a person cannot in any manner interact with the roses as is commonly understood to be proper to ownership.

Similarly, at the private level, no one who owns a condominium thinks of himself as likewise owning the condominium association parking lot. Or, no one who belongs to member owned private tennis club thinks of himself as owning the courts. What they do think is that parking lot or tennis court is ruled by a private governing board dictating rules they must follow.

The same holds for distributist ownership of the means of production, worker ownership of the means of production is an illusion. What distributism offers is communal ownership.

In contrast to the communal illusory ownership of the means of production leftist Catholic distributists offer, hierarchically ordered society allows for actual ownership of the means of production because small proprietary businesses are by their very nature worker owned because the worker is the owner.

Distributists hold that working for a business gives the worker claim of ownership because for them a rightly ordered society disallow's'(sic) the ownership of the means of production that another person labors at."

But if this were true, then hiring a man by the hour or the day as was done in the parable of the winegrower would a parable grounded in injustice no matter how the wage was divided up.

In contrast to the distributist understanding of required employee ownership of the means of production, businesses within a hierarchically ordered society are not required to give employees ownership of the means of production for the same reason a homeowner is not required to give ownership of his house to the carpenter who builds his door. The carpenter builds the door according to his trade, and is due a just compensation for his work of building. His work does not give him permanent claim to the door.

And when a small proprietary business grows and hires employees, a rightly ordered hierarchical society offers the noblesse oblige true solidarity and subsidiarity of the owner caring for the good of his employees.

more to come . . . . .

* Modern economic society is grounded in theft because usury is a type of theft, it's the selling of that which does not exist. Or as some have put it, the making fruitful of that which is by nature not fruitful.

** Distributism is not grounded in subsidiarity, but is instead grounded solely in solidarity, i.e. grounded in the modernist concept of equality. Distributism is a modernist creature because the type society needed to support it is a highly structured modern managerial state.

*** Individualistic libertarianism is grounded in the unnatural principle that man is not by nature social, and thus both subsidiarity as well as solidarity are contrary to it. Libertarianism really is grounded in Ayn Rand's principle of selfishness is a virtue because all goods are only understood as good insofar as they are good to the individual.

As with much of life


  1. This is a wonderful post. It gets to the heart of my own unease with Anglo-American distributism; namely its egalitarianism. This is part of the reason for my enthusiasm with the Oekonomika Institute, about which we have been discussing; they understand the importance of hierarchy.

  2. Thank you for you comment.

    In some respects the distributist types are kindred spirits insofar as they're inclined to a more holistic understanding of man and the Faith, but their egalitarianism, among other errors, could not put farther apart from a true holistic understanding.