Distributist Perspectives: Volume II: Essays on the Economics of Justice and Charity

Distributist Perspectives: Volume II: Essays on the Economics of Justice and Charity

by D. Liam O'Huallachain

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This compilation of important distributist authors delivers valuable insight into the manifest problems of society. Although most of the contributions were written more than 50 years ago, the questions raised by the writers have remained largely unanswered, and essays regarding topics like education, work, and freedom have lost little relevance in the ensuing


This compilation of important distributist authors delivers valuable insight into the manifest problems of society. Although most of the contributions were written more than 50 years ago, the questions raised by the writers have remained largely unanswered, and essays regarding topics like education, work, and freedom have lost little relevance in the ensuing decades. Featured authors include Eric Gill, Harold J. Massingham, and Dorothy Sayers.

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Distributist Perspectives Volume II

Essays on the Economics of Justice and Charity

By Eric Gill, Dorothy Sayers, Viscount Lymington, H.J. Massingham, H. Robbins, K. L. Kenrick, Philip Hagreen, George Maxwell, S. Sagar, Jorian Jenks, H.D.C. Pepler

IHS Press

Copyright © 2008 IHS Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-932528-60-2


Education for What? by Eric Gill

What is the general object and end of Education? Obviously, you cannot lead a person in a way unnatural to him. When you teach, bring up, train a horse, it is always remembered that it is a horse you are dealing with. We do not try anything else. But with human beings we are much more muddled. It seems as though we hardly know what human beings are or what they are for. Yet, obviously, that is the first thing to find out. What is a human being? What end is he made for?

In the world today, whatever we say about it, we act almost entirely as though human beings had no reason for being except to get on in the world – to acquire a lot of material possessions – to get a good paying job. That seems to be considered the first and most important thing. On top of that we think it would be a good thing if people had a sort of ornamental veneer of culture and good manners – that they be able to appreciate good books and to speak with a refined accent.

This ambition of parents to give children such an education as will enable them to get on and get a good job is obviously due to a certain view of what a human being is. Whatever we may say, we act as though a human being was simply a creature, an animal, whose sole job it was to earn his living, acquire ample means to live comfortably, and then pass out. This seems to be the sole object of existence of other animals, and we seem to think that man is only an animal among animals. The only difference between man and other animals seems to be that whereas other animals reproduce their kind to the utmost of their powers and without consideration of their own comfort or convenience, men and women, on the other hand, though they have as strong an instinct for mating as other animals, do not proceed in this matter unselfishly or without regard to their own comfort and convenience. And so we find that the more successful we are in the pursuit of riches, the more we get on and get rich, so much the more we think of our comfort and so much the more we restrict our families. Perhaps other animals would do the same if they had more wits. But they do not, and so it seems that the main difference between man and other animals is that men are cleverer and more cunning and more self-regarding and more selfish, and that our desire for culture and good manners is bound up with getting on; for the better your manners, the more likely you are to beat your more boorish competitors, and the more proofs you can show of having learnt poetry and foreign languages, so much the more will you outshine your fellows.

So it seems that today our definition of man is: That he is an animal who exists in order to enjoy himself while he lives, and therefore the object of education is to draw out all those faculties which are suitable to that end. First of all, he must learn how to acquire a good living, and, secondly, how to enjoy it in the manner least likely to endanger it. We must learn how to acquire riches and we must learn not to squander them in riotous living. Shorn of all camouflage, that represents the general line of people's ideas today. That is not what we say, but it is how we act. And even the more highbrow people are really acting in the same way; for though, perhaps, they say that the object of education is to draw out the very best that is in us – to teach us to know ourselves and control ourselves so that we may enjoy ourselves even more – it all comes to the same thing – to acquire the means to live well and then to enjoy life. For, after all, the saying "Eat, drink and be merry," depends upon its interpretation. It does not necessarily mean eat and drink as much as possible, but eat and drink as much as will enable you to be merry. And being merry does not necessarily mean buffoonery and horseplay and drunken revelry; it may mean the most refined high-art enjoyments. So whether we are highbrows or lowbrows, the definition of man which is accepted today comes to the same thing: in either case it means that we have no idea of man except that his only reason for existence is to get on in this world and have as good a time as possible.

* * *

Perhaps there are two chief causes of this rather limited view of man:

1. The decay and disappearance of unity in religion; and

2. The tremendous growth of the power and prestige of the commercial world.

But perhaps these two things are two sides of the same thing; for where religion is strong, commerce is always weak. So perhaps we may say that the one and only cause of our limited and materialistic view of man is the decay of religious unity, for where there are a hundred rival sects there cannot be power. The devil may well approve of the military rule, Divide and conquer. For where, instead of one religion swaying the hearts and minds of men, there are a hundred rival religions, it is obvious that no one of them can be really powerful, and no one of them can unite us all together and inspire us.

There is no need for me to say here which, if any, of the rival religions is, in my opinion, the true one. I am only pointing out that, in the absence of religious unity, the one and only thing which can unite men is the desire of material riches. Religion, they now say, is your private affair – nothing to do with how the state is run – nothing to do with how you earn your living – nothing to do with your work.

But if the common materialistic view of man leaves much to be desired – and few people are really satisfied with it – it is obviously a very limited view and takes no account of those qualities in men which we all agree to admire most: humility, unselfishness, tenderness, except insofar as they help us to get on — and it takes no account of the quite common appetite of men for something real and unchanging and not liable to decay and death – I say, if the common materialistic definition of man leaves much to be desired, what other view is there? If man is not just an animal among animals, what is he? Well, I think, even without entering into the awful field of religious controversy, we may say certain things. God exists; He is a Person – the Personal Author and Ruler of all things. And we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. And we are made in His image – that is to say, we share in God's spiritual nature. We are rational beings and can deliberate and weigh the pros and cons of action; and having thus weighed, we can act freely. Whether or no we can do good of ourselves, we can certainly refrain from evil, even if we are to some extent – perhaps to a large extent – the victims of our physical and psychological make-up. We are, therefore, rightly held to be responsible persons and not automata obeying willy-nilly the forces to which we find ourselves subjected. And if we are thus children of God – for we are, in this religious view of man, more than just animals without responsibility (after all, you can punish a dog – but you cannot really blame him) – if we are children of God, then we are heirs also. We are called to some sort of sharing with God in His own life. We have what we call a vocation. We have, in fact, a destiny independent of our physical life on this earth. A destiny for which this physical life is a training ground and place of preparation. It is, in fact, a school – a place where we are educated.

It is clear then, is it not? that if we accept the religious view of man's nature, we are compelled to take a very different, a radically different view of education. No longer can we think merely of getting on in the commercial and materialistic sense. We must now think of getting on in the sense of getting heavenwards. And in everything we learn and in everything we teach to our children or our pupils, we must bear this fact in mind. We must learn to get on in the world – not as an end in itself, but as a means to getting heavenwards. Any education which neglects this fact, and to the extent to which it neglects it, is false education, because it is false to man. It is untrue; it is not in accordance with his nature as a child of God and heir also.

All this sounds very pious – though there is no harm in that and some people will think that I am advocating an almost total neglect of practical things – that perhaps I despise worldly success, that I despise reading, writing, and arithmetic and dancing and gymnastics and science and history. That is not so. What I am saying is simply that as parents and teachers we must teach these things with an eye on our goal. If, like the materialists, and that is, in practice, most people today, we think there is no goal, then of course, there is nothing to be said against that kind of education which has for its sole object the training of children to win prizes and get good jobs, and we should then approve of the London County Council (L.C.C.) which says in its advertisements of its evening classes:

Turn your energy into pounds, shillings, and pence. L.C.C. Evening Classes offer a good return on your investment.

and we should approve of our men of business, who see everything in terms of money – who think that the production of dividends is the first object of industrial enterprise (as the Railway Stockholders' Union says: British Railways are in business to earn dividends); for to the man of business, the only criterion of what is good is what will sell.

But if we do not accept the materialist philosophy, if we do not agree with the economic interpretation of history, if we do not think man is nothing more than a creature made for gaining material wealth, if we take the religious point of view – because, if we think for half a moment, we know that we are not satisfied working merely to make money to buy things which have been made by people who only made them in order to sell them ... then we shall take a radically different view of education.

We shall even take a radically different view of arithmetic and of reading and writing – because we shall attack them in a totally different frame of mind. That is the point. It is not that we shall do nothing but write hymns, though the best poems are hymns. It is not that we shall only read the Bible, though the Bible is the best book, or that we shall only count how much we can give away (instead of counting how much we can spend), it is simply that we shall see all things as in some way heavenly or leading heavenwards. For education will not then mean drawing out those faculties which make us successful worldlings, but drawing out those faculties which make us better fitted for an eternal rather than a merely temporary existence. We shall see everything, as the philosopher says, sub specie aeternitatis — that is to say we shall see everything in its real shape, its eternal shape, the shape of its being rather than the shape of its doing. For it is not what we do that matters most, but what we are. And it is the same with things as with persons. Being is more important than doing. But if, like the materialists and their followers, the businessmen of today, we say there is no being behind doing, but only doing, then we shall not only lose the Kingdom of God in heaven but also the Kingdom of God on earth. Newport and Swansea, Birmingham and the Black Country, Manchester, Glasgow, the wilds of east and south-east London! What could be more ungodly? And what could more plainly be the proper reward of our greed and avarice and our refusal to educate ourselves and our children except to get on or get out? And the war, pestilence, and famine, which are upon us, what are they but the due reward of our sins?

But in spite of our enthusiasm for worldly success, we all know that a worldly view of education is very unsatisfactory – to say the least. It does not satisfy us. We want something more. And very often we think that all will be well if, in addition to learning things which will be useful to enable us to get on, we add what we call cultured subjects — a spot of art, a spot of poetry and foreign languages, just in the same way as people build banks and town halls with iron frames and concrete and all the cheapest and most labour-saving methods, and then cover the front with elaborate stonework in imitation of a classical temple, with columns and carvings.

So we think that children should have a good, sound practical education, which will enable them to make money – that is the iron and concrete part – and that then they should have culture – that is the pillars and carvings on the front. We all know those buildings (they are everywhere), which have fine imitation Queen Anne or Gothic or Classic fronts and then when you go into the backyard you see only white glazed bricks and drain pipes – as someone said: Queen Anne fronts and Mary Anne backs. But we can easily see that this is all nonsense; for if we cannot make our building fine and noble and beautiful all through, front and back and inside and out, then it would be much better, more honest and more holy, to confine ourselves to the Mary Anne part alone, and see how truly well and nobly we can do the drains and the drain-pipes, and leave out the sham architecture.

And so it is with education. If we cannot give our children a truly religious education, through and through, so that everything they learn is in harmony with their ultimate heavenly destiny, then it would be much better if we confined ourselves to the plain bread-and-butter part of the business and simply taught them practical things – the three R's and physical jerks and how to read a Bradshaw and drive a car – and leave out the classics and Shakespeare and all the sham culture.

For culture is a sham if it is only a sort of Gothic front put on an iron building – like the Tower Bridge – or a classical front put on a steel frame – like the Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street. Culture, if it is to be a real thing and a holy thing, must be the product of what we actually do for a living – not something added, like sugar on a pill.

So it all comes back to this: What is man? Is he just an animal for whom earthly life is all? Or is he a Child of God with eternal life in view?


How Free Is the Press? by Dorothy L. Sayers

That without a free press there can be no free people is a thing that all free peoples take for granted; we need not discuss it. Nor will we at this moment discuss the restrictions placed upon the Press in time of war. At such times all liberties have to be restricted; a free people must see to it that when peace comes full freedom is restored. In the meantime, it may be wholesome to consider what that freedom is, and how far it is truly desirable. It may turn out to be no freedom at all, or even a mere freedom to tyrannise; for tyranny is, in fact, the uncontrolled freedom of one man, or one gang, to impose its will on the world.

When we speak of "the freedom of the Press," we usually mean freedom in a very technical and restricted sense – namely, freedom from direction or censorship by the Government. In this respect, the British Press is, under ordinary conditions, singularly free. It can attack the policy and political character of ministers, interfere in the delicate machinery of foreign diplomacy, conduct campaigns to subvert the Constitution, incite citizens to discontent and rebellion, expose scandals and foment grievances, and generally harry and belabour the servants of the State, with almost perfect liberty. On occasion, it can become a weapon to coerce the Government to conform to what it asserts to be the will of the people.

So far, this is all to the good. Occasionally, this freedom may produce disastrous hesitations and inconsistencies in public policy, or tend to hamper the swift execution of emergency measures; but, generally speaking, it works to secure and sustain that central doctrine of Democracy as we understand it – that the State is not the master but the servant of the people.

The Press, as a whole, and in this technical and restricted sense, is thus pretty free in a peaceful Britain. There is no shade of political opinion that does not somehow contrive to express itself. But if we go on to imagine that any particular organ of the Press enjoys the larger liberty of being a "forum of public opinion," we are gravely mistaken. Every newspaper is shackled to its own set of overlords and, in its turn, like the Unmerciful Servant, exercises a powerful bondage upon its readers and on the public generally. Indeed, we may say that the heaviest restriction upon the freedom of public opinion is not the official censorship of the Press, but the unofficial censorship by a Press which exists not so much to express opinion as to manufacture it.


Excerpted from Distributist Perspectives Volume II by Eric Gill, Dorothy Sayers, Viscount Lymington, H.J. Massingham, H. Robbins, K. L. Kenrick, Philip Hagreen, George Maxwell, S. Sagar, Jorian Jenks, H.D.C. Pepler. Copyright © 2008 IHS Press. Excerpted by permission of IHS Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

D. L. O'Huallachain is the editorial director of IHS Press. John Sharpe is the publisher and managing director of IHS Press. Allan C. Carlson, PhD, has been an NEH fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a presidential appointee to the National Commission on Children. He is the author of The American Way, Family Questions, and The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics and has contributed to The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

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