The Servile State, published in 1912, is Hilaire Belloc's foray into economic theory and philosophy. In it he promotes the idea of "distributism," as opposed to capitalism and socialism. "The servile state is that in which the mass of men shall be constrained by law to labor for the profit of a minority," Belloc says. And this state is the ordinary and natural ends of both capitalism and socialism, though they may arrive there by different routes.
In contrast, Belloc envisions a society in which each individual strives to be the owner of means of production, rather than a worker who merely earns wages. By owning what he needs to make his living, man can experience true freedom. It has happened before, he says, most notably in Britain before the Protestant Reformation.
Modern readers will hear many echoes from Belloc in today's campaigns for co-ops and locally-owned businesses, which seek to replace large corporations with smaller operations that more adequately distribute wealth. Students of economics and history, as well as those interested in politics and the effects of economics on society, will find this a thought-provoking and galvanizing read.
French writer and thinker HILAIRE BELLOC (1870-1953) is known as "the man who wrote a library." He expounded extensively on a number of subjects, including French and British history, military strategy, satire, comic and serious verse, literary criticism, topography and travel, translations, and religious, social, and political commentary. Among his most famous works are The Path to Rome (1902) and Emmanuel Burden (1903).
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About the Author
His most lasting legacy is probably his verse, which encompasses cautionary tales and religious poetry. Among his best-remembered poems are Jim, who ran away from his nurse, and was eaten by a lion and Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death"'
Belloc was born in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France, to a French father and an English mother, and grew up in England. Much of his boyhood was spent in Slindon, West Sussex, for which he often felt homesick in later life. This is evidenced in poems such as, "West Sussex Drinking Song", "The South Country", and even the more melancholy, "Ha'nacker Mill".
Three of his best-known non-fiction works are The Servile State (1912), Europe and Faith (1920) and The Jews (1922).
From an early age Belloc knew Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, who was responsible for the conversion of his mother to Roman Catholicism. Manning's involvement in the 1889 London Dock Strike made a major impression on Belloc and his view of politics, according to biographer Robert Speaight. Belloc described this retrospectively in The Cruise of the Nona (1925); he became a trenchant critic both of capitalism and of many aspects of socialism.
With others (G. K. Chesterton, Cecil Chesterton, Arthur Penty) Belloc had envisioned the socioeconomic system of distributism. In The Servile State, written after his party-political career had come to end, and other works, he criticized the modern economic order and parliamentary system, advocating distributism in opposition to both capitalism and socialism. Belloc made the historical argument that distributism was not a fresh perspective or program of economics but rather a proposed return to the economics that prevailed in Europe for the thousand years when it was Catholic.
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