- freedom from dependence on the will of others – At the time I was confused why he joined the church. He was always talking about his boyhood. He especially relished telling stories of how he broke away from his parents, shirking the chores that were assigned to him, and wandered aimlessly in the woods and fields that surrounded his farm. So when he joined a big church that was highly involved in working in the community I wondered at what change might have been wrought that would have brought him into this fold?
- free from any relations with others except those that he voluntarily entered into with a mind to his own interests – When these new friends began asking things of him he sidelined the ones who made requests that drew him into any sort of ongoing accountability.
- he is the sole proprietor of his own person and capacities, and for this reason alone he owed nothing to society – Eventually he left that church with as much flurry as he had joined. In spite of having taken a solemn oath, this meant nothing to him. I don’t owe them a thing.
- that his own freedom is limited only by the obligations and rules that protect this notion of freedom – And when his friends came to visit and when his family enquired about this turn of events he attacked them and bade them to leave, eventually under threat of violence.
- that the only role of politics is in order to secure property, which includes his own person and possessions and which promotes the maintenance of this view ordering right relations between himself and other persons of a similar mind, that is, other free people – With the last federal election he ranted to anyone who would listen about personal property issues…as if he would live forever…and if by some off chance that he would not, that he most certainly would take what he had with him when he died.
And when I talked with him about this as a friend he bade me leave his life, which is not surprising, although it is heart breaking to see a person do this to themselves and to others.
These are each essential points to which liberal academic theorists would generally subscribe. Most farmers in this region where I live label themselves conservatives, which in their ignorance means, not liberal. But there would not be many people within two hundred and fifty miles of me who would know that they are – as people who likewise subscribe wholeheartedly to the guiding principles outlined above – in fact liberals because they are so radically isolated as individuals,
The modernization of western countries began in the eighteenth century and continued well into the nineteenth. This period witnessed profound, fundamental changes in both private and public life. Communal and governmental ownership of land gave way to private ownership of land and farming for profit. Profit motives destroyed the guild systems and opened up competitive labour markets. Industry flourished at the behest of entrepreneurs. Investments in hard goods and the advent of railroads to transport those goods opened up new markets everywhere. The appearance of a free press made possible widespread circulation of differing political and cultural ideas along with the criticism of governmental policies and practises. The influences of nobility and clergy were replaced by academics and technical advisors, who ushered in the age of experimental science. And underlying all of these were the theories of Thomas Hobbs and John Locke and John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Their thoughts on freedom were radical…certainly not a monolithic view of society and self that was transferred from one thinker, one person to another. Instead they promoted a total free-market of the individual: free from dependence, free from relations, sole proprietorship of the self, free from obligations, and politics serves property. Some countries accomplished this transition through bloodshed, like the United States. Other countries, because of the benevolence of their former rulers accomplished it peacefully, like Denmark. But in all cases modernization took hold, and coming from the feudal, constrained systems that had preceded them, this was clearly, radically, liberal.
You can easily see the profound effects of liberalism on governments at the time and on those who ran up against them. By the late-mid 1800’s pioneers ensconced in this mindset and given governmental blessing were staking claim to geography in North America. Both the Canadian and United States governments were decidedly liberal in how they promoted this. Whereas in the United States individuals themselves exerted these rights in relationship to aboriginals, in Canada the government itself became the arbiter and then passed these rights on to settlers. But liberalism functioned in both cases. There is no doubt that this modern liberal state which we in the west have inherited promotes radical individual rights founded on a radical view toward property for the past three hundred years. It amounts to a subtle conduit for a basic impulse in human beings to be self-seeking and insular. The construction of a society built on the priority of the individual and their right to pursue their own best interests as each person determines them to be, sets each individual in uncompromising opposition to every other individual. By uncritically existing within and embracing this social order individuals become egotistical in relation to one another. Inasmuch as the arts and religion participate in endorsing these aspects of modernization so people’s lives of genuine responsibility to one another degrades, and compounds, and compromises people psychologically. And this is precisely why the church has simply become an appendage. Ceasing to be influential in proclaiming the gospel it settles for blessing people’s (liberal) lives.
Peter Maurin ran headlong into this rugged individualism (i.e. liberalism) when he homesteaded in Saskatchewan. He went there along with the rest of these newly minted subjective egotists. By his own admission both they and he were bereft of a soul. He came to terms with himself homesteading with these insulated people on the Canadian prairie. He wound up as a missionary proclaiming the gospel, which was a personalist endorsement to love God, love himself, love his neighbour, and love the land. Where he had once owned what had been aboriginal-communal, he now wandered, loved by God, penniless among the penniless masses of other peasants who had been themselves disenfranchised/swindled by western liberalism. He considered it a victory. This shift was in no ways a failure.
It is by paying close attention to the unique contours of modernization and its impacts on the concrete lives of people themselves each day that we as Catholic Workers can genuinely love even as Christ loves…even as God loves. We respond to a dirty rotten system by naming its antecedents and taking action in response to its current impacts…out of God’s love for us, and our love for God. And we invite people to respond and join us in order to express the love of God within the context of a loving community that knows that humans are built for community.
People do not need a new political system. People do not need a new social order. People need leader-workers who are not confused by the knowledge of how we got to where we are, and are not intimidated by it.