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by Christopher Chantrill
January 15, 2005 at 3:40 pm
IF a global society forms during the twenty-first century, will it necessarily be a contract society, built upon reciprocal trade and agreement, as many people think? Or could it be constructed upon other principles, for instance the lefts dream of universal nonviolence, peace, and justice, or the Isalmists dream of the world converted to Islam by the will of God and His holy warriors? Or will it be a global bureaucracy, a United Nations writ large, the centralized rule of the international experts?
When Sir Henry Maine wrote his famous dictum in Ancient Law that the movement of progressive societies was from status to contract, he was merely stating what seemed, to the Victorians, to be obvious. A stagnant and traditional society may base itself on status and hierarchy, but a dynamic and changing society must move to contract.
Why must it? Contract is so ubiquitous in the United States that we forget how advanced and radical it is. In the past men have rarely thought that they could make up the rules for their interactions themselves. Most communities have instead lived The Way, the unreflective way handed down from the ancestors, and they have believed that to violate that sacred Way would bring disaster. In the pre-industrial age, it usually did.
But the day comes when some young men begin to ask: Whats in it for me? The self-conscious ego is born and initially experiences life as a contest of power between the Big Me and the rest of the world. Although the conquering ego brought change and dynamism to a sleeping world, he became something of a problem too, as the Chinese were to discover in their Warring States period. It was the genius of Confucius, according to Huston Smith in The Worlds Religions, to tame the Warring States conquering egos by transforming the unreflective Way of the ancestors into the rules of the self-conscious Five Relationships. This radical idea of explicit fixed rules transformed the citified world in the years between 500 BCE and 700 CE in several apparently separate outbursts: the Eightfold Way of the Buddha, the Ten Commandments of Judaism, and the Five Pillars of Islam.
Today most people in the world believe in fixed rules, like the billion Muslims who believe in the divine Word of God revealed to His prophet Mohammed in the Koran, or like the half billion Pentecostals (0.8 billion by 2025 according to missions expert David Barrett) who believe in the divine Word of God revealed in the Scriptures, or like the 300 million Europeans who believe in the rational rule of the experts.
Among the great mass that believes in fixed rules there emerge from time to time some who believe that the rules are not necessarily fixed. These creative egosmerchants, businessmen, scientists, and artiststhink that they can change the rules and the world will not come to an end.
But what is the difference between a creative ego and a conquering ego? To most people, not much. To them, men like Rockefeller and Carnegie were robber barons trying to take over the world, not creative geniuses that had found a way to slash the price of oil and steel. To prove their good faith, these great business innovators submitted their vast empires to the rule of the political class, agreeing to be governed by contract and law. Just to be sure, the political class put Rockefeller to the test by breaking up Standard Oil in pieces.
Yet contract and law are not enough, as Frederick Turner demonstrated in Shakespeares Twenty-first Century Economics. The best contract in the world cannot anticipate all the possible scenarios that may occur in a business relationship. Therefore something more than the dry words of a contract is needed. It was the amateur lawyer Portia in The Merchant of Venice who taught us what this something more must be. It is mercy, that falleth like the gentle rain from heaven.
Can this be true? Can hard-nosed businessmen be angels of mercy? Not exactly. When things go wrong, its just cheaper to say Joe, you owe me one than to go for a lawyer. That is why, when he journeyed to Capitol Hill to kiss the ring of Congress in 1913, J. Pierpont Morgan testified to an incredulous Pujo committee that the most important personal quality in a financier was character. Morgan would not do a deal with a man he could not trust.
We can now come to a startling understanding. Contract and law are the pledge by which the creative ego renounces conquest and submits its creative destruction to the rule of society. Trust is the lubricant that unseats the gears of commerce and frees them from the costly friction of suits at law and government regulation.
Those who yearn to supplant the emerging global contract society with something higher and nobler need to come up with something thats higher and nobler than this great covenant offered to the world by the creative egos of business. What am I bid?
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
Civil Societya complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churchesbuilds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable...
[1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006
No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, Letter to Lord Lytton
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, The Scientist as Rebel